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Conditioned To Believe

Photo by John Fowler on Unsplash

Many of us believe firmly in a Star Trek world to come, where technology and science would eventually have an answer to every problem we face today: from cancer to infinite growth on a finite planet. (Not that these are two different things at all.) This vision of the future certainly makes enduring life easier: it’s not unlike Promiseland here on Earth. It is giving people the hope that their descendants — far-far into the future — will have a better life, without the toil and suffering. Heck, in the big scheme of things fans of high-tech can even feel proud that they are part of this success story right here and now! A story of a single species from a fairly uninteresting planet conquering the entire Universe, bringing freedom and democracy even to the farthest reaches of the galaxy…

Is it possible though, that all this is but a magician’s trick, and we have been lured to believe in a future which might never come?

Remember Pavlov from biology class, who trained dogs by ringing a bell whenever he gave them food? After a few repetitions his dogs started to salivate in hopes of getting tasty bits just by hearing the bell ring. This is a perfectly normal reaction universally observable across all mammals, humans included. According to Britannica:

conditioning is a behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for a desired response

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Electricity vs Oil

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

In light of the diesel crisis unfolding around the globe I thought it would be worthwhile to touch upon the topic of electrification. Will EV-s be our saving grace? Can we save the climate and our modern way of life by switching to electric vehicles? Has this transition begun in earnest at all? As someone with an engineering background and a direct involvement in the electrification of road transport, I long felt the need to dispel some of the myths around the topic, and to offer a bigger picture view than what is usually available from the media. So, without much further ado: here you go.

In what eerily resembles a PR campaign, we are under a constant bombardment of messages from the International Energy Agency, company CEOs, corporate media outlets and pundits how oil demand is peaking and how electric vehicles and ‘renewables’ are making oil less and less necessary. How all we need to do is to invest in smart grids, build more wind, more solar and how battery metals will serve as the basis of our clean green economic growth from this point on.

On the other hand, we see more and more news that a recession is looming, and as a result oil demand would fall as clear sign of economic turmoil. In order to prevent this, we see extorted efforts by our leadership class to lower prices at the pump. Begging the Saudis to pump more. Considering waiving sanctions. Maybe its just me, but the two simply doesn’t add up. Shouldn’t we be less dependent oil with all those electric cars zooming around in our cities? Why is everyone scrambling for cheap oil then?

…click on the above link to read the rest…

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…

There Is No Way Out for Europe

The late historian Toynbee argued, that when civilizations meet a challenge they cannot overcome or resolve, they rather commit suicide than to let themselves murdered by outside forces. I sincerely doubt however that anyone from the political class in the West read Toynbee, let alone be influenced by his thoughts… Yet, here we are at this historical juncture clearly marking the end of centuries long Western dominance, colonization and exploitation — and together with a looming fall in global oil production: the slow decline of industrial civilization. What do we do next? Are we strong enough to step back and stop this madness?

Systems, which took centuries to build up and evolve to their current form are not willing to give up on their dominance easily. What we are witnessing today is but a beginning to a long political, economical and technological struggle lasting (probably many) decades into the future. The economic superorganism encircling the planet is doing everything to keep itself alive for a little longer while being starved of energy. It would first crack in two large chunks, then after the crumbling an fall of its more depleted half, the other would follow suit.

With the above process in mind, let’s first make a quick sweep through the economic news in Europe, where the idea of Western dominance born and where it seems to meet its fate. So, how things look like on the onset of Europe’s long descent? On the face of it, the continent it seems has now filled up its gas storage units to the brim and LNG tankers are now queuing up in front of European ports waiting to be unloaded…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

What collapse?

I’ve been contemplating a lot recently on how modern industrial civilization would collapse. (That it will collapse was no question to me.) The term ‘collapse’ of course invokes fear and anxiety in most, as it implies a sudden, irreversible, truly catastrophic event on epic proportions. One really bad day all shit breaks loose then suddenly — puff! — everything goes up in smoke. (Mind you, this does can happen: it is called nuclear war, the probability of which is increasing should warring parties insist on further escalation — poking nukes under the other’s nose — instead of peace talks.) If we manage to avoid this rather unwelcome outcome though, collapse, I argue, will unfold at a much-much slower pace and will only be visible in retrospect.

Before we delve deep into what the future has in store for us, however, we must understand there are several types — levels if you like — of collapse. All of them share the trait of happening under the surface for years and decades, only to resurface in the form of a crisis, which then defies all methods of resolution and permanently ends the old status quo.

