This slide will be on display as people arrive. Note on colours: Red highlights the exponential function, blue highlights production limits, green highlights resources listed at the end.
Slide 1. Mention that it will get depressing in part 3 and I’m not even going to talk about Global Warming but if you really want to know the worst of it watch “wake up, freak out” in resource list.
Slide 2. Cuecards follow
Slide 3. Cuecardsfollow for e, f & g
Slide 5 stays up until the end.
Print out multiple copies of this sheet and give them out to attendees.
A Tale of Two Curves
Helping to break the Conspiracy
of Silence about Natural Limits
and Economic Growth.
A personal view by Nick Watts
1. Introduction to myself & the curves.
2. How did we get here? A whistlestop tour of
3. Where are we now? The (de)pressing reality.
4. What can be done about it? (there is little
hope of systemic change.)
5. Conclusion followed by discussion.
1. Introducing the Curves
• Preamble. Welcome, introduce myself, I want to give this talk to
explain stuff I’ve learned in last 20 months, the media refuses to
discuss these issues (I’ve sent countless emails to the BBC which fall
on deaf ears.) Walk through the outline.
• Exponential function: Chessboard, flipchart with compound
interest with graphs on flipchart, introduce Charlotte + tube &
whistle. Mention Albert Bartlett’s Youtube video.
• Logistic distribution: Heights of the audience (normal
distribution approximately the same), flipchart with Hubbert’s bell
curve & US oil peak, introduce Mark + bell.
• Explain the significance of Peak Oil. This is the contradiction
about which there is such resounding silence: How to achieve
economic growth when energy resources are at or near peak
2. How did we get here?
• Hunter-gatherers. Egalitarian & free!
• Agriculture & settlements. Social hierarchy starts to take
• Early civilisations. Power elites established.
• The feudal system
• Colonialism (Globalisation part 1)
• The industrial revolution
• Globalisation part 2 (neo-Colonialism)
• The changing nature of money, from asset into debt
• The power of consumer culture
• The mainstream media is central to the conspiracy
Early Economic Systems
• Hunter-gatherers. Small, nomadic tribes, low population
density, resource rich
• Agriculture & settlements. Surplus food, wheat is a
storable food, population growth, Social hierarchy starts to take shape.
• Early civilisations. Food producers protected by a Power elite of
Kingship and priesthood, centralised power in city-states, agricultural
surpluses provides for artisans, hence trade in goods & services but also a
social hierarchy from which a leisure class is born – art, science,
philosophy, politics. Examples scattered in space & time.
• The feudal system. Nobility, landlords & peasants in fairly
Recent Economic Systems
• Colonialism (Globalisation part 1) Mining growth (explain the term).
Global trade in raw materials.
• The industrial revolution. Manufacturing growth: Factories,
urbanisation, displacement of peasants via enclosure acts & corn laws.
“The enclosure movement transferred common lands into private holdings; the market was
allowed to determine prices and wages…and in 1870 the Corn Laws were repealed in England
and cheap American grains flooded in and ruined small farmers and landed aristocrats alike.
Power shifted irrevocably to the commercial classes. The choices for people in villages were
reduced to being landless agricultural labourers at less than subsistence wages, or going to
work for 12-14 hours a day in the factories of the industrial towns and cities.” (Warren
• Globalisation part 2 (neo-Colonialism). “We must find new lands from
which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that
is available from the natives of the colonies.” (Cecil Rhodes c1890.) Bretton Woods institutions,
trans-national corporations, the free movement of capital, The race to the bottom
The changing nature of money
• Money growth: Banks (moneylenders) and usury.
• The Gold or (Sterling) Silver standard. “As paper money became more
common and acceptable, and the need for exchange media began to exceed the
amount of precious metal available, the temptation grew stronger to issue more
paper than there was metal to redeem it. This gave rise to what is known as
Fractional Reserve Banking whereby notes can be issued in multiples of the hard
assets that had previously supported the currency.” All that supports currency
now is trust and faith. Even if we were allowed to, there would be
nothing tangible to redeem our currency for! (what does it say on the
note? “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £20” – it’s
just a self-reference! It’s a ponzi scheme.)
• Fractional reserve banking and the encouragement of personal debt in order to fuel
the economy creates a credit expansion: ”Credit expansions create outward
appearances of great real wealth. They do this by creating multiple and mutually
exclusive claims to the same pieces of underlying real wealth pie. Many people feel
wealthy, but that is perception, not reality. The wealth is virtual” (Nicole Foss)
The power of consumer culture
• 1920-2010: Unique period in man’s history with an apparently limitless
supply of cheap energy (point to oil blip on timeline) enabling expansion
of production, transportation and technology. The marketing and
advertising industries are born and the media become complicit in the
feeding frenzy. Large corporations come to the fore and a process of
cultural brainwashing in the creation of artificial needs. Citizens are
turned into consumers. Unreal world like “The Truman Show”?
