chaos

You Too Can Have a Bigger Graph

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 22, 2016

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We confess to occasionally indulging in the optimistic whimsy that if we humans would only recover the common sense to let nature be nature, and maybe help her out by planting a few trees, the climate crisis would be over quite quickly. Then in a darker rebound, we despair that indeed we are really a very dumb species and probably will be doing creation a favor by going extinct, and moreover, let’s hope we do it soon enough so that fewer other species will be harmed in the process.

 

 

 

 

Do we need to be reminded by more Doomer Porn? The greatest impediment to Earth’s ecological recovery is not her ability to heal. Our planet still has that, even at this late date. The greatest impediment is human cultural and cognitive inertia.

In our naivete, we used to think that humans might stand a chance at culture change, but the more we learn about neurobiology, the more it seems we sapiens are locked into a primate brain that is determined to retain more reptilian instincts and reject anything sounding vaguely angelic.

Lately, credible scientific research tells us that a lack of information is not the problem. No amount of public opinion mustering will matter, so trying to educate is a lost cause.
What could change the equation? Don’t really know that yet. We are pinning hopes on raising on permaculture army, but who can say? Hang on for the ride. The best is yet to come.

Here are more than 40 visual images of what is transpiring in the real world, outside our cultural filters. Beyond this point, as Robert Scribbler said, "We're gonna need a bigger graph."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“There is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”

Climate Institute 2003 Report

 

 

 
 
 
 

“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

 

 

“Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years. Recent ice melt doubling times  are  near  the  lower  end  of  the  10–40-year  range,  but the record is too short to confirm the nature of the response.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”

Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.
 

 

 

 

 

We show that long-term fluctuations of war frequency and population changes followed the cycles of temperature change. Further analyses show that cooling impeded agricultural production, which brought about a series of serious social problems, including price inflation, then successively war outbreak, famine, and population decline.

– Zhang, et al, 2007. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history
 

 

 

 

 

Hand in hand with the skimpy ice cover, temperatures across the Arctic have been extraordinarily warm for midwinter. Just before New Year’s, a slug of mild air pushed temperatures above freezing to within 200 miles of the North Pole. That warm pulse quickly dissipated, but it was followed by a series of intense North Atlantic cyclones that sent very mild air poleward, in tandem with a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation during the first three weeks of the month.

– Jeff Masters, Wunderground
 

The normal climate of North America in 2095 under business as usual warming (i.e. no Paris agreement) according to a 2015 NASA study. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl:

 

In the 1993 blockbuster movie "Jurassic Park," a sleazy scientist played by Jeff Goldblum quips that "life finds a way." For real biologists, climate change is like a massive, unplanned experiment, one that may be too fast and strange for some species to survive it.

Colorado Bob

 

Solomon et al., 2011. Warming World: Impacts by Degree, based on the National Research Council report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia

 

 

 

 

 

 [I]f indeed Sivaram (Foreign Affairs) and Revkin (The New York Times) are joining all the nations of the world in acknowledging that 1.5°C is the preferred target for humanity, then we are in a “hair on fire” moment.

Joe Romm, Climate Progress
 

 
 
Increased temperatures from global warming are decreasing rain and snowfall and are increasing evaporation in the Colorado River watershed. This is reducing runoff into the reservoirs. The team predicts the water storage in Lakes Mead and Powell has a 50 percent chance of becoming exhausted by 2021 if climate change reduces runoff as predicted and if water consumption continues at current levels. This scenario would have dire consequences for the American Southwest.

American Museum of Natural History Science Updates
 

 

 

 

 

The world is just not prepared to handle large scale abrupt changes, most of us never learned to grow our own foods, we just go to the supermarket and pick whatever we want from the refrigerator. Unless we learn to accelerate our efforts to keep pace with the system change required to stop all the developments, we risk that parts of the world become uninhabitable, and turmoil which could even lead to nuclear war. 

The growth of our civilization reached a threshold, which will test our species capabilities, especially our intelligence in regards to how we manage future states of our environment. We can either try to stay in the realm of ecosystem boundaries (basically as far as possible back to a planet with around 280 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere), or we can keep acting situational and experimenting with the Earth’s climate.

