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A World At War (Again)

A WORLD AT WAR (AGAIN)

World War III has already begun, and not much can stop it. That is an unpopular statement, for several reasons. Chief among them is the denial people are afflicted with when it comes to considering uncomfortable truths. But no matter what, the coming years will change the face of the earth forever, and we need to stop denying the reality of it. Instead, we need to wake up to the changes and begin preparing physically and mentally for the collapse of the civilization that we have known for so long. For a post-collapse world that brings into question our place in on this planet.

WE ARE ALREADY AT WAR

It does not have to feel like there is a global conflict for there to be one. In fact, such a war could already be set for kinetic manifestation at a moment’s notice, only waiting for a single small spark to ignite an undeniable conflagration. Some crazy nationalist shot Archduke Ferdinand back in 1914 and started the First World War, at least on paper. In reality, that war was already being fought, but that spark was the shock that everyone notes as the beginning. In our uniquely American understanding of it, World War II kicked off after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but there were plenty of places in Europe at the time that would say confidently that the war was already raging before that. We Americans just hadn’t gotten involved officially yet, that’s all. The marks of tension and brewing conflict had been there all along, and in hindsight, we can plainly see the ‘world domination’ goal of the aggressors.

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh C–Grieving: A Natural Response To Recognition Of Growth Limits


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh C

February 11, 2023 (original posting date)

Monte Alban, Mexico. (1988) Photo by author.

Grieving: A Natural Response To Recognition Of Growth Limits

Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression in the face of grievous reality is everywhere; and we all do it to some extent. Some move through the stages more quickly while others remain bogged down in one or more. And it’s not uncommon to bounce back and forth between different stages.

We don’t want to accept the unpalatable, particularly our (and society’s) mortality. Grappling with such thoughts can be debilitating, both physically and psychologically. I know my first few years of reflecting upon our various predicaments as I travelled down the rabbit’s hole that is Peak Oil was most difficult. My anxiety was, at times, through the roof; but being who I am much of that was channelled into physical activities, particularly constructing some elaborate food gardens.

Psychologists are fairly certain that moving to the final stage of grieving — acceptance — and engaging with reality in a more forthright manner (even when it is not what we wish or want) allows one to deal with the emotions in a way that helps us to validate them in a healthier way. But this is so difficult to do when we are grieving. Extremely difficult.

Accepting, for example, that our complex society and its relatively high living standards (thanks primarily to our leveraging of a one-time cache of photosynthetic-created energy) have an expiration date is a contemplation the vast, vast majority of us do not want to consider. We desperately fight to keep the negative thoughts out of our minds, thereby impacting the belief systems through which we interpret the world — its past, present, and future.

In a world that has experienced significant problem-solving success due to our tool-making abilities and this finite supply of dense and transportable energy reserves, it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine this trend of ‘progress’ is coming to an end. We subsequently weave a variety of comforting narratives to avoid such a disheartening reality.

“Complex technologies and human ingenuity will save us from any problem we encounter, including (place your favourite one here)” is one common narrative…except inductive reasoning/logic of this nature does not always work. Continual observations by the turkey of the farmer have provided nothing but overwhelming evidence and positive reinforcement that the farmer is a beneficent and thoughtful caregiver; right up until the day before Thanksgiving and the trip behind the barn to the killing cone, knife in hand.

Confronting the blinders imposed upon us by these comforting narratives allows us to view our world and reality differently, and very much more accurately in my opinion. Not perfectly, but more reflective of the limits existence upon a finite world brings to a biological species not very much different from all the others on this planet — except perhaps for its tool-making skills and denial of reality.

Alas very, very few want to do this. We would rather remain comfortable in our beliefs that humanity is not limited by its physical environment and stands outside Nature. To paraphrase Nietzsche: we don’t want exposure to reality because that destroys our illusions.

One such illusion among others that I’ve confronted recently is the belief that growth (be in economic or population) is not only inevitable but purely beneficial. It has been driving a significant construction ‘boom’ in my province and more specifically my town for a number of years. I’ve written about this before but I continue to see some rather misguided but quite common beliefs dominating the discussion among locals.

The following thoughts are what bubbled up in my mind as I reflected upon these conversations and what the significant majority of my fellow Ontarians appear to believe.


We need to reject the mythos that growth (especially economic but also population) is always and forever a good/beneficial policy path. It is not. Not only are the very real negative environmental/ecological consequences ignored or rationalized away in such a story, but the limits of what is possible and social problems that arise from it mostly discounted/minimized.

In addition, the tendency to assume such growth is inevitable completely overlooks the fact that it is a sociopolitical/socioeconomic policy choice, not a predestined path. We can stop or reverse it if we so choose.

Finally, little if any attention is paid to the reason(s) our ruling elite cheerlead growth. It is not for the virtue-signalling reasons they shout and market repeatedly. It is about sustaining a Ponzi-type economic system that supports status quo power and wealth structures. It is profit and prestige motivated. It must always be remembered that the primary motivation of our ruling caste is the control/expansion of the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige. All other considerations are secondary/tertiary and ultimately are leveraged to meet their primary one.

The world is a complex nexus of geography, geology, biology, physics, and chemistry. And the stories told by our ‘leaders’ mostly ignore (or rationalize away) the physical realities of these fundamental sciences in favour of sociocultural myths that reinforce the idea that humans stand outside Nature — and their positions in our societies.


Significantly exponential credit-/debt-based fiat currency growth (thanks to the private financial institutions creating it from thin air and charging interest for its use in order to garner obscene profits, and which is what is feeding all this) collides catastrophically with the realities of existence upon a finite planet and its physical limits.

Given interest-bearing fiat is a claim/lien upon future resources — that we have encountered significant diminishing returns upon — and that we are several quadrillion dollars already in hawk, the writing is on the wall that we are totally and completely fubar. What is unsustainable cannot be sustained; no matter how much money we create. All we are succeeding in doing is stealing resources from the future and ensuring our planetary sinks are beyond repair.

The best option left is to prepare locally for the impending breakdown of the various complex systems that we have grown dependent upon, particularly the procurement of potable water, food production, and regional shelter needs. In addition, we should be degrowing our regions/communities, not making the situation even more dire and compounding its effects by continuing to chase growth — no matter what the profiteers from this perpetual-growth strategy are repeatedly telling us.


What I did say on one of the FB posts to try and keep it relatively succinct and simple:

Infinite growth on a planet with finite resources already encountering diminishing returns and using trillions of dollars of debt-/credit-based ‘money’ to pull them from the future. What could possibly go wrong? We are travelling in exactly the opposite direction of where we should be heading.


If you’ve made it to the end of this contemplation and have got something out of my writing, please consider ordering the trilogy of my ‘fictional’ novel series, Olduvai (PDF files; only $9.99 Canadian), via my website — the ‘profits’ of which help me to keep my internet presence alive and first book available in print (and is available via various online retailers). Encouraging others to read my work is also much appreciated.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCV–We All Believe What We Want To Believe


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCV

January 31, 2023 (original posting date)

Monte Alban, Mexico. (1988) Photo by author.

We All Believe What We Want To Believe

The following Contemplation is my comment in response to a thought-provoking post I read by Dave Pollard at his site How to Save the World.


Great read, thanks for sharing. A couple of quick thoughts.

If you’ve not stumbled across Erik Michaels work at Problems, Predicaments, and Technology you might find it confirming with regard to the notion that we have no free will. One of his major theses is that humans have no agency, and thus his motto to Live Now in the face of the consequences of human ecological overshoot.

Second, I’ve come to hold very similar thoughts as you on the idea that “we believe what we want to believe” and I think, perhaps, this is one of our primary reasons we grasp for hopeful narratives; along with the desire to believe we have agency/free will.

