Endings and beginnings

by Robin Datta

Endings mark the beginning of a new state, different from the preceding one, just as beginnings indicate the end of a prior state. Each is a discontinuity discerned against a background that is unaffected by the discontinuity. Evolution is a phenomenon whereby multiple, sequential, miniscule discontinuities approximate a continuity. In biological systems, with the accumulation of sufficient change, a new species may be defined. Life itself is postulated to emerge from physico-chemical processes in a similar manner.

While the beginnings of a species are inextricably rooted in its predecessors, its endings can take different paths. Extinction occurs when the constellation of features defining the species no longer occur together. This is commonly perceived to happen when there is an abrupt discontinuity after which no members of the species exist. However it may also occur when several daughter species emerge, each distinct from the original species: a radiation. When only a single different species results it is termed genetic drift. However, genetic drift is a built-in feature of genetic inheritance, occurring to a greater or lesser extent is every species.

Genetic inheritance is manifest as the phenotype of the individual: its structure and — to the extent that structure affects function — its function. Such functions can range from the very basic, at the biochemical level, to instincts hard-wired into brains. A function as complex as flight in birds has been shown to be instinctual: birds hatched and reared in captivity without the sight of other birds, are able to fly normally if presented with the first opportunity to do so at a stage of sufficient maturity.

Non-inherited behaviors are made possible by sufficiently complex brains. These brains and some of their hard-wiring are the phenotype — the manifestation of genetic inheritance — and the learned behaviors are acquired rather than inherited.

At its most basic level, such learned behaviors are associated with the limbic system, often referred to as the “reptilian” brain, although it is present at least in rudimentary form in lineages that date back to before the reptiles. In humans it is associated with emotions and the sense of values. It is non-verbal, and is the prime motivator of behavioral drives. Most of its programming occurs in infancy and early childhood.

Intellectual and logical functions are associated with the neocortex (“new rind”), which is a phylogenetically (evolutionarily) more recent part of the brain. Such functions include learned behaviors simple tool use, such as a twig to extract insects from crevices in a tree’s bark, breaking of a clamshell with a stone, and hunting techniques in carnivores.

The addition of language to these functions permits the transmission of ideas and concepts more complex by orders of magnitude. This opens up a (Pandora’s box?) corresponding realm of increasing complexity in behavior. These behaviors remain subordinate to the more primal motivations and drives. Although logical and intellectual abilities are considered “higher” functions, they are comparable to the lower echelon of officers, sergeants and foot-soldiers in an army, while emotions and value systems are the generals.

On account of being non-verbal, motivations and drives are not easily approachable through logic and reason as conveyed by language. They are susceptible to appeals to emotion and values: such appeals when couched in language, often amount to logical fallacies. They can be molded by repeated verbal hammering, a continuous barrage of advertising and/or propaganda (both often being the same), This is the basis for Joseph Goebbels’ assertion that “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”. They are also the basis for the arts, visual (painting, sculpture, architecture), performing (music, dance) and written (poetry and literature).

A special category of approach to emotion and values are the societal narratives. When these are maintained and propagated by a select group — a clergy — they constitute a religion, although not all such organized narratives are recognized as religions. There are even quixotic efforts to bridge a perceived gap between emotion/values and logic/reason with religion and science taken as exemplars of each.

The entire corpus of behaviors transmitted through learning in society is referred to as “culture”. The smallest putative transmissible element of culture is the meme. Such memes can refer predominantly to intellectual concepts or to value systems. A culture based on value systems is slow to evolve, and is not easily codified into written laws. However it is more durable and resilient than the other variety.

Systems based on intellection can be more easily and quickly be committed to paper in the form of constitutions and laws. This is exemplified in America by an emphasis on the Constitution that is not found in nations with a long history of established cultures. It is also a factor in the gargantuan body of laws, an exponentially proliferating plethora that is quite incommensurate with any societal harmony that can be attributed to it. It is also a factor in the Civil War, which sought to retain as legitimate and legal the option to continue slavery. This was possible only by leaving the meaning of “men” in “all men are created equal” open to varying interpretations. The “Left” in American politics rarely refers to the Constitution, as their ideology is directed towards emotion and values.

The resiliency of old cultures based on values in the face of political and ideological upheavals is seen in Germany after Nazism and China after the “Cultural Revolution” (the term “Cultural” notwithstanding). Established values can trump appeals to ideology. Tyrants, dictators and despots derive much of their power from appeals to emotion and values. An established value system makes their accession to power easier. This may be a saving grace for the American system: no potential tyrant can launch a sufficiently broad-based appeal.

The lack of shared values can be maladaptive to a society in collapse: such an absence of common identity can lead to fragmentation with the diversion of scarce resources and valuable effort to internal conflicts. Intellectual functions and their component memes generally center around realities in the physical world. They have time horizons which if not short, are at least limited by time and space, a limitation not shared by value systems. While intellectual ideologies may succeed in the short term, value systems may prove their resilience in the long term — if they can get past the bottleneck. The emphasis on building small communities of shared values to face the coming collapse is wise; the other option based on intellectual memes is to build a well-stocked and well-armed fortress for oneself in a remote location.

The tendency to discount the future, to act for short-term advantage even when such action incurs a greater long-term disadvantage, is based on a distortion of rationality by emotion.

In non-human species, instinctive behaviors are shaped by evolutionary forces to be responses that are appropriate to the situation, such as eating and drinking, seeking prey and avoiding predators. Instinctive behaviors that seem to suggest advance planning are also shaped by forces in the species’ evolutionary history of exposure to endlessly repeated cycles, often seasonal and annual, resulting in migrations, hibernations, and more complex behaviors such as the storage of nuts and acorns by squirrels. Apart from these, the unlearned responses to situations are driven by the preference for immediate gratification, based on emotion rather than on any concept of a future outcome based on the intellect.

The ability to intentionally manipulate the environment to one’s advantage is nowhere more highly expressed than in humans. This is a learned behavior. But there are no learned guides to modulate it. On an individual basis, one’s intellect can guide actions based on a concept of future outcomes. At a societal level, intellection has poor purchase, and emotional response to seek short-term gain hijacks the intellect to devise ways to magnify that gain even at a disproportionate cost in long term disadvantage.

Hocking one future for another may be a rational decision, such as when a debt is to be paid with the proceeds of a business started with a loan. This is investment debt, to be distinguished from consumption debt, which is driven by the standard emotional response. The vast majority of debt today is consumption debt, including among others, house mortgages and as a consequence of improvident siphoning away of funds to be squandered elsewhere, entitlement programs. This is made all the more easier when the future hocked in someone else’s, as in the case of millions of future taxpayers or subjecting the accounts of prudent savers to inflationary theft. All this based on promises with a redemption date in the suitably distant future, but a reward of re-/election now.

Major phase changes in the ability to manipulate the environment included meta-tools: the making of tools (such as cutting implements made of stone) to make other tools (such as wooden spears) and the control of fire. This control enabled the cooking of food — in effect a partial digestion (and sterilization) prior to eating. Quite significantly, this made possible the consumption of previously-indigestible cereal grains, setting the foundation for agriculture.

With agriculture came permanent settlements, the concept of land as property, and of excess grain as wealth. There followed the hierarchies for the control and manipulation of this wealth, from kings and politburos to soldiers and priests. More importantly there was the disruption of cycles in which the wastes of one point were the resources for the next, in durable ecosystems consisting of closed loops: these were replaced by linear flows from resource to product to waste, depleting resources and creating pollution.

The addition of energy derived from fossil fuels magnified these linear flows by many orders of magnitude, powering the overshoot that now makes us “addicted” to this depleting resource.

Some have tried to extract a glimmer of hope (not Hope™ as in Hope™ and Change™) from the dismal prospects by ruminating on the emergence through evolution in the human species of a better form without the current shortcomings. Much of this speculation is centered on changes in the neocortex, leading to more forceful intellection which may overcome the primitive emotional response that seeks to maximize immediate gratification. Such an evolution, like any other evolution, would require Nature to craft the right environmental circumstances to exert selection pressures that impel a subset of humans towards becoming “better humans”. While nice as a hope, it has too many variables to approach being an expectation.

The Drake Equation suggests that there should be many civilizations in our galaxy, This leads to the Fermi Paradox which notes that none have been discovered, which in turn leads to the Doomsday Argument that it the nature of intelligent life to burn through its resources as fast as possible, going through overshoot and into die-off in every instance, perhaps the darkest of all speculations in science.

Robin Datta was born in Quetta, Pakistan in 1949. His father was one of three Hindu officers in the Pakistan Army at that time, and a veteran of the Burma campaign of WW2 as a Regimental Medical Officer in the Royal British Indian Army. 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 Royal British Indian Army in WW2. His mother’s native language was Telegu, and his father’s was Bengali: their common language was English (a consequence of two centuries of British Raj), and hence he spoke English natively (as his first language), but had to unlearn it rapidly when exposed to the American Language in New York. He also speaks Urdu, the lingus franca in those parts, natively (natively bilingual).

Datta graduated with a medical degree from Bangladesh in 1972: in order to graduate, it was necessary to take a medical history from the local patients, and as a consequence he learnt Bengali. He moved to New York in 1973. He served in the Army two years (one in Korea, and half a year in Desert Storm), and served three years in the Navy, and was a Flight Surgeon
in both branches of service.

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

Almost all of what he learnt about Eastern religions was acquired after coming to America. The knowledge of Bengali helped significantly in understanding the nuances of cognate terms in Sanskrit and Pali.

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

Comments 100

  • Well put! That about covers it all, but since this is a discussion site I will mention the thought that came to me while reading. Joseph Tainter identifies the collapse of civilizations to occur when the civilization has decreasing returns on diminishing returns on investments in social complexity Might this not hold true as well to the human species. While we have been around for 200,000 years, we have been around less time than most species exist and so if we extinct ourselves we have proved perhaps less fit, despite our ability to span the globe. Perhaps we are the point at which the increasing complexity of species begins to have diminishing returns in the sense that we destroy the base of life we need to live and can’t sustain for the normal lifespan of a species.

    Looking at the normal lifespan of species mammals are about 1 million years and other species much longer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_extinction_rate#Lifespan_estimates

    It well may be that we top out at 200,000 years – I think Neanderthals did a bit better than that.

  • Robin.

    I find little to argue with in what you have written except: ‘the nature of intelligent life [is to] to burn through its resources as fast as possible’.

    I suppose much comes down to the definition of intelligence. When I talk to my local council about the crucial issues of the times I see no evidence of intelligence: I see only greed and stupidity.

    For me, burning resources as quickly as possible and rendering your home largely (or completely) uninhabitable is an indicator of extreme lack of intelligence.

    I wonder whether it will be the most intelligent or the most brutish who get through the first bottleneck.

  • Kevin, it might be the best hiders, or the most disease resistant (with warming moving malaria north, sickle cell could once again become a great advantage) or the most self sufficient (ie the remaining hunter-gatherers or herders) or the luckiest (farthest away from any nuclear power plants, and ground zero), or the smallest – (less food needed). How about Siberian herders – they are in a place where there aren’t any nuclear plants and perhaps could adapt to changing climate since they are used to living off the land – they would have to learn new ways and skills but they wouldn’t be starting from scratch like the guys on Wall Street. They might already have a good mix of intelligence, leaders, fearless fighters and they would know the value of community cooperation.

    More likely WWIII will shatter the planet beyond livability for humans.

  • I’d like to see intelligence interrogate why people from the subcontinent are so given to prolixity. Oh my goodness, yes indedee. You’ve been in the US since the early 1970s and you still haven’t worked out how to put things in simple English?

  • The level of intelligence sufficient to start extracting and consuming previously unavailable resources may need more time to evolve to a level where it wisely manages those resources. But in the meantime it may have depleted the resources.