The majority of us is still using the same old technologies, and thinking which caused the climate crisis in the first place.

– Chris Machens, ClimateState, based in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments:

 

 

 

 

dex3703 said…

As always, thank you for this grim work.

Could you provide a link or reference for the paragraph beginning: Increased temperatures from global warming are decreasing rain and snowfall….

 

 

 

 

Albert Bates said…

Thanks and apologies for the omission Dex3703. The link is American Museum of Natural History Science Bulletins. It reports on a Scripps Inst. study and provides a video of Lake Mead drying up by 2021.

 

 

 

 

Doomstead Diner said…

This would be a good time to start dropping acid. 🙂

Take the new Renewable Energy survey!

http://freeonlinesurveys.com/s/Wixv2RMd

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Stranded Expectations

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on July 19, 2015

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 One of the birthplaces of civilization is having its cradle rocked again. Apart from the subjugation of women, children and slaves, Greece's beta version, going back 2500 years, was pretty cool – men in togas strolling though olive groves asking existential questions about life, the universe and all that. An updated version, without the wars, slaves and chauvinism, might not be half bad.

Today Greece is the European Union's current favorite whipping boy – the example to be made in order to keep all the other Ponzi'd patsies in line. It is no small irony that despite street protest bringing a new, defiant Syriza  (“from the roots”) government to Athens and a resounding No! Icelandic-style referendum placing Greece in technical default, the realities of needing a cash drip to keep pensioners breathing and buses running have given the upper hand to German, French and British banksters. 

The irony is compounded when one glances at the score sheet for total debt to GDP, with China at 250%, Germany 302%, Greece 353%, USA 370%, Britain 546%, Japan 646% and Ireland at an enchanted 1,000%.

Commented Dmitry Orlov:

The IMF won't lend to Greece because it requires some assurance of repayment; but it will continue to lend to the Ukraine, which is in default and collapsing rapidly, without any such assurances because, you see, the decision is a political one.


After the US-controlled International Monetary Fund acknowledged that Greece has no possibility of ever repaying its debts, the central bankers’ bank, the Bank of International Settlements, recently issued a very blunt warning

“[T]he world will be unable to fight the next global financial crash as central banks have used up their ammunition trying to tackle the last crisis."


If neoliberalism has a Hall of Fame, surely China has a bronze bust somewhere near the entrance. Literally millions of Chinese, newly employed and making consumerist wages, have opened stock trading accounts. For them, its the Roaring Twenties. What changed? China took extreme measures to increase the liquidity in their financial system – precisely what the European Central Bank denied to Greece. 

Liquidity is what pays off the account holders in the event of a run on the bank, because in reality, banks don't store money or any other assets, they only record accounts of running debts. Liquidity builds confidence. Liquidity is what Ben Bernacke forced down the throats of the Wall Street cabal to staunch the bloodletting in 2008. When Europe pulled the liquidity backstop away from Greek banks, ATMs ran dry and depositors took a haircut on their holdings, but systemically, it was much worse than that.

 


 

Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other debtor countries have been under the same mode of attack that was waged by the IMF and its austerity doctrine that bankrupted Latin America from the 1970s onward.

–Michael Hudson

Currently, the average USAnian's net worth is at a record high, but if you were to try to find that average person, it could take you quite a while. Seventy million US citizens are teetering on the edge of financial ruin. They’re one paycheck away from default on their mortgage or health insurance premium. How does one explain their record high net worth? (a) concentrations of extreme wealth at the top of the pyramid; (b) inflated real estate and other asset valuations; and (c) inflated valuation of the dollar, backed by nothing more than vivid imagination. Fantasy is infectious, so there has been a capital flight to Turtle Island on the expectation that it would be a bastion of stability, its deregulated regulators standing as a tall cliff over the tsunami about to engulf the world economy.
 

