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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXX–She Blinded Me With Science, and More on the ‘Clean’ Energy Debate…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXX

She Blinded Me With Science, and More on the ‘Clean’ Energy Debate…

For whatever reason, I just can’t seem to help myself…

The most relevant issue for the first part of this Contemplation is a loose definition and lack of agreement at the outset on what all of us involved in the shared conversation below mean by the word ‘science’. It can refer to a body of knowledge, but it can also refer to a method of ascertaining this knowledge. 

From my perspective, the scientific method, in its ideal form, is perhaps one of the best ways our species has developed for helping us to understand many aspects of our universe; not all, of course, but many. It fails, however, in reaching universal ‘truths’ in many other aspects and I would argue this is particularly so in the areas where humans are involved but also where complex systems exist. Put complex systems and humans together, and all bets are off as to whether even the most sound use of the scientific method can reach definitive and totally objective conclusions. 

A further issue, as my comments below hopefully demonstrate, is that the methodological practice is carried out by us totally subjective, story-telling apes and so the conclusions can be suspect as can much of the body of knowledge we garner from it. And there should be nothing wrong or controversial about skepticism towards such knowledge. Such skepticism is, in fact, (or at least should be) an integral part of the process. As this paper argues, “…In science, being skeptical does not mean doubting the validity of everything, nor does it mean being cynical. Rather, to be skeptical is to judge the validity of a claim based on objective empirical evidence. David Hume, the 18th century philosopher, asserted that we should accept no things as true unless the evidence available makes the non-existence of the thing more miraculous than its existence. Even extraordinary claims can be true, but the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence required…To be skeptical does not mean dismissing claims—even extraordinary claims—out of hand. It means examining the available evidence before reaching a decision or withholding judgment until sufficient evidence is had. One should not start with the assumption that a claim cannot be true any more than one should start with the assumption that a claim must be true. All reasonable evidence on both sides should be considered. Skepticism is a critical feature of a scientific repertoire. Indeed, many of the most prominent skeptics are and have been some of the world’s most prominent scientists, including Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan…”

Many people, however, take extreme umbrage when their ‘science’ is skeptically viewed. This occurs for a number of psychological reasons, not least of which would be the cognitive dissonance it can lead to. To reduce the anxiety/stress that can result when one’s beliefs are questioned, our fight/flight responses take over and we lash out by ‘attacking’ the critic or simply ignore/deny their perspective. 

Don’t get me wrong, ‘science’ is great; I love it and practised it somewhat in an earlier life. However, my time engulfed in that world and experiences/reading since have led me to better understand the human tendencies that impact its practice and story-telling. This is especially so in the past number of years where it all seems to be turning far more ‘political’ in nature, where ‘science’ is being leveraged as a new ‘religion’ that cannot be questioned and is used to justify/rationalise social policy and action (i.e., socio-political, -economic, -cultural) by those at the top of our power and wealth structures. 

I use ‘science’ to bolster my arguments about those things I discuss and I try (but am not always successful) in couching my words and ideas as possibilities, probabilities, and in terms of evidence. I believe there are paths ahead that are more likely than others based on the evidence humans have observed and gathered, but I also understand that such paths may go in some completely different or unseen way. Much uncertainty exists and, of course, humans loathe uncertainty so we seek certainty regardless of sound evidence. 

The meme in question struck me as problematic in a few ways but perhaps mostly because of the us versus them intonation, and the idea that if you’re not ‘with us’ then you’re ‘against’ us and the reason we don’t reach our potential and succeed at this experiment of life (especially via our ingenuity and technology, all the result of ‘science’). 

My conversation with others within a FB Group (Neil deGrasse Tyson) on the topic of ‘science’ in response to the Bill Nye meme:

Steve Bull
Would that be the science that led humanity to 10,000+ nuclear warheads? Or maybe the science that leveraged hydrocarbons to help put us into ecological overshoot and helped to destroy the ecological systems all life depends upon. ‘Science’ has been as much a curse as a saviour.

Steve Bull, Discoveries and invention always have the capacity to be used or misused. Science is about discovering the nature of things. We can’t stop doing that. It is humans that are flawed not science.

Steve Bull
SG, Yes, and who carries out the science and the interpretation of observable phenomena? Humans. Humans that can never be completely objective and interpret the universe through biased eyes. Conclusions based upon perfectly performed scientific methods still require interpretation. And especially when systems being studied are complex and are impacted by nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena, it is impossible to control all the variables to thoroughly test hypotheses and reach absolute certainty. Throw on top of this the incentives that influence research (socio-cultural/-economic/-political) and science simply provides us with mostly socially-constructed stories that may or may not represent accurately the phenomena it is hoping to understand. One needs ‘faith’ to accept conclusions at complete face value given all the impediments to the ‘ideal’ we hold science against. And then there’s the whole interpretation via established paradigms (refer to Thomas Kuhn’s work on scientific revolutions) that can overturn decades of conclusions by shifting the interpretation of phenomena…

SG, great point. Same is true with religion. Religion isn’t flawed it’s just the leaders and the people who practice it

Steve Bull
JD, I am reminded of the line by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Perhaps, for example, performing gain-of-function research on viruses was/is not an area that should be ‘explored’—I mean, what could go wrong?

Steve Bull So should we stop trying to figure it all out because we are flawed and biased? What are you saying here?

Steve Bull
SG, Basically, what I’m suggesting is that we need to not place science upon a pedestal from which it cannot be questioned/criticised, which is what I sense from a lot of commenters in this group. The scientific method and the interpretation of conclusions from it is always impacted by the humans who practice it; it is impossible to separate the social influences humans are susceptible to from it. Humans can never be completely objective, so the narratives we weave are oftentimes if not always influenced by our social circumstances and conditioning. Ecologist Dr. Bill Rees and coauthor Megan Siebert perhaps place things in perspective via this statement at the beginning of a recent paper on our energy ‘transition’: “We begin with a reminder that humans are storytellers by nature. We socially construct complex sets of facts, beliefs, and values that guide how we operate in the world. Indeed, humans act out of their socially constructed narratives as if they were real. All political ideologies, religious doctrines, economic paradigms, cultural narratives—even scientific theories—are socially constructed “stories” that may or may not accurately reflect any aspect of reality they purport to represent. Once a particular construct has taken hold, its adherents are likely to treat it more seriously than opposing evidence from an alternate conceptual framework.”(https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/14/15/4508) As for ‘figuring it all out’, have we not learned enough to understand that we will never achieve such lofty ideals. That instead of focusing on those learnings that indicate we have proceeded significantly into ecological overshoot and need to begin preparing for the inevitable consequences of this, we are attempting to sustain, even expand upon, the unsustainable (which is what a lot of science is being used for). We need to recognise and acknowledge our limits and reorient our existence towards living within Nature’s hard, physical boundaries–not try and keep the growth party going and putting us even further into overshoot because ‘science will figure it out’.

Steve Bull I realize we will never “figure it all out” and there will always be new discoveries and new interpretations. A true scientist does not stop questioning. The whole point of science is to question. If some people choose to close their minds to the possibility of new information that may change what we think we know, they are missing g the point of “ science” Again it’s more of a human failing not a science failing.

Steve Bull
SG, While the properly carried out ‘scientific method’ is likely our best process for determining universal ‘truths’ it is, unfortunately, carried out by humans and we can never be eliminated/isolated from the equation. This is especially true for complex systems (those with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena) where all variables are impossible to control for and interpretations of results are carried out.

Steve Bull, the moral high ground scientist operate off of because they believe they aren’t participating in religious activities is extraordinary. It’s absolutely 100% no different than what born again Christians experience as they operate. I have no judgment of either party, but only interested in pointing out the similarities, which makes finger pointing silly. 

SG, maybe he’s just pointing out that scientists are no different than religious zealots. You might say well, religious zealots murder in the name of God. Well, scientist did a bunch of murdering in the last few years in the name of I’m not sure what. So it’s not that people should stop trying to figure it all out, it’s people should stop pointing to that process as justification for an implicit moral high ground. 

JD, It is not the intent of science to murder people but it is sometimes the intent of religion

Steve Bull
SG, Consider how ‘science’ contributed to the eugenics movement or what virus gain-of-function research has accomplished. There are plenty of examples of scientific research into better ways to eliminate other humans.

Steve Bull Again, human failings. Science has no conscience, it just tries to research answer to questions. If humans misuse it it is not the fault of “science”

Steve Bull
SG, We’re simply talking past each other and will have to agree to disagree. I stand committed to the perspective that you cannot remove the human aspect from the practice of science. It is a human endeavour, through and through. 

Steve Bull Your point of view is quite narrow. Science never hurt a person, reality was the one who hurt. And that is humans wanting to use science as a weapon. Science is merely knowledge and what the human does with this knowledge is what needs to be addressed. We the human are not , at this time, capable of handling mind altering information

Steve Bull You are probably alive because of vaccinations and anti-biotics, so no.

Steve Bull
RY, Perhaps, but there’s an argument to be made that humans are well into ecological overshoot because of our inability to allow ‘natural’ processes to keep our population numbers below the planet’s carrying capacity. So are our interventions in these processes helpful or harmful, in the long run? The consequences that a species in overshoot experiences are often if not always quite ‘harmful’.

Steve Bull I agree, in fact that may be an answer to the Fermi Paradox. But science itself is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. Only how it is used can determine that. Science also gives us birth control, while religion often opposes it and urges people to procreate endlessly.

Projections are that Earth’s population is expected to peak and then decline. Lift people out of poverty and educate them and they inevitably have fewer children.

Steve Bull
RY, There are many economists and futurists that also encourage increased population growth (but that’s mostly to keep the Ponzis that are our monetary and economic systems from imploding, and based upon the view that infinite growth is entirely possible on a finite planet).

