While the pre-existing corporate world is trying to maintain their stranglehold on public and private systems, services and the policies that maintain them, we are currently witnessing the most important and profound disruption in the energy sector in over a century.
This disruption will have a major impact on the ways we live our lives, bringing us a healthier co-existence for both the people and the planet.
But bringing this about is going to take much more than good ideas. It will take action.
At a time when people are dealing with the impact of Covid-19, they are also dealing with another public illness: Information overload. Unfortunately, much of this information is corrupted and influenced by radical forces and special interest groups. It is very important that people everywhere are given unlimited access to the wisdom they need for ultimate health and well-being.
With increased demand for evidence-based wisdom, people everywhere are taking action to make a difference in the ways we live our lives.
Making it possible to make better and ethical decisions for ultimate health and well-being.
According to a report by evolutionary think tank, Rethink X:
We are witnessing the start of the most profound disruption of the energy sector in over a century. Like others throughout history, this disruption is the result of a convergence of several key technologies – namely, solar photovoltaics, onshore wind power, and lithium-ion batteries (SWB). A 100% SWB energy system is possible as soon as 2030 in regions that choose to lead, and because energy accounts for over half of all greenhouse gas emissions, the clean disruption of this sector will be a large part of how we can reduce emissions by 90% by 2035.
A common question that arises in response to our work is: how can solar and wind power meet all of humanity’s energy generation needs more cheaply than any other technologies?
The answer to this question, and the key to understanding energy decarbonization, is a phenomenon that we identified in our 2020 energy report using a tool that we call The Clean Energy U-Curve.
What if by working together, harness the wisdom to bring us together, enable a healthier co-existence, and bring about the systems and services for ultimate public health?
This will require a radical shift in the way we see life in our world and the ways energy is acquired and delivered.
Mobilized is bringing together media makers and earth shakers, systems designers and producers, campaigners and executives whose new business models create the potential for ultimate health.
Committed to a more holistic approach to health and well-being, we are transforming a ‘traditional’ conference and exposition into an ongoing interactive media experience that provides citizens everywhere with a front row seat to the changes we wish to create in the world.
Once the live experiences are over, citizens are invited to share the knowledge with others and join in the communities of conscious creation on an epic scale in the GLOBAL BRAIN.
The RethinkX Clean Energy U-Curve
The Clean Energy U-Curve shows that there is a tradeoff relationship between energy generation and energy storage. We can either build more solar panels and wind turbines so that we can generate enough power even during the short days of winter, or we can build bigger batteries to charge up ahead of time.
Our modeling shows that there are thousands of different combinations of SWB that could physically do the job of providing 100% of all current electricity demand. But, very importantly, they are not all the same cost – some of them are much more expensive than others.
The Clean Energy U-Curve explains why this is the case, by showing that there is an optimal combination of SWB – a “sweet spot” at the bottom of the curve – where the total capital cost of the system is lowest. The exact sweet spot SWB combination is different for each region because it varies with climate, geography, infrastructure, and other factors. But what is most counterintuitive about the Clean Energy U-Curve is that for all the regions and countries we have analyzed, the sweet spot has always been between 3 and 5 times more total generating capacity than the existing grid.
So, how can it be cheaper to build 3 to 5 times more solar and wind generating capacity than we currently have installed with today’s coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro power plants? The answer is that when we have that much generating capacity, the system only needs 35 to 90 hours’ worth of batteries: and it’s the batteries that are so expensive.
We Don’t Need Seasonal Storage
The tradeoff relationship between energy generation and energy storage is not linear, and so it is neither obvious nor intuitive. For these reasons, the significance of the relationship is still not widely known or appreciated even within the energy sector itself. As a result, most conventional forecasts have never even considered building that much solar and wind capacity, which means they also assume an SWB system will require weeks’ worth of energy storage (sometimes referred to as ‘seasonal’ storage). Because of this, even widely cited conventional analyses assume mixes of SWB that are nowhere near the sweet spot at the bottom of the Clean Energy U-Curve. That’s why they come to the false conclusion that SWB systems will be extremely expensive.
Thankfully, this widespread and long-standing misconception is now starting to change as more people have come to understand our work, and as other scientists and analysts have begun to replicate our findings in their own research.
Understanding Energy Decarbonization
There are two reasons why the Clean Energy U-Curve is the key to understanding energy decarbonization.
First, it shows why SWB offers us the most affordable decarbonized energy system. By 2030, with an optimized mix of these three technologies, the cost of 24/7/365 electricity from 100% SWB systems will be much lower than from any conventional power plant option in every populated region. In sunnier regions like California, India, or Brazil the cost could be as little as a fifth of the cheapest fossil-fueled system, which is cheaper than the operating costs alone of existing coal, gas, and nuclear power plants. Because SWB will be so cheap, the stranding of conventional energy assets is inevitable due to economic forces alone, and that means decarbonization is also inevitable. With the competitive tide turning in favor of SWB, the immense power of markets is now working for decarbonization instead of against it. The exponential growth of SWB we are seeing worldwide as the disruption takes off is a clear sign that this inescapable economic logic is taking hold in the energy sector, just as has happened in other disruptions throughout history.
The second reason is that the Clean Energy U-Curve shows us how SWB can decarbonize not just today’s electricity system but virtually all other energy use throughout the global economy as well. This is possible because, as mentioned earlier, a 100% SWB system optimized using the Clean Energy U-Curve will have 3 to 5 times as much generating capacity as today’s grid. By designing the system to get through the worst weeks of winter, it will naturally produce an enormous surplus of electricity throughout the rest of the year – double or even triple the amount of power our grid currently generates. This is enough to electrify transportation, heating, and other forms of energy use. And, crucially, all of that surplus electricity will be virtually free because solar panels generate power at near-zero marginal cost. We call this huge surplus of clean, nearly-free energy Super Power, and it is going to change everything – not just in the energy sector, but across every value chain energy touches throughout the global economy.
Early adopters of SWB such as California and South Australia are already producing Super Power, and industries are beginning to innovate ways to seize this extraordinary opportunity as we start to move into a new era of energy superabundance.
The Clean Energy U-Curve shows us that we can decarbonize energy with SWB far faster, far more cheaply, and far more completely than conventional analyses and forecasts would have us believe. It is therefore essential that policymakers, investors, and other decisionmakers understand the Clean Energy U-Curve and its extraordinary implications for decarbonization and climate change.