There are so many psychological mechanisms driving our behaviour and beliefs that it’s difficult to parse which is the most impactful — but perhaps it is our denial of reality in the face of our mortality as Ajit Varki argues. Not wanting to face the fact of death, we craft (using a lot of magical thinking) some rather complex narratives to deal with this reality. Throw in how we mitigate/reduce the stress of cognitive dissonance, and our tendencies toward deferring to authority and groupthink, and we have a recipe for clinging to stories — especially if weaved by smooth-talking snake oil salesmen — that provide ‘hope’.

Reality, facts, evidence…none of it matters. In fact, it appears we create our own reality based on ‘facts/evidence’ that tends to confirm our beliefs. As the lyrics of a song I recently heard suggest: “This is where I want to be, so this is where I go.”

Some want to believe there is an after-life. Others that human ingenuity and complex technologies will solve our existential predicaments. The laundry list of hopeful narratives is long and humans tend to want to confirm their beliefs rather than have them challenged. Denial and bargaining in the face of significant contrary evidence seems to be hard-wired in these walking, talking apes that have been able to leverage their cognitive abilities and tool-making skills to extend their ‘control’ over Nature and create the reality they wish; at least in their minds, and that seems to be all that matters for most.


If you’ve made it to the end of this contemplation and have got something out of my writing, please consider ordering the trilogy of my ‘fictional’ novel series, Olduvai (PDF files; only $9.99 Canadian), via my website — the ‘profits’ of which help me to keep my internet presence alive and first book available in print (and is available via various online retailers). Encouraging others to read my work is also much appreciated.

Minimisation Is The New Denial – climate scientists and the false hope of net-zero

Minimisation Is The New Denial – climate scientists and the false hope of net-zero

The temperature extremes of 2023 and those coming in 2024, tell us we face the possibility of climate catastrophes that cause the collapse of whole societies and threaten the lives of millions, not at some distant point in our children’s futures but within our own lifetimes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and public-facing scientists have raised awareness and concern but they failed to predict the speed of these accelerating changes and now minimise the immediate threats they pose.

In 2023 the average global temperature was close to 1.5°C above the 1850–1900 baseline, the limit which the 2015 Paris COP21 climate summit told us we had to avoid breaching — by the end of the century — to avoid calamitous global consequences. The 12 months to the end of February 2024 took us to 1.56°C and we’re still climbing fast. It is true, as the ‘expert minimisers’ rush to say, that when the current ‘El Niño’ ends temperatures will dip down but they will not get much below 1.5°C again, if ever. These extremes make a mockery of the underestimates in climate scientists’ models, on which humanity’s inadequate climate plans still rely.

This simple, devastating information should be on everyone’s mind, everywhere. Yes, terrible conflicts and injustices rage across the planet but none of them, with no disrespect to the suffering of the people involved, presents the same scale of risks as climate change, not even close. Everyone should be connecting this alarming heating to the increasing number of ever-worsening extreme events they cause, happening on every continent, plus those soon to come — but they are not. Instead, all politicians, the media and most people still just don’t get that we are right now in dangerous, ‘uncharted waters’ (the latest climate cliché no-one listens to) — without a paddle.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXIII–Primary Motivation For Society’s Elite


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXIII

August 11, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo by author.

Primary Motivation For Society’s Elite

It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
-Anonymous[1]


I’ve been reflecting a lot recently (for years to be honest) on the ever-present belief by most people that our governments/political class/ruling elite can lead the way to ‘solving’ our various crises, be it the ‘climate emergency’, ‘energy crisis’, ‘inflation’, ‘inequality’, ‘geopolitical disagreements’, etc.. I note such a perspective virtually every day be it in personal comments people make in social media posts and/or by journalists/contributors in the media (both mainstream and ‘alternative’); and it is particularly strong and echoed by almost everyone around election times or perceived ‘crises’.

Add to this belief the ‘bargaining/denial’ arguments that tend to suggest that the only reason the ‘problems’ have not been addressed/solved/mitigated is because we simply have not had the ‘right’ individuals or ‘party’ in power; once the ‘right’ people get chosen by the public, all will be well again — if the new government can overcome the disastrous policies/actions of the previous one or current political opposition[2].

I lost that perspective some decades ago[3]. I have increasingly come to view our world/nation state/regional ‘leaders’ (aka ruling elite/class) as part and parcel of our growing problems/predicament. In fact, more often than not I see their actions/policies as resulting in even worse situations — eventually[4] — yet they are often (always?) marketed to the public as optimal and beneficial for all (or may result in some slight, short-term pain, but most certainly will result in longer-term prosperity for all — think of the current narratives developing around the ‘austerity’ and ‘sacrifices’ required to support the war efforts in Ukraine[5]).

I have come to interpret our societal elites’ behaviour as primarily motivated by a never-ending drive to control/maintain/expand the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus their power/wealth/prestige/privilege[6]. That some portion of the wealth they appropriate gets funnelled back into the public sphere is simply ‘the cost of doing business’; just as the number of financial institutions that knowingly ‘bend the rules’ to obtain obscene profits set aside a portion of that ill-begotten wealth to pay the eventual fines should they get publicly prosecuted for their shenanigans[7].

Perhaps the most egregious (but purposeful) ‘error’ our elite make is their chasing and cheerleading of the perpetual growth chalice (particularly economic growth[8], but they do also encourage population growth[9]). The common refrain/narrative is that growth is primarily — if not ‘solely’ — a benefit to human ‘progress’ and well-being, any negative impacts being discounted or rationalised away demonstrating a poor if not conveniently purposeful ignorance of the way complex systems behave.

It is as Donella Meadows argues in Thinking in Systems: A Primer[10]:

…a clear leverage point: growth. Not only population growth, but economic growth. Growth has costs as well as benefits, and we typically don’t count the costs — among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction and so on — the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth! What is needed is much slower growth, very different kinds of growth, and in some cases no growth or negative growth. The world leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to all problems, but they’re pushing with all their might in the wrong direction. …leverage points frequently are not intuitive. Or if they are, we too often use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.

It seems self-evident to me that this pursuit of perpetual growth runs into some fairly heavy obstacles in the sense of biophysical limits on a finite planet, despite arguments to the contrary — especially by most economists who argue for infinite substitutability as the ultimate solution to such limits, or the ever-expanding ‘printing’ of money.

There is not just the issue of resource limits and diminishing returns on extraction/exploitation of the necessary resources for our ever-increasing societal complexities (especially energy-producing ones) but the predicament of ecological overshoot that occurs when a species exceeds its environmental carrying capacity[11].

It’s instructive at this juncture to revisit what archaeologist Joseph Tainter points out in The Collapse of Complex Societies[12] given that his analysis and thesis rests primarily upon ‘collapse’ in the sociopolitical sphere (which then has serious repercussions in pretty well everything else for human societies).

Tainter argues that ”[c]omplex societies are problem-solving organizations, in which more parts, different kinds of parts, more social differentiation, more inequality, and more kinds of centralization and control emerge as circumstances require.”[13] They are maintained almost exclusively through organisational control and specialisation.

Growth of complexity refers to size, distinctiveness and number of parts, variety of social roles, distinctiveness of social personalities, and a variety of mechanisms to organize parts into a whole.

Where more complex political differentiation exists: permanent positions of authority/rank can exist in an ‘office’ that can be hereditary in nature; inequality becomes more pervasive; groups tend to be larger and more densely populated; political organisation is larger, extending beyond local community; a political economy arises with rank having authority to direct labour and economic surpluses; and, with greater size comes a need for more social organisation that is less dependent upon kinship relations, and the constraint that kin-ties had on individual political ambitions is lost.