  • The colors an artist uses have many hues and saturations. Likewise words in the English language have an abundance of nuances and connotations, which can even vary by proximity to other words. Just as perception of tones and overtones in music can vary, so can one’s appreciation of language.

  • In reply to the previous point about the Olympic Games.

    Toward the end of last year a lot of people were saying ‘all over by Christmas’ because faith in the markets had been shattered by the MF Global affair and Greece was ‘about to default’. Three months later the elites are still kicking the can down the road.

    I believe there is the potential for corporations to make enormpous profits out of the Olympic Games, and the opportunity to keep the masses dumbed-down and distracted.

    If the long-awaited attack on Iran is to go ahead, what better time to initiate it than when the masses are glued to their television sets watching sports and not bothered about much else?

  • Well, you don’t have to be that smart to work out that things aren’t what they appear to be. You’re lied to from the day you’re born until the day you die — if you’re stupid enough to have a preacher at your deathbed.

    I could hardly make out a word of your overblown reductionism. But it brought to mind the following: “I don’t believe in history as progress, I do not believe in purity, I do not believe in the ‘good’ society. I believe that man is a failed species.” — Bernard-Henri Lévy.

  • Just as perception of tones and overtones in music can vary, so can one’s appreciation of language.

    Balls. English is an analytic language. Its chief virtue is that it doesn’t rely on tone or case or pronunciation for its meaning to be apparent, which is why it is understood universally, which is why synthetic languages such as French have lost out.

    Speak clearly and in simple terms, and you will be understood.

  • The beauty in language is not lost to all.

  • Martin, when an American man tells a woman that he loves her does he mean

    1. He likes how her body looks
    2. He identifies with her thoughts and beliefs and shares them
    3. He wants to share his life with her
    4. He wants to go to bed with her and vanish from the scene

    When a parent tells a child he loves that child does he or she mean

    1. The feel the normal kin selection
    2. The hormones nature provides to cause maternal or paternal care have kicked in
    3. The child matches some expectation for behavior
    4. The child matches some characteristics that give hope for good future
    5. The parent hopes to engender future attention for themselves by saying nice words to the child
    6. The parent hopes to inspire good behavior

    ETC ETC ETC English is NOT a simple language and meaning is interpreted by context, body language, sound all the time. Puns are abundant in English as a way of playing with multiple meanings. It is understood universally because we have the biggest stockpile of nukes.

  • Cathy C –

    Regarding “English is NOT a simple language and meaning is interpreted by context, body language, sound all the time. Puns are abundant in English as a way of playing with multiple meanings. It is understood universally because we have the biggest stockpile of nukes” I would reply to this with two points: …

    1)THEREFORE ones written English must be clear and simple because tone of voice, body language, facial expression and the context within which to understand puns are absent from written text.

    2)English became the Lingua Franca long before Nukes were even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. It could be as a result of the British Empire spreading everywhere but English is, in many ways, a superior language for science, technology and politics. Read the last sentence as you wish.

  • Radio Ecoshock podcast:

    Speech by Wes Jackson of the Land Institute to ASPO 2011 (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas USA) in Washington D.C. Recorded by Gerri Williams for Ecoshock. Plus, carbon-cycle Australian scientist Dr. Michael Raupach of CSIRO on carbon to soil solutions, including biochar. Radio Ecoshock 120201 1 hour

    Forever Planting (for Peak Oil & Climate Change)

  • Madman

    1)THEREFORE ones written English must be clear and simple because tone of voice, body language, facial expression and the context within which to understand puns are absent from written text.

    I not quite sure your sentence is clear and simple enough for me to parse. But making a guess at your meaning I will reply. All languages that are written leave out voice, body language, facial expression and therefor often have to be less simple and more wordy because you have to fill those easily understood clues with words.

    But puns work fine in written text without voice, body language, facial expression (in fact in telling a pun neutral voice and facial expression work best so the laugh comes when the person “figures it out”)

    “Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.” Works quite fine written for me at least. Or “There was a sign on the lawn at a drug re-hab center that said ‘Keep off the Grass’.”

    2)English became the Lingua Franca long before Nukes were even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. It could be as a result of the British Empire spreading everywhere but English is, in many ways, a superior language for science, technology and politics. Read the last sentence as you wish.

    Well you see, saying “we have the most nukes” is shorthand for having power (financial and military) which started in the colonial age when the US was a fledgling country and continued when the growing US power became dominant after WWII. But it would of course been easier to understand my intent in conversation where such shorthand is assisted by intonation and body language – as in “well of course English dominates, we got the NUKES”. However I have been posting here a while, and I expect most other regular posters would understand my intent and know that I have a fair grasp on history. You see people also write and speak to a specific audience and fill in or leave out depending on the sophistication of the expected audience. I wasn’t expecting to have to fill in all the blanks. In a language as rich as English and full of add on meanings “Nukes” can stand for the whole history of English/American power.

    Because of the long domination of the UK and the US in the world many newly coined technical words are seen are coined in an English speaking country thus the predominance of seemingly English words in technical terms. But often at least in science and health they actually hale back to Latin or Greek. Homo sapiens for instance is Latin for wise man and is Archaeopteryx derives from the Ancient Greek ἀρχαῖος (archaīos) meaning “ancient”, and πτέρυξ (ptéryx), meaning “feather” or “wing”.

  • Robin

    Well written. Whilst I find a lot to disagree about with regards to your evolutionary premises, I fully agree with your conclusions:

    More importantly there was the disruption of cycles in which the wastes of one point were the resources for the next, in durable ecosystems consisting of closed loops: these were replaced by linear flows from resource to product to waste, depleting resources and creating pollution.

    The addition of energy derived from fossil fuels magnified these linear flows by many orders of magnitude, powering the overshoot that now makes us “addicted” to this depleting resource.


    which in turn leads to the Doomsday Argument that it the nature of intelligent life to burn through its resources as fast as possible, going through overshoot and into die-off in every instance, perhaps the darkest of all speculations in science.

    Couldn’t possibly have put it better myself!

    As for your usage of English, I think it of a high calibre – too high for the normal person out there to grasp perhaps, but a level to which we should all aspire. I tire of the suggestions that English should be presented at a level consistent with an 8th year student. I believe that the 8th year student should be encouraged to progress beyond his present state and that society in general should be better educated and held to a higher level. Not to do so is to condemn us all to a less than mediocre society, as is evidenced by the current trends in America to dumb down the population.

  • Victor,

    No one has suggested writing at the level of an 8th year student. You might not like my combative way of signalling my disapproval, but that’s too bad. I don’t much care for your passive-aggressive way of telling me off. What you don’t know is that I spent years in the Middle East rewriting prolix copy usually, though not always, submitted by an Indian. And although during my tenure in the Middle East I learnt a new respect for Indians, easily the most hardworking and uncomplaining people I have met, I nevertheless had to rewrite their articles into the kind of English people expect to read in a newspaper.

    It is not about standards. It is about respecting your audience. Your written word is, or should be, about drawing your reader in, not alienating them with language that, whether intended or not, shows off the erudition of the writer.

  • Martin, about time you finally said what you really meant.

  • Here is one possible ending
    Methane hydrates: the next communication bomb in the climate change debate by Ugo Bardi
    “As greenhouse gas, methane is more powerful than carbon dioxide, but there is a much more important difference between these two gases. Carbon dioxide emissions are something that we create and that we can control, at least in principle. If we stop burning fossil fuels, then we stop generating CO2. But, with methane, it is another matter. We have no direct control on the huge amounts of methane buried in ice in the permafrost and at the bottom of oceans in the form of “hydrates” or “clathrates.”

    Methane hydrates are a true climate bomb that could go off by itself as the result of a relatively small trigger in the form of a global warming.”
    rest at http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-02-07/methane-hydrates-next-communication-bomb-climate-change-debate

  • Kathy C,

    I’m sorry I did not reply to your comment, but that is only because I did not have an adequate reply.


  • Martin

    You might think I was ‘telling you off’, as if you were the centre of the universe, but actually you would be wrong. I was contributing to the discussion by offering up my opinion to yours and Kathy’s. Sorry if it seemed to be telling you off, but as you say, being a combative person as yourself, I can understand that a differing opinion will likely be perceived as a personal affront.

    I nevertheless had to rewrite their articles into the kind of English people expect to read in a newspaper.

    Eighth grade and below is precisely the audience level newspapers and other media target, at least as I understand current marketing methods. However, I believe you to be correct when you say that one should target the level of his audience for the maximum in reading comprehension, and that you are not showing them proper respect if you don’t. But I have always been taught (perhaps wrongly) that for the general audience, you might lose a substantial number of people if you write at a level above the 8th year of school. Conversely, assuming that the audience targeted is one comprised of knowledgeable and educated folks (some of whom are self-educated to a high degree) but will not understand or properly comprehend a message written above the level of a newspaper is to me a bit on the dis-respective side to that audience, don’t you think?

    You might not like my combative way of signalling my disapproval, but that’s too bad.

    As for your combative style of criticism, not to be concerned – I have seen too many of that type in my life to be bothered – I DO originate in America after all…. ;-) . Admittedly, I am more attracted to those whose styles are more centred around the concept that ‘you can catch more flies with honey’, but what the heck? – be combative. I can take it, and certainly the others on this site can take it.

  • Victor,

    I’ll take it as given that your comments were intended, as you say, for the charmed circle of frequent commenters, and not for me, although my well-attuned paranoid antenna suggests otherwise.

    I submit that your attack on me is entirely to shore up your standing in the coffee klatch that has (inevitably) grown up around Guy’s blog. A coffee klatch to which I don’t belong.

    I respect Guy because he has chosen a life of radical honesty, and hang the consequences. You, I’m not so sure about.

  • Martin

    I’m not asking you to be sure about me, nor am I asking anyone else here. And I am certainly not trying to shore up my standing in what you term this ‘coffee klatch’, which in reality is a group of intelligent and very nice folks folks with common interests who share opinions about the demise of industrial civilisation and who look to this site very often because none other provides the free and open discussions on this subject to which we have become accustomed. I’m not some adolescent-minded attention-seeker looking for status…..been there…done that….and was quite successful in my day… :-).

    I am who I am – no more, no less. If you don’t like what I have to say, then ignore me – I take no offence.

  • I’m not going to ignore you, Victor. I thank you for your considerate reply.

  • Martin

    You are welcome, and I look forward to reading more of your opinions.

  • FWIW, I was underwhelmed by this post, too. It reads like a disconnected list of definitions, explanations, and premises without a unifying theme or reason for being. Robin (or Robni?) Datta clearly has some erudition and agrees with the basic collapse scenario we all fret about, but lots of small details in the writing bother me. I find it advisable to give up any expectation that most blogs and comments be expertly written. But to the content ….

    The conflict between the emotions/values part of the brain (the limbic system) and the intellectual/rational part (the neocortex) interests me quite a bit, but I suspect that the real character defect with modern man is not that we’re not rational enough but that we’ve lost touch with ourselves as embodied beings and prefer to live instead in our heads, which is to say, according to our notions of the way the world could or ought to be. So we create these giant, self-reinforcing meme complexes that obscure and distort reality, making us unfit to live in the world without destroying it (and ourselves) as we go.

    The flawed dream of transhumanism is that we will eventually evolve into something better, more advanced, more cerebral. Robin Datta’s penultimate paragraph speaks to this, and he writes “better humans” in scare quotes for a reason (there being no such thing). However, without embracing the Doomsday Argument, I would suggest that what is needed — and probably inevitable — is that we lose power over the environment and its resources, go back to an earlier, simpler, localized way of life, and accept our smaller place within the world rather than astride it. Not onward and upward but backward and downward.

  • Kathy.

    I first encountered the concept of the methane hydrate time bomb in 2001. Since then the CO2 content of the atmosphere has been pushed up by about 25ppm, and the annual rate of rise is still increasing.

