I wanted to share my experience and then a video I found really helpful. Since discovering our how unsustainable our current social-technological lifestyle is I have been trying to talk to my neighbors, friends, and community about the data I've seen, my experiences both unsustainable and sustainable. Yet, for all my efforts I have seen little change in their thinking, beliefs, or actions. It has been quite frustrating.
I will give a quick example:
I presented data on peak oil, peak water, environmental degradation/desertification, our need for an exponentially growing debt based economy, and Permaculture as one of many potential solutions to my local Engineers Without Borders chapter. Now these are smart engineers and scientists who take data and make logical decisions for a living. In addition, the people of Engineers Without Borders also want to help people. Yet, after the presentation I got a looks of disbelief. I only had 1 person of the 20 people say "Wow! I need to look into this further. Permaculture looks really impressive". Everyone else in the group didn't get the "Oh my gosh!" moment. I asked them later and they told me that technology, like solar panels, biofuels, or fracking was going to be the answer. Ironically, this was after I showed them mathematically that none of those would be viable solutions. (I used to be a biofuels researcher for the USDA/DOE; I had the same disbelief from my research group when I presented the same results. They said "No, that's research. We will find a way!")
I recently discovered this video by Chris Martenson, who was talking about the same issues I have been ecountering. Only he has been much more successful than I. Chris describes why he has been more successful in talking to people about difficult topics and when challenging beliefs. I wanted to share the video so other people who have experienced the same thing as I would save themselves a lot of frustration.
The video is a 1 hour presentation at the 4th Annual Biophysical Economics conference.
I was wondering what could I possibly talk about to this crowd because you already know just about everything I could possibly say that could happen to our world about where it is and where it is going.
I am if anything just a translator. Maybe I should take the word ‘just’ off there. I am actually pretty good at translating. I realized the best thing I could possibly offer here was a description of how I manage to do what I do. That is talk to people about material that is absolutely difficult and challenging.
So as of recently as four years ago I was under the entirely erroneous perception that I was in the business of sharing important information. I was frustrated, my audiences were frustrated, if I had an audience there at all they were small. I learned through the school of hard knocks that I was in a very different business. I was in the business of challenging beliefs. Now you use information to do that but it is business that I thought I was in cause I am scientist, I am a numbers guy. I had to figure out how to communicate this material.
What I am doing to do is walk through these slides to help share with you is how I went about communicate what I do.
The story starts here: The Crash Course, a 20 chapter online video representation that I put up. I have good luck so one of my good luck timings was this was completed in October of 2008 a week and half before the markets crashed and we got a huge flood of traffic in its first week on my website. In the first year it was seen a million and half times. Across the whole web it was seen maybe 4 or 5 million times. It is now translated into 12 languages by volunteers. It is no small task, the 3 hours of material takes about 1100 to 1200 hours to translate. So that people have done that says something.
But this should have been a complete disaster! This is a marketing failure! This is me talking over charts! This is 3 hours of PowerPoint, you can’t do any worse than that! It took off. So the question is ‘why did it take off?’
Before I put it together I learned some really important things about how to structure the material. Its now a book, its now a DVD. There are a lot of way people can interact with it. These two pieces [online course] we gave away for free. I decided that this was really important information that I really needed to get out there to the world.
Here is some very important framing. On my website this is my mission [slide with picture of earth, “Creating a World Worth Inheriting”]. I am trying to create a world worth inheriting. [audience applause] Who’s against that? This is an important framing question.
What I do is I connect three ‘E’s [Economy, Energy, Environment] together because we can’t look at the any one E in isolation anymore. The first E I talk about is the economy. The reason I talk about the economy is that this is a non-partisan fully egalitarian conversation. Everybody cares about their pocket book and their economic future.
My true concern lies over here in the energy sphere and the environmental sphere, but I start here [economics]. In truth if we don’t have a functioning economy we won’t realize any of our high tech dreams of driving carbon fiber cars or fuel cell cars or if we don’t have the energy to produce them, and the complicated economy to run them. If we don’t have an ecology to support all this… we don’t have anything at all.
So we have to look at all three E’s in one spot now. This is what The Crash Course does. I’m not going to go through it into any detail here, it’s online.
The rough summary is this: this is a chart of debt, from federal reserve data, the red line is debt, the blue line is a perfectly idealized mathematical exponential curve fit. Its got an R2 value of 0.99 [unbelievable close match]. We have been living in a perfectly exponential debt system. So when I only have 5 minutes and I am talking to people who are in finance or who happen to be a wealthy family or someone with a pension or an endowment. I say “if I only have 5 minutes give me this one graph cause what I am going to do is give you a gut check”. Everyone of these blue upside down triangles represents a doubling. We started with 1.5 trillion in debt and 5 doublings later we end up in end up with 52 trillion in debt. That means we have 5 doublings in debt in 4 decades. If you think that the next four decades or even the next decade is going to look anything like the past all we need is some more doublings. That means we have to go from 52 to 104 trillion in debt in the next decade. How likely is that? Let’s consider that the entire US mortgage market is only 10 trillion, so I guess we need 5 new real estate markets. Or what? What’s going to happen there? That is the first gut check. I don’t have to go into all the mechanisms of fractional reserve banking to explain why, although I could. I don’t have to explain why we got this behavior, but we got it. Everything you need to know about why we have budget deficits about why we have rioting in South Africa and Greece is explained in this little wiggle from exponential fit. It started in 2008 were our credit markets were no longer growing exponentially. That is a whole mountain peak of information that I could dive into.
If I was given just one chart in energy use this would be it. [showing the sum of all fuel types on a bar graph looking like an exponential plot]. This is a chart drawn out of Smith’s book on world energy use patterns. All I want to do is draw on one line [exponential curve]. As long as we can continue doing this consume for ever and ever,
Amen. We will be able to continue living the lifestyle and have the economy that we have come to know and love. Oh, by the way we are going to alternative fuels people say. Oh, we are going to carbon fiber cars. Everyone of these energy transitions we are looking at biofuels, right? [pointing at 1800’s] Wood, peat, stuff like that. Oh, then we got coal, yeah! Awesome material. How long until coal was half of your story? Oh, about 40 years. Oh, wait how long before oil was half the story. Oh, about 60 years. Oh, cool, all we need is 40 to 60 years to transition to a new energy source. Look at the shape of this line on here. I can draw lines like this [exponential] on all sorts of things. We are surrounded by these non-linear exponential curves [forest loss, water use, species extinction, fisheries exploited].
They all happen to be arriving at this very interesting point of history which we all get to participate in. What I am trying to explain here is exponential behavior of consumption and growth in all three E’s here: economic, environmental, and energy. This is a very important thing to talk about.
The reason I go through this is I want to simplify and make clear what is an overly complicated subject. I can simplify the economy as something that “must grow”. That’s all I need, two words “Must Grow”. It’s only the money system behind it, it’s not a law. Nobody passed a law. Our system does great if it is growing and really badly if it is not. I’m not here to cast judgment on it, that’s just our system. Knowing the system gives us some power, predictive power and explanatory power. Awesome things to have in this particular landscape. Our must grow economy is connected to an energy system, at least on a liquid fuels basis, can’t grow. What does that mean? It means everything! We should be having a conversation around that. How about we have a story of depletion on one side of natural resources and a story of increasing waste flows [environmental]. So there’s two sides to that. On this side I usually just talk about the depletion side to keep it simple.
That’s it, that’s the whole story. Must Grow, Can’t Grow, Depleting! That’s a bummer! What a stupid business to go into! And I did. I am being very successful at it. I want to tell you how I am able to put all these things together and have the conversations, even though they are still challenging, with people around that.
The first conclusion I want to led people towards is: Anything that can’t go on forever wont. Bert Stein said: Anything that can’t go on forever won’t. It’s just another statement of anything that is unsustainable will stop. Everyone in this room and everything you are study is right. The dollars on your left as a marker for our style of economy and a physical planet on the other side. Your absolutely right. You have some of the most important information that needs to be communicated. We are getting to the desperate stages. It’s not you, you’re not alone. I’ve talked with ecologists, they are absolutely devastated by what they see. Whether ecologist who work on species or water use patterns or soil depletion/mining. There is just an absolute wealth of information that says ‘you’re on the wrong track’ or ‘you’re on one but it’s unsustainable’. So what do we do with that? How do you possible communicate something like that?
I actually don’t care about information for its own sake. I really only care about creating change, change in behaviors. That’s what really matters!
There are only two ways we found in psychology that people change. One is by insight. This is awesome, you give people information that’s relevant and they make decisions on it. That covers a good solid 0.5% of all humanity. The other way is you change through pain. You hit the wall. You have the heart attack, before you start dieting. You get cancer then you stop smoking. Whatever the pain happens to be it is a very common thing. When I wondered over into the psychology department I wondered ‘how do I create change in people’. They said ‘just wait for big accident’. That seemed insufficient to me, cause that is out of alignment with my mission. If I believed that this was the only way to get there I would not be here today. Because there would be no point. I’m here because I am very optimistic. There is a way to do this, but it requires being very cleaver about this. And doing it in a very sophisticated way.
I don’t care why people change. If people say they are going to gain greater food resiliency or a lower carbon footprint because aliens are coming next year. [audience laughter] I’m all for it. If they want to do it because some religion told them to do it, I’m all for it. If they want to do it for climate change, I’m all for it. I happen to go through the economic angle because I have found that I can get very deep very broad based traction going through that route. There is a reason for that.
So I wondered into the field of behavior economics. What I believe is one of the truly scientifically based practices right now. Had opportunities to Daniel Ariely and got a lot out of a book called “Predictably Irrational”. Four really important lessons. Really important. These are critical.
The first is that we are wired for this [shows picture of saber tooth tiger really close]. Near immediate threats get our attention for good reason. The advancing glacier behind the saber tooth tiger, eh, not so much. You have to present your information to a person that has immediate relevance to a person. The more immediate the better. I already heard echoes of this. Financial people don’t care about multiple months out, they care about this next quarter’s statement. There is a reason for that. We have patterned our economies and our systems about who we happened to be wired as, not because it makes more sense. This is just part of it, there’s biology involved.
The more concrete the threat can be described the better. Some future hazard possibly, maybe, kind of, is not nearly as good as something as concrete and definitive. It needs to be confirmed by daily experience. Here in the US there is a decent amount of traction around global warming. I was just in the UK last week talking at DFID (Department for International and Foreign Development). They house their climate change facilities in that branch and they said they lost all their momentum this year. Cause England just had the coldest rainiest summer they’ve ever had. They are like climate change, ‘yea, pffft, gone’. Whatever your message is if it is confirmed by people’s daily experience it has a better chance of gaining traction. If it gets countermanded by people’s daily experiences then it’s going to lose traction.
People need to have a sense of control in this story. So, right on my website right now there is a whole bunch of people pilled in on a piece I wrote saying ‘Chris I love what you do but you are absolutely, absolutely in error for not making climate change the center part of your strategy. You should do this, you need to do this.’ My response to that is climate change as a motivating action violates every one of these four rules. It’s not immediate, it’s statistical, its countermanded by daily experience potentially or reinforced, but worse, and this is the worse one, if people don’t have a sense or agency or control over it’s over. We don’t even have a national sense of agency. If we stop all our consumption, what’s your belief? Who will burn it instead? China, thank you. So if I could get somebody to change motivated through the angle of climate change I would do that but I have found it doesn’t really work all that well. Except the 0.5%. The other 99.5% some other organizing principle really works.
Now for the ‘how’, that’s sort of defines the ‘what’ I am going to say or what I am going to choose as a strategy, now for the how I got a lot out of this book by George Lakoff Don’t Think of an Elephant! He was talking about how to help the Democrats understand why the Republicans are beating them at their own game, in terms of framing. Every word we use has a frame to it. “Cup” sounds pretty neutral but it has a frame to it. A set of associations that you draw to that, and because of that some words have negative association and some words have positive associations. So choosing your words is really important. So the first key learning I got out of this book was if you frame things on the moral level you start to win automatically. The republicans are very good at this. Here’s an example: and I got this straight from his straight from one of his coworkers. Listen if Obama, when he was tackling health care. He came at it from a tactical level and not a moral level. We have to control rising health care costs. That’s admirable, but that’s sort of a COO (chief operation officer) sort of thing. We are going to control costs. If instead he framed the argument by saying “Americans deserve access to health care when they need it” you guys and gals work out the details and held that moral center then you have something. You have something that is almost unassailable and if the opposition wants to start taking your argument apart they have to climb over that moral imperative first before they start dismantling.
That’s why I start here [picture of the planet Earth]. I have yet to find anyone who say “Ahhh, that’s junk, let me tear that apart for you”. They can disagree about how I am going about doing it, that’s all fine. But the first thing they can’t do is come in and assault my fortress and this is what I believe, this isn’t some marketing gimmick. It took me a while to boil down what I was doing and why I was doing it, so I could understand what the moral imperative was. It took me a few years to find this, and I may refine it further, but this is what I’ve gotten.
Another piece on how, you’ve got to make it personal. It has to be personal. And we are talking about a lot of big impersonal things.
So how many people here have seen the crash course? So I’m going to run through a quick example of this [exponential growth] and if you’ve seen this just keep quiet while I run through this, or sit through this one more time. And then I am going to show you have to make this personal. So the idea is that we have this extraordinary impersonal thing, exponential growth. How do you teach this? Math teachers are like ‘ah, this is hard.’ Albert Bartlett, the master of teaching this, said ‘the greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function’. So how do you teach this? How do you communicate this?
We all know what this is [points to graph of the exponential function] it’s a hockey stick it’s a chart of something growing by some percentage over time, quarter percent per year, 50% per minute, doesn’t matter, and you get this chart. So here is a thought experiment that I use to make it personal to people. So we can embody a difficult concept and it’s around this thought experiment which works like this, this is a magic eye dropper and its magic because the water drop that comes out of this is going to double every minute. So after one minute you have two drops and after two minutes you have four drops and after six minutes you can fill a thimble up. So if you got a sense of that what I am going to do is we are going to ruin a stadium so I picked this one [Yankee Stadium]. Cause I’m from Massachusetts. I get to do two things, I’m going to make this park water tight and I’m going to handcuff you to the highest row of bleacher seats. We are going to start at 12 o clock tomorrow. There I walk down to the pitcher’s mound and put a magic drop down and it’s so small you can even see it. Its 12:00 and it starts doubling every minute. How long do you have to escape from your handcuffs? For people who haven’t seen it just think of a number, shout it out if you dare. [Audience: 40 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hours.] We start at 12:00 tomorrow, you have until 12:50 to escape. If anybody is skeptical thinking Chris looks like a really really bad estimator he’s under estimated the volume of the park by 100%. Maybe I did, you get to think 12:51, if that helps you.
That wasn’t the important question, this is the important question. At what time is that park 97% empty space and how many of you realize the seriousness of your predicament. 12:45. So for 45 minutes nothing is happening, the water goes up to my knees, the next five minutes it’s over. All of human history to get to 3 billion people, 40 years for the next 3 billion. This is important because we’re not wired to understand exponentials, we’re just not. A more tangible example, I’m going to give you two erasers and score you on how evenly you can bring them together. You’re going to get a really high score. Surprise, I’m going to replace them with two neodymium magnets and going to try it again. Your brain, nerves, musculature will not be able to solve that equation. It’s going to be really hard because the magnets pull together exponentially. So it’s a really hard thing for us to understand but we have to, cause this is our stadium [picture of planet Earth]. We are increasing all those exponential charts I showed you before, and the only one that has no limits on it is the debt one because you can add zeros on to your heart’s content. But, everything else has a limit, everything else has a volume that we have to work with.
That was a real chart I start with, its population. I care a lot about it, green is history, red are UN projections going forward to get us to 2050. It only matters if we think there is some fixed volume to this, if there’s some cap on stadium volume that we have to think about, so it’s very important.
Oil, this is not a linear chart either, this is consumption/production because you have to burn it. It only matters if you think there is some fixed volume to your stadium, which there is of course.
I put these up before; we are surrounded by exponential charts. So there is the esoteric sort of thing we are going to talk about, exponentials, why is that important? Key concept, A) that is the world you live in. Who shares with me the observation that things are happening faster and faster? Your right, they are. The amplitude and the frequency of all kinds of things are increasing. That is exactly what you would predict if you had multiple exponentials converging, coming together. That’s the world we live in. The really key thing is that exponentials speed up at the end. This is really important. Now, how do you make that even more personal. I have a prediction: Events will unfold rapidly when they do.
It leads me to my own personal motto: “I’d rather be a year early than a day late.” I use this to talk to people who may be on the fence or otherwise thinking that they have lots of time to think about investing in solar panels. or how I’m going to start to think about how to organize my lifestyle, workplace and eating against exponentially rising energy costs. My answer is: Now is a good time to start. Now would be nice.
My own personal example is: Yes, once upon a time I was living in a house that looked a lot like this and drove a boat that did look exactly like that. I had that boat, not that picture of the boat, but that boat. What happened was I started to dig around and then I fell into this rabbit hole of data and when I emerged I lived in a much smaller house. I quit my corporate vice-president job. I started growing some of my own food. I now have a kayak which has two paddles, instead of two engines. I changed all kinds of things, how we educate our children, my wife and I want to know who our community is. Everything changed. Everything. I offer that up, not to say do what I did, but having a personal example of how to connect these big personal ideas you have into concrete actions any stories you can come up with are incredible important. People need to see that connection. Otherwise it’s an idea floating around out there.
So what did I do? Let’s look at what I did when all these colliding exponentials. There are four things that maybe everyone should think about doing. The first is, just get out of debt. If you are paying more on debt than you are making in the markets it’s a good idea not to have that debt. If that’s at all possible. This is just an instructive lesson from history, when periods where you’re facing a big big gap between your money system and what reality can provide holding on to debt during those periods is not a really good strategy. It turns out to be a real killer. It turns out to be that we might inflate all our debts away but far more likely is that our debts stay there constantly, $100,000 in debt plus interest is a constant. Everything else under that is varying our income, our asset values, maybe we have rising input costs like fuel and nondiscretionary items. The debt is the fixed and all these other pieces are potentially eating in to it. So this is a great liberator if you can.
The second thing I suggest people do is: Invest in yourself. So here’s what I did. Solar thermal panels. This is a really interesting story, you can put these into a spreadsheet and discover that they have about a 8 year payback and a 25 year lifespan. So, I have an 11% return baked into this, and over the lifespan might have a triple digit return. And it’s guaranteed, well, oil could go to zero dollars a gallon. That’s my risk. But otherwise this is a guaranteed investment. So here in this story I’m trying to reframe, what do I do with my investments thinking you take your money send it Wall Street cross your fingers and close your eyes. We can invest in ourselves that are identifiable risk free returns. Why aren’t we doing this?
If you care about, this is where the story part narrative comes in. If you care about carbon in the atmosphere, jobs, local jobs, if you care about national security, maybe six other dimensions. We shouldn’t be using hydrocarbons to heat water when we can use the sun. Sun does a great job heating stuff up. It’s slightly less good at making electrons, but it’s awesome at heating stuff up. Why aren’t we doing that? Before we go out and discover the next carbon fiber nano car whatever whatever whatever. Why aren’t we doing something that’s 1970’s and makes sense on every dimension we can add it up? Only one reason we can think of, we’re playing the wrong story in our heads. Collectively, national, there is something not quite right about our collective story. Yeah, I’ve got some solar panels. Yeah, I’ve got a wood stove. These are multiple ways of being resilient to heat my house so I’m reliant on any one system anymore. Yeah, efficiency, oh by the way, if you do air sealing and retrofit insulation in a house. Typical ROI on that for an existing house, not a new house, is about 18%. It’s very high. That’s at current energy prices, if energy prices go up just pick higher numbers.
I have redundant water on my property now. I have a nice garden, and I store food. I planted berry bushes, we’ve got chickens, and we store other food. Is any of this sufficient, Chris are you doing this because one day the food runs out and you will be able to live? The answer is, No. The reason I’m doing this is because if I know something and my actions aren’t in alignment with that anxiety live in that gap for me. That’s were fear comes in. I do this because it makes me feel better. I sleep good. I eat better. I live in a warmer toasty house and I’m saving money. Why would I not do that? And yet, people won’t do it because underneath it all there is something lurking in the story that’s more uncomfortable than, sleeping better, eating better, and being more resilient to the shocks that might come.
I ask people to buy gold and maybe silver. Those are two separate words for me. One’s a monetary metal, the other is a valuable irreplaceable industrial commodity metal that’s running out. So I have different reasons why I store both of those.
The last thing I do, and there is still money left over, have it managed safely. If MF Global taught you anything or Bernie Madoff or Peregrine Financial or any of the rest of it not knowing who or where the derivative accidents might lie in a system that has nearly a quadrillion dollars laying in it. Make sure you know who’s running your money and that they are doing it well.
So one of the things I like to do is make even the most complex of ideas as simple as possible. I’ve found, over time, that it is not possible to oversimplify things for your average consumer, which would be your typical politician.
Our economy is a complex system. What do you mean by complex system? A complex system is inherently a chaotic system its defies prediction, there is no possible way to predict. Well, if you’re an Italian seismologist, you better get that under wraps. Copernicus II, the rematch. I don’t know what’s going on over there in the world. For everyone else they have two features, they are inherently unpredictable. Even if that complex system is a pile of sand being built one grain of sand a time, predicting when it’s going to slump and how much. Is it going to be a little slide down the side or is the whole thing going to slump? Totally unpredictable. We can note the risks in those systems. As the slope of the sides gets better we can calculate the risks getting bigger, but they are inherently unpredictable, that’s the first thing.
The second this is complex system owe their order and their complexity to energy. So once upon a time I was a neurotoxicologist. I used to grow and plate out neurons in dishes. They would express themselves beautify looking at them under a high power microscope. As living creatures they would express themselves with axons and dendrites make connections and build these little cities. Moving stuff around, extraordinarily complicated. If I forgot to feed them for two days and came back, I would see these little simple balls. The nerves reeled all that complexity in and simplified. That is kind of my own personal understanding that complex system get simpler if they don’t have energy flows. So my prediction for our giant fancy global economy is that it is going to get simpler. That’s the easy part, the hard part is knowing what mileage will very tremendously in this story. How do I make something this complex, what do we do with that?
The prediction I would make from that are black swans are now the rule. Black swans being Nassim Taleb’s description of what happens in financial markets when the unexpected happens. He used the term Black Swan because for the longest time in England swans were white. That’s it, everybody knows that. Then a black swan was imported from Australian, and then all of a sudden you have to take on the idea that these things are possible. A Fukashima wasn’t really possible until it happened, now it’s oh, that can happen. Deep water horizon, these are all possible when you grow an increasingly complex society black swans become part of the rule, not the exception.
Then you plant the seed around that idea. For me, when something simpler, just like the neurons and dendrites I was telling you about doesn’t all of a sudden get simpler, it reals in from the edges. So I would predict if we are having a complex system and it is being starved for energy whatever that fuels source happens to be, debt, physical energy that expresses itself through the debt markets. We’re going to expect to see this progress from the outside in. We’re going to see Greece go, then Ireland go, then Spain, the weaker elements go before the center story gives way. So what I do with this I advise people, corporations, whoever, what you want to do with this idea of the outside-in. Don’t keep your eye on the whole picture; keep your eye on the weaker elements of the picture. So on my personal financial tracking screen I don’t have all the stocks, I have the ones I judge to be the weakest. They are going to go first and give me some warning that something is about to happen. I’m watching the weaker countries. In this country we already have record number of people on food stamps in this nation. At the same time we’re spinning a story that the economy is actually recovering. One of these two things is not right in this story. The explanation to me of that is that the edges of our society happen to be the poorer elements and they are going to be experiencing the first waves of this loss of energy as it ripples through the system.
You are not in the business of sharing information. So much as you are in the business of challenging beliefs. What do I mean by belief here, I’m not talking religious beliefs, a belief is an idea that you hold to be true. A beliefs are devilously tricky as they go out and gather information for themselves that confirms their status or rejects stuff that’s not relevant. Beliefs are tricky that way. Here’s how I know I am in a discussion with somebody and we are talking about beliefs, not opinions which are a collection of facts or facts themselves. Emotions become involved. That’s how I know that I am in belief oriented territory, anger, irritation, hostility, sadness, something crops up. So that means we are in belief territory. So it used to be when I would try and share a lot of information with people they would start to get agitated, I would try a little harder, and we would both end up getting agitated an upset. I have learned that when I am up against beliefs and say ‘hey let me show you some stuff’ and beliefs come into play I back away from the discussion immediately. Or I try and find out what the underlying belief is and get to that.
So what I have found in this material is that when I give these talks the thing I have to be cognizant of is the really key piece of the story is people will go through a very typical range of emotions when talking about material that I talk about, ecologist talk about, and it mirrors almost exactly what Elizabeth Cubler Ross identified in the five stages of grief. Which is the ultimate loss of mortality itself, that sense of loss triggers that very emotional response. In going over with people and talking with psychologists and behavior economics and digging and digging it turns out that our ego’s will even equate loss of an argument as a form of death. So in any story that involves loss will automatically involve the most deeply rooted thing we fear. So it tends to trigger these sets of emotions, and oh, by the way, I’ve been through all of these.
Those six stages, it starts with denial. There’s all sorts of reasons we might be in denial. Oh, and by the way, I talk about energy, the economy, and the environment and its possible that someone be in denial about energy, but in another emotional state about the environment. So these are 6 typical stages. Denial, they act in denial, ‘don’t want to hear about this’, statements of denial sound like “oh, if what your talking about is true I would have heard it from somebody besides you”. “Oh, they’ll figure something out, don’t worry about it.” Something that just says “I don’t want to look at that right now.”
After denial comes anger. Boy was I angry when I found out how the money system operated. Wow! Ask my wife. That was unpleasant for her I think. How do you go all the way through an MBA program were they teach you how to compete for money but not how its made. You can teach it to any 5th grader, mysterious that thing. Anger has two states to it. So it has a motivating force, I got a lot of the The Crash Course built on this anger energy which is good. It has a demotivating side as well. I now know when people are slipping from one to the other. Its an important avenue to avoid. One of the things you’ll never find in my writing is creating a sense of victim, victimizer. ‘These evil corporations are’, ‘Those bad banksters are’. I may hold those views but I never surface them because the victim, victimizer mindset it raised. People go into what I call the cul-de-sac of anger from which no action ever occurs. So it has two components, a gift and a shadow if you will.
That is equally true of bargaining. I have a whole basement full of bargaining purchases, I showed them to you. A Prius is a bargaining purchase. “If I buy this, then …” bad things will be averted. I won’t have to change my behavior, something. But again, bargaining has a motivating force cause it can it got me to do a lot of good things which needed to be done which is great. And, I think it has an unhealthy side, which you can get stuck in. The trick is knowing which is which.
Fear is an additional emotion stage to Kubler Ross that I’ve sort of tucked in here. It could be tucked in anywhere along the way. People have legitimate fears that get raised by this material. Being able to talk about them without them being diminished is important, especially in a society that routinely crushes this as a conversation topic. Letting it come up and be expressed is a healthy, important thing. Fear has a good side. Its goal, its gift side, if I am being chased by a bear, I like my fear. Fear has a stuck place too. Where people get paralyzed by the fear, and that’s a bad place. I mentioned off-handedly that I had my Crash Course done a week before the markets let go, because I had a suspicion that the markets were going to go. I wanted to be in a position at a teachable moment, to have something, because when fear comes up, comes out and becomes paralyzing that is also a teachable moment. People’s ideas of what is true and not open up a little bit, you have an opportunity then to come in. So I have a variety of things sitting in the wings prepared, ready, for the next teachable moment. Understanding that fear is typically the portal in that allows you to get new conversations started.
Depression sounds like something that we would always of course avoid. It is a common part of this pathway so maybe it has a gift too. I think it has a recharging element too, I think there is a process of integration of all of this that requires a quiet state so I think it has a gift here. It has a shadow, of course, obviously. If you get too far down into depression and you need help get it. This is a very typical set of responses. People know intuitively who are in active denial that this is the path that awaits them if they go down this line of thinking typically. And they say “No”. That’s fine, I understand that.
You may eventually get to acceptance. It is what it is. Sometimes your born in interesting moments, sometimes quieter moments of history. This just happens to be where we are. Again, I might be in acceptance on energy but not on the environment and be completely somewhere else in the other E. This story raises these things. The most important thing I learned to become effective at what I do was to stop requiring people to being in the same emotional state I was in. In my angry stage I was very good at attracting other angry people and we had a little angry choir, it was awesome. Nobody else was showing up. Even if I’m in acceptance and I’ve reached some Nirvana and I have to get you there. Your depressed and I have to help you get their quicker. I found that if I have compassion for wherever I happen to be fully accepting my state, I was accepting of where other people where. My ability to reach other people shot up order of magnitude.
This is my first invitation that these emotions are part of it, they’re there they serve a useful purpose and have destructive sides. My experience over time has been that my emotional states started big and swung deep and I have cycled through all these as new data come in, still find myself cycling back through. Everytime Gold-Sachs does something I cycle back again. They have been damping down over time and getting shorter. This is just a progress that I am aware of now.
The point is that beliefs trump information. You have to know what the operative belief is. Let me show you the most common one I run into. Here’s a chart of US oil production, “you see that”. Wait a minute, these are world oil discoveries, you get it right? People are like “unnnn, no.” “Cause you know, technology, oil shales, something.” Then I go, but wait there’s something and were past peak and we are all getting agitated. I could show 40 more charts on peak oil and then more agitation. What’s wrong? The problem is that their rejecting the information because it doesn’t fit their belief structure. Nine times out of ten as soon as I detect that I am getting that “no, no, no thing” I find that my best use of the next 20 minutes is to where we depart over into this territory about technology. Because people hold a belief in technology, a faith in technology. Often times I find that it is not all that well formed, its not really that complete, so we have a discussion about what technology can do. Which is legitimate and what it can’t do. How it can’t create energy but it can transform energy and where would that next energy source be from. This is a very fruitful discussion to have. If that belief can be dismantled or opened up to inquery now we can talk about peak oil and the impact. Until then were having a collision and it had nothing to do about data. It had to do with the underlying belief that was being held.
Yeah, we talk about technology, it has limits. There’s things it can and can’t do. It depends on how deep we go into this conversation. So I was in the UK last week talk at Oxford of all places and this really bright graduate student said “You know all that stuff about peak oil your wrong, cause of this! [holds up cell phone representing technology]” Right? The classic blunder, land wars in Asia and your holding up your iPhone as representation of energy. Classic, but he held that belief, so there was no conversation that we could hold about oil that would have made any difference, so we had to talk about technology.
So the summary is then success for me requires not just what I say but how and when. The sequencing the order. So if you look at the crash course as a 20 chapter beast that’s out there on the internet. Note, that if you watch the belief structure I mapped them out very carefully and I started with the easy ones first. I start with money, people hold their own deep seated beliefs about money, but not how it’s made and something they didn’t know. So once I teach them that I go to the last three chapters which are the doozies. I have the environment in there where there is all this emotional framing and baggage weight around that. Faith in authority is something that I bang on really hard back there. Technology and how it relates to energy and things like that. Those big pieces are back there. Go easy to hard, organize it, organize it.
Anytime you can you make things personable actionable is what matters. If someone goes out and says “I’m going to take an extra dollar out of the bank because I am not concerned about the banking system”. It’s totally insufficient, but it represents and alignment between what they are thinking and what they are doing. Make that as easy as possible. Cause that first step is often the hardest one. I had a case where a gentleman came up to me after a seminar and said “Oh, thanks so much for what you did, I lost my girlfriend because of you”. “Are you thanking me for that?” “Well, I think so, uhhh”. So what had happened was he thought the banking system was close to collapse, which was right. So I went to the bank and I got money out and came home and my girlfriend asked “what’s that for?” So I explained and she freaked out! That I would hold a view that the banking system might come apart at the seams, and that was it the whole thing just fell apart. She couldn’t deal with that. And the weird thing was, three months before I came home with cash because we were going to take a trip. She was all totally psyched about that. So it wasn’t the action itself, it was the intention. It was all the things that got unearthed that were either supported, confirmed, rejected or denied on the basis of that action. Going on a trip confirms all sorts of wonderful things, taking it out because you have concerns about the wholeness of the banking system, unacceptable. So getting that first step of action is actually really critically important.
So I include myself in this statement [Humans only rarely make decisions based on information]. This whole talk would be suitable for sales, advertising, political campaigns, it’s all the same, it’s all the same. Understanding how decisions actually get made at the mass level and how we adopt new national narratives requires that it is the belief structures that are more important. These beliefs go right to the heart of things. I’ve heard it so many times, multiple times this morning already what is the implication, Right, now if you said totally believe in global climate change and we have to stop putting carbon into the atmosphere right now. Great! We’re going to turn off the lights, park the cars/tractors/trucks, were going to wait for 80% of the population to die. That’s literally the conclusion, it’s not hard to come to. So guess what, we don’t have those conversations. There is a reason for that it raises really uncomfortable stuff. So we just have to be aware of that.
The invitation is to always make things as simple as possible, and even simplier than that if you can. So those are just a few of the things I’ve learned. I want to thank you for your attention and the opportunity to speak here.
This is excellent.
He's done a wonderful amount of joined up thinking, and put some real insights in the right order. It's the sequence which really makes this work.
I'll be watching the video later. Thankyou very much for the transcription.