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Charles A. S. Hall, born in 1943, attended Colgate University, then Penn State University for a Masters in Ecology, then a PhD in Systems Ecology under Howard Odum at the University of North Carolina.  He was professor at Cornell University, University of Montana and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  He is author, coauthor or editor of 14 books and 300 scientific papers, many in our leading scientific journals. Dr. Hall is noted especially for the concepts of Energy Return on Investment and BioPhysical  Economics, both applying the natural sciences to what is traditionally studied with conventional economics.  Currently he is retired and lives in Western Montana with his wife and their dog, but is very involved in developing a BioPhysiccsl Economics Institute.

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

11 Responses to “KunstlerCast 334– Chatting with Charlie Hall about BioPhysical Economics”

  1. mrmiller September 25, 2020 at 8:41 am #

    Great podcast. Charles makes things seem pretty clear. I was a little shocked though to find out that he had decided not to have kids in his early 20s. If the reality of our predicament was so clear to him that long ago, why is it so hard for everyone else to understand?

    Anyway, I really don’t think that the future needs to be doom and gloom. For instance, if many places like Disney World stopped running the way they are running right now, they would still be cool places to hang out. I know that Kunstler constantly brings up Disney World and other things, but I’ve never really considered the actual question of what to do with our cities to necessarily be terribly difficult to answer, and the best part about the oil apocalypse, IMO, is that I would be able to ride my bike on the freeway, which is a dream come true. I would greatly enjoy taking a 100-mile ride on the freeway to visit Disney World with my bike. And life would be better because it would be more deliberate and genuine.

    So, a sloppy analysis of our cities from a layman’s perspective makes the answer actually really easy. It’s the rigid property rights that prevent us from change that really throw a wrench in the gears. And for sure, people don’t like being told that their toys are going to be taken away, (cars and what have you). But even simply assuming that many of the stores we now have are going to be abandoned due to online sales, we can let our imaginations run wild. In fact, even holding current energy consumption patterns constant, people would enjoy themselves a whole lot more in these repurposed buildings.

    I’ve said for a long time that shopping takes up WAY too much space anyway. We COULD just try and cram shopping into a much tinier space and reclaim our cities for people, but again, the norms in our country are stultifying. Our ideas of what buildings are supposed to be used for, the lack of adaptive mixed use, and so on and so on, that’s the limiting factor. So I agree, the political question is the hard part. Managing an orchestrated contraction. But not a lot of people are interested in that. But I’m getting more people to realize that our cities could EASILY become much better, since there’s already so many buildings built, just misappropriated. We could turn our cities into villages of sorts, for instance. All that is necessary is to tear down the prevailing dogma of how we’re supposed to live, which won’t be easy.

    • HowardBeale September 26, 2020 at 1:45 pm #

      Blah, blah, blah. It is clearly difficult being a gay man who doesn’t have the balls to come out. The 100-mile bike ride? Balls!
      You ain’t got none.
      “Rigid property rights”?
      Yeah. Let’s just give everything away to people without balls or a work ethic.
      Fucking A, dude. Have you ever done anything meaningful in your life? I am not here to notify you that you are less than worthy of survival, but maybe you can cull a hint…
      Fucking take off the spandex underwear, tell your “partner” that you “need some time.”
      How did I spend this much time on you, you fucking zero!

      • mrmiller September 27, 2020 at 9:07 am #

        Maybe I meant to say ‘rigid zoning laws’, which would be more appropriate. I just mean that our country has become highly regimented, and that change is hard.

        Not really sure about the rest of your comment. It was kind of nonsensical. But not really all that surprising, since I know how many Americans think. If you’re not driving a monster truck absolutely everywhere you go every single day, apparently you’re a homo. And the reason I’m not offended by your comment is that I’ve heard more or less the same thing already. A lot of people in our country think that making our cities more livable for human beings instead of cars is the same thing as communism. Literally, that if we make places more bike-friendly, that that basically makes America a Communist hell hole. It was shocking when I heard that the first time, but then it dawned on me that Trump is our president and that Rush Limbaugh exists.

        I met a guy like you not that long ago, who I worked for. He basically thought if you took assistance from the government, you’re a Commie homo. He was definitely a productive member of society, but also kind of insane. I respected him in a certain strange way, but thought he was also insufferable.

        I’m personally working on being a computer programmer, and have had some success. I’ve studied for 5 to 10 hours a day for a long time and have worked at a fairly well-known company so far. I do what I can these days to be productive and educated in ways that are not based on propaganda, but through actual substantive debates. Haven’t watched actual cable television for 10 years, but my guess is that you watch Fox.

        But I admire your passion!