    Acidification of the oceans has been highlighed as potentially devastating to the ocean food chain. Interestingly, life on Earth has survived much higher CO2 levels than we are currently experiencing, and one explanation is that higher ocean temperatures drove CO2 out of the oceans and into the atmosphere.

    Although our knowledge of geochemical systems is now spendid, we are nevertheless headed into unknown territory, since the Earth has never endured the particular combination of factors present at the moment. In particular, humans have released into the system carbon that had been sequestered since he Carboniferous Period, i.e. 290+ million years ago.

    Positive feedbacks undoubtedly pose the greatest threat to continued habitation of this planet by mammals larger than rats.

    Bardi wrote: ‘Carbon dioxide emissions are something that we create and that we can control, at least in principle.’ We may be able to control CO2 emissions in principle but we all know that in practice we cannot, since this planet is run by global corporations for the short term benefit of global corporations and their stockholders, and 99% of the populace is more or less scientifically iliterate.

    I covered all these points in TEW.


    The message just does not get through, whether Guy says it, I say it or Dr Jim Hansen says it.

  • Brutus, “I would suggest that what is needed — and probably inevitable — is that we lose power over the environment and its resources, go back to an earlier, simpler, localized way of life, and accept our smaller place within the world rather than astride it. Not onward and upward but backward and downward.”

    I agree. In a way perhaps we are creating a world that is safe for us, ie one in which we are in essence defanged – that would be a world so difficult to live in that all the power of our brain is needed just to live to the next day. Not intentionally of course any more than evolution intentionally created us, but perhaps inevitably. OTOH we could just be a short lived species due to the unsustainable trait of high intelligence.

    On various blogs I have heard some say the life we have lived this last century is the only life worth living. That is in essence are saying that all of evolution, all the lives of creatures in our evolutionary past, including most of our ancestors, were of no use, no value except to create us and our insane world. Trillions or more of lives of creatures, billions of humans, millions of years and the only creatures that count, the only lives worth living are those of about 1 billion out of 7 billion now living and maybe a billion or more in the century before us. It is a very sad and skewed and egocentric world view. So perhaps not upward or downward but forward to knowing our proper place – or of course stopped in our tracks.

  • Kevin, I know you and Guy and Hansen and multiple others have hit your head against the brick wall of denial. But having found myself writing about the English language and ability to tell puns with a straight face and neutral voice, I thought maybe I should post something more important.

    Of course given that talking about it does no good I guess the details of climate change are irrelevant. In fact what is relevant to talk about?

    Here is an idea – how about we talk about meaning. Does human life matter? If we all disappeared tomorrow would it matter? To whom would it matter? Are any other creatures on earth capable of thinking about mattering? Does it matter what we think about mattering ….

    I suppose what matters is that those of us who see the handwriting on the wall have a place where we can talk so we don’t feel so damn alone with the knowledge that it is all coming down. We can acknowledge that collapse of industrial civilization is good but also push back a bit of the fear about what it will mean to us personally and to those we care about.

  • You’re not alone, Kathy. But, unlike you, I’m making no preparations for what’s coming. None. Zilch. Zero.

    That’s because I don’t want to survive. I don’t want to negotiate the terms of my continued existence with the kind of people who will, in all likelihood, be holding the barrel of a gun at my head, which is most unlikely to be kind-hearted people such as yourself.

  • Kathy.

    Indeed, as far as I am concerned there are probably only two things to discuss that have much relevance:

    How do we minimise the suffering associated with the collpase of population as the industrialise agricultural system collapses?

    How do we prevent omnicide and environmental collapse rendering the Earth largely uninhabitable for most mammal species by the end of this century?

    Few people seem to want to discuss such matters. It seems that few people are capable of discussing such matters.

    Your comment triggered in my mind an image of a hand in a cave in Europe outlined in pigment and representations of animals commonly hunted at the time. What would those folk have thought of our resent predicament?

  • The message just does not get through, whether Guy says it, I say it or Dr Jim Hansen says it.

    Any message addressing tie intellect alone will be ignored, repressed and/or distorted if it conflicts with emotions and perceived values. The leaders of mass movements are persons who are able to access those emotions and values and bring about the necessary changes in perceptions that align the values and emotions with new paradigms.

    TED Talks:
    Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

  • Kevin, How do we minimise the suffering associated with the collpase of population as the industrialise agricultural system collapses?

    How do we prevent omnicide and environmental collapse rendering the Earth largely uninhabitable for most mammal species by the end of this century?

    I agree that those are important questions to ask, but in my point of view the time to ask them has already passed. Asking such questions now would be like the people on the Titanic asking how they could minimize the suffering of those who are about to drown, or how they could prevent the sinking ship from being unsuitable for future passengers. We can ask such questions, and we may come up with some really good answers. But the fact is, that we’ve already hit the iceberg. Now all we’re doing is rearranging the deck chairs.

  • TRDH

    I agree that the time to address the basic issies was in the 1950s (or the 1980s at the latest). The Titanic has hit indeed the iceberg and is sinking. However, unlike the real sinking, which took an matter of hours, the metaphorical sinking is going to take decades.

    I believe that still leaves: How do we minimise the suffering associated with the collapse of population as the industrialise agricultural system collapses? as a valid question. (The mainstream culture is apparently set on maximising the suffering.)

    Is abrupt climate change a certainty? I’m not sure. I like to think that Gaia has some trick up her sleeve we do not yet know about and that there is still some kind of window of opportunity to prevent the Earth becoming largely uninhabitable. I concede I am probably being over-optimistic on that count, since the culture of denial of reality remains intact despite our best efforts to bring it down.

    My prime cause for hope is that the system is now destroying itself faster than it is destroying the planet….. 23% unemployment in Spain and all that.

    Irrespective of the fate of the uninformed masses (especially those living in large cities) I cannot envision remnants of the human population giving up without a fight…. even if that involves building rafts and heading for Antarcica.

  • Martin. You’re citing — Bernard-Henri Lévy. This specimen of man is proof of his own saying – he really is a failed man.
    But let me tell you, I’m not willing to be put in the same boat with this war mongering, pre war director. Actually Carlin said something similar, this time it sounded so entirely different.

  • I have been watching the weather channel this morning. They had a segment with a tree expert about the early blooming of fruit trees in southern Georgia. His advice was for home owners to water their trees a day before a cold snap this weekend. No mention of lost fruit crops to commercial growers.
    They were also talking about “Where is winter?” in the U.S. and the brutal winter in Europe.
    They will not mention the words, “climate chaos”, “ocean current disruption”, “the risk of Europe being uninhabitable in winter”, etc.
    Just very matter of fact, low key reporting with little to no mention of consequences. No need to spook the herd.

  • We have flowers on our eastern redbud trees, and on some of the blueberry bushes as well. Too damned early, even for south Mis’sippi.

    So many tipping points have been passed. We’re in for a really, really bad ride, even those of us who are ‘aware.’ One can only do so much, when a killer hurricane is bearing down.

    Brent crude is at $118/barrel and WTI flirts with $100 as I type this. The governments of Romania and the Mildives have collapsed, and Greece looks to be on the brink. A proxy war is developing in Syria; Iranian troops are on the ground there now, as are “special” British and Qatari forces.

    And it’s only February.

  • Talk about climate chaos, down in South Florida we had to deal with a tropical disturbance in February! As for the rest of it I am looking at the first two weeks of March as the danger zone for some major event. Right now it looks like the pieces are moving around getting into place.

  • robin, as a typically ignorant american re. ‘exotic foreign lands’, i have a very limited perception of bangladesh as a very crowded impoverished place noted for awful famine and war a few decades ago. your perspective as one who lived and acquired an advanced medical education there i’m sure is much different, and no doubt has broadened your mind. i wonder does intimate familiarity with a place which likely will be among the first to be most devastated by rising seas and other coming catastrophes instill in u a more urgent anxiety for the immediate future?

    ‘It well may be that we top out at 200,000 years – I think Neanderthals did a bit better than that.’ -kathy 2 days ago

    lol. kind if puts us in perspective. not as great as we once thought.

    ‘For me, burning resources as quickly as possible and rendering your home largely (or completely) uninhabitable is an indicator of extreme lack of intelligence.’ -kevin

    i agree. i cannot define as intelligent a species that is behaving en masse as ours is now. plus personal experience failing to educate others re. our predicament reinforces a perception of epidemic stupidity/delusion. it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand our predicament. the basic intelligence/sanity required however is sadly quite rare.

    ‘I wonder whether it will be the most intelligent or the most brutish who get through the first bottleneck.’

    the first bottleneck may be the last one (no survivors). however, assuming there is a first bottleneck with survivors, i’m voting for brutishness bigtime. not that i envy the fate of these survivors, or the world they’ll inherit and help shape. have u ever heard of a very famous american cult musical group that emerged from the 60’s counter culture called the grateful dead? (their legions of devoted fans were noted as hippies who were fond of psychedelics) anyway, it might be better to be dead than to stick around long enough to witness more of the tragic consequences of ecocollapse/extinction and what may become an even more difficult, brutal struggle for survival to the bitter end.

  • Just to clarify, in case anyone was not sure what I meant:

    First bottleneck = collapse of the industrial food system (which looks likely to occur between 2015 and 2020, earlier if present economic arrangements go kaput over the next year or two).

    Second bottleneck = severe degradation of the environment that makes it possible for humans to live on this planet (which looks likely to occur between 2030 and 2050).

    Of course some say the second bottle has a cork firmly inserted in the end. i.e. humans will render to Earth entirely uninhabitable for humans.

    Many of us have been caught out in predictions for collapse because we did not foresee money being available for extensive fracking, tar sands extraction and deep-sea drilling etc.

    The system has a lot more capacity to prop itself up than we anticipated a few years ago. However, as we all know, by delayinmg the first bottleneck the system brings forward the second bottleneck.

  • however, assuming there is a first bottleneck with survivors, i’m voting for brutishness bigtime. not that i envy the fate of these survivors, or the world they’ll inherit and help shape.

    It was once predicted “blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5, Christian Bible) Given the state of the earth as it likely will be in a few decades, my guess is they will be anything other than blessed.

  • your perspective as one who lived and acquired an advanced medical education there i’m sure is much different, and no doubt has broadened your mind

    I was dazzled by Western ways – technology, science and (industrial) civilisation in my productive years: even the unraveling of community and the depersonalisation of others and of human interactions seemed to be an advance. I now begin to recognise the error.

    Most people in America don’t appreciate how good they have it here. Sleeping under mosquito nets was normal. Having “fish” for dinner meant a small piece of fish as a condiment to go with the rice. 

    Wild geckoes running loose in the house and congregating on walls around the electric light bulbs to feast on the attracted insects. And what a variety of insects!

    Discovering that yawning is something even geckoes do. And how they shed their tails and flee when you grab them by the tail. 

    “blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5) – “but not its mineral rights. (J. Paul Getty)

    But after the bottleneck, minerals will likely be much less of an issue. 

  • ‘I wonder whether it will be the most intelligent or the most brutish who get through the first bottleneck.’

    I suspect the most intelligent brutes…. :-)

  • Robin

    Correct the spelling of your name….it drives OCD folks crazy!…. :-)

  • There is nothing wrong with Robin Datta’s English. This essay is doing the NBL community a service in that he is willing to engage in the basic rhetorical work of defining terms. If he seems prolix or didactic, that’s what the definition of terms is all about.

    For some time I’ve proceeded under the assumption that if the NBL community couldn’t go forward with a progressive and rational discussion, no one could. I still think that, but I’m tending toward the No One Could side of the spectrum.

    Robin’s discussion of the reptile brain is germane here, and neuronal pruning strengthens the reptile brain over the neocortex as we age. At the least, we need to devise strategies for consciously considering ideas that contradict our cherished emotional realities.

