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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

Today’s Contemplation CLXXIII–Human Ecological Overshoot: What to Do?

Today’s Contemplation CLXXIII

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

Human Ecological Overshoot: What to Do?

Today’s Contemplation is a very short comment I posted on The Honest Sorcerer’s latest piece.

Yes, the grieving process must be travelled through to the end to reach ‘acceptance’ of our human ecological overshoot predicament. Some are just beginning this process and as such display the very typical denial and bargaining stages, thinking quite adamantly that human ingenuity and our technological prowess will triumph over any and everything that Nature has in store for us story-telling apes. In fact, it’s not unlikely that the vast, vast majority of people are not even remotely aware of the human ecological dilemma and attribute growing signs of ‘collapse’ to socioeconomic and sociopolitical factors solely.

For myself, it took a number of years to move through these grief stages and I still get bogged down in some ‘hopefulness’ periodically that we can avoid what is for all intents and purposes inevitable (I think mostly because I have children whom I’d like to think can ‘dodge’ the ramifications of the coming storm).

Aside from this psychological journey of grieving, I wrote a series of Contemplations (starting here) about a number of other cognitive aspects that impact our belief systems and thinking about this, concluding that:
“The collapse that always accompanies overshoot seems baked in at this point with little if anything we can do about it.

Personally, I’d like to see our dwindling fossil fuels dedicated to decommissioning safely those significantly dangerous complexities we’ve created (e.g., nuclear power plants, biosafety labs, chemical storage, etc.) and relocalising as much potable water procurement, food production, and regional shelter needs as possible rather than attempting to sustain what is ultimately unsustainable given the fossil fuel inputs necessary. Perhaps, just perhaps. by doing these things a few pockets of humanity (and many other species) can come out the other side of the bottleneck we’ve created for ourselves.”

Your call for focusing on a ‘graceful landing’ immediately had me think about Dr. Kate Booth and Tristan Sykes ‘Just Collapse’ initiative. They describe it as “an activist platform dedicated to socio-ecological justice in face of inevitable and irreversible global collapse…[that] advocates for a Just Collapse and Planned Collapse to avert the worst outcomes that will follow an otherwise unplanned, reactive collapse…[and] advocates for localised insurgent planning and mutual aid.” And this avenue may be the best path to follow at this point, particularly since it appears that most of our reactionary attempts to stave off the symptom predicaments of our overshoot are serving to exacerbate our issues.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXV–Exponential Growth, Natural Carrying Capacity, and Ecological Overshoot

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXV

December 8, 2021

Pompeii, Italy (1984) Photo by author

Exponential Growth, Natural Carrying Capacity, and Ecological Overshoot

The following very short contemplation was in response to some comments on an Andrew Nikiforuk article in The Tyee.

As an Apex predator, humans were on a path from the outset to likely overshoot the natural carrying capacity of their environment. As the late Dr. Albert Bartlett opines in a must-watch presentation on our inability to understand the exponential function: “…here we can see the human dilemma — everything we regard as good makes the population problem worse, everything we regard as bad helps solve the problem. There is a dilemma if ever there was one.”

As William Catton argues in Overshoot, we humans have had two approaches to overcoming carrying capacity limits and continuing our exponential population explosion and global reach/impact: the takeover and drawdown methods.

For millennia we relied upon taking over unexploited regions by migrating. The biggest boost came about with the European ‘discovery’ of a second hemisphere.

Then, a couple of centuries ago, we began exploiting the drawdown method that relies upon extraction of fossil energy to inflate the human carrying capacity.

Given that the drawdown method relies upon a finite resource, that avenue of extending the limits to our expansion could only ever be temporary. And, it would appear, we encountered diminishing returns on the drawdown method some decades ago but are only now really beginning to experience the limits imposed upon us by a finite planet.

Population biology shows us what happens to a species that comes to rely upon finite resources (or renewables ones that are over-harvested faster than can be replenished): population collapse.

We have this knowledge and awareness but for many reasons we tend to refuse to accept it. Instead we craft comforting narratives in our denial or bargaining to avoid thinking too deeply about it.

There is no solving this via our technology or ‘ingenuity’ (in fact, there’s a good argument to be made that our attempts to do this are actually expediting and adding to our overshoot by increasing our drawdown of finite resources, further overloading our planetary sinks, and further reducing our carrying capacity). Our refusal (for whatever reason) to degrow/downsize/power-down/etc. ensures we lose our chance to mitigate the consequences of our overshoot.

