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Afterburn video 4: A Resilient Society

May 4, 2015

The final video in a four-part video series. Released in conjunction with Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels.

Resilience is a word that’s gaining a lot of currency in recent years, as more and more people realize there are some shocks headed our way. But what would a more resilient society look like?

This video is the fourth in a four-part series by Richard Heinberg and Post Carbon Institute. The themes covered in these videos are much more thoroughly explored in Heinberg’s latest book, Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels. (View the entire series here.)
Special thanks to New Society Publishers for partnering with us on this fantastic series and to Shutterstock.com for granting image rights.

17 Comments, RSS

  • I enjoy this calm and optimistic glimpse of a better future. Richard
    Heinberg summarizes the need for a resilient economy and a resilient
    society. One thing I feel is missing is the creation of a resilient
    method of managing our built environment and infrastructure. It is a
    difficult area to discuss now, because the very vocabulary has been
    corrupted. ‘Town planning’ has become a tool of paternalistic control.
    Even ‘urbanism’ has been downgraded to a decorative art. Control lies in
    the hands of large organisations, public and private.

    The new discipline we need is wide-ranging in scale, local in focus,
    cooperative in method. It is essentially humanistic, enabling richer,
    calmer lives. It exploits the aesthetic skills of architects, but
    intends to allow change. It protects the biosphere by considering a wide
    energy and resources system. I call it urbitecture, and I hope it will
    flourish in diverse forms, and become a core component in the dialog.

  • Richard, You sound like a communist and/or socialist. Those systems defy human nature and NEVER work. Sorry, it’s the free market that works. You are right about one thing, there are too many people and the lowest birthrates are from countries with the highest standard of living, in other words, economic growth is the anhswer. Energy is the life blood of economic growth.

  • Larry, we are all certainly best motivated by the prospect of personal gain, but surely you realize that the current paradigm, if trends continue, will cause the system to hit a wall of resource scarcity. The main reason this will happen, in my opinion, is because the current systems of governance are no longer democratic (if they ever truly were) and those individuals and corporations who have the most now have manipulated the tax and financial structures through financing of politicians to make damn sure they keep winning in a rigged game. If we got rid of all those impediments to actual competition, stopped giving special tax and legal advantages to those on top now, alternatives that make better use of resources would evolve at their natural rate, again motivated by the prospect of gain.

  • climate change needs socialism and breeds socialism
    We are all in it together
    there is no escape
    free markets and expansion is a dying dinosaur

  • If Richard sounds like a communist, your response is nothing more than plutocratic and unrealistic. The idea of unending economic growth is akin to cancerous cells in the body that eventually destroy life. Why rehash the same old “free-market” mantra when in reality what the plutocrats call “free” is in reality just “socialism” for the wealthy and corporatists because they manipulate the game to only serve those with power and money.

  • Larry,endless economic growth out of step with the capacity of nature to restore and replenish its self can not be ‘NATURAL’ and neither is it ‘SUSTAINABLE’ (I’m sure your familiar with the catch word) and no amount of wishing it is going to change that.. The results speak for themselves and Ritchard outlines them clearly if you have the ability and desire to overcome the brain washing you and all of us have been subjected to all our lives.
    As nurturing, giving, abundant and resilient our Mother Earth is, it has its limits and we are pushing those boundaries.
    The problem that really strikes me is most people don’t even have a basic understanding of how ecology works. How can you appreciate what we are doing is wrong if you don’t even know what’s right??

    And lastly you’ll notice our Earth is round, it functions as a whole. Just like most things,no matter how much we try to separate them.And as such so do human systems if your economics are at the expense of other equally important area’s of life…Ultimately it will not function…

  • I think that Larry is just joking…or has been overexposed to MSM. As Richard indicates: “The new discipline we need is wide-ranging in scale, local in focus, cooperative in method. It is essentially humanistic, enabling richer, calmer lives.” While it may not involve architects, it does require creativity.