    Looking at some of the recent discussions on NBL, I observe that people’s internal emotional states get in the way of their external perceptions. That’s a most human failing, but it is a failing that can be ameliorated with time, consciousness, and effort.

    I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I’ve observed that people rush through reading other people’s screeds in their hurry to deliver their same old responses. Some of us sound like broken records, and that’s not the way to advance a dialog.

    I’ve also observed that people get run out of the NBL community now and then. Turboguy–who was a good and a smart cop, a most rare combination–was banished from the community. I, for one, would welcome him back, even if all he does is go on about how cops and military personnel will survive when the rest of us won’t. That’s a vision we ought to be considering in this Winter of Our Dis-occupied Discontent.

    A long time ago, a guy named Stan [I forget his last name] got enraged by people who were being deliberately obtuse in the face of his ideas, and exiled himself. It was a loss to NBL. You can’t have a vital community that kicks people out because they have different ideas–that’s a recipe for intellectual death.

    I’d hate to die intellectually before I die physically, but it’s been known to happen.

    A final observation: Not everybody who thinks they can read can read. It takes at least as much time to read an essay like the one above as it does to write it, if you’re going to get the full impact of it. Robin’s data gives rise to sobering implications, especially in a U.S. election year. Such implications should be explored and extrapolated if we’re going to progress beyond circular arguments.

    I’ve been rereading Guy McPherson’s latest book, and getting at least as many new ideas out of it as I did the first time. It outlines our dilemma in brilliant language, and provides a solid foundation for this forum to build on if it so desires.

  • When one introduces new or controversial ideas to a community like this, they must be ready to take flak and defend those ideas. Many do not and simply disappear after being challenged, not feeling it worth the bother to persist. I can respect that. But I don’t know of a case where someone has been deliberately ‘chased off’ from the NBL site. Perhaps I have not been entirely awake to what has happened, but I don’t recall such an event. In the case of TG, he always leaves for a while and then reappears when he has a chance. We have spirited arguments, but we respect each other. I wouldn’t dream of chasing him off – indeed, he gives me the great ‘pleasure of the hunt’, and I personally would feel at a loss should he decide to leave.

    On my own part I have challenged people’s religious and dogmatic views on the doctrine of evolution amidst truly dismal odds here, getting great flak from it. I stood my ground, and they theirs. But no one was chased off.

    OTOH if that is the impression we are leaving with people, then perhaps John has a point.

    Speaking of police, this from Zero Hedge today:


    A police union official said the threat to ‘refuse to stand against’ fellow Greeks was a symbolic expression of solidarity and did not mean police would halt their efforts to stop protests getting out of hand.

    But one must wonder what would happen if they did at some point….

    I’m sure TG would have an opinion…. ;-)

  • John Rember, I’ve thought several times along the same lines: if we, who are essentially of the same mind, can’t agree or reach consensus, then how in the world could we expect the rest of the world to do so? On the other hand, this loosely aligned group doesn’t have any mandate to solve the world’s problems nor even the problems of our own making. Instead, we are simply a diverse group of people who happen to have similar views who gather together to discuss them. (I agree, tho, that probably “No One Could”.)

    Sometimes there are those who get a little rough with other readers/posters here, but then, there are no “rules” or “guidelines” for people who hang out on NBL. Caveat emptor as it were. :-)

  • “I’m not trying to offend anyone, but I’ve observed that people rush through reading other people’s screeds in their hurry to deliver their same old responses. Some of us sound like broken records, and that’s not the way to advance a dialog.”

    My observation as well,for what it is worth.

  • Perhaps the human community is about to confront the worst of both worlds: the results of a human population explosion and a human population crash. The leviathan-like size of the human population in our time puts Earth’s finite resources and its frangible environs at risk because the exploding human population worldwide dissipates resources and pollutes the environment faster than the Earth can replenish itself for human benefit. As a consequence of the population explosion, many too many human beings are invited to engage in rapacious per capita consumption and unconscionable individual hoarding of Earth’s body, and recklessly degrading its ecology with pollutants. Soon to become patently unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species appear to be fast approaching a point in human history when the monstrous size of the human population so overspreads the Earth that humankind ends up being the precipitant of an unimaginable sort of global ecological wreckage and a human population crash?

  • Some good news for those waiting for the present system to implode:


  • Consensus is a nice ideal, but my ex husband was of the opinion that consensus meant I side with him to present a united front to the kids. In the several communities I was a part of a strong person usually arose who like my ex thought consensus would mean that his or her views prevail and everyone else who disagreed was not a consensus minded person (and therefore bad). It often gets used as a cudgel rather than as a principle. When used as a principle it is hard work because the group is not agreed until everyone is agreed. You don’t get consensus by saying “we should have consensus” you get it by working at it until you achieve it. Seems like a lot of wasted effort about “ideas” rather than actions. It wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference if everyone here agreed with me that all nuclear power plants in the world should be dismantled now because we could all demonstrate, advocate etc and not have the slightest impact. However if we are growing a garden together it would be a good thing to have consensus about when to plant the English peas this year. We are soon to be thrown from the realm of discussing ideas to discussing actions that might let us live a bit longer if we get it right. The wisest thing we could all do is get off the internet now and forget the world of ideas. But we were raised thinking everything mattered more than getting food, because the grocery was just down the street. So we will probably argue right up to the day when it all comes falling down, may that day come soon for the sake of the planet.

  • Soon to become patently unsustainable…. appear to be fast approaching a point…. when…. humankind ends up being the precipitant of a…. population crash…

    The sanguinity that allows one to presume that the tipping point is yet in the future that is not shared by all. 

  • Robin “The sanguinity that allows one to presume that the tipping point is yet in the future that is not shared by all.”

    Agreed. Frankly what surprises me on Nature Bats Last is not that we can’t reach consensus about various opinions, but rather about the amount of denial.

  • One of the ways to survive post collapse is to align oneself with a “strong man (or woman)”. I would expect TG to take on such a roll from his comments here. Assuming that the facts about himself are real, he has skills at defense and offense. If one accepts the idea that a large quick drop in population is imminent, and one desires extending their life for a significant number of years, joining up with a strong man is certainly one way to go. Given that many will likely do that, those who don’t may be vulnerable to being preyed upon from those who do. Strong men are hardly likely to welcome consensus building. Their skills are usually honed in the military where complete obedience to your superior is expected. So if the strong man is a good leader, you will follow or be kicked out. You will be let in only if you have skills he thinks he needs. The weak and vulnerable will not be let in. TG has expressed such sentiments before.

    Even if you have a peaceable community and no strongman comes and takes over, if you let in new folks who come to your door hungry and needy, you may not be able to extend consensus to them for some time for they may have no knowledge about growing plants and therefore should not be allowed to influence the decisions about the garden or the livestock. In fact it may be necessary to treat them quite firmly because post collapse producing food will become not a nice thing to do but a necessary thing to do. When life of a community hinges on the seasonal harvest, the most experienced person should be automatically deferred to and their dictums followed without argument and all other activities become secondary to producing food.

    Life is not only going to change on the level of material goods, it will also change in how we relate to each other and what skills are most valued.

    If this depopulation and transition doesn’t come soon, forced on us by economic collapse, then it will come on a bit later and harder by Nature forcing it on us. We may personalize Nature all we want, but nature is not a person. Nature is the laws of the universe and therefore cannot be argued with only adapted to. Nature doesn’t do consensus. Nature just does.

  • Kevin, China is building empty cities – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPILhiTJv7E

  • Mish provides excellent analysis of what appears to be hard data of an economic collapse underway. Petroleum usage has plunged to levels not seen since 1997/98, far lower than in 2008.

    Looking at these charts, it certainly seems to me that the time to prepare for collapse – if you’re going to do so – is running out rapidly.


    From the article: Wallace writes “Gasoline and petroleum demand recently has plunged more than at any time in the recession. When you see petroleum usage back to numbers in the 1990’s, you know there is serious economic trouble no matter what the talking heads say.”

  • Addendum to my post above:

    Even though petroleum use has plunged to 1997/98 levels, Brent crude is still high at ~$117/bbl. In 1998 crude oil was less than $20/bbl (2010 dollars) – about 600% more expensive now. I doubt seriously that grossly indebted governments and seriously overstretched consumers will be able to keep up the charade for much longer.

    Kevin, we may not last until the Olympics. (I will concede, however, that TPTB have an amazing ability to come up with new ways to keep the ponzi scheme from collapsing in on itself.)

  • Robin: The sanguinity that allows one to presume that the tipping point is yet in the future that is not shared by all.

    Of all things, let us not speak of denial….



  • TRDH:

    I’ve never been in a group that was able to achieve consensus, which may say more about me than about the group. But I don’t value consensus–nor a Big Man/Woman setup, Kathy–as much as I value a community determined to take care of all of its members, no matter how contrary or out of step anyone is. This sort of moral imperative sounds impossible, but you see it all the time in ranching and farming and fishing communities, where if someone gets in trouble, everyone, even an enemy, rushes to help. It Could Be You Next Time, is the way the moral substrate works. Everyday life, however, follows the state motto of Wyoming: Take Care of Your Own Damn Self. Autocratic leaders don’t last long in this paradoxical ideological environment, but communities do.

    As for denial, it seems to be in the eye of the beholder. The human brain isn’t all that good at apprehending the world, so it doesn’t hurt to have more than one fact-checker. One blind man might give an imperfect description of an elephant, but six might present enough data to give a rough picture of the animal. In regard to the future, we probably should consider the words of any witness, no matter how cheery or depressing they are. We blind folks should help each other out.

    That said, the economic data coming in right now suggest that things are about to get even more volatile, which won’t help our collective predictive abilities one bit.

    One other note: 40F in Sawtooth Valley yesterday. Not unheard of, but historically it’s far more common for it to be -40 this time of year.

  • John you wrote “But I don’t value consensus–nor a Big Man/Woman setup, Kathy–as much as I value a community determined to take care of all of its members, no matter how contrary or out of step anyone is. This sort of moral imperative sounds impossible, but you see it all the time in ranching and farming and fishing communities, where if someone gets in trouble, everyone, even an enemy, rushes to help”

    I must point out however that TG has expressed that if people aren’t contributing as he and his wife see fit to a community it would be outers for them. I don’t want to be part of such a group that has no mercy on those who have nothing to contribute but an empty stomach, and if I stick to my values I will not last long in the coming times. But so be it. I wouldn’t be part of TG’s group for a guaranteed 20 years of additional living.

    None of us here have seen what happens when government breaks down and chaos reigns. I gather from comments made that Jean has and that is why he intended to form his own Swiss Army. It was not pretty in Yugoslavia, or Iraq or Afghanistan, not just because of the bombs but also because of social breakdown. Heck after Katrina even policemen were engaging in a bit of shooting sport. I suspect that the community of farmers and ranchers in states like Wyoming will band together under the person believed to be the best leader and stand and defend, community inside with everyone outside kept outside. And if you don’t carry your load you too can become and outsider.

    As for denial being in the eye of the beholder and fact checkers being needed, that is so true. That is why we humans developed science. Scientists are humans to be true and bias can get in the way, but fact checking is what they do.

    However in the interest of not overstating the case various predictions have been made on how climate change might progress. Over and over the scientists are stunned to see that the facts on the ground are rushing ahead of their predictions.

