Campfire: Towards Homo Sapiens - A Movie Script

For a few years, on Saturdays, hosted a "Campfire" discussion - with a focus not on charts and graphs, but more on the social science glue connecting the many subjects revolving around energy, the environment and society. Rather than a place to discover correct answers, the forum was intended to be a sandbox where folks interested in the broader implications of our human ecosystem could interact with peers in a cross disciplinary conversation. This sort of “systems overview” has been one of the strong points of the eclectic mix of commenters who helped make TOD unique. We had a weekly Campfire here for a couple years because the dialogue was so diverse and high level.

Before we break Camp, I still hope there will be more insights from the assembled gurus and thinkers who hang out here. Below I provide a brief outline of homo sapiens history in several 'Acts' and then ask theoildrum readers how it could play out and what sort of underlying principles might apply were we to have a 'New Constitution' or such. Folks will disagree on specifics, yet it is clear that our current trajectory is unsustainable. The latin name for our species - homo 'sapiens' was perhaps ill-chosen, for given the behaviors accompanying our current moon shot in consumption and population, we are proving to be more clever than wise. We have turned into problem solvers as opposed to visionaries - or at least, our visions have limits measured in human lifespans, or perhaps election cycles. With so much focus on the near term, we've lost awareness of the brighter beacon - despite the fact we are at the material and energetic apex of industrial civilization, throughput and science, we have no real ethic, no blueprint, for the long-term trajectory of our species and our planet’s ecosystems. Scientific evidence shows existential risk for the species, seas, forests, and carrying capacity, being alarmed is the only non-sociopathic response. But will that alarm suffice to steer us away from disaster? How might various things happen in the real world of path-dependence, luck, and emergent effects? And the larger question - to what end are these precursor events happening today? What sort of map under a stone might we leave for the future?

"Say, How about we turn the site into an Archive?"

Below the fold, following a short history of homo sapiens, I invite oildrum readers to share their visions of what a (more) sustainable human system might look like, not now, and not in the next 20-30 years from now, but in the year 2100 or distant future.

History of evolution and homo sapiens on earth. click to enlarge
For those who prefer animations:
Heres a good one, and another (endure commercial).

All readers here know about the rise of Homo Sapiens. I've written a lot about it over the years. It's a long story and I'll give a Clifs notes version below, but with a twist.

Act I - Life, Mammals, Primates, Hominids, Homo Sapiens...

Longer ago than most of us can easily grasp, the Earth was formed and for billions of years geological processes dominated. As soon as the planet cooled, life emerged from the chemical soup. There were other equally extraordinary events which changed the world, and probably involved a strong element of luck. One was the evolution of photosynthesis, which gave the earth an atmosphere with free oxygen and caused a huge dieoff of anaerobic species. Another was the joining of two dissimilar single-celled organisms which created hybrid cells with both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. These hybrid cells could do something special: extract solar energy from the free oxygen and store it as the molecule ATP, where it could be almost instantly available for a new race of fast, reactive critters: the animals. They were, by their very nature, tapping the energy of stored sunlight. At this juncture, there were no heroes, only the seeds of such.

For a very long time, organisms were simple - primitive 'brains' moved organisms toward the light or towards food. Millions of iterations of dynamically accessing energy and nutrients was ample fodder for evolving more complex organisms. About 200 million years ago, mammals came on the scene and about 65 mya, primates. And about 6-7 mya, hominins diverged from the other great apes. By 200 kya, we were down to 3 species of hominid, of 12 that had walked the planet. By 30,000 years ago, one remained. Us.

Act II Eusociality, Agriculture, Fossil Carbon Bank Account...

About 190,000 years after our species became anatomically modern, whether due to climate or laziness or chance, bands of humans stopped picking berries and chasing game and began to domesticate agriculture about 8,000 BC. This had important physical and social implications. It set the stage for certain positive feedback loops - wealth accumulation, surplus accumulation, valuation of such surplus, and the resultant social stratification that comes from such surplus. (whether related or not, the size of the brains of our movies main character peaked roughly 20kya, and they’re now about 10% off that peak. Nobody knows why, some speculate that it might be due to ultrasociality - that humans began to outsource certain decisions and kinds of cognition to the 'cloud' (larger society)).

Compared to other species our movie star shared the planet with, he was awe inspiring, to be feared, extremely intelligent, but perhaps not altogether wise. Our "intelligence", (neocortex) evolved to serve, not lead. It was not intelligence directing the characters of this movie, but instinct. The instincts that our hero had developed on the Pleistocene, when game was scarce and physical dangers abounded, were carried with us as sort of an 'executive secretary' reacting to whatever social and physical conditions our hero would face in more modern environments.

For thousands of years, populations expanded, finding new niches with fertile soils and robust ecosystems full of natural resources to extract. Biological systems require some entropy gradient to exploit, generate and store useful energy and human systems were no different. For a long time we lived off of the stored carbon in soils and the old sunlight stored in trees coupled with the daily ecosystem services of the time. Let me repeat that, for a long time we lived off of the stored carbon in soils and the old sunlight stored in trees coupled with the daily ecosystem services of the time. . Physically and mentally, the characters in this movie living 500 or 1000 years ago or even 10,000 years ago were little different than we are today. But there would be one major difference....

One metaphoric day our unsung hero dug a hole in the ground and out walked thousands of slaves made from fossil carbon (Labeled 'A' in above graph). These slaves didn't talk, didn't eat, didn't complain, but because they were so cheap - essentially free - their power was increasingly applied to all areas of society in large amounts to replace tasks that humans used to do manually and invent many wondrous new things they had never been able to do. To our hero, these fossil slaves were so tireless, so powerful, so omnipotent in increasing food, novelty, comfort and trade that they became indistinguishable from magic. From this point thru at least the end of Act II, the motion picture "Towards Homo Sapiens" had moved from black and white, to technicolor. Steel plows gave way to tractors gave way to gargantuan specialized machines. Fires gave way to coal burning fireplaces gave way to microwaves and fancy outdoor grills. Etc.

Our clever hero had previously puzzled out how to make neat things happen by setting fire to wood, and now this new black stuff burned hotter and longer and was lighter to transport than wood. Clever clever man!!! Clever man and his extended phenotype learned to fly higher than the birds, race faster than the fastest cheetah, dive deeper than the greatest whales, and increasingly to claim all that was formerly theirs for himself. Indeed, Clever Man came to think, after a time, that it was his cleverness and not the magic slaves which made the miracles happen (period B in the graph). Did he not direct the slaves and tell them what to do? Magic was handy, but cleverness was the ultimate resource! Yes, technology did some amazing things, but mostly was a vector for producing both novel and 'useful' ways to use more magic and use it faster. The heroes designed automobiles that used 100x the energy of walking but got us there only 10x faster, etc. Technology was thus more of an enabler, than a driver of productivity and wealth. After all, there is no permutation of wood and glass that would take our hero to the moon, but successful space exploration in the 1960s laid a psychological foundation that presumed dilithium crystals would only be a matter of iterations. But, without fossil carbon a race of Einsteins could never have made Sputnik, or even Wally World. Our hero, blissfully unaware of such trivia, marches on, confident that technology will turbocharge his sneakers, should any hurdle arise.

Eventually our hero and his conspecifics started reaching a point of declining returns to magic. It turns out the fossil helpers weren't exactly 'free' but some portion of the magic had to be reallocated to get the rest of the magic in a form assimilable by humans. The magical equivalent of a rising rate mortgage. Around mid-20th century, this % started to increase. For a while, just digging more holes was the answer, because we could drill faster than the magic cost increased. But soon the cost was rising enough to slow the acquisition of magic… unless something was done.

All along our hero and his tribe had created monetary chits which represented claims on magic. Since the planet was largely 'empty', most of the time these monetary chits, whether shells, coconuts, pieces of paper, or electronic digits, were in the ballpark of fair representation of what underlying technology and resources could service. But, as more and more magic was required to retrieve the stored magic, the clever humans invented a sleight of hand. Credit - or an agreement to switch consumption between two people at two times, was not magic itself, but could be created 'poof!' effortlessly, it did temporarily widen the spigot that distributed real magic all around. It disguised the limits by hiding their effects, slowly raising the level of magic but eroding its largesse. After 30-40 years, this dynamic also had exhausted itself, and central tribal chiefs tried their hand at it for a time. When this sleight of hand also became less effective, humans changed to diverting the magic towards those in power, leaving fewer tricks and treats for the toilers of the species. Finally, they turned to rule changes, definition changes, and language changes, all in an effort to keep the nominal magic spigot, and hence societies overall living standards, ostensibly intact.

But the sleights of hand would only last a short time into the future. Alas, being clever was turning out not to be the same as being “sapiens”, and it began to be clear that using the energy slaves was history’s biggest monkey trap. For everything which had allowed humans to prosper in the first place – the land, the forests, the wildlife, the seas and fisheries, the stable temperate climate of glaciers, gentle weather and monsoons – was progressively used, broken and diminished in the pursuit of novelty, stimulation, and a one-time orgy of human biomass. And, near the end of Act II, this biomass was itself coming directly from buried carbon: the protein in the bodies of homo sapiens was increasingly fixed in factories by haber-bosch rather than nitrogen from soils and bacteria. Every calorie of food eaten contained around 10 times the embedded fossil energy than the solar input. Clever man had bonded with the fossil slaves in a profound way en route to a 10 billion population, and the implications were not fun to think about. So most didn't.

Fossil carbon and its associated magic had also replaced and subverted mankinds culture itself. Decrees from societies Wizards were easily accepted in true cargo cult fashion, as people gradually lost awareness of the distinction between magic and reality. Perhaps because they were naive, or perhaps because the magnitude of change required to bring a happy ending to the movie was too overwhelming to consider, pablum, novelty and greed became operative memes. Marketing and commercials assured that consumption and stuff was more important than empathy and fiduciary. Keeping up with the Joneses, near the end of Act II, required resource throughput, and extra rooms to hold ones possessions. Though frequently within sight, and almost within reach, our hero never quite caught up with Jones. Had he done so he might have been shocked to find that Jones was an idiot.

Many Cassandras spelled out the dangers facing our heroes and the planets species in aggregate and called the modern way of life a broken system. But the only events that would confirm their warnings were exactly the events that they were warning against. Furthermore, from a thermodynamic and evolutionary perspective, where organisms and ecosystems self-organize in order to access an energy gradient, the human system of throwing more and more scarce magic at an increasingly complex infrastructure with increasingly less benefits didn't appear broken at all - in fact it was working perfectly! From the perspective of the collective hive, our leading heros did not want a minority with crazy ideas to be able to swerve society away from the rich feeding grounds of yet unoxidized fossil carbon. The crazy minority in this film would remain as such. (Except for the ecologists and biologists in that minority who were stone cold sober). As to biodiversity and environmental externalities, ecosystem puts a price on resources until they’re gone. A hypothetical “sapient” hominid might; but Homo sapiens is, again, mostly just clever; and used this cleverness to do stuff which is not necessarily wise.

As they approach the end of Act II, in a strange numerical twist, homo sapiens, 200,000 years after becoming a distinct species were adding 200,000+ distinct net new young of their species every 24 hours, a number greater than the entire wild populations of all the other great apes combined (orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees). At this time, circa 2013 total biomass of humans and their livestock outweighed the sum total of wild vertebrates by a ratio approaching 50:1. Depending on the boundaries, the movies hero and his friends were using between 15 and 40% of net primary productivity of the planet (and many times that in past productivity, stored in fossil carbon). The fossil slaves, still powerful and plentiful, were starting to ask for stiffer pay raises. And, although they were deaf and mute and therefore invisible to most everyone benefiting from them, some humans started realizing that the slaves had been breathing and pooping all along. Though many were concerned about this, the infrastructure and living standards built around them was so complex and vital that continued breath and poop seemed a necessary price to pay. A fossil magic finger trap. Our hero did possess the technology to build a bridge to the future using 2nd derivative magic - like wind and solar, but the bigger the bridge, the fewer that could cross. Virtually no one wondered how much magic would be left in 100 years or 1000 or how our descendants would carry on. Going into Act III of the movie "Towards Homo Sapiens", instead of paying it forward, our heroes and heroines were fully sucking it backward.

Act III - Myriad Limits to Growth 2013-2100

Act III will be a defining moment in the movie Towards Homo Sapiens - so far the movie has been an amazing documentary, but we as yet don't know whether it turns out to be in the science fiction, horror, drama or comedy genres. We can all guess that during Act III, some melange of disaster, discovery, war, peace, invention, sacrifice, triage, breakthrough, maturity, and awareness is likely, but if possible I'd like to skip Act III for this Campfire discussion.

In Production

Everyone watching this movie has at least three things in common: 1) they come from an unbroken line of ancestors back to proconsul in the trees 17 million years ago and from smaller mammals before that, and from simpler organisms before that: each of us is something immensely old, the fragile direct result of life’s first quickening billions of years ago, and the lucky descendants of beings lucky enough to reproduce. 2) all of our ancestors had enough resources to mate and successfully raise young and the neural machinery that allowed their success is still with us, and 3) we will all die in this century (spoiler alert for Kurzweil devotees). All of these things influence our behaviour and how we envision the upcoming acts of the movie "Towards Homo Sapiens". We are related to our ancestors, created by them, executing the adaptations which allowed them to reproduce. Our focus on the present, aversion to situations, statements or actions that put our status at risk, penchant for being hijacked by novel but irrelevant stimuli, strong cognitive biases that tell us our own view of the world is the correct one, etc. all contribute in unique ways to hamstring our ability to properly navigate a viable future trajectory. But we also have built in wiring to be pro-social, cooperate, experience empathy and follow cultural cues of 'what is acceptable or respected' in our environment. The movie script is not yet written.

The very thought of humans being alive in 200,000 years (which would put us now at the 1/2 way point) seems a bit like science fiction, yet why should it? Before releasing the carbon slaves and becoming addicted to their largesse, there was no a priori reason humans would not go forward much longer than that, in large numbers on a healthy planet. Yet currently we assign essentially zero value to such a future, because we don’t believe in it -not most of us, not really.

Act IV - The Year 2100 and beyond

For purposes of this campfire, let us ignore the upcoming Act III and focus instead on the distant future, when all of us reading this today, and our children will no longer be a factor in our thinking. In my experience we are all too focused too on the next 10-20 years -its natural, because we will live it. But if that is our focus people will bicker about the impossibility of such and such due to X and Y reasons. There will be high representation at the poles of 'just use UN population of 9 billion' or 'we will go extinct'. If we instead focus imaginations on the distant future we might come up with some creative ideas of what humans could aspire to and accomplish without being overpowered by the near term constraints. We may not yet be sapient, but neither are we idiots. The actors in this movie - us -, right now, face the ultimate intersection of nature (focus on present, consumption, novelty, status) and nurture (science, cultural evolution, ability to envision and plan for the future). Dark - light - in the middle. we can't KNOW the future. It's a probabilistic world - and we can still influence the probabilities. A thriller for sure.

Some Campfire questions:

Do we even care about people in the year 2100? Should we?

How is human society organized in 2100?

What is the population and energy throughput per capita relative to today?

What is the energy mix? How do we interact with eachother and other species?

What are the goals and aspirations of young people?

What is desirable, or undesirable about where we have arrived in 2100?

What does the rest of the earth look like? What webs of life predominate? What is the world’s largest animal? What self-aware animals are left besides humans?

What will They think about those who lived 100 years earlier? Gods, devils, saints, fools? Will they remember us at all?

What part of the bottleneck is behind us, and what is still ahead?

What sort of a Constitution for a Full Planet might we start to craft?

Same questions, but for 12,100? That is, a ten thousand years in the future; sounds like a long time but it’s not all that long in human history.

Be as general or as detailed as you wish. Answer any set of my suggested questions or come up with your own in same spirit.

"And they had this stuff, and it could do the work of a THOUSAND men!...."
Speak, friends.

I owe TOD a huge debt of gratitude for spurring me to learn about energy and posing the question one evening in March 2009 "what would Shakespeare say about peak oil?" I had already started investigting literature for images of fossil fuels, but I opened my Riverside that evening and after a few minutes, the first line of "Romeo and Juliet" caught my attention. "Gregory, on my word, we'll not carry coals."

Back in graduate school, I had already wondered why Romeo and Juliet don't interact with other people when they are alone. After researching about coal smoke in London, I found that Shakespeare had made a determined effort to hide a secret play about Man and the Sun. Man worships the Sun, Man leaves the Sun, Man returns to the Sun (comatose Juliet). But she is not dead, really.

Anyway, based on Shakespeare's idea (it's not just in R&J; it's expressed in other plays too), a return to the sun (that is primarily using the sun's energy) means that a lot of competitive struggles may go away after a while, and people will be more cooperative and more kind to each other. So many things hve been done out of fear that someone else would get ahead. We don't really need so many of the luxurious material items, or want them, but we are understandably afraid of being humiliated if someone else has them and not us.

The change in this basic dynamic, one that was based on negativity and fear, will cause a lot of advertising and marketing to disappear over the next 100 years. People will just shrug----it's already happening----and they'll feel that the "elite" are not so elite and the "non-elite" are not so low either.

I see a more folkish, spiritual, less materialistic world. Good-bye, Goneril and Regan, the two nasty, brilliant scheming, competitive sisters in "King Lear". Hello, Cordelia, the quiet one (by the way, she is the sun figure). King Lear is Mankind, on his way back to the sun, (accompanied by his Fool, maybe the plays of Shakespeare) and he'll get there, and it will be spiritually positive in the end. We learned a lot on our journey.

Pen name---Gemma Nishiyama; my novel at Amazon is "Juliet is the Sun" about Shakespeare's secret allegories about the sun.

change in this basic dynamic, one that was based on negativity and fear, will cause a lot of advertising and marketing to disappear over the next 100 years. People will just shrug----it's already happening----and they'll feel that the "elite" are not so elite and the "non-elite" are not so low either

do they?

I think it's the other way round. The middle classes are getting fragmented with a section joining the elite and the majority falling into the failed class. I am surprised to see this notion that there is a growing equality. I think there was a growing equality but that "peaked out" a fair amount of time ago. the 1980's perhaps. I suppose there is a readdressing of wealth to the emerging economies but they seem to mirror in part social development of the west with obesity and financial elites taking center stage as social phenomena

In the longer term I suspect society will view advertising the same way we view slavery. "How on earth did they permit this sort of behaviour"? but not in the next 100 yrs. perhaps its just the timing.

God I hope you are right thou.

Vance Packard published an interesting series of books on advertising and society including: The Hidden Persuaders 1957, The Status Seekers 1959, and The Waste Makers 1960.

Yeah but the forms of advertising changed. Century of the self and all that. The advertising industry has a habit of buying up the latest thinking on our understanding of thinking. Neuro science and all that. Pass the oxytocin.

Its a pretty repellant scenario viewed from an external perspective and shows little sign of weakening.

the fight back is repeatably co-opted. Basically the counter-culture dudes sellout and these days that lag from dude to shrill is very short. One could argue that anarchic/counter culture viewpoints are a start up "in" into gaining access to the world of the elites. Especially in the developed world with a mature IT sector because its a low energy/effort path.

