How Will Knowledge of Collapse Impact Collapse?

I just watched an excellent and thought provoking lecture by Noah Raford at London School of Economics (hat tip Jason Bradford): (Note: you can play around with these models on Netlogo online HERE)

Collapse Dynamics

The lecture was about various examples in nature, financial markets and civilizations where previously correlated patterns were eventually sharply disrupted by small critical changes leading to phase transitions. We've had essays on the failure of networked systems, the ecological framing of collapse, and similar topics on TOD before, but while watching the 2 video lectures, I started to wonder: what impact does detailed knowledge of collapse dynamics have on collapse dynamics? This is the topic of tonight's Campfire.

Some summarizing points from the lecture itself (little new to readers here but if pressed for time, I'd rather you watch the video than read this post):

==>The more complicated a system, especially one involving automation, optimization, and human oversight, the more likely it is to fail (tight optimization in a dynamic environment is bad).

==>(From Didier Sornettes "Why Stock Markets Crash"):

"...stock market crashes are caused by a slow build-up of long range correlations leading to global cooperative behaviour of the market eventually ending in a collapse in a short time interval.

1. Individual behavior percolates throughout the system
2. Successful traders set examples for non-successful ones, who then imitate their actions and behaviour
3. Imitative behaviour then intenstifies as markets become more connected.
4. Leading to a crash"

(I think the above is interesting if we substitute 'society' for 'market' and 'citizens' for 'traders'.)

==>Complexity comes at a cost, it's hard to turn back once you've got it, and it's value decreases the more of it you have (Tainter).

==> (Based on Panarchy - Gunderson/Holling)
*Multiple states are common in many systems
*It is impossible to predict where tipping points are until it's too late (interactive complexity)
*Functional diversity builds resistance
*Management must cope with surprise and uncertainty

==>Take Home Message:
* Stay light
* Stay smart
* Experiment
* Learn quickly
* Keep multiple options open

Though all these are topics worthy of discussion themselves, I'd like to throw the following line of questions to tonights Campfire:

By definition, all previous ecosystem and non-human collapses were not 'understood as collapse' by those organisms alive during the collapse. Similarly, during historical human social collapses, (Rome, Easter Island, Anasazi, Maya, etc.), people might have known they were in the middle of some unpleasant trajectory, but they didn't have the knowledge, historical record, technology or communication that modern society possesses in understanding/explaining what was transpiring. As such, when this civilization 'collapses', (which in the opinion of this writer is inevitable - the timing, direction, and severity of which remain the salient unknowns), it will be the first to have at least some portion of its inhabitants anticipate and understand its own collapse in a systems dynamics sense.

How will this odd 'collapse trivia' manifest in steering/pulling/resisting actual collapse, if at all?

Let's presume that ~95% of humans will be unaware of or unable to synthesize the idea of collapse into their existing belief systems. I would put the remaining ~5% in the following groups:

1. Academics tweaking the academic aspects of systems theories out of academic interest (i.e. non-applied)
2. Those following collapse dynamics for unexpected reward (e.g. novelty without intent to change)
3. Individuals and groups accelerating their own localities move towards more durable built/human/social capital. (i.e. resilience and redundancy over efficiency and financial profit)
4. Government/corporate/BAU entities anticipating how to best defend their own power/advantage
5. Other - individuals/groups that history will show as black swans, either purposeful or accidental.

Off the top of my head on this muggy Saturday afternoon, I would guess that groups 1 and 2 (and the aforementioned 95%) are along for the ride. Group 3 (where many TOD readers reside) will mirror the 'multiple strategies' from Noah's lecture -some strategies will work better than others but relocalization, more simplicity, substitution of time and labor for technology, etc. will likely make a portfolio of these groups more resilient to any number of future scenarios, almost exclusively out of self-interest in the medium term (as opposed to long term, e.g. beyond their own lives). Group #4, via ostensibly trying to avert collapse will actually accelerate it because by and large their definition of 'collapse aversion' is embedded in the long-term correlated behavior that is squeezing us further into the chinese finger trap. Group #5 then is the wild card - those whose actions, advertent or otherwise will shift initial conditions enough so that reasonably predictable future events will now have different trajectories and speeds. This group is also probably the tiniest minority (perhaps as tiny as n=1).


1. Will knowledge of upcoming collapse (or at least the possibility of such) change behaviour in anything other than self-interested, intermediate term (5-15 year) preparation?

2. Will spreading knowledge of collapse dynamics (such as Noahs video linked up top) meaningfully change the initial conditions of future real-life iterations? If so, how?

3. Could educating our current leaders about collapse/system dynamics result in their adoption of behaviours outside of the current business as usual system? Or would it require new leaders and/or a different system?

We know so much, yet are careening forward....How to go beyond knowledge and synthesis into integration and implementation?

I think the real reason it was decided by Ike to expand the Interstate highway system, trucking industry, and the airlines was to provide jobs for the returning veterans. Remember many of the men who fought-my dad included-joined to escape the depression on the farms. My dad was only 16 years old when he joined and that was a lie. But anything beat the farm of the 30's. There was a unwritten agreement after the victory that these men would have decent jobs and housing. Had these jobs not been provided there would have been Hell to pay. The airlines were expanded to provide jobs for the returning pilots.

And the Iraqi veterans in 2011 will get ?

I'm afraid the answer is: depressed and angry. I hope I'm wrong.


You forgot they get to be put on a potential domestic terrorist list.
Since Vietnam veterans have been treated like outcasts. It is a disgrace and just another sign of a profoundly sick society that must collapse.

It's a disgrace but it helps to have some context; a veteran force in your society is a destabalising thing in and of itself.

The USA's acceptance of bearing arms, tolerance of militias (who we've seen are hard to control and prone to war crimes in East Timor, parts of Africa, Iraq and possibly now in Iran) and failure to break up groups calling openly for a race war leaves a lot of places for veterans to go and feel comfortable in a military context.

If you'll forgive me for using wikipedia, we see that Washington will still have memories of

dangerous times when veterans were a domestic army looking for a leader.

Putting them on a watch list is simply rational behaviour. The real outrage is that they were treated so poorly in the training and the war itself that we can anticipate resentment upon return.

Socialized healthcare, a worthless dollar, and over-priced housing.

Then again, they could be there long after 2011.

A job opening in the police state.

Good one! If not formal employment, then at least valuable job skills like state of the art tactical training.


You have a way sometimes with words that I would kill for!

Do you by any chance read HL Menckin?

Yours is a line worthy of the sage of Baltimore.

During the late 50's the McGill biologist N. J. Berrill and others objected to the Interstate Highway System. If memory serves Dr. Berrill felt that the system might obstruct the natural flow of plants and animals in some parts of the US. He also expressed the belief that it might be useless when the oil was depleted.

"The more complicated a system, especially one involving automation, optimization, and human oversight, the more likely it is to fail"

I challenge this axiom because I took a number of ecology and biology courses in university and was taught that the more complex an ecosystem is, the more stable it is. Monocultures (ex. crop fields) and degraded ecosystems are unstable and subject to collapse such as diseases or pests.

I am not an expert on Wall Street economics but it appears that the Panic of 2008 occurred because the monetary system was simplified and degraded from thousands of banks and several important currencies. There were a half-dozen big banks that failed, not thousands of smaller ones, there is only one world currency (US$), and there was too much concentration of risk (ex. AIG underwrote a massive number of derivatives). Likewise, Peak Oil came about because the energy system of the world was and still is, very close to a monoculture.

The problem is not that our economic system is too complex but that it is too simplified, with too much reliance on oil and the US$.

I suspect you are conflating complexity with diversity. The more heterogeneous a system the better off it is - this is different than human complexity. (e.g. Tainter, Homer-Dixon, etc.)

Nate -

I'm glad that DalefromCalgary raised the questions that he did, because certain aspects of the terminology used in this general discussion trouble me a bit.

Perhaps it's just a matter of semantics, but if a system is diverse and heterogenous, does that not usually imply that it is more complex than a uniform homogeneous system, all other things being equal? If so, and if heterogeneous systems fair better than homogeneous systems, would that not also imply that a certain type of complexity can be a good thing?

I also suspect that some of us may be conflating the concepts of complexity and chaotic. As you know, there are many complex systems that are highly stable, and there are many simple systems that are highly chaotic in behavior.

An example of the former would be one of these elaborate 18th-century clocks with a dozen functions, a system that is incredibly complex mechanically yet can keep running in the same manner for several centuries if properly maintained. An example of the latter would be one of those novelty toys consisting of an iron pendulum swinging between several fixed magnets. While it is extremely simple in terms of complexity, its behavior is highly chaotic.

So, I think it a mistake to automatically assume that just because a system is complex that it is more prone to failure than a system that is simple. How prone a system is to failure depends on many thing and degree of complexity is but one of them.

Complexity can also be in the eye of the beholder, as well as the criteria used to determine complexity. In the above examples, the elaborate clock in a certain sense may be considered simple because it has few degrees of freedom in which things can go wrong, while the pendulum toy might be considered complex because there are multiple degrees of freedom in which it can move.

Getting back to your central question: if the tipping point that causes a catastrophic failure is generally impossible to predict, then having knowledge of the behavior of such systems would seem to have little usefulness in preventing said failure. In other words, we would be largely guessing and perhaps just as likely to attempt to fix the wrong thing as the right one.

I think that the condition to fear is over optimization and complexity doesn't make a system more or less stable. If redundancy is in place very, very complex systems can be robust.
So I guess over optimized systems with no redundancy is the danger.

Besides diversity and complexity there is another factor that explains quite a bit -- that of dispersion. Dispersion is the spreading out of rates over time such that gaps between human-valued metrics grow. It is related to entropy but it differs because one can actually try to model the details of the process. Example, we can consider the various human cultures in the world diverse, but due to technology the dispersive trends are quite high and the high-tech cultures will strip the resources faster than the low-tech cultures. Dispersion trumps diversity in this case and there is nothing at all very complex about it.

But of course I belong to category #1 or #2 in people following collapse dynamics so am apparently only along for the ride. So you can safely ignore anything I have to say.

I didn't mean that to be insulting (but maybe incendiary..;-), it was mainly an observation of the many systems experts I have interacted with.

Out of curiousity - are you doing anything in activist role? (I put myself in those first 2 groups too, by the way)

What category would you put the 14-year old astronomer from NY who discovered a supernova in a nearby galaxy?

Why is she doing this? Hasn't she seen Annie Hall yet?

Doctor in Brooklyn: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Alvy's Mom: Tell Dr. Flicker.
[Young Alvy sits, his head down - his mother answers for him]
Alvy's Mom: It's something he read.
Doctor in Brooklyn: Something he read, huh?
Alvy at 9: [his head still down] The universe is expanding.
Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?
Alvy at 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!
Alvy's Mom: What is that your business?
[she turns back to the doctor]
Alvy's Mom: He stopped doing his homework!
Alvy at 9: What's the point?

Excessive navel-gazing leads to these kinds of responses. I likely don't treat meta-posts with enough rhetorical glee as I can't get past the ambiguity inherent in the statement of the problem. "Why are we here?" Guilty as charged.

Well, underlying ALL these posts is the meta-question 'why are we here'?


Way too early in the day to get that deep Nate.

I think it has something to do with turtles.

Actually, some scientists got together and went to the edge of the world and held one of their colleagues by the heels so he could look over the edge. "what did you see?" His colleagues asked him. "I saw six large elephants standing on the back of a giant tortoise, and off in the distance there was another giant tortoise with six large elephants on top of it coming toward us.

The scientists put their heads together and decided that the tortoises were coming toward each other for the purpose of mating. This has come to be known as the big bang theory:-)

The word "complexity" confuses more than it enlightens.

