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Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Conversation.

July 27, 2017

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My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in an essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming. Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization will still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.

Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species. We’ve been able to do this due to a temporary subsidy of cheap, bountiful energy from fossil fuels, which enabled us to stretch nature’s limits and to support a far larger overall population than would otherwise be possible. But now we are starting to see supply constraints for those fuels, just as the side effects of burning enormous amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas are also coming into view. Meanwhile, using cheap energy to expand resource-extractive and waste-generating economic processes is leading to biodiversity loss; the depletion of soil, water, and minerals; and environmental pollution of many kinds. Just decarbonizing energy, while necessary, doesn’t adequately deal with systemic overshoot. Only a reduction of population and overall resource consumption, along with a rapid reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a redesign of industrial systems, can do that.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem too. As we’ve grown our economy, those who were in position to invest in industrial expansion or to loan money to others have reaped the majority of the rewards, while those who got by through selling their time and labor (or whose common cultural heritage was simply appropriated by industrialists) have fallen behind. There’s no technological fix for inequality; dealing with it will require redesigning our economic system and redistributing wealth. Those in wealthy nations would, on average, have to adjust their living standards downward.

Now, can we do all of this without a crash? Probably not. Indeed, many economists would regard the medicine (population reduction, a decline in per-capita energy use, and economic redistribution) as worse than whatever aspects of the disease they are willing to acknowledge. Environmentalists and human rights advocates would disagree. Which is to say, there’s really no way out. Whether we stick with business as usual, or attempt a dramatic multi-pronged intervention, our current “normal” way of life is toast.

Accepting that a crash is more or less inevitable is a big step, psychologically speaking. I call this toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread, and this understanding can lead to depression. In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually. Some willfully ignore their own mortality for as long as possible; others grasp at a belief in the afterlife. Still others seek to create meaning and purpose by making a positive difference in the lives of those around them with whatever time they have. Such efforts don’t alter the inevitability of death; however, contributing to one’s community appears to enhance well-being in many ways beyond that of merely prolonging life.

But is a crash the same as doom?

Not necessarily. Our best hope at this point would seem to be a controlled crash that enables partial recovery at a lower level of population and resource use, and that therefore doesn’t lead to complete and utter oblivion (human extinction or close to it). Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.

This discussion started in the 1970s, though I wasn’t part of it then; I joined a couple of decades later. There is no formal membership; the conversation takes place through and among a patchwork of small organizations and scattered individuals. They don’t all know each other and there is no secret handshake. Some have publicly adopted the stance that a global crash is inevitable; most soft-pedal that message on their organizational websites but are privately plenty worried. During the course of the conversation so far, two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.

The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.

The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides; the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.

Somehow, the work of resilience building (whether top-down or bottom-up) must focus not just on maintaining supplies of food, water, energy, and other basic necessities, but also on sustaining social cohesion—a culture of understanding, tolerance, and inquiry—during times of great stress. While it’s true that people tend to pull together in remarkable ways during wars and natural disasters, sustained hard times can lead to scapegoating and worse.

Most people are not party to the conversation, not aware that it is happening, and unaware even that such a conversation is warranted. Among those who are worried about the state of the world, most are content to pursue or support efforts to keep crises from occurring by working via political parties, religious organizations, or non-profit advocacy orgs on issues such as climate change, food security, and economic inequality. There is also a small but rapidly growing segment of society that feels disempowered as the era of economic growth wanes, and that views society’s power holders as evil and corrupt. These dispossessed—whether followers of ISIS or Infowars—would prefer to “shake things up,” even to the point of bringing society to destruction, rather than suffer the continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, this last group may have the easiest path of all.

By comparison, the number of those involved in the conversation is exceedingly small, countable probably in the hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Can we succeed? It depends on how one defines “success”—as the ability to maintain, for a little longer, an inherently unsustainable global industrial system? Or as the practical reduction in likely suffering on the part of the survivors of the eventual crash? A related query one often hears after environmental lectures is, Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?