And the projections about a levelling off of population that you speak of depend almost entirely upon the global population achieving a standard of living comparable to the so-called advanced economies of the world. Such optimistic predictions (dare I say delusional) are fully and completely resource blind (especially as it relates to energy). There is almost certainly not going to be a ‘managed’ curtailing of the growth our species has been experiencing; it will be forced upon us by Nature and we are unlikely to enjoy the transition.

Steve Bull Sadly, I suspect you are correct. We are not good at recognizing or addressing rolling threats.

Steve Bull
RY, It’s the complexity that we can’t understand. Nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena cannot be predicted no matter how sophisticated one’s model. It also doesn’t help that we tend to believe our species stands outside and apart from Nature. We continue to tell and believe in stories where we have significant agency and can control everything. That’s not the real world; that’s magical thinking.

Steve Bull no, that was the politics

Steve Bull
NZ, Humans, including scientists, are ‘political’ animals. Look into how academic/economic incentives influence research.

Steve Bull it could have been worse … they could have used them

Steve Bull no that would be the Science that allows you to gripe about science while doing so on a device that lets you fit the sum of all human knowledge in the palm of your hand and communicate instantly with nearly everyone worldwide.

Anyway you look at it or slice it Science has been a net-plus for humanity.

Steve Bull
And a contrarian perspective could be that all this technology that many crow on about as being so ‘beneficial’ has also—because of the industrial processes required in their production and the geopolitical dynamics involved in acquiring resources—has not only placed humanity in ecological overshoot (with a problematic ‘collapse’ to come) but helped to destroy the ecological systems all life depends upon. The experiment that Homo sapiens is (especially its last 10-15000 years with the rise of complex societies) has not yet concluded and there’s good evidence that the hyper-exploitation of finite resources over the past couple of centuries (thanks a lot to technological developments) will not end well.

Steve Bull, I feel you are looking at it through not just a contrarian lense but a myopic one as well.

The problem isn’t Science.

It’s people.

Even now….with all the evidence that Science has given us revealing how we are harming the planet and our long term prospects on it in we refuse to come together and take the necessary steps to mitigate the damage.

That isn’t Science’s fault.

Without Science life for humans would have remained short and brutal with women frequently dying in childbirth, children frequently dying young from common pathogens, and a general average life expectancy of 30.

Steve Bull
DC, Yes, it’s helped to expedite our journey into overshoot.

Steve Bull, well…..yes.

But, again…..Science has explained to us how to “undershoot.”

We won’t listen.

It would be interesting to see how humanity would be doing now if Science was never used.

I suspect we would be generally miserable.

Or could already be extinct.

Too bad advanced Science wasn’t around 66 million years ago and used to deflect the asteroid that wiped out most life on the planet at the time.

Or maybe it’s a good thing because if the dinosaurs had the tech to do that we wouldn’t be here lol.

Steve Bull
DC, The evidence suggests strongly that we are too far past the tipping point for overshoot to be ‘corrected’; with or without ‘science’. The best we might do is mitigate at the margins, but instead (mostly because of denial combined with who sits atop our complex societies’ power and wealth structures) we are continuing to pursue policies and actions that are taking us further into overshoot—especially the belief that there’s a technological ‘fix’.

That human populations were ‘miserable’ prior to the widespread use of ‘science’ assumes a lot about the life and times of the prehistoric hunter-gathering groups that existed for 100,000+ years prior to ‘modern’ times (say the past 12,000 since large, complex societies arose)as well as assumptions about how most of the current 8+ billion live (only a minority live in the ‘splendour’ of so-called ‘advanced’ economies that exploit and use the majority of finite resources to support their ‘advantaged’ living standards).

Steve Bull whether we are past a tipping point is, again, the fault of humans and not Science.

All available archeological evidence indicates that prehistoric humans lived short and largely miserable lives spending most of their time just trying to stay alive as do most of the current world’s population that doesn’t have advanced technologies readily available to them.

The Science of Agriculture and irrigation alone has saved countless lives from starvation.

Even if some paradise or garden of eden ever existed or exists today I see little point or advantage in a humanity that never advances beyond a primitive nature.

Steve Bull ironically, if not for Science I doubt either one of us would have the luxury of the time it has taken to engage in this debate.

Steve Bull
DC, I’d argue it’s more about net energy surpluses than science. Net energy surpluses (especially thanks to hydrocarbons) have afforded humans the luxury to engage in all sorts of non-survival practices. And as these surpluses have encountered ever-quickening diminishing returns, such ‘luxuries’ are increasingly looking to be in the rear-view mirror in the not-too-distant future.

Steve Bull More people have been killed “in the name of God” than by nuclear warheads

Steve Bull
RR, I don’t disagree. There’s also been a lot killed in the name of politics and supposed democracy/freedom.

Steve Bull back to the caves

Steve Bull
RM, While it is impossible to predict the future with much accuracy, it seems certain that a societal transition to a much simpler existence is ahead for those that make it through the bottleneck we have led ourselves into.

Steve Bull Science is observing the facts of electricity. Social & economic forces create light bulbs or electric chairs, or rail guns. Scientists discover politicians, military people, & capitalists manipulate those findings to fit THEIR desires.

Steve Bull One of the things “sciences” doesn’t do is tell us how to use the knowledge science uncovers. Usually taught at the middle school level. Miss something?

Steve Bull
LM CB, That’s a convenient logical runaround for abdicating responsibility for the misuse of knowledge. As I stated above, the line from Jurassic Park by Jeff Goldblum is apropos here: “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Steve Bull You’re confusing scientists with the politicians and military or corporate entities that put advancements to a nefarious use. That is like blaming architects for the building of the gas chambers.

Steve Bull
MO, You’re missing (or perhaps ignoring) everything I have stated about the social influences that impact the scientific process and thus the work of supposed ‘objective’ and ‘non-partisan’ scientists. In an ‘ideal’ world where such impacts don’t exist or can be completely controlled for, the scientific method appears to be our best means of understanding our universe. We don’t live in such a world, however.

Similar ‘simplistic’ memes have appeared on this FB Group repeatedly. The other one that makes me shake my head (for a variety of reasons) is this one:

A handful of relevant articles:

The Skeptical Scientist

What Skepticism Reveals about Science

Elements of Scientific Thinking: Skepticism, Careful Reasoning, and Exhaustive Evaluation Are All Vital

Science as organized scepticism

The Skepticism in Skeptical Science

One of the more significant issues for me in calling into question the assertions that non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies are ‘green/clean/non-polluting’ (all great marketing propaganda via the manipulation of language use by the way) is the denial/ignorance/obfuscation/rationalising away of the ecological systems destruction these technologies (all complex, industrial technology actually) require. 

So I share this FB Group conversation initiated by one of this technology’s cheerleaders:

Steve Bull
Except: “…and I have already heard that auto parts suppliers are stopping orders for EV production and that combustion engine plants are being spruced up for a few more years.”


What are the environmental costs? (Real not provocative question)

AD, Batteries are a non-polluting technology. One of the nicest ever. No emissions, no liquids, no gas. When they’ve degraded a bit, you recycle them and make them new. What more can you ask for?

Steve Bull
UB, The production and recycling of batteries is anything but non-polluting. To argue otherwise is disingenuous in the extreme.

Steve Bull, please link facts no bla bla bla

Currently, lead batteries are recycled at 95%. One of the best recycling rates of the whole industrial system. There is no reason why we can’t recycle lithium batteries at the same rate. And even better.

Steve Bull
GT, Do a simple internet search. There’s a ton of information on the detrimental environmental impacts of battery production and recycling. Here’s one article to get you started: https://www.wired.com/…/lithium-batteries-environment…/

Steve Bull
UB, Yes, recycling happens but to suggest it has zero negative environmental impacts is not supported by the realities of its practice.

Steve Bull, “Do a simple internet search”



UB, until now the capacity for proper recycling is low, and without extremely expensive recycling in plants with appropriate technologies it becomes one of the most polluting waste ever. In addition, they continue to have big problems in the event of an accident, because the chemical combustion they develop is not possible by ordinary firefighters, which is unaware of chemical reagents that were so far only expected in the presence of large chemical plants. Finally and first problem for the buyer, in a short time they degrade and the charge, already low in terms of guaranteed mileage compared to communal fuels, becomes really demanding, best suited to urban journeys. Problems that, at least for a while, and until a technological leap in battery components, will remain difficult to solve.

Steve Bull
GT, I’ve played this dance with others. If you believe that battery production and recycling is inert for the environment as UB claims, no amount of evidence (peer-reviewed research included) is likely to dissuade you. I have challenged an assertion that has plenty of research to show it is false. Just the fact that hydrocarbon-reliant mining is the major process required for their production should be enough to show that batteries are not environmentally neutral. I get, however, that denial is a powerful drug.

UB, I do environmental assessments (even if it is infrastructure projects and territorial plans), so I put myself the problem of the LCCA compared to a car with a thermal engine. In addition to the costs of infrastructure construction and the issue of sustainability of the demand for electricity. I think, in my childhood, that the intermediate solution of hybrids is the way to pursue in the middle period.

I would be interested to have scientific sources, if possible. Thank you

MR, the batteries of current electric cars are guaranteed for over 1000 charge cycles, they run 300 thousand kilometers. Usually at 200 thousand km poor a car like a Clio 1.2 petrol could be scrapped with a dozen years of use and that’s fine, why should there be problems with higher performance in the case of an electric car? Are they going to be blatantly ideological problems?