Consider the following two examples of "complexity". Each example is a means of getting a 200 ohm resistance to supply that LED that keeps the world awake.

Example one uses 200 one-ohm resistors wired in series.
Example two uses 1000 200k-ohm resistors wired in parallel.

They're both needlessly complex but the implications for fragility are exactly opposite to one another.

Arguably the grand corporate system has the series-sort of complexity, making it more fragile rather than less. Whereas biodiversity is of the parallel-circuit variety.

They're both needlessly complex but the implications for fragility are exactly opposite to one another.

This is incorrect - you are assuming that the failure mode of an open circuit is more likely than the failure mode of a short circuit. If both modes have equal probabilities, then the two circuits have an identical likelihood of failure.

Both of the models fail to include the consequences of the failure of the power supply...

And many other things that happen in real life.

Twilight, you are in abstract principle correct, but I suspect you are not much of a practical person. In practice resistors usually burn out to become non-conductors rather than conductors. And the general rule is that a functional unit of some sort of other becomes a "break" in the process rather than the opposite. For instance failure of any part of a transport network or a production process. So my fragile ego is preserved undiminished which is ultimately what really matters.

Funny, I'm an electrical engineer with 23 years experience in circuit design for harsh electrical utility environments. Yes, open circuits are common, and so are short circuits due to other causes, but you missed my point.

You were using the circuit as illustration of two complex systems with very different vulnerabilities. In fact both circuits are equally vulnerable to a single failure of a resistor, it just depends on the relative likelihood of each type of failure (which can change in real life). And regardless of how you arrange the resistors, you can still fail due to an open elsewhere in the loop for example.

I'm less interested in levels of complexity than I am the tradeoff between efficiency and resiliency, as described by Greer (I will try to find the link). Systems that are highly optimized to improve one specific variable are very vulnerable, when compared to systems that are less optimized but more general.

Twilight--I agree the analogy with a resistor array was less than perfect. I was just trying to make the point briefly which is exactly made (but more tediously) in terms of comparing (1) a journey (or process) of one leg for which three alterative vehicles are available (enhanced resilience) with (2) a journey of three legs with only one vehicle available for each leg (hence reduced resilience). Maybe you're too much an electrical and not enough of a travelling engineer!

There is complex, and then there is complex.

A mechanical watch is complex, but most of that complexity outside of the watch: i.e. the knowledge needed to produce a watch - it's not just counting teeth on gears, there's friction to deal with, shocks, temperature and gravity impact on the movements of the balance spring, and so on. A reasonable mechanical watch can run -20/+40 seconds a day.
Building watches requires highly specialized workers, high precision turning and milling tools, and a clientele able to pay for the work and the materials.
Watches may be relatively sturdy, the system of resources, work and education that is needed to produce such watches is much more fragile.
Today, it has become hard to find a decent mechanical watch that costs less than a month's salary.

A natural and functional ecosystem is also very complex, and composed of complex subsystems. The thing is this, in nature every subsystem has to coexist with local conditions. Also, ecosystems have high redundancy (highly diverse populations - insects, birds, mammals - can feed of the fruits of a tree, but it still manages to reproduce)
Our economic and social systems, however, are as 'efficient' as we can make them, and we are not satisfied with local inputs only. So we criss-crossed the world with trade routes, and pumped billions of barrels of oil into building our very affluent and increasingly indirectly connected lives. And all of this enterprise is based on more or less sparsely localized and finite resources. It is a cinch, that collapse is imminent for most of civilization.

Moreover, we have built our cultures on fiction. There is a lot of good stuff in there: the bible, the koran, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, all contain precious nuggets of knowledge and wisdom, but they are not science. They are incomplete and sometimes clumsy attempts at describing the human condition. Stories we invent about ourselves.
And then we started to really believe in the ultimate goodness of growth. In forty years of perusal of the press, I cannot remember a single issue of a newspaper that did not cheer or worry about growth, somewhere in its pages.
We just don't get it. If growth doesn't stop, the bottle explodes.
The flaw in the human system is, that it does not stop growing, even as outlying areas are being sucked of life. And the human system is imposing uniformity, reducing diversity.

So yeah, things can only get worse.

Personally, I have to admit that being conscious of this stuff doesn't change my life very much. I pay my debts, slowly, which fills me with misgivings, as I can see deflation looming. I go to work, and have a beer afterward. I tell scare stories to anybody who cares to listen. I sort my garbage, but my food comes from chain stores.
From where I live in town, it takes more than an hour to walk to the nearest field.
I use public transport and a bicycle, have no car. I have two adolescent kids who I try to warn about the coming dearth of everything. They spend a lot of time in front of screens, manipulating buttons. As do I.
Apart from trying to build a little stash of food, I have no idea of what I will do wtshtf. I would like to own a plot of land, but in a densely populated country, land is at a premium, and I have to get out of debt first.
I feel about as powerless as my neighbors, most of whom don't have a clue of what is hanging over their heads.
I'm looking to find a decent mechanical watch. If I muddle through, I would like to have a memento of our technical prowess to bequeathe to whomever is left.

I don't know if you want a swiss watch but if price is a factor.............. I picked up a couple of cheap mechanical self-winding Seikos (one for me and one for my 10 year old son). If TSHTF then watch batteries aren't going to be around long.

If TSHTF so hard that you can't get a watch battery then a wristwatch will be the least of your problems.

Agreed.... but it will be better than paper money.

When it gets that bad I think most of us will be fine falling back to this:

I agree.
But a mechanical watch is a nice example of technology that can easily be reverse-engineered. Anyone can count the gears, figure out how they are connected, and see that force comes from the mainspring and regulation from the balance spring.
A watch is a lesson in physics and mathematics, a library of knowledge ready for reading.
Quartz movements are very precise, and rotor plus quartz movements do not require batteries, presenting major advantages for using the timepiece as a -perpetual- counter of time. But quartz movements are quite incomprehensible pieces of technology, especially if they lack power.
From the standpoint of a 19th century white and civilized explorer: When the primitives first see a watch, it may look like magic, but it's workings are easily explained, and any smart kid could attempt to construct a similar timepiece, materials provided.
But how the f-expletive deleted- do you find out that quartz oscillates at 30 something thousand oscillations per minute when under a current, when no current is available, or for that matter, measurable?
Gears you can count using only eyes and fingers.

I agree with Joule.The lacking definition is "complexity". For us, it is complex a system that we do not easily understand. Another definition is "chaotic", that fractal mathematics describes as a behavior that we do not easily understand or that is largely disturbed by unknown variables...
In a strict sense all systems are complex and chaotic, but we are adept of over-simplifying things to get a proper mathematical description. Take a basic example of dropping a weight from 1 meter height, simple physics, isn't it? We can reduce the formulas to Fg=m.g.h, f=m.a, and calculate the uniform acceleration movement to get the time of flight. Obviously we will get it wrong, and no measurement will result in the calculated value, because we did not take into account the air resistance,derived from the shape of the object, that depends of the orientations it takes in flight, and so on...
The worst example possible is drop a sheet of paper, we cannot even know the position on the ground it will end up in! It depends on to many factors, the way it is dropped, the winds, the dynamic deformations of the surface, etc... So, if we cannot get these simplest thing right, how can we expect to understand the behavior of huge systems like our own biosphere?

There is no simplicity, except the one we made up in an abstract and imaginary world, that discards variables that "appear" to have little influence. But some times we discover that the "little influence" is not so insignificant after all.

What we are missing is the humility to understand our ignorance...

Nothing wrong with complexity in itself - as pointed out, stable ecosystems are normally complex and diverse. But in the case of human society, increased complexity has gone hand in hand with growing population and burden on resources, at the expense of the complexity/diversity of global and local ecosystems of which we are part.

Exactly right, accelerating growth on top of dispersion is what gives rise to the Logistic function leading to the characteristic Hubbert bell-shaped curve. If it wasn't for the accelerating term, the dispersion effects combined with proportional draw-down would flatten out the production curve over a much longer time period. We probably wouldn't even discern a distinct peak.

What would have happened if we had good analytical methods such as dispersive discovery and the shock model long ago? These do not involve difficult math and the use of computers is not necessary. I assert that careful watchers of the evolution of resource depletion could have fit the models to the empirical data early on and applied a kind of continual Bayesian update to monitor the situation. All the warning signs would have been clear much earlier. The heuristics of Hubbert were simply one man's intuition into what was to come. However the heuristics had no fundamental basis and as more data arrived, the adjustments necessary to update the heuristics had no justification and critics pointed out (arguably correctly) that early Hubbert followers were "shooting in the dark" about projections.

People question whether this is all water under the bridge given our current situation, yet I say another vital resource may come along that we can monitor more carefully.

How does the profit motive fit into the science?

I believe that as long as the possibility to extract profit exists, there will be little attempt to mediate use for the advantage of the commons. Likely the ability to accurately model the resource will only lead to the more efficient extraction of the resource in order to maximize profit.

I believe it is highly unlikely that overusing and polluting industries are unaware of the effects of their business. I believe that they operate along a curve which models "how much can we get away with and still make a buck?" Kind of like wall street these days - socialization of loss and privatization of gains.

My opinion,


I've tried to draw parallels between Tainter's notion of complexity with the world of biology and believe his diminishing returns on complexity theories need refinement. Living organisms are complex, extinctions of species can be more attributed to becoming too specialized rather than too complex. Genetic algorithms can design circuits that are complex that are as resilient as simpler circuits. I'm more of a mind that if a system breaks it is more because it is lacking in some fundamental way rather than its complexity.

I'll be looking forward to your guest post refuting The Collapse of Complex Societies any day now. By all means, please publish your ideas on "refinement" of Tainter's theory. The only one I'm aware of so far has been Greer, and that's readable online.

A concept that tries to distinguish between complexity and diversity is called self-dissimilarity - see this paper

My layman's understanding is that something like a person is very self-dissimilar - at each layer there is a completely different set of properties:

Atoms - described by physics
Molecules - described by genes and the chemical pathways (autocatalytic sets) of the various reactions
Cells and organs - described by engineering functions
Spirit and personality - computational science, psychology etc

I have not really thought about the financial world's complexity, but I guess that it also has a number of different levels, which makes it inherently complicated, so is inherently at risk of collapse.

Possible dissimilar levels would be:

Credit source
Market making
Analysis and strategy propagation
Stock aggregation (e.g. funds)
Derivative squared

This gives us a problem becuase a person and a financial system are both "complex", but we don't expect a random collapses of a person, but we do expect financial markets to collapse. The missing part of the equation is criticality - being on the threshold of collapse. If you look at the work on sandpiles, criticality is a necessary condition for collapse, and the size of the collapse is determined buy how many areas at criticality are linked.

In the recent collapse of the financial markets, it is clear that a large number of different areas were at criticality, so a collapse in one area triggered a widespread collapse.

I have used these ideas at work to create a more robust organisation but reducing the criticality of the system. One of the problems accountants cause (speaking as an accountant) is that we like to drive optimisation, and optimising a system is very similar to driving it towards criticality. If you understand this you can engineer systems to be efficient without reaching criticality.


PS a great book on complexity is "At Home in the Universe" by Stuart Kauffman

Hello JeremyD,

The following is not aimed specifically at you, but is just a continuing thought process by me.

Consider my posting series: "She comes down from Yellow Mountain.."

Your Quote [well-stated,BTW]:
"If you look at the work on sandpiles, criticality is a necessary condition for collapse, and the size of the collapse is determined buy how many areas at criticality are linked.

In the recent collapse of the financial markets, it is clear that a large number of different areas were at criticality, so a collapse in one area triggered a widespread collapse."
I would suggest the recent and rapid Twenty-Fold increase in [S]ulfur contributed significantly, along with FF price increases, as the tight coupling between the two affected "how many areas at criticality are linked."

