Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Club of Rome and a System Dynamics Model of the World

This is the first in a series of what amount to book reviews, where I'll be looking at books that have played an important role in shaping my thinking.

Late in the summer of 1977, on the way home from our honeymoon, my wife and I stopped at the Coles bookstore in Barrie, Ontario and I picked up a copy of the Limits to Growth. Remember, this was before the internet and before even big box bookstores like Chapters were a common thing, certainly in rural Ontario where I lived. A stop at a bookstore was an opportunity not to be missed, even if it wasn't very romantic conclusion to one's honeymoon.

The advent of the internet, which became available in the mid 90s around here, was a great thing for me. Now when I develop a sudden interest in a topic, I can read up on it within minutes. It used to be much harder and more expensive to find information on anything.

At any rate, The limits to Growth had been out for about 5 years at that time and I had heard about it somewhere, possible on TV or in a magazine. So when I saw a copy, I grabbed it.

I read the book, and my margin notes from back then sound like a progress worshipper trying to hold onto some hope.

I was (and still am) an avid reader of science fiction. The writers I was following took The Limits as a personal affront, and set about showing where it was wrong. They claimed that technology would save the day, especially space technology like solar power satellites and asteroid mining. This reassured me and I got on with the business of earning a living and raising a family

Sometime around the turn of the century I stumbled upon a Peak Oil website(The Oldavai Theory) and had my first encounter with that concept. I found it rather horrific and had trouble accepting the idea. But work as a supervisor at the provincial electrical utility (Ontario Hydro) and at home in my printing and graphics business kept me too busy to worry much. There was always the reassuring thought that surely technology will save us.

Multiple reorganizations and downsizings at what eventually became known at "Hydro One" made me even more cynical than I already was and sent me looking for more information about Peak Oil and Collapse. I'll cover some of the books I read in future posts, but at any rate, I was soon convinced.

I retired in 2005 and started looking much deeper. Improbable as it had once seemed, The Limits to Growth was right after all,

A few weeks ago I dug out my copy of The Limits to Growth and read it again, for the first time in nearly forty years. This lead me to do some further research in order to figure out how this book got written, in a world where growth was seen as an economic necessity.

As often happens, I found so much material that one post has turned into two (maybe more). This first one will cover the background and the second will consider the content of "The Limits to Growth".

My research lead me to two men: Aurelio Peccei, co-founder of The Club of Rome, and Jay Forrester, father of the science of system dynamics.

(Much of what follows is taken pretty much directly from Wikipedia, interspersed with my comments on its significance.)

Peccei was born in Turin, Italy in 1908, making him about a year older than my father. He became an economist and worked for Fiat. He was under suspicion as an anti-fascist in the 1930s and was involved with the resistance during WWII. In 1944, when he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, came within an ace of execution and escaped to lie in hiding until the liberation.

After the war, Peccei was engaged in the rebuilding of Fiat. Furthermore, he was engaged in various private and public efforts then underway to rebuild Italy, including the founding of Alitalia.

In 1949, he accepted to go to Latin America for Fiat, to restart their operations, as Fiat operations in Latin America had been halted during the war. He settled in Argentina, where he lived for nearly a decade with his family. He quickly realised that it would make sense to start manufacturing locally and set up the Argentine subsidiary, Fiat-Concord, which built cars and tractors. Fiat-Concord rapidly became one of the most successful automotive firms in Latin America.

In 1958, with the backing of Fiat, Peccei founded Italconsult (a para-public joint consultancy venture involving major Italian firms such as Fiat, Innocenti, Montecatini), and became its Chairman, a position he held until the 1970s, when he became Honorary President. Italconsult was an engineering and economic consulting group for developing countries. It operated under Peccei’s leadership, on the whole, more as a non-profit consortium. Italconsult was regarded by Peccei as a way of helping tackle the problems of the Third World, which he had come to know first-hand in Latin America.

In 1964, Peccei was asked to become President of Olivetti. Olivetti was facing significant difficulties at that time due to the profound changes occurring in the office machine sector. Peccei, with his foresight and his entrepreneurial vision, was able to turn the situation at Olivetti around.