DBD, The reality so far, especially for the low and medium-range models, is that after 300, 400 charging cycles, and especially when you have to do icycles in half, with your car outside of work, between the morning and the afternoon and so on, the road is guaranteed to diminish dramatically. If you have a dislevel to do, even just because you work in the city and you bought the house on a hill, if not you would limit yourself to a hole where it is impossible to have children – and half of Italy is mountainous, I remind you – the battery’s property degrades even faster. Sometimes you have to look at reality, not what is on the paper. As with fluorescent lamps, which in theory were supposed to be a revolution and instead degraded very quickly, in the face of what the manufacturers claimed, and disappeared without regret at the advent of LED. So far, we’re talking about urban commuting technology, which keeps cities crowded with 4-wheelers, and unable to replace cars for mid-distance extra-urban commuting and for those who have to travel/deliver for work (and there’s a lot of them). We’re not even within reach of a route Bologna-Milan, Milabno-Venice, Bologna-Florence and back.

MR, yes but the ones you are campaigning are excuses, they are not reality, they are the reality you want to build with purely made up data. Very free to do it but a little less to think that stuff like this can be accepted as an argument, that’s all.

MR, ah there, stuff to hear, I get it. Interesting. Keep changing nothing from what was written before but you are free to keep saying it, for charity.

A few articles of relevance: 

The World’s Largest Floating Solar Farm Wrecked by a Storm Just Before Launch

EV euphoria is dead. Automakers are scaling back or delaying their electric vehicle plans

Pritzker doubles down with $827 million of taxpayer money for expansion by troubled electric vehicle maker, Rivian – Wirepoints

The Cold Hard Truth About Renewable Energy Adoption

https://www.ecoticias.com/en/energy-largets-project-fails/909/  The largest renewable energy project in history fails: only desert is left and we have lost $2 billion

Biggest Corporate Welfare Scam of All Time

Ford Loses $132,000 on Each EV Produced, Good News, EV Sales Down 20 Percent

Ford’s $120,000 Loss Per Vehicle Shows California EV Goals Are Impossible

Your Tax Dollars At Work: In Two Years, $7.5 Billion Has Produced Just 7 EV Charging Stations

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

Attempting a new payment system as I am contemplating shutting down my site in the future (given the ever-increasing costs to keep it running).

If you are interested in purchasing any of the 3 books individually or the trilogy, please try the link below indicating which book(s) you are purchasing.

Costs (Canadian dollars):
Book 1: $2.99
Book 2: $3.89
Book 3: $3.89
Trilogy: $9.99

Feel free to throw in a ‘tip’ on top of the base cost if you wish; perhaps by paying in U.S. dollars instead of Canadian. Every few cents/dollars helps…


If you do not hear from me within 48 hours or you are having trouble with the system, please email me: olduvaitrilogy@gmail.com.

You can also find a variety of resources, particularly my summary notes for a handful of texts, especially Catton’s Overshoot and Tainter’s Collapse: see here.

It Bears Repeating: Best Of…Volume 1

A compilation of writers focused on the nexus of limits to growth, energy, and ecological overshoot.

With a Foreword and Afterword by Michael Dowd, authors include: Max Wilbert; Tim Watkins; Mike Stasse; Dr. Bill Rees; Dr. Tim Morgan; Rob Mielcarski; Dr. Simon Michaux; Erik Michaels; Just Collapse’s Tristan Sykes & Dr. Kate Booth; Kevin Hester; Alice Friedemann; David Casey; and, Steve Bull.

The document is not a guided narrative towards a singular or overarching message; except, perhaps, that we are in a predicament of our own making with a far more chaotic future ahead of us than most imagine–and most certainly than what mainstream media/politics would have us believe.

Click here to access the document as a PDF file, free to download.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CIII–We All Believe What We Believe…Evidence Be Damned.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CIII

Teotihuacan, Mexico. (1988) Photo by author.

We All Believe What We Believe…Evidence Be Damned.

The following contemplation is my comment on the latest Honest Sorcerer post that explores personality ‘types’ and how these contribute to why we tend to hold such different views of our world.

Very interesting discussion and does help to explain a lot. And, again, you’ve provided me a springboard to share my own thoughts…

Perhaps these inherent differences (not necessarily hard-wired since I can see that my own answers to many of the questions on the test — which I took many years ago as well since my employer at the time regularly discussed and explored such things — have changed significantly over the years; I seem to have ‘come to the middle’ in many areas) are a big contributor to why I’ve come to hold that we believe what we believe, regardless of evidence or well-reasoned, counter-arguments.

In fact, being who we are with our complex cognitive abilities, we fight off non-confirmatory thoughts/ideas to reduce/avoid the stress/anxiety that can arise when our beliefs are challenged.

One of those beliefs I’ve certainly encountered when discussing ‘collapse’ with others is the idea that our pursuit of the perpetual growth chalice on a finite planet is just fine, thank you very much; please don’t regale me with your data and/or pre/historic and research-based examples of societal decline and/or overshoot…I will not listen or I will list off all the evidence of human progress and problem-solving abilities — particularly with respect to complex technologies — to prove my perspective.

And, of course, it doesn’t help the attempt to counter this notion of infinite growth on a finite planet when the ruling caste who significantly profits from the pursuit (in both monetary and power terms) cheerleads and encourages it at every turn and opportunity. I hear nothing but propaganda about the benefits of human expansion and development from my local/regional/federal politicians whenever they open their mouths and rarely, if ever, discussion of the knock-on, negative impacts except assurances that they will be minimal and/or overcome — yes, we are constructing a relatively expansive community upon these wetlands in this ecologically-sensitive area above important aquifers, but we’re putting a butterfly parkette in to benefit the environment…

For anyone agreeing with the herd and/or deferring to authority, as most of us do, or simply sitting on the fence, then it’s next to impossible to break with the majority perspective. I’ve given up my attempts to raise or even discuss the topic with most family members and others in my social circle — unless I am directly asked for my input. They simply do not want to even think about such a ‘depressing’ subject. Better to discuss and debate whether you think the Toronto Maple Leafs will make it through the first round of the upcoming hockey playoffs…

We even see such opposing views within the ‘collapse-aware’ communities, such as the Degrowth Movement, where a major core seems to hold that with just the right tinkering, and then widespread adoption, of ‘correct’ behaviours and technologies, humanity can solve the problems at hand — never recognising that it’s an unsolvable predicament that we might, at best, be capable of slightly mitigating for some small percentage of people.

It’s a right pickle and reminds me of a quote from a Richard Duncan article (an electrical engineer behind the Olduvai Theory of civilisational collapse):

“…according to the Olduvai schematic, world energy production per capita will decrease…[then] there will be a rash of permanent electrical blackouts worldwide. Consequently the vital…functions — communication, computation, and control — will be lost.
…Mother Nature then solves for us the (apparently) insuperable problem of the Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons, which the human race seems either incapable or unwilling to solve for itself.”[1]

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

[1] See this.

Today’s Contemplation: And Now For Something Completely Different, Part 6

Today’s Contemplation: And Now For Something Completely Different, Part 6

February 16, 2023 (original posting date)

While I take a break from my Contemplation posts here is the sixth installment of chapters from the fourth book in my fictional novel series (that stalled a few years ago but have ready). I will continue to share some of these over the next little while. Here are the links to PDF files of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and now Chapter 6.

The storyline: Flowing from actual world events, a damaged environment, dwindling energy resources, and a manipulated market-economy all come crashing together in this tale about the social and individual impact of stresses that overwhelm a precarious and complex global system. Supply chain interruptions, border disputes, increased fascism, growing protest movements, and mass migration out of rural areas into cities dominant the new normal.

Basically, this is a tale (set in Canada) about the individual (and societal) reactions to a breakdown of our complex systems. Life is proceeding ‘normally’ for most while a marginalised minority are increasingly concerned about the unsustainability of our way of life. Governments begin to clash with domestic populations while the machinations of some of the ruling caste, especially around energy systems, is exposed. Chapters trace the lives and experiences of a handful of people during the timeframe of about 3 months before to 3 months after a grid-down situation…

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

Today Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CI–Theory Is Great, In Theory: More On Our ‘Renewable’ Energy Future

Today Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CI

February 13, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Theory Is Great, In Theory: More On Our ‘Renewable’ Energy Future

Quite often I get involved in online discussions with others about our predicament(s). Most of the time these are quite friendly in nature and a sharing of ideas and questions.

On occasion these turn into disagreements. And sometimes, unfortunately, these turn quite confrontational with me having to disengage from the dialogue due to the vitriol thrown at me — apparently I am not only anti-humanistic but a Big Oil shill, a climate change denier, and a fucking idiot/liberal/conservative/progressive/Malthusian, etc..

Once the ad hominem attacks begin, I usually just state we will have to agree to disagree and discontinue the interaction. I know people don’t want their beliefs challenged, they want them confirmed so if the interaction has gone sideways there’s little point to continue it. Few if any people change their beliefs due to a well-reasoned or evidence-based argument that runs counter to their own thoughts.

This said, most of the disagreements are civil and the issue stems from a divergence in whether we can ‘solve’ the problem/predicament we are focusing upon. I’ve found that the vast majority continue to believe that we can address the topic we’re discussing via some complex technology — usually non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies such as those that harness wind or sunshine to produce electricity (aka ‘renewables’).

While at one time during my fall into the rabbit’s hole of Peak Oil and all the related issues, I held out ‘hope’ for humanity and our planet. Nowadays, more often than not, I am tending towards there being no way out of the conundrum we walking, talking apes have led ourselves into. Neither time nor resources are on our side it would seem. Salvation, as it were, has been lost to the sands of time.

Here is one recent example with a fellow member of a Degrowth group I am a member of stemming from an article of The Honest Sorcerer’s that I posted to the group.

LK: “Politics” is just a name for technology of resource allocation on a societal scale.

We’re currently using the 18th century technology based on exponential growth (investments are made to obtain money to make more investments), it’s called “capitalism”.

