Home » Posts tagged 'civilisation'

Tag Archives: civilisation

Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Post Archives by Category

Collapse Is An Outcome, Not A Problem To Be Solved

Collapse Is An Outcome, Not A Problem To Be Solved

Technology as dinosaur. Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

There is a rule in ecology called the maximum power principle formulated by Lokta in 1925. It can be summarized as follows: “The systems that survive in competition are those that develop more power inflow and use it best to meet the needs of survival.” If one wanted to describe the animating force behind the rise and fall of civilizations, they would be hard pressed to come up with a better one. Complex systems — such as our modern industrial world economy — appear to be ruled by the same ecological principles to which all other complex organisms obey. These rules are so universal, independent from size and scale from microbes to galaxies, that one would do better to call them natural laws. Join me on a wild ride from bacteria to petroleum extraction to see how these rules govern our daily life and how they could eventually lead to the decline of what we call modernity.

Imagine a clean Petri-dish chuck full of yummy Agar Agar, a medium utilized to grow fungi and bacteria on. Now place a range of microorganisms on it and see what happens: those bacteria which use up the most food energy to multiply will simply outcompete almost any other life form in the dish. Those who use energy sparingly, and live a slow but long life with relatively few offspring, will be simply outcrowded and completely overwhelmed. Now, let’s take our thought experiment to the next level: take a clean Petri-dish, but this time fill half of it with tasty bacteria food and the another half with a not-so-yummy medium with a much lower energy content. Next, add some bacteria which double their numbers every hour. What you can expect to see here is exponential growth at its best — and something unexpected.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Feedback Loops and Unsustainable Systems

Feedback Loops and Unsustainable Systems

Mountains as seen from Tennessee Welcome Center

I have brought up feedback loops (both positive and negative) many times in this space. I’ve also brought up unsustainable systems in one way or another in practically every article, since they are endemic in human society and at the root of every predicament. It would be very simple for me to tell you that if we just eliminated every unsustainable system and replaced them with sustainable ones that most all our troubles would be resolved. Aaahhh, if only it were that simple. While there is much truth to that statement, the physical realities of replacing these systems would be a massive transformation that is prevented by the Limits to Growth – not enough energy and resources to accomplish the job due to self-reinforcing positive feedback loops which would only add fuel to the fire of the existing ecological overshoot that we are already in. Understanding how we got to this point is key in comprehending why
options on dealing with overshoot are so limited. Several different ideas revolve around the same concept of creating a “new civilization” that humans could embark on to reduce overshoot and live happily ever after. I’ve pointed out one concept known as The Venus Project which is really nothing more than pure hopium. I’ve spent the last several articles detailing the Degrowth Movement and why degrowth in and of itself isn’t enough to actually accomplish much, mainly due to a lack of acceptance from corporations and governments, which would suffer greatly as a result. Of course, we’re all going to suffer from the implications of overshoot anyway, which makes that fact more or less irrelevant in the first place. I’ve pointed out why the MEER concept is unrealistic and more fantasy than reality…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

When Nature Gazes Back

When Nature Gazes Back

It’s been a month since I last posted on the theme of disenchantment, and a lively month at that. The cracks in America’s global empire have become increasingly visible around the world.  Here at home the mentally challenged resident of the White House continues to blunder through a vague approximation of his constitutional duties while the coterie of neoconservative zealots that hand him his talking (or rather mumbling) points is busy trying to start more wars the United States no longer has the resources or the national unity to win. Donald Trump is basking in the success of his recent CNN town hall, Robert Kennedy Jr. is rising steadily in the polls as he campaigns to unseat Biden for the Democratic nomination—well, let’s just sum things up by saying that it’s a good time to go long on popcorn futures.