But Peccei was not content merely with the substantial achievements of Italconsult, or his responsibilities as President of Olivetti, and threw his energies into other organisations as well, including ADELA, an international consortium of bankers aimed at supporting industrialisation in Latin America. He was asked to give the keynote speech in Spanish at the group's first meeting in 1965, which is where the series of coincidences leading to the creation of the Club of Rome began.

It took me a bit of searching to find Peccei's ADELA paper on line, but I finally did. It is titled "The Challenge for the 1970s for the World of Today" and calls for an effort to spread prosperity to a wider area of the world, an effort to be lead by Europe, due to its "central" position in the world, but with a large role for the USA as well. What Peccei was talking about was what we would today call "development" and he advised that effort should focus first on the Soviet bloc and Latin America. It is probably worth reading this speech for the perspective it gives on the state of the world in 1965. It is clear that though Peccei was an economist and a business man, he was also very much an idealist with the best interests of his fellow man at heart.

Peccei's speech caught the attention of Dean Rusk, then American Secretary of State, who had it translated into English and distributed at various meetings in Washington. A Soviet representative at the annual meeting of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (ACAST), Jermen Gvishiani, Alexei Kosygin's son-in-law and vice-chairman of the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Soviet Union, read the speech and was so taken by it that he decided he should invite the author to come for private discussions, outside Moscow. Gvishiani therefore asked an American colleague on ACAST, Carroll Wilson, about Peccei. Wilson did not know Peccei, but he and Gvishiani both knew Alexander King, by then Director General for Scientific Affairs for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, so Wilson appealed to him for information.

As it happened, King did not know Peccei, but he was equally impressed by the ADELA paper and tracked down its author via the Italian Embassy in Paris. King wrote to Peccei, passing on Gvishiani's address and wish to invite him to the Soviet Union, but also congratulating him on his paper and suggesting that they might meet some time as they obviously shared similar concerns. Peccei telephoned King and they arranged to have lunch.

The two men got on extremely well from the very outset. They met several times in the latter part of 1967 and early 1968, and then decided that they had to do something constructive to encourage longer-range thinking among Western European governments.

Peccei accordingly persuaded the Agnelli Foundation to fund a two-day brainstorming meeting on 7–8 April 1968 of around 30 European economists and scientists at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the ideas of Peccei and King of the globality of problems facing mankind and of the necessity of acting at the global level. The meeting at the Accademia dei Lincei was not a success, partly due to the difficulty of the participants to focus on a distant future.

After the meeting there was an informal gathering of a few people in Peccei’s home, which included Erich Jantsch (one of the great methodologists of planning studies), Alexander King, Hugo Thiemann, Lauro Gomes-Filho, Jean Saint-Geours and Max Kohnstamm. According to King, within an hour they had decided to call themselves the Club of Rome and had defined the three major concepts that have formed the Club's thinking ever since: a global perspective, the long term, and the cluster of intertwined problems they called "the problematique". Although the Rome meeting had been convened with just Western Europe in mind, the group realised that they were dealing with problems of much larger scale and complexity: in short, "the predicament of mankind". The notion of problematique excited some because it seemed applicable at a universal level, but worried others, who felt that the approach was valid only for smaller entities such as a city or community. Saint-Geours and Kohnstamm therefore soon dropped out, leaving the others to pursue their informal programme of learning and debate.

Thus started what Peccei called "the adventure of the spirit". He was fond of stating that, “If the Club of Rome has any merit, it is that of having been the first to rebel against the suicidal ignorance of the human condition.” Peccei felt "It is not impossible to foster a human revolution capable of changing our present course."

I think it is fairly amazing, from my perspective well into the 21st century, that a group such as this would even admit there was such a thing as a "problematique", a "predicament of mankind". Much less make addressing it their main goal. The "business as usual" part of society today resolutely refuses to consider that there is anything fundamentally wrong. But those were different times.

At any rate, a series of early meetings of the Club of Rome culminated in the decision to initiate a remarkably ambitious undertaking&emdash;the Project on the Predicament of Mankind. This was embodied in a document, "The Predicament of Mankind, a Quest for Structured Responses to Growing World-Wide Complexities and Uncertainties, A Proposal.". This is the heart of the proposal:

With reference to the project under consideration, the major objectives of the Club of Rome are:

1)To examine, as systematically as possible, the nature and configuration of the profound imbalances that define today's problematique throughout the world, and to attempt to determine the dynamics of the interactions which seemingly exacerbate the situation as a whole.