With the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) being released, it’s important to revisit the climate scenarios that are its centerpiece. These scenarios form the basis of the climate science community’s modeling and projections, which in turn affects governance and investment decisions across the world. Trillions of dollars and the policymaking of the entire planet thus ride upon these climate scenarios, and so the cost of getting things wrong is extremely high.
Scenarios past and present
The previous generation of climate scenarios published in the Fifth Assessment Report in 2014 were known as Representative Concentration Pathways, or RCPs. The RCP scenarios were labeled according to the amount of radiative forcing expected by the end of the century in each case. Radiative forcing is the scientific term for the change in the balance between the Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. The Fifth Assessment Report focused on four of these scenarios, with RCP2.6 having the least warming and thus being the “best case”.
In the eight years since then, a new generation of scenarios has been developed for the Sixth Assessment Report, referred to as Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, or SSPs. The five main SSP scenarios are also labeled according to radiative forcing, but in addition each has a subtitle that tells a story about an imagined future:
SSP1-1.9 – Sustainability (Taking the Green Road)
SSP1-2.6 – Middle of the Road
SSP2-4.5 – Regional Rivalry (a Rocky Road)
SSP3-7.0 – Inequality (A Road Divided)
SSP5-8.5 – Fossil-Fueled Development (Taking the Highway)
Flaws in climate scenarios
A scenario is only as plausible as the assumptions it makes. Unfortunately, the technology assumptions made in both the RCP and SSP scenarios are not remotely plausible, and as a result they are extremely misleading. If there were even one scenario that made genuinely plausible assumptions, then the others could be useful for comparison. But the lack of any properly plausible one means that, taken together, these scenarios will only cause harm by leading decision-makers and the public badly astray.
First and foremost, all RCP and SSP climate scenarios get technology wrong because they fail to understand the forces that drive technological change, how quickly the shift to new technologies occurs, and how quickly old technologies are abandoned as a result.
Our team at RethinkX has shown that the same pattern of disruption has occurred hundreds of times over the last several thousand years. Again and again, for technologies of all kinds – from cars to carpenter’s nails, from arrowheads to automatic braking systems, from insulin to smartphones – we see that technology adoption follows an s-curve over the course of just 10-20 years. The first phase of the s-curve is characterized by accelerating (or “exponential”) growth, which is driven by reinforcing feedback loops that make the new technology increasingly more competitive while at the same time making the old technology increasingly less competitive.
Unfortunately, the RCP and SSP climate scenarios show no sign that their authors understand technology disruption at all. For example, the “best case” RCP2.6 scenario in the Fifth Assessment Report published in 2014 assumed that less than 5% of global primary energy would come from solar, wind, and geothermal energy combined in the year 2100.
Source: Adapted from Van Vuuren et al., 2011, and IPCC, 2014.
In reality, the exponential trend in the growth of solar and wind power had already been clear for over two decades at the time the Fifth Assessment was published in 2014, and the trend since then has only continued – as shown in the chart below.
(Note that the vertical axis of the chart is logarithmic, increasing by a factor of 10 at each major interval, which means the trajectory is exponential).
On their current trajectory, which has been extraordinarily consistent for over 30 years, solar and wind power will exceed the RCP2.6 assumption for the year 2100 before 2030, 70 years ahead of schedule on an 86-year forecasting timeframe.
This is an egregious error that was entirely avoidable. The energy sector has shown every sign of becoming a textbook example of disruption for more than 15 years, and technology theorists were noticing the signs well before 2014. Indeed, Tony Seba – co-founder of RethinkX – had already published an analysis of the energy disruption in his book Solar Trillions in 2010.
Since 2014, the exponential growth of solar power has become common knowledge, as have similar trajectories for batteries and electric vehicles. It is therefore completely inexcusable that the same mistakes have continued in the new SSP scenarios for the Sixth Assessment Report in 2022. The SSP5-8.5 scenario, for example, is titled “Fossil Fueled Development”. Here is its description:
“This world places increasing faith in competitive markets, innovation and participatory societies to produce rapid technological progress and development of human capital as the path to sustainable development. Global markets are increasingly integrated. There are also strong investments in health, education, and institutions to enhance human and social capital. At the same time, the push for economic and social development is coupled with the exploitation of abundant fossil fuel resources and the adoption of resource and energy intensive lifestyles around the world.”
This logic around “rapid technological progress” is not just wrong, it’s backwards. The faster we make technological progress, the less fossil fuels we will use. The more global markets are integrated and the more human and social capital we have, the faster we will decarbonize.
The SSP3-7.0 scenario contains the same error:
“Technology development is high in the high-tech economy and sectors. The globally connected energy sector diversifies, with investments in both carbon-intensive fuels like coal and unconventional oil, but also low-carbon energy sources.”
Again, the basic premise here is false. Technological progress will result in less fossil fuel development, not more. The collapse of coal demand is already well underway in the wealthy countries of the Global North, and all fossil fuels in all countries will follow suit as clean technologies rapidly disrupt the energy and transportation sectors over the next two decades.
The SSP2-4.5 scenario assumes that, “The world follows a path in which social, economic, and technological trends do not shift markedly from historical patterns.” But the authors of this scenario do not understand what those historical patterns of technological change actually are.
As our research at RethinkX has shown, the pattern throughout history has been an s-curve of rapid technology adoption over the course of just 20 years or less once new technologies become economically competitive with older ones – as is now the case for clean energy, transportation, and food technologies. The data throughout history simply do not support the assumption that the shift to new, clean technologies will be slow and linear between now and the year 2100.
The SSP1-1.9 scenario, “sustainability”, is allegedly the most sustainable, but this too is based on false assumptions – namely that lower material, resource, and energy intensity are necessary for reducing environmental impacts, and that they are compatible with increasing human prosperity. Neither is true. The solution to environmental impacts is not less energy, transportation, and food. That would be like thinking that if your house is on fire, the solution is to extinguish some of the flames. That’s madness. The solution is to put the fire out, which means switching rapidly and completely to clean energy, transportation, and food.
If we want to be truly sustainable, we must have a superabundance of clean energy, clean transportation, and clean (i.e. non-animal-derived) food that slashes our environmental footprint and gives us the means to restore and protect ecological integrity worldwide. Any attempt to mitigate our ecological footprint by reducing economic prosperity would be disastrous because the scale of cutbacks needed to have any significant effect on sustainability would be utterly catastrophic to the global economy and geopolitical stability.
Projections to 2100… seriously?