After posting this comment, Alice Friedemann (see her Energy Skeptic website) posted the following on Facebook. I encourage everyone to read this and consider signing it.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXIV–Energy-Averaging Systems and Complexity: A Recipe For Collapse

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXIV

November 28, 2021

Athens, Greece (1984) Photo by author

Energy-Averaging Systems and Complexity: A Recipe For Collapse

Supply chain disruptions and the product shortages that result have become a growing concern over the past couple of years and the reasons for these are as varied as the people providing the ‘analysis’. Production delays. Covid-19 pandemic. Pent-up consumer demand. Central bank monetary policy. Government economic stimulus. Consumer hoarding. Supply versus demand basics. Labour woes. Vaccination mandates. Union strikes. The number and variety of competing narratives is almost endless.

I have been once again reminded of the vagaries of our supply chains, the disruptions that can result, and our increasing dependence upon them with the unprecedented torrential rain and flood damage across many parts of British Columbia, Canada; and, of course, similar disruptions have occurred across the planet.

Instead of a recognition that perhaps a rethinking is needed of the complexities of our current systems and the dependencies that result from them, particularly in light of this increasingly problematic supply situation, we have politicians (and many in the media) doubling-down on the very systems that have helped to put us in the various predicaments we are encountering.

Our growing reliance on intensive-energy and other resource systems is not viewed as any type of dependency that places us in the crosshairs of ecological overshoot and unforeseen circumstances, but as a supply and demand conundrum that can be best addressed via our ingenuity and technology. Once again the primacy of a political and/or economic worldview, as opposed to an ecological one, shines through in our interpretation of world events; and of course the subsequent ‘solutions’ proposed.

Our dependence upon complex and thus fragile long-distance supply chains (over which we may have little control whatsoever) is not perceived as a consequence of resource constraints manifesting themselves on a finite planet with a growing population and concomitant resource requirements but as a result of ‘organisational’ weaknesses that can be overcome with the right political and/or economic ‘solutions’. Greater centralisation. More money ‘printing’. Increased taxes. Significant investment in ‘green’ energy. Massive wealth ‘redistribution’. Expansive infrastructure construction. Higher wages. Rationing. Forced vaccinations. The proposed ‘solutions’ are almost endless in nature and scope.

All of these ‘solutions’ have one thing in common: they attempt to ‘tweak’ our current economic/political systems. They fail to recognise that perhaps the weakness or ‘problem’ is with the system itself. A system that has built-in constraints that pre/history, and population biology, would suggest result in eventual failure.

Archaeologist Joseph Tainter discusses the benefits and vulnerabilities of ‘energy averaging systems’ (i.e., trade) that contributed to the collapse of the Chacoan society in his seminal text The Collapse of Complex Societies.

He argued that the energy averaging system employed early on took advantage of the Chacoan Basin’s diversity, distributing environmental vagaries of food production in a mutually-supportive network that increased subsistence security and accommodated population growth. At the beginning, this system was improved by adding more participants and increasing diversity but as time passed duplication of resource bases increased and less productive areas were added causing the buffering effect to decline.

This fits entirely with Tainter’s basic thesis that as problem-solving organisations, complex societies gravitate towards the easiest-to-implement and most beneficial ‘solutions’ to begin with. As time passes, the ‘solutions’ become more costly to society in terms of ‘investments’ (e.g., time, energy, resources, etc.) and the beneficial returns accrued diminish. This is the law of marginal utility, or diminishing returns, in action.

As return on investment dropped for those in the Chacoan Basin that were involved in the agricultural trade system, communities began to withdraw their participation in it. The collapse of the Chacoan society was not due primarily to environmental deterioration (although that did influence behaviour) but because the population choose to disengage when the challenge of another drought raised the costs of participation to a level that was more than the benefits of remaining. In other words, the benefits amassed by participation in the system declined over time and environmental inconsistencies finally pushed regions to remove themselves from a system that no longer provided them security of supplies; participants either moved out of the area or relocalised their economies. The return to a more simplified and local dependence emerged as supply chains could no longer provide security.

Having just completed rereading William Catton Jr.’s Overshoot, I can’t help but take a slightly different perspective than the mainstream ones that are being offered through our various media; what Catton terms an ecological perspective. And one that is influenced by Tainter’s thesis: our supply chain disruptions are increasingly coming under strain from our being in overshoot and encountering diminishing returns on our investments in them (and this is particularly true for one of the most fundamental resources that underpin our global industrial societies: fossil fuels).

