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Season 3: Hidden Drivers

Episode 47: Hidden Drivers Wrap-up, or… the Story of the Throbbing Amygdala

It’s the end of the world as we know it. OK, maybe not just yet, but it is the end of Crazy Town’s third season. If you’ve been able to look past some of the more absurd parts of the podcast, perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern. In examining hidden drivers behind humanity’s sustainability predicament, we grouped the drivers into three categories: human behavior, social constructs, and features of biophysical reality. Given our penchant for covering anxiety-inducing topics, we take you on a sobering tour through these categories. But we also offer a sweet suite of pro-social, environmentally sound ideas to help keep your amygdala happy. For best results, start thinking in systems, and listen to this episode in the shade of a leafy tree. When you finish, feel free to give that tree a hug — it could probably use one right about now.


Episode 46: Maximum Power and Scarcity, or… the Story of the Birdbrained Backhoe on the Beach

The “maximum power principle” may sound like the doctrine of an evil supervillain, but it actually applies to all living creatures. The principle states that biological systems organize to increase power whenever constraints allow. Given the way humans adhere to this principle, especially by overexploiting fossil fuels, we often do behave like supervillains, wielding power in wildly irresponsible ways and triggering climate change, biodiversity loss, and other aspects of our sustainability predicament. Sometimes it seems like we’re using a backhoe to dig our own grave. Fortunately, once you understand efficiency and its different flavors, you can see opportunities to optimize power rather than maximize it. While considering the outlook for humanity, the Crazy Townies ponder a weird question: are we smarter than reindeer? Richard Heinberg, author of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival, joins the team to share his research on how people can optimize power.


Episode 45: Feedback Loops and Climate Catastrophe, or… the Story of the Baseball Bloodbath

Did you ever think a baseball melee could effectively explain nuanced topics like cybernetics and systems dynamics? This episode examines the fascinating world of positive feedback loops, which play an outsized role in the not-so-positive phenomena of climate change, biodiversity loss, and political polarization. In addition to basebrawls, you’ll hear how these feedback loops produce a variety of outcomes, from the mundane (e.g., restaurant acoustics and family squabbles) to the horrendous (e.g., ecosystem annihilation and nuclear meltdowns). To ensure safety, none of the podcast hosts were allowed to bring baseball bats into the recording studio. Beth Sawin, co-founder and co-director of Climate Interactive, joins the program to explain how reinforcing feedback loops can catalyze social and environmental transformations.


Episode 44: Net Energy and Sustainability, or… the Story of the Overstuffed Strongman

All of humanity’s feats, whether a record-setting deadlift by the world’s strongest man or the construction of a gleaming city by a technologically advanced economy, originate from a single hidden source: positive net energy. Having surplus energy in the form of thirteen pounds of food per day enables a very big man, Hafthor Bjornsson, to lift very big objects. Similarly, having surplus energy in the form of fossil fuel enables very big societies to build and trade very big piles of stuff. Maybe Hafthor has a rock-solid plan for keeping his dinner plate well stocked, but no society seems ready to have a mature conversation about how our sprawling cities and nations will manage as net energy declines. Calling our conversation “mature” might be a stretch, but at least we’re willing to address climate change, sustainability, and the rest of the net energy conundrum head on. Alice Friedemann, author of Life after Fossil Fuels, joins the conversation.


Episode 43: Overproduction of Elites and Political Upheaval, or… the Story of Rich People Doing Stupid Things

Imagine a factory assembly line running at full steam, but instead of spitting out car parts or plastic trinkets, the conveyor belt is loaded down with Jeff Bezos wannabes. That’s a disconcerting image, but it’s an accurate picture of what’s happening: society is producing too many elite people, and their decisions are causing extreme inequality, which is one of the key components of today’s sustainability crisis. Join Asher, Rob, and Jason as they struggle with elite words and phrases (who’s up for some cliodynamics?) and try to exorcise the demons of their own elitism. You’ll also hear how elites may have formulated the plot of the next Spike Lee movie, “Do the Wrong Thing.” Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders, provides additional insights on how we can work toward a more equitable society.


