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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIX–Energy Future, Part 4: Economic Manipulation

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIX

February 9, 2023 (original posting date)

Monte Alban, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Energy Future, Part 4: Economic Manipulation

In Part 1, I argue that energy underpins everything, including human complex societies. In Part 2, I suggest that the increasing need for diminishing resources, especially finite or limited ‘renewable’ ones, invariably leads to geopolitical tension between competing polities. Part 3 further posits that this geopolitical competition creates internal societal stresses that are met with rising authoritarianism and attempts at sociobehavioural control of domestic populations by the ruling elite.

Economic manipulation — mostly through the financial/monetary systems of a society, that the ruling caste controls — is part and parcel of addressing the societal stresses that arise as things become more complex (as a result of the problem-solving aspects of a society), competition with other polities increases, resources become more dear, and control of the population takes on greater urgency.

All of the activities to sustain a society require resources, primarily energy but also material ones whose retrieval and processing require energy of some nature. Any non-renewable resource, but also limited renewable ones, must be acquired to not only maintain human life (i.e., procurement of potable water, food production, regional shelter needs) but to support any and all activities — be they physical- or service-based.

The various production and resource-allocation/distribution systems are what constitute an economic system[1]. While there are differing opinions about the number and variety of economic systems, the common thread tends to be that it is a means of distributing goods/services to the members of a group/society.

Economic anthropology[2] for the most part is the study of the mechanism of exchange within a human society, be it a more ‘simple’ band or ‘complex’ state.

In less complex societies where little to no division of labour or occupational differentiation exists and production surpluses are minimal to non-existent, economic activities tend to take place within a framework of reciprocal exchange[3]. I will provide you with some of my current surplus knowing that at some point in the future you will reciprocate this behaviour. Relationships in such groups are primarily impacted by kinship ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation, and not economic ones as occurs in larger, more complex societies.

A complex society[4] tends to have a more complicated/multi-layered economic system, the basis of which is a financial/monetary system[5] that likely came into existence as a population exceeded Dunbar’s number[6] and as a means of helping to track the increasing number of reciprocal obligations that arose[7]. The ruling caste of a society tends to control the monetary/financial systems and evidence strongly suggests that they manipulate them, as they tend to with everything they touch, to their advantage in order to meet their primary goal: the control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige.

While there is much written about the shift from a system of reciprocity-based[8] exchange to one of credit-/debt-based fiat currency[9], it is without doubt that the implementation of a fiat money system opened the door to the possibility of significant manipulation by those who control it [10]. I say significant because even with a commodity-based currency (e.g., precious metals), manipulation (i.e., debasement, rehypothecation) has been common[11].

Joseph Tainter’s thesis in The Collapse of Complex Societies[12] is basically based upon economics. He posits that as a problem-solving organisation, a society endeavours to solve the problems that arise in the course of meeting needs. These problems are addressed via organisational adaptations but also very much through material acquisition and redistribution. This is accomplished in the most economically-efficient way by accessing the easiest- and cheapest-to-retrieve resources first and foremost. This provides the highest energy-return-on-energy-invested[13].

Eventually, however, as a society’s demands/requirements increase due to growth and increasing complexity, the harder- and more-expensive-to-retrieve resources must be pursued. This results in diminishing returns[14] on the energy/resource investments made and the surpluses that existed during the early days are whittled away until eventually a society encounters a point where more and more people opt out of supporting the various systems as they are having to invest greater and greater amounts of personal energy/resources but getting back fewer and fewer benefits.

Diminishing returns eat into surpluses in order to maintain/expand complexities. With falling surpluses, there is less room for a government elite to fund their various projects, be they military expansion and/or legitimisation activities to assert domestic control — to say little of the wealth directed towards maintaining the elite’s living standards. One of the approaches by the ruling caste to offset the negative consequences of diminishing returns and deterioration of societal surpluses is through a manipulation of the economic system. Perhaps the primary means of such manipulation is to debase the currency with the intent to make it ‘go further’ and ensure the elite maintain/expand their portion of a shrinking pie. If this is done at a relatively slow pace, very few if any of the populace take note of the impacts — but they are there nonetheless.

One of the best documented and analysed instances of such manipulation has been during the history of the Roman Empire, where debasement of the Roman currency over time has been observed. This manipulation had many negative societal impacts and was one of the many contributing factors leading to the empire’s eventual collapse according to a number of analysts/historians[15].

Of course, such ‘money creation/printing’ invariably results in price inflation — and many times to hyperinflation — as more currency is chasing the same or more slowly expanding amount of goods/services[16]. This price inflation/currency debasement has a more deleterious impact upon the masses than it does those closest to the monetary creation/distribution system. In particular, consider the Cantillon Effect[17] where the ruling caste/insiders who first have access to the ‘newly-minted currency’ can use it prior to inflationary impacts[18]. But is also benefits the state in other ways, particularly the ability to ‘hide’ taxes within it[19] and allowing debtors (government being amongst if not the largest) to pay off debts more easily[20].

There have been a number of examples of more recent currency debasements, some hidden (i.e., coordinated efforts by numerous central banks to debase their currencies in unison[21]) and some quite obvious[22]. For the current world’s primary reserve currency (the U.S. dollar), there has been the gold confiscation during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency[23], President Richard Nixon’s abrogation of the Bretton Woods Agreement[24], and, most recently, the phenomenon referred to as Quantitative Easing[25].

It’s not simply an exponential increase in the physical stock of ‘money’ that contributes to currency debasement and it negative impacts since government-minted currency makes up only a small fraction of the money creation, but it is the ever-expanding supply of credit-/debt-instruments. With the shift to a purely fiat currency free from any limitations to infinite expansion, the degree of manipulation possible is, well, limitless…except for one rather important impediment: physical resource finiteness.

So, as we circle back to the implications for our fundamental resource, energy, one must consider the observation that money/currency is when all is said and done a potential claim upon energy (even other resources require energy to be accessed and distributed). And, as energy analyst Art Berman notes in the tweet below, all the debt that we have created (currently several quadrillion at this juncture in time) is a “lien on future energy”.

And the conundrum we face as resource extraction and processing encounter diminishing returns — and the elite attempt to counter this with ever-increasing credit/debt instruments — is perhaps best captured by the late Michael Ruppert’s simple statement in the documentary Collapse: “Infinite money growth collides with finite energy.”

With an significant exponentially-increasing amount of claims upon finite resources we seem to be left with the options of attempting to pursue perpetual growth to meet these claims, a debt jubilee or reset of the systems, or monetary/financial/economic collapse. Any or all of these choices are likely to be attempted to some degree or another; in fact, some argue this is already and has been happening.

Basically our economic system has become a gargantuan and complex Ponzi scheme[26] established by our ruling elite and upon which are all involved and dependent upon.

As I commented on a Nate Hagens video post: Our economy is for all intents and purposes a gargantuan, complex Ponzi scheme that we are all a part of and dependent upon to a great if not complete extent. We all (for the most part) wish it to continue, including the ruling caste for their power and prestige comes from sitting atop the pyramid. Given our cognitive abilities and biases, we are adept at all sorts of denial and bargaining to see it otherwise, and/or to craft comforting narratives as to how it can be transitioned to something sustainable and equitable. But, as with all such complex systems — especially one dependent upon perpetual growth upon a finite planet — it is fragile and will, given enough time, eventually collapse. There is no other path at this particular point given how far into ecological overshoot we are. When, however, is the unanswerable question. Human complex societies can go on for a long time before it recognises that things have changed significantly enough to be considered ‘collapsed’…

Given gdp’s (a proxy for economic ‘growth’ and thus living standards — not a perfect proxy, of course, given the perpetual changes in calculation and increasing financialization of the economy) almost perfect correlation with energy production[27], and that our future is certainly going to be one of declining energy resources, there should be little doubt that falling living standards is before us — particularly for those in so-called ‘advanced’ economies.

Our ‘advanced’ economies have a long way to fall to reach the level of many emerging ones and it is likely that we will continue to see energy/resources ‘stolen’ from the periphery to support the core — perhaps allowing time for the core to mitigate their decline somewhat, or perhaps as a means to sustain the core for a short time more before a sudden, Seneca-style fall appears as a Black Swan event. Only time will tell…

Please note, I have done my best to wrap my head around and understand this topic/issue. This has been one of the more difficult subjects to write about with any sense of confidence (and I am certain I have misunderstood/misinterpreted a number of things). I am neither schooled in nor worked within the economic realm. Despite this paucity of ‘training’, I do believe the warning of Henry Ford when he paraphrased U.S. Congressman Charles Binderup that “It is perhaps well enough that the people of the nation do not know or understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.

Perhaps it has been purposely designed to be excessively complex and incomprehensible, or this labyrinthian structure is simply the epiphenomenon of the ongoing attempts to ‘solve’ societal issues as they arise over time; and then become leveraged by some (many? most? in leadership positions) to take advantage of loopholes that are in turn addressed through changes and legislation, that leads to further complexity and the cycle continues with the original purpose/solution becoming ever more complex and serpentine… Suffice it to say, the system(s) are increasingly becoming more convoluted and fragile as a result with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena arising leading to increasing risk since these can neither be predicted nor controlled — only reacted to after the fact.

My growing sense is that if some unforeseen Black Swan event or geopolitical ‘accident’ doesn’t bring on a rapid decline in social complexity, then it will likely be a ‘mistake’ in the economic realm as it tends to impact significantly the various subsystems of trade, transportation, communication, etc. that the global, industrialised world depends upon for everything from potable water procurement to regional shelter need construction to food production and distribution, and everything in between.

