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Toward an economy of Earth

Thu, Feb 2, 2012

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We need to develop a new economy because the current version is not working. The industrial economy is destroying every aspect of the living planet. And, as it turns out, we need a living planet for our own survival.

In this essay, I briefly describe the horrors of the current interconnected, globalized, planet-destroying house of cards. Then I articulate another way, which is not difficult to do: It would pose quite a challenge to come up with a worse way, and we have several models from which to choose. I will focus on two such models, agrarian anarchy and the post-industrial Stone Age.

What’s wrong?

Detailing all that is wrong with the industrial economy would require libraries full of books. The cryptic version includes, at a minimum, the following: (1) an industrial economy at the apex of western civilization, a set of living arrangements that transfers financial wealth from the poor to the wealthy; (2) human-population overshoot on an overcrowded planet; (3) runaway climate change on an overheated planet; and (4) wholesale destruction of the living planet. The latter brings an extinction rate of a few hundred species each day, along with destruction of potable water and living soil.

In short, as I wrote in the leading journal in my discipline, “the modern world essentially requires one to live immorally. There is no doubt that a society that enslaves, tortures, and kills people and abuses the lands and waters needed for the survival of our species and others is immoral, yet these actions are produced with stunning efficiency by the world’s industrial economy, as epitomized by American empire. Most people know that Big Energy poisons our water, Big Ag controls our food supply, Big Pharma controls the behavior of our children, Wall Street controls the flow of money, Big Ad controls the messages we receive every day, and the criminally rich get richer through exploitation of an immoral system. This is how America works. And, through it all, we think we live moral lives in the land of the free.”

It should be clear that the industrial economy is making us sick, mentally and physically, and also greatly reducing habitat for our species on Earth. As a result, I’m a big fan of terminating this set of living arrangements — that is, I’m a fan of terminating industrialized civilization — and replacing it with a more sane and durable set of living arrangements.

Alternatives

Alternatives abound, and generally rest along a continuum ranging from the current system to the post-industrial Stone Age. I will consider three points along the continuum: (1) the current system, which must be replaced if we are to persist as a species beyond a few decades, (2) agrarian anarchy, and (3) the post-industrial Stone Age.

The current system: industrial economy

The contemporary version of civilization is creating a dire set of predicaments: human-population overshoot, climate chaos, and an unparalleled extinction crisis. It is the primary problem we face. As such, I think it’s time to leave it behind before it leaves us. Considering the ongoing, accelerating collapse of the industrial economy and the virtual absence of national- or international-level discussion about mitigation, I strongly suspect our society is headed for the post-industrial Stone Age within a matter of years, not decades. But communities and the individuals comprising communities have the option of choosing between agrarian anarchy and the post-industrial Stone Age.

Agrarian anarchy

Anarchy assumes the absence of direct or coercive government as a political ideal, while proposing cooperative and voluntary association between individuals and groups as the principal mode for organizing society. This close-to-nature, close-to-our-neighbors approach was the Jeffersonian ideal for the United States, as evidenced by Monticello and the occasional one-liner from Thomas Jefferson. It was also the model promoted by Henry David Thoreau and, more recently, radical thinkers such as Wendell Berry (farmer, writer), Noam Chomsky (linguist, philosopher), Howard Zinn (recently deceased historian), and Tucson-based iconoclastic author Edward Abbey.

Consider, for example, a few well-known lines from Thomas Jefferson: (1) “The result of our experiment will be, that man may be trusted to govern themselves without a master”; (2) “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it”; and (3) “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Although Jefferson did not call himself an anarchist, his words and ideals indicate he strongly supported the rights and role of individuals, as well as a small government that minimally oversaw the citizenry. The Greco-Latin roots of anarchy suggest the absence of a ruler, which seems like a good idea to me.

Like Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau idealized an agricultural society that was close to nature. Thoreau was a staunch defender of agrarian anarchy, and he focused even more closely on the individual than did Jefferson: “That government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” To my knowledge, no state governments believe we’ve yet reached that point.

Fast forward to the late twentieth century, and we find several other philosophers defending agrarian anarchy. Perhaps the best known examples are Wendell Berry, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn, but the clearest voice for agrarian anarchy came from Edward Abbey in the years before he died in 1989: (1) “Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners”; (2) “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others”; and (3) “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

In my dreams, industrialized nations are headed for agrarian anarchy. Many countries have been there for years and can show us the way, if only we allow them. If a region never acquired ready access to cheap fossil fuels, agrarian anarchy was an obvious approach. How else but a strong sense of self-reliance and dependence on neighbors to grow and distribute all food locally? How else but reliance on those same traits to secure the water supply, and protect it from the insults of industry? How else to develop a human community dominated by mutual respect and mutual trust? Contrary to our current set of living arrangements, no currency is needed: barter fills the bill. Better yet, a gift economy is well-suited to agrarian anarchy.

Post-industrial Stone Age

The first two million years of the human experience, and the first few hundred thousand years for our own species, was spent with relatively small communities living close to the land that supported them. These humans knew each other and they knew the plants and animals with which they shared the area. They had minimal impact on the lands and waters that supported them. These humans spent a few hours each week doing what we call “work,” making sure the members of the community were well-hydrated, well-fed, and warm. This was a durable set of living arrangements, as characterized by its longevity and minimal impact on Earth.

We arrogantly and disparagingly refer to this time as the Stone Age.

The first civilization arose a few thousand years ago. Civilization is characterized by cities. In other words, civilization is defined by by human populations too large to be supported in the local area. Cities require use of clear air, clean water, and healthy food from adjacent wildlands, as well as materials to ensure body temperature is maintained at about 37 C. In exchange, cities export dirty air, polluted water, and garbage to outlying areas. Most civilized people think this is a wonderful exchange, although it is unsustainable by definition because there are limits on nature’s abundance.

The current version of civilization, the world’s industrial economy, is the least sustainable model to date, in part because it requires growth for its survival: Civilizations, like organisms, grow or die. This finite planet cannot support infinite growth.

The world’s industrial economy mainlines ready supplies of inexpensive crude oil. The lifeblood of western civilization, cheap oil infuses our daily lives. Petroleum products transport us easily and conveniently, thus allowing for exchange of materials and ideas. Without inexpensive crude oil to deliver water, food, and building materials, the world’s industrial economy declines.

Each of the six worldwide economic recessions since 1972 was preceded by a spike in the price of crude oil, and the days of cheap oil are behind us. At the global level, peak extraction of crude oil occurred in May 2005. A modest decline in available crude oil, coupled with increased industrialization in lesser-developed countries such as China, India, and Brazil, indicates further spikes in the price of oil lie in our future. That the world has nearly a trillion barrels of crude oil remaining to exploit hardly matters: The price of oil is key to growth of the industrial economy. There is little doubt that future spikes in the price of oil will prove sufficient to terminate the industrial economy, taking us on a one-way trip to the post-industrial Stone Age. Already, expensive oil is overwhelming the ability of central banks and central governments to provide the illusion of economic growth by printing fiat currency. As nearly occurred in 2008 in the wake of oil priced at $147.27 per barrel, western civilization faces an abrupt termination in the face of expensive crude oil.

It is unclear what the future holds. I suspect completion of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy will engender short-term but large-scale mortality of humans. Shortly thereafter, all “renewable” energy systems will fail because they depend heavily on maintenance and support from oil-driven industries. The batteries associated with most home-based PV solar and wind-energy systems have a life of a decade or so. When collapse of the industrial economy is complete and is followed by inability to generate electricity via “renewable” systems, it seems humans will be forced to live — yet again — close to our neighbors and close to the natural systems that allow for our survival. That is, we’ll be immersed in the post-industrial Stone Age, albeit with plenty of technology that was not present during the Neolithic period. The simplest of these technologies, including knives and jars, will be readily usable for a long time. The more complex technologies, especially those relying on electricity, will fade quickly from our memories.

An economy based on gift exchange

The current version of the industrial economy has most people obsessed with the tertiary economy (symbolic, green pieces of paper and magnetized particles on hard drives). A few thoughtful individuals focus instead on the secondary economy (the items we use in our daily lives), which rests firmly on the foundational but rarely contemplated primary economy. The primary economy is comprised of the raw materials we use to survive, and perhaps even thrive. Faith in the symbols characterizing the tertiary economy will be lost when people recognize there are too few items of use (secondary economy) and too few underlying materials (primary economy). One result will be a profound loss of power in the symbols.

An economy based on exchange of gifts worked for the first two million years of the human experience and, due to collapse of the industrial economy certain to result from ongoing decline of fossil-fuel energy, we’re headed toward a similar set of circumstances. We would do well to allow history to serve as a guide to our fossil-fuel-free future. Our current monetary system is based on faith in symbols and it appears to give us something for nothing. Instead, it steals our sense of community.

People with an abundance of paper wealth have no need to build their human community. Their wealth allows them to buy goods and services, so they need not know the names of the people providing the services. Ditto for the names of the plants, animals, soils, and water providing the services on which we depend for our survival.

On the other hand, financially poor people depend heavily on their neighbors. The rural poor recognize that those neighbors include non-humans as well as humans. True community is woven from gifts, and the gifts come from the lands and waters that support us, as well as from our human neighbors.

A personal example

I had the brass ring. And I let it go. My parents were lifelong educators. So are my only brother and my only sister. Among them, only I reached the pinnacle of the educational world: I was a tenured full professor by the age of 40. I walked away from that life, which I loved, an act that made most people think I’d lost my mind. I walked away after trying to change the morally bankrupt system in which we are immersed when I realized the system was changing me, and not for the better.

I let go of the brass ring after I realized the first step toward destroying this irredeemably corrupt system is to leave it. Because I was born into captivity and assimilated into the normalcy bias of a world gone bonkers, I left later than I should have, and long after I realized the immorality of the system. A large part of this delay resulted from my inability to identify where and how to leave the system. I had come to see the industrial economy at the apex of western civilization as a horrific system but, because it was the only system I ever knew, I didn’t know how to escape it. Finally, after several years of thought and a few aborted attempts to reach escape velocity, my wife and I developed a set of living arrangements on a small property with another small family where we try to model agrarian anarchy.

When I finally tossed aside the brass ring, I worked cooperatively with others to develop to transition toward a gift economy embedded in agrarian anarchy. I live in a small, sparsely populated valley where gifts are the rule, not the exception. I share a small property with a small family of humans, as well as goats, ducks, chickens, and gardens. We have attempted, and continue to attempt, to develop a durable set of living arrangements with particular attention to securing potable water, healthy food, appropriate body temperature, and a decent human community. Living in agrarian anarchy in a human community at the edge of empire, I’ve taken responsibility for myself and my neighbors, human and otherwise.

This way of living is far superior to my former life. I drink pure water extracted from a local well with PV solar and hand pumps. I eat healthy, whole foods, much of which is grown on this property. I burn no fossil fuels during my daily life in a well-insulated, off-grid home. I know my neighbors, human and otherwise, and they know me.

Finally, very late in an unexamined life, I came to see the horrors of the way we live, and I let go. Please join me.
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I’m sorry about that annoying “sociable” nonsense. It came with an update, and I cannot get rid of it. To make it go away temporarily, click the small triangle on the far left immediately above the word “Sociable.” You’ll need to do this every time the page loads, unfortunately.
___________________

This essay is scheduled to appear as a chapter in a book. The book will be published in Spanish, if the publisher wins the race against time.
___________________

In anticipation of my scheduled trip to western Michigan, I am featured in local print media:

Walking away from empire, Kristine Morris for Grand Traverse Insider, 31 January 2012
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This essay is permalinked at Counter Currents, Island Breath, lq0.info, and Speaking Truth to Power.

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98 Responses to “Toward an economy of Earth”

  1. Robin Datta Says:

    Link to the page in The Grand Traverse Insider

  2. Don Hayward Says:

    Guy, agrarian anarchy might be a step along the path to a new “stone age”. Here is a snipit that might be from near the end or the actual ending of a possible third novel in my post-collapse scenario. I could send you my second story “The End of shadows” if you had any time to read. Wish I could get to your next presentation. all the best…. Don
    ****
    “But Daddy, the coyote was bigger than me.” His pleading eyes searched for confirmation that he had not done a big wrong.

    “Even so,” his father fumed, “we could not spare the meat.”

    The man stomped off casting a disappointed glance towards his son.

    Chester hobbled over and with great effort knelt to embrace his great-grandson.

    “The coyote represented the whole of nature.” The old man looked directly into the little boy’s eyes.

    “We are just a small part of that nature and we must know our place. We take but we must give too.”

    A tear came to Chester’s eye. In his mind he knew that if the coyote had taken his little grandson, this little boy who occupied such a warm and important part in his old heart, it would still have been the loop working as it should. The young lad had shown wisdom in sacrificing the kid goat to the predator’s hunger.

    “We are part of nature,” Chester continued, “but we also have a role above the other creatures and all living things in being asked to understand and take special care. Our power is greater than any of the other beasts and we can decide what lives and what dies as you did with the little goat.”