This is not a conversation about the long-term trajectory of human cultural evolution, though that’s an interesting subject for speculation. Assuming there are survivors, what will human society look like following the crises ensuing from climate change and the end of fossil fuels and capitalism? David Fleming’s Surviving the Future and John Michael Greer’s The Ecotechnic Future offer useful thoughts in this regard. My own view is that it’s hard for us to envision what comes next because our imaginations are bounded by the reality we have known. What awaits will likely be as far removed from from modern industrial urban life as Iron-Age agrarian empires were from hunting-and-gathering bands. We are approaching one of history’s great discontinuities. The best we can do under the circumstances is to get our priorities and values straight (protect the vulnerable, preserve the best of what we have collectively achieved, and live a life that’s worthy) and put one foot in front of the other.

The conversation I’m pointing to here is about fairly short-term actions. And it doesn’t lend itself to building a big movement. For that, you need villains to blame and promises of revived national or tribal glory. For those engaged in the conversation, there’s only hard work and the satisfaction of honestly facing our predicament with an attitude of curiosity, engagement, and compassion. For us, threats of doom or promises of utopia are distractions or cop-outs.

Only those drawn to the conversation by temperament and education are likely to take it up. Advertising may not work. But having a few more hands on deck, and a few more resources to work with, can only help.

  • 44bernhard44

    What a very honest and thoughtful essay. Thank you!

  • Jase

    Fantastic. And can I echo the recommendations for ‘Surviving the Future’ and ‘The Ecotechnic Future’? Both substantially shifted my thinking, and I’m miighty glad

  • Luis Gutierrez

    Given that we don’t have a crystal ball about the future, it seems to me that pessimistic certainty about total collapse is as unfounded as optimistic certainty that the collapse can be avoided. We are certainly facing a social/ecological crisis of global scope, but to focus exclusively on catastrophic “climate change” is not a good idea, because the anthropogenic component is hard to isolate and the real issues to be resolved are on the ground. That “we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species” sounds like the right theme for the conversation. Hope may more people become motivated to participate in this dialogue.

  • jim.swanek

    .

    Uh, if the rich are not forced to live like their great-grandparents in 1925, the middle class sure as hell will not. We are only one daring nationalist leader willing to tell the middle class to stop filing income tax returns away from government controls grinding to a halt.

    Oh, and at least in America, it is the middle class with the weaponry to tell government lifestyle censors/controllers to bugger off, or perish in the implementation of their progressive jobs.

    In my view, the real crisis is globalization, which has convinced several billion people they should no longer work in traditional family agriculture. It is their hopes, if not expectations, for townhouses and BMWs, which will doom any society not limiting population in an absolute sense.

    .

  • stashgal

    I think that with a population of over 7.5 billion humans, collapse is certain, this high energy, oil dependent way of life is not sustainable but then neither are those oil dependent “renewables” able to even replace oil to merely generate electricity, we can’t eat electricity.

    “Renewables” also don’t produce any of the now essential raw materials we must have for most of us to survive.

    Even so, we must do all we can to reduce the damage we are doing, we cannot stop population growth thanks to RELIGION, corporate bought politicians, so called “leaders” & an unsustainable economy, then add climate change caused by our burning of vast amounts of OIL & coal & it should be clear that we have an unsolvable delema.

    I hope we can survive human caused climate change, if so, there will only be about 500 million to 1 billion survivors & they will be living a very different kind of existence, what kind depends upon what else survives our collapse. Will our food crops & domesticated animals survive?

    How much of the wild will survive billions of migrating & desperate starving humans?

    We must do all we can to protect what we can of our seeds, animals & the KNOWLEDGE of how to live without fossil resources.

  • Rebecca Dmytryk

    Great piece. I wish there were more emphasis on overpopulation and more support, more incentives for people to not reproduce. To have a child now is the most selfish thing any two can do, given the state of this planet.

  • L_W

    Heinberg is the only high visible person I am aware of who looks at things in a holistic way … especially ‘growth’ = energy consumption. I don’t agree w/ his political holier-than-thou ism, but otherwise he is spot on.

