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North America’s biggest city is running out of water

North America’s biggest city is running out of water

Mexico City is staring down a water crisis. It won’t be the last city to do so.

A boat stranded on the dry floor of the Miguel Alemán dam on February 28, 2024, in Valle de Bravo, Mexico.
Mexico City is being threatened by a water crisis after the main reservoirs remain under 40 percent of their full capacity due to low rainfall, geography, and lack of infrastructure.
 Hector Vivas/Getty Images.

Mexico City is parched.

After abysmally low amounts of rainfall over the last few years, the reservoirs of the Cutzamala water system that supplies over 20 percent of the Mexican capital’s 22 million residents’ usable water are running out.

“If it doesn’t start raining soon, as it is supposed to, these [reservoirs] will run out of water by the end of June,” Oscar Ocampo, a public policy researcher on the environment, water, and energy, told my colleagues over on the Today, Explained podcast.

Already, some households receive unusably contaminated water; at times, others receive none at all. It’s stoking tensions over obvious inequities: Who gets water and who doesn’t?

The crisis is also leading Mexico City to siphon more from the underground aquifers on which the city sits, a decision that’s not just unsustainable without replenishment but also causes the ground to sink — at a rate of almost five inches each year, Ocampo said.

While many factors that led to this moment might be specific to Mexico City, or CDMX (including the Spanish colonists’ decision hundreds of years ago to drain the lake on which the city originally sat), or this moment in time (see: El Niño exacerbating droughts), the bigger issue is not.

Bogotá, Colombia, is rationing water amid a drought that has pushed reservoirs to “historically low” levels. And you might remember Cape Town staring down its own Day Zero crisis in 2018. A few years earlier, Sao Paulo, Brazil confronted a similar situation.

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

Welcome to the Warfare State

Welcome to the Warfare State


War is one of the few things that only the State can do. Indeed, as Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the State.” Let’s briefly discuss the nature of the State to see why World War 3 is on the way.

The State is like any other living entity: its prime directive is to survive and grow. Bear in mind that the State—the government—is not at all the same thing as the country or society, even though it claims to be. It’s not “We the People”; it’s a distinct entity with its own discrete interests. And that’s actually too mild an assertion. While individuals and companies prosper by providing goods and services to others through voluntary exchange, the State specializes in coercion.

There’s nothing voluntary about the State. Its main products have always been pogroms, persecutions, confiscations, taxation, inflation, censorship, harassment, repression—and war. The State is not your friend.

Mass murder and wholesale destruction are bad enough in themselves. But in wartime, the State enables them with new taxes, new debt, draconian controls, and new bureaucracies. These things linger long after the war is over.

Worse yet, the State does these things with the sanction of the victim; the typical citizen has been taught that almost anything is justified by “national security.” Anyone who would normally protest these depredations in peacetime soon learns to dummy-up when there’s a war for fear of being lynched for sympathizing with the invariably demonic enemy.

After the war—assuming a victory, of course—the State’s debt, taxes, regulations and general size never return to pre-war levels. They ratchet up to ever higher plateaus, requiring the State to do more of the same to justify its existence. Government programs, of whatever description, are almost never pulled out by their roots. At most, they’re trimmed, which has the same effect as pruning a plant, i.e., they’re encouraged to grow back bigger and stronger.

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

The world’s economic myths are hitting limits

The world’s economic myths are hitting limits

There are many myths about energy and the economy. In this post I explore the situation surrounding some of these myths. My analysis strongly suggests that the transition to a new Green Economy is not progressing as well as hoped. Green energy planners have missed the point that our physics-based economy favors low-cost producers. In fact, the US and EU may not be far from an economic downturn because subsidized green approaches are not truly low-cost.

[1] The Chinese people have long believed that the safest place to store savings is in empty condominium apartments, but this approach is no longer working.

The focus on ownership of condominium homes is beginning to unwind, with huge repercussions for the Chinese economy. In March, new home prices in China declined by 2.2%, compared to a year earlier. Property sales fell by 20.5% in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period a year ago, and new construction starts measured by floor area fell by 27.8%. Overall property investment in China fell by 9.5% in the first quarter of 2024. No one is expecting a fast rebound. The Chinese seem to be shifting their workforce from construction to manufacturing, but this creates different issues for the world economy, which I describe in Section [6].

[2] We have been told that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the way of the future, but the rate of growth is slowing.

In the US, the rate of growth was only 3.3% in the first quarter of 2024, compared to 47% one year ago. Tesla has made headlines, saying that it is laying off 10% of its staff. It also recently reported that it is delaying deliveries of its cybertruck. A big issue is the high prices of EVs; another is the lack of charging infrastructure. If EV sales are to truly expand, they will need both lower prices and much better charging infrastructure.

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh C

February 11, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Grieving: A Natural Response To Recognition Of Growth Limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCVIII–‘Inevitable’ Growth: Helping To Keep the Profiteer Gravy Train Pumping

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCVIII

February 7, 2023 (original posting date)

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

‘Inevitable’ Growth: Helping To Keep the Profiteer Gravy Train Pumping

The following are two brief comments (followed by a couple of shorter responses to others) I put out on one of my town’s FB pages regarding the ongoing conversation/debate around a proposed 18-story apartment complex along our main street. This is a very controversial plan given the fact that buildings have been limited to 6 floors for decades and brings to the surface the insane speed with which development has been occurring in our once small town with the moniker ‘Country close to the city’ — which most laugh at now given the ongoing loss of ‘ruralness’ once felt/observed. This community on the edge of the Greater Toronto Area has grown from around 13,000 in 1995 (when my wife, newborn, and I moved to a spot overlooking a kettle lake 10 minutes north of the built-up centre) to close to 50,000 presently with plans to continue expanding at a 5–10% per annum clip for as long as possible. For anyone who has ever seen the television series Schitt’s Creek, several of the buildings seen in the show exist along our main street (e.g., the veterinary clinic) and the main buildings are located in the town of Goodwood ten minutes east of us.

Everybody keeps going on and on about how we need to increase significantly the supply of housing to keep prices affordable but this is not at the root of this issue. That rather facile explanation is the one being leveraged and marketed by the profiteers (especially developers and banks, and facilitated by politicians eager to look like they’re doing something ‘positive’) to expand their cash cow of ever-expanding ‘development’ — regardless of environmental impacts and finiteness of resources.

These unaffordable prices are primarily the result of gargantuan money creation (i.e., credit/debt) by financial institutions (banking and shadow banking) to support (at least for a bit longer) the Ponzi nature of our monetary/financial/economic systems.

Much of this newly created ‘money’ is sloshing around in the system looking for assets with the best returns and what better avenue than parking it in housing — much of which is being bought up by the rentier class (especially the ‘investment’ industry who suck up most of the supply).

Take a look some time at the enormous exponential increase in debt/credit instruments over the past few decades — all of which are potential claims on future resources (particularly energy) that have encountered significant diminishing returns.