States, perhaps the most complex of human societies, are characterized by: their territorial organisation (i.e. membership determined by place of birth/residence); a ruling authority that monopolizes sovereignty and delegates all power — with the ruling class being non-kinship-based professionals that hold a monopoly on force within the territory (e.g. taxes, laws, draft) and is validated by a state-wide ideology; maintenance of territorial integrity is stressed; and, greater stratification and specialisation, particularly with regard to occupation, develops.

Complex states, like their simpler societies, must divert resources and activities to legitimising authority in order for the political system to survive. While coercion can ensure some compliance, it is a more costly approach than moral validity.

To ensure moral validity amongst the populace, states tend to focus on a symbolic and scared ‘centre’ (necessarily independent of its various territorial parts) which is why they always have an official religion, linking leadership to the supernatural (which helps unify different groups/regions). As the need for such religious integration recedes — although not the sense of the scared — once other avenues for retaining power exist.

In summary, organisational structures that arise in complex societies[14], especially as they grow larger and even more complex[15], concomitantly see the development of ‘power’ structures[16] that lead to outsized influence/power over others by a controlling elite that then creates and fosters legitimisation narratives, and/or coercive policies, to ensure these structures are maintained/expanded.

In addition, Tainter maintains that support, be it via legitimisation or coercion, also requires a material base. This support, however, can decline when output failure (political and/or material) ensues. As this process is ongoing, it necessitates resource mobilisation in perpetuity — a significant impossibility on a finite planet where such exploitation encounters diminishing returns due to our proclivity to extract the easiest- and cheapest-to-retrieve resources first. The tendency by the elite to deal with output failure is to begin pulling in resources from other spheres and/or increase coerciveness to maintain their priorities — be it using domestic reserves and/or surpluses, and/or exploitation of other societies.

Given the above, it is not a stretch to see that the primary motivation of the elite conflicts quite significantly with any policy/action/belief that would contend that growth cannot and should not be pursued in perpetuity. Throw in the evidence that we are in ecological overshoot and the predicament for humanity multiplies several-fold.

Then we encounter all the psychological and biological/physiological mechanisms that affect human beliefs and actions, and our situational predicament explodes. Cognitive dissonance reduction. Deference to authority. Desire to believe one has agency. Groupthink. Optimism bias. Confirmation bias. Avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure. Rationalisation/justification of behaviours that conflict with certain beliefs. Overarching propensity to deny reality.

This all adds up to a tendency to believe in comforting lies and avoid harsh realities. We want to believe the propaganda of the elite and their promises to address and ‘solve’ our crises. We want to believe we have significant impact on society and agency via the ballot box. We want to avoid looking in the mirror. We want to continue with our lives unencumbered by existential worries and let others, our ‘leaders’, ‘solve’ our ‘problems’.

What we have instead, I tend to believe, are elite confabs that result in grandiose promises to benefit society at large while in actuality end up funneling wealth to the owners of the industries and financial institutions required to produce and fund the actions/directives sold to us as ‘solutions’. A mainstream media (again, owned by the elite) that parrots the elitist rhetoric and provides a widely dispersed platform for the marketing and misleading propaganda of the ruling class, especially legitimisation narratives. An ever-expanding potpourri of racketeering, such as the ‘green/clean’ energy narrative, ‘equitable/beneficial’ creation/distribution of fiat currency, the necessary expansion of ‘war’ and government, etc..

The world is not as it appears to most. What most of us believe in is, in my opinion, a tightly controlled illusion that benefits a minority primarily at the expense of the majority.

There are no ‘solutions’ to our predicament of ecological overshoot and the inevitable collapse that is awaiting us (if not already begun). There is, at best, a ‘hope’ for some to come out the other side of the bottleneck we’ve created (primarily via our leveraging of technology to overexploit our planet and expand the human experiment).

But as I shared with someone who commented on my last contemplation: “Hope is very much a two-edged sword. It can indeed foster denial and bargaining so as to avoid the stress of cognitive dissonance and provide pleasure while avoiding pain. It can, depending upon how one’s energies are focused with some ‘hope’, serve to provide direction and impetus to acting in ‘better’ ways. As I see it, however, the problem is that our ‘elite’ (and feckless others) pedal and leverage it for purely self-serving purposes, and most soak their version of it up because comforting lies are much more enjoyable than harsh realities.”

Seeing beyond the grand illusion that has been constructed over the ages by the elite is, again in my opinion, what is necessary to understand what can and should be accomplished to salvage some of our human experiment. It is, as I have argued before, most important to attempt to relocalise as much as is possible potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter requirements. It is not to give over responsibility to others who do not have your best interests but theirs in mind. And it is not to believe in their ‘solutions’ — that way surely leads to ruin.


A handful of readings that support the notion that the elite’s primary motivation is the control/expansion of the wealth-generating/extracting systems that provide their wealth/power/prestige/privilege:

https://cdn.mises.org/Anatomy%20of%20the%20State_3.pdf

https://medium.com/@joe_brewer/the-global-architecture-of-wealth-extraction-4c0a6b954a1


[1] Often credited to humourist Mark Twain, research suggests this ‘just ain’t so’ (see: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2018/11/18/know-trouble/).

[2] I have come to the conclusion that the only thing that really changes after an election is the narrative we tell ourselves and others: If my ‘team’ wins, all will be right with the world soon enough; if the other ‘team’ wins, the world will soon go to hell in a handbasket.

[3] Through the years I have been involved in the ‘political’ sphere in a number of roles. During some of my post-secondary years, I chaired a university department’s students’ ‘union’ and got to witness academic ‘politics’ first-hand. Perhaps the most eye-opening experience, however, were the years I spent as the chair of a political action committee for a relatively large teachers’ federation/union. After that, I spent a number of years as one of the chief negotiators for the region’s school administrators.

[4] The time lag that often occurs between an action/policy and the negative consequences can sometimes be quite long, causing a connection between them to be mostly unseen. However, very visible (and always highlighted) ‘benefits’ can occur quickly — think of infrastructure construction here where the project is clearly visible and can be laid before the public but the ecological/resource consequences are externalised and/or temporally far-off allowing them to be ignored/discounted.

[5] https://www.axios.com/2022/03/12/democrats-gas-prices-russia-ukraine; https://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/how-much-are-we-prepared-to-sacrifice?s=w; https://caitlinjohnstone.substack.com/p/more-escalations-in-online-censorship?s=w;

[6] I have reached this perspective through personal experience, observation of current events, and lots of reading. A handful of examples of relevant readings will be included at the end of this contemplation.

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/21/business/dealbook/guilty-pleas-and-heavy-fines-seem-to-be-cost-of-business-for-wall-st.html; https://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/11-billion-fine-just-cost-doing-business-jpmorgan-175948500.html; https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/faculty_scholarship/2147/; https://www.reporterherald.com/2013/01/16/bank-fines-just-a-cost-of-business/

[8] https://www.businesstoday.com.my/2022/07/09/encouraging-gdp-growth-will-strengthen-economy-in-q2/; https://www.gov.ie/en/press-release/4d723-minister-donohoe-notes-strong-growth-in-gdp-and-encouraging-indicators-for-the-domestic-economy/; https://www.businessinsider.com/tech-industry-growth-midsize-us-cities-recession-economic-recovery-2020-10; https://www.forbes.com/sites/garyshapiro/2013/01/23/six-ways-to-create-economic-growth/?sh=220ee7017e32; https://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/economic-growth-causes-benefits-and-current-limits;

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51118616; https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/world/europe/italy-births-fertility-europe.html; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-economy-population/japan-targets-boosting-birth-rate-to-increase-growth-idUSKCN0T113A20151112; https://southeusummit.com/europe/france/migration-creates-net-positive-population-growth-france/

[10] Meadows, D.. Thinking In Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. (ISBN 978–1–60358–055–7)

[11] Catton, Jr., W.R.. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1980. (ISBN 978–0–252–00988–4)

[12] Tainter, J.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978–0–521–38673–9)

[13] Ibid. P. 37

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_society; https://anthropology.iresearchnet.com/complex-societies/

[15] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228384313_Organizational_complexity; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3367695/; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286533126_The_emergence_of_social_complexity_Why_more_than_population_size_matters;

[16] https://www.britannica.com/topic/social-structure/Theories-of-class-and-power

Hope Dies, Gold Rises

Hope Dies, Gold Rises

The primary stages of grief include: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.