  • Dendric

    What if abundant sources of energy were available that have 0 environmental impact and are very cheap, if not nearly free? What would be the potential to help avert societal collapse? Is this a pipe dream of some unrealistic utopian future? I see clear indications that this is not so. Concrete evidence is appearing of this and other associated technologies that can solve our many environmental problems caused by toxic by-products of current energy and manufacturing technologies. For more information see http://ufsolution.wixsite.com/unifiedfieldsolution/proven-tech . Socio-political-economic barriers to implement these new technologies do, of course, present many challenges, but I am optimistic since there are solutions. The principle of sharing is fundamental (there is no peace without justice, no justice without sharing). There are simple principles that can be implemented to solve many complex problems. As resources are shared, inequities are reduced, violence abates, clarity of thinking becomes more prevalent. As education then becomes more universal, intelligence rises and solutions can be implemented more quickly and effectively. Population goes down as education levels rise. There is hope.

  • Cliff Cobb

    Rebecca, I agree in part. Unfortunately, most discussion of overpopulation has been in relation to poverty, without acknowledging the social systems that compound poverty and make it impossible to separate the impacts of population growth and inequality of wealth. Far too little has been written on the relation of overpopulation to over forms of life that are displaced by humans. I would also point out that the ownership of pets (dogs, cats, etc.) in rich countries is a huge drain on the earth’s biological resources. I once did a very quick calculation and estimated that American pets consume more fish than the 1.2 billion people who live in Africa. If you want to discover ferocious hostility, publicly question the right of every dog and cat to live and grow fat on the industrial slaughter of other animals. Pet ownership is another form of selfishness, but it does not seem that way to pet owners. I’m not diminishing the relevance of human population growth, just adding to the complexity of it.

  • Cliff Cobb

    The simplest scenario for social collapse is only peripherally related to increased energy prices or a destabilized climate. A pandemic disease that killed 1/2 of 1% of the world’s population would cause extreme social panic, the results of which could cause economies to shut down and mass starvation, wherever you live. Hong Kong lost around $40 billion from the SARS scare, with only a few disease-related deaths. In a rumor-filled climate, with little trust of official information or assurances of safety, 20-30 deaths in a big city might limit the number of drivers willing to bring food in to restock groceries. A food panic would likely lead to looting, and so on, as the city rapidly descends into chaos. We had a small taste of this in 2008 with food riots in many nations. The cascade effects of a larger perturbation are horrifying to contemplate. We need to be thinking now about emergency preparedness at the level of cities, not households. But it will serve little purpose unless governments can regain enough trust to lead under those conditions.

  • We have developed a terminal illness with respect to business as usual. In her book Death and Dying, Kubler-Ross pointed out a consistent sequence of reactions by patients told they are terminally ill: 1.Denial, 2.Anger and blame, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. Most people are still in denial about the environmental crises, which enables them to continue life as before. A minority wallow in Anger and Blame (generally at the messengers of bad news). The experts are wrong,;others must change, we don’t need to. 3) Bargaining: If we do A, B and C then we can continue life as before, 4) Depression acknowledges that the future will be drastically different. It has two phases, letting go of the life we knew and facing the incomprehensible burden of the profound personal changes required,. 5) Acceptance means living the new reality a day at a time. Very few people make it to step 5 before they die. The vast majority die while in steps 1 through 3. Some oscillate back and forth.

    This article covers steps 2 through 5.

    In my opinion, Kubler-Ross uncovered the universal immune response, or self-preservation response, to needs for drastic adaptations caused by limitations of and changes in the environment. We need to better understand this response as individuals and as nations, else we will still be vacillating as those environmental changes overwhelm us.

    Great article and food for thought..

  • I share your conviction that globalization is a contributing factor. It is destroying biological and cultural diversity and contributing to the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a very few individuals. Diversity is an essential ingredient for adaptability.

  • I’m curious about your assertion “I am optimistic since there are solutions”. What makes you so sure that they exist in a context you’d find acceptable?