    I quote from Guy in his essay Extinction Event “First consider the background, from the perspective of long-time climate scientist James Hansen and colleague Makiko Sato, who report the disaster awaiting us at 2 C warmer is truly catastrophic (although they downplay the likelihood we’re already committed to this outcome): “We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster” If anyone thinks that TPTB are going to do what needs to be done they need to check out what was done at COP 16 and 17. Explain to me exactly how we are going to get all the countries of the world to limit global warming to under 2 degrees C and then maybe I will admit I am the one in denial

    Steve keeps going on about population. I quote to him the facts – 30 years of 1 child per family and China increased from about 1 billion to 1.3 billion. If we had the same success rate with the world in 30 years we would be a 9 billion – since it has been calculated that world usage of resources is currently at about 1.3 to 1.5 times what the planet can sustainably support, http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/earth_overshoot_day/ we can’t afford to rely on a 1 child per family policy, it must be harsher. About 57 million people die per year. If we have no births for 50 years and the death rate remains the same it takes 50 years to reduce our population by 3 billion down to 4 billion. If my calculations are wrong correct me. If not think about how we might get that population down more quickly. Steve never responds when I point these numbers out to him.

    Inconvenient facts I think if you want to think some form of BAU can continue.

    Further I would like your comments John on why we should try to keep some nuclear power going so we can have electricity when the mining of uranium is so devastating to the environment, and of course we have mined the easy stuff first as we have done with all resources. I would also like a clear explanation of how we would do that and transport it and make repair parts for the plants and keep up the grid when oil is gone. Show me the plans for electric dump trucks and steam rollers that can stray from electric generating plants and I will admit serious denial on my part.

    Ingenuity has to work within the constraints of the laws of nature. Ingenuity does not bat last, Nature does.

  • Dear Kathy,

    There is nothing the matter with your numbers. They point to the “mother” of all human-driven global challenges.

    Please consider that representatives in governments and international organizations as well as the mass media are in denial of the human overpopulation of Earth and scientists are willfully ignoring extant scientific research of human population dynamics. There is conscious, deliberate and widespread institutional avoidance of a fulminating global situation, the effects of which could be profound and earth-shaking. People are not being prepared for recognizable dangers and dramatic changes that could occur in the not too distant future both in the global political economy and Earth’s ecology. Such circumstances are deplorable.

    Best regards,


  • The role of the money-lenders is rarely discussed on NBL.

    The system based on fractional reserve banking and interest payments on money created out of thin air can only function if there is continuous economic expansion. Two primary mechanisms for economic expansion apply: persuading people to use more energy and resources (and obtaining the necesary resources from ever more remote locations); increasing the population.

    In the past people were easily persuaded to use more energy and resources, since doing so raised their standard of living. Until fairly recent times breeding prolifically came naturally to the bulk of the population.

    By 1970 it was abundantly clear to anyone who could think logically that humanity was on a collision course with resource depletion and overpopulation.

    I believe the four decades of institutionalised denial of reality we have witnessed is primarily a consequence of expansionist policy on behalf of money-lenders to keep their Ponzi scheme going. Opportunists have been willing participants.

    A decade ago or so ago I was of the opinion that the tipping point for humanity was reached around 1950. The information I have acquired over the past decade and my greater understanding of how this planet functions leads me to speculate now that the tipping point for humanity was reached well before 1950. William Catton suggested that population overshoot commenced around 1860, and there is considerable evidence he is correct.

    I was born in Southampton, England.


    Prior to the railway boom which led to massive expansion of the docks (port) Southampton was a town occupying approximately 2 square miles, mostly within the confines of medieval walls. Just outside the town walls was land used for growing crops.

    Over the next century the town grew in size and in population by around tenfold, engulfing the villages in the hinterland. Use of the railway system began to decline after around 1965 but over the next 40 years urbanisation based on oil consumption led to the near merging with the equally ancent walled town of Portsmouth, 25 miles to the east. The population of southeast Hampshire of around 700,000 is a mere pittance compared to industrial heartland cities such as Birmingham or Manchester (which are now suffering post-industrial decline, of course).

    Something that Wiki says:


    ‘In 1709 the Birmingham-trained Abraham Darby I moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and built the first blast furnace to successfully smelt iron ore with coke, transforming the quality, volume and scale on which it was possible to produce cast iron.[36] In 1732 Lewis Paul and John Wyatt invented roller spinning, the “one novel idea of the first importance” in the development of the mechanised cotton industry.[37] In 1741 they opened the world’s first cotton mill in Birmingham’s Upper Priory.[38] In 1765 Matthew Boulton opened the Soho Manufactory, pioneering the combination and mechanisation under one roof of previously separate manufacturing activities through a system known as “rational manufacture”.[39] As the largest manufacturing unit in Europe this come to symbolise the emergence of the factory system.[40] In 1746 John Roebuck invented of the lead chamber process, enabling the large-scale manufacture of sulphuric acid,[41] and in 1780 James Keir developed a process for the bulk manufacture of alkali[42] – together these marked the birth of the modern chemical industry.[43] Most significant, however, was the development in 1776 of the industrial steam engine by James Watt and Matthew Boulton.[44] Freeing for the first time the manufacturing capacity of human society from the limited availability of hand, water and animal power, this was arguably the pivotal moment of the entire industrial revolution, and a key factor in the worldwide increases in productivity that would follow over the following century.’

    In many respects humanity was pretty much screwed by 1800. What happened in America in the nineteenth century and in China more recently has largely been emulation and further development of dysfunction invented in England 300 years ago. Needless to say, those people in England 300 years ago thought they were doing great things.

  • Steve, Please consider that representatives in governments and international organizations as well as the mass media are in denial of the human overpopulation of Earth . . .

    I agree that many are in denial, but what are their options? Think about it. Just one example, what can the U.S. President really do about overpopulation that will make any difference at this stage? I wrote an essay on this here.

  • Apparently, the site didn’t like my URL. Here’s the link:

  • “The people of Detroit are taking no prisoners.

    Justifiable homicide in the city shot up 79 percent in 2011 from the previous year, as citizens in the long-suffering city armed themselves and took matters into their own hands. The local rate of self-defense killings now stands 2,200 percent above the national average. Residents, unable to rely on a dwindling police force to keep them safe, are fighting back against the criminal scourge on their own. And they’re offering no apologies.”
    rest at http://www.thedaily.com/page/2012/02/05/020512-news-detroit-vigilantes-1-5/

  • ‘For some time I’ve proceeded under the assumption that if the NBL community couldn’t go forward with a progressive and rational discussion, no one could.’

    i can see that if i wish to continue posting here (assuming after guy get’s a load of this screed he doesn’t ban me), i’m going to have to be more selective on whose posts i read, because if i don’t, it’s more screeds or maybe suicide. i wish to save my screeds for the most worthy.

    so what exactly is a progressive and rational discussion? is it progressive and rational to support a legal and law enforcement system which routinely violates human rights? violation of human rights is in the dna of this culture. it’s written right into the laws of orwellian bastions of ‘freedom’ like the good old u.s. of a. to support someone like tg! who besides confessing to be a violent mercenary who kills ‘bad guys’ with relish, shows himself to be a repulsive bigot in comments applying to the ows movement and many other matters, who likes to talk out of both sides of his mouth. perhaps john, u identify with him because u’re like him in some ways? (is this what u’re talking about when u observed that sheople are having emotions overwhelm perceptions?)

    u’re a very good writer, a very accomplished one as well. of course it helps to have led an interesting life, provides fodder for the pen. an adventurous life.

    i don’t know what to do in your case. maybe u should help me decide. i think i’ll go on reading your featured guest essays, for i find them to be among the best if not the best essay writing published on this blog. very stimulative, uniquely so. u have a gifted mind for sure. but i just can’t stand it when someone, particularly someone of your stature makes ridiculous/offensive remarks, offensive because they reveal u to be a fan of ‘authority’, of an aspect of our culture that’s vile. coercive rule that employs thugs to ensure compliance with it’s dictates, all under the banner of ‘representative democracy’. (and i hope everyone here at least understands that in the usa, money’s vote, corporate rule, corruption, public ignorance and apathy, and many other things make the ideal of ‘representative democracy’ a sham. i’m sure similar situations are pervasive around the world.)

    where was i? back to john. i’m sure u don’t mean to be offensive (neither do i until someone offends me first sometimes). but i do find some of your perceptions/positions quite offensive. i don’t like tg! and i let him know it, but who banished him? me? i don’t recall doing that. i just said i’d refrain from reading his posts in the interest of avoiding flame war, and focusing on more worthwhile matters.

    in order to have a purely progressive and rational discussion, assuming such a thing is possible (i’m sure it isn’t), all participants must be progressive and rational. always. they must be endowed with flawless minds, able to always winnow out truth from bs, able to always perceive the path of enlightenment.

    there might be a few such sheople on nbl, but i highly doubt it. and this is what i find most discouraging about our predicament. it’s difficult to come across anyone who doesn’t seem to have a few screws loose (american idiom for being daft/crazy) in some way. how can such flawed beings possibly get and stay on the path of enlightenment?

    i agree with kathy and others who take the position that becoming agricultural and civilized was/ is proving to be a fatal development. we were better off, as was all of life, when we lived more like ‘wildlife’, before we acquired the ability to domesticate ourselves and other species, and became self appointed masters. that was a durable way of life. flawed species such as ourselves must remain humble. it’s been oft pointed out by kathy among others that some bands of ‘primitive people’ were/are generally much happier than us, also.

    i’m very discouraged, finding solace at times with thoughts of suicide to escape from the madness that is everywhere, even here on this blog. from all the vexation, frustration, and futility of my life. suicide, i suspect, is the only escape. it’s maddening to have hope/faith for a better world/life crushed day after say after day. even the humble hope for a progressive and rational discussion appears to be too much to ask for.

    thank gaia for solitary pleasures/fulfillments, meager as they sometimes seem. maybe. they keep me from having more than relatively casual passing thoughts of suicide from time to time, when a sense of despair overwhelms. thank gaia also for an inherent psychological ability to continually re-set (thanks much to sleep) to a better state of mind. on the other hand, maybe this is a curse. perhaps it would be better to be dead. perhaps sometimes genetic programming for survival only prolongs a life of misery, and being miserable towards others.

    ‘So we will probably argue right up to the day when it all comes falling down, may that day come soon for the sake of the planet.’

    kathy, your posts among others at least nearly approximate ‘progressive and rational’ discussion, imo. keeps me coming back for more.

  • ‘“The people of Detroit are taking no prisoners.’

    re. the report of a dramatic upswing in vigilante-ism in detroit in the face of less official policing due to staffing cutbacks, my thought is i’ll bet they still have plenty of officers assigned to fighting ‘the war on drugs’, among other ‘vices’. the ‘authorities’ are more concerned with repression than with ‘serving and protecting’ common sheople.

    kathy, your point is noted. what’s happening in detroit is just a harbinger of what shall soon be a nearly universal phenomenon.

  • Kathy, thanks for sharing the Chinese real-estate video, this is mind boggling. The zombie high rises look like artifacts of the religion of economic growth in the name of “lifting millions out of poverty” [which actually means asking them to join the temporary fossil fuel party of destruction]. It is similar to the suburban sprawl in the US and to JHK’s famous “greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world”, there now seems to be a competitor – the chinese city multiplication. I wonder if there are any JHK equivalents calling this out in China. The US leadership in unsustainability [also called American exceptionalism] is being challenged by China. I wonder if the famous George Carlin quote “When you are born in the world, you get a ticket to the freak show. If you are born in America, you get the front row seat” will need to be changed to replace America with China, and American the 2nd and the rest of the world in the order of their GDPs the remaining rows.

    The one thing we still haven’t done is more directly write up this religion in the form of a religious text. It exists in tidbits here and there such as in economics/MBA textbooks, but there is no formal worship in the form of rituals, we should actually be writing some kind of bible like holy book of this most secular yet most unrecognized [formally] modern religion. Create lots of copies using high quality paper [this will boost GDP so it is in compliance with the religion] and preserve them with pictures etc in a closed chamber that can withstand weather shocks for a long time but be visible and accessible. And spread it around the world so there are multiple places holding them. May be even create a world flag with some symbol and text. I would pick the standard exponential growth curve zig-zagging style with an arrow at the end as they often show in economic news videos and economics articles and tending to go out of the flag. And put the flag on all modern monuments – the high rises, financial institutions, Mcmansions, etc. This would be helpful for a future civilization [if any] to be able to make sense of this nonsense, by that I mean in terms of relating the physical output artifacts to the abstract input of the religion of cancerous growth.