S is vital to [P]hosphorus beneficiation [I-NPK] for food, plus essential to jumpstarting nearly all industrial processes: from manufacturing simple, 'strike-anywhere' matches, to other mineral extraction to make the gamut of hi-tech devices from cellphones to computers, to making JDAM explosives to nuclear ICBMs.

If one considers what us 'Humanimals' pursue to be our "Societal Prey", it is Foundationally Asimov's Bio-Elemental List of P is #1, S is #2,... an so on. Even at the highest level this pursuit continues: the example of engineering nanophosphate superbatteries by initial S-application.
EDIT: replaced incorrect link with correct link here.
How are we any different than these hyenas comfortably going after the easiest and highest ERoEI first?
Hyenas eat wildebeest alive. (PART 1) [3:38]

A pack of hyenas eat a wildebeest alive, guts first. The young animal is alive for five minutes while the hyenas chew through its stomach. Filmed in the Maasai Mara in Kenya by Clare.
Same with humans, IMO: it is easier to buy calf's liver or chicken livers at the grocery store than to procure your own; ie, we simply love and truly crave the low-fruit first. Recall that many restaurants serve high P & S eggs 24/7, then recall my recent link that S-pricing has decreased recently 25-fold...Please think about that above hyena video the next time you eat some bacon & eggs with orange juice. :)

Now try to imagine Earthmarines hugely successful in delaying the widespread application of S; to help force Optimal Overshoot Decline, so that it can be extended to future generations. If that is too hard to NON-BAU-grasp, then how about a more BAU-like, highly profitable Webb/Pomerene extended to recovered-S for the Porridge Principle of Metered Decline?

IMO, either method fits the Asimov's Foundations concept of Predictive Collapse and Directed Decline, but just varies in strength and speed and strategy, but your mileage may vary [YMMV].

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Just a note [with full credit to TODer Paul_the_Engineer] that Zinc might be a future Liebig Minimum, too. Peak Everything sure seems to be hitting everything at once, that's for sure [but water shortages will be the absolute worse, IMO]:

Deleted Duplicate

As an aside, is anyone else frustrated that the only google results for the "Porridge Principle of Metered Decline" and "Asimov's Bio-Elemental List" point back to this site? I'm trying to pull together some real logic from this "contiuing thought process" and it's not easy.

I know that a google failure doesn't mean it can't exist somewhere, but the link you gave for the Asimov list in another post ( doesn't mention a list, nor does it cite the source of the Asimov quote.

I don't want to start a flame war; I know Mr Shaw is a long-term member with high standing and a lot of respect here, but this isn't about Mr. Shaw, it's about the quality of this particular post.

Following the links for each, I can eventually trace the "Asimov's Bio-Elemental List" as perhaps a badly cited reference to an essay titled "Life's Bottleneck" from April 1959.

So not only is the primary source not properly cited, it's from a source by a scientific thinker (even fantasist) over fifty years ago. The only claim that stands up here is that phosphorous is needed to sustain life.

You haven't cited a source to justify your claim about a "Twenty-Fold increase in [S]ulfur", and you don't even say if you mean production, use or price. Later you say price decreased, does that imply more supply?

It may well be that the site is really all about a small closed community who all are supposed to know what an Earthmarines and what a Webb/Pomerene is, and why Directed Decline is different from directed decline. It may be that I'm supposed to spend a few hours researching all the "She comes down from Yellow Mountain..." previous posts in order to try and figure out Bob's point here, and if this is the case please tell me and I'll pull my head in.

On the other hand, if this post is supposed to communicate some sort of idea or concept to an intelligent educated reader, it fails to do so.

Hello FeakWent,

Brief reply as I gotta go somewhere:

Sorry for the confusion, but I am a feeble techno-guru: I don't even know how to touch-type! I would love to link all my posts together, but I don't know how. Google USGS + sulfur to read about S-pricing back in 2007-2008. As stated before: I am hoping some TopTODers will flesh-out this topic more thoroughly.

There are random collapses of a person-it's called disease.

"The more complicated a system, especially one involving automation, optimization, and human oversight, the more likely it is to fail"

I challenge this axiom because I took a number of ecology and biology courses in university and was taught that the more complex an ecosystem is, the more stable it is. Monocultures (ex. crop fields) and degraded ecosystems are unstable...

When you take undergrad level ecology or environmental science courses you hear certain truisms, such as the "complexity = stability" theme, repeated sufficiently often that you tend to believe them. Then you take graduate level ecology courses and come to the realization that there are so many exceptions to this "rule" that it lacks any relevancy. It's sort of like that "i before e except after c" truism: correct only about 60% of the time. The fact is that there's little correlation between ecosystem complexity and "stability" (however one chooses to define it), and that virtual monoculture palm communities in lowland Amazonia and littoral kelp communities are some of the most productive communities that exist. Complexity, per se, is no indicator of either stability or failure proneness.

Another quibble: "Anasazi" (a racist term) civilization didn't collapse due to climatic or environmental factors. The people we apply that term to came under increasing pressure from Na-Dene speaking invaders from the north and accordingly moved to more defensible locations or locations with more ready access to water.

Let's presume that ~95% of humans will be unaware of or unable to synthesize the idea of collapse into their existing belief systems.

The Mind's I
by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett

Chapter 11: Prelude . . . Ant Fugue

Achilles and the Tortoise have come to the residence of their friend the Crab, to make the acquaintance of one of his friends, the Anteater. The introductions having been made, the four of them settle down to tea...

ACHILLES: I find it hard to imagine myself shouting something out loud in the middle of the forest, and hearing an ant colony answer back.

ANTEATER: Silly fellow! That's not the way it happens. Ant colonies don't converse out loud, but in writing. You know how ants form trails leading them hither and thither?

ACHILLES: Oh, yes-usually straight through the kitchen sink and into my peach jam.

ANTEATER: Actually, some trails contain information in coded form. If you know the system, you can read what they're saying just like a book.

ACHILLES: Remarkable. And can you communicate back to them?

ANTEATER: Without any trouble at all. That's how Aunt Hillary and I have conversations for hours. I take a stick and draw trails in the moist ground, and watch the ants follow my trails. Presently, a new trail starts getting formed somewhere. I greatly enjoy watching trails develop. As they are, forming, I anticipate how they will continue (and more often I am wrong than right). When the trail is -completed, I know what Aunt Hillary is thinking, and I in turn make my reply.

ACHILLES: There must be some amazingly smart ants in that colony, I'll say that.

ANTEATER: I think you are still having some difficulty realizing the difference in levels here. Just as you would never confuse an individual tree with a forest, so here you must not take an ant for the colony. You see, all the ants in Aunt Hillary are as dumb as can be. They couldn't converse to save their little thoraxes!

ACHILLES: Well then, where does the ability to converse come from? It must reside somewhere inside the colony! I don't understand how the ants can all be unintelligent, if Aunt Hillary can entertain you for hours with witty banter.

So does the fact that human societies have the equivalent of a few inteligent ants impact the signal to noise ratio input by the inteligent humans into the system in any significant way.

My gut feeling is that impact is quasi negligible. The anthill is going to be exterminated because the majority of the dumb ants keep bringing the poisoned bait in to the nurseries and even the queen is feeding on the poison. I don't think there is much chance that the 5% of the intelelligent ants can change the information flow. I sure hope my gut is wrong.

Good point, and my view also.
TOD needs more of Dennett and Pinker, to add some heterogeneity to a engineered centered view.

I've asked Pinker -he hasn't responded. Joe Tainter and Geoffrey Miller (evolutionary psychologist) have promised guest posts (though I suspect Dr. Tainter thinks such an effort would have a decreasing return to its complexity)..

Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins made a video about faith and reason called, "The Four Horsemen".

Hour 1

Hour 2

Yes, excellent presentation. The reaction that people have when their religious convictions are challenged is akin to the reaction they have when their view that maintaining BAU is possible is challenged.

Actually, the reaction is even more knee jerk and violent.
If fact, the meme protection is so sophisticated, it cannot even be examined.

Highly recommended, a great presentation!
How Will Knowledge of Collapse Impact Collapse?

Nothing is condition free, so it is a matter of feedback and robustness.
At this point, I don't think, give our evolutionary skill set for genetic fitness, that it will matter.
The other side of the wall is what is important now.

Forgive me for bringing up the 'Y2k bug'. It may be relevant to this discussion.

Either :
A: The Y2k thing was irrelevant and this was proven by the almost complete lack of 'failures' or
B: Knowledge of the issue forced a change that eliminated the problem; proven by the almost complete lack of 'failures'.

I'm hoping that knowledge will prevent the event from happening: However I'm expecting Business as Usual until some unknown and probably unpleasant phase change occurs.

By definition 'Peak Everything' is the pinnacle of production, things have never been better so what are you all worried about?

Whoo Hoo! Gonna hook up the Hummer and tow the Jet Skis 100 km to the beach & go in circles all day!

OK, OK, it's 1 km, a bicycle, a canoe cart and a kayak but I do what I can...

The Y2K problem IS a good example, but for another reason:
a) It was not irrelevant, and could lead to a lot of failures. We where lucky that the technicians raised the alarm and problems where solved.
b) Knowledge of the issue did eliminate the problem, but doing so, it was not a problem any more.
c) Because it was not a problem, people started thinking that the technicians over-reacted.
d) So, the next time something similar is about to happen, people will say: "nothing is not going to happen, like the Y2K ", and do nothing about it.

This is a feedback cycle. A problem is raised, do something, nothing happens, no reason to worry, another problem comes, do nothing, something bad happens, we should worry about these things. Just see NASA's history of accidents as an example...

a) It was not irrelevant, and could lead to a lot of failures. We where lucky that the technicians raised the alarm and problems where solved.

The Y2K problem also underscores another facet of our dilemma in that we have the capability to build very complex systems yet we have not been able to incorporate a long term view into the planning process. Not a very good combination IMHO!

What the hell were the original coders thinking for example when they wrote their code based on a two digit system to represent dates? That all information processing would end in 2000? Maybe they figured the issue would be someone else's problem by then?

Granted in a way they were right others did step up to the plate and find solutions. Though the question remains, as a matter of general policy how can we change the paradigm of short term thinking to one of taking the long term view?

Have already painted ourselves into a corner with other issues such as peak oil and climate change for which we are going to be unable to find solutions?

What the hell were the original coders thinking for example when they wrote their code based on a two digit system to represent dates? That all information processing would end in 2000? Maybe they figured the issue would be someone else's problem by then?

The original coders were often doing reasonabe design decisions, handling and storing bits and bytes were very expensive in the 1960:s.

And they all figured, way back when, that the hardware and software would be replaced as a course of business well before 2000.

Are we being irresponsible about the Y10K problem believing others 8000 years from now will solve it. People have always taken the 'we'll cross that bridge when we get there ' attitude and always will. If that bridge collapses before we get there we still can't fix it until we do get there.

I have read an SF story on the theme where the hero figures out why civilization crumbels every 1000 years if I remeber the wrap-around right.

I worked two years on Y2K. Installing programs, like Hourglass, in order to test the users applications...I was constantly resetting the CPU Time Of Day clock to leap year Jan of 2000 or many values inbetween.

Lots of bugs popped out. Lots of very hard work over many long hours.

Here is the bottom line. Most Murkans had not the slightless clue about programming. They are lucky to be able to use a remote control.

They are worse than frigging Joe 6 Pak..there were and are still sheer gomers of stupidity about those issues yet they sat and screamed..
"It didn't happen"....yeah right.

I gave up on trying to convince arseholes who had difficulty with reading their clothes labels. The ignorance was astounding.

So for the future? More of the same. Ignorance rampant.

