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The New Green Revolution, a.k.a. The Grand Transition to... ?? - Part I

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and others have been touting the multitudinous advantages of colonizing the Moon and Mars. The scientific idiocies of these proclamations are so outlandish that I will not bother commenting on them. But, at the same time, Stephen Hawking's name has come up in the context of Mars colonization.

Dr. Nate Hagens uses Hawking's ideas about Mars colonization in his Reality 101 course at the University of Minnesota to illustrate the point that human society is composed of tiny islands of high competence floating in a vast sea of narratives.

Let me start from quoting a recent email by JDW on the subject of human escape to outer space:

"Without a synthesis which shows how different narratives relate to one another, people are free to use “verbal logic” to create properly-constructed sentences which don’t correspond to possible realities. “Verbal logic” is nearly an oxymoron, because there’s not much in the way of error-correction built into it. Anything that “sounds good” makes the cut, and this gives the competitive advantage to propositions that sound extra good, because there is an ongoing bias in favor of exaggerated and supernormal claims.

Hawking certainly didn’t use verbal logic to understand black holes; that was largely visual/mathematical thinking. But he shifted into verbal thinking in his thoughts about Mars, and probably in most other things in his life… as most people do. His functional incompetence was clearly not apparent to him. The nature of intelligence, expertise, reductionism, IQ, etc. seem greatly skewed these days in favor of quasi-idiot-savant experts who are lifted into prominence by being apparently right about some very narrow slice of reality.

There’s currently not much status which attaches to synthesis, because synthesis is antithetical to most extremely stimulating beliefs about reality and the future. And this won’t change anytime soon. We are left with a choice between offering a bummer message nobody really wants to hear, versus crafting a message that has utility to move society toward chosen goals."

In translation, a complete scientific theory  - with a self-consistent framework of assumptions (axioms), theorems, equations and conclusions - could be wrong, but it is relatively easy for other scientists to spot its deficiencies and propose counter-examples.  Thus, Hawking and many other scientists were/are on very solid ground when we develop and defend our theories that may hugely impact your lives.  In social (pseudo)sciences, economics, and in politics, the scientific foundation does not exist or is weak, and it is exceedingly easy to fall into the trap of "verbal logic."  Even the best of us bullshit occasionally, and we must be careful about what we say and how we justify our claims.  To make things worse, general public and government consultants have little or no scientific background, and it is difficult for them to find out what is scientifically right and what is obviously wrong. In addition, today, important news is manipulated on Twitter/Facebook so that no one can determine what is really going on. Have you seen many equations on Twitter?

Here is a complementary snippet from Pedro Prieto, my favorite Spanish engineer and friend. He is quoting an essay entitled "Gente que no quiere viajar a Marte: ensayos sobre ecología, ética y autolimitación" or "People who do not want to travel to Mars: Essays on Ecology, Ethics and Self-Limitation." Pedro has translated a fragment of the introduction to this book released in 2004 in Spanish:

"They [the Mars travelers] are already here on the boards of directors of corporations, in the ministries and government offices, in the education and research centers, and in the mainstream media.... At first sight, they may appear as normal human beings, but they are Martians who arrived from outer space. You may recognize them because of their deep conviction that humans are not the living beings of this planet, but masters of the universe. So, because they are convinced that they only transit through our planet, they believe they can treat the planet as a disposable object, a "use and throw away" biosphere."

Apart from this joke, writes Pedro, "People that do not want to travel to Mars...", is a book that completes Jorge's "Trilogy of Self-Contempt." This trilogy started with  the book, "A vulnerable world," where Jorge argues that one cannot be a consistent positivist, if one is not prepared to treat the Earth as a disposable planet, only to escape to the Cosmos later. This escape temptation is expressed by a more ample and complex "anthropofuge" movement, a movement of flight from the human condition that we must take seriously, and which we have to resist.

So beware of this murderous cosmic narrative that justifies Gaiacide, you young impressionable readers.

 Let me now continue with a few definitions.  The first one is from the priceless Wikipedia:

"In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.