  2. shigura September 25, 2020 at 10:00 am #

    Good interview. Charlie Hall has sunk some deep roots into the subject. In regard to entropy, all of the structures and complexity are conduits for the removal of energy gradients, maximizing contact, chemical conversion and heat dissipation with the environment. Humans function as RNA in a second coming of life evolved from the first instance of life, the RNA found in organic cells. The Maximum Power Principle instilled through evolution guarantees that we seek profit and growth in both systems although people that become functioning RNA in the technological system are more likely to function as jobs and maximize technological wealth rather than maximize personal organic reproduction. It may be that the human population collapses into cities while automated factories and farms continue in the hinterland with many fewer human RNA and their suburban “home” cells necessary to operate them. The number of homes and personal automobiles could be greatly diminished saving much energy that could be used elsewhere.

    In the zero-sum game of diminishing energy it looks like the middle-class loses while big tech and the military continue to be fed. People often fail to realize that every movement on the planet requires an expenditure of energy and I’m not even sure many make the connection between eating and the muscular movements that are subsequently enabled. I write at Megacancer but read a lot at Gail Tverberg’s site http://www.ourfiniteworld.com and at Dr. Tim Morgan’s site http://www.surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com along with David Korowicz at FEASTA https://www.feasta.org/author/david-korowicz/ mostly because they seem focused upon “reality”.

  3. dowd September 25, 2020 at 3:32 pm #

    Not too impressed. Good subject matter but analysis of problems and recommendations weak IMO. Charlie Hall appears to endorse autocratic solutions and I wonder if he would consider Communist Church policies a good idea here.

    I do agree with him that wealth needs to be redistributed. The elites have won. They got all the marbles. The problem is their marbles are largely illusion made possible by the Federal Reserve and a favorable tax structure.

    So Charlie might go for mass extermination and an economic re-set where the government seizes all assets, creates a new form of money and redistributes in some more or less equitable way. Big losers would be the rich and everybody over a certain age along with everyone with a low IQ.

    Now I don’t see any of this happening. What I see is a long miserable road down hill where more or less everybody is less well off than now.
    After than comes a new dawn.

  4. snagglepuss September 26, 2020 at 11:24 am #

    I agree with Dowd above. With respect this guest didn’t really provide much development on the issues Jim brought up. In fairness, Jim is the smartest guy in the room on most of these interviews, but this guest didn’t seem to want to get off the fence and state a firm opinion on anything at all. Some of these guests come on and rather than a back and forth exchange of ideas or responding directly to the question posed jump on to their own agenda or rehearsed script. And much of it is rambling.
    At the end of the day it seems obvious to me that reduced consumption of existing resources to preserve modernity and way of life is the way forward, but the reality of what is coming our way is lost on Joe Average. Why is that? Because investigative journalism is dead, and the journalists of today have no depth. I still drag out the documentary The End of Suburbia as its message is more timely today than ever. With Covid and everybody stuck at home it should be broadcast non stop like election propoganda so the message can finally sink into the thick heads of the population. I will Matt Simmons was still alive and Jim could interview him. What a gem that guy was………….

    • mrmiller September 27, 2020 at 9:35 am #

      Listening to Kunstler and commenting on what he has to say would make it seem like the entire country is becoming woke or could possibly become woke at some point, but being an American, I know that that is not the case.

      I’ve said this before, but through actual conversations with people I’ve worked with and with my own family and extended family, and just other people I come into contact with, they view the American enterprise as a forgone conclusion, that our way of life is normal, permanent and non-negotiable, and even that our transportation system, despite its horrible flaws, is a sign of American superiority and shouldn’t even be questioned, lest you be a traitor to the US itself. Most Americans will continue to do what they do every day, until collapse. I’m pretty sure of this.

  5. EnterpriseSpaceship September 26, 2020 at 11:56 pm #

    Wow! I loved Charlie Hall here – he has very much grown in the past one year or two – honest, realistic and to the point.

    Many wish one day Charlie agrees, and his new institute be based on the fact that:

    “No Energy store holds enough Energy to extract, collect and utilise an amount of Energy equal to the total Energy it stores.

    Energy, like time, flows from past to future“.

    Well done JHK, thanks for bringing the neo Hall online to us.

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    • mrmiller September 27, 2020 at 9:15 am #

      I can understand what you’re saying, but maybe, due to the fact that energy at first comes out of the ground under it’s own pressure, but not due to its actual energy content, allows for a temporary fudging of the fact you stated.

  6. ExtraO September 27, 2020 at 12:56 pm #

    My, my, my, how time flies when you are having fun. I first became aware of Charlie Hall in 2005 when I attended a standing room only session he gave along with some of his graduate students at an ASPO conference in Houston, where I also first had the pleasure of meeting Jim and watching him in action (and attending a party he threw in his hotel room!) Charlie’s presentation at that time was stunning. Here was a guy that was really understanding what made things tick and how the pieces fit together in the real world. If he souds energetic enough now at 77, just imagine how intense he came across 15 years ago. Thanks for the interview Jim, nice job.

  7. Nora austin September 30, 2020 at 12:52 am #

    You know what its my favorite writer and I have some collection of his books, these are
    The Art of War, A Century Of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Collapse of Complex Societies and Grant
    these are quite interesting books, I really love the way he is writing, I also saw this book on CouponCodify and after seeing reviews about this book and I really think to buy.