Deconstructing negativity

When I write or speak about global climate change or energy decline — and often I do both, in the same session — I am often accused of “being negative.” I’m losing contacts on Facebook nearly as rapidly as the industrial economy is fading into the distance, thereby provoking messages from my friends calling on me to lighten up. (The other trend on Facebook: Some people add only Christians as contacts, which seems a little intolerant to me.)

The vast majority of people in the world still do not know about the most important issues in the history of our species. Apparently they prefer to remain ignorant. Not only do they not know what’s coming, they don’t want to know.

These are interesting times for lightening up. Every bit of news about the industrial economy — shockingly to neoclassical economists — is dire and growing worse. The stimulus money has run out, and Obama’s “recovery summer” is a complete bust. The Greatest Depression is proceeding apace, and even the mainstream media have begun to notice the rapidity with which things are falling apart between never-ending worship of their heroes in the fields of athletics and cinema, occasionally mixed with a story about somebody shooting somebody else on an overshot planet. Our immorality has insulted the living planet nearly to the point of complete environmental collapse and my readers are worried I will insult somebody about to toss yet another Molotov cocktail into the living, breathing web on which we all depend for our existence. I wouldn’t be surprised at chaos in the streets of every industrial nation by the end of this year as the economy implodes, and there is no doubt we will continue to foul the air, dirty the waters, and generally destroy every aspect of our planetary life-support system, so it’s difficult for me to understand the rationale behind toning down the message about economic collapse.

But, according to my email in-box, I’m about as sharp as a marble. So there’s a decent chance I’m merely clueless.

If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s hardly the time for thinking about making other arrangements. If you haven’t made the all-important first step of adjusting your outlook about the future, you’re about to become fodder for detritivores. It’s time for action, not sitting on your gluteus maximi, pontificating. If you’re still thinking about which seat to occupy before the movie starts, here’s a clue: the smoke you smell and the flames you see are not part of tonight’s film. The people pointing out the fire in the theater are not extras.

Others are being assailed to lighten up, too, if my email in-box is to be believed. After a little thought, I have a couple responses. Feel free to use them on your friends, and please let me know what I’m missing. Surely we can come up with many more responses to the claims of negativity.

With respect to global climate change, the facts are depressing. The only way around this reality is denial, so I understand why so many people spend so much time there. But for rationalists, the burden of reality is shouldered as one consequence of reason. In short we’re stuck with horrible facts on the climate-change front. However, I have a solution, as I am happy to point out: Terminating the industrial economy will allow the continued persistence of our species and many others. This tidbit of good news — the only solution, to my knowledge, to the global-change predicament — does not instantly convert listeners to my version of happy-talk optimism. This leads to the second side of the fossil-fuel coin, the one on which I’m deemed particularly negative.

The statement, “the end of cheap oil means the end of the industrial economy” is viewed as negative. My initial response requires no passion, except for passion about facts. Any rational person can be convinced of the following facts: (1) We passed the world oil peak, according to abundant evidence arising from models and data; (2) Spikes in the price of crude oil have preceded the last six recessions, with bigger spikes preceding deeper recessions; (3) The world’s industrial economy requires abundant supplies of inexpensive crude oil; (4) There is no politically viable solution to energy decline; and (5) Civilizations fall, doubtless including this one. These facts, which are not exactly rooted in faith-based junk science, do not make me pessimistic. Quite to the contrary, they give me great hope for our future. If these facts make you unhappy, or if they make you think I am stuck in negativity, I think this says more about you than it does about me. That is, if you view the facts as negative — and I don’t — I think that makes you negative, not me.

I agree we are headed for a future with fewer luxuries and fewer people. And this poses perhaps the greatest challenge we have faced as a species: Can we muster the creativity, courage, and compassion to see the living world make a comeback? And more importantly, will we?