Hellenistic Greece "Diadochen1" by Captain_Blood – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Greeks invented modern banking a couple millennia ago – credit based trade, hedge funds, options, foreign exchange, and so on. And, as we might expect, what's happening in Greece now is nothing new. Athens suffered a land and agrarian crisis in the late 7th century BCE and its citizens took to the streets, throwing bottles and protesting food prices. The Archon (city manager) Draco made severe reforms in 621 BCE ("Draconian" they were called), but these failed to quell the conflict. The crisis lasted another 27 years until the moderate reforms of Solon (594 BCE) lifted austerity while paying off creditors, with the added benefit of firmly entrenching the aristocracy.

The first financial crisis happened in Greece around 600 BC. Since then, Greece has defaulted on their loans more often than any other country in the modern world. In the past 200 years or so, Greece has defaulted about half the time.

Even though Greece has already received $284 billion in bailout money over the past five years, they still couldn’t get it together. One reason why was because most of that money went to financial institutions, and only a small portion went to the people.

Another reason why was due to their pension system. By now, everyone has heard the stories of the hairdresser example… That is, someone who’s worked as a hairdresser for three years, then retires around age 50-55 and receives nearly a full pension. Multiply this by more than two million pensioners, along with a whole lot of other financial problems, and you see why Greece is in such deep trouble.

Aden Forecast
 


Our spider senses tingle when we hear someone reading from one of Ronald Reagan's index cards about mooching welfare mamas driving a Cadillac. Those spendthrift pensioners! Originally the Greek debt was owed to French, Dutch and German banks but now is owed mainly to agencies like the European Financial Stability Facility, run on behalf of 19 governments, that most recently lent Greece (to kick the can down the road) 145 billion euros borrowed from the bond markets at high interest. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like the sub-prime market of, say, 2005, with European banks in the position of Countrywide and AIG.
Brian Davey writing for Feasta says:

If you kick the can down the road repeatedly you eventually run out of road. What should have happened much earlier in this process was an admission that the French, Dutch and German banks had made a mistake lending to Greece and they should have taken their loss. Perhaps Greek officials and Goldman Sachs, which helped to hide the fact that Greece could not pay, should have been prosecuted.


Davies goes on to draw the crucial link between energy and economy:

[W]hile Greece (and Spain and Italy and Ireland) was growing there were good reasons to send money to Greece – to invest in the building of holiday hotels for example, or in the building and civil engineering companies that built the hotels and the roads to the resorts. This was not buying and importing Greek goods – but it was putting money back into the pockets of Greeks in the form of investment in the business activities of a growing economy. If deficit countries are growing then mechanisms will exist to recycle purchasing power internationally. Once growth stops then there is no reason to send money to deficit countries and they are in trouble – as has happened throughout southern Europe and Ireland. I think that this is the most plausible way of seeing things. And the reason that growth began to fall off was rising energy prices because of depletion, because we are reaching the limits to economic growth. Because energy enters into all economic activities this undermines growth because people and companies struggle to service their debts AND pay the higher energy prices. That’s the ultimate reason that interest rates had to come down through quantitative easing.

 
Looking at a historical chart of US debt, one sees that it remained virtually unchanged from first ill-fated settlement in the 16th century, showing only slight bumps with each major war, until approximately 1970 when it went ballistic. What happened then? Gold bugs will tell you it was Nixon taking the dollar off the gold standard, unleashing the beast of fractional reserve banking and fiat currency. Rather, we find it more plausible that 1969 was the year US oil production peaked and, like their Greek counterparts, US companies began to struggle to service their debts AND pay the higher energy prices.

The US trashed Bretton Woods when it took the dollar to the oil standard by getting Saudi Arabia and other producers to sell their oil for dollars only. If you wanted to buy oil you needed dollars, and so dollars flowed back into the US, favorable trade balances masked the dollar's inflation (and the massive debt to sustain cheap energy) and American banks laughed all the way to the voting booths.