Airdale-even the Data Processing mgrs were total twits and worse,,some days I felt like just go and have a big cry...and then a lot of alcohol after 14 hours of straight work. the ignorance , the pain and the remembrance still is stuck in my mind like an ugly refrain...I will never forget it and so I have zero belief in the Amurkhan citizen..he has crossed a threshold that he will never recross,never.

I'm sure lots of critical Y2K bugs were discovered and fixed, but having worked in the operational side of IT, I can say most Y2K remediation plans were huge, over-engineered bureaucratic monstrosities. It was also a time when technology budgets were virtually unlimited because of easy credit and the dotcom bubble. Our budget for Peak Everything remediation will be very meager if we even bother to try.

We popped out a few IBM bugs. Especially I recall in tape expiration date handling.

IBM had to put out a large amount of fixes. I had one small customer who died on Y2k and 200 employees hit the end of their jobs. It was a System 34 as I recall or mind is a bit hazy for I mostly worked on Systems/370s.

Believe was bad, very bad. We got by but just by Windowing the date code....a bandaid...


Qu. 3: Educating our current leaders about collapse dynamics...

I suspect the leaders of most industrialized nations have been/will be "educated" about the prospects of collapse by their respective intelligence communities.

I think all of our leaders will "adopt behaviors" that will not be in the best interest of their own populace, let alone the rest of the world.

I think "new leaders or a different system" will not be allowed and that there is virtually nothing we can do about it.

Who will be educated, and what will they do with their education?

Russia's campaign to increase its birthrate
Children for Sale - Would $36,000 convince you to have another kid?

Baby bonus failing to deliver
AUSTRALIA'S multi-billion-dollar family payments system has made only a modest contribution to increasing the birth rate ...,25197,24135661-2702,00.html

US food supply 'vulnerable to attack'

"I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do," he said. :

Don't believe the hype. Attacking the food supply isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

My point is The Momentum of history is against us ("return to growth !" .... "we need more babies !"). How many cultures would need to be "Educated" ???

Knowledge of collapse will lead to planning, but not necessarily the kind we like.

As the symptoms of collapse grow more intense, our morals, ethics and principles will be modified as needed and self-preservation will rule at all levels of society.

What does history tell us about cultures competing for limited resources?

Attacking a food supply is just one of many normal tactics used throughout history to eliminate competition for resources by neighboring tribes.

We are riding The Great Wave, not making the wave. We do not even have any control over our own country anymore, let alone the global village.

The best we can do is work locally to be as independent as possible (good luck).

"Don't believe the hype. Attacking the food supply isn't nearly as easy as it sounds."
But that article completely ignored the option of attacking the food supply indirectly by attacking the energy supply, especially oil. Or transport links. So I don't believe it's anti-hype.

Robin, You are onto something about disrupting food supplies.The place to do it would be at the farm level by by introducing invasive pest species.

So far as I can see, the only possible reason reason it hasn't been deliberately done(so far as we know) is that nobody has seriously tried.

North America used to have a locust, but it went extinct in a freak event.

Re-introducing another species to fill the niche - exponential biological growth of a pest + low global grain reserves = possible global famine.

All it would take would be getting a locust from Africa to Nth America then driving through cereal crops and release.

That may be true, but that kind of attack has zero appeal to a terrorist organization. Sure, you could easily introduce an invasive species that gradually grows and reduces grain yields over time, but could you reliably cripple the grain harvest this year *and* take credit for it? Our brains tune out these kinds of events as "shit happens". People don't fear zebra mussels and fire ants the same way they fear bombs. Admittedly people do fear "killer bees", but they haven't been nearly as virulent as other pests.

1. No
2. No
3. No

The reason why, is because society is so conditioned to act in the present based on BAU, versus what may or may not be on hand in the future, that no change occurs in advance of collapse. Essentially it comes down to the lack of cognition to view a different future. Just as your 95% that cannot see a different possible future along with the 5% that can, is that exact same percentages of those that can imagine what a building might look like if certain changes are made to it versus those that cannot. 5% can, and 95% cannot.

As such, a society made up of mostly those that cannot see a different future based on energy supply changes or any other criteria, will mean 100% of the people continue on unchanged towards collapse. 5% can never convincingly change the opinion of the other 95%. So to answer your question of whether or not knowledge of collapse will impact collapse, in my opinion, the answer is a resounding No.

One could further argue, that if there is a 'die off' due to collapse, humankind might be forced to evolve additional brain imaging skills so that closer to 100% of the people can better imagine different scenarios, based on different data projected into the future.

Maybe humans are proving by virtue of their inability to constrain population growth and energy usage, that we are inadequete at our current thought level for a society this complex. Maybe in the natural order of how species evolve, we are forcing genetic changes on our specie by failing to prepare for changes that are obviously coming down the pipeline.

Survival of the fittest means adapting to changes. But if those changes are ignored due to a lack of ability to adjust (adapt), then the specie faces a die off, and those that survive the collapse are so traumatized by it, that it becomes a legend that gets passed down to the next generations, which then make sure everyone is clear on what could happen if a certain resource becomes scarce. No one is allowed failure to imagine what will happen, so that adaptation takes place in advance of collapse, thereby avoiding collapse.

You might be interested in my thesis on sapience -- the basis of wisdom (when it is realized).
Sapience Explained:
Part 1. Introduction

Part 2. Sapience Relationship with Cleverness and Affect

Part 3. The Components of Sapience Explained

Part 4. The Neuroscience of Sapience

Part 5 is still under development (I am giving a paper this coming Thursday on the subject) but it covers the evolution of sapience, past and possible future. I will post it in my blog as soon as it is ready.

What humanity needs is not greater intelligence or creativity, but greater wisdom (sapience). Expansion and further development of the patch of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex known as Brodmann area 10 is a possible key (see part 4). I believe I have remarked occasionally on this site that evolution is the answer (solution). But, of course, evolution often involves selection against some non-adaptive trait (e.g., excessive cleverness without overarching wisdom). Our cleverness, the combination of intelligence and creativity, is directed at solving local short-term problems. We most always choose local optimization over global features and generally suffer the unintended consequences. Wisdom is knowledge of how to use knowledge (i.e. cleverness).

The better part of wisdom is imagining the future under different scenarios and choices made today. Judgment needs to take on a global perspective. I fear our current species is not quite competent, on average, for this. The trend toward integrating our emotions and intellects evolved and developed reasonably far, but not enough to deal with the world we have created (complexity and dynamics).

Collapse might actually be a good thing in the really long run. But it won't sell to the man or woman on the street! Perhaps there is a 1% of the population who are just sapient enough to make preparations for the collapse and an evolutionary bottleneck to follow. Perhaps.

Question Everything

Having not read your articles yet, my understanding of wisdom has been that it is knowledge plus emotional awareness plus experience plus (here's the key) reflection.

It's like the process of data analysis. Ideally, you collect data which you analyze and turn into information. Parsing and thinking about the information, turns it into knowledge.

Without the analyzing and thinking (reflection), knowledge, experience, and emotions are just data.

I just speed read through your thesis on Sapience and found much that resonates with my intuition about the evolution of cognition and it's adaptive potential in the genus Homo. I have always felt however that "Sapiens" has been a monumental misnomer for our species. Both individually and collectively we are many things including intelligent, curious, adaptable and creative, however we lack sapience or wisdom at almost all levels. That I believe is our Achilles heel, unless we somehow acquire wisdom we are sure to fail.

Wisdom is knowledge of how to use knowledge

We must somehow rise to the occasion and collectively tackle this all important learning curve.

My suggestion is to ground everyone, take away their TV privileges and the keys to the T Bird and put their noses to the grind stone and until finish their home work they are not allowed out of their rooms. When they have completed their assignments they are not going back to the mall to hang out with their friends but instead will volunteer to do community service at the local cancer hospital cleaning out the bed pans. That's for the adults, for the kids I have other plans...

I have always felt however that "Sapiens" has been a monumental misnomer for our species.

In my final installment I start out saying that had I been in Linnaeus's shoes I would have named our species Homo caladus, man the clever, rather than man the wise. I think sapience is just emergent in our genus (in our selves) and probably lost ground after the advent of agriculture, which required a whole different set of skills!

I also explain the theoretical (likely) distribution of sapience (as such) in our population. As with many newly evolved traits it is likely to have a more continuous Poisson-like distribution, a highly left-skewed Gaussian with the mean at the low end of a competence scale (a sapience quotient!?) and with a short right tail. This conjecture supposes there are very few truly sapient (eusapience) individuals out there just due to variations. But the vast majority of our kind are at the low end. I'm sorry I haven't gotten the final installment installed. I'm waiting until after I get some feedback from this conference before finalizing it. But in it I will explain the kinds of measurements of competency that might correlate with expanded brain structures associated with judgment, long-term thinking, and moral reasoning, among others, that might provide a useful handle on sapience competence.

Stay tuned.

I beg to suggest that these matters were far more simply and more usefully explained by my articles written 22 years ago, in terms of judiciousness (which is not a function of some anatomical unit of the brain, but more about reduced expression of innate predispositions to authoritarian conformity, pretentiousness, superficialness and presentmindedness).
The typical brain is not a thing designed for superior intellectuation but rather for superior survival, just like the brain of a sheep/lemming/(your own choice of despised animal).
"Wisdom" is another of those unclear words which waste more time on debates about their meaning than in producing any advances of understanding. Like "complexity" (as per my post above about resistors).

I wonder why you don't think this has anything to do with the way the brain works (which ultimately has to do with the architecture and wiring). I suspect you may not have read my thesis before reacting to this post. I have looked at your papers and find some interesting ideas there. But beyond assigning more names/categories to behaviors (which you acknowledge are innate!) you haven't addressed actual mechanisms or neurological causes. Surely you don't hold that the mind and brain are separate things!

I agree that wisdom is a fuzzy term, which is why I prefer to focus on brain mechanisms (that might under the right circumstances give rise to wise behavior) and call the whole thing sapience. However, there are a large and growing number of psychologists who have taken on the study of wisdom as a valid construct and I should think they have some good reasons to do so. Sternberg, for example, is no slouch in psychology circles!

Sternberg, Robert J. (ed.) (1990). Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Sternberg, Robert J. (2003). Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized, Cambridge University Press, New York.


I wonder why you don't think this has anything to do with the way the brain works (which ultimately has to do with the architecture and wiring).

George--I guess I didn't make it clear. Can I clarify that I didn't say I don't think it has anything to do with etc. What I said was:

judiciousness (which is not a function of some anatomical unit of the brain, but more about reduced expression of innate predispositions to authoritarian conformity, pretentiousness, superficialness and presentmindedness).

Note-- not some anatomical unit. But instead, those innate predispositions are still physically embodied in the brain, in the form of particular connectivity or other characteristics of particular neurons. Autism has since been found to be distinguished by (for instance) less long-distance neurons, and less "mirror neurons" and less "von Economo" neurons. These would be the physical manifestations of some of the innate predispositions (though probably not the ones involved in wisdom/judiciousness, apart from the von Economo which embody the prejudice ("hunch") sort of predispositions).

Thanks for adding those citations of Sternberg.
Having studied the tediously complex subject of IQ in the past I have found some of Sternberg's earlier publications to be of decidedly low quality. There isn't time in life to read everything everyone writes, though conceivably S's work has grown in wisdom since then!

Your own papers are a bit long and I am either chronic fatigued (from mercury poisoning) and busy or lazy depending on how (un/)flatteringly you prefer to label it! I can only read slowly and find it frustrating because I almost always develop annoying delusions that the ideas are of lower quality than the ones I can think up in less time for myself. (Such is the torture of egotism!)


Do you feel our educational institutions or systems have become too entrenched in training current technology and methods and have all but let intuitive intelligence fall up the individual?