Perhaps the first step to gaining power and being a made man is to become a rebel first. I mean did that happen to TOD? ;-)

This constant process of being a maverick and then getting accepted is so normalised it is hard to give credence to any movement or agenda because cynicism is the skid pan visible on the horizon. the Rebel is very much a neo-liberal market friendly stereo-type. Its this conflation of freedom and rebellion that the market[ing] seemingly owns.

Mostly agree.

But to be co-opted is in the end a voluntary act. Marketing, while being very strongly suggested or offered to us, is ultimately still not forced upon us.

No one makes you watch TV or listen to the radio or read glossy magazines. The occasional airborne banner can be looked at as a curiosity. Avoiding it takes some effort, but consuming it is still by choice. And this includes government marketing, religious marketing, business marketing ("Have I got a new war for you... What will it take for me to get you into this new war today?").

I hope PI is right... I don't see current trends moving in that direction, at all. And the process seems positively re-enforced, the worse it gets, the worse it gets.

My main point is that humans do this stuff to themselves voluntarily. Drivers of behavior may be unconscious, repressed, but the driver of behavior is still the individual. The good news is the driver of a different behavior can be the individual also; change and a different way of being are accessible to each of us at any time, starting whenever.

I wonder about this individualism thing. How much we are products of peer pressure is under rated in our world of choices. The choices presented to us are a form of proxy peer pressure perhaps?

when was the last truly significant self generated act that was totally independent of other opinion.

the auto-colonization of humanity via the belief in freedom and personal choice.

good news is the driver of a different behavior can be the individual also; change and a different way of being are accessible to each of us at any time, starting whenever

I find this incredibly difficult to do. You get off the fairway and into the rough you get a sense of how much human beings are a social animal that act in concert..... that has been my experience.

attempts to exit the system in some small clan tend to get bogged down at the interface between the clan and the standard of living they are still trying to achieve. People bring a lot of baggage to these alternative lifestyles.... I have travelled that road to some extent.

change needs to have a large amount of large scale fashionability to it to have any staying power and these changes are in turn dependent on the economic forces of the day at work. Its all a lot more Macro an impersonal and despite living in a culture that worships choice my sense is that the big decisions are just forced on us. This world of choice is a lie?

I live communally which used to be a niche lifestyle with a low success rate but is more common now nowadays in part brought about by the reality of housing costs driving people together for longer. Thou the functioning of this household of 5 adults and a child is governed by its own [quite successful]micro-culture the decision to end up living in this generalised mode was hardly a self generated choice for any of us.

"I find this incredibly difficult to do." Sure! If change were easy, everyone would be doing it.

The decision, the decisiveness to change, is a quality of ours. Upon deciding that change is desired, eliminating advertising and marketing, and learning to recognize and resist peer pressure can be part of the path forward.

Another part is a strengthening of the self - self trust, self knowledge, self esteem. Then one can go after the unconscious stuff, the beliefs and repressed trauma the guide the thinking and feeling and action of our conscious selves.

You can't just try really hard to change. You can't figure it out. You can't do it alone. Not for the big changes. By engaging with methods that are proven to work you can do it. But not by your self, not just by conscious thought, alone.

Another point: As a social animal, you may need to attend a different concert. If you want to quit drinking you can't hang out at the bar with your drinking buddies. Adopting a new role means you will no longer mesh with the existing fabric of your life. Family and friends may no longer be suitable companions. This does not mean going it alone and dying of isolation. There are enough people out there that you can join a different clan.

It sounds like you have done that. Or perhaps another clan has joined you!

You can't change the system, you can only change your self. Mostly true. But the paradox is that by changing your self, the ripples in the pond spread outwards. The great people of history transcended the peer pressure of their times.

A several-days-later Hi got2,

I like your post. It reminds me of a book "Change Anything" - I'm just reading it and find it useful. I'm a fan of the authors' other books, too. I'll link to the website, only because it has all their books in one place.

I also find this work interesting:

It's amazing what people think cannot be changed.

"But to be co-opted is in the end a voluntary act."

Is it? Is it possible to avoid being inculturated when one doesn't know it's happening?

 photo monkeys2.jpg

There's the rub. Most people think they already have things figured out, especially the ones running things. It usually takes something quite extraordinary to get them to rethink things. Most never will and many won't survive the process, when the extraordinary comes along.

This is why I don't have high hopes we can affect the experiment much. We can only adapt to it.

I haven't high hopes either.

But what is adaptation? An action in response to something. What drives the action?

We have the choice of knowing what is happening, or better, what has happened to us! Why are we as individuals the way we are? What has formed my belief system? And ultimately, what drives my actions? Am I coping or am I at choice?

When I act what are my assumptions - that Coke Adds Life? Or that I am and always have been good enough just as I am?

Somewhere at some point, one must admit, recognize, that something has happened. An extraordinary moment comes along. From that point forward we have the option of figuring out what we've been inculcated with and shake the etch-a-sketch that is ourselves clean and adopt a belief system of our choosing.

Thomas Frank's "The Conquest of Cool" is a well-researched book about the revolution in advertising starting late 1950s. Advertising even generated a critique of itself (anti-advertising in effect) in order to create a turbo-charged consumer where one’s personal freedom and rebellion are expressed through the purchase and consumption of certain commodities.

Of course they were wealthy , the elite of the elite, but I have no doubt that if the Founding Fathers had ever had collective nightmare revealing to them the nature of today's mass media and the advertising associated with it, they would have strongly and clearly excluded advertising from protection as free speech.

Hard to say on that, the protection of private property and commerce being the very cornerstones on which The Constitution was built. But as insightful and pragmatic as Madison, Hamilton and their peers were--we are talking men who had no blinkers on when it came to peering into the darkest corners of human motivation and behavior--there is no doubt these men had no inkling that fast transport would so shrink space and that near instantaneous communication would almost annihilate time in their grandchildren's time (Adams great-grandson was actually president of the Union Pacific through most of the 1880s).

Two constants the founding fathers counted on evaporated when we jumped the speed limits that had bounded civilizations throughout all human history. Suddenly only decades after The Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified we were able to move ourselves a mile a minute over rails as our words sped at near light speed over wires.

Distance and the time it took to traverse it were two of the main checks expected to limit the inordinate concentration of power and influence in the new republic (The Federalist Papers expands on this repeatedly). There was no backup if they failed. There was no expectation that those checks could fail as until that time all movement of people and information had been limited to what speed muscle and wind power could manage.

You and I are amongst the earliest to navigate this Brave New World.

Bon Voyage mon ami

Design Fiction is so now

2100 doesn't seem that far away. Soloyent green lite, there is still 80 yrs left in the game? conservatively If the return side of the hump is identical to the up side and peak is now we will be living in the 1930's worth of FFs with 4 times the population.
grim but doable. And in more likelihood other streams of energy will flatten the impact.

A massive dystopia though.

the numbers of people are insane.

Organizationally a hardening of the social classes based on wealth will continue is my guess. The boiled frog analogy holds for me.

The average life of a species is 5-10 million years. So the species of today lived through the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene.

The global average temperature in the mid-Pliocene (3.3–3 mya) was 2–3 °C higher than today, global sea level 25 m higher and the Northern hemisphere ice sheet was ephemeral before the onset of extensive glaciation over Greenland that occurred in the late Pliocene around 3 Ma. -- Wikipedia

I interpret that to mean the species around today are warm-earth species which survived several ice ages.

I know a scientist who studies Lazarus plants, i.e. plants that appear to be dead but revive magically when they get rain. The hope is to get better drought resistance in crops. Interestingly, many plants contain the Lazarus genes but they are not switched on. Which suggests they lived through long dry periods, as I guess the ice ages were, like Antarctica today.

The typical life style of a species appears to be: start small -> flourish -> be cut down by competition and climate -> adapt -> start small -> continue the cycle until fatal combination of circumstances causes extinction.

Something that interests me is how behavior and physical characteristics become aligned. Any species has its strong points and weak points. It has to get food, shelter, and make babies that will get food, shelter, and make babies, over and over, without destroying the habitat that supports it. Over time it learns how to behave in a manner that will make good use of its characteristics and environment.

This is where homo sapiens fails. It is a young species that has never experienced serious competition or disaster and is destroying its habitat. At some point there has to be a big die-off and emergence of a new homo sapiens with more conservation-minded behavior.

At some point there has to be a big die-off and emergence of a new homo sapiens with more conservation-minded behavior.

I wish this were true, but it's not the way evolution works.

Well, if you've been studying demographics in your spare time then you know this is happening. Populations are aging - know what the average age of a German is ? Old people don't consume so much.

Egypt, 2012

Population 83,688,164
Median age 24.6 years
Birth rate 24.22 births/1,000
Death rate 4.8 deaths/1,000

Oh dear. That really is a ticking clock.


Fifty one years ago Egypt population was 26,080,000 according to the 1962 World Almanac published by the New York World Telegram & Sun. I have a hard copy of this book because I found it in the trash after an apartment next to mine was being cleaned. Most people don't care to know what the world was like fifty years ago and thus they can't see how current problems developed.

In 1962 Egypt had 13,000 square miles of cultivated land mostly for growing food crops, although a small percentage of that was used for cotton which was made into cloth by local textile mills that exported much of that production.
Then they found oil, the population has grown threefold, and now with oil production declining so is the economy in a freefall.

I wonder when the population will stop increasing since Egypt is way beyond the carrying capacity of the land. This is especially true as more countries upstream take water from the Nile, thus reducing Egypt's crop production. For now Egypt's Arab neighbors Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE are pouring billions of $$$ into the country. But these oil exporters cannot perpetually prop up Egypt. As net oil exports decline for these OPEC members, Egypt will be forced to make structural changes or perhaps sink into the chaos that engulfs countries like Somalia, Zimbabwe and Haiti.

Speaking of Zimbabwe, I was surprised to learn that Giesecke and Devrient was supplying them with paper currency. Then I found out they supply most European bank notes and haven't changed their name in a long time ;-).

Yes, the Middle Eastern countries have quite young populations compared to the more heavily industrialised nations where highly educated women and men tend to have less children.

James Michael Greer is writing, in on-line installments, a novel "Stars Reach" set 400+ years in the future in the Mississippi River Valley. The plot driver is that around 2030 or so we made contact with an alien species and a long endurance communications post was set up in mid-America - and the search for that installation.

I am writing, in non-linear fashion, a fan fiction piece about the only society on earth that maintained social & political stability on the way down by making rational decisions - such as technology triage (while retaining records on how to later recreate the technology given up) - The Union of Scandinavia, and later, the Union of Scandinavia & Antarctica. Star's Reach- Scandinavia

A swedish foundation-lite?


They work in their own self-interest, not the overarching interests of humanity.

I extrapolate some of their best current policies (example: Denmark's plans to be fossil fuel free by 2050, and reducing their carbon emissions by -26.5% from 2007 to 2012) and try to judge what they will do as the rest of the world collapses around them. They are forced into a high degree of autarchy. They are able, with their population and resource base, to retain most 1940s technology and limited amounts of higher tech (LED lights are judged to be worth the effort to keep as one example).

A large number of integrated circuit chips are stockpiled near the end of the Old World and by 2350 they are producing 8086 chips again.

I am forced to follow Greer's world in some ways. Changes to the ionosphere limit radio communications (I use long wave radio that relies on water) and all of Europe except Norg and the Rus are Islamic. (Norge is one of the Union states in my version). Etc.

Still a work in progress.


Cool idea

I would estimate that Greer's Meriga has a bit less than 0.5% of the population today (averaged over the lower 48 USA). They still have radio (rare) and powered boats on the Mississippi River down to the mouth at Memphis. And guns. Plus bits & pieces salvaged from the Old World.

The middle of North America is an impassable desert.

I have Australia & Tasmania reduced to hunter gatherers with two isolated spots of subsistence agriculture. Zealand is better off. Islam controls Africa and most of Europe and is the technological rival to the Union (think late 1800s technology). China of today is largely uninhabitable (toxins cause too many birth defects to sustain a population for very many generations), but New China in Siberia has a much reduced population.

South America has fractured into many smaller states that are doing pretty well.

Large nation states are a thing of the past (except the Union of Scandinavia & Antarctica) as is political stability (think Middle Age Germany).

Scandinavia has 6.9 million citizens and Antarctica has 1.9 million (only 270,000 in East Antarctica). More than any other single nation, but struggling hard to maintain technology and the competitive edge it gives.

I am trying to fill my "World of 2380" with a wide variety of potential outcomes, from a single democratic nation state with 1940s technology to hunter gatherers with theocracies, kings, warlords, sheriffs and despots in between.

There are compelling geopolitical (and agricultural) reasons for Antarctica colonizing Tasmania before someone else does. I am waiting for the debate about what to do with the 10,000 to 20,000 hunter gatherers of Tasmania. A robust Antarctican will argue for treating the Tasmanians of the future as they treated the Tasmanians of the past, in a cruel bit of irony. Hopefully, he will lose that debate.

How likely is all this ? I feel it is uncomfortably probable.

Best Hopes for a Better Future,


PS: The link takes you to the first "page". You need to click "Older Posts" to get to the rest, all the way to "Technical Appendix".

I made this comment elsewhere but...

Kropotkin as well as Darwin document how mutual aid is key to survival and ubiquitous through out the natural world.

The artificial, misguided focus on “survival of the fittest” has been one of the biggest factors in the downfall of humanity IMO.

I would like to see someone do some deep historical analysis of the historical evolution of this tragedy.

Eo Wilson did in The social Conquest of Earth. Great book. Mutual aid really boils down to survival of the fittest group which is why we go out of our way to help people in one of our various tribes and go out of our way to scold or condemn those we perceive to be in "outgroups". Globalization has created a very large in group, so mutual aid to grow the economy sure has worked.

Thanks Nate

I will get the book.

Maybe. There's also survival of the luckiest. However, none of us individuals live over a 120, and quite a few never wanted to.

Social Darwinism for the Financial set

survival of the fittest

of course once the popular press of the 19th century condensed Darwin's natural selection theory to this phrase they added a value judgement to the scheme of things--something that was absent in my copy of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

We are prone throwing those value judgements in there as we tell our story thus providing simple, discernable order to the world around us.

you so aptly show this above:

About 190,000 years after our species became anatomically modern, whether due to climate or laziness or chance, bands of humans stopped picking berries and chasing game and began to domesticate agriculture about 8,000 BC.

Hard to find a better word than laziness to imply value judgement more ambiguously. In terms of natural selection , using less energy metabolic energy to sustain a group of humans would be considered more efficient thus granting that group a leg up in the niche they were hanging onto. The word lazy is often used to describe efficiency when old tradesmen, farmers and even computer programmers talk of their hard learned trade tricks but those speaking from the pulpit use it the word interchangeably with sloth.

Your storytelling really picks up speed in the very next lines.

This had important physical and social implications. It set the stage for certain positive feedback loops - wealth accumulation, surplus accumulation, valuation of such surplus, and the resultant social stratification that comes from such surplus

Apparently you've not spent much time watching birds at a bird feeder if you believe wealth accumulation, surplus accumulation, valuation of such surplus, and the resultant social stratification that comes from such surplus were new animal behaviours that emerged only once humans began farming.

Predator populations try and defend a buffer zone beyond what they need to survive, hunting territory is wealth for the predator, that extra territory that requires energy to defend is a 'just in case' reserve, not all that different from the agrarian grain bin.

Spin your yarn, it is what we all do. What the jury is really out on is whether or not our method of adding the value judgement nuance to all around us--which down at its heart really implies believing in the existence of something akin to Plato's eternal forms--is going to be helpful to us in the long run.

Bias readings of darwinism is a constant of ideology from the 19th cent onwards. A pretty universal list. Prussian militarism, Communism, Racial/Nazi theories and now this reinvention of this invisible hand stuff, which paradoxically adam smith avoided at the time of writing during the enlightenment by separating the market off into a contained and non universal part of the human society by reference to moral sensibilities which supersede the market. Go figure.

Cherry picking science for ideology has become the bane of humanity and its hard to counter but it does highlight something that may or may not be positive. Back in the 13th cent there was a conformist view of the world [in the main] and that was that. so the existence of this warfare of ideas in the industrial era that mis-uses science at least points to do a ongoing debate that needs to be won. which one would think is a good thing

the question is, is this some-sort of evolving condition leading us to the promised land or is this an invention itself. Does this point to a flexible meme-scape that can be twisted into manipulating humanity this way and that.

The notion that transparency and debate may be a problem in itself is disturbing but one that needs a eye on. access to information in this big data world and the means to manipulate and analyse it into a narrative for influence is ASYMMETRIC.

It is not a bottom up mode of power now if it ever was.

For the end of TOD, I've knocked together a forwarding looking article - exactly the type of thing that couldn't find a place within the data centric TOD structure. Hopefully some useful ideas here for what the post peak world will look like, suitable maybe for a campfire...


Anatomy of a Decline

This is a quick and dirty runthrough of how how the decline could play out, touching on a number of areas and laying out how peak oil could affect our systems of society. Like all scenarios and predictions, it should be used for illumination, not support – it will be wrong, and the first step about ensuring that it IS wrong is to recognise the signs and portents ahead of time.

Production Drivers – Tipping from Plateau to Decline
With the application of fracking to first US gas, and then oil tight prospects, it has become fashionable to believe that peak oil is overcome; that production can switch to the fracked sources, and that everything will be OK into the future (or at least the next five years, which is all that counts to the decision makers). The assumption is that application of this magic wand globally, together with other high priced sources, will enable production to continue at a sufficient rate, if at a higher price (~$110 per barrel).

There are several factors which have been missed however. Not only is the applicability of fracking still intimately connected to geology and thus limited in geography, any of these high priced sources are high priced BECAUSE their production rates are constrained. Either they only produce slowly, only produce for a limited time, or take so much application of equipment that you can only develop a few of them. The price goes up because the macroscopic rate of production per well goes down. As far as keeping the plateau going, that’s not a helpful situation – you are in a doubly red queen race of falling conventional production/falling field lifetimes, and falling rate of production at constant effort. Eventually that kind of death spiral breaks in a very definite way – if we have switched from annual growth to the plateau as the aim, then at some point even this is given up as well and people stop drilling with the aim of maintaining constant production. We should expect a phase change in approach/perception within the industry, with everyone switching at once as the economic and outlook factors force a new mindset as the new status quo.

In short, we will flip into decline when the puff runs out of the red queen drillers.

Reactions to Decline
How we react to decline is linked to how sharp that decline rate is. A 2% decline rate would mean a 1.75 mbpd annual reduction in production, whereas the geologic rate of ~6% would give 4.5mbpd. Obviously fracked oil is even worse though at present it is immaterial to the peaking question. At least in the early stages of the fall, I would suggest that decline rates of 1-2 mbpd could be expected, and that that rate could be hidden by accounting fudges. However within 2-3 years, we should expect everyone to recognise the decline had set it – so what changes would that bring to ‘the game’?