  • VT and Kathy:

    Please don’t confuse me with Turboguy. We’re very different. I do pay attention to what he has to say, because he’s an articulate representative of a large class of well-armed and well-organized people who believe in collapse just as much as any one of us and are preparing for it. It’s a point of view worth thinking about, especially if collapse does actually come.

    At some point, every survivor will be precious. Turboguy may well be one of the survivors.

    Nuclear power: recent developments in reactor design apparently make it possible to use U-233/238 as fuel, which means we can start taking apart anti-tank shells and making electricity out of them. On the whole, this may be better for the world than using them in war.

    There are a number of undeveloped nuclear technologies that can be rigged up as long as you don’t care too much about where the waste products go or the safety of your workers. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but I am saying that if it’s technologically possible, it will be done.

    If I tend to contradict myself, it’s because a large part of what I write has to do with witnessing my world, which is full of contradictions. As Stephen Colbert might say, reality has a habit of speaking out of both sides of its mouth. If you demand consistency of the world, then you’ll have to see the big picture a lot better than I do.

  • John.

    Chopping down every tree on the planet and burning every one of them will be a lot easier than developing nuclear technology and has a much higher EROEI. The history of humanity suggests that given the opportunity, chopping down every tree in sight for fuel is what most humans would choose to do.

  • Continuing the theme of severe overpopulation that was caused by advances in technology, I see that England could soon be in dire straits with respect to water. Needless to say, the situation in England reflects that in numerous other locations around the world. The triple tsunami (energetic, financial and environmental) we have talked about so often is building into something unstoppable.

    Fears of British super-drought after record low rainfall in winterUnderground water supplies are being used to keep rivers flowing in the seasons when they are supposed to be replenished


    Share 19 reddit this Comments (30)
    Robin McKie
    The Observer, Sunday 12 February 2012 Article history
    Low water levels at Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria. Photograph: Alamy
    The pond at St Peter’s Church in Snailwell, Cambridgeshire, is surrounded by clumps of bulrushes and thick oak trees that give it a timeless English appeal. Coated in a dusting of snow, this small body of water looked the epitome of rural charm. Only one odd feature upset its picture-postcard appearance. Around noon every day, automated pumps just above the pond are switched on and for the next few hours 400,000 gallons (1.8m litres) of water are sent cascading down a brick-lined gully into the lake.

    The reason for this daily influx is straightforward. If engineers from the Environment Agency had not started pumping water into Snailwell’s pond every day this winter, it would have disappeared weeks ago, the victim of a drought that now threatens much of England with a summer of parched landscapes, rivers reduced to trickles and possible hosepipe bans ahead.

    “When you use the word drought you become a hostage to fortune. Events can occur at the last minute to make you look silly,” said Andrew Chapman, a senior environment planning officer with the agency. “But the position is becoming very serious. In simple terms, unless we get a downpour that lasts for several weeks in the very near future, we are in trouble. There could be severe water shortages in many parts of the country.” Worst affected areas would include the Midlands, East Anglia and the south-east of England, say agency officials.

    The impending crisis – which could have widespread consequences for farmers, food production, tourism, industry and domestic life – has been building for the past 18 months. Reservoirs were already low this time last year. Then came 2011, the driest year in England and Wales for 90 years.

    In addition, we are now experiencing the driest winter on record, though this could change over the next few weeks, meteorologists have said. The crucial point is that boreholes and reservoirs are now at “notably low” or “exceptionally low” levels. At the RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, springs have dried up and many of the birds, including populations of bearded tits, marsh harriers and reed warblers, are now struggling to find food. Fresh water plants and animals such as water voles are also suffering. “This is a very worrying situation to have at this time of year,” said Grahame Madge, an RSPB official. “This is an incredibly important wildlife site that we cannot afford to have damaged. We are going to have to look very carefully at how we manage water supplies there in coming years.”

    In addition, rivers have dried up in several areas. These include tributaries of the Welland in Lincolnshire and the Chess in Buckinghamshire. Fish have become stranded in pools and had to be rescued by agency workers and moved to areas where water is flowing.

    “We sometimes have to carry out such rescues in summer,” said Ian Barker, the Environment Agency’s head of water, land and biodiversity. “But we are having to do this in mid-winter, the one time of year when there is supposed to be plenty of water and rainfall. That is certainly not a healthy state.”

    The impending water crisis is particularly worrying for farmers. At this time of year, many build storage lagoons to hold water that they can use later in the year to irrigate crops. But to be allowed to dam up water that would otherwise flow into rivers, farmers have to be given permits by the Environment Agency.

    So far this year, 345 applications for such stores have had restrictions placed on them by the agency, limiting the powers of farmers to provide water for their crops during the forthcoming growing season.

    “We are facing drastic reductions in yield,” said Andrew Nottage, who runs the Russell Smith farm at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Among the crops grown by Nottage are potatoes and onions – vegetables that have a high demand for water. “We can switch crops to less water-intensive types, but there is a problem doing that,” he said. “Farmers are locked into long-term contracts with supermarkets to provide them with the vegetables they want to provide for the British public later in the year.

    “It is therefore difficult to switch crops even if you know that you are going to be in trouble when it comes to supplying water for them.”

    The problem for Britain is that East Anglia is one of the nation’s principal food-producing regions. It is also the driest in the country. “Rainfall patterns here are similar to Israel,” said Nottage. “That makes farming a tricky business some years.”

    To address the shortage of rainfall last year, the Environment Agency estimated that it would need 20% above average for the months from December last year to April this year. To date, the rains have been 30% below average.

    This month has also been cold – but dry. Instead of being replenished by rain percolating through the ground, boreholes are being used to pump what water they have left to prevent rivers and streams drying up – as is being done at Snailwell.

    “If we don’t prevent the pond drying up, then the streams that feed from it will disappear and the local wildlife will really suffer,” said John Orr, a manager at the Environment Agency.

    Whether these problems trigger a full drought in England this summer depends not just on rainfall but summer temperatures. Britain’s worst years for rainfall included 1921, 1933, and 1964, but these were not the worst years for drought. Summers then were relatively cool, and that made up for the lack of water in boreholes and reservoirs.

    It was only when heatwaves began to take place, in years when water levels were only fairly low, that there were significant shortages. This occurred in 1911, 1955, and 1976.

    In the case of 1976, the effects were devastating. The temperature reached 27C (80F) every day between 22 June and 16 July, and often climbed well above 32C (90F). Crucially, the previous summer and autumn had been very dry, while the winter of 1975-76 was also exceptionally dry, along with the spring of 1976.

    Heath and forest fires broke out across southern England at the peak of the drought in August; 50,000 trees were destroyed at Hurn Forest in Dorset; and an estimated £500m of crops were lost across the country. Food prices rose by 12%. Many rivers ran dry.

    A drought act was passed by parliament and Denis Howell was appointed minister of drought co-ordination. Among his homespun ideas in response was a suggestion to put bricks in lavatory cisterns and a proposal that husbands and wives should share baths.

    There was also widespread water rationing across England. In some areas, supplies to homes were turned off and water was delivered by lorries or public standpipes in streets.

    The country has a long way to go before it reaches these extremes, insist officials from the Environment Agency. It would require an exceptionally hot summer to trigger a serious drought, even if there was little rain over the next few months. On the other hand, the signs are worrying, even in Snailwell. “We are trying to offset the worst effects of the drought that we are already experiencing by pumping water into the pond to protect the streams that feed of it,” said Chapman.

    “But at the end of the day, we are facing a situation in which there may be no more water to extract from the ground to keep the pond there. The next few weeks will be crucial.”

  • Kevin, glad you brought up drought (year before last I had to stop watering our garden when our well went temporarily dry). Most everything in this over connected world impacts something else. Drought in any area using river or reservoir water to cool a nuclear power plant creates problems for cooling the plant and any rods in a fuel pool. Of course as we here in the US discovered last summer too much water also puts nuclear power plants at risk as it did in Nebraska. It keeps turning out that for the sake of lowering costs, the nuclear power commission and plant owners don’t use high enough standards for safety. How high a flood, tsunami or earthquake do you plan for if you want to be safe is much higher than if you want to make bundles of money. Not to mention design flaws that no one wants to acknowledge – see Arnie Gunderson’s latest update http://fairewinds.com/content/new-containment-flaw-identified-bwr-mark-1
    Rising oceans are going to make storms and tsunamis even more dangerous to plants situated on the ocean.

  • John, I don’t confuse you with TG, I just was stunned that you spoke so well of him. You might want to refer back to his description of the Occupy protesters (supposedly first hand from being in a group of police breaking up a protest). You may not remember, but besides insulting me directly from time to time, he laid some very nasty insults on Terry. If he left because of something Terry, or I or someone else said, well frankly I am glad it was him and not Terry. You may not remember but Vera told me I was mollycoddling Guy because I agreed with him about when collapse might come. So much for getting praised for any consensus. Vera hasn’t been around for a while, but I stayed. For myself and I suspect for Terry too, we stayed because the basic premise put forward by Guy is pretty unique and we agree with his analysis.

  • Greek philosopher Plato (427 – 347 BC) compared hills and mountains of Greece to the bones of a wasted body: “All the richer and softer parts have fallen away and the mere skelton of the land remains.”

  • Terry, I think many of us may think that an early exit is better than fighting others for scare resources in order to extend our lives. Despite being trained to kill, many of our soldiers can’t take it and end up taking their own life. But hey, post collapse there will probably be many opportunities to get in the way of someone else’s bullet. So stick around at least long enough to see if Guy 2012 lights out prediction is true :)

  • And on the global front:

    2C warming goal now ‘optimistic’ – French scientists


    The work differs from previous calculations as it takes into account the reflectivity of clouds and uptake of CO2 by the oceans and other factors that can skew the equation, the authors said.

    Most optimistic according to the report: 2 degrees C
    Most pessimistic: 3.5-5 degrees C

    Even the most optimistic will result in runaway global warming and climate chaos worldwide.

  • TVT

    Terry, don’t worry about suicide. When the lights go out, your neighbours will probably take care of that for you… :-)

  • The REAL Dr. House,

    Representatives have unassumed responsibilities to accept and unfulfilled duties to perform. The hot pursuit along the primrose path (R.Carson called it the superhighway) humankind is barreling down now, is not the only way.

    BTW, I tried to open the link you kindly provided but for some reason was not able to. Please resend.



  • Steven, the link is here:

    Or you can click my name and it takes you to my blog.


  • I am regularly surprised by the diversity of people who are “collapse aware” – not just those online, but also offline. It shouldn’t be surprising, really. The evidence is so overwhelmingly obvious, that once I saw it, I couldn’t imagine why it took me so long to recognize it. You don’t have to liberal or conservative, straight or gay, rich or poor – in fact there is no specific quality allowing you to be collapse aware other than being willing to open your eyes.

    Anyone who is developing awareness of what’s coming would be attracted to Guy’s writings as they are so packed with a wide assortment of valuable information. As with most blogs I feel certain that regular readers are far more numerous than regular commenters. I suspect that the diversity of the regular readers would impress us even more.

    What turns one from a regular reader into a regular commenter? I’m not certain but I suspect that the tenor and tone of the other comments has something to do with it.

    Over time, it seems likely that most of the regular commenters will have at least a modicum of commonality. Very few people would find it rewarding to lay out their thoughts and insights on this very serious and frightening topic, only to be flamed and ridiculed. I’m not implying that is what happens here, but rather that some of those people who are regular readers might not post because they have very different viewpoints and don’t want to risk the ire of the regular group.