2)To develop an initial, coarse-grain, "model" or models of this dynamic situation in the expectation that such models will reveal both those systemic components that are most critical and those interactions that are most generally dangerous for the future.

3)To construct a "normative" overview from the foregoing models and to clarify the action implications &emdash;i.e., the political, social, economic, technological, institutional, etc., consequences &emdash;that such an overview might entail and substantiate.

4)To bring everything that has been learnt as a result of this initial effort, to the attention of those in political authority, in the hope that such findings might stimulate the conception of new lines of policy that would be effective in coping with our situation's overall dynamics and its world-wide dimensions.

5)To persuade governments to convene a World Forum,* with whose consent, support, and encouragement an intensive dialogue concerning the findings of the project would be initiated to the end that a much larger and deeper effort could be undertaken. Such an effort would aim at developing the needed operational "macro-models" conducive to endeavors at integrated policy-planning and to the development of new institutions within whose frame of competence such work could be carried out.

This proposal is a fairly tall order, even the first two items basically call for building a model of the world's systems and how they interact. Fortunately, someone was already at work on that job.

Jay Forrester was born on a farm near Anselmo, Nebraska, where "his early interest in electricity was spurred, perhaps, by the fact that the ranch had none. While in high school, he built a wind-driven, 12-volt electrical system using old car parts — it gave the ranch its first electric power."[3]

Forrester received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1939 from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Inducted into Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) the Electrical & Computer Engineering Honor Society in 1949, and went on to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he would spend his entire career. During the 1940s and early 50s, he did research in electrical and computer engineering, heading the Whirlwind project and developing the "Multi-coordinate digital information storage device (coincident-current system), the forerunner of today's RAM. He is believed to have created the first animation in the history of computer graphics, a "jumping ball" on an oscilloscope.

In 1956, Forrester moved to the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he is currently (2016) Germeshausen Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer. In 1961, he wrote about the expanding effects down the supply chains due to fluctuations in demand, thenceforth known as the "Forrester effect" or Bull whip effect.

Forrester is the founder of system dynamics, which deals with the simulation of interactions between objects in dynamic systems. Industrial Dynamics was the first book Forrester wrote using system dynamics to analyze industrial business cycles. Several years later, interactions with former Boston Mayor John F. Collins led Forrester to write Urban Dynamics, which sparked an ongoing debate on the feasibility of modeling broader social problems.

At around the same time as the Club of Rome was releasing its "Proposal", Forrester headed a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), on the implications of continued growth on population increase, agriculture production, non-renewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation.

At the Club of Rome's first annual meeting in Bern in 1970, Forrester made an offer to adapt his dynamic model to handle global issues. A fortnight later, a group of Club members visited Forrester at MIT and were convinced that the model could be made to work for the kind of global problems which interested the Club.

The results of the study were published in the 1972 book "The Limits to Growth". Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome, it was first presented at the St. Gallen Symposium. Its authors were Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. The book used the World3 model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth's and human systems.

Dennis Meadows was the project Director for the study, heading a team of 16, including the other three authors of the book. In her "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System", Dana (Donella) Meadows tells us that

the systems community has a lot of lore about leverage points. Those of us who were trained by the great Jay Forrester at MIT have absorbed one of his favorite stories. "People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!"

The classic example of that backward intuition was Forrester's first world model. Asked by the Club of Rome to show how major global problems—poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, resource depletion, urban deterioration, unemployment—are related and how they might be solved, Forrester came out with a clear leverage point: Growth. Both population and economic growth. Growth has costs—among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction—the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth! The world's leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they're pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.

Even in 1972, the idea that growth might not be a good thing was sacrilege and The Limits to Growth met with a great deal of criticism. Much of this was from people that, judging from the comments they made, had not even bothered to read the book, but instead chose to attack a "straw man" version of the idea that there might be limits to growth.

In my next post I'll summarize the contents of the book and let you know what I think of it.

As an aid to those who are reading this whole series of "Limits to Growth" posts, here is a complete set of links.