Degrowth is another technology of resource allocation, and the one we need, because exponential growth on a finite planet is not possible.

(Having said that, we still need to combine degrowth with all kinds of low-emissions energy sources like renewables and nuclear, and we need to work on extending the life of existing low-carbon energy sources for as long as possible)

My response:: While I agree that degrowth (and radical at that) is needed, the alternative energy-harvesting technologies to fossil fuels you suggest we need to pursue require huge carbon inputs for their construction (and in perpetuity), continue to contribute to the destruction of our biosphere via the massive mineral mining and processing necessary, and only serve as an attempt to sustain the unsustainable so end up making our fundament predicament of ecological overshoot even worse. We need to be pursuing a low-/no-tech future with one hell of a lot fewer people. It is increasingly looking like it will have to be Nature that takes us there…

LK: The science is quite clear, low carbon energy sources have much, much lower carbon intensity of energy generation over their lifetimes, and lifetime extension to optimise for energy production instead of returns on investment decreases that carbon intensity even further. And fossil fuels have an enormous mining impact.

This is the third line of defense of fossil fuel companies: first they were straight-out lying about climate change, then they were lying about whether climate change is caused by humans, now they are lying about relative impacts of fossil fuel vs low carbon technologies, and it apparently works.

Low-tech future doesn’t work, it’s just a lie fossil companies are telling us to keep burning fossil fuels. We’re a tool-using social species and we need tools to get out of the shit we got into by using tools.

We will have to agree to disagree.

First, it seems you are assuming a support for fossil fuels in my comment that is not present. One does not have to be in any way supportive of the continuation of our extraction and use of them to see that alternatives are in every way — upstream and downstream — still quite dependent upon them. In fact, if you look at the largest investors in support of ‘alternatives’, you will discover it is the large energy businesses (aka Big Oil). Why would that be? Perhaps because they know that fossil fuels are required in huge quantities for them.

Second, the view that only carbon emissions are important blinds people to all the other complexities concerning our predicament of ecological overshoot. Biodiversity loss, mostly because of land system changes brought on by human expansion, appears to be much more significant. A concerted push to adopt non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies will ensure continued destruction of our biosphere.

The current refrain seems to be “Complex technologies and human ingenuity will save us from our predicament of ecological overshoot and its various symptoms (e.g., biodiversity loss) because they’ve worked up to this point in our history”…except inductive reasoning/logic does not always work. Continual observations by the turkey of the farmer have provided nothing but overwhelming evidence and positive reinforcement that the farmer is a beneficent and thoughtful caregiver; right up until the day before Thanksgiving and the trip behind the barn to the killing cone.

You should look at the work of energy researcher Alice Friedemann and geologist Simon Michaux to understand better the limitations of the ‘solution’ referred to as our ‘energy transition’.

But you are correct that a low-tech future doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to support our unsustainable living arrangements but more importantly the power and wealth structures of the status quo…that is why the ruling caste is pushing ‘renewables’: to maintain/expand their share of a quickly-shrinking economic pie. And this is ultimately why we will pursue these complex technologies despite the impossibility of what their cheerleaders promise. The profiteers of our world stand to make one hell of a lot of money before it all goes to hell in a handbasket.

These images/memes perhaps sum my perspective up:

LK: There’s one thing that kills people pretty rapidly and effectively and that is the lack of energy.

You can either support low-carbon energy sources or you can support fossil fuels or you can support widespread energy poverty that kills a fuckton of people, and those will be mainly poor people in the Global South.

Degrowth is not anarcho-primitivism, it’s not about the remnants of humanity huddling in cold and without hospitals and sewage networks, it’s about building sustainable future around equitable use of energy for everyone.

But we need low-carbon energy, because climate change drives biodiversity loss, water crises (because rising oceans make a lot of areas lose their access to potable water) and other nasty third-order effects.

My response: Again, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Pre/history shows us overwhelmingly that the utopian future you imagine is not possible on a finite planet with 8 billion (and growing). It is denial/bargaining in the face of biogeophysical realities and limits. Ecological overshoot for homo sapiens will be, I am almost certain, dealt with by Nature, not us — particularly given all the claims/liens on future energy/resources in the form of quadrillions of dollars of debt/credit that currently exist and have been created to sustain our current arrangements with zero concern for the future from which the resources have been stolen.

LK: There’s a lot of research by degrowth theoreticians that demonstrates that we’re perfectly technologically capable of supporting 8 billion people on a finite planet, leaving 50% of it to wild nature. It just would be a different life than the US “cardboard houses in suburbia with 2,5 cars per family and 2+ hours of commuting daily, eating beef and flying regularly”.

It would require end of capitalism, though, which is why capitalists are promoting narratives of “we’re doomed, there’s nothing we can do, all alternatives are bad, I guess we’ll have to die off in the future, but so far, we’re bringing in record annual profits”.

My response: Theory is great, in theory. Reality is something quite different. Every complex society to date has perished/collapsed/declined — most before ‘capitalism’ ever existed. To believe we will do otherwise is, well, just denial/bargaining built upon a lot of assumptions and hope. We would be better to plan for a future much, much different than the one you paint. But, again, I think Nature is going to take care of this predicament for us.

After mostly finishing this contemplation I came across Gail Tverberg’s latest that provides some great insight into why the complex technologies many are arguing will help solve our energy dilemma will not.

There are plenty of similar arguments out there if one so chooses to discover them and the overwhelming evidence that ‘renewables’ are not in any way going to do much except: add to the drawdown of finite resources; contribute to the continuous overloading of planetary sinks; provide more profits for the industrialists, financiers, and well-connected elite; and, sustain the misguided belief system that all is well for the most part, and human ingenuity and our technological prowess can solve any problem that stands in the way of some utopian future where we all (billions and billions of us) live in harmony with nature. Transcending the biological and physical constraints of existence upon a finite planet is well within our reach…if only you believe.

See especially:

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh C

February 11, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Grieving: A Natural Response To Recognition Of Growth Limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIX–Energy Future, Part 4: Economic Manipulation

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIX

February 9, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Energy Future, Part 4: Economic Manipulation

In Part 1, I argue that energy underpins everything, including human complex societies. In Part 2, I suggest that the increasing need for diminishing resources, especially finite or limited ‘renewable’ ones, invariably leads to geopolitical tension between competing polities. Part 3 further posits that this geopolitical competition creates internal societal stresses that are met with rising authoritarianism and attempts at sociobehavioural control of domestic populations by the ruling elite.

Economic manipulation — mostly through the financial/monetary systems of a society, that the ruling caste controls — is part and parcel of addressing the societal stresses that arise as things become more complex (as a result of the problem-solving aspects of a society), competition with other polities increases, resources become more dear, and control of the population takes on greater urgency.

All of the activities to sustain a society require resources, primarily energy but also material ones whose retrieval and processing require energy of some nature. Any non-renewable resource, but also limited renewable ones, must be acquired to not only maintain human life (i.e., procurement of potable water, food production, regional shelter needs) but to support any and all activities — be they physical- or service-based.

The various production and resource-allocation/distribution systems are what constitute an economic system[1]. While there are differing opinions about the number and variety of economic systems, the common thread tends to be that it is a means of distributing goods/services to the members of a group/society.

Economic anthropology[2] for the most part is the study of the mechanism of exchange within a human society, be it a more ‘simple’ band or ‘complex’ state.

In less complex societies where little to no division of labour or occupational differentiation exists and production surpluses are minimal to non-existent, economic activities tend to take place within a framework of reciprocal exchange[3]. I will provide you with some of my current surplus knowing that at some point in the future you will reciprocate this behaviour. Relationships in such groups are primarily impacted by kinship ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation, and not economic ones as occurs in larger, more complex societies.

A complex society[4] tends to have a more complicated/multi-layered economic system, the basis of which is a financial/monetary system[5] that likely came into existence as a population exceeded Dunbar’s number[6] and as a means of helping to track the increasing number of reciprocal obligations that arose[7]. The ruling caste of a society tends to control the monetary/financial systems and evidence strongly suggests that they manipulate them, as they tend to with everything they touch, to their advantage in order to meet their primary goal: the control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige.

While there is much written about the shift from a system of reciprocity-based[8] exchange to one of credit-/debt-based fiat currency[9], it is without doubt that the implementation of a fiat money system opened the door to the possibility of significant manipulation by those who control it [10]. I say significant because even with a commodity-based currency (e.g., precious metals), manipulation (i.e., debasement, rehypothecation) has been common[11].

Joseph Tainter’s thesis in The Collapse of Complex Societies[12] is basically based upon economics. He posits that as a problem-solving organisation, a society endeavours to solve the problems that arise in the course of meeting needs. These problems are addressed via organisational adaptations but also very much through material acquisition and redistribution. This is accomplished in the most economically-efficient way by accessing the easiest- and cheapest-to-retrieve resources first and foremost. This provides the highest energy-return-on-energy-invested[13].

Eventually, however, as a society’s demands/requirements increase due to growth and increasing complexity, the harder- and more-expensive-to-retrieve resources must be pursued. This results in diminishing returns[14] on the energy/resource investments made and the surpluses that existed during the early days are whittled away until eventually a society encounters a point where more and more people opt out of supporting the various systems as they are having to invest greater and greater amounts of personal energy/resources but getting back fewer and fewer benefits.

Diminishing returns eat into surpluses in order to maintain/expand complexities. With falling surpluses, there is less room for a government elite to fund their various projects, be they military expansion and/or legitimisation activities to assert domestic control — to say little of the wealth directed towards maintaining the elite’s living standards. One of the approaches by the ruling caste to offset the negative consequences of diminishing returns and deterioration of societal surpluses is through a manipulation of the economic system. Perhaps the primary means of such manipulation is to debase the currency with the intent to make it ‘go further’ and ensure the elite maintain/expand their portion of a shrinking pie. If this is done at a relatively slow pace, very few if any of the populace take note of the impacts — but they are there nonetheless.