Meanwhile, life in Greece goes on, amid the financial wreckage. As Jan Lundberg, who has been trying to revive commercial sail transport in the Mediterranean (to replace more than four million fishing and small cargo vessels now spewing oil smoke and bilge) reports:
 

The jump in homelessness, many of the housed doing without heat in winter, and foregoing improvements in life that people had grown accustomed to, are well known. So it is no wonder that money is almost universally seen as the problem and the solution. The once hopeful consumer population has been ravaged: 1.3 million people, or 26% of the workforce, are without a job (and most of them without benefits); wages are down by 38% since 2009, pensions by 45%, GDP by a quarter; 18% of the country’s population unable to meet their food needs; 32% below the poverty line. Almost 3.1 million people, 33% of the population, are without national health insurance.


The ECB could solve Greece’s problem with a few computer keystrokes. The effect would actually be to stimulate the European economy.
 
Instead, Greece remains a whipping boy to keep the rest of the periphery in line. If either side decides to reject the latest deal, we could see an exit from the European Union, and a return to the drachma. This would likely be good for Greece but not for the EU, which could then see so many countries exit that the central currency tumbles into obscurity.

If Greece switches to drachmas, the funding possibilities are even greater. It could generate the money for a national dividend, guaranteed employment for all, expanded social services, and widespread investment in infrastructure, clean energy, and local business. Freed from its Eurocrat oppressors, Greece could model for the world what can be achieved by a sovereign country using publicly-owned banks and publicly-issued currency for the benefit of its own economy and its own people.

 Jan Lundberg says:

There are two kinds of people, whether in Greece or elsewhere: those who welcome or understand that fundamental change and discontinuity are inevitable, perhaps on the way too soon for convenience, and, those who fervently want the level of income and consumption of the past — regardless of economic and ecological realities. Fortunately for Greeks, they have a continuous and ancient society under the surface of the unstable transnational corporate state.


Summer in Greece often brings wildfires and this year is no different, although climate change doesn't help. In 2007 one fire covered 25.000 hectares north of Athens and as we write this flames are again creeping towards Athens from the North and the government has called out the Air Force and Army to help fight 34 separate fires. Isn't it lucky they still have organized fire departments and emergency responders there? They have come very close to not having that.

Greece is retracing its steps back through the ascent of Western Civilization to an earlier era when the best hedge was a good olive press. Many there, as elsewhere, cannot imagine losing the perks of advanced civilization. Stranded expectations – whether in Athens or Brussels – cloud peoples' thoughts. We are all Greeks. Harder lessons are coming. 

Chaos: Practice and Applications

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Luciano Podcaminsky

Luciano Podcaminsky

Published at Club Orlov on March 10, 2015

 

The term “chaos” has been popping up a lot lately in the increasingly collapse-prone world in which we find ourselves. Pepe Escobar has even published a book on it. Titled Empire of Chaos, it describes a scenario “where a[n American] plutocracy progressively projects its own internal disintegration upon the whole world.” Escobar’s chaos is tailor-made; its purpose is “to prevent an economic integration of Eurasia that would leave the U.S. a non-hegemon, or worse still, an outsider.”

Escobar is not the only one thinking along these lines; here is Vladimir Putin speaking at the Valdai Conference in 2014:

A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.

Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.

Indeed, Escobar’s chaos doesn’t seem to be working too well. Eurasian integration is very much on track, with China and Russia now acting as an economic, military and political unit, and with other Eurasian states eager to play a role. The European Union is, for the moment, being excluded from Eurasia because it is effectively under American occupation, but this state of affairs is unlikely to last due to budgetary problems. (To be precise, we have to say that it is under NATO occupation, but if we dig just a little, we find that NATO is really just the US military with a European façade hammered onto it Potemkin village-style.)

And so the term “empire” seems rather misplaced. Empires are ambitious undertakings that seek to exert control over their domain, and what sort of an empire is it if its main activity is stepping on the same rake over and over again? A silly one? Then why not just call it “The Silly Empire”? Indeed, there are lots of fun silly imperial activities to choose from. For example: arm and train moderate opposition to a regime you want to overthrow; find out that it isn’t moderate at all; try to bomb them into submission and fail at that too.

Some people raise the criticism that the empire does in fact function because somebody somewhere is profiting from all this chaos. Indeed they are, but taking this as a sign of imperial success is tantamount to regarding getting mugged on the way to the supermarket as a sign of economic success. Success has nothing to do with it, but Escobar’s “internal disintegration” does seem apt: the disintegrating empire’s internal chaos is leaking out and causing chaos everywhere. Still, the US makes every effort to exert control, mainly by exerting pressure on friends and enemies alike, and by demanding unquestioning obedience. Some might call this “controlled chaos.”

But what is “controlled chaos”? How does one control chaos, and is it even possible? Let’s delve.

Chaos Theory

There is a branch of mathematics called chaos theory. It deals with dynamic systems that exhibit a certain set of behaviors:

• For any causal relationship that can be observed, tiny differences in initial conditions cause large differences in outcome. The hackneyed example is the “butterfly effect” where the hypothetical flapping of the wings of a butterfly influences the course of a hurricane some weeks later. Or, to pick a more meaningful example, if the stock market were a chaotic system, then investing a million dollars in an index fund might result in a portfolio of about a million dollars a few months later; whereas investing a million and one dollars might result in a portfolio of minus a trillion dollars and change.

• Unpredictability beyond a short time-period: given finite initial information about a system, its behavior beyond a short period of time becomes impossible to predict. Since information about a real-world system is always finite, being limited by what can be observed and measured, chaotic systems are by their nature unpredictable.

• Topological mixing: any given region of a chaotic system’s phase space will eventually overlap with every other region. Chaotic systems can have several distinct states, but eventually these states will mix. For example, if a certain bank were a chaotic system, with two distinct states—solvent and bankrupt—then these states would eventually mix.

Mathematicians like to play with models of chaos, which are deterministic and time-invariant: they can run a simulation over and over again with slightly different inputs, and observe the result. But real-world chaotic systems are non-deterministic and non-time-invariant: not only do they produce wildly different outputs based on very slightly different inputs, but they produce different outputs every time. What’s more, even if deterministic chaotic systems did exist in nature, they would be indistinguishable from so-called “stochastic” systems—ones that exhibit randomness.

Control Theory

Another branch of mathematics deals with ways of controlling dynamic processes. A typical example is a thermostat: it maintains constant temperature by turning a heat source on if the temperature drops below a certain threshold, and off again if it rises above a certain other threshold. (The difference between the two thresholds is called “hysteresis.”) Another typical example is the autopilot: it is a device that computes the difference between the programmed course and the actual course, called an “error signal,” and applies that error signal to a control mechanism to keep the boat or the plane on course. There are many variations on this theme, but the overall scheme is always the same: measure system output, compare to reference, compute error signal, and apply it as negative feedback to the system.

In order to apply control theory to a system, that system must obey certain principles. One is the superposition principle: output must be proportional to the input. Left rudder always causes the boat to turn left; more left rudder causes it to boat to turn left faster. Another is time-invariance: the boat reacts to changes in rudder angle the same way every time. These are necessities; but most applications of control theory make an additional assumption of linearity: that changes in system behavior are linearly proportional to changes in control input. Since all real-world systems are non-linear, an effort is usually made to endow them with a relatively linear flat spot in the middle of their useful range. Turn a boat’s rudder a little bit, and the boat turns as expected; turn it too far, and it stalls and no longer works.

Applying control theory to chaotic systems is tricky, because of the issue of “controllability”: is it possible to put a system in a particular state by applying particular control signals? In a chaotic system, very small error signals can produce very large differences in system output. Therefore, a chaotic system cannot be controlled. However, an uncontrollable system can sometimes be stabilized and made to cycle around within a particular, useful, or at least non-lethal, part of its phase space. Generally, to stabilize the system, it must be observable: it must be possible to measure the output of the system and use it to issue corrections. However, even an an unobservable system can still be stabilized, by detecting its state periodically and applying a control signal to push it incrementally in the right direction.

Here is a real-world example. Suppose you are hurtling along a slush-covered highway in a subcompact car with bald summer tires. At some point a very minor perturbation of some sort will transform this controllable system into an uncontrollable one: the car will start spinning. Since it can no longer be steered, it will slide toward the barrier on one side of the highway or the other. It will also become unobservable: with the driver spinning along with the car, it will become impossible to observe the car’s trajectory based on short glimpses of the roadway spinning past. Can this situation be stabilized?