The Limits to Growth


John Weber said...

I think many of us have a history:

In 1968, while fishing on the causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, I had an epiphany. I had just finished a BS in anthropology and had studied psychology for many years (and went on later to get a degree, become licensed and practice for 20 years).

I was looking at the skyline of Miami (boy I bet it has changed) and realized that it couldn’t go on. “Civilization” was asking too much of us. We are too separated from nature. We are too pack in together. Our original child development situation had warped. Our connection to our brethren had been lost. We had allowed our hubris and arrogance to blind us to our situation.

In 1972, Limits to Growth came out. So besides not being healthy for humans psychologically, sociologically or spiritually, we are creating an unsustainable, environmentally devastating and devastated world.
 Then Energy for Survival by Wilson Clark, Energy Basis for Man and Nature by Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum, The Fires of Culture by Carol E Steinhart, Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford, Creating Alternative Futures: The End of Economics by Henderson, Hazel.
And so many more since then.

Unknown said...

Hi Irv:

I have been following the general theme of "limits to growth" and I share your concerns.

You have mentioned "Peak Oil" and from what I can gather, Energy will not be a limiting factor because there is so much energy available from solar and geothermal that we have not begun to tap. I think the limiting factor is going to be food.

To grow food you normally need arable land with gentle rainfall. That theme is changing because we can drill over 1,000 feet and pump up water for irrigation. And we can grow some crops in green houses with nutrition formulated drip irrigation to plants growing in styrofoam. And now they are talking about growing produce in 20 story buildings under electric lights. All of this is possible but it will be a huge drain on our resources leading to huge increases in food prices. And some will not be able to afford the high food prices and will lead to all sorts of problems.

We could have civil wars and wars between countries.

I have been in Oakville and Toronto for the last few days and every where I go I see boom cranes and earth movers. I don't think I have seen so much residential high rise and town house construction in my lifetime. It is mind boggling.

These people need wood, steel, aluminum, copper, concrete, textiles, precious metals and god know what else in order to move into a new home. We can probably provide all that stuff but eventually food is going to come home to roost.

How any times have you seen steaks come on sale this summer? Well this is because cows need water and pasture and there is already not enough of this to go around.

We have to stop population growth. Mother Earth has her limits.

Mike Smith

John Weber said...

Sorry slow in getting back, very busy. I believe energy will be a limiting factor. You mentioned "steel, aluminum, copper, concrete, textiles, precious metals and god know what else". The work below challenges us to look at the energy and global industrial infrastructure behind all of these materials and so much more.

All the things in our world have an industrial history. Behind the computer, the T-shirt, the vacuum cleaner is an industrial infrastructure fired by energy (fossil fuels mainly). Each component of our car or refrigerator has an industrial history. Mainly unseen and out of mind, this global industrial infrastructure touches every aspect of our lives. It pervades our daily living from the articles it produces, to its effect on the economy and employment, as well as its effects on the environment.
The whole picture needs to be included not just the installed devices. I am not a supporter of fossil fuels or nuclear. I am concerned about continuing business as usual and its devastation of the earth and humanities future.
Solar and wind energy collecting devices and their auxiliary equipment have an industrial history. They are an extension of the fossil fuel supply system and the global industrial infrastructure. It is important to understand the industrial infrastructure and the environmental results for the components of the solar energy collecting devices so we don’t designate them with false labels such as green, renewable or sustainable.
This is a challenge to ‘business as usual’. If we teach people that these solar devices are the future of energy without teaching the whole system, we mislead, misinform and create false hopes and beliefs. They are not made with magic wands.
These videos are primarily concerning solar energy collecting devices. These videos and charts are provided by the various industries themselves. I have posted both charts and videos for the solar cells, modules, aluminum from ore, aluminum from recycling, aluminum extrusion, inverters, batteries and copper.
Please note each piece of machinery you see in each of the videos has its own industrial interconnection and history.

Unknown said...

Hi John:

I wish I could find Al Gore's thoughts about solar but in one of his books he stated that enough solar energy struck Earth in a day to meet our needs for a year.

There also appears to be so much heat in the Earth's magma that we can consider it infinite if we could just figure out how to extract it economically. See

I think everyone agrees that fossil fuel is really efficient but other sources of energy are very, very large and more then compensate for our difficulties in extracting or converting the energy.

