Collapse and continuity

by Robin Datta

This is an attempt to address collapse in its greater temporal context.

Collapse is a regression that is perceived by the observer as a change of a large magnitude over a short period of time. This regression is in a direction towards the status quo ante. However, there can be many irreversible changes during the time interval measured from the status quo ante: in such cases collapse cannot produce an exact reversal to that prior state. Such regression is caused by the progressive and cumulative failures of essential components of a system, through their destruction, lack of maintenance, and/or lack of sustenance.

Collapse can occur in static systems as in the controlled demolition of a building, when the supporting structural elements are removed. In a dynamic system, such as a star, collapse occurs when the supporting forces, energy — generated through nuclear fusion — radiating outwards declines as the nuclear fuel is depleted: gravity in then unopposed.

A human society collapses when there is a progressive shortfall in meeting its needs. The most critical of these, as recognized by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are the physiologic needs. Respiration is of such immediacy that it is usually considered a given. The other physiologic needs are hydration, nutrition, and homeothermy (the maintenance of body temperature, through clothing and shelter). While community and its corollaries including security are essential in a larger frame of reference, they presume the adequate sustenance of the physiologic needs.

Meeting the needs requires the provision of items of daily use including potable water, food, clothing, shelter, etc. All of these are ultimately derived from Nature: sunlight, arable land, flora and fauna, wind, water resources, energy sources, etc. and these constitute the primary economy.

Conversion of items from the primary economy into usable items in the secondary economy is by the direction of streams of energy with appropriate skills (= services). Some items in the secondary economy represent very large amounts of embedded energy, as in buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.

To facilitate the exchange and transfer items of the primary and secondary economies, symbolic representations of value are used. These can be cowrie shells, wampum, disks of base or precious metals (coins), printed paper issued by an authority wielding force (government issued paper money) or even magnetized particles or a hard drive. The symbols can be represented by other symbols, such as collateralized debt obligations, certificates of deposit, and other derivatives, and even derivatives of derivatives.

A dollar or a dime is the promise of the state (not the cashier at Wal-Mart) to make good the value it represents in items of the primary or secondary economies when the cash is tendered. This promise is redeemed by making the symbols “legal tender”: coercion, through the threat of force, to accept it as the medium of exchange.

The tertiary economy can be expanded by producing more symbols and derivatives, all of them promising to make good at some future date, their purported value, in items of the primary and secondary economy. Larger numbers and longer times to redemption make for “fiat growth” in the tertiary economy even when the primary and secondary economies
may be contracting.

The critical factor in the industrial society that distinguishes it from prior societies is the ability to entrain massive amounts of energy. Harnessing sunlight by cultivation of plants and animals gave agricultural and pastoral societies an advantage over the prior hunter-gatherer paradigm. This exosomatic (originating outside the body) energy was far greater than the hunter-gatherers could command. It was increased further by many orders of magnitude when fossil fuels were harnessed. The endosomatic energy (originating inside the body) could be used to control exosomatic energy streams very many orders of magnitude greater.

Both agricultural and industrial exploitation of energy had limitations: arable lands and fossil fuels. But while arable lands may decline, appropriate practices can minimize this or even prevent it altogether. And depleted lands can be restored by careful management within decades — a human lifetime. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, take hundreds of millions of years to generate, and no such options are available to replenish them as their extraction proceeds apace.

Increased energy availability translates into increased availability of food: increased substrate in biological systems fosters growth and replication, In human terms this translates into increased populations. Populations increase pari passu with energy availability. Current human populations are sustained with significant undernutrition and starvation by the fossil fuel extravaganza. Depleting fossil fuels will result in depleting populations if energy availability declines with the fossil fuels: and as yet no alternate energy sources fill the bill, either in scalability or in energy return on energy invested.

Sustainability implies the continued fulfillment of the needs that maintain a system. In agriculture this can be approached by recycling the plant and animal (including human) waste/products back to the soil via composting. Fossil fuels however, cannot be recycled. Matter can and should be recycled.

Energy is a one-way street. The Three Laws of Thermodynamics (pertaining to energy) can be roughly summed up as:

1. Nothing is lost.
2. Everything turns to trash.
3. You cannot stop it or clean it up.

The Second Law reflects the direction of energy flows, from concentrated (low entropy) to dilute (high entropy). This implies the heat death of the universe, when the energy is evenly distributed throughout and puts a limit to sustainability. Sustainability comes with its time scale: when the scale is not mentioned, it is understood that it is so large that in is being excluded from consideration.

