Energy Descent Realism: Part 1

A better way to think about climate change, overshoot, and surviving the 21st Century?

Steve Genco
8 min readMay 6, 2024

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A photo taken on a tour of Pigface Point, a “simpler way” demonstration project in Australia that shows how people could live in more sustainable communities without relying on fossil fuels. The phote depicts a sheep standing next to the open porch of a house, surrounded by dense plants and trees.
Pigface Point, a Simpler Way demonstration community in Australia, led by Ted Trainer, photo by Lisa Kelly on Flickr. Used with permission.

I’ve written here on Medium about the importance of mental models in understanding our current predicament of global warming, resource depletion, and ecological overshoot. Mental models are the lenses through which we see the world around us. They allow us to turn the blooming buzzing confusion of reality that William James imagined every newborn infant experiences (source) into a coherent (or at least semi-coherent) picture and story about how and why the world works the way it does. Our mental models deeply influence our most basic cognitive processes of observing, evaluating, planning, and deciding. They encode our biases and our preferences. And they are very, very hard to change.

In this and a second post, I want to examine the major mental models through which we view the defining crisis of our time: the ongoing dilemma of a world powered by fossil fuels but also poisoned by fossil fuels. We face the most consequential choice humans have ever faced: Do we continue burning fossil fuels and risk heating the planet to levels incompatible with human survival, or do we stop burning fossil fuels and risk collapsing the global economic regime on which our civilization and prosperity depend?

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Steve Genco

Steve is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019) & Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013). He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University.