But lets say you believe that energy is the limiting resource. That's fine.

The solution is the same. We not only need to stop increasing our global population, we need to decrease our global population. Currently we are consuming 1 1/2 times the Planet's capacity each year and in 14 years we will be consuming 2 Planet's capacity each year. See

You don't need to be clairvoyant to see where this is going.

The next nearest "Goldilocks" planet is 20 light years away. We only have one planet, we are standing on it and if we wreck it there will be no next season.

Mike Smith

John Weber said...

I don't believe you looked at the videos in the essay I sent. It isn't a question of solar energy falling on the earth. It isn't a question of wind blowing.
It is the devices. They are not renewable, the sun is not the devices. They are not green and they are not sustainable without energy to make the next generation and replacement parts.
Geothermal has some applications but probably limited locations. And you still need the equipment and energy to make, install and maintain.

These videos are primarily concerning solar energy collecting devices. These videos and charts are provided by the various industries themselves. I have posted both charts and videos for the solar cells, modules, aluminum from ore, aluminum from recycling, aluminum extrusion, inverters, batteries and copper.
Please note each piece of machinery you see in each of the videos has its own industrial interconnection and history.

This is about wind:

We don't need to continue this. We are in overshoot and live way to high on the hog. Nature will fix that because we won't.
Good luck.

Irv Mills said...

I've just be sitting back watching you guys go at it, Mike and John. Nice to see some activity in this comments section. I had a quick look at your blog and it seems that I am much closer in opinion to you John, than I am to Mike. Although I know Mike personally, in the flesh, and would consider him a friend.
None of the so called renewables are anything like a replacement for fossil fuels. Wind and solar are intermittent and we don't (and won't) have anything like the kind of storage that would be needed to solve that problem. The surplus energy they produce (EROEI) is way to low to sustain an industrial society, and yes, it is hard to see how we would build (or replace when they wear out) wind or solar energy technology without fossil fuels to support the effort.
I guess we all three agree that our population is too high. It will come down, regardless of whether we co-operate or not.
A lot of people look at the future I'm talking about and wonder if they would want to live in such a place. I'd say they are spoiled by having high tech toys at their finger tips. For most of mankind's history (a couple of million years, at least) we didn't have any of this. Yet there is every indication that our ancestors lives were as rich and full of joy as our lives today.

John Weber said...

Ira - As a younger man, I saw it as a challenge. From 1974 to 2004, I lived off the grid in Central Minnesota. The first ten without electricity in my home. I got my psychology degree using kerosene lamps. I cooked and heated with wood and pumped my water into a retaining tank in the ceiling for gravity feed. The last 20 I had both solar and wind energy collecting devices with my home wired 12 volt DC and a small inverter for my computer and vacumm cleaner. Many tales here.

In 2003, I had lung cancer and given only a few weeks to live. Beat that one. Then last November had a major operation on my lungs that layed me up for 3 months. Slowly coming back after major atrophy of my muscles. We dug about 400 pounds of potatoes Friday.

Presently (at 73), I live on a lake in Northern Minnesota. My partner and I have a orchard/garden on 40 acres, ten miles from our lake home. We grow specialty potatoes for use, sale and the food shelf. We have apple trees, cherries, hazelnuts, grapes and 400 plus blueberry plants.

We have a root cellar that keeps our carrots until April and our potatoes until June. We have greenhouse using glass not plastic and a great irrigation system using the old farm pump with a cylinder design. All buildings are passive solar including a rehabbed farmhouse built in 1945. I am designing this for the future generations to give them a leg up.

This comes from an essay I wrote around 1998.
Consider it this way. If humanity is seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter. She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought. This same 100 year old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution. And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.
Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence. Is it bad or wrong? This is not the criteria. There is no fault. Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time. At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that can expand and deepen the knowledge of our travels. It can also cause great confusion and grief.

You might also find this of interest:

Unknown said...


I understand about the storage problem. Solar must be burdened with a technology for storage and I agree that is always left out of the figures. Meanwhile Hydro One are working with Compressed Air Storage using balloons on the floor of Lake Ontario (see )

The big trick is to get the costs down so the solar energy conversion plus the storage cost is reasonably close to fossil fuel. Even if the costs are not equivalent we must understand that we cannot keep burning fossil fuels because of the carbon emission problems that may eventually wipe out human civilization.