One of the best documented and analysed instances of such manipulation has been during the history of the Roman Empire, where debasement of the Roman currency over time has been observed. This manipulation had many negative societal impacts and was one of the many contributing factors leading to the empire’s eventual collapse according to a number of analysts/historians[15].

Of course, such ‘money creation/printing’ invariably results in price inflation — and many times to hyperinflation — as more currency is chasing the same or more slowly expanding amount of goods/services[16]. This price inflation/currency debasement has a more deleterious impact upon the masses than it does those closest to the monetary creation/distribution system. In particular, consider the Cantillon Effect[17] where the ruling caste/insiders who first have access to the ‘newly-minted currency’ can use it prior to inflationary impacts[18]. But is also benefits the state in other ways, particularly the ability to ‘hide’ taxes within it[19] and allowing debtors (government being amongst if not the largest) to pay off debts more easily[20].

There have been a number of examples of more recent currency debasements, some hidden (i.e., coordinated efforts by numerous central banks to debase their currencies in unison[21]) and some quite obvious[22]. For the current world’s primary reserve currency (the U.S. dollar), there has been the gold confiscation during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency[23], President Richard Nixon’s abrogation of the Bretton Woods Agreement[24], and, most recently, the phenomenon referred to as Quantitative Easing[25].

It’s not simply an exponential increase in the physical stock of ‘money’ that contributes to currency debasement and it negative impacts since government-minted currency makes up only a small fraction of the money creation, but it is the ever-expanding supply of credit-/debt-instruments. With the shift to a purely fiat currency free from any limitations to infinite expansion, the degree of manipulation possible is, well, limitless…except for one rather important impediment: physical resource finiteness.

So, as we circle back to the implications for our fundamental resource, energy, one must consider the observation that money/currency is when all is said and done a potential claim upon energy (even other resources require energy to be accessed and distributed). And, as energy analyst Art Berman notes in the tweet below, all the debt that we have created (currently several quadrillion at this juncture in time) is a “lien on future energy”.

And the conundrum we face as resource extraction and processing encounter diminishing returns — and the elite attempt to counter this with ever-increasing credit/debt instruments — is perhaps best captured by the late Michael Ruppert’s simple statement in the documentary Collapse: “Infinite money growth collides with finite energy.”

With an significant exponentially-increasing amount of claims upon finite resources we seem to be left with the options of attempting to pursue perpetual growth to meet these claims, a debt jubilee or reset of the systems, or monetary/financial/economic collapse. Any or all of these choices are likely to be attempted to some degree or another; in fact, some argue this is already and has been happening.

Basically our economic system has become a gargantuan and complex Ponzi scheme[26] established by our ruling elite and upon which are all involved and dependent upon.

As I commented on a Nate Hagens video post: Our economy is for all intents and purposes a gargantuan, complex Ponzi scheme that we are all a part of and dependent upon to a great if not complete extent. We all (for the most part) wish it to continue, including the ruling caste for their power and prestige comes from sitting atop the pyramid. Given our cognitive abilities and biases, we are adept at all sorts of denial and bargaining to see it otherwise, and/or to craft comforting narratives as to how it can be transitioned to something sustainable and equitable. But, as with all such complex systems — especially one dependent upon perpetual growth upon a finite planet — it is fragile and will, given enough time, eventually collapse. There is no other path at this particular point given how far into ecological overshoot we are. When, however, is the unanswerable question. Human complex societies can go on for a long time before it recognises that things have changed significantly enough to be considered ‘collapsed’…

Given gdp’s (a proxy for economic ‘growth’ and thus living standards — not a perfect proxy, of course, given the perpetual changes in calculation and increasing financialization of the economy) almost perfect correlation with energy production[27], and that our future is certainly going to be one of declining energy resources, there should be little doubt that falling living standards is before us — particularly for those in so-called ‘advanced’ economies.

Our ‘advanced’ economies have a long way to fall to reach the level of many emerging ones and it is likely that we will continue to see energy/resources ‘stolen’ from the periphery to support the core — perhaps allowing time for the core to mitigate their decline somewhat, or perhaps as a means to sustain the core for a short time more before a sudden, Seneca-style fall appears as a Black Swan event. Only time will tell…

Please note, I have done my best to wrap my head around and understand this topic/issue. This has been one of the more difficult subjects to write about with any sense of confidence (and I am certain I have misunderstood/misinterpreted a number of things). I am neither schooled in nor worked within the economic realm. Despite this paucity of ‘training’, I do believe the warning of Henry Ford when he paraphrased U.S. Congressman Charles Binderup that “It is perhaps well enough that the people of the nation do not know or understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.

Perhaps it has been purposely designed to be excessively complex and incomprehensible, or this labyrinthian structure is simply the epiphenomenon of the ongoing attempts to ‘solve’ societal issues as they arise over time; and then become leveraged by some (many? most? in leadership positions) to take advantage of loopholes that are in turn addressed through changes and legislation, that leads to further complexity and the cycle continues with the original purpose/solution becoming ever more complex and serpentine… Suffice it to say, the system(s) are increasingly becoming more convoluted and fragile as a result with nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena arising leading to increasing risk since these can neither be predicted nor controlled — only reacted to after the fact.

My growing sense is that if some unforeseen Black Swan event or geopolitical ‘accident’ doesn’t bring on a rapid decline in social complexity, then it will likely be a ‘mistake’ in the economic realm as it tends to impact significantly the various subsystems of trade, transportation, communication, etc. that the global, industrialised world depends upon for everything from potable water procurement to regional shelter need construction to food production and distribution, and everything in between.

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

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

[2] See this.

[3] See this.

[4] See this.

[5] See this and/or this.

[6] See this and/or this.

[7] See this.

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

[9] See this.

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

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

[12] See this.

[13] See this and/or this.

[14] See this and/or this.

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

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

[17] See this.

[18] Keep in mind that currency/money comes into existence in a number of ways; in our modern economic world it is primarily ‘created’ via the debt-/credit-disbursement activities of various financial institutions, especially the banking and shadow banking industry. It has been estimated that around 95% of our increasing money supply is created from nothing by financial institutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCVIII

February 7, 2023 (original posting date)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will not end well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCV–We All Believe What We Want To Believe

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCV

January 31, 2023 (original posting date)

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

We All Believe What We Want To Believe

The following Contemplation is my comment in response to a thought-provoking post I read by Dave Pollard at his site How to Save the World.

Great read, thanks for sharing. A couple of quick thoughts.

If you’ve not stumbled across Erik Michaels work at Problems, Predicaments, and Technology you might find it confirming with regard to the notion that we have no free will. One of his major theses is that humans have no agency, and thus his motto to Live Now in the face of the consequences of human ecological overshoot.

Second, I’ve come to hold very similar thoughts as you on the idea that “we believe what we want to believe” and I think, perhaps, this is one of our primary reasons we grasp for hopeful narratives; along with the desire to believe we have agency/free will.

There are so many psychological mechanisms driving our behaviour and beliefs that it’s difficult to parse which is the most impactful — but perhaps it is our denial of reality in the face of our mortality as Ajit Varki argues. Not wanting to face the fact of death, we craft (using a lot of magical thinking) some rather complex narratives to deal with this reality. Throw in how we mitigate/reduce the stress of cognitive dissonance, and our tendencies toward deferring to authority and groupthink, and we have a recipe for clinging to stories — especially if weaved by smooth-talking snake oil salesmen — that provide ‘hope’.

Reality, facts, evidence…none of it matters. In fact, it appears we create our own reality based on ‘facts/evidence’ that tends to confirm our beliefs. As the lyrics of a song I recently heard suggest: “This is where I want to be, so this is where I go.”

Some want to believe there is an after-life. Others that human ingenuity and complex technologies will solve our existential predicaments. The laundry list of hopeful narratives is long and humans tend to want to confirm their beliefs rather than have them challenged. Denial and bargaining in the face of significant contrary evidence seems to be hard-wired in these walking, talking apes that have been able to leverage their cognitive abilities and tool-making skills to extend their ‘control’ over Nature and create the reality they wish; at least in their minds, and that seems to be all that matters for most.

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIV–‘Representative’ Democracy: A Ruse To Convince Citizens That They Have Agency In Their Society

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIV

January 29, 2023 (original posting date)

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

‘Representative’ Democracy: A Ruse To Convince Citizens That They Have Agency In Their Society

A friend recently posted on my FB timeline the link to an article about the plans of our provincial government in opening up sections of Ontario’s Greenbelt[1] to housing development and the legal action against this that is being contemplated by one of Ontario’s many First Nations communities.

He asked me the following: “I wonder how many people who vote for Doug Ford will give this some thought the next time they do a routine land acknowledgement?”

My comment on the issue:

I think the truth of the matter is that the vast/significant majority of people will not think about this issue.

The human tendency to defer/obey ‘authority’ results in most people believing the propaganda/marketing of the government.

Most citizens believe when they are informed governments are ‘consultative’, a ‘social service’, and acting on behalf of it citizens — something constantly reiterated in today’s mainstream/legacy media.

For most, what the politicians say is gospel, especially if they’re the ones they voted for.

Government consultation is a ruse, regardless of party. It is for all intents and purposes a public relations stunt to give the impression that the average person has influence or impact upon decision-making and policies, and that government is responsive to citizen input.

Can you imagine the stress created by the cognitive dissonance of holding the notion that you have agency via consultation or the ballot box but also recognising that your ‘representatives’ are the public face of a ruling caste that doesn’t truly give a shit about you but is primarily motivated by a desire to control/expand the wealth-generation/extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige.