Episode 42: Runaway Money and Overconsumption, or… the Story of Monetary Mischief in Madagascar

Way back when money consisted of iron pieces, if you wanted to buy a horse or some spices to season your horse meat, you practically had to carry an olympic weightlifting set with you. Early bankers figured out how to clear that obstacle (and prevent a lot of hernias and back injuries) when they invented paper money. Over time all-too-clever financiers cleared more and more obstacles that kept people from accessing and spending money. Today’s world of online purchases, easy credit, and cryptocurrency represents a huge ramp-up in the speed and ease of economic transactions. Yes, some of the inconveniences of yesteryear are gone, but this ramp-up is partly to blame for our problems with overconsumption, climate change, and habitat loss. Join the Crazy Townies as they swap stories around the virtual fire about spending virtual money in the virtual world. And get advice on how to do the opposite from Nate Hagens, expert on energy, ecological economics, and finance.


Episode 41: The Attention Economy and Nature Depletion, or… the Story of Einstein Watching Cat Videos

There’s an insidious feature of modern life: as the economy and technology continue to grow, attention becomes ever more scarce. Nowadays footage from Russian dash cams and the latest “wisdom” issued on social media by people who are good at kicking balls compete to grab our attention and suck up our time. This state of affairs could be laughed off except that it keeps most people from focusing on climate change and other existential crises of the 21st century. If all goes well, by the end of this episode, you’ll feel inspired to shut down your electronic devices, stow your earbuds, and go outside to scan the skies, dig in the dirt, watch the wildlife, or find some other healthy way to pay attention to the natural world. Artist/writer Jenny Odell joins in the fun to discuss how to resist the attention economy.


Episode 40: Nature Detachment and Ecocide, or… the Story of the Marauding Mountain Lion

Velcro pants and legs. Booster rockets and spacecraft. Humans and nature. What do these three pairs have in common? They’re all things that get detached from one another. That’s right, we modern humans seem hellbent on detaching ourselves from nature, despite the obvious fact that we evolved to spend our days and nights in natural habitats. The more we wall ourselves off from nature, the more likely we are to continue on the path of climate chaos and extinction. Join Asher, Rob, and Jason on their search for how to reconnect with nature. Along the way, they share plenty of useful ideas (even if they do get sidetracked by a few less-than-useful ideas, like enticing a mountain lion to attack you and huffing turpentine). Kathleen Dean Moore visits to share wisdom from her book Earth’s Wild Music and her work in environmental philosophy.


Episode 39: The Myth of Progress and Limits to Growth, or… the Story of the World’s Largest Shovel

Who in their right mind is against the idea of progress? You’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate for public office with a platform of maintaining the status quo or regressing to days of yore (as bad as the Democratic and Republican Parties are, there’s no support for a Yesteryear Party). But what, exactly, is progress, and is humanity preordained to achieve it? What if the modern concept of progress costs more than it’s worth and turns out to be a harmful myth? Join Asher, Rob, and Jason as they slide down some chutes (of “Chutes and Ladders” fame) to get to the bottom of how faith in progress is pushing humanity into a deeper sustainability crisis. Additional insights come from Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.


Episode 38: Complexity and Armageddon, or… the Story of the Hemp Microphone

Society has become so complex that all the complexity begets more complexity. And if that’s not complex enough for you, jobs have become so specialized that hardly anyone knows how anything is made or works. Join Jason, Rob, and Asher as they contemplate how to make a microphone from scratch, break down the tertiary jobs in a pirate economy (parrot tenders and eyepatch makers), and explain the Lloyd Dobler hypothesis. They also explore a conundrum: even though the industrialized economy is bumping into the limits to growth and risking environmental meltdown, most people remain locked into their specialized jobs and continue to propagate the unsustainable economy. The Do-the-Opposite segment features a healthy dose of simplification and a fascinating interview with Marcin Jakubowski, the founder of Open Source Ecology and the Global Village Construction Set.


Episode 37: Discounting the Future and Climate Chaos, or… the Story of the Dueling Economists

Who in their right mind is against the idea of progress? You’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate for public office with a platform of maintaining the status quo or regressing to days of yore (as bad as the Democratic and Republican Parties are, there’s no support for a Yesteryear Party). But what, exactly, is progress, and is humanity preordained to achieve it? What if the modern concept of progress costs more than it’s worth and turns out to be a harmful myth? Join Asher, Rob, and Jason as they slide down some chutes (of “Chutes and Ladders” fame) to get to the bottom of how faith in progress is pushing humanity into a deeper sustainability crisis. Additional insights come from Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.