  • Richard talks about what people can do without taking into account how dependent they are on the existing but irrevocably aging technological systems of industrialized civilization. The decisions that people can make is very dependent on the materialistic services available to them. Any rational discussion about what people can decide to do to cope with the inevitable powering down needs to take that physical reality into account. How will people cope with the declining availability of electricity for heating, air conditioning, cooking and online services? How will they cope with the declining availability of fuel for land, sea and air transportation? How will they cope with the delusion they have been indoctrinated with about economic growth?

  • @Larry:
    Don’t your observations lead to the conclusion that the humans who need to decline are those who are abusing the industrial method the most – US !?!

    Perhaps if we stopped fighting wars in Congo over the rare earth for the cell phone on which I’m writing this, developing countries would find it easier to live in population balance…?

    But then how would we keep our society progressing? Is our market only ‘free’ if we Force others to participate in it?

  • Since politics is the art of the possible, how do we adapt democracy to account for the peculiarities of competition/co-operation in biology and status-seeking in mammalian societies?

  • He proposed an interesting idea, that we forgive debts.

    If I have Canada Savings Bonds for my retirement, won’t I need them? Won’t that mean I will be even more dependent on welfare from ‘the government’? Or will I not be allowed to retire?

  • Christopher and Larry are fighting a phoney war, representing the poles of the irrelevant axis of politics. Right and left equally drive humanity into conflict with the ecosystem, equally disempower individuals and communities, equally support monopoly and control by large organizations. Economic growth, far from being the answer, has become the problem.

    What matters is the other axis: centralization versus autonomy. And a third metric: openness. Freedom of information and freedom of movement… But that is another conversation.

  • Lots of things to pick up on in Richard’s article.
    First off, ‘recycling’ everything to re-use what we have.
    Great idea.
    Except for one little problem.
    You cannot make anything, or recycle anything without heat.
    Now think about that for a minute.
    You take a junked car, tear it apart–that bit is easy. You are left with a piles of metal, plastic. rubber, glass and a few odds and ends. Now make something useful from cold.–Just try it.
    Even hammer blows create heat. A primitive forge needs heat.
    This is a dream world. We have come to expect and demand comfort, and that comfort is derived from heat application.
    Cooperation? I burst out laughing at the illustration of the (UK) Cooperative bank.That was run by a group of ignoramuses and charlatans who voted each other into directorships, The chairman was a drug addict with 2 years (very basic) banking experience, plus a plasterer, a nurse and assorted others who bankrupted the entire enterprise by ineptitude.
    So much for cooperation.
    Few of us have the ability to feed ourselves, those who do might survive very well, those who do not will become the energy source for the food producers. And if that sounds vaguely familiar—it should do, because that is the definition of a feudal society.
    The feudal lord invariably acquired and held land by force of arms. With that land (the ultimate source of energy) came a peasantry who worked it. The Lord took sufficient food stock (meat and grain) out of the land to support himself and a retinue of armed men to defend his castle and buy luxuries and a longer life. What was left supported the peasants (just). They died young through poverty.
    Perhaps the ultimate problem is ownership of land. RH doesn’t seem to advocate an end to that. It was Karl Marx (I think) who said: All property is theft. Look what happened when the soviets took that literally.—Don’t even think about it!!
    Fuedalism was our basic society until the industrial revolution.
    We’ve burned almost all our cheap coal oil and gas in order to provide everyone with a warm ‘castle’ and cheap transport. When it’s gone, we will revert to a feudal society.
    Even in RH’s utopia, we will expect our pensions, healthcare and so on. These are entirely derived from industrial forward moving enterprise. You can’t have it any other way.
    That’s what I’ve been banging on about in my book,
    The End of More:

    that there isn’t any more, despite all our attempts to vote prosperity into office.
    The party really is over folks. Sorry about that

  • Infinite growth on a finite planet…what could possibly go wrong?