I won’t even bother pursuing the issue of morality. Anybody who has given a moment’s thought to the issue recognizes the industrial economy is immoral. We have a moral imperative to terminate the industrial economy, the apex of which is city living. But nobody views himself as immoral, regardless of where or how they live, so the moral imperative is ignored, along with the common good, in pursuit of contemporary conveniences for imperialists in denial.

My second and more obvious response to our peak-oil predicament takes us back to paragraph number seven in this brief essay: To my knowledge, only complete economic collapse saves the living planet upon which we depend for our lives. To my knowledge, only complete economic collapse saves our species from runaway greenhouse. To my knowledge, only complete economic collapse allows us to retain our humanity. What’s not to like about that? And what’s so negative about it?

Comments 31

  • It is your blog. Say whatever you like. If they don’t like it, they can either point out how you are wrong(not likely) or shove it. If they get their ass in a vise, they will look to you for help, or worse, somehow blame you. Best to tell them you have moved to throw them off. The less of this type who know where you are, the better off you are.

  • ‘You’re too gloomy.” “It’s all too gloomy.”

    It will be if you don’t deal with it.

    “It’s too apocalyptic.”

    What does a semi-apocalypse look like? (The curtain of a stage performance stuck at the halfway position?)

    “That will never happen.”

    That’s what the Jews of Europe said before the registrations and round-ups commenced.

    “Morality: Is that the name of latest energy drink?”

    No, that’s called Moronity.

  • Egyptian watersports (diving in the river of Egypt – deep in de Nile) are goirg to get more popular as events progress. Nazi concentration camp inmates accepted on fatih that they were goirg tn the showers when they were being herded to the gas chambers. Other variants include but not limided to, the rapture, the arrival of alien spaceships to load ’em up & take ’em away, restoling liberty through (the Mad Hatter’s?) tea party, etc.

    Rocking the boat can be bad. Matt Simmons was capable of drawing and holding the attention of those who mattered. The CIA assassination weapon, which simulates a heart attack, leaves only a small purcture wound with a dot of blood. A hot tub would could conveniently wash away the latter.

    But then we have Ray Kurzweil and Amory Lovins. And how about Cambridge Energy Research Assocites? One’s greatest shortcoming is in failing to compile an adequane list of the many leaders in progress.

    Pick and choose, mix and match: Hope™ springs eternal. And Change™ is inevitable, although one’s choice in that matter is somewhat restricted.

  • What do you mean when you say that the facts you have enumerated are “rooted in faith-based junk science”?

  • Hey Guy, your blog is about as negative as yelling at someone to get out of the way of an oncoming bus! What are you supposed to do? It always amazes me the ostrich mentality of sheeple. Stick your head in the sand and imagine no on can see you. I think maybe they might have a point if the facts were not there and you were not providing practical ways of helping yourself but you are. Let them moan if they want, you are doing the right thing, you are expressing your opinion on your own blog and then coming up with great ideas about what to do about it. As a Christian it might suprise you to find that I agree with everything you said in this essay. I dont have to like it but it doesnt stop it being true. Whether you read the Bible or not there is plenty of stuff in there about whats happening now. It talks about the leaders of this world devastating the earth. Not far wrong is it?

  • Mr. Kunstler has a selection of his “especially dumb letters” on his site. Might be fun to highlight some of your more, um, colorful(?) communiques.

    It was a horrible movie, but the premise was quite sound:


    [President’s Cabinet has been debating putting water on the plants instead of Brawndo]
    Pvt. Joe Bowers: What *are* these electrolytes? Do you even know?
    Secretary of State: They’re… what they use to make Brawndo!
    Pvt. Joe Bowers: But *why* do they use them to make Brawndo?
    Secretary of Defense: [raises hand after a pause] Because Brawndo’s got electrolytes.

  • Well, Guy,

    You remind me of the old Russian joke: The Pessimist declares – “Oh crap, this is the absolute worst!” and the Optimist declares – “Ooooh, no it isn’t! Not by a long shot.”

