Overshoot

The Population Problem

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on April 11, 2016

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Should the Pope tell people to stop breeding like rabbits?

In this post, I argue that overpopulation is a complex problem that has to do with human choices at the level of single families. It is not impossible that such choices will eventually lead to a stabilization of the world population at a sustainable level. It has happened in some historical cases, such as in Japan during the Edo period.

The population question arises strong feelings everytime it is mentioned and there is a general feeling that people will keep reproducing like rabbits unless something drastic is done to stop them. This position often goes in parallel with criticism to religious leaders and to religions in general, accused of encouraging people to reproduce like rabbits. Or, at least, to hide the fact that reproducing like rabbits is bad for the planet.

But is it true that people tend to reproduce like rabbits? And would they stop if someone, let's say the pope, were to tell them to stop? Maybe, but things cannot be so simple. Let me show you an example: Japan during the Edo period.
 


The population of Japan during the Edo Period (uncorrected data as reported by the bBafuku government). It shows how it is perfectly possible to attain a stable population in an agricultural society, even without "top-down" rules and laws. (data source, see also this link)

Note how the population has remained relatively constant for at least 150 years. It is a fascinating story, discussed in detail in the book "Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660–1950" by Fabian Drixler. Here is an illustration from the book:
 


Another impressive set of data: the net reproduction rates in Japan remained around or below the replacement rate during the Edo period, keeping the population constant for, indeed, something like one century and a half. It is also impressive to note how the reproduction rate literally exploded afterward, bringing the Japanese population from the ca. 25 millions of the Edo period to the present level of around 125 million, five times larger. Note also how rapidly the reproduction rate collapsed after the 1950s; it is a stark example of what we call the "demographic transition."

As we can see from these data, human reproduction strategies are much more complex than what you would imagine if you limit yourself to the biblical commandment "grow and multiply". The Japanese did NOT reproduce like rabbits during the Edo period. It doesn't appear that they were forced to reduce their birthrate by the government or by religious credences. Some famines are reported in Japan during the Edo period, but they couldn't have been truly disastrous, otherwise you would see their effects in the population curve. The population remained stable, it seems, mainly by "bottom-up" strategies at the level of single women or single families: contraception and, when that was not enough, infanticide.

So, what led the Japanese families to choose (rather than being forced) to limit their reproduction rate? There is plenty of scientific literature on the strategies of reproduction of various species, including the human one. The basic idea is that, in all cases, parents have a choice on how to employ their limited resources. Either they invest in having a large number of offspring (the "r-strategy", also the "rabbit strategy") or they invest in caring for their young until they reach adulthood (the "K-strategy" or the "Elephant strategy"). The choice of the reproductive strategy depends on the situation.  Let me cite directly from a paper by Figueredo et al. (1)

…… all things being equal, species living in unstable (e.g., fluctuation in food availability) and unpredictable (e.g., high predation) environments tend to evolve clusters of “r-selected” traits associated with high reproductive rates, low parental investment, and relatively short intergeneration times. In contrast, species living in stable and predictable environmental conditions tend to evolve clusters of “K-selected” traits associated with low reproductive rates, high parental investment, and long intergeneration times.

Humans, clearly, are more like elephants than like rabbits. The number of children that a human female can give birth to is limited, and it is normally a good strategy for her to maximize the survival chances of fewer children, rather than trying to have as many as possible. So, for most of humankind's history a family – or a single woman – would examine its environment and make a rough estimate of what chances their (or her) children could have to survive and prosper. In conditions of limited resources and strong competition, it makes sense for parents to maximize the health and fitness of their children by having a small number of them. It seems to be what happened in Japan during the Edo period: facing limited resources in a limited island, people decided to limit the number of their offspring, applying the "K-strategy."

The opposite is true for periods of abundant resources and scarce competition. When the economy is growing, families may well project this growth to the future and estimate that their children will have plenty of opportunities, then it makes sense to have a larger number of them – hence to apply the "r-strategy". The dramatic growth of population during the past 1-2 centuries is the result of the increasing consumption of fossil fuels. Everywhere, and in Japan as well, people reacted by filling up what they saw as open slots for their children. But with the second half of the 20th century, economic growth slowed down and people started to perceive that the world was rapidly filling up and that the economy wasn't growing anymore. They may not have perceived the depletion of mineral resources, but the result was obvious anyway. It was the "demographic transition," normally related to increasing wealth, but that we may also see as the result of a perception of the future that was seen as less rosy than before.

There are other cases of human populations that remained stable for some periods, so we may conclude that humans do not – definitely – reproduce like rabbits; except in some very special are rare conditions of history. Humans are intelligent creatures and, within some limits, they choose how many children to have in such a way to maximize their survival probabilities. The human population will tend to grow in a condition of economic growth, but it should tend to stabilize in static economic conditions. So, if we were able to stabilize the economic system, avoiding major wars and the need of cannon fodder, then the human population may well stabilize by itself, without any need for a "top-down" intervention by governments (or maybe by the Pope). Unfortunately, between now and then, there is a little problem called "overshoot" and stabilization at a sustainable level may be anything but painless. But if stabilization was possible on the island of Japan during the 19th century, why can't it happen in the larger island that we call "Earth"?

See also a post of mine titled "The cuckoo that won't sing: sustainability and Japanese culture"

1. Aurelio José Figueredo, Geneva Vásquez, Barbara H. Brumbach, Stephanie M.R. Schneider, Jon A. Sefcek, Ilanit R. Tal, Dawn Hill, Christopher J. Wenner, W. Jake Jacobs, Consilience and Life History Theory: From genes to brain to reproductive strategy, Developmental Review, Volume 26, Issue 2, June 2006, Pages 243-275, ISSN 0273-2297, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2006.02.002

Villageness

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Published on Peak Surfer on March 20, 2016

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"Before you reach carrying capacity you start to make bad, short-term, expedient decisions."

 

 

 
Towards the end of our two-week Permaculture Design Course at Maya Mountain — their 11th as a host and our personal 50th as a teacher — we sallied out into the Maya world with Chris Nesbitt in search of a turkey for the graduation feast.

This took us to the home of James, a graduate of one of our earlier courses, who lives with his growing family in the village of San Marcos, in the Toledo District of Belize. From the last census we could find, the population of the village was 328, 99% Ke’kchi, 1% Mopan.

The Maya built their great culture on towns, regions and bioregional states. Most of these, particularly the smaller villages, survived the collapse of the Classic Era, the Spanish Conquest, and the Colonial Period. Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico, most of Guatemala, more than half of Belize and the Western reaches of Honduras and El Salvador have similar political and cultural traditions that are now some 2500 years old and show no signs of going away. They are sustained by places as much as the memory of peoples.

Mayan cultural literacy is less about writing, music or the Bible and more about knowing plants and animals. Not just naming them. Knowing them.

Bird song, jaguar and howler growl, locations of raw materials, flows of streams, trail networks and portage routes are things that children learn early and do not soon forget.

Toxic wastes, plastics, logging, consumer society, fracking and GMOs are recent arrivals, and threaten everyone, but they are pretty puny in comparison to the depth of culture that opposes them. Human fecundity grounded in religious dogma is the greater threat.

In a classroom session pointedly aimed at those in the workshop that were Mayan, Garifuna or otherwise native Belizian, Chris outlined the hard numbers on the chalkboard. In 1985 the population of Belize was 150,000 and an equal number lived just across the border, in the highland Petén of Guatemala. Guatemala as a whole was 6 million then.

In 2015, Belize had grown to 347,369 — more than double in 29 years, but still the lowest population density in Central America. Petén was 2 million (a 13-fold increase) and Guatemala 14 million. “Before you reach carrying capacity you start to make bad, short-term, expedient decisions,” Chris told the class. He spoke of people in Haiti baking cakes of clay and lard and selling them in the market, of the Balkanization of Eastern Europe, of Rwanda, of Syria and the European refugee crisis.

Native Toledians still speak of the forced Christianization of the region that happened to Punta Gorda Town with the arrival of the missionaries 500 years ago. Many who refused to be Christianized took refuge in the Maya Mountains. The Mopan call these people the Che’il and the Ke’kchi call them Chol. In the past they were objects of scorn, uneducated and primitive. Today they are venerated, except in the most westernized parts of the country. 

In Mayan villages incense is burned and prayers are said to these “wild Maya” who protect the animals and forests. Hunters and chicle workers take them salt from the coast as offerings.

In 1850, concerned about the flow of people across the mountains, British Honduras closed its Western Border, although it was not until 1934 that that border was even surveyed, never mind guarded. These days, the tensions along the border are growing as Belize begins to fret about the increase in immigration and Guatemala once more rattles its sabre, reasserting its legal claim to, if not the whole of Belize, then merely from the Sibun River south. This claim amounts to roughly 53% of the country and includes significant portions of Cayo, Belize District, Stann Creek and Toledo. Emigration serves Guatemala’s purposes here.

When we first started going there, the trek down to Punta Gorda was an 8-hour ordeal over bad roads, sometimes impassible in the rainy season when we would resort to the coastal boat route. Then came the Hummingbird Highway with its regular flow of scheduled services in recycled Bluebird school buses, shortening the distance from Belize City on the Northern coast. 

A few years ago, Belize finally made good a 150-year-old promise and started cutting a road to Guatemala through the mountains. Under the terms of the Wyke–Aycinena Treaty of 1859, Great Britain — whose unintended and ungovernable “colony" composed of shipwrecked Anglos, Scots and later Baymen immigrants and Garifuna had, on its own, fought off Spanish territorial claims in 1798 at the Battle of St. George's Caye — promised to build that road from Punta Gorda in exchange for Guatemala agreeing to give up land claims inherited from Spain's Vatican-sanctioned Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494.

Now the road is finally going in, two centuries later, and Guatemala is saying, thanks very much, but too late. You blew it. Without that road being built by British Baymen in 1859, we are no longer bound to give up King Ferdinand’s claim to the New World. Guatemala also points to the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, wherein Britain agreed to abandon British forts in Belize that protected the Baymen and give Spain sovereignty over the soil, which made it part of Guatemala (conveniently forgetting the embarrassing loss to the uppity Baymen at St. George's Caye in 1798).

Guatemala's new president, Jimmy Morales, when campaigning in 2015, said "Something is happening right now, we are about to lose Belize. We have not lost it yet.” Perhaps he was referring to the road as the thing that was happening. If he thinks he will get the Belizeans to walk away from their country, after only just gaining independence from Britain in 1981, he is wrong about having not already lost it.

Between 1975 and 1979, Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Panama changed their stances from supporting Guatemala to supporting Belize. The OAS, trying to defuse the conflict, established a border zone extending one kilometer (0.62 mi) on either side of the 1859 treaty line. Guatemala has taken the matter to the International Court of Justice. Both sides have strengthened military presence at the border, as road-building continues. 
 
A little way past the junction with the Hummingbird Highway, where the new road turns towards Guatemala is the turnoff to the town of San Marcos.

San Marcos is a long, narrow village bisected by a ridge road running up its middle, then dog-legging left. The houses look much the same as in other Mayan villages of the region — stick walls, thatch roofs, hand pump in the front yard. In 1975, three families came here to found the village, led by brothers Santos and Luciano Muku and Camilo Rash. Before that the families had lived on private property in the dump area outside Punta Gorda Town. New settlers came to join them, mostly Kek’chi from Guatemala fleeing the genocidal holocaust of the late 70s and 80s. In 1981 they built a church and school and named their village San Marcos. 

St. Mark, it is worth recalling, was born of Jewish parents around 3 AD in the city of Cyrene in Pentapolis, now Libya. Shortly after his birth, his family migrated to Palestine to escape Berber attacks. A few years later when his father Aristopolos died, Mark was taken in by Peter Simon who would later become an apostle. Mark studied law and the classics and later authored the earliest known gospel. He was martyred in 68 AD by being tied to a horse’s tail and dragged through the streets of Alexandria for two days. We mention this not for the shock value but to point to similarities between the mass migrations now underway in the Southern Mediterranean and 2000 years ago, and also to the similarities of the atrocities perpetrated on the Maya in Guatemala by Reaganista Evangelical Christian governments in the early 80s.

In San Marcos about a third of the population today are Catholic and the remainder either Evangelical Christian or Mennonite. Apart from a small sliver of the Mopan Maya, the first language of the village is Ke’kchical with both Spanish and English learned at home or in school by age 10.

A 1995 survey of occupations in the village shows that 18% farm produce, 46% raise animals, 10% hunt and the remainder fish, although we suspect that most do all of those and the survey form was simply passed around the house for everyone to put down their favorite.

More revealing is the age demographic. Only 7% are over 50. Nine percent are 35-49. Those age 34 or less make up 84% of the population and 64% are under 17, reaching fertility in the next decade. Principally because of total agreement between Catholic, Evangelical and Mennonite doctrines on this point, nearly all families will resemble James’ family — six to twelve children per mother, with the next generation coming as soon as biologically possible. Besides the refugee influx, this philosophical tradition is also what Guatemala brings into Belize, which is now Latin America’s fast growing country.

Guatemala is already outstripping its abilities to provide for its own. Whole forests have fallen to the axe in the Petén. Refugees come through the mountains and trickle into Maya settlements all over Toledo. The village closest to Chris’s farm, San Pedro Columbia, has quadrupled in size in the years we have been coming here.

If you look at any given home it seems idyllic. Food trees — banana, papaya, mango, sapote, are never far from the front door. Chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs free range in the yards. James’ family has a small corn mill in a front room so they make masa for the village— nixtamalized dough for tortillas and empanadas — on demand. When Chris asks for 4 kg, a daughter goes to a wet barrel and ladles out soaking, reddish dent kernels into a sieve, takes them to the pump to wash, and delivers them to her mother in the mill room. 

The rehydrated field corn she had ladled had been parboiled in slaked lime (Calcium Hydroxide)— 1 Tbsp per kg. CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2. Some poor villages that cannot afford or find lime (Mexican Cal) use wood ash to extract potash. They leach the ashes in a large pot, strain and evaporate the liquid to produce Potassium carbonate (K)2(CO3), which is alkaline and can be used as a substitute for Calcium hydroxide.

Nixtamalization of maize was one of the great culinary discoveries of the world, allowing us to unlock the amino acids of corn to make a balanced protein. Without knowing about nixtamalization, Columbus just made people sick and malnourished with the maize he took back to the Old World.

It is kind of a pity that Columbus, making landfall in Lisbon after his first crossing, felt compelled to go brag about his discovery to King John II of Portugal. The Italian Navigator was always sniffing around for grants. Had he kept mum about it until he got back to Spain, John would not have complained to Ferdinand and Isabella and they in turn would not have gone running to the Pope (Pope Alexander VI /Rodrigo Borgia) who came up with an encyclical that precipitated the Treaty of Tordesillas and today's claim by Guatemala for 53% of Belize. 

James’ wife throws a knife switch and engages a 10 HP motor that turns a pulley shaft, the daughter loads her washed corn into the hopper. When done, the masa is bagged, weighed and handed to Chris who pays her a few dollars.

We stop at the neighbors’ and pick out our 30-lb. turkey, which goes live into a gunny sack for transport in the dugout back up to Maya Mountain Research Farm. 

Teaching permaculture in a culture such as this, one is never quite sure whether Albert Bartlett’s classic lecture on the exponential function has much meaning. People here have a hard time relating to the doubling times of bacteria in a bottle. But what time is it when all the available cleared land is occupied and you have to cut down the forest to make more space for houses? Answer: One minute to midnight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Peace Writer William T. Hathaway

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on March 17, 2016

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In this interview with William T. Hathaway we discuss his evolution  from his time as a Green Beret in the jungle of Vietnam to his  succeding years as an activist for peace, William Hathaway speaks with a clear voice the Diner is proud to feature. -RE

From Countercurrents.org:

"It took me years to overcome the warrior indoctrination I got in the Special Forces. It was very deeply ingrained. What finally brought me out of it was meditation and my wife's persistent love," says author William T. Hathaway. "Now I look back and ask, How could I have fallen for that military nonsense?"

A Special Forces combat veteran, Hathaway has answered that question in two novels about what attracts men to war and how they can be healed of the pathology of patriarchal machismo.

His first novel, A WORLD OF HURT, won a Rinehart Foundation Award for its portrayal of the blocked sexuality and the need for paternal approval that draw men to the military.