What should we do? It’s one of the things I’ve stressed for some years in my local community (not that it seems to be having much impact, if any): we need to use what dwindling resources remain to relocalise as much as possible but particularly food production, procurement of potable water, and supplies of shelter needs for the regional climate so that supply disruptions do not result in a massive ‘collapse’ (an additional priority should also be to ‘decommission’ some of our more ‘dangerous’ creations such as nuclear power plants and biosafety labs).

Pre/history shows that relocalisation is going to happen eventually anyways, and in order to avert a sudden loss of important supplies that would have devastating consequences (especially food, water, and shelter), we should prepare ourselves now while we have the opportunity and resources to do so.

Instead, what I’ve observed is a doubling-down as it were of the processes that have created our predicament: pursuit of perpetual growth on a finite planet, using political/economic mechanisms along with hopes of future technologies to rationalise/justify this approach. While such a path may help to reduce the stress of growing cognitive dissonance, it does nothing to help mitigate the coming ‘storms’ that will increasingly disrupt supply chains.

The inability of our ‘leaders’ to view the world through anything but a political/economic paradigm and its built-in short-term focus has blinded them to the reality that we do not stand above and outside of nature or its biological principles and systems. We are as prone to overshoot and the consequences that come with it as any other species. And because of their blindness (and most people’s uncritical acceptance of their narratives) we are rushing towards a cliff that is directly ahead. In fact, perhaps we’ve already left solid ground but just haven’t realised it yet because, after all, denial is an extremely powerful drug.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXVII–The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXVII

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

Today’s Contemplation is my brief comment on an article posted on Facebook by Tristan Sykes of Just Collapse.

The article in question (short and concise) is an update of the World3 model used in creating the various scenarios in the 1972 The Limits to Growth study using the most recent empirical data.

While the authors make clear the uncertainty involved in a data’s trendline after it reaches its ‘tipping point’ (although one could argue there exists great uncertainty in any such modelling beyond the present; complex systems with their nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena are impossible to map out with ‘perfect’ accuracy), the interesting — but not surprising — thing to note is that virtually all of these projections exhibit not just shifts of their peaks into the future but ‘higher highs’ followed by temporally-contracted declines (i.e., a quicker ‘collapse’) resulting in ‘lower lows’.

‘Deniers’ will argue this highlights the fallibility of ‘doom-based’ narratives’ and ‘bargainers’ will likely suggest this buys humanity more time to ‘mitigate/manage’ our predicament. But, perhaps, this merely points out how non-linear system-feedback loops behave.

As Donella Meadows argued in Thinking in Systems: A Primer: “…Delays that are too long cause damped, sustained or exploding oscillations, depending on how much too long. Overlong delays in a system with a threshold, a danger point, a range past which irreversible damage can occur, cause overshoot and collapse.”

The delays in these peaks that are projected are looking to allow us to go further into overshoot — providing fodder for those rationalising away our predicament — and most likely result in a ‘correction’ that will most certainly ‘dampen’ adaptive responses as the time to do so will be shorter. Such a situation may also possibly feed into further negative feedback loops as attempted adaptations could be quite maladaptive (as many (most? all?) have been the past few decades given the influence and direction of our societies’ wealth-extractors who are leveraging our predicament at every turn).

While it is indeed difficult to make predictions, especially if they’re about the future, overshoot and collapse remains the predicted ‘conclusion’ of this business-as-usual scenario, despite the uncertainty painted by the authors.

As the saying goes, the future ain’t what it used to be; it seems to be getting worse by the day…

Why Civilization Would Collapse Even Without Climate Change

Why Civilization Would Collapse Even Without Climate Change

Even if there were no climate change, civilization would still collapse in the next few decades. Here’s why.
I want to start by emphasizing that I have nothing but love and respect for the millions of climate activists in the world, many of whom work tirelessly to end fossil fuels, even to the point of getting arrested. Organizations like Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, and countless others have done incredibly important work and deserve our thanks.

However, I’ve noticed that average, everyday climate activists often don’t see the big picture. They are laser-focused on climate change and believe that if we just stop burning fossil fuels and start using green energy, we can save the planet and our civilization.

The truth is that even if there were no climate change, our civilization would still be doomed. And the more time we waste trying to save it, the more damage we’ll do to the biosphere. It’s time to give up on the idea of saving modern, high-tech civilization and instead focus on saving as much of the natural world as possible.

For those who still believe we can continue with business-as-usual using green energy instead of fossil fuel energy, this article will be a wakeup call, and it could be very upsetting. I don’t want to upset people, but it’s important that we face reality so we can make better choices as we move forward.