    Chester shifted to a more comfortable seat on the damp ground and took the little one onto his knee.

    “But we are not more powerful than nature itself. We are but pieces of its wonderful cloth bound into a pattern with everything else. We are the bear, the protector the teacher in nature but we must learn from our world every day and every hour. Nimise Makwa taught us all, reminded us she would have said, of our terrible responsibility and our complete humility in the face of the all.”

    “Nature does not keep her animals as we keep the goat herd. Think of the deer roaming free and in their own herds with no shepherds. If the wolf comes to that herd nature not a human gives up one so that the others may live. It is the way and balances the flow.”

    The little boy snuggled into his old Poppa’s arms and rested his head upon the warm loving chest. The hurt of his father’s words had been salved and he now began to feel very important. He knew he was being told great words.

    “Don’t feel badly about your father’s scolding.” It was as if the old man could read his very feelings and thoughts.

    “He must lead now and provide for everyone in his care. That too is a grave responsibility. Your father understands what we have just talked about but he also must fight to claim a little for us all. Nature will provide. It will replace the kid goat with another bit of bounty and I know your father will stop and think about that when it happens and know that the loop held true.”

    “Come now let us find your mother. She is teaching words and understanding. Let us find your bark-book and your quill.”

    Chester rose with the little boy and with a small hand wrapped around one gnarled finger hobbled towards the wooden dwellings that stood against the south face of the hill. He remembered the night so many years ago when the boy’s father had written strange things upon the darkness with his blazing brand. His heart felt the flow.

  3. Victor Says:

    Guy

    As usual, a sublime and insightful essay from my favourite ex-tenured full professor. My only problem with it lies not in what you say, but what you don’t say. The future lies with only a few and only in a very few certain geographic locations of the world.

    I think the economy that ensues will not be the economy we choose as you seem to imply, but the one we are left with.

    But the biggest known unknown remains the nuclear power plants that are left unattended in the end. What impact upon the remaining habitable regions of the world will they have, and how can the few remaining humans hope to survive when these death traps release their full fury?

    I hope you are right. I hope we will have a choice in the end. I’m not optimistic.

  4. Andrew Fitts Says:

    Enjoyed the piece as always, Guy. I still get the word anarchy stuck in my craw, despite resonating with the quotes from Jefferson, Thoreau and Abbey. In my discussions with others, that word can abort the conversation, leading as it does toward the feeling of chaos. Even ‘free-thinking’ people have a tough time with anarchy.

    I’m not sure what word would be more appropriate, though I’m sure you have some possible substitutions. How about a word that would mean lightly structured, a refined agreement, a shared consensus? There’s got to be some organizing principle here, not just a casting off of rules.

    I’m not a rules person at all, but am struggling to get a handle on the type of systems interacton we need in the future. I suppose it doesn’t need a name, as long as we’re engaged in an open hearted, awareness of others well-being, shared process.

  5. Aaron Fiore Says:

    I suppose it doesn’t need a name, as long as we’re engaged in an open hearted, awareness of others well-being, shared process.

    I might have one word that describes this: Tribe.

  6. Jean Says:

    It would be had to be like earlier tribes bec of our indoctrination..

  7. Aaron Fiore Says:

    Well yes, that’s right. I suppose a modern tribe is basically a GANG with all the wonderful attributes that come with that territory. BTW first-time comment-er here.

  8. Redreamer Says:

    Aaron EXACTLY.

    So… in this power down that is being ignored by the dominant rulers of the industrial paradigm… the one thing that bothers me the most is the denial and action in consideration of the whole issue of Nuclear Power plants.

    They cannot just be *turned off*. It is the one thing that i cannot see a solution to unless there is leadership to that end. No matter how I look at it……… this is the elephant in the room as far as I can see with any transition.

    It would be good to discuss this issue….. because to me it seems to be the one thing that could undo us all.

  9. Redreamer Says:

    oops sorry that should have read *inaction*

  10. Guy McPherson Says:

    I agree, Redreamer, as I wrote back in March 2011 and then again in November 2011 for Transition Voice

  11. Robni Datta Says:

    There’s got to be some organizing principle here, not just a casting off of rules.

    There is, indeed. It is the acknowledgement of the universal application of the non-aggression principle: the abjuration of the initiation of force. Every ruling hierarchy, even if it be an oligarchy or a minarchy derives its power from the threat of the initiation of force against non-compliers, even if the non-compliers are peaceful. 

    Without the initiation of force there can be no state and  no laws. A law is an opinion with a gun. A rule, however, is a mutually agreed-upon principle from empirical grounds – based on observation and experience. 

  12. Mike Says:

    Guy,
    I fear the genie is out of the bottle. You quickly note in your essay that some technologies, not present in the neolithic, will persist. You mentioned knives. I’ll call them swords, the weapon that changed everything for thousands of years. The weapon that allowed conquest (along with battle axes) of so many. Look what happen in Europe after Rome fell. It was agrarian anarchy quickly remade into fuedalisn then empire at the point of a sword. Charlemagne(sp)is hailed still for “dragging” europe out the dark ages (the Vikings were a setback) and reestablishing cilivization and empire. I would caution against the hope that an absence of fossil energy equates with the death of tyranny. Liberty is based solely on the absence of a credible threat (high carrying capacity, very low population)or the ability to defend oneselves (parable of the tribes).

  13. John Day Says:

    Thanks Guy,
    I see that this was on your mind when you sent that message earlier.
    I have been struggling with how we might transcend our species tendency to violently choose sides, when a dispute develops in a community of 200 or more.
    I don’t see any widely applicable solution. I do see “THE” solution, which is spiritual community, but I don’t find very much of it in the world, and certainly not in the more dominant religions, though there are always small groups practicing spirituality in any religion.
    Spirituality, in my view is simply one of our characteristics, and not unique to our species among higher life forms, which live in packs/herds. (A famous Zen parable has a student ask a master if a dog has Buddha-nature. “WOOF!” is the answer.)
    Whether in Ashram, Sangha, Church or Coven, humans can practice the unifying and harmonizing effects of this part of our nature. The flip side is the kind of (controlled) mass killing frenzy energy which a million people may enjoy in the stands at a football game. Some of this just got out of control at an Egyptian soccer game and killed close to 80 folks.
    It seems like the killing energy psychic-connection dominates in large crowds, the bigger the “better”. I can feel it going by the UT stadium when there is a game on, and see it in the faces of those coming and going on the street (as I bike commute through campus). It has always spooked me. Not my energetic choice.
    Agrarian anarchy is my choice, friend, but I worry about what happens the next time the population overgrows, and the sociopaths again turn the crowds to bloody war to control the load on the system.
    Women getting educated and having choices is so much more humane of a path. In a thousand years, the sociopathic and violent-dominance traits may be much attenuated, since they won’t be useful to a herd, which doesn’t overgrow and need to kill itself back periodically.
    I think we need to hold on to some of what we have found. We just can’t go through this all again, even if we wanted to, because we used up all the easy stuff we started on already.
    Sig…

  14. Andrew Says:

    Nice work Guy, good read. Oh I am a sucker for anarchy.

    @Andrew Fitts: Many people get caught up on the word anarchy and you are right it can end conversations. There are other ways to look at anarchy though. From one view you can see it as the point where both ends of the political spectrum meet and then step off of the spectrum entirely. The further you go left the more socialism appears. The further you go right the more libertarianism appears. Anarchy argues for organization without government. Thus anarchy is a form libertarian-socialism with the absence of government. Libertarian-socialism is another way of describing a system that seeks to elevate the freedom of the individual while also acknowledging community and group survival.

    Another way to approach anarchy is from a power perspective. Capitalism accumulates capital. Socialism redistributes capital. Both however accumulate power. Anarchists believe power corrupts any human who acquires it regardless of intention. So anarchy seeks to redistribute power.

    Anarchy = libertarian-socialism and or power distribution. Maybe that helps maybe not. It always helps me out when I get into a conversation where the A word = chaos.

  15. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Guy, when I read your writings, I feel as if I’m looking at the mirror image of my soul. We may be different externally, but it seems as if we are so similar on a spiritual/emotional/human plane. Then again, perhaps the ability to connect with readers is the mark of a truly talented writer. :-)

    I echo Victor’s and Redreamers comments and the many previous discussions here about the nuclear issue – unless definitive action is taken soon, there is virtually no hope for whatever life remains on the planet when those time-bombs begin blowing.

    One thought that has been rolling around in my head for quite some time is the issue of the impetus for civilization. What prompted our ancient ancestors to abandon a long history of successful small tribal forms of existence and transition to the larger city states?

    There must be a reason that civilization arose, particularly since it appears to have arisen in multiple places around the globe at about the same time. I suspect that anthropologists have many opinions about this topic but if I’ve encountered them then enough time has passed that I don’t remember them. So, I’ve speculated about this for some time. Perhaps it was a form of preservation with respect to defense against more violent neighbors. Perhaps it was the advent of agriculture and the changes which that brought to all of human life. Perhaps it was the logical solution to deal with increasing population. Maybe it was some combination of all those things.

    Ultimately, however, our big brains are what have led us to this place. While many other species on our planet have experienced overshoot, invading neighbors, etc., to my knowledge, only humans have created civilization. Consequently, unless we make a leap in collective intelligence and consciousness, our brains will also be our downfall. As we head back down the energy slope and return to a subsistence form of living, it is unlikely that the very drive which led us to form civilization will suddenly disappear and allow us to be satisfied with our lot.

    Until evolution selects for a more peaceful, less competitive form of human (for better or worse), we are destined to repeat our self-destructive, violent ways until such time as we annihilate ourselves, or indeed the entire planet.

  16. Guy McPherson Says:

    George Mobus addresses the issue of too-clever-by-half Homo sapiens in yesterday’s essay, titled, “What is a Smart Species Like Us Doing in a Predicament Like This?” It’s linked here.

  17. Robni Datta Says:

    Anarchy = libertarian-socialism and or power distribution
    Redistributing guns at gunpoint. Both libertarians and socialists retain a gun, albeit a smaller one, to force their views upon others.

  18. Andrew Says:

    “Redistributing guns at gunpoint. Both libertarians and socialists retain a gun, albeit a smaller one, to force their views upon others.”

    Not really, because there is a whole other set of values/issues that anarchist theory posits that are in a different “ball park” than socialism and libertarianism. I was just trying to offer another view that didn’t involve the word “anarchy.” For example, as stated in Guy’s piece, one tenet of anarchy is that no one has a legitimate authority over another, so forcing views upon someone else is not anarchism at all. Anarchism requires the acceptance of a wide range of human behavior and thought to coexist. When one tries to force anything upon another they are not acting in accordance with anarchy because power is not being distributed but rather accumulated.

  19. Bernhard Says:

    Dr. House.
    Nukular. The IAEA is based in Vienna. As this is close to here. I contacted them and had several discussions, although the level of discussion never went beyond the level of public relations, press office, the written statements never answered.

    Finally I was told to f off, not exactly, but was told to contact the delegate/ delegation of Austria to voice my concerns. Haven’t done this yet, though I might still do so. Would be funny though – we have one nuclear powerstation -it never went “hot”, maybe that would even be a good start.

    But actually I do not believe there will be any ction taken. By the importance of this (not for suceeding in any case, but just to do the right thing) it may be a good idea that people in various countries contact the delegates of their countries and make the point of their concerns quite clear.

  20. Kathy C Says:

    Jean are you the donkey taming Jean? If so how goes the farm and all?

  21. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Kathy C, personal note: thanks for taking time to write a letter to me. I’ll be replying this weekend. Since it’s supposed to be rainy, I’ll have ample time. :-)

    If anyone else would like to correspond the old fashioned way, please feel free to drop me a card or letter. I promise I’ll respond, even if I am a bit slow about it:

    John House
    PO Box 12
    Bono, AR 72416

  22. matt Says:

    Guy,

    I think about ‘joining you’ here everyday,

    I have found a place in the mountains,
    70km east of melbourne, the wife, the kids
    dont want to live a modest existance,
    they are too enamoured by all the trinkets,

    I am over the ind civ and the gadgets everybody
    (children and adults alike) is obsessed with.

    everybody is walking around with a friggin iphone,
    makes me want to vomit, all that marketing
    of ‘anxious wanting’

    there is so much e waste kerb side – disgusting,
    everybody has changed there crt monitors/tvs for flat screens,

    we must be the only household left melbourne

    I want to get off this boat

    I found ‘Earthsea’ in an op shop for a buck, it gave
    me so many hours of profound pleasure,

    nice post Guy,

    thought we lost you there :)

    bicycle matt

  23. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘There must be a reason that civilization arose, particularly since it appears to have arisen in multiple places around the globe at about the same time. I suspect that anthropologists have many opinions about this topic but if I’ve encountered them then enough time has passed that I don’t remember them. -tsdh

    civilization is totally associated with agriculture, which led to food surpluses, allowing increased population and population density, social hierarchy and labor division, etc. if i recall correctly i think someone who appears in the ‘doomer’ movie WHAT A WAY TO GO covers the topic. another recommendation is to check out a book titled AGAINST THE GRAIN by richard manning, for it’s excellent analysis of how agriculture began.

