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Getting to the other side of the biodiversity crisis

Getting to the other side of the biodiversity crisis

A 4-pronged strategy can turn the tide of species extinction.

Wildlife, forest on top of a globe
Source: Shutterstock/Open Art

Unless you’ve been hibernating, you know that planet Earth is in the midst of a full-blown, global-scale biodiversity crisis. Biodiversity refers to the total number of organisms across the planet that are present in ecosystems, species and genes.

Across the past 500 million years of Earth’s history, there have been five previous biodiversity “extinction” crises that have wiped out vast pools of living things. Earth’s recovery from these previous known extinctions (none of them caused by humans) has averaged 10 million years. A growing number of scientists and authors have concluded that we have entered the sixth extinction crisis — and this one is attributable to human activities.

Three facts amplify the speed and scale of our expanding biodiversity crisis:

Business as usual for biodiversity protection

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



As sketched in the previous post, I believe modernity to be an unsustainable flash that will not persist into future millennia. Uncomfortable with untethered speculation, I have said little about what might come after, but feel I owe something in this vein. Semantically, what follows the modern age must be the post-modern age, right? Except that name is already taken by a rather inane school of thought that may be even worse than modernist thought (it actually does not fundamentally refute modernism anyway, just throws sand into any conversation).

Despite my disdain for post-modernism, I will appropriate the term for what it will likely come to mean in centuries hence (long after people have finally forgotten the silly modern version of post-modernism). I feel better already.

The simplest explanation for why I have not written much on post-modernity is that I don’t feel I have much to say. The range of possibilities is quite large, and I would be a fool to pretend that I—or anyone, really—can paint a credible picture. I’m virtually certain I know how humans will live on the planet tomorrow, fairly sure I could paint an accurate picture for life one year from now, reasonably confident about a decade out, pretty damned fuzzy on a century from now, perhaps a little more clear a millennium into the future (as most of modernity has melted by then), have a decent guess for several million years hence (less likely to still have homo sapiens), and am increasingly certain when the number turns to billions of years (complex life on Earth extinguished). For me, the hardest part is the century scale: the messy, chaotic transition likely characterized by de-industrial scavenging.

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

Unsustainable Goose Chases

Unsustainable Goose Chases

As we look toward the uncertain future, it may occur to some among us that we’ll need energy on Mars. How are we going to get it? Presumably Mars has no fossil fuels—although on the plus side its atmosphere is already 95% CO2, compared to Earth’s 0.04%, so they’re likely to be less uptight about carbon emissions on the red planet.

At this point, we could launch into an extensive discussion, full of quantitative detail and analysis about the solar potential: insolation, materials availability, dust storm mitigation, and on and on. But the real answer to how we will get energy on Mars is probably: we won’t. We’re extremely unlikely to set up a permanent presence on Mars, if humans ever even go there at all. So the exercise would be of questionable value.

I feel similarly about discussions of full-scale renewable energy and associated storage and grid shenanigans. How will we rise to the challenge to keep modernity powered into the future? In all likelihood, we won’t. Besides the misdirection of “inexhaustible flows,” keeping modernity powered by any means looks like game-over for ecological health, and therefore humans, if pursued at all costs. So, enough with the fantasy schemes.

Why so bold? Glad you asked.

Past posts of mine have dealt with the question of what sustainability means, and associated timescales:

  1. Ultimate Success: thinking 10,000 years ahead, what’s still possible?
  2. Can Modernity Last?: an attempt to synthesize why continuance is not in the cards
  3. Sustainable Timescales: the relevant scope is that of biological evolution
  4. Inexhaustible Flows: the dead end of materials-hungry “renewable” energy technology

Additionally, The Simple Story of Civilization frames the current epoch as so mind-numbingly new and rapid that it boggles the mind how we could ever think of modernity as a normal time that might have staying power, rather than a fireworks show. It’s only because that’s all our short lives have shown us.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Ignorance, Hubris, and Stupidity

Ignorance, Hubris, and Stupidity

Artwork from Ken Avidor

As I frequently point out, we face a series of predicaments all brought to us as a result of our own behavior of using technology, which has produced the predicament of ecological overshoot. When a species goes into overshoot, it always faces the same outcome: collapse. There is quite literally no way to avoid this; it is baked into cake, so to speak. I frequently hear people talk about avoiding collapse to which I can only chuckle and explain that attempting to avoid collapse and extend civilization is a fool’s errand because all this does is steepen the Seneca Cliff once the ability to extend civilization dries up. Civilization exists upon the surplus energy provided by technology use such as that furnished through agriculture; this then provides the ability of humans to develop permanent settlements which is the beginning of a civilization. Sadly, civilizations are unsustainable and each one that has ever come into being has also collapsed. Today’s civilization is no different and there will never be a sustainable civilization. Talk of such ideas is no different than “sustainable” development or “green” growth (see greenwashing).