As described by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority results from an internal illusion in people of low ability and from an external misperception in people of high ability; that is, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others. "  Here you might insert your favorite politicians and academics as examples.

Source: Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (6): 1121–1134.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Those who have the slightest bit of experience think they know it all. That's the peak at upper left. Then, with increasing experience, people realize how little they do know, how modest their skills are. Perceptions reach a minimum (center of chart), then slant upward again. Those at the level of genius recognize their talent, though tend to lack the supreme confidence of the ignoramus. This figure and its caption are reproduced from Richard Poundstone, Psychology Today, Jan. 21, 2017.

Now I need to lay out the leitmotif of this blog:

Energy, actually energy per unit time  - or power -, is the essential food and drink of the global superorganism, without which she will shrivel and die. Conversely, the more power flows through a society, the more complex dynamic structures* this society can create. Therefore, knowledge of energy issues informs pretty much everything about the decisions the global human amoeba will make in the next twenty years.
* You decide whether these structures are [necessary, convenient, unnecessary, harmful] .

Just yesterday, in another email exchange, Jason Bradford observed:

"As a biological analogy let me throw this out and see if it sticks. Some vertebrates evolved as homeothermic endotherms [animals that are capable of the internal generation of heat]. Think of humans and birds. These creatures maintain a nearly constant body temperature and so demand a high baseline metabolic rate. To me, this is what the Industrial Civilization is like. The Maximum Power Principle is at work here because with such a metabolism you can get work done any time of the year, or even day or night. This is an energy-demanding way to live. Other vertebrates are ectotherms [animals dependent on external sources of body heat], or if they are endothermic they take time off now and then during lean seasons or times of day, such as hibernation and torpor states. This means they don’t bother to do work all the time and are less energy demanding. This is what I imagine the preindustrial way of life to be like. It is not as power maximizing and is more energy efficient and conserving. What I believe we need to be doing is comparing the energy systems of different types of human civilization—the endothermic and the ectothermic—and stop asking which endothermic way of life is most efficient."

In translation, if we want to live in more harmony with nature or be more "sustainable," we must behave more like the ectothermic animals and slow down at times.  Says me, a creature that  incessantly works on something around the clock, including evenings and weekends.

To conclude this Part I, in the context of "Big Energy," Kruger and Dunning imply that the energy-ignorant people - that is almost everybody in the "developed" countries - are vocal on issues they do not comprehend, because they haven't developed an internal yardstick to measure just how ignorant they are. Today, they feel empowered by their Facebook posts that are read and supported by other ignoramuses. The arrogant energy "experts" - not geniuses - on the other side, routinely overestimate their ability to predict the future, and confuse their self-important logorrheas with divine powers. (Logorrhea is pathologically excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness that is characteristic especially of the manic phase of bipolar disorder or of presidential interviews on Fox & Friends or CPAC.)

From Mike H.

By the way, I really try hard not to hallucinate.  In Part II, I will show you how naive it is to think than the "New Green Deal" will allow us to continue our current lifestyles, just by other greener means. This, my friends in the developed, power and resource hogging countries is impossible.



    Esko Valtaoja: Mars will be conquered in the 2030s
    Astronomy Professor Esko Valtaoja believes in space travel. Space tourism has not yet become popular, but according to him, with the development of fusion energy and technology, people can travel to the stars in the next few decades or even set up settlements on other planets.

    - When man reached the moon in the 1960s, the conquest of Mars was conceived in the next decade. Talking about space hotels and tourist trips, he recalls.

    There are some companies in the world that plan space tourism.

    Virgin Galactic has been the most active and many Hollywood stars and a few Finns have bought tickets on their spacecraft. Since 2000, seven astrotourists have visited space.

    The majority believes that Mars will be visited the first time in the 2030s.

    Going to Mars is by far the most expensive project for humanity if you ignore wars

    - It may be a bit optimistic. But it has to been seen as a milestone when the vision of the future was made at the beginning of the millennium. A more realistic timetable is to talk about 2035-2040

    Above all, the project is slowed down by a lack of money.