"I was trying to uncover the psychological roots of war, the forces that so persistently drive our species to slaughter," says Hathaway. "Our culture has degraded masculinity into a deadly toxin. It's poisoned us all. Men have to confront this part of themselves before men and women together can heal it."

He is active in a group offering support and shelter to soldiers who have refused to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. "The real heroes in the military are the deserters," says Hathaway. He wrote the introduction to AMERICA SPEAKS OUT: Collected Essays from Dissident Writers and has published numerous shorter pieces, including "Sedition, Subversion, Sabotage" in CounterCurrents.

His writing won him a Fulbright professorship at universities in Germany, where he currently lives.

Hathaway sees spirituality as an essential component of a more peaceful world. "My military experience convinced me that to prevent war we need to raise human consciousness. A look at the history of revolutions shows that switching economic and political systems isn't enough. The same aggressive personality types take over and start another army. We have to change the basic unit, the individual.

"Many of my leftist colleagues ignore this because they see the individual as the product of social and material forces. But I think the human heart is deeper than that and can be changed.

"I've found Eastern meditation to be the most effective way to change people. Unlike prayer, it works on the physiological level, altering the brain waves and metabolism. It refines the nervous system and expands the awareness so that the unity of all human beings becomes a living reality, not just an idealistic concept.

"After a while of meditation people stop wanting to consume things that increase aggression, such as meat, alcohol, and violent entertainment. They become more peaceful."

 

Downsizing

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 29, 2015

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What Downsizing really means…

That we are entering a period of decline is not in any real doubt, at least not among those with the inclination to think about it. ‘Downsizing’ seems to be the commonly used term, but few really understand what it will really mean. No one will willingly accept downsizing if it means a meaningful drop in their standard of living. So it remains a vague notion that it might be somebody else’s problem, and nothing too drastic on a personal level. There is a misplaced concept that we will drift into it gradually as oil decline eases us into another mode of living that will not be too far removed from the one that we enjoy now. We want the creature comforts that we have known for less than a century to remain a permanent feature of our imagined future.

Our most recent history shows that the slightest slowdown of our current economy by just a few percentage points brings an immediate chaos of unemployment and global destabilisation. Yet somehow that won’t apply to a permanent ‘downsizing’; that seems to follow a different set of social rules, as if we can do it and still retain a civilised existence. And of course without downsizing wages too much. We will still expect to eat, buy ‘stuff’ and carry on in employment and even retain our wheels, with the strange certainty that as long as we have wheels, we will have prosperity by involving ourselves in the exchanges of trade that will not differ much to what we have now.

http://techdrive.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/elon-musk-335x223.jpgIn the face of imminent global chaos, from climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion, billions are being poured into development of alternative methods of transportation. Elon Musk, though producing a first class electric car, proposes it to be a vehicle for the ‘post oil’ age, which will inevitably mean a downsized environment. He ignores the basic reality that no road vehicle in the context of modern usage can function without an infrastructure that is itself a construct of hydrocarbon. The notion is that we can all get into electric cars and continue to drive from home to work and back, and our comfortable lifestyle can carry on much as before. In other words, it is the vehicle itself that creates and supports our prosperity. If we use an electric car, we can still somehow move a lump of metal and plastic around as an integral part of our employment and leisure.

But the electric car adds to the socio-economic complexity of our over-stressed life support system, it does not simplify it. In addition to the factory itself, an electric car needs sophisticated power hungry production systems, a living environment for its workers, housing, roads, schools and so on, as well as the Bolivian lithium mines and the socio-economic-industrial complexity needed in that country, all solely dependent on a vehicle concept that is ultimately a consumer of the hydrocarbon fuel it is promising to replace. All these systems are (hydrocarbon) energy intensive and expensive to produce. In a downsized society, that complexity will not exist, yet our focus on such dead ends as the electric car shows that humankind does not have the means to rid itself of dependence on the wheel. While the electric car might appear to be a bright shiny symbol of continuing wealth and prosperity, it is in fact a block of embodied energy, as subject to the laws of thermodynamics as any other construction. It demands constant energy input to maintain its viability, and serves no useful purpose in a downsized environment because the means to sustain will not be there. No industrialised nation can maintain its road transport system without the constant input of oil. Fossil fuelled vehicles, whether used on land, air or sea produce our food, sustain our infrastructure and maintain the cohesion of nations. And there are no alternatives.

http://www.welcome-to-lancaster-county.com/images/amish-market-wagon-opt.jpgWe must face the painful truth: that our fossil fuelled prosperity (temporarily) allowed us to have personal transport, but it was not personal transport that created our prosperity. A downsized lifestyle will mean that we will no longer be able to move around on a whim, for no better reason than we happen to want to drag a couple of tons of steel and plastic around to buy a newspaper or a carton of milk. The car has allowed us to live many miles from our energy sources, whether food or employment. That is going to end. When considering downsized transportation, remember that probably the most useful wheeled vehicles in the pre oil environment were haycarts and war chariots. The only forms of renewable energy were derived from the waterwheel and the windmill. They were manufactured from trees, and needed the energy input from animal and human muscle to give them functionality. We cannot have a future that is dependent on complex industry. It will not work.

When advocating downsizing, there is rarely, if ever, any mention of the healthcare we currently enjoy, which has given us a reasonably fit and healthy 80 year average lifespan.

A prime safeguard for the health of citizens throughout the developed world is the ability to remove and dispose of human waste and provide an inflow of fresh water. But to do it there must be constant availability of hydrocarbon energy. Electricity will enable you to pump water and sewage but it cannot provide the infrastructure needed to build or maintain a fresh water or waste treatment plant; for that you need oil, coal and gas. Modern domestic plumbing systems are now made largely of plastic, which is manufactured exclusively from oil feedstock, while concrete main sewer pipes are produced using processes that are equally energy intensive. In a downsized society fresh water will have to be carried from its source, and sewage will not be moved.

http://static.progressivemediagroup.com/uploads/imagelibrary/Mogden_STW_Water.jpgBut we are even more deluded when it comes to the medical profession and all the advanced treatments and technologies it has provided to keep us in good health and make our lives as pain free as possible. There seems to be a strange expectation that we will remain as healthy as we are now, or become even healthier through a less stressful lifestyle, where we tend our vegetable gardens and chicken coops in a state of bucolic bliss irrespective of any other problems we face. And while ‘downsizing’ – a somewhat bizarre concept in itself – might affect other aspects of our lives, it will not apply to doctors, medical staff, hospitals and the vast power-hungry pharmaceutical factories and supply chains that give them round the clock backup. Without that backup, your medical practitioner might know what ails you, but more often than not won’t be able to offer you any more help than a tribal witch doctor.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that hospitals use twice as much energy per square foot as a comparable office block, to keep the lights, heating, ventilation and air conditioning on 24/7 and run an array of equipment from refrigerators to MRI scanners. We have a blind faith that we can continue to benefit from this highly complex, energy-intensive healthcare system, irrespective of any decline in our energy supplies. We know of the conditions endured by our not-so-distant forebears, and recoil in horror at the prevalence of the dirt and diseases they had to accept as part of their lives.  We should perhaps stop to consider that they did not have the means to make it otherwise. Like our forebears, we also will not have the means to make it otherwise.  A downsized society will no longer be able to build outwards and live in a spreading suburbia, so must be forced back into crowded environments, inevitably reverting to a more medieval lifestyle which will make the spread of diseases inevitable.

City Lights 2012 - Flat mapNor does downsizing appear to apply to the other emergency services we might want to call on if our home is on fire or those of criminal intent wish to relieve us of what is rightfully ours. We might put solar panels on the roof, and banks of batteries to supply power, but a downsized society will not have the engineering complexity available to manufacture a single lightbulb, heating element or the basic components of an electric motor. Without those, any electricity production system is useless. You may be able to recondition an electric motor up to a point, but you cannot repair a lightbulb. A downsized lifestyle means a dark lifestyle, or put more bluntly a naked flame society. Alternative lifestylers seem to have blanked out the detail that fire engines, ambulances and police cars need fuel, and the people who man them need to get paid, fed and moved around quickly. They will not have time to indulge in the fantasy of self sufficiency. In other words ‘we’ might reduce our imprint on the environment, as long as those who support our way of life do not. Humanity, at least our ‘western’ developed segment of it, is enjoying a phase of good health and longevity that is an anomaly in historical terms. There is a refusal to recognize that our health and wellbeing will only last as long as we have cheap hydrocarbon energy available to support it. While there are those who profess to welcome a return to the freedom of a frontier society with minimal or non-existent law enforcement, the ravages of the diseases that were an everyday part of frontier life will not be accepted as part of it, particularly when accompanied by the knowledge that such diseases are curable but the means to do it are no longer available.

Since the introduction of modern drugs and the availability of products that can kill bacteria, we have set out to do just that. Bacteria have had a bad press, but they keep us alive, if only to serve their own ends. In our haste to kill off or control almost every microscopic form of life, as well as larger species, we have forgotten that bacteria have been around in one form or another for about 2 billion years and possess a collective survival strength that is far in advance of ours. We have only been here for about 2 million years, and have held our delusion of controlling them for less than a century. If humankind ceased to exist, bacteria wouldn’t be aware of our demise; without them, we couldn’t last a week. On that basis, which is the dominant species? Our attempts at eradication have merely caused them to retreat for a while and given them the means to mutate into new and more deadly forms. When our hydrocarbon energy shield is no longer there to protect us, they will return to wreak their vengeance, and reassert their position as top predator.

http://tpucdn.com/npu/img/2014/08-27/12049-7a176461_600_400.jpgThat we are subject to laws not of our own making will be hard to accept, because humankind has elevated itself to the position of biological supremacy, and created gods and written holy books to offer proof of that. A growing awareness that something is wrong will foster denial of it, in the same way that we see the reality of climate change denied. That is part of human nature. We can look around and see the proof of what we are, but the actual sum total of human endeavour has been to overpopulate our planet far in excess of its carrying capacity. Before we learned how to use the destructive forces of hydrocarbons to control bacteria and microbial life ‘for the good of humanity’, they kept our planet as a safe living environment for all species by controlling any excesses. Without our hydrocarbon weaponry, microbial life will reassert dominance.

The deniers will vent their frustration and anger, and apportion blame and demand that diseases be cured. But there are just too many humans to allow the possibility of a human solution. We are genetically programmed to fight for survival, just as bacteria are. But with no hydrocarbon armoury, it will be a battle we cannot win, any more than the plague victims of the middle ages could win their fight against disease. Their great die off resulted in a third of their population being wiped out, with no knowledge of the cause other than a certainty of divine intention. On a planet with 7 billion people, which has a carrying capacity of around 1 billion, we may not want to admit to an impending die off, but we know it has to come, and within this century. The difference between ourselves and our medieval forebears is that we will know why but will be equally powerless. When the die off begins, violent reaction is certain, and that will help bacteria in their task of rebalancing our numbers.

The infrastructure of modern healthcare hasn’t given us immortality, but it has provided the next best thing: long, safe and comfortable lives. But it relies entirely on hydrocarbon energy, and in the future a range of problems will make it progressively more difficult for us to exert control over disease as that energy source goes into irreversible decline. Disease will become more prevalent, not only in localized outbreaks, but at epidemic and even pandemic levels. Healthcare systems cannot downsize, they are either there or they are not.

And yet the greatest loss in a downsized economy is likely to be our democracy.

You don’t think much about the democratic state you live in. A few gripes about it sometimes, but other than that, things coast along reasonably well. You vote one lot of useless politicos in, and another lot out. Or maybe don’t vote at all. They never change anything, being swept along by the tide of circumstance just like everybody else.

But your democratic state is an unnatural state.

Through almost all of recorded history mankind has lived under autocratic rule to a greater or lesser degree, always enforced by the threat of violence, either on a personal or collective level.

In the sense that we know it democracy has been selectively planted only during the last 2 centuries, with universal suffrage appearing in different places at different times. But it has not in any sense taken root. It is a fragile concept that we are going to lose as our environment alters and degrades with climate change and energy depletion. Before the industrial revolution, the concept of democracy and human rights did not exist. It may not seem immediately obvious that our democratic state is dependent on surplus energy, but it is.

Euro_collapseWe look to Ancient Greece, or more specifically Athens itself for the origins of our democracy, but while Athens in the 4th century BCE had a population of 100,000, living in what we think of as democratic harmony, they also had an underclass of about 150,000 slaves who supported their economy. Slaves had no part in the Athenian democratic process, but they allowed the free time for their owners (men only, women were not part of it) to go about their leisurely democratic business.

Had it not been for slave-energy, Athens would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the sophisticated business of democracy. Providing the means to stay alive doesn’t allow much leisure for political thinking. In England, Magna Carta might be seen as part of the democratic process, but it only applied to the nobility who forced it on the King. The underclass who provided the energy sources from the land had no part in it. They had much the same status as the slaves who belonged to the Athenians.

We differ in our time only through the surplus energy of fossil fuel that has allowed us to enjoy the luxury of democracy.

We have had access to that surplus energy for only 250 years, and fully exploited it for less than 100 years. In every developed nation in the world, that period of time has seen the growth of universal suffrage and allowed it to become normality.

But it is a fragile concept and we cannot claim this as a fundamental human right, despite the endless assurances of politicians.

When our coal, oil and gas has finally been used up, our comfortable environment will vanish with it. The unpleasant reality of the world outside the comfort zone of our cars, warm or cool homes, healthcare on demand and reliable food and water supplies will reassert itself and our democratic niceties will vanish as we strive to survive.

An energy depleted economy will mean a downsized state and a breakup of established law, because no government can exist outside the boundaries of its own energy range. In that situation you can have no control over your position within your future state or nation, and the way in which you will be governed. The individual details might be open to question, but millennia of past history supplies a broad outline: weakened states submit to whichever despot can hold power. We will not only have a downsized economy, we will have autocratic rule by someone who has seized the opportunity of weakness and used it for his own ends.

Mass Migration of All Species: Report from Sweden

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Published on Peak Resources and the Doomstead Diner on October 28, 2015

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Migration is a response to a changing environment

When soils become eroded, fresh water scarce, landscapes deforested, the air polluted and climate unstable, species either adapt, move or go extinct. Because the climate is changing so rapidly most species have a hard time adapting to new conditions. Evolution would have to occur 10,000 times faster than it typically does in order for most species to adapt and avoid extinction. And so they move instead, along with the shifting climatic zones. According to a 2011 study, species are now moving to higher elevations at a rate of 11.1 meters per decade and to higher latitudes at an average of 16.9 kilometres per decade. Life cycle events like mating, blooming and migrating that follow seasons are also changing. Mismatches in timing of births and food availability will inevitably lower population sizes of many species while pests and pathogens thrive due to warmer temperatures. Even if some species are able to migrate there are still many hinders (cities, high-ways etc.) on their way to territories where the competition for food will be tough. Highly specialized species and those who already live in the most northern regions might go extinct. For example, many Arctic species like the caribou, arctic fox and snowy owl are losing their habitat and the food they depend on at a rapid pace.

From having been almost extinct in Sweden, some 15 years ago, the arctic fox may be on its way back, but only due to support feedings and a return of lemmings. Credit: TT

 

Human mobility and Conflict

Human population mobility is not that different. For many of the poorest people of the world mobility is sometimes the only adaptive strategy available. Most sub Saharan African countries are finding it difficult to cope with existing climate stress, not to mention future climate change. Extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and storms have a direct impact on human migration patterns while long-term changes such as desertification and deforestation can lead to declining living standards that indirectly pushes people to move. Already at +1°C warming, since pre-industrial times, we see a drastic increase in the number of displaced people. Furthermore, when essential resources become increasingly scarce or costly tensions rise and conflict can break out. In Syria a devastating drought forced millions of farmers to abandon their fields in search of alternative livelihoods in the city. And when food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011, along with oil prices, food riots and civil unrest broke out in a number of countries where people spend a large part of their income on food. Some of these conflicts have turned into full on wars which further reinforces migration.

 

 

People on the move

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) some 26.4 million people have been displaced by disasters (geophysical and weather related events) every year since 2008. The likelihood of being displaced by disaster today is 60% higher than it was in the early 1970s. The number of displaced people from natural disasters spiked during the strong El Niño years of 1997/98 which does not bode well for this winter and next year, with a similarly strong El Niño now taking shape. Losses from natural disasters and conflict increasingly outpaces the adaptive capacity of a growing number of people around the globe who are forced to relocate permanently. According to UNHCR, one in every 122 humans are now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The number of conflicts have increased during the last decade and 15 newly erupted or reignited conflicts have broken out since 2010.


Shows total people of concern (refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced, returnees, stateless, and others of concern to UNHCR) in 15 countries as of 2014. Based on UNHCR – Global Trends 2014: World At War

The conflict in Ukraine together with 502,500 people crossing the Mediterranean and the large number of Syrians in Turkey (1.59 million) has lead to a doubling of refugees in Europe between 2013-2014, according to the UN Refugee Agency. However, while Germany and Sweden accepted the biggest volume of asylum seekers the largest proportion of refugees are located in Turkey and the Russian Federation.

Earth to humanity

Most people in Europe, and elsewhere, are currently focused on issues of immigration with endless political debates and moral outrage in mainstream media. People think that we are experiencing a political crisis but it's much worse than that. Migration is only a symptom of the real underlying predicament – limits to growth in a finite world. As long as society tries to grow its population and economic activity we will continue to experience mounting social and ecological stresses, for example in form of: increasing inequality, disruptive climate change, mass migrations, hunger, epidemics etc. These pressures are warning signals that indicate overshoot, this is a fact, and yet we refuse to talk about limiting population growth or downsizing our economy (i.e. lowering our energy per capita consumption).

 

Irreversible change in carrying capacity means that a return to their homeland will be impossible for many environmental refugees. Since ecological deficit is a global phenomenon, millions of ecorefugees will be seeking new locations. But very few places will have the biocapacity necessary to take them in without undermining their own ecological capital. Are there any lifeboats (nations) in suitable condition to accept ecorefugees on a long-term basis? If we have a quick look at different country's biocapacity as measured by the global footprint network we can see that Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, Russia, Latin America and parts of central Africa still have (in theory) the ecological capacity to host more people. While most countries located around the equator are in serious overshoot.


 

Accepting limits

Eventually, resource depletion and biophysical stresses will grow so large that the economy will crash and population is forced to go down. This is not a pessimistic viewpoint, it is a realistic one based on scientific evidence of population dynamics in a closed natural system. We can always hope for the best, but we better prepare for the worst, like any prudent risk manager would.

 

As most people probably have noticed by now, there is very little real wealth generation in today’s economy. Most of the economic activity these days consist of wealth transfers, from the poor and the middle class to the financial elite. This is why we see such huge and widening gaps between rich and poor (80 people own 50% of all global wealth). When the resource pie isn't growing anymore then one person's gains will imply another one's losses, it's a zero-sum game. Absent abundant, cheap energy (especially oil) the economy cannot grow as more people go broke and become excluded from the marketplace. Only the rich will be able to afford to keep on over consuming, over the short-term that is . Our society has tried to “paper over” this problem by piling up ever more debt (borrowing purchasing power from the future), but we have now reached a level when people cannot or are unwilling to take on more debt. And this is also why we see falling commodity prices, there just isn’t enough demand. Instead we have debt deflation.

 

In time, depressed commodity prices could lead to falling supply of oil which in turn could be devastating for food production and transportation. All the while pollution is growing and climate change becomes more severe. Meanwhile social unrest and political extremism is on the rise once again in Europe.The so called “refugee crisis”, however, is neither temporary or political in nature. Ideologies like left or right-wing doesn’t matter anymore, there are only those who accept ecological limits and those who don't. But accepting limits also leads to the realization that there are two possible outcomes, sharing or conflict. And people do not like to share. Especially not the rich.

End of More: Norman Pagett: Part 3

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on September 3, 2015

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End_of_More

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Take the Dieoff Timeline Survey!

Part 1

Part 2

Here is a summary of what was covered in this podcast:

(summary by Monsta)

  • Population overshoot in Saudi Arabia.
  • Impact of lower oil production in the country.
  • Potential for nuclear warfare.
  • Issue of ballistic missiles particularly in the destruction of high value/status assets such as aircraft carriers.
  • Impact of middle-east turmoil on oil importer nations which will lead to demand destruction and recession. Over time these problems will work its way from the periphery to the centre of credit creating nations such as Germany, UK and the United States.
  • Crisis of migration once energy declines in countries such as Italy, Greece etc.
  • How will societies cope with population collapse?
  • Expectations and the problems of alternative labour such as horse replacements for truck delivery detailing the biomass problem which is a zero sum game.

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW!

Survey: When Does the Dieoff Begin? Results: Most Dangerous to World Peace

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August , 2015

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According to the UN, by 2050 the Global Population of Homo Saps is projected to be around 11B by 2100:

http://www.21stcentech.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/UN-DESA-World-Population-Table-1-e1439582069476.png

Obviously, they arrive at these numbers by extrapolating out on current trends.  Nowhere do they explain how we'll be able to feed 11B, particularly since climate change and fresh water depletion are both already negatively affecting many of the growing regions around the globe.  Nor does it take into account fossil fuel depletion, phosphate depletion etc.

So, equally obvious to anyone who actually THINKS about this and doesn't simply extrapolate out the current trends, somewhere in the next 80 years the population is going to stop going UP, and start going DOWN.

As with the rest of the questions surrounding collapse, the outcome isn't in question here, just the timeline on it.  When will the population begin its inexorable downward slide?  Once this slide does begin, how fast will the population diminish?  These are the questions for this week's Collapse SurveyTM.

Take the Die Off Timeline Survey HERE

World Peace Danger Survey Results

survey-saysNow the results from last week's survey,  Which Nation or Organization presents the Greatest Danger to World Peace?

Unsurprisingly given the demographics of Doomers, coming mostly from English speaking industrialized nations, ISIS got the nod as the greatest danger.  However, as of yet, ISIS doesn't possess any Nuclear Weapons, so the amount of damage they can actually do is fairly limited.  What they might do of course is become such a nuisance to frustrated neo-cons over here that someone on this side of the pond or the Israelis pushes the button to try to exterminate them en masse.

The FSoA came in as # 2 on the list of Greatest Dangers, although I really think you can make the case it should be #1 because in fact ISIS itself is a creation of the Imperial Foreign Policy of the last Century, going back to before WWI and the destruction of the old Ottoman Empire.  Plus of course as mentioned the huge Nuclear Arsenal wielded by the FSoA and the potential for electing Trigger Happy Idiots like Donald Trump as POTUS..  This combination of factors makes the FSoA a great danger indeed.

Coming in at #3 is Israel, and again you could make the case that Israel is more dangerous than ISIS since they do have Nukes, they are already being managed by a trigger happy nincompoop in Nitwityahoo, and they are surrounded by enemies who want them dead and gone yesterday.  If ISIS makes significant headway and gets hold of some Ruskie missiles with conventional warheads to start lobbing into Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, will the Israelis stick to retaliating with just conventional weapons?  Maybe for a while, but if they are losing, eventually somebody over there will push the button on the Nukes.

On the other end of the spectrum,  putting Pakistan and India dead last depite the fact they BOTH have Nukes and there is a  constant dispute between the two on the India-Pakistan border seems to me to make them both a higher ranking threat to World Peace than say Boko Haram.  However, conflicts between India & Pakistan aren't well reported in the West, so there isn't the same kind of perception of danger that there is from Terrorist groups and the focus of a "War on Terror" constantly being pursued to keep those defense contractors rolling in dough.

Below, the full survey results for Most Dangerous to World Peace:

FULL WORLD PEACE SURVEY RESULTS:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Standard Deviation Responses Weighted Average
ISIS 19
(32.2%)
10
(16.95%)
2
(3.39%)
10
(16.95%)
7
(11.86%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
5.3 59 3.8 / 13
USA 17
(28.81%)
8
(13.56%)
7
(11.86%)
0
(0%)
5
(8.47%)
0
(0%)
2
(3.39%)
5
(8.47%)
4.67 59 5.25 / 13
Israel 2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
12
(20.34%)
2
(3.39%)
5
(8.47%)
9
(15.25%)
9
(15.25%)
2
(3.39%)
3.39 59 6.15 / 13
North Korea 1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
9
(15.25%)
9
(15.25%)
8
(13.56%)
4
(6.78%)
6
(10.17%)
6
(10.17%)
2.87 59 6.41 / 13
Russia 5
(8.47%)
2
(3.39%)
11
(18.64%)
7
(11.86%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
2.71 59 6.58 / 13
NATO 7
(11.86%)
11
(18.64%)
5
(8.47%)
7
(11.86%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
0
(0%)
4.22 59 6.83 / 13
China 1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
4
(6.78%)
10
(16.95%)
4
(6.78%)
3
(5.08%)
6
(10.17%)
2.73 59 6.85 / 13
Saudi Arabia 3
(5.08%)
1
(1.69%)
1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
7
(11.86%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
9
(15.25%)
3.03 59 7.27 / 13
Hezbollah 0
(0%)
1
(1.69%)
7
(11.86%)
6
(10.17%)
3
(5.08%)
10
(16.95%)
3
(5.08%)
5
(8.47%)
3.13 59 7.69 / 13
Boko Haram 1
(1.69%)
12
(20.34%)
0
(0%)
2
(3.39%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
1
(1.69%)
5
(8.47%)
3.9 59 7.78 / 13
Pakistan 0
(0%)
3
(5.08%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
5
(8.47%)
3
(5.08%)
13
(22.03%)
7
(11.86%)
3.2 59 7.8 / 13
Iran 3
(5.08%)
1
(1.69%)
0
(0%)
3
(5.08%)
4
(6.78%)
4
(6.78%)
13
(22.03%)
7
(11.86%)
3.23 59 8.03 / 13
India 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(1.69%)
6
(10.17%)
2
(3.39%)
3
(5.08%)
4.91 59 10.56 / 13

 

Drive to Death

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 23, 2014

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So We Drove On Toward Death: The Casual Madness of Civilization

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

An annual report is about to be released by The Millennium Project which is titled, “State of the Future.” This report examines global problems and their potential solutions. In discussing the report, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center, Dennis Bushnell, has said that humans need three planets to sustain themselves. I had previously read a statistic which claimed that if all humans on Earth had the lifestyles and consumption habits of the average American, that we would need over five Earths to sustain the global population. That tidbit was more of a warning about the American “way of life,” whereas what Bushnell is saying is a more direct, we are running out of shit right now, sort of statement.

The entire ecosystem is crashing,” says Bushnell. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.

Far too successful? This choice of words, while not surprising, is quite indicative of the logic of the civilized mind and its human-centric bias. Imagine for a moment, you’re a scientist studying a colony of rats living on an island, and that these rats eat so much that they are destroying their habitat. Imagine that these rats have, in their rapacious quest to eat, destroyed the trees and killed many of the other species on the island. Imagine that after running some calculations, you recognize that these rats are going to require not one, but two more islands worth of resources if they are going to survive, and that if they don’t acquire this new resource pool, their population will crash and potentially be wiped out. In writing your assessment of this rat colony, would you choose to describe them as “successful?” I think you might be more likely to use terms like “foolish,” “short-sighted,” “parasitic,” or “suicidal.”

No, modern humans aren’t “far too successful,” as a species. The dominant culture — because not all people live this way — is far too stupid to understand that it is “eating the seed corn” if you will. Not only are the people who live under the dominant culture destroying tomorrow’s resources to get by today, they are by and large too stupid to even enter this possibility into their self analysis. The fact that Bushnell and any of his ilk would with a straight face suggest that what humans need are more planets, as opposed to needing a massive overhaul of how the dominant culture operates, is frightening. The casual madness of this recommendation demonstrates that the overriding belief within the dominant culture is that everything is hunky-dorey; what people within industrial-civilization are doing on a daily basis is absolutely OK. It’s not the activities of global industrial capitalism that are the problem, no, the problem is that God just didn’t start us off with enough stuff!

Machete your way through the brambly facade, and the core premise within this assertion — even though it would seem contradictory based on the data being reported — is that civilization works.

As an anarchist, I have often attempted to persuade people that we do not need police, prisons, armies, politicians, even money or large scale societies. With near ubiquity, the response given to such suggestions is that they would never “work.” Some are not so bold as to claim never, but merely ask, “how would that work,” in a tone that clearly betrays a wall of disbelief. Before defending myself and my supposition, I have to draw back and lay out the unspoken premise: by declaring the unlikelihood of my idea’s ability to “work,” there is a presumption that the current way of doing things “works.”

Does civilization “work?” How would we define that? What are the primary goals of civilization, and are they being achieved, and if so at what costs? This question requires one to define “civilization” before even embarking on a quest to gauge its success. I think it is fair to assume that if you were to seek a common definition of civilization from laypeople on the streets, the recurring themes would likely surround the existence of arts, literature, philosophy, and surpluses of resources. Civilization is in this view, Plato and Leonardo Da Vinci hanging out in robes and Google Glasses, drinking wine in the park and thinking deep thoughts. The antithesis of this cartoon vision holds that the uncivilized would be anyone wearing warpaint and a loincloth while roasting a pig on a spit.

Caricatures aside, how can we academically define civilization? Writer Derrick Jensen devotes some time to defining civilization in his two volume work, Endgame:

I would define a civilization much more precisely [relative to standard dictionary definitions], and I believe more usefully, as a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined–so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on–as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.

In his own efforts to define civilization, writer Aric McBay offers:

This common thread is control. Civilization is a culture of control. In civilizations, a small group of people controls a large group of people through the institutions of civilization. If they are beyond the frontier of that civilization, then that control will come in the form of armies and missionaries (be they religious or technical specialists). If the people to be controlled are inside of the cities, inside of civilization, then the control may come through domestic militaries (i.e., police). However, it is likely cheaper and less overtly violent to condition certain types of behaviour through religion, schools or media, and related means, than through the use of outright force (which requires a substantial investment in weapons, surveillance and labour). 

That works very effectively in combination with economic and agricultural control. If you control the supply of food and other essentials of life, people have to do what you say or they die. People inside of cities inherently depend on food systems controlled by the rulers to survive, since the (commonly accepted) definition of a city is that the population dense enough to require the importation of food.

Richard Heinberg in his critique of civilization wrote:

…for the most part the history of civilization…is also the history of kingship, slavery, conquest, agriculture, overpopulation, and environmental ruin. And these traits continue in civilization’s most recent phases–the industrial state and the global market–though now the state itself takes the place of the king, and slavery becomes wage labor and de facto colonialism administered through multinational corporations. Meanwhile, the mechanization of production (which began with agriculture) is overtaking nearly every avenue of human creativity, population is skyrocketing, and organized warfare is resulting in unprecedented levels of bloodshed.

If the reader finds a bias in these definitions, I offer this one from Wikipedia:

The term is used to contrast with other types of communities including hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and tribal villages. Civilizations have more densely populated settlements divided into social classes with a ruling elite and subordinate urban and rural populations, which, by the division of labour, engage in intensive agriculture, mining, small-scale manufacture and trade. Civilization concentrates power, extending human control over both nature, and over other human beings.

Some combination of the characteristics offered above, with room for nuance, forms my personal definition of civilization, and should be used insofar as understanding the question I posed above, “Does civilization work?”

To answer this, of course, we must also define “work.” What exactly is civilization trying to accomplish? High living standards for all members? Artistic greatness? This is almost impossible to measure as there are no set goals civilization is attempting to achieve and not set values by which it is trying to achieve them. It is likely more productive to approach this question by examining what civilization does. After all, to borrow a term from systems theorists, “The purpose of a system is what it does.”

So what does civilization do? What is accomplished by people living in large urban centers where the majority of their survival necessities must be imported and their waste exported? Well, for starters, the people within the cities do not have to engage in any of the toil required to aggregate the calories and nutrients to stay alive. These people are thus freed to do other things with their time. This begins to form the base of the hierarchy of work. Peasants do the heavy lifting in the fields while professional types earn higher incomes to engage in what they dub to be “skilled labor.” We are told all of this would come unhinged if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of professional decision makers; politicians and captains of industry who are granted the most influence and the highest incomes. Of course, there is a class within the cities who don’t earn high incomes, and they are generally relegated to laboring to support the “skilled laborers,” and other elites by manufacturing goods, doing janitorial work, preparing food, maintaining infrastructure, etc. In the modern world, all of the heavy lifting in the agricultural fields is no longer accomplished with human muscle alone, as the majority of the grunt work is performed by hydrocarbons, predominantly oil. The acquisition of this oil comes at a great ecological cost, from the deep wells in the gulf of Mexico to the war torn fields of Iraq to the decimated Niger delta. Anywhere on Earth where oil is being pumped out of the ground, there is death, be it human, animal, or entire ecosystems and ways of life.

Speaking of death, civilization seems to spread a lot of it around. From global and regional wars that scar the land and leave millions dead, to the constant emission of toxicity which has inundated the air, the water, and the soil with heavy metals, radioactive particles, and carcinogenic compounds causing cancer and disease. Around the world people sit locked in cages, tormented and dehumanized by their captors. In the US, where I live, the largest prison population on the planet is housed, we are told, to maintain the safety of those who participate in civilization according to the dictates of the “decider” class. If we ignore humans for a moment and try to tally the dead amongst our non-human neighbors, the task becomes nearly impossible. The best guess of biologists is that industrial activity is currently causing a mass extinction, and that upwards of two hundred species are being extirpated from the globe every day. Civilization, though it’s adherents would cite its peaceful and good natured virtues, is a bringer of death and suffering.

My critics will cry, “But death is natural; an unavoidable part of life. Absent civilization, death would not vanish.” To be sure, who dies, how, and why, are the key to what civilization does. The organizational framework found within civilization is hierarchical, and I would argue that this top down power structure is woven into the defining characteristics of civilization. With this hierarchy, power is held by a few and lorded over the many. How this is accomplished varies, but as McBay was quoted as stating above, access to food and other necessary resources is a primary component of this control. Civilization has had millennia to refine itself and to create a system for diffusing this “food-under-lock-and-key” scenario, mainly via economics. In this time civilization has been able to normalize its existence and to normalize the power dynamics by which few control many, and under which the ruling few have access to more resources than they will ever require, while the many have unmet needs. Religion, propaganda, nationalism, entertainment, myths of exceptionalism; all have served to sell civilization as a high and dignified way of existing, as well as to demonize alternatives to the civilized model, and to justify the slaughter of those who resist civilization’s advances.

Modern industrial civilization is global. The blur between the thrust of society in the United State, China, Russia, Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc. is essentially the same. Cultures in these nations have their respective variances, but the general direction of human activity remains constant. The drive to acquire wealth by converting land and what it contains into some form of salable good is ubiquitous. The gains from these activities are held by those at the top of the hierarchy, while the overwhelming majority of the labor utilized to achieve those gains was performed by those at the bottom.

While the earliest civilizations would have been based in one or a few city centers which exploited an immediately surrounding region, as empires grew and technology allowed further and faster travel, the exploitation of far away lands and peoples became possible and profitable. Civilizations having merged into a global behemoth, the reality now in the wealthiest regions of the world is that resources and finished products from around the globe are widely available, and relatively, outright suffering is scant. This availability, this control of global people and places, is itself, wealth. By moving resources out of the regions they are born in, and by exploiting a global workforce, civilization has made it possible to extend the lives and drastically increase the comfort of some people at the expense of the lives, health, and happiness of others. Civilization is a con, a game of three-card-monte. It is the shuffling of resources to generate the illusion of plenty. It is the displacement of suffering from one people to another, and the shifting of ecological horrors from home to abroad. The net beneficiaries of this system are wont to ignore it, to never even question its basic functionality. They see images of the starving and dying a world away and ask, “Why don’t they move?”

A tirade against the ills of civilization is old hat for me, and certainly, there will be readers who think me unfair. Education, invention, medicine, art, sport, and so many other examples of the benefits of civilized life are likely hanging at the fore of my critics’ minds. Absolutely, these are components of civilized life, but not exclusively so. What education or innovation or medicine or art look like and how they are distributed may look different under civilized and non-civilized paradigms, but in no way are they monopolized by the former or absent from the latter. Under a civilized paradigm, the arts, sports, education, medicine – these all become the realms of professionals to a great extent, whereas for the non-civilized these are communal and regular components of daily life.

I don’t want to trade blow for blow, comparing civilized diets to non-civilized, modern medicine to herbalism, etc. I would rather here move onto the costs of the civilized model, for if civilization has its benefits, and if it has its purposes, and if it is doling these benefits and achieving these goals, we must then ask, “are they worth the cost?”

Calculating the costs of civilization is a monumental task, and doing so with any sort of scientific accuracy is likely beyond my capabilities. As a purely philosophical exercise, I would like to briefly address the issue by looking at a handful of categories.

First, there is the ecology. It is inarguable that civilization is detrimental to ecology and always has been. As human animals, we are not necessarily a net deficiency to our habitat, despite the absurd claims of those who would like us to believe that to live is to harm, so we should absent-mindedly live it up. Hunting, fishing, and even small scale planting are not necessarily destructive to an ecosystem. Sinking mine shafts, leveling mountains, damming rivers, trawling the oceans, spewing industrial waste into the atmosphere, clear cutting forests, razing prairie, laying concrete, mono-crop planting, stripping topsoil; these are all massive ecological harms, which if undertaken with an ever increasing rate become systemically cataclysmic whereby species are driven into extinction, habitat collapses, and the damage is irreparable.

Can civilization exist without such activities? Surely pre-modern civilizations did not utilize all of these methods? In fact, every pre-modern civilization did exploit the resources they had access to with what technology they had available. The forests of the middle east were leveled by the earliest civilizations, creating the barren land that now exists there. The Mesopotamians irrigated farm fields to grow great surpluses of food, until the build up of silt in their canals and salts in their soil destroyed their agricultural adventures and led to their collapse. The Greeks and Romans viciously deforested the Mediterranean basin, and the resulting topsoil loss has prevented a recovery in the region. The Maya similarly brought about their own doom by deforesting their region for agriculture and the production of lime concrete. The collapses of all pre-modern civilizations have an environmental component. By seeking to use agricultural bounty to temporarily increase their populations and thus their power, early civilizations created inescapable paradigms dependent on infinite growth. Modern civilization is no different, just more adept at avoiding early onset collapse through innovation.

Ecological costs are probably the most in dire need of attention, but costs in human misery are not to be ignored. In this vein, there is the obvious misery generated by civilization and its processes: those killed and maimed by war, those whose DNA is damaged by industrial toxins resulting in cancers, those who subsist in poverty globally, those in prison, those who are persecuted, those who are slaves, those who have their hereditary land stolen, those who are victims of genocide; these are the billions who clearly suffer, these are the billions who make possible the comforts and abundance enjoyed in wealthy nations.

But let’s not stop there. Inside the gates, the people who are beneficiaries of the pillaging of the wild suffer in ways they recognize and in ways they don’t. In the United States, one in five adults are taking a psychiatric drug, either an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic, or an anti-anxiety prescription. Ten percent of the population suffers from clinical depression. Thirty percent of the population abuses alcohol. Numbers on recreational drug use are harder to come by. Add in those addicted to shopping, eating, sex, gambling, and pornography, and it is likely safe to say that about half of the American population is either depressed, burdened with anxiety, or has some debilitating habit of escapism. Can we blame them? What does the majority of life in the United States consist of? Working a job over which you have relatively little control, where it is likely your creativity is stifled, and from which you do not directly benefit? This consumes forty if not more hours of a person’s life every week. Commuting to and from this job and accomplishing the unrecognized shadow labor of preparing for this job, from taking clothing to a dry cleaners, dropping children off at day care, or even shaving, means that considerably more time is robbed from one’s life to serve the economic system.

Life in this civilization brings a large set of medical risks as well. Despite the illusion of abundance, most of the food the population has access to is derived from a handful of ingredients, primarily corn, wheat, soy, and beet sugar. The production of these crops en-masse is economically efficient, and therefore they have become the foundation of the western diet. The hand maiden of this poor nutritional foundation is tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women in the United States, and the number of new cases of cancer is set to nearly double by the year 2050.”

Despite the myths we are imprinted with about the greatness of civilization, the reality is quite ugly. For a select few, the benefits and wealth and power granted by this particular organizational system are incalculable. For most, participation in civilization is comprised of boredom, obedience, servitude, and depression while daily spinning the wheel of fortune to see if they will be one of the unlucky ones who is stricken with cancer, all the while slowly degrading their body and masking their unhappiness with drugs, deviant behavior, or plain and simple escapism into fantasy.

Should I even begin to assess the misery associated with maintaining full compliance with the state and its bureaucracies which is a must if one wants to avoid court rooms, prisons, and police?

Though I was born to middle class parents, on my own, I eke out an existence in near poverty. This is partly by choice, in that I am clever enough to acquire a higher income, but I cannot burden my conscience with what such a pay grade would ask of me. For myself and the people in my region who also get by on small amounts of money, it is clear that we are not thriving in civilization, but artfully navigating it, succumbing to some of its pratfalls while skillfully parrying others. Ours is one of innumerable subcultures and informal economies that dot the landscape globally. Examples abound of squatters, homesteaders, hobos, punks, drug dealers, communes, scrappers, monks, travelers, and the myriad others around the Earth who hope the eye of Sauron doesn’t ever draw its focus on them.

Here in the cracks and dark corners alternatives to civilization simmer in the primordial soup of human consciousness. Too few to outright revolt with only the occasional exception, there are people who retreat to something similar to what I would dare call the natural state of human organization; tribalism.

No, civilization does not work, not if the definition of work includes caring for all equally and stewarding our habitat with humans and non-humans many generations to come genuinely considered. Ignoring the monuments to the egos of psychopaths, from pyramids and temples to skyscrapers and particle accelerators, civilization leaves nothing for the future. Civilization is a cannibal, greedily devouring any concept of tomorrow for a grotesque spectacle of largess today, which is only enjoyed by a select few. The ceremonies and titles of today may look and sound different than those of the Aztec or the Persian, but the macabre reality behind the pomp and circumstance is absolutely the same, only scarier in that the rate and ability of modern civilization to churn up the living world before melting it on a spoon for an ephemeral high is exponentially greater.

Civilization needs three planets, according to the scientists. Civilization is running out of fuel for the furnace, and the holy men are telling us that it is not time to abandon the machine; despite the misery, despite the servitude, despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the extinction, despite the necessity of death – we must take this organizational system beyond our planetary borders, as missionaries of madness because we know nothing of humility or grace. Because we’re too afraid to admit we have made a mistake. So we drive on, lost and running out of gas, because we’re too damn proud to turn around.

Suggesting that there is another way for humans to organize without hierarchy, without massive population centers that require the exploitation of outlying areas, without violence and control; this is not utopianism. It is suggesting that we look at how human beings existed for the majority of their time on planet Earth, and asking that we take from that wealth of knowledge the best ideas, and that we ask of ourselves a willingness to adapt to life without the benefit of some slavery far away, some suffering we can ignore, some set of dying eyes we can avoid looking into. It is asking that we live where we are, that we find a concept of home, and that we welcome the challenges that life presents while refusing to solve them on the back of someone else’s misery.

They will say that “we cannot go back.” They will say pastoral lives where we are intimately connected to our community, human and not, are impossible, unthinkable, insane. Then they will say, “we must begin to live on Mars.”

Peak Tourism in Florence

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on August 10, 2015

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One of the many shops in downtown Florence whose owners hastily installed an air conditioner to save themselves from the heat wave engulfing the city. Note how the exhaust blows hot air directly onto the tourists walking in the narrow street where this shop is located. Florence is clearly unprepared to the "new normal" of hot weather created by climate change. But the main problem may be the concentration of hundreds of thousands of tourists in about one square km. And the administrators of the town want more of them! (photo by the author, August 2015)

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Good tourist is one more tourist: Florence's fragile tourism industry.

 

If you have been visiting Florence during this hot and humid August, it is likely that you'll remember your experience not so much in terms of the art pieces you saw. Rather, you'll probably remember a place that looks more than all like one of Tokyo's busiest subway stations during rush hour.

I took a small trip to downtown Florence this week, and I have seen tourists marching in crowds, waiting for hours under the scorching sun to have access to the main tourist attractions, carrying bottled water with them as if they were crossing the Sahara desert in an adventure movie. Florence, as a city, is simply not prepared to the "new normal" of temperatures that climate change is creating. And one can only wonder how the situation will evolve as climate change runs its course with higher and higher temperatures.
 

 

Tourists in Florence carrying umbrellas to defend themselves from the scorching sun.  (photo by the author, Aug 2015)


Heat is only one of the problems that tourists have to face in Florence. An even worse one is overcrowding. Let me pass you some data. In 2014, we had some 13 million overnight stays of tourists in Florence or in the nearby area. To this number we have to add all those who come by bus or by car just to spend a day in Florence and then go back or move on to another destination. I think we have to add at least a couple million of them per year. So, a conservative estimate of the total would some 15 million "tourist-days". That makes an average of more than 40,000 tourists in town every day.

But that is only an average. Clearly, tourists tend to come during high season, especially in summer, and then the density is much larger than the average. So how many of them are in town every day this August? A hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? Or more than that?

 

Tourists in Florence on their rented Segway vehicles. Given the density of people in town, it is not much more useful than trying to use it in your living room. (photo by the author, Aug 2015)
 


In principle, there is nothing wrong in cramming the city with so many tourists; at least as long as the people in the crowd don't panic and stampede, generating a large number of casualties. It is just that when the historical Florence that tourists see nowadays was built, there were perhaps 100.000 inhabitants in the town. Today so many visitors are a disaster for the structures of the city (and note that they tend to concentrate more and more in the same, restricted, areas). Some people speak of the need of "saving Florence" from this calamity. They are well intentioned, but arrive too late. Florence, intended as a "normal" town, doesn't exist any more. What exists is a huge theme park surrounded by an expanse of suburbs. And, as in any theme park in the world, the people whom you see walking in the street are not residents; they are either visitors or employees of the park.

As everything in this world, if something happens, it means it had to happen. Under many respects, it was unavoidable that Florence would be transformed into a major worldwide tourist attraction; and it was unavoidable that more and more people would want to visit the town every year. What surprises me in this story is not the transformation that Florence underwent, but how the city authorities and the representatives of the tourism industry are totally oblivious to the problems brought by this huge mass of people dumped into the city center. Not only they are blind to that, but they want more! When the data for 2014 came out, everyone was delighted, actually ravished, that the number of tourists in Florence had increased of about 3% with respect to the previous year. If there was some regret about that result, it was that it was "only" of 3%! The rule seems to be simple: good tourist is one more tourist.

Everyone is so completely convinced that more is always better that the city authorities are planning a substantial expansion of the city airport that should perhaps double the number of passengers landing in Florence. The only criticism I heard about this idea is that the new airport should be built somewhere else, not that more people are not a good thing.

But can anyone remember that in 2005, 10 years ago, the tourists arriving in Florence were less than seven million, that is about half as many than today? How long do you think you can keep doubling the number of tourists every ten years and still report it as a good thing? And how long do you think that the tourists will put up with being crowded, herded, goaded, trapped, pushed, overcharged and mistreated in various ways, before they decide that they can find a less crowded theme park – say – in Anaheim?

This great tourist boom is so fragile that it is incredible that nobody realizes it. Some 75% percent of the people visiting Florence come from abroad, and many from overseas. An economic crisis or a major geopolitical instability could easily stop the tourist flow and destroy the economy of a city that, by now, depends on the two billion dollars or so that the tourists bring in every year. If you want to have some idea of what might happen, you could do well by re-read "Babylon Revisited", by Scott Fitzgerald, that describes Paris as a ghost town after that the great crash of 1929 had sent away the American tourists.

So, does anyone in this world understand the concept of "resilience"? Apparently not, and I can't blame too much the city authorities of Florence for pushing so hard for their new toy, the airport. After all, the mining industry keeps operating on the assumption that resources are infinite and always abundant. And then, what's the difference? Humans just seem to be made to overexploit resources and, be the resources crude oil or tourists, it is about the same. So, it had to happen, and it is happening.

____________________________________

I don't want you to think that I am trying to prevent you from visiting Florence. Despite the ongoing disaster, it is still worth coming here if you avoid the overcrowded areas of the center and if you take a little more time than the average tourist. If you do this, you may discover that such a thing that I would call "city spirit," survives in Florence (for now, at least)

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 19, 2015

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It's been a watershed week here in the world of collapse, watching both the European economy and the Chinese economy circle the toilet bowl.  Oil also is back on its downward trend line, and Pigmen everywhere remain perplexed, blaming the problems variously on Socialist Goobermints, Unions or Keynesian Economists, but none of those are in the least bit correct.

The problem is really a very simple one, which is that there are too many people chasing too few resources, particularly the energy resource necessary to live the Industrial lifestyle those of us who have enjoyed that in the west have been pursuing for the last 200 years or so.  Here is how we looked diagramatically 200 years ago at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution:

Industrialization-Beginning

oilwellAs this trip began, there were just tons of Fossil Fuels in the ground, Coal, Oil and Natural Gas, and they weren't too hard to find or extract either.  In fact in the early years, the Oil just squirted out of the ground under its own pressure, as soon as you popped a hole in the container.  It has become progressively harder to extract though, and nowadays to get the last of the extractable stuff up, the Frackers have to pump millions of gallons of water and chemicals to coax the stuff up out of the rocks it is embedded in.  Similar with NG, it takes real sweet high tech equipment that can drill horizontal wells to get to the remaining supplies of this stuff.  Its not cheap to get this out of the ground anymore.

You also had a relatively low population that was mostly agrarian at the beginning of this trip.  Both the North & South American continents were relatively empty of people, with most of the indigenous population wiped out by the Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Scarlet Fever and other diseases brought over to the continent in the early years of colonialization.

There was little pollution in those years, you could pretty much drink out of any stream or even lake without treating the water in any way.  Long as you disposed of your own waste downstream from wherever you were, you were OK long as there was nobody else immediately upstream from you.

Most of the CO2 in the atmosphere up at that point was what occurred naturally from forest fires, vulcanism and so forth.  There was some addition from Homo Saps burning stuff to smelt metal for Ag Equipment and War Tools, but since the population overall was not that large, it was not overwhelming the capacity of the earth to absorb this waste, or the sun to provide enough energy to replace what was wasted. Overall, it was a fairly Balanced system to this point, although Ag was defintely desertifiying many portions of the planet where it had been practiced for 1000s of years.  Over time, even without Industrialization, Ag as practiced in most places would have done the same job as industrialization, though probably not quite as fast.

Fast Forward now here to the situation 200 years later in this game:

Indistrialization-Now

All the main resources are shrinking in size, quite rapidly in many areas.

In Fossil Fuel Energy Resource, the real easy sources of Coal, Oil and NG are gone, and just extracting what is left takes more energy and more technology all the time.  Accessing Debt Money to do that extraction becomes more difficult as well, and credit to the end consumer to buy that energy also becomes more scarce.  All together, this reults in fewer people able to afford to waste this energy, and so little by little, country by country, some folks are triaged off of the credit necessary to participate in this economy.  It is most obvious in Greece right now, but it is occurring just about everywhere, even in the Core economies of Industrialized Nations of the FSoA, Germany, the UK and China.  In these places you have an increasingly large underclass of people receiving Food Stamps and supplements to stay alive, but they aren't commuting to work and aren't buying tankloads of gasoline for their SUVs every week.  Currently, out of the 320M people living in the FSoA, 45M of them are on Food Stamps.

http://www.trivisonno.com/wp-content/uploads/Food-Stamps-Yearly.jpg

While the energy resource continues to deplete, as the second diagram shows the total Global Population continues to increase, which will continue until there is a major fracture in the total system, which seems more imminent all the time.  More people all the time need the water, energy and food that the planet can provide on a daily basis.  No amount of Debt Issuance can resolve a food deficit problem, in a given year the food to support the population is either there or it is not.  A certain amount can be held in reserve, food storage techniques are pretty good these days, but overall the margin here is pretty small.  Currently, if there were to be a major falloff in any major food producing region, within one year there would be a major deficit in available calories for the population as a whole.  We are already looking at a major falloff in food production from Sunny Califonia, where the ongoing and accelerating Drought situation is likely to make produce a good deal more expensive right here in the FSoA pretty soon.  This problem of drought is mirrored in many areas of Ag production of the globe right now, from India to China to South America.  It is unlikely to improve anytime too soon.

Drought-Monitor-July-8-2014While you have the problem of steadily increasing human population and steadily decreasing sources of energy, water and arable land, you ALSO have steadily increasing CO2 content in the atmosphere (exacerbating Climate Change issues) and steadily increasing areas of Desertification turning formerly productive food growing regions into deserts.  There is no absolute quantification for this I am aware of, however anecdotally it is possible to track it from Syria to Sao Paolo, from China to India and beyond.  Pretty clearly, the Earth is maxed out in converting solar energy to food, and the Human Population can only survive at current levels with close to the current levels of food available to them.

In the end, this is a very simple and straightforward Thermodynamic Problem of how much energy it takes to run the Human Population Engine.  In order to survive, each Homo Sap consumes X number of calories each day in food.  Because of distribution problems and diet issues with types of food consumed, you have some fat people in some places and some emaciated people in others, but in aggregate you need X calories to keep all the Homo Saps currently walking the Earth ambulatory.

http://www.chemguide.co.uk/physical/equilibria/haberflow.gifThe Industrial Revolution enabled Homo Sap to produce more Food Calories than he ever had before in history, by several orders of magnitude.  In the aftermath of WWII, we learned how to create Ag Fertilizer directly from Oil, through the Haber process  The Ammonia produced is used to make Ammonium Nitrate, useful in bombs but also useful as an Ag Fertilizer.  The very same plants that made the Bombs dropped in the Fire-Bombing of Dresden were converted into making the fertilizer that spawned the "Green Revolution".

Cheap food was produced by the truckload, and the population of Homo Saps EXPLODED over the last 70 years, from around 2.5B in 1940 to around 7B now.  All those people compete for the same resources of water and food, and nearly all of them are dependent on the same monetary sytem that distributes that water and food.  It's a GLOBAL SYSTEM at this point.  Few places are completely independent, even food exporting nations like the FSoA are not independent, since in order to export so much food, it imports a lot of Oil.

It's not just the fertilizer here that enables this, it is also all the farm machinery from tractors to combines, and the whole transportation system from trucks to rail to container ships that moves all this food all over the globe, and often puts outta biz any local production of food as well.  It comes in cheaper even with all the transportation than local food production, and each year thousands of small farmers commit suicide because they cannot make a living selling the food they grow.

India's shocking farmer suicide epidemic

Falling into a debt-trap and besieged by bad weather, thousands of farmers are taking their own lives each year.

Bhagwan Datatery said his father was under tremendous financial pressure before killing himself [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

The MSM, and even the Blogosphere on websites like Zero Hedge often paint the problems we face as simple Monetary Problems and Political Problems, Socialism vs Capitalism, Keynesiasm vs Misesanism, Gold vs. Fiat, Democracy vs Dictatorship, etc.  It is none of those things.  It's a straight resource and energy problem which nobody in control will acknowledge, because there is no palatable economic solution to it.  It's not that the only solution entails giving up the Carz and the Happy Motoring lifestyle we have come to expect as a God Given right (the Amerikan lifestyle is NON-NEGOTIABLE according to Dick Cheney), it's that the only solution is a lot of DEAD PEOPLE.

http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/012/818/Movie_i_see_dead_people-769472.jpg

"I see Dead People"

There is no way whatsoever to engineer the death of billions of people in an equitable manner, there IS no equitable manner for such a catastrophe.  Occassionally you hear talk on the internet in the collapse blogosphere of reducing population through birth control, but first off the Chinese tried that with the One Child policy over the last 30 years and it really did not work, and second even such a policy can only be implemented by the most powerful of governments.  To be really effective, it requires such onerous proceedures as FORCED STERILIZATION and MANDATORY BIRTH CONTROL, and both of those are wicked difficult to implement on the grand scale in any case.

On the upside to this, the Birth Rate in many developed nations is falling, as more people who realize they simply can't afford to have children stop having them, but that is more than made up for as people in the 3rd  World countries reproduce as fast as they still are able to do so, long as they have enough food to do that anyhow.  That supply of food looks like it will run short or be unaffordable for them (or both), so high birth rates and high survival rates for infants in these locations seems unlikely moving forward into the future.

The total population will diminish at some rate, from a decreasing birth rate, and increasing child mortality rate and an increasing death rate in the adult population as well.  That will all come from the usual vectors, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine,Pestilence, War and DEATH.

http://aeroventure.com/END-TIMES/the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse.jpg

The only real questions left now are how fast this will occur, where the best & worst locations will be to be trying to keep living, what are the best strategies for surving this catastrophe, and whether anybody at all can make it through the Zero Point.  Is this Extinction, or a Knockdown Event?

https://33.media.tumblr.com/e25d581eb34b31b9e0a2c909d0d5cf1b/tumblr_nia06yYg6e1rnh7cyo1_500.gifFor the individual who realizes this is coming down the pipe, I don't think it matters which way it actually ends up, because either way, if you want to LIVE, you are going to operate in the same way.  You pick the best strategies for survival you can think up and also implement in some fashion, given the resources you personally have.  You absolutely cannot depend on you Goobermint to save you in the end, since your Goobermint is quite likely to collapse even before you do, at least if you are fairly young anyhow.  Either way its a sorry end, because if everybody dies, its the end of Sentience on Earth.  If you or your progeny survive it, it is still a sorry end, because you are left with Survivor Guilt.  It is a sure thing that if you are to survive this, somebody else must die in your place.  There are just too many people on board the Spaceship Earth now, as a species we are in serious Overshoot, probably 3X to 4X minimum as of now, maybe more than that.

The Greek situation remains an important one to keep track of, because they are the first of the European Nations being kicked off the Titanic of industrial Civilization without a Lifeboat.  How quickly will the situation deteriorate there, how long before they deteriorate to Civil War, how long before Contagion brings their problems to the rest of Europe?

These are questions we do not have answers for today, but they will be coming down the pipe in the not too distant future.  Of one thing you can be certain here, we are NOT exceptional.  This is a very straightforward problem of Thermodynamics, and it will engulf the entire population of Homo Saps currently walking the Earth.  It has little to do with the political systems or economic systems we run to manage the resources.  None of them can work anymore.  There are too many people, too much pollution and waste and not enough resource left for this planet to bear.

That is all she wrote.

http://www.dfwchild.com/Dallas/images/features/Noted_Cursive_ArticleImage1.jpg

RE

Detailing the Causes of Overshoot

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Limits on June 26, 2015

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The causes of overshoot finally explained in detail

– The more I cut, the more the GdP goes up.

– I say: jobs, not branches!!

 – I can't stop cutting, but I can capture sawdust and sequester it into the tree hollow.

 – Do you really believe in this story of 'gravity'? I am not convinced at all.

 – Such a small cut in this big branch, why should I be worried?

– I am not a woodsman, but I can say that, if this branch was supposed to fall, why do we see so many branches, up there?

– I have been cutting this branch for quite a while and nothing has happened. Why should anything happen?

– Branches fall all the time; it is a natural phenomenon.

– It is just an engineering problem. They'll find something to keep the branch up.

– If we stop cutting. it will cost us more than the hospital bill for the fractures caused by the fall.

China, the Paper Tiger

Off the keyboard of Tom Lewis

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Published on The Daily Impact on June 8, 2015

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toast2China is TOAST!

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Is China a paper tiger or a pussycat? It depends on which numbers you look at.  (Photo by Jinzl’s Public Domain Photos/Flickr)

 

Is China a paper tiger or a pussycat? It depends on which numbers you look at.
(Photo by Jinzl’s Public Domain Photos/Flickr)

The punditocracy assembled yesterday, as they do every Sunday, to yelp their yin-yang talking points that pass, these days, for wisdom. Mostly they want to talk about who, a year and a half from now, might be chosen as the new captain of the Titanic — Hillary or anti-Hillary? Then, like the proverbial elephant terrorized by a mouse, they vent about the latest pimply-faced adolescent who, dreaming of celebrity and inspired by an ISIS website, takes the first giant step toward jihad: gets in touch with an FBI informant for his very own ACME bomb-making kit. Then before the pundits rest, they make their fervent nominations for our next war.

There are lots of candidates: resume Afghanistan, Iraq II, bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran, Russia Redux. But an emerging favorite is China. It seems a deliciously terrifying prospect — the world’s number one economy, most populous country, reinventing the Silk Road, dethroning the dollar as the world’s currency of choice, extending its hegemony over the South China Sea by building a sand castle. What a worthy opponent, bent on taking over the world. Truly, this could be our next good war.

One exhilarated panelist this weekend burst out: “We are already in a virtual state of war with China.” It was, he insisted, the Most Important Thing in the World.

The thing is, if you are determined to pick a fight with someone who is on life support, you must be quick. To believe that China is going to survive another decade, let alone rise to world domination, you must ignore the following stories, all published in the past few weeks:

  • China is running out of water. Its own environment ministry classifies 60% of its underground water and one third of its surface water as so polluted it is “unfit for human contact.” That does not mean “Don’t drink it.” It means “Don’t touch it.”
  • Air pollution in China kills half a million people a year. 90% of China’s 161 major cities failed to meet the national standard for clean air in 2014. Just breathing, in most major cities, is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Lung cancer fatalities have quintupled in 30 years.
  • China’s population is increasingly old and sick. Half the population is estimated to be pre-diabetic. 115 million people have diabetes, 225 million suffer from mental illness, 160 million have high blood pressure. By 2040, China is expected to have more people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease than the rest of the world combined. The costs of these afflictions to the Chinese economy is already astronomical, and growing fast.
  • China is running short of productive land. Pollution of soil from factory smokestacks, and from excessive fertilizer and pesticide application, is endangering China’s ability to feed itself.
  • China’s faltering economy is constraining government budgets and fostering instability. Now, talking about war is a time-honored way of getting your restive people to settle down and salute the flag. But actually going to war, when you’re short of money, your people are brandishing pitchforks at you, and you’re dependent on the rest of the world for coal and food? Not recommended.

What is it that Chairman Mao said of the West, all those years ago?  “In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain.”

Do it for Denmark

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on March 10, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

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Tune in to the full list of Diner Rants & Interviews on the Diner Soundcloud Channel!

Featuring interviews with Steve Ludlum, Gail Tverberg, Ugo Bardi, Nicole Foss, David Korowicz, George Mobus, John David Hughes, Albert Bates and many more….

Snippet:

…In the last rant, I went ballistic on the Economista Clowns & Jokers who must be Smoking Crack to come up with the numbskull ideas of impoverishing people to stimulate growth and lending more money to already bankrupt borrowers as a solution for economic collapse. This was inspired by the FACT that one of the World Class Economistas currently making policy on the global level, one Douglas McWilliams of CEBR was documented on camera really smoking crack in a London Crack house, wasted to beat the band.

http://profile-pics-cdn.xvideos.com/videos/profiles/profthumb/79/ed/11/beezbone--ym/profile_1_big.jpgFor today, the latest in hilarity is the Danish Ad Campaign, “Do it for Denmark”, designed to encourage Danish girls to start getting PREGNANT! They are supposed to go out on Vacation and find willing foreigners to inseminate them and then return to Denmark to bring new Great Danes into the world, so that they can pay taxes to support the current crop of aging Great Danes! LoL.

Charitable folks that Diners are, several have already stepped up to the Plate as Volunteers here to keep Danish social security programs solvent. Given our aging demographic, we also will purchase our own Viagra to make this possible! It’s a gift to the Danish People, and hopefully the cost of the Viagra can be deducted from the income tax as a Charitable Contribution to needy Danish Girls. LoL…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Here’s the last rant on Crack Smoking Economistas, in case you missed it…

This Week in Doom Feb. 15, 2015

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964Off the keyboard of Surly1
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640px-South_Sea_Bubble_Cards-Tree

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 16, 2015


“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

– Charles Mackay


In  Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds published in 1841, Charles Mackay identified a common thread of individual and collective idiocy running through past fads such as alchemy, witchhunts, prophecies, fortune-telling, magnetizers, phrenology, poisoning, the admiration of thieves, the imputation of mystic powers to relics, haunted houses, crusades – and financial bubbles.

Ostensibly Mackay wrote his book with a 19th-century sense of confidence that such superstitions had been consigned to the ashheap of history by intelligence, experience and the habits of mind honed by the enlightenment. He observed that men think in herds and go mad in herds, and “only recover their senses slowly one by one.” For the most part, he has been proven right. Intelligent people typically do not invest faith in obvious superstitions like alchemy, ghosts, fortune-telling, witchcraft or crusades. Unless you count those little adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And Iraq again, as President BHO makes the Klown Kar Kongress an offer they will have trouble refusing.)

Today we sophisticates look down our collective noses at the bubble blowers of the past,  and view those of the Mississippi Company, South Sea Company and  the Tulip mania as aberrations of simpler less sophisticated folk. Today, resistant to superstition, we cling to the rabbit’s foot of denial for man’s responsibility for climate change, and take the knee toward the totem that central banks can relieve an unpayable global debt with more debt.

Mackay writes of a Parisian hunchback who supposedly profited by renting out his hump as a writing desk during the height of the Mississippi Company mania. Lean up against my hump and consider the latest evidences of our surrender to the embrace of comfortable superstitions.


Peak Water?

A sign (in black) that reads “Tap without Water” is seen inside an ice-cream shop at the Pinheiros neighbourhood in Sao Paulo February 10, 2015.

 Climate change is no hypothetical to the residents of São Paulo, Brazil, currently in the grips of an historic 80 year drought.

The reason for the drought is complicated: a mix of climate change, Amazonian deforestation, water mismanagement and Pereira’s theory that the massive expansion of cities like Sao Paulo with very little green spaces left has created a kind of heat island which sucks up moisture. That, Pereira says, actually diverts water from the surrounding countryside where the reservoirs are. He says he fears a future where there will be riots over water.

The Cantaeira reservoir system provides half Sao Paulo’s drinking water. It’s now down to only 6 percent of capacity.

Other regions are also affected, and soaring food prices leave many struggling to adapt. Many report having no water every day from 12 midday to 8 a.m.  Last year, Brazil famously hosted the World Cup, an effort that displaced other priorities, deferring action on what is now an environmental  disaster.

According to one report, Brazilians have already begun to create strategies to deal with shortages.

Brazilians are hoarding water in their apartments, drilling homemade wells and taking other emergency measures to prepare for forced rationing that appears likely and could leave taps dry for up to five days a week because of a drought.

After January rains disappointed, and incentives to cut consumption fell short, São Paulo officials warned their next step could be to shut off customers’ water supply for as many as five days a week – a measure that would likely last until the next rainy season starts in October, if not longer.

Some form of water rationing is almost certainly in the cards for over 40 million people destined to be affected by the water shortages. But not to worry–wealthy Brazilians are installing large storage tanks into their apartment buildings or houses to spare them the worst hardships of rationing.

Consider for a moment the specter of millions of climate refugees moving in search of water. Then consider the likely outcomes when some of the world’s great rivers, nourished by glacier melt for thousands of years, suddenly run dry.


Resource Bubble? 

The recently released study “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” quickly garnered a certain amount of online notoriety. Prepared by eighteen scientists from various universities, it soberly announced that human civilization had crossed four of nine environmental boundaries.   It introduces the concept of the “planetary boundary” (PB), a framework that provides a science-based analysis of the risk that humans pose to a liveable earth:

The relatively stable, 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch is the only state of the Earth System (ES) that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. There is increasing evidence that human activities are affecting ES functioning to a degree that threatens the resilience of the ES—its ability to persist in a Holocene-like state in the face of increasing human pressures and shocks. The PB framework is based on critical processes that regulate ES functioning. By combining improved scientific understanding of ES functioning with the precautionary principle, the PB framework identifies levels of anthropogenic perturbations below which the risk of destabilization of the ES is likely to remain low—a “safe operating space” for global societal development.

Those planetary boundaries are no surprise to readers of this blog: climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows, land-system change, and freshwater use.  Cue the bleating from the denialists.  As well-intentioned as this report is, it is likely to reside in the same drawer, ignored, where similar reports reside.  Find an excellent essay on this theme here.

As sea levels rise, floods have become more common on the base. Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael Pendergrass/U.S. Navy

And in a related story, the Pentagon understands what’s coming in terms of climate change even if our elected lawmakers do not. As residents of Norfolk, Contrary and I live at Ground Zero for sealevel rise and land subsidence. I have lived in the same home for 32 years. After 24 years of flood free living, the last eight have seen three instances when flood waters came to my front step.

Those who talk most about climate change — scientists, politicians, environmental activists — tend to frame the discussion in economic and moral terms. But last month, in a dramatic turn, President Obama talked about climate change in an explicitly military context: “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” he said in his State of the Union address. “We should act like it.”

On one level, this is just shrewd politics, a way of talking about climate change to people who don’t care about extinction rates among reptiles or food prices in eastern Africa. But it’s also a way of boxing in all the deniers in Congress who have blocked climate action — many of whom, it turns out, are big supporters of the military.

The Pentagon is examining its 704 coastal installations and sites in a big study to try to figure out which bases are most at risk. Eventually some tough decisions will have to be made about which ones to close, relocate or protect. Even speculating about the number of possible closures is too hot a topic for anyone in the Pentagon to touch right now.

Just as there are climate-change hot spots, there are also climate-denial hot spots — and Virginia is one of them. The Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly has been hostile to discussion of climate change — one legislator called sea-level rise “a left-wing term.” Instead, the politically acceptable phrase in Virginia is “recurrent flooding.” 

Right up there with “legitimate rape” as part of the incantation du jour.


Forever Blowing Bubbles…

One of Collapse’s Greatest Hits is the imminent unwinding of the Ponzi scheme of debt foisted upon the peoples of the world by central bankers.  We saw a harbinger in 2007-8, with bank bailouts proffered by Congress over the heads of an insufficiently grateful populace, then later with quantitative easing (QE); and in the euro zone, loan restructurings offered to countries not named Germany at the gunpoint of austerity.  But somehow, planes, trains, and automobiles keep moving, the shelves are restocked, and the paychecks cashed. And we keep whistling in the dark because we all share a stake in the superstition that business-as-usual can go on forever; and  nobody, but nobody wants to address the fact that there is not enough collateral on this planet or the next to pay off global debt.

What do we really know? We know that oil prices have begun to ramp up after a steep dive, not unknown in the history of oil prices.  We know that since our entire business model is based on cheap energy, a fall in its price is likely to have a deflationary effect. Many who write about a coming economic collapse love to talk about the collapse of the U.S. dollar, yet the dollar is strengthening relative to other currencies.

Michael Snyder is one of those who scores these games at home and he says:

Someday the U.S. dollar will essentially be toilet paper.  But that is not in our immediate future.  What is in our immediate future is a “flight to safety” that will push the surging U.S. dollar even higher.

This is what we witnessed in 2008, and this is happening once again right now.

Just look at the chart that I have posted below.  You can see the the U.S. dollar moved upward dramatically relative to other currencies starting in mid-2008.  And toward the end of the chart you can see that the U.S. dollar is now experiencing a similar spike…

Dollar Index 2015

At the moment, almost every major currency in the world is falling relative to the U.S. dollar.

For example, this next chart shows what the euro is doing relative to the dollar.  As you can see, the euro is in the midst of a stunning decline…

Euro U.S. Dollar

Instead of focusing on the U.S. dollar, those that are looking for a harbinger of the coming financial crisis should be watching the euro.  As I discussed yesterday, analysts are telling us that if Greece leaves the eurozone the EUR/USD could fall all the way down to 0.90.  If that happens, the chart above will soon resemble a waterfall.

Will leave it for you to work out what a rising US dollar means for those growing economies all over the world that have borrowed enormous piles of very cheap U.S. dollars, and who now face the prospect of repaying those debts and interest with much more expensive dollars, when their own currencies are crashing.


Quick Takes

The Disease Time Bomb: Flooding the Country with Eradicated Diseases

Over the last year we have seen numerous eradicated diseases come surging back in the United States. From Whooping Cough and the current Measles outbreak, to mystery diseases like EV-D68, which is causing paralysis in young children, The United States seems to be a ticking time bomb of disease.

Warning: author seems to be all to willing to blame these outbreaks on immigrants.


 Empire of Lies

The redoubtable Charles High Smith addresses this week’s central theme:

We are living in an era where a single statement of truth will drive a pin into the global bubble of phantom assets and debts, and the lies spewed to justify those bubbles.

How many nations are blessed with political and financial leaders who routinely state the unvarnished truth in public?

Only two come immediately to mind: Greece and Bhutan.

 

 


Koch Brothers Group Shouted Down By Irate Citizens During Montana Town Hall Meeting

A “Healthcare Town Hall” set up by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group, in Kalispell, Montana, turned raucous on Thursday night. Americans for Prosperity has been crisscrossing the state of Montana, in an attempt to pressure moderate Republican lawmakers into signing a pledge to block Medicaid expansion. On Thursday, they brought their traveling road show to Kalispell. However, the residents of the small Northwestern Montana town were unpersuaded…

 Not all the news is bad. A defeat for the Koch brothers anywhere is a victory for humanity everywhere.
 

 Here’s what developer scum have in mind for the Grand Canyon:

Developers Confluence Partners want to make a 420-acre attraction out of the east rim, with a plan to put in an Imax theater, retail shops, hotels, an RV park, and a 1.6-mile-long gondola tram that would take riders from the rim of the canyon down 3,500 feet to the valley floor in about 10 minutes. Intentions for the valley floor include construction of a terraced “riverwalk” and a food pavilion.

Native American groups are banding together to battle this absurdity.


The useless agreement which everybody wanted

The Saker on the agreement between France and Germany and Russia regarding Ukraine.


Creeping Lawless Fascism Watch

The video was just released of an elderly grandfather being slammed to the ground so hard by an Alabama police officer that it severed his vertebra and paralyzed the man. As you will see in the video, the police then attempt to force the man to walk and believe he’s resisting arrest when his legs won’t work – not knowing that they broke his neck.

According to AL.comChief Larry Muncey told a small press conference in Madison that he also recommended that Parker be fired for his use of force against a man who committed no crime, did not speak English and could not understand the commands. 

There are no words.


Peak Ignorance Watch

GOP lawmaker calls women “a lesser cut of meat”

South Carolina State Sen. Thomas Corbin

 
A Republican state senator in South Carolina called women “a lesser cut of meat” and suggested that they belonged barefoot and pregnant, the libertarian-leaning blog FITS News reports.

Chauvinist in any context, Corbin’s remarks occurred during a legislative dinner this week to discuss domestic violence legislation. Sources present at the meeting told FITS that Corbin directed his comments at fellow GOP state senator Katrina Shealy, the sole woman in the 46-member chamber.

“I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes,” Corbin told Shealy, who won election in 2012. Corbin, the site explains, is said to have previously cracked that women should be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant,” not serving in the state legislature.

Contrary brought this particular rabbit turd to my attention. One might well speculate why he’s so hostile towards women….

Contrary offered this wordless comment:

Good enough for me. And illustrates why the people in South Carolina, home office of American sedition, can’t have nice things. And a reminder of what the madness of crowds can wreak.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.

As Night Closes In

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Published on The Archdruid Report on February 4, 2015

Overshoot

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http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/images/9780252009884.jpgI was saddened to learn a few days ago, via a phone call from a fellow author, that William R. Catton Jr. died early last month, just short of his 89th birthday. Some of my readers will have no idea who he was; others may dimly recall that I’ve mentioned him and his most important book, Overshoot, repeatedly in these essays. Those who’ve taken the time to read the book just named may be wondering why none of the sites in the peak oil blogosphere has put up an obituary, or even noted the man’s passing. I don’t happen to know the answer to that last question, though I have my suspicions.

I encountered Overshoot for the first time in a college bookstore in Bellingham, Washington in 1983. Red letters on a stark yellow spine spelled out the title, a word I already knew from my classes in ecology and systems theory; I pulled it off the shelf, and found the future staring me in the face. This is what’s on the front cover below the title:

carrying capacity: maximum permanently supportable load.

cornucopian myth: euphoric belief in limitless resources.

drawdown: stealing resources from the future.

cargoism: delusion that technology will always save us from

overshoot: growth beyond an area’s carrying capacity, leading to

crash: die-off.

If you want to know where I got the core ideas I’ve been exploring in these essays for the last eight-going-on-nine years, in other words, now you know. I still have that copy of Overshoot; it’s sitting on the desk in front of me right now, reminding me yet again just how many chances we had to turn away from the bleak future that’s closing in around us now, like the night at the end of a long day.

Plenty of books in the 1970s and early 1980s applied the lessons of ecology to the future of industrial civilization and picked up at least part of the bad news that results. Overshoot was arguably the best of the lot, but it was pretty much guaranteed to land even deeper in the memory hole than the others. The difficulty was that Catton’s book didn’t pander to the standard mythologies that still beset any attempt to make sense of the predicament we’ve made for ourselves; it provided no encouragement to what he called cargoism, the claim that technological progress will inevitably allow us to have our planet and eat it too, without falling off the other side of the balance into the sort of apocalyptic daydreams that Hollywood loves to make into bad movies. Instead, in calm, crisp, thoughtful prose, he explained how industrial civilization was cutting its own throat, how far past the point of no return we’d already gone, and what had to be done in order to salvage anything from the approaching wreck.

As I noted in a post here in 2011, I had the chance to meet Catton at an ASPO conference, and tried to give him some idea of how much his book had meant to me. I did my best not to act like a fourteen-year-old fan meeting a rock star, but I’m by no means sure that I succeeded. We talked for fifteen minutes over dinner; he was very gracious; then things moved on, each of us left the conference to carry on with our lives, and now he’s gone. As the old song says, that’s the way it goes.

There’s much more that could be said about William Catton, but that task should probably be left for someone who knew the man as a teacher, a scholar, and a human being. I didn’t; except for that one fifteen-minute conversation, I knew him solely as the mind behind one of the books that helped me make sense of the world, and then kept me going on the long desert journey through the Reagan era, when most of those who claimed to be environmentalists over the previous decade cashed in their ideals and waved around the cornucopian myth as their excuse for that act. Thus I’m simply going to urge all of my readers who haven’t yet read Overshoot to do so as soon as possible, even if they have to crawl on their bare hands and knees over abandoned fracking equipment to get a copy. Having said that, I’d like to go on to the sort of tribute I think he would have appreciated most: an attempt to take certain of his ideas a little further than he did.

The core of Overshoot, which is also the core of the entire world of appropriate technology and green alternatives that got shot through the head and shoved into an unmarked grave in the Reagan years, is the recognition that the principles of ecology apply to industrial society just as much as they do to other communities of living things. It’s odd, all things considered, that this is such a controversial proposal. Most of us have no trouble grasping the fact that the law of gravity affects human beings the same way it affects rocks; most of us understand that other laws of nature really do apply to us; but quite a few of us seem to be incapable of extending that same sensible reasoning to one particular set of laws, the ones that govern how communities of living things relate to their environments.

If people treated gravity the way they treat ecology, you could visit a news website any day of the week and read someone insisting with a straight face that while it’s true that rocks fall down when dropped, human beings don’t—no, no, they fall straight up into the sky, and anyone who thinks otherwise is so obviously wrong that there’s no point even discussing the matter. That degree of absurdity appears every single day in the American media, and in ordinary conversations as well, whenever ecological issues come up. Suggest that a finite planet must by definition contain a finite amount of fossil fuels, that dumping billions of tons of gaseous trash into the air every single year for centuries might change the way that the atmosphere retains heat, or that the law of diminishing returns might apply to technology the way it applies to everything else, and you can pretty much count on being shouted down by those who, for all practical purposes, might as well believe that the world is flat.

Still, as part of the ongoing voyage into the unspeakable in which this blog is currently engaged, I’d like to propose that, in fact, human societies are as subject to the laws of ecology as they are to every other dimension of natural law. That act of intellectual heresy implies certain conclusions that are acutely unwelcome in most circles just now; still, as my regular readers will have noticed long since, that’s just one of the services this blog offers.

Let’s start with the basics. Every ecosystem, in thermodynamic terms, is a process by which relatively concentrated energy is dispersed into diffuse background heat. Here on Earth, at least, the concentrated energy mostly comes from the Sun, in the form of solar radiation—there are a few ecosystems, in deep oceans and underground, that get their energy from chemical reactions driven by the Earth’s internal heat instead. Ilya Prigogine showed some decades back that the flow of energy through a system of this sort tends to increase the complexity of the system; Jeremy England, a MIT physicist, has recently shown that the same process accounts neatly for the origin of life itself. The steady flow of energy from source to sink is the foundation on which everything else rests.

The complexity of the system, in turn, is limited by the rate at which energy flows through the system, and this in turn depends on the difference in concentration between the energy that enters the system, on the one hand, and the background into which waste heat diffuses when it leaves the system, on the other. That shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp. Not only is it basic thermodynamics, it’s basic physics—it’s precisely equivalent, in fact, to pointing out that the rate at which water flows through any section of a stream depends on the difference in height between the place where the water flows into that section and the place where it flows out.

Simple as it is, it’s a point that an astonishing number of people—including some who are scientifically literate—routinely miss. A while back on this blog, for example, I noted that one of the core reasons you can’t power a modern industrial civilization on solar energy is that sunlight is relatively diffuse as an energy source, compared to the extremely concentrated energy we get from fossil fuels. I still field rants from people insisting that this is utter hogwash, since photons have exactly the same amount of energy they did when they left the Sun, and so the energy they carry is just as concentrated as it was when it left the Sun. You’ll notice, though, that if this was the only variable that mattered, Neptune would be just as warm as Mercury, since each of the photons hitting the one planet pack on average the same energetic punch as those that hit the other.

It’s hard to think of a better example of the blindness to whole systems that’s pandemic in today’s geek culture. Obviously, the difference between the temperatures of Neptune and Mercury isn’t a function of the energy of individual photons hitting the two worlds; it’s a function of differing concentrations of photons—the number of them, let’s say, hitting a square meter of each planet’s surface. This is also one of the two figures that matter when we’re talking about solar energy here on Earth. The other? That’s the background heat into which waste energy disperses when the system, eco- or solar, is done with it. On the broadest scale, that’s deep space, but ecosystems don’t funnel their waste heat straight into orbit, you know. Rather, they diffuse it into the ambient temperature at whatever height above or below sea level, and whatever latitude closer or further from the equator, they happen to be—and since that’s heated by the Sun, too, the difference between input and output concentrations isn’t very substantial.

Nature has done astonishing things with that very modest difference in concentration. People who insist that photosynthesis is horribly inefficient, and of course we can improve its efficiency, are missing a crucial point: something like half the energy that reaches the leaves of a green plant from the Sun is put to work lifting water up from the roots by an ingenious form of evaporative pumping, in which water sucked out through the leaf pores as vapor draws up more water through a network of tiny tubes in the plant’s stems. Another few per cent goes into the manufacture of sugars by photosynthesis, and a variety of minor processes, such as the chemical reactions that ripen fruit, also depend to some extent on light or heat from the Sun; all told, a green plant is probably about as efficient in its total use of solar energy as the laws of thermodynamics will permit.

What’s more, the Earth’s ecosystems take the energy that flows through the green engines of plant life and put it to work in an extraordinary diversity of ways. The water pumped into the sky by what botanists call evapotranspiration—that’s the evaporative pumping I mentioned a moment ago—plays critical roles in local, regional, and global water cycles. The production of sugars to store solar energy in chemical form kicks off an even more intricate set of changes, as the plant’s cells are eaten by something, which is eaten by something, and so on through the lively but precise dance of the food web. Eventually all the energy the original plant scooped up from the Sun turns into diffuse waste heat and permeates slowly up through the atmosphere to its ultimate destiny warming some corner of deep space a bit above absolute zero, but by the time it gets there, it’s usually had quite a ride.

That said, there are hard upper limits to the complexity of the ecosystem that these intricate processes can support. You can see that clearly enough by comparing a tropical rain forest to a polar tundra. The two environments may have approximately equal amounts of precipitation over the course of a year; they may have an equally rich or poor supply of nutrients in the soil; even so, the tropical rain forest can easily support fifteen or twenty thousand species of plants and animals, and the tundra will be lucky to support a few hundred. Why? The same reason Mercury is warmer than Neptune: the rate at which photons from the sun arrive in each place per square meter of surface.

Near the equator, the sun’s rays fall almost vertically. Close to the poles, since the Earth is round, the Sun’s rays come in at a sharp angle, and thus are spread out over more surface area. The ambient temperature’s quite a bit warmer in the rain forest than it is on the tundra, but because the vast heat engine we call the atmosphere pumps heat from the equator to the poles, the difference in ambient temperature is not as great as the difference in solar input per cubic meter. Thus ecosystems near the equator have a greater difference in energy concentration between input and output than those near the poles, and the complexity of the two systems varies accordingly.

All this should be common knowledge. Of course it isn’t, because the industrial world’s notions of education consistently ignore what William Catton called “the processes that matter”—that is, the fundamental laws of ecology that frame our existence on this planet—and approach a great many of those subjects that do make it into the curriculum in ways that encourage the most embarrassing sort of ignorance about the natural processes that keep us all alive. Down the road a bit, we’ll be discussing that in much more detail. For now, though, I want to take the points just made and apply them systematically, in much the way Catton did, to the predicament of industrial civilization.

A human society is an ecosystem. Like any other ecosystem, it depends for its existence on flows of energy, and as with any other ecosystem, the upper limit on its complexity depends ultimately on the difference in concentration between the energy that enters it and the background into which its waste heat disperses. (This last point is a corollary of White’s Law, one of the fundamental principles of human ecology, which holds that a society’s economic development is directly proportional to its consumption of energy per capita.) Until the beginning of the industrial revolution, that upper limit was not much higher than the upper limit of complexity in other ecosystems, since human ecosystems drew most of their energy from the same source as nonhuman ones: sunlight falling on green plants. As human societies figured out how to tap other flows of solar energy—windpower to drive windmills and send ships coursing over the seas, water power to turn mills, and so on—that upper limit crept higher, but not dramatically so.

The discoveries that made it possible to turn fossil fuels into mechanical energy transformed that equation completely. The geological processes that stockpiled half a billion years of sunlight into coal, oil, and natural gas boosted the concentration of the energy inputs available to industrial societies by an almost unimaginable factor, without warming the ambient temperature of the planet more than a few degrees, and the huge differentials in energy concentration that resulted drove an equally unimaginable increase in complexity. Choose any measure of complexity you wish—number of discrete occupational categories, average number of human beings involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of any given good or service, or what have you—and in the wake of the industrial revolution, it soared right off the charts. Thermodynamically, that’s exactly what you’d expect.

The difference in energy concentration between input and output, it bears repeating, defines the upper limit of complexity. Other variables determine whether or not the system in question will achieve that upper limit. In the ecosystems we call human societies, knowledge is one of those other variables. If you have a highly concentrated energy source and don’t yet know how to use it efficiently, your society isn’t going to become as complex as it otherwise could. Over the three centuries of industrialization, as a result, the production of useful knowledge was a winning strategy, since it allowed industrial societies to rise steadily toward the upper limit of complexity defined by the concentration differential. The limit was never reached—the law of diminishing returns saw to that—and so, inevitably, industrial societies ended up believing that knowledge all by itself was capable of increasing the complexity of the human ecosystem. Since there’s no upper limit to knowledge, in turn, that belief system drove what Catton called the cornucopian myth, the delusion that there would always be enough resources if only the stock of knowledge increased quickly enough.

That belief only seemed to work, though, as long as the concentration differential between energy inputs and the background remained very high. Once easily accessible fossil fuels started to become scarce, and more and more energy and other resources had to be invested in the extraction of what remained, problems started to crop up. Tar sands and oil shales in their natural form are not as concentrated an energy source as light sweet crude—once they’re refined, sure, the differences are minimal, but a whole system analysis of energy concentration has to start at the moment each energy source enters the system. Take a cubic yard of tar sand fresh from the pit mine, with the sand still in it, or a cubic yard of oil shale with the oil still trapped in the rock, and you’ve simply got less energy per unit volume than you do if you’ve got a cubic yard of light sweet crude fresh from the well, or even a cubic yard of good permeable sandstone with light sweet crude oozing out of every pore.

It’s an article of faith in contemporary culture that such differences don’t matter, but that’s just another aspect of our cornucopian myth. The energy needed to get the sand out of the tar sands or the oil out of the shale oil has to come from somewhere, and that energy, in turn, is not available for other uses. The result, however you slice it conceptually, is that the upper limit of complexity begins moving down. That sounds abstract, but it adds up to a great deal of very concrete misery, because as already noted, the complexity of a society determines such things as the number of different occupational specialties it can support, the number of employees who are involved in the production and distribution of a given good or service, and so on. There’s a useful phrase for a sustained contraction in the usual measures of complexity in a human ecosystem: “economic depression.”

The economic troubles that are shaking the industrial world more and more often these days, in other words, are symptoms of a disastrous mismatch between the level of complexity that our remaining concentration differential can support, and the level of complexity that our preferred ideologies insist we ought to have. As those two things collide, there’s no question which of them is going to win. Adding to our total stock of knowledge won’t change that result, since knowledge is a necessary condition for economic expansion but not a sufficient one: if the upper limit of complexity set by the laws of thermodynamics drops below the level that your knowledge base would otherwise support, further additions to the knowledge base simply mean that there will be a growing number of things that people know how to do in theory, but that nobody has the resources to do in practice.

Knowledge, in other words, is not a magic wand, a surrogate messiah, or a source of miracles. It can open the way to exploiting energy more efficiently than otherwise, and it can figure out how to use energy resources that were not previously being used at all, but it can’t conjure energy out of thin air. Even if the energy resources are there, for that matter, if other factors prevent them from being used, the knowledge of how they might be used offers no consolation—quite the contrary.

That latter point, I think, sums up the tragedy of William Catton’s career. He knew, and could explain with great clarity, why industrialism would bring about its own downfall, and what could be done to salvage something from its wreck. That knowledge, however, was not enough to make things happen; only a few people ever listened, most of them promptly plugged their ears and started chanting “La, la, la, I can’t hear you” once Reagan made that fashionable, and the actions that might have spared all of us a vast amount of misery never happened. When I spoke to him in 2011, he was perfectly aware that his life’s work had done essentially nothing to turn industrial society aside from its rush toward the abyss. That’s got to be a bitter thing to contemplate in your final hours, and I hope his thoughts were on something else last month as the night closed in at last.

Why the future for a healthy human species is local not global

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on January 22, 2015

Packed like sardines

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

There are far too many of us.

I must’ve written the assertion here a hundred times over the last seven years, and every month the problems of that reality become more and more obvious.

To be clear about it, this is not some scientific equation point I’m trying to make. It’s not about land and air and population expansion: that’s a pointless debate that goes round in circles: I do think water is a vital resource and will become a key geopolitical factor in the future unless governments wake up, but this isn’t an eco-conservation wonk plea. It’s about pack-size and complexity – about the fundamentals of social anthropology.

The sheer size and population of contemporary western Sovereign States today means that individual choice and freedom are shrinking, literally, day by day. It leads to, among other things, a dilution of the sense of personal responsibility and worth, a one-size-fits-all attitude to medical diagnosis and treatment, education, welfare and manufacturing, and a self-serving élite following its own agendas rather than observing and then fulfilling citizen needs.

The ‘mass and class’ structure of the ‘modern’ State model in turn forces the need for mass communication – of news, products and services – and a profitability of the media set thus nurtured that leads to  inordinate power for the owners of those media. More recently, the explosion of the internet and expansion of “24/7 news” has led to less and less analysis of what’s going on, and a much more crowded information environment in which it is frighteningly easy to obfuscate, mislead, and lie about reality. A classic example of this is the myth of ‘choice’ – more channels on TV, more internet content, product segmentation, more political Parties, more ways to buy stuff online – where, on cool assessment, very clearly the real quality of what’s on offer has been reduced to almost zero: everything is formulaic and derivative, and even in hitech there’s no real leap…just more apps and constant updates.

Most significant of all is that the very complexity of the State model has led to the rise of neoliberal socio-economic policies, within which the need to address expensive complexity is removed but the fundamentals of State structure remain. This is the worst of all worlds: one where reduced welfare and wages lead to increased time starvation, community involvement falls, the time available for parenting declines, and government becomes increasingly inaccessible. All these combine to nurture a sense of bitter, alienated resentment among the populace. Communitarianism, ironically, is replaced by systemic tribalism. Debate deteriorates into slanging matches. Society lacks a coherent set of shared values.

And in a purely economic sense, the system based on permanent consumption implodes because not enough citizens can afford to consume.

With 24/7 news, hundreds of TV channels, millions of websites and portable access to information has come a further stage in personal isolation. Families no longer eat together, or even watch telly together: they stare at screens, tap keyboards, send texts, take calls, Skype distant contacts and emit often inane tweets.

Far from realising the dysfunctional nature of this construct, those whom governmental complexity has attracted (for it is a wonderful place to hide) bring engorged egos with them. These in turn develop multiple supermarketing, out-of-town shopping, lowest-price manufacturing, one Europe, one dominant petrodollar currency, one brand name of soft drink worldwide, and – by force majeur as much as anything else – one system of globalist mercantilism alongside interconnected banking “to which there is no alternative because it is the future”.

Those of us who are awake know what’s coming. Those in charge either don’t (a surprisingly large number don’t) or do – and are ensuring the door closes on their helicopter once they’re in it. (There is an entire echelon in China ready to leave at a moment’s notice once the corruption show-trials start.) Either way, more thinking, intelligent people need to step back and take an essentially apolitically cold look at what the Nation State and its supra-State ambitions have brought us to.

In summary, they have delivered an arts sector devoid of genuinely creative and challenging work. A lifestyle that a majority of people, for myriad reasons, find profoundly unfulfilling. A lack of investment in energy research that locks us all into the dangerous geopolitics of oil. The near-collapse of over twenty major economies. Astronomical debt. A perverted set of banking practices and ethics. A Europe that has returned to the unstable squabbling of the past. Widespread – and growing – limits to freedom of speech. And divisive cynicism about aims and motives.

At times, the loss of plot by ruling élites seems almost epidemiological. Dangerous confrontations in the Middle East and Ukraine. Anarchy and potential civil war in south eastern Europe. Education systems that turn out robotic acceptors rather than sceptical analysts. And – due to the insidious influence of privileged money on the political process – an Establishment that serves multinational tax-evaders, crooked bankers, shady oligarchs, tribal minority interests, media moguls and the grand designs of paranoid snoopers long before it gives any thought at all to those millions and millions of faceless individuals who are supposed to be represented through the democratic system.

And the more of us there are to ‘serve’, the easier it will be to govern – because the complexity and confusion I examine above leads to the resentment, fear, divisive politics and tribalism that remove effective opposition. But the security services deliberately offer the opposing view: that sixty million people are bound to harbour secret groups with secret plans to destabilise the State to which there is no alternative. So they must expand GCHQ, and spend £15bn every year to watch, listen to and read everything we say, write or broadcast. The internet ISPs already offering marketing the chance to sell by individual and aperture with hour by hour changes to the mix are keen to cooperate with Intelligence services. And risibly named ‘social networks’ fill in any gaps that are left.

The social networks and the blogosphere seem to me increasingly there to serve perhaps the most obvious symptom of a mentally ill culture: the desire to talk about oneself and, by one means or another, create a certain sort of fame – vicariously through others, or perhaps in a niche.

What has narcissistic celebrity obsession got to do with too large a pack size? Put simply, if you turn every citizen into a small frogspawn in a gigantic lake too cold for it to hatch, every frogspawn will want to be a frustrated not-frog. And if they can’t be a frog, they’ll fantasise about being the most famous frog in the lake. Only in the small, warm pond can he or she develop naturally to become a responsible adult with a balanced sense of scale.

A key word in that paragraph is naturally. So utterly have we been removed from a natural environment over the last fifty years – with an acceleration after 1980 – I sense that the only way some citizens can deal with it is by vigorous, almost autistic, assertion over and over again that unnatural is better than natural. From this desire to feel ‘normal’ in a culture of increasingly abnormal lives – crowded trains, long hours, endless traffic jams, casual affairs, binge drinking, lack of communal intercourse, incessant litigation – comes support for political correctness, swopped gender responsibilities, extreme feminism…and above all, denial.

It is denial that has given us an enormous and expanding Underclass, the desire to pillory opportunist men as rapists and paedophiles, 24/7 drink laws, huge imported cells of Islamist jihadism where no GCHQ at all is required to see them, ludicrous targeting in education and welfare, the belief that the private sector can be trusted when working for government, multiculturalism, endlessly repeated (but groundless) accusations of systemic racism and/or misogyny, reclassification of asking for a date as sexual harassment, and an island so overpopulated yet ideologically blinkered, the only solution on offer is to build even more domiciles to house them.

In a culture of ‘settled social science’, there are no new ideas. In an economic system that values only share prices and short term ROI, there are no risks that lead to innovation. After an education where only one question is asked by the student – “Is it on the syllabus?”, there is no search for The Better Way – and ultimately, no exercise for the voyager gene. A political environment in which the Left and Right duopoly continues to dominate merely reflects the culture it has helped create: but of course, the culture it helped create protects it in almost every way. Checkmate.

Pretty much every major European city now has ‘villages’….and in those villages live tribes: stockbrokers, gays, liberals, media executives, MPs – even activists. These reflect the natural human desire to be among those with whom we feel an affinity. The most enduring south east English trend of the last fifty years has been the desire to leave London’s mass-race to be King Rat, and spend more time among green things where the horizon is visible. Study after study shows:

* lower levels of crime in smaller communities

* stronger cultures in smaller companies

* the growth of mutualism as the preferred business start-up

* higher achievements in smaller class sizes

* improved educational diligence among stable families

* cynicism towards central government

* the rejection of Supra-State solutions

* growing gaps between rich and poor in large, neoliberally run societies.

But now comes the core problem: perhaps somewhere in the region of 3% of the population would reject all or most of the observations I’ve made in this piece….and wilfully ignore the research mentioned above.

Sadly, they run everything.

Yet the only alternative to the scaled-down, communitarian and more localised mutual entrepreneuralism we need is a mass cull. Because central government trying to employ, look after, listen to and police the sick, mass culture we’ve inherited is hugely expensive.

What the current top tier seem to conclude in that context is, “OK then, we won’t bother”. Which is a solution, I suppose. Under that solution, orders of water-cannon and portable crowd-control railings do well. But what England, ClubMed, 11 States in America and dozens of other overblown human units have discovered is that doing everything on the one hand or far too little on the other simply fails – in different ways, but the failure is equally cataclysmic: debt that enslaves the State, or social unrest that lets in the fascists.

There are far too many of us.

There are far too many of us to put into one unit and hope it will be homogenous: those days are long-gone. Even in Greece (where the population is under 1 million) hundreds of thousands of young people are leaving to find something better elsewhere.

But there are not far too many of us to the extent that we need a planetary cull. Not at all: what we need is massively scaled down central government from which all unelected, monied influence has been removed…and power devolved to interlinked communities where people can build self-esteem by having a say…or (if they want to do other stuff, as most do) being a name with responsibilities…not a number with an unquenchable thirst for license.

License in the end leads to a top-down system in which everyone needs a licence before they can do anything. Not for nothing are we now being told that, on top of the Birth and Death certificate, we must (six times repeated on the form) have a Life Certificate.

There is so much more to this issue than liberty and democracy. One can’t any longer sloganise the need for the duo, because the minorities taking them away don’t care if we do. It is every bit as much about self-esteem, neighbourly camaraderie, taking responsibility, gaining fulfillment from work and family, developing scepticism where there is now only cynicism…and earning the right to be left alone by those who have no business snooping into your business.

If there’s a vacuum where self-discipline used to be, untrammeled power will fill it very quickly. We can blame ‘Them’ until the cows come home. The answer lies in our hands.

And no, it’s not my job to tell you how to get there. It’s your job to think about it.

Thank you for persevering with this longer-than-usual piece.

Crash-O-Matic Finance

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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reporter_roberts_1220121
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation December 15, 2014

Oil prices have dropped $50 a barrel. That may not sound like much. But when you take $107 and you take $57, that’s almost a 47 percent decline…!”
–James Puplava, The Financial Sense News Network

May not sound like much? I guess when you hunker down in the lab with the old slide rule and do the math, wow! Those numbers really pop!

This, of course, is the representative thinking out there. But then, these are the very same people who have carried pompoms and megaphones for “the shale revolution” the past couple of years. Being finance professionals they apparently failed to notice the financial side of the business, for instance the fact that so much of the day-to-day shale operation was being run on junk bond financing.

It all seemed to work so well in the eerie matrix of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) where investors desperate for “yield” — i.e. some return more-than-zilch on their money — ended up in the bond market’s junkyard. These investors, by the way, were the big institutional ones, the pension funds, the insurance companies, the mixed bond smorgasbord funds. They were getting killed on ZIRP. In the good old days of the late 20th century, before Federal Reserve omnipotence, they could depend on a regular annual interest rate churn of between 5 and 10 percent and do what they had do — write pension checks, pay insurance claims, and pay clients, with a little left over for company salaries.

ZIRP ruined all that. In fact, ZIRP destroyed the most fundamental index in the financial universe: the true cost of borrowing money. In doing so, it twerked and torqued the concept of “risk” so badly that risk no longer had any meaning. In “risk-on” financial weather, there was no longer any risk. Imagine that? It also destroyed the entire relationship between borrowed money and the cost-structure of the endeavors it was borrowed for. Take shale oil, for instance.

The fundamental limiting factor for shale oil was that the wells were only good for about two years, and then they were pretty much shot. So, if you were in that business, and held a bunch of leases, you had to constantly drill and re-drill and then drill some more just to keep production up. The drilling cost between $6 and $12-million per well. What happened the past seven years is that the drillers and their playmates on Wall Street hyped the hoo-hah out of the business — it was a shale revolution! In a few short years they drilled to beat the band and the results seemed so impressive that investment money poured into the sector like honey, so they drilled some more. It was going to save the American way of life. We were going to be “energy independent,” the “new Saudi America.” We would be able to drive to Wal-Mart forever!

Be careful what you wish for, the old saw goes. The shale oil “miracle” was an epochal stunt. They goosed so much oil out of the ground in a short period of time that they killed the goose — demand for oil at a price that made it worth drilling for. Now, much of the junk financing will default, and the result of that is no more junk financing for a long, long time, meaning that a lot of planned wells will not be drilled and completed, meaning that the current crop of short-lived wells will crap out in the 24 months ahead, and production will not be replaced by new wells, which will not be there. When and if the riggers get busy again in the Bakken and the Eagle Ford, you can be sure it will be at a much lower level of activity than the glorious year 2014. Of course, it remains to be seen how much financial illness the spoiled junk bond paper will spread through the derivatives markets, not to mention the boring old stock and bond markets and the big banks that traffic there. You can only fool reality so long. Eventually risk-on returns for real and swipes the ground with its mighty tail.

Finance was the lifeblood of the global economy and scam after scam left it riddled with wormholes of fragility. That fragility has been waiting to express itself and the ability of bank wizards to squelch and conceal it may have come to an end. There will be no quick cure for cratering oil prices and the damage it will wreak among the shale drillers. Does that sound like much?

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Fate of the Turtle

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Mitch
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation November 10, 2014

Anybody truly interested in government, and therefore politics, should be cognizant above all that ours have already entered systemic failure. The management of societal affairs is on an arc to become more inept and ineffectual, no matter how either of the current major parties pretends to control things. Instead of Big Brother, government in our time turns out to be Autistic Brother. It makes weird noises and flaps its appendages, but can barely tie its own shoelaces.

The one thing it does exceedingly well is drain the remaining capital from endeavors that might contribute to the greater good. This includes intellectual capital, by the way, which, under better circumstances, might gird the political will to reform the sub-systems that civilized life depends on. These include: food production (industrial agri-business), commerce (the WalMart model), transportation (Happy Motoring), school (a matrix of rackets), medicine (ditto with the patient as hostage), and banking (a matrix of fraud and swindling).

All of these systems have something in common: they’ve exceeded their fragility threshold and crossed into the frontier of criticality. They have nowhere to go except failure. It would be nice if we could construct leaner and more local systems to replace these monsters, but there is too much vested interest in them. For instance, the voters slapped down virtually every major ballot proposition to invest in light rail and public transit around the country. The likely explanation is that they’ve bought the story that shale oil will allow them to drive to WalMart forever.

That story is false, by the way. The politicos put it over because they believe the Wall Street fraudsters who are pimping a junk finance racket in shale oil for short-term, high-yield returns. The politicos want desperately to believe the story because the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future.

The public, of course, is eager to believe the same story for the same reasons, but at some point they’ll flip and blame the story-tellers, and their wrath could truly wreck what remains of this polity. When it is really too late to fix any of these things, they’ll beg someone to tell them what to do, and the job-description for that position is dictator.

It’s certainly remarkable that the years since the troubles of 2008 have been so seemingly placid and uneventful, at least here in the USA — not so much if you live in the Middle East or Ukraine, or in the decaying economies of southern Euroland, or the septic failed states of Africa. The many formerly-middle-class Americans living in economic ruin apparently blame themselves when, for instance, they’re billed tens of thousands of dollars for some routine surgery performed “out of network” by a bureaucratic happenstance. They must be punch-drunk with cable news, or over-medicated. Don’t expect this national mood of paralysis and surrender to last indefinitely.

What troubles me at the moment is that when that mood snaps, it will be for a bad reason in the wrong way. Ferguson, Mo., is still sitting there like an unattended back-pack on the courthouse steps. Before Christmas, some kind of grand jury decision is going to come down. All the reality-based chatter points to the probable exoneration of Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot teenager Michael Brown. I expect the trouble arising out of that to be a lot worse than most people currently suppose, and then we’ll literally be off to the races. If that happens, it will be a huge and tragic diversion from the things that really matter to keep the project of civilized life going. In a way, it will be the true beginning of the end. The end of what? Of pretending that the people in authority know what they are doing.

If you think that President Obama is lonely and bereft now, just wait. Some excuse will be found to try an impeach him and then the nation will spend another two years conducting a three-ring circus while the shale oil “miracle” crashes and burns and the banking system melts away to nothing. It’s been fun watching Mitch McConnell get ready to preside over all of this. History could not have found a less sympathetic patsy.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Mid-Term Message: Abandon Hope

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Okay, we won. Now would everybody please go home and leave us alone. We’ll let you know if we need you again. (Photo by Jayu/Flickr)

Okay, we won. Now would everybody please go home and leave us alone. We’ll let you know if we need you again. (Photo by Jayu/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  November 7, 2014

Bull beat brains just about everywhere in America on election day last Tuesday, (with an exception or two), and anyone who still harbors the hope that the American Dream is alive, that the future will be better than the past, simply was not paying attention. People who profess not to believe in climate change have been given power over our national response to this rising threat to our continued existence; people who owe their souls to industrialists have been given responsibility for protecting ordinary citizens from the depredations of industry. We the passengers of the Titanic just elected a crew that doesn’t believe in icebergs.

As a result of Tuesday’s exercise in representative democracy, the people have declared that you and I should give up all hope:

  • that any measures whatsoever, however timid and inadequate to the challenge, will be taken in the foreseeable future to mitigate the awesome flood of pollutants into the air that is making our planet ever more hostile to human life;
  • that any meaningful regulations or restrictions will be placed on the industries that are blowing out the last of our shale-bound gas and oil, unleashing as they do a hideous cascade of toxins, greenhouse gases, carcinogens, radioactivity and earthquakes;
  • that anyone can now stand up to the building of the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry caustic, volatile, diluted bitumen from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, across the American breadbasket and its vital aquifer, the Ogallala;
  • that any restraints will be imposed on the rogue superbanks that are engaged in exactly the same practices that came within a hair of destroying the world’s economy in 2008, on the theory that when you do the same thing over again you get different results;
  • that the so-called “War on Coal” will be seen for what it actually is — at attempt to minimize pollution from coal burning and avoid the fate of China’s strangling millions;
  • that any meaningful measures can be taken toward renewing our perilously deteriorated highways, bridges,water and sewer systems, electric grid, airports and air traffic control systems, even our weather satellites, because doing anyof that would require taxes, and we no longer do taxes;
  • that there is any end in sight of the determination of one of our two parties to prevent any success in governing, no matter how desperately needed by the people, if the credit for that success would go to the head of state, who is of another party — an attitude that our Founding Fathers, had they been able to conceive of it, would have branded corrupt if not treasonous;
  • that the iron grip of big money on our elections will be in any way lessened, anytime in the near or far future, in a country where only millionaires get into the room, and only billionaires get a seat at the table.

The die-hard, small-d democrats among us will hold tightly to the straw of Richmond, California, the little city where Chevron Oil blew $3 million — that’s $76 for every registered voter in the city — trying to elect a mayor and city council that would stop bothering them about the explosions, fires and pollution issuing from their giant Richmond refinery. Chevron was handed its head on a dipstick by local candidates who raised maybe $40 thousand each, if that.

And it is true that a fired-up electorate led by people who work hard and organize well, can always defeat the money — it’s demonstrated in every election cycle as the few examples that prove the rule (the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, rules).

But how to fire the electorate up when they’re busy watching Fox News and fulminating about Benghazi? And who will lead them when all the politicos are out begging money from the big dogs with which to run attack ads on television?

We must forget Washington, and all politics, abandon hope that someone will figure out how to save the system — they’re not even working the problem. Instead, we must learn to live sustainably and resiliently. We must work hard at it, get good at it, have courage, and wait for signs.

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

Epidemic: Countries Falling Ill from Oil Anemia

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can’t afford to sell it to us.

Oil: we can afford to buy it now, but they really can’t afford to sell it to us.

First published at The Daily Impact  October 20, 2014

 

An epidemic of oil anemia is spreading around the world with the speed of an airborne virus, leaving scores of countries gasping for breath as their financial arteries shrivel for lack of cash. The price of oil has dropped to about $80 a barrel from $100 just a few weeks ago. And just as oil burning countries begin to shrivel when they have to pay more than $100, oil producing countries start to suffocate on anything less. The sickest examples:

Russia already faced daunting economic problems because Russian oil production peaked in December and has nowhere to go but down, as its own finance ministry admitted in July. Vladimir Putin has used oil profits to smooth systemic problems in other parts of the Russian economy, to bolster his public approval, and to give him the security to play geopolitical games in Ukraine. A six percent drop in oil revenues ($4.5 billion) as forecast by the finance ministry was bad enough, but now added to that is a decline of at least 20% in price. If oil prices don’t recover, Russia faces certain recession, if not deprivation. Putin will be thinking about another head of state whose oil revenues recently evaporated, named Mubarak.

Saudi Arabia is keeping its poker face while staring at a very bad hand. Brave talk about how OPEC countries should stop demanding restrictions on (primarily Saudi) production to jack prices back up, how they should just “get used” to lower revenues, masks the fact that the Saudis simply cannot afford to take the combined hits of lower prices and lower production. Their ballooning population, which guzzles oil for personal transportation, water desalination and electrical generation, is cutting into the amount of oil left for export. And it is export revenues that pay for the heavy subsidies that keep Saudi fuel cheap. Moreover, although Saudi secrecy on this subject makes Russia look like an open society,  it has not for any significant length of time been able to exceed its 2005 production level of 9.5 million barrels per day. Whether its production in fact peaked that year is in dispute, but there is no doubt that its oil available for export has been declining since 2005.

The Saudis are terrified that an “Arab Spring” could break out in their country if anything happens to their ability to heavily subsidize the fuel their people use. The fear is far from baseless, as a smoldering, years-long resistance movement in the eastern provinces demonstrates. A leader of that resistance was sentenced to death last week and a violent response Saturday set a pipeline ablaze, the second such incident this fall.

Iran, which has been writhing for years under tough sanctions restricting its economy because of its nuclear program, has tried repeatedly to end expensive subsidies for fuel. Every attempt brings angry people into the streets and sends the terrified government scurrying for shelter. High prices for the oil Iran has managed to sell despite sanctions have helped, but now that help is gone, and Iran finds itself among rocks and hard places.

Brazil is in a similar damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-even-think-about-it trap. Its national budget has been shredded by $100 oil, as it strove to keep its people awash in cheap fuel (and thus away from public squares with torches and pitchforks) with sudsidies. $80 oil takes some of the pressure off the subsidies, but is not enough to pay for developing the deepwater oil that is Brazil’s only hope for any long term relief.

If several countries are under the equivalent of hospital care for their oil anemia, Venezuela is in hospice. It uses oil money to pay for everything, and although its production peaked in 1997, its demand continues to rise steeply. Public protests killed 40 people in February, well before the price of oil fell by 20 per cent.

In The United States,  meanwhile, everyone is dancing to the tune of “Happy,” abandoning their hybrid cars and returning to the good old days of SUVs and pickup trucks, convinced that eternal oil prosperity is at hand.

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

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