What nature can teach us about business with Charles A. S. Hall

MFS Charlie Hall.jpg

"Conventional economics is not a science" - Dr. Charles A. S. Hall

In this expansive 90+ minute episode, we dive deep into the life and ideas of Dr. Charles A. S. Hall. He is a systems ecologist known for the concept of Energy Return on Investment (EROI), a work resulting from a lifetime spent examining the energy flows of natural ecosystems.

It turns out these concepts are an outcome of the laws of thermodynamics. Indeed the research done by Hall's mentors and predecesors Lotka and Odum strongly suggest evidence for a FOURTH law of thermodynamics - the Maximum Power Principle - which looks as though it logically explains very much in this world. Because these are natural physical laws, they can be equally applied to human constructs like our bodies, technologies, cities and whole societies. I believe that if one thinks of energy flows as the currency of natural systems, one could very easily translate these ideas to the world of business as well. As he says himself "How does nature work? There is no tree hugging element to it". We are part of nature, thus our businesses are as well, thinking in this context is a powerful mental model through which to position oneself in a correct contrarian position which provides great advantage over those who choose to argue with reality.

Charles now seeks to unify biology, economics and sustainability by championing the establishment of Biophysical Economics. I support this endeavour as it honours what is true. Reading his work in this area quickly reveals just how much human emotions and personal biases dictate our individual and collective decision making.

Charles and I do not agree on everything. He is a staunch defender that human populaitons should NOT be growing, that Canadians should think about conserving its fossil resources for future generations and not exporting them, and that indeed growth for the sake of growth is a vice rather than a virtue. But this is the beauty of the human experience - the values we hold inform our interpretation of what we observe as being true. Charles has found much happiness in his life, and we do agree on the necessity to honour biophysical reality in our decision making and applying systems thinking to that very process. I hope this episode shows how two people can have very different values and ideas and yet still have fun and get along.

I want to thank Charles very much for the generosity with his time. We were interrupted about 30 minutes in, but we pick up where we left off to explore many more interesting and possibly controversial subjects. I hope you have as much fun with this as I did, and I hope that a few of the ideas presented change your mind.

Charles A. S. Hall Collective Works

Energy Return on Investment

Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Hall/Klitgaard 

C.P. Snow - Two Cultures | Update to Two Cultures

Howard T. Odum

Cutler Cleveland

John Lawrence Angel

Persistence Hunting: The Origin of Humans

King: Comparing World Energy Metrics

White: Evolution of Culture

Cottrell: Energy and Society

Collapse of Complex Societies (Tainter)

A Forest Journey (Perlin)

End of Cheap Oil

Failing States, Collapsing Systems (Ahmed)

America's Most Sustainable Cities and Regions

Alex Epstein - Human Flourishing Project