    - Going to Mars is by far the most expensive project of mankind, if you leave wars out of the bill. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Apollo Space Program dropped the US GDP a few percent.

    The daily tourism flights and the conquest of Mars will still require development of technology.

    - We could send astronaut in a couple of years to at least one-way trip to Mars. But to get him back safely, you'd have to wait another twenty years for the technical capability to be far enough. There were terrible risks on Apollo flights.

    There are still a few thousand stars that haven't been screened out yet. It would be strange if there were nothing out there.

    The conditions in Mars are challenging for people. Everything you need to stay alive should be carried out there. Water supply under the surface may be possible.

    Exploring space beyond Mars requires nuclear-powered spacecraft. According to him they are not being developed today, mainly for political reasons.

    Due to enormous distances, space flight durations are to be spoken of in years or even decades.

    One of the fundamental questions of humanity is whether there is life outside the globe. Astronomers are constantly trying to figure out how unusual the planet is.

    - It has been discovered that there are planets around every star. Now we are trying to figure out how many stars around planets are around. That's where life would be possible in principle. And where people could sometimes set up settlements in the distant future.

    According to him, next-generation space telescopes are able to see the atmospheres of the planets, which is the decisive information. Finding a planet that resembles the Earth is a matter of the next few years, believes Valtaoja.

    - The Keppler satellite is looking for exoplanets near other stars. There are still a few thousand stars that haven't been screened yet. It would be strange if there were nothing out there.

    Fusion energy could provide more powerful rockets to allow interstellar travel.

    If you think that after only about 60 years from the first flight of the Wright Brothers we went to the moon, then going to another planet is going to happen.

    - The first fusion reactor is being built in the southern France. If it will work, energy problems will be solved alongside the conquest of space and climate change too. The fusion principle could be used to develop really powerful space rockets that could reach the nearest stars in as little as twenty years.

    In his books Valtaoja has predicted that in 2778 a man on another exoplanet will stand watching our own sun.

    - You have to think about a thousand years in a perspective. If you think that after only about 60 years from the Wright Brothers we went to the moon, then going to another planet will suddenly happen. Very few things are impossible.

    1. Hi fusion power wouldn't be nearly enough to get us to our nearest stars in a reasonable timeframe.

      Try a supertanker full of antimatter but it could be a tad expensive.

  2. @Cupid: We seem to be inhabiting two different worlds. While you are looking up to the stars, the planet that keeps you alive keeps on burning. So look down and around you, for a change. You will not be saved by going to another planet or by fusion. Instead, please try doing something for the environment next to you, waste less, and stop talking dreamy nonsense you are fed by the fossil Superorganism.

  3. Tad,
    There is a lovely little essay by Wendell Berry entitled "Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse: Twenty-seven propositions about global thinking and the sustainability of cities". I heartily recommend you seek it out. It is very concise and addresses some of the misguided but nevertheless ambient conventions you criticize here in your own piece on delusional thinking.

    By the way, did you mean to write "Stephen" Hawking above?

    1. Thank you, of course "Stephen" has was. What was I thinking?! I got that beautiful essay from Wendell himself and used it in teaching my classes. Students wrote several lovely essays meant to be letters to Wendell.

    2. Have you read Life Is A Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition? It is essentially an argument against the wrongheaded "application" of Science (with a big "S") as the ultimate arbiter and determinant of "Truth" (again, with a big "T") within the realm of collective human thought and action. To be clear, it is not an argument against science, but rather a nuanced objection to the role that science has come to play within our current iteration of "civilization". It is, at core, an argument against a certain kind of Totalitarianism. It echoes Schumacher, Carson and other insightful Cassandras whose voices were never heeded.

      Who but Berry could write a sentence like this?

      "Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato."

      or for that matter this?