When it comes to grieving over the slow demise of the American economy, sovereign IOU/USD and the absolute failure of our “re-election-only-focused” policy makers, these stages of grief are easy to see yet easier to ignore.

But false hope won’t help us.

Denying a Recession

With the vast majority of sectors that make up the U.S. economy evidencing three months of negative GDP growth while a laundry list of leading homebuilder indicators (housing starts and prospective buyers) drops into recessionary red, I keep wondering when the recession debate will finally end.

Walmart is worrying, Jamie Dimon is worrying, commercial real estate delinquencies are rising and IPO markets are all but dead on arrival.

But that’s just the latest hard data.

One can cite everything from the Conference Board of Leading Indicators, negative M2 growth, yield curve movements and a drying repo market to make it empirically clear that the US is not heading for recession but has already been in one for nearly a year.

In fact, if we were to define a Depression by growth rates of inflation-adjusted GDP per capita, then factually speaking, we have also been in a quantifiable depression for the last 16 years.

Such data, of course, is depressing, but are we all still hoping for kinder facts or a political and monetary Santa Claus to cure our denial?

I for one favor preparation over denial.

Then Comes the Anger

Citizens storming the Capital, or grabbing guitars and singing “I’m taxed to no end and my dollar aint $#!T” are just the first signs of  the anger stage.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXX–Ecological Overshoot and Political Responses


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXX

September 21, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Ecological Overshoot and Political Responses

Today’s post has been prompted by some thoughts regarding the inability of our political systems to respond in a timely manner to our plight of ecological overshoot penned by Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace, and posted by Alice Friedemann of energyskeptic.com.


I agree with virtually everything Rex argues, especially the role of self-interest by our political class for their apparent rejection of the notion of ecological overshoot and what needs to be done to address the negative impacts this predicament will have on our societies (we can’t avoid these impacts but we might be capable of mitigating their worst outcomes somewhat). My experience with government (I spent many years involved with unions/federations/councils and their political action committees, including chairing some and being directly involved in negotiating contracts, thus having to deal directly with senior administrators and politicians) and readings pertaining to various sociocultural areas (e.g., economics, geopolitics, political systems, pre/history, etc.) have solidified for me the notion that our sociopolitical institutions are for a variety of reasons the last place we should be looking to ‘correct our course’ and attempt to confront the many complex issues of our overshoot and that are beginning to become more obvious. In fact, it is likely (I believe guaranteed) that our ‘ruling class’ will continue to do the exact opposite of what is needed.

Government systems appear to be a means to an end for maintaining the power (and thus wealth) structures within our complex societies. The ‘elite’ of society uses the various governmental bureaucracies/institutions/agencies (as well as other areas they tend to control such as media, education, entertainment, etc.) to meet their primary objective: the control and/or expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams. Everything they do more or less is to help meet that end. And, yes, they do throw some bones to the masses periodically if only to keep them mollified, distracted, and less likely to rebel (as Noam Chomsky has argued so well, control of the people is one of the most important concerns of those who hold power and privilege); one of the more ‘effective’ means in my view is the theatrical performance we refer to as ‘elections’ — convincing the masses in ‘representative democracies’ that they have agency via the ballot box is perhaps one of the most successful scams the ruling class has accomplished for as Johann von Goethe observed: the easiest slave is the one who believes he is free.

Growth, the very antithesis of addressing ecological overshoot, is promoted by government to help in their pursuit of both wealth and power. But it also addresses the unfortunate consequence of the way we have sustained growth the last few decades: exponentially-exploding debt (somewhat north of 200 trillion U.S. dollars at present for the globe, and the larger the debt the larger and more sustained the payments to the ‘lenders/creators’ of the world’s various currencies — the financial institutions that seem to work hand-in-glove with our governments). This debt has not only turned our financial/economic/monetary systems into gargantuan Ponzi schemes, it has necessitated the continuation of growth in perpetuity to help pay off the debt (significant revenue for the financiers) and keep the Ponzi schemes from collapsing.

Of course, such infinite growth is a tad difficult on a finite planet so the other options of addressing our financial dilemmas is to increase taxes and/or inflate away the debt. Our feckless ‘leaders’ are attempting all three of these approaches to keep things from collapsing. They cheerlead and encourage growth, telling the masses it has only beneficial properties and minimising, ignoring, or denying the negative aspects. Taxes are expanded continually and applied to increasing numbers of economic interactions, although the wealthy have an almost infinite number of ways to minimise their tax obligations, unlike the masses. Inflation (which in its original form refers to ever-increasing money/credit printing but eventually results in price inflation which is what most people think of) is, in perfect Orwellian language use, said to be a positive force for our economy while it actually debases our currency which serves the purposes of the large debtors (governments and large corporations) but harms the masses because of the debauching of their ‘money’ as is becoming increasingly obvious as wealth inequality continues to explode.

For all of these reasons (and more) it is unlikely (I would actually put the likelihood at zero) our political systems would ever intentionally curtail the pursuit of growth for it is their seed corn. They will pursue and cheerlead it right up until collapse can no longer be denied, and then attempt to push it some more as they tell those experiencing precipitous decline to stop believing their lying eyes; and/or blame our failing societies on some foreign/domestic bogeymen, but certainly not them and their policies.

The government, as with the rest of the ruling class and unfortunately most people, will not hear the arguments about ecological overshoot at all. It matters not how much ‘science’, data, or evidence is thrown at them. Almost everyone but especially the elite are in total denial (or at least feigning it, perhaps just to reduce their cognitive dissonance). This is why I have abandoned any ‘hope’ that our ‘leaders’ will in any way address ecological overshoot even if they do admit it exists — if they do, it will likely be leveraged to pursue activities that not only enrich the ruling class further but make our overshoot worse, such as ‘clean’ energy which is anything but clean and certainly not sustainable as sold. And, unfortunately, the political systems (at least in so-called ‘representative’ democracies) have morphed into out-promising the other parties for what ‘goodies’ they will provide freely to citizens. More. More. More. Which, again, is the opposite of what is needed to counter our going even further into overshoot…not that it may matter much at this point given how far we are likely already past the most important tipping points.

As Rex argues, the ‘solutions’ that will matter most to people will be at the local level. Relocalistion of as much production and distribution of goods as possible (but especially potable water, food, and shelter needs — including that which is needed to deal with local weather/climate, such as wood for winter heating) is the best approach to be taking to help one’s community mitigate as much as possible the coming storm. It’s likely to get ugly and ‘government’ will be nowhere to be found to turn to; you will need to depend upon immediate family, friends, and community members so cultivate those relationships and work on getting them to understand our predicament and begin making your local community as self-sufficient and resilient as possible.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXIV–Growth and Denial: A Bad Combination


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXIV

Knossos, Greece (1993). Photo by author.

Growth and Denial: A Bad Combination

Today’s Contemplation is a glimpse into some conversation between myself and another around growth, denial, and differences in what can/should be advocated for.


Post by GW:
Just saw the sign coming in to town which reads “Country close to the city” it should read “Condos close to the city”

RB: …we need to make sure we are seeing the most responsible planning surrounding that development as we can. I have a growing feeling that some of our areas of intensification are both deviating from our growth strategies and will not be receiving needed services in a timely fashion to ensure complete communities, maximal livability, and minimal consequences.