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.

[1] See this, this, and/or this.

[2] See this.

[3] See this.

[4] See this.

[5] See this and/or this.

[6] See this and/or this.

[7] See this.

[8] See this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this.

[10] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[11] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[12] See this.

[13] See this and/or this.

[14] See this and/or this.

[15] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[16] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[17] See this.

[18] Keep in mind that currency/money comes into existence in a number of ways; in our modern economic world it is primarily ‘created’ via the debt-/credit-disbursement activities of various financial institutions, especially the banking and shadow banking industry. It has been estimated that around 95% of our increasing money supply is created from nothing by financial institutions.

[19] See this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[20] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[21] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[22] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[23] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[24] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[25] See this, this, this, this, this, this and/or this.

[26] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[27] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXVI–Energy Future, Part 2: Competing Polities and Geopolitical Stress

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXVI

December 28, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Energy Future, Part 2: Competing Polities and Geopolitical Stress

Part 2 of my multi-part contemplation on our energy future.

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
-various attributions (e.g., Niels Bohr, Samuel Goldwyn, Yogi Berra, Mark Twain, Nostradamus)

As I argued in Part 1, energy underpins everything including human societal complexities. And the more energy humans have at their disposal, the greater the complexities and their concomitant ‘quality of life’ (not for all, but for those with greatest access/exposure)[1]. Being a ‘finite’ resource, the difficulty (impossibility?) in sustaining this ‘prosperity’ is self-evident — or at least it should be[2].

As walking, talking apes that communicate via stories we have weaved many tales of how we will sustain our complex living arrangements and the energy ‘slaves’ that make this possible[3]. In our quest to reduce anxiety-provoking thoughts we have, for the most part, ignored/denied the implications of dwindling resources — especially energy — and the implications of this for our future[4].

The more dominant and mainstream narratives argue we can or will transition to low-/zero-carbon technologies with nary a hiccup[5]. Our ingenuity guarantees this — or at least the snake oil salesmen marketing their wares and standing to profit handsomely from these tales do[6].

While I believe we will indeed attempt this (primarily because the ruling caste that guides/influences the narratives that we tend to believe in and allocates our society’s resources towards actions/efforts that helps to meet their overarching goal — the control/expansion of the wealth-/extraction-generating systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power/prestige — will make it so), all it will likely accomplish (besides creating some comforting stories to share and huge profits for our already insanely wealthy few) will be the exacerbation of our fundamental predicament: ecological overshoot[7].

This means the speeding up of the drawdown of our resources (both ‘non-renewable’ and ‘renewable’) and the magnification of the concomitant ecological systems destruction[8] — more on this in a future post.

Speeding up the drawdown of resources (especially some that are only or primarily found in far-off locations from the sociopolitical centres that ‘require’ them to support their complexities, and ‘controlled’ by others) feeds into another unfortunate propensity of human complex societies: competition between polities.

In their detailed computer analyses of how a species that pursues growth on a finite planet might fair in a future of biogeochemical limitations, Meadows et al. highlight that two of the symptoms of overshooting the natural environmental carrying capacity are increasing conflicts over resources/sinks and declining respect for government as it uses its ‘power’ to maintain/increase the share of declining ‘wealth’ for the ruling elite — primarily by disproportionately allocating resources towards its military and industry, and away from the majority of its citizens[9].

And while his focus is upon pre/historical sociopolitical collapse, as opposed to ecological systems collapse (although ecological breakdown certainly has contributed to past societal collapses), archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues in his text The Collapse of Complex Societies that past collapses have occurred in two different political situations: a dominant state in isolation or as part of a cluster of peer polities[10]. With global travel and communication, the isolated dominant state has disappeared and only competitive peer polities now exist.

Such polities tend to get caught up in spiralling competitive investments as they seek to outmaneuver each other in their quest for control/influence and evolve greater complexity together. The polities caught up in this competition increasingly experience declining marginal returns on their investments in this strategy and must divert ever-increasing amounts of energy/resources leading to increasing economic weakness — especially for those outside of the ruling caste.

Withdrawing from this spiral or collapsing is not an option without risking being subsumed by a competitor. It is this trap of competition that will continue to drive the pursuit of complexity regardless of human/environmental costs and the impact upon dwindling resources. Incentives and economic reserves can support this situation for a lengthy period, as witnessed by the Roman and Mayan experiences where centuries of diminishing returns were endured, but not forever.

Ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing marginal returns typify peer polities in competition. This ends in either domination by one state and a new energy subsidy, or collapse of all. As Tainter concludes:

“Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.” (p. 214)

It would seem one of the consequences of our diminished energy future will be increased tension between competing polities. And this competition will be primarily about energy/resource reserves. In fact, a number of analysts have predicted that the globe is heading for (or is already engaged in) significant geopolitical stressors, if not resource wars[11].

William Catton Jr. also discusses this trajectory towards increasing geopolitical tension in Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change[12]. He argues that we are fated to continue our self-destructive proclivities as long as we fail to understand them. While we have learned to be civil over the centuries, particularly since the leveraging of fossil fuels began and net surplus energy has led to an explosion of growth and ‘wealth’, the concomitant population irruption and the pressure compounded by technology have led to a degradation of these relationships and have become increasingly competitive.

Humans have reacted in pressure-increasing ways that has created a further diminishing of carrying capacity making our overshoot situation even worse. War-like rhetoric has increased as population pressures have. Wars are a useful leverage point for the ruling caste to target the ‘other’ as redundant, as opposed to ourselves who ‘deserve’ our energy-intensive way of life and the resources required to maintain it.

“In a habitat that was not growing any larger, the continuing increase in either our numbers, our activities, or our equipment would ultimately induce more and more antagonism. Our routine pursuit of legitimate aspirations as individual human beings, as breathing, eating, drinking, traveling, working, playing and reproducing organisms, would increasingly entail mutual interference.” (p. 224)

Here we have competition over finite resources that is leading to a quickening of the drawdown of these resources. These diminishing resources are being allocated to this spiralling pursuit of competition while the consequences — both economic deterioration for the majority of humans and ecological destruction of the planet — are ignored/denied and/or rationalised away by way of narratives that argue the very instruments of our demise (increasingly complex and resource-dependent technologies) must be pursued with all the expediency we can muster.

Our conundrum is becoming ever-more wicked in its complexity.

In Part 3 I will explore some of the issues for human societies of this increasing geopolitical competition.

[1] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[2] Fossil fuels are finite in the sense that the flow from the existing stocks in the form of extraction far, far exceeds their replenishment rate which is estimated at millions of years. See this.

[3] See this, this, and/or this.

[4] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[5] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[6] See this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[7] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[8] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this and/or this.

[10] See this and/or this.

[11] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[12] See this and/or this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXV–Energy Future, Part 1

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXV

December 21, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Energy Future, Part 1

A short introductory contemplation to a multipart one on our energy future[1].

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
-various attributions (e.g., Niels Bohr, Yogi Berra, Mark Twain)

Energy[2]. It is the fundamental component necessary for all physical, chemical, and biological processes. So life…hell, the universe appears impossible without it[3].

While all forms of energy are ultimately important to human life, it is the bioenergetic and food energy aspects that are perhaps most salient[4]. For human complex societies that require energy inputs to ‘power’/support the organisational structures that help to create and sustain our varied and numerous complexities, it is the transformation of various energy sources into ‘usable’ forms that is vital[5].

As Vaclav Smil writes at the beginning of his 2017 text, Energy and Civilization: A History:

“Energy is the only universal currency: one of its many forms must be transformed to get anything done. Universal manifestations of these transformations range from the enormous rotations of galaxies to thermo- nuclear reactions in stars. On Earth they range from the terra-forming forces of plate tectonics that part ocean floors and raise new mountain ranges to the cumulative erosive impacts of tiny raindrops (as the Romans knew, gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo — A drop of water hollows a stone not by force but by continually dripping). Life on Earth — despite decades of attempts to catch a meaningful extraterrestrial signal, still the only life in the universe we know of — would be impossible without the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into phytomass (plant biomass). Humans depend on this transformation for their survival, and on many more energy flows for their civilized existence. As Richard Adams (1982, 27) put it,

We can think thoughts wildly, but if we do not have the wherewithal to convert them into action, they will remain thoughts. … History acts in unpredictable ways. Events in history, however, necessarily take on a structure or organization that must accord with their energetic components.

The evolution of human societies has resulted in larger populations, a growing complexity of social and productive arrangements, and a higher quality of life for a growing number of people. From a fundamental biophysical perspective, both prehistoric human evolution and the course of history can be seen as the quest for controlling greater stores and flows of more concentrated and more versatile forms of energy and converting them, in more affordable ways at lower costs and with higher efficiencies, into heat, light, and motion.”

In this energy-transforming quest, fossil fuels have become the most critical and fundamental energy source to our modern, industrialised and exceedingly complex global society. As can be seen in the graph below, it is estimated that fossil fuel-based energy (i.e., coal, oil, and natural gas) is responsible for 80+% of our current energy needs that support our many varied complexities from transportation and food production to industrial production and communications.

Evidence suggests there is no current substitute — at density or scale — for the energy provided by fossil fuels[6]. We continue to be exposed to countless promises and potential technological ‘breakthroughs’ to replace them (especially when it comes to ‘clean/green’ energy sources, or should I say non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies), but the cold hard fact is that our dependence upon fossil fuels continues and is actually increasing, even when one zooms in on the past twenty years when ‘renewables’ have been pursued with ‘gusto’ as shown in the following graph (although not as much fervor as some would like and argue for — ignoring/rationalising away the ecological systems destruction that would accompany such a ‘war effort-like’ push).