Marion King Hubbert’s time scale for petroleum depletion was derided and ignored until the reality loomed large. Then of course, every possible ploy was used to rebut and/or deny that prognostication, with little effect or mitigating the reality. Rather, they stalled any useful measures towards mitigation while the windows of opportunity were still open. With declining energy availability, any substantial adaptive changes to infrastructure are moot. The option to minimize trauma in this regression has been discarded.

Yet this tsunami is a wave, albeit of different magnitude and consequence. It is the first one in recorded history to affect humanity, but not the first bottleneck: it is estimated that at one time there were as few as six hundred breeding pairs of humans. There is less genetic diversity in all the nearly seven billion humans today than in a band of chimpanzees in the 3% of the DNA in which we differ from them. Our closest relative, the Neanderthals (now extinct for 32,000 years) had survived for 400,000 years — twice as long as we have.

Now, however, a substantial part of the carbon sequestered in fossil fuels through a combination of biologic and geologic processes over hundreds of millions of years is being released in hundreds of years by another of nature’s creations, another oscillation (or perhaps wild gyration) in the larger scheme of things as billions of individual human stories unfold in the denouement. The associated environmental impacts including pollution have engineered the sixth great extinction.

Extinctions, however, have been followed by luxuriant radiations, a diversification of the survivors, often from a very narrow origin. The derived branches carry traits marking their ancestral kinships. Prominent examples include the three pairs of legs in insects, the seven cervical (neck) vertebrae in mammals, and the bony configuration common to both the lobe-finned (sarcopterygian) fish and the four-limbed vertebrates (Tetrapoda — although some, including snakes and whales/dolphins have lost their limbs).

Yet the range of diversity in insects and mammals calls no attention to the limitations imposed by the three pairs of legs or the seven cervical vertebrae: the loss of biodiversity through repeated prunings is masked by the regrowth. Similar diversification could be hoped for after this sixth (and greatest extinction.

These prunings of the Tree of Life, however, were essential to us: each of them cleared the field for new radiations and diversifications that were cumulative from pruning to pruning and made Homo sapiens possible. The pruning of dinosaurs made room for mammals — and for primates (monkeys, apes and humans). We owe our existence to (among other things) the prior great extinctions.

The time scale to any future radiation and diversification might be estimated by looking backwards at the last great extinction, the one that retired the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. Taken in the perspective of our genus — Homo — 2,000,000 years old, our species — sapiens — 200,000 years old, agriculture 12,500 years, written language 3,000 years, the recovery from the present extinction is far outside any human cultural context. Indeed, it could well be up for debate whether or not Homo sapiens would be extant on that time scale as the species we know today — even under the best of circumstances.

The replenishment of fossil fuels would involve a time scale of several hundreds of millions of years, combined with some very fortuitous circumstances, both geologic and biologic acting in concert. Barring some near-miraculous technology, another industrial age for Homo sapiens is not in the cards. Should another intelligent species appear in that time period, the biological drives may leave it susceptible to overshoot and dieback if presented the opportunity for unconstrained growth. Overcoming these drives may require a preponderance of wisdom to guide decisions and actions.

It has been suggested well before the fossil fuel depletion era that the absence of evidence for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe may reflect similar drives leading any and all intelligent beings to overshoot and dieback – and possibly extinction.

But even on a smaller scale, the transition through the current collapse and its bottleneck may bode better for those endowed with a measure of wisdom.


Robin Datta was born in Quetta, Pakistan in 1949. His father was one of three Hindu officers in the Pakistan Army, and a veteran of the Burma campaign of WW2 (Regimental Medical Officer). Robin attended nine different schools as his father was posted to different places. His mother was also an officer in the Nurse Corps of the British Indian Army in WW2. Mother’s native language Telegu, fatrer’s Bengali; common language English (British Raj for two centuries). Spoke English as first language, but had to unlearn it rapidly in NY. Also speaks Urdu, the lingus franca in those parts, natively.

Datta graduated with a medical degree from Bangladesh in 1972, and learned Bengali in the process. He learned history from the locals in order to graduate, and moved to New York in 1973. He served in the Army two years (one in Korea, and half a year in Desert Storm). Served three years in the Navy. Flight Surgeon in both branches of service.

Datta completed Family Practice Residency in Louisville, Kentucky, and passed board exams both in Family Practice and Emergency Medicine. He worked in Emergency Medicine 1983 to 2009 in Kentucky and California (San Jose, Hollister, Fresno). He is single (never married) and retired with no dependents.

Datta is not sure what to do next. Whatever it is, it must include the imminent collapse. He is open to any possibilities and suggestions.