Okay, take a deep breath, and let’s dive in…

Exponential Growth

Quote by Albert Bartlett on Exponential Function

Before I explain the specific reasons why civilization is doomed no matter what we do, I think it would be worthwhile to review the concept of exponential growth. Most people think they understand it, and they might even give an accurate definition, but they’re not truly grasping the implications of exponential growth in a finite world.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CII–That Uncertain Road, Part 1.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CII

February 20, 2023

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

That Uncertain Road, Part 1

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.”
― Richard P. Feynman

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
― Albert Einstein

There are many words that could be used to describe the future and humanity’s ability to know how it will unfold. Unknowable. Unpredictable. Uncertain. Unwritten. Undetermined. Unforeseeable.

These tool-making, story-telling apes we have termed homo sapiens just happen to abhor this aspect of existence. Uncertainty has been found to result in negative affect for most people in most situations[1]. In fact, it has been suggested that “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”[2] and that “…fear of the unknown may be a, or possibly the, fundamental fear, representing an Archimedean lever for human psychology”[3].

As Dan Gardner reminds the reader in Future Babble[4] humans want and need control, especially of their environment/surroundings. Not having control, or at least the sense of it, can lead to stress, disease, and early death. Having some ‘certainty’ about what the future holds is a type of control, even if we know what happens is out of our personal control.

We have developed a host of psychological mechanisms to defend against our fear of uncertainty (e.g., illusion of control). In fact, psychologists have found an increased dependence upon magical thinking when control is lost or uncertainty increases[5]. In addition, people will cling more fiercely to their belief system in the face of counterfactual evidence in order to increase their sense of certainty. They will ignore or deny those things that increase their cognitive dissonance and the uncertainty it creates.

We also more often tend to see patterns where none exist as we search for certainty[6]. Reassurance about the future motivates people to seek it somewhere. Anywhere.

Cognitive psychologists suggest prospection, the term used to describe the generation of possible future scenarios, is a central tenet of both cognition and emotion[7]. But it is also a fundamental aspect of learning for any animal that is driven by their avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure since being able to sense patterns of environmental changes or actions of other animals can alter their behaviour to seek a reward or avoid a punishment — perhaps the most basic one being falling prey to a potential predator.

As tool makers, we leverage this rather unique ability in attempts to help us control our environment, thus providing a sense of security against this uncertain future. And it seems we often fall back on this skill to help us believe some as-yet-to-be-hatched ‘tool’ will be created to help us achieve what we have yet to achieve — certainty about the future by solving our various problems, such as a lack of ‘clean’ energy.

As story tellers, we craft all variety of narratives to help us understand our world — the past, the present, and especially the future. Religion. Biology. Politics. Physics. Economics. History. Mathematics. Psychology. Astrology. Ecology. Chemistry. Philosophy.

Are any of the tales we tell and share accurate reflections of our world and its functioning? Can we predict the future? Can we, using all of our cognitive abilities, understandings of the world, and technologies reduce the uncertainty that lays before us?

The answer may actually be irrelevant since we all tend to believe what we believe — be it learned or conditioned, accurate or misinformed. And we use what we believe to reduce our anxiety about an uncertain future.

Despite all of the above, and knowing full well that predictions about the future are just stories we tell to reduce our uncertainty, the following is one perspective on what the future may hold based upon two beliefs that seem certain to me, although I know they don’t to everyone:
1) We exist upon a planet with finite resources;
2) Biological and historical precedents exist from which we can learn and help us map a likely future.

First, we live upon a planet with a finite amount of resources available to us. Despite the story that infinite substitutability can overcome or mitigate this reality, I firmly believe we cannot create more of our most important resources from thin air. This is especially true for life’s primary resource, energy. As the First Law of thermodynamics states: energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted from one form to another. This limits what is available to all species upon our planet.

Second, there exist biological and historical ‘experiments’ concerning ecological overshoot and complex society ‘collapse’ that we can use to help us understand important processes and how they are likely to unfold.

To paraphrase the saying about events rhyming with the past, there should be no assumptions that the future will unfold exactly as it has in the past. While there will no doubt be similarities because humans are animals with strong genetic predispositions that act and react in somewhat constrained ways, we are also a species with strong sociocultural influences upon our behaviour that vary in both time and place. And the contextual environment within which we are behaving is never precisely the same; particularly given the complexities that accumulate and impact us — especially technological in nature.