It is worth stepping back a moment and recognizing that the RCP and SSP scenarios make quantitative projections to the year 2100. This in itself is flatly preposterous.
Five thousand years ago, you could have made a reasonably accurate prediction about what life would be like 80 years in the future. After all, not much changed from one generation to the next. Your children’s lives were likely to be very similar to your parents’ lives.
Five hundred years ago, in the year 1522, it would have been considerably more difficult to make an accurate prediction about life 80 years hence. The invention of the moveable-type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg 80 years earlier in around 1440 had helped turbocharge the Renaissance, setting the stage for the Scientific Revolution. Life in 1602 was still quite similar to life in 1522, but an explosion in the growth of useful knowledge was laying the groundwork for massive social, economic, political, and technological transformations to come.
A century ago, in 1922, it would have been very hard for anyone to predict with any accuracy what the world 80 years in the future, in 2002, would be like. Nobody could have imagined the role that nuclear weapons or computers or the Internet would play in our lives, for example.
Today, it is absolutely impossible to predict in any detail what the world will be like 80 years from now, around the year 2100. The rate of technological change is so fast now that our team at RethinkX never makes any quantitative forecasts more than 20 years into the future, because to do so is undisciplined in the formal sense. And technological progress is only accelerating.
Although we cannot know what the world will be like in 2100, we can say that it is implausible to presume the conditions and constraints of today will continue to hold. And this is why we can say that all of the RCP and SSP climate scenarios are implausible: they all presume life in 2100 will be more or less the same as today – still governed by material scarcity, regional resource conflicts, food insecurity, demographic transitions, health and education challenges, and even fossil fuel use. None of these makes even the slightest sense in the context of technologies that we fully expect to see from mid-century onward.
So, what happened? Why did the RCP and SSP climate scenarios get technology so wrong?
Anti-technology sentiments in conventional environmental orthodoxy
At least part of the explanation for fundamental errors and misunderstandings around technology we see in the RCP and SSP climate scenarios is that they were developed by a small group of academic authors operating inside an ideological bubble.
One of the features of this ideological orthodoxy is that it holds long-standing anti-technology sentiments dating back over two centuries to the rise of Romanticism and Transcendentalism. On the one hand, the orthodoxy holds that the arc of history ought to be viewed largely through the lens of human behavior and institutions, minimizing or outright rejecting the causal power of technology to shape societies. There even exists a pejorative term, technological determinism, that is used to label and reflexively dismiss any claims that technology has played a key role in steering the course of human affairs across the ages. Yet, at the same time, this orthodoxy holds technology largely to blame for the massive ecological footprint humanity has imposed upon the planet.
It can’t cut both ways. Either technology has enormous causal power, or it doesn’t.
If it does, then that means technology is also the key to transforming our world in positive ways – including achieving genuine sustainability. We don’t see this accurately reflected anywhere in the RCP or SSP climate scenarios because it runs contrary to the anti-technology sentiments of the prevailing orthodoxy.
When you don’t know enough to know you’re being fooled
The climate science community failed to realize the importance of consulting technology experts in the development of climate scenarios. Instead, they made the mistake of relying on conventional forecasts for technologies like solar and wind power from incumbent energy interests such as the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This would be a bit like relying on Blockbuster Video to accurately forecast the future of streaming video, or Kodak to forecast the future of digital cameras, or the American Horse & Buggy Association to forecast the future of automobiles.
The charts below show the laughably poor forecasting track record of the IEA and U.S. EIA.
Note that the unreliability of these two ‘authoritative’ sources was already clear when the Fifth Assessment Report was published in 2014. Would you depend on advice in a critical situation from someone who had gotten things wrong over and over again?
More cynically, it’s very difficult to see how the IEA or U.S. EIA making the same “errors” year after year for almost two decades could be an honest mistake. At the same time, it’s very easy to imagine that there are powerful incentives for these incumbents to ignore technological change, or even to deliberately troll others about it.
Regardless, trusting the wrong sources and failing to consult actual technology experts was an inexcusable mistake that the climate science community is unfortunately continuing to make.
Predicting the future is hard
The future is obviously uncertain, and the further ahead we look, the blurrier the picture becomes. At first, it might seem reasonable to err on the side of conservativism – after all, if you don’t know exactly how the world will change in the future, isn’t it best just to assume it won’t change much from the present? The answer is no, but the reason why this logic is flawed is rather subtle.
There are dozens of major dimensions and countless minor ones along which change can occur, all of which move us away from our present condition. The fact that these changes are unpredictable does not imply that the noise will somehow cancel out and leave us close to where we started.
By analogy, imagine assembling a complex machine like a car. If you don’t follow the exact steps in the exact order with the exact parts, you aren’t going to end up with a working car. And if you randomize the assembly process, you’re going to end up with a useless pile of junk. This is why tornadoes don’t spontaneously assemble new cars when they pass through a junkyard. The reason why has to do with entropy: there are almost infinitely more ways to incorrectly assemble things than to correctly assemble them.
This analogy helps show why any movement through a large possibility space is only likely to take you away from your current position. This is why the future will be very different from the present, even though those differences are unpredictable.
So, how should we deal with all the uncertainty of the future? The correct response is indeed to construct multiple scenarios that chart the general trajectory and broad outlines of possible futures based on plausible assumptions about what might change between now and then. The trouble with the RCP and SSP climate scenarios, however, is that none of them make plausible assumptions about technological progress.
Refusing to admit past mistakes only feeds conspiracy theories
The climate science community has made very serious technology forecasting errors in its climate scenarios, but has so far refused to acknowledge and take responsibility for them. This is a losing strategy.
Failure to admit and correct the technology forecasting errors in climate scenarios plays right into the hands of conspiracy theorists, because the longer we refuse to admit we’ve made mistakes, the more it looks like they were deliberate. These mistakes are too large to brush under the rug, and so there is no painless option here. We either admit we were fools, or we look like we are liars.
Admitting our mistakes and taking the heat for it is the right move. The alternative only indulges the worst extremist narratives that claim the scientific community has deliberately inflated the threat of climate change and misrepresented our options for solving it in order to advance an agenda of more taxation and more government control over private industry and individual consumer choices.
