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Rex Weyler: Why is the political process so slow to respond to our ecological crisis?

Rex Weyler: Why is the political process so slow to respond to our ecological crisis?

Preface.  Rex Weyler is one of the co-founders of Greenpeace in Canada, a brilliant ecologist and journalist, and more. His blog is here: https://www.rexweyler.ca/greenpeace

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Rex Wyler. September 2021. Ecological crisis: Might as well speak the truth

Why is the political process — worldwide — so slow in responding appropriately to our ecological crisis?

We may point out that most political processes are hobbled by corruption, self-interest, and bureaucratic incompetence. However, there may be a deeper reason, connected to how the status quo protects itself, not just against foreign aggressors, but against dissident ideas that threaten its accepted narrative.

Regarding our ecological problems, the popular narrative of most societies and governments today is that we have a “climate problem,” which can be solved with “renewable technologies” such as windmills, carbon capture, and efficient batteries.

However, global heating is a symptom of a much larger, more fundamental ecological crisis articulated by William Rees, the Limits to Growth study, the Post-Carbon Institute  and other ecologically aware observers. Humanity’s urgent and primary challenge is what ecologists call “overshoot,” the predicament of any species that grows beyond the capacity of its environment. Wolves overshoot the prey in their watershed, algae overshoot the nutrient capacity of a lake, and humanity has overshot the entire capacity of Earth. Global heating, the biodiversity crisis, depleted soils, and disappearing forests are all symptoms of ecological overshoot.

All paths out of overshoot (genuine solutions) involve a contraction of the species and a decline of material/energy throughput. There are no exceptions.

Furthermore, the contraction of humanity is inevitable, so all genuine options exist within this framework, whether we respond appropriately or not…

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

A Prayer for Nonbelievers

A Prayer for Nonbelievers

I was ten years old when The Limits to Growth first saw print.  I have a dim memory of seeing a  newspaper article or two about it, but I had other things on my mind in 1972—my parents got divorced that year, and an already difficult childhood promptly got much worse—and several years passed before I found time to read it.  Its portrayal of a future of hard limits made immediate sense to me.  Somehow I never managed to absorb the widespread American conviction that there will always be more so long as you whine for it loudly enough, and so the book became one of the volumes that shaped my youthful sense of where the future was headed.

In the 1970s you could talk about such things. The public library in Burien, Washington where I got most of my reading fodder then was well stocked with books on energy and the environment. If I couldn’t find what I wanted there I could catch the Route 130 bus to the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library, not yet replaced by the monument to architectural incompetence that now squats on its site, and bring home a double armload of volumes on similar topics. By that time, too, I had read enough to follow the logic of The Limits to Growth in detail.

It was not, as the corporate media insisted it was, a prophecy of doom.  That’s one of the details that got swept under the rug by the mainstream back in the 1970s and still gets swept under the rug by the project’s critics today.  The point of The Limits to Growth was that we as a species, and as a community of nations, had a choice…

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

‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

Published in 1972, and shrouded in controversy since that date, ‘The Limits to Growth’ is the most successful econometric projection ever made.

The idea of these of blog posts is to introduce people to some ‘historic’ books and reports, which I think should be more widely read. To start, I thought I’d pick a book that for years has been vilified or deliberately ignored. Any discussion of its content is shrouded in controversy. It’s the 1972 book, ‘The Limits to Growth’.

My version is a second revised edition from 1974. Its 200 pages are a little more beaten-up than when I bought it second hand, as I refer to it quite a bit in debates.

Paul Ehrlich’s, ‘The Population Bomb’, had launched a debate about humans and the environment. Problem was, that book is based on pretty poor data. To resolve that lack of evidence, a group of scientists decided to create a properly researched model to look at humanity’s effect on their finite environment.

At this time ‘systems science’, computer models, and computer-based projection, were a very new thing – relatively little understood by politicians and the public. This new application of mathematics had arisen out of Cold War strategic planning. Applying it to global ecological issues was, though, a revolutionary idea.

The group outlined its work on page 27:

The model we have constructed is, like every other model, imperfect, oversimplified, and unfinished. We are well aware of its shortcomings, but we believe that it is the most useful model now available for dealing with problems…

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

The century of the limits

The century of the limits

IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING. JUST DO IT. SMASH YOUR LIMITS

We know much better some slogans that sell us that everything is possible, than the laws of thermodynamics, which govern our own nature and the limits that bound it. And so it goes. This is our frame of thought and from it derives some of our worst contradictions.

There is a story that is very interesting to share in order to talk about all this and that hides many clues about where we are now. In 1972, shortly before the first oil crisis and while computers were living their own prehistory, the Club of Rome -a recently founded scientific and cultural avant-garde organisation, which later has been key in the advancement of science and political ecology- commissioned a report from MIT in Massachusetts on the state of resources and the key variables to sustain our civilisation. System dynamics methodology had just begun to take its first steps, and its founder, Jay Forrester, developed several modesl to analyse the enviornment, resources, economy and population.

Almost five decades later, the incredible accuracy of the forecasts of the World3 model – a computer simulation programme – are an unparalleled milestone in terms of scientific anticipation.

It must be kept in mind that in reality there are an infinite number of interrelated variables that are impossible to take into account – such as the cultural/anthropological variables of a civilisation – and a complexity that no model can calibrate. However, in one of the many reviews that have been made of the MIT work, such as Graham Turner’s review in 2014, it was confirmed that this is probably one of the most impressive scientific works in the history of mankind. A few months ago, another review has reaffirmed its predictions.

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

The Future is a Landscape

The Future is a Landscape

I’ve been reflecting of late about the way that our habitual expectations about change blind us to the way that change actually happens. One of the most important of these is the frankly weird but pervasive notion that the future is a single place, where only one kind of thing happens. It’s always “The Future,” very much in the singular.  To most people these days, of course, “The Future” is either progress as usual or it’s instant apocalypse, and I’ve discussed that before, but let’s look at the broader pattern for a moment.

In both of these cases and far too many others as well, the future is all the same, and it’s all the same forever. It’s never one kind of future here and a different kind there, or a glossy Tomorrowland here and something more realistic there, or apocalypse here and everywhere else people just pick themselves up and get on with their lives. Nor is the society of the future generally allowed to peak and decline, as societies do in the real world, nor will the big loud catastrophe fade into memory and leave the survivors to go on to do other things, as disasters do in the real world. Missing here is the crucial realization that history doesn’t stop with us, and change will continue to unfold into the far future the way it has all through the past.

Another conversation along these lines is more than usually timely, because that durable 1972 study The Limits to Growth is back in the news again. There’s good reason for that, of course. The Limits to Growth showed that economic growth on a planetary scale is subject to the law of diminishing returns; pursue growth far enough, and the costs of growth rise faster than the benefits and eventually force growth itself to its knees…

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

What Kind of Mindsets Lead Us Into Traps?

What Kind of Mindsets Lead Us Into Traps?

First picture: Morning, Hamilton Ranch (aka Carroll Ranch), Big Hole Valley, Montana
Second picture: Beaverslide used for hay. Agriculture is what led into civilization.

After quite an interesting last week, I have a better understanding of why so many people fall into the different “traps” and mindsets that we do. Rarely do we see the bars around us and as such, we often forget precisely which boundaries are real and set in stone, which ones are real and temporary, and which ones are only illusory and imagined. This brings a new aura to the forefront; one which explains why it is so necessary to Live Now. Peter Russell points out one of the big issues surrounding modern humans, looking for external items we think we are missing in our lives.

One of my friends, Simon Michaux, just came out with a new video describing precisely where we are with regards to mining and extraction and the Limits to Growth. The content probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention, but the implications of where this leads should be noted to those who think that technology is going to help society dig out from ecological overshoot. Technology use and addiction is precisely what has put us in this position, so giving it up and letting go of it is the only useful way to dig out from the collective hole we find ourselves in. The longer we continue using technology, the more damage we do to the environment (resulting in more climate change, pollution loading, ocean acidification, SLR, species and biodiversity decline, extinction, less carbon sequestration, etc., etc.).

This new study accurately points out how most of society views climate change as the biggest predicament society faces rather than its parent predicament, ecological overshoot; and in the process ignores the main driver of collapse, quote:

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

Mining of Minerals and the Limits to Growth

Mining of Minerals and the Limits to Growth

The mining of minerals is linked to the 1972 Limits to Growth study. There are a number of technical problems the business model behind mining is struggling with now. Challenges for the proposed expansion in mining to construct a non-fossil fuel system (EV’s, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, etc…). Here is the report: The Mining of Minerals and the Limits to Growth https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/…

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.

A 1972 MIT study predicted that rapid economic growth would lead to societal collapse in the mid 21st century. A new paper shows we’re unfortunately right on schedule.
GettyImages-1189106363
IMAGE: GETTY

A remarkable new study by a director at one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that a famous, decades-old warning from MIT about the risk of industrial civilization collapsing appears to be accurate based on new empirical data.

As the world looks forward to a rebound in economic growth following the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the research raises urgent questions about the risks of attempting to simply return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’

In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources.

The controversial MIT analysis generated heated debate, and was widely derided at the time by pundits who misrepresented its findings and methods. But the analysis has now received stunning vindication from a study written by a senior director at professional services giant KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms as measured by global revenue.

Limits to growth

The study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.

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

The American infrastructure, ancient Rome and ‘Limits to Growth’

The American infrastructure, ancient Rome and ‘Limits to Growth’

Infrastructure is the talk of the town in Washington, D.C. where I now live and with good reason. The infrastructure upon which the livelihoods and lives of all Americans depends is in sorry shape. The American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 infrastructure report card gives the United States an overall grade of C minus.

Everyone in Washington, yes, everyone, believes some sort of major investment needs to be made in our transportation, water, and sewer systems which have been sorely neglected. There are other concerns as well about our energy infrastructure and our communications infrastructure—both of which are largely in private hands. The wrangling over how much will be spent and on what is likely to go on for months.

What won’t be talked about is that the cost of maintaining our infrastructure is rising for one key reason: There’s more it every day. We keep expanding all these systems so that when they degrade and require maintenance and replacement, the cost keeps growing.

There is a lesson on this from ancient Rome. Few modern people understand that the Romans financed their expansion and government operations using the booty taken from vanquished territories. That worked until it didn’t. When Rome reached its maximum expanse, when it no longer conquered new territories, the booty stopped coming. With the borders of Rome the longest the empire had ever had to defend, it now relied primarily on taxes to finance a large army and administrative presence across the empire in order to maintain control.
Our modern-day version of booty has been cheap energy, much of it supplied by the oil, natural gas and coal fields of America and later its uranium mines…

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

The Future of the Oceans: The two Souls of the Club of Rome

The Future of the Oceans: The two Souls of the Club of Rome

I was very happy when I finally managed to find a copy of the old report to the Club of Rome, “The Future of the Oceans” by Elizabeth Mann Borgese. A book published in 1986, one of a long series of reports that the Club commissioned to various scientists and researchers. And the only one, so far, that dealt with marine resources. Not so easy to find: I finally managed to dig out a used copy from an obscure bookstore in Michigan. But, eventually, it arrived here.

 

Of course, my interest in that old book was generated by having written a report on marine resources myself, The Empty Sea, together with my coworker Ilaria Perissi (you see her with our book in the photo.) So, how do these two books compare, at 35 years of distance from each other?I must say that I was surprised. Our book can be defined as a little catastrophistic: just the title should tell you what I mean. The one by Elizabeth Mann Borgese, instead, is completely different in tone, approach, and contents: you could define it as cornucopian. The first part of the book is dedicated to describing the abundance of the resources that the oceans contain, the second and third part are dedicated to how the international community was going to develop a “common heritage economics,” and about treaties, regulations, and laws needed to manage the exploitation of these riches for the good of all humankind.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of who is right and who is wrong, you may be just as surprised as I was to discover that the Club of Rome could sponsor two books that took such a different approach on the same subject…

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

The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

 These Medieval ladies look like fashion models. With their splendid dresses in silk brocade, they are displaying their wealth in an age, the 14th century, in which Europe was enjoying a period of economic growth and prosperity. They couldn’t have imagined that, one century later, Europe would plunge into the terrible age of witch hunts that would put women back to their place of child-making tools. It is the way history works, it never plans, it always reacts, sometimes ruthlessly. And all that happens had a reason to happen (above, miniature by Giovanni da Como, ca.1380)

Can you tell me of at least one case in history where a society perceived a serious threat looming in the future and took action on it on the basis of data and rational arguments? With the best of goodwill, I can’t. Societies react to threats using a primeval stimulus-reaction that may be aggressive or defensive, but that’s almost never rational.

Curiously, our society, that we call sometimes “The West,” was the first in history to have a chance to do something rational to avoid the destiny awaiting it much before the threat was clearly visible. It was in 1972 when the newly developed digital computers were coupled with a powerful analytical tool, “system dynamics.” The result was the study called “The Limits to Growth” that foresaw how the gradual depletion of natural resources coupled with increasing pollution (that today we call “climate change”) would cause the whole Western economic system to collapse at some moment during the first half of the 21st century. The study also suggested rational solutions to avoid collapse: reduce consumption, stop population growth, manage pollution, and the like.

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

What If Preventing Collapse Isn’t Profitable?

What If Preventing Collapse Isn’t Profitable?

The real downside of the green-profit narrative has been that it created the assumption in many people’s minds that the solution to climate change and other environmental dilemmas is technical, and that policy makers and industrialists will implement it for us, so that the way we live doesn’t need to change in any fundamental way. That’s never been true.

Smoky skies from the northern California wildfires casts a reddish color in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Photo: Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Smoky skies from the northern California wildfires casts a reddish color in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Photo: Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

The notion that modern industrial civilization is fundamentally unsustainable and is therefore likely to collapse at some point is not a new one. Even before the Limits to Growth report of 1972, many ecologists were concerned that our continual expansion of population and consumption, based on the ever-increasing rate at which we burn finite supplies of fossil fuels, would eventually lead to crises of resource depletion and pollution (including climate change) as well as catastrophic loss of wild nature. Dystopian outcomes would inevitably follow.

This apprehension led environmentalists to strategize ways to avert collapse. The obvious solution was, in large measure, to persuade policy makers to curtail growth in population and consumption, while mandating a phase-out of fossil fuels. But convincing political and business leaders to do these things proved difficult-to-impossible.

It’s time to ask: is there something fundamentally wrong with the eco-opportunity message?”

The folks in charge used the following arguments to justify their refusal to act.

Population Growth: The choice of whether or not to reproduce is a basic human right, said the authorities. Seeking to interfere with that right also violates religious freedoms. Besides, population growth helps economic growth (see “Economic Growth,” below).

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

Can Changing Habits for Self-Reliance and Resilience help society avoid the worst of unfortunate futures?

Our release of chapter 25 from RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future as a free downloadable pdf is another small gesture to spread positive messages in a time of pandemic. This is especially so for all those locked down in Melbourne, the geographic focus of the book and our further efforts to stimulate a wider a retrosuburban response in the wake of the pandemic. While our primary appeal is to people already voting with their feet to retrofit their own lives, not having these strategies recognised, let alone debated, in the mainstream media continues to act as a break on their wider adoption. Even the much-vaunted capacities of social media to allow communities of interest to share and adapt their activities are increasingly constrained by corporate and other powerful interests’ ability to manage and manipulate the proliferation of content through social media platforms.

A lesser recognised constraint is the dearth of academic investigation of options for more radical behaviour change. It is still true that most ideas to change society get a good working over in academia and policy think tanks before they surface in the mainstream media. For example, mainstream media discussion of the concept of “degrowth” is recent and introductory, even if the academic discourse and activism in this field has been intense for nearly twenty years.

Permaculture was unusual in the way it burst into public consciousness after very little exploration in academia. Research and investigation into the logic behind permaculture strategies has always been sparse, but in recent years we are starting to see increasing recognition that permaculture (including retrosuburbia) is more than a fringe green lifestyle choice. Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary is the first academic book to recognise the critical nature of retrosuburbia and kindred strategies in dealing with the Limits to Growth crisis.

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

The Arc Of Our Future

The Arc Of Our Future

In last week’s open post, I noted that I didn’t have anything in particular planned for this fifth Wednesday of the month, and asked my readers what they wanted to hear about. Quite a few subjects got brought up for discussion—among others, the novels of Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, and the metaphysics of sex—but the largest number of readers asked for something less abstract.

During more than half of the fourteen years plus that I’ve been blogging weekly, the main focus of my essays was the future of industrial society, and in particular the slow-motion train wreck set in motion by our society’s frankly brainless attempt to pursue infinite economic growth on a finite planet. More recently, and especially from 2015 on, my focus has been elsewhere, but the issues I raised in those days haven’t gone away—the political convulsions of the last few years have simply distracted attention from them. Many of my readers are aware of this, and what they asked for was an update on the ongoing historical process I’ve called the Long Descent.

Since some of my current readers weren’t yet reading me when I last discussed these issues, I’ll start with some general points and go from there. One of the great mental blind spots of our society is the notion that there are only two possible futures: on the one hand, business as usual stretching endlessly into the future, with a side order of technological progress dished up at intervals; on the other, sudden apocalyptic mass death, with or without a small band of plucky survivors sitting around a campfire as the final credits roll. An astonishing number of people these days literally won’t let themselves think about any other possible future, and will either change the subject or get furiously angry at you if you should be so bold as to suggest one.

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

Understanding Our Pandemic – Economy Predicament

Understanding Our Pandemic – Economy Predicament

The world’s number one problem today is that the world’s population is too large for its resource base. Some people have called this situation overshoot. The world economy is ripe for a major change, such as the current pandemic, to bring the situation into balance. The change doesn’t necessarily come from the coronavirus itself. Instead, it is likely to come from a whole chain reaction that has been started by the coronavirus and the response of governments around the world to the coronavirus.

Let me explain more about what is happening.

[1] The world economy is reaching Limits to Growth, as described in the book with a similar title.

One way of seeing the predicament we are in is the modeling of resource consumption and population growth described in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows et al. Its base scenario seems to suggest that the world will reach limits about now. Chart 1 shows the base forecast from that book, together with a line I added giving my impression of where the economy really was in 2019, relative to resource availability.

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in “Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil,” with dotted line added corresponding to where the world economy seems to be have been in 2019.

In 2019, the world economy seemed to be very close to starting a downhill trajectory. Now, it appears to me that we have reached the turning point and are on our way down. The pandemic is the catalyst for this change to a downward trend. It certainly is not the whole cause of the change. If the underlying dynamics had not been in place, the impact of the virus would likely have been much less.

…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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