I genuinely want people to understand the truth about where we are within these systems and predicaments and what can and cannot be done about them. Most people’s responses are fueled by a desire to “fight” one of the symptom predicaments such as climate change or energy and resource decline. Sadly, a considerable number of those folks read or hear something about stopping or reversing climate change or emissions or any other symptom predicament and get the incorrect idea that this is actually possible…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXV–Capitalism: One of Several Predicament Catalysts

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Capitalism: One of Several Predicament Catalysts

Today’s contemplation is prompted by an article posted recently in a Degrowth Facebook group I am a member of. The author presents the argument that capitalism and the greed it inspires is the root of our inability to address climate change appropriately. While I don’t agree fully with the perspective presented, it is a great article that goes into much detail far beyond climate concerns and I recommend reading it.

Where I found myself reflecting on its content were the assertions that it is primarily, if not solely, the fault of capitalism for our existential crisis of climate change and the suggestion that it’s possible through degrowth strategies to achieve a utopian-like world with “…universal education and healthcare, and at least 5,000–15,000 km of mobility in various modes per person per year. It offers fairer and better lives for the vast majority of people…” (perhaps up to 10 billion) should the world have the wherewithal to ensure the ‘right’ things be done — particularly the idea that we need to avoid elite panic in responding to our crises (that leads to leveraging of situations to protect their ‘booty’) and adopt the non-elite tendency to ‘sacrifice’ for one’s community.

While I have great respect for the degrowth movement and its underlying philosophy that holds humanity needs to live within the biophysical limits of a finite planet[1], the bargaining/denial I sense from many that support it is where I diverge a tad in my thinking about our plight and future ‘potential’.

While I have come to the firm belief that our ruling elite are primarily driven by a desire to control/expand the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus wealth/power/prestige/privilege (leading them to encourage/cheerlead the chasing of the perpetual growth chalice that supports the power/wealth structures inherent in any complex society, and certainly leverage crises to their advantage to help meet their motivation), I’m not so convinced that capitalism’s role in our predicament (ecological overshoot) is much more than a leverage-point (of several) in perhaps speeding up the pre/historical and biological/ecological processes which will eventually bring our global, industrial society to its knees.

Long before ‘capitalism’ took hold of our elite, there were complex societies that ‘collapsed’ due to what archaeologist Joseph Tainter argues are diminishing returns on investments in complexity[2]. Our human societies’ problem-solving proclivity to exploit/extract the easy-to-retrieve and cheap-to-access resources first leads to eventual ‘cost’ increases (particularly in terms of energy) that require the use of society’s surpluses/reserves to maintain/sustain political, economic, and organisational structures (as well as technologies) that serve as our ‘solutions’ to perceived ‘problems’.

Once these surpluses/reserves are unavailable due to their exhaustion and ‘society’ can no longer provide the benefits of participation in it, people ‘opt out’ and withdraw their support — usually by packing up and leaving. This ‘abandonment’ by increasing numbers of people undermines the necessary human, and thus material, inputs that support the structures that hold a complex society together and it eventually ‘collapses’.

Obviously, such a withdrawal of support is virtually impossible in today’s world for a variety of reasons; not least of which are the inability to ‘escape’ the elite’s reach in most nation states — at least for the time being — and a lack of skills/knowledge to survive for very long without the energy slaves/conveniences of ‘modern’ society, keeping people virtually trapped and incapable of opting out. In addition, the ruling elite need their citizens for labour and/or taxes and will go to virtually any length to prevent such withdrawal from the various entrapments of today’s world.

This is not to ignore the knock-on effects of ways in which ‘support’ is being undermined by political, social, and economic policies of the ruling elite. More and more people are questioning the directives issued from upon high and challenging them.