You can find a detailed description of the various steps leading to social breakdown in Dmitry Orlov’s list based on his experience living through the collapse of the Soviet Union. My goal however was not to reproduce his findings here, but to offer a different perspective. Orlov’s steps, to me at least, look like distinct phases in each of which the collapse of a certain structure (financial, commercial, political, social and finally cultural) has already been completed. What really fascinates me though is the process of how we get there, and how things might unfold on the way…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The Road to Ruin — Part 3

Our leadership class displays an extraordinary amount of stupidity and ignorance when it comes to solutions regarding the dire energy crisis we face in Europe — and soon around the world. What are the pitfalls caused by this lack of imagination and the false beliefs surrounding topic of energy security? And more importantly, what could be done differently?

In the first two instalments of this series we have seen how the lifecycle of civilizations affected Europe and the entire West in general. Building a society on the belief of infinite growth was never a good idea and has always ended up with the same predictable results. In Part 2 we have reviewed the false assumptions behind our modern economic belief system, and saw how energy is the basis of all economic activity — not money.

Based on this understanding we can now take a hard look at the “solutions” proposed by our political class and economic experts all around the world. The one thing which could actually help them and their societies is rarely discussed though, and almost never dared to be imagined — but let’s not just get ahead of ourselves.

Drill, Baby, Drill!

My “favorite”. We need more oil, so out with those pesky regulations together with nit-picky officials and let’s get down to business! Frack the gas from underneath Europe, lay pipelines all across America, give drilling leases to everyone who has a desire to put holes into the ground — and all will be fine.

10,000 more feet to go… Image source

There is a tiny winey problem here — besides releasing megatons of carbon into the atmosphere in the process. We’ve run out of everything. Already in April. Steel pipes. Pumps. Sand. Water. You name it..

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Europe’s Permanent Energy Crisis Gets Worse

All Will Be Fine!

You all know this feeling running under the title ‘this cannot happen to me’. During normal times it does have a certain usefulness to it, protecting one from falling into panic and overreacting all sorts of possible problems. It also makes life look smooth and easy by making one believe that someone somewhere will take care of things, so one can continue with Business As Usual forever. ‘The sky is not falling — it didn’t fall last time either — so all you Chicken Littles just shut up and get back to work.

Needless to say, this feeling has devastating effects in face of a real disaster — be it a car accident, a natural disaster, or a stock market crash for that matter. Thomas E Drabek, author of the book Human system responses to disaster: an inventory of sociological findings (1986) coined the term for this phenomenon and called it normalcy bias. It is one of many cognitive biases, which leads people to disbelieve or minimize threat warnings. According to its definition (with my emphasis added):

Normalcy bias is a psychological state of denial people enter in the event of a disaster, as a result of which they underestimate the possibility of the disaster actually happening, and its effects on their life and property. Their denial is based on the assumption that if the disaster has not occurred until now, it will never occur.

Sounds familiar? If not, Wikipedia cites a number of examples:

As for events in world history, the normalcy bias can explain why, when the volcano Vesuvius erupted, the residents of Pompeii watched for hours without evacuating. It can explain why thousands of people refused to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached and why at least 70% of 9/11 survivors spoke with others before leaving…

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

Water. Food. Energy.

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Europe Cannibalized

Abandoned industrial building. Image credit: Pixabay
List of the most energy intensive businesses. Source: US Energy Information Administration

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The End of Reason — Part 1

Have we just passed Peak Rationality? Data Source: Google Search, red line: my extrapolation

Most societies that have fallen before ours, have went through a similar pattern of rise, prosper and fall. Ours is no exception. Towards the end of their prosperous phase, brought about by discovering some rational rules on how things work (science) and developing an ability to exploit those observations (technology), societies tended to hit limits of all kinds, only to find themselves unwillingly embarking on their journey down.

One of the many limits is the limit to human rationality. We, modern humans, tend to think of ourselves as highly rational beings. We take pride in building systems based on scientific discoveries and manage them based on facts and figures — a method enabling further discoveries and ever newer innovations. The early successes of this approach led us to think: ‘hey, this could go on indefinitely!’ or ‘there is no limit to human ingenuity!’

Scientific progress has not only become the norm, but an outright expectation: that every ‘problem’ besetting humanity from climate change to hunger can and will be ‘solved’. We have lured ourselves into believing that since scientific discoveries and reason have brought us to our present state we could continue innovate our way out every situation.

This idea of infinite progress made us thinking in linear terms, where people imagine a straight line with a starting point back in the dark (dumb, stupid, aggressive etc) times of the stone age, with all its superstitions and ‘false beliefs’, swooshing all the way through history towards the shining victory of reason and knowledge — pointing eventually into infinity, and beyond.