Most (all?) would rather deny/rationalise away the latter belief and hold on to the former one. Living with a lie is much easier and comforting than living with the significantly problematic truth that governments are in place to represent and protect the ruling caste in society — not the hoi polloi.

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

[1] See this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIII–Energy Future, Part 3: Authoritarianism and Sociobehavioural Control

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCIII

January 16, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Energy Future, Part 3: Authoritarianism and Sociobehavioural Control

In Part 1, I argue that energy underpins everything, including human complex societies. In Part 2, I suggest that the increasing need for diminishing resources, especially finite or limited ‘renewable’ ones, invariably leads to geopolitical tension between competing polities.

A corollary of this rising political tension tends to be increasing domestic authoritarianism[1] as the ruling caste struggles to maintain control of its own population in the face of anti-war narratives and movements, and the resulting — at least for the masses, not necessarily for society’s elite — tightening of economic conditions[2] as resources are directed towards the military/security/industrial complex and related ‘control’ mechanisms. This results in diminishing returns for citizens: they get less and less benefit from their ‘investments’ in supporting the ruling caste of society. To counter these diminishing returns, the ‘rulers’ of a society seek greater control via a variety of means, but particularly economic and behavioural. A larger proportion of a society’s ‘wealth’ must be allocated away from the masses and towards the ruling caste’s favoured ‘projects’ and citizens must be ‘convinced’ of the need for the resulting ‘austerity’.

This is neither a ‘modern’ phenomenon nor a unique one. It has its roots in pre/historical times with the development of large, complex societies[3]. As human groupings became larger and necessarily more complex, organisational structures develop that give rise to occupational differentiation and thereby differential access to resources, including information. This differential access soon develops into hierarchical relationships within the community[4]. With a ruling elite that is for the most part completely free of the restraining impulses that exist within kinship-based groups[5], motivation to maintain such a powerful/privileged position within a society results in a hereditary-based ruling elite[6] or mechanisms for keeping particular interest groups/families/etc. in dominant positions[7].

When diminishing returns are encountered for the geographical region controlled by the sociopolitical elite, it was generally countered through expansion into unconquered, peripheral regions where wealth could be extracted to support the core (i.e., ruling caste). Political tension between competing polities often was the result with the elite of competing societies coercing and/or convincing their subservient populations of the necessity to engage in war with the ‘other’.

Archaeologist Joseph Tainter points out in The Collapse of Complex Societies[8] that various theories exist as to how complexity in human societies has developed. For example: managerial hierarchies emerge as population or other stress increases; internal class conflict creates a need for protecting the privileged; conflict with competing groups leads to needed sociopolitical shifts; or, several interrelated factors combine.

Two main schools exist: conflict and integration. The conflict theory basically posits that “the governing institutions of the state were developed as coercive mechanisms to resolve intrasocietal conflicts arising out of economic stratification…to maintain the privileged position of a ruling class that is largely based on the exploitation and economic degradation of the masses” (p. 33). Integrationists argue that complexity arose because of social needs such as shared social interests, common advantages, and consensus; a positive response to the stresses affecting human populations and the differential rewards to certain members is the cost for the benefits of centralisation.

Both schools of thought have pros and cons. And although they differ in their fundamental premises, they both acknowledge the role of legitimising activities by the ruling elite — some of which must include real, material outputs such as symbolic manipulation and coercive sanctions.

Concerns about controlling behaviour through such mechanisms as symbolic manipulation and/or coercive sanctions has a long and sordid history, whether on an individual level[9] or on a broader social level[10]. As societies get both larger and more complex, maintaining social order[11] becomes of vital importance to the ruling elite for various reasons.

As Noam Chomsky argues in Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance[12]:

“While methods differ sharply from more brutal to more free societies, the goals are in many ways similar: to ensure the ‘great beast,’ as Alexander Hamilton called the people, does not stray from its proper confines. Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege…Problems of domestic control become particularly severe when the governing authorities carry out policies that are opposed by the general population. In those cases, the political leadership may…manufacture consent for its murderous policies.”

This manufacturing of consent can be seen in the increasing influence/control of the narratives that circulate in a society, particularly by way of government propaganda and mass media institutions. This tends to increase not only because the ruling caste wishes to carry out military incursions in far-off lands (resulting in hardships/sacrifices for the majority of the domestic population) but because they wish to justify/rationalise/legitimise their positions of power and prestige since the domestic population far outnumbers the ruling elite and is a far more direct threat to them when/if they revolt/rebel.

Murray Rothbard similarly argues in Anatomy of the State[13] a major concern for the ruling elite is how to maintain their power. Their typical approach is the use of force but their basic problem is ideological. Any government regardless of ‘type’ requires support from a majority of its citizens, even passive resignation, given the minority status of the State (its nobility and bureaucracy). The ruling class necessarily must be small as it is supported by production surpluses. While it can attract some allies in the population, “the chief task of the rulers is always to secure the active or resigned acceptance of the majority of the citizens.” (p. 19)

Creating vested economic interests is one way to secure support. Sharing the benefits of rule attracts followers but still not a majority. Thus, “the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives.” (p. 20)

The ‘intellectuals’ of society take the role of persuading the citizens. They create and disseminate the ideas/beliefs passively adopted, for the most part, by the masses. These opinion-molders are needed by the State and thus offered security, income, and prestige within the State apparatus. The arguments by the State and intellectuals to garner support of the masses are varied and many but come down to a few basics: the rulers are wise/great (e.g., divinely appointed, society’s elite, experts) and leadership/rule/government is inevitable (i.e., evil would befall society without it).

One very successful device to achieve support has been the union of the Church and State; with this, rulers were anointed by God or were God and it was blasphemous to resist. “The States’ priestcraft performed the basic intellectual function of obtaining popular support and even worship for the rulers.” (p. 23).

In addition, instilling fear about another system or none at all has also been successful and citizens are persuaded by the argument that present rulers provide an essential service: protection against marauders/criminals. Rothbard goes on to argue that our ruling caste wish a monopoly on such predation.

With the creation of various nation states, the State has discovered an additional means to persuade the masses of its necessity: identification of itself with the territory it governs. “Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identified of that land and its people with the State was a means of making natural patriotism work to the State’s advantage.” (p. 24).

The intellectuals of the State work to convince the masses that any attacks upon the nation are attacks upon them, not simply their ruling caste; this way, wars between rulers are marketed as wars between people and the masses come to the aid of their rulers who are protecting them. This leveraging of nationalism has only really arisen in recent centuries within the West as people use to view conflicts as between nobles and not the land’s people.

In contemporary times we are witnessing increasing attempts at sociobehavioural control via mass surveillance[14], militarisation of police[15], persecution of whistle-blowers who unveil government corruption[16], and especially mass media control/influence[17]. We can expect the trends we are experiencing in these areas to continue and likely enlarge as conditions worsen due to diminishing returns increasing in severity and the elite feeling more threatened and worried about their positions of power and prestige.

Bringing this back to the issue of diminishing resources on a finite planet, one can imagine the increasing pressure upon the ruling caste to not only maintain/increase their competitive edge with other polities as resource control/access becomes more costly but also their ‘control’ over their domestic population as limited ‘wealth’ must be diverted to activities that support the ruling elite’s actions/policies. Even in tyrannical societies, the hoi polloi must be ‘persuaded’ to support, even grudgingly, their leadership.

As Tainter points out, as a society becomes increasingly complex we see a rise in centralisation and control through activity aimed at legitimising the ruling caste, symbolic manipulation, and coercive sanctions. These tendencies are costly in nature and costs must be borne by the masses as the elite siphon societal surpluses or manipulate the economic/monetary system to fund them. Tainter’s thesis maintains that the decreasing benefits of participating/supporting society lead an increasing number of members to ‘opt out’, until eventually a tipping point of withdrawn support leads to sociopolitical collapse.

The speed with which this ‘collapse’ occurs has pre/historically been relatively slow, sometimes taking centuries as was the case for the decline of the Roman Empire. Typically it appears a population can deal with diminishing returns on their investments in society for a long time believing that the situation is temporary, or due to recency bias and the belief that the current situation, as bad as it may be, is ‘normal’.

In a world of quickly diminishing resources that are necessary to support the complexities of society and in which people have lost the skills/knowledge to live self-sufficiently — and here there are no unexploited lands to migrate to — the path towards ‘collapse’ is likely going to be much, much faster than the pre/historical ‘norm’: it will probably be a Seneca-type decline[18] given most of humanity’s reliance upon complex and fragile long-distance supply chains and the various subsystems that support these.

I could go on and on about this sociocultural shift towards control by the elite mostly because I view it as something that is so easily overlooked by most. To reduce one’s cognitive dissonance people deny or justify/rationalise away the actions/policies of their society’s ‘leaders’. They ‘allow’ themselves to be caught up in the fervour of ‘patriotism’. They are quick to point fingers at the ‘other’ that have been painted by the ruling caste as the cause of their problems/predicaments.

As I responded to another on a post in the Peak Oil Facebook Group I am a member: “ I think, in order to keep the various Ponzi schemes from collapsing for as long as possible, keeping people ‘in the dark’ is amongst one of the most important motivations for the ruling caste and snake oil salesmen leveraging all this to their self-interested machinations. Narrative management/control is a powerful, powerful aspect to not only legitimise their positions of power/prestige but to keep them safe from the hordes of the disenfranchised.”

I’ve come to find the following image humourous in a sad way given I don’t really think most are as close as depicted and will continue to have ‘faith’ that our ‘rulers’ are acting in OUR best interests when really they are acting in THEIRS:

And, I close with quotes from the late Carl Sagan and Malcolm X:

Energy Future, Part 4: Economic Manipulation can be found here.

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

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

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

[3] See this.