The public needs to be able to trust the environmental science community, and they can’t do that until we come clean about how wrong we’ve gotten renewable energy and other technologies in our climate scenarios. The longer we pretend nothing happened, the more our legitimacy will erode in the public sphere at a time when trust of scientific authority is already low in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting technology wrong in climate scenarios does real harm
Given the enormous stakes involving trillions of dollars and all of the world’s policymaking, the errors around technology in the RCP and SSP climate scenarios have had serious consequences. They have misled policymakers and the public alike into believing that the only means to solve climate change are punitive – that we must atone for our past environmental sins by sacrificing human prosperity, tightening our belts, and giving up our indulgent personal lifestyles. They have demonized the prosperity of the rich nations of the Global North as unsustainable, and condemned the aspirations of poorer countries of the Global South as unattainable. They have led nations to waste time and resources trying fruitlessly to achieve sustainability through austerity, when this approach is hopelessly counterproductive as I have previously explained.
Austerity cannot solve climate change even in principle, let alone in practice. Prosperity has always been a necessary precondition for solving big problems, both personal and collective, and so it is the only real path to sustainability as well. Technological progress in general will inevitably play an outsized role in bringing the prosperity we need to tackle major challenges to billions worldwide, and specific technologies like solar power and electric vehicles will give us the tools we need to directly reduce emissions and draw down carbon. The IPCC climate scenarios must reflect these facts so that we can all make well-informed decisions about how best to solve climate change together.
There is change in the air. And at the forefront of systematic change is the transformation of transportation, from fuel to electric.
And the good news is that electric vehicles (EV’s) are coming down in price. New power grids are being established. In Europe, especially in Norway , EV’s are much more than a “fad” but they’re heading into the ‘norm.’ In the not- distant future, EV’s just might be one of the paradigm shifts that get us off our addiction to fossil fuels, OPEC, and keep us enslaved in constant struggle and wars.
Jeff Van Treese II, Mobilized News TV host, has an enlightening conversation with Joel Levin of Plug in America, America’s leading organization for the transition to Electric Vehicles.
About Plugin America
Plug In America is a non-profit, supporter-driven advocacy group. We are the voice of plug-in vehicle drivers across the country. Our mission is to drive change to accelerate the shift to plug-in vehicles powered by clean, affordable, domestic electricity to reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We help consumers, policy-makers, auto manufacturers and others to understand the powerful benefits of driving electric. We provide practical, objective information to help consumers select the best plug-in vehicle for their lifestyles and needs. Plug In America founded National Drive Electric Week, the world’s largest celebration of the plug-in vehicle, which welcomed over 180,000 attendees across 324 events in 2019, spanning all 50 states.
The Age of Consequences of Systematic Failure: Our existing situations are not problems. They are Consequences
By Chuck Woolery, Former Chair, United Nations Assn., Council of Organizations (not the TV host!) and Steven Jay, Creative Director, Mobilized
“At the root cause of our problems is the failure to recognize that Independence is a man-made concept. The truth of our reality is that everything is connected to everything and therefore, everything impacts everything. Every action impacts the whole. Mobilized is firmly rooted in this natural law.” –Chuck Woolery
Every day is a new story of systematic breakdown, of tragedy, a shooting, a broken system, the election of an incompetent sociopath, a social media fiasco, or media companies at war with each other. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with it all.
We feel like screaming from the roof “What the F%&K is going on here?” Or, we can go down the rabbit hole and discover the root cause–the epicenter of most of our inherent, continual, and seemingly unsolvable problems.
What follows is a blog Mobilized released a few years earlier. It is even more relevant now. Some edits have been made and a few recently relevant events added. Please share it with others if you find it useful
The most important natural resource is a well-informed public. Stay Informed. Be Empowered. Build the New. Sign up for free and become a collaborator in better together.
The Age of Consequences of Systematic Failure: Our existing situations are not problems. They are Consequences
By Chuck Woolery, Former Chair, United Nations Assn., Council of Organizations (not the TV host!) and Steven Jay, Creative Director, Mobilized
Summary: After the Great Depression and the end of WWII the general sense of the common good generated by these global calamities gradually disappeared from public discussion. With the exception of some civil rights activities that did yield important civil progress things have gotten worse. And most agree, things are going to worsen more, before they get better. This is an examination into why things have gotten worse. And how we must change to change things for the better.
America’s success in the world and our fear of Communism helped fuel individualism, greed, and selfishness (the illusion of individual separation from the whole). This largely un-examined mindset eclipsed the ‘united we stand’ American character. It was an aberration of logic, compassion, and empathy that basically steamrolled American politics into the train wreck we have today. Recently, technology greatly accelerated this dysfunctional trend. A trend that had been well established by a largely unregulated capitalism system that had spread the dangerous meme of independence globally for the past few decades.
The tragic and lethal consequences are now around us everywhere in the US and abroad. And instead of recognizing our collective mental flaw that got us here, and confronting it, many people have doubled down on their narratives. They want to make American Great Again or finance a Green New Deal to bring back the comforts, prosperous conditions, and selfish culture that tragically nurtured our disconnect from reality. The fundamental truth that “United We Stand” – still stands. And divided we are going to fall. This time it will be a hard fall. One we may not recover from.
Trump is not the problem. He’s a consequence. …
Climate change isn’t the problem. It’s a consequence.
Unprecedented obesity rates, opioid deaths, mass shootings, and suicides rates are not health emergencies. They are consequences.
Flint, Michigan’s contaminated water, Honeybees’ Colony Collapse Disorder, Florida’s red tide… these are not environmental problems. They’re consequences.
The continuing violence in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria are all consequences.
The Russian/Ukraine dilemma threatening nuclear Armageddon or the use of biological/chemical weapons with the potential to spark a hot World War III.
Radical extremism, WMD proliferation, and China/Russian cyber hacks are now top national security threats. Again, consequences a poorly engineered global governance system.
Growing economic inequality, fake news, and loss of privacy are not dilemmas.
They are all consequences.
These, and most of the other problems we are now encountering at a breakneck pace in newspapers and in our lives are the inevitable consequences of our thinking and actions. They were not however inevitable.
They are the result of our collective failure to do what we know is needed to prevent such problems.
“Human behavior is the greatest threat to human existence” Dr. Monty G. Marshall
All Americans have solemnly pledged dozens, if not hundreds of times, “Liberty and Justice for all”. But our desire for comfort, wealth, distractions, popularity, and freedom comes with all too real life and death consequences.