    You make people feel bad. There’s not much mystery as to why people push back. I doubt it’s really anything you can change by reason or rhetoric or eloquence. People have a lot of work to do to find the optimism in your message, and until they do they’re not going to thank you for your words. Peace.

  • Guy, I know how you feel. I’ve tried to talk to many people and 95% just get angry at me. They are too accustomed to water coming from a pipe and cold plastic wrapping their food in a sterile blanket. Their landscape and entire world consists of concrete, asphalt, and perpetual growth with decreasing quality. They are part of a system that now feeds chickens to other chickens whose shit gets eaten by a cow. That cow is then ground finely and mixed with hundreds or thousands of other carcasses pressed into a patty and eaten en masse. I don’t know of any other culture that has gone so far off the rails as to deliberately feed their livestock cannibalistic shit. I think that is a pretty good metaphor for the state of things at the moment. The system is starting to eat itself, and will leave a steaming pile in it’s wake. The good thing is that shit can be used for fertilizer if you know how.

  • Andy Brown,

    Thanks for that joke. I did not LOL, I LAUGHED OUT LOUD! And I also almost fell out of my chair.

    I was thinking about Russian history just yesterday and to me it seems that the Russian man on the street has actually been standing in the middle of an intersection, of two major highways, during rush hour, at the beginning of a three-day weekend. No wonder they have such a crooked sense of humor. The Russians will probably do a lot better than the USians. At least they are less into Egyptian water sports (thanks Robin).

    Michael Irving

  • Guy —

    When the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire last week, the choice was stark and immediate — jump into the ocean or die. The rational employees took the leap, even though they lost access to the snack bar, television room, pornography stash, and whatever else they had for sustenance on the rig. They made the correct choice and all were soon rescued.

    Civilizational collapse is much slower and more complex. It is possible to get rich during a collapse, and some are doing it by nefarious means. Hedonism and narcissism are possible during a collapse, and Lady Gaga is exploiting the Art of Titillation in a profound manner (and the public responds as if it were never exposed to titillation previously!)

    I am debating whether to become “Lord Gaga” and doing the same, but I don’t think I am cut out for the role…

    The collapse we are observing is not an accident. It is engineered and it is deliberate, but like the civilizaiton itself, the collapse is engineered to benefit the fewest the most. When complete, the elite are supposed to maintain their own survival with resources they have amassed while the general population dies off en masse.

    In order to pull this off, smoke, mirrors, distractions, deceptions, and obsessions are required and they are utilized with amazing success. Entertainment, sports, private debt, public debt, amazing technologies — all divert attention from the negative reality and promote the interests of the few.

    I continue to be amazed at how popular “social networking” has proved to be in driving the sale and distribution of a relentless onslaught of expensive technology. The young generation (now two generations) of humanity are so enthralled by the opportunity to have virtual “friends” that they will purchase countless electronic widgets to practice their networking and button-pushing communications skills, even as they fail to see the signs of collapse all around them. And negativity is so frowned on that if you bother to divert your attention to reality and speak about it, you can be frozen out of those social networks at the speed of light.

    I know a thing or two about being frozen out of social networks. It seems inevitable if you are a persistent truth-teller, because no one wants to be dragged down by reality in these amazing times.

    When the Titanic sank, there were some who deliberately went down with the ship because their sense of personal identity was with the luxurious ship and not with the stark conditions of the lifeboats. Our society and civilization will take down a lot of people who choose to die in excess rather to live in humility and in sustainability.

    If I survive the collapse for a few years, I will not miss nor will I mourn Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Lady Gaga, Bob Barker, Katy Couric, or Howie Mandel.

    I hope Alllison Krauss makes it, and I will miss John Lennon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Al Pacino. (Oh yeah, most of them are already gone and Pacino is 70 years old).

    I will miss WIFI and my PC and air conditioning and driving my truck. But I will compensate and be happy to see a restoration of wild habitat food provided for free by nature for hunters and gatherers, and the eventual return of the awesome bounties of nature that my forebears experienced.

