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

July 2, 2019 by Joshua
in Podcast

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.”


“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.

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