All of the ‘renewables’ we have adopted have been additive to our fossil fuel dependency. They have not supplanted any — or at least minimally — fossil fuel extraction or use[7]. In fact, it could be argued that they have increased it due to their dependency upon fossil fuel-based industrial processes[8].

Add to this that there is convincing evidence that we have encountered significant diminishing returns in our extraction of fossil fuels[9]. This can be seen in our need to increase continually the energy and resource inputs towards accessing and extracting these fuels (e.g., deep sea drilling, hydraulic fracturing, bitumen refinement).

This necessity necessarily has an impact on the net energy that we have for supporting our complexities. We are increasingly having to put more and more energy/resources into fossil fuel extraction and refinement resulting in less and less energy/resources leftover to maintain our complex systems, let alone have any leftover to pursue growth as we have the past century or more[10].

So, we have a finite resource that is requiring greater energy/resource inputs to access and retrieve but that we depend significantly upon with no comparable replacement — to say little about the ecological systems destruction accompanying all of this (‘renewables’ and fossil fuels alike).

This is an obvious conundrum. Where do we go from here is what a number of people want to know…and I will explore this further in Part 2.

[1] Please note that I am not an ‘expert/academic/researcher/etc.’ in the topics discussed but an avid ‘student’ of them as I try to make sense of how and why events are unfolding the way they are. This is why I have included quite a number of references (to those who may be considered ‘experts) to my thoughts. Declaring this, I am also wary of the term ‘expert’ in light of criticisms such as those expressed by Philip Tetlock, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, and others: see this, this, this, this, and/or this. The views expressed, therefore, are part of my personal journey of understanding; they could be accurate but they might not be…in the end, I believe we all believe what we want to believe.

[2] See this.

[3] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[4] See this and this.

[5] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[6] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[7] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[8] See this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[10] See this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXII–Government: Constantly Forsaking Our Ecological Systems to Chase the Perpetual Growth Chalice

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXII

December 7, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. (1986) Photo by author.

Government: Constantly Forsaking Our Ecological Systems to Chase the Perpetual Growth Chalice

Todays’ contemplation has been prompted by the usual shenanigans of government. In this case, the government of my home province of Ontario, Canada.

As regular readers of my posts are acutely aware, I have a strong belief that the primary guiding principle/motivation of our ruling caste is the control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige. Everything they touch is leveraged towards this goal.

Not surprisingly, the political elite within this caste always twist/market their actions/policies that serve to meet the above principle as a social service for the masses because regardless of their power/influence they continue to require the ‘support’ of the hoi polloi so as to avoid revolution/overthrow (they are, after all, hugely outnumbered and depend upon the non-elite for their labour and taxes). If the masses were ever to come to the realisation that our governments are, for all intents and purposes, little more than criminal organisations using their positions and power to funnel wealth from national ‘treasuries’ to their families and ‘friends’, and create legislation that strengthens this corruption, the reaction could be, well, who knows…history suggests it doesn’t end well for some of the elite.

As archaeologist Joseph Tainter points out in The Collapse of Complex Societies, the activities surrounding legitimising the status quo power/wealth structures is common in any society in order for the political system to survive. While coercion can ensure some compliance, it is a more costly approach than moral validity. 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). This need for such religious integration, however, recedes — although not the sense of the scared — once other avenues for retaining power exist. In modern nation states, this ‘sacred’ has become ‘government’; an organisational structure whose existence and necessity is rarely questioned.

It is for the reason of enhancing/maintaining government legitimacy that domestic populations are constantly exposed to persuasive narratives that paint its sociopolitical ‘leaders’ as beneficent servants of the people — thank you narrative control managers (especially the legacy media) for this. This recurring phenomenon rings true throughout time and regardless of the form of government.

Back to the target of this contemplation…

My provincial government has recently opened up a bit of a hornet’s nest around the expansion of housing upon significantly ecologically-sensitive lands of the Oak Ridges Moraine[1] that had been ‘protected’ from such exploitation since 2005 by a legislative act of our provincial parliament[2]. The narratives around the ‘protection’ of this area are interesting to peruse[3].

There has been a flurry of media articles and social media posts revealing the cronyism between the current government and certain landowners that stand to profit handsomely from this policy shift[4] — many of whom purchased the land in question in just the past few years. And while these revelations are interesting and serve to confirm my bias regarding the ruling caste, this is not what I wish to focus upon.

I want to talk a bit about the Overton Window[5] or ‘controlled opposition[6]’ that I have noticed in my province around this issue and the related notion of growth, especially population growth and its concomitant impact on the environment and ecological systems.

Virtually every article and citizen comment I’ve read around this issue responds in a relatively tightly closed worldview that assumes a few things, particularly that growth is not only beneficial but must and will occur. Since it is good and will continue, the ‘debate’ becomes one of urban sprawl verses densification.

It would be best, the argument goes, for the environment and ecological systems if we were avoid expanding into this ‘Greenbelt’ and to contain our growth within tightly-packed urban centres. This perspective is heralded far and wide but especially by so-called environmentally-minded groups/individuals.

For example, the Greenbelt Foundation — an “organization solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected and prosperous” — argues that “Growing in more compact ways, relying more on intensifying existing urban areas and creating dense, mixed-use new communities can reduce long-term financial commitments and ensure better fiscal health now and for generations to come.”[7]

None realise that increasing density does not necessarily equate to environmental soundness since it is the numbers of people that leads to the most significant drawdown of finite resources, not necessarily how they are distributed — particularly in ‘advanced’ economies where consumption is significantly higher than other economies. Yes, small and walkable communities do tend to show a decrease in certain resource needs but one cannot keep packing more and more people into tight spaces and argue the environment and ecological systems are ‘saved’ in such a scenario.

The many cons of densification are ignored. Such as the ‘heat island effect’ that increases energy consumption, the increased economic activity and consumption that tends to accompany dense urban centres, and traffic congestion that can cause emissions increases — to say little about the social pathologies and negative health impacts found in higher density settlements, such as the increased prevalence of anxiety/depression or the speed with which epidemics can spread[8].

Nowhere does one read a challenge to the very foundation of this interpretive lens that growth is good and inevitable. Nowhere is a discussion of halting growth or, God forbid, reversing it (i.e., degrowth). Growth MUST continue, and this pertains to both economic and population growth.

Growth is of course a leverage point for our ruling caste. It is used, in my opinion, to continue to expand the wealth-generation and -extractions systems but also, and perhaps more importantly, to maintain the Ponzi-like nature of our financial/economic systems. It is, however, as are all policies/actions, marketed as the means to ensure our prosperity.

Here I am reminded of a passage from Donella Meadows’s text Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2008):

…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.”

The thinking outlined above by Meadows regarding negative growth and pushing in the wrong direction is completely foreign to the discussions I am witnessing on the expansion into Ontario’s ‘Greenbelt’. None dare challenge the mythical narrative that growth is good and inevitable. Such out-of-the-box thinking is not allowed. If such a thought is shared, the speaker is marginalised or ignored by most.

This is particularly so if one enters the kryptonite-like morass that is population growth in ‘advanced’ economies where such growth is ensured by skimming people from other countries — spun as a social service to the world’s needy — but is really about keeping the financial/economic Ponzi from collapsing because domestic populations are not reproducing fast enough[9].

And here I am reminded of another text passage, this time by Noam Chomsky in The Common Good (1998)[10]:

“In general, the mainstream media [everyone] all make certain basic assumptions, like the necessity of maintaining a welfare state for the rich. Within that framework, there’s some room for differences of opinion, and it’s entirely possible that the major media are toward the liberal end of that range. In fact, in a well-designed propaganda system, that’s exactly where they should be. The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” ~Noam Chomsky

This appears to be the crux of the matter when it comes to many issues. The ruling caste, with the help of the mainstream media and others, circumscribe the range of the debate. This provides cover for the ultimate endgame — in the issue over the Greenbelt expansion it is the accommodation of population expansion through the construction of millions of homes (and it matters not whether these are on ecologically-sensitive lands or not in the long run) from which the ruling caste will undoubtedly make billions of dollars in profits…while the finite resources necessary to support this growth become more rare and costly to extract/process, and the environment and ecological systems upon which we depend continue to experience disruption and destruction.

We are continually fed a mythical narrative about growth and then set to debate and argue each other over how to accommodate it while ignoring the only way that might help to mitigate — at least marginally — our ecological overshoot predicament: degrowth.

[1] See this, this, this, and/or this.

[2] See this.

[3] See this, this, and/or this.

[4] See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[5] See this, this, and/or this.

[6] See this, this, and/or this.

[7] See this.

[8] See this, this, and/or this.

[9] See this, this, this,

[10] Hat tip to Erik Michaels who reminded me of this passage in his latest writing, that I highly recommend.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXII–Differing Opinions on ‘Renewables’

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXII

October 19, 2022 (original posting date)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Differing Opinions on ‘Renewables’

While I work on a longer (perhaps several part) contemplation regarding the myth of infinite growth on a finite planet that infiltrates and dominates many mainstream narratives — especially economic in nature — I thought I would share a back-and-forth conversation I’ve had with professor Ugo Bardi and another person on the Facebook group Dr. Bardi administers called The Seneca Effect regarding ‘renewables’.