To often I am finding that leaders or politicians, judges, bankers, enconomists, etc dismiss a rebuttle with a reference to accepted theory or dogma and leave the discussion with that answer.

To change the mind sets of our influential leaders and advisors we need to go to the birth place of their professional opinions and see if that training is conducive with what needs to be done now.

Not nearly as educated as the TOD regulars I can only offer this small seed of insight which may grow into some further discussion.

Thanks for your time.

Randy ps. I do question everything and find that I am not too popular in certain circles.

Hi Randy.

Do you feel our educational institutions or systems have become too entrenched in training current technology and methods and have all but let intuitive intelligence fall up the individual?

Speaking as one of the guilty parties who has come to recognize that our education system is a joke when it comes to promoting whatever development of wisdom might be possible in the average person. Today everything is about the economy. Get educated to get a good job so we can compete with the rest of the world in inventing stupid things that consume resources! (there, I've vented).

You might be interested in some writing on my blog: Learning and Teaching, Do We Have These Right?

I have a whole category dedicated to education in which I question many of the ideas called conventional wisdom for what we are doing.


Too often I am finding that leaders or politicians, judges, bankers, enconomists, etc dismiss a rebuttal with a reference to accepted theory or dogma and leave the discussion with that answer.

Randy--That is authoritarianism in action: Shortcutting of thinking-for-oneself by jerking along with some presumed authorities instead.

It is of course an opposite of questioning everything. Personally I question the value of questioning everything, because everyone needs a bit of authoritarianism in practice or they would be totally out of their depth discovering/reasoning everything for themselves.

Changing conventional wisdom (even the most ridiculous) is extremely difficult. I think I did manage one little bit in terms of uk policy re pavement (=sidewalk) cycling. My letter in the Guardian pointed out that the ban did not deter hooligans anyway, but only those careful traffic-fearing people who would not cause a problem anyway--so the policy was utterly counterproductive. And thereafter the police adopted the current policy of tolerating pavement cycling.

I have to agree. If the 5% were those in power, understood the issues, and if they were altruistic and of one mind about the nature of the problem and the appropriate remedy, then maybe. If ifs and ands were pots and pans there'd be no work for tinkers.

The nature of our societies and ourselves is that those in power get there for reasons other than altruism, and while some of them are certainly aware of the problems we face, for the most part that leads them to try to figure out how to take advantage of that for personal gain. We all have those thoughts, it's just that some of us are more constrained in how we pursue it.

Meanwhile, probably most of those who see the train wreck coming are in no position to influence events beyond a very small horizon. Here we have the most incredible information tools in the history of man, and IMO sites such as TOD have been wildly successful in disseminating that information and stimulating discussion. But the direct influence of that will be a tiny fraction of 5%. Probably the greatest impact that forums such as this will have will be in how they influence a fairly small number of individuals to make changes and preparations, and how that in turn effects those around them. This will not much change how collapse occurs, but perhaps will help in times afterwards.

There are very large forces at work here. Even if 5% were aware, keep in mind that they must impact not just the 95% of the present population, but the cumulative decisions of all those who went before. We did not get here in an instant - the carbon burned by my grandfather is still up there, for example. The farther you go on the wrong course, the more severe must be the course correction to reach your target, to the point where that becomes impossible.

Well, I couldn't agree more with both Cslater8 and Twilight on this...seems a no-brainer. Most people don't even want to know the facts of PO, global heating, species and habitat destruction, overpopulation(!), and anything but "happy news," so why in the world would they want to consider a complex (sorry) Tainteresque explanation/warning of collapse? It's absurd.

Certainly, the pre-knowledge of system collapse has a salient parallel: our individual deaths. At best, this knowledge can motivate people to make a difference while they can, to have their lives be worthwhile in their own eyes. At its worst, it can lead to terminal depression. Reasonably often it leads to a sort of hedonistic or anhedonic nihilism which are self-fulfilling philosophies. But most often, it leads to the acceptance of a tour package of boilerplate delusion which denies the whole "finite life" reality and the subjective relevance of collapse.

There's some really high percentage of humans who believe that their lives won't end when their body dies; from the dour catholics whose school I used to teach at, to the jolly fellow who wrote the recent "space power" post and plans to have his head frozen prior to uploading his soul to an immortal robot, the better to sashay into the singularity.

Interestingly, many of these boilerplate packages include collapse, be it biblical plagues and tribulations, ragnarok, the end of the Mayan calandar, etc. (The main reason that US baptists support Israel is seemingly to enable the preconditions for fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy, wotta dynamic!). The deal is, seemingly, that just as believers are immortal, they are also exempted from collapse, like getting a "2S" deferment from fighting in vietnam by being able to afford college.

"Not that there's anything wrong with it". But I think there's no reason in the world that humans will collectively behave with any less delusion than they do individually, even when the inevitability of system collapse is spelled out for them. Really, it IS spelled out for anyone who cares to look, already; the knowledge is not exactly secret and most people in the western world have internet access.

And now I'm going to shift subjects to make my second, unrelated answer, so any complaints about this one are kept distinct from it.

Greenish, brilliant insight!

You've made me realize that I'm part of the 5% that acknowledges my own mortality; I eat healthy, consciously exercise (more or less continuously for 36 years now), don't smoke, wear my seatbelt without being told to, etc. The fact that the vast majority don't acknowledge their own mortality and take appropriate long-term steps to live as long and healthy as possible is the most amazingly clear and simple indication that they would take no significant action even if they knew collapse was a certainty. They will wait till it is too late and then expect 'the experts' (in the case of their personal mortality, the physicians) to make a heroic effort to give them another chance.

Just this evening I was talking collapse to a neighbor while he stood there smoking a cigarette. Sometimes I fail to see the simplest signs....

TOD rocks, thank you everyone who contributes to these discussions!

You are making a lot of faulty assumptions- what appears more likely is that you have, for whatever reason, an unusually strong desire to live a long lifespan. Others have a strong desire for power, money, excitement, whatever.

I don't follow your reasoning. The longer I live, the more power and money I accumulate (so far, anyway:) and the more excitement I experience. Aside from the quantitative, there is the qualitative aspect of good health: the neighbor I mentioned is within a few months of my age, but he's already physically incapable of mountain hiking, whitewater rafting etc. In a material world, my physical capabilities largely determine my experience.

My point is, even with me as an example of the benefits of longterm thinking, he will continue to pursue gratification in the immediate present until he can't.

Errol in Miami

Not everybody is into the health kick-a good example is Dick Cheney-the guy obviously could care less. I don't think Kissinger has run too many marathons-you are not going to meet many billionaires in the physical shape you or I am in because most of them just don't care.

I agree with Brian. To me, your healthy habits actually are evidence that you are not acknowledging your mortality. Whether you eat cheeseburgers or broccoli, you will die.

Knowledge about the collapse of death (a complex collapse of the specialized infrastructure and network of hundreds of billions of individual cells), can also lead to qualitative decisions about lifestyle.

The late, great Bill Hicks did a routine comparing Yul Brenner who died from smoking and presumably an excessive lifestyle, to human cipher and health nut Jim Fixx who died while jogging.

Or as Doug Stanhope puts it, "You die at the end, didn't anyone tell you? Sorry."

The biggest secrets are all out in the open, hiding in plain sight.

Right. Last time I checked, nobody gets out of here alive.

I have spent a good deal of time wondering why the vast majority of people believe in some sort of eternal life.The short answer,that they do so because the elder generation believes so,is obviously a part of the answer but not the key part imo.

I think the real answer is that this belief is a sort of "garbage out" artifact of the way our brains are constructed.Our lower brain centers-our reptilian and mammalian core layers-don't savvy self.Only a very few of the most intelligent species can recognize themselves in a mirror-man,the rest of the great apes,maybe porpoises and elephants,I'm not keeping up in this area.

Self recognition is a facet of "high" intelligence which seems to be an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains.

Evolutionary theory tells us that our brains will gradually become more complex if the extra complexity contributes more to our survival as individuals than it costs in terms of energy consumption and other counterbalancing factors,such as difficulty in giving birth,and a low reproductive rate due to the our long childhood,which seems to be necessary to our mental development.

This is so far straight forward Darwinianism and probably familiar to most readers.

But most people never actually devote more than a few hours to the study of evolution in maybe one biology class,so they never really understand the many subtleties involved.

One is that an organ or structure such as a tooth has an evolitionary lineage that reaches so far back that a tooth is pretty well evolved to a high state of perfection,given it's function,and only very slow evolutionary changes are to be expected in teeth for this reason.

Our newly evolved intellectual abilities however are still very much works in progress.If we wipe ourselves off the planet with atom bombs,the blind watch maker will be seen to have taken a dead end path.For each and every living species there is a direct and unbroken path back to the beginning of GENERATIONS of species,in a manner of speaking,and for every green twig at the end of a living branch on the evolutionary tree,there are many dead (extinct) twigs.

Now there IS no PLAN or GUIDE of any sort involved.Mutations are RANDOMLY occuring changes that are PRESERVED IF they contribute to reproductive success.Most mutations are detrimental and are not preserved but a very small fraction do contribute to survival rates and are so preserved by the blind watchmaker and incorporated into future generations.

Now anytime you change anything there are always tradeoffs and consequences to be dealt with ,and the same holds true in evolution.A brain that is capable of recognizing-has recognized- that it's life support system is doomed to failure is getting output from it's recently(read newly evolved) installed "intelligence program" that is at odds with the "survival" code buried at the core of it's operating system.

(A team of engineers might be able to redesign a computer system from close to "scratch"and correct such a situation,but evolution can move only by the minutest of baby steps and every generation must survive.There is no possibility of a major overhaul of any biological system that does not involve extinction and /or long term change-in our case the time span seems to be measured on the order of tens of thousands of years as regards very minor PHYSICAL CHANGES in our brain.(Cultural change,which can be incredibly fast, is also amenable to Darwinian analysis but is not directly relevant to this line of thought at this point..)

The situation as described would cause a real computer to either sieze up or perhaps perform in a "good data in garbage out" manner.

Hillbilly humor describes a man faced with an insoluble but pressing problem as "thinking so hard that smoke is coming out of his ears."

Brains cannot both sieze up and reproduce,so they put out some "garbage"-which paradoxically is actually good data-it's only garbage in relation to the fact that it introduces a severe strain on the system that generates it..At another level of the receding horizon,personal awareness of mortality is potentially very useful,as it might cause parents to work harder to prepare children and grandchildren for survival on thier own.

Religion is evolution's software patch-the solution- that enables our brains to operate without the smoking ears.

Now the very word "solution" is a poor choice as it implies a conscious mind, or a God,directing the process.The watch maker does not exist.Evolution accumulates order in the form of living organisms with no more need for direction than water needs direction to run downhill.

(Any physics fans who believe the second law is violated should take a couple of biology classes,or just look at a baby,which after all is more organized by several orders of magnitude than any engineered system.)

Brains that sieze up wnen faced with insoluble dilemnas either evolve the software patches such as religion necessary to successful functioning or they fail to reproduce when confronted with such dilemnas.

A secondary software patch seems to be necessary to the functioning of the religion patch.This one is known as cognitive dissonance and enables us to pull of the amazing feats of self deception
that underpin day to day behavior.

It is cognitive dissionance that enables us to believe in both God and technology,and it is cognitive dissonance that enables most of the world's engineers,doctors,economists,and other highly educated people,as well as three billion or so Joes to ignore any evidence contrary to the herd consensus of eternal growth.

I do not believe that it is possible to overcome the shortcomings of our evolutionary inheritance within the context of democracy and thereby avoid the crash that seems to be about as certain as bankruptcy once you start using one credit card to obtain cash advances to make the payments on another card.

