—Joshua Spodek's adventures in stewardship—

194: Tom Murphy, part 2: Author of one of the best sites on the internet


I've said it before and I'll say it again. Tom's Do The Math blog is one of the best site on internet. If you measure a site by how much it can improve a reader's life and human society, I challenge you to find one with greater potential. A couple peers include Low Tech magazine and Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, which is a book that you can download for free. Tom makes the physics behind the environment and our interaction with it simple and accessible. If you don't like math, well, it's the language of nature, so it's important to understand what's happening in nature. But even so, the point of collecting data and calculating results isn't for the sake of the math. It's to get past it to get to your values and to act on them. The point of the math is to get past the math When W. Edwards Deming initially apparently contradictory statements make sense, you understand the point of taking data and calculating results. He said: “Without data, you're just another person with an opinion.” and "Management by numerical goal is an attempt to manage without knowledge of what to do" Doing the math frees you from confusion to enable talking meaningfully about what to do. Regarding the environment, as long as people can think they can just switch to solar for everything that needs energy or that they can close some imaginary loop and recycle everything, they'll do things that lower Earth's ability to support life and human society. They'll feel confident and happy as they step on the gas, thinking it's the brake, driving toward a brick wall. Nature is the perfect mathematician. It doesn't react to your feelings about waste or aspirations but what you actually do. Tom's conclusions about solutions and admonitions against non-solutions point to what works. A path forward becomes obvious and simple when you understand the math and physics. You may not initially like it, but you can change what you like, as sure as most of us learned to like vegetables despite preferring ice cream as children. The result is clarity and mental freedom. The challenge, knowing what works and doesn't, is seeing the madness of people acting without understanding these things. The result is living by your values with confidence, not just hoping for the best. If anyone wonders where my views come from, it's analysis like Tom's. Also Low Tech Magazine, Limits to Growth, and Sustainability Without the Hot Air. There's a lot science that I support and value, but find inaccessibly complex, even with a PhD in physics. Tom's work is accessible. People think the science is hard and scientists confusing. It doesn't have to be. What the math says Tom's main conclusions point to reducing consumption as the most viable solution to our environmental problems. Without it nothing else works. You think you have a solution without reducing consumption? Read his blog. I bet he covered it and showed its limits. My experience shows reducing consumption as improving most Americans' lives, at least the first 80% to 90% reduction. Missing from nearly every mainstream message I've heard but clear from Tom's life, my life, and a few others is that consuming less brings joy, meaning, purpose, community, and relationships along with cleaning our air, land, and water. If you think reduction is an economic problem, read Tom's blog on his conversations with the economist because growth is a bigger problem. Meanwhile human societies sustained for hundreds of thousands of years without growth. Our growth since Adam Smith has picked all the low hanging fruit, high hanging fruit, and now we're digging under the sea for every scrap of oil we can find and polluting everything for a few moments of forced smile. Read Tom's blog and you learn we could create happiness, meaning, purpose, and community instead.

150: Tom Murphy, part 1: Do the Math, the language of nature


Everyone thinks about the environment. Nearly everyone gets bogged down in questions. What's best? Will this or that change make a difference? What does all the science mean? What should I do? Science answers some of these questions. Science is the study of nature. People associate it with going to the moon or people in lab coats, but it's about nature -- sunsets, gravity, why the sky is blue, as well as global warming, pollution, and resource depletion. Using computers, motors, eye glasses, and so on means your life relies on science. I find it beautiful, which is why I got the PhD in physics. Not understanding science or math means not knowing how to reach or understand answers resulting from studying nature and its patterns. Even understanding science doesn't mean knowing the answers. You have to do the experiments and calculate the results. Tom Murphy created his Do The Math blog to calculates the main questions on environment: solar, wind, nuclear. When someone says we can't grow forever, why not? What works and what doesn't, independent of how you feel about it? This episode is long, but I believe it may be the most important conversation I have on understanding environmental issues. We don't talk about the math details, which you can find on his site. The point of understanding the math is to liberate you from arguing about opinion to learning priorities and what works in what order. I urge you to listen to it through and to read his wonderful blog. Read the transcript.

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