First, to the financial markets, the implications of peaked oil mean disruption, and thus the opportunity to make money. The attention given in the past few years to ‘peak oil’ probably mean the big concerns already have a book labelled ‘Peak Oil Game Plan’ on the shelf, ready to go. Cornering the market via control of the infrastructure seems a likely approach, spiking the price of oil in a very short timespan. At the same time divesting assets which will suffer in a peaked world will happen in the biggest Black Monday ever. Since this will be intimately linked to the shift in the attitudes of the drillers and will likely come early on – it will probably be pointed to as ‘the’ moment, even though it is only really a consequence of the physical reality playing out. The wise journalist has the right headline ready to go on this – can I suggest “the day the Earth stopped” as suitably messianic?

The production decline, the geology, the price spike, the market collapse, will form the right ‘crisis point’ for government action – and again I think that a play book will already be written and ‘on the shelf’. How that plays depends on the precise position of the country, its industry, and its policies:

Low Industry Medium Industry High Industry
High Fuel Tax Direct Impact on Domestic Usage via price

eg Sth & E Europe

Rationing and redirection of fuel with proportionately less impact on domestic usage, but less fat to be trimmed as well
eg N Europe, India, Russia
Better placed to deal with impact, but with likely wider economic impacts.

eg S E Asia

Low Fuel Tax Shock to society, dislocation, concentration on resources/other economic sources
eg Australia
Shock to society, but with haves and have nots. Social Strife.

eg USA

Potential collapse of industrial base as price feeds through to industry. Rationing likely
eg China
Subsidy Collapse
eg C & S America
Social Strife & Collapse
eg Middle East
Fast Transition

As we move down the table, the impact is more significant, faster, and thus more likely to cause collapse. As we move right in the table the country is more able to deal with it because of better GDP (if it wants to), but if it mismanages things it can equally well collapse.

Governments and Markets – Bifurcation
Within the governmental reaction, there is likely to be a level of bifurcation and triage as the organisations of the state seek to both maintain the status quo, whilst at the same time positioning the state for the changed circumstances.

First, not all usages of fuel are equal, and the using the market to determine between them will likely cause more problems than a more command and control approach would yield. In a typical economy as much as half of the consumption could be considered ‘vital’, for items such as trucking, air travel, mass transport, services, farming, politicians vehicles, etc. Those governments in the ‘high tax’ regime are most likely to implement explicit rationing and direction of fuel to particular usages, possibly via a differential taxation system (as the UK already does), and possibly even more explicitly. Lower levels of taxation are correlated with less interventionist governments, and likely more underhand approaches to fuel allocation which will probably lead to earlier breaks in key systems and more strife as people see the rich wasting fuel whilst food trucks lay idle.

The rationing will bifurcate the market into parts where price rises are held in check, and parts where multiples of the generic price rise will be felt as the burden of higher prices is allocated unequally. This will hit first, hardest, and fastest on the long distance commuters – ride sharing will rocket, but it will likely start the bifurcation along geographic lines, within countries and regions.

The Public
With the markets and government playing out their pre-prepared plans, what impact will befall the general, voting, public?

Well first, even with the advance notice that has been played out, it will be a shock. Government reactions to the oil decline will seem disproportionate to the size of the problem. Fuel will still be available at the pump and people will grumble at the cost, but accept it. However, as the years tick by, the new normal will switch to fuel becomes less of turning the tap and more hunting out a precious resource. Industry, food, service jobs etc. will all be affected by the higher prices and lower availability, putting the knife into many companies, increasing unemployment and over the life of one administration turning whole areas of the countries into wastelands – ones which there will be no money to fund safety nets for its inhabitant, and where transport is difficult. Restrictions to travel, either implicit or explicit, will become the norm in these regions.

It appears, both from policies already enacted and reactions to the GFC, that the reaction of most governments will be heavy handed in policing, and to segregate whole sections of society in a grand triage action. Those who can’t ‘afford it’ will be pushed out, and out will mean unable to reach work and thus unable to survive. If you are resourcing a society for the downslope of the oil age, how many people do you need, how many mouths? The US already has some of this, as does the UK – geographic regions and outer suburbs that are held at arms length and used as ‘people dumps’. It would appear that the governments are pinning their hopes on domestic spying to keep tabs on all malcontents (at least taking into account that they haven’t actually stopped these actions, or changed in any way, after being exposed). Their approach to avoiding the MENA ‘arab spring’ problem is likely to be the knock on the door in the early morning - time will tell if the panopticon is any better than East Germany’s spying operations at preventing revolution. However, as bad as this sounds, it is probably going to stay a better alternative than revolutions would be – it’s not generally the cream that floats to the top in such situations, and there is no change of government that’s going to fix the effects of oil decline on the living standards of the general populous.

‘lands Model – Turns that take you down
Pulling this and other post decline effects together, it is possible to view the post decline world as an intersecting set of ‘lands’, where unequal resource allocation occurs, and where the effective decline rate seen by the members of those ‘lands’ will be different.

The most understood of those is Jeffrey J. Brown's Export Land Model – 'Exportland' the differing circumstances of exporters to importers where exporters fulfil domestic needs first (and thus suffer no decline in availability) and where importers feel the full force of declining supply (and thus higher decline percentages).

However, there are the other forms of unequal resource allocation, with equal or greater impact on the individual. First, there is ‘Refineryland’ – where exported oil can only actually go to those countries or regions that have refineries to accept and process it, are on pipelines, or who can attract the tankers to their shores. Those countries who host these refineries will insist that domestic concerns are met first, before any exports of refined product are made, thus the countries depending on the export of refined product are at a disadvantage and will feel faster decline rates.

Second, there is ‘Militaryland’ – where military force and strong arm economic factors can be brought to bear on exporters to ensure oil flows in particular directions. Not only do we have the situation of Canada, where US tactics are likely to require all oil flows south, we have overt military force, used to gain control of resource and ‘protect interests’. China is likely to insist that contracts are honoured, and if not, will seek to grab control as needed. The likely outcome of this is being a member of Exportland will be something of a poison chalice for those not big enough to take charge of their own destinies.

Third is ‘Rationingland’ – where local government action seeks to apportion limited fuel resources to defined uses. And last is ‘Wealthland’ – the generally understood situation where if you can’t afford it, you can’t use it.

If you are on the wrong side of all of these various ‘lands’ you suffer an effective decline rate which is the product of these various effects. Thus, if the natural decline rate = 2%, the wrong side of:

  • Exportland accounts for half of all demand.
  • Refineryland is 20% of countries (bigger users tend to have their local refineries)
  • Militaryland is 80% of countries
  • Rationingland is probably half of all demand, and
  • Wealthland is 80% of people

and the combination effectively multiplies the natural decline rate by approximately 30 times, to 60% pa. As such, if the ‘lands model were to play out directly, we would expect defined groups of users to fall in sequence, with available, affordable, fuel dropping to zero within a year or two. Obviously that is not likely to be case, and declining fuel availability will not be a regimented as the ‘lands model would suggest. However, the illumination it provides, that the post peak world will be one or unequal allocation and fast local decline rates will be the norm, helps to show how to adapt.

These effects can already be seen to happen in places like Bangladesh, where access to fuel and power are becoming difficult and stratified with position in society/business.

Break points – I can takes no more
With the scenarios described, it can be seen that regions will likely suffer ‘fast collapse’ against a background of a heavy handed panopticon state control – so the question of how people react determines the eventual destination.

The process of triage, with the police state to enforce it, brings the ever present likelihood of civil insurrection. However it also brings with it the likelihood of states breaking down into smaller autonomous units. Those on the ‘up’ side of any ‘lands demarcation have the incentive to break from the rest to preserve their position - those on the ‘down’ side, to break away to get more control and the promise of a better situation. As such the forces on all sides will be to force countries towards smaller independent regions, split along have/have not lines. This will particularly play out in the US, where existing divisions between and within states will intensify.

For the individual, the primary question is how you navigate this post peak world. The usual advice of localise and move to the non-discretionary part of the economy is fine. However, in the context of the above model, this is not necessarily sufficient. Other advice on adaptation includes:

  • Location in a country with its own production (not exportland), enough military and economic force to resist strong arm tactics (not militaryland), and its own refineries (not refinaryland). It should also have a robust industrial base, a low GINI index, and high fuel taxation already. I don’t think any country actually meets all of those requirements, but Canada and Russia probably tick many boxes.
  • Location near/in regions of wealth/power and with exportable basic resources/industry. Whilst the immediate reaction of most is to look towards the ‘pastoral idyll’ as the primary model, the issue is that subsistence farming has always been at the bottom of the pile in even medieval economies – and are thus likely to find themselves in the ‘discarded’ regions.
  • Prepare and purchase now. The speed of the decline could well catch out those who look to headline global figures and expect that to be the general case. If you want solar panels, get them now. Same for electric bikes, insulated houses, etc. Whilst you might have time to adapt later, the expectation and the planning assumptions should not be for years to decades of notice, but for fast fall and limited liquid funds when it does happen.
  • Banks, and the global credit bubble will not survive the early stages of decline (but I think most already realise this). Money in the bank or pensions is likely to be lost.
  • The world that results will remember what it has lost and the localisation of supply and production will be felt deeply. It is likely that global trade will continue, but with many wealth imbalances collapsed in the decline, trade is likely to reset to trade in resources and basic items primarily. At a minimum we are looking at a regression of a few hundred years in social structures, but still with high tech devices. The world that results will be a localised world with global reach.
  • Paradoxically, careers which are virtual, online, and where expertise/skills are key to the delivery of value, might be the most secure skillsets in the post peak world. Being able to move or transfer that derived value to those areas which maintain their modern society, might be the smartest move.


It will be interesting to see in future years, how much of this occurs.

The Six County case history* consists of all major net exporters (100,000 bpd or more of net exports), insofar as I know, that approached zero net exports, or became net importers, from 1980 to 2010, with the exception of China.

Key 1995-2001 rates of change for the Six Country Case History:

Production: -1.0%/year

Net Exports: -6.0%/year

Remaining Post-1995 CNE (Cumulative Net Exports): -23.0%/year

*Indonesia, UK, Egypt, Vietnam, Argentina, Malaysia

I was hoping for ethos, not energy stats in todays thread

*bonus sapience points for not reposting all the graphs tho..:-)

I was of course referencing the following item, from the post I was replying to:

The most understood of those is Jeffrey J. Brown's Export Land Model – 'Exportland' the differing circumstances of exporters to importers where exporters fulfil domestic needs first (and thus suffer no decline in availability) and where importers feel the full force of declining supply (and thus higher decline percentages).

My point was that the six major net exporters that approached, or hit zero net oil exports in the three decades from 1980 to 2010 (excluding China) showed a catastrophically high combined post-1995 CNE depletion rate. So, what tends to be an accelerating rate of decline in net oil exports is not the really bad news. The really bad news, in my opinion, is that we tend to see catastrophically high rates of depletion in remaining CNE.

In any case, in general, most key posts on the Oil Drum in recent years, including the final round so far, have been consistently oblivious to "Net Export Math." So, why change the pattern?


The aspect I was referencing was not so much the shape or duration of the post peak exports - typical depletion rates, typical growth rates, a little compounding, and that shape tends to fall out if the country takes no other effort.

Rather, the point I was trying to drive home via the 'lands model is that it is one example, amongst many, of unequal resource allocation. The individual in the export country sees an effective decline rate multiplied by the ratio of exports vs domestic consumption. If you stand back and look at all of these unequal allocations, the net effect is that in a post peak world, the individual will see huge effective decline rates - sufficient to move oil from ubiquitous to rare in a few years.

This understanding is very different to the conventional view of global averaged decline rates, and is critical for understanding what the post peak world will look like.

To me, these discussions are why canning TOD, rather than moving the focus is wrong. There are many discussion to be had on the downside system dynamics,but they tend not to be held, as if the peak is everything. its these effects that will be describing our world however.

Hi Garyp

re: "There are many discussion to be had on the downside system dynamics,but they tend not to be held, as if the peak is everything. its these effects that will be describing our world however."


(IMVHO), these are the questions that could be posed and addressed (at least the effort) by scientists and analysts, eg. the National Academy of Sciences. (What's the point of the entire legacy of science, if we can't at least make the effort to use it in our favor?). Hence, the "impacts" and "policy options" section of our (admittedly draft, admittedly-apparently-naive effort:

Along similar lines: Is it possible to run an industrial economy on an all-electrical basis? If so, what's required in terms of: oil inputs, (labor, time, etc.)? What "low-tech" can be achieved? What about the water/energy connection and how to plan for water needs in the face of decline in energy availability? Agricultural policy? Emergency planning?

Also, the "we're not running out of oil - just cheap oil" idea as representing the concept of "peak oil" is...well...incomplete. As you say "sufficient to move oil from ubiquitous to rare in a few years." And this is exactly what most people are not expecting. That and/or the economic manifestation of same.

Ethos matters - and so does the math.

First of all, I'd like to thank Nate for his great posts over the years and also for the opportunity for a couple of key posts; my favorite being A Trip to Todd's. Now, on to the future!

I had actually prepared a key post on this topic but then Campfire died. I see several key elements: Big is bad/Small is beautiful, Everyone is productive and, finally, Personal responsibility in all things.

1. Big is bad/Small is Beautiful

In a nut shell, this means the end of organizations (with the exception of some societally run manufacturing). This would include government, business including health care, finance, schools, etc. This would also be true of living arrangements, my expectation being that people would live in productive family or affinity groups on sufficient land to produce their needs not suburbs or cities.

Necessary actions would be taken on the basis of consensus. Yes, this is time consuming but it eliminates the "middle man" of government.

I want to stick in a special mention about health care since Obamacare is around the corner. There won't be hospitals and health specialists. But, there is no reason people cannot learn the basics of emergency medicine to take care of 90% of their needs. It also means going back to the past for natural remedies but there is now a large body of research showing that many are better than today's drugs. This does mean that more will die than now but isn't that "life"?

2. Everyone is productive

No paper pushers and useless eaters. This is necessary because society will not have an excess to support them. There would be no "consumer society" or stores but rather people would receive an entitlement of goods they cannot produce that would be delivered once a year.

3. Personal responsibility in all things

This is the key. You want to be healthy? Then live a healthy life. You want food? Then grow it. Live on a road? Then maintain it.

My key post would have run about 5,000 words so I'm leaving a lot out such as the "Robust Internet". In any case, society would be more tribal. All durable goods would be user repairable for generations. The idea of "progress" would be replaced by living a satisfying and fulfilling life which those of us already living low on the hog know is possible.


Oh please, oh please, oh please, I want to see this post! Yup, “paper pushers and useless eaters”, is on target as to a characterization of a large part of our so called “productive” society. The parasite load has gotten much too big to sustain.

I think the fate of the "parasite load" will have much to do with what occurs during the decline. Are they maintained? Cast adrift to fend for themselves? Or, in a horrible version of the future of man, are the 'eliminated?'

And, for each of these scenarios, what happens as a result? Maintaining seems to imply providing for non productive members of society. Which asks another question: What is "productive" in our limited energy future?

Cast adrift, these creatures of negative attribution (after all, 'parasite' is not a positive appellation, now, is it?) will do what they are able. If we continue to limit access to education, or if education is improper and fails to provide them with sufficient knowledge to plant and harvest - or hunt and gather - will they instead "take" from those who now refuse to "give" them food, shelter and comforts?

And, in the long term isn't the second parameter tantamount to elimination? After all, those who have marketable skills, and are able to plant, hunt and gather, etc., will not particularly enjoy having the 'parasites' taking what they have produced (the use of labor as a measure of value to human beings is an entirely different rant that I have taken up from time to time). They would instead defend their keeps (I really like the way this shows the entimology of the word, "keep"), undoubtedly with deadly force since the threat would also be deadly if allowed to continue.

I expect that by 2100 our planetary population will not be much different from today, but by 2150 to 2200 it will be much, much lower. Whether we wind up victims of our own device is problematic. I hope not; I am not sanguine with reality being otherwise.

We have, indeed, created many problems no other organic entity has had to face. And placed the other organic entities in the unfortunate position of having to face them with us.

Is the story of a future absent science truly "science fiction?"

Best regards to all readers and commenters, as well as the many dedicated writers for TOD.

Now, on with the race to the bottom.


Yes there appears to be some sort of value judgement surrounding the deserving of humanity in all this. Not an attractive concept.

where does it come from? It has a religious fire and brimstone feel to it.

Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.
Will Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.

Nature could not care less what lives or dies. Does the Willow by the banks of the river care if it is a human or deer corpse that comes floating by? As far as values, did hunter gatherers permit “free riders” who contributed nothing of labor or knowledge to the welfare of the tribe, in the past or present, to be members of the tribe? If the tribe’s resources were taxed, wasn’t personal sacrifice, such as sailing off into the wide ocean in search of new place with little hope of landing part of the ethos? The expansion of population permitted the “free rider” not only to survive, but thrive. With very large populations it is fairly difficult to care for someone who is one of the millions or even billions. It takes the constant drumming of propaganda such as nationalism or religion to try and counter this effect.

By the way, a large part of the crops I produce on my small farm, mostly fruits, I donate to a senior center in town nearby. I value my small community very much, even though I will probably always be considered an outsider. That is just the way it is in small town rural life. I also have to tip my hat to oldfarmermac, who said to be tolerant of the religious (amazing how many give lip service to religious beliefs so they don’t rock the boat for the stability of the community)

Just say it was possible to carry[say] 9 billion for a hundred+ yrs and achieve a soft landing what would your reaction be to that?

It is actually technically possible for a soft landing, if suddenly every human being used rationality for the value of the survival of the species as a whole, and not just for one person’s genetic gain. But that is not how things work, do they? Does the average person give damn about the poor SOB in sub-Saharan Africa? Selfishness is the rule, at least for what is perceived as the tribe, or one’s narrow self-interest. Rationality is the slave of instinct. It cannot be any other way. Tell me, where is the instinct for preserving all of humanity? How do destructive ideas such as nationalism and racism gain such traction? They are spread on the fertile ground of our human nature. We are a chimp with a gun in our hand.

Everyone in concert? Surely some top down mandate or manipulation can get us moving. Do we all have to sanction the big plan [whatever that is].

A lot of us are just herded around by forces greater than ourselves, some of which do prey on this short term payoff addiction culture to be sure but you get my point.

if the problem is people then perhaps the place to start is education and the kids. Get them young I say. If you make sustainability a core subject at school?

Education is definitely worth trying, better than giving up. Although we do have instincts that push us one way or the other, as my philosophy professor Farhang Zabeeh often said, freedom might be limited, but knowledge gives us more choices. I work in a blue collar profession and what I notice among these co-workers is the belief that their choices are limited, and their limited knowledge makes them more vulnerable to the predators. Working among these people is what makes me such a doomer, because their vote has equal value to mine. Maybe this is why the American founders feared the masses so much? Unfortunately, even the elites show forms of tribal behavior – look at Obama’s consideration of Larry Summers for the fed. Sad.