Yes, it turns out that it can be. This is a trick I learned from a jet fighter pilot, which I was then able to apply to the exact scenario I just described. If a jet starts tumbling out of control, the pilot’s job is to get it to stop tumbling and to get it back to level flight. This is done by twisting one’s head back and forth in rhythm with the spin, catching glimpses of the horizon, and working the yoke, also in rhythm to the spin, to slow it down, and to make the horizon go horizontal.

In a car, the driver’s job is to get the car to stop spinning without hitting the barrier on either side of the highway. This is done by twisting one’s head in rhythm to the spin, catching glimpses of the barriers on each side of the road, and working the steering wheel, also in rhythm to get the car to stop spinning while keeping it away from either barrier. If the car is spinning clockwise, then a clockwise twist to the steering wheel will move it forward, a counterclockwise twist will move it backward, and a stomp on the brakes will slow down its forward or backward motion somewhat.

This is typically the best that can be done in controlling chaos: using small perturbations to keep the system within a certain range of safe, useful states, keeping it out of any number of useless or dangerous ones. But there is one more caveat: such applications of control theory to chaotic systems require finding out the properties of the chaotic system ahead of time. That’s rather tricky to do if a system evolves continuously in response to these small perturbations. In situations that involve politics or military matters, applying the same control measure twice is about as effective as telling the same joke twice to the same audience: you become the joke.

The moral of this story should be obvious by now: as with the car on a slush-covered highway, any fool can get it to spin out, but that same fool is then unlikely to have the presence of mind, the skill and the steel nerves to keep it from hitting one of the barriers. Same goes for the would-be builders of an “empire of controlled chaos”: sure, they can generate chaos, but controlling it in a manner that allows them to derive some benefit from it is rather out of the question, and even their ability to stabilize it, so that they are not themselves hurt by it, is in grave doubt.

 


Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

2015: Grounds for Optimism

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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orlov 2

Published at Club Orlov on January 6, 2015

 

This may seem like an odd line of reasoning to pursue given what everyone else seems to be saying. Some are thinking that 2015 will be a repeat of 2014 with a few incremental changes (always a safe bet, but makes for boring reading) while others are warning of the potential for a nuclear confrontation between the US and Russia (always a possibility, on par with an asteroid strike or a supernova in our galactic vicinity). But this is all more of the same. The interesting question to ask is, How has the ground shifted in 2014, if indeed it has?

To my mind, the really interesting development of 2014 is that the world as a whole (with a few minor exceptions) has become quite lucid on the topic of what the United States, as a global empire, is and stands for. It is now very commonly and completely understood that:

1. The United States is an evil empire, attempting not so much to rule the world as to disrupt it to its short-term advantage.

2. The United States is failing, as an empire and as a country, and no amount of fraud, mayhem, torture and murder is going to save it.

3. The United States is still quite powerful and can cause massive damage on its way down. This damage must be contained, while plans are drawn up for an international arrangement that will arise upon its demise.

Looking back on 2013 and before, such sentiments were already being expressed, but on the fringes and quietly. The difference is that in 2014 they became commonplace knowledge, and their expressions thundered from presidential podiums. What’s more, there just isn’t that much of a counterargument being voiced. I don’t hear a single voice out there arguing that the US is a benevolent force that is on the up-and-up, would never hurt a fly and is the permanent center of the universe. Yes, some people can still think that, but it’s hard to see value in such “thought.”

There are still a few holdouts: the UK, Canada and Australia especially. But even there the true picture is being distorted because of their Murdockified national media. Judging from what I hear from the people there, they are almost uniformly nauseated by the subservient pro-US antics of their national leaders. As for the EU, the image of political uniformity presented by Brussels is largely a fiction. In the core countries of Western Europe, business leaders are almost uniformly in favor of close cooperation with Russia and against sanctions. Along the fringe, entire countries appear to be on the verge of switching sides. Hungary—never a friend of Russia—now seems more pro-Russian than ever. Bulgaria, which has had a love/hate attitude toward Russia for centuries now, seems to be edging back closer to love. Even the Poles are scratching their heads and wondering if close cooperation with the US is in their national interest.