Comments 143

  • Meanwhile back at Los Alamos

    Fire Threatens Plutonium and Uranium Release at Los Alamos National Laboratory

    A raging wildfire is threatening to engulf the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    Los Alamos likely contains more nuclear weapons than any other facility in the world.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, AP notes:

    The anti-nuclear watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, however, said the fire appeared to be about 3 1/2 miles from a dumpsite where as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste were stored in fabric tents above ground. The group said the drums were awaiting transport to a low-level radiation dump site in southern New Mexico.

    Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval declined to confirm that there were any such drums currently on the property.

    Later, Los Alamos confirmed the allegation:

    Lab officials at first declined to confirm that such drums were on the property, but in a statement early Tuesday, lab spokeswoman Lisa Rosendorf said such drums are stored in a section of the complex known as Area G. She said the drums contain cleanup from Cold War-era waste that the lab sends away in weekly shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
    She said the drums were on a paved area with few trees nearby and would be safe even if a fire reached the storage area. Officials have said it is miles from the flames.

    The lab has called in a special team to test plutonium and uranium levels in the air as a “precaution”

  • She said the drums were on a paved area with few trees nearby and would be safe even if a fire reached the storage area. Officials have said it is miles from the flames.

    Everything is under control, Kathy. – and if you believe that, I have some shares in TEPCO you might be interested in…. :-)

  • Technology simplifies when it decreases resource and energy use from levels prior to the technology; otherwise it adds to the complexity.

    Dependence leads to fragility when such dependence is critical and exclusive If the system can get by without it, or make do with an alternate, it is not fragile.

  • #4 Grains: We have tried to grow our own grains a couple of times with little success. Specialized equipment coupled with the fact that they don’t compete with weeds very well were the problems. Buckwheat is the exception when it comes to competing with weeds. We use it for weed control in fallow areas.
    We have resigned ourselves to the fact that typical wheats and rye are not in our future. Our focus has changed to flour, flint and dent corns and potatoes. Potatoes are hard to screw up, and easy to store, and the most carbs per acre that you can get. Supplanting these with forging. The forager’s dilemma is the lack of starchy carbs that exist as perennials in the wild. We had to introduce a couple including sunchokes, and camas, but once they get going they provide an impressive harvest. Have also found tons of duck potatoes (wapato) and for the first time we will agressively harvest acorns. Not only can you get a decent flour from acorns, you get a coffee substitute and can pickle them, and all those with grubs and weevils go to the chickens. The one item we cannot find in the wild here is wild rice. Given enough time we will try to get some going in our ponds.
    A message on foraging that we are learning. You have to focus on it. We have started hiking the state parks around us and find more and more opportunities. We want alot of elderberries, and when you focus on them you find them everywhere. We have a list now, with 25 patches within 2 miles of our house.
    Most of the people that visit this site seem to be those that have migrated to the countryside. Never, ever discount what you can learn from the locals. If you do you are an idiot. They may not fit your profile, but they know where the fish and berries are, along with everything else that matters in your little world.

    Nicole: If you haven’t heard of this guy, you should probably check him out. Brad Lancaster Rainwater Harvesting. Youtube has a series, and I think there is a book out there. The permies think he is the authority on dryland farming. Another google search is Kunds of Thar Desert.

  • To Victor: Hmm. You say I do not understand but your reasons why are not at all clear to me. Please address what I have actually said, rather than dismissing it completely. I think if you really understand this, you would be able to point to specific things I have said, as being flawed for specific reasons. I can raise some questions that way to what you are saying here.

    You wrote: order can be seen as the measure of energy required to keep a system ‘in state’. Higher energy requirements to maintain a system ‘in state’ result in a lower measure of entropy, or higher ‘order’. Conversely, lower energy required to maintain a system ‘in state’ leads to higher entropy, or a more ‘disordered’ state.

    This is really confused to me. I have no idea what you are talking about. Lets have some definitions, shall we?

    Boltzmann defined order as the number of ways of being. I have no problem with that definition, that is the definition I use. I gave examples of what that means and how he used it. Order is one of the measures of a system at a given time. The problem is not with the definition, the problem is with how Boltzmann saw the tendency of order to decrease, and I said specifically why I felt there was a problem with this observation, You seem to be trying to change the definition of order here, with no reference at all to ways of being, or why you want to change this definition.