Make sustainability a core subject - now here we are in agreement. But the question is how? What's the constituency for it? Where's the market? And believe me, education (at least in the US) is market driven. I used to work in the education industry that pumps out materials and tests. Think corporate American doesn't have their finger in that pie? Think again, they own it. So what corporations are going to advocate for or even allow sustainability to become a core concept of US education. We have sold ourselves down the river lock, stock & barrell in our wholehearted adoption of capitalism.

And the regular peeps, even? I am involved in a children's summer camp. Have spent the last three years trying to get the owners/admin to adopt sustainability as part of the camp culture. No real luck, as it gets in the way of 'having fun'.

This is why I'm convinced we will burn everything until we can't and then we'll turn on each other. Too few will notice or care about the path we're on until it's too late.

Would it surprise you to learn there are people working on making it a declared UN goal. I only learned this because we put the guy up in our spare bedroom while he was over for meetings in London!

sounds like a load of greenwash to me at first but as I thought about it more I like the idea more and more.

As for where is the business model...well there is the rub

I sometimes wonder what the fate of my handicapped sister will be. I like to think if she had been born to some primitive tribe or society she could have been taught to contribute in some way. Maybe hauling water or gathering firewood. But in this world she is very clearly a "useless eater". She is housed and clothed and fed by The State. (Her care is shockingly spendy, though she needs no special care beyond supervision.)

I'm guessing if there were no State, the expense would fall to the Family. But what if the Family cannot support itself? I'm guessing the Family will try to reduce itself to the productive members, maybe even only the most productive members, before the Family goes extinct, so to speak.

To bring it back to Nate's post, I think in a hundred years or so, population stress will be too severe to permit handicapped, or unproductive people for whatever reason, having a place at the table. Isn't this how it is with most species? If you can't keep up with the herd, you are left behind (to die).

I used uppercase Family to try and incorporate the idea of an extended family or small tribe, because I think increasingly, and especially in the distant future, this will be the most successful living arrangement. I like to think the old or the ill can be taken care of if they were otherwise productive. It could still be in the context of a city of some size, but you and your "cousins" will pool resources and look out for each other.

But I really hope I never have to decide if my sister eats or not. It's very scary to contemplate such a world, and yet, with population so far into overshoot, and all the downsides we've explored over the years here on TOD, it seems that this will be a common conversation that many families will have to have. In fact, I think a hundred years or more from now, there will be social standards that make it much easier for people to navigate such a painful situation.

"Analysis of the pathology of the skeletons shows that the humans of this period led a physically difficult life. In addition to infection, several of the individuals found at the shelter had fused vertebrae in their necks, indicating traumatic injury; the adult female found at the shelter had survived for some time with a skull fracture. As these injuries would be life threatening even today, this suggests that Cro-Magnons believed in community support and took care of each other's injuries." ~ Wikipedia

It's not so brutal, there was a life before FF and there will always be, even so called non-productive members of the family are productive.

In India you take care of your family no matter what, that's how you are brought up and that attitude is enough to tide over any FF shortage IMO.

Thanks, wiseindian. That's comforting.

So, the entire family lives or dies all together?

And how do you define the boundaries of your family? In the USA the family is almost gone. It's been pretty much reduced to just parents and their children (and even then, only until the children are grown), but I know in some cultures it extends to cousins, or second cousins, or even broader.

A family is a group of people who take care of you, it's a vague definition but then it's about human relationships. Most cases it's parents, siblings, grand-parents, uncles, aunt, cousins and clan, yes.

One thing that struck me about westerners is that you don't have any terms for different relationships like differentiating between father's brother and mother's brother or father's sister and mother's sister. We have one term for every relationship and I mean every relationship. I am sure it wasn't like that in the past, maybe the west lost it on the path to industrialization. It's something you will have to learn again as times get tough.

What is the population and energy throughput per capita relative to today?

What is the energy mix? How do we interact with eachother and other species?

How is human society organized in 2100? - (or 12100)

Questions 1-3 for the year 12100.
-- See "The Next Million Years" by Charles Galton Darwin. This 100 page monograph was publishes during the 50's and can be downloaded free. CG Darwin assumed that greatly reduced numbers of humans would still be around in a million years surviving primarily on income energy. I assume organization in small perhaps isolated tribes.

Nate- specifics, as to what will- or should- happen next I find to be not only elusive, but almost a waste of effort. We are on the edge of the utterly unknown, and our vision is formed by what lies behind us. And very few of us could ever agree even on what's behind.

I just want to raise an additional possibility for what lies ahead; from my standpoint as a biologist.

Possibly? Probably? Speciation.

Pure biology. This IS what happens. A species becomes excessively successful; expands beyond its carrying capacity. That process involves the creation of a large number of nearly 'null' genetic variations in the population, which because it was so successful last year did not result in mortality. The perfect gene pool for new specializations to separate.

H.G. Wells took it to extremes, for literary reasons; Morlocks and Eloi. But - his logic there was very sound. If you look around- we already have sub populations where gene flow is now reduced between groups (as well as previous isolated groups now hybridizing- then re-isolating.)

My biggest worry is the rise of Homo ferox (my name). The mafias and other organized crime groups are- exactly that. Homo sapiens, if it exists, is clearly endangered, right now. And as someone, possibly Paul Ehrlich, put it (approximately) "The long term survival value of a large brain has not, yet, been demonstrated."

And that, at least, is demonstrably true.

Also, we are no longer only governed by biological evolution, but also by technological evolution (which I simply call the System). And I believe its this second force which will shape our future and introduce the speciation you suspect, but in a much faster time frame.

Basically I think climate change, resource depletion and global economic collapse will split the global population into those in the core and those in the periphery. The core is essentially the continuation of our technological civilisation which draws back from the periphery to conserve and balance resources with demand. Those in the periphery must lead a more self-sufficient life with little or no access to the resources controlled by the core.

The continuing and rapid technological evolution in the core and the fact it no longer relies on labour or production from the periphery essentially splits humanity into two separate branches evolving in different ecosystems.

I think fusion will eventually be harnessed, either by mainstream science and technology (which would however suffer greatly during any societal decline) or by a genius thinking in a different way. When that will happen is impossible to know. In the interim humans will perforce poke along with a smaller population and sustainable resource usage.

After fusion there could be another surge that makes the last century pale in comparison. The energy would be available to escape the Earth, opening new frontiers that would allow emigrating humans to act pretty much as they do today. Those deciding to stay on Earth would either end up with a small population living in luxury or a large population living cheek-by-jowl.

Pretty much the future depicted in Star Trek.

despite being a doomer in the medium term I reckon we will whizz off to the stars eventually. Or our genetically engineered cyborg AI decedents will.

does the rest of the earth look like? What webs of life predominate? What is the world’s largest animal? What self-aware animals are left besides humans?

to this end I reckon the world will be a idyllic tourist destination with a population of less than 200 million covered with verdant landscapes and preserved cultural relics... pyramids etc.

restocked seas with huge schools of whales, All long haul cargo carried by hybrid airships and ships on the sea are limited to sailing vessals to reduce noise pollution.

Extreme old school sport activities....think wingsuited vegan base jumper tour guides..its going to rock.

I've come to the conclusion that discovery of fusion would end up being a bad thing. All we would do is create more artificial fertilizer and explode our population until the next resource limit hit us.

Humanity probably needs to be smacked down. We need to outgrow our primitive superstitions (AKA religion) and learn how to live in a sustainable manner. More energy will just allow us to keep acting stupid.

Fusion is an insufficient power source for interstellar travel because helium is a waste product containing vast amounts of energy in the form of mass that must be accelerated. Near 100% conversion to energy is necessary which could be satisfied by antimatter. I suspect a magical engine, like a warp engine, is required to enable interstellar travel.

No need to stop at helium once you have figured out how to penetrate the coulomb barrier. Fusion continues to releases energy up to the iron nucleus, and that would be a much more efficient ion propellent. You could also make carbon, nitrogen, oxygen just as the stars do.

How is human society organized in 2100?

My thought is that as fossil fuels sunset, so does the middle class.

The upper class always had servants, that will not change.

The lower class did everything themselves, and it was almost a lock-in to any upward weath/quality-of-life movement.

It is my opinion that the fact the middle class exists, is because machines act as our servants (air conditioners, refridgerators, clothes and dish washing machines, automobiles), and allow us a better standard of living and free us up from labors we would historically have had to do ourselves.

So for the specific of 2100, I am predicting people will be driving less, using air conditioners less, etc. The middle-class will be less of a percent of the population than today.

There are a number of ways by which the wealthy might garner servants. By paying and rewarding, by enslaving, by criminalizing and using 'work gangs.'

In the early years, as today, payment and reward could be expected. The next logical step seems to be criminalizing poverty related activities, and reestablishing debtor prisons.

When the peons/serfs rebel against these, slavery will be the final way, abetted by a private police force granted exception powers by the government (owned by the wealthy).

In place of what we today call the middle class will be a group of tradesmen, artisans and the like, who are able to produce things valued by the wealthy and not likely to do so if coerced.

Medieval Europe is a fair avitar for this society.

The wild card, in my opinion, is the place of the organized religions in all of what will then be taking place. Especially, as noted by several others, Islam. As things deteriorate, watch to see which band of extremists crops up in your neck of the woods. It will not be easy to cope with the anti-science we may expect as the hopes and dreams of society are dashed by bitter reality.

Perhaps the religious folks will join with the mafia and the cartels in the new species envisioned elsewhere in this thread. Scary stuff!

And, I agree with Greer in believing that it will all happen sufficiently slowly that at any give time it will seem normal, and only after several decades or centuries will the change look dramatic.

I am glad I will not likely see most of it take place, though I suppose I could still be here for the beginning. Another scary thought.



And, I agree with Greer in believing that it will all happen sufficiently slowly that at any give time it will seem normal, and only after several decades or centuries will the change look dramatic.

Greer makes an eloquent argument for slow catabolic collapse but it seems to me that part of his reasoning (previous collapses weren't over-the-cliff affairs, so the next one won't be either) bears a certain resemblance to the rationales used by cornucopians to claim that the good times will continue to roll.

The collapse of Rome didn't take place in a world knee-deep in thermonuclear weapons. Will we exercise restraint as resource competition becomes acute? I guess we'll find out.

Sorry to be the doomer here, but 2100 we will have a much more boring and much deader world. Large swats of land in North Africa, Middle Est, Western USA and Australia will be so hot for parts of the year you die just by being there. Those places will be depopulated. Agriculture will have collapsed everywhere. Costal cities swamped. The sea will be dead and anarobic bacterias will spew up sulphurhydrates that will stink rotten eggs and kill you. Some people will still live on in north central Asia, far away from the stinky oceans. They will have primitive techs and use leftovers from the Ancients (thats us). There are no bees, no trees and few flowers.

As for the energy mix, I don't consider it an important or even interesting question.


I would like your review of "Star's Reach - Scandinavia" , link above in the comments.


I guess I will start reading that material once TOD stop feeding me daily stuff to read.

I am BTW writing my own piece. I call it "now time fantasy". Taking place this summer in mainly Europe, people possessing druid magic powers are trying to save the world by wiping out cities.
Just you need to read swedish to digest that story. And the dialogues are written in the languages actually used, so swedish, english, german and some russian and arabic too.

The author of the original fiction (Star's Reach) - John Michael Greer - has another job - as ArchDruid :-)


ouch... well I hope that doesn't pan out.

My hope for the future is that we look towards those societies trending downwards in population growth (some in absolute terms, some with declining birthrates) and decide to emulate them rather than work at changing them. There are many avoided costs with a declining population - fewer schools, greater employment (and how loads of unemployed young people are supposed to be paying enough taxes to offset their costs is beyond me) lighter draws on resources, less maintenance of infrastructure, a larger role for natural processes to do their thing. Yet all we hear about is "the costs of supporting pensioners." Suppose the trend of a declining population is self-limiting - that is, supposing we do not stop reproducing entirely - how do we make this work and support it as a gradual, peaceful, and beneficial trend for the planet?

Policy and opinion makers seem to completely dismiss any role for birth control (possibly because most of them are men, and they just don't think about it), in spite of the fact it has become widely used in only the past generation - and the effects are already evident.

It isn't clear that the US's higher birth rate in comparison to Europe is translating into more "good jobs" and better lives for young people. Automation and outsourcing will continue, so there will be even fewer "good jobs" for children born now. How to support those rational people who are electing to have fewer children in recognition of the fact there will be fewer jobs in the future, and an unsustainable strain on the planet from an increasing population?

A while back, before some policy changes at TOD, I contributed this to the pool of thinking about the future:
Bottleneck by William Catton - A Review
November 24, 2009


The short version is FF depletion equates to a change in the carrying capacity as far as humanity is concerned?

That would be the very short version. The book, IMO, is well worth the read. I oft-cited it here back in the day as one of the three legs of my awareness-raising stool - book, lecture, doc:

Catton's "Overshoot"

Yeah sorry about that we are all so jaded with all the arguments here

perhaps its time to archive this pseudo intellectual flame-fest and move on ;-)

So Nate what have you been doing since you left TOD? When you left I had the impression it was because you were temporarily overwhelmed with your PhD coursework/research and I expected you to come back.

Do you have a website or are there forums you are active on?

I am working on end of growth mitigation, w governments and institutions and w marketing/PR firms.
I think TOD served an important role pushing the envelope on these issues but mostly to the choir. I think there remains a strong need for public awareness not of peak oil, but of energy and natural resources role in societies, past present and future -and Im working on some efforts on that front. I have not been active in any forums or websites but that may change. cheers.

more on all this in tomorrows post

end of growth mitigation. woah the big one. To what degree are governments up for this?

not. have to creatively call it something else

I think we would all like to hear about that piece of higher echelon nudging

What do you call it ?

I, and people I work with, are getting closer to having an impact on policy making in some nations.


I see no question about the availability of minerals. Copper, silver, phosphorus etc. Aldous Huxley first mentioned phosphorus in the novel Point Counterpoint in 1928.

Antarctica. Rape-resistant no more.

Many thanks to TOD and it's many contributors and commentators over the years. An invaluable resource that helped me learn a hell of a lot about the predicament we face!

My 2 cents is that the world will become a more localised, depopulated place.
As net energy production declines, incomes will fall in real terms and prices of necessities will rise. We'll see civil wars in some places, other places will pull their act together, maybe Scandanavia, Russia and Canada. We as yet don't know how to shut down nuclear power plants in a safe manner, where will all that waste be stored for 10,000 years? Already Fukushima risks depopulating Japan if reactor 4's spent fuel pool topples over.

The population will decline as healthcare services recede, people have fewer kids and as climate change ravages large swathes of the Earth leading to declines in food production. God knows if some madman will take the helm of a country with nuclear weapons? What happens if a nuclear war is triggered over resource scarcity?

It's not going to be a lot of fun on the way down, those who will survive have to be very, very lucky!

I disagree that it will not be fun on the way down! Those who make it fun will be the ones who survive the race to the bottom. They will make their own luck!

Those who do not enjoy the trip will die early, many at their own hands.

You will know, if you are around then, that the crisis is in full bloom when the laws against suicide are repealed.


If healthcare services decline, then mother and infant mortality will increase probably leading to increased birth rate. Parents will have however many children that are necessary to allow some to survive to adulthood. Population declines because the rate of mortality exceeds the rate of birth.

I would like to point out that 2100 is exactly as many years from us as 1926 was. Do we have any historians here? How has the world changed from 1926 to now? The technology comes to mind. Anything else?

If desired you could watch Charles Emmerson discuss this question on C-Span 2 this weekend or streaming live. He notes some similarities between 1913 and the present. But not to the extent of expecting a new world war

1926. Midway between two world wars. The Age of Ideology. Colonialism. Competition for natural resources. Small middle class. Robber barons and landed gentry. (Disclaimer: I am not a historian.)

Ursula K LeGuin: Always coming home

Campfire final exam
I have much enjoyed and profited from the Oil Drum, and offer sincere thanks to all.

Over the 7 + yrs I have been here, I have made a few points over and over, to not much visible effect, but no matter- what I have said is said by many, more persuasively, and to a wider audience. Here is my summary, for me as much as anyone.

First. It is simply wrong. on voluminous and highly visible evidence, that everyone is bottomlessly greedy and selfish. I have done a lot of travel in my previous life as a company exec. and I have found such evidence everywhere on the globe. A large majority of people have NOT been greedy and selfish. They have wanted to be cooperative when they could.
The obvious mitigation of greed and selfishness is to distribute essentials so people can be otherwise.

Footnote; My sad experience is that there is one class of human which actually can be relied upon to be more or less greedy and selfish- MBA’s from all the most famous business schools. Since I gave up being an exec, and sought “more highly trained” people as company leaders, I found them not only unethical but also downright foolish. Fool here defined as “one whose actions benefit no one”. Their actions not only defeated their own private purposes, but also resulted in serious harm to everyone. Over and over. Every one of these “highly qualified” sociopaths was tall, good looking, and charming.

Second. There is no way to predict any detail of climate effects. This is a well known fact of simple logic, so I am puzzled by the predictions of so many of you good folks. Never forget the lecture by Prigogine about climate - here, as in any complex situation highly sensitive to small perturbations, detail prediction rapidly decays in precision to the lower limit determined by physics. So, if for example, we increase the temperature of the atmosphere, all we can say about its future with any certainty is that the extremes can be wider.

Third There are plenty of relatively obvious passable ways forward for humanity despite its present condition of extreme overshoot and depletion. One example: recognizing the greatest sin is foreclosure on future opportunity, we agree to work for the benefit of all; we stop doing unnecessary, wasteful things; we use those resources to move entirely off carbon and on to solar, which we know full well how to do; we limit our reproduction and let nature take the excess population in due time; in the interim we use our overabundance of junk as raw material for the construction of the new world, which can be a paradise, done rightly.

I rest my case. Be good.

Hmm. I happen to agree w all 3 of your points, unless your 1st point was a subtle slam at me, as I fit the phenotype - MBA u of Chicago 1992. And I met a lot of greedy people in my day which is why I quit after 6 years.

Your main point is well taken. No matter what happens in next 100 years I expect more people will sacrifice and give of themselves than the opposite. Throughout history its been that way. But the bad eggs have outsized impact. Strong reciprocity will be a core theme. Cheers

edit though I do believe in kindness, altruism and cooperation, especially for the group, I DO wonder at times how much of our 'sentiments' have also been subsidized by the 'magic'. Look at how other less developed cultures treat dogs and cats for instance - we have 160 million pets in this country, and speaking for someone w 3 dogs and 6 cats, I couldnt imagine life without animals -but perhaps thats because Ive lived my entire food not only with food, but w sushi, pizza, etc. I am curious if w less magic there is also less kindness and tolerance, both within and without groups.

Not you Nate! You have done great work, and this campfire right here is proof good as any. Another is you quit the dark side yourself. Dam! Wish I had met you when I was naively bringing in those others to make me look even more of a simpleton than I was genetically structured to be

Subtle? Not guilty, yer Honor.