For example, there seems to be growing concern that the gargantuan expansion of credit/debt is quite problematic. For some this is an approach that expedites the drawing down of fundamental resources (especially energy) — ‘stealing from the future’ for lack of a better term. A good argument can also be made that much (most?) of this debt/credit is being created to fund geopolitical competition and siphon wealth from national treasuries into the ‘holdings’ of the elite. This is not to dismiss that a portion is being directed to the population, but I would contend that this is to help provide cover for the inequity that is resulting from the massive expansion of fiat currency — particularly in that ‘hidden tax’ of price inflation that always impacts the disadvantaged disproportionately to the wealthy elite — and to sustain the Ponzi scheme that our economic/financial/monetary systems have become.

I sense we are likely to experience (already are experiencing?) a doubling-down of efforts to control the hoi polloi by our ‘leaders’ as our systems begin to decline in perceived benefits. Tyranny comes in many guises, from narrative management and mass surveillance to incarceration and violence.

Our fundamental predicament is unfortunately overlooked in the somewhat reductionist approach that focuses exclusively on capitalism and climate change/carbon emissions. The following graphic illustrates this perspective with respect to the simplification that can occur when one focuses upon a single variable when complex systems necessarily consist of many intertwined ones with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena.

Carbon Tunnel Vision

Eliminating capitalism has become the clarion call for many but I’m viewing this increasingly as part of the denial/bargaining that is expanding in our ‘hope’ to find a ‘solution’ to our various crises. In relatively simplistic terms, the view holds that if we eliminate the greed inherent in capitalism and the waste it leads to, humanity can continue to have a technological, global-spanning society where everyone can live happily-ever-after — for example, we could direct our ‘wealth’ to the ‘right’ technology (think ‘green/clean’ energy production and electrified gadgets) and thus sustain our complexities with nary a hiccup.

Unfortunately, I would argue, such rhetoric is not only dividing some very well-intentioned groups/individuals, but causing our fundamental predicament to be overlooked and thus any possible mitigation of it to be mostly dismissed — primarily because the issue is exceedingly complex and in all likelihood has no simple and all-encompassing ‘solution’, but rather a difficult and unnerving shift in thinking and approaches where perhaps just a handful of humans carry on in a ‘sustainable’ fashion[3].

This appears to be even worse than a ‘wicked problem’[4], for these still hold out ‘hope’ for a ‘solution’ should every variable line up ‘correctly’ to help ‘solve’ it. This possibility, as remote as it is for wicked problems, opens the door to all sorts of denial and bargaining — a strong human tendency to help avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts.

I’m increasingly leaning towards the conclusion that the ecological bottleneck our human experiment has created by its vast overshooting of the planet’s natural carrying capacity is far too small for the growing number of us to get through. No amount of denial or bargaining (elimination of capitalism; wealth redistribution; ‘green/clean’ energy) is likely to change that[5].

And then there’s the issue of peak resources, most problematic being that of oil. The ideas promulgated in the article and by supporters of degrowth seem to be somewhat energy/resource blind[6]. The significant (and I mean VERY significant) role played by oil and other fossil fuels in creating an explosion in human resource exploitation and population cannot be stressed enough. It has not only allowed us to access previously inaccessible resources to support our growth but has done so to the point where many of these supportive materials have now encountered significant diminishing returns and, for some, begun to encounter increasing scarcity placing continued use more in the rear-view mirror than some techno-cornucopian future[7].

I continue to believe that personal/group attempts to relocalise as much as possible the fundamentals of living can increase the probability of a region getting through to the other side of the coming transition. Potable water, food production, and shelter needs for the climate should be a focus; not bargaining with our sociopolitical and socioeconomic systems since this can unnecessarily divert energy and resources from the actions that will probably foster greater self-sufficiency and -resiliency — perhaps enough to get through the impending ecological bottleneck.

I believe we have never lived in an ideal world, nor ever will. The constant and repetitive rise and fall of complex societies has demonstrated our experimentations have failed, despite having the best technologies and thinkers of the time. We cannot help ourselves, it would seem. We keep making the same mistakes again and again and again…only this time we have leveraged a one-time cache of ancient carbon energy to create a globalised, industrial world and put the entire species into ecological overshoot while destroying many of any competing species and much of the planet in the process.

The likelihood of everything going ‘just right’ for us, as the ‘bargainers’ hope, is probably even more remote than this Canadian senior ending up playing in the National Hockey League (a childhood fantasy[8]) in the not too distant future.