      “...once we build beyond a human scale, once we conceive ourselves as Titans or as gods, we are lost in magnitude; we cannot control or limit what we do. The statistics of magnitude call out like Sirens to the statistics of destruction. If we have built towering cities, we have raised even higher the cloud of megadeath. If people are as grass before God, they are as nothing before their machines....”
      (The Unsettling of America, 1972)

      It's obvious what he is referring to. We've had our hands in the cookie jar for far too long, and we need to wipe the smirks off our faces and acknowledge that there are limits to appetite.

      However, this guy has no shortage of followers among the desperate, sodden masses looking for Jiminy Cricket salvation:

      We've come such a long way, haven't we?

    3. Yesterday, in the National Museum in Krakow, I picked up a book entitled something like “Human Gods” (in Polish translation). It is an American bestseller showing how improvements in technology, genetics, and connecting the human brain to computers will create a new class of super humans, modestly abbreviated as “gods” by the author. How descriptive of the human travel to Titan status and extinction!

      The real reason why we went to the museum was a retrospective on life’s work of Andrzej Wajda, an Oscar winning Polish film director, who - with the mind-numbing intensity and artistic perfection - told the Polish story through WWII, Stalinism, other –isms, until the present capitalistic shit-nirvana. In the end, 6/35 million Poles were dead, with hundreds of thousands killed until 1955. To put this carnage into perspective, the lives lost in Poland correspond to 56 million Americans killed today,

      When you see all of it at once, the full scope and depth of human tragedy that engulfed the generations of my grandparents and parents, and my generation, you just feel tears running down your face and march on.

      Wajda told the story of his father, silenced forever by the Soviets in Katyn, together with 15,000 other Polish officers and intellectuals, who were all shot in the back of their heads and covered with dirt in shallow mass graves. My wife's uncle, Stanislaw Paulisz, a lieutenant in the Polish army, was among them.

      By telling his personal story, Wajda also told our national story and the world noticed. It took him 50 years of very hard work to accomplish what he wanted minus five or so of potentially great projects that never happened. Wajda died in 2016. He was a real human, who didn't need a direct plug-in to a parallel supercomputer, and didn't want to be a human god.

    4. I'm not surprised that the book you reference is an "American Bestseller". America seems to be a crucible and planetary epicentre of such thinking these days, though by now it is a widespread and communicable disease virtually everywhere. The sheer largesse of industrial culture coupled with a sinking sense of subterranean desperation within that culture seems to breed and validate such delusional hallucinations, both among the elite and among those who know no better than to just tag along in the hope that it all works out in the end.

      Your "anecdote" about Wajda and the relevance of his work to your own history as well as human history writ large is moving. We modern triumphalists live in an oblivious "memory hole" that forgets the record of suffering written in blood and flesh, all of which was the result of somebody's misguided and tyrannical idea of perfectible utopia. And here we are repeating it again in so many ways.

      I suppose the lesson of history is to be skeptical, very skeptical, of the purveyors and puppets of -isms, ideologies and utopias. I don't think the scale at which we insist on operating can be propped up by any -ism that can make up for the inevitable contradictions, inconsistencies and insanities inherent in its paradigm of supremacy. Call it "diminishing marginal returns on fantasy".

      Unlike you, I have no personal connections to the atrocities and horrors you mention, though I have read about them. [One worthwhile account of mention is Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands : Europe between Hitler & Stalin (] After all, I - like so many here and now - was born into the great acceleration, behind the fortressed walls of north America. Nevertheless, given the trajectory we are on and the circumstances unfolding across the globe, these kinds of things are, regrettably, destined to be repeated.

      By the way, the so-called "human gods" have an impending dinner-date with the sediments. So much for legacy.

  4. In the Shahnama, what remains of the legendary lore of Ancient Persia, one can find the story of Yima the First Shepherd; with the use of the 'gifts of the gods', ie technology, his kingdom flourished, and crops, people and animals grew in numbers.

    Too much for the Earth; so a further flourish of the divine gifts expanded the Earth, and the process of growth continued.