It is a good example of the differing opinions regarding complex energy-harvesting technologies and their potential to offset the energy descent we seem to be experiencing.

First, I’d like to share an introductory statement from a relatively recent ‘essay’ by Megan Siebert and William Rees: “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.”[1]

I am well aware that, for the most part, people believe what they want to believe. We defend our beliefs in various ways such as ignoring/denying opposing information, attacking the presenter of contrarian evidence, or confirming beliefs via selective interpretation of data/’facts’. And I am as guilty of such psychological mechanisms impacting my belief systems as the next person. We all fight hard to reduce the anxiety/stress created from the presence of cognitive dissonance and can be easily manipulated into believing certain narratives.

I have shared in previous contemplations my thoughts about non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies and my increasing belief that they are not the panacea they are being made out to be. You can read some of these here:

And my thoughts on how our beliefs are impacted by various psychological mechanisms:

The post in which the conversation took place shared a media publication[2] regarding a fusion reactor and its potential for providing unlimited, clean energy.


The presentation begins: “Imagine a world where energy was so clean and abundant that it was no longer a limiting factor in the growth of civilization.”

Infinite growth without a need to worry about what is ‘fuelling’ it or our ecological systems. What’s not to love?


My original comment on the link:

Steve Bull
Unlimited, ‘clean’ energy (an oxymoron) may address one ‘problem’ humanity faces (actually, a roadblock to continuation of our chasing of the perpetual growth chalice) , but it would exacerbate the various predicaments we have created — especially ecological overshoot.

Comment by another that kicked off the back-and-forth:

Breton Crellin
Yeah maybe for like a fraction of a second before they run out of fuel.
That’s the biggest hurdle at the moment.
Even if we can figure out how to keep it cool and controlled it still uses up an incredibly rare fuel incredibly fast.
Maybe one day.
But until then it’s a good thing we’ve got renewables.

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
Despite narratives to the contrary, ‘renewables’ are a can-kicking endeavour. They rely upon finite resources in perpetuity, while that reliance draws those resources down more quickly and exacerbates our fundamental predicament of ecological overshoot.

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
and how would you recommend we generate electricity without producing greenhouse gases?
Because ‘we can’t have clean energy since one day in the future we could run out of the resources we used to make it’ is a very poor argument that assumes we will use the same materials with no innovation until we run out and it ignores the damage burning fossil fuels is doing right now.
If we don’t stop burning also fuels we won’t be alive to see the end of any resources used to generate renewable electricity.

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
The laws of physics and biology care not one iota if our species survives. However, humanity survived for millennia without electricity. And, you can’t have non-renewable, renewable-energy harvesting technologies without fossil fuels — and A LOT of it to even come close to replacing what fossil fuels provide…to say little of their import to modern industrial agriculture that supplies our food. This is a predicament without a solution.

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
Your solution is a non-solution.
I asked you how You would recommend producing clean electricity and your answers to not produce electricity?
You can’t have renewable energy without fossil fuels?
That talking point is straight out of the climate change denial handbook.
Yes I’m well aware that concrete and steel have a carbon footprint and engineers take a gas burning car to work.
But those emissions are only made once and after that it’s decades of clean electricity.
Besides using petroleum products is not the problem. It’s burning them for heat electricity and transportation that is accelerating I possible extinction level event.
A predicament without a solution hey?
Sounds more like a predicament you have where your logic has pushed you in a corner you can’t find your way out of.
Sorry I shouldn’t make this about you.
Seriously though if climate change is a predicament without a solution then what is the harm in using renewable energy if we won’t survive on this planet long enough to use up the materials?

Ugo Bardi
Breton Crellin There is nothing to do, Breton, for some people, denigrating renewable energy is a crusade.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
You and I will have to agree to disagree regarding‘ renewables’. And as I have written before in responding to you: “… it is not that I ‘hate’ renewables or am a shill for the fossil fuel industry (the two typical accusations lobbed at me); I simply recognise their limitations, negative impacts, and that they are no panacea.”

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
You need to recognize the difference between problems with solutions and predicaments without them. Not only is there increasing data/evidence to point out that there exists nowhere near the mineral/material resources to achieve the ‘transition’ many desire (see this: https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/…/19-simon-michaux), but that the ecological system and environmental fallout from pursuing such a shift would be catastrophic (see this: https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2022/09/a-climate-love-story/).

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
Breton Crellin As physics professor Tom Murphy concludes in the piece I link: “Let’s not engineer a nightmare for ourselves in the misguided attempt to realize a poorly considered dream. It starts by recognizing that the vision many hold as “the dream” is itself utterly unsustainable and thus may even accelerate failure, rather than avert it. The predicament has wide boundaries that reach deep foundations of our civilization’s structure. We only succeed by altering our mental models of how we live on this planet — not by finding “superior” substitutes for the very things that have put us in this precarious position — and thus will only dig our hole faster, better, and cheaper.”

Breton Crellin
Steve Bull
strongly disagree that using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels is a poorly realized dream.
And again to repeat myself those material estimations assume innovations or alternative materials between now and when we run out.
What are the timelines until we are expected to run out anyway?
Or do we have less than that?

Steve Bull
Breton Crellin
First, you cannot have ‘renewables’ without fossil fuels — from the mineral extraction and processing industries to their maintenance and reclamation/disposal, fossil fuels have no replacements for these industries at scale; plus you require fossil fuels to back up renewable systems because of their intermittency. Note that humanity’s energy demand (including that of fossil fuels) has only increased over the past several decades despite the introduction of ‘renewables’. Renewables are best seen as an extension of fossil fuels, not a replacement. As for the mineral limitation issue, I will defer to Simon Michaux as the geologist who has studied the issue extensively. We need to be powering down significantly (plus reducing our population dramatically), not attempting to replace what fuels our energy-intensive civilisation with complex technologies that require significant drawdown of finite minerals that have for some time been encountering problematic diminishing returns (to say little of the ecological damage such a pursuit entails). Our fundamental predicament is ecological overshoot and chasing replacements for fossil fuels does zero to address it; in fact, it makes it worse leading to an even more difficult reversion to the mean for humanity.

Ugo Bardi
You see? It is a crusade.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi I view my attempting to point out the deficiencies and issues with renewables no more a ‘crusade’ than yours to push these technologies (and their environmentally-destructive production) as a ‘solution’ to our inevitable energy descent. The repercussions for our planet (and all life) of our continued pursuit of complex technologies are not inconsequential.

Ugo Bardi
Yours is a faith, mine is a scientific investigation based on data

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi Many would argue that the idea that ‘renewables’ are a ‘solution’ to our energy descent as ‘faith-based’. I guess you missed (purposely ignored?) the links I shared of physics professor Tom Murphy and geologist Simon Michaux? We must agree to disagree over this…

Ugo Bardi
Steve, how many papers on renewable energy did you publish in peer-reviewed journals? I published at least three (actually more) during the past few years. For this reason I say that my opinion on renewables is based on data and facts.

Steve Bull
Ugo Bardi
Yes, you are arguing based upon an appeal to ‘data’ and ‘facts’, as am I when I refer to the work of fellow academics and ‘experts’ in their fields. Simon Michaux, for example, is a geologist with the Geological Survey of Finland and has performed extensive work on the mineral requirement aspects for a transition to ‘renewables’. Tom Murphy is a practising physicist who looks deeply into the numbers and data. And then there are the countless ecologists who are witnessing horrific biodiversity loss and ecological system collapse from the continuing, and expanding, industrial processes required to pursue complex technologies. I am not basing my perspective on ‘faith’ as you have suggested. I am attempting to balance the ecological concerns (that are almost always ignored or rationalised away) with the human need for energy to sustain our current way of existence. The two seem quite incompatible.

I conclude with the notion that we all believe what we wish to believe; ‘facts’ make little to no difference to that human proclivity. And this is particularly so when one is ‘invested’ significantly in the belief. Dr. Bardi seems well invested in the concept of renewables being capable of replacing fossil fuels. Me…not so much.

Might my concerns for the environment and ecological systems because of our industrial processes and pursuit of increasingly complex technologies be overblown or misplaced? Perhaps. But if they’re not and we continue to chase them in our quest for some holy grail to sustain our current living arrangements, the reversion to the mean for humanity will not be very welcome. Not at all.

[1] https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/15/4508

[2] The media publisher is ‘Electric Future’ that offers the following information about itself on its YouTube channel: “Electric Future® is an independent media publisher that presents optimistic but realistic coverage of cutting edge sustainable technology… The operators of Electric Future may have material connection to organizations mentioned in video content.”

The #1 Reason I Became A Doomer

The #1 Reason I Became A Doomer

We’re not doomed because of climate change, resource depletion, or biodiversity loss. We’re doomed because human nature made those things inevitable.

There are many reasons I became a doomer.

Climate change is accelerating and governments aren’t taking it seriously. The sixth mass extinction event is well underway and most people don’t care. Fossil fuels and other crucial resources are running out and most people don’t even know. Pollution in the form of microplastics and forever chemicals are rapidly accumulating in our bodies, lowering sperm counts and causing all sorts of health problems.

And all that is because of overshoot. We’ve already exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, so it’s only a matter of time before the global population comes crashing down. But overshoot isn’t the main reason I became a doomer. In fact, I became a doomer about a year before I knew what overshoot means.

The main reason I became a doomer is because I realized that the challenge we’re facing is so monumentally large and complicated that humans are incapable of overcoming it.

This idea upsets some people. They say things like, “What about World War II? Look at how the U.S. mobilized the entire nation to help defeat the Axis powers.”