Episode 36: Conspiracy Theories and Collapse, or… the Story of UFOs and Free Energy

Who in their right mind is against the idea of progress? You’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate for public office with a platform of maintaining the status quo or regressing to days of yore (as bad as the Democratic and First things first, we try not to confuse ourselves or our listeners as we distinguish between conspiracy theories and actual conspiracies. Then we unpack a bunch of questions about why people (even some of the smart ones) are so easily suckered by conspiracy theories. Are we experiencing a spike in conspiracy theories akin to the days of the Red Scare and the Salem Witch Trials? What’s the role of science and technology in spreading such theories? Have lizard people infiltrated the government in order to hide the truth about how flat the Earth really is? Find answers and learn how conspiracy theories have us chasing our own tails, squashing our ability to think critically, and distracting us from dealing with systemic problems like climate change. Tanya Basu, senior reporter at MIT Technology Review, joins the gang to suggest healthier ways to communicate with conspiracy theorists.


Episode 35: Self Domestication and Overshoot, or… the Story of Foxes and Russian Melodrama

Self domestication, the process by which humans became a more cooperative and less aggressive species, paradoxically contributes to humanity’s overshoot predicament. While trying to wrap their heads around that nugget, Asher, Jason, and Rob geek out on evolutionary biology, 80s professional wrestling characters, and a certain comedic song about foxes. Don’t miss Jason’s entertaining pronunciations of the names of Russian scientists and politicians as he tells the story of a groundbreaking experiment that took place in the hinterlands of Siberia. In the Do-the-Opposite segment, we struggle with the conundrum of how to maintain the benefits of cooperative behavior and avoid violence during economic relocalization, all while trying to figure out what the hell a fief is.


Episode 34: Fear of Death and Climate Denial, or… the Story of Wolverine and the Screaming Mole of Doom

What can we learn about death from the X-Men, small screaming rodents, and unwitting college students in psychology experiments? It turns out that the fear of death (or death anxiety) affects human behavior in all sorts of surprising and deeply troubling ways. Especially disconcerting is the way such fear entices people to cling so tightly to cultural beliefs that they will attack anything or anyone they perceive as a threat to their beliefs. And extra-super-duper disconcerting is how unaware most of us are that we are susceptible to such bad behavior when we’re reminded that one day we’ll die. Follow Jason, Rob, and Asher as they try not to deny climate change, vilify any out-groups, or assault one another while diving into the topics of death. In the Do-the-Opposite segment, Michael Hebb, author of Let’s Talk about Death over Dinner), shares wisdom for developing a healthier relationship with death.


Episode 33: Relative Status and Environmental Breakdown, or… the Story of Bartenders and Bird Feathers

How can the climate disaster and humanity’s overall sustainability crisis be explained by 80s sitcom characters, birdbrained hats from the late 1800s, and a dubious new use for scratch-and-sniff technology? Go for a ride to discover the hidden driver of status-seeking behavior. You can always expect a topsy-turvy, twisty-turny journey when Jason, Rob, and Asher dissect the downsides of human nature. Along the way, they tour status-signaling show-offs, the historic meeting between the Yankton Sioux and the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the reptilian brain we’re all stuck with. In the Do-the-Opposite segment, they unpack how to tamp down the penchant for status competition and talk with Sandra Goldmark, author of Fixation: How to Have Good Stuff without Breaking the Planet.


Episode 32: Cognitive Bias and Global Warming, or… the Story of Cattle Prods and Ice Cream Shops

If only we were as rational as we think we are! It turns out that we’re all subject to cognitive biases, those errors in thinking that influence how we process the complex information we encounter in daily life. Jason, Rob, and Asher take a tour of ice cream shops, Scandinavian DMVs, and the chess team to explain such cognitive biases as the Dunning-Kruger effect, confirmation bias, default effect, and sunk cost bias. Listen as your hosts try to overcome their own biases to uncover how human irrationality has driven us into a sustainability crisis where climate change meets overshoot. Super-brainy brain scientistTM Dr. Peter Whybrow joins the program to shed light on why we act the way we do and to propose ways to work with our reflexive side, restructure some of our institutions, and act with an eye toward the long term.