  • it seems to me that pessimistic certainty about total collapse is as unfounded as optimistic certainty that the collapse can be avoided

    You disagree that the current paradigm of infinite growth justifies the “pessimistic certainty” of collapse?

    In The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter makes the case that civilization is an unusual condition for humanity. Most of human existence has been at the tribe, clan, or village level. (Tainter also points out that excessive complexity kills civilizations, which makes it seem we are right on course.)

    It seems to me that we do have a “crystal ball about the future:” if you insist on continuous growth, you will crash. It is best to get that message out there, front and centre, in my opinion.

  • The good news is that “globaloney” is dead if growth is dead and if energy cannot increase further. That may well be the best thing about our current dilemma.

  • What if abundant sources of energy were available that have 0 environmental impact and are very cheap, if not nearly free?

    Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. — Paul Ehrlich

    The present exponential growth can not continue for the next millennium. By the year 2600 the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red hot. — Stephen Hawking

    Given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation. —
    Garrett Hardin

    To become completely free from dependence on prehistoric energy… modern man would require an increase in contemporary carrying capacity equivalnt to ten earths. — William Catton (1980!)

    The energy crisis is not a crisis of technology but of morality… The issue is restraint… Can we forbear to do anything that we are able to do? — Wendell Berry

    If cheap energy got us into this mess, why couldn’t it get us out? 🙂

  • Luis Gutierrez

    The pessimistic certainty of collapse assumes that humans will not be able to adapt, but I am assuming that the current paradigm of perpetual growth will not be perpetual. In other words, I am assuming that humans have the capacity to adapt and the current obsession about growth will give way to a more stable system. So I am not naively optimistic about the future, but also choose not to be rigidly pessimistic.

  • Gonad Organ

    I only have one quibble ” today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925″
    In 1925 agriculture was probably America’s largest industry and it was animal powered. My guess is we use more like 10 to 100 times as much.

  • Adam Albright

    It’s clear that the path of proactive, thoughtful, logical, altruistic behavior is not one our species is capable of voluntarily taking. What remains to be seen is whether the existential threat of climate change will force us to a collective Sputnik/WWII response while there is still time for a “controlled crash”. At this point IMHO it is too close to call.

  • Christopher Burrell

    The work of how to reshape human culture to exist within the bounds of the limited biosphere is an ongoing project under the writer JM Greer. He shares Heninberg’s assertion that while we are not completely doomed, we have much work to do in changing ourselves to exist in the evolving reality of the world. You can join this project by participating in the discussion at http://www.ecosophia.net/

  • jim.swanek

    .

    And far too little is written about how globalization allows expectations for those nations with high population birth rates to simply export their over-population to those nations whose native-born are limiting their own birth rates to slightly (or significantly) less than replacement levels.

    What is the point of trying to limit current personal consumption within “western nations” if those western nations will have 2.5 billion people migrate into them from sub-Sahel Africa and Muslim Asia by 2100 – all expecting BMWs and townhouses?

    Wealthy self-contained communities are becoming the defacto “nations” protective of conditions within their “borders”, which legal nations used to do.

    .

  • I am assuming that the current paradigm of perpetual growth will not be perpetual

    You’re absolutely right!

    But the question is: do we have the willpower to stop growth, or will nature impose that upon us?

    I don’t see much in all of human history to cause one optimism about the future. There’s Edo Japan, an autocratic government with an oppressive caste system that effectively allowed peasants only replacement reproduction, while nobility bred like rats. There’s Mao’s “one child” policy in recent China. Yet even these succumbed to the “wantsies” of “more.” History books have other examples of so-called “sustainable civilizations,” and yet, each of them collapsed in turn.

    I don’t consider “collapse” to be a “pessimistic” view. Tainter points out that most of human existence has been outside of civilization, and that much of that “uncivilized” time has been very good for humans. It will arguably be better for the non-human, non-domesticated animals out there.

    So consider the possibility of “optimistic collapse” coming soon to a civilization near you!

  • windship

    We have also overshot the ability to pay back all the monetary debts we have racked up in recent decades, which will inevitably lead to the collapse of ponzi economics as a viable mainstream religion.