Yea, after they were attacked and only because they had a clear enemy. This time, we can’t simply declare fossil fuels the enemy and stop using them overnight. Doing that would cause civilization to collapse, anyway.

Besides, fossil fuels aren’t the only problem. As I’ve explained before, we would still be headed for collapse even if there were no climate change or pollution because we’re completely dependent on finite resources (forests, aquifers, fossil fuels, rare-earth minerals, etc.) that will mostly be gone in a matter of decades.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLI–More Bargaining: Doughnut Economics

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLI

February 22, 2022

Teotihuacan, Mexico (1988) Photo by author

More Bargaining: Doughnut Economics

The following ‘contemplation’ was prompted by an article that was shared to a Facebook group I am a member of regarding ‘Doughnut Economics’ and its possible role in addressing our ecological overshoot.

While I have not read extensively the argument/theory regarding ‘Doughnut Economics’[1] it seems to me, on initial perception, to be another in a growing line of rationalisations that attempt to support and extend the resource-intensive processes that provide for our complex societies. While it incorporates a lot of the concepts around ideas of sustainability and ecological overshoot, it bases most of its argument around the redefinition of ‘progress’ or ‘sustainable development’ in a way that makes it appear less environmentally-/ecologically-destructive (not too dissimilar to the ‘net zero’ narrative that ‘shifts’ numbers around to look compelling). When one scratches at the surface of the proposal, however, it looks just as resource dependent — especially with respect to energy — as our status quo system; it simply redistributes/redirects those resources in an attempt to bring all of humanity up to a ‘preferred’, and supposedly ‘sustainable’, level.

It’s almost as if the theory employs the fallacy of the straw man by initially establishing that the current economic system employed by humanity is the sole/primary cause of our existential crises because of its propensity to chase the infinite growth chalice. It then highlights the inequitable nature of ‘capitalism’. Having set up this straw man, it concludes by arguing we can continue to ‘grow’ if we just dismantle this problematic economic system and employ a different one that defines ‘growth’ in a way that allows us to keep our cake and eat it too[2]. This is all established, however, while ignoring the pre/historical examples of complex societies failing/collapsing as a result of overexploiting their natural environment despite having very different economic systems.

There is a compelling argument to be made that every experiment in complex societies to date has failed eventually because of the diminishing returns they encountered as they expanded and eventually ran out of places to extract resources from to support their growth and increasing complexities[3]. Technology at the time simply didn’t allow societies to control ever-larger areas of land and shuffle resources back to their sociopolitical centre for more than a few centuries, at best (a couple of exceptions dragged on longer but they too eventually succumbed to overextension and diminishing returns). And when the benefits of being part of the society fell below the costs, members opted out and ‘collapse’ ensued. Every time.

The takeover method of expanding one’s environmental reach from which to draw resources and support growth shifted eventually to the drawdown method of resource extraction. This occurred at a time most/all niches were occupied and expansion into unexploited regions became ever more problematic. The energy provided by a one-time cache of ancient fossil energy has allowed the human experiment to grow to unprecedented levels, well beyond the ‘natural’ capacity of the planet to sustain us[4].

The evidence is becoming clearer that we are encountering significant issues not necessarily because of the economic system we are currently employing but because the fundamental resource we have grown extremely dependent upon (fossil fuels) has encountered very problematic diminishing returns — to say little about the negative consequences of this use on our planet’s environment/ecological systems. We are now stumbling around attempting to ‘solve’ a predicament without ‘solutions’, pointing our fingers at all sorts of ‘culprits’, and many gravitate towards the clear disparity between our elite ruling class who seem to be doing just fine, thank you, and everyone else because of a ‘natural’ tendency to seek a ‘fair and just’ world (see the non-human primate studies on justice and fairness).

So, if we were to redefine ‘progress’ and ‘sustainable development’ in a way that doesn’t impinge upon our environment, as Doughnut Economics seems to aim to do, we could continue to ‘grow’. This thinking, however, appears to ignore all the resource inputs that go into virtually everything we do, regardless of how one defines it. So-called ‘service’ industries, for example, still require significant resources (especially energy) to be sustained[5]. How does one extract these resources from the environment without requiring significant resources in the first place? Especially when all the easy-to-retrieve and cheap-to-extract resources have already been used up, and remaining ones require ever-more energy/resource inputs to access and recover what’s left. Even recycling of products, as beneficial as that process is, demands significant resource inputs[6].

Perhaps the problem is not primarily the economic system employed (although that could exacerbate certain negative aspects) but, as Erik Michaels argues at Problems, Predicaments, and Technology[7], our complex societies themselves with their resource demands. And this is especially true as we approach eight billion resource-dependent humans at a time of significant diminishing returns on all the resources we have come to rely upon for our existence. Sure, we could curtail the overconsumption of ‘advanced’ economies and direct the associated resources into more ‘equitable’ avenues, but the pressure on resources and the environment remain when we are looking at billions of humans.

If we are not discussing a purposeful and likely significant contraction of our current experiment (and this is especially true for so-called advanced economies that are responsible for the lion’s share of resource demands and their negative impacts), then I fear we are simply attempting to rationalise a continuation of it to avoid the chaos of the unmitigated collapse that always accompanies a species that has overshot its environment’s natural carrying capacity.

The fundamental flaw I see in Doughnut Economics is that it proposes a ‘solution’ that is entirely the opposite of what we need to be doing. We need to be contracting our complexities and the resource-demands they place upon our planet. We can’t be seeking to bring the vast majority of ‘un/under-developed’ humans up to ‘advanced’ economy standards. We need to be lowering significantly the standards and size of the advanced economies that are very much responsible for much of our plight — perhaps even disbanding large, complex societies completely (and how many of us would survive that given the loss of skills/knowledge to be self-sufficient?). And could this even be done in an ‘equitable’ manner? I have my doubts.

Will such a radical shift even happen? Unlikely, for as writer Robert Heinlein observed we are rationalising creatures, not rational ones. And we employ all sorts of magical thinking to make sense of our ‘world’ and ensure its continuation. As long as we have ‘magic’ (i.e., complex technologies) at our disposal to kick-the-can-down-the-road, we will continue to employ it; we are after all genetically predisposed to avoid pain and seek out pleasure; and collapse, even on our own terms, will be quite ‘painful’.

As I implied in my last ‘contemplation’, we have to be on the lookout for taking the wrong path as we attempt to address our existential predicament of ecological overshoot because it will simply expedite our overshoot and bring about the collapse that always accompanies such a trajectory more quickly and ensure there is little we can do about how it unfolds[8]. A circular economy that extracts resources and recycles them at a pace that doesn’t break through planetary limits might have been tenable a couple of centuries (millennia?) ago, but not in today’s world where we seem to be already sliding down the Seneca Cliff of energy availability for an ever-larger population.

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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXIX–Are We Being Duped Regarding Global Warming?

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXIX

August 17, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Are We Being Duped Regarding Global Warming?

Today’s contemplation was prompted by an email my mum sent me. As she closes in on 80, I find that she’s becoming a bit more open-minded about things but remains somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to global warming/anthropogenic climate change. We periodically share thoughts on the state of the world, especially politics, and I think I’ve almost got her convinced to abandon her faith/trust in government…

Anyways, here is the comment about global warming she forwarded to me and my relatively quick response (typed up while I was engaged in replacing a floor/foundation for one of our greenhouses — I never considered a decade ago when I installed the first greenhouse, of three, that the mini-garden ties I was using to terrace our backyard would decay/rot so quickly so I am replacing them with concrete blocks and putting in a patio stone floor so that my eldest daughter who has taken over the greenhouse can have many years of use with it, hopefully). I have added some minor supplemental thoughts (in italics) and supporting links to a few sources (see endnotes).


With global warming having become as much a political issue as a scientific inquiry, I went from wondering whether mankind might really be influencing the climate to someone questioning a science I do not understand. I am now worried we are being duped by people with an agenda, like keep the money gravy train running. No one has yet explained to my satisfaction the big ice age followed by warming then a mini-ice age, followed by warming, all before mankind was a significant presence on earth and did nothing but have a few campfires.


That human activity has an impact on our environment and ecological systems, I have little doubt. How could almost eight billion of us and our resource demands not? Especially the so-called ‘advanced’ economies[i]. There is growing evidence that shows that our industrial civilisation has surpassed several planetary biophysical limits and likely overloaded a number of the planet’s compensatory sinks due to the vast amounts of waste material produced in its quest to procure the minerals and energy that our tools require for their manufacture and pollutants produced through their use.[ii]

The issue with the focus on global warming/climate change/carbon emissions is multi-faceted —such stories are never as simple as we’re led to believe. Geologic history shows pretty clearly that the planet’s climate changes and probably most significantly as a result of the sun’s cycles.[iii]

Is human activity exacerbating natural cycles? Quite possibly[iv]. Is it as catastrophic as painted by some?[v] Only time can truly tell since modelling of complex systems is fraught with difficulties.[vi] One minor variation of one of many variables that are used to create future predictions can shift the eventual outcome significantly.[vii] Of course, humans don’t like uncertainty (which is really all that can be provided about the future — probabilistic scenarios that may or may not occur — no matter how complex one’s predictive model is) so we cling to and tend to believe forecasts that are at their root uncertain; their potential accuracy matters not.[viii]

One of the other complications of the narrative is that our ruling class always leverages crises to their advantage. Always. I have little doubt that the hyper focus on climate and carbon emissions is being used to pursue the ruling class’s primary motivation: control/expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams.[ix]

The ‘problem’ of climate change is always presented with ‘solutions’ but those ‘solutions’ do not address carbon emissions in the least; in fact, there’s a good argument to be made that they actually increase them.[x] Much as the ruling class manufactures consent for any policy that the masses might question/reject (almost always via significant propaganda campaigns), they have created a narrative that is designed to persuade people to believe something that is increasingly being shown to be completely false and little more than marketing/sloganeering.[xi]

These ‘solutions’ also, conveniently, increase the revenue streams of the ruling class via taxes and complete replacement/overhaul of virtually all important technology (e.g., ‘renewable’ energy, electric vehicles, etc.). Scratch even gently below the surface of the ‘clean/green’ energy story and you discover it’s all basically bullshit.[xii] These technologies not only are not sustainable because of their dependence upon finite resources (including very much on the fossil fuel platform itself), but their production is hugely ecologically destructive. We are being sold a load of crap on various fronts so that the sociopaths that ‘control’ our world can profit. This being said, we do face some significant environmental and resource depletion challenges.