I have long held a belief that spending time, energy, and breath just opposing growth and development is a waste. Understand the need (and legal requirements) to grow, understand the planning processes and facets of private ownership, and spend your time advocating for the best possible planning to ensure the best possible community living experience as that growth gets underway.

Me: RB, may I suggest some homework to help expand your perspective on the issue of growth and the negative consequences we tend to ignore/deny (and has led us into ecological overshoot):

1) This presentation, entitled Exponential Growth Arithmetic, Population and Energy, by the late Dr. Albert Bartlett that explains our blindness to how exponential growth works and how it has led us into overshoot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZA9Hnp3aV4.

2) This 30-year update to the 1972 Limits to Growth study by MIT researchers; pay particular attention to the Business-As-Usual scenario that we seem to be tracking almost exactly and the negative consequences of this: https://www.amazon.ca/Limits-Growth-30-Year-Donella-Meadows/dp/193149858X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=82KI5K3MPE34&keywords=30+year+update+limits+to+growth&qid=1700239657&s=books&sprefix=30+year+update+limits+to+growth%2Cstripbooks%2C97&sr=1-1. You can find a synopsis of this text here: https://donellameadows.org/archives/a-synopsis-limits-to-growth-the-30-year-update/.

3) This 1988 academic research text, The Collapse of Complex Societies, by archaeologist Joseph Tainter that highlights the recurrent/cyclical decline that has occurred to every complex society to date due to the diminishing returns that invariably arises as a population attempts to continue growing beyond the resources (mostly energy) that can support it: https://www.amazon.ca/Collapse-Complex-Societies-Joseph-Tainter/dp/052138673X. Summary notes can be found here: https://olduvai.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Collapse-of-Complex-Societies.pdf.

4) This 1980 text, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, by William Catton Jr. that outlines the biological principles that invariably impact species that grow beyond their environment’s ability to support them. https://www.amazon.ca/Overshoot-Ecological-Basis-Revolutionary-Change-ebook/dp/B00VVH4UGG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3UNABBTCM5RCJ&keywords=overshoot&qid=1700239867&sprefix=overshoot%2Caps%2C500&sr=8-1. Summary notes can be found here: https://olduvai.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Overshoot_-The-Ecological-Basis-of-Revolutionary-Change.pdf

NG: Steve Bull, a more than likely nuclear war should damper population growth.

Me: RB, I would also advise digging deeper and looking behind the curtain with respect to what has ‘supported’ our extraordinary growth the past couple of decades (mostly financialisation of our economic systems; i.e., ginormous amounts of debt that has turned into nothing more than Ponzi financing to keep growth afloat to the tune of hundreds of trillions of dollars currently — a perfect example of what Tainter refers to as diminishing returns and is being felt increasingly by the masses due to the inevitable weight of price inflation/currency devaluation) and centuries (mostly the leveraging and expeditious drawdown of a one-time cache of hydrocarbon energy that has provided a surplus of energy that has allowed us to continue to pursue exponential growth beyond our natural carrying capacity, but that is declining/disappearing at an alarming rate (dive into the issue of Peak Oil) — it’s no surprise that nations rich in these resources are the focus of so much geopolitical chaos.

Then there’s the symptom predicaments of overshoot and the various planetary boundaries we’ve blow past in extraordinary expansion throughout the globe. See this: https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html

That most believe such growth can continue without dire consequences is not surprising given the amount of conditioning and propaganda we are exposed to about growth (particularly by those that profit from it). That we cannot even challenge such orthodoxy speaks volumes as to our mass denial.

RB: Steve Bull, you and I have had this conversation in past.

If our society suddenly shifts to establishing and enforcing population controls and an economic system that isn’t dependant on infinite growth, I will change my tune.

Until then, I am going to focus my advocacy based on existing realities for best possible outcomes.

Me: RB, we will have to agree to disagree, once again, regarding what is ‘best’ to advocate for. While I would contend that we (especially in so-called ‘advanced’ and ‘emerging’ economies) are unlikely to willingly pursue ‘degrowth’, or even halting growth (for a variety of reasons, but perhaps mostly because we all want the Ponzi to continue), I would also argue that accepting it and trying to work with it is akin to being complicit in mass suicide…which is what the increasing amount of evidence regarding our overshoot is suggesting.

RB: To each their own, of course. And I am most certainly not disregarding your concerns, which are absolutely reasonable. I just have to pick my battles, so to speak. If that makes me complicit, so be.

Me: RB, fair enough. Me, I prefer not to be overly complicit in this tragedy we are embarked upon as a species. While we can ignore/deny the laws of physics, biological principles, and pre/historic evidence, they are ever-present, unforgiving, and will eventually catch up with us.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVIII–The Predicament of Ecological Overshoot Cannot Be ‘Solved’, Especially Via ‘Renewables’


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXVIII

August 10, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

The Predicament of Ecological Overshoot Cannot Be ‘Solved’, Especially Via ‘Renewables’

Today’s very brief ‘contemplation’ is a comment I penned on an article that discusses the limits to growth we have probably surpassed, Kuber-Ross’s stages of grief (especially denial and bargaining) that the world seems to be experiencing in the wake of increasing awareness of our existential dilemmas/predicaments, and a call for cooperation amongst the world’s people to address our plight.

I have repeatedly experienced the denial and anger that tends to arise when one challenges another’s personal beliefs. I should know better than to present countervailing evidence/narratives, especially given the defensive psychological mechanisms that arise to preserve such beliefs. We tend to look for confirmation of our strongly-held views by surrounding ourselves with like-minded voices, not disruptive narratives that can lead to cognitive dissonance. Such stories are denigrated and attacked (as the author of the article points out for the Limits to Growth authors).

I do believe, however, that the acceptance of our limits in many aspects leads to a conclusion that degrowth needs to be not only considered and discussed, but widely pursued if humanity is to have any hope of at least some of us transitioning through the self-made bottleneck that is directly ahead of us. Pursing the ‘wrong’ path will only make our predicament far, far more challenging and greatly reduce any opportunities for at least some of humanity to survive.


As I have come to understand our predicaments better (not perfectly of course, but better), I have reached the conclusion that the best way to mitigate our situation (or at least preserve some semblance of human society) is to pursue degrowth strategies. What I have encountered along the way is a very well-meaning but somewhat problematic counterproposal (that is very narrowly focused in my view) that the best way to confront our situation is to throw everything we have at transitioning us from fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ (I put this in quotes since their dependence on non-renewable, finite resources — including fossil fuels — suggests they are not truly ‘renewable’).

This approach appears to be the mainstream one and the one that seems to be getting the most support at this time probably because it is comforting in the sense that ‘others’ are responsible for seeing its funding, development, distribution, etc. and it offers a means of maintaining our complexities without much disruption; at least that is the narrative/perception (but also likely because there is much profit to be made in the attempts to completely replace the fossil fuel-dependent technologies currently employed).

Increasingly, however, this storyline is showing many plot holes: energy-return-on-energy-invested close to zero or even negative; non-renewable, finite resource limits; environmental/ecological destruction to procure needed resources; dependency upon the fossil fuel platform for the procurement and processing of necessary materials as well as the distribution, maintenance, and afterlife disposal/reclamation processes. As I attempt to point these roadblocks out to the advocates of ‘renewables’ and suggest degrowth is a more realistic path given the biophysical limits of living on a finite planet, I am quite chagrined with the variety of personal attacks I am subjected to. From being a climate change ‘denier’ to a shill for the fossil fuel industry, the anger/denial that is displayed is quite something.