    Second, entropy. Entropy has been defined in different ways, we need to be clear what way we are talking about. In what I wrote, I did not use the word because of these different definitions, and I was looking at the movements of things and not trying to define everything. I was interested in how the definition of order worked in the actual situation. Boltzmann looked at these things and wrote an equation on what he saw, and in that equation he gives a definition of a quantity he calls entropy, that he relates to his definition of order. I look at things and see that he saw wrong about order decreasing as a general thing. His equation is perfectly ok for the limited circumstances it was written for, but it is not a general equation. You might say it is something like the way Newton’s laws are ok for limited circumstances of velocity and distance, but to go beyond that you need Einstein’s understandings of relativity. I am concerned about the bigger picture, and whatever he is calling entropy in this equation, has no application to this bigger picture, or to other definitions of the word that are more general. Over and over and over and over, I find people telling me that I’m wrong because this is the equation, and I’m saying, I’m not starting with his equation, I’m starting with the circumstances for which the equation was written, and looking at broader circumstances as well.
    So, you are using the word entropy here, and I have no idea what definition you have for it. Are you using Boltzmann’s definition for this limited circumstance? I cannot accept this as a general definition, for the logic given previously, which you have ignored. Or are you thinking of the definition of delta Q over absolute temperature, when delta Q is the heat transfer in or out of the system? That definition has never been related directly to order that I know of. Are you doing this now? Could we see specifically how you are doing this?

  • Victor, oh yea shares in Tepco, where can I get some?

    More “The bulk of the lab’s stockpile of highly-radioactive material is stored in structures specifically designed to withstand fire, lab officials say. But the facility also hosts some 20,000 barrels of plutonium-bearing waste – ultimately destined for long-term storage in southern New Mexico – at a facility atop a small mesa just outside White Rock, N.M., known as “Area G.” As of midday on Tuesday, the fire was two miles away from Area G. The laboratory grounds also include at least one canyon that was used as a dump in the early years of the US nuclear weapons program.”

    Full article at

    How many “get out of trouble in the nick of time” cards do we have left?

  • neat stuff you are doing ed. thanks for sharing; & yes yes yes re neighbors/locals.

  • Ed,

    I love the Brad Lancaster books. Hadn’t heard of the Kunds of the Thar Desert. Did a search on them – fantastic. I’m looking around the farm to find an ideal site. The first website I went to gave a good description, but got totally confused with the maths. Said we needed 100 sq. km to collect 10,000 L, which is rubbish. 1 mm of rain gives you 1 litre of water per square meter. So to make the maths easy, say a kund collected only half of that, and the rest was lost to evaporation or soaking into the soil. So 0.5 mm of rain gives you 1 litre. To fill a 100,000 L tank (approx. 25,000 gallons) with an annual rainfall of 300 mm (which is us in a bad year), we’d need a catchment area of approx. 2/3 hectare or 1 1/2 acres. That’s not much – certainly doable.

  • Victor,

    A closet radical? The more I read “Deep Green Resistance” the more radical I become.

  • Ah, Victor, you’re as bad as my Eddy with a raccoon who’s tried to steal the kibble and fat drippings from his grub bowl. He’s caught it and, by God, he’s not letting go even though it’s been dead for an hour.

    But in the interest of stepping outside the box, let me offer a fresh perspective.

    The more complex a system is, the greater its capacity to absorb and adapt.

    Complex systems are non-linear. A perturbation may cause an effect or may have no effect whatsoever.

    You’re obviously set on a single outcome. I see two plus another dozen in between.

    Regarding tools. Why am I limited to a metal shop or tree?

    May I suggest you step beyond your four walls, where at the cellular level you’ll find a shift underfoot. And I say this as one whose nature schedules for the worst.

    But perhaps I’m half-glass-full because of the strawberries. After a winter that killed all my apricots and cherries (except the pies), the strawberries have strutted forth. Fat and juicy. By the bucket load.

    And if I had to choose between apricot or cherry or strawberry jam, the fat and juicy strawberry would win every time.

  • So without antibiotics, tetanus, disinfectants and modern wound dressings, what should we be doing …..?

    With regard to the care of wounds, appropriate medical care is always to be preferred. However when such care is unavailable, the are four factors to be considered.

    1. Bleeding. Excessive bleeding from a wound suggests injury to blood vessels of significant size. The bleeding can be stopped by focused pressure (an area of a fingertip) to the point of the bleeding. With smaller bloodvessels, five minutes of continuous pressure can arrest the bleeding. Otherwise, a small wad of clean cloth can be taped or bandaged to the site for continued pressure until further help is available.

    2. Prompt Cleansing: This in the top priority except for excessive bleeding. Time is quite important, as the longer bacteria stay in the wound, the better the foothold they gain. Factors here include the amount of contamination. the depth of the wound and the site of the wound.

    A relatively clean wound, as from a clean knife on clean skin, requires less cleaning as compared to a heavily contaminated wound as one with soil. manure, etc. The use of water squirted with moderate force helps to dislodge dirt particles. Ground in dirt may sometimes be cleared only by someone trained to cut away a thin layer of the contaminated surface. Deep wounds are more difficult to clean and it may be better to consider them as contaminated wounds. As a general rule, the further the wound is from the heart, the better their blood supply and the better the prospects of fighting off infection and healing.. This is in terms of the length of the blood vessels, so wounds of the face are to be considered nearer than one on the chest overlying the heart. The same degree of contamination in a wound of the foot is more significant than in a wound of the face.