If by some miraculous means we could enjoy both fast worldwide economic growth and avoid ecological collapse,birthrates might take care of themselves worldwide even in the face of religious opposition.I once thought this might be possible,when I was young myself.

Given the realities of human nature and the inability of democratic governments to make really tough decisions until crises are obvious even to the Joes of the world-I'm talking Pearl Harbor obvious- democracies will not make the changes necessary to avoid the crash.A few more enlightened governments may make undertake ambitious programs but imo too little too late. All the windmills in the world will not offset the carbon that is going to be burnt,unless we are willing to nuke China and India,and tear down our own coal infrastrusture.

The only path that I can see that might insulate a large powerful country from the worst effects of overshoot involves the rise of a totalitarian government focused on survival by means of internal change rather than aggressive warfare.Personally I would rather be dead than red,but the Chinese have proven that population growth can be forcibly curbed,and Hitler proved that an economy in shambles can be forced to create a war machine such as had never been seen before in less than a decade.

Evolution jammed evolved intelligence into our brains without installing counterbalancing mechanisms that would prevent the ill effects of intelligence-such as atom bombes and ACC -from coming realities because that's the way evolution works.The corrective evolutionary mechanisms are external to the organism and known as extinction or population collapse,as the case may play out.

The contest is not always to the strong nor the race always to the swift,but that's the way to bet.My money is on collapse.

Anyone interested in the origins of these thoughts will enjoy the work popular works of Richard Dawkins,especially The Blind Watchmaker,and any of the evolutionary psychologists in general.

Brilliantly expressed, lucid.

Mac, you need to write your books.

Only a very few of the most intelligent species can recognize themselves in a mirror-man,the rest of the great apes,maybe porpoises and elephants, I'm not keeping up in this area.

Self recognition is a facet of "high" intelligence which seems to be an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains.

As trivia, one of my side-projects was the first demonstration of mirror self-awareness in a non-primate, in 1991.

Cognitive thresholds is a rich topic; feel free to email me offlist anytime. In my opinion, your observations about the evolution of delusion, and the role of cognitive dissonance, are spot on.


you wrote a lot of text,,as I note you usually I will simply the answer to the question of religion your pose,,but more specifically BELIEF...belief in a higher entity..or something beyond reason,something inexplicable that when you truly search you find,,something that sages and mystics have found but the normal hunkered down apeman called Joe 6 Pak...can never grasp for he lives a strickly Materialistic you appear to do...

So what alters one's system of beliefs in what appears impossible or way beyond normal....Like a Miracle? Or a set of events that defy science and reason.

Until and unless that happens to you OFM then you will NEVER ,repeat NEVER get a clue as to what is really beyond the senses...and inexplicable..for it takes a leap,,it takes a turning away from the norm, from your wife's nagging,you kids screaming, the job demanding,the preachers preaching, the TODers debating......

What does it take? A revelation. An enlightenment. Since you never have apparently been party to one I can understand your thesis...but that does not mean its true.....

I have had at least a half dozen of those events in my lifetime. Maybe more that I can't recollect immediately...but they happened and they defied logic or reason....

I suggest that those who are so tied up in the materialistic lifestyle when exposed to mind altering substances suddenly awaken something inside that never once awakend ever again relaxes...It happens.

I have experienced it. It is of pure mind and spirit. It does not follow man's laws.

Hint: You can find it mostly in nature..not in man's cement buildings or must go 'outward' and look and seek or else you will go nowhere.

Its so easy to play devils advocate and expound on rules and logic..but check out the Australian aborigines. Check out the Native specifically...Tecumseh....there are others but that is a trail I will not take anyone down for its one you go on alone, you pack no lunch, and you take no baggage...there are a few footprints ahead of those who have gone before but that is all,,and falling off the path is extemely easy....but I swear it is there...buried deep in the APE. Buried in a mind that can seek..yet just in dogs I find this matrix..this ability to go do what seems impossible.....

Sounds sorta X Files or Twin Peaks? I agree. Its not for everyone...only those who really seek...

So ok...back to normal channeling...and the Ape watches the tube and grunts for another beer.

Airdale-my first experience was in the Navy out in the middle of the huge Pacific ocean on a very small island where I was earnestly trying to become an alcoholic and almost succeeding....sitting in the radiomans position in the aircraft , tuning up the HF rig it came over me as I was tapping out code to our Ops Base thousands of sea miles first experience with something..I did not quit drinking but I did step back,,,and saved my life...I still drink but I found or was shown the edge of the precipice ..and given the choice to step in or was way out of normal...I always in desperate times found that IT was there..and could be touched and counted on...but not easily..not just on a whim....

PS. Most preachers are worthless money grubbing bandits so I left the churches and that behind..they do NOT know the way but they pretend to


When I write about the way the world works and put it in terms of the science I know I am doing about the same thing you would do in discussing the way a radio works in terms of wires,switches,magnetic fields,electrical induction and so forth.I don't really know squat about radios but I do know some basic electricity-a little more than most electricians,a lot less than a navy radio tech for sure.

Now as far as what goes on INSIDE our individual heads,and the way we FEEL IT or experience it,I may see the world a lot more like you do than you think.It's a whole different world behind the eyeballs.

I have experienced a few enlightenments of the sort you refer to-I think- but I am not yet ready to write about them,and if I do it may not, probably will not, be here.

Things that mean the world to me-a little girl laughing.The fawn I found under an apple tree-the wind in the pine trees in the deep woods where you can pretend for a day that it isn't all spoiled.Our old redeyed lopeared hound dogs chin on my leg.

From where I sit I can see photos of my grandparents who were simple full time one horse farmers-except the horse was a mule.If I could turn my world back to that time I would do it in a flash.They burned wood,milked a cow,raised a few thousand of bushels of apples to sell and ninety percent of the food consumed by the family.They were beholden to nobody and they were in charge of thier own lives,and lived in reasonable harmony with nature-just about the way you live now. They knew thier place in the universe,they lives they lived were hard,but in the end,they wouldn't have traded with any body else in the world.

I was lucky enough to spend a great deal of time with them.

I understand why you revere your ancestors who used to live all over this land,and thier ways.

If they were MY ancestors I would move the clock all the way back to 1450 if I could.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.Too much, of the wrong kind,can be even more dangerous,to your peace of mind if nothing else.

"==>Take Home Message:
* Stay light
* Stay smart
* Experiment
* Learn quickly
* Keep multiple options open"

I am working with this game plan every day. This supercooling effect though is holding back local/regional redevelopment until collapse is upon us. What seems to be sensible so far as localization is driving my R&D activities, yet economies of scale boosted by institutional subsidies are propping up this pyramid of our current society. How is it we can get similar emphasis on what we can do the best locally and getting government, or groups of individuals companies to make favorable climate for localized production of food and consumer goods. In these economic stressed times it is what most do to mitigate their problems and not those who understand the idea of collapse mitigation. 'They' continue to flock to Walmart and other remote factory outlets due to the cost and dollars that are available. We need to make localized consumer goods that compete head to head with outside sources--- at least to use the local advantages to full extent.

'They' continue to flock to Walmart and other remote factory outlets due to the cost and dollars that are available. We need to make localized consumer goods that compete head to head with outside sources--- at least to use the local advantages to full extent.

No problem. I'll start up a factory to start making stuff as soon as you and your friends agree to come to work for me for $0.50 per hour - And that is 10 hour days 6 days a week. And Heck no you don't get any benefits! We can't sell our new products for Walmart wholesale prices AND pay you big wages and benefits! Besides which, I need extra profits so I can pay for my new 38 foot sailing yacht. All the other business owners have one so I am entitled also?

Tongue in cheek, but much truth unfortunately.

at least use the local advantages to full extent

I'll start up a factory to start making stuff as soon as you and your friends agree to come to work for me for $0.50 per hour - And that is 10 hour days 6 days a week.

Appreciate your knee-jerk reply. Right, but beyond this truth what is it that we can do to locally to make a competitive product rather than one that requires a donation to a inefficient system? Are there elements of industrial agricultural food production for example that can be emulated on a scale that fits local needs. I worked for 7 years to make a farming system a success and it would not have been successful if it was not for other growers/business adding their value in the production cycle.

We need to look closely at these current dominators of our local marketplaces and copy what is useful while discarding the harmful.

The world is a crowded place, and even the US minimum wage is a princely wage to many of the people out there. And keep in mind that container ships are the most efficient freight vehicles out there, and international trade won't go away. I will give you that their efficiency comes from volume and huge economies of scale. It's yet another complex system dependent on long supply chains.

Oh, if you're building that factory, don't forget the bargain-priced dormitory housing:

Where are the factories located?
It sounds like slave labor to me. Do you think that people would boycott IPODs even if they knew about this?
This just seems like more evidence that there are way, way too many humans on the planet an that when things slow down due to FF depletion there will be a huge crash in population. Get ready for the ride.

No problem. I'll start up a factory to start making stuff as soon as you and your friends agree to come to work for me for $0.50 per hour

I wouldn't work FOR you for $0.50 but I might work WITH you for a common goal (the value of which is priceless).

Nate posed three questions. I'm going to pose a fourth, and answer it.

Can the understanding of collapse/system dynamics significantly change the odds of steering the global system into better states than would otherwise be achieved?

I think the answer to this is "yes", and I think this for good reason. I have been employing activist strategies based on complexity dynamics for some decades, and have found them to be very effective. I'm currently working to try teasing out general principles, which I may expand upon here in the future.

Generally, though, it should be a no-brainer. Why should the linear-extrapolation default worldview of most humans be useful when dealing with complex systems? Surely, anyone exposed to the way things actually work in such systems would come up with something better.

There is a fundamental disconnect between the default way we think about things and the very nature of propagation of phenomena in the nonlinear systems we live in and depend upon.

It seems we're nearly entirely screwed, and it seems that way because it's true.

However, despite my doomer credentials - which are damn doomy by most standards - I believe that an understanding of complexity and phase shift dynamics can enable highly leveraged influence towards achieving specific goals, and amplifying or foreclosing specific classes of probabilistic outcomes.

Watch the Raford vid and see if some strategy inferences don't immediately become apparent to you. I think they will. And I've been field-testing this stuff for a long time.

I'm saying that a shifted paradigm on the part of those who would influence the future by other than incremental additive methods - based on the reality of complex system dynamics - can potentially accomplish some specific outcomes that otherwise would be highly unlikely.

I've jokingly referred to this as "Jedi training" to a very few chosen proto-activists in the past. But the information is there for anyone to derive principles from, hopefully better than I have.

Greenish i would say no re global system.

the size [i guess subset or some such-TOD speak} of any 'tight' group is directly related to the ability to 'leverage' this info in a manner to have better results.

i'll give a couple of examples re 'tight'- very close working together group. Communication in my family & a few close friends are such that 3 of us are working very closely together[ combining $ etc. - ain't easy though] to mitigate some of the worse scenarios of collapse.

recently we settled- waiting to close- on a property nearby- further away from population centers,& with some important natural resources/capital. we are currently semi-rural but i have become concerned we may have to get more distance from the nearby metro area. the small city there is struggling but has good leadership- relatively speaking of similar small towns. can this town 'get' it's act together early on during collapse- currently no acknowledgement of upcoming problems. i think it has a better chance because it is very small 500-1000- still probably too big actually, has a significant history[community], etc. [probably many will leave as some are now to get closer to 'services', living with relatives, etc.]

anyway foreknowledge gives leverage in mitigating our coming collapse[s]; but it can only do so where groups 'pull/push' in the same direction to add strength & backup for one another.

communicating/relating will be the key for mitigating PO.

let's hope for a 'global ' leader like Churchill??.

maybe obama truly has community organizer roots. that will a black swan i'd be thrilled to experience- along with powerful leadership at the right times; & u'd be correct then Greenish. it would/could make a huge difference globally; i just don't see this as the likely early on response.

anyway foreknowledge gives leverage in mitigating our coming collapse[s]; but it can only do so where groups 'pull/push' in the same direction to add strength & backup for one another.