So, if we are hoping for cooperation and discussion to help us confront our existential dilemmas, there is much, much work that has to be done. What I am experiencing is not unique to those who have accepted our limitations and predicaments. The ‘clean/green’ energy crowd seems unwilling to accept that their ‘solution’ and convictions may in fact expedite, or at least contribute to, the further degradation of the planet and result in the exact opposite of what they believe. I fail to see how this can be resolved in a timely manner when so much of the propaganda we are exposed to by our world ‘leaders’ cheerlead it as a means to continue expanding our growth and ensuring prosperity for all.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXII–Reality is an Inconvenience to Beliefs

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXII

Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Reality is an Inconvenience to Beliefs

Today’s brief Contemplation was prompted by The Honest Sorcerer’s latest article that looks at the latest energy ‘breakthrough’ (seems there is one every other week) and how it’s going to save modern civilisation, our species, and the planet.


In this globalised world where virtually every economic transaction has become finacialised, and one cannot for long survive without some type of revenue stream (because we have lost the skills/knowledge to live apart from our complex and monetised energy-averaging systems), it seems to me that everything has become a racket — in terms of a fraudulent scheme.

And ‘energy’, being the most fundamental of ‘resources’ for life, has been fully captured by the multitude of racketeers — as has all the revenue-generating/-extracting aspects of our sociocultural existence.

War. Politics. Food. Health. Education. Resources. You name it.

These are all being leveraged by our society’s ruling caste, grifters, and wannabes to generate revenue. And attracting investment capital with some technological/innovative ‘breakthrough’ works because of our ongoing (if very misguided, primarily due to recency bias) belief that human ingenuity and technological prowess can solve all ‘problems’ — predicaments without ‘solutions’ don’t exist.

As I more deeply explore the story-telling nature of our species and the psychological mechanisms at play during this communication process, it is becoming clear that it matters little — if at all — that the narrative being shared aligns with physical reality or not. We believe what we want to believe and all it takes is that the tale we are being told needs to be ‘plausible’, provide us with a sense of agency (especially self-efficacy), reinforces our self-esteem, reduces our cognitive dissonance, is believed by many in our social circle, and is being told by a ‘trusted/authoritative’ source.

Dave Pollard, who writes here, has put forward a ‘Law of Human Beliefs’ (see his latest here) that is quite relevant to this observation:

Pollard’s Law of Human Beliefs: We believe what we want to believe, not what is actually true. We want to believe in happy endings, simple answers, the inevitability of progress, self-control, karma, responsibility, destiny, miracles, a proper order of things, the power of love, and infinite human capacity and agency. Most of us want to believe in a higher power that can step in when we falter. We want to believe what those in our circles of trust believe (even if it’s crazy, gaslighting or propaganda). So we tend to seek sources that reinforce those beliefs and ignore those that undermine or unsettle them. Our hopes and expectations are determined by those beliefs. Our worldview is the sum of those beliefs, hopes and expectations, and bears no necessary resemblance to truth or reality. This invented reality is the only way we can make sense of a world that is impossible to grasp, to understand, or to ever really make sense of.”

Our denial of reality is strong and often, if not always, cannot be overcome. We go to all sorts of lengths to rationalise and justify our belief systems, regardless of evidence/facts that challenge them.

And as Ajit Varki has postulated in his and Danny Brower’s theory on the origins of the human mind,

“The human ability to understand and consider our own mortality without being consumed by fear seems natural to us. In fact, it appears to be just one manifestation of a peculiar human ability to ignore, rationalize, or outright deny obvious realities, and even to believe in multiple or alternate realities at the same time…

Even when we do acknowledge such realities, we tend to indulge in magical thinking, behaving as if these statistics apply to everyone else, but not to ourselves. Many humans also ignore or even deny scientific and societal realities such as biological evolution, anthropogenic climate change, human “overshoot” with nonrenewable resource depletion, gross degradation of our environment, massive expansion of national debt, ballooning healthcare costs, covert or overt racism, and so on.”

(See Rob Mielcarski’s site, un-Denial, for a lot more on this subject.)

Biogeophysical limits — meh, it’s not reality; it’s just another conspiracy theory by those tinfoil hat-wearing ecofascists. Please disregard all that ‘collapse/overshoot’ nonsense and carry on with your consumption and dreams of perpetual growth on a finite planet…oh, and please send us any investment money while you’re at it (and/or encourage your government to) so we can solve those predicaments the nutcases keep yammering on about.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVIII–Most People Don’t Want Their Illusions Destroyed

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVIII

Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Most People Don’t Want Their Illusions Destroyed

Another one of those conversations with someone at the Degrowth Facebook Group I am a member of…

JM:
I’ve just had a lengthy debate with good-willed people who are serious proponents of a rapid transition to renewables. People actually do understand how far beyond carrying capacity we are and why but they do not accept their own understanding. When I suggest that humanity must live within the photosynthetic energy budget of the current biological cycle, the reaction is repulsion, anger, and ridicule. That reaction is a visceral understanding of the carrying capacity of Earth’s systems and that the only reason society exists beyond that capacity is the infusion of energy. The response is that renewables can supply plenty of ‘clean energy’ to support ‘society’. People see and are unwilling to relinquish the societal upside of our energy subsidy, and argue that the ecological downside can be managed, but do have an unacknowledged understanding of how far past carrying capacity we are.

AD:
I start to think we need to start from arguing that we have less than half a century of oil left — and explicitly accept the ‘right-wing’ argument that our wealth has been built on fossil fuels. We had a single planetary shot at using fossil fuels well, and we are in the final stages of squandering it. After the oil is gone, there will be no more rubber, bitumen or plastic. There will be no paint; there will be no drugs. There will be no way to make or transport the solar panels or wind turbines. If we insist on burning our chemical stocks for things that do not address essential human needs, we will run out of ways to address those needs. The issue is not ‘energy’ per se: it is resources more broadly — clean air and water; a functioning ecosystem, including fertile soils; raw materials for manufacture. You can’t make a tyre for a Tesla out of nuclear power…

Me:
AD, Throw on top of all this those dangerous complexities we’ve got scattered about the planet that require large amounts of hydrocarbons to maintain: nuclear power plants and their waste products; chemical production and storage facilities; and, biosafety labs. Interesting times ahead…

AD:
SB, I’m talking more about ‘how do we convince people’, though.

Me:
AD, It’s next to impossible to ‘convince’ others. Most people don’t want their illusions destroyed.

AD:
SB, Ultimately, the only reason I’m on a group like this is because my hope is to see degrowth achieved, which will require convincing people. What are your reasons for being on the group?

Me:
AD, To learn and share my learning/understandings. And degrowth/simplification is coming, it’s just a matter of how that’s still up in the air. Pre/historical precedents and biological principles suggest it won’t be ‘managed’.

AD:
SB, Which biological principles are those?

Me:
AD, Those associated with ecological overshoot primarily.

AD:
SB, I think you are talking through your hat.

Me:
AD, Then I suggest you read Meadows et al’s The Limits to Growth, Tainter’s The Collapse of Complexity Societies, and Catton’s Overshoot to better understand.

AD:
SB, asked you why you thought people couldn’t be convinced of a need to change. You replied, ‘because ecological overshoot’. That’s the non-sequitur that I called you on.

_____

My final response:

AD, Your comments/responses do not make it clear that you asked ‘why people couldn’t be convinced’; you asked why I was in the Degrowth group. Regardless, not sure if you’ve ever studied psychology (especially social psychology) but there are strong tendencies to protect oneself from anxiety-provoking thoughts — and the notions of collapse, overshoot, etc. are certainly those. So, I don’t know if it’s possible to convince/persuade many others of the need to change fundamental aspects of their behaviour unless they are willing to challenge many of their core beliefs and expectations; and most people, quite frankly, are not. And, I would argue, that tends to be human nature.