Probably the most dire predicament we face is ecological overshoot — too damn many people (especially living in ‘advanced’ economies) for a planet with finite resources.[xiii] The constant push for growth (which really is just to prolong/support the gargantuan Ponzi that our financial/economic/monetary systems have become) is the exact opposite of what we likely need to be doing; as is the push to ‘electrify’ everything.[xiv] The unfortunate thing for the future is that any species that overshoots its natural carrying capacity has only one way to be rebalanced: a massive die-off.[xv] When that occurs (and how it unfolds) is anybody’s guess…

As much as we tend to believe we understand our world and its complexities, I would contend we do not; at least, not very well. To compensate for this uncertainty we have developed all sorts of psychological mechanisms that lead us to believe particular narratives with some ‘certainty’. The beginning of a recent paper that challenges the mainstream story surrounding ‘renewable’ energy (that has been presented as a panacea for reducing carbon emissions; although I would argue Peak Oil is a more troubling issue in the energy needs of industrial civilisation[xvi]) is pertinent to this idea: “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.”[xvii]

[i] https://archive.globalpolicy.org/social-and-economic-policy/the-environment/general-analysis-on-the-environment/45393-how-much-of-the-worlds-resource-consumption-occurs-in-rich-countries.html; https://www.livescience.com/20308-greedy-nations-top-resource-users-earth.html

[ii] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0921800914001323; https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/1259855.full; https://ideas.ted.com/the-9-limits-of-our-planet-and-how-weve-raced-past-4-of-them/; https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2015-01-15-planetary-boundaries—an-update.html

[iii] https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/how-does-sun-affect-our-climate; https://phys.org/news/2017-03-sun-impact-climate-quantified.html

[iv] https://sciencing.com/what-human-activities-affect-the-carbon-cycle-12083853.html; https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth103/node/680; https://phys.org/news/2010-12-human-affect-carbon.html

[v] https://www.populationconnectionaction.org/2021/08/12/ipcc-catastrophic-climate-change-is-coming/; https://www.npr.org/2021/08/09/1025898341/major-report-warns-climate-change-is-accelerating-and-humans-must-cut-emissions-; https://mahb.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/deepadaptation.pdf

[vi] https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/complexsystems/introduction.html; https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf

[vii] https://issues.org/climate-change-scenarios-lost-touch-reality-pielke-ritchie/?fbclid=IwAR1dbpSNqPXWr9QyfC-fDzlWrvfswO3LLZKj08szexcCb_7h7uRW2j7Qv54

[viii] https://www.amazon.com/Future-Babble-Pundits-Hedgehogs-Foxes/dp/0452297575

[ix] https://www.counterpunch.org/20 , 15/10/06/yes-there-is-an-imperialist-ruling-class/; https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_globalelite07.htm

[x] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/jan/09/wind-turbines-increasing-carbon-emissions; https://www.amazon.com/Life-after-Fossil-Fuels-Alternative/dp/3030703347; https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/opinion/mondaycop22-lower-co2-emissions-with-lower-carbon-solar-energy/

[xi] https://www.amazon.com/Manufacturing-Consent-Political-Economy-Media/dp/0375714499; https://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Edward-Bernays/dp/0970312598; https://planetofthehumans.com; https://www.brightgreenlies.com

[xii] https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/environmental-impacts-renewable-energy-technologies; https://www.e-education.psu.edu/eme807/node/715https://www.nap.edu/read/12619/chapter/7; https://www.altenergymag.com/article/2015/08/the-dark-side-of-renewable-energy-negative-impacts-of-renewables-on-the-environment/20963/; https://www.routledge.com/Environmental-Impacts-of-Renewable-Energy/Spellman/p/book/9781482249460; https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/the-environmental-impact-of-lithium-batteries/

[xiii] https://www.pnas.org/content/99/14/9266; https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/319810.Overshoot

[xiv] https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/our-economy-is-a-ponzi-scheme-8fc56b9e594f; https://eand.co/how-the-economy-became-one-giant-ponzi-scheme-4ac84bf18738; https://moneyweek.com/economy/global-economy/601657/why-our-economy-is-a-giant-ponzi-scheme

[xv] https://thesenecaeffect.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/humans-in-ecological-overshoot-collapse-now-to-avoid-a-larger-catastrophe/; https://www.earthovershoot.org/who-we-are/frequent-questions.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overshoot_(population)

[xvi] https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/29458/peak-oil-decline-coronavirus-economy/; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/has-peak-oil-already-happened/; http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2014/ph240/liegl1/

[xvii] https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/15/4508/htm?fbclid=IwAR2ISt5shfV4wpFEc8jxbQnrrxyllyvZP-xDnoHhWrjGTQRIqUNfk3hOK1g

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV–More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development

This contemplation was prompted by an article regarding an ‘independent’ think tank’s report that presented the argument that government funding of the oil and gas industry needed to be shifted towards ‘green/clean’ alternatives. I’ve included a few hyperlinks to sites that expand upon the concepts/issues discussed.

Context, it’s always important. This ‘independent’ think tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, is part and parcel of the corporate/business ‘greenwashing’ of our world and ‘solutions’ to its various dilemmas. It’s primary mission is ‘sustainable’ development/growth, a gargantuan oxymoron on a finite planet. Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, the perpetuation of this continued pursuit of perpetual growth is seen quite clearly in the absence of any discussion about curtailing our growth but rather finding ways to ‘sustain’ it, and the misuse of language (that has become endemic in the environmental movement) and the simplified ‘solution’ offered by arguing that government funds need to be directed away from the climate change-causing oil and gas industry and towards the ‘clean’ energy alternatives of ‘renewables’.

Left out of this discussion to shift funds to what the think tank argues is more ‘sustainable’ (and one has to wonder how much funding is derived for the think tank’s activities from individuals and businesses seeking to profit from increased funding for widespread adoption of alternative energy) is the increasing evidence that ‘green’ alternatives to fossil fuels are neither ‘green’ (because of their ongoing dependence on fossil fuels and environmentally-destructive upstream industrial processes and downstream waste disposal issues) nor actually ‘renewable’ (because of their ongoing dependence upon finite resources, especially fossil fuels and rare-earth minerals). These are, of course, quite inconvenient facts regarding all energy sources: they are ecologically destructive and depend upon finite resources. The only source that is truly ‘renewable’ is biomass but it would be required in such massive quantities for our current world population and global complexities that it must be considered finite and environmentally problematic.

Nowhere is the non-mainstream idea of degrowth proposed. Instead, we are led to believe that business as usual (continued growth) is entirely feasible and infinitely sustainable by adjusting where our resources in terms of money and labour are directed: away from the oil and gas industry and towards energy alternatives. Devastating climate change will then be averted (as well as all the other negative consequences of exploiting and using fossil fuels) and life can continue uninterrupted as we all live happily ever after.

Until and unless we confront the very idea of continued growth and, in almost all cases, reverse this trend there is zero chance of us stopping, let alone mitigating, the various existential dilemmas we have created as a consequence of our expansion and its concomitant exploitation of finite resources. I believe it’s fair to argue we have significantly overshot the planet’s natural environmental carrying capacity, have blown past several important biophysical limits that exist on a finite planet, and have just the collapse that always accompanies such situations to experience in the future.

Many will continue to deny this predicament we find ourselves in. They will firmly believe in the comforting and cognitive dissonance-reducing narratives that individuals and groups, like the International Institute for Sustainable Development, are leveraging to direct resources to particular industries. This is quite normal for anyone beginning to grieve a significant loss which is what we are facing: the imminent demise of our globalised, industrial world and its many complexities and conveniences. We (particularly those in so-called ‘advanced’ economies that consume the vast majority of finite resources and rely upon the exploitative industries that leverage these resources to create the many conveniences to feed and house us) would rather believe in fantasies, myths, and fairy tales than recognise and confront the impending challenges of a life without most (all?) of our complex and energy-intensive tools.

Life without these conveniences is fast approaching it would appear. We have encountered diminishing returns on our investments in such complexities. We have soiled vast regions of our planet with the waste products of our expansion and exploitive endeavours. We have very likely reached a peak in global complexity and will begin our reversion to the norm of much more simplified ways.

Some of the negative consequences of our expansion and increasing complexity have been acknowledged. Instead of slowing our march towards the cliff ahead, however, the vast majority (all?) of our ‘ruling class’ (whose primary motivation, I would argue, is the control and expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams), as they so often (always?) do is leverage the increasingly obvious crises to enrich themselves. They use narrative control mechanisms (particularly their influence over the mainstream media and governments) to craft stories extolling solutions and salvation that not only preserve their revenue streams but expand them in a kind of final blow off top of resource extraction and use; ignoring, of course, the environmental fallout of this.