There is so much that has already been written and could be said about ecological overshoot and humanity’s prospects as we travel further into it. It is important to my thinking here that I note that humans are a biological species similar to every other one on our planet and there exist many behavioural responses that we cannot avoid because of this. Perhaps the most fundamental biologically-based one is that of reproduction and a species tendency to reproduce to a level that can be sustained by their immediate habitat. Overshooting this sustainable carrying capacity invariably results in moving to an uninhabited and unexploited area or ‘reversion to the mean’ of a species’ population size[8].

Humans however, as an apex predator and with their tool-making abilities, have been able to exceed significantly the natural, environmental carrying capacity allowing us to go well beyond the limits imposed by nature. Population biology demonstrates that such a situation cannot and will not go on indefinitely. And the resulting ‘correction’ may as a result of this being even more dramatic in nature.

As William Catton Jr. argues, our ability to employ technological tools to expand our carrying capacity has resulted in a trap that now threatens the environment and ecological systems we require for our survival. Blind to what we are doing, we have embraced and increased the speed with which we are drawing down the finite resources we rely upon. There will be, based upon other species that have overshot their environmental carrying capacity, a reversion to the mean of population size that can be ‘sustained’ — and it will be much, much lower than may have been reached in an uncontaminated and undamaged environment[9].

Further, Catton observes that “[o]vershoot will occur, if it hasn’t already. We may come to feel guilty about stealing from the future, but we will continue to do it. Overshoot will further aggravate the reduction of carrying capacity. Crash must follow. The greater the overshoot, the greater the crash.” (p. 253)

The following graph from Catton’s text provides four possible growth scenarios, with Panel D being the most likely for humanity. As he explains “’carrying capacity’ has been represented by two different curves. A major fraction of the recent, apparently high carrying capacity for human high-energy living must be attributed to temporary resources — i.e., non-renewable fossil acreage, the earth’s savings deposits. In Panel D, it is optimistically assumed that the component of carrying capacity based on renewable resources has remained stable so far. But it is recognized that serious overshoot, induced by temporarily high composite carrying capacity, will at least temporarily undermine even the sustainable component.” (p. 253)

That’s overshoot in a nutshell: an epic crash in population as our fundamental resources can no longer support our numbers. The writing seems on the wall that human population numbers are likely to fall precipitously from their current and relatively high numbers.

How that unfolds is yet to be determined, but it seems the most likely scenario some time down the road as the resources, especially energy, become more scarce to support our inflated numbers…

In Part 2, I will elaborate on what I believe our pre/historical precedents suggest about what we might expect down that uncertain road…

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

[2] See this.

[3] See this.

[4] See this.

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

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

[7] See this.

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

[9] See this.

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XIV

Pompeii, Italy (1993) Photo by author

Reducing Population: Degrowth or Enrich Everyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change William R. Catton (1980)

Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
William R. Catton (1980)

Though, ‘Overshoot’, is ostensibly a book about biophysical limits, the theme that runs through it is about the human propensity for denying obvious factsOur ability to deceive not only others, but more importantly, ourselves.

As with the first review in this four-part miniseries, ‘Farewell to Growth’ (2007), any book that posits the ‘end of affluence’ will inevitably attract the misanthrope, and their arch-enemy, the Cornucopian.

There’s a lovely exchange from one of the more comical ‘X-Files’ episodes that’s very descriptive:

“I wanna be abducted by aliens.”

“Why, whatever for?”

“…I just wanna be taken away into some place where I don’t have to worry about finding a job.”

Those who celebrate the book are as equally interesting as those who hate it: Celebrating the ‘end of society’ can be just as escapist as the cult-like belief that ‘technology will save us’; yet, as Catton describes, both misanthropy and Cornucopianism are a means of denying the demonstrable trends unfolding before our eyes.

Catton summarises the scope of the book in the Preface:

“In a future that is as unavoidable as it will be unwelcome, survival and sanity may depend upon our ability to cherish rather than to disparage the concept of human dignity… I have tried to show the real nature of humanity’s predicament not because understanding its nature will enable us to escape it, but because if we do not understand it we shall continue to act and react in ways that make it worse.”

That’s why this book has as many ‘haters’ as it does devotees: It attacks people’s ‘cult-like’ belief in the innovative power of technology; and disturbs the ‘comfortable classes’ by reminding them of the impermanence of those comforts.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Is There an Off-Ramp for Civilization?