    The use of plain water in wounds is quite irritating and painful, sinec the body’s cells are not bathed in plain water. What is called “normal saline” has approximately the same amount of salt as in the blood. It can be made by adding two level teaspoons of table salt to make one quart (32 ounces or 1000 ml), Sterile water is ideal. but clean water is preferable to no water.

    How to make sterile normal saline

    Dressings can be made from old clothes, properly washed. They cas be sterilized by boiling and drying with appropriate handling not to contaminate them while drying and storing.

    Animal bites are always to be considered heavily contaminated, thanks to the profusion of bacteria in the mouth. The other important consideration in animals is rabies. Since rabies is nearly 100% fatal, any biting animal that has not had its shots is to be considered rabid until proven otherwise, or if the animal escapes or if the biting animal is not positively identified. Such persons need their rabies shots promptly. Rabies vaccine (a much less elegant variety) was available in Pasteur’s time. and so could possibly be produced in the post-industrial era.

    3. Wound Closure: This is to be considered only after adequate cleansing. Otherwise, it is better to only loosely approximate the edges, or to leave the wound open. Closure in the absence of stitches or staples can be done with tape, trimmed to the size of the wound. Even duct tape has been used for this purpose.

    These are the relatively easy things. The tough part would how to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions. etc. and other medical conditions, and major surgery.

  • Addendum: Structures like nerves, tendons, etc, if injured, need medical attention for proper repair. Foreign bodies are large contaminants.

  • Thanks Dr House, Robin,

    That info about wounds is invaluable. You might think it is relatively easy, but for me it isn’t. I found your viewpoint of the reasons some people go to Emergency very interesting. If an individual’s confidence for dealing with any situation is undermined for whatever reason, you will often find that same individual will hand all responsibility over to the perceived one in power. And yes, that would often come across as just plain stupidity.

    As far as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions etc. are concerned, many of them have a large nutritional component and in the absence of refined industrialised food (assuming other food is available of course), there will hopefully be a lot fewer cases. Those with a pre-existing condition will find it tough, but even they will be better off without McDonald’s. I sometimes think doctors give up trying to advise their patients to eat healthily because they know they are fighting a losing battle. And many patients just want a pill to fix them rather than going the hard yards to live more healthily.

  • Correction: the further a woun is from the heart, the poorer. It’s blood supply.

  • The further a wound is from the heart, the poorer it’s blood supply, and the poorer it’s chances of fighting off infection and healing.

  • Nicole,(and Dr. House and robin)

    “…many of them have a large nutritional component…”

    20 days ago I put my wife on a diet which is used to treat children and teenagers with seizures, Gabi has been epileptic for decades. Adults are not considered as “suitable” to this diet – don’t ask me why.
    Heard about the diet many years ago, was never possible to do with assistance of hospital, got very close to this 2 months ago, but failed again to be admitted. Gabi does not accept any of the medication any more, even the emergency Valium does a lot of harm.
    Now, with the pre examinations for the diet done (they are excellent) we started on our own. Things are changing, it is still early to say much, but things are improving. Two weeks time we’ll consult an US dietician coming to Salzburg to check on the thing we are doing at present.

    Here is an interesting link, also talking about different health concerns regarding nutrition, all very reasonable. This diet, to me, seems somewhat alike a hunter and gatherer diet might have been:

    Have fun and Love And Peace.

  • Arnie Gundersen on Calhoun, Cooper and financial arrangements of nuclear power plants in the us

  • Looking this up for someone else I though people here might just want to remember this way to get clean drinking water when all else fails

  • Anyone understand Greek? They’re collapsing as I write this!

    They’re having quite the riot right now and it’s fun watching them burn stuff. I’m still waiting for them to light the trees on fire. That’d make all kinds more smoke than just lighting the garbage cans aflame.

    A little while ago they had one of the buildings on fire, then the police chased the rioters away and fire trucks came in and put the fires out. Now the rioters are back. The video went out at some point last night and made me sad, but now it’s back in all it’s riotous glory!

  • Dilemma of the Banks

    Bank of America,the largest US bank,has agreed to pay $8.5 to settle claims against it for it’s issuance of fraudulent sub-prime
    mortgage bonds.This focuses on the quandry always present in the banking
    industry as well as the capitalist system as a whole.

    It’s important to understand that if anyone employed by BofA would have
    objected to selling those bonds to it’s gullible customers,that person
    would have been fired.Morality,ethics,honesty,law,rightness mean nothing
    to a good capitalist.