The more obvious ‘solution’ of reversing the growth imperative is avoided at all costs. Marketing ‘sustainable’ growth via ‘green/clean’ energy alternatives is preferred. Humanity cannot only have its cake and eat it, but it can do so in a vastly improved world of technological wizardry and infinite improvements. Ignore that pesky fact about living on a finite planet over there, it’s a distraction from our ingenuity and creativity. Do not raise skepticism about our ability to overcome challenges. Life is much more happily viewed from inside the Matrix.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XV–Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XV

May 21, 2021

Rome, Italy (1984) Photo by author

Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite

Energy. It’s at the core of everything we do. Everything. Yet we take it for granted and rarely think about it and what the finiteness of our various energy sources means for us.

As Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World concludes in a recent thought-provoking article that should be read widely: “Needless to say, the powers that be do not want the general population to hear about issues of these kinds. We find ourselves with narrower and narrower news reports that provide only the version of the truth that politicians and news media want us to read.”

Instead of having a complex and very necessary discussion about the unsustainable path we are on (especially as it pertains to chasing the perpetual growth chalice) and attempting to mitigate the consequences of our choices, we are told all is well, that ‘science’, ‘human ingenuity’, and ‘technology’ will save the day, and we can maintain business-as-usual with just some minor ‘tweaks’ and/or a ‘green/clean’ energy transition. Pre/history, physics, and biology would suggest otherwise.

Here is my relatively long comment on a Tyee article discussing the International Energy Agency’s recent report that calls on all future fossil fuel projects to be abandoned and drastic reductions in demand in order to avoid irreparable climate change damage to our planet. The answer, however, will not be found in ‘renewable’ energy and related technologies as many contend because the underlying and fundamental issue of overshoot has been conveniently left out of the story.

Having followed the ‘energy’ dilemma for more than a decade I’ve come to better understand the complexities, nuances, and scheming that it entails; not all mind you, not by a long shot, but certainly better than the mainstream narratives provide. I have no incentive to cling to a particular storyline, none. I have discovered the following information through continued reading and questioning. My perspective on almost everything has shifted dramatically as a result — one cannot unlearn certain things once they’ve been exposed to them.

One has to ask oneself a few questions and keep in mind a number of facts when putting the puzzle together as to what exactly is going on; and energy applies to many, many issues in our world far, far beyond climate change because it is the fundamental basis of life and all this entails. I won’t/can’t post everything since it would involve a massive text, but here are a few pertinent issues to consider in the energy story and our fossil-fuel future.

First, fossil fuels are indeed a finite resource so their coming decline in use was inevitable. This is not only because they are finite but because of falling energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI). Given our tendency to exploit the low-hanging fruit first (use up the easy-to-access and cheapest-to-retrieve), the law of declining marginal utility (also known as diminishing returns) was destined to occur and our use of them diminish significantly. We now have to rely upon oil sands, tight oil, and deep-sea drilling to sustain or just barely improve extraction rates. This is not only not economical because of the complexities involved, but uses up increasing amounts of the energy extracted (to say little of the environmental impacts).

The energy industry and governments have known about this predicament for decades. It is not a surprise at all (several ‘research’ reports by government agencies/bureaucrats over the years are available that discuss the issue; to say little about the ‘academic’ discussions). Geophysicist Marion King Hubbert projected this situation while working for the Shell Oil Company in the mid-1900s and developed the Peak Oil Theory, which has more-or-less been quite accurate in its predictions, especially for conventional crude oil production. Given that the largest and most profitable conventional crude oil reserves have all been found and exploited, and the increasing costs and diminishing returns of alternative methods of extracting oil and gas, it’s really not surprising that the industry has greatly reduced capital expenditures in exploration and instead ventured into alternatives; there is little additional profit to be made in oil and gas — better to move to other energy sources and market them as a panacea that will not only address climate change but support our energy-intensive living standards. This dilemma is also outlined in the 1972 text Limits to Growth that used emerging computer simulations to explore various scenarios given the fact that we live on a planet with finite resources. Of the various models generated, we seem to be tracking most closely the Business-As-Usual one that projected problems arising for humanity as we entered this century (and peaking around 2050); problems/dilemmas due to a variety things, not least among them the consequences of population overshoot.

Second, transitioning to alternative sources of energy is not a simple nor straightforward shift; not even close. We have created a complex, interlinked world almost entirely dependent upon fossil fuels. This one-time, finite cache of energy reserves has underpinned virtually our entire ‘modern’ way of living. From the ability to create a complex energy-averaging system via globalised, long-distance trade routes to industrial agriculture that feeds our billions (some quite well, others not so much), oil and gas makes it possible. There are no alternatives that can replace fossil fuels for a number of reasons but mostly because many of our necessary industrial and extraction processes must use fossil fuels since alternatives are inadequate — and alternatives all rely upon these processes for their production, distribution, and maintenance. Rather than acknowledge this dilemma, we have crafted a narrative that such a transition is not only possible but will more or less be forced upon humanity for its own good (more on why I believe this is so below).

Much of our geopolitical and economic chaos over the past number of decades can be tied directly to our energy issues as well. Maneuvering by various nation states, in the Middle East especially, has a link to the massive fossil fuel reserves that have been discovered around the planet. Alliances with questionable governments and proxy wars with competing nations has been the storyline for some years now as access to and control of oil and gas reserves (among other important resources) has been paramount. The untethering of our currency to physical commodities (i.e., gold and silver) in the late 1960s and early 1970s (especially the abrogation of the Bretton Woods Agreement by the United States), and subsequent ever-increasing debasement of it, can be said to be one of the consequences of diminishing returns on our most important energy sources and attempts to counteract the energy decline — especially in the US where oil and gas production peaked about this time. Geopolitics is mostly if not always about control of resources, not about freeing a nation’s citizens from its tyrannical government and bringing ‘democracy’ to them — we chose which ‘tyrants’ we support and which we vilify (even within our own ‘democracies’).

Finally (although I could ramble on forever), the ruling class/oligarchs/elite (whatever you wish to term the power brokers and wealthy in society) have one primary motivation that drives them: the control/expansion of the wealth-generating systems that provide their revenue streams — this has been the story of the ruling classes throughout pre/history. All other concerns either serve this first one or are secondary/tertiary. Energy is one of the most profitable of the various wealth-generating systems (control of the creation and distribution of fiat currency perhaps the most; along with taxing powers). What better way to ensure continued wealth generation than convincing everyone that a shift to alternative energy sources is necessary to save ourselves and planet, even if such a shift is impossible and untenable.

We cannot mitigate, let alone solve, the issues at hand for humanity and the planet if we do not correctly identify the cause(s). Clinging to a narrative that is primarily marketing propaganda might help to reduce the cognitive dissonance created by holding two or more beliefs that conflict with each other, but it does zero in addressing our needs. Holding on to the hope that we can continue to live as we have because ‘someone’ will solve these conundrums is in my opinion misplaced faith.

Our major dilemma is overshoot, defined simply as the point where a species has placed more demand on its environment/ecology than that system can naturally regenerate and sustain the population. The one-time cache of fossil fuels has allowed our species to proliferate (and helped to provide amazing wonders) well beyond the natural carrying capacity of our planet. And now that it is in terminal decline nature is sure to bring our species’ population back into alignment. Those at the top of society’s power structures are well aware of these issues for they have driven most of their actions and policies for decades. It is far better for them, however, if the masses are focused elsewhere and their use of propaganda to do this has a long history as well. We are being sold a comforting narrative about ‘clean/green’ energy while the underlying reality of what is occurring is being purposely ignored or dismissed, often as conjecture or conspiracy. The idea that we need to reduce our fossil fuel use to save the planet is convenient cover for the truth that fossil fuels are becoming too expensive to retrieve because the cheap-to-access and easy-to-retrieve reserves are quickly running out.

I’m increasingly doubtful we are going to face the ultimately very difficult decisions that need to be made (in fact, needed to be made decades ago) and we will continue to stumble along hoping and praying that all will work out just fine, thank you. Only time will tell how this all plays out for none of us can accurately predict the future but the path of decline/collapse seems fairly certain. Every complex society that has existed up to this point in history has experienced it and we are not significantly different when push comes to shove. If archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s thesis in his monograph The Collapse of Complex Societies is accurate, complex societies ‘collapse’ due to the inability to deal with stress surges because they have been experiencing diminishing returns on their investments in complexity; and this is exactly the situation with humanity’s investments in fossil fuels.

This is what I have been able to cobble together in the couple of hours of a few household chores and while enjoying my morning coffee. Now I will prepare to spend my usual day out and about our yard enhancing our fruit/vegetable gardens, and attempting to make our household a tad more resilient in light of the decline that is most assuredly upon us. You may or may not agree with my interpretation of things but I would implore you to explore the issues and certainly step outside of your comfort zone and consider a different paradigm because the ones pushed by the ruling class are not in your best interest.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XIV–Reducing Population: Degrowth or Enrich Everyone?

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XIV

Pompeii, Italy (1993) Photo by author

Reducing Population: Degrowth or Enrich Everyone?

Part of an ongoing conversation with another regarding globalisation and whether it is a beneficial or detrimental endeavour of humanity. You can find the entire back and forth here.

The notion that to address our overshoot dilemma by bringing the impoverished up to the level of the so-called ‘advanced’ economies so that population levels out or decreases (eventually) requires some significant magical thinking.