    As for me, I really enjoy hearing all the different viewpoints that come up from time to time. TurboGuy! seems to be like many of my neighbors – very well armed, cocky beyond belief, conservative, and just a little bit nuts – in other words “a good ol’ boy”. He gives me insight into what may be happening just a mile or two down the road. I certainly don’t agree with his worldview, but I value his insight nonetheless.

    There are, of course, many other viewpoints expressed here. Some are pollyanna, some are so dark that they are almost suffocating (I’m more along that line, I’m afraid). I hope that NBL will continue to have a diverse group of posters sharing divergent ideas and attitudes. To quote a very well-used phrase: variety is the spice of life! :-)

  • Good article TRDH. You write “Of course, there is one way we could take meaningful, quick, decisive action to solve the population problem: nuclear war. Hmmm. Iran anyone?”

    The only solution to the population problem is depopulation. No manner of birth control can do it. As I noted 50 years of no births and normal deaths would not get us to the number than can live in an oil free world. Of course 50 years with no births would mean the end of humanity unless there are a few women who are fertile beyond age 50. But of course that is an absurd scenario. Look at the current political turmoil about Catholic organizations having to have their insurance plans pay for birth control…. Of course they do take some men and women out of the reproductive population but as we see that doesn’t stop urges thus the continuing scandals about priests and young parishioners. Which underlines the point that to ensure reproduction evolution gave us very strong programs for desiring sex and also for wanting progeny and thus there could never be 50 years with no births.

    Per Old Fart Rants:
    “Bankruptcy court hearings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee unexpectedly uncovered more than 8,000 previously unreported instances of child sex abuse over the past 60 years. According to an attorney representing 570 of the victims, the charges implicate about 100 church workers, including 75 Catholic priests.” If you don’t like sarcastic vids about religion don’t click on this link but if you do like a well thought out rant about religious hypocrisy do click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EheVBz1wnKQ&feature=g-u-u&context=G2f95f37FUAAAAAAAFAA

    So IMO it would seem all we can do sit back and wait to see if TPBT take on the task before Nature does. It is clearly out of our hands to do anything effective.

  • TRDH:
    I think Guy has invited fresh blood into the NBL gene pool many times. I know he welcomes thoughtful essays of any political point of view. I also would welcome more readers becoming contributors, as the air in here does get a little stale at times.

    Kevin: The EROI of nuclear power tends toward feasibility as you move toward a salvage economy. The amount of U238/thorium that’s been mined and stockpiled is staggering–and the new particle-accelerator/reactor hybrids can burn it.

    An analogous situation might be the Grand Coulee Dam, which doesn’t have a great EROI either, but there it sits, a monument to fossil fuel and to the nation-state, producing power. That power will be produced for the foreseeable future, even if it’s by primitive wooden wheels placed in the raceways.

    The reason that the current nuclear industry has not moved to smaller, safer, multi-fuel reactors is that they produce recoverable plutonium, and by definition there would be a bunch of them and they would be affordable by small countries and private organizations. Blame our civilizational tendency toward centralization and an understandable fear of plutonium getting into the hands of nihilists.

    Breeder reactors are another animal, as they can explode and contaminate large areas forever. But we’ve had one going in Idaho, off and on, since the 1950s, and aside from a large population of fundamentalist Republicans in Eastern Idaho, there seem to have been few teratogenic effects.

    Anyway, just because nuclear power is impractical and lethal doesn’t mean that humans won’t go messing about with it as long as there are two unstable atoms to be smashed together. Human beings are inveterate, if self-destructive tinkerers. It’s not easy to get rid of innovation and/algorithms, even if you destroy the educational system and produce a generation of know-nothings. We’ve tried that here in the United States, and nuclear technology is with us still.

    China is devoting a huge effort to developing thorium reactor technology. There’s not much in the way of their success, if, as I have implied, they ignore safety and waste-disposal concerns.

    That’s not to say I approve of all this. But I’ve learned that my approval or lack of it are two tears in the rain.

  • John, I realize that I have been arguing about nuclear power and heck I know there is no more solution to that problem than the population problem. I need to take my own words to heart. The solutions immediate decommissioning of all nuclear plants is not going to happen. Derrick Jensen talks of taking down the dams that stop up the salmon – one could take that route perhaps, but taking down a nuclear plant unless by decommissioning is no solution at all. So I am blathering about something that will be left to nature or TPTB to deal with just as with population, and we won’t like either solution.

    So that said, let me tell about my mini greenhouses. I take juice bottles made of PET and cut out the bottoms and tops. These things seem to survive sitting in the sun for years – I put them around young plants for protection from the cold and rabbits. If it gets extra cold I put some covering on top. My English peas (Super Sugar Snap edible pod) planted about 1 1/2 weeks ago when we were running 50 at night and almost 70 in the day took 18 degrees last night just fine. The ones I use are about 10 years old and showing no signs of deterioration.

    Weather always flops more here in the winter south than I remember in Buffalo, but in 20 years I can’t remember a more floppy winter in AL – running from 15 degrees below normal to 15 degrees above and hardly ever hitting normal.

  • John.

    You wrote: ‘The EROI of nuclear power tends toward feasibility as you move toward a salvage economy.’

    The ONLY reason the US was able to develop nuclear technology was because it was awash with cheap oil for several decades, had iron ore and limestone in abundance and was able to create large amounts of money out of thin air (on the basis of future economic growth). Other nations of the nuclear club had access to cheap oil, easy credit and the prerequisite industrial technology. The nuclear industry only exists at all because of the HUGE subsidy it received from the fossil fuel sector and from the general environment. The initial purpose of the nuclear programme was to produce weapons of mass destruction and many say that nations set up nuclear industries in order to gain access to nuclear weapons.

    In Britain the promise of the 1950s was ‘electricity so cheap it would not be worth metering’. The fast breeder programme was abondoned after several decades because it became a financial ‘black hole’ and failed technically. The Sellafield plant had a long history of leaks and accidents. The cost of decommissioning Britain’s decrepit nuclear nuclear plants has been staggering …. some say in excess of the value of all the electricty ever generated. On the other hand, if Britain and other nations had continued to burn coal instead of building nuclear reactors, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would probably already be over 450ppm and we would be in the last years of life on this planet.

    With collapse of the industrial food system on the horizon and climate chaos making the growing of food ever more difficult over coming years, I find it impossible to imagine that people will concern themsleves with tinkering with stocks of uranium (or anything else) and cobbling together primitive nuclear reactors. What use would locally generated electricity be in a depopulated world that has no electricity grid, no televisions, no Internet, not even supplies of light bulbs? And someone who is starving is not going to be interested in making electricity. Their only interst will be in finding food (and perhaps avoiding being eated (as per The Road).

    Don’t forget that the majority of the first wave of colonists to arrive in Jamestown starved to death -and that was at a time of great natural abundance.


  • Kevin, your mentioning light bulbs brought back a memory from many years ago. I was reading a SciFi novel – the name of which I’ve forgotten – but the general story line was of a community of several thousand which had been blasted into space for a multi-generation trip. Their spaceship so large that it had an atmosphere and gravity. I was enthralled as the story dealt with many of the same issues we discuss here. At some point, however, it occurred to me that there was a serious problem with the concept: namely, there was no way they could have taken everything they needed which would breakdown or be depleted. My thought was, “what about light bulbs?” Did they take a light bulb factory and all the raw resources with them? Or did they just pack away a million light bulbs and hope that they didn’t get broken over the few centuries of their trip?

    Obviously, there are many, many other issues to consider in such a situation, but your point is absolutely dead on. Our culture is so dependent on so many things which we take for granted every day and never give a second thought to. Light bulbs are a perfect example of how we think about the big things: energy, waste, water, etc., and while those are essential, all the solar panels and wind turbines in the world won’t shed a bit of light on things if you don’t have light bulbs. :-)

  • Many of us have repeatedly highlighted the fact that the dominnat culture would rather destroy the next generation’s future than change.

    ‘it prefers to eat its children.’


    As Greece stares into the abyss, Europe must choose The way out of the financial crisis faced by Greeks requires a choice about what kind of Europe we want

    Share 23 reddit this Comments (147)

    Maria Margaronis
    guardian.co.uk, Sunday 12 February 2012 19.10 GMT Article history
    Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
    Six inches from the riot policeman’s shield outside the Greek parliament last Friday, a tall, pale boy was shouting at a man who could have been his uncle: “It’s your generation that brought us to this point, but it’s mine that has to pay for it. You have to take responsibility for what’s happening here.” Across the road, a middle-aged woman roared at the line of cops: “Traitors! Collaborators! We’re Greeks. You’re beating up your mothers and your sisters.” Another, her head wrapped in a pink scarf, screamed at the parliament: “They’ve drunk our blood, we don’t have anything to eat. They’ve sold us to the Germans. My child owes money, they’re about to take her house. I hope they all get cancer.” All of them were in an ecstasy of rage, reluctant to go home and lose that temporary release.

    As I write, the Greek parliament is preparing to vote on the bond swap agreed with the country’s private creditors and on the new deal with the EU and the IMF, which would lend the country €130bn in exchange for cuts that slice the last little bits of flesh from the economy – including a 22% reduction in the minimum wage and 150,000 public sector job losses by 2016. Without the deal, Greece will default by March; with it, the country will sink into a still deeper depression, with no end in sight. In a televised effort to rally the country behind yet more austerity, the finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, laid out a blunt choice between sacrifices and worse sacrifices, humiliation and still deeper humiliation, if Greece should default and leave the eurozone.

    It’s not clear, though, how many people were listening. Exhausted by interminable cliffhangers and last chances, many Greeks have turned off the terrorist soap opera of the TV news and are trying as best they can to get on with their lives. The misery to which Athenians have been reduced – the soup kitchens, the homelessness, the depression and suicides, the rising tide of poverty that’s swallowing the middle class – is now a staple of the features pages. It’s harder to describe the sense of pervasive breakdown that gets under the skin; the feeling of disorientation and lost identity that comes with the collapse of the assumptions people lived by and the stories they told themselves about the future and the past.

    When you ask people on the street if they would rather Greece went bankrupt than submit to further measures, many now point out that it is already bankrupt, that public sector workers have gone unpaid for months, that hospitals have no supplies, that the poor are being wrung dry in order to pay the banks. “Let’s get it over with,” a woman who works for the education ministry said to me. “Then we’d know we only had €250 a month and we could start again. This is not the people’s Europe we dreamed of.” The fact that Poul Thomsen of the IMF, the eurozone’s poster boy Mario Monti, the markets and countless economists agree that more austerity will deepen Greece’s depression without making the debt sustainable adds weight to her argument. The icy reception given last week to the Greek delegation in Brussels confirms the sense that its lenders are ready to end the relationship.

    Why, then, have large sections of the Greek elite clung so hard to the fantasy that a new loan deal can “save” the country? The obvious answer is that default is a black hole and an enormous risk. No one can predict what suffering a default might bring. Another is that the current crop of politicians built their careers in the system that is now unravelling, based on oligarchies, clientelism and corruption; they’ve proved unwilling to make the reforms that might, in a different global climate, have revived both Greece’s economy and its democracy.

    The deeper reasons, though, may be cultural and political. The crisis has intensified old splits in Greek society. You can see it in the polls, which show support ebbing from the centre to the edges of the political spectrum, and especially to the fragmented left. You can see it, too, in the historical parallels people reach for in a vain attempt to name this unprecedented nightmare. Protesters chant slogans from the dictatorship of 1967 to 1974, comparing the deal’s Greek enforcers with the CIA-backed junta. Both left and right talk about a new German occupation – an understandable reference given that Germany is calling the shots and that Greeks last queued at soup kitchens in the 1940s, but one that can edge into racism or crude exaggeration, as in a recent headline that read simply “Dachau”. Both those tropes call up the silent ghosts of the Greek civil war, which launched the cold war in Europe and outlawed the Greek left for the next 30 years. In this story, the west plays the part of the repressive imperial interloper.