    ‘to my knowledge, only humans have created civilization’

    bee hives and ant hills have some similarities to cities. dense populations, division of labor, resources obtained from wide surrounding areas.

    great essay, guy. re. the mobus article u linked to in a comment above, again, i think civilization is the culprit leading to this predicament. civilization has produced sheople who are more intelligent only in a narrow sense. it has fostered technological development at the same time it has fostered hierarchy, social control, and a general dumbing down of the species due to domestication and the promotion of dogmatism/obedience. thus we have become a species of idiot-savants.

    generally great comments thus far here. once again thanks to guy.

  24. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    TVT, it occurred to me after making my earlier post that bee hives and ant colonies certainly could be considered cities and/or civilization – at least by some definitions. The interesting contradiction to most of the discussion here, however, is that in both of those examples there exists a strong hierarchy with clearly defined roles and functions, with “drones” and “slaves” (our words) and it works very well. Now that I think more about it, ants wage “war” against other colonies. It seems that many who comment on this subject feel that hierarchy is uniquely human and is bad or leads to bad outcomes. Not sure if their situation can be applied to ours, but, as I said, it’s an interesting contradiction – at least to me :-).

  25. Kathy C Says:

    TVT, Dr. House – it is true that ants etc create something like cities but that is the way they are programmed to live. Humans haven’t had time to evolve much in 10,000 years and certainly not in the last 200. Therefore we are now living in a way that our biological programming is not designed for. We have put ourselves in a mode of living that is not the one our genes are designed for. Since we also have meme’s that helps, but the regular collapse of civilizations would indicate that the meme’s are not adequate for the job. History (being part of the meme network) should advise us, but we ignore it. If history teaches us anything it is that history teaches us precious little.

  26. Victor Says:

    TVT/TRDH

    Hierarchies are a fundamental part of the natural order of things. Though there are certainly species that live without apparent hierarchy, most species do – including humans. Humans always gravitate toward the more intelligent, the more powerful, the more charismatic. We search for strong and effective leaders (NOTE: I do not say we search for ‘good’ or ‘moral’ leaders) as diligently as we search for the necessities of life. Why? Because we are wired for it. Hierarchies are the most effective and efficient means of ‘getting the job done’ in a community. I know some will disagree here, but their reasoning is usually based upon false hope that the human species can live co-operatively when in large numbers or that humans are somehow naturally anarchists (this is not true even in the most utopian of settings). Whilst small tribal structures can exist within a certain measure of anarchy, most will not, as the inner drive to hierarchy is much too strong for most;thus, the anarchist structure will eventually break down among humans and evolve to a more hierarchical structure.

    This is not, however, to say that hierarchy is by nature ‘wrong’ or somehow ‘immoral’, or even ‘authoritarian’ – though any of these characteristics can be attached to a particular instance of it. It is simply more ‘natural’ for us. If we would recognise that and indeed embrace it, then perhaps we could begin to devise ways and means to live gainful lives within a naturally hierarchical structure. Instead we tend to devise ways that we might create a society based upon a structure that is neither natural for humans nor stable.

    In other words, a good hierarchical structure would be far more stable and long-lasting than a good anarchist structure because we wouldn’t be fighting constantly against our own nature.

  27. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Wacky weather continues. Eastern Europe has people dying from cold where just a few weeks ago Moscow had no snow on the ground for the first time ever recorded at that time of year.

    Here in NE Arkansas, it is projected to be in the upper 60s today. Our normal high is 48. We have daffodils and hyacinths in full bloom (daffodils for about a week now). My apple trees are about to bloom. This will end up being the warmest winter on record for our region. Mosquitos are out already – yea! Can’t wait for that summer heat! :-)

    No surprise to those who read here, but just thought I’d document the changes.

  28. Kathy C Says:

    Oh my TRDH mosquitoes – no doubt they are heading this way. Given that dengue is making a strong showing around the world I suspect you should bone up on its diagnosis and treatment. I knew someone who had it – it is also called break bone fever. She agreed that that was a correct name. It felt like all the bones in her body were broken. http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/2012/02/ecuador-dengue-cases-up-61-over-this-time-last-year.html
    We in central east alabama are at 61 and sunny. While no apple trees blooming my wild plums are budding and my sorrel is making flower heads – I swear March is the earliest I have ever had them start that. If summer follows this trend we are in for a scorcher.

  29. Kathy C Says:

    Weather chaos is even effecting drug crops in Mexico

    Gonna be a tough year in many aspects…..

  30. Andrew Says:

    @ Victor
    “Hierarchies are the most effective and efficient means of ‘getting the job done’ in a community.”

    Depends on what the job is. I would also argue that if you let “effective and efficient” run their course in relation to “getting jobs done” you will find yourself with a city, county, state and country. Wendell Berry (referenced by Guy in this essay)does not seem to be fond of the idea of “effective and efficient” the way you are using it. He suggests every farm use horses not tractors. Work (getting things done) is not something to rush. Effective efficiency is not the emphasis. The emphasis is the generation coming after you.

    “I know some will disagree here, but their reasoning is usually based upon false hope that the human species can live co-operatively when in large numbers or that humans are somehow naturally anarchists (this is not true even in the most utopian of settings).”

    Most classic anarchist thinkers have posited the exact opposite of this. Its about small autonomous groups not large ones and its about intent not stochasticism; Spain’s history has tangible evidence of this in deed and word. Do not claim to know others reasons if you don’t understand what they are saying.

    “In other words, a good hierarchical structure would be far more stable and long-lasting than a good anarchist structure because we wouldn’t be fighting constantly against our own nature.”

    Now you are the one using “natural” reasoning and “hard wired” arguments. A good hierarchical structure is what we have been living under since they signed the Constitution. From that point to now is the period that I think all readers of Guy know as “when it all went wrong.” I can’t get around this nagging feeling that you are arguing for the continuation of The United States of Authority.

  31. Kathy C Says:

    http://news.yahoo.com/18-mile-crack-seen-nasa-antarctic-glacier-205345573–abc-news.html

    Antarctica is so vast that the pictures give you no sense of scale. The pencil-thin line across the satellite image of Pine Island Glacier (above) is actually more than 18 miles long, 800 feet across in places, and 180 feet deep.
    And it’s growing. In the next few months, scientists expect the glacier to create an iceberg about 350 square miles in area. It will probably float northward, melting as it goes.
    “Pine Island Glacier is losing ice very quickly, about six meters per year,” said Michael Studinger of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which sent an expedition called Operation IceBridge to Antarctica in October in an old DC-8 jetliner, modified for scientific operations. It spotted the break in the ice. Earth-observing satellites have been watching it since.
    “These things happen on a semi-regular basis in both the Arctic and Antarctic, but it’s still a fairly large event,” said John Sonntag, Instrument Team Lead for Operation IceBridge, in video recorded on the plane. “So we wanted to make sure we captured as much of that process as we could.
    “A lot of times when you’re in science, you don’t get to capture the big stories as they happen, because you’re not there at the right place at the right time,” he said, “but this time we were.”
    To scientists, this is more than a vast spectacle. Both polar caps are losing ice, and researchers studying the world’s climate say they want to understand the process.

  32. john rember Says:

    Guy:

    As I’m sure you know, Ed Abbey wrote Good News, an apocalyptic novel, in 1979, back when such works could still be considered speculative fiction. He made much of the age-old conflict between country and city, i.e. the conflict between anarchic agrarianism and industrial hierarchy, and he suggested that over a long time, the agrarianism would win. But not without bloody and transformative conflict.

    What I find prescient about the novel now is its emphasis on military organization being the overwhelming response to the breakdown of civilization. You talk about money being an article of faith, but there are other, less obvious articles of faith in our current arrangements. We believe in hierarchy, as Victor demonstrates, but we also believe in barter and simple machines and in a habitable post-apocalyptic world, even if it’s ten million years out. All are arguably products of our imagination–as is civilization itself.

    The scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies where Harrison Ford shoots the sword-wielding martial-arts master is a cultural meme that we all believe in, at least until there are no more guns and ammunition. The USA has approximately 225 million weapons in private hands and God knows how many in its armories, and it’s naive to think that any nation-state and could take them all away or convince the population not to use them for self-defense. We tried that in a much less well-armed Vietnam, and all we did, besides killing 58,000 American kids and countless Vietnamese, was create a mirror-image of our own corporate capitalism with its attendant bureaucracy.

    As presently constructed, guns and ammo will last centuries, as will our enormous piles of scrap metal. We added ten million durable light weapons to the private arsenal last year. So there’s that.

    Nuclear power plants are a good reason to persuade people to enter into a devil’s bargain with civilization, since they will explode and kill us without it. Agricultural technology is advancing on the local level, as our back-to-the-land movement demonstrates, and despite die-offs will prove sufficient to produce surpluses enough for kings and counselors.

    It’s easy to imagine a kind of long Spartan/North Korean decline over the next thousand years or so, where the local nuclear power-plant is the castle and the church, the military becomes an hereditary caste, and incredible ingenuity and sacrifice is exercised by slave-technicians to keep things going. Again, look at what the Vietnamese did against a huge effort to take them back to the stone age. They became superb technicians, with a practical understanding of science that the American Empire couldn’t match.

    In Spain, Franco kept his mercury mines going by sending his political enemies to work in them. They lasted, on average, eighteen months. So I anticipate nuclear workers in the absence of OSHA.

    We have created something, in technological civilization, that will outlast us, in the sense that the nature of the decline ahead will transform our species into something unimaginable. I doubt if the values that we regard as human will survive.

  33. Kathy C Says:

    John I am not sure what you mean when you say “It’s easy to imagine a kind of long Spartan/North Korean decline over the next thousand years or so, where the local nuclear power-plant is the castle and the church, the military becomes an hereditary caste, and incredible ingenuity and sacrifice is exercised by slave-technicians to keep things going.”

    If you mean they keep the plants from melt down that might be feasible for some time post collapse, although it seems likely that a period of chaos will occur before any such settled situation develops and they will have already gone into meltdown by then.

    If you mean that they keep the plants going for some time providing energy, I don’t think that can happen at all. We are likely at peak uranium or close (see this article http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24414/ The Coming Nuclear Crisis The world is running out of uranium and nobody seems to have noticed.) Mining uranium requires oil for the mining, refining and transport. Running a nuclear power plant takes oil (including diesel backup), parts, maintenance, etc. Most nuclear plants in the US are within a decade of the original expected decommission date. Decommissioning costs about $800 million these days – translate that into energy to decommission and well it isn’t going to happen once collapse is underway.

    “NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Half of the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors are over 30 years old, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most of the remaining reactors are at least 20 years old.

    Originally granted licenses to operate for 40 years, most of the country’s reactors have applied for a 20-year extension. Sixty-two extensions have been granted so far, and 20 are still pending, according to the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute.”

  34. Kevin Moore Says:

    Guy. I know I am stating the obvious but every day that passes the globalised economic system and all our political intitutions push us further and further away from an economy of Earth. They dig a deeper and deeper ecological hole for everyone by the second.

    John Rember. You wrote: ‘It’s easy to imagine a kind of long Spartan/North Korean decline over the next thousand years or so, where the local nuclear power-plant is the castle and the church, the military becomes an hereditary caste, and incredible ingenuity and sacrifice is exercised by slave-technicians to keep things going.’

    Unless my understanding of climate systems is completely wrong (alomg with almost everything I have read over the past decade) the Earth is on track for ecological meltdown by the middle of this century, if not before. The CO2 content of the atmosphere is now over 390ppm (110ppm above what it ought to be), and is rising rapidly, despite the never-ending economic deression having commenced in many parts of the world. The stable climate systems that permitted civilisation to emerge are on the cusp of disappearing for a very long time. Add to that factor the ‘death of the oceans’ via acidification and ‘choking’ with the waste of industrial civlisation.

    The idea that humans might migrate away from parched regions and live in Canada, Siberia, Patagonia etc. may not work out too well, bearing in mind that much of Russia was ‘baking hot’ and lost 1/4 of its grain harvest a couple of years ago but recently people have been freezing to death.

    The prognosis does not look good for humanity surviving more than another century, with or without nuclear reactors. On the other hand, those of us looking forward to some kind of orderly dismantling of present arrrangements are constantly disappointed because we are governed by psychotic sociopaths who will do anything to preserve their present elitist positions.