    Negativity is relative, and it is only relevant in perspective. The negative pole on your battery only does something if there is also a positive pole and the chassis is grounded. Negativity is a primary part of reality, and dismissing negativity as desirable is the same as dismissing reality as undesirable.

    Guy McPherson — thanks for the negativity check! It is part of the reality check and directly related to the positivity you endorse in terms of return to a healthy world. I love it!

    Stan Moore

  • Chris — Sorry for the confusion about junk science … that was an error (I left out a couple of critical words). I’ve fixed it now. –Guy

  • Well, to understands what’s coming you need a good scientific education base, plus a lot of common sense, plus the lack of stupidity required to hate the consumer’s rotten culture and the very real stupidity flowing behind every corner… most people does not even know what’s happening in their own country, and they don’t mind.

    People do not want this to change: they’re bottomless stomaches with an accesory pair of neurons. To me, EXPENDABLE PARASITES. From the point of view of Gaia, that’s what most humans are.

    Moral is just a human affair: nature does not give a hood… Gaia will simply kill them all. We’d better worry about survival.

  • Hi Guy,

    Here’s a vote for negativity…if it’s based on fact, trend, history and reality. I truly wish I could dispute your comments but they are far too firmly based on each of the above words.

    I send out my own little “peak oil and financial meltdown” newsletter (really just a bunch of pasted summaries and articles) to a group of friends and family. Occasionally I get the same message of being too “pessimistic” because I’m not continually including all the feel good articles on the newest way to process cellulosic ethanol into fuel or the latest geo-engineering dream of altering earth’s climate through massive manipulation of the oceans, the atmosphere or even the use of space mirrors…WOW…how can we possibly lose when we have those kinds of ideas going for us.

    I don’t include them quite frankly, because we get inundated with such silliness on a daily basis. None of those ideas are likely to ever either scale up, or come to fruition. And if they did, I suspect they would likely cause more unforeseen problems than they ameliorated in the first place.

    There is a light at the end of the tunnel however. Like you I am optimistic that we are going to arrive (kicking and screaming the whole way) at a better place somewhere down the road. Better in that we will live simple, less consumptive yet far more fulfilling and meaningful lives in the not too distant future.

    In the meantime we still need those voices in the wilderness. Keep up the great work you do…and take some time to enjoy your lifeboat.
    Chuck A

  • Guy,

    A long time ago I forwarded one of your posts to a colleague who was just learning about peak oil. She responded quite negatively saying that she needed to keep her positive outlook.

    Much like the Russian joke, I guess it depends on your perspective. I don’t think reality has much of a chance against electricity at the flip of a switch, sushi in every grocery store or Starbucks on every corner. We’ve been programmed to satisfy ourselves at every opportunity.

    I think it’s ironic that nature gave us just enough carbon based fuel to hang ourselves with. Although it may take a thousand years, balance to the planet’s ecosystems will be restored because of course, nature bats last.

    Thank you!

  • Well I hate to rain on this doom parade yet again, but I must continue to insist that technological civilization is a flexible arrangement that can and will adapt to the challenges you mention. If the take home message of Guy and friends is a fanatical, uncompromising, Kaczynski-esque: “we must return to primitive hunter-gathering and terminate industrial civilization this week or face the wrath of Gaia”, then I’m afraid your message will continue to be ignored by the vast majority of earth’s inhabitants, who will at least be happy in their matrix of ignorance as they go down with the ship. End Timers can’t be reasoned with or debated, whether they draw their conclusions from reading scripture or Peak Oil blogs, because their minds are already made up. But remember the words of a young John Connor: “The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Or to quote my personal prophet, Terence McKenna:

    “I think that we are on the brink of the adventure for which we left the trees, and left the African plain. But it’s not a sure thing. It rests in our hands, as it always has. Remember, that in the last million years, nine times the ice has moved south from the poles, miles high, pushing before it our ancestors — people wrapped in skins, naked as jaybirds, marginal as can be, no antibiotics, no global weather forecasting, no nothin’. And they didn’t drop the ball, they survived, they took care of their children and their elderly, they passed the skills and the technologies and the insights and the songs down the long stream of time. Can we do any less? We, who have in our hands the power to shape the planet for good or evil; we, who can communicate with each other globally in a moment. It would be a pretty sad commentary on the notion of cultural progress and intelligence if they could keep the faith, and we can’t.”