Hi Nate,

Thanks for your article.

re: "though I do believe in kindness, altruism and cooperation,"

You know, this reminds me of how just amazed (awestruck might be the word) with the kindness and altruism I've seen from people who had no idea anyone was observing them. I sometimes forget this and appreciate the reminder. (Awestruck because I also wondered if I'd have anything like the stamina to persist, day after of total strangers is an example. One time a nurse's aide said to me "I never got to take care of my parents when they were elderly...that's why I do this now. I have the chance.")

re: "the bad eggs have outsized impact." Well, the impacts of power might be said to be multiplied with the use of machines. Also, it seems to a large extent...perhaps not so much individual "bad eggs" as people acting in differing capacities, each perceiving him/her/their selves as part of a system and unable to affect change (and needing the income). Example: scientists only discover, it's the applications that do the harm. (eg. nuclear weapons arms race). Technicians only do technical work. Etc.

re: "sentiments." IMVHO has a lot to do with early (infant) bonding and quality of attachment.

I suspect that a major forcing issue is/will be, the cooperative vs competitive dominate mindset. There is a movie on Netflix that explores this issue, "I AM" that i highly recommend.

The short version is that in a resource flush enviroment a competitive dominate mindset has at least the appearance of a short term advanage, in contrast, in a resource constrained enviroment a cooperative dominate mindset becomes a must for long term sustainability.

My read is that if/when we make this shift from our present competitive dominate mindset to a cooperative dominate mindset will greatly effect our future outcome.

in the interim we use our overabundance of junk as raw material for the construction of the new world, which can be a paradise, done rightly

Amen to that

I think long term it will be a paradise. why not? in the end if you try enough times? I suppose it never really ends. This movie format is pervasive.

As for us? In hindsight we will be viewed as the idiot generations.. It will be rough. Our historical legacy will be an embarrassment. Are we done yet?

I have no doubt your contribution has had a strong and a good effect on the overall accomplishments of this site. Don't be so quick to assume otherwise. You've spoken good sense, good intent and good humour.. I hope I cross paths with you again!

I see the pictures of those desert parking lots for retired aircraft, and think of all the other great junkyards and landfills, and I know there is a phenomenal opportunity just within our waste to take on a goodly pile of energy tasks.. so remember that there are numbers of good people out there who are totally with you on the opportunity to turn trash into treasure, and to even avoid being greedy or selfish about it.

Thanks for your positive and creative presence!

Bob Fiske,
Portland (and sometimes NYC)

Thanks for all the kind words, Bob. And ditto back to you.

While Progogene's uncertainty principle, noted above, relegates all speculations about the future to the harmless recreation category, us hardware guys are actually creating it- out of junk, yet.

And fun too!

I think it is important to keep in mind that fire was around before homo sapiens evolved. We evolved in an environment where fire was already available. This shaped us. Foe example, it allowed and encouraged us to have weak teeth, because we eat cooked food.

It is commonly thought that man invented fire, but it is more accurate to say fire invented man. It made us what we are.

Nate, thanks for this thought provoking post. You have been much-missed here.

My initial response before reading y'alls... (a mix of coulds and shoulds)

Energy throughput a fraction of today's - 1/4th? 1/10th?. Population certainly half or less than today. Religion must be killed (but given that it's a creation of the human mind, of course it won't be). Ecological awareness must be spread – this will occur naturally (but 'too late' in the short term thought horizons of those of us alive today) as it will be bloody apparent to everyone living that human overpopulation and consumption of fossil fuels has laid waste to the natural systems upon which we all ultimately depend. Other self-aware species? I can only hope the dolphins will make it, but given what we're doing to the oceans, I don't have high hopes. The other great apes* have no chance, and will be gone well before 2100, in the darkest throes of the bottleneck, likely to come around or before mid-century. Those alive in 2100 will regard us as devils and fools.

Society must be organized more tribally, communally, locally, cooperatively. Today's intentional communities movement, particularly the ecovillage wing, is a nod in the right direction, though with a long evolution to yet follow. Penny Kelly's book “Robes” may come be be revered as prescient. People will certainly have to be vastly different than those today in regards to simple, basic knowledge of seasons, sun-paths and the like. Those in 2100 will not be orienting their houses to face the street, but rather to face the sun. Young people of the day will aspire to nurture the world back to health, in any way that they can, from fostering some small bit of habitat for something wild to thrive in, to finding new ways to benignly harvest sunlight for some task.

But when I look at the various snippets that others have included here, it seems to me almost impossible that we make it to 2100 with anything like today's world remotely intact. There are numerous possibilities that others have touched on in their posts, that I will merely list together here and point out that some or all of them are likely to come about in some form, such that any coherent society at that date is unlikely. In no particular order whatever – slavery, dead (or nearly so) oceans, uninhabitable continental interiors, nuclear waste release, wars of various sorts, mineral depletion (on top of our raison d'etre – energy depletion), sea level rise, greatly diminished biological diversity, climate chaos, toxic soil, poisoned/depleted aquifers, religious zealotry gone rampant, soylent green...

There are, of course, more.

*One of the more moving moments of my life came back in 1985 in Washington's National Zoo, when amidst a day of wandering the 'exhibits' and feeling more and more oppressed by the plight of the beings on 'display', I had a few moments alone at the enclosure of a large silverback gorilla. I recall vividly marvelling at the massive size of his head, but much more poignant was the clarity I had whilst we looked into each other's eyes that this was a sentient, self-aware being. I know it's projection on my part, but he almost seemed to be saying to me, 'How could you do this to a fellow being, let alone such a close cousin'. And, 'Your time will come, my friend, your time will come...'

Sentience is an interesting topic. My concept of sentience has changed over my years in the country. I now define an animal as sentient when it makes voluntary choices that have no effect upon its survival.

For example, there is a large rock outcropping down our road a ways. There are often strong afternoon winds that are deflected by it. The local flock of ravens often play in the wind; soaring up, diving down, zooming side to side. There is no survival value in what they are doing, rather, they are having fun.

I see a similar situation when I add water to my fish pond. The fish swim back and forth through the stream of water and dart around. They too are getting something beyond more water - and they made a choice to do so.

Whether they see themselves as "individuals" we can never know but I would argue that they are still sentient.


I think more then a few necular power plants will have "melted down" (either the core, the cooling pools,or both)!!
This will create unlivable conditions in many areas that might have otherwise been useful. The added pressure of reduced land will further amplify deplorable conditions. Survivability decreases as options/choices are removed. Competition increases resulting in population losses due to fighting, starvation, and diseases. Fudalisim and "war lords" will rule the day. I believe a new "Dark Ages" will result that lasts for centuries.


Unfortunately you may be right. But as a result, people may be nicer to each other----since the situation is/will be so hopeless.

The problem is largely numbers. what I fantasize is ultra low population with an enlightened predisposition and tech. In the long run it has to be possible? If the population is low but still empowered by a high level of technology then it is my belief that we can escape the tyranny of Macro scale events dictating our future and the much sought world of choice and personnel responsibility can become a closer or more realised reality. I also believe that we will have to accept the things we can not change so easily about ourselves through a greater understanding of our behavioral biology.

How such a society would be orgainised is hard to be convincing about. I am just expressing a want more than some insight. If I could bottle it I would sell it.

This utopian world seems a long long long long way away

Back to the now I am not accepting of this mass dieoff is near thing. The issue for us is how we get the population to fall off without some horrendous calamity. I willing to concede this maybe a foolhardy notion for many reasons.

Perhaps all of it is a delusion. Both the good and the bad. Perhaps we are just on the verge of nothing much in particular and the world will plateau out at 9-11billion and just fumble along in a uninspiring and tedious fashion for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years? And the big change in the way we are is not on the horizon and our times are not the massive human epic so many of us seem to desire and all of that is for future generations.

I am not accepting of this mass dieoff is near thing. The issue for us is how we get the population to fall off without some horrendous calamity. I willing to concede this maybe a foolhardy notion for many reasons.

Perhaps all of it is a delusion. Both the good and the bad. Perhaps we are just on the verge of nothing much in particular and the world will plateau out at 9-11billion and just fumble along in a uninspiring and tedious fashion for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years?

IMO no chance of this. Guy McPherson and the NTE folks may be on the extreme, but I think a look at the evidence shows their position more likely than 10 billion being possible for hundreds/thousands of years, or even manifesting at all. The oceans are already being destroyed. The large fish that we eat are already 50-90% gone, and will be toast in 30 years. Acidification is wrecking the basis of the foodchain already. We are looking at oceans of slime & jellyfish. Yum. I doubt it, but perhaps we could withstand the loss of ocean protein if we had healthy land-based ag to turn to. We do not. What we do have are rapidly depleting aquifers, soil salinization, topsoil that has been depleted from meters to centimeters in our couple brief centuries of intensive use, a catastrophic ramping up of severe droughts/floods/heat waves that will make growing food much more difficult. Already, global grain production struggles to keep up with demand this past decade or so, and that's with only 6-7 billion to feed. Sure, drop meat eating and we can stretch that much further. But we're moving in the other direction. And by the time we figure these things out and begin to move in meaningful ways to mitigate/adapt, we will have 8+ billion and the rug will have been pulled out from under us. And I've only listed a few of the gargantuan predicaments that face us in terms of feeding our billions.

What scares the poop out of me is what the religious fundamentalists will do when it becomes obvious to all but the most delusional that we are circling the drain. I wonder what the rapture ready set will do when they are not lifted up into heaven?

I agree with clifman's views of the state of the world and the likely future for all. In addition to the very sobering facts of climate change consequences, destruction of natural resources, pollutant levels that have overwhelmed natural systems,and very high and rapidly increasing population numbers (even compared to 1926), our food production and transport systems are heavily petroleum based. This wasn't true in 1926. I can't remember the figures, maybe someone can help me out here, but it seems that the great majority of the calories that we humans consume these days is based on petroleum products. The implication is that as petroleum production shrinks, so will the amount of food grown, harvested, and delivered to markets. TOD has shown us many projections of future oil production...

So my outlook for the year 2100 is bleak for Homo so-called sapiens (greatly reduced numbers, vastly changed life styles for all but the poorest of us now) as well as for many other forms of life. Things are changing rapidly; we are already in the time of the sixth great extinction event. It took several million years for life to recover in terms of diversity and numbers after the other extinction events; I see no reason it would not be the same this time.

BTW, has anyone else noticed how many comments do not directly attempt to answer Nate's questions?

Thanks to all at TOD for many hours of enlightening and thought-provoking reading. Special thanks to George M. for the link to your excellent essay. Your blog has been added to my list.

I noticed...
Greenish must have gone on to greener pastures. Figured at least he would take a stab at those questions + they certainly aren't easy, but I can't think of many more important. I guess the fact they arent being answered hints at why theyre important. Clifman and a couple others tried.


Greenish has had some major health problems. He is still giving me some very insightful advice though - but it is a struggle for him to do so.

Best Hopes for His recovery,


Nate's questions are basically unanswerable. Too many imponderables. When will the Alaskan pipeline close or suffer a terrorist attack? When will the US $ and other fiat currencies become worthless? Will new antibiotic resistant infectious diseases arise similar to or worse than HIV/AIDS. Will there be excessive and unwarranted panic if and when someone claims to explode a dirty bomb in NYC or elsewhere. Will Israel be obliterated. Will Kunstler's visions prevail?
"What is the population and energy throughput per capita relative to today?" Caucasian minority in the US. Muslim majority elsewhere
"What is the energy mix? How do we interact with each other and other species?" Hopefully we will still have coal and a few trees. I sometimes wonder if the beef industry in the Midwest will survive?
"How is human society organized in 2100?" Similar to present day Greece only worse.
"What is desirable, or undesirable about where we have arrived in 2100?" Desirable very little. Undesirable Doing without comforts such as warm showers"
"What does the rest of the earth look like? What webs of life predominate? What is the world’s largest animal?
"What are the goals and aspirations of young people? - survival.
What self-aware animals are left besides humans?" Little change. Pet ownership may decrease.
"What will They think about those who lived 100 years earlier? Gods, devils, saints, fools? Will they remember us at all?" The will probably give us little thought. Or reminisce as in Soylent Green
"What part of the bottleneck is behind us, and what is still ahead?" Behind-minimal deprivation. Ahead - far greater deprivation

I was going to do some minor editing but then remembered the spam problem

"If the population is low but still empowered by a high level of technology then it is my belief that we can escape the tyranny of Macro scale events dictating our future..."

Technology lends itself nicely to tyranny, as we've already seen, sometimes in insidious ways. Chomsky and others have warned about the power of mass media, and technology tracks one's every move while we are distracted by the very technology they use to do so; mass hypnosis and subliminal programing included, not so free of charge. Enslaved to energy slave masters we are.

Best hopes for empowerment through simplification.

works both ways. I agree that technology is almost always presented by larger forces to the masses in contrived ways that facilitate the power of those making the narrative

but that is not the technology itself. The form technology takes as it is presented leaves us thinking [or meant to] that is the only form the technology can take. The reason for this is systemic because it links to the development of technology with the need for that development to fit a business model. So now when we are presented with technology we all assume its form as presented is the technology rather than some market bias deployment. I hold there is a capacity in technology to be truly liberating that is time and again untapped because to cut a long story short the smart dudes behind new tech have to sell out to the man.

That is a sociological thing. A organizational thing, A political and ideological thing. Technological development and deployment has become a prisoner of the so called market forces.

The market is so ubiquitous even those amongst us who are not fans cannot see its pervasive effects for what they are and instead see its effects on technological deployment as technology itself...EVEN people like Chomsky don't see this!!!!!!!

I can not stress enough how much I feel this point has deep merit.

Some examples ?


The common example oft touted to support this argument is General electric and nuclear power. The world is awash with stupidly designed 1GW upscaled submarine reactors where the safety record was nigh-on good to the upscaled version which is now clearly rubbish. In essence all these reactors built in the 1970s are a legacy of biz model decisions made by General electric in the 1960's. In the publics eye nuclear power is this 1960's design bourn out of business decisions rather than all the possibilities of nuclear technology. this example is decent enough but is less successful at explaining soviet design decisions.

The more obvious one is the internet and its many applications where large amounts of effort is put into commoditizing activity on it to satisfy the requirement that innovation can create revenue streams. This is stifling the potential of the internet to be truly transforming. You could redesign the monetary system banking..the notion of want money is! The promise of the new age tecno hippie networked global digital village has step by step turned into a very tired business model of content with adverts attached, basically commercial TV on all turned to 5hit.

The promise of the new age tecno hippie networked global digital village has step by step turned into a very tired business model of content with adverts attached, basically commercial TV on all turned to 5hit.

I completely agree with your statement. Yet, I have to ask, "What did you expect?" We are living in an age of greed... in fact one motto of the U of C (Sorry, Nate. Nothing personal.) is, "Greed is good."

I have expounded on this many times through the years, as a repeated rant. Like most rants on TOD and elsewhere, it makes me feel better after I am done, but does absolutely no discernable good. Still, the fact that it is true goes a long way to explaining why things are the way they are, and why the are not apt to change.

Fact: men are greedy. Fact: greed is NOT good. NOt all men, and not all the time; also, not all greed and not all the time. What distorts is the failure of the freshies to take into account the inherently irrational nature of men. We do not make rational decisions. Not in our lives, not in our business, and not in the markets.

Google was once great. Today it 5ucks. Apple was very innovative. Also very greedy. Ditto Microsoft (though less innovative and more opportunistic). And Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., etc., stb.

Yes, creative individuals could redesign the monetary system. Also the electric system; also mass transit, the internet, and the Tax Code. Greedy individuals would stop them.


I think climate change will be the big issue in 2100. Have you seen this article or a summary of it?

I think the world is going to do very little about cutting carbon dioxide emissions resulting in very high temperature peaks resulting in tens of millions of deaths for those living in the tropics and a quite unpleasant climate for those living in the U.S.

Politics is about who gets what. Before 2100 this will become an urgent question as climate-induced natural disasters overwhelm stored supplies and social coping systems.

People will not sit still and accept their fate. They will move, on foot, by bus and truck, in their millions, flooding into the more fertile areas. And this will lead to clashes.

Politicians with the answers will rise to the top. And the answers will include references to ancient enmities. "They did [whatever] to us in the past, therefore they do not deserve to live." To religious and ideological chasms. "They believe [whatever], they are cockroaches/infidels/a threat to our way of life, they do not deserve to live." To past behavior. "Their own fault. They used their resources recklessly and gave no thought for the future. We will not pay for their irresponsibility."

One way or another, the surplus will be culled.

I see a patchwork quilt world of gated communities, refugee camps, local and regional wars, with maybe a few areas like Switzerland managing to live like we do today. A Pareto world, where 20% live the good life and the rest struggle to scrape by.

Will there be a "soft landing" as we depopulate gracefully? It's possible. The ideas and technology are out there. But not, I fear, the willingness to be self-denying for the benefit of the greater good.

I have not read all 37 pages of this thread, But I have given a little thought to what a sustainable civilization (500 year duration) might look like in 2100.

And I made two little movies to explain it.

How Much Degrowth Is Enough?

Intro to the Earth's sustainable population project:

Jack Alpert

Thanks Nate for all the contributions.

Thinking about it for the last 7 - 10 years I tend to imagine a society similar to today's but with more inequality and more technology. A tiny minority with advanced technology and boundless opportunities and luxuries. A small middle class toiling away comfortably (in relative terms) and a vast majority living in a near survival poverty (A lot like third world countries where you find extremely wealthy people gated away from the poor).

Assuming there isn't a phase change or tipping point that halts investment in technology (like some unforseen systemic collapse, a global war or a cultural mindshift against science), I think Biology will show impressive advances (the cost of sequencing DNA is shrinking exponentially, and synthetic biology could be about to explode as printing proteines meets computational genomics). I think this will result in a mixture of disaster and progress. Unforseen viruses, crops, biofuels, organisms, ... who knows, maybe Humans can even be altered to do photosynthesis themselves. If progress continues to accelerate like it does now I would expect modified humans (The minority who can afford it) being healthier, longer living and acquiring new capabilities.

Energywise, I think cheap solar PV reaching 20% - 30% efficiencies could be a game changer. If it trully becomes cheap we could see it included everywhere: pavements, walls, cars, windows, etc. Imagine the side of a bus stop. Such a surface covered with PV and oriented towards the sun could generate now 400W and cost $300. But if costs drop to 10$ and it's twice as efficient, you might ignore orientation and stick the panel there even if it only produces 100W ... who cares at that price? So another factor of 10 or 20 in the price and a doubling in efficiency could really change architecture and energy. I see a good chance of this happening. Of course storage could be the missing link or the black swan that changes it all. Regarding transport I would say more people will be priced out [Making the 1st world resemble the 3rd]. I think all renewables will be pursued aggresively for profit and fusion could be a large disruptor (with unintended consequences like storage of radioactive containment materials, accidents, or excessive abundance of energy).

Year 12,100? Anything goes. Technology could have continued, population brough under control and fusion+fission+renewables feed a world where synthetic biology can create any animal and we can live centuries (Aubrey De Gray style)... or perhaps even upload our intelligence to "the matrix" ... or only hunter gatherers are left in a wasteland and everything in between. Impossible to say.

// I've started theoildrumS for the readers interested in keeping the TOD conversation alive.

Thank you for your excellent efforts over the years, Nate.