    There are only two criteria that must be met for any business decision:
    1. Can we get away with it ?

    2.Can we make money doing it ?

    This then exposes the inherent criminality of the capitalistic system.

    Double D

  • Frank,

    If the answer to Question #1 is “”No, you will likely be caught,” they then ask:

    1. What fraction of the gains will I have to pay back in fines, if any?

    They do not even bother to wonder “will they prosecute and I end up in prison?” anymore.

  • Arthur

    You are seriously challenging me as I am relying for the most part on old knowledge, it having been many years since I was into this!

    But you are right – I was not clear enough – unfortunately, sometimes I read someone’s post too quickly and “speak” (write?) before I think! After re-reading what you said, I agree that you have a proper understanding of “order” at some level (specifically, phase transitions), but I must disagree with your conclusion that all things tend towards “order”. So apologies for that misunderstanding and for the poorly written response.

    To address your conclusion, I would start by re-stating the concept you interpreted (and disagree with) as “order tends to decrease” into the more accurate statement by Clausius, who stated, “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” And certainly whilst entropy can be considered a measure of order (or perhaps more properly, disorder), this statement does not really communicate the fullness of the term “entropy”, which can be understood more clearly, I think, as a measure of “energy distribution”.

    So as I interpret what you say, your fundamental issue is not really with Boltzmann (though he captures your issue most clearly!), but with the general interpretation of the 2nd law by the scientific community?

    Like you, I will not go into all the historical definitions of entropy (there are several, as you rightly pointed out – though they all say much the same thing), but will instead recommend approaching entropy and the 2nd law in terms of “energy distribution”, a more modern approach; i.e., “Energy spontaneously disperses from being localized to becoming spread out if it is not hindered from doing so.”. From this view we can ignore the ambiguity of the terms “order” and “disorder”, and the 2nd law becomes much more understandable. Unless prevented from doing so, any system containing containing components of localised energy distribution (a rock held high? An ice cube in a warm room? An apple left to sit? A living body?) will tend towards a more even distribution of its total energy (The ball drops. The ice cube receives heat from the room and melts. The apple rots. The living body dies.).

    I am certain that you are also quite correct when you say that all the scientists that you have communicated your hypothesis to disagree with you. No offence, but I’m afraid I fall into their camp as well.

    I am not a physicist (I was at one time a chemist in a former life – just after I was re-incarnated from a dog – at least according to my wife who knows about such things), so I cannot give you the truly informed response I think you deserve on this issue.

    However, I reckon that the best way to introduce a new idea, if you feel as strongly about it as you seem, is to author a formal paper, submit it for peer review and see where that leads you. Who knows, you might turn the entire world of physics, mathematics and the sciences on their collective heads and even win a Nobel Prize for such a contribution!

  • Resa

    You are correct – a complex system often has a high capacity to absorb and adapt. Indeed, you might say that is how it became a complex system. But that quality also has a dark side to it. For most any large, complex system there are some nodes that are more highly connected than others. Remove (or disable) one or more of these highly-connected nodes and you are likely to bring the entire complex network down with a crash. So yes, you can remove many nodes without significant consequence, or at least minor consequence – that is what makes the complex system so robust.

    I would recommend a couple papers for your consideration:

    Complexity and fragility in ecological networks
    Ricard V. Sole and Jose¨ M. Montoya

    A quote:
    This complex organization has important implications for the stability of ecosystems in terms of their fragility and persistence. We have shown that SF food webs are very robust under random deletion of species. Secondary extinctions remain at low values because the probability of being removed decreases with k according to Pkºk7 , so it is unlikely that a highly connected species will be deleted. Such robustness becomes weakness under the selective removal of species with many connections, in
    non-directed graphs as much as in prey-directed graphs. We ¢nd especially significant the differences in extinction rates between random and selective attacks, which increase by orders of magnitude for the removal of highly connected species.

    Complexity and fragility in the lattice percolation problem
    Maryam Fazel, Xin Liu and John C. Doyle
    California Institute of Technology

    These folks maintain that a complex physical system can be modelled as a lattice and using linear programming can determine by finding unobstructed (or not) paths through the lattice, whether how fragile (subject to crash) the system is. Their conclusion: Complexity implies fragility.

  • They do not even bother to wonder “will they prosecute and I end up in prison?” anymore.


    Indeed. Not only that, they know that they will always be able to settle, and that part of that settlement will be the condition that they will not even have to admit wrongdoing! Just pay up and walk away like nothing ever happened.

  • Firefighters working against the wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, N.M., have set part of the perimeter of the lab ablaze in hopes of starving the wildfire of fuel in the event it heads back toward the stash of radioactive material stored inside the lab.