[4] See this, and/or this.

[5] See this and/or this.

[6] See this, and/or this.

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

[8] See this.

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

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

[11] See this.

[12] See this.

[13] See this.

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

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

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

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

[18] See this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCII–Ecological Overshoot and Collapse: Rearranging the Deck Chairs On the Titanic

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCII

January 22, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Ecological Overshoot and Collapse: Rearranging the Deck Chairs On the Titanic

My comments prompted by two recent articles by The Honest Sorcerer (whose writing I highly recommend).

January 13 post:

I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head about the underlying motives behind the geopolitical morass our globe’s ruling elite are creating (and consequential fallout for the hoi polloi): a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ecological overshoot and peak resources (especially energy) have the socio/psychopathic ruling caste fighting amongst themselves for the vestiges of an ever-shrinking economic pie.

Emboldened and blinded by their ‘successes’ in the past (when there existed much in the way of surplus net energy), they are proceeding full steam ahead with a final blow-off top of resource extraction/exploitation, all-in attempt to consolidate and expand their ‘winnings’; first with the far-off ‘other’, then their domestic political ‘enemies’, and finally with their out-group citizens before they begin to cannibalise their own.

As I have been arguing for some time, the primary motivation of our ruling caste (as has been evidenced throughout pre/history of complex societies) is the control/expansion of the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige. None of us are safe from the machinations of these people; nor is our environment and the very important ecological systems that serve to support the essentials of life.

Everything will be sacrificed to serve the ends of the ruling caste…bet on it. And things are likely to get much, much worse before the impact of significant diminishing returns — to say little about ecological overshoot — puts a final nail in the coffin of such misguided and insane behaviour.

January 18 post:

It’s most interesting how cyclical human pre/history is. Perhaps that’s because of the truism that those who don’t study history are destined to repeat it; either that, or humans simply don’t learn from their mistakes. We are after all a very intelligent species, just not too wise — despite our self-proclaimed taxonomic nomenclature.

Complex societies, empires, civilisations all come and go. They reach a peak of complexity then invariably ‘collapse’. It may take centuries or it may only take a handful or less of generations for this decline, but it always occurs. As Joseph Tainter points out, a population can actually ‘put up with’ significantly diminishing returns on their ‘investments’ in supporting the-powers-that-be for a long time.

The other point Tainter makes, that I believe is relevant to your narrative here, is the aspect of competing polities in this ‘Grand Chessboard’ of geopolitics.

As he argues, such polities tend to get caught up in spiralling competitive investments as they seek to outmaneuver others and evolve greater complexity together. The polities caught up in this competition increasingly experience declining marginal returns and must invest ever-increasing amounts leading to greater economic weakness.

Withdrawing from this spiral or collapsing is not an option without risking being subsumed by a competitor. It is this trap of competition that will continue to drive the pursuit of complexity regardless of human/environmental costs.

Incentives and economic reserves can support this situation for a lengthy period as witnessed by the Roman and Mayan experiences where centuries of diminishing returns were endured.

Ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing marginal returns typify peer polities in competition. This ends in either domination by one state and a new energy subsidy or collapse of all.

As he concludes: “Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.”

Today’s Contemplation: And Now For Something Completely Different, Part 4

Today’s Contemplation: And Now For Something Completely Different, Part 4

January 13, 2023 (original posting date)

While I take a break from my Contemplation posts and specifically the energy series I began (see here for Part 1, Part 2), here is the fourth installment of chapters from the fourth book in my fictional novel series (that stalled a few years ago but have ready). I will continue to share some of these over the next little while. Here are the links to PDF files of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and now Chapter 4.

The storyline: Flowing from actual world events, a damaged environment, dwindling energy resources, and a manipulated market-economy all come crashing together in this tale about the social and individual impact of stresses that overwhelm a precarious and complex global system. Supply chain interruptions, border disputes, increased fascism, growing protest movements, and mass migration out of rural areas into cities dominant the new normal.

Basically, this is a tale (set in Canada) about the individual (and societal) reactions to a breakdown of our complex systems. Life is proceeding ‘normally’ for most while a marginalised minority are increasingly concerned about the unsustainability of our way of life. Governments begin to clash with domestic populations while the machinations of some of the ruling caste, especially around energy systems, is exposed. Chapters trace the lives and experiences of a handful of people during the timeframe of about 3 months before to 3 months after a grid-down situation…

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

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XC–A Societal Phase Transition This Way Comes

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XC

January 10, 2023 (original posting date)

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

A Societal Phase Transition This Way Comes

The following contemplation shares my thoughts/response to The Honest Sorcerer’s latest article (another very worthwhile read) regarding the diminishing returns being increasingly encountered by non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies (aka ‘renewables’) — and, yes, I am still plugging away at the Energy Series (Part 1; Part 2) I began as I organise a Food Gardening Guild within my local community, the response to which has been great!

The material and environmental ‘blindness’ to the situation you describe so well seems, at least for the masses, mostly due to attempts to reduce the stress of the cognitive dissonance created by the contradictory information we are exposed to — on the one hand we have increasing numbers of ecologists/biologists warning about the perils of our unchecked growth, finite resource use, and the increasingly negative consequences of these practices; while on the other hand, we have our politicians/industrialists/economists weaving stories about salvation and continued prosperity mostly via the shifting of energy sources and associated products (their motivations being self-serving and that I have written about repeatedly).

These denial-/bargaining-based narratives around a ‘green’ energy transition must be overcome to allow us to see/comprehend the fundamental predicament we have on our hands — ecological overshoot — before any ‘progress’ can be made towards mitigating some of the inevitable consequences we will increasingly encounter as various systems break down (both human-contrived and natural). Without seeing and understanding this predicament we will not, except perhaps in some few local and lucky ‘safe havens’, be able to mitigate at least some of the fallout of the coming storm.

The problem with predicaments of course is that they have no solutions, only consequences, and human complex societies tend to be problem-solving organisations (see archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s thesis in The Collapse of Complex Societies[1]). And this problem-solving orientation of large, complex societies has served humanity well during its last 10,000 or so years, so it seems next to impossible to counter this ingrained/enculturated belief that we can ‘solve’ any issue thrown down in front of us — most recently by throwing gargantuan amounts of fiat currency and/or complex technology at it. Toss on top of this long-term belief system the tendency of our ruling caste to leverage crises to their personal advantage and our dilemma becomes increasingly ‘wicked’; in fact, it becomes next to impossible to see clearly for a variety of reasons (mostly psychological in nature; e.g., deference to ‘authority’, groupthink, cognitive dissonance reduction).

Perhaps one aspect of the issue is that we tend to interpret the world partially through our perceived position on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[2]. Or at least through a lens that impacts our perceived risk of needs. If we believe our more basic needs are at risk, we focus upon the risk factors located there (e.g., predicament of overshoot, resource scarcity, etc.) whereas those who are in denial of/blind to those risks are concentrating on the needs to be met further along the hierarchy (e.g., achievement, prestige, growth, play, etc.) and hold out that since their basic needs are being met satisfactorily (at least for now) they are not at risk and ‘higher’ needs should be one’s focus.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As well, It seems next to impossible to counter ruling caste propaganda regarding a renewable energy-based transition to ‘sustainability’ in balance with ecological systems (all while pursuing growth), especially if they serve to instill hope (falsely-based in my opinion) and promises of continuing prosperity/security/etc.. And while some accuse ‘doubters’ of this grand narrative of being fossil fuel-industry shills, ‘doomers’, and/or — God forbid — ‘conspiracy theorists’, the truth of the matter appears to be that we are living during the time of a significant ‘phase transition’[3]. Such eras tend to be a time of competing narratives, confusion, grieving, and even despair for some.

Phase transitions are an interesting phenomenon, particularly in societal settings (an area I think I need to explore further for better understanding). There is growing research/academic study upon them, especially in the realm of transitioning to a ‘sustainable’ society[4]. It seems all of what I read in my brief look into the subject was oriented towards understanding how to shift societal ‘thinking’ towards the acceptance of a ‘sustainable’ future. There is even an entire journal dedicated to this[5]. Of course, the mainstream future being propagated by the ruling caste can be seen in much of this work: technological solutions and the concomitant uptake of new industrial products, and governing shifts that centralise power.

Regardless of the orientation of this research, the important thing to understand about phase transitions is how ‘quickly’ they can occur and how unpredictable they are. My introduction to the topic was during my research for my first novel when I came upon the topic of the Abelian sandpile model[6] and self-organised criticality[7]. Basically, the sandpile model shows why complex systems cannot be predicted and their ‘collapse’ can occur quickly, without warning.

Here are two passages from texts I read while researching for my ‘fictional’ writing that brought this to the forefront of my thinking:

First, from David G. Green’s 2014 book Of Ants and Men: The Unexpected Side Effects of Complexity in Society[8]:

The history of human civilization is, in large measure, a story of the human quest for control. After thousands of years of civilization, we think that we control the environment in which we live. We begin to think that we control the natural world. We might even fool ourselves into thinking that we control human nature. Modern society is built on the assumption of control. Yet, as the terror of the New York blackout shows, chaos all too easily bursts forth, reminding us how flimsy the illusion of control really is.
The root cause of much of the chaos that besets us is complexity, sheer complexity. From complex webs of interactions, chaos emerges. It is complexity that leads to unexpected problems, that turns order into chaos. As much as anything, the New York blackout, like most accidents and breakdowns, was a result of complexity. The power system did have backups and safeguards built in. But no one had anticipated that the network could suffer a cascade of failures of the kind that occurred. Nor could anyone anticipate the mayhem that would ensue when power failed on such a large scale for such a long period. This does not mean that the planners were incompetent; there are just so many possible ways that the system could behave, it is not possible to anticipate and plan for all contingencies.