From attempts to reduce cognitive dissonance (see Festinger’s work), to the grieving stages outlined by Kubler-Ross (particularly denial and bargaining), to beliefs about agency (we have little, if any), tendencies towards deference to authority/expertise (see Milgram’s work), going along to get along and groupthink (see Janis’s work), to a potpourri of biases (especially confirmation and optimism bias) and heuristics that lead us to overly-simplify complex phenomena, Homo sapiens tend to ‘believe what they want to believe’; reality often plays a minor role in it, if at all.

As an article on the faulty beliefs about ‘renewables’, co-written by Dr. Bill Rees (of ecological footprint fame), argues: “We begin with a reminder that humans are storytellers by nature. We socially construct complex sets of facts, beliefs, and values that guide how we operate in the world. Indeed, humans act out of their socially constructed narratives as if they were real. All political ideologies, religious doctrines, economic paradigms, cultural narratives — even scientific theories — are socially constructed “stories” that may or may not accurately reflect any aspect of reality they purport to represent. Once a particular construct has taken hold, its adherents are likely to treat it more seriously than opposing evidence from an alternate conceptual framework.”

Given these psychological mechanisms, our story-telling ways of communicating and developing belief systems, recent historical trends, energy blindness, and the huge role of propaganda/narrative management by our ‘ruling elite (see Bernays’ work) we tend to get overwhelmed by counter-narratives to our core beliefs and gravitate towards those that reinforce our own — regardless of how wrong or counterproductive they may be.

We very much rail against evidence that do not confirm the beliefs we hold. We deny. We ignore. We craft bargaining narratives to rationalise away ‘facts’ that don’t support our thinking; i.e., if only this happened…if we did this…yeah, but….

It is for these reasons above (along with others) that the quote “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed” arose (often attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche). And it is for these reasons that the overwhelming majority of people will not and cannot be convinced to give up what they perceive as ‘modernity’ (i.e., all the hydrocarbon-based complexities we have established over the past century+).

We, especially in the West, like to believe we are rational and objective but the overwhelming evidence would suggest otherwise. We are story-telling apes that have a strong tendency to craft tales to support our belief systems rather than develop belief systems based upon objective observations. Humans are exceedingly subjective.

Perhaps this is why author Robert Heinlein quipped that “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalising animal” in opposition to Aristotle’s definition that humans are a rational animal.

And it’s not simply enough to come up with a factual, persuasive argument but to have to overcome the massive counter narratives being fed to everyone by our ruling elite who benefit greatly from the status quo…

My personal experience strongly supports the observation that the significant majority of people do not want to be convinced that just like all living organisms, societies have an expiration date, and we can no more persuade everyone to ‘do what’s right’ than we can ‘science our way out of overshoot’.

Not only do we have a strong urge to deny our own mortality, we have a strong (perhaps even stronger) one to deny the mortality of our society and the living standards/expectations it holds for virtually all within it.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVII–Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Denial: Avoiding the Pain

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLVII

Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Denial: Avoiding the Pain

I share an ongoing conversation with others in my town of Stouffville regarding a post on a local Facebook Group discussing ongoing expansion of our suburban community. Note the common thinking along the lines of growth being a given and the energy blindness when discussing ‘development’, particularly in distant regions of our province.


The posted comment:
I’m concerned when I look around Main St. and see all these condos going up. We’ll be in constant gridlock. I do not see any potential to widen the road. Am I wrong? It’s going to be challenging at best to drive along Main St..

On the other hand, Stouffville also needs affordable housing.

My initial reply:

Perpetual growth on a planet with finite resources and fragile ecosystems…what could possibly go wrong?

MM:
Steve Bull well, if we sterilize every couple after having two children, and euthanize everyone once they reach the retirement age, we might be able to make the zero-population growth number work from an economic standpoint. Or cutting everyone off social assistance, and withdrawing healthcare insurance for the elderly might also work.

I think it might be a bit of a hard-sell, especially among those approaching their “golden years” and those who depend on government assistance to meet the costs of staying alive.

By the way the population density of Canada is less than 4 persons per square kilometre; are you at all familiar with population distribution of Canadians outside of the Golden Horseshoe?

MB:

MM, good thing you are not aging!

Me:
MM, It’s a wicked predicament that we’ve led ourselves into.

MM:

Steve Bull the die was cast when we decided that having public education, public healthcare, municipal services like police, fire & ambulance services, potable water supply and sewage service etc. were things that were desirable.

These things all cost money; and it is the nature of the human condition that we cannot each bear our share of these costs over the entirety of our life span, and that these costs fluctuate considerably over our lifetime.

This means that we have to rely on ever increasing numbers of working age members of our society to cover these costs. Or do we withdraw these services?

Me:
MM, The predicament is much deeper and complex than what you suggest. Look up what ecological overshoot is…and all our chasing of growth is simply exacerbating it.

JO:
MM, something I have often said, there is plenty of land for use outside he Golden Horseshoe. the problem is no one seems to want to develop it. Lots of land north of Parry Sound or even North Bay.

MM:

JO, Saskatchewan has a population density of 0.018 persons/ha. Manitoba is 0.025 persons/ha.

We need to do something to encourage employers to consider places like Regina & Saskatoon and Winnipeg & Brandon for new sites and not just the Golden Horseshoe.

TK:
JO, There wouldn’t be enough jobs to justify it and the land is rough and difficult to develop.

JO:

TK, unless you have personal experience of the area I would have to disagree with you. Having grown up there it has many attractions. It is not the easiest place to live but it is doable. Of course it is not for the faint of heart nor for pampered people.

MM:

MB, I wish that were true M, but I’m 3/4 home from the start to the end, and each year passes by more quickly than the year before.

MM:

Steve Bull, I am quite familiar with the concept of ecological overshoot; and I know that our calculations of regional and global carrying capacities have had to be reassessed countless times over the past 35 years that I have been a researcher and teacher of environmental science.

There is no reliable algorithm which can adequately predict changes in carrying capacity that can adequately make allowances for the unpredictable global climatic oscillations or the influence of developing resource technologies on net resource output.

The issue in Canada is the geographical concentration of the population, not the size of the population.


My final response:

MM, We will have to agree to disagree. I would argue Canada, and the entire planet, is already well into overshoot — I will assume you are familiar with Catton’s book on the subject and I don’t need to highlight his argument as to why this is so.

Simply because there is no perfect measure of overshoot or its changes does not negate the evidence that we are well into it, especially when one considers the finiteness of that most important resource to our continued expansion, and our societal complexities and their maintenance: hydrocarbons.

Virtually every aspect of the living standards of our modern, ‘advanced’ economies (and especially the ability to pursue expansionary policies the past century plus; particularly population, economic, geopolitical, and technological in nature) has been the result of surplus energy derived from hydrocarbon extraction and use. Of particular importance to current ‘modernity’ is diesel fuel that supports not only our long-distance supply chains but (with natural gas) industrial agriculture; both of which we have grown extensively dependent upon, particularly in Ontario where we import a good 80+% of our food needs for a growing population. (See Alice Friedemann’s work on this predicament, especially When Trucks Stop Running)

Of course, declining surplus energy due to significant diminishing returns as a result of our exponentially-expanding drawdown of this resource has led us to all sorts of machinations (especially economic and geopolitical — there’s a reason the Middle East is a quagmire and the world is awash in hundreds of trillions of dollars in debt and unfunded liabilities), along with magical thinking (i.e., ‘renewables’ can ‘power’ our complex societies and maintain our living standards and growth imperative), in our attempts to keep the party going and ignore the biophysical realities that exist. As some argue, we are extremely blind to our dependence/reliance upon the drawdown of hydrocarbon energy stores. (See Nate Hagen’s four-part series on this subject: Part 1)

And all of this is being carried out with zero regard (apart from significant greenwashing narratives to keep selling ‘stuff’ and keep the masses in denial/ignorance) to the ecological systems destruction it is resulting in — there’s a reason some call our present geologic epoch the Sixth Mass Extinction.