  • Stan: ‘the collapse is engineered to benefit the fewest the most. When complete, the elite are supposed to maintain their own survival with resources they have amassed while the general population dies off en masse.’

    Do you think the elites realise yet that continuation along the present path will lead to a planet that is largely (or even completely) uninhabitable for mammals? Or do you think they just totally stupid and greedy, and simply do not care about their progeny?

    I keep looking at what we are doing to the oceans: without stable ocean chemistry this planet will not support life as we know it. And guess what, we are wrecking the chemistry of the oceans at an ever faster pace.

    We probably have to accept that the fate of most species on this planet will be determined by the ignorance and apathy of humans. But we, the infomed and passionate, can continue the fight, hanging on to the glimmer of hope that Gaia has some last trick left up her sleeve to prevent human folly from destroying everything.

    (Guy -glad you fixed that odd junk science statement).

  • I think there’s lots of space between Guy’s “the end of cheap oil means the end of the industrial economy,” and Dr. Doomlove’s blind faith in technology to continue things pretty much as they are.

    There was industry before widespread use of fossil energy, and there will be afterwards, if we can keep from self-destructing in the process.

    A diesel engine (for example) can be maintained quite well by a competent machinist and a 60-year-old milling machine, and a farmer will be able to fuel it. The electricity for the milling machine? It’s not hard to come up with a few kilowatts for a worthy cause; what’s hard is petawatts for Survivor re-runs.

    I mentioned I was about to buy a compressor-driven ice cream machine to someone who was powering a hand-cranked one via child abuse. He said, “But what about when electricity goes away?” as if it was a heresy to think that electricity might still exist long into the future.

    I told him I might ask my neighbours to all turn off their lights so that we could have ice-cream!

    We can all live comfortably on a lot less — no, we WILL live comfortably on a lot less, if we’re going to make it at all. I think the difference between Guy, Dr. Doomlove, and me is that I think a bunch of us are going to figure out how to manage quite well on under a kilowatt, rather than the 8 or 9 we’re using now.

    I just taught four days of a Permaculture Design Course, including a one-hour session on “Energy Decline.” I got two kinds of feedback: people under 40 who said I was “too negative,” and people over 40 who said “thank for the reality lesson.” Perhaps there’s a generational thing going on here?

  • Aloha Guy:

    Negative? I doubt it!

    Realist? Definitely!

    Here on my island I have looked for ways to engage anyone who might be interested, in discussing the notion of the Transition “Movement.”

    I may as well have been speaking Greek to them.

    I know there is a small, very small I suspect, group here who are aware of what’s going on and what the future for this island will be with greatly reduced to non-existant petroleum supplies. (Your student is among these) Getting in contact with them is proving problematic.

    Keep up the great work!


  • I get accused of being negative when I bring up these topics, too, so I’m not surprised at the responses you’re getting. I’ve been hearing it most of my professional life about my social and environmental causes.

    I really got a large social dose of denial while living near the Border, where some people wanted to believe cops, drones, etc. are there to “protect” their way or life. The way of life was expecting people in one of the poorest counties in the country to continue to provide them cheap goods and services.

    Or what was even more unnerving was the people who didn’t even recognize what was going on literally in front of them and thought Deming was nice little safe town.
    If so, why does it close up at night tighter than Tupperware?

    They did not SEE the military aircraft flying over their homes to the municipal airport.

    If this economic meltdown had occurred in ’60s or ’70s there would be rallies and perhaps riots. Why are people are damn passive now? Drugs, Facebook, what?