  • charles000

    > But is a crash the same as doom?

    I might reframe such in the context of a “correction”.
    One might argue a bit about the correction dynamics and models thereof, but a correction of some sort is inevitable.

    > toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread

    The vast majority of average citizens have either opted out of, or are in general denial of the described “toxic knowledge”.
    The burden of complexity being compressed into ever shortening timescales, and investment of time and effort (let alone the disassociation from emotional, cultural and religious filtering) required to apply this toxic knowledge toward a potentially proactive, reasonably acceptable outcome is perhaps the greatest challenge yet confronted in human history of which we are currently aware.

    As William Gibson famously quoted . . . “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

    This metaphor applies, with greater extremes, to the toxic knowledge distribution.
    One thing that is absolutely certain: an economic systems model which is perpetually accelerating growth dependent, mapped against a fixed planetary resource base and life support capacity, will be forced into a correction.

    Of all the conversations and essays I have encountered along these lines (and there have been many over the years), this is perhaps among the most balanced and thoughtful yet presented.

  • AuntyMM

    jim, the ways people can live depend on external conditions. external conditions which are not under the control of the rich will force them to live as best they can.

  • AuntyMM

    somewhere, perhaps 15-20 years ago, i read that at that time USians were using twice the per-capita average in 1950

  • AuntyMM

    the high-tech solutions at the ufsolution site do not give this mechanical engineer & economist any optimism.

  • AuntyMM

    time to rethink efficiency from a physical perspective, since fossil fuels provide physical energy:

    (clean air and water, healthy food, comfy shelter, cooking, and plenty of sleep and exercise) / (energy and resources)

    that’s it.
    can john and jane doe consumer reframe their priorities to focus on the basics?
    i think that is our best hope.

  • Alex Gidi

    It is seem very real that the crash is unavoidable. The development of this complex society based on fossil fuel only proves that our ego is far bigger than our inteligence. This will be perhaps written in 2600, if there is anybody left to write a history book.
    On Dendric’s comment about solutions, I would not hold any hope, I have worked as an engineer from solar energy to nuclear energy plants and everything in between. The best we could do is to save everybit of fossil fuel left so we can prolong the long descent while we search for very simple solutions of our future very basic needs. If we build nuclear plants or wind turbines, the only that will happen is that we will spend the fossil fuel left faster (than if we do not build them) and when we cannot longer maintain them we will have to abandon them and scavenge all the raw materials left to be used for food production and shelter.
    If the energy availability is reduced to a 10% of today, we should know by now how much energy is needed to make a steel pliers or a steel cooking pot. In other words, what tools and technologies we will be able to afford in the future ?. I suspect very little (but I would like to know) , and this is perhaps the strong argument that population will decrease substantially due to the lack of all the technology we use today.

  • iconickevin

    Of course it’s too late, a multitude of tipping points have already been crossed. Because we don’t acknowledge abrupt climate change we are losing time to prepare for the worst.

    https://kevinhester.live/2017/08/02/abrupt-climate-change-moving-forward-exponentially/

  • JessieHenshaw

    Richard, I appreciate your honest and thoughtful approach, and thank you too. Still it may be that most people will run from the hard truth. We see that all the time, and I’ve done it myself. It’s also only the truth that sets you free in the end, if you stick around that long.

    So I’m very gratified that you have found this way of acknowledging the many hard truths of our situation, and are finally making a step beyond encouraging the vision of an easy transformation to sustainability led by informal social networks. I particularly thank you for putting right up front the financial necessity of endless growth, as it stands. For world financial stability we do in fact need to maintain growing global consumption of energy and other increasingly costly resources, while also swelling inequities around the world, all at exponential rates. That is indeed the world’s current “final plan” for “stability”; maintaining endless explosion.

    I say it’s wonderful to recognize that because the financial system is the world economy’s steering mechanism. Some parts of the financial system would like more than anything to know how to steer the economy onto a path of long term stability, using the creativity of entrepreneurship to guide our use of the earth toward long term sustainable profits, so that mankind can learn to thrive like other ecologies. Those parts are in the distinct minority, of course, but also aren’t getting the systems science they need.