Americans love freedom. It is all we really have. But freedom also comes with consequences. Some freedoms have arguably been worth the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives and trillions of our tax dollars. But it has been our overindulgence with freedom without the responsibility that is the fundamental cause of our (and the world’s) growing list of profoundly dangerous, destructive, unhealthy, increasingly lethal, and persistent consequences. Unsustainable consequences that were predictable and often warned about. Costly consequences that were, and remain, related to a simple conceptual flaw within our mental calculations.
We believe and then act out of that belief that we are independent. We are not. Yet, as Americans, we reinforce that sentiment every 4th of July. In reality, it is only a concept that doesn’t exist anywhere in the known universe. And it has zero accurate applications here on earth. Our Declaration of Independence should have been titled the Declaration of Political Separation. Not as catchy! But powerfully accurate.
It has been and remains our unyielding faith in, allegiance to, and reflexive defense of this flawed human principle that has mentally disconnected us from much of our personal, civil, environmental, social, health, and economic responsibilities. Like Neo in the Matrix, we all sense something isn’t right… but can’t see the truth;
Every aspect of our lives is dependent on other people, the environment, our nation’s laws, other nation’s laws, and most importantly, the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” which is expressed in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
“Everything is connected, everything is interdependent, so everything is vulnerable”… “this has to be a more than whole of government, a more than whole of nation [action]. It really has to be a global effort.” CISA (the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) Director Jen Easterly (Oct. 29, 2021)
The growing mass of undesirable consequences that threaten our freedom, security, and prosperity were as inevitable as they were unintentional. But they are only self-evident when we are honest with ourselves about reality.
Our Founding Fathers understood reality as “Truths to be Self-Evident” based on the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”. Their catastrophic error was failing to codify this wisdom into their new government blueprint — the U.S. Constitution. The consequence was a civil war that killed more Americans than all the wars our nation has fought in since then, combined. And some of those consequences remain with us today.
Far more Americans will die from preventable causes in the years ahead related to global factors SUCH AS terrorism, pandemics, climate change, wars, and poverty because the systems and structures that our Constitution protects today on both the national and international level still fail to codify the wisdom of “liberty and justice for all” in a world of irrefutable and irreversible interdependence.
Interdependence is accelerating due to the advances in technology that are accelerating exponentially. During the same time, our government’s capacity for change (or adaptation to change) has virtually stopped. And in some areas, it has actually reversed.
Even before Trump was elected a survey of US national security experts put our own nation’s “government dysfunction” as the second greatest threat to our national security. Just behind terrorism. It was higher than, China, Russia, Iran, N. Korea, and Climate Change. Pandemics were not on the list.
The illusion of Independence underlies most of our short-term thinking, long-term planning, slow policymaking, and reactive actions.
We assume without question our personal, budgetary, institutional, and national independence. The endless war against terrorism (a tactic that cannot be defeated) has only accelerated our loss of freedoms (including privacy) and security. Our modern world of unprecedented and increasingly powerful, affordable, and ubiquitous technological capacity for WMD creation – and the increasing difficulty in accurately attributing the identity of the attacker, put everything increasingly at risk.
Imagine the loss of lives, freedom, and prosperity from a bioterrorist attack or global pandemic far worse than Covid19 or the 1918 Flu epidemic. Unlike nuclear war, such a biosecurity threat is inevitable. Yet we remain lethally unprepared for a catastrophe that will NEGATIVELY affect every system and structure in our bodies, our homes, our economies, and the world.
We have based our policies on our illusion of independence – instead of obeying nature’s fundamental principles that are used in science and technology to engineering things that work like magic. Medicine, instant global communications, electrical appliances, and tools that work to save and protect life, while making our lives more comfortable, profitable, and secure.
It is our flawed human assumption of independence that leads us to abuse or misuse many of these amazing science and technology tools — that results in the creation and exacerbation of many of our current health and environmental problems. Sometimes with catastrophic results. But easily preventable problems if we had followed the laws of nature and nature’s God.
If you doubt this read the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. As you do, offer a school grade to each of the five clearly stated intentions to form “a more perfect Union.”
Then consider the fact that Abraham Lincoln wrote that our “Declaration of Independence” is our “Apple of Gold” and our “Constitution” is its ‘frame of silver’. Yet our elected officials swear an oath to protect the Constitution believing without reservation that it will protect our freedoms and security. How’s that working out?
Now imagine a government that is engineered on the fundamental principles offered in the Declaration of Independence. A government that … soundly embraces and promotes the responsibility of inclusion with ‘liberty and justice for all’, globally.
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Some have asserted that the primary fundamental principle in both the laws of nature and nature’s God is justice. Note that the foundation of every major religion is the Golden Rule. To do unto others as you would have them do to you. Anyone experiencing an injustice doesn’t need to be a religious believer to understand the supreme value of this. Our US Justice Department offers two quotes engraved in its exterior’s stone.
“Justice is found in the rights bestowed by nature upon man. Liberty is maintained in security of justice.” And,
“Justice is the great interest of man on earth. Wherever her temple stands, there is a foundation for social security, general happiness and the improvement and progress of our race.”
Yet our federal (and lower) systems and structures of justice are profoundly unjust. They are in fact “legal” systems in which it is better to be guilty and rich than innocent and poor. Many of our laws are simply unjust. And unacceptable injustices can also be found in our nation’s economic, electoral, education, healthcare, agriculture, military, foreign policy, and intelligence systems.
Is it really any wonder that things don’t work, that Trump has so many followers, wars persist, the environment is trashed, and our society is ailing?
Every time I witness another failing in our nation, a phrase I heard last year comes to mind; “How healthy can we be if we are well adjusted to a profoundly sick society?” We are afflicted with a societal mental illness; Before Covid, the Surgeon General rated ‘loneliness” as our nation’s greatest health risk. Our mind has the capacity to believe anything! Literally, anything. We don’t even do what we know we should. The spread of fake news and conspiracy theories are just consequences of a flawed and sometimes corrupt government system. This should all be stunningly clear…as with our inappropriate worship of independence and freedom without responsibility or virtue.
Again. Every system and structure in our body, our house, our environment, and our world is interconnected and interdependent. And all depend on the health and sustainable functioning of a just world order. Our mind’s illusion of independence … disconnects us from our vital needs of love, a safe community, healthy food, and functional relationships. These vital things we have largely taken for granted. Thus we have insufficient respect for the natural systems that maintain our planet’s capacity for sustaining all life, human health, future prosperity, and ultimately our species survival.
There is no guarantee … our nation will last.
The Federalists worried that hostile nations could exploit any domestic divisions. George Washington warned in his farewell address that partisan “factions” could rip the country apart. James Madison feared that liberty could be lost by the “gradual and silent encroachments of those in power.” John Adams said, “There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide”. But, many in our Republic praise democracy, and rightfully blame both parties that are dominating our flawed two-party system that persistently delivers the consequences we are suffering today.
Some are proposing the creation of a “People’s Party”. This puts too much promise in the will of the masses. It offers a platform based on creative progressive or conservative ideas that are often devoid of fundamental principles. In other words – they would be engineering a political party that relies on creative and popular proposals that could win a majority. Yet completely incapable of transforming the profound flaws in our current system and structures at either the national or international levels.
FACT: Earth has an expiration date. And we the American people (and probably most of humanity) still reflect the opinion offered in the second paragraph of their Declaration of Independence. It states “accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.” That’s bad!
But the tragic news is that the suffering that’s coming in our age of Consequences may be so great that our species may expire long, long before Earth. Given the acceleration of technology (WMD proliferation and AI) already knocking on our door, the majority of Americans or others in the world may not even get the chance to suffer the full effects of climate change. Due to a multiplicity of factors, time is NOT on our side.
If you are seeking the most practical action to take, a ‘justice for all’ system it is obvious that it would not be welcomed immediately by most policymakers or political parties. Such a goal would require the legal protection of inalienable human rights for all and our environment with the force of law (ie the Rule of Law: laws made and enforced by a democratic process, applied equally to all, and only used to protect human rights and the environment. The only other option is what we have now. The law of force. This is where the protection of national sovereignty is more important than protecting human rights or the environment. The working definition of ‘national sovereignty (another human-created concept using international law as it exists today with the UN) is the right of any nation to do anything it wants, to anyone it wants, anytime it wants within its own borders. And, if it has nuclear weapons, it can do these things anywhere it believes it can get away with it. Again, this is what we have now. An irresponsible and unaccountable use of force prioritizing national interests which tends to accelerate chaos. Chaos that often leads to refugees, the loss of freedoms, lives, prosperity, and our planet’s vital life support system.
There is a third option. It would require the funding of those rights by the force of political will. President Roosevelt offered the basics in his four freedoms speech; freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and … fear.” Eleanor Roosevelt led the passage of a detailed list known as theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights. Like our nation’s Bill of Rights on steroids- but with no means of government enforcement. Seven decades ago (December 10, 1948) this Declaration was offered in the context of world security. Those who had experienced World War II, the holocaust, and a new weapon that could vaporize 100,000 people in a second understood the essentials of ‘justice for all’ and these fundamental human rights. But the UN’s lack of democratic power left it useless in this context leaving states’ rights above human rights. This structural flaw in the UN resembles the original flaw in the US Constitution that led to our catastrophic Civil War.
What are some of UDHRs rights intended as a foundation for peace? Universal access to clean water, safe sanitation, adequate food, access to basic health services, basic education, and an equal opportunity to earn a living wage are good starters.
Fortuitously, the fastest, most affordable, practical, and effective means of maximizing this movement of ‘Liberty and Justice for all” (both here and abroad thus laying the foundation for maximizing humanity’s freedom and security globally) is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These have already been agreed on by every nation in 2015 to be achieved by the year 2030.
It’s obvious that we will not get an enforceable Global Bill of Rights any time soon. But we could virtually enforce most essential human rights by funding the SDGs. The growing array of global threats to our freedom and security demands that we do this as rapidly as possible.
WARNING! We have been repeatedly warned of the consequences of failing in prioritizing this human security approach.
In 1980 a bipartisan Presidential Commission concluded “In the final analysis, unless Americans — as citizens of an increasingly interdependent world — place far higher priority on overcoming world hunger, its effects will no longer remain remote or unfamiliar. Nor can we wait until we reach the brink of the precipice; the major actions required do not lend themselves to crisis planning, patchwork management, or emergency financing… The hour is late. Age-old forces of poverty, disease, inequity, and hunger continue to challenge the world. Our humanity demands that we act upon these challenges now…” Presidential Commission on World Hunger, 1980.
Its commissioners specifically warned …“The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair, and often hatred that result represent real and persistent threats to international order… Neither the cost to national security of allowing malnutrition to spread nor the gain to be derived by a genuine effort to resolve the problem can be predicted or measured in any precise, mathematical way. Nor can monetary value be placed on avoiding the chaos that will ensue unless the United States and the rest of the world begin to develop a common institutional framework for meeting such other critical global threats… Calculable or not, however, this combination of problems now threatens the national security of all countries just as surely as advancing armies or nuclear arsenals.”
They also stated “that promoting economic development in general, and overcoming hunger in particular, are tasks far more critical to the U.S. national security than most policymakers acknowledge or even believe. Since the advent of nuclear weapons, most Americans have been conditioned to equate national security with the strength of strategic military forces. The Commission considers this prevailing belief to be a simplistic illusion. Armed might represents merely the physical aspect of national security. Military force is ultimately useless in the absence of the global security that only coordinated international progress toward social justice can bring.”
In 1990 the nations of the world (including the US) agreed on funding a less ambitious but measurable, achievable, and affordable goals for the year 2000. This was World Summit for Children. Even though all governments at the time signed a pledge to “make the resources available” to meet these goals, few were fully funded or achieved.
In 2000 another more ambitious set of “Millennium Development Goals” was set for the year 2015. These were also shorted. Contributing to the wars, terrorism, climate change, refugees, famines, revolutions, state failures, infectious diseases, international crime, and genocides we’ve seen around the world and hounding us today. Not as separate issues! But as interdependent consequence.
If we fail this time in achieving the SDGs the deteriorating global conditions may overwhelm any chance of us or our children setting things right.
The discouraging news would appear to be that achieving these 17 goals would cost trillions. And especially after Covid’s systemic costs, most governments have no money to spare.
The exciting news is that they don’t need to. Governments just need the political will to freeze and seize a good portion of the estimated $32 trillion dollars that has been stashed in offshore bank accounts for years. Thousands of accounts obtained by kleptocrats (dictators), oligarchs (their cronies), criminal cartels (drugs, guns, sex, hackers), violent extremist groups (terrorists, white supremacists…), and the extreme wealthy (avoiding taxes). Most of these ill-gotten gains…should have been going to basic government services. Now they can be devoted to basic human rights and environmental protection.