  • last night I was dreaming of the Olduvai theory,

    when it comes to our too numerous enviro, financial and energy predicaments,

    I had waking realisation – that no one is in charge

  • Dr. Doomlove,

    You said:

    “… (T)echnological civilization is a flexible arrangement that can and will adapt to the challenges … (as) the vast majority of earth’s inhabitants … go down with the ship.”

    This idea is not new, of course, it’s just a restatement of what Guy has been saying for years. I’m glad to hear you’re jumping on board.

    Do you also agree that the tiny minority of “earth’s inhabitants” remaining after the technological adaptations should include a few non-humans?

    Michael Irving

  • Guy, nice block of cheese. Have you learned to make mother cultures yet so that you can keep making cheese after the commercially made cultures coming from France are no longer available? Its worth knowing how as cheese is an important food and a very good way to store milk. Rennet is easy, it comes from the stomachs of pre-ruminating goat kids.

    And no, your not too negative, reality is what it is. If you have never read Lamentations, written by Jeremiah (Hebrew bible), its about a society in collapse as well as denial. They (the Hebrews of the time) tossed him down a well because they were tired of his message, which to the effect was, “your screwed.”

  • Guy I felt like I was a pessimistic until I decided to do something about it. Each day here on this resurrected farm, I cannot wait to get out of bed in the morning.

    I thought you might enjoy the following:

    Burry’s a guy I learned about from my son, an Ivy League educated investment banker, that thinks his dad is a bit of a loon. I sent him the interview.

    If you are now off of your aspirin diet here are 3 things you have to be taking: raw apple cider vinegar, blackstrap mollases, and a mix of honey and cinammon. With the exception of cinammon they will all be around for a long time. Between the 3 of them they will keep you going strong. My neighbor said during the depression they used to feed the workers in the field ACV and mollases to keep them working for 14-16 hours a day.

    Best hopes,


  • Jan Steinman, thanks for the (balanced) comment. I’m less sanguine than you about our ability to save electricity and the living planet, especially in light of articles like this, but I could be wrong.

    Constance, thanks for your first-time comment. I agree about the absolutely passive, disinterested, apathetic nature of our culture.

    matt!, you nailed it: “no one is in charge”

    Randy, we’ve never used exotic cultures to make cheese. We’ve used yogurt and cultured buttermilk, the former of which is available from goat milk. So far, we’ve made ricotta, mozzarella, chevre, Monterey jack, cheddar, Parmesan, and Colby. Heeding the story about Jeremiah, I’ll stay away from wells.

    Thanks for the link, Ed. I posted a link to Burry’s videos on my Facebook page earlier this morning. And now I’m off to buy molasses and cinnamon :) But not gold, which is not edible.

  • Guy, yes, stay away from wells. Bad place to wind up. Glad you are making good progress on your cheese making. Nice selection of old and new world cheeses. Both yogurt and cultured buttermilk work well (cultured buttermilk has an MA 4001 culture in it). I know of a women in Alabama that makes all of there cheeses (mostly cheddar) with cultured buttermilk. We have not taken the plunge into making mother cultures yet, but with the changes that are coming, I think it is a good idea to work towards.

    On another note, I bought 200 lbs of wheat berries today when I went to get sweet feed for the cows and goats. It is costing $16.95 per 100 lbs. Time to put up lots of food for the coming winter.

  • Dr Doomlove, I’ve been meditating on your Terence McKenna quote. I’ve just remembered that in Trialogues at the Edge of the West, Terence, egged on by Rupert Sheldrake, holds forth in a similar vein about humanity’s great prospects, until Ralph Abraham, losing patience, exclaims: “But we are the problem.”

  • James Lovelock is very “negative” too.

    “… trying to save the planet… is a bunch of nonsense, because we can’t do it. If It is going to be saved, It will save itself, as It always as done. We are full of Hubris and think we can (save the planet.

    But we are not clever enough to do it, and I don’t think we will be in time for this particular event.