    In any case, “controlled crash” is not the ideal solution. It’s just the “default solution”, and one fairly easy to understand. Without a much better understanding of how economies can be steered, “controlled crash” is very unlikely to be “controlled” is one problem. If it’s to result in a reduction of population and halt mankind’s degrading of the earth an unusually deep economic crash is needed. It would need to result in a loss of infrastructure, and for new kind of civilization to emerge, probably starting with an long period of martial law and deep poverty over most of the earth.

    The point is not to scare you into investing in defenses, but to stimulate you to study how else to resolve the grand scale tragedy of the commons we seem to face. We appear to have an economy likely to die from its own over-investment and disruption of resources. That’s an ecological “mistake” like that of a voracious predator that collapses its own food chain.

    This is a set of issues I’ve been studying from many directions for 40 years, some of them fairly productive. There is lots to study. Most of my work can be found from my journal, “Reading Nature’s Signals”: http://synapse9.com/signals. Given the hard truth we now seem to face one hopes we are nearly ready to see the truth for what it is, a beginning not the end.

  • We need to be thinking now about emergency preparedness at the level of cities, not households.

    Unless the household is rural.

    Throughout most of recorded history, it took at least fifteen people on the land to support one in the city. Today, a single farmer can support some 700 people in the city. A reversion to the mean is inevitable.

    I don’t pretend this is a universal solution for everyone. But any thinking person who wants to survive the sorts of circumstances @cliffcobb:disqus suggests should be out on the land, growing food — at least enough for themselves, plus extra for their neighbours.

    One of the nice things about this is that you are taxed on money you spend for food, but not on food you grow. In fact, if you also sell food, the money you spend growing your food is a tax deduction!

    So, c’mon, now! How many are willing to give up their city life for a bucolic life on the land? If I went from mid-six-figures to near-zero ($1,750 last year), you can do it, too!

  • JessieHenshaw

    Richard, I too appreciate your honest and thoughtful approach, and thank you. Still it may be that most people will run from the hard truth. We see that all the time. I’ve sometimes seen it in myself too. It’s also only the truth that sets you free in the end, if you stick around.

    So I’m very gratified that you have found this way of acknowledging the many hard truths of our situation. I particularly thank you for putting right up front the financial necessity of endless growth, as it stands. For world financial stability we do in fact need to maintain growing global consumption of energy and other increasingly costly resources, while also swelling inequities around the world, all at exponential rates. That is indeed the world’s current “final plan” for “stability”; maintaining endless explosion.

    I say it’s wonderful to recognize that because the financial system is the world economy’s steering mechanism. Some parts of the financial system would like more than anything to know how to steer the economy onto a path of long term stability, using the creativity of entrepreneurship to guide our use of the earth toward long term sustainable profits, so that mankind can learn to thrive like other ecologies. Those parts are in the distinct minority, of course, but also aren’t getting the systems science they need.

    In any case, “controlled crash” is not the ideal solution. It’s just the “default solution”, and one fairly easy to understand. Without a much better understanding of how economies can be steered, “controlled crash” is very unlikely to be “controlled” is one problem. If it’s to result in a reduction of population and halt mankind’s degrading of the earth an unusually deep economic crash is needed. It would need to result in a loss of infrastructure, and for new kind of civilization to emerge, probably starting with an long period of martial law and deep poverty over most of the earth.

    The point is not to scare you into investing in defenses, but to stimulate you to study how else to resolve the grand scale tragedy of the commons we seem to face. We appear to have an economy likely to die from its own over-investment and disruption of resources. That’s an ecological “mistake” like that of a voracious predator that collapses its own food chain.

    This is a set of issues I’ve been studying from many directions for 40 years, some of them fairly productive. There is lots to study. Most of my work can be found from my journal, “Reading Nature’s Signals”: http://synapse9.com/signals. Given the hard truth we now seem to face one hopes we are nearly ready to see the truth for what it is, a beginning not the end.

  • Love your shot!