The political will could be generated if the general public is aware that their nation’s security and cherished freedoms depend as much on meeting the SDGs as they do on more military spending or a new “Space Force”.
This level of political will in the US could be achievedby progressives working together. With their millions of members personally petitioning their own Members of Congress with loving persistence. This strategy and daily tactic is infinitely more powerful than voting every 2 or 4 years, protesting, or counter-protesting. If the peace, environment, and economic/social justice movements and their thousands of organizations came together to focus on one piece of legislation on all 435 House members, 100 Senators, and anyone running for these offices, our currently dysfunctionalCongress could finally prove useful. And Americans would finally have a government of “We the people” “by the people, for the people” with “a new birth of freedom” with “liberty and justice for all” that “shall not perish from this earth.”
In the long run (if we have one) it truly doesn’t matter who is in office or what party they represent. If fundamental principles are codified into laws, budgets, and all government action we could have the world we know is possible. On earth, as it is in heaven. A sustainable global garden of eating.
Given the multiple threats we face as individuals, nations, and a species it must be clear that few threats can be stopped with military power. And, many are exacerbated by its unprincipled use.
Our primary goal as voters and citizens must be to recognize our global interdependence as the human race and the profound value of ensuring “liberty and justice for all”. Make it your personal goal to educate your policymakers on this fundamental reality and act as though your life and your children’s future freedoms and security depend on it.
Connect the dots (everything is connected). See the web of life (all systems and structures are interdependent). Work for justice (always and for all) …or prepare for the consequences (which will inevitably happen and be increasingly catastrophic).
Chuck Woolery, Former Chair, United Nations Association, Council of Organizations
Steven Jay, Founder and Creative Director, Mobilized.news
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We are now at a crossroads in history, and no path forward looks pleasant. The war in Ukraine is killing innocent civilians, disrupting lives, and shaking the markets in energy, food and other commodities, making us wonder how we let ourselves become so complacent in trading with Russia, whose government has shown such little respect for the rights of its neighbors and its own citizens.
The obvious path seems to be to boost oil, gas, coal, food and metals production from friendly countries. Cut ourselves off from Russian oil, Russian gas, Russian grains, metals and other commodities as much as possible by getting them from elsewhere, and fast.
Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas, as well as a bewildering array of other materials: wheat (of which they are the world’s largest exporter), ammonia fertilizers (made from natural gas), iron and nickel (used in making steel), gold and titanium, platinum and palladium (used by the oil industry), neon (for lasers used by the electronics industry), cobalt and rhenium. Do you have any spare rhenium lying around?
A rapid reshaping of the world economy will be painful in the short term. Prices of many products we take for granted will go way up. There will be job losses. This ‘worse-before-better’ dynamic is often seen in complex systems. To build a business, you might have to invest and go deeply into debt first – things get worse financially before they turn the corner and get better.
The same will happen with getting out of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. But in the long run, the build-out in SWB energy and PFCA food and agriculture will mean lower prices, a decentralization of production, and greater political stability.
The steam engine enslaved before it liberated
We have been through similar situations before, where disruptions have had major geopolitical consequences – sometimes negative, sometimes positive. Understanding this complex relationship can help us to navigate the risks and opportunities today.
One of the most geopolitically consequential disruptions took place a couple centuries ago. It illustrates how a disruption can have immediate negative implications but longer term positive impacts that can end up driving a total social, economic and cultural transformation.
For centuries shipwrights filled in the gaps between the boards of their vessels with hemp or other materials. They would slather the surface with tar or pitch to protect the wood from being eaten by worms. Ultimately this did not stop the worms, or keep barnacles and weeds from growing below the waterline, weighing the ship down and slowing its travel. So, periodically, ships would need to be hauled out of the water, scraped clean, and re-tarred.
But a Sunday stroll in May 1765 changed that, and much else, forever. Steam engines had been around for decades, but they were not very efficient. They took a lot of energy to power a pump that was both slow and unreliable. But on that walk in Scotland, twenty-nine-year-old James Watt got the idea to separate the engine’s condenser, which would always be kept cold, from the steam cylinder itself, which was always warm, and to use a valve to connect them. This innovative arrangement was about five times more efficient than existing engines. It took only about 20% as much fuel to do the same amount of work.
This is part of the ‘pattern of disruption’ – a new technology is radically better than an incumbent, and therefore quickly displaces the old technology.
Thanks to Watt’s invention, more-powerful, faster, more-efficient and more-reliable steam engines kicked off an industrial revolution. They were first employed in the mines that supplied the metals to make machines. Their steady power enabled mechanized factories to spin thread and weave fabric, turn wood, and drill metals in a way that was uneconomical with earlier engines. (And, ironically, as they got more efficient, they used more fuel, something we have explored in a previous post.)
In northwest Wales, Parys Mountain was one of the largest copper deposits known in the world at the time. It had been exploited since the Bronze Age because the deposits were near the surface, where they were easy to access. But unfortunately, the ore was not very high grade which meant it took a lot of energy, and therefore a lot of coal, to refine it into metal product. So much coal that it was actually easier to bring the ore to the coal than coal to the ore.
But Watt’s engines changed this equation. They not only made metals easier to obtain and fabric easier to produce, they made it easier to mine for the coal that fuelled those machines and, in later years, to build steam-powered trains and steam-powered ships. They drove a revolution in materials, energy, and transportation all wrapped up in one.
They would also turn out to be the solution to the shipworm problem.
Industrialized mining began at Parys in 1775 and within fifteen years, it was the largest copper mine in the world. Ore was loaded onto ships and brought south to Swansea, where there were coal reserves that could be exploited due to Watt’s steam engines. By 1790 British mines were producing more than 75% of the world’s copper.
Just ten years after Watt’s steam engine patent, the entire British Navy was clad with copper bottoms over a period of just two years from 1779 to 1781. According to Gareth Rees in ‘Copper Sheathing: An Example of Technological Diffusion in the English Merchant Fleet’: “copper sheathing not only solved the problems of worm and hull fouling [like barnacles and weeds], but actually improved sailing speed as an unexpected and welcome by-product.”
This is another part of the ‘pattern of disruption’ – the unintended consequence of a seemingly unrelated problem in shipping being solved by a better water pump.
Amidst all these wonderful unintended consequences was one horrific side-effect. Copper-clad ships travelled about 15% faster, meaning that an 80-day Atlantic crossing could be cut by about 12 days. All ships that went to tropical waters and that needed to move quickly benefited from copper bottoms. Yet there was one kind of merchant ship that benefited financially from greater speed more than any other: slave traders.