As I stated, the primary reason for ‘advanced’ economy riches is the exploitation of a finite resource; a finite resource that is already in its death throes due to the law of declining marginal utility (to say little about all the other resources that are similarly experiencing diminishing returns and requiring greater and greater amounts of energy to even maintain or slightly increase extraction levels).

There are not the resources remaining to bring the entire world up to the level supposedly necessary to lead to smaller families. What resources remain would be best used in helping everyone relocalise which is going to be most difficult for those caught in the trap of globalisation: dependence upon long-distance supply chains, especially for food.

Then there are the environmental/ecological consequences of attempting to enrich the majority of the world that continues to increase global population, resulting in even more stress on the various complex systems that ‘sustain’ humanity (and many other species). In fact, there are many who would argue our resource exploitations have already resulted in irreparable harm and must be halted immediately, not doubled- or tripled-down as you suggest to provide ‘riches’ for everyone.

I think you’ve got it completely backward; in fact, your suggestion would likely expedite the impending ‘collapse’ of our complex and energy-intensive, industrialised world. The ‘advanced’ economies are going to have to become far, far less ‘rich’ and as I said, either we choose how this might be done before we fall over the impending energy cliff or nature WILL do it for us; and nature doesn’t give one single iota of care or concern about how populations are brought back into balance with an area’s environmental carrying capacity. There are many who suggest a massive die-off of humans is the most likely scenario for the planet.

And I won’t even get into the fact that our current complex systems have been continuing only because of the economic Ponzi that the ruling class has created through flooding of the world with (increasingly debased) fiat currency and debt (hundreds of trillions of dollars). This is a monetary/financial/economic system that could ‘collapse’ at any moment, especially if people lose faith in the system.

I would suggest investigating the dilemma of Peak Oil, maybe start with Gail Tverberg (https://ourfiniteworld.com), Alice Friedemann (http://energyskeptic.com), Peak Prosperity’s The Crash Course (https://www.peakprosperity.com/crashcourse/), and the late Michael Ruppert’s Collapse (https://youtu.be/0Lx2dfK7H9E). Then also watch the following clips with William Catton (author of Overshoot): https://youtu.be/jNuRZuaw0_U, the late Dr. Albert Bartlett on our conundrum: https://youtu.be/O133ppiVnWY, and archaeologist Dr. Joseph Tainter (author of The Collapse of Complex Societies): https://youtu.be/G0R09YzyuCI.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XI–Fiat Currency, Infinite Growth, Finite Resources: A Recipe For Collapse

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XI

Knossos, Crete (1993) Photo by author

Fiat Currency, Infinite Growth, Finite Resources: A Recipe For Collapse

Yet another in an increasing collection of comments I have posted to the online media site The Tyee. This time it is a commentary on an article that reviews a book arguing in favour of the implementation of Universal Basic Income.

“No stone is left unturned in their thorough and convincing argument…”

I’m not so sure this is true. My personal focus for the past decade+ has been on the unsustainability of our complex society, particularly as it is impacted by our propensity to chase growth — especially population and economic, for these both have a significant connection to our ever-increasing drawdown of finite resources and ecological destruction of our planet. If we are not correcting this tendency to ‘grow’ in any way, shape, or form, then we are just creating more ways to kick-the-can-down-the-road of our wasteful and ruinous path; and place the significant burden of our misinformed ways on future generations.

One of the key arguments of archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s thesis regarding societal collapse as presented in his text The Collapse of Complex Societies is that a society becomes increasingly susceptible to collapse once it encounters diminishing returns on its investments in complexity. It is not a stretch at all to argue that we have been on the path of such decline for decades, particularly once we began creating a purely fiat currency that has allowed an explosion in debt/credit. If one looks at the ‘growth’ of our world since the late 1960s when central banks/governments shifted the world to a monetary system that creates money from thin air with no connection to physical commodities that could constrain our growth somewhat, it is almost all predicated on debt/credit expansion; a conundrum since debt repayment necessitates the growth imperative to continue (yes, basically a gargantuan Ponzi scheme).

Why is this connection to fiat currency important? Primarily because money is basically a claim on future resources and such resources are in terminal decline. So, the more money we ‘print’ (regardless of the reason for its printing), the more claims there are on future resources; resources that not only are disappearing quickly and getting more costly to access (because we always retrieve the easiest and cheapest to get to first), but whose retrieval results in monumental ecological destruction.

And on top of all this is the whole overshoot conundrum we have led ourselves into because of the above. Again, it is not difficult to argue that we have far surpassed the natural carrying capacity of our environment and only been able to ‘sustain’ our population by increasing our drawdown of resources through technology, energy-averaging systems (based on trade/geopolitical conquests), and this explosion of debt.

So, if we want to support our most vulnerable in society in a world that must pursue degrowth (the antithesis of our current pursuits and its expansion of debt/credit), then we need a much more complex discussion of how to do this. I see zero mentions of these complexities in the article. Just creating more money to distribute to a portion of our society is not a solution. In fact, the creation of more and more fiat is likely to have the negative consequence of our ruling class pursuing (more than they already do) increasing and significant price inflation, something that tends to hurt the majority of society more so than the elite at the top of the monetary/financial/economic system.

A Mirage of Abundance

Mirage. Image source

“Truth is like poetry.
And most people fucking hate poetry.”

Adam McKay, The Big Short

— We will never run out of minerals, or petroleum for that matter. There is an ample amount of these resources in Earth’s crust, actually more than we could ever extract.

— Phew! Are we saved then?

— Well, this was the truth part. Now it’s time for some poetry.

Inorder to have a better understanding of our world and to have at least a chance at gaining an insight into our future, we must understand some simple facts pertaining to the basis of our modern high tech civilization. How, and thanks to what technology, can we feed 8 billion people? How can 1 billion of us live so decently, surrounded by all the bells and whistles this civilization has to offer? Is this going to last forever? Can it last forever…?

Let’s start with a basic fact of life: we live off of what we pull out of the ground. Literally. From potatoes to microchips, everything we touch, eat, use and burn comes from under the ground. Plants take up nutrients like nitrates, potassium and phosphorus from the soil and turn them into edible food. Drilling rigs bore holes thousands of feet deep to bring up oil and natural gas to the surface. Excavators tear up the ground and haul rocks to a truck, which carries them into a refinery or a smelter. There they magically turn into clean metal sheets and slabs, Portland cement, glass or silicon monocrystals. Machines, equipment, building materials, consumer goods are then get built and manufactured from these raw materials.

Everything we touch, eat, wear, use then throw away has its origins under our feet. No exceptions.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Finite Feeding Frenzy

Finite Feeding Frenzy

Image by ariesjay castillo from Pixabay

You may be aware that our food industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, to the point that it takes about 10 kcal of energy input to deliver 1 kcal of consumed food. The enormous energy multiplier is due to extensively mechanized plowing, harvesting, processing, and delivery of food; fossil-fueled fertilization (via methane feedstock); refrigeration and preparation; then of course food waste. In olden times, when all agricultural energy came from muscle power that needed to be fed, the system would collapse (i.e., starve and fail) if energy inputs exceeded energy ingested.

Some have phrased our current practice as “eating fossil fuels,” and in fact a 2006 book by Dale Allen Pfeiffer had this title. So what? More power to us—literally.

The problem, people, is that fossil fuels are finite. We have already consumed a fair fraction (roughly half?) of the accessible allotment. And before concluding that we therefore have a century or so before needing to worry about the consequences, realize that the inflection point happens around the halfway mark, wherein decreasing ease of access tends to result in ever-decreasing output rates in the second-half of the resource. We see this behavior in individual oil fields and in regional (country-scale) aggregations. The low-hanging fruit is taken first, sensibly, so that what’s left is more stubborn.

Because human population has been substantially boosted by fossil fuel input, we have put ourselves into a vulnerable position. What happens when fossil fuels begin to give out on us?

It’s been a while since I did any, you know, math for this blog, as I seem to be living my own worst nightmare and turning into an armchair philosopher (oh the shame). In this post, I return to something closer to math..

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Future of Electricity

Image credit: Mark Eder via Unsplash

Things do not bode well for the future of electricity, especially in the ‘developed’ world, while the ‘developing’ countries are already experiencing serious issues. Sri Lanka. Pakistan. China. The world does not seem to be able to move enough electrons to satisfy demand. Surprising? Well, not in a finite world.

Where do we get electricity from?

I tell you no big secret: electricity is not coming from the socket in the wall, or the wires above your street. Electricity is generated mainly in huge power plants which provide a stable baseload for the grid. This makes sure that you always get power at a standard voltage and frequency whenever you plug in your washing machine or hair dryer, no matter where you live in the country.

Should any of these two parameters deteriorate, your device could easily malfunction, catch fire or cause an electric shock. Solar roofs and other intermittent (i.e. unstable) sources of electricity are nice additions to power plants, but can never generate the high quality energy required by the myriads of technological devices from water pumps, to street lighting, intensive care units and refrigeration. With the addition of batteries, inverters and converters ‘renewables’ are indeed able to simulate a stable grid frequency and voltage, but as always: there is a catch. More on that later.

All these technicalities would be of no concern to you in a fairy-tale world of infinite resources, where coal, gas, oil, minerals, forests never deplete, and which could take up an unlimited amount of pollution as a bonus feature. Sorry to disappoint you, but none of this is true to our world: resources are depleting fast, while pollution kills life on this planet at an alarming pace.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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