  35. john rember Says:

    Kathy and Kevin:

    I know there are a lot of jokers in the deck, but don’t discount the capacity for ingenious, if makeshift solutions using scraps and waste products and patches in a full-on salvage economy. I doubt very much if the lack of an NRC license is going to worry people trying to keep the electricity going and their crops uncontaminated in a world without an NRC. Much of what can go wrong with an aging nuclear reactor–including a shortage of fuel–can be fixed if you discount the safety of the people who have to fix it. Chernobyl and Fukushima already have their martyrs, and if the alternative is the destruction of the surrounding ten thousand square miles, I have no doubt there would be volunteers that might be drawn from the ranks of the unemployed if their families were guaranteed sustenance. My point is that nuclear reactors are holding humanity hostage–they have a life of their own and we have to do what is necessary to maintain them or die [prematurely, I should say].

    I think that technological civilization will survive climate extremes short of the northern tundra turning into a giant methane bomb or a new ice age. There are islands of stability in any chaotic system, and at least one geological era of high C02 [when Pangaea stretched from pole to pole] of monotonous, if hot, stability. So we could be in a punctuation moment of punctuated climate equilibrium.

    The people who look like psychotic sociopaths have simply cast their lot with this semi-sentient and divinely powerful thing we’ve created–I think the original Matrix movie detailed the moment of species betrayal quite well along with the absolute artificiality of anything that hits our senses these days.

    If you look at the official U.S. military prognoses of the Vietnam War circa 1965-67, you’ll see something very much like your description of what’s about to happen to our planet. But the collapse of Vietnam didn’t happen, in spite of conditions far worse than what are forecast for this country in the next fifty years.

    Humans are capable of almost any sacrifice as long as they think they’re serving a cause bigger than themselves. Most people who serve corporations, militaries, or religions feel that way. [Turboguy!, help me out here.] If you want to grasp the future, I think you have to think like a corporation or military or religion, not like a human being.

    My favorite example along these lines is the young vice-president of Dow Chemical who drank a cup of 2,4-D on national television during the height of the Agent Orange controversy. I often wonder what it would have been like to have been one of his kids, especially if I came along a year or so later.

  36. Jan Steinman Says:

    Victor claims “Hierarchies are a fundamental part of the natural order of things… a good hierarchical structure would be far more stable and long-lasting than a good anarchist structure because we wouldn’t be fighting constantly against our own nature.”

    And yet, this seems to be the current zeitgeist rather than some universal truth.

    HT Odum taught us that complexity is a function of energy. This is reflected in the natural world, as there are many more species at the energy-rich equator than there are in arctic or alpine biomes.

    But an interesting adjunct to this is that competition is a function of energy, as well. In high-energy environments, competition is dominant. Equatorial biomes contain numerous species per ecological niche, and individual species tend to be competitive within themselves.

    But in low-energy environments, cooperation dominates. In an arctic biome, you may have just two species of flying predator — and even then, they split up the trophic supply temporally, as the Rough-Legged Hawk and Snowy Owl divide up the lemmings by day and night.

    There’s no denying a hierarchy is a competitive environment. Oh, it may seem like cooperation to willfully submit to a boss, but we all know that only lasts until the boss shows some weakness that can be exploited by those under him.

    There’s also no denying a hierarchy is more complex than a flat network. Communication must travel up and down through multiple levels — people who need to talk to each other are often stifled by having to “get approval.” Hierarchy is more complex than anarchy the same way that a seemingly simple 1,000 acre monoculture field is more complex than a patchwork of much smaller farms — the complexity is hidden in the necessary externalities that must exist to support the huge industrial farm.

    On the other hand, anarchy is by its very definition, “without rulers,” cooperative. Note that this is very different from “without rules!” There is actually less fighting in a functional anarchy because everyone buys into the rules without having them imposed upon them.

    So in a low-energy future, I think anarchy trumps hierarchy. It is self-organizing, so it lacks the energy-hungry aspects of complexity and competition that are a requirement of hierarchy.

    Sure, there will continue to be “bosses” in a low-energy future. But there will be a lot fewer of them, and the hierarchies that manage to survive will be much flatter. And anarchy will spring up in all the gaps where hierarchy fails.

  37. the virgin terry Says:

    tsdh, as a matter of fact that movie i mentioned yesterday, WHAT A WAY TO GO, (which incidentally is the production of occasional nbl posters tim bennett and sally erickson and is by far the best ‘doomer’ documentary film i’ve yet seen) does have a section devoted to examining the rise of civilization and it’s attendant ills, a very good if brief section. here’s the film’s website, tim and sally’s website:

    http://www.whatawaytogomovie.com/

    it’s worth a look, as is the movie if u haven’t seen it yet. it’s been out about 5 years. here’s some words of sally from the website:

    Filmmaker’s Statement
    “Since the early 1970′s I knew something was wrong with how we were living. Years of psychotherapy, involvement in building and living in an intentional community, and a variety of spiritual practices allowed me to create a life largely outside the mainstream. After twenty years as a psychotherapist and with my children grown, I realized that I had an itch to do something more than alleviate the suffering of individuals in my private practice. There was something bigger, much bigger, that needed to be addressed.

    And then I met Tim Bennett who told me he wanted to make a documentary about how we are destroying the planet, what that’s doing to us, and why nobody’s talking about it.

    Over the last seven years we joined forces, both personally and professionally, to offer a wake-up call. The human species is teetering on the edge of extinction. It’s time to start talking about that. It is my intention that What A Way To Go provoke lengthy dialogue about what is most pressing at this time in human history. Will we choose to create ways for humans to inhabit the earth that regenerate and renew the life-support systems we depend on?”

  38. Victor Says:

    Andrew

    I agree with most of what you say, and I am well aware that anarchists for the most part advocate an environment which is composed of small populations. Indeed, there is a rather simple reason for that position – large populations cannot handle anarchism, for several reasons. My statement is primarily premised upon a population 7 billion people. In such an environment neither anarchy nor ‘democracy’ can properly function as complexity trumps individual freedom.

    A good hierarchical structure is what we have been living under since they signed the Constitution. From that point to now is the period that I think all readers of Guy know as “when it all went wrong.”

    This is true statement. But it misses the point I was making. I have never stated that hierarchical structure results are either ‘good’ or ‘rational’ or ‘forward-thinking’, only that the structure is inevitable given the nature of our species. That said, there is also nothing to say that a hierarchical structure is by nature ‘evil’, or irrational’ or ‘generationally selfish’. The Iroquois tribes of North America are excellent examples of a democratic confederation of tribes and a hierarchical tribal structure in which the tribe was ruled by councils of wise men and wise women. Their system lasted for thousands of years (until we came along and wiped them out with our version of hierarchy) – not bad, if you ask me.

    I can’t get around this nagging feeling that you are arguing for the continuation of The United States of Authority.

    Not really. I believe that a world of 7 billion people is unsustainable, and that within 50 years, we will see just how unsustainable it is. But as we approach that end, I am saying that the tendency for all human societies will be to coalesce around rigid hierarchical systems of an authoritarian nature in acts of self-survival. Their natural tendency during this period will not be to gravitate towards anarchy. I am not advocating this position – only stating it as a matter of speculation as to how things will evolve.

    And during the great die-off, people will again gravitate towards their natural tendencies to create small, local survivalist hierarchies – some of which will be well-thought out and led by leaders of vision, and some will turn wild and irrational led by alpha males whose sole purpose is mayhem and destruction, and then there will be many hierarchies between those extremes.

    My bet is, however, that in the ensuing years we have left on this planet, we will witness very few, if any, anarchic societies evolve.

    There is nearly always hierarchy involved. It does not have to be a multi-layered hierarchy: it can be quite flat. But hierarchy it is.

  39. Victor Says:

    Jan

    I strongly agree with Odum and yourself that complexity is a function of energy. A high energy society will most likely result in a complex hierarchical structure. Yet this does not in any way preclude the statement that hierarchies are our natural tendency. They may, as you imply, be relatively simple hierarchies, and very flat, but they are hierarchies nevertheless.

    So in a low-energy future, I think anarchy trumps hierarchy. It is self-organizing, so it lacks the energy-hungry aspects of complexity and competition that are a requirement of hierarchy.

    We shall see soon enough if anarchy will trump hierarchy. If I understand what you are saying here, I must disagree that anarchy is ‘self-organising’ as if it arises naturally of its own. However, if you are saying that anarchy is self-organising as a result of purposeful design, then I would agree. But if you are saying that the tendency of human society in an increasingly low-energy world will be to fall into a group of anarchic societies spread across the globe as we lose available energy and can no longer maintain a globalised society, then I must disagree and state that the history of humanity will not support this thesis.

    Sure, there will continue to be “bosses” in a low-energy future. But there will be a lot fewer of them, and the hierarchies that manage to survive will be much flatter. And anarchy will spring up in all the gaps where hierarchy fails.

    A hierarchy is a hierarchy – large or small, complex or simple. You can’t have it both ways.

    And I would say quite the opposite – where anarchy fails, hierarchies will rise. (I’m certain there will be someone out there who tries to devise an anarchic society during this period)

    But I would also pose that such speculation in the end is of limited use in the face of climate change that will likely render this world uninhabitable by humans within a hundred years or so.

  40. Victor Says:

    John Rember

    My point is that nuclear reactors are holding humanity hostage–they have a life of their own and we have to do what is necessary to maintain them or die [prematurely, I should say].

    You are absolutely correct. The choice is just that simple. However, the position of many on this site is that we will not have the wherewithal to maintain them in the end. And since we, as a global society, refuse to recognise that industrial civilisation is unsustainable, that global warming is out of control, that natural resources will not last forever and that the ingenuity of the human can’t fix everything, then we can expect little change in industrial society even beyond the point of Collapse.

    This means, of course, that nuclear power plants will continue to be operated and maintained just as they always have until it is too late. What is too late? It is that point that population die-off, industrial collapse and the global supply chain can no longer maintain these plants – at which point, the plants will be abandoned and proceed to quickly degrade and cause untold damage across the world.

    If you look at the official U.S. military prognoses of the Vietnam War circa 1965-67, you’ll see something very much like your description of what’s about to happen to our planet. But the collapse of Vietnam didn’t happen, in spite of conditions far worse than what are forecast for this country in the next fifty years.

    What is to happen in the next fifty years or so is nothing at all in any way like what happened to Vietnam in its time of troubles with the US, with the possible exception of the damage incurred to their habitat and infrastructure during that war. The Vietnamese still had a viable and hard-working population left. They had natural resources to fall back on and help to rebuild their society. They had sources of energy to maintain their cities, their educational institutions, their hospitals. Their government was intact. And they were left with the energising pride of a people who have won a true ‘David and Goliath’ moment. They had the energy, the people and the wherewithal to repair their country after it was all over, and indeed even prosper.

    The world coming will in no way look like that. We will run short of necessary resources. We will not have the capital to invest in new efforts. Energy will be scarce and expensive. Whole populations will die off, leaving countries and organisations without the knowledge and skills to keep things going. The electric grids of each nation will ultimately fail as they cannot be maintained due to lack of economic feasibility and a collapsing global supply chain. Global warming will render most of the world uninhabitable. The lands towards the poles will not necessarily contain arable soil as much of it is rocky or marsh-like peat bogs once melted. (James Lovelock posits that the most likely remaining places of hope for humanity will be New Zealand and the UK. I think he is being optimistic.) Whole oceans will be emptied of sea-life due to over-fishing, pollution, warming and acidification. Whole populations of creatures and plants and their dependent ecological networks that support each other will fail, breaking much of the food chain. The world will be faced with an rapidly-changing and unpredictable climate changing so fast that the ecological economies dependent upon it will have neither the time nor the means to suitably adapt as they have in ages past.

    What people fail to understand today is that the global warming tipping points have already been reached and passed. It is now a process with a life of its own. We humans no longer possess the means to reverse the process even if it could be – which it can’t.

    Once modern human infrastructure collapses, there will be no coming back. Only limited and local re-cycling will be possible as the forging of new tools from old ones will likely be small-scale due to lack of the energy, resources specialised tools and skills necessary to support re-forging of metals, extraction of new metals and minerals, and the reprocessing of various waste materials back into usable forms.

    Not like Vietnam at all, I’m afraid.

  41. Kathy C Says:

    John you wrote ” know there are a lot of jokers in the deck, but don’t discount the capacity for ingenious, if makeshift solutions using scraps and waste products and patches in a full-on salvage economy. I doubt very much if the lack of an NRC license is going to worry people trying to keep the electricity going and their crops uncontaminated in a world without an NRC.” You are not the first to use the ingenuity argument. I don’t find it valid as it 1. has been proven false in many instances and 2. is being used in an instance unlike any that humans have faced before.

    The Incans were a highly ingenious civilization, yet when they failed they abandoned their cities and pyramids. The Mesopotamians were ingenious enough to provide large scale irrigation, yet when that irrigation caused the salting of their soils they were unable to cope and their civilization collapsed.

    The Russians were ingenious enough to build nuclear weapons and plants successfully yet and when Chernobyl blew they called upon their people for sacrifice. Liquisdators were called upon to do on a mission to clear radioactive debris, in one situation so radioactive that they each had 1 minute alloted to do the work. I’m not sure how voluntary the service was. http://www.belarusguide.com/chernobyl1/liquidators.htm The result was that with all its vast resources the Russians built a sarcophagus over the damn mess and that is now in need of replacement but not getting replaced.