    For the liberal centre, this is populist anathema. To them Europe is still Greece’s heartland and its hope, the only guarantor of liberal capitalism, human rights and democracy. A few weeks ago a distinguished law professor compared the prospect of default to the Asia Minor disaster of 1922, which brought a million-and-a-half refugees into Greece and convulsed the state, and went so far as to suggest that leaving the eurozone would end the 200-year cycle of the Greek Enlightenment.

    The trouble with historical metaphors is that they can obscure the present: what’s really at stake here is not Greece’s identity but Europe’s. All eyes are fixed on Athens, but the way out of the crisis requires a choice about what kind of Europe we want. The one we have now, with its deep structural inequalities and its rigid adherence to a failed economic ideology, protects neither democracy nor human rights. Stiff-necked and punitive, it prefers to eat its children.

  • Aloha Robin,

    I enjoyed your essay, found it easy to read, easy to comprehend, and to be a well-burnished use of one of the branches of English language. English is not just one language. American English is a bit sparse and workmanlike iteration, which is known for lacking nuance, as it is commonly used.
    Complex and internally inconsistent English is pretty common in India, but that is my perception as a traveler there, observing much flattery in the marketplace and reading the words of politicians.
    It’s different and with many little subgroups in England, different in Australia, different in New Zealand, etc.
    I agree with your analysis of the layers of the brain, and have often said that people use their logical facilities to justify doing what they want, as logical.
    I don’t necessarily agree that no other intelligent life has been identified in the universe. There is a lot of evidence that “we” have been visited, and may still be in contact with extraterrestrial races. It is hard to sort this out, being so subject to manipulation in the media, and a US Government policy of belittling all reports since the early 1960s. People are made to feel embarrassed for a normal, logical and well supported idea, much as is the case if one thinks Dick Cheney helped run 9/11 (though this has become much more acceptable in the past 6 years).
    The father of a friend of mine (now deceased 3 years) told me of when he was 12 y/o, staying at an orphan’s home after his father died, in the late 1920s. One night there was what we would now call a UFO, hovering overhead and flying around for about 15 minutes. Nobody knew what it was. There was no opinion on such things at the time. He very clearly committed it to memory, and recounted it in his book “A Boy At The Home”. He became a career navy officer in WW2. I trust him. In 1976 a USAF Colonel, very recently retired, and a friend of our family, told me straight-up that there were frozen alien bodies in a mountain fortress in Colorado. I didn’t know what to say in reply. He was very factual about the matter. None of this should be evidence for you, but it is just the level of background evidence from personal contacts that one might collect, independent of the media.
    I have worked 3 times on your “county” in recent years, 2008, 2009, and Summer of 2010. Our careers are the same. A friend of your mum’s saw your reply to my essay last month and recognized your name, though he has not met you. He is a hospital administrator named “Pat” (Patrick), about your age. I hope he will have a permanent position for me this year, sometime.
    I would like to “talk” with you. My email is daysabroad@gmail.com
    Thanks, John

  • If the leaders and followers in the human community keep ignoring responsibilities and failing to perform duties in the face of emerging and converging, human-driven, global ecological challenges, then Mother Nature will most assuredly take matters into her own hands, according to well-established, immutable “rules of the house” (ie, laws of the biophysical world we inhabit). At some moment in space-time, perhaps sooner than any one of us imagines, children everywhere could ‘reap a whirlwind’ and confront a world similar to the one King (of many petty kings and self-proclaimed masters of the universe) Ozymandias witnessed. When that time comes, perhaps the children will look back in anger and utter disbelief at the adverse ecological effects of unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by the selfish elders in my not-so-great generation, who are consciously turning a blind eye to expressions of intellectual honesty, moral courage and calls for bold action as well as abjectly losing the nerve required to acknowledge, address and overcome visible threats to human well being and environmental health in our time.

    Malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance, plain foolhardiness, ideological idiocy and outrageous greed of a tiny minority and their many minions appear to be giving rise to a colossal global wreckage, the likes of which only Ozymandias has seen.

    PS: Many thanks to Dr. House

  • EconTalk podcast: Taleb on Antifragility

    A perceptive expansion of the world-view by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan.

    When a set of champagne glasses is mailed to someone, the package is marked “fragile”. The lover bound of fragility is complete destruciton, and the upper bound is being comuletely intact. If mailing something such as a hammer, the package is not marked “robust”. The lower bound of robustness is intact and the upper bound is also intact.

    The opposite of fragility is antifragility, with the lower bound being intact and the upper bound being improved. Such a package if mishandled within limits would improve the contents.

    Biological examples include the bones, which need regular stress te mainatin their strength. On prolonged spaceflights with zero gravity, this is manifest in a loss of bone density. Also similar is the constant exposure to microbes in the evvironment, which keeps the immunity up.

    Emergent systems have the property of antifragility. Organizational systems (with top-down control) manifest fragility. Economies are emergent systems, but with constant bailouts they end up like the forest fires that are constantly suppressed: the underbrush overgrows, and when a fire finally takes hold, it is a massive event.

  • If the leaders and followers in the human community keep ignoring responsibilities and failing to perform duties in the face of emerging and converging, human-driven, global ecological challenges…..

    Some would already put it thus:

    Beeause the leaders and followers in the human community kept ignoring responsibilities and failing to perform duties in the face of emerging and converging, human-driven, global ecological challenges……

  • Kathy:

    Thanks for the tip on mini-greenhouses. I’ve been working on a project that is, on the face of it, absurd: preparing a garden in a spot where gardens are impossible. During one summer in the 1960s, we had frost twenty-six out of thirty-one days in July.

    Now, however, we have frost-free Julys every other year or so. Our neighbor, with the help of about an acre of quilts and a few hundred water-filled milk jugs, grows a rich garden that even produces tomatoes if she’s religious about taking the quilts on and off. It’s quite labor intensive but the results are there every harvest.

    However, the white-bark pines in the valley are 75% dead, due to a rust problem, and between a half and a third of the lodgepoles are dead. We heat with wood, which makes it possible to regard a dead tree as a matter for cheer, but it’s clear that we’re in the middle of a change in the landscape, with no guarantee of what will happen next. The last few summers have been warm and wet. Summer rainfall has kept the forest fires down, but all we need is a summer without rain to have uncontrollable fires.


    We agree on the dangers of nuclear technology, but not on what people will do in order to keep technological civilization going. When workers’ delegations in Chinese factories demand suicide-prevention nets below second- and third-story windows, I tend to believe that all and any humans/posterity/safety concerns/the well-being of the planet will be sacrificed in order to keep technology and it’s keepers–machine/human hybrids–keep on keeping on.

    Victor disagrees with my assertion that we’ve created a living monster, but I think technological civilization as it stands would pass a Turing Test. It’s reptilian, not very bright, without mercy or an understanding of long-term consequences, but it’s alive and it does have a kind of intelligence. The frightening thing is that it can live in the human heart, and when it does the first thing that happens is that it runs for local government.

    Light bulbs can be replaced by arc-lights, two cones of graphite with a gap between them and a charge run through them. They’re easy enough to rig up when you can’t tear a flashlight apart for an LED or soak a stick in pine pitch.

    Some books on the thing we’ve created:
    Ellul’s Technological Society
    Ventura’s Shadow Dancing in the USA

    Ventura’s a lot more readable, but Ellul has technology’s number, at least if you consider it as an extra-human living entity.

  • Its not it’s. I used to flunk people for that mistake.

  • John, yep milk jugs work like the juice jugs but the plastic breaks down much faster.

  • John

    You are a gifted writer and have a wonderful way with words, but not so gifted that you can put words into my mouth and get away with it… ;-)

    I never disagreed with the assertion that we have created a ‘living’ monster in technology. My disagreement was with the concept that it could live beyond us, that it shared anything other than a highly symbiotic relationship with us and indeed could even exist, in its present form, beyond a collapse in industrial civilisation and the subsequent massive die-off of humanity.

    Just as population must decrease over the the present century, so too must complexity.

  • Light bulbs can be replaced by arc-lights, two cones of graphite with a gap between them and a charge run through them.

    As long as we have electricity as a society, we can maintain some level of modern civilisation. I would put forward the supposition that the final step humanity takes into the darkness (literally!) will be the loss of electricity. It will come at different times in different world locales, but to each it will come. And the times are probably nearer than one might at first think. We can conceive of many possible things in life, but the permanent loss of electricity is so far beyond our reality and so engrained into our senses of perspective that to believe we might lose electricity is akin to the thought that we might wake up tomorrow and have no air to breathe – almost laughable.

    What we forget, however, is just how complex the grid is – probably the most complex and distributed machine ever devised by humanity. Further, we have little idea on just how easily this monstrous machine can be brought to its knees. As civilisation collapses, parts and skills and capital investment will become scarcer. The grid will fall as easily as Achilles was brought down.

  • Also, as Kathy has noted on several occasions, many grids will be toast if if the right circumstances come together for a massive and well-directed solar flare. Or under WWIII conditions, a set of EMP’s exploded over your country – a relatively simple technological feat in these days.

    Indeed, the argument could be made that if certain grids are hit and destroyed, it would cause such devastation to the economy and the global supply chain that all the others would soon follow out of lack of parts.

    And don’t think you could keep those reactors going under such conditions – it wouldn’t do any good as the rest of the grid and all that technology hooked up to it would already be toast.

    So the result? Instant Stone Age. Far more severe die-off. And beautifully quiet starry nights….

  • A new post is up, and it’s filled with information

  • Robin,

    I keep liking the way you think.


  • Victor:

    “And beautifully quiet starry nights…”

    You make it sound idyllic.

  • It’s inevitable, I suppose, that the discussion repeatedly turns into metadiscussion: the discussion about the discussion. I’m prone to that myself. Though it’s hard to pin on any particular motivation or behavior, I suspect it has to do with overactive ego identity. We feel our own individual importance too strongly and strive to protect our ego boundaries even when it’s merely our ideas under attack. But that’s a different discussion.

    As I stated before, I’ve mostly given up my expectation that writing found on the Internet be especially good. I’m infrequently surprised and gravitate to good writers. Within the context of industrial collapse, however, those whose writing exhibits not just understanding (and agreement with our shared expectations) but some grace and wisdom are especially appealing. For me, that’s found in a certain resignation and acceptance of our collective fate. I don’t just fear those with bunker mentalities (naming names not necessary) who are waiting with baited breath to hole up and pick off with their rifles and booby-traps the hungry, wandering hordes, I detest them. There are lots of those folks, and their view of the world to come is growing more likely or perhaps inevitable with each passing news bombshell.

    What puzzled me in consideration of this contrast (armed survivalists vs. communalists or transition types) is which is closer to a state of nature. I tire of assured statements about the true character of HG social life when what we have is mostly conjecture and secondary evidence from modern-day indigenous peoples. Living in a state of nature means forgoing electricity, most of what we now recognize as healthcare, and perhaps even most of the cultural (meaning artistic) artifacts we civilized folks take for granted. But no one who knows about indigenous peoples would conclude their lives without those things lack meaning. In fact, early American settlers who were subsumed into local tribal cultures discovered a far richer and more meaningful life that the “civilized” ones they left behind.

    Yet within those cultures there was/is a readiness to throw down and fight to the death when provocations arose. These are sometimes described as honor cultures and notoriously include the American South, the mafia, the military, and others. So when modern police and ex-military guys (and a few gals) insist their approach post-collapse will be shoot first and ask questions later, I have to wonder whether I detest this attitude precisely because the prerogatives of life within the bosom of civilization make it possible for me to insulate myself from exposure to or participation in violence.