    So far so good, but what happens a few years down the road when we have even less $’s to fight fires.

  • Dear Robin Datta and Guy McPherson,

    You have made critical points regarding human-induced climate destabilization the collapse of civilization. The vital discussion you are encouraging always remains marginalized, ever outside the lines of mainstream discussions. This exchange of views is virtually impossible to maintain, even within a group of people who share a common perspective, in the most general sense, and who are capable of thinking globally. How do we bring this conversation to the ‘center stage’ of public discourse? What are the factors that prevent this crucial step from occurring? Whatever they are, they must be overcome. Challenges people refuse to see cannot be accepted. Threats we are unwilling to acknowledge cannot be addressed and overcome. Changes toward sustainability will not occur as needed.

    This brings me to the work of Royal Society and the “People and the Planet Working Group”. For whatsoever it is worth, I have long regarded the Royal Society as ‘Jerusalem’ within the world of science. When experts around the world refuse even to so much as look at scientific evidence, much less rigorously examine what at least some scientists acknowledge as the best available research, the Royal Society is the one place where anyone can turn for an objective review of research. Think of the number of professional societies who have rejected opportunities to have a discussion like the one you are inviting now here. Consider how many opportunities have been missed to make reports of extant science on human population dynamics. This is a tragedy in the making. Time after time population experts, in particular, have rejected overtures to discuss certain scientific research and report findings.

    Sir Paul Nurse, Sir John Sulston and other members of the Royal Society can be counted on to do the hard work that has thus far been left undone. I believe the RS will help us bring “the human population and its unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities” to the center stage.




    Prominent Climate Change Skeptic Received Over $1 Million From Oil, Coal Companies
    Greenpeace has revealed that one of the world’s most prominent scientific figures to be skeptical about climate change has admitted to being paid more than $1 million in the past decade by major U.S. oil and coal companies. The climate skeptic — Willie Soon — works as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. Since 2001, he has received money from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Insitute and Koch Industries along with Southern, one of the world’s largest coal-burning utility companies.

    Worst Drought in Decades Strikes Horn of Africa, Over 10 Million Affected
    The United Nations is warning that the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years. The drought has affected more than 10 million in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. U.N. officials said in some areas the situation is close to that of famine. Malnutrition rates are quickly rising as food prices soar.

  • Navid and Victor

    Yes—-it always comes down to the same question: can we get away with it.

    Apologists for the Criminal Capitalistic System like to cite Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” as their bible,and rational for Capitalism.
    The biggest irony in this,and I paraphrase Smith, is the most important
    sentence in The Wealth of Nations,usually neglected but always true:
    “Two businessmen seldom get together,without attempting to fix prices,
    and CONSPIRE against the public”.

    The more money involved,the greater the crimes against the public.

    Double D

  • “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen lays out what would likely happen after an EMP attack takes out most of the electrical power and even most transport in the US. While the politics of the author aren’t exactly my own, the scenario seems likely. Without such an event things will play out over more time but in the end be similar IMHO.

    Without preparing for defense all preparations for providing your own food will be for naught. No one will “survive” the bottleneck without at the very least withholding for themselves and their kin what others want for their own survival. The way through the bottleneck will be over the bodies of the vast majority of people now living.

  • Peak sand?
    ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The supply of sand used to fill hundreds of thousands of bags needed to fight off the swollen Missouri River is running low after weeks of relentless flooding. It’s a problem that could get worse as the river is expected to remain high through August, making it unsafe to gather sand from the easiest place to get it: the river itself.

    Read more:

  • While the politics of the author aren’t exactly my own, the scenario seems likely.


    Such a scenario is quite possible. I recall reading an analysis in the Asian Times a couple years ago concerning China’s strategy for dealing with the military might of the USA, which they cannot match (today). They are concentrating all their strategy and technology to attack vital choke-points in the US system, using the reasoning of the less able fighter – hit the big fellow in the knees and cripple him – then take your time about eliminating him.

    Part of that plan revolved around using cruise missiles designed to hit moving targets like America’s aircraft carriers, thus crippling their air and sea power near to China. Another was to develop anti-satellite technology to destroy crucial American communications. And a third was to develop ballistic missile-launched EMP payloads over the US wiping out their national communications and disabling their infrastructure (civilian and military).

    What do you think the probability is that they wouldn’t do so when threatened by the maniacs in Washington?

  • Kathy

    I believe they were also considering satellite-based EMPs as well! This would give them very quick ability to knock out US defences.

  • victor/kathy
    china shot down one of their own satellites about a year + ago. they were chided for creating space debris in these orbits. i think message was; we can!