Actually, I haven't formally propounded my conjectures yet, but high among them will be my claim that "steering events" via a complexity/phase shift strategy is more easily done by very small groups than by large ones, for very fundamental reasons.

As a gross analogy, imagine the effect of dropping a whole handful of rice onto the Oslo ricepile experiment. It would render the collapse inherently unpredictable even in principle, and remove useful topography. By contrast, being able to drop single rice grains in a pre-analyzed sequence could produce entirely predictable cascades with understood collapse trajectories. The set of possibilities would be bounded, but within those bounds steerable by conscious manipulation of very small perturbations.

I have tested this in real-world situations, often seemingly intractable ones on very large scales.

In short, the size of perturbation is less important than the location and sequence, and those in turn are less important than the pre-existing level and topography of criticality. This holds true across a wide variety of human-relevant and natural systems.

communicating/relating will be the key for mitigating PO.

Communicating will be the key to incremental approaches. I'm not against it, in fact I'm doing it now. However, channeled information is necessary to obtain the leverage available by using the techniques I'm discussing.

let's hope for a 'global ' leader like Churchill? maybe obama truly has community organizer roots. that will a black swan i'd be thrilled to experience- along with powerful leadership at the right times; & u'd be correct then Greenish. it would/could make a huge difference globally; i just don't see this as the likely early on response.

What I'm talking about here is a sharp departure from approaches like "community organizing". I think those approaches are great, but wholly insufficient to the situation and the time available. That's why I'm working on making some alternate methods transferrable to others.

I'll also note that the leaders of our various heirarchies generally have greatly more-constrained options than is apparent, and that each person reading this has more potential power over the large scale than they may believe.

"channeled information is necessary to obtain the leverage available by using the techniques I'm discussing.'

u seem to be referring to means of communicating that make a jump[i saw the reference below re images] that remind me of the Reagan[tv/pres] era of using communicating in politics.

one thought re communicating for u'r model[s]? is the saying;
actions speak louder than words.

re hierarchies, leadership, & communicating. i imagine u are familiar with the following;

when i mention obama's community organizing i hope for a blend of very powerful leadership that will set constraints [carter sweater speech re imported oil limits is an example] that is very very directive[not relational] leadership; but also so this can be accepted, set up local decision making processes in communities[small groups] that is relational and empowering by turning over power[ rare for a hierarchy to actually do so] in implimentation at a local level[effect is relational leadership- community organizing model].

i look forward to u'r work/presentation.

Once upon a time there was only single-celled life. Then multicellular came along. Then complex, differentiated multicellular. Then organ-based differentiation.

The cancerous societal morass we have now is intractable, but it could be possible to organize stable, mutually supportive, and large societies beyond the tribal model.

only after some major rewiring re communicating/relating & our eco-niche awareness.

Bacteria still dominate the earth by number and total mass. There are more non-human cells in your body than human, and the diversity is incredible. Which is more successful, the simple or the complex?

Cancer is also rather complex. Sometimes, though, unexplainable and spontaneous remission occurs. We can always dream.

The Archaea & Bacteria dominate every Terran ecosystem absolutely. The eukaryotic cell is nothing more than a large archaean cell parasitized by various smaller bacterial cells (cyanobacteria = chloroplast, purple bacteria = mitochondrion, spirochete = flagellum, etc.) Should a bolide impact break up the Ocean Planet it's at least conceivable that fragments of the crust would contain viable archaeans for a long time. The idea that multicellular eukaryotic organisms somehow "rule" or dominate ecosystems is nothing but human hubris, plain & simple. As hubristic as dubbing the ecocidal ape "sapient."

As for cancer, I don't personally see neoplasia as being pathological. Neoplastic "disease" is nothing more than genes doing what they tend to do: make copies of themselves. If anything, I'm amazed that the elaborate mechanisms regulating eukaryotic gene expression don't break down more often than they do.

...among them will be my claim that "steering events" via a complexity/phase shift strategy is more easily done by very small groups than by large ones...

That's what Robb has been suggesting at GlobalGuerrillas. This list too, might as well come from his site:

==>Take Home Message:
* Stay light
* Stay smart
* Experiment
* Learn quickly
* Keep multiple options open

I do think he is right, in that only a a small group can move at all now. In that sense, the Zapatistas, Hamas, MEND, perhaps even the Somali pirates and whoever blew up the pipelines in Mexico and Canada would all fit the bill. As would Asimov's Mule. Under the current regime, all of them are labelled "organized crime". [Of course Goldman Sachs, the Fed and the Cabinet...] None of these smaller groups, however, will be able to turn the tide. That is why collapse is necessary. From the rubble, perhaps the First and Second Foundations can emerge. Still, it sounds storybookish to me.

And the point Nate brought up about those in collapse not recognizing it is something to ponder. While the trajectory may have been set thousands of years ago, I'm thinking apogee might well have been around 1970 - Apollo 13, Nixon, Vietnam. We've been collapsing already for 30 plus years and most of us just don't know it. My kid's lives now - even though they are fabulously "richer" than my sisters and I at that same age - are not as good as what my sisters and I experienced. Pick any metric. [Admittedly US centric.]

The days are getting shorter.

cfm in Gray, ME

In terms of those presented on the video, you change the probability distribution of the small stressors of the system.

“It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”

John Cleese in The day the earth stood still.

Seriously IMO this says it all.

Problem is that by then it is just too doG damn late.

We are so scroomed (screwed and doomed)

The situation chnges in a stair-step manner.

So we've ditched the housing and auto sectors (or the biggest part).

The next thing to go might be the govts I guess when the debt can't be financed anymore (if they can't cut spending enough). The collapse of the govt doesn't mean the collapse of the military.

The military will take charge for a long while, "bailing out" (by providing security and food and other help to) the elites in the govt and business who didn't make preparatiuons before due to lack of foresight.

Then the military begins to lose control because of lack of energy resources, but by then the elites have gotten into better position to survive on their own (locally).


It has to happen this way so that the people with the highest educations and salaries can benefit the most, and after all they do have most of the power. They intend to keep it. It doesn't men they're evil by the way, it's the laws of nature, survival of the fittest.

What is it I read recently "Life is a complex thermodynamic system, not a paragon of virtue" true.

Many elites are aware of the situation and they know it's impossible to turn the huge ship around in time.

For example, if a hightly paid doctor in NYC leaves his job and goes to live on a farm he's given up his salary, his professional status, all the interesting things he likes. He can't compete with his fellows anymore...what's fun?

He'll just wait until the situation develops and them trust his luck, his connections and his wits to get him through.

I disagree that many of the elites are aware, or particularly intelligent. Certainly some are, but the reality is that most got to their station in life by being ambitious sociopaths. They're the most clever, deceptive, ruthless, selfish, etc., not the most deserving based on their contributions to society. The majority of the elite class are just pursuing their normal methods of taking maximum advantage of situations for personal gain, and haven't given a moment's thought about long term consequences.

I have spent a bit of time in the board room, and you are correct in the view that elite's are not that bright, just effective sociopaths, smart enough to get the con done, but to dumb or sociopathic to realize the results.

I think The Mother gets to decide whether "the most clever, deceptive, ruthless, selfish, etc.," is "the most deserving..."

I'm not sure how much weight She would put on "their contributions to society." Maybe Ma likes ambitious sociopaths. She's a crazy bitch sometimes.

Edit ---

e.g ghengis khan

Most of the people in power got there through luck, the luck which influences the peculiarities of human psychology and social network connections. "It's less often what you know, than who you know", in other words.

Yes luck but within the context of spending their entire life and all their efforts attempting to position themselves to gain power and positions of control.
It seems obvious that if a person spends time trying to accomplish anything other than climbing the ladder of social hierarchy than they will fall off the pace.
What kind of a sick system is it that rewards sociopathic power mongers and than gives them the ability to exercise complete control over those that actually create wealth and prosperity?
We are screwed plain and simple.
The system needs to collapse and then in the aftermath the remaining members of the society must and I mean absolutely must teach the youth the reasons for the failure of the old order and make sure it is a social imperative that the concentration of power in the hands of the evil is guarded against at all costs.
How to accomplish this........I have an idea.
Public office should not be something that can be sought.
Anyone that wants to serve should be disqualified because of the obvious conflict.
It should be considered a duty and the candidates should be selected from a draft pool based on their qualifications and experiences.
This should at least offer some candidates that are acting out of duty and not self interest.
The true problem as I see it is that we have set up a society that not only condones selfish behavior but rewrds it and makes it the necessary mode by which to survive.
We need to change the social meme(I finally got a chance to use that word) and get back to the real reason we were able to acheive this level of understanding and accomolishment and that is sharing and cooperation.
Just a cursory look at history shows that cooperation has been the best path to survival and advancement.

These questions of selection and self-selection were carefully analysed in my articles and and my book

"What kind of a sick system is it that rewards sociopathic power mongers"

-- a decadent society as I explained in above.

"Just a cursory look at history shows that cooperation has been the best path to survival and advancement."

Not so. Just as a cancer survives and advances itself at expense of the organism, likewise the authoritarian mentality thrives in a decadent society such as the present global setup. But when the cliche hits the fan, then we have novel challenges, which are the ground upon which authoritarianism perishes and genius thrives instead.

I don't think that cancer is a cogent analogy for sociopathic behavior unless you define both as malfunctions.
I don't need to point out the end result of cancer or for that matter the end result of fascism.
Voluntary cooperation has given us much more than deception and coercion.....this stands to reason.

Cancer eventually kills the organism; authoritarian sociopathy kills the society (eventually). They both do so by surviving and advancing in the shorter-term. I agree that cooperation is the more enduring and more important tendency. Which is why I reckon that it is what predominates in autism, with competitiveness much reduced -

My takeaway from this video. Not only is mitigation NOT an option, it shouldn't be. Collapse must happen as part of the natural correction cycle to the significant growth we've experienced. I guess that knowledge could then allow a triage plan so to speak, of who gets to stay and who has to go, and I doubt that will happen. If world leaders had this knowledge and attempted to manipulate this system (god forbid congress should ever vote on something like this!), first and foremost will be maximizing benefit to humans, not to the other species. I say if anything should result from this knowledge, it should include the following criteria: work towards a very rapid collapse that minimizes suffering, produces as little impact to the environment as possible, and leaves the maximum number of species. At least that would be the best outcome in my opinion.

This is exactly the strategy Dmitry Orlov is advocating: work to hasten the collapse, in the hope enough natural diversity will survive to support the ragtag remnants of humanity after the bottleneck:

Good comments, which I'll comment on in turn:

My takeaway from this video. Not only is mitigation NOT an option, it shouldn't be. Collapse must happen as part of the natural correction cycle to the signification growth we've experienced.

Collapse will, indeed, happen; but the nature of the collapsed state may vary qualitatively by human standards. For instance, the size of human wars, as measured by number of deaths, tends I think to become 2.6 times less frequent as you double the number of deaths. (I think this is called a Pareto distribution.) This sort of distribution - showing scale-invariant self-similarity - tends to be generated naturally in many slowly-driven nonlinear systems which seem entirely disparate on their face.

What this may imply is that the size frequency of forest firest, earthquakes, stock market drops, flu pandemics, and wars are all primarily generated by local interactions and the simple attributes of the "particles" in such a system, not by a vengeful god or a particular world leader invading someone. This means that retroactive narratives of such events are in one sense meaningless, supplying an additional perspective on all narrative history.