This will not end well…

The ‘growth is inevitable’ narrative that some are repeating here must be challenged. Pursuing growth is a conscious choice and one being made and repeatedly propagated by those who stand to profit the most from it: the ruling caste of society who market it as purely beneficial and ignore or rationalise away the negative aspects. This creates an Overton Window that limits our thinking and thereby beliefs.

Limits to growth and the significant negative consequences of such growth (e.g., ecological overshoot) are real. While such repercussions can be ignored/denied/bargained with, the very real biophysical impacts continue on and compound regardless of our beliefs or wishes.

The speed with which growth overwhelms systems is not something to wave away via denial or bargaining through magical thinking (i.e., some as-yet-to-be-hatched technology will ‘solve’ our resource woes and toxic legacies). While growth can be perceived to have some good intentions, as the saying goes “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We are putting at risk not just the overburdened planetary sinks that help to absorb and cleanse the pollutants created by our expanding industrial processes, but also the finite resource stocks — especially energy — that we depend upon for everything. Perhaps more importantly to sustaining a livable environment is the destruction of ecological systems in the wake of our growth. Biodiversity loss (mostly due to land system changes) over the past century or more has been off the charts and puts all species, including homo sapiens, in jeopardy.

And ‘building up’ to densify areas and prevent expansion onto farmland or environmentally-sensitive lands does absolutely nothing to eliminate the above issues. The sinks and stocks continue to be affected at almost the exact same rate. It is the continued growth that is the problem, not how we accommodate such growth.

For any that continue to believe growth in inevitable and can go on indefinitely (or, at least, for a lot longer before we must confront it), you need to watch the following presentation by the late Dr. Albert Bartlett, a physics professor from Colorado University, on the reality of exponential growth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI1C9DyIi_8.

You have fallen prey to the mythical narrative the governments, banks, and developers have created around supply and demand impacting house prices. This is not the primary reason. The fundamental reason is all the credit/debt ‘money’ created by the financial institutions and government (mostly financial institutions). This newly created money seeks return and gets funnelled into popular assets, sometimes good ones but oftentimes not (think Non-fungible Tokens, cryptocurrency, or many stocks). Housing is one of the very popular targets for all this ‘money’, most of it in the hands of the ruling elite/caste that buy up the housing stock and then rent it out. When well-off individuals/families and/or investment firms (what some have referred to as the rentier class) have millions/billions of dollars at hand to soak up assets, they sink much in real estate and land thereby driving up the price of these assets. The developers, banks, and other profiteers, however, leverage the rising prices to argue for more of their cash cow: development. They need more land, hence opening up the Greenbelt. They need to build more houses, thus the push to build ‘millions’ of residences. Despite the building binge that has been going on for decades around Toronto, prices have shot through the roof. It’s not about supply and demand.

Disagree completely. Growth is happening to keep our Ponzi economic system going for as long as possible…a bit of a misguided strategy on a planet with finite resources, especially energy. We need to be pushing degrowth, not growth.

Shaving it off at zero would be best. The idea that ‘growth’ is inevitable is another of those notions that needs to be challenged. ‘Growth’ is a choice and one being made by our ‘leaders’ (mostly because the ruling caste profits immensely from it). It is neither inevitable nor beneficial past a particular tipping point when it begins to encounter diminishing returns — to say little about the negative impact any and all growth has on ecological systems.

While ‘printing’ money is a tad inaccurate (the vast majority of new money is loaned into existence by banks and shadow-banking institutions), the primary reason housing costs have ballooned is certainty related to this as you suggest: newly created money is flowing into certain hard assets such as housing. If one includes the derivatives nightmare and other debt-liabilities, the world is drowning in quadrillions of dollars of interesting-bearing obligations. The issue around housing costs is multifaceted and supply/demand is but a very small aspect…but one leveraged as THE one by those who stand to profit from ever-expanding development; mostly the banks and developers. I am reminded of what industrialist Henry Ford stated (paraphrasing US Congressman Charles Binderup):”It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

Distilled Disintegration

Distilled Disintegration

Photo by Nigel Brown; licensed under Creative Commons

My adult life has run on two diverging tracks. On one, I played science. The other track branched off at age 34—twenty years ago this month—when I started teaching a class on Energy and the Environment. I was eager to piece together our likely energy future: how we would beat climate change and leave fossil fuels in the dust. Against my wishes, this fork presented unexpected turns that took a long time to sink in. The two tracks eventually became too divergent to keep a foot on each. At this stage, I can’t seem to muster the denial it would take to disregard what I have learned so that I might return to the more blissful play-time track.

Much of my writing in the last few years has tried to capture why I have become convinced that modernity can’t last, likely to begin disintegrating in the near-term. In this post, I attempt to distill core elements informing this sense. My apologies if this seems like a rehash. For what it’s worth, the packaging exercise is something that helps me address the question I constantly ask myself: what part of this might I have wrong? It’s a way to take stock.


I began the Do the Math blog with a pair of posts about why growth can’t last—hitting limits in a historically short time. I also dedicate the first chapters of my textbook to the same topic. In 2022, I synthesized the arguments in an academic paper. This thread should be very familiar by now to my readers, and in fact really ought to be common knowledge. Yet, modernity still operates in a market economy and political system built around a growth expectation. Pension plans and social safety nets (like Social Security and Medicare) become Ponzi schemes unquestionably destined to fail at some point as growth falters.

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

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 LXXVII–It’s Too Late For Managed Degrowth

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXVII

November 15, 2022 (original posting date)

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

It’s Too Late For Managed Degrowth

This contemplation is a ‘short’ comment I shared on an article by Martin Tye that showed up on my Medium feed and I read this morning. It asks an important question in whether the ‘action’ being called for by various groups/individuals to address climate issues are framed by an understanding of our fundamental predicament of ecological overshoot. He argues that with a proper framing of the issue the appropriate response is one of ‘degrowth’.

Yes, the evidence is accumulating quickly that we are significantly into ecological overshoot. And, yes, degrowing our ways (and totally rejecting the growth agenda being foisted upon humanity) seems the only means of addressing the core cause (exponential growth of population and its drain on resources and overloading of sinks — especially in so-called ‘advanced’ economies).

I understand the ‘merit’ of ‘softening the tone’ on the messaging of our dilemma, however, I fear that the degrowth movement, for the most part, continues to frame the predicament in too soft a way (in other words, still an awful lot of denial and bargaining by many degrowth advocates). An approach that may have been ‘achievable’ for more broad-based ‘success’ several decades ago but not nowadays given how much further we have travelled down the path of unsustainability and planetary damage we have caused. To say little about the momentum of this ever-enlarging avalanche we’ve set off.

It seems increasingly unlikely that we can ‘save’ everyone or everything. And while holding our sociopathic ruling caste’s feet-to-the-fire is a necessary action (if for no other reason than to get the message out to a wider audience), I’m leaning towards the notion that the best we can do is to attempt to make one’s local community as self-sufficient and resilient as possible for the exceedingly difficult journey ahead. Given we are sure to experience an increasing breakdown of the various complexities we’ve come to rely upon for our lifestyles, this approach is getting well past the critical stage of ‘necessity for survival’.