    The Japanese are certainly resourceful and ingenious and yet Fukushima is still not controlled.

    Yes post collapse people will be ingenious – but without resources some problems will be way to big to handle. While not about a post collapse world Thomas Homer-Dixon addresses the problem of ingenuity in increasing complexity “The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable World”. If complexity is already running ahead of our ingenuity to solve problems, it will certainly be unable to deal with nuclear meltdowns post collapse. Tainter in fact puts complexity at the heart of civilization collapse. A nuclear facility will need not just a dedicated bunch of humans at the site to be ingenious, but also viable transportation and numerous other bunch of humans to ingeniously still mine and refine ore, make replacement parts, make safety wear, etc.

    No, if any humans survive they will ingeniously use local remnants of civilization to make crude tools.

  42. Guy McPherson Says:

    I bring your attention to a new CLASSIFIED ad from our own Jan Steinman. It’s the first one at this link.

  43. john rember Says:

    Victor and Kathy:

    I’m not arguing that civilization won’t collapse. I’m arguing that the remnants of this civilization will allow our technologies to continue long beyond the cut-off of new energies and resources. Call it the Age of Salvage. Give it a thousand years of careful near-starvation before it runs out of stuff. Sparta lasted hundreds of years longer than the other Greek city-states because it forced its institutions and people into a rigid husbanding of resources.

    Implicit in this scenario is a die-off, after which a tenth or a hundredth or even a thousandth of our seven billion survive to feed off the remnants of the industrial age. As said, I have faith in our ability to keep the machines going, and the reason I’m not the first to use the ingenuity argument is because a lot of people have thought it over and decided it has some merit.

    People improvise in a crisis, and a loss of complexity isn’t a death sentence. Sometimes a simpler way of doing things results in energy and resource savings and gets better results. Industrial lore is full of stories about the factory worker who sees a simpler and better way of doing things and saves his corporation millions.

    But by and large, the last 150 years or so we’ve dedicated our genius to making things more complex and energy intensive. That’s the intellectual climate we’ve marinated in, and Tainter and others have pointed out that you cannot go in that direction forever. I accept that, but believe that there is unexplored territory in the opposite direction, particularly if you’ve got three hundred years of industrial artifacts and algorithms to be repurposed.

    I don’t know for certain that nuclear plants will survive the die-off, but I can envision a scenario where they are mothballed and their cooling ponds made more secure. It’s ironic, but the communities around nuclear power plants might still be functioning a few years after everything else has gone to pieces. They would have time to react, and they would have local electricity, which will have a high value in a post-collapse world. So I can see all sorts of people pitching in to keep them running.

    I may be making too much of the Vietnamese example, but it seems if a powerful military is dumping bombs on you and poisoning your crops for ten years, climate change and resource depletion and complexity aren’t going to seem like your biggest problems.

    I come from a Mormon state, and while I’m not a Mormon myself, I’ve studied the Church and its social organization. Over its history, the Mormon Church has functioned as a religion, a corporation, and a military, much like the Vietnamese Communist Party. It has high morale, a David versus Goliath attitude, and a faith in its future, and right now it’s poised to go after the presidency of the United States. It’s far along in its preparations for the collapse of civilization, and has consciously set up simple societal rules for post-collapse society.

    So I’m seeing more similarities between the present and the Vietnamese experience than I might if I lived among apocalyptic Southern Baptists. And I’m very nice to those bright, well-dressed young men on bicycles when they come to my door.

  44. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    http://www.countercurrents.org/salmony270112.htm

    Human Beings With Feet of Clay And Self-Proclaimed
    Masters of the Universe

    By Steven Earl Salmony

    27 January, 2012
    Countercurrents.org

    Humankind could soon come face to face with an incredible and unprecedented situation. We are spectacularly successful at doing something potentially ruinous of all we claim to be protecting and preserving as we ever more rampantly increase our exploitation of natural resources and continually increase our food production and distribution capabilities. Stupidly we hold fast to a wicked idea that, if we do not do these things, a catastrophe will follow. This upside down, deluded thinking is leading us to risk the precipitation of a colossal disaster of some unimaginable sort. The continuous plunder of limited resources and conversion of biomass into human mass, including the continual increase of food production to feed a growing population, are precisely what is causing humanity to charge down a “primrose path’ toward an unfolding confrontation with a global, human-driven ecological wreckage.

    Perhaps we need to invite one another to listen more, see farther on a clear day, and communicate better. Thanks to all in the Circle of Friends and the Royal Society’s People and the Planet Working Group for being now here just as you are. We are going to make a difference. Like all of you, I do not have answers, but not having answers cannot be used as a ‘justification’ by population professionals, demographers and economists on our watch for ceasing their explorations and denying extant scientific research. Scientists cannot consciously and deliberately deny evidence of what could somehow be real. All these unwitting experts must be called out. If foolhardy experts and their greedmongering benefactors are ultimately victorious in their elective mutism and willful denial of science, what is to keep silence from killing the world we inhabit? If ‘the ninety-nine percent’ are denying the human overpopulation of Earth, then 0.99% of the remaining 1% are in denial of the science of human population dynamics, I suppose. These circumstances are intolerable and cannot stand. As a growing number of scientists are making all of us aware, a way needs to be discovered and chosen that effectively communicates an adequate understanding of the profoundly dangerous situation in which the human community finds itself in our time. As Paul Ehrlich reported last year, “Everybody who understands the situation is scared witless.” That as it may be, experts need to gather their wits about them because they still have responsibilities to assume and duties to perform. After all, we live by our wits not witlessness; moral courage not fear; and by adapting to the requirements of reality rather than putting our heads in the sand. Somehow the vision, the honesty, the judgement, the pluck, the will and the means will be summoned by human beings with feet of clay to acknowledge, address and overcome the human-induced global challenges that are already dimly visible on the far horizon. Otherwise the greed of self-proclaimed masters of the universe and the witlessness of their minions, who together rule the world on our watch, will certainly bring about its ruin as a fit place for human habitation.

    In all the seriousness and gravity of what could be true, never in a lifetime did I expect to see a situation like the global predicament looming ominously before humanity. Although my eyes were open during the first 50 years of life, I did not for a split second catch sight, even through a glass darkly, of the awesome big picture: the global predicament that is given its shape in the gigantic presence of seven billion, soon to become 9 billion human beings ravaging a finite planet with size, composition and frangible environs of Earth. The sight of something so awesome left me initially thunderstruck and later on incessantly compelled to speak out as I have for years. Perhaps speaking out about what is true to you as best it can be expressed and thereby raising awareness, is at least one distinctly human way to go forward.

  45. Kathy C Says:

    John,
    I am only addressing your comments on nuclear power plants, not other technologies. If humans survive at all they will put what ingenuity they have to use as they have in the past. Some technologies they might be able to keep going for a while, but Nuclear Power Plants require far to many other technologies to be functioning well, and require a stable world order where materials can be shipped from far away places. Nuclear Power plants have siting needs. To my knowledge none are situated near uranium mines. They will have to be shut down and decommissioned.

    There are 104 nuclear plants in the US. Wiki says that $325 million is average cost each to decommission is representative of the difficulty and time and energy required we are talking $33 billion of time and energy to hopefully put them to bed safely (we still haven’t even safely stored all the waste created to date) Some of the plants already decommissioned have been put in Safe Storage (Safe Enclosure (or Safestor(e) SAFSTOR): This option postpones the final removal of controls for a longer period, usually in the order of 40 to 60 years. The facility is placed into a safe storage configuration until the eventual dismantling and decontamination activities occur.) Those will also have to have a final solution at some point. One site says that the process takes at least 5 years.

    Frankly if we had any sense we would decommission them ALL now while we have access to the resources needed to do the job. These are going to be beyond the abilities of the local communities. This would give humans a better chance of survival as a species. We would also stop burning all carbon NOW for the same reason – IF we had any sense. Nuclear power plant meltdown will happen in 104 places in the US because we cannot as a species act any other way than the way we are acting.

    Guy posted an article above that explains it – he wrote “George Mobus addresses the issue of too-clever-by-half Homo sapiens in yesterday’s essay, titled, “What is a Smart Species Like Us Doing in a Predicament Like This?” It’s about a book called Too Smart for our Own Good.” http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2012/02/what-is-a-smart-species-like-us-doing-in-a-predicament-like-this.html

    We have solved ourselves into ever bigger problems and as ingenious as we are we have solved ourselves into the mother of all problems. We have created a world that is globally connected and where the most sophisticated and ingenious people turn out to be the most dependent on that web as indicated by the panic they feel when the power goes out :) And well they should fear, for when the grid goes down it all comes down.

  46. Kevin Moore Says:

    John. Human ingenuity cannot alter the laws of chemistry and physics.

    Steel structures rust. That is especially true of pipes carrying water or steam. Preventing or slowing down corrosion is a multi-billion dollar business which is dependent on complex systems -everything from water testing to the supply of corrosion inhibitors. Cracked or corroded components need to be replaced.

    As Guy has pointed out on numerous occasions, a multi-degree hotter planet later this century is a near certainty. The thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of ice on Greenland and elsewhere will raise the sea level by anything up to 60 metres. That will put the majority of nuclear plants well under water.

    I find the idea of pockets of high-level industrial civilisation surviving for 1,000 years absurd.

  47. Resa Says:

    Ahh, Kathy, I had to chuckle when I read your: “We have created a world that is globally connected and where the most sophisticated and ingenious people turn out to be the most dependent on that web as indicated by the panic they feel when the power goes out. And well they should fear, for when the grid goes down it all comes down.”

    I respectfully disagree.

    You may fail when the grid goes down and flop around like a chicken with its head cut off, but many of those so-called “sophisticated and ingenious people” will not.

    I dare say, they won’t panic near as much as you think they will either.

    John’s right. “People improvise in a crisis, and a loss of complexity isn’t a death sentence.”

    Heck, most of what gets a person through one day and into the next doesn’t come close to being rocket science.

    And newsflash, those “sophisticated and ingenious people” you refer to are a whole lot more ingenious and a whole lot less sophisticated than you reckon. Most are downright crude and “Improvise” is their middle name.

  48. Kathy C Says:

    Mid winter – Carrington type event solar flare (or Russian EMP attack) takes down the whole US grid, frying our transformers which there are 300 in the US and they are mostly not made in the US and are on backorder already. Gasoline cannot be pumped and despite ingenious people using what hand pumps can be found, the fleet of trucks that carry our food to stores mostly aren’t running. Three days on and people in the cities are panicking (not a worry for you Resa as you have already in a post sometime back discounted those humans as anyone to worry about). Nuclear power workers have turned on the diesel engines and gone into shutdown, but 8 days later the diesel is out and the plant and fuel pools start heating up. Knowing their families are without food most of the workers have abandoned ship and tried to get home.

    But not to worry, Resa and other ingenious folks in the rurual areas have mounted their horses and come to the rescue and are pumping the water by hand to keep the reactors and fuel ponds cool. In the end they realize the power is not coming back on and they cannot with hand pumps keep this going forever. They mount their trusty steeds, and return to farm and family where they mount the ramparts to kill any and all the hungry folks now headed their way.

    Kathy however has seen the future and being a weak willed, non-ingenious Cassandra has slit her throat and her body flops a few times like a chicken with its head cut off. Resa gloats…..

  49. Victor Says:

    Heck, most of what gets a person through one day and into the next doesn’t come close to being rocket science.

    Of course…. ;-)

    If by ‘a person’, we are talking about one of 7 billion folks on the planet, most of whom live in cities, let’s take a quick survey of a typical urban dweller.

    Shelter from day to day: Built with modern tools by someone other than ‘a person’, and furnished with goods that ‘a person’ has no skills to build themselves – washing machines, refrigerator, indoor plumbing, electrical wiring and connections to the outside (assuming electricity is still available), etc. If something breaks down day to day, then it has to be fixed by someone with the skills to do it.

    Energy: Electricity (actually not energy but a carrier of energy), petrol (gasoline) for the auto (if in possession of one, or for mass transport if bus is used instead), natural gas for cooking and heat – all of which comes from external sources at high risk in a collapsed industrial society

    Food: most people know little or nothing about growing their own food, processing it, preserving it, storing it, or regenerating it. Indeed, in Western countries today, many people don’t even know how to cook, and most are convinced that food comes from the supermarket.

    Water: Most water, even in rural areas is filtered, treated and pumped to ‘a person’s’ home. Ask that person to provide their own water and their eyes would glaze over.

    Heat: Provided via machinery in the home to take care of accepting gas/electricity from the outside and converting it to heat for distribution in the home. Ask the person to replace this machinery with something of their ow making and they wouldn’t even know where to start. And if they started with the obvious – going out to collect wood and whatever else would burn – they would join a million other folks doing the same. How long would the surrounding environment last in such a situation?