With all this and more happening, it may not seem timely to return to so apparently abstract a point as the historical alternation between eras of enchantment and disenchantment. Here as so often, however, appearances deceive.  What Max Weber called “the disenchantment of the world” is a massive political fact, but it’s by no means as cut and dried as Weber apparently thought—and it’s also not a one-way process. Grasp the way that the modern experience of disenchantment unfolded across historical time, and where it can be expected to lead next, and you understand much that is otherwise obscure about how we got into our present predicament and what we can expect in the years ahead.  This is the theme I plan on developing in this and a sequence of future posts.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Is There an Off-Ramp for Civilization?

Our high-tech civilization is like an ageing man in full denial of his mortality. It is eating his children just to live a day longer, rather than admitting that its craving for immortality is founded on nothing more than magical thinking. In its firm belief that technology can save it, it is constantly looking for “solutions” on the predicament of its death, actively poisoning its kin with chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive waste from mining and production. Is there a last chance for it change course?

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

very civilization is built around a set of unquestionable beliefs, with a considerable number of them dealing with death itself. Although many devout followers of modernity claim that they are fully aware of their mortality, deep inside they are still in denial. There is no end to the row of books, articles and publications on how singularity will come, how we will upload our consciousness into the cloud, how AI will take care of us and ultimately: how our digital technology will eventually make our souls immortal (1) once our bodies are gone.

According to this belief system, we will eventually free ourselves from the muddy reality of our biological origin, full of bacteria, viruses, illness and misery. The road to this modernist Nirvana starts with growing food in sterile steel and glass halls under artificial LED light, and elongating our lifespans with gene therapy — and if death does come for one before we get there, then there are plenty of options for a cryogenic afterlife in a nice and shiny metal tube.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

It Sucks Being Stuck in a Failing Civilization

Photo by Conor Samuel on Unsplash

Industrial civilization is slowly failing and it kind a sucks being stuck with it. Over the past couple of weeks and months I’ve been increasingly posting about the failure of western civilization, but let’s not forget that the West is but a part of global civilization suffering from the same ailments bringing the entire system down. The coming end of global western dominance happens to coincide with the rapidly approaching limits to material growth and the mounting environmental challenges caused by our reckless abandon. Climate change, energy crises, resource scarcity and overshooting all natural limits and boundaries will all complicate things beyond our ruling class’ ability to manage. Expect some wild times ahead.

Do you have solar panels on your roof? Well, those are made from minerals too. Some of them are so rare, like Indium or Gallium, that world production would need to increase several hundredfold to build out solar panels in the necessary quantity in order to “halt” climate change…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Who Will Save Us From Ourselves?

Who Will Save Us From Ourselves?

We have the capacity to learn from previous civilization’s errors–rising inequality, hubris, over-reach, decay of production and trade, parasitic elites, and so on–yet we go right ahead and repeat those same errors.

After listening to my explanation of the many cycles human civilizations track first to glory and then to decay, podcast host Tommy Carrigan asked a key question: why don’t we stop ourselves from self-destructing? Tommy and I had a free-range conversation on this and related topics (plus a lot of laughs) that you can listen to here: UFOs & Cycles of Humanity (1:36 hrs)

We have the capacity to learn from previous civilization’s errors–rising inequality, hubris, over-reach, decay of production and trade, parasitic elites, and so on–yet we go right ahead and repeat those same errors.

What explains our inability to learn from history and take corrective actions by maintaining the dynamics of adaptive advances? (Transparent governance, the sharing of knowledge, incentivizing trade and enterprise, competition, stable money, rule of law / fairness, social mobility and limits on elites’ plundering / exploitation.)

Why do we allow the decay, over-reach, greed, hubris, institutional sclerosis and parasitic elites that lead to collapse gain the upper hand time and again? Why do we not act on what can be learned from history?

For those of us steeped in science fiction and the study of AI, this question inevitably leads to discussions of the potential immutability of historic cycles (Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, which posited that cycles could not be annulled but the decay/collapse phase could be reduced in duration), the deus ex machina of contact with extraterrestrial civilizations and the potential of super-intelligent AI to save us from ourselves.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Bargaining to Maintain Civilization

Bargaining to Maintain Civilization

Happy Winter/Summer Solstice!!As anyone reading my articles often already knows, ecological overshoot is the master predicament causing many different symptom predicaments. I constantly see many people blaming emissions or greed or capitalism or governments or oil companies or fossil fuels (and on and on…) for causing climate change (or their favorite symptom predicament). Playing the blame game gets us nowhere though, and unfortunately, it is also far more complicated than that. Reducing emissions is a great idea (NOT a solution as noted below in the new paper from James Hansen), but it cannot be accomplished without reducing ecological overshoot because ecological overshoot is precisely what is CAUSING emissions. Ecological overshoot is caused by technology use, which means that it is being caused by our behavior. In order to reduce emissions, there is no other choice than to reduce technology use. This requires changing our behaviors. Most emissions historically have been produced by Western Society, so Western Society must change the most in how we behave. This is not optional. If we don’t change our behavior, nature will solve the predicament for us by removing habitat that we require in order to continue surviving. This is the outcome for that scenario – extinction. Of course, inherent here is that infamous “we” which brings the good ole’ lack of agency into the mix.

Now, this is the background to what I am writing about. While my articles here have just been recently introduced to society at large, I’ve actually been conversing about this and writing about it far longer in several different groups, many of which I’m no longer a member of. Why am I no longer a member in these groups one may ask. Because those groups feature and promote a mental defect known as wetiko, and they refuse to accept the truth that ecological overshoot and its symptom predicaments are not problems with solutions…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Simple Story of Civilization

The Simple Story of Civilization

The stories we fashion about ourselves are heavily influenced by our short life spans during an age of unprecedented complexity. We humans, it would seem, are unfathomably complicated creatures who defy simple “just-so” characterizations. Animals, or humans tens of thousands of years ago are fair game for simple stories, but not so for transcendent modern humans.

Two major problems I have with this attitude are that 1) we are animals, and 2) we have exactly the same hardware (albeit with slightly smaller brains) as we had 100,000 years ago.

So allow me to pull back from our present age of baffling complexity to outline a simple story covering the broad sweep of the human saga. The result may be a little startling, and, for a number of readers, sure to be rejected by cultural antibodies as “not applicable” (see also my views of our civilization as a cult).

Story Timeline

In order to make comprehensible the vast tract of human time on this planet—itself 5,000 times shorter than the age of the universe—I will compare the 2.5–3 million year presence of humans (genus Homo) on Earth to a 75 year human lifespan: a span that we can grasp intuitively. On this scale, we get the following analogous periods:

  1. First 70 years: various species of humans evolve and coexist (sustainably) on the planet;
  2. Last 5 years: the age of Homo Sapiens (about 200,000 yr; mostly sustainably);
  3. Last 15 weeks: the age of civilization (agriculture; then cities) (10,000 yr);
  4. Last 4 days: the age of science (400 yr);
  5. Last 36 hours: the age of fossil fuels (150 yr of increasingly significant use);
  6. Last 12 hours: the age of rapid global ecological devastation (50 yr).

On this lifetime scale, agriculture is a recent, unexpected hobby we picked up, and one that is still pretty new to us in the scheme of things…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization

A major shared goal of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) and Sustainability Central  is reducing the odds that the “perfect storm” of environmental problems that threaten humanity will lead to a collapse of civilization.  Those threats include  climate disruption, loss of biodiversity (and thus ecosystem services), land-use change and resulting degradation, global toxification, ocean acidification, decay of the epidemiological environment, increasing depletion of important resources, and resource wars (which could go nuclear).  This is not just a list of problems, it is an interconnected complex resulting from interactions within and between what can be thought of as two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system.  The manifestations of this interaction are often referred to as “the human predicament.”   That predicament is getting continually and rapidly worse, driven by overpopulation, overconsumption among the rich, and the use of environmentally malign technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service the consumption.

All of the interconnected problems are caused in part by overpopulation, in part by overconsumption by the already rich.  One would think that most educated people now understand that the larger the size of a human population, ceteris paribus, the more destructive its impact on the environment.  The degree of overpopulation is best indicated (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis, which shows that to support today’s population sustainably at current patterns of consumption would require roughly another half a planet, and to do so at the U.S. level would take four to five more Earths.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Alarm Bells of Civilizational Collapse Are Ringing — But Are We Listening?

If Our Civilization Is Going to Survive, It’s Going to Have to Change Like This — Fast

Image Credit: TRT News

Right about now, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. With all the chaos out there. This is the Age of Too Much Chaos. Every day brings a new catastrophe, it seems, and with it, an ever-mounting sense of dread, urgency, anger, and helplessness — the weird, upsetting feelings of now. End Times Vibes.

How to make sense of all this? I bet you’re struggling, and that’s OK, because me and a friend are here to help.

My friend? He just gave the most important speech of the 21st century, containing the most crucial idea of the 21st century — only nobody was listening.

I know, I know. You doubt me. Don’t worry, by the end of this, I guarantee — you won’t. Instead, your mind will be blown.

Here’s what he has to say.

We have a duty to act. And yet we are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction.

The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age. These crises threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of our planet.

Got that? Let’s keep going.

Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon. A cost-of-living crisis is raging. Trust is crumbling. Inequalities are exploding. Our planet is burning. People are hurting — with the most vulnerable suffering the most.

Hey, he sounds like a lot like…you, Umair, I bet you’re thinking. So who is my friend? Well, he’s not really my friend. He’s the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. Those are his opening remarks to the General Assembly, this year. Lol, and you think you have bad mornings.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Are Not the First Civilization to Collapse, But We Will Probably Be the Last

We Are Not the First Civilization to Collapse, But We Will Probably Be the Last

The archeological remains of past civilizations, including those of the prehistoric Cahokia temple mound complex in Missouri, are sobering reminders of our fate.

Doomsday Selfie – by Mr. Fish

CAHOKIA MOUNDS, Missouri: I am standing atop a 100-foot-high temple mound, the largest known earthwork in the Americas built by prehistoric peoples. The temperatures, in the high 80s, along with the oppressive humidity, have emptied the park of all but a handful of visitors. My shirt is matted with sweat.

I look out from the structure—-known as Monks Mound — at the flatlands below, with smaller mounds dotting the distance. These earthen mounds, built at a confluence of the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, are all that remain of one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements north of Mexico, occupied from around 800 to 1,400 AD by perhaps as many as 20,000 people.

This great city, perhaps the greatest in North America, rose, flourished, fell into decline and was ultimately abandoned. Civilizations die in familiar patterns. They exhaust natural resources. They spawn parasitic elites who plunder and loot the institutions and systems that make a complex society possible. They engage in futile and self-defeating wars. And then the rot sets in. The great urban centers die first, falling into irreversible decay. Central authority unravels. Artistic expression and intellectual inquiry are replaced by a new dark age, the triumph of tawdry spectacle and the celebration of crowd-pleasing imbecility.

“Collapse occurs, and can only occur, in a power vacuum,” anthropologist Joseph Tainter writes in The Collapse of Complex Societies. “Collapse is possible only where there is no competitor strong enough to fill the political vacuum of disintegration.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Anthropocene is a Joke

Crumbling ruins in a desert
Stuart Gleave / Getty

On geological timescales, human civilization is an event, not an epoch.

Humans are now living in a new geological epoch of our own making: the Anthropocene. Or so we’re told. Whereas some epochs in Earth history stretch more than 40 million years, this new chapter started maybe 400 years ago, when carbon dioxide dipped by a few parts per million in the atmosphere. Or perhaps, as a panel of scientists voted earlier this year, the epoch started as recently as 75 years ago, when atomic weapons began to dust the planet with an evanescence of strange radioisotopes.