Your comments on resources and human behavior have greatly helped to shape my thoughts on the near term future. During the last few years, my outlook has gone from happy ignorance (not really very satisfying after reading the 'limits to growth' in the mid 70s) to despair as the realization that politics and business are completely ill-equipped to deal with anything less than 'healthy' (exponential!) growth and are very good at ignoring bad news, to something like pessimistic optimism.

It would seem that there is going to be a lot of pain as cherished business models fail. This is going to be difficult for all, but particularly those that have not ever thought about the issues of living on a small, round world with dwindling finite resources.

I see the near term future as being characterized by increasingly less subtle and persistent problems that refuse to acquiesce.
Some time ago, I would have expected that an $85B per month debt program like QE3 would set the US economy on fire, but it now only produces moderate life signs.

There are some very worrying clouds on the horizon: Recently, I was listening to an interview with Susan George (Transnational Institute) where she was discussing the illegitimate power of transnational corporations, as well as the interconnections between the world's major companies, mostly financial institutions. She was describing how fragile this arrangement is, and that a failure of one of these corporations any well cause a domino failure of the remainder.
How likely is this as the exponential growth model runs up against fundamental limits?

I often describe farming production as having been dialled to '11', which is clearly unsustainable. Agribusiness is highly dependent of fertilizer and fuel inputs, which are fast approaching peak supply and exhaustion. Peak phosphorus is likely to be 2030 and this will produce a very significant reduction in food production.

It is reasonable that hunger and strife will take its toll on the human population, particularly in the poorer parts of the world. Is it possible that all large African animals will be eaten during the course of the famines in a series of events reminiscent of Easter island?

It is clear that the human population will have to decrease to a sustainable level. I feel that the UN population projections are far too conservative and the population could reduce more dramatically towards the one or two billion that are likely to be sustainable. Particularly as storm events become more severe, affecting the remaining agriculture.

Children born today will live in interesting times!

Thanks Nate.

For quite a while, PO talk would veer to the narrative. We've always been story tellers, and it is often the best way to get a point across. The lament I heard back then was we needed a paperback bestseller, maybe several, to get the message of PO across. Now the that issue of PO has moved over, it's how do we go from here, and again, searching for a narrative.

"But ah, the stories we could tell" Jimmy Buffet. It's always the stories, bushman or modern man--great photo.

And if it all blows up and goes to Hell...

Much has been said of this Campfire portion of TOD. Both sides. But one I haven't heard mentioned, who pushed and shoved for this forum's creation till he was about banned, was Airedale.

Thanks Airedale.

Airedale, if you are lurking, please know my thoughts are with you!

We don't have to design new societies. There are stable societies that lasted for thousands of years:
- agricultural societies in China, Korea and Japan
- peasant societies on the Nile
- the tribes of Africa

F.H. King documented the first in Farmers of Forty Centuries, Or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan.

We have hieroglyphic records that show the fellahin lived in much the same fashion from 3,000 BC to nearly the present day.

The early explorers discovered an unspoiled Africa that was teeming with game.

I'm not sure what happened in the East. The Aswan High Dam and population pressure is finishing the Nile people. And African game has succumbed to private property, fencing, and the AK-47.

The title of Nate's thinkpiece is "Towards Homo Sapiens" - implying we are not there yet. I think we were there, but something happened. Some mutation produced Homo Titanicus which dominated the earth for a while. Homo sapiens will arise again from the survivors in the lifeboats.

No human population has ever lived under a dome.
Absolutely required in one location or another was melting snow, flowing rivers, migrating fauna, changing seasons, reliable tides and sea levels and trade. It was that or rely on growth and eventually resource depletion and ecological destruction which locally occurred 99% of the time. There is no more local left. What human has ever left the Earth in a better state than he/she came into it. Its been take, take, take until the Earth can give no more.

Human occupation of Earth was a one shot gift. Habitability is way, way past middle age, we maybe have 400 million years left for anything more than microbes and bacteria to proliferate.
The sun is brightening, the moon is departing and the days are getting longer.

The first item you posted was in 2006:

The last was yesterday (so far)

Your last Campfire was "If I was a billionaire" in November 2010.

From me to you, a heartfelt, "Thank you!" for all of the time, energy (curious pun here), and caring you have taken, used and shown over the many years you have been participating. I have enjoyed all of your musings; not sure that I didn't express disagreement from time to time, but that would have been rare.

Good job.

Have missed the Campfires!!!


Thanks, Nate, for bringing the Campfire back one more time. As a non-technical type, this was always my favorite part of the Oil Drum. Your chosen illustrations for this post say it all. Things are going to be getting pretty primitive, by and by.

This really is a hard topic to answer given the level of uncertainty we have. I guess you could as easily conclude that humanity would be thriving as much as you could conclude the end of our industrial/technological civilisation.

Well I guess I didn't write clearly enough. I was trying to take all the constraints that we see out of the picture, and say, in some date well into the future what COULD a sustainable human society look like - what would work -irrespective of what led up to it - clearly we are using fossil carbon as a turbo charger and their benefits will gradually go away. My larger point is that no one is thinking about questions like this because they are too focused on next 20-30 years (or less). But decisions we make now are impacting 100,1000, 10000 years from now in large ways..

Technically, such a society would be very easy to devise, with a variety of flavors to pick from.

Socially and politically - THAT is a hard one to devise !


Socially and politically - THAT is a hard one to devise

The devise aspect seems relatively straight forward, how to implement this into the mass mindset at this point appears be extremely challenging in that it is hard to even fathom a promising path to get there.

When the Landowners in Scotland introduced sheep onto their land, they found they could maintain their lifestyle without the Crofters. So they cleared their land of the troublesome Crofters in the Highland Clearances and created a wave of emigration across the globe.

With technology advancing at the speed of Moore's Law and the rapid automation of production a similar dynamic is being set up. The modern equivalent of the aristocratic landowners need less people and by depriving those people of resources they can maintain and even enhance their own lifestyle. But this time its global and there's isn't any grand empty spaces for people to emigrate to.

This going to greatly affect the future as you're going to have to separate humanoid groups following different trajectories. One in a highly centralised hi-tech core that is shrinking and one in a expanding decentralised mixed-tech periphery. The interaction between these two groups will become highly complex and in ways that cannot be foreseen.


Thanks, Nate.


I'm starting a new thread because the earlier comments involving ethics are now intermingled with so many others that following them them is a pain.

I hope to comment later tonight on some technical aspects of life as i imagine it will be lived in 2100.

I'm pasting in my comment. The title means nothing, it's just the file name I used to save it.

I agree with Twain; ethics are a matter of principle, at times when one is prosperous enough to afford principles.

At other times, ethics can be described as `"rules composed by people in power who are hopeful those less successful than themselves will play in a game rigged against them".
I don't embrace this cynic's position, but I can't easily refute it.

I think of myself as a conservative, but I'm more of a populist and realist.

Keep in mind the saying that if you aren't a liberal when you are young, you have no heart; and that if you aren't a conservative when you are old, you have no brain.

Todays real conservatives are truly yesterday's liberals.I know. I was young once myself, as strange as that seems to me today.

I have numerous relatives who are dependent on govt handouts, mostly old folks on social security and medicare, one nephew on disability due to an auto accident. Life would be very hard for me, looking after my ancient father, if it weren't for his ss check, and my own, even though we own a nice little farm with all the usual modern day equipment ,and a nice house, all long since paid for.

At my age, given the current economic situation,I doubt I could earn enough money to support us and look after him too.

My family is mostly hard core Baptist,although I am a closet atheist, and we look after our own. My mother lived at home, bedridden for her last whole decade, with not a single day away in a nursing home. My father will never have to live in a nursing home unless I am unable to care for him.

I have many acquaintances of all political stripes who have happily shuffled their older relatives off to die heartbroken of loneliness among strangers in a strange place. I'm careful not to talk to them about such subjects as ethics, because I have a big mouth and am too apt to tell them what I actually think of them.

I would be living a harder and shorter life without the benefit of the group ethic as manifested in these govt entitlements.

Now as to the ethics of the next century- they aren't going to be a whole lot different from the ethics we practice today.

Government may shrink in some cases down to the size of individual families and bands.

Ethics may seem to fall to the wayside as the size of the survival problem grows, but the core principle involved will endure so long as we endure, because ethics are no more- but no less!!! - than a special facet of evolutionary psychology.

There seems to be a good bit of evidence emerging for the existence of what we might call universal human ethics, or maybe even universal ethics.
Our ape cousins unquestionably display behaviors best explained as ethical, and other species from dogs to dolphins seem to have evolved at least the beginnings of ethical behaviors.

As I see it, while the evolved human ethic is universal, it is also highly flexible in practice. An inflexible ethics system would be of no more use to us than a simple blind instinct, such as the tendency to freeze for a moment when we hear a strange unexpected noise; this is too say, it would likely be of some help, but it would also likely result in a lot of undesirable behaviors too, in terms of survival.

Here's a very short story I once wrote "upon a midnight dreary… weak and weary" when I grew particularly disillusioned with my species as the result of pondering many a volume of history, philosophy, and scientific lore.

Writing it helped me reconcile the religious ethics imprinted on me as a small child (love thy neighbor, except when God wants you to stone him , or worse) with an understanding of our true origins and nature, and our evolved universal human ethic.

I am afraid this story will prove to be all indicative of what most of the human race will experience within the next century, given the high likelihood that overshoot is going to be in full flower well before 2100.Of course some lucky people in the right places may escape the worst of overshoot and collapse.

If this little story resonates, I may try to write one about survivors in a more inviting environment, and post it before comments close.

I have never titled this story.It's from memory.

Jonesey moved from group to group doing all he could to encourage and comfort his little band, helping here to bandage a bleeding foot, there to repair a a split boot with a length of leather string cut from the small roll in his ever shrinking pack, making sure every body had water at least. In the beginning ,everybody had had enough food,if barely so on short rations, to make their escape. Jonesey still had food but he would not eat tonight.The smaller children would eat at least a little.He would see to it.....The adults who had nothing left would do without.

They would be running at again at daylight. The semi domesticated wolves hunting them could see quite well in the dark, and track even better, due to the night moisture on the rocky ground and sparse grass. Night travel was no good anyway, they were too tired.Daylight travel would be faster after a nights rest.

He gave a little boy his last piece of dried fruit .His mother's eyes telegraphed a heady mix of gratitude ,invitation, hope, and fear.Her man had not returned after two days away on a foraging expedition .His own woman had died during the raids.They both knew her man would not be back. She was still young and attractive despite the filth of hard travel , and he knew her as a highly skilled and energetic worker.He smiled in return.

They were within a day's travel of the river that promised temporary safety. The land on the other side was under the control of a lord to whom Jonesy was distantly related, and Jonesey knew one of the lord's captains personally. They would be accepted as members of the lord's tribe…..

But they weren't going to make it- they were still a mile short of the safety of the water when Jonesey heard the baying of a pack hot on their trail.Once in the water, they would be safe from the wolves, which would have to swim, while the men could stand.Every man was armed with a spear and a club made from steel salvaged from "cars" left from the Magic Times.The spear blades had been ground to a near razor edger on stones after many days of patient labor. A wolf in water waist deep to a man can cannot run, nor leap, nor twist and turn sharply .Any wolf that got within reach of a man so armed and placed would itself be eaten within the hour.Nor was it unreasonable to hope for assistance at the river, for the lord of the lands on the other side would have watchmen and patrols out.

The wolves were too close, and the weakest of of his people were falling father and farther behind. To halt was to die.The wolves would surround them and hold them for the Huns- so named by his people for a legendary race of vicious warriors from the dim past .The Huns would take a few of the youngest women for slaves, and torture the rest of the band before feeding them to the wolves.He could not march his band once the wolves caught up- they would pick his people off one after another.

He dropped his pack, and taking only his spear, trotted back to the old woman farthest back. She knew it was to impossible to carry her. He embraced her and whispered in her ear that he loved her, and they would all be together again, as Jesus promised, on the Other Side.She turned and kneeled, and crossed herself. Jonesey struck off his mother's head with a powerful sideways swipe of the swordlike blade of his spear.

The famished wolves stopped to feed.

He found solace in the arms of his new wife, and in the antics of his newly adopted son, but it was a very long time before he was heard to laugh again.

I love stories. Very lyrical. Thank you.

Just a personal story.

Last January 16th, my then 85 year old father in father broke his arm, just below the shoulder on ice going out to get the paper. I was on a 7:15 AM flight the next morning.

My father credits me with saving his life (lung infection that I chased him to keep walking to prevent pneumonia and weeping edema that could have become infected). My brothers and sister have given me 19 days off since then. I rarely slept for more than 3 hours for the first month or two.

Despite disliking my life here in a small Kentucky town (20,000) on the 40 acres he has not sold off for development (you would love it old farmer mac). I have gone well past my point of "I can't stand it" to the end of his successful physical therapy Sept. 6th. He would not have worked so hard, or so successfully, if I had not been there during the daily home sessions. I fly out to a Climate Conference in DC Sept. 9th (I was accepted for a paper, but could not write it due to caring for my father) and then home Sept. 14th.

He has become quite spoiled & demanding. Earlier, he had hired a women to cook two meals and clean the house for him before the accident. With her help, I found a disabled nurse, her daughter and daughter-in-law to help care for my father in his home when I leave. About 8 to 10 hours/day (vs. my 22 to 24 hours/day). My brother has offered a place in his home in Phoenix - and hiring an agency to look after him in the home. Finances are not an issue.

My father wants me to stay - but it is destroying my life and I simply cannot stand it. My health, physical & mental, is deteriorating. His lack of regard and respect for me is getting hard to take. Success is measured in money and conventional measures of prestige - which I simply do not pursue.

He has zero interest in what I do (Yesterday I sent out a detailed plan for California utilities to access West Texas wind by electrifying BNSF and connecting to Tres Amigas to a PG&E middle manager). Copies available upon request. I did not bother to tell him - it hurts too much when he dismisses it.

I will likely come back for a couple of months this winter, in case he gets iced in.

By your standards, am I right in leaving ?


You've done a highly commendable job of doing your part Alan.

It is very fortunate you that you( and / or your father and others in the family) have enough money to hire some help.

By my standards, your brothers and sisters are not by any means doing their part.

As I see it, one of two scenarios prevail; either they are well enough off that they don't have to work, and don't, or they could use some vacation time and family leave time as mandated for by law .
I'm presuming you have three siblings who could help.

As I see it, each one of the three could afford to spend a week or two with their father at least occasionally.

So long as your father remains of sound mind- this is to say, he knows what is going on, recognizes his old acquaintances, knows he hasn't been ABANDONED to rot by his children,etc- these conditions prevailing, it is perfectly within reason for you to take your leave.

He would be quite a bit better off than millions of other old people if you spent a week every other month with him and your siblings would do likewise, and had a live in aid the rest of the time, or an aide to come by daily.A little money works miracles sometimes.

You could probably manage a week every two months without overly disrupting your own life.

It's isolation and lack of human interaction that kills old people left alone- In my opinion, it is not that far from solitary confinement which is well known to drive people insane.

It's not very much better for a person with mental issues in a nursing home, because there is a constant flow of strange people and the staff is invariably over worked underpaid and generally, suffering from burnout.

The defacto torture starts when the patient / family member begins to lose his anchors to reality.

Younger people with normal mental function are able to fill in the gaps that open in their lives with new activities and new relationships.
Once mental decline sets in, this becomes difficult to impossible, and once dementia of s almost any sort occurs, then something really bad often happens.

The individual loses his ability to become accustomed to an alarming or scary condition or circumstance .

You and I may worry about for instance our finances.
but we are able to push such a worry into the background and deal with.

A person suffering mentally may experience worry about money as a constant terror of literally starving to death.
remember your first roller coaster ride, and the thrill/ terror of the big drop?

After a few rides, it's just fun, you aren't scare d anymore.
But if you are demented, the terror may be constant, like a physical pain.

If your father is still of sound mind, he will know you are not abandoning him and that you will be back for visits occasionally.

Thank you, especially for your insights into dementia.

My father has occasional lapses in memory, which he recognizes and is dismayed by, but his ability to reason is intact - if less flexible.

He is convincing himself, with a bit of play acting, that he is more disabled than he is. He wants sympathy, and for me to stay, and to be cared for, literally hand & foot. It takes two or three minutes to get him set up comfortably after he goes to the bathroom. He rarely recognizes the sacrifices I make.

When I leave he will go from someone there 22 to 24 hours/day to his two meals/day (as before) and 8 to 10 hours/day with the nurse or her daughter/daughter-in-law. I am not leaving him in a hell hole. He is in his home, as he wishes.

Finances are not a problem (Thank God) and yes, I have two brothers and one sister. One brother is a high end patent attorney, leaving AMD & IBM to start his own practice. He tried to do some work while giving me some days off, and could get nothing done. The other is a professor of accounting and visits for a few days between semesters. Both have college age children. They call as well. I have written off my sister.

One brother is coming for a few days at the end of September. Beyond that, I do not know. My efforts have allowed my two brothers to do less, and they appreciate it (As a token, they bought me an iPhone 5 and will pay my phone bills indefinitely, even after I leave).

Flying is not so cheap for me, so I anticipate staying two months in the winter and perhaps a summer month.

Best Hopes :-)


another thing-I have some professional training in this area.
We all have to know and accept our own limits, economic, physical, mental, emotional.
In the end this is better for every body, patient and caregiver alike.

Have courage. I have one surviving, elderly parent who has little interest in me except as a helpmate, and I've been living with her for three years. I despair too. I'm lucky I have a sibling who is moving here soon from another state, which will allow me either the freedom to go or to have a partner in crime. I don't think we're required to take care of our parents if it means sacrificing our well-being to do so, so I don't think you're wrong for needing a break.

Send me an eMail if you would like. I would like to keep in touch :-)

Best Hopes,


Dear Kate and Alan,

Thanks for sharing. Words seem trite when I think of what your day-to-day realities are like (and you describe them well) - still...sending tons of empathy and support.

Also, I hope I can offer a suggestion without taking away from validation and empathy. I'd like to offer this, because I've seen it work - not that it necessarily will. Just that the dynamics can change, much for the better. It's a little hard to describe. Also, esp. when it comes to one's parents - they set the initial tone and there's a long history.

That said: the outline of what I'd like to share is set out in these links, and if you email - I can give you some very specific scenarios ("scripts") which would consist of my trying to apply this to your situation (model examples), w. your help. :)

It's about mirroring the emotions of the dependent person, empathizing w. those - and talking about your own. The sense of connection is what's hard to convey. Anyhow...before I say are the links:, and Lots of free stuff available on all these sites. I also really like - for practical articles that appear from time to time.

Also, Alan (again - suggestions may be the last thing you want) - I'm curious and wonder about the college-age people. Can they visit? Might be a good "internship" experience. :)
And...along these lines, I'm also a fan of interviews. They can be amazing - for the unexpected (and positive).

Thank you, Aniya, for your kind thoughts and the links.

I answered Aniya directly, I did not ignore her helpful offer.