You have had great success in living in Minnesota in a sustainable energy cycle. But you did that on 40 acres.

But now we have people living in 60 story condos because of over population. Just the energy to get up to your condo could never be self generated. We are forced to use large centralized energy systems to serve these people. So we need large energy systems based on hydro, solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal with appropriate storage systems if we are going to survive.

Mike Smith

Unknown said...

John Weber:

No I did not look at the videos that were linked into your reference material.

I understand that there are production and infrastructure costs and inputs to every form of energy.

I think you are looking at energy from the view of efficiency and lowest inputs per gwh. And from that view point you conclude the fossil fuel is more efficient.

My view of energy is based on the life cycle carbon emissions per gwh and on that measurement, fossil fuels are at the top and non fossil fuels are at the bottom (see )

When they do these studies they would look at the concrete that went into the dam, the aluminum that went into the solar array etc. etc. and on this measure solar, wind, hydro and nuclear show very well.

Since I believe that Global Warming is the thing we are trying to stop, then my entire focus is on this single parameter.

I would also note in the absence of subsidies, that your other issues about inputs will be reflected in the price. Solar prices are already burdened with the price of the aluminum. We don't have to know exactly how it is mined, refined, processed and fabricated. The free market gives it a price that becomes a cost to the solar array fabricator who comes up with a final price for making solar energy. If some other form of energy has fewer or cheaper inputs then it will end up with a cheaper price. This is my understanding of the free market.

Mike Smith

John Weber said...

No, I don't conclude fossil fuels are more efficient and am solidly against nuclear power unless a method is found to decommission and also protect the waste for longer than civilization has been around.
Without looking at the videos, seeing all the equipment involved, the equipment that would be required for those machines and the energy involved every where you miss my point entirely.
What is the ERoEI of compressed air storage? The efficiency.
The ultimate where you and I can never meet is I am do not want business as usual. It is destructive to the earth. It is destructive lifeforms.
It is comforting to prefer the noise of delusional magical thinking and pretending that the system of perpetual growth can work forever; that some variant of business as usual can persist. There is just too much tied up with it and any unraveling would be far too chaotic and unpredictable. Wrapping our heads around the eventualities of global warming; of overshoot; of the desecration of world wildlife; of the acidification of the oceans; of the poisoning of pollinators stymies.

A world no longer powered by fossil fuels, no matter what incarnation, is almost inconceivable and for many terrifying. . It is indeed traumatic for what it might (probably) means not just for us but for our love ones, children, grandchildren. Our hearts break. We want to fix it. So we do more technology and more ultimate harm.

We are slowly technogizing ourselves into extinction. Technology is seductive. Is it the power? Is it the comfort? Or is it some internal particularly human attribute that drives it? Technology surrounds us and becomes part of our story and myths. Technology tantalizes the human mind to make, combine, invent. There are always unintended consequences with technology. It effects how we experience the world in time and space. It affects how we feel the world. If all the externalities were included in the prices and cost to nature, we would be very, very wary of technology.

I think we have moved from technology in the service of religion (pyramids and gothic cathedrals) to religion and culture in the service of technology. It isn't a deity that will save humanity but in the eyes of many - it will be technology.

We will do more of the same, business as usual until there are no more holes in the ground to dig, no more water above and below to contaminate, no humans to wage slave, no other lifeforms to eliminate. Yes, we are building Trojan horses in our hearts, minds and spirits. It will be elitist and entitlement and hubris – it will end with both a bang and a whimper.

With this I will no long involve. I wish you good luck in your pursuits.

John Weber said...

I believe there are five natural factors that determine and will continue to determine our history and future.
* All life reproduces to the maximum their environment allows(population density).
* All life will use all the resources in its environment to promote its present living (population pressure).
* Much of life manifest an us against them protectionism (even plants release poisons to the soil to protect their territory. This is the convergence of territoriality (which is manifest by all life) and the need to belong for this dependently social animal called human.
* We are immersed in an environment of our own making and our "brilliance" threatens us with unintended consequences (whether agriculture or nuclear power).
* Groups larger than the small group of 30 to 200 people which is the social environment in which we evolved for a million years, creates power-over and inequality.
These five factors are a natural part of life and being human. For more detailed exposition:

Irv Mills said...