Potable water. Food. Shelter needs for the climate. Ensuring these basics are at the forefront of a community’s time and energy may help local peoples to get through the bottleneck we have led ourselves into.

On the other hand, the rest of the planet’s species may be hoping for us not be successful in this endeavour given how pre/history suggests for the last ten or so millennia pockets of humanity keep following this same suicidal path…only with the help of a one-time cache of relatively easy-to-access and readily-transportable energy we’ve encompassed the entire planet in this destructive tendency.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVIII–Growth is Great! Except It Isn’t.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVIII

(originally posted September 21, 2022)

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

Growth is Great! Except It Isn’t.

Today’s contemplation is an open letter I am sending (perhaps presenting in person, I haven’t yet decided[1]) to my local town’s council and a developer regarding a ‘proposed’ development that is moving ahead directly across the street from our home. It is not the first time I have spoken up about such community projects but will probably be the last given I have lost all faith in our local council to understand the perils and act on them, since they continue to not only pursue but cheerlead the continuing expansion of our community. ‘Growth is great, it benefits everyone’ is a refrain often posited by them.

That we reside in a significantly environmentally-sensitive region of my Canadian province makes the continued ‘development’ of the lands particularly problematic[2]. There’s always discussion of ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental awareness’ in such proposals but these are little more than greenwashed window-dressing to impact perceptions; marketing to help sell the narrative that our ‘leaders’ are acting ‘responsibly’ and that the pursuit of ‘sustainable growth’ is a noble and just action.

While they appear open to community dialogue and consultation, I have come to consider this appearance to be a charade; theatrics to give the impression of being ‘democratic’ and ‘consultative’ — which I have also come to understand about almost all ‘politics’. Little, if anything, about my decades-long experiences and observations about our Town ‘representatives’ leads me to conclude they actually understand or even want to know about the growing predicament they are contributing to — I can just imagine the overwhelming cognitive dissonance it would create; better to be immersed in significant self-deception and ignorance.

Dear Whitchurch-Stouffville Council and Mr. Spratley,

Mr. Spratley, in your recent letter to the community about the proposed development you are spearheading at 14622 Ninth Line, you claim to be pursuing “…responsible community and community-based development with the health of the lake in mind.”

Apart from not being directly consulted, as you claim you have done with all residents that live close to the proposed development, I must challenge you on your idea of ‘responsible community development’, especially in light of your proclaimed concern over the health of the lake.

The nature of what is considered ‘responsible’ has been shifting the past number of decades. Land use can and should no longer be viewed through a purely economic lens where everything is viewed as a commodity to be turned into a profit — especially land in ecologically-important regions, which the Oak Ridges Moraine certainly is. Such an antiquated view completely ignores and/or minimises the negative environmental and ecological system impacts human ‘development’ causes.

The Ontario government itself has recognised the importance of the moraine, stating it is “… an environmentally sensitive, geological landform…”[3], and thus the motivation for them to put in place policies to protect the ecological systems of the moraine (even though they often bypass such protections by encouraging and permitting continued settlement expansion despite repeated promises not to).

Of particular concern is the impact development has on the very important aquifers and contamination of them by human development. Musselman’s Lake sits in one of the areas identified as being highly vulnerable to such contamination. And the development you are proposing increases greatly the risk to the lake and regional aquifers.

In fact, there is growing evidence that allowing land to return to nature is a far, far more responsible act in terms of long-term sustainability and ecological enhancement than forcing land system changes and increasing population density — both of which serve to destroy/degrade the natural systems every species, including humans, depend upon for their very existence. But, of course, there’s no ‘profit’ in that.

The dangers of humanity’s continuing pursuit of the infinite growth chalice on a finite planet should be self-evident to everyone, but sadly this is not so. Perhaps because we continue to believe we stand outside nature and its ecological systems, and can control them. Or because we have grown to perceive everything from an economic perspective, where land is only viewed as having ‘value’ once it has been ‘developed’ and built upon. Possibly it’s because we have allowed those who stand to ‘profit’ from such a perspective to influence excessively and unreasonably our sociopolitical systems and sociocultural narratives and beliefs.

No amount of greenwashing by having a ‘butterfly parkette’ can counter the ecological damage of constructing a dozen homes (possibly many more) on a parcel of land that is located in an environmentally-sensitive region. That such a development is even being considered for the Musselman’s Lake area of the Oak Ridges Moraine is a travesty. Council would be wise to turn down the application and amendments.

The very fact that you are in need of plan amendments to allow the use of wells to provide water for these homes because the current water system is already ‘maxed out’, speaks volumes to the overuse/overpopulation of the area that currently exists — to say little of the rather undemocratic way in which the Town forced area residents to abandon fully-functioning wells several decades ago to hookup to Town water…at a significant personal cost.

Finally, your contention that “[t]he smaller size of homes compared to the overall lot size…respects the lake and the policies that guide development” is somewhat misleading in that it is not necessarily the footprint of a home that has a negative environmental impact on a region, but the number of people that occupy it. While a large home may have oversized influence upon the resources used to construct and maintain it (e.g., fossil fuels for heat), most of the environmental consequences flow from the density of a settlement. Putting more homes and people into an area has an outsized impact given all the waste produced and resources required to sustain each person.

You may actually be sincere in your wish to do what is ‘right’ by this development, although seeking to build far more homes on the lot than established by current plans suggests you are not. Regardless, the evidence that is building in this world about the negative consequences of human expansion is coming down on the side of your proposal being detrimental, very detrimental, not beneficial.

That developments continued to get approved by our Town Council with amendments to increase significantly the number of dwellings and density is very telling about their actual concern with environmental/ecological responsibility as well — it’s non-existent.

That we continue to ignore the signals being sent to humanity by the planet and its fellow species speaks volumes about our continuing misuses of our finite world and whether we actually are acting ‘responsibly’ in our behaviour and actions. The evidence is continuing to mount that we are not. In fact, that we are doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing — degrowing our existence.

Steve Bull

Please consider visiting my website. It contains many relevant site links and articles. It also allows you to help support my internet presence via the purchase of my ‘fictional’ trilogy — Olduvai.

[1] I am aware that presenting an in-person comment is likely to be received better than a written one but I have never felt comfortable speaking in public, despite having put myself in a variety of situations where I have had to. It’s one of my least favourite actions/behaviours.

[2] We reside in a region called the Oak Ridge Moraine and look out over two nearby kettle lakes. The area is part of some very important aquifers for our province.