And the grandchildren have been raised in the mdoern American way. "Family" appears to be the nuclear family and no more. I had hoped one would come up for the summer, even to visit, but it did not happen. Summer jobs or summer school. They do make a traditional visit @ Christmas & New Years.

Contributing to the larger family, rather than taking, appears to outside the norm (and their parents do not raise the issue/possibility). Alan is doing it - they have lives to lead.

Best Hopes ?


Alan, thanks for your gritty honesty. I have a 85 year old mother who is also very demanding.

>> His lack of regard and respect for me is getting hard to take. Success is measured in money and conventional measures of prestige - which I simply do not pursue. <<

He probably won't change.

Maybe you can say "I love you and the answer is no" - a phrase I learned from Byron Katie. I recommend her books 'Loving What Is' and 'I need your love - is that true?'

Best hope for sanity with parents :)


"I love you and the answer is no," is a fabulous line and one I wished I'd learned 30 years ago. Still time to try it out on my youngest kids at 19 and 21, and even for my mother as well.

I admire Alan for his total commitment. I have to earn a living and so must spend 40 or more hours freelancing a week, and so very frustrating when you have a slightly addled elder saying you never do anything (frustrating too because I have so many interruptions because of the things I do for her around the house.) And I'm sure she would miss all those nothings I do day to day if I left.

People are born with some level of etichs. Canibalism is one of those things people don't want to do. Every culture have ideas against murder and stealing. Etc.

I don’t think anyone with any kind of conscience would deny assistance to those who are disabled through no fault of their own or deserve care in the last years of their lives. Moreover, Social Security is not an entitlement (this term burns me up!); it is the benefit of an INSURANCE program. The problem is that a culture of dependency has developed in which a rising number of recipients of these insurance programs abuse them. Much of this rise is caused by the rise of law firms which specialize in the abusing the inadequacies of the disability hearing process against determined legal representation (One of my specialties in law school was social security/disability law, although I never practiced except in the law school clinic). Here is an example close to me. My neighbor and his significant other have been on disability for 20 years. 5 of their 6 children, all in their twenties, are one social security disability. Of these children, all except one has contributed little to society, and all, except one, have lengthy felony records. So what are the odds all of these people have legitimate disabilities? My neighbor admitted he got disability on advice from an attorney. The success rate on appeal for disability with legal representation is quite high with legal representation, a fact in which the firm of Bender and Bender has become quite rich.
What I believe has happened is the ethos of being a contributor to society has deteriorated, and “gaming the system” is more commonplace. It has permeated all classes, from the rent seeking one percenter, to lower classes forced to choose between a low paying job, and getting a government benefit at 90% of their potential earnings at a Mcjob. I’m guessing this is an inevitable evolution, as systems have become increasingly complex, the rules known, and impossible to police. It has become too large to manage.

You are truly a treasure, OldFarmerMac. I hope to continue to connect with you in other forums.

Keep in mind the saying that if you aren't a liberal when you are young, you have no heart; and that if you aren't a conservative when you are old, you have no brain.

Keep in mind that this is normally promulgated by conservatives. Yes, I understand your version of 'conservative', so I would adjust it as;

If you aren't at least moderately liberal when you are young, your compassion is suspect; if you aren't at least moderately conservative by age 35, your fiscal sense is suspect. And if you aren't an independent by age 45, your ability to think for yourself is highly suspect.

I grew up in the 1960's when despite the Cold War we were so optimistic that technology would continue to develop solutions to our problems. What did we think would save us? Easy, I called it "the GE solution". General Electric and other big tech companies were promising (a)nuclear fusion (b)space travel and the rest would be handled by big pharma in the form of good worldwide birth control. It will probably go that way but I will not live long enough to see it. I go to church since my stroke, and realize how alluring the "end of the world" stories are to the religious and secular alike. No one likes to know that the world may go on without us, that we are not needed, that it will end for us not with a bang, but with a whimper. The odds are we will die in bed alone and the world will go on.

I think we burned our chances. We could have gone to space and all that if we had choised to use the resources llike that. Instead we opted for a consumer party that lasted a lifetime. Then the stuff run out. We are not going to space.

The old posters are coming out of the woodwork. Nice to hear from you Roger, but why so short?

When asked why the members of the Algonquin Round Table decided to call it quits, Harpo Marx, an occasional member, was quoted thus: "I guess we realized we didn't have anything left to say." As I enter my later life and have illnesses to wrestle with I find less and less to say. No one is listening anyway, so no one is deprived. Hope. That is what I wish for everyone. With it, you can do anything with nothing. Without it, you can do nothing with everything. Best wishes and hope to you. :-)

"Hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless" - Derrick Jensen

I would instead wish everyone agency. Of course wishing falls into the same category as hoping.

For a thorough take on this subject by a real anthropologist, go to and check out "The Laws of Physics Are On My Side" by Walter Haugen (that's me, BTW). The book is about culture and energy. The main thesis is that culture has served us well over the last two million years, but over the last 150 years we have been replacing culture with cheap oil energy. Now, since energy is not so cheap we have to either go backwards or go forward. We cannot go backwards since evolution doesn't go backwards. In order to go forward we have to give up on nation states. This is heresy for most progressives - hence the proliferation of fuzzy-wuzzy schemes to save civilization, greenwashing, and despair.

One-third of the book is analysis and two-thirds of the book is solutions. This is the proper ratio for our postmodern world. You can read all kinds of articles and books on how bad things are. We know that it's bad. The question is: "What are you going to do about it?"

Year 2100.
World Population 500 milion-1.0 billion. Still reducing.

Demographic projection made before 2020 were totally wrong not only because they predicted a stabilization
of Homo sapiens (Hs) population around 9-10 billions, but because they predicted a strong increase
of natality rate in case of collapse of population due to mortality. A new phenomenon started
by mid XXI century, was called Hs collective depression or Hs Lemming syndrome. Nobody was
willing to have children any more, and those who wanted, found it difficult for biological reasons that
were impossible to investigate (Scientific Research as it was known till the first half of XXI cent. was
over) but probably linked to environmental degradation of human habitats.

Climate change effects. Most of the equatorial and tropical ecosystems are virtually a desert.
The first six report of IPCC resulted to be conservative about the possibility to go beyond a tilting point
in the CG process. The 400 ppm limit of CO2 was largely overtaken, although nobody knows how much
due to the failure and dismission of the network of climate parameters mesurements: meteo station
satellites etc.
1/3 of fertile soil was totally lost by erosion and desertification, another third strongly reduced its productivity.

Population is concentrated in periartic areas: former Canada, Scandinavia, Russia southern Argentina.
Wild macrofauna is virtually extinct, globally, both on land and seas. Protein diet for humans is provided by
residual insects and marine organisms, Chicken and rats. Bovine, pigs and ovine are very rare and
available only for the political and military elites.

Tropical, subtropical and temperate forests have been cut to provide fuel and land for the populations
struggling for survival.
A severe crisis in the plant life was also determined by the severe reduction of pollinating organisms.

Cities were abandoned everywhere and are presently mined for materials and metals.
Residual industrial activities and urbanization are surviving in the populated areas where authoritarian regimes
migled with mafia organizations regulate what can be defined as a feudal-war economy.
National languages still survive in self segregated communities often fighting each others for
political dominance and resources. International languages are english, cinese, arabic and spanish.

Electrical power is still produced for industrial and
food production purposes using residual fossil fuels that can be easily extracted and simple renewable plants mostly
mini hydro, some fotovoltaic, and new technologies developed during the crisis.
Wind farms and many other high tech plants have been abandoned due to the growing difficulties in servicing them.

Sometime across the half of the XXI Cent. there have been a sequence of regional wars in which
nuclear weapons were used. The radioactive contamination due to these events and to
a number of nuclear power plants accidents happened in the phase of the failure of regional electrical networks
is a sizeable cause of human mortality and reduced fertility and of environmental degradation.

A series of major airborne lethal epidemics killed 30% of global population in 20 years across the mid of the century.

Signs of recovery of ecosystems could be observed (if someone was there) in the vast areas abandoned by Hs. Although
the CG ha severely changed the ecological condition in those areas, life is not completely extinct
and is restoring a network of viable ecological interactions among existing populations. In these
areas almost all the phila of animals and plants are still represented, though by a limited number
of species.

I can't be more optimistic than this as far as year 2100 is concerned.
Ah yes, the italian Berlusconi vs anti-Berlusconi saga came to and end well before 2025 and
is presently totally forgotten within the tiny Italian refugees communities scattered in the north. :-)

You should read John Michael Greer's "Star's Reach". Not too dissimilar at some date after 2400.

My fan fiction is in the saem world, but the only nation state to consistently make rational decisions.


nice touch

A new phenomenon started
by mid XXI century, was called Hs collective depression or Hs Lemming syndrome

There were some small labs still able to do more than basic blood work. Full DNA workup capability had been lost as the airborne epidemics especially hammered those who spent most of their lives breathing air circulated by large central air handling systems--the professional classes were decimated first. There was evidence of strong correlation between Hs Lemming depression and unfamiliar bacteria types that appeared to be colonizing the human microbiome, but those bacteria did not culture well in what labs were left and communication between the scattered facilities was spotty at best.

I'll give your full scenario a probability of 1.5%--slightly higher than the think tanks currently rate the likelihood of regional nuclear wars.

Scifi is fun to write even when--maybe even especially when--it is about extermination of most of what we now find familiar on this planet. That is the real thing to look at here. Why do we find the creation of such stories so engaging--what does that tell us about our deep down makeup?

I have many dark visions, but in this post I will try to open up to possibility.

It is 2100 and

I see a school of wondering monks who teach the principals of permaculture, recovery, and renewal to those living in barren and degraded landscapes. New forest gardens stabilize the soils and catch the water. New belts of terracing create more arable land. Hill foot forests and swales trap all falling water and help it percolate into the ground. The monks carry seed from village to village, town to town. Carefully saved, and preserved, thousands of years of human nurture, these seeds provide food, medicine, timber, containers, shelter, and more.

I see young men flocking to be part of huge missionary expeditions to restore degraded spaces. Young labor that was once thrown away in ritual warfare is turned into a vast pay-forward system from repaired lands to damaged ones. The young learn social, organizational, and engineering skills. Villages and towns build and decorate elaborate painted wagons that form the tiny houses that sustain the young men during their adventures. There is great pride in the outfitting and the supplying of surplus as it is a mark of having husbanded the land that it is capable of surplus.

Another school of wandering monks combines the teachings of western science and eastern meditation. They teach observation and truth seeking. Communication and reconciliation. The art of non-violent communication. Spiritual healing from violence. Techniques to create novelty in sameness and adventure in less changing and sustainable world.

Young women flock to nunneries where they learn mathematics, accounting, healing, nutrition, permaculture, and management skills. Having naturally longer viewpoints, women are much prized by society for a natural intuition for sustainable action. They polish a natural bias for social capital with skills and training and form the future leadership.

The nunneries build and maintain calculating machines for "seeing the future". They house libraries. They preserve the printing press and give out copies of important work. When a new landscape is restored, they gift on a new press and carefully carved copies of vital and preserved knowledge to a new temple and nunnery. The alphabet, being a key piece of new knowledge, spreads world wide, allowing simple and rapid printing of many texts.

Free Glaziers travel from village to village. They travel with a set of hand polished mirrors and mirror molds in a wagon. They setup in town and build a solar furnace. Here the Free Glazier uses the mirror molds to create a new set of solar furnace mirrors. Then they begin to turn out glass for windows, solar water collectors, tile roofing, bowls, ceramic knives, scalpels, and other high temperature goods. They churn out Portland cement and plaster of Paris. They cook brick. After training up an apprentice over several years, they pack up their mirrors and molds and move onto another village. A auto catalytic solar industrial revolution based on sun, sand, chemistry, and geometry.

On market days everyone gathers for trading, gossiping, music and dance. Most everyone can play some music. Everyone can sing. Public dance happens often in the communally built village or guild halls. The beer is excellent. Plays abound. Pageants and parades. Mock battles. They tell the stories of how the land must be treated to keep the people well. Festivals and festivities mark the changes of the seasons. Bright ribbons, bells, and bangles.

Permaculture. Permanent Culture.

While there are any number of possible scenarios set one hundred years after an energy resource peaking context, let's examine the drivers of "Post Modern" civilization;

1. Food sources: With few fossil energy slaves, the vast bulk of the remaining population will return to an agrarian 'lifestyle'. Large corporate agricorps will have long since collapsed, and knowledge of effective organic techniques will be lost for the most part, resulting in dramatically lower yields and a dramatically lower population. Open pollinated seeds will be hard to come by. Wildlife populations will have been over-hunted and unavailable for the most part. Ocean acidification may be at the point where little seafood is available to the human population beyond the coast. Inland waters may be populated for the most part with carp and snakehead.

2. Water sources: There will be no municipal water for drinking, irrigation, washing, etc, beyond the type available several hundred years ago. Climate change will significantly change precipitation patterns, in many cases in a more erratic nature.

3. Weapons: Mostly bows and arrows, spears, and similar rudimentary armaments, though shields, pole weapons, catapults, and the like will begin to re-emerge. Firearms will be predominantly unworkable, but revered as the artifacts of the "Ancients".

4. Government: Act III will have witnessed much misguided finger pointing, blame of the innocent, and mob hysteria, with nation states failing and replaced by a wide variety of feudal states.

5. Knowledge: Since most knowledge resources of today are becoming more and more online, books that could last one hundred years without good shelter and environment conditioning will become increasingly rare. Printing presses will likely resurface, but may be focused primarily on the propaganda of the local feudal lords and\or religious leaders.

There will be some sort of transition into another Dark Ages, with a likely transition back into a Middle Ages, with hopefully a return to the Enlightenment.

I'm reminded ironically of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy, where the Foundation is established to record knowledge before the collapse of the Empire. Who is the Hari Seldon of our time?

We are squandering our energy inheritance on whimsy and panache, and the time will come when we are turned out into the street to fend for ourselves in a remarkably different manner.

There will be no Dr. Who to rescue us from ourselves, but then again, perhaps a return to a simpler life will bring humankind back down to Earth, in more ways than one...


"Much that once was, is lost, for none now live who remember it. History became legend. Legend became myth..." - Galadriel

the only kind of seed available is going to be open pollinated after the collapse of industrially organized seed production.

individual farmers can't produce thier own hybrid seed- this is a job that requires larger scale effort.

Many hybrids will produce weak offspring. Open pollinated seeds that have been maintained over the years by heirloom seed savers will be the only ones that reliably result in sufficient yield and quality. Sorry, I should have been less ambiguous

It's been great reading your comments, OFM, you and I have so much in common. Seriously, let's keep in touch.

THE SERVILE STATE by H. BELLOC, written in 1912.

The first half of this book describes the way things ran in Europe before industrialization and hence, before fossil fuels.

There were very very long time periods in human history when things were quite stable. By the Middle Ages, the means of production (aka ability to make a living) was in the hands of the many. most People owned the house,the farm and tools that they used to make a living. These possessions couldn't be dispossessed easily, but could be kept in the family, passing from one generation to the next. large projects such that a village required, like a granary or mill or saw mill were constructed by a guild or a co-operative corporation. Without the need of a wealthy patron or other profit taker, or bank to furnish the supplies such a venture required, Ownership of the assets was retained by the guild or co-operative. Wealth generated by the asset was shared amongst the users or village that gained in its utility.
This is how the economics of day to day life worked for an average person ie a serf. That average person was more or less free although of course, there was taxes to be paid to the lord and the king.

In history classes, I was taught that the serf was little more than a slave I suspect there was more to it than that and that life was on the whole probably quite livable. I think there are people alive today that may find that out for themselves.
I only hope USB ports still exist and i think they will.

Link to the book text.

The book describes functional economic systems that existed before capitalism took over and I think some or all of these old systems will come back in vogue in those parts of the world that suit them in varying degrees, only with a modern implementations.

Actually some of these systems never went out of fashion, and since humans have not changed very much in the last few thousand years they still work. We do know a lot more than we did and could even make them better. of course by "We" I mean the survivors.

I have been a lurker on TOD since the early days and I must say it's been a pleasure seeing all the old names posting here again. Such a good hangout and rich resource. Such a diverse range of expertise. I tried going back to but I came here for the graphs! I also noticed a certain attitude towards TOD I can't understand that but it's a little hostile somehow. I hope to find the place where the bulk of TOD congregates. Where I can be with people that think, like me. Thank you all the staff and contributors who have numbed the shock of the awful reality of where we are now and pointed the ways we could go from here. I only wish it could've continued.

Good luck everyone.

I'd be sad if we devolved into tribal life and didn't reach state levels again, read Steven A. LeBlanc "Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage" to understand why.

The only way we could avoid returning to variations of the past that can be seen in anthropology and history textbooks would be an educational system that taught ecology (especially systems ecology), critical thinking skills, philosophy of science, evolution, and other enlightenment ideas as Carl Sagan so beautifully expressed in his book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark". In a world where 9 out of 10 are growing food and other basic labor for the elites, this could probably only be made available to a small percentage of the population. Since most people prefer superstition, perhaps this isn't as unfair as it seems. Ideally there would be a system of merit so that even the poor children with great intelligence and curiosity would be given the opportunity to pursue an education.

As far as government goes, Venice had the only "workable" system that comes to mind. I can only describe it poorly in such a short space with memories of a book I read many years ago. The gist is that the wealthy run society -- in the past royalty and wealthy merchants directly, now the wealthy can rule indirectly by hiring lobbyists to change the laws so that their looting of the middle class is "legal", corporations, and campaign financing. The coincidence of such a high level of corruption and resource depletion at the same time is not good for us now, but in the future, this could be prevented by copying Venice's system, where they rotated their rulers through the various governmental bureaucracies so that they understood how their actions in one department affected the others, and -- here's the most important aspect -- if they stole money or were inept, their own wealth was at stake and used to repay or fix matters. I think this came from David Landes "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor".

Other good ideas about how to run a civilization:
Weatherford's "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire" and "Product Details Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World".

I don't have any good answers to these questions. So instead of good, I'll go with long-winded. (I realize I've played a bit fast & loose with the premise here by entangling the scenarios of Act IV with what happens in the early stages of Act III, but that's how I roll).


I think the responses here reflect the fact that these questions are hard to answer.

To me it seems fairly clear that by 2100, many chickens will have come home to roost. Human population will have peaked sometime between now and then between 10 and 20 billion and the roller-coaster ride to <1 billion will be in progress. That twice-chewed soon-to-be world will not be significantly powered by oil; jet contrails will be rare in most places. The climate will be hotter, weather will tend to be screwed up versus what we're used to, monsoons will be dicey, glacial melt and deep aquifers will be petering out. This stuff is baked into the cake.

Saying this stuff would cause some to brand me a "doomer", but I' not sure what would reasonably constitute doominess. There's (a) one's mental model of reality, and (b) whether one chooses to be pessimistic or optimistic, passive or active about it.

One could be entirely oblivious to science, probability, and systems; buy into flagrant economic cornucopianism, and still be pessimistic about the future, assuming that asteroids, nuclear war, bird flu, gamma ray burster, morlock conspiracy or something else will knock us off. And then, based on that, decide to relax into nihilism or become active in exposing the proto-morlocks.