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

Our Capitalist Civilization’s Last Shot

What hole…? Bah, gotta keep on diggin’… Image credit: Dominik Vanyi via Unsplash

For those of my readers who follow this blog for a while now it has probably become pretty much clear that this global capitalist high-tech industrial civilization is slowly over. What we are experiencing these days is nothing but an opening to a period of long slow decline — taking decades, if not a century to unfold — barring a literal Armageddon unleashed by fundamentalists seeing it as a way to redemption. The underlying dynamics, however, are common to all previously lost societies, no matter how sad it is: all civilizations rise and fall in familiar patterns and ours is by no means an exception. What can our leaders and the political class in general do about it? What are the proposed ways to avert our fate? This is going to be the topic of today’s post.

Bigger, better, greener…?

Renewable energy is what seems to get all the attention in fighting off climate change, and beating those nasty petrol states at the same time. These resources are said to bring electricity prices down (after all, these are the ‘cheapest’ sources of electricity nowadays) and give us the only hope of continuing our comfortable lifestyles in the West.

After half a century of handwaving though, touting how electricity generated by nuclear power will be too cheap to meter, or how power generated by renewables will be so abundant that it will be virtually for free, oil, gas and coal are still powering 85% of the real economy. Just like 50 years ago. As Germany’s year-ahead electricity contracts testify, after having went through a whopping 500% increase over the past year, we are not quite there yet… But will we ever reach this utopia…?

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

Phase Shift — Part 2

Image credit: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash

When you start to see the world as a massively complex self-adapting system with its innumerable actors and all its tipping points — as discussed in Part 1 of this essay — you start to see phase transitions everywhere.

The world as we know it is about cross several tipping points as we speak. We are amidst a massive sea change, triggered unwillingly by human activity, and controlled by absolutely no one. We have started to rock the chair, and now we are about experience what the world looks like on the other side.

We have entered a forest packed full of booby traps, tripwires and snares, where hitting one could offset ten other in a rapid chain reaction. The issues we think of as unrelated are in fact part of a much larger story. Resource depletion. Wars. Deforestation. Drought. Dependence on fertilizers. Ocean dead zones. The list goes on.

In this sense, it is both frightening and entertaining to see monkeys dressed up in a suit and tie, with all their diplomas from law, political ‘science’ and neoclassical economics, trying to act like they had an idea on where things are going… and see how they are making things only worse by doing so.

Much worse, much faster than it would otherwise had to be.

Near the tipping point any system’s ability to bounce back from hardships — aka its resilience — diminishes (be it the global climate, or the human economy) besetting the system with ever longer recovery times and a heightened sensitivity to even the smallest of disturbances. Just like in our chair-rocking example: it gets harder and harder to maintain your balance as you approach the point of no return.

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

Phase Shift — Part 1

Image credit: Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash

News stories and popular narratives on recent — and not so recent — events like how the economy got broke or why inflation is soaring focus too much on human decisions. As if ‘choices’ leading up to these events were made in a completely rational manner, and as if what would happen tomorrow were completely up to the people making the next round of decisions.

Pundits and politicians tend to refer to events in the age-old framing of good vs evil, people doing the right, or in case of evil folks, foolish things (1). This leads us to the widespread illusion, that all we have to do in case of trouble is to get rid of the wrong people and start doing things the right way (which is always ‘our way’ of course).

It is needless to say how much of a hubris this is. Human exceptionalism at its best. The world, classically understood through the concepts of money, politics and history — all human artifacts — is by definition human centered and thus miss a large swathe of the picture. Stories based on these human concepts naturally focus on the actor and not the scene the actor is playing its role. Just like stories of heroes and kings of old.

Our elites, trained in law schools, history classes and courses on neoclassical economics, however, cannot even think outside this rather narrow framing. Thing is, they do not even need to. Spinning stories masterfully built around money, politics, history and law is more than enough to launch people into power — but it fails exceptionally in driving us through the coming bottleneck.

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

Is a Partial Collapse Possible? — Part 2

After exploring the possible ways the West could (continue to) collapse in Part 1, let’s turn our mental gaze towards the East, and see what are the global implications of such a shift in centers of power — if there are any…

However, it will be China who will take the brunt of the damage made to the world’s production facilities, as it was producing a myriad of goods for Europe and for the States to consume and built their products from. Even if the West would enter a decade long depression though, China would still recover after going through its own round of deepest recession in living memory. They would eventually reorganize their economy to fit the needs of the BRICS states, serving them with products instead of Europe and the US. They could do this on the back of a yet to be released common currency of the block (replacing the Dollar in international trade) and based on resources suddenly becoming relatively cheap and abundant, as the West would consume a fraction of what it used to.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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