[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/oak-ridges-moraine

Record Global Debt: A Ticking Time Bomb for the World Economy

Record Global Debt: A Ticking Time Bomb for the World Economy

The relentless increase in global debt is an enormous problem for the economy. Public deficits are neither reserves for the private sector nor a tool for growth. Bloated public debt is a burden on the economy, making productivity stall, raising taxes, and crowding out financing for the private sector. With each passing year, the global debt figure climbs higher, the burdens grow heavier, and the risks loom larger. The world’s financial markets ignored the record-breaking increase in global debt levels to a staggering $313 trillion in 2023, which marked yet another worrying milestone.

In the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections, the United States deficit will fluctuate over the next four years, averaging an insane 5.8 percent of GDP without even considering a recession. By 2033, they still expect a 6.9 percent GDP budget hole. Unsurprisingly, the economy, even using optimistic scenarios, stalls and will show a level of real GDP growth of 1.8% between 2028 and 2033, 33% less than the 2026–2027 period, which is already 25% lower than the historical average.

Some analysts say that this whole mess can be solved by raising taxes, but reality shows that there is no revenue measure that will fill an annual financial hole of $2 trillion with additional yearly receipts. This, of course, comes with an optimistic scenario of no recession or economic impact from a higher tax burden. Deficits are always a spending problem.

Citizens are led to believe that lower growth, declining real wages, and persistent inflation are external factors that have nothing to do with governments, but this is incorrect. Deficit spending is printing money, and it erodes the purchasing power of the currency while destroying the opportunities for the private sector to invest. The entire burden of higher taxes and inflation falls on the middle class and small businesses.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LX–Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part Two

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LX

July 19, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo by author.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part Two

This is Part Two of a contemplation regarding what humanity’s future path ‘may’ look like. Part One can be found here.

Based on the evidence found in our pre/history and our biological proclivities (both of which I touched upon in Part One), it would appear we are likely to experience a variety of crises as we increasingly encounter diminishing returns on our investments in complexity and go through the withdrawal of surplus energy[1] that has fed our ‘growth’ and supported our organisational ‘problem solving’ abilities, but also because we have created and come to rely significantly upon systems that require such growth to keep from collapsing (for example, our increasingly debt-based financial/economic/monetary systems that, in turn, support our expanding energy-averaging systems and ensuring overexploited regions can be ‘maintained’ — i.e. globalised trade).

Throw on top of this the overshoot predicament and one should realise that the future is sure to not be the one painted by the techno-cornucopians who optimistically envision more of a Star Trek future than a Mad Max or The Road one.

I, personally, am of the opinion that ‘collapse’ of some type is imminent[2] primarily due to our overwhelming reliance upon important finite resources (especially fossil fuels) that we are now experiencing significant diminishing returns upon (and, yes, it’s an opinion; as is every other view of the future no matter how much ‘science’ is behind it or how sophisticated the model used to project the trends going forward — some are better than others but only the passage of time can ultimately decide which, in retrospect, were accurate).

At the same time we are going to be increasingly impacted by environmental/ecological crises brought about by our ecological overshoot and its concomitant overwhelming of the planetary sinks that previously helped cleanse the waste products of our expansion and technological creations[3] — to say little regarding the impacts that are going to be experienced around diminishing returns on food production and its very real reliance upon fossil fuels. Whether it be increasing frequency of extreme weather events and/or toxic environments leading to physical/physiological consequences for its inhabitants, including humans, the repercussions of our expansion appear to be growing in nature and impact.

How we view ‘collapse’ depends very much on our interpretation of it. It may be ‘the end of the world as we know it’ but that does not mean it will be dark and dreary. That perspective may be one that has been widely propagated in order to ‘scare’ people into believing the status quo economic and power structures need to continue and be supported at all costs. They do not.

‘Collapse’ seems scary because it is mostly about uncertainty, something humans abhor. We don’t know what the future holds and it reduces our cognitive dissonance greatly to cling to some certain future, even if completely and utterly wrong.

I’ve shared before what Tainter says about ‘collapse’ and it’s not all that bad depending upon one’s point of view:

“Collapse…is a political process. It may, and often does, have consequences in such areas as economics, art, and literature, but it is fundamentally a matter of the sociopolitical sphere. A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity…[It manifests itself] as:
· a lower degree of stratification and social differentiation;
· less economic and occupational specialization, of individuals, groups, and territories;
· less centralized control; that is, less regulation and integration of diverse economic and political groups by elites;
· less behavioural control and regimentation; less investment in the epiphenomena of complexity, those elements that define the concept of ‘civilization’: monumental architecture, artistic and literary achievements, and the like;
· less flow of information between individuals, between political and economic groups, and between a center and its periphery;
· less sharing, trading, and redistribution of resources;
· less overall coordination and organization of individuals and groups;
· a smaller territory within a single political unit.”[4]

Some (most?) of these consequences may actually be welcomed by some, especially those who rail against what appears to be a growing tyranny of the ruling elite as we creep further into the banquet of consequences of our overshoot and diminishing returns on investments in complexity.

However, the ‘collapse’ that may accompany overshoot — a massive ‘die-off’ — seems a tad bit more cataclysmic depending upon how quickly such population reduction occurs. A relatively short recalibration of our population would, for all intents and purposes, appear truly calamitous to those experiencing it and most certainly would create a chaotic disintegration of the complexities we have come to rely upon for our survival. We have recently experienced the knock-on effects of shutting down world trade/economies over the fears associated with a relatively mild novel coronavirus[5]; the disruption of something far more impactful would make this seem very tame in comparison.

It seems clear to me that we have predicaments creating a vice on our continuation of any type of complex society. And my thinking about how this might all unfold has led me to review more closely John Michael Greer’s thesis that attempts to develop an ecological model of ‘collapse’. This ‘catabolic collapse’ suggests, at least in my interpretation, that we will see ‘crises’ that lead to more ‘simplified’ levels of society that then later experience more ‘crises’ resulting in another step down to an even simpler state and so on due to the fact that “production fails to meet maintenance requirements for existing capital…[and as a result get caught up in] a self-reinforcing cycle of contraction converting most capital to waste.”[6]

Given the increasing likelihood of ‘collapse’, it would seem we have two stark choices/strategies (very similar to what Greer argues regarding Catabolic Collapse). Continue on attempting to sustain unsustainable systems, virtually guaranteeing an overshoot die-off of gargantuan proportions. Or, attempt to ‘manage’ our ‘collapse’ as it unfolds by being pre-emptive via purposeful downsizing[7], degrowing[8], and simplifying[9].

What this second option looks like depends almost entirely on those agreeing with this approach. In fact, I sense a growing bifurcation of opinions even within the ‘degrowth’ movement with some arguing for a very slow transition and movement towards ‘green/clean’ technologies and others countering that such an approach is far too late and much more radical shifts need to be made if we are to have any ‘hope’ of making it thru the bottleneck we have created for our species (and others).

Unfortunately, given the lack of consensus, the psychological processes that lead to significant denial and bargaining (to reduce cognitive dissonance)[10], and the fact that the ruling elite will likely fight with all their ‘tools’ to avoid the elimination of their control/expansion of the wealth-generation/extraction systems that provide their revenue streams (their primary motivation), it is most probable we will go with the first option above: attempt to sustain the unsustainable (probably via ‘green’ technology), which will then lead to mother nature choosing how the planet is rebalanced — and our wishes and concerns will be null and void in this scenario.