These are unusual claims about geology, a field that typically deals with mile-thick packages of rock stacked up over tens of millions of years, wherein entire mountain ranges are born and weather away to nothing within a single unit of time, in which extremely precise rock dates—single-frame snapshots from deep time—can come with 50,000-year error bars, a span almost 10 times as long as all of recorded human history. If having an epoch shorter than an error bar seems strange, well, so is the Anthropocene.

So what to make of this new “epoch” of geological time? Do we deserve it? Sure, humans move around an unbelievable amount of rock every year, profoundly reshaping the world in our own image. And, yes, we’re currently warping the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans violently, and in ways that have analogues in only a few terrifying chapters buried deep in Earth’s history. Each year we spew more than 100 times as much CO2 into the air as volcanoes do, and we’re currently overseeing the biggest disruption to the planet’s nitrogen cycle in 2.5 billion years. But despite this incredible effort, all is vanity. Very little of our handiwork will survive the obliteration of the ages…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Failure of Imagination — Part 1

Image credit: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Up until a warm sunny afternoon in May 2019 I had what I would call a rather ordinary concept of the future. I was 37 back then with two little devils — masquerading as my sons — a wife and decent job. I didn’t give too much thought to the fate of this civilization, but when I did, I thought that by the time I grow old I would still be living under the same government structure, behind the same borders, would have a car (most probably with a petrol engine), and the usual digital gimmickry— all under the same climate, or maximum a couple of tenths of centigrade warmer than today. In other words: everything would be just like it were in 2019.

Knowing what I know today about this civilization’s trajectory, its resources, overshoot, the climate, the state of our ecosystem and the many other predicaments, I had to realize that the future will be a whole lot different than the present or the recent past.

I had to realize that I was a victim of a failed collective imagination.

The current state of affairs starts to remind more and more scholars to the terminal stage of empires long lost. One of the recurring themes in such ages is the ‘failure of imagination’, not only on the side of the elites, but in the case of commoners too. This civilization too, just like the ones preceding it, seems to have lost the capability to imagine any other future for itself other than the continuation of the present, only ‘greener’. The future we are sold would be only slightly different, but certainly better and a whole lot more sustainable than the past (sic!). The alternatives vary around ‘much more’ and ‘helluva lot more’ technology, capitalism and growth.

Less is not an option.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How I Came To Believe That Civilization Is Unsustainable

Part 2: A Practical Guide To Collapse Awareness

Image credit: Jean Wimmerlin via Unsplash

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why is Civilization Unsustainable?

Why is Civilization Unsustainable?

Top picture: Civilization; Pikeville, Kentucky
Bottom picture: Nature; Birch Knob, Virginia

So, what is it about civilization being unsustainable that people do not understand? I often wonder why this is and have come up with the idea that it is mostly cultural programming and indoctrination by industry that technology is good and more of it is better. Perhaps a lack of critical thought by most of society as to what is required for technology to exist and what is required in order for technology to continue to be used is to blame for the reasons as to why people simply most often do not realize that civilization is unsustainable. Another distinct possibility is the power of the denial of reality that humans frequently use when faced with uncomfortable truths which don’t fit into a person’s worldview.

Before I continue, I want to make mention that I was rather surprised by some of the comments on my last article which I published on Wednesday. My first recommendation is to visit the very first article I posted here a year ago and read this part, quote:

We often see people bring out certain ideas that they claim are some sort of “solution” or that “they work” and I want to try to explain why (once again) these ideas are nothing more than ideas and not “solutions” of any sort. One of the things I most would like to get others to see is the bigger picture. Many people focus on reductionist ideas such as non-renewable “renewable” energy, or alternative energy ideas such as hydrogen, or technological ideas; but fail to see how those ideas don’t really change anything and only allow for continued environmental destruction (and consolidate capital in the hands of the elite) instead.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
Click on image to read excerpts

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase

Click on image to purchase @ FriesenPress