    He did this successfully twice, but at his third attempt the gods came down and told Yima that it wouldn't work anymore:

    'Winter is coming, and you must hide underground if you are to survive at all'.

    Exactly where we are, I would say: not conquerors of other planets but a much more humble role awaits us......if we are lucky.

    But are we as wise as Yima, to listen to the gods?

  5. Yes, the Great Scrapbook of human stories is full of precedents that instruct us not to be the assholes we seem intent on being. But remember, this is the age of The Great Forgetting, where we think we have transcended history, tradition and any consideration of limits.
    As Leonard Cohen said in his song, we "smashed the cosmic model, blinded every view". I like that: it's accurate, to say the least.

  6. I know Wajda's film "Ashes and diamonds", I remember it's very good. Haven't seen it in a long time though.
    In my post above I wasn't expressing my own opinions but only quoted Prof Valtaoja, a Finnish cosmologist and a popular published and awarded writer. He believes in still advancing industrial agriculture and says that economic growth will continue and says that we'll eventually develop super fast fusion powered spaceships that will enable us to visit Alpha Centauri which is only 4.37 light years from us. He predicts that this trip will happen within 750 years and and will take only twenty years because our spaceships will be very quick by then. If he is right, we'll boldly go where no man has gone before! Sounds good, is there anything not to like?

  7. "In Part II, I will show you how naive it is to think than the “New Green Deal” will allow us to continue our current lifestyles, just by other greener means. This, my friends in the developed, power and resource hogging countries is impossible."

    More and more, lately, I'm opting to use the phrase "material economy," instead of "current lifestyles," because it is vastly more explicit and precise concerning what it is we're pointing toward. And you're right -- the GND cannot possibly result in our continuing the current basic type of material economy we now have. If any GND version proposes that we can simply 'unplug' the current energy intensive material economy from fossil fuels and then 're-plug' it into renewable energy systems in a time frame that is relevant to the current climate emergency, it is our moral obligation to disabuse its believers of this ludicrous proposition.

    At the moment, the "mainstream" climate movement appears to have "unplug-replug" (as I sometimes call it) as its principal aim. This movement needs to be plunged (not plugged) into the icy waters which would wake it from its slumber. It is dreaming, and needs some fresh air.

    Myriad tentacles and arms of the broader climate movement, many actors within which are quite awake, have succeeded in alerting the public round the world that, in fact, our time is characterized by a climate emergency (e.g., Extinction Rebellion, The Climate Mobilization...). Through their actions they have shed much light on the urgency for "action" -- but have done little to indicate what sort of action is called for. It is unsurprising that they are generally not openly calling for what I and some of my friends have discovered to be necessary -- a "near complete deindustrialization" of our material economy.

    "A WHAT?!"

    Yes, and not only that but a deliberate, ideally carefully planned economic descent in GDP/GWP.

    "Yeah, that's gonna sell to the voting public."

    So you see, our political challenges are something quite different from what we like to think -- if we're "mainstream".

    But there is some good news.

    (a) It is possible to show people that a very good, high quality of life is possible without all of that energy and materials throughput. It's possible because it is true. It's a fact. It's demonstrable. And our task now is to demonstrate it.

    (b) At least half of the necessary work will not depend upon a consensus or a majority in the general public of any nation. We can make enormous strides in responding intelligently to our predicament beginning right now, without any national elections or congressional votes. Much of it won't even depend on local council votes. We can just start transforming the material economy right now. Nothing stands in our way.

    (c) Mainstream political (and legislative) change will mostly come later (following), after our conceptual and logical demonstrations on paper have become communities enacting the transformation to come. Early adopters will take the lead and begin to transform the material economy.

    Those who are curious can see my underlining, bolding and such over here:

  8. Dear James,

    I will respond to your thoughtful comment in a separate post on mass flows through our civilization. I will show in particular that our GDPs scale with net mass inflows into each country to the power of one. This relationship means that our current economies have not dematerialized at all, and their dependence on mass flows is not fractal. This means that there are no holes in that cheese composed of the raw materials we consume each year as national superorganisms.


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