This article was brought to my attention yesterday and is also well worth the read. It echoes many of my own thoughts about our plight.

[1] See: https://degrowth.info/degrowth

[2] Tainter, J.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978–0–521–38673–9). There are competing theories as to why and how complex societies decline/collapse, but I have found Tainter’s to be the most compelling.

[3] In no way am I advocating a sudden ‘die-off’ to achieve this; such an event is increasingly looking to happen via the ‘natural’ collapse that accompanies a species overshooting its environmental carrying capacity, regardless of our wishes otherwise.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem

[5] I realise that stating ‘likely’ also opens the door to such bargaining but I attempt to be careful in declarations that suggest certitude. Few, if any, of our stories about our understanding of the world and prognostications about its future are certain — some just more probable than others.

[6] See Nate Hagens animated series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdc087VsWiC7xAS3YTykoRRi1gmNtGZVG

[7] See the work of Geological Survey of Finland’s Simon Michaux, especially:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354067356_Assessment_of_the_Extra_Capacity_Required_of_Alternative_Energy_Electrical_Power_Systems_to_Completely_Replace_Fossil_Fuels; a

[8] As a Canadian born at the start of the 1960s in a relatively smallish city (182,000 the year I was born), I was introduced to playing hockey at age four. I have played almost every year since (took a few years off when my children were young) and continue to play regularly. I have played alongside some who have been drafted by NHL teams but never made the next step, and I can attest to the fact that despite my wishes my skill set has never been even close to being capable of playing professionally. I am still struggling to pull off a ‘saucer pass’ or ‘toe drag’ regularly and continue to practise them almost every time I play.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVII–Despite Warnings We Have Continued Business-As-Usual and Doubled-Down On Our Avoidance Behaviours

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXVII

Rome, Italy (1984). Photo by author.

Despite Warnings We Have Continued Business-As-Usual and Doubled-Down On Our Avoidance Behaviours

The following is my comment on The Honest Sorcerer’s latest piece that highlights the impossibility of bypassing thermodynamic laws (especially Entropy) in our quest for the Holy Grail of a sustainable civilisation; in this instance via a ‘circular’ economy.

While what you argue appears self-evident for the increasingly unlikely prospects of the ‘green/clean’ utopian future a lot of ‘futurists’ predict will unfold as the seemingly endless stream of technological ‘breakthroughs’ come to fruition, it seems that the vast majority of people who even show some awareness of our predicament will ignore/deny/rationalise away the evidence (universal thermodynamic laws or not) in order to cling to their dreams of infinite growth and ‘progress’ upon a finite planet. I even find the argument about physical, material limits is denied by many/most of these people.

This notion that limits are meaningless appears to have got its legs from economists and business ‘leaders’ who have argued that technological progress and human ingenuity trump material limits, particularly due to the idea of infinite substitutability and recycling. History has apparently demonstrated again and again that humans adapt their technology and resource use by finding alternative and/or new sources for their material wants.

What this approach does, however, is not only focus upon a relatively small slice of human pre/history where the leveraging of a number of catalysts to technological change have occurred (especially the creation of debt-/credit-based fiat currency and hydrocarbon use that both allow the pulling of finite resources from the future into the present), but cherry picks behaviours and events.

The processes that contribute to the recurrent collapse of complex societies are minimised/ignored, with a lot of rationalising that ‘this time is different’. We can recycle. We can elect ‘wise’ leaders’. We can work together. We can avoid past mistakes. We can mine passing asteroids. We can innovate. We can migrate to other planets. We can overcome limits. We can adapt. We can slow/control/halt the growth imperative. We can find a means of creating limitless ‘clean’ energy. We can do anything we imagine and set our minds to.

And while these assertions can make us feel better by avoiding the anxieties that arise when we frame things from a perspective where these ‘hopes’ are viewed as magical thinking that avoids reality, they are leading us to pursue the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario (of the 13 possible) painted by the original Limits to Growth study. A scenario where human ecological overshoot and the consequential collapse of population and industrial society were imminent during our current century.

The Limits to Growth researchers proposed that it was possible to avoid this scenario and achieve a sustainable lifestyle but required significant changes be made as soon as possible. In the intervening years, however, our species seems to have ignored the warnings and ‘motored’ ahead with ‘business-as-usual’. And rather than heed the signals our planet and its other species have been sending us (and increasingly so over the past handful of decades), we’ve doubled down on our avoidance behaviours — especially the stories we share about all this and how everything will be alright…somehow but mostly because of human ingenuity and technology, those god-like qualities we storytelling apes possess.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXII–Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXII

July 31, 2022 (original posting date)

Athens, Greece (1984). Photo by author.

Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition

A really short contemplation prompted by an article posted in Resilience.org from The Rapid Transition Alliance regarding sustaining long-distance trade via electric ships.

The entire narrative around ‘electrifying’ everything is primarily about the marketing of ecologically-destructive and completely unsustainable industrial products while leveraging human emotions about well-meaning care and compassion for the world and fellow species.

I believe the reasoning is simple: those who own the industries and financial institutions that are required for such a transition stand to profit handsomely from the belief that we can have our cake and eat it too, so let’s pour all remaining capital into ‘transitioning’ to something ‘green/clean’.

Only this is a fantasy.

The denial of reality required to believe in this tale not only serves to reduce the anxiety from the cognitive dissonance created when we realise that we live on a finite planet that has blown past the natural carrying capacity for humans and have hit significant diminishing returns on the most important resources to support our various complexities, but also leads to significant magical thinking about our ability to ‘transition’ from fossil fuels (that underpin virtually everything in our complex societies, especially food production, transportation, and adequate shelter) to something equally effective but non-destructive and sustainable.

There is nothing ‘resilient’ about this narrative. Humanity (at least in the form of complex, industrial societies) is not going to ‘recover quickly’ from the energy cliff we have likely already begun our descent from. It seems a misguided and misinformed story that serves to dish out ‘hope’ as opposed to the harsh ‘reality’ that we are in significant ecological overshoot and the primary resource that has led us here (fossil fuels) is in terminal decline with no substitute available[1].

We seem to be flailing about telling ourselves and others comforting tales while deferring to our ruling elite who are hell bent on leveraging our various crises to their economic and political advantage.

It’s past time we stop looking for magical solutions and face the looming hardships that are before us.

Let’s divert our remaining energy and resources towards safely decommissioning those dangerous complexities we’ve created (e.g., nuclear power plants and their waste products, biosafety labs and their dangerous pathogens, and chemical production and storage facilities) and relocalising as much as is possible the procurement of potable water, food production, and regional shelter needs.

Telling ourselves and believing in lies and fairy tales is a sure recipe for the consequences of our well-meaning but ecologically-destructive ways to be significantly worse than they could otherwise be. Ramping up our industrial production of unsustainable technologies not only expedites the negative consequences of our overshoot but worsens our plight by further reducing the planet’s carrying capacity.

[1] This avoids the even more difficult discussion that even if we were to stumble upon a ‘green/clean’ energy substitute for fossil fuels, there are a host of other significant impediments to sustaining an 7+ billion population on a finite planet.

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.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLII–Criticising ‘Renewables’ is Not a Sin

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLII

March 1, 2022 (original posting date)

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Criticising ‘Renewables’ is Not a Sin

The following ‘contemplation’ follows on the heels of a discussion I began with another within a Facebook group I am a member of. The post and dialogue can be found here. Suffice it to say, I was, as has happened numerous times, criticised for a comment that challenged an argument for accelerating our shift from fossil fuels to ‘renewable’ technologies.

What follows is my response to their response to my comment that suggested we need to simplify our existence and not accelerate our pursuit of environmentally-/ecologically-destructive and complex technologies.

Let me respond to each of your paragraphs:

First, indeed humans have harnessed wind and water power for millennia but using far, far less complex and resource-intensive technologies and for far, far fewer humans so their impact on the environment has been multiple times less, and during times when numerous biophysical limits had yet to be broached or nearing such overshoot. You then create a straw man implying I am arguing to return to the ‘Stone Age’, which I did not[1]. I left open the nature of any type of ‘simplicity’ that we should be aiming for but there’s a good argument to be made that ‘simple’ windmills/waterwheels for far fewer humans than currently exist may be the only ‘sustainable’ option[2]. What I did argue is that we need to NOT seek complex technologies that continue the destruction of the planet as our ‘modern’ harnessing of wind/solar/water do; facts you have completely glossed over[3].