Another major shift I have observed is that a significant percentage of the thinking people in the US no longer trusts their national media. There is a certain pattern to the kinds of messages that can go viral and spread wildly via tweets and social media. Fringe messages must, by definition, stay on the fringe. And yet last year something snapped: a few times I ran a story in an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the US mass media’s coverage of events in the Ukraine, and the response was overwhelming, with hundreds of thousands of new readers showing up. What’s more, a lot of them have kept coming back for more. I take this to mean that what I have to say, while by no means mainstream, is no longer on the fringe, and that bloggers have an increasingly important role in helping plug the giant holes in national media coverage.

Of course, the national media still has an important role to play. For instance, I have no idea how big Kim Kardashian’s derrière is—but I hear it’s big in the media. Can it sing? And so if you are looking for authoritative information on that important subject, then American national media is your friend. But for most non-ass-related things, it seems to me that the Americans who run the nation’s political and media circuses broke a fundamental rule, which they apparently forgot, because it was first expressed by an American by the name of Abe Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” In case somebody out there in the media realm is tired of playing it safe and printing stuff that’s only fit for wiping your Kardashian with, here are a some points for you to try to refute:

1. Economic inequality has to increase continuously, until the whole thing crashes, because that is the only way to continue propping the financial bubble while the real, physical, productive economy is actually shrinking. The rich can’t possibly spend all of their money in the real economy. Instead, the poor things have to content themselves with investing in various luxury items, which they can’t use all the same time, and so most of them sit and slowly decay. Or they put their money into paper wealth of various kinds—and that, of course, is very good for the financial bubble. In any event, if you have a financial bubble you need to prop up no matter what, in the face of serious physical limitations on land, energy, fresh water, high-grade ores and other essential industrial feedstocks, then your best bet is to do the reverse-Robin-Hood thing and go rob the poor and give to the rich.

2. Worldwide chaos must be driven up because that’s the only way the US military can justify its existence. It is a very expensive military, but not a particularly effective one. (Just the new F-35 fighter cost over a trillion to develop—and yet it is a complete dud of a project and may never even go into production.) But in spite of this lavish spending the US military is incapable of scoring a decisive victory in just about any conflict, against any adversary, no matter how weak and impoverished, and their end result is always some sort of ongoing low-grade conflict that can flare up again at any time. Nevertheless, it can still threaten the weak and the poor, and use these threats to its financial advantage. But the only way to make these threats effective is to destroy some country on a semi-regular basis: “Nice country you got there! We’d hate to see it go the way of Libya.” A military confrontation with any of the real military powers—Russia, China, India, even Iran—is, of course, entirely out of the question, because a single humiliating military defeat for the US (which is inevitable given its track record against smaller, weaker adversaries) would be sufficient to undermine the entire program of US militarism.

3. As another American (Dwight Eisenhower) once put it: “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” But it stands to reason that you do have to solve a problem once in a while; you can’t just go on enlarging every problem you see ad infinitum. Now, what problems has the US solved lately? Anything good happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or Ukraine? No, worse than ever. How about financial reform in the wake of the narrowly averted collapse in 2008? No, and there is another big one coming up in the form of the fracas in the fracking patch due to low oil prices. Anything good to report on health care reform? No, it’s more ridiculously bloated and expensive than ever. Student debt repayable now? No, not by a long shot. How about an effort to reduce carbon emissions, to postpone (no longer to avoid!) the eastern seaboard, where half of everything is, going underwater? No, not a glimmer of hope. Problems with runaway public debt or unfunded government liabilities solved? No, there have been no efforts in that direction at all. Is the country still on course for national bankruptcy and collapse? All systems check, go with throttle up!

Now, your mileage may vary, but I have discovered that a surprising number of people around the world (though not especially in the US) is now very much clued into these things. And that is something that makes me feel optimistic about 2015.

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

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