Second, from a 2003 Corey Lofdahl paper, On the Confounding of Overshoot and Collapse Predictions by Economic Dynamics[9]:

The ability to predict when a system will ‘collapse’ is possible if it is understood when the underlying, foundational resources will exhaust themselves…The best that can be said…is that entropy decreases as the system moves towards its natural limit. The system becomes more likely to collapse, but it is impossible to say exactly when…the larger the resource base, the larger the overshoot and the more postponed the collapse…
[G]rowth can continue for far longer than seems possible to somebody who recognizes the systems’ eventual unsustainability and foresees limitation and collapse…The strongest statement that can be made is that as growth continues, the likelihood of system limitation and collapse increases. For the individual, the growth dynamic can prove so overwhelming that the possibility of collapse begins to seem unlikely and remote as naysayers are continually proven wrong…[However,] the actual likelihood of collapse grows ever larger, while for those under its thrall, the possibility of collapse grows ever more distant. When the system eventually collapses, it does so suddenly, dramatically, and unexpectedly.

The evidence is accumulating that a phase transition is fast approaching for the human species. When it occurs and how quickly it completes its shift is completely unpredictable, which is why it will be a Black Swan event[10] for the vast majority of people. The best preparation for this transition that cannot be avoided will not be to put the remainder of our diminishing resources — especially energy — towards more technologies and complexities, but the exact opposite. We need to be pursuing a ‘Great Simplification’[11], decommissioning those complexities that pose great risk for future generations, abandoning our cherished dreams of infinite growth on a finite planet, and accepting that the future is not going to be one as laid out by our ‘leaders’ and such fictional narratives as Star Trek — not even close.

Attempting to relocalise all those truly important resources (potable water procurement, food production, shelter needs for the local climate) as much as is possible is where I will be putting my energy and resources…as well as getting my community to try and do the same.

[1] See this.

[2] See this.

[3] See this.

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

[5] See this.

[6] See this.

[7] See this.

[8] See this.

[9] See this.

[10] See this.

[11] See this.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXIX–We’re Knee Deep In Ecological Overshoot

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXIX

January 3, 2023 (original posting date)

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

We’re Knee Deep In Ecological Overshoot

Another brief contemplation this morning that I put together in response to a post that appeared on a Facebook Group I help to administer. One of our moderators works diligently within the ‘system’ in an attempt to persuade some of the ruling caste to embrace degrowth strategies. While a very noble endeavour, we disagree on the ability of this to bring about meaningful changes.

She posted the following introduction to the image below:

“This is a quote from a friend with an exceptionally high IQ, he has encouraged me ever since I started my Degrowth divining efforts. His Twitter feed is both fascinating and thought provoking, look for JamesCMorrow; he is an expert in Nudge theory and he assures me that the paradigm shift to a united aspiration for altruistic Degrowth is already well underway. Your feedback on the idea expressed in the image below is invited.”

My feedback:

While a lovely sentiment that many will certainly grasp onto and embrace in their attempts to reduce anxiety-provoking thoughts, the harsh reality is that we are probably far too deeply into ecological overshoot that even if we reach a tipping point in the population whereby a cooperative (and agreed upon — the truly difficult (unachievable?) part) mentality sweeps the planet — and not one the ruling caste develops/implements since their plans are always simply a leveraging of crises to control/expand their positions of power and prestige, despite the constant propaganda/marketing that what they do is for the benefits of the hoi polloi — the fact is we are in a predicament that can only be mitigated, not solved (not even, as some argue, if we were to experience an even more drastic population reduction than the 50% as was Thanos’s plan in the Marvel Comics Universe movies).

We have painted ourselves into a corner from which there appears no escape (as I would argue most evidence suggests). Rather than focus our energies (and resources) on unattainable ‘enlightenment’, I’d prefer to see — while we have the quickly diminishing resources — a decommissioning of the dangerous complexities we’ve created (e.g., nuclear power plants and their waste products; biosafety labs and their pathogens; chemical production and storage facilities and their toxins; armament factories and their weapons; etc.) and a concerted effort to push self-sufficiency based upon local and truly renewable resources for as many as possible to help them weather the coming storm. Unfortunately, I no more see this coming down the pike than global cooperation — apart from a few small communities pursuing self-reliance.

Whether any of humanity makes it out the other side of the ecological bottleneck we’ve created is in all likelihood well out of our hands for the biogeochemical limits, physical laws, and biological principles will always, in the end, trump human ‘ingenuity’, ‘technology’, and ‘cooperation’ — especially if the last 10,000 years of our existence is any indication. Human societies grow, increase in complexity, over-exploit their surroundings, encounter significant diminishing returns on their investments in complexity, then eventually (and always) decline and perish. This time, however, this recurrent phenomenon is global in nature — thank you fossil fuels.

We do not and have never stood apart from, outside of, or above the biosphere and its biophysical nature (especially the limits imposed by a finite planet), no matter how much we would like to believe or wish otherwise. For as Guy McPherson has argued: Nature bats last. And nature’s method for rebalancing a species that has shot well past its natural environmental carrying capacity and the waste products produced from its expansion and existence cannot, no matter how much we’d like, be avoided or put off indefinitely. The piper must always and eventually be paid, and s/he is getting ever closer…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXVIII–Collapse: Just Like Boiling A Frog

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXXXVIII

January 2, 2023 (original posting date)

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

Collapse: Just Like Boiling A Frog

As I continue to work on my multipart contemplation regarding our energy future (Part 1; Part 2), thought I would throw out this ‘brief’ one that shares my comment on the most recent post by The Honest Sorcerer, whose writing in general continues to parallel my own (probably not surprising given the increasing evidence regarding the trends in the topic(s) we discuss).

Great article. As the saying goes: it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future[1]. We mostly look at current trends and extrapolate them into the future, believing that tomorrow will unfold much like today — and we do this for pretty sound reasons but mostly because our primate brains have extreme difficulty comprehending complex systems and their nonlinear feedback loops and emergent phenomena. In a time of flux/chaos/transition, such an approach is not always such a good strategy — to say little about all the Black Swans circling overhead[2].

One of the places I default to when hoping to give some certainty to the future (something homo sapiens strongly desire[3]) is the past. This is likely because of my ‘brief’ educational background and work in pre/history (aka archaeology)[4].

While technology has dramatically changed some aspects of how we re/act (i.e., adapt) to our changing environment through our problem-solving abilities, we tend to follow a similar path to our distant ancestors by way of leveraging our tools and ingenuity to help us survive and adapt (agriculture being perhaps the big one that resulted in food surpluses, sedentary lifestyles, exponentially increasing populations, and eventually organizational structures that led to differential access to resources, sociopolitical complexity and, perhaps finally, territorial competition[5]); but these solely human abilities can only take us so far in a world of biogeochemical limits — particularly when the energy required to sustain all our complexities have encountered significant diminishing returns and resulted in catastrophic ecological systems breakdown.

Mix in cognitive and social psychology, biological principles, and physical limits and laws, and we humans can more or less get a better picture of the path(s) we are likely to take in our societal evolutionary journey. One only need review the business-as-usual scenario painted by Meadows et al. in The Limits to Growth for a fairly accurate longer-term prediction of how a world with hard limits will unfold[6].

Based upon all previous experiments with complex societies over the past ten millennia or so, ‘collapse’ appears unavoidable. This decline in complexity (which is what ‘collapse’ is when one gets right down to it and ignores all the emotional baggage we’ve tied to the term) manifests itself in less; less in terms of: social differentiation/stratification; occupational specialization; centralised control by political elite; behavioural control/regimentation; investment in the epiphenomena of complexity — i.e., monumental architecture, artistic and literary development; flow of information between groups; sharing, trading and redistribution of resources; and, coordination between polities[7]. This is a simplification (or Great Simplification as Nate Hagens has termed it[8]) of our adaptive complexities, something that likely would have happened much sooner had we not leveraged fossil fuels to hyper-complexify human adaptations and extend/expand — temporarily — the planet’s carrying capacity for homo sapiens.

Given how far we’ve overshot our natural environmental carrying capacity and consequently degraded our much needed environments and ecological systems — and overexploited virtually every corner of our planet — this inevitable simplification may actually end up being even more dramatic than previous experiments as Catton has pointed out in Overshoot[9].

The journey to this endgame of a substantially simpler future is sure to be the hard part. Increasing geopolitical tensions between competing polities for scarcer resources is sure to occur. Concomitantly, the ruling caste is certain to tighten their grip on their domestic populations by way of authoritarian tendencies (e.g., behavioural and narrative control via increased mass surveillance, militarisation of police, media influence). We are going to witness a continuing breakdown of ecological systems and environmental degradation yet be told these are temporary or reflective of ‘natural’ change. Our Ponzi-type financial/monetary/economic systems are going to be further manipulated from their current highly-manipulated states and any ‘temporary’ deviations from the economy-is-great narrative will be blamed on some evil ‘other’ rather than our own ruling caste and their ongoing machinations.

Like the story about being able to boil a frog alive because of minute temperature changes that go unnoticed, we may miss the little steps that take us to an entirely different world than the one we currently exist within and accept that everything is ‘normal’ despite evidence to the contrary. The ruling caste has learned to be quite adept in manipulating our beliefs about life and their abilities to ‘protect’ us.

All of this said, the future is both unknowable and unpredictable. It will hold many surprises, particularly for the vast majority of people who are just struggling to get through another day/week/year and tend to defer to the ‘authority’ figures that promise them this, that, and everything…

[1] See this.

[2] See this.

[3] See this.

[4] Although my career was in education, I spent a handful of years in university studying and practising archaeology — graduating with a Master of Arts in the subject.

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

[6] See this.

[7] See this.

[8] See this.

[9] See this.

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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