    Medical care: ‘A person’ would have to hope that getting from one day to the next would not involve the need for medicine or professional medical care or equipment.

    Waste: Ask ‘a person’ to get rid of their toilet services and what would they replace with? They would end up going on walks with the dog, I fear, assuming he hasn’t eaten the dog yet. A city of people would create quite a pile, eh?

    Point: ‘A person’ in a modern industrial economy relies for their life upon modern industry – industry that is collapsing in the future.

  50. Victor Says:

    Kathy

    LOL… :-)

  51. Kathy C Says:

    But to finish my tale. Having finished washing our weekly load of clothes in my James Hand Washer (the handle broke several times so I now use a plunger)I can continue. Resa so distracted by gloating over the flopping headless Kathy, fails to see the rabid bat and gets bit. Modern medicine no longer available, she dies as people did in the past, frothing at the mouth, ingenuity 0, virus 1.

  52. Kathy C Says:

    Now on the serious side, Resa, I admire your knowledge and skills. I admire how resourceful and hard working you are. I am sure if humans survive global warming you and your kin are likely to be among the survivors. However I ask you to note that I wash clothes by hand, have put in a hand pump in a drilled well, have stockpiled saws and cut our firewood by hand, I have stockpiled salt and soap and matches. I have a garden whose soil I have enriched greatly, I have tools and do all my gardening by hand without power equipment. I am not the most prepared – I have only made soap once in my life and that with commercial lye not wood ash lye. I haven’t learned to start a fire with sticks. Without my car I only have my two legs for transport. But I am way ahead of my neighbors, yet come the crash I don’t intend to kill them but share what I have and we can make it or not together. I figure our 800 square foot house could sleep at least 16 extra people and with those extra hands cutting enough wood by hand will be feasible.

    Please feel free to disagree with my posts. Please refrain from personal attacks and I will stop with giving sarcastic replies. I will not flop around like a chicken with my head cut off when the grid goes down. But I don’t expect to be able to run over to Brown’s Ferry and decommission the nuclear plant there.

  53. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Two recent events give us a clue (only just) of what collapse will look like, particularly if collapse is sudden.

    First is the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Take New Orleans and multiply by 7,000 and you get a taste of the chaos. The only reason that it wasn’t worse was due to all the help from the outside – in spite of “Brownie’s” good work. When there is no help from outside coming, I’m afraid the situation will be catastrophic.

    The second is a personal account of South Florida following a different recent hurricane. It didn’t make the news because it wasn’t flashy and exciting enough, but a dear friend of mine lived it and gave a personal account. Following the hurricane, the upscale neighborhood where my friend lives was without power (so were the less “fortunate” neighbors — how dare they include such a prestigious zip code with the likes of “those”! — but I digress). He reports that for more than a week there was sewer floating in the streets (no electricity to power the pumps). Since there was no electricity, the open windows allowed the smell to permeate everything. The hotels which had electricity were all booked so he couldn’t go anywhere and still make it to work. He had to “shower” in the bathroom at his office. The closest grocery store which had power was a 20 minute drive away and was routinely out of staples since its business increased 10 fold. Ditto with gas stations. The power outage persisted for 2 weeks. Fortunately, they never lost water but did have to boil all water that was used for drinking. As his power was out and his electric stove didn’t work, he had to buy bottled water. This event affected a relatively small area of about 100,000 people in a megalopolis of about 8 million. You can imagine the chaos if the entire area had been affected.

    Both of these events demonstrate just how fragile our society is. We can cope for a while, as long as we don’t lose all services and we have some help from the outside. But if either of those isn’t true, then, as my friend experienced, he was literally up shit creek with no paddle.

    I’ve been in similar situations and while I appreciate the faith that some of you have in the resilience of our fellows, I am not so bullish. I’ve seen firsthand how many really dumb clueless people there are out there. I feel confident that the vast majority of people will not fare well at all with collapse.

  54. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    @Victor: Food: most people know little or nothing about growing their own food, processing it, preserving it, storing it, or regenerating it. Indeed, in Western countries today, many people don’t even know how to cook, and most are convinced that food comes from the supermarket.

    I’ve been working on growing, processing, and storing my own food without using anything produced by the industrial economy for two years now and still 99% of what we eat comes from the grocery store. Very very few have any idea of just how difficult it is to grow what you eat – and the amount of time and effort it requires. True, there are quite a few gardens in my area which generate a fair proportion of what that family eats. But take away their “roto-tiller”, their fertilizer, their treated seeds purchased from across the country, their pesticides, their refrigerators, their freezers, their electric or gas stoves, their ready supply of mason jars, in other words, take away everything made possible by the industrial economy, and these folks would starve just as quickly as their urban counterparts.

  55. Kathy C Says:

    Victor “Waste: Ask ‘a person’ to get rid of their toilet services and what would they replace with? They would end up going on walks with the dog, I fear, assuming he hasn’t eaten the dog yet. A city of people would create quite a pile, eh?”

    Oh I love that image – folks going out on a walk with the dog so they can deposit their feces on someone else’s lawn. I know people think my husband and I are weird (or worse) to have a 5 gal bucket humanure system and in fact I don’t dare tell most people. But besides collecting waste without the odors of an outhouse, it returns to the garden the nutrients we have eaten.

    Anyone who hasn’t read about the simple non smelly way of collecting and composting human feces can buy the book or read it on line at http://weblife.org/humanure/

  56. Robni Datta Says:

    Warren Edward Potlock Interviews James Howard Kunstler about the coming societal changes.

  57. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘Kathy however has seen the future and being a weak willed, non-ingenious Cassandra has slit her throat and her body flops a few times like a chicken with its head cut off. Resa gloats…..’

    my first laugh of the day. thanks, kath. your comment re. humanure reminded me of my sister’s reaction this past year when she visited and saw my own 5 gal. bucket of waste in the bathroom. ah, well, her contempt/disgust for the way i live simply matches the contempt/disgust i have for her mainstream clueless entitled way, which when multiplied several million times spells eco-disaster now and into the ‘foreseeable future’ (essentially forever). one thing i have to get better at is remembering to always put a loose lid on the bucket when not in use. occasionally i still forget, get settled down somewhere swaddled in blankets for warmth, and with an undistracted mind am suddenly reminded by the smell of my misdeed. a minor pain in the ass…

    it’s another fine sunny non-winter-like mid-winter day in upstate ny. time to go outside and warm up in the sunshine.

  58. Kathy C Says:

    Thank TVT – warm here too. My daily check of degrees above normal convinces me that I am not imagining how much warmer this winter has been than usual and how much of the US is regularly way above or below normal – North Dakota, Montana region seems to have see sawed on the above below more than the rest of the US. Glad I am not trying to grow food there. Put in my edible pod peas early and they are up – have enough seed to plant again if we suddenly dive to below normal.

    http://www.weather.com/maps/maptype/currentweatherusnational/usdeparturefromnormalhighs_large.html?clip=undefined&region=undefined&collection=localwxforecast&presname=undefined

  59. john rember Says:

    Kevin:

    I grant that civilization itself is absurd, but it keeps on keeping on, like the Energizer Bunny. The slave has become the master.

    The first time I left Idaho I flew into Boston, and when I finally witnessed the fragile structure of cities and governments that my taken-for-granted civilization rested upon, I was convinced I was going to have to walk home. That was in 1969.

    Over the years I’ve been convinced that the end would come in 1972, 1980, 1989, 1998, and shortly after George W. Bush got elected. When the world survived his administration, I gave up on predicting when the die-off would come.

    Looking at this comment thread, I see plenty of evidence that people will sacrifice their lives and the lives of others to keep the electricity flowing, and I suggest–respectfully–that long before the oceans swamp the nuclear power plants, their fuel, and even their refinable waste, will have been moved to smaller nuclear power plants on barges, which are already in production.

    I deliberately chose nuclear energy as an extreme example, but it’s also an example that has the momentum of thousands of engineers and technicians behind it. I haven’t been a fan of nuclear power ever since visiting Idaho’s nuclear laboratory in high school and seeing how decayed and decrepit most of its reactors were. But I also came away seeing how much of what was trumpeted as cutting-edge technology was makeshift, stop-gap improvisation.

    I keep reading about Asperger’s victims who tear apart a case of smoke detectors to make their backyard reactors, so I imagine that people with a cooling pond full of spent fuel rods can work something up that will keep the neighborhood lights and pumps on.

    Put baldly, technological civilization does not need human civilization to live. It will outlast the civilization and the people that have given rise to it.

    Much of what has been written on this thread focuses on how bad the die-off will be. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and if you’re eagerly anticipating the other side of the bottleneck, you should recognize that between there and here lies physical death in most of our cases and psychological death in all our cases. Survival will be a matter of becoming a different animal.

  60. Resa Says:

    Victor and Kathy:

    Thanks for the cheery morning pick-me-up. Got my day started on the right track.

    Nope, I have no trusty steed to carry me to the closest melted-down nuclear plant. I do ride, however, so should an equine step hoof on my place, I do have a saddle to throw on its back and a bit to draw between its teeth. And yes, I’ll toss a hand pump on its back as well.

    But barring a wayward steed, I guess I’ll have to resort to my own two feet. After all, those are my ONLY two options. Sheesh!

    Kathy: Re: “However I ask you to note that I wash clothes by hand, have put in a hand pump in a drilled well, have stockpiled saws and cut our firewood by hand, I have stockpiled salt and soap and matches. I have a garden whose soil I have enriched greatly, I have tools and do all my gardening by hand without power equipment.”

    Kudos on your efforts (seriously), but what’s your point? You surely don’t think others are incapable of doing this, do you?

    BTW: My reference to the flopping headless chicken had little to do with you.

    It did have everything to do with Unhealthy Narcissism, however.

    What was it John wrote in his last essay? (And he thought no one paid attention …)

    Oh yeah, “After being ignored on life-and-death matters, I began to look at good old Unhealthy Narcissism, which is more common than the healthy kind. It comes about when you don’t respect the separate existence of other people. Instead you see them as personal extensions. The self, however poverty-stricken and shabby it might be, becomes the world … In its extreme form, it becomes indistinguishable from psychopathic character disorder, whose victims see other people only as victims.”

    I dare say too many have got that last part down in aces.

    Just saying, is all.

    But (again) (seriously) thanks for the chuckle with my morning cup of joe, which may eventually become whatever I can “mortar and pestle” out of the ground.

    Will I cry over the loss of coffee?

    Hell, no.

  61. Victor Says:

    Put baldly, technological civilization does not need human civilization to live. It will outlast the civilization and the people that have given rise to it.

    John

    You make some good points, esp re:predictions – we are awful with predictions. When someone turns out to make an accurate prediction, it is usually an accident. And I agree that people will sacrifice under the right conditions, and we have many, many resourceful and creative and ingenious folks out there. Can’t argue any of these points.

    But when it comes to technology, you really need to get a grip on what it takes to sustain technology at any level. And the main ingredient is people – and LOTS of them! Technology does not have a life of its own, neither is it today capable of creativity. It must be designed, built, and maintained by humans – at least at present.

    I have a theory which I have been developing in my mind for some years now that the level of technology possible is directly proportional to the number of people available to support it. And its corollary – the lower the population, the lower the level of technology possible, and the higher the population the higher the level of technological complexity that can be supported.

    Why? It is simple really, and I think rather obvious. More people means the possibility of more creativity, more manufacturing support, more maintenance support, more investment capability. It takes huge numbers (billions) to design, build, support and maintain our highly complex civilisation. If you lose the people, you lose the capital to keep it going and growing. You lose the the people needed to build new parts. You lose the people with the knowledge and skills to maintain that complexity. There are many, many examples of modern technology that simply cannot be stapled together to keep them running. They eventually need parts. They need knowledgeable people who know how to fix them. And current nuclear power plants are among the epitome of complexity. To think that a small group of folks could keep a reactor alive and under control in the face of a global meltdown of the supply chain is fantasy, to put it bluntly. And they usually do not sit around with huge supplies of spares either – if anything major goes wrong, they fly in the appropriate parts using our just-in-time global supply chain. Where are you going to get those parts when something goes wrong and you have but a relatively short time to fix it before your hair starts falling out and your eyes melt?

    Huge numbers of people support that global supply chain. Huge numbers! And lots more technology behind that as well! Today’s technological infrastructure is composed of layer after layer of people, parts and modern equipment to keep it all going.

    Suppose for example that your local nuclear power plant is supported by skilled folks from your local town and surrounding area. These people are like you – they have families, and human needs. If the food supply is cut off for an extended period of time – say, over 3 days… ;-) – those people and their families are going to start feeling it. And if starvation and disease starts setting in, most of the people who are in any way capable of supporting that power plant are going to be in deep, deep shit and start spending their precious time foraging for food and raiding their neighbours’ gardens, and taking care of their close ones as they weaken and fall to disease of some kind. And if there are only perhaps 4% of the people who work at that plant who have the knowledge and skills to keep it running under adverse conditions, and any of those folks are rendered MIA, then you better start running for the hills, ’cause ain’t nobody gonna stop that baby from blowin’.