  • Kathy said: “Without preparing for defense all preparations for providing your own food will be for naught…. The way through the bottleneck will be over the bodies of the vast majority of people now living.”

    With the vast majority of humans living in large coastal cities, a quick collapse will send tens of millions of people out into the surrounding suburbs/countryside like locusts. So if you live within a tank full of gas driving distance from a metro area, your best bet might be a hardened bunker or slightly used missle silo. Think ‘Blast from the Past’ – LOL

  • Victor, Sam, JB. The scenario I thought likely was what happened after. As JB notes quick collapse will send city folks out to the country side which is what happens big time in the book. However they flee on foot because the EMP knocks out the solid state electronics in cars made after the 80’s. The “hero” has a mother in law who still has an Edsel and it becomes one of the few vehicles that will run (they siphon gas out of all the vehicles that coast to a stop on a nearby interstate – per wiki “Realization of the potential impacts of EMP became more apparent to some scientists and engineers during the 1970s as more sensitive solid-state electronics began to come into widespread use” In the book the president is dead immediately because airforce 1 is not hardened enough and drops out of the sky along with all the other airplanes. Of note the US has created a doomsday plane to rescue the big wigs Someone on another site said that the Solar Flares that could take out the grid would not affect cars and planes.

    One hint from the book in such circumstances eat the pets as soon as you can bring yourself to do so as the longer they live the more food they take away from people and the less food they will provide for people when they are killed.

    The book is located in rural NC and so there are a fair number of guns and bullets and they quickly decide to defend their own and deal with outsiders by letting them go through but not stay UNLESS they have useful skills such as mechanical abilities, farming abilities, medical abilities or defense abilities. Stockbrokers etc. are not allowed in.

    The elderly and very ill go first. Those dependent on modern medicine go next. When they go to rationing the old and the very young go. The problem of what to do when the psychotics and other mentally ill who depend on meds run out has to be dealt with.

    The author covers a ton of issues pretty well.

  • Watch out Nukes – it’s the invasion of the jellyfish!

    Not just floods and earthquakes we must worry about… :-)

  • OMG Victor – what next. Might be climate change at fault here

    Jellyfish Plague Blamed on Climate Change
    by Stephen Castle
    A plague of jellyfish along Europe’s beaches has become the latest environmental hazard to be blamed on global warming.

  • RE climate change – Greenman3610 nails Lord Monckton on this 4 min Youtube vid.

  • 7 Medicine: Nicole we had the best intentions of creating a medicinal garden this year, and we have done OK. We ordered 40 seeds from Richters in Canada. Most of what they had that had medicinal value. I think because its a Canadian company they are able to provide alot more info on what the plant is capable of. The problem is that alot of these plants are difficult to start from seed. Conflicting info on scarifying or stratifying and then there are the cold, hot, cold stratifies. Out of the 40 we may have about 11-12 that made it. Now we will see if they can make it through a zone 5 winter.
    We may be taking a different approach, something that Kathy mentioned and that is the preventitive. NIH already says that 99% of all the heart disease in the US would go away if everyone is a vegetarian. We both just had blood tests for the first time in over 5 years. Two interesting results were high cholesterol, but off the chart (in a good way) LDL/HDL ratios. The other result that was interesting was a low Vitamin D level. We both take 5000 IU’s of D3 every day, and get more sun than 99% of the people in NY state. As I have said before studies show that low D is worse than smoking. Still trying to figure that result out.
    Preventitives are also pro-biotics. Kimchi, Yogurt, and Sauerkraut. The stuff you are going to be making anyway when things collapse.
    I think that our inability to diagnose couple with the difficulty of growing some of these medicinals, makes prevention a better focus.
    On the gaping wound stuff that was discussed earlier. Mallow and spider’s webs are supposed to be amazing and stopping the bleeding. St. John’s Wort blossoms steeped in oil or wine for a couple of months are supposed to be a great antiseptic, since the time of the Greeks. Mallow and St. John’s are easy to grow and perennials. I’m still going to go to the emergency room for my next accident, at least until it ain’t there.
    We have friend who’s mother (92) lives by herself, and cut her arm badly last weekend. She mistakenly called her doctor on the weekend when she wanted to call urgent care. When she was told they would not be open until Monday, she got out the needle and thread, and alcohol and gave herself 5 stitches left handed. The doctor on Monday said the stitches look great.
    We had a farmer stop by yesterday who has no cartiledge in his knee. He has a brace on it, and it doesn’t bend at all, and he still farms full time. Knee replacement is too expensive. It’s pretty amazing to see what you can deal with when there are no alternatives.

  • With great thanks to Robin Datta for this evocative essay, I’ve posted a brief new essay.