  • Humanity adds the population of the city of Seattle every 5 days now. …let that sink in. It took humanity 250,000 years to reach 1 billion in population. The second billion took only 100 years. We’re now adding a billion every 11 years. Get it? Remember the story of the kid who asked to be paid a penny a day as long as the store manager doubled his pay every day? The same principle works with people.

    What’s more, the average American consumes 22 bbl of oil per year. That’s double any other OECD nation. We’re trapped in what psychologists call a “recency bias.” Most Americans believe that perpetual growth is possible and good. Thats because, for all of our lifetimes, it basically has been. But all of it is built on cheap and abundant oil. All of it. Its a finite resource, shale oil not withstanding. The average shale oil well has a production curve that declines by a whopping 72% within the first year. In other words, we’ll soon be on a drilling treadmill just to stay even. Believe me, we can’t.

    I tend to agree that Richard sounds like a communist sometimes. I think he scares people. He won’t be the one that decides how we operate in the future. The people will, but sticking our heads in the sand about resource depletion (not to mention climate change) is just plain dumb.

    Listen up, stop thinking we can negotiate with hard realities like population growth, limits and climate change. Eventually reality takes over. As James Howard Kunstler likes to say, “you don’t even need to be in negotiating room anymore.” Hurricane Sandy was an example. That was the sound of pine on scull that you heard.

  • CO2 must become a fungible commodity. Like oil. Oil cost more here or
    cost less there but the world oil price is controlled by a market.
    Adding the Externalized cost of oil, fossil carbons, to this market is
    what is needed. CO2 is that mechanism.

    Cap & Trade worked for NOX & SOX, no public outcry, no financial
    pain, the best solutions guided by the proverbial “invisible hand” sweeping away acid rain.

    Conventional policy is closing the Ozone Hole &
    has rid our waste streams of heavy metals

    The invisible hand of CO2e needs to be made manifest by policy, the same
    for NPK, nutrients in the wrong place have social/ecological cost, in
    the right places high values. Carbon in the right place tremendous
    soil values. These now mostly “Externalized Values” for society, hydrology,
    ecology, soils etc. must be placed on the balance sheet.

    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars”,
    But in our policy.

    A Dr. Jim Hansen Fee & Dividend, back to the people, will power said invisible hands.

    Soil-C Farming of Oz

    “The Cat’s Cradle”
    Improving Agricultural Productivity and Economic Viability through Improved Understanding of Natural Systems


    If we replicate the Ecologic
    Services of the extinct megafauna, since 7 billion of us makes us the
    new Megafauna, then we could build back Soil Carbon with massive
    increases of Net Primary Production. An ecology not seen for 12,900
    An Ecology not limited by Phosphorous, Sodium & lost Soil-C.
    A great synergy of the work restoring mine scarred lands & developing consumer, Horticultural & Agricultural markets.

    Biochar systems have so many market applications yet to be
    cultivated; “Carbon Fodder” feeds for Livestock in the EU, Australia
    & Japan, Plant Chemical Communications, (plant signaling), even Char
    building materials such as Biochar-Plasters which block Cellphone
    signals, the potential markets are massive.

    CoolPlanet’s investors & CEOs project (assert) that they will
    be the first Trillion Dollar Company, based on their $1.50/Gal. cost to
    produce Bio-Gasoline. Biochar the by product.

    For a complete review of the
    current science & industry applications of Biochar please see my
    2014 Soil Science Society of America Biochar presentation. How thermal conversion technologies can integrate and optimize the
    recycling of valuable nutrients while providing energy and building soil
    carbon, I believe it brings together both sides of climate beliefs.
    A reconciling of both Gods’ and mans’ controlling hands.

    Agricultural Geo – Engineering; Past, Present & Future
    Across scientific disciplines carbons are finding new utility to solve our most vexing problems

    2014 SSSA Presentation;
    Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future.


  • Actually one hopeful thing is that many studies on motivation have shown that after basic needs are taken care of, feeling like you are part of something larger than yourself, something that is making a positive difference is a better motivator for most people than personal gain.