So, yeah, we can ignore the elephant in the room of overshoot and believe in magic (especially infinite substitutability, particularly of energy) to convince us we can continue to chase the perpetual growth chalice when what we need to be discussing is how to degrow in a managed way before it is forced upon us by circumstances and Nature. Because, frankly, we aren’t going to enjoy the way in which Nature responds to our misuse of our planet in our attempts to grow well beyond physical limits. (Here I recommend watching the late Dr. Albert Bartlett’s presentation on the exponential function)

Extending our carrying capacity through the leveraging of a one-time and finite cache of photosynthetically-derived energy was always going to end badly — it’s put us neck deep into overshoot. However, instead of discussing this and its inevitable consequences we have manipulated our economic systems and weaved comforting stories to ignore its significant anxiety-provoking fallout — most (all?) of which are completely energy blind. It’s much easier to believe in comforting narratives than discuss means by which we might mitigate some of the coming storm.

Regardless of the overwhelming evidence of this misguided trajectory, my guess (based upon pre/historical precedents, the human tendency to deny anxiety-provoking thoughts, and the Maximum Power Principle) is that we will continue to bargain with/rationalise away the Laws of Thermodynamics and biophysical limits and wholeheartedly pursue growth rather than confront the looming energy cliff and all that portends.

Certainly those that profit from this path will encourage it (particularly through their mouthpieces of the government and mainstream media) and tell us comforting stories about our ingenuity and technological ability to ‘solve’ what is for all intents and purposes an insoluble predicament.

Growth, to infinity and beyond…

Of course, only time will tell how this all turns out, but certainly the signs are all there that we’re on the wrong path. With the inevitable decline in surplus energy we should be discussing how to reduce our dependency upon long-distance supply chains and how to relocalise everything but especially food production, potable water procurement, and shelter needs; not deliberating how best to continue expanding — particularly since this approach, while helping to support the Ponzi that is our financialized economic system, exacerbates our overshoot and worsens the eventual correction.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVI–Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial


Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XVI

May 24, 2021

Knossos, Greece (1993) Photo by author

Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial

Another quick thought on our impending energy cliff situation and comment on an article suggesting overconsumption is our greatest threat and that we can be happy without it.


This is an excellent article.

The threats humanity faces are never simple and always multifaceted and intertwined. Overconsumption by a relatively small percentage of our world’s population is certainly one of the contributing factors. As is the way we create and distribute ‘money’ and our sociopolitical systems, to mention just two.

Underpinning all of these complexities is energy and the one-time, finite cache of energy provided by fossil fuels has provided a boost to human exploitation of the planet unlike any other time in humanity’s 100,000+ years of existence. In the waning days of this phenomenal energy surplus (be it due to supply constraints because of diminishing returns or some recognition of the negative consequences of its use — which are many and go far beyond the production of greenhouse gases), scaling back ‘advanced’ economies’ overconsumption tendencies could help forestall the energy decline we have begun to experience. It is unlikely, however, to prevent it — I would argue it is mostly magical thinking to hold on to the idea that some ‘clean’, ‘renewable’, and ‘sustainable’ energy source will suddenly appear and save us; a ‘solution’ that would not in any way address the mountain of other dilemmas we face, such as lack of arable lands and fertile soils, biodiversity loss, the negative repercussions of our past several centuries of expansion and exploitation, and numerous other biophysical limits imposed by a finite planet.

In fact, I would argue there are many reasons a pullback in our consumer-(profit-)driven societies is unlikely to happen, not least of which is the ruling class’s motivation to expand/control the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue stream and the societal repercussions that always seem to arise when a people’s living standards (expectations? entitlements?) are threatened.

Another, and perhaps the most significant, roadblock to ‘righting’ our path is the somewhat dominant narrative that alternative energy sources (that many erroneously label ‘green’ and ‘clean’; and are used as supportive fodder by the ruling class to justify ‘sustainable’ growth — a perverse oxymoron if ever there was one and truly more marketing sloganeering than a reflection of reality) can be mostly easily transitioned to in order to continue ‘fuelling’ advanced economies very energy-intensive lifestyles. As long as the illusion persists that our current ways of living (and I’m speaking of ‘advanced’ economic societies) can in any way be ‘sustained’, we will travel towards a collapse/decline which can neither be reversed nor managed in an equitable or relatively-non-catastrophic way (‘catastrophic’ for advanced economies, not so much for economies that don’t have the same expectations and/or are more self-sufficient, and for much of the rest of the ‘natural’ world).

This is the way things go for a species that has overshot the natural carrying capacity of its environment. Humanity has the unique abilities to be aware of and possibly mitigate the fall that accompanies this biological phenomenon but I am doubtful we will use our ‘ingenuity’ to do anything but take the easier and seemingly less painful path of attempting to maintain our current tendencies (we are, after all, genetically predisposed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, even if the pain experienced now were to be significantly less than that that is to arise somewhat later in time). We will continue to use all the cognitive distortions we are prone to to propagate and hold on to comforting narratives that avoid the inconvenient ‘facts’.

Of course, denial is the first stage of grief and often, if not always, accompanies a significant loss. We, however, need the majority of people to move directly to the final stage of grief that is acceptance and as I have often argued on these pages recognise (and posthaste given the speed with which exponential growth always overwhelms a system) that the best way to mitigate our impending energy descent (and that of other physical resources) is to pursue degrowth strategies. The conversation on how to do this equitably and wisely is long, long overdue and the longer we avoid it, the more precipitous will be our ‘fall’.

In fact, it may actually be too late as some suggest and all the arguments and competing narratives are just ‘academic’ at this point — we would only truly know in hindsight. Perhaps the best one can do is to try and make one’s household and local community as resilient and self-sufficient as possible. It is sometimes wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best; although hope is not really a strategy and the planning/action part is what’s really important. Yes, stop consuming as much and change your expectations but also be prepared for a future of less and not one of perpetual growth and prosperity as our ruling class pushes (what politician has not promised ‘more’ to garner support? as the article highlights). ‘Normal’ is what we make it, not what we are told by others — especially those who seek to ‘profit’ from us. It is going to take a massive paradigm shift for us to weather the impending energy cliff and we are quickly losing time to prepare, both physically and psychologically.

Peak Oil Gets Admitted?

Photo by Adriana Lorena Benavides Estrada on Unsplash

“Oh man… the bullshit piled up so fast [in the energy business], you needed wings to stay above it.”

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Professional Managers Are Driving Us Off the Cliff

“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

― Antonio Gramsci

We live through transitional times. Transition from an era of growth to economic contraction. From a stable climate to something utterly different and chaotic. From a global hegemony to a multi-polar world. These are interesting times indeed, loaded with peril and doubt. Why are so many of us — especially those who should know better — are still in deep denial as to what is really going on? Why can’t our leaders change course when it is needed the most?

Photo by Taylor Floyd Mews on Unsplash

With every end to a civilizational cycle, there is a caste which has a lot to lose, yet remain unable to influence the course of events. These people are usually located just below the top tier of the ruling elite. They are the well payed, salaried individuals who serve the system loyally and receive tremendous privileges in return: getting all the access to the best of what this world has to offer.

In our current round of the popular game called civilization, replayed time after time with the same predictable results, this layer is happened to be called the “professional-managerial class” (or PMC for short). They are your high ranking academics, engineers, doctors, lawyers, economists, political scientists, project leaders and managers of multinational companies who run and oversee the system for the wealthy elite. I should know, I’m one of them.

This class has gathered immense power over the past few decades, and has managed to turn democracy into a technocracy (the government of society or industry by an elite of technical experts) — leaving little to none for the public to decide…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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