Mike, I think the idea that we have to maintain anything like the lifestyle we have today is just wrong. Not only we don't have to, but we won't be able to, no matter how hard we try. The trying itself has already done quite a bit of harm, and I expect more to come.

I wonder, since you are a psychologist, what are your thoughts on man as a community animal? Seems to me if we aim to get through what is coming we will need the mutual support of a community, rather than trying to go it alone. How isolated is your 40 acres in Minnesota? Isolation from big cities is no doubt a good idea, but maybe not complete isolation. No personal criticism intended.

Irv Mills said...

And open further thought, Mike, the price of things on our markets is, sadly, very little indication of their value or even their real cost. That's a big part of what's wrong with our economy.

John Weber said...

Irv - I agree with the community thinking. We are not isolated and are well known. I didn't practice psychology in this area. My partner has been around the area since 1957 when her parents bought a resort. We live at the resort home (which is no longer a resort) and her brother owns the cabins. At the lake home, we have an annual pot luck picnic for all the neighbors. This was the 12th one this year and around 50 people came.
We are in the downward slope globally now. When it will really bite us has always been the question.

Irv Mills said...

Glad to hear it, John. Sounds like you have yourself set up pretty nicely.
We live in a small town Bruce County, on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. I've been here since 1977 and my wife grew up in the area, so we have lots of connections.Just wish we had a little more land for gardening.

Irv Mills said...

That was supposed to be "a small town in Bruce County".
Sure wish it was possible to edit my comments.

John Weber said...

You might find this interesting:

Unknown said...


You commented that price does not always reflect cost. Yes, that is true particularly in the US for things like drugs, health care, banking services, oil, wheat and corn. These products are priced according to what subsidies permit or what they can get away with because of crookedness in the political and economic system.

But I would say that the price of steel, aluminum and most raw materials is governed by the free market so the producer is forced to sell his product at what it costs plus a reasonable profit. The free market is even freer to the extent that China and other suppliers can enter the market. Some of the biggest bridges in the US have been constructed with steel from China.


Irv Mills said...

Mike, what about externalized cost that don't show up in free market prices? Things like pollution and environmental damage that society has to clean up. we bear the cost and the manufacturer gets a freebie. If those cost were added in, the price of such commodities would be much higher.
The market is also affected by things like demand destruction (lack of demand due to economic contraction) or oversupply cause prices to goes down. Both of those things are currently forcing the price of oil down. It is already below the cost of production for most producers. But if they quit producing because it is not profitable it would have a drastic effect on our society. Panic about supply can also cause
price to spike upwards to ridiculous levels. I would say the free market as it exists today is a broken mechanism.
Last, I'd like you to consider how we price non-renewable resources. These things are irreplaceable--when we've used them all up, that's it, there is no more. If you owned something like that, you would use it very sparingly and charge a very high price when you let any of it go. You'd probably insist that it be recycled and reused as much as possible, to make the supply last as long as possible.
But our capitalist economy is content with whatever it costs to dig it out of the ground plus a "reasonable profit". Insanity.

Unknown said...


For sure externalized costs should be included. Hurricane Katrina cost $105B in damages. Hurricane Sandy caused $65B in damages. But the oil companies did not kick in a dime.

I agree that oversupply is an external factor but it is a free market effect that usually effects all suppliers.

On top of global warming, coal makes us clean our shirts more often and can cause bronchial disease. Yes, if there was a way of charging this to the coal companies, it would be great. The closest thing they have come up with is a carbon tax of about $40 per ton. British Columbia is doing this. The Federal Liberal Party advocated this about 10 years ago but I don't know what their views are today.

Unknown said...

Here are a couple of links that may be of interest to this discussion.

Unknown said...

Here's another link on Geothermal for Canada.

They note that if the subsidies were lifted from the oil companies, it would be easier for geothermal to compete but old habits die hard.

I have often wondered if we could go into some of abandoned mines in Ontario and see how much heat is down there.