    As for the possibility of ‘floating power plants’, don’t get your hopes up. that just makes the technology that much more complex, and therefore in need of that many more people to support it.

    In a period of serious population decline, technology will not be the answer as it will be among the first casualties. The resulting technological level will be one that can be supported by the population available. And the more localised our populations become under those circumstances, the greater the decline in available technology to meet people’s needs.

    Sorry, but if you are counting on technology to save the day, you and John Michael Greer will be waiting for the cargo ship that never arrives, as William Catton might say.

  62. Robni Datta Says:

    As a growing number of scientists are making all of us aware, a way needs to be discovered and chosen that effectively communicates an adequate understanding of the profoundly dangerous situation in which the human community finds itself in our time.

    There is no “need”, since Nature Bats Last, and has no interest in the mode of thaumaturgy pursued by modern states as advocated by Joseph Goebbels:

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    Somehow the vision, the honesty, the judgement, the pluck, the will and the means will be summoned by human beings with feet of clay to acknowledge, address and overcome the human-induced global challenges that are already dimly visible on the far horizon.

    The human beings who summon it will be far fewer in number, by some estimates an order of magnitude less – if the bottleneck is survived. 

    the greed of self-proclaimed masters of the universe and the witlessness of their minions, who together rule the world on our watch, will certainly bring about its ruin as a fit place for human habitation.

    Of equal or greater importance is the enabling effect of the rank-and-file of humanity due to the chasm between human cleverness and wisdom: its consequences include discounting the future, and the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing. 

  63. Kathy C Says:

    Dearest Resa you wrote “Ahh, Kathy, I had to chuckle when I read your: “We have created a world that is globally connected and where the most sophisticated and ingenious people turn out to be the most dependent on that web as indicated by the panic they feel when the power goes out. And well they should fear, for when the grid goes down it all comes down.”

    I respectfully disagree.

    You may fail when the grid goes down and flop around like a chicken with its head cut off, but many of those so-called “sophisticated and ingenious people” will not.”

    But then you write :”BTW: My reference to the flopping headless chicken had little to do with you.”

    If the headless chicken comment had little to do with me it should have been better phrased “One may fail” or “Some may fail”. Since there was no one else mentioned between the “ahh Kathy” and the headless chicken comment that starts with the word “you” who else could you be talking about, thus I was providing information that I am not quite in the flop around like a headless chicken category. Did you think I was bragging? I told you I admire your preparedness and skills. I know you are leagues ahead of me. I admire all that about you and said so.

  64. Resa Says:

    Kathy:

    My usage of “you” in “You may fail when the grid goes down and flop around like a chicken with its head cut off” was metaphorical.

    Granted (in full confession) I did suspect it would be taken personally as well. Those types of statements generally are. Whether intended or not.

    But getting back to my original comment, my point being, although “you” may flop around like a headless chicken when the grid goes down, others will express no panic whatsoever, especially the truly ingenious ones. Sophistication and comfort and money are not their top motivators. Neither are they much interested in consuming their neighbors.

    They’re inquisitive. They question incessantly. They embrace risk and change. They thrive on challenge. And (above all else) failure is acceptable, because there’s always another way to get the job done.

    Those people do exist. And there are more of them out there than you(and Victor) give credit for.

    You (and feel free to take this personally if you so choose) simply persist in focusing from a single perspective, that of a victim.

  65. Kathy C Says:

    My understanding of the proposition that Guy has presented over and over is that if we are to avoid extinction by climate change, industrial civilization must collapse in the very near future – not diminish – collapse.

    Nuclear fuel requires being mined and then refined and transported to nuclear power plants. Transportation requires roads or boats. Roads require maintenance and asphalt or concrete. I am not aware of dumptrucks and steam rollers that run on electricity over long distances. Refining ore creates waste that pollutes the land http://www.ratical.org/radiation/UraniumInNavLand.html Spent fuel requires cooling, final packaging for storage and transportation to that “safe” storage. All of that requires intact social and governmental systems. In the case of partial collapse where some things were kept going, all the safety and caution we currently provide (not very well) will be seen as using up valuable energy and caution will be thrown to the wind. To imagine keeping a nuclear industry going so we can keep having electricity (which humans have had for 1 tenth of a percent of their existence on planet earth) is insane.

    The only reasonable (Moral?) choice that humans can make is to immediately decommission ALL nuclear power plants so when that inevitable collapse comes we save some of the planet, not do it further harm. But if there is really such a thing as morals, we are an immoral species that fouls its own nest and that of the rest of the planet for what??? A vid I watched recently had this to say “all that is essential (to life) is being destroyed for the superfluous”. Somehow we have come to think of the superfluous as essential and the essential as something you buy at the grocery store.

    Civilizations always collapse if history is any guide. I am sure no one within a civilization is likely to predict it dead on (although Dimitry Orlov predicted correctly the collapse of the Soviet Union – and he like Guy is predicting the near collapse of industrial civ). Yet predicted correctly or not collapse happens. If Joseph Tainter (Collapse of Complex Societies) is correct it is in fact diminishing returns on increasing complexity that does civilizations in. We have topped all previous complexity due to finding a way to live off of the stored sunlight of the past ages (per Victor allowing us to support more people to support the technology that creates that complexity). That the returns are diminishing is reflected in the social chaos around the world. While Guy’s prediction of 2012 may be wrong, if anyone here thinks that the survival of our species is worthwhile, they should be hoping he is right and that it collapses irretrievably, sending us quickly back to the stone age and leaving us there.

  66. Tom Says:

    Hey everyone! Nice to read all the comments following a new Guy post (sure glad he’s still fightin’ the demons).
    i understand and admire the “prepper” mentality, but i’ve thought about this survival problem from every angle and can’t see any outcome but extinction for the human race in the near future. Sure some will survive for a brief period (maybe even a few more years), but with chaotic climate change in the mix it’s a stacked deck against us. Without potable water and a sustainable food supply we simply can’t live and both of those are in extreme jeopardy in the coming years.

    i sincerely hope i’m wrong and look forward to feeling like a complete doom-mongering fool.

  67. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘Thank TVT – warm here too. My daily check of degrees above normal convinces me that I am not imagining how much warmer this winter has been than usual and how much of the US is regularly way above or below normal – North Dakota, Montana region seems to have see sawed on the above below more than the rest of the US. Glad I am not trying to grow food there. Put in my edible pod peas early’

    it’s important to understand (if anything matters, that is) that our anomalous weather is not solely due to climate change, or even mostly. europe is having a very cold winter in contrast to us. it’s all related to bends in the jet stream and alterations in distant ocean currents like ‘el nina’ in the pacific. but there’s little doubt climate change is contributing to the extremity of this anomaly, and will likely grow much worse of course as time goes on. i’m not sure about most of the world becoming uninhabitable for humans by 2050. but i am very afraid this could happen some time later, like maybe 2100. of course in the long run what’s 50 years?

    btw, some of the coldest if not the coldest air so far this winter is forecast here this coming weekend. depending how far south it reaches, u might well need to re-plant your peas.

    ‘Over the years I’ve been convinced that the end would come in 1972, 1980, 1989, 1998, and shortly after George W. Bush got elected. When the world survived his administration, I gave up on predicting when the die-off would come.’ -john rember

    i never understand the basis for forming such precise predictions of sudden collapse. they strike me as nearly insane as predictions made by religious nuts re. the end of the world on such and such date.

    ‘I keep reading about Asperger’s victims who tear apart a case of smoke detectors to make their backyard reactors, so I imagine that people with a cooling pond full of spent fuel rods can work something up that will keep the neighborhood lights and pumps on.’ -more john

    whew! where’s this stuff coming from? not the john rember i thought i knew a little bit. this is crazy naive stuff, these ideas that someone can build a backyard nuclear reactor out of what, smoke detectors??????!!!!! i’m beginning to believe your grasp of technology is much over-rated in your own mind, john. definitely not your strong suit imo.

    resa, u’re beginning to remind me a lot of turboguy! kind of full of yourself, and wildly inconsistent in what u say, as u vacillate apparently between being offensive and trying to be conciliatory as with your recent comments at kathy. and your expressed confidence in the ability of some ‘ingenious’ sheople to shrug off collapse like a minor irritant is exactly like something i just saw while re-watching a portion of WHAT A WAY TO GO, that commonly held idea that SOMEHOW everything will turn out just fine. SOMEHOW those ‘ingenious’ sheople (no doubt u are one of them) will adapt successfully to runaway agw, resource depletion, wars, social breakdown, rampant crime from mobs of desperate sheople fighting for survival, pollution, eco-system collapse, etc. etc. etc. i highly doubt it, but hey, i guess i’m just one of the masses of sheople who think like ‘victims’ u figure to outlive.

  68. Resa Says:

    Well, “the virgin terry,” you’re reading extra into what I wrote.

    I never “expressed confidence in the ability of some ‘ingenious’ sheople to shrug off collapse like a minor irritant.” I said those people exist. I said they’re inquisitive. I said they embrace risk and change, and I said they don’t cringe at failure because (in their mind) there’s always another way to get the job done. And to be honest, in most cases, they’re correct. I also said that they’re less prone to panic in the face of grid down, which is what Kathy alluded to.

    As you can see, what you’re suggesting and what I’m saying are NOT the same thing.

    And, no, I don’t lump myself in with the ingenious. They’re definitely in a class of their own.

    But I do acknowledge and respect them. How they approach a problem and how they work it are phenomenal. Certainly none of this “been-there-done-that” back to the Stone Age brand of thinking. They move in one direction and that’s forward.

    Now how successful will they be? My guess is, they’ll win a few and they’ll lose a few. Not every invention and/or advance is a winner. It’s been like that since time began.

    So, no, I don’t live on hope. I do live in reality, however.

    And my reminding you of turboguy! Thanks for the compliment.

  69. john rember Says:

    Victor:
    I’m not waiting for technology to save the day. I’m waiting for salvation from technology.

    I think your thoughtful response advances the conversation–tying in our huge population with a working technology is an idea I’m going to have to look at. My first reaction, however, is that relatively few people are required to keep a technology going, and that you don’t have to know nuclear physics to work in a nuclear power plant. It’s probably better if you don’t.

    TVT: One of my strong points is laughing at my own jokes. Getting other people to understand my humor is not one of my strong points.

  70. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘And my reminding you of turboguy! Thanks for the compliment.’

    obviously that comment wasn’t meant to be taken as a compliment, but whatever. no one (or at least most sheople) likes to be a target of passionate criticism, including myself, so i’m glad, but also puzzled that u pick on kathy while going easy on me. i wonder if there’s a gender bias of some sort at work here, for although kathy points out (generally very well, imo) many practically insurmountable problems we’re about to face, i doubt anyone here is more inclined to pessimism than i, the author of a guest essay a while back proposing suicide as a consideration/solution to our predicament. plus kathy has been/is preparing practically much more effectively for collapse than i am, imo, so again it would seem that i would be a more logical candidate for the sort of criticism u’ve been dishing out to her.

    p.s. i guess u’ll take it badly if i now say that compared to tg! u fall far short of his obnoxiousness!

    ‘you don’t have to know nuclear physics to work in a nuclear power plant. It’s probably better if you don’t.

    TVT: One of my strong points is laughing at my own jokes’- j.r.

    certainly a specialized technician need not be a nuclear physicist to work in a nuc plant, but somebody involved with it’s operation (actually quite a few sheople) better know a lot of theory and facts required for the safe operation of such a difficult technology to do it properly. such sheople are fairly rare, and once collapse devolves into chaos, might not be around when needed to make critical operating decisions. perhaps this comment is another joke that i’m not getting?

  71. Victor Says:

    John

    I’m not waiting for technology to save the day. I’m waiting for salvation from technology.

    Excuse me? Unless I have grossly misunderstood what you just wrote, I am led to the conclusion that you just performed a masterful act of speaking from both sides of your mouth? Please explain this statement so I might stop the drool from escaping my open mouth?…. ;-)

    My first reaction, however, is that relatively few people are required to keep a technology going, and that you don’t have to know nuclear physics to work in a nuclear power plant.

    The second part I agree with, though with some reservation. There are technical skills required that do not involve nuclear physics at all, but nonetheless require expertise far beyond the cook in the plant cafeteria to keep the plant operationally safe. There may not be many of them, but they are of critical importance. Certainly, you are not suggesting that because the cook works in the plant, he can save the day when the technicians are no longer available?

    And surely you are not suggesting that when a highly technical and critical part starts breaking down, that the folks there can, using their massive ingenuity, reconstruct a spare part on the spot?