Alternately, one could become knowledgeable about the converging crises we're bringing about, and choose to passively accept a dire future world, or to actively try to affect the course of events.

There are various flavors, permutations, of this. Lately I've seen the rise in popularity of a "near-term extinction" MemePlex. A very smart and well-educated fellow recently presented dire climate information on an internet list I subscribe to. It was excellent & sobering data to consider... but his conclusion was that humans will be extinct in a very few years; he said that he expects the interior of continents to be uninhabitable within five years, and believes his neighborhood will be hot enough to denature proteins within that time.

I worry about this, because while this particular fellow is admirable and sincere, the conclusion (a) does not follow from a reasonable reading of the data, and (b) is nevertheless very seductive to those casting about for beliefs. Inside the human mind, "it's too late" functions in much the same way as "it isn't happening": it allows easy rationalization of doing nothing difficult or unpleasant, a mental "downhill roll" to a stable state.

Now, if the phrase "near term human extinction" comes to refer to whether mankind might be driven extinct by climate in the coming 200-500 years, I think it'd be valid, and would STILL be terrifyingly near-term by any sane criteria. However, that's not quite so nihilicious, because on that sort of time frame there might actually be a chance to alter the outcome if sacrifices are made and heroic effort expended in coming decades.

From where we sit, here in 2013, there are many possible outcomes by 2100 and by 12,100, near enough infinitely many when you get down to fine detail. We can't know how they'll roll out. The nature of sequence and path-dependence in evolving systems, the nature of chaos and complexity, mean that this is hidden from us.

However, there are some things about the future we can know with certainty. If the last dolphin dies in 2087, there will be no dolphins in 12,000 years or 12 million years. If all the coral reefs dissolve in acid, there will be no coral reefs for millions of years, and the web of life which involves them will cease to function. If the rainforests burn, most of the species in them won't be back. If all other self-aware primates die, we'll be the only ones left, forever.

It's easy to mentally conflate all the "bummer" scenarios, as though one version of a diminished earth and impoverished human future is equivalent to another, but that isn't so. There are many degrees and sorts of diminishment, and that diminishment is being locked in NOW, hour by hour.

Moreover, it's easy to focus on the looming human bottleneck event - the population crash - to the exclusion of all else.

However, as bad as it'll be - and our reversion to the planet's lesser carrying capacity will be a new scale of strife, carnage, heroism, and change - it's just a hiccup.

There have been roughly 100 billion human lives lived to date. The real question is, how many will be lived in total? That's what's now at stake, what's now being squandered. We have no mental handle on valuing "lives rendered impossible", "civilizations precluded". The difference between a future which holds 30 billion more humans living in terrible conditions versus 500 billion more humans living more normal lives. And that's a shame, because for humanity, that's the sort of choice we're making now... by not making it.

And this shouldn't be cast just in human terms. But by and large, if you look past the bottleneck, the same things necessary to allow the existence of other large species and habitats will be the things which will give future humans the best world, the best lives, and significant ongoing population levels.

The possible futures are arrayed in front of us. In some of them, the world is terribly hot, the seas are full of slime and bacteria, the background radiation level is high, the largest animal in the world is a sickly cow, hummingbirds only exist in old books, and the prospects for any sort of human civilization surviving are dim. In other futures, the world is hotter but mostly livable, vertebrates still thrive in many seas, large wildlife exists in many places and humans have come to live with some dignity, some laughter and in some numbers in a new balance on the planet earth, and most of the crises from human overshoot and CO2 have passed.

A choice between such divergent outcomes would be the immediate, paramount concern of any sane, sapient species.

(cricket chirps).

There are uncountably many scenarios in between these two. What we do or fail to do now is steering our future between such outcomes, even with nobody at the steering wheel.

We don't know, can't know, just what the relative probabilities are. But we can know many constraints on those probabilities. More CO2 in the air and seas is worse. A world without rainforests, glaciers, and a stable climate is worse. An anoxic, acidic ocean is worse. Etc. Duh.

So here's to Homo sapiens: a damn good idea.

Let's evolve into them while we can.

Thank you
Your response should be required reading for any college freshman. Maybe high school freshman.
What would people willingly sign up for if they understood this backdrop? I wonder..


In a couple of weeks (perhaps sooner) I am going to send you my thoughts for a series of chapters in my 2350+ future @ a "rats & cats" ecology in Tasmania. Plus hunter gatherer humans as the apex predator living off "rats & cats" with a bit of scurvy (rats eat most of the vitamin C sources).

I am going to show that my noble Scandinavians will make a mistake in trying to colonize Tasmania. They simply cannot create large scale agriculture in a rats & cats ecology (humans ate all the dogs and anything bigger than a cat - or very large rat).

I am currently running the thought experiment - and hope to shock the reader - that humans can barely exist in an environment that we are actively creating today.

I am working with one of the few people that could design a program to transform deglaciated Greenland & Antarctica (He designed the first tree planting in Greenland, Asst. Director of Icelandic Forest Service, formerly with Icelandic Soil Conservation).

So humans can design an ecology from scratch that works - but we cannot fix a broken one.

Any thoughts ?


There is an alternative outcome to the future of Homo sapiens: The release of an energy technology beyond oil. What if it's true that advanced energy technology is and has been in use for 40 to 50 years - replicated, reversed UFO technology, but it's being kept hidden by the private contractors that build replicated crafts for the obvious reason that the release of such technology would immediately render investments in fossil fuels rather worthless.

I'd like throw out the question: what would the future for Homo sapiens look like if the world suddenly had access to a non-petroleum based energy source that was cheap and non-polluting and could completely replace fossil fuels and atomic power? How would global politics and social-political systems unravel and change. How would this affect investments, railroads, hedge funds, Middle Eastern and other countries that depend on oil revenues, etc. Who would be the winners and who would be the losers?

Newworld. I think it highly unlikely we are sitting on any UFO technology, but I'd guess more people believe in that than in my statements on evolution/end of growth. In any case, hiding such technology /energy source would run against maximum power principle etc in addition to numerous other implausibilities....

But if we did have too cheap to meter energy, w 7 billion people and economic throughput as our goal we'd blow thru environmental limits faster than a Klingon shoots a phaser. Magic cuts both ways. We used it too fast but we also aren't yet mature enough to wield a new influx of it. Each btu of energy we use draws other natural resources and ecosystem sink capacities...


Problem is: the alternative to what I suggest is what we've got now: a non-sustainable, non-livable future for Homo sapiens. We need to change the coordinates for the future so something new can be born. Humans made a pretty good transition from horses to automobiles -- a mobility option that morphed from 1 horsepower to 500 horsepower in the hands of one individual. HS is a pretty adaptable species. Give us a little more credit.

There are alot of alternatives to what you suggest. And I fully agree that HS is extremely adaptable, which was kind of point of this essay. How exactly will we choose to adapt?

...assuming collective adaptation is, or can be, a choice. The little jury that exists in my society-of-mind is still out on that one. A good argument can be made that our species is, and has been, on auto-pilot, and that pilot is blind to the future.

If we ever make a safe landing into sapience, a lot of luck will be involved, though I agree with greenish; if no one is looking forward, working for a safer landing, the probability of such approaches zero.

The problem seems to be;
1. There are technological means (e.g., wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, etc) to meet energy needs, but as you've pointed out, too many people have far greater wants, especially with regard to high density fluid forms of energy.
2. Since current energy use is valued much more greatly than future energy use, and we are genetically wired to "consume large quantities", a high discount rate guarantees that the wants win out over the needs.
3. Because this will result in an outcome that few desire, angst and grieving are experienced.
4. The 3rd stage of grieving is bargaining, where "INSERT MAGIC BULLET" is raised as a 'solution'.

The interesting thing about this kind of grieving ("What will 2100 look like?")is that we are doing it far in advance of the actual event and with a very fuzzy crystal ball. It is not entirely dissimilar to a Sword of Damocles or seeing a train wreck about to happen in very slow motion.

I highly recommend the website Peak Oil Blues for a treatment of the psychological affects of impending peak oil.

yes -there is a dynamic menage-a-trois between wants, needs and means. If means increase then the 'hive' moves more towards wants, and needs come along for the ride. Once the means eventuallly decline, the receding tide leaves both wants and needs higher than they originally were. Kind of like the high water mark on Lake Mead, but society wide, influencing both institutions and individual brains. (I am aware to most people this will sound like gibberish).

In any case, the 'answer' to the end of growth can only be one thing - cheap abundant energy. But this is not an answer to our overall predicament, and could even make it worse (see above).

I think if 1 person in 10 even wondered about 2100 and what people then might have or experience and also intuited that our aggregate decisions today impact those future unborn in very real ways, well that would be something....

the 'answer' to the end of growth can only be one thing - cheap abundant energy

I'm assuming you mean the orthodox economist's answer (or anyone for that matter who wants magic to sustain BAU). Indeed, there will not be any easy path, even if people were to give up all wants and focused only on needs. 50+% unemployment would likely starve a technological transition to non-fossil energy sources of funds, even at the very modest levels needed fo...

Actually, we might have enough hydro, nuclear, and renewables to cover the needs-only amount, though grid stability would be an issue that would need addressing. Now all we would need to do is convince people that they don't have to live "high on the hog". Of course, even I myself have a greater energy and emissions footprint than I would prefer.

i meant the answer to business as usual, which is synonymous with economic growth, in my view. I agree we would have enough, but no plan to do it, now or in future

Denmark has plans to be fossil fuel free by 2050. Per capita, down -26.5% from 2007 to 2012.

Two weeks ago, the government came up with 72 ideas for 2020 to 2030 and the political parties are sorting through them (not all will be chosen).

Best Hopes for those that Prepare,


Let's all move to Denmark!!

The French are down -14.8% in the same five years, but from a lower base. Their reduction is more difficult since their electrical grid is 75% nuke and 10% hydro. Coal is only 4% to 5% of their total energy. So they are reducing their carbon emissions more in oil & gas consumption.

And more on the way :-)

So some can move to Denmark and others to France !

Best Hopes for Those that Prepare,


1. There are technological means (e.g., wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, etc) to meet energy needs, but...too many people have far greater wants...
2. Since current energy use is valued much more greatly than future energy use, and we are genetically wired to "consume large quantities", a high discount rate guarantees that the wants win out over the needs.

Only if you assume that energy consumed today directly reduces energy available in the future. That is largely true for fossil fuels, as there is a fixed quantity of fuel available, but technologies like wind and solar are quite different, as they lack that fuel constraint.

When you build a solar plant, you've built an energy stream that will continue providing energy for decades. Essentially, it's not possible to consume that energy faster -- each year provides energy based on the amount of sunshine received, so you'll still have much the same level of energy in year 20 as in year 1.

Switching to flow-based technologies -- including solar, wind, and hydro -- offers some amount of buffer against our natural inclination to discount the future.

Switching to flow-based technologies -- including solar, wind, and hydro -- offers some amount of buffer against our natural inclination to discount the future.

nicely put

Pitt, please model the cost for installing wind and solar at the levels needed to meet current BAU, and that means building enough infrastructure to account for low wind and cloudy spells. We don't have the money to do so, so we use cheaper coal and gas to "consume large quantities". I power and heat my house by the sun, so am a renewables advocate, I just don't see it ever happening at BAU levels.

I am with you all the way on this, except I don't see the cost for installing wind & solar at BAU levels as being the impediment. Just consider all the potential investment capital we waste on myriad things such as 'defense', entertainment, professional sports, NASCAR, nail salons and on & on. There's plenty of excess in this society that could be redirected to a renewable energy future. We do have the money. We choose to fritter it away. And yes, that choice is largely made by the media propaganda machine, but that's another discussion. (One which we won't get to have, now that TOD is shutting down...)

The problem is not whether Humans are adaptable, it is that everything else isn’t.

I would posit that a morphing 'from 1 horsepower to 500 horsepower in the hands of one individual' wasn't a 'pretty good transition'. It was a disaster.

IMHO, there is no "sustainable human future". Our brains and their evolved psychology locked that door tens of thousanfds of years ago. The human brain evolved as a limit removal mechanism, and its powers are always applied preferentially to overcoming obstacles to growth. This springs from our nature as living organisms whose primal evolutionary programs are the search for energy, and reproduction. These programs result in growth - in population. consumption, activity levels and cultural structure - whenever growth is possible.

Because our brains are so effective at that task, we have become the planetary apex predator. As such, sustainability is not in our future. Instead, a long period of dynamic, oscillating descent over the next several thousand years is most likely. My money is on a a reversion toward the pre-civilization mean over the next thousand years, as the loss of resources, knowledge and climate conspire to reduce our circumstances.

We will begin this process over the next hundred years, with the slide beginning as early as 2040. We will of course fight like demons to stop the slide (in full agreement with our genetic programming) though we will probably do a lot more damage to the environment in the process. We will likely try with all our might to cling to civilization and rebuild our former glory, resulting in century-long waves of decline and partial recovery. Different physical, environmental and social situations around the world will result in a great diversity of regional outcomes by the year 2100. To put it plainly, a simple "slide to oblivion" is not in the cards for any species that could recover from the giant Toba volcanic eruption in just 75,000 years.

In 12,100? The easy prediction is to look back 12,100 years from here, to 10,000 BC. The problem will be a hot planet rather than an iced-over one, but the consequences will be similar - a patchwork quilt of human bands spread thinly through the shrunken habitable portions of the globe, a world population of around 5 million, living with neolithic technology levels.

Smoke 'em while you got 'em.

The human brain evolved as a limit removal mechanism, and its powers are always applied preferentially to overcoming obstacles to growth. This springs from our nature as living organisms whose primal evolutionary programs are the search for energy, and reproduction. These programs result in growth - in population. consumption, activity levels and cultural structure - whenever growth is possible.

Then why are populations shrinking in the countries with the most access to resources?

Fertility rates in the OECD average 17% below replacement level, with only three tiny countries -- Iceland, Israel, and New Zealand -- above that threshold. Notably, Turkey and Mexico are not among those three, both having reduced fertility from 5-7 children per woman in 1970 to less than 2.1 in 2010.

Real-world data indicates that humans are not blind growth machines, suggesting that arguments based on that assumption are not realistic.

It's one thing to bravely face harsh truths, but it's another thing entirely to stubbornly cling to harsh falsehoods. Believing a story that's wrong but simple makes it much easier to tell yourself you understand the situation, but if you're going to delude yourself, why not a pleasant delusion?

If your goal is not to delude yourself, though, it's important to recognize that the world is much more complicated -- and, based on available evidence, somewhat more optimistic -- than a simple story of blind growth.

The global population growth rate of 1.1% is about 40 times higher than the population growth rate of any previous period in human history that could be called "sustainable" - e.g. during the pre-agricultural paleolithic. The rate is shrinking, though it remains to be seen what factors might cause the TFR reductions you mention to spread across the entire globe.

Perhaps as we have developed machinery that does a better job of maximizing entropy production than human beings do, we feel less pressure to produce people to do the work of machines. We also may have recognized at some level that humans are better suited to being control elements than work units in the techno-industrial cybernetic civilization that we've built, and fewer human units are required in that role. Those factors along with the recognition that childhood mortality has dropped would all serve to take the deep pressure off the reproduction imperative coded into our genetics.

So after thinking about your comment for a bit, I'll say this for now: reproduction may not be quite as inaccessible to collective degrowth decisions as consumption appears to be.

You know I generally agree with the theory that natural organisms and ecosystems self-organize in order to degrade available energy. I think this is a predilection not an identity. Humans too are biological organisms and since about 10-12000 years ago have moved in hive-like fashion with our decisions/actions. The intent of one individual is almost always subsumed by the hive. As such I believe we will continue to access energy until we can't - declining energy productivity (EROI) leads to declining debt productivity (GDP per addl $ of credit) leads to declining central bank productivity (QE) leads to GINI changes (lower classes expand) and eventually orwellian productivity (rule changes, definition changes, etc.) All in order to keep the energy spigot as wide as possible. That much we probably agree on. cannot be 100% determined what will happen. There remain numerous degrees of freedom. For one, your theory if true would have had to hold always, not just now - and we still could develop fusion or some other energy harvesting device (doubtful but possible). Also, there is the fact that our evolution has caused us to be thermodynamic machines but also the fact that we figured this out. Not all of us of course - and the hive will fight tooth and fingernail. But although we are humans first we (alot of us) are scientists second. It is possible that our brains can assimilate and navigate some middle path. By possible I put between 1 and 5%, which is infinitely greater than 0 or 0.01%.

I don't smoke.

Nate, I don't hew to some kind of absolute determinism. But I do strongly suspect a kind of statistical determinism is at work in some important aspects of the human experience like consumption and the elaboration of social structure. That's where the hive behavior seems to come from. As I said above to Pitt, I may be overstating my case in some ways for a variety of reasons.

You might try this thought experiment. Imagine asking a "representative" sample of 100 people not to have any children in order to reduce the load on the planet. Now imagine asking them to take a permanent 75% cut in income to accomplish the same goal. Do you think there might be a difference in the responses? Would that difference point to learning, evolutionary psychology or some other factor?

Nothing is 100% deterministic, not even the temperature and pressure of an adiabatic box of gas molecules. But I also don't think it matters - 97% is as good as 100% if we can't harness free will.

I chose to not have children and took 90% paycut - there is freewill at least on the scale of the individual. Its the hivea rather deterministic path where I largely concur with you. I just believe, at the peak of science and resources there is (much) more than one path down. Perhaps maybe that's my social conformity alleles chirping up. But the 'cleverness' attached to scientific models of future may be misplaced. I expect we will be surprised and hope that we consider the distant future, along the lines of poster "Greenish" upthread.

I've been thinking about this for a couple days. Here I am going to explore some more about the mindset aspect of this question.

If we assume that our group mindset is set in stone then I feel that it is all but a given that we will by 2100, more or less, end up in a Mad Max world where small bands of people fight for survival destroying what little is left of our natural world.

I feel that this is unlikely to happen because of a forcing effect that is strongly modifying our group mindset. My argument rest on the notion that our present group mindset is in a highly unnatural state that is maintained at high cost. At some point this will end and I will explore two possible turning points that will end or counter balance this effect.

The forcing effect I am referring to is the roughly billion dollar a day (in the US alone) advertising, marketing, lobbing, government/corporation propaganda brainwashing we are all exposed to. To believe that this is not having a major effect on our group mindset, is at best naive. I feel that it is creating a hyper competitive group mindset that is far from natural. It is so familiar to us that most can not imagine a more balanced competitive/cooperative mindset that I propose is our true natural state.

Worse case is at some point the expense of this effort will be unsustainable. If our future course of events take this long to self correct, our lives will be rather ugly but at least healing can begin and there will be some hope for the future.

A more hopeful outcome is that within say 20 years, the cognitive dissidence caused by the gap between our reality and what we are told our reality should be will become so great that this will force a group mindset change that will overcome/counter balance this forcing factor.

Sure this is only a small approximation of a much larger picture but hopeful it will be of value.