• Resource use, obsolescence (toasters & kettles) & the throw-away society,
waste = pollution, the story of “stuff”
• People are willing victims because human nature predisposes us to
acquiring status, comfort and security. But has this turned us into
gluttons? We are being FACTORY FARMED!!! Are we happy as a result of
our material wealth?
• “American teenagers are typically exposed to 360,000 adverts by the time
they graduate from high school, which seems to have the desired effect: 93%
of American teenage girls say that their favourite hobby is shopping.” (RK).
What do you think is the figure quoted? Talk to your neighbour & I’ll take a
quick break… a commercial break? (lol)
The mainstream media is central to
• Mainstream media is owned by corporations or
controlled by governments. Corporations must make
profits - “We have no obligation to make history, we
have no obligation to make art, we have no obligation
to make a statement. To make money is our only
objective” (Disney’s chief executive Michael Eisner).
Governments insist on perpetuating the myth of
economic growth because to do otherwise would imply
systemic collapse, aka political suicide.
• The cultural story of the importance of money,
consumerism & growth is reinforced every time we
switch on the TV, listen to the radio, or read a
3. Where are we now?
• Population growth. See timeline
• Ecological crisis. Biodiversity loss, pollution, deforestation
• Agricultural crisis. Soil, fossil fuels, water, poisons & pollinators.
• Climate crisis. Large civilisations depend on stable climate.
• Our civilisation is not immune from collapse
• Energy predicament → Economic crisis ← Peak debt
• Economic growth is neither desirable nor achievable
Our civilisation is not immune from
• The lessons of history. Civilisations like the ones mentioned in
part 2 all collapsed for reasons largely to do with natural limits
and environmental degradation, borrowing from the future to
pay for the present, compounded by entrenched authorities
who could not see the error of their ways. Sound familiar?
• I think of a predicament as a problem without a solution.
Understand that energy underpins the industrial economy.
• Coal: The 19th Century [flipchart]
• Oil: The 20th Century [flipchart] Energy slaves - “I really don't think that
people understand the magnitude of the energy lottery that we won 150 years ago
or so. One barrel of oil has the amount of joules, or energy, of up to 25,000 hours of
human labor. And at 40 hours a week, that's 12.5 years of labor for one barrel of oil.
And the average American uses 25 barrels. That's 300 years of labor from an energy
slave, just from the oil.” (Nate Hagens) (US consumption .0671 barrels per day =
1700 manhours = 70 full-time man days) Chris Martenson’s Crash Course
• Peaking resources, the effect of net energy [flipchart with adjusted
downslope], all the low-hanging fruit has gone, Deepwater Horizon as
an example of resorting to hard-to-find resources and complexity.
• The 1930s depression was brought about by a debt
bubble inflated by a wave of stock market euphoria.
When the bubble burst, economies became crippled
despite the abundance of resources.
• The deregulation of financial markets in the 1980s and
1990s (instigated without learning the lessons of the
past) created a new and much more immense debt
bubble of which the 2008 crunch was the first stage of
• This time we do not even have the luxury of abundant
resources and the population depending on those
resources is much higher.
Economic growth is neither desirable
• Decoupling is often used in the context of economic production and environmental
quality. In this context, it refers to the ability of an economy to grow without
corresponding increases in environmental pressure. In many economies increasing
production (GDP) would involve increased pressure on the environment. An
economy that is able to sustain GDP growth, without also experiencing a worsening
of environmental conditions, is said to be decoupled.
• Historically it has been attempted ineffectively or not at all. Without it, economic
growth leads to an escalation in climate/environmental and ecological crises and
potentially ever more rapid depletion of natural resources. So it is not desirable.
• Energy and resource limits mean that continuous economic growth is not
achievable. Peak Debt + $147 oil led to the contraction of Autumn 2008 (refer to
slide) Recovery = more demand = more debt + renewed price spikes = crash
revisited. There is no escape.
• Corporate lobbyists, the financial sector, media and politicians – a conspiracy of the
elite in favour of business-as-usual. Our new government still endorses growth
(David Cameron in parliament) because the current financial structures cannot
function without it. Capitalism feeds on debt. The glib aspiration to economic
growth is accepted by the electorate because the cultural story is so firmly
entrenched and the facts that necessitate change are covered-up.
4. What can be done about it?
• Be aware of natural limits and understand what
growth really means (hence the title of this talk).
Think globally, act locally.
• Powerdown – A global approach
• Cultural change – A revolutionary approach
• Safe and sound investment
• The Cinderella economy
• Transition – A local approach
• Tackling greenhouse gas emissions, depleting resources and a
broken economic model in a new paradigm of sustainability.
Climate & energy challenges indicate this way forward, but
how can it be achieved? Peter Aldous speech “We need a new
and radical energy policy. If we do not have it, the lights will
go out” and “We owe it to future generations to take a major
step towards a low-carbon economy.”, he’s talked the talk now
he must walk the walk. Which transition group will he join?
• Implementing decoupling. Restructuring the economy with a
focus on sustainability. Market mechanisms e.g. TEQs,
precycling insurance (James Greyson) leading to cradle-to-
cradle product lifecycle where waste is a resource and not
more pollution. Make products that last longer and can be
• A cultural revolution? [Refer to an actual £20 note]Free market
capitalism is based on the ‘rationality’ of Adam Smith’s every participant
acting in self-interest. I think Bill Rees’ complimentary idea says a lot about the
way to avoid collapse. “We should be designing a smaller, equitable steady-state economy, that
maintains itself within the carrying capacity. This is not difficult. The concepts are easy. The getting there is the
difficult part, because of the conflictual nature of the human animal. Today, we for the first time in the history of
our species reached the point where my selfish interests are identical to our collective interests. I cannot be
sustainable on my own. No country can be sustainable on it's own. If the rest of the world carries on down the
current pathway, they will take us down with it. Instead of being able to act out my own personal selfish fantasy,
I've got to begin to be able to identify my interests with your interests. Because together we can pull this off, if we
can convince enough people that it is in their selfish interest to serve the collective interest. It's the only way that
we're going to make any real difference on this planet.“ This is a slow process - is it
realistic to hope for a rapid turnaround in the individualism which
consumer culture has taken 100 years to create? Can we afford the
time? (how many disasters must be endured before the elite is
forced to admit their short-sightedness?)
• In the absence of political leadership this revolution is already
taking place at grassroots in thousands of small areas around the
globe, i.e. community-led response.
• Safe and Sound Investment. Given that economic growth within the
current financial system is neither desirable nor achievable, implosion is
inevitable. The warning signs are already there in Greece etc. The entire
global house of cards is shaking. Investing in local projects (e.g. via a Credit
Union) would provide a viable, safer & sustainable alternative.
• The Cinderella economy. Energy and raw materials will become
more expensive and labour comparatively cheap*. The industrialisation
(mechanisation) process will gradually unwind under pressure of market
forces. Some ideas for stimulating job creation and trade in the local
• Transition (Sustainable Bungay). There is positive action which can
be taken to benefit everyone in the community.
*This is a moot point. The advance of low-energy computer-based technology may enable
machines to continue to replace human labour in industrial processes with gathering speed.
• Consumerism will lead to catastrophe
• Media silence on limits and growth
• The power elite will not be swayed
• Grassroots action becomes the only
• A local economy working on sustainable
• Consumerism is a profit-making construct that over the last 60 years has created a
culture of greed and envy, the outcome of which now threaten to push us into a
• Because the government- and corporate-controlled (mainstream) media is gagged,
there is no broad awareness of how bad the global predicament has become. Not
even coverage of the recent general election contained any discussion of the
global predicament which is upon us.
• Economic fragility is exacerbated by crises in agriculture, natural systems, energy
and population. There is certain to be huge instability in the global economy in the
near future, yet the power-elite will continue to ignore the real issues for as long
as they can.
• With no media or political exposure available (although the UK now has 1 Green
MP) a focus on grassroots action becomes the only option.
• Remember from part 2 – the economic system has changed radically over time
and includes long periods of stability without any financial wizardry, even without
any concept of money, even without a system of numbers! A real local economy
working on sustainable principles could continue to operate while the virtual
global economy crumbles. We are fortunate to have this chance in Bungay and the
• Web: ”The greatest shortcoming of the human race is an inability to
understand the exponential function” Albert A. Bartlett (YouTube), The
Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, Wake Up Freak Out by Leo Murray, Crash
Course by Chris Martenson, lecture by Dr. Bill Rees (audio)
www.energybulletin.net/node/52961 (other relevant nodes include 52757,
52785, 52507), www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/652/1/
• Books: Warren A. Johnson’s Muddling toward Frugality, Richard Heinberg
(e.g. The Party’s Over, Powerdown, Peak Everything), Tim Jackson’s
Prosperity without Growth, Thomas H. Greco’s Money, Bill McKibben’s
Deep Economy, David Korten’s The Great Turning, John Michael Greer’s The
Long Descent, E F Schumaker’s Small is Beautiful, Joseph Tainter's The
Collapse of Complex Societies, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies
Choose to Fail or Survive, Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down. Rob
Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook, Ronald Wright’s A Short History of
Progress, Paul Kingsnorth’s One No Many Yeses, Naomi Klein (e.g. No Logo,
The Shock Doctrine