    So I think the sensible thing to do is to enjoy life while you can…”

    James Lovelock, March 2010

    “Our leaders make the mistake of thinking we make the waves of history. But we are not Waves Makers, we are Wave Riders”
    (apologies for very poor paraphrase)

    David Hackett Fischer.
    The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History


    “No Soup for You!”

    Mother Nature to Homo carbonchurnus, as channeled throught the Soup Nazi

  • Regarding insistence upon optimism, it’s worth pointing to Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Forced optimism is also evident in Harriet Baber’s opinion column found here. They both point to belief as a choice rather than something founded on truth. In a way, they’re mere expressions of human frailty and shouldn’t be unexpected, though perhaps they can still be judged harshly.

    Stan Moore sez: I will compensate and be happy to see a restoration of wild habitat food provided for free by nature for hunters and gatherers, and the eventual return of the awesome bounties of nature that my forebears experienced.

    Those bounties aren’t quite the same as abundance, and it may take thousands of years to return to levels that would support even sparse populations of hunter-gatherers. I’ve seen calculations of the minimum acreage necessary to support certain mammals such as elephants and bears. The acreage is surprising large. A similar calculation for, say, a family or clan of eight humans would also be calculable, I think, and presumes that competition for that space among other mammals isn’t already fierce. The acreage necessary for agriculture might be more manageable, but many theorists say agriculture is what led to our current predicament.

    Jean sez: People do not want this to change: they’re bottomless stomaches [sic] with an accesory [sic] pair of neurons. To me, EXPENDABLE PARASITES. From the point of view of Gaia, that’s what most humans are..

    On a purely biological level, everything alive consumes and excretes and is a parasite until it becomes food itself. Human’s might be partially exceptional because we reenter the food chain only as worm food. Individuals are undoubtedly expendable, but our impact on the planet as an entire species can hardly be overstated. I can’t guess whether some other species would have arisen to dominate the heap if not for us, but some other species will no doubt follow in our wake, mostly likely an insect rather than a mammal. Is there any meaning or purpose or gain/loss in such a result? No, not really.

  • If we were Maya living in the days of their Empire, no doubt the lot of us here would have long ago had our innards spilled upon the sacrificial altar…

  • Brutus,

    I could not agree with you more on the Harriet Baber article, but I particularly wanted to agree with your response to Stan Moore’s comment.

    There is currently dispute about pre-Columbian population levels in the Americas. I think it is evident, however, that the majority of the population was centered in the empires that were found in Mexico, and in Central and South America. While these were not necessarily concurrent, all of them flourished on a base of agriculture. Similarly, the population centers in the eastern US depended on agriculture, extending from the coast into the mid-west and as far north as New England. Another large population center was centered on Puget Sound, extending up to coast. Those folks depended on the abundant resources provided by the seashore and near-shore fisheries, as well as salmon runs. I’m not sure what the population level of the US was when Columbus arrived, I’ve read (via Wikipedia) it might not have been more that a million, or perhaps as high as 18 million. For the sake of discussion I will use 10 million in the US, most of it centered in the southeast and lower Mississippi drainage. Native peoples had significant time to establish themselves and expand their populations and yet had only developed high population levels in a few places. In the rest of the US, from the Mississippi west (even including Puget Sound where there were less than 40,000 people), the population was very sparse. I think your assessment of carrying capacity for humans is correct. Without agriculture, pre-Columbian carrying capacity in the US would have been very small (think about the Plains Indians without horses). I’m guessing it would have been on the order of a few hundred thousand people, several orders of magnitude below current levels. Given the destructions of native ecosystems it would now be vanishingly small. Believing people will be able to survive in these times using a strategy of hunting and gathering is another form of magical thinking. It’s just another kind of the faith-based, forced optimism you noted in the Baber article. Our only way through the bottleneck is to harness non-destructive, non-industrial agriculture; even then we are facing a huge reduction in population. Without it our population will crash like a test-tube full of fruit flies.

    Michael Irving