Second, to point out the significant issues with non-renewable renewables (NRRs), does not necessarily feed into the ‘climate change denial, fossil fuel fundamentalism’ you accuse me of[4]. This is another straw man based upon a complete lack of contextual interpretation of my comment, and continued ignorance of the environmental destructiveness issue I raise; to say little of the reality that a massive push to accelerate the processes needed to produce NRRs would require massive fossil fuel inputs (and lots of other finite resources; thus the reason they are non-renewable). I am as concerned about continued fossil fuel extraction and its impacts as I am about all the other resource extractions we continue to rely upon (and expand as diminishing returns increase in severity).

Third, I would argue we are not where we are primarily because of fossil fuels (although they have likely sped up our predicament) but because of our propensity to expand and create complex societies based upon a number of finite resources. Humanity has shown its complex societies have been ‘unsustainable’ from the very first ones, long before fossil fuels ever came into the picture — every complex society that has ever existed has eventually ‘collapsed’ due to diminishing returns on investments in complexity[5], and accelerating an adoption of NRRs fits into this perfectly; they require significantly increased inputs compared to outputs (while continuing to destroy our biosphere[6]).

Keep in mind that resource ‘wars’ far, far predate our past few decades of fighting over oil and gas (resources that, unfortunately, underpin our current massive global complexities and footprint). Fossil fuels have simply expedited our propensity to overshoot our local carrying capacity and taken it global in nature. It is this, ecological overshoot, that is our predicament; the consequences of which we increasingly appear to be unable to avoid because we’re misdiagnosing/misinterpreting it (and have been for some decades). I would argue that there is nothing that is ‘sustainable’ for close to 8 billion humans. Nothing, probably not even ‘Stone Age’ hunting-and-gathering.

By all means, let’s transition away from fossil fuels but let’s not exacerbate our predicament by chasing the wrong path that is increasingly being shown to be just as detrimental to our species and all the other ones we depend upon. If we are not talking significant degrowth and simplification, then we are just creating comforting narratives to reduce our cognitive dissonance[7].

Having said all this, however, I am convinced we will attempt the push into NRRs that you advocate as we slide down the Seneca cliff of resource/energy availability. For, after all, the ruling class[8] that controls/influences the mainstream narratives (and what most people think/believe) stand to profit handsomely from the effort for they also control/influence all the industries and financial institutions that are required to pursue such a path. The result will surely be a trajectory further into ecological overshoot and thus a more massive ‘collapse’ (which always accompanies a species overshooting its environment). Nature always bats last and we continue to deny this and end up putting ourselves in greater danger. And, unfortunately, it would seem even a lot of the most well-intentioned individuals and groups are cheerleading us along the wrong path.

[1] While I did not suggest we would return to the ‘Stone Age’ that may indeed be the endgame of our unknowable future. In fact, some of humanity may be ‘lucky’ to make it through the bottleneck we have created and actually live in a ‘Stone Age’ type way. Time will tell.

[2] What might be ‘sustainable’ depends upon a host of factors, most importantly the number of humans and the nature of their living standards. More resource-dependent living standards necessarily means far fewer humans can be supported.

[3] The industrial processes necessary to create and produce the current technologies to harness wind, water, and solar energy are highly finite resource-dependent (including fossil fuels) and require significant mining, transportation, refining, and construction processes that result in concomitant waste production; both toxic and non-toxic in nature.

[4] It seems any criticism of ‘renewables’ is immediately construed by many as being in favour of continued fossil fuel extraction and use. This seems to me to be more of an instantaneous emotional reaction than a considered interpretation of the context in which such criticism is made. Such dichotomous thinking, while a common defense mechanism, prevents one from seeing the complexities and nuances of situations and distorts perceptions.

[5] See archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies.

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



[7] My discussion here doesn’t even begin to elaborate on all the additional ‘headwinds’ we are bumping up against besides resource limits and overloading of planetary sinks, a significant one being the massive ‘debt’ that currently exists. With debt being, more or less, a claim on future energy we are in substantially more dire straits than it appears on the surface due to significant debt obligations and the Ponzi-like nature of our financial/monetary/economic systems. Most, if not all, economic activity could find itself collapsing completely with the implosion of the debt bubbles that exist far before resource limits bring it all crashing down; to say little about the impact of geopolitical stressors.

[8] I use the term ‘ruling class’ as a catch-all for those individuals/families/groups that sit atop a complex society’s power and wealth structures; and whose prime motivation is the expansion/control of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems which they tend to control/own/influence.

Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Dennis Meadows thinks so. Forty years after his book The Limits to Growth, he explains why

Courtesy of Dennis Meadows

On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth to scientists, journalists and others assembled at the Smithsonian Castle. Released days later in book form, the study was one of the first to use computer modeling to address a centuries-old question: When will the population outgrow the planet and the natural resources it has to offer?

The researchers, led by scientist Dennis Meadows, warned that if current trends in population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continued, that dark time—marked by a plummeting population, a contracting economy and environmental collapse—would come within 100 years.

In four decades, The Limits to Growth has sold over ten million copies in more than 30 languages. The book is part of the canon of great environmental literature of the 20th century. Yet, the public has done little to avert the disaster it foretells.

GRAPH: Australian physicist Graham Turner shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.

To mark the report’s 40th anniversary, experts gathered in Washington, D.C. on March 1. Meadows and Jorgen Randers, two authors of The Limits to Growth, and other speakers discussed the challenges of forging ahead into a sustainable future at “Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet,” a symposium hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and the Club of Rome, the global think tank that sponsored the original report.

I spoke with Meadows, who retired in 2004 after 35 years as a professor at MIT, Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire. We discussed the report and why he feels it is too late for sustainable development and it is now time for resilience.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Why Is Society Still Mired in Mainstream Thinking?

Why Is Society Still Mired in Mainstream Thinking?

Eagle Rock Train Station, Eagle Rock, Virginia

In my last article, I spent a considerable amount of time describing how a large part of society today is still mired in mainstream thinking and I pointed out how I don’t see or expect the possibility that much will change in the future based upon a general lack of interest in the subject of ecological overshoot and collapse along with the myriad symptom predicaments that overshoot produces. Much of the material is subject matter that I have covered here before, although some of that (subject matter) was covered a considerable while back.

It’s just that I see so much material consistently which is based on what amounts to unicorn magic pixie dust rather than actual science or even common sense once one understands the basics of overshoot. Take for instance this approach from Simon Michaux, which has already been attempted in many different forms in the past, most famously as The Venus Project. Attempting such projects entirely ignores ecological overshoot and the simple fact that civilization itself is unsustainable. Michaux made himself widely known for his telling the “Captains of Industry” that their plan to replace fossil fuels with non-renewable “renewable” energy harvesting devices, simply stated, would not work. So, his plan now has replaced these devices with thorium modular nuclear reactors and he is embarking on a project to build a “radical tomorrow.” Unfortunately, this project is destined for failure. It isn’t how civilization is powered that is the issue, it is the fact that civilization is built on the platform of technology use, making BOTH of those systems unsustainable. It is precisely the power of technology to remove or reduce negative feedbacks allowing for population growth which then feeds back into a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop of more people, more technology use, and increasing overshoot. Powering it differently won’t change anything – the systems themselves will remain unsustainable.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Coming Soon: Your Travel Will Be Restricted By Personal Carbon Allowances

“Experts suggest” your standard of living be reduced by over 85%

A report on the future of travel and tourism, co-authored by a travel agency called Intrepid Travel and The Future Labs Institute, posits a future deeply impacted by climate change and restrictions on tourist travel to combat it.

“A Sustainable Future for Travel”, warns of “travel extinction”, where some areas suffer such radical climate change that all tourism there ceases, and “personal carbon allowances” that will restrict how often one is permitted travel.

From the report (pardon the length, emphasis added):

“Carbon Passports

A personal carbon emissions limit will become the new normal as policy and people’s values drive an era of great change.

As demonstrated by a worldwide tourism boom, the frequency at which we can fly is once again seemingly unlimited.

Conscience and budgets permitting, we feel free to hop on planes from one place to the next. But this will change. ‘On our current trajectory, we can expect a pushback against the frequency with which individuals can travel, with carbon passports set to change the tourism landscape,’ says Raymond [Martin Raymond, Future Laboratories co-founder]

Personal carbon allowances could help curb carbon emissions and lower travel’s overall footprint.

These allowances will manifest as passports that force people to ration their carbon in line with the global carbon budget, which is 750bn tonnes until 2050.

By 2040, we can expect to see limitations imposed on the amount of travel that is permitted each year.

Experts suggest that individuals should currently limit their carbon emissions to 2.3 tonnes each year – the equivalent of taking a round-trip from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia..