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

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

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

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

…click on the above link to read the rest…

William E. Rees: The Fundamental Issue–Overshoot

William E. Rees: The Fundamental Issue–Overshoot

The Human Eco-predicament: Overshoot and the Population Conundrum

The Human Eco-predicament: Overshoot
and the Population Conundrum


This article was originally published by
Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2023, Vol. 21, pp. 1–19

Abstract: The human enterprise is in overshoot, depleting essential ecosystems faster than they can regenerate and polluting the ecosphere beyond nature’s assimilative capacity. Overshoot is a meta-problem that is the cause of most symptoms of eco-crisis, including climate change, landscape degradation and biodiversity loss. The proximate driver of overshoot is excessive energy and material ‘throughput’ to serve the global economy. Both rising incomes (consumption) and population growth contribute to the growing human eco-footprint, but increasing throughput due to population growth is the larger factor at the margin. (Egregious and widening inequality is a separate socio-political problem.) Mainstream approaches to alleviating various symptoms of overshoot merely reinforce the status quo. This is counter-productive, as overshoot is ultimately a terminal condition. The continuity of civilisation will require a cooperative, planned contraction of both the material economy and human populations, beginning with a personal to civilisational transformation of the fundamental values, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes underpinning neoliberal/capitalist industrial society.

Key words: overshoot, eco-footprint, carrying capacity, sustainability, population, contraction


1 Introduction: Contrasting approaches to populationMy thesis in this paper is that modern techno-industrial (MTI) society is in a state of dangerous ecological overshoot—i.e., that there are too many people consuming and polluting too much on a finite planet. It is not too late, however, to take a lesson in sustainability from the tiny tropical island society of Tikopia. Hardly anyone has ever heard of Tikopia, but its history should be known by everyone who cares about the future of Earth. Tikopia is the remnant of an extinct volcano in the south-west Pacific Ocean with an area of less than five square kilometres, 80% of which is arable…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

What Qualities Do the Predicaments We Face Possess?

What Qualities Do the Predicaments We Face Possess?

The view from Sunset Rock near Sparta, Tennessee

I’d like to address something which has been on my mind quite a bit recently. How we view things or how we judge things has a lot to do with how we see life (our worldview) and the circumstances surrounding it. I was having a conversation with my mom and she asked me something rather interesting. She wanted to know if I thought that the topics I spend so much time dealing with causes me to feel down “because they are so negative.” I feel compelled to dive into this with zeal because I think that there are probably MANY of us who likewise see things from a different angle than society in general.

First things first; I don’t necessarily see collapse, climate change, energy and resource decline, and/or extinction as being bad or negative. They certainly have some bad qualities and negative effects. I cannot deny the grief I have felt as a result of learning that ecological overshoot has many serious symptom predicaments which I learned about mostly BEFORE I learned about overshoot itself. However, as part of the learning process, I was required to view the situation in geologic timescales and from nature’s perspective – and these change the viewpoint or perspective from an anthropocentric, human-focused worldview to a more natural biospheric-based perspective. Nature doesn’t care about our judgements or opinions. So, while I cannot deny the grief I have experienced, I also cannot label all these predicaments as being “bad” either. This is simply nature’s way of evolution. Only humans give such hubristic judgements about these predicaments, based on our perception of loss…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Economist Steve Keen says the planet cannot sustain 8 billion people | The Business | ABC News

8 Billion Souls

World population is projected to reach a new milestone — 8 billion people — tomorrow on November 15, 2022. According to United Nations Population Fund chief Natalia Kanem:

“Eight billion people, it is a momentous milestone for humanity, yet, I realize this moment might not be celebrated by all. Some express concerns that our world is overpopulated. I am here to say clearly that the sheer number of human lives is not a cause for fear.”

As usual, I beg to differ: the“sheer number of human lives” is a big issue — although far from being the only factor behind the woes of our civilization. Consumption, pollution load, technology use and inequality (among many other things) also play their roles. Since this is a major milestone in human history though, I felt the need to discuss the effect of population growth separated from these other topics, examining its upshot on our, and on future generations’ lives.

Being fully aware that this is a highly controversial topic, I suggest a simple thought experiment to somewhat distance ourselves from the emotions raised by this issue. Whenever I’m confronted with a difficult question like this (Is hitting 8 billion good or bad news? Are we headed in the right or wrong direction?) I always try to imagine two very extreme outcomes and see which one is better, and ultimately where should we — in my opinion — be headed. (Before you label the author an ‘ecofascist’ I’m not contemplating here on how to reduce living populations, but rather on long term trajectories and their sustainability.)

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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