In addition, given our current geopolitics and the frequency at which a society’s ruling elite choose war during times of stress, rather than diplomacy, I very much see the possibility of a global conflagration of conflict occurring — that could, of course, go nuclear.

As a result of all the above, I am increasingly leaning towards our future being far more dystopian in nature than utopian. The version of dystopia is still very much up to us I believe depending on what we do from this point onwards (my hope is that we make ‘good’ choices but my fear, as I admit above, is that doing so is beyond our capability because of the nature of our society’s power structures and protection of them by those who leverage crises to their benefit; along with the human tendencies to defer to authority and the need to ‘belong’).

Is there a way out of this conundrum? I personally waffle between ‘hope’ (something I wish for but really have no agency in) and despair (see image below).

My ‘hope’ is that we will come to realise that our pursuit of the perpetual growth chalice is taking us to a dark place where few of us survive (and that would be many species, not just homo sapiens) and reverse our trajectory; what can referred to as ‘degrowth’: a purposeful cessation of our current path and ‘deconstruction’ of almost all our socioeconomic and sociopolitical excesses until we reach a standard of living and population level that is ‘sustainable’.

My despair is that we will refuse to do this for a variety of reasons both psychological and biological in nature, but especially because if it is to have any positive impact we likely need to do it deeply and quickly. Instead, we will likely do everything we can to kick-the-growth-can-down-the-road to delay the inevitable and ultimately make the ‘correction’ all the more colossal in its size and scope; especially if, as Catton argues, we will have to undershoot our ‘natural’ carrying capacity by quite a bit given that everything we have done has reduced it significantly[11].

So, basically I believe that if we continue to hold that more technology[12] and money will address our issues, then I tend to think we will drift towards the darker dystopian path. If, however, we begin to ‘collapse’ on our own terms by degrowing, downsizing, and simplifying our societies we might be able to steer our future towards the lighter dystopian future where relatively small, local communities live within their region’s carrying capacity and are in ‘sync’ with the ecological systems within which they live and depend upon. We cannot and should not continue to believe that humans exist above and beyond these systems. Frankly, without them we are destined to disappear as well.

This ‘light dystopian’ vision, if you will, may appear calamitous to many because it is void of most of the technological ‘conveniences’ (what some have termed ‘energy slaves’) we currently embrace and is sure to involve much more manual labour and expose us to many of nature’s uncertainties that we have come to believe we can tame and avoid. But as nature so often reminds us, although we are reluctant to admit it, it always bats last and has the final say.

Given the evidence and my personal inclinations, more and more I’m leaning towards the realisation that it is the ‘scarier’ dystopian future that we, or at least future generations, will experience.

Of course only time will tell since making predictions is difficult, particularly if they’re about the future…

The following image was posted recently by someone on Facebook and I find it is frighteningly apropos to my personal reflections about our predicament:

[1] See Dr. Tim Murphy’s blog for more on this: https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/professional-area/

[2] By ‘imminent’ I mean it’s a matter of when, not if. It could be a relatively long-lasting decline as painted by John Michael Greer (https://newsociety.com/books/l/the-long-descent-pdf?sitedomain=row) and James Howard Kunstler (https://www.amazon.ca/Long-Emergency-Converging-Catastrophes-Twenty-First/dp/0802142494); or a relatively quick one as suggested by Jared Diamond for Easter Islanders (https://www.amazon.ca/Collapse-Societies-Choose-Succeed-Revised/dp/0143117009). Also note that I do not ‘wish’ for this outcome; while the ‘effort justification’ aspects of my mind would love to be proven right — given all the ‘energy’ I’ve put into the ‘collapse’ narrative — I have children whom I do NOT want to experience a ‘declining’ world constantly in crisis and with significant uncertainty.

[3] See this for evidence of our breaching of various planetary limits: https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html

[4] Tainter, J. The Collapse of Complex Societies. P. 4.

[5] Regardless of one’s perspective on Covid-19 and its political roots and/or implications, the millions of deaths attributed to it are but a fraction of several historical pandemics. The mortality rate for Covid has been relatively low compared to other ‘plagues’ that have spread through human populations and resulted in much more significant ‘die-offs’, such as the Black Death (1347–1351), Spanish Flu (1918–1919), Plague of Justinian (541–542), Third Plague Pandemic (1855–1960). https://www.publichealthonline.org/worst-global-pandemics-in-history/

[6] https://www.ecosophia.net/civilizations-fall-theory-catabolic-collapse/

[7] See this (https://justcollapse.org/) for one version of how to do this in a ‘just’ manner.

[8] See https://degrowth.info/degrowth for one version of degrowth.

[9] Nate Hagens’s podcast series provides some great insight into this approach: https://www.thegreatsimplification.com/.

[10] My second university degree was focused on psychology and anthropology (Honours Diploma, 1987, Western University). An Honours Diploma is equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree but Canadian universities do not give out second B.A.s to the same student and instead give these. At least that was the case during my 1980s post-secondary years. I also have a Bachelor of Education which is the field in which I spent my formal employment (Brock University, 1989, St. Catharines, Ontario); 10 years as a classroom teacher, 15 as an administrator.

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

[12] See Erik Michaels’s https://problemspredicamentsandtechnology.blogspot.com/ for some insight into why technology is perhaps our undoing, not some ingenious ‘saviour’ for humanity.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LIX–Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part One

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LIX

July 13, 2022 (original posting date)

Arles, France (1984). Photo by author.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong? Part One

Today’s contemplation (a two-parter) was begun a few months ago but I’m just now getting around to completing and posting it. As often happens with me and my ADHD, I get thinking about/reflecting upon a topic or idea, record some thoughts while having my morning coffee and the ideas are flowing, and then move on to something else before finishing the task completely (this habit, unfortunately, also impacts my various house ‘projects’ and drives my wife crazy…but after 36 years together she’s aware I just need the ‘occasional’ reminder about the unfinished work — I had forgotten about this writing until coming across it as I was cleaning up some computer files due to ‘extra’ time on my hands given the loss of Internet with the several-day shut-down of one of Canada’s largest providers recently; a blessing, really, as it reduced my screen-time).

A question posed to me recently was: “What does the path forward look like when we say we have to live within our means on a finite planet?”

The answer to such a question is as varied as the people answering it[1]. I am hesitant to provide a definitive answer about what the transition to ‘sustainable’ circumstances might look like given the uncertainty that abounds. I am inclined to believe that any ‘guess’ about the future[2], regardless of the amount of data/evidence one has or the sophistication of the model or the computing power used, is probably about as accurate as reading tea leaves or a bird’s entrails. Not one of us has a clear picture as to what will unfold in the future, for as a few people have been credited with stating (including physicist Niels Bohr, writer Mark Twain, and baseballer Yogi Berra): “Prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future.”

I’ve long held that complex systems can neither be controlled nor predicted with their non-linear feedback loops and emergent phenomena[3], so predicting complex systems with any degree of ‘certainty’ is a fools’ errand — especially once human actions/behaviours are involved. On top of this, no matter how sincere our attempts at objectivity in such prognostications, personal biases always impact our processing of information as does the paradigm[4] through which we interpret events and project into the future (and we tend to do so linearly since non-linear systems befuddle our primate brains); and, then, of course there are the Black Swans[5] that are persistently circling overhead — those unknown, unknowns that we can’t even contemplate because they’re outside of our personally-confining and -blinding worldview.

When we read about the future we are confronted with a potpourri of thoughts about how it might unfold — most of them, of course, presented with ‘certitude’. We tend to cling to some over others even if the one we tend to gravitate towards holds little in common with observed reality or experience. For as Dan Gardner argues in Future Babble[6], humans do not like uncertainty and despite so-called ‘experts’ being horrible at predicting the future, human psychology compels us to listen and take them seriously — even if we know the prognosticator to have been wrong on countless occasions (I still look at the long-range weather forecasts even though I know quite well that any outside of about 12–24 hours are bound to be incorrect, some drastically so — something that drives me ‘mad’ when my food gardens are in desperate need of rain and the weather forecasters are calling for rain right up until that actual day/hour it is supposed to rain and then change the prediction to no rain, and I am forced to spend a few hours watering my beds — a tendency that seems to be increasing in frequency the past couple of growing seasons; this year, April and May were great for precipitation in my area north of Toronto but as has been happening, it seems, June and so far in July has been way too dry and the 4000 litres of rainwater I have collected in my 20 rain barrels was getting precariously low up until a very recent overnight rain).

I like what Gardner states near the end of his book about discussing the future:

It is informed by the past, it is revealing about the present, and it surveys a wide array of futures. It is infused with metacognition…It offers hopeful visions of what could be; it warns against dangers that also could be. It explores our values by asking us what we want to happen and what we don’t. And it goes no further. It raises issues, questions, and choices, and it suggests possibilities and probabilities. But it does not peddle certainties, and it does not predict.[7]

Where are we on our path into the future given such uncertainty? Well, we have our choice of competing narratives to believe in.

There are some who argue that it matters little or not at all what we do with respect to the existential predicaments we face, for the future is one where we are all FUBAR. For example, 5–10 degrees of average global temperature increase is quite certainly baked into the cake and will in all likelihood lead to the extinction of most species on the planet, perhaps all with the end result being a ‘hothouse’ Earth with an environment similar to Venus. Responses to this eventuality then also range, mostly dependent on whether one holds that the impact will be sudden or drag itself out over millennia. Dystopia, even widespread extinction, is on the horizon and there is no avoiding it.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe strongly that we can transition somewhat seamlessly to ‘alternative’ forms of energy (or just continue extracting fossil fuels whose ‘scarcity’ is a concerted psy-ops by the ‘powers-that-be’) to keep-on-keeping-on with our status quo complexities and energy-intensive living standards. For most ‘clean/green’ energy aficionados, nuclear fusion or some other as-yet-to-be-discovered technology will provide us with cheap, safe energy; and/or we can mine passing asteroids for any needed finite resources we’ve exhausted, including water. In fact, one day we are bound to leave this over-used rock and colonise other worlds. Perhaps a little bit of tweaking here or there might be needed but given human ingenuity and technological prowess we will solve any and everything thrown our way so there is no need to worry about any ecological system breakdown or resource scarcity ‘problems’ for very long at all. The future is one of unlimited possibilities and utopian dreams, especially if we also redistribute all the wealth tied up in the off-shore bank accounts of the world’s billionaires and slay that evil monster capitalism; then, without a doubt, all eight billion (or much more) of us can live happily-ever-after, holding hands, and singing Kumbayah around the ‘carbon-free’ campfire.

These are perhaps the two extremes of the gamut of possibilities for our future. Where each of us ends up on this continuum of beliefs depends on the worldview we hold and how we process information through that narrow keyhole we necessarily each peer through. And I would argue that what we believe also very much relies upon our personal biases and what we wish to happen, not necessarily upon any ‘factual’ evidence. We are constantly seeking out confirmatory evidence for our beliefs and ignoring or denying counterfactual data or rationalising it to fit into our preconceived notions. There exist very strong psychological mechanisms to ensure ‘facts’ seldom, if ever, alter firmly held beliefs.

So, before I lay out my personal thoughts on what our future may or may not look like (and I am in no way ‘certain’ about any of this, although I do lean towards the more ‘dystopian’ possibilities), let me provide some cognitive context for why I believe what I believe. The paradigm through which I view the world, as it were, and necessarily impacts my perception of this crazy and totally unpredictable world.

I find that pre/history demonstrates pretty clearly that every complex sociopolitical organisation (i.e., complex society) before us has eventually ‘declined’ to a point that it can no longer be considered a ‘society’[8]. The social fabric that held the population together became frayed and people opted out, leading to its eventual ‘collapse’.

In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies[9] archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues that a human society is a problem-solving organisation. This organisation requires energy inputs for its maintenance with increasing complexity necessitating increased energy inputs. These inputs eventually encounter the law of marginal utility or diminishing returns because the solutions we adopt in dealing with problems that arise tend to be the easiest-to-implement and cheapest-to-maintain, but eventually more difficult and costly approaches must be pursued as the ‘easy’ ones have been exhausted. People are attracted to participating in a sociopolitical organisation (i.e., society) so long as the benefits accrued are at least — but preferably better — than the costs incurred. Once the costs exceed the perceived benefits, people choose to withdraw their participation. When a tipping point of participants have opted out, the organisational structures that have held complexities in place ‘collapses’.

It’s obviously much more difficult to abandon the sociopolitical sphere and organisational structures one is born into today than it was in the past. There is not only limited to no space left to flee to as every portion of the planet has been claimed by some nation state or another, but the vast majority of people lack the skills/knowledge to survive without their society’s supports. Self-sufficiency has been ‘bred’ out of us in just a few generations as we have embraced a future based upon different imperatives but especially complex centralised-systems and technology.

This shift has been afforded us by our leveraging of a one-time, finite cache of fossil fuel energy; a cache that has encountered significant and world-altering diminishing returns.

On top of this leveraging of fossil fuel energy and the paradigm shift it has led to in how we perceive the world — and create organisational structures and knowledge within in — we have the very real prospect that we are in the midst of ecological overshoot because we have significantly surpassed the planet’s human carrying capacity[10].

In the past we could overcome carrying capacity limits by migrating to a region as yet unexploited or underexploited by others (wars and colonisation are pretty well always about resources/economics; see U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler’s essay War is a Racket[11] for more on this perspective). When we pushed up against or exceeded the biophysical limits imposed by our environment in the past, this ‘takeover method’ (taking over from other species and eventually other humans) allowed us to expand for many millennia. We spread into virtually every niche across the globe.

More recently, however, we have depended upon a different means of procuring our needed resources termed the ‘drawdown method’, where we have extracted finite resources to supplement our existence. We have pushed human carrying capacity well past its natural limit by relying upon various resources drawn from our environment. The past couple of centuries has seen this approach focused primarily upon limited resources that have been extracted far, far faster than their renewal rate. Such use could only be limited in scope and temporary in time.

As William Catton argues in Overshoot[12], any species that overshoots its carrying capacity experiences a ‘rebalancing’ of its population eventually. Where the takeover method is precluded, a loss of necessary resources (usually food) results in a massive die-off to bring population numbers down to a level where the environment can recover. Sometimes a species experiences physiological changes that reduces fertility. Either way, population is reduced dramatically from its peak and often to a level far below the natural upper limit of ‘sustainability’ because of the damage to the environment that overshoot has caused.

Given our reliance upon fossil fuels, their finite nature, and the diminishing returns we have encountered because of this — and the way in which their use and the industrial processes they have ‘powered’ have overwhelmed the various planetary sinks that normally help to filter and purify the waste products we produce — it is increasingly clear that we have overshot our carrying capacity and have but the negative consequence of that to experience (or as many argue, are already experiencing).

In Part Two of this ‘essay’ I will paint a somewhat blurry picture of our possible future…

[1] Here I am reminded of a statement by a visiting psychology professor at a lecture on human ‘intelligence’ I attended at Western University when I was an undergrad. During his introductory remarks, with a goal of defining what we would be discussing, he stated (and I am paraphrasing given it’s been about 40 years): “Ask a hundred psychologists the definition of intelligence and you are bound to get a hundred different answers, perhaps more.”

[2] See this recent article by Charles Hugh Smith on the difference between a forecast and a guess: https://www.oftwominds.com/blogjun22/forecast-guess6-22.html.

[3] I highly recommend some reading on complexity and complex systems. A good beginning text is Donella Meadows’s Thinking In Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. (ISBN 978–1–60358–055–7).

[4] For an introduction to the concept of paradigms see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1962. (ISBN 978–0–22645–811–3)

[5] See Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Improbable. Random House, 2010/2007. (ISBN 978–0–8129–7381–5)

[6] Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail–And Why We Believe Them Anyway. McClelland & Stewart, 2010. (ISBN 978–0–7710–3513–5)

[7] Ibid. p. 266–267.

[8] My graduate degree was concentrated in archaeology (Master of Arts, 1988, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario).

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

[10] Note that my first university degree was primarily concentrated in biology/physiology (Bachelor of Arts, 1984, Western University, London, Ontario).

[11] War is a Racket. https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.pdf

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLIV–The Ruling Class: Chasing Growth Regardless Of the Consequences

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLIV

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

The Ruling Class: Chasing Growth Regardless Of the Consequences

Today’s contemplation is in response to an article by the Honest Sorcerer whose writings I discovered not long ago and have enjoyed for their insight and clarity. I recommend reading them[1].

If only the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine would be a catalyst for our ‘leaders’ to highlight our existential vulnerabilities to the complex systems we have come to expand and depend significantly upon but, alas, I fear this crisis, as always seems to happen, is being leveraged by our ruling class[2] to benefit themselves primarily, not the vast majority of people. A few of the items this latest geopolitical event is being used to rationalise/justify include: the creation of more fiat currency and government spending (most of which will find its way into their investment portfolios); the expansion of the surveillance state (especially focused on those who question or challenge government diktats); as a foil to blame increasing economic and social woes upon (so as to keep their policies and behaviours that have contributed to these problems out of the light of day); as a reason to expand significantly and speed up tremendously our transition to ‘clean’ technologies, or the opposite — the expansion of legacy energy extraction (both of which whose necessary financial and industrial processes are owned/controlled by them); as rationale to expand narrative control/censorship (particularly of viewpoints/perspective that challenge or question the mainstream storyline); etc..[3]

I have zero faith that our governments at any level have solid plans to reduce or even mitigate the chaos of overshoot beyond attempts to keep the various Ponzis they preside over going as long as and in whatever manner they can. More than likely their approach will be to persuade the populace in the name of ‘patriotism’ and other such emotional trigger points to make increasing ‘sacrifices’, mostly in the form of increased taxes[4] but also in terms of weakened or diminished expectations as far as the ‘benefits’ that might accrue from further investments in complexity[5].

I’ve come to believe that the ruling class’s primary motivation is the expansion/control of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems from which they derive their revenue streams, and thus their power and prestige. Everything they do, from policy to legislation to censorship, first and foremost serves to meet this primary catalyst. Everything. It is all marketed differently (in fact, the opposite most of the time) but ultimately it supports or extends upon their primary consideration.

While the future is impossible to predict, the past suggests that as we fall down the Seneca Cliff of resource availability we will witness a continuation (perhaps even speeding up) of the flow of declining resources up the power and wealth structures inherent in our complex societies rather than down them as the ruling class purports to be pursuing. This will, however, be spun (as it has been throughout history), and increasingly so, in true Orwellian fashion as beneficial for the masses and necessary to keep our complex systems functioning. I suppose in a sense it is true that growth must continue to be pursued but this is primarily because of the Ponzi-like structure of our financial and monetary systems[6].

I see this very clearly in my home region north of Toronto where expansive growth is being not only cheered on by our ruling class but increasingly marketed as the only real means of addressing our various predicaments, especially economic expansion. Growth is progress and only beneficial is the common refrain. We need to expand in order to increase revenues and ensure equity. We can grow sustainably[7] without negatively impacting the environment. We have strong and unfaltering supply chains.

There is zero recognition of resource limits or they are waved away as environmental neuroses and/or doomsday conspiracies. Whatever issues might arise can be countered via more growth. The fact that our population of close to 15 million relies upon around 80+% of its food needs via fragile, long-distance supply chains while we continue to pave over our limited arable lands matters not[8]. ‘Sustainable’ growth ensures our prosperity and must be pursued.

As long as we have a ruling class that holds to the historical tendencies to place their interests above that of their constituents, then we have a situation where mitigation/adaptation will only be prevalent in the narratives spun, not the actual actions taken. I see this so clearly in the attempts to sustain the unsustainable via stories about ‘net zero’ growth and a post-carbon transition to ‘clean’ energy. The ruling class profits immensely from these narratives as they own/control the financial institutions and industries needed to fund and produce these technologies. It doesn’t matter that they do not in any way, shape, or form do what they are marketed as being able to accomplish.

Infinite growth (even sustaining our current world complexities) is not possible on a finite planet. Never has been. Never will be. Techno-cornucopian ‘solutions’ only serve to make the rich richer and the coming collapse from ecological overshoot all the more spectacular.

Readers are encouraged to focus on relocalising the basic aspects of living (i.e., potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter needs) as much as possible and reconnect with community members who will be your primary supports as things go increasingly sideways. Do not put your faith in our so-called political ‘leaders’. Despite their propaganda, they do not have your best interests at the top of their agendas; if such an incentive even makes the agenda except perhaps around election time when the marketing of more, more, more really blossoms. Because, you know, more is in your best interest…only it’s not.

[1] Full disclosure: the articles align very much with my own thinking and so serve to confirm my own interpretive biases.

[2] It’s not just our ruling class that is using the situation to benefit from. There are numerous grifters leveraging it as well.

[3] These are a continuation of trends that have been taking place for decades (centuries), most recently with the coronavirus pandemic.

[4] Especially in terms of that ‘hidden’ tax, price inflation — that will be blamed on everything, particularly the ‘enemy’, but their expansion of debt-/credit-based fiat currency and diminishing returns on our resource-dependent complexities; and I expect intensified manipulation of the reported statistics pertaining to price inflation as part of the narrative control taking place, even more than the current obscene and increasing levels.

[5] I highly recommend reading archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s book The Collapse of Complex Societies to get insight into how diminishing returns on investments in complexity seems to be the underlying cause of a complex society ‘collapsing’. You can access my personal summary notes to this and a handful of other books here.

[6] Very, very few people want to destroy the illusion that our financial/monetary systems are robust and NOT Ponzi-like in nature as we are all embroiled in it. But once confidence in such schemes is lost it is only a matter of moments before the entire edifice collapses. I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue once a tipping point of people come to realise that these systems are held together by duct tape and prayer (and A LOT of lies).

[7] The idea of ‘sustainable’ growth is one of those oxymorons that drive me crazy–’clean’ or ‘green’ energy being another. Such language manipulation is quite purposeful as a narrative control mechanism and needs to be highlighted every time it occurs. It significantly distorts one’s perceptions of what is and what is not possible on a finite planet.

[8] The overwhelming majority of Ontario’s prime agricultural land is dedicated to modern industrial agriculture in order to grow corn and soybean for products that do not, for the most part, feed its population.

The Great Growth Hoax

For several days, ever since the supposedly amazing GDP report from quarter four 2023, we’ve been blasted by the media about how great the economy is doing.

It’s exasperating because these claims do not fit with human experience. Last we heard from the Census Bureau, real income is down, and no one doubts it. Everyone, or at least most average people, has felt strong downgrades in living standards over these last four years.

And yet, no recession has been declared. This is for technical reasons. A recession is supposed to show up in the technical reading of the GDP plus unemployment.

We’ve known for years that the unemployment data is broken. It does not account for labor dropouts or adjust for multiple job holders or otherwise reveal anything about labor participation or remuneration.

Unemployment is technically low, but so what?

As for GDP, it is not a measure of the standard of living or even economic growth. It is a measure of output — stuff going on as measured in dollar terms, whether necessary, productive, society serving, efficient or not at all.

The aggregate was concocted at a time when economists believed that spending was itself productive, whether it flowed from a sustainable capital base or government itself. Anything moving and churning was regarded as good.

We Don’t Need More GDP Reports Like These

When the latest report came out and everyone cheered, I dug around the data a bit but figured I would wait for my favorite analysts to weigh in. Sure enough, Peter St Onge writes it up and it is a doozy:

Fresh GDP numbers came in and it was a blowout. The kind of blowout that only a $2.7 trillion government deficit can buy while the private economy crumbles around it. Another couple blowout GDP reports like this and Americans will be living under an overpass.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLV–Chasing Maladaptive Strategies

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLV

March 24, 2022 (original posting date)

Knossos, Greece (1988) Photo by author

Chasing Maladaptive Strategies

Today’s very short contemplation was in response to a post I was asked to comment upon that calls for sociopolitical ‘leadership’ to ‘tackle’ natural disasters that have been linked to the climate crisis.

I believe that most still don’t understand that the existential predicaments we are experiencing are but symptoms of the over-arching predicament of ecological overshoot[1]. Until and unless we acknowledge our overshoot we seem to be chasing maladaptive strategies in attempts to deal with its catastrophic symptoms and, in my opinion, asking the wrong people to address the situation.

For example, most people, in their well-intentioned desire to confront the effects of climate change, believe that if we abandon fossil fuel use and transition to some alternative (that has been mislabeled ‘green/clean’ and ‘sustainable’), we can maintain our energy-intensive complexities. Understanding that energy-harvesting technologies (e.g., solar, wind, wave, nuclear) not only depend upon the fossil fuel platform but upon finite resources that require a continuation of environmentally-/ecologically-destructive processes to retrieve and refine radically alters how one should perceive our path forward.

We need to be pursuing radical degrowth in all its iterations, from population to economics. Modern living standards of advanced economies (even of ‘emerging’ economies) are not in any way shape or form sustainable on a finite planet. If we cannot accept this and acknowledge that this needs to guide our responses and actions, then we are in all likelihood destined (some argue it is all but guaranteed) to experience the collapse that always accompanies overshoot. And such collapse will only increase in severity when it eventually occurs if we continue to chase misguided ‘solutions’ that further reduce the natural carrying capacity of the planet.

Given that our sociopolitical systems are built on power/wealth structures that for some time now have come to rely almost exclusively upon chasing the perpetual growth chalice, it seems to me that looking to them to correct our path is completely misplaced and increasingly more destructive in the end. Their tendency is to talk a good talk about addressing issues but when push comes to shove they almost always leverage such crises to their own advantage in one way or another to expand upon and prolong the Ponzi schemes they preside over[2].

As I argued in a recent article[3], people: “are encouraged to focus on relocalising the basic aspects of living (i.e., potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter needs) as much as possible and reconnect with community members who will be your primary supports as things go increasingly sideways. Do not put your faith in our so-called political ‘leaders’. Despite their propaganda, they do not have your best interests at the top of their agendas; if such an incentive even makes the agenda except perhaps around election time when the marketing of more, more, more really blossoms. Because, you know, more is in your best interest…only it’s not.”

Yes, we need to shut down our fossil fuel industry but we also need to realise there is no ‘replacement’ for the significant energy it supplies society. The post-carbon world will be radically, and I mean radically, different than today. The illusion of a modern utopia with electric vehicles and all the accoutrements painted by the techno-cornucopian snake oil salesmen (that are little more than grifters lining their pockets) must be abandoned if we are to have any hope of getting through the bottleneck we have created for our species and most others on this planet.

Please consider visiting my website and helping to support its continuation through the purchase of my ‘fictional’ collapse trilogy: Olduvai.

[1] If you have yet to read William Catton Jr.’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, I highly recommend it. It is fundamental to understanding overshoot. You can find my personal summary notes here.

[2] I use the term Ponzi scheme intentionally given the fact that such contrivances require continual growth to keep from collapsing and that they are, for all intents and purposes, rackets that benefit a few at the expense of the many participants.

[3] https://stevebull-4168.medium.com/todays-contemplation-collapse-cometh-xliv-b81abc961f4c

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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