    High levels of technology require massive numbers of people – no way around that. I am convinced that if you delve into what is required for even one piece of equipment, say a computer, to remain a working component capable of contributing to the overall operation of the plant, or whatever else purpose it might have, you will quickly discover the numbers of people and supporting technologies required to keep it that way – everything from a global supply chain involving land/air/sea transport, manufacturing facilities, raw resource extraction, metal forging, component design and manufacture, lcd technology, communications technology, wiring and infrastructure technology, electronic storage technology, integrated circuit technology (graphics and main processors, etc.), back plane technologies for the more advanced computer architectures, satellite and cabling technologies required to communicate with the outside world or over a LAN, software engineering to supply and maintain the function of the operating system and the various applications that reside on the computer, sales and marketing and logistical services to communicate the availability of the computer itself along with its parts and supplies and technical support services.

    I could go on, but hopefully, you are getting the point. Huge numbers of people are involved in these supporting endeavours in order to both supply and maintain just one computer, a relatively minor component of a nuclear power plant, but without which the plant would likely be rendered inoperable.

    And that is just the production side of it all – getting the computer built, delivered and supported. In order to do all that there must be in place millions of consumers to purchase all these technologies and services in order to keep the costs down to an affordable range. This requires of course massive numbers of sales, creating economies of scale in virtually every area mentioned above. There have to be huge numbers of people ordering computers for the factories to stay in business. There have to be large numbers of orders for the shipping services to stay in business so that parts can be delivered. There have to be a viable market for the software and support services in order for software houses to stay in business.

    And behind all these manufacturing, service provisions, parts suppliers, and supply chain infrastructure are billions of people who are further supported by billions more people supplying food, water, medical services, housing, transport, heating/air conditioning, education, sports and entertainment, government services, and on and on in order to service and support these people’s families whilst they are supporting the modern global infrastructure.

    All this for one computer. And then you have all the other plant equipment!

    Economies of scale. THAT’S what drives modern technology. And without it, technology costs are far too great to support.

    And without billions of people, economies of scale are simply not possible – and neither is modern technology.

  72. Kevin Moore Says:

    As most of us know, Japan peaked economically around 1990 and was in slow decline until the Fukishima event, after which it has progressed to moderatel;y fast decline.

    After a relatively short boom based on immigration, speculative housing mass tourism and greenhouses, Spain peaked around 2008 and is in rapid decline; the reported general unemployment rate is 23% and for 16-24 year-olds it is over 50%. Portugal has been forced to pay in excess of 15% p.a. on the short term loans needed to prop up the economy. The Irish economy is shrinking rapidly, now that European ‘development funds’ have stoppaed arriving and the soeculatuive housing bubble has burst. The deliberations on how to ‘save’ Greece go on and on. Riots in Hungary and Romania.

    Many commentators say the US is in a worse financial quagmire than Europe. And there are plenty of rumours about the bursting of the Chinese bubble. If China sneezes Australia get pneumonia and takes NZ down with it.

    I believe the elites will do whatever is necessary to hold things together until after the Olympic Games. I also belive once they are over things will get very ‘interesting’.

    Despite all the frantic drilling and fracking, I still believe we will see the end of present economic arrangements by 2015.

  73. Kevin Moore Says:

    Victor.

    Just to emphasise the point you made, when Thomas Savery invented a steam-driven pump in 1698 almost all his food was grown locally (he may have drunk some imported wine); the society around him functioned perfectly well without the steam pump. Almost every town and village had a blacksmith, and basic metalurgical skills were commonly available.

    By 1898 British society could not function without the steam pumps that kept coal mines free of water and could function without the steam engines that hauled the men up and down the shafts and extracted the coal. A century later almost nothing in industrial societies can operate without cheap oil.

    My nearest blacksmith facilities are probably in the Pioneer Village museum about 35km from here.

    The film China Sydrome highlights how a complex system can fail due to the failure of just one tiny component (initially a water level indicator, but subsequently a weld on a pump strut).

  74. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, in NonZero, by Robert Wright, he also identifies more people as necessary for more technological advances – he fails to identify the actual need for bodies to keep it all working, but identifies the larger masses as giving more possibility for geniuses to invent things. He was very hopeful that as the internet connected us all we would begin to see ourselves as one tribe and peace would thus reign on earth.

    Your theory has much merit, his theory falls short by quite a bit. I wrote him once via e=mail and asked what about peak oil. He discounted the idea and that it had any relevance at all. Ah well. Hopeful has more likelihood of getting published.. and getting to promote your book on the talk shows.

  75. Kathy C Says:

    TVT – yes I think you are perceptive about the gender issue, its called a cat fight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ5nKHULDk4&feature=related :)

    Kevin I have wondered about your comments on the games – why would they wait? But I watched a vid recently and the preps for security are so extreme that perhaps they want all this internal security in place before they let things collapse? Are there other reasons to hold it together until after the games?

  76. Victor Says:

    Kathy

    Hopeful has more likelihood of getting published.. and getting to promote your book on the talk shows.

    Kevin Moore can well attest to that!

  77. Victor Says:

    Are there other reasons to hold it together until after the games?

    I suspect the games are BIG money generators for the elite. Don’t want to spoil any last minute opportunity to make a buck, eh?

  78. Guy McPherson Says:

    A new essay is up, courtesy of Robin Datta. It’s here.

  79. Victor Says:

    he fails to identify the actual need for bodies to keep it all working, but identifies the larger masses as giving more possibility for geniuses to invent things.

    Kathy

    What he says is true as it goes, but as you indicate, he left out the biggest and most important factor – able bodies to man the oars and pump the bilge. And even that is not enough.

    Economies of scale require mass production to get the costs down. Mass production requires mass consumption to keep the factories open.

    People who cry out for less consumption and lots of conservation will be faced with living in a world of lower technology if the world follows through with that. AND it will result in many deaths. Why? Because high population levels are sustained by high levels of technology. Maintaining high technology and population levels are symbiotic processes, entirely interdependent.

    Be careful of what you ask for… ;-)

  80. Victor Says:

    Kevin

    The film China Sydrome highlights how a complex system can fail due to the failure of just one tiny component (initially a water level indicator, but subsequently a weld on a pump strut).

    The China Syndrome is indeed an excellent example of the situation we are in at present. I am reminded of the ancient nursery rhyme here:

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    We as a society have lost sight of the lesson presented with this verse, and the implications of the infrastructure we have built over time.

  81. john rember Says:

    Victor:
    I’ve been reasonably consistent in saying that technological civilization has a life of its own, and that it doesn’t need humanity or human values to exist. You’ve rejected this assertion, which may make what I’m saying appear self-contradictory. But artists from Mary Shelley to George Orwell the creators of the Matrix and Terminator movies have referenced a thing that humankind has created that is devouring it.

    The metaphors only approach the literal reality, and I suppose it’s too monstrous to approach in any other way. But I think that there are indications of a fundamental change in humans in the brains of people who have spent their adolescences playing videogames. Our brains prune themselves to fit their environments–not good news for those of us over fifty–and the result, in any technological society, is a human-machine hybrid. If spend a day at the New Tate looking for expressions of that human-machine hybrid, you’ll see a lot of them.

    I think the transition to a new species has been made, and much of what I’ve been talking about on this thread has been speculation about how that new species would take advantage of the waste products of our civilization after that civilization is finished.

    In any event, Robin’s up and I’m tired of explaining a point of view that appears to be consistent only from my point of view.

  82. Resa Says:

    the virgin terry:

    RE: “i guess u’ll take it badly if i now say that compared to tg! u fall far short of his obnoxiousness!”

    Bummer. I’ll have to work on that.

    Re: “also puzzled that u pick on kathy while going easy on me. i wonder if there’s a gender bias of some sort at work here”

    Hardly. I could just as easily have debated Victor (or Kevin or John or Robin). Come to think of it, I have. Wasn’t more than a year ago that Victor and I had that whole nuclear waste storage discourse.

    And, for the record, I wasn’t “picking” on Kathy. She made a statement I “respectfully disagreed” with. She’s made several more since, as have others, but what the heck, it’s a gorgeous day today, and I’m in a merry mood. I’d much prefer getting real work done.

  83. Madmanintheattic Says:

    Wow. There are so many things wrong with this essay I do not know where to start. So I’ll start at the end and work to the beginning. Regarding your exhortation to “join you” I must remind you the vast majority of people in North America do not possess the resources to set up a little Shangri-la as you have. Indeed an increasing number of people do not have jobs or houses. Few of us come from the brass ring state with sufficient accumulated resources to build what you brag about.

    Furthermore, there really is very little land available which is not already closed off by resource extraction concerns or already owned and developed and thus very expensive again excluding the majority of those you exhort to “join” you.

    In addition a post-industrial “stone age” is totally impractical. Despite the artifacts of industrial civilization like jars and knives how many people know how to make a bow from a sapling, how to straighten an arrow with their teeth or reliably manufacture and affix an arrowhead let alone use natural fibres to twist a bow string strong and consistent enough to work properly. Once the bow is made, how many people know how to shoot it straight let alone how to hunt the few animals which might be left after the mass extinction we have created. Endless examples of the loss of knowledge of how to live without modern accoutrements abound.

    Regarding agrarian anarchy, this is the very system from which industrial civilization developed. The grinding, soul destroying work of long days in the field creating surpluses and therefore haves-and-have-nots, lead to sufficient wealth to support the needed standing armies and the psychopath power seekers who rose to running the show for their own benefit.

    In addition, your ongoing emphasis on maintaining body temperature as something easy to achieve is so off the mark I can’t believe it. A severe winter in Canada during a long-term power failure would kill thousands or tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. A climate change driven excessively hot summer in the American South would kill similar numbers during a power failure because the AC would not work.

    Finally climate change will make an agrarian alternative impossible in most places. The region I grew up in, semi-arid high plains, would be desert washed away in the summer by regular thundershowers making agriculture impossible whilst the impossibly cold winters would make long term habitation an uncomfortable epic adventure at best. Where I am now, a Mediterranean climate, cool and damp in the winters is experiencing extended wet, cold springs which last long past planting season. If it gets worse this means seeds will drown in soil too cold for germination.

    The false hopelessness you extol I find troubling not because you are ill-informed and deluded but because I bet there are many people out there reading you who believe you and are tricked and fooled by the false hope they too can survive just by creating an enclave of the like-minded and hunkering down to await the glorious golden age of impossible stone age culture or the impracticality of anarchic agrarianism.

    Best of luck to all of you.

  84. Madmanintheattic Says:

    Sorry. That should have been “The false hope you extol I find troubling …”

  85. the virgin terry Says:

    ‘People who cry out for less consumption and lots of conservation will be faced with living in a world of lower technology if the world follows through with that. AND it will result in many deaths. Why? Because high population levels are sustained by high levels of technology. Maintaining high technology and population levels are symbiotic processes, entirely interdependent.

    Be careful of what you ask for… ;-) ‘ -victor

    i disagree. but the point is moot, because clearly industrial civ. is going down with the pedal to the metal, full speed ahead. thus the collapse will indeed be spectacular, dramatic, and very deadly. however, in a utopian dream world of sane intelligent reasonable sheople, the only way to ameliorate the collapse to come is to perceive/acknowledge it, and radically change behavior immediately in an attempt to preserve a viable future as much as possible for as long as possible for future generations. this of course would entail exactly what u claim must not be done! so what u are advocating is a bau, pedal to the metal approach to collapse, same as tptb. keep the sucker going all out until the engine blows something that can’t be replaced (or runs out of fuel), and then kiss your ass goodbye! this is just crazy imo but again, it’s all moot. human folly is in charge, both among elites and ‘common sheople’, ensuring that a ‘softer landing’ isn’t going to happen. but it could even at this late date be made softer in theory if enough sheople got wise and voluntarily change to a culture of much greater equality, and universally modest (bare bones modest, perhaps) living standards, and also voluntarily drastically reduce birth rates for the next 7 generations or so (and then thereafter continue to limit births to maintenance, not growth levels).

  86. Victor Says:

    tvt

    I understand what you are saying, but I must object to your putting words in my mouth – I did not in any way state or imply “this of course would entail exactly what u claim must not be done! so what u are advocating is a bau”. Instead I was being quite consistent with my overall position that the present state if humanity is such that it can not let go, nor can it hang on.

    Collapse in inevitable no matter what action humanity takes. We might be able to ameliorate our future and that of the global environment by taking certain actions, but we cannot hope to save life as we know it nor prevent collapse of the modern technological framework upon which we depend today.

  87. Victor Says:

    John

    My apologies. I must have missed in your previous posts this basic position of your that state here: I’ve been reasonably consistent in saying that technological civilization has a life of its own, and that it doesn’t need humanity or human values to exist.

    Now it seems so much clearer to me this position you have taken – you are a believer in the Singularity. You are correct – I reject that position, holding that even were it a likely end, given bau, we do not have enough time nor investment to see it through to completion.

    Contrary to what you might think, at this point technology does not have a life of its own capable of surviving its creator. There is certainly at this point a symbiotic relationship involved, but no independence as you state. If humanity were to die out today, your ‘new species’ would die with it – no doubt in my mind. And this contradicts exactly what you have stated.


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