Slave trading ships, too, went from less than 10% having copper bottoms to more than 70% having copper bottoms over a period of just two or three years, at the same time as the Navy fleet. This allowed slavery to become more efficient, because fewer enslaved people ended up dying on the ships during transport.
The database at SlaveVoyages.org, a project funded by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, suggests that the death rate was about half on a copper-bottom ship, compared to one without sheathing. Prior to 1780, the proportion of enslaved people lost during a trans-Atlantic voyage was approximately 20%. After the early 1780s, this decreased to about 10%.
The unexpectedly rapid demise of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery
Speaking before the UK Parliament in 2019, environmentalist and TV presenter David Attenborough said:
“There was a time in the 19th century when it was perfectly acceptable for civilised human beings to think that it was morally acceptable to actually own another human being for a slave. And somehow or other, in the space of 20 or 30 years, the public perception of that totally transformed.”
Many historians argue that the key driver of the end of slavery was economics: its decline in profitability. Others argue that it was the rise of abolitionist humanitarian campaigns. The heroic resistance of enslaved people is another important factor. But one of the most critical developments that provided the enabling context for all of these factors is usually overlooked. An overarching factor that enabled and amplified many of the other factors bringing about the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and of the institution of slavery itself, was a technology disruption: the steam engine.
This, first of all, was the key disruption that transformed the economics, making slave labour ultimately uneconomical. The same device that greatly improved the productivity of mining, and that enabled the entire factory system of industrial production, also made muscle labor, for the most part no longer cost-competitive against machine labor – and increasingly so. No wonder, then, that the collapse of the slave trade happened so rapidly within the same time-frame as disruptions take to scale.
Number of People Transported per Year in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Data from SlaveVoyages.org
The total history of the slave trade shows a ‘hump-shaped’ curve – with a sharp increase from about 1650 to 1750 and a peak era that lasted roughly from 1750 to 1850. But then, over only a few years, the entire trade came to a halt. In 1849, 76,654 people were brought from Africa across the Atlantic, a number substantially higher than the average of 63,853 people brought per year in the 1750-1850 period. But in 1850, the number of people transported was half of 1849, and 1851 was half of 1850. Fifteen years later, the trade had ended completely.
The technology disruption that had, at first, helped make the slave trade more efficient – contributing to an increase in its profits – ultimately facilitated its complete collapse as the machine labor turned out to be an order of magnitude cheaper and more efficient than slavery.
Of course, this doesn’t mean technology disruption was the only factor – but it’s hard to see how this rapid, sudden collapse of slavery would have been possible without it.
Back in the late 1700s, the UK’s Slave Trade Act 1788 had tried to make the appalling conditions of the trans-Atlantic slave trade more ‘humane’. Sadly, this was all by small, incremental steps, none of which ultimately challenged the institution of slavery itself – rather like the small half-measures and tiny behavioural changes we talk about today in relation to climate change.
The Act, for instance, mandated more space per enslaved person being transported on British slaver vessels – “1.67 slaves per ton up to a maximum of 207 tons burthen, after which only 1 slave per ton could be carried”.
The earliest impact of the steam-engine disruption alleviated the conditions of slavery further. Applying copper-sheathing to the undersides of slave ships made the trade even more humane, by allowing ships to travel faster, thus cutting the death rate per voyage.
But ultimately, while purporting to make slavery more ‘humane’ these measures really only contributed to entrenching its existence. What made the trade most humane was simply ending it, which became not just feasible, but economically desirable thanks to the total transformation of the economics of the industrial landscape following the steam-engine disruption. Those new economics helped lay the foundations for seismic political and cultural shifts as people recognised entirely new possibilities in how to organise labor and run societies.
It was not just the trans-Atlantic slave trade that collapsed quickly. So did the entire institution of slavery. In the UK, the ‘Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions’, was founded in 1823. By 1833, just ten years later, they had succeeded in their goal. In the US, the institution of slavery also collapsed over just a few years, going from being legal in about half of the states in 1860, to illegal everywhere just five years later. The ultimate collapse of slavery did not, of course, happen peacefully. While the transformation of economic forces ushered in by the steam-engine changed incentives, risks and opportunities, the eruption of the American Civil War illustrates how the unravelling of slavery as an institution was often a violent process.
Ukraine war as precursor to the Age of Freedom?
The steam-engine, of course, ended up doing a lot more than just disrupting slavery. By ushering in the industrial mechanisms of production and manufacturing, it also led us into the age of fossil fuels – and with it, of course, climate change.
It laid the foundation for the geopolitical order that emerged through the twentieth century premised on centralized domination of scarce oil, gas and coal resources. Now we are dependent on what economist Nathan Hagens calls ‘energy slaves’ – fossil fuels that do more work per hour by being burned in combustion engines than a person could ever hope to do. A motor vehicle that only turns a small portion of its fuel into motion is bearable when these fuels are cheap and easy to get. These same products also serve as the feedstocks to make fertilizers that grow the grains we feed to cattle, who turn a small percent of their inputs into milk or meat.
In this system of fossil fuel ‘energy slaves’, Russia is a formidable if not pre-eminent power – given its monopoly over so much of the world’s oil, gas and grain. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the geopolitical dangers of this system. But the unfolding of the ‘pattern of disruption’ in relation to slavery highlights how quickly this system could be replaced with something far better. Rather than simply focusing on the minutia of the fossil fuel system and Russia’s domination of it, this pattern suggests that the most effective path ahead is to disrupt the energy sources that are so crucial to Russian power. As RethinkX’s work has shown, that disruption has already begun. Over the next two decades, the disruption of the energy, transport and food systems by SWB, PFCA and TaaS will make the industries that underpin Russia’s geopolitical clout completely obsolete. European net-zero strategies and commitments illustrate the direction in which the global economy is now inexorably moving.
Yet the war in Ukraine also illustrates that freeing ourselves from fossil fuel ‘energy slaves’ might be as difficult as ending the millennia-old institutions of human slavery was in the past, maybe even involving wars as deadly and devastating over the next decade or two of accelerating disruptions.
But when the task is complete and we live in an ‘Age of Freedom’ where we no longer need fossil energy to power our lives, to move ourselves and our goods, or animals to supply our food, we will look back on how we live today and its attendant geopolitical horrors with the same sense of disgusted fascination that we now feel about keeping other people in bondage.