…click on the above link to read the rest…

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XII–Growth Greenwashing: A Comforting Narrative

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XII

Teotihuacan, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Growth Greenwashing: A Comforting Narrative

My comment on an article regarding the cessation of a provincial programme for municipalities in British Columbia meant to support and fund climate change initiatives.

Not sure what the situation is like in BC surrounding provincial mandates and municipalities, but I would judge a programme that is supposedly to support climate change initiatives ​in Ontario municipalities to be primarily about political theatre, certainly not about addressing any type of environmental dilemma. I live in a municipality on the edge of the Greater Toronto Area that has been chasing perpetual growth for many, many years. In fact, it uses this growth to try and attract more growth, marketing itself as one of the fastest growing areas in Ontario and thus the place to live and work.

This growth comes at a steep cost, if you ask me. That being the expansion of suburban residences over prime agricultural land and sensitive ecological habitat being on the glacial till known as the Oak Ridges Moraine. They have shifted their plot somewhat in arguing that they are concentrating on densification of the town proper (they just approved a large apartment/condo complex in the middle of town that far exceeds previous ‘bylaws’ regarding height restrictions — you know, a one-off exception), yet the construction of residential communities continues unabated in areas outside this supposed new approach as farmland continues to be paved over; adding to the looming crisis Ontario will face as it adds more and more people yet already imports more than 80% of its food.

As my once ‘small’ town (about 18,000 when we moved here in 1995) approaches 50,000 and supposedly will ‘max’ out at around 80,000, I have to wonder how the town’s motto (Country Close to the City) connects to the reality on the ground. I’ve been suggesting for a number of years the town should abandon this farcical slogan and change it to what is actually happening: Suburbia Close to More Suburbia.

When pushed about this ongoing pursuit of growth, our municipal politicians invariably skirt responsibility stating they are simply following the diktats of the provincial government; their task being to implement provincial mandates in a manner that considers local ‘needs’, particularly the environmental sensitivity of the area (leading me to conclude these municipal ‘representatives’ are really little more than local, middle managers doing as instructed from the more distant ‘representatives’ of the province — I put ‘representative’ in quotes as one has to wonder who exactly the politicians ‘represent’ in their policies/decision-making; I tend to believe it is those at the top of our power structures, not the ‘average’ citizen).

I have to laugh at the bombastic rhetoric. They cheerlead ‘sustainable’ development and growing with the environment in mind without flinching at the hypocrisy in their oxymoronic statements at all. They talk about protecting the environment while undermining it with expansion. They speak of responsibility to future generations while using up all the finite resources that support life. They expand and expand and expand with no understanding of how exponential growth quickly overwhelms systems and that overshoot of the environmental carrying capacity of a region always ends in collapse.

The foxes truly are in charge of the henhouse. But they have created a comforting narrative so that the chickens can avoid the cognitive-dissonance that comes from realising it’s all just a fairy tale. Ontario, a place to ‘grow’.

Stop Using the Word ‘Sustainability’ for God’s Sake

No. This is not sustainable. Photo by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

For millions of years us, humans, were part of Nature. We were born in the wild, lived in the wild, died in the wild. We ate what we found, drank the waters of rivers and streams, breathed air purified by trees. Just like any other mammalian species on Earth. The false belief, that we’ve somehow moved above and beyond that thanks to our ingenuity is just a fantasy. Or rather: pure unadulterated hogwash. We still eat plants and animals feeding on grass and seeds. We still drink the waters of rivers and streams. We still breathe air purified by trees. The only difference is, that today there is a massive blob of buildings, roads, machines, mines and supermarkets — now weighing more than all things living — placed between us and Nature.

All technology did, in its narrowest technical sense, is that it has enabled us to extract raw materials, clear-cut forests, harvest fish and food beyond all sustainable levels. Sustainability in its original sense means: an ability for something to go on unabated forever (or at least long enough not to matter). All I’m writing about on this blog since its inception, is that nothing — not a single thing — we do and call ‘civilization’ today can go on for much too long, let alone forever.

Extracting resources (especially by mining) destroys ecosystems, takes a lot of energy and precious fresh water, poisons rivers and the soil, and ultimately depletes the very resource it is going after. It is a self-destructing and thus a self-limiting activity. Mining is by definition unsustainable. Now, the problem is, that everything we call civilization today from buildings to roads, from agriculture to distributing food, from machines to electricity starts with extracting resources from the ground. No exceptions.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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