Of course, being human, we bloody well care WHO gets killed, so the subjective does creep in, and it should. Not all collapses are subjectively equivalent, and the states which are "collapsed into" by the series of frozen accidents which constitutes path-dependence may vary widely.

I guess that knowledge could then allow a triage plan so to speak, of who gets to stay and who has to go, and I doubt that will happen. If world leaders had this knowledge and attempted to manipulate this system (god forbid congress should ever vote on something like this!), first and foremost will be maximizing benefit to humans, not to the other species.

It's unlikely that selfless triage will be done. My work has focused on getting other species past the upcoming human resource/population bottleneck by increasing their odds. It may still come to nothing, but it isn't useless.

Humans seem greatly to prefer being felled by "natural causes" as opposed to controlling their numbers or appetites, since that doesn't encroach on monkey fairness doctrines. This will, I'm afraid, tend to represent a worst-case for the world as a whole, specifically including the huge numbers of humans who could have lived on a healthier planet over the coming millions of years. Our cultural default seems to be binge-purge, and Malthus bats last.

I say if anything should result from this knowledge, it should include the following criteria: work towards a very rapid collapse that minimizes suffering, produces as little impact to the environment as possible, and leaves the maximum number of species. At least that would be the best outcome in my opinion.

I've heard many smart people come to that conclusion. However, as a keypost it might get Nate and the gang sent to Gitmo.

Thought experiment: IF it was possible to trigger a major earthquake, like the San Andreas, at a specific pre-planned time by voting for our leaders to press a foolproof button, would we do it? It would drastically improve planning and deployment of assets, remove the stress for another 100 years, and probably prevent any deaths. I submit that despite the obvious benefits and the inevitability of a huge catastrophe otherwise, we wouldn't do it because of the fine-scale structure of our current culture, which is the way each of us thinks on average.

I guess that knowledge could then allow a triage plan so to speak, of who gets to stay and who has to go, and I doubt that will happen. If world leaders had this knowledge and attempted to manipulate this system ...

Have you considered that this may already be happening? One could make the argument that a large number of things have been done of late that do not seem to be in the interest of the general population, do seem to be at least partially related to the crises at hand, and benefit a very small and wealthy segment of the population.

I've been discussing the Raford vids and Tainter all week with a friend. We hope to do some work together in this area. Also, there appears to be a flurry of next-gen research into the whole Collapse discipline, which is very enhancing it seems of the previous work. Raford appears to be part of this wave? Really enjoyed this paper, for example, by Janssen and Scheffer: Overexploitation of Renewable Resources by Ancient Societies and the Role of Sunk-Cost Effects.

Notes from my week:

Everything Raford touches upon lays itself down beautifully on top of the energy and oil situation. The stuff about density and fire is particularly apt, and eye-opening. (of course, anyone who has lived in SoCal gets the whole idea of fuel-content in plants, and if able, marshalls the forces of succulents on the back yard slope to replace grasses, etc).

What interests me are the time intervals or gestation periods of these branching, overleveraged, over-extended systems. The wolf, when he eats the lamb, gets concentrated grass. The wolf becomes a carrier of higher-density energy. If the gestation periods are short then these systems perhaps will not branch as far and will crash early or maybe not crash? (unsure about this). It's perhaps the systems where the various carriers are able to ferry the original capital for longer periods that really extend way, way past the hidden terminus. The machines we have made using FF energy power, and of course financial systems, strike me as systems that can ferry original energy over longer periods of time--thus promoting further branching and overextension.(I am also interested in the shadow, or hidden terminus--or what appears to be the threshold that's crossed before the crash reveals itself).

The social interplay with the materialistic is also fresh in my mind, from my recent tour of Jevons, and my discovery that society was unable to really handle what Jevons was saying at the time of his writing, during his life. Unlike a grass-sheep-wolf system we have some discretion and choice as we face the energy problems, but, appear to be unable to access or use our choices. One persistent problem appears to be the either/or filter that society will use to process most social analysis, or any complex articulation of problems. Longer duration problems are prime candidates to be run through society's either/or filter. Once distorted, the original idea then lives on but trapped in a misunderstanding.

We who write about these issues will either now, or eventually, have to address this societal habit to compress its own interpretation of these issues into either/or propositions which can then be summarily dismissed for failing to go fully negative or positive. A wonderful example has been the media coverage the Club of Rome/Limits to growth era has received this Spring, in which those views are now referred to as "having been proved spectacularly wrong."

Historically it's been images and moving images that have tended to solve some of these cognitive logjams. I envision a time when those of us who spend our time addressing water, energy and population will need to more habitually use images to confront the reductive, binary mind.


Lovely image. I like the way it illustrates a predicament. Also love the mix of a typically joyous trampoline scene, with a depletion theme wrt water. There are so many systems on earth that do work for us. Will have to show this to the kids, and find out what they see.

Historically it's been images and moving images that have tended to solve some of these cognitive logjams. I envision a time when those of us who spend our time addressing water, energy and population will need to more habitually use images to confront the reductive, binary mind.

I did an impromptu post - on a draft way of thinking about this in general - on some TOD topic in the past, using the made-up word "smemes" which I coined for the occasion, shouldn't be hard to search for if anyone's interested in what I'm saying today.

But yes, this dynamic is important, and for reasons related to the complex/critical landscape of aggregate human thought.

Aside from being born semi-autistic and teaching myself to see the things around me in an unusual visual-abstract way with some seeming similarities to some of the newer insights into complex systems, I also had the good luck to work in parallel with Bob Hunter for years, who was quite an artist at what he called "media mind bombs".

However, this is just one piece of the puzzle, and timing - as well as preparation of context for directed collapse of information - is equally important to make it work.

I've done it many times, and it's nearly like magic.

That's why his 'toy models'; the fire/forest, predator/prey models. in this lecture are so powerful. It would be interesting to see similar models with human populations, fossil fuel use, etc..but my guess is they would be too simplistic to be valid.

On #3: Political leaders do nothing without without pressure from the people. There are no leaders in politics. So lets just forget about them.

On #2: That video is useless to the masses and it is a waste of time to speak at that level. If shoot for the lowest common denominator, like most successful companies do, we will included the whole range of people.

So what does that leave?

Direct action.

We are in the middle of the capitalist holocaust and most ordinary folk are the prison guards simply because they have to to survive. Others of us are thinking that we might be able to change the minds of the leaders of the holocaust. Ha!

I look at the protests in Iran over a political leader and look forward to the same response here when more people realize how capitalism screwed up their food and environment on top of their wallet.

one thing I've learned in past few years (and Phil Zimbardo suggested 30 years ago) is that the prison guards won't necessarily make better leaders when they take over unless there has been an educational/culture shift in the interrim, (which is why this discussion is so important). If _____ events occur in next 5-15 years that DO result in a phase transition/collapse of current system, but future leaders learned nothing going through them and we rebuild our existing model with remaining resources, THAT would be a path worth avoiding at nearly all cost in my opinion.

The downtrodden will always be downtrodden until they aren't and someone else is. What would break that cycle if anything? It is not enough to point figures at what the current leadership lacks unless we have a better model and a bridge to get there...

I was in no way advocating the guard become the leaders. I advocate leaderlessness.


Hey, I meant to ask you last time I saw a post from you, where are you located? Northern California I think you mentioned once? I am up in Port Townsend, WA but leaving in a few weeks and will be meeting a friend In San Francisco and will probably be traveling for a bit. Let me know if you want to meet up. chrisb483 at gmail.


This question of foreknowledge by some of changing the outcome of the collapse to the better, is very interesting.

Much of the discussion of collapse centers around a description of the failing system and thence onto what individuals might do which consist of mental and physical preparation. However there is always this reference to the environment sometime afterwards and the consensus seems to be the quicker we get it over, the better for the environment

However, I say, not so quick and more importantly for those of us with knowledge of collapse and the desire to have some effect so the after effects won't be so bad, we need to address the environmental issues.

For instance, we need to be thinking about all the toxic waste dumps out there, polluted waterways, millions of acres of farmland denuded of nutrients due to agri chemicals, nuclear waste, and so on. Then we have the bigger scale issues like global warming, rampant deforestation, species invasions, species loss. Add to that ghost nets which are thought to silently kill around 25% of the annual global fish catch and then the great plastic gyre in the pacific and the significant effect that tiny plastic beads are having in the oceans on marine life and so on and on.

If we want to change outcomes after the collapse to be more positive, then we need to draw up a list of these things and set about trying to clean up them up and gracefully shut down dangerous industrial plant. However, I do recognise to do these 'citizen' projects take money and that is in very very short supply at the moment. And also most people are now trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table without getting involved in worldly projects like this.

If these major pollution timebombs are not addressed, then post collapse people will be poisoned by such stuff all over the place and there will be almost nobody around with the analytic equipment or knowledge to realize that the local water supply or soil or whatever is full of dioxins, heavy metals .... take your pick. Also in a post collapse scearnio, suppose there is a nuclear accident and it would be probably much more likely than now, and a huge area is contaminated. Would anyone know? Probably not. So we could easily have a case where millions of people who survived the initial crunch returned to rural life, but unbeknowst to them, they are the victims of a massive pollution spike as all the industrial chemicals of the industrial era go through massive and uncontrolled releases into the environment.

Its simply not enough for everyone to just look after themselves because it can't be that simple.

The only option for me is to recognize my own mortality and absolute vulnerability.

I look as deeply within as possible and try to act based on my most authentic self.

I try to accept help from others and to help others get through whatever this is.

Our species is not only in "Die Off" mode. We are in "Kill Off" mode.

We destroy ourselves through increasing reliance on violence as an answer to our problems. We spend more and more of our dwindling resources on weapons and wars.

There is no rational response that carries any assurance of success for an individual, a group, or a bio-region. The chances of survival for most of us are very slim.

So we can look at ourselves and our own attitudes and actions.

If people feel called to political actions at any level -- local or international -- then that is what they ought to do.

If people feel like setting up a compound in the wilderness, fine.

If people choose to revive a rural village or stay in the heart of a huge city, fine.

We will not govern or manage the planet or our own species. We and the planet are ungovernable -- at least are not governable by humans.

So we all do what seems best. We can try to change each other's minds as we go along, too. We can try to help each other along the way.

We have no idea how the infinite variables will interact and change over time.

Embrace vulnerability. Do what your heart tells you once you have accepted your own mortality and inability to control people or unfolding events. Dig in deep to find your most authentic self and act accordingly.

That's my crazy and imperfect answer.

Far from crazy, it is the most rational response. Lead a life that matters to you, and do what you can on a personal level.

beggar, history bears you out.

Europe and Southern Brittain are dotted with the ruins of splendid Roman villas. I would have thought that after the collapse of the empire, local warlords would have taken them over and maintained them as headquarters/status symbols. But no, by the middle ages they were all burned-out ruins. Further, folks with metal detectors have learned to search near these ruins, finding hoards of precious metals buried by the elite to be reclaimed later. Obviously, they never made it back.

Maybe to the recommendations "stay light" and "stay flexible" we should add "accept vulnerability".

The Roman villas were designed on the assumption of not needing any defensive capabilities due to living within the Pax Romana. Naturally they became toast once that assumption evaporated.

Meanwhile there are huge numbers of towns and cities still existing in Britain which end in -cester or -caster (Worcester, Alcester....) in addition to...Chester. These were the locations of the Romans' forts, and consequently settlements that continued to have a future through the warring Dark Ages and on into the present.

Twilight and Not-into-denial.

As Nate noted way above, these questions about what is happening and what to do about it really do relate to the "why are we here?" questions.

Individual vulnerability and mortality blend with generational and even species-wide vulnerability and mortality.

Most of our species depend on conