the Everything Bubble

people debating an issue at night on the streets of Embu, Brazil while a dog sits in the center of the circle


chart of worldwide species extinctions from 1000 AD to 2000 AD

   This post is part of the serialization of the second chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability]. The chapter is entitled “What Can We Do?” It describes principles upon which real sustainability can be based. This post is the chapter’s introduction.

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chart of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 1000 AD to 2000 AD

   Our problems go far beyond anything that could be considered “daunting.” As a matter of fact, it is questionable whether humanity has yet faced a challenge to its future that compares to the scale of what lies ahead, except in the disaster and alien movies. Look at any major chart of world conditions over the span of recorded human history, whether it be human population, energy usage, resource usage, atmospheric carbon dioxide, etc., and you will see immediately that there is an unprecedented skyrocketing of the chart in the past 200 to 300 years.

   Reasonable people would have to conclude that we cannot continue on our present course without massive consequences... believing otherwise would give your friends cause for questioning your sanity. One definition of insanity is to believe that we can keep doing what we’ve been doing and somehow get different results.

   Zig Ziglar’s take on the truth behind the Insanity Principle is “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting.” And these charts show clearly what we’ve been getting.

chart of world population from 2000 BC to 2000 ADchart of total carbon emissions from fossil fuels from 1000 AD to 2000 AD

   But the Insanity Principle doesn’t really cover the uncharted territory we’re in now. I’d like to propose the Inverse Insanity Principle, which states that “another sign of insanity is to believe that you can do dramatically different things and somehow get the same result as before you did those dramatically different things.”

   These ideas aren’t really new, however. A Jewish philosopher lumped both the Insanity Principle and the Inverse Insanity Principle into a single phrase nearly 2,000 years ago when he observed that “you reap what you sow.” 

   “Bubble thinking” isn’t new, either. Bubble thinking during the recent housing bubble that burst in 2008 and the dot com bubble that burst in 2000 serve as warnings against the irrational exuberance that would comfort us that “everything’s OK...” when we’re in completely uncharted waters, creating unprecedented causes that have unknown effects.

   Those are not the only bubbles we have seen... not by any stretch. Before them, there was the Asian financial bubble that burst in 1997, the Japanese asset bubble that burst in the 1980s, the Florida speculative building bubble that burst in 1926, the Railway Mania bubble of the 1840s, the Mississippi Company bubble of the 1720s, and the Tulip Mania bubble that burst in 1637, just to name a few. Bubbles are not new, but they all have something in common: they always seem to end in catastrophic fashion for the masses who are seduced by them.

   These bubbles are characterized by the sharp spike in a single category of commodity, such as tulips, Florida real estate, or dot com stocks. But we now face a bubble like no other.

   The Everything Bubble is unique because every chart of major global conditions is spiking or otherwise behaving as it has never done before in recorded human history. See the charts above? We could draw a dozen more that look very much like them.

   What does this mean? At the very least, it points to the fact that humanity is entering an unprecedented era. It is not unreasonable to expect the coming era to have consequences of Biblical proportions; how can we look at the charts and rationally believe otherwise? Is there anything other than “bubble thinking” that would make us hope that everything’s OK, and that, in the words of Jim Kunstler, we can “sleepwalk into the future”?


~ Steve Mouzon


Legacy Comments:


Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - 01:23 AM

Virginia in PA

In biology there are some creatures that reach a balance with their environment, but others that expand in population rapidly and then crash. I think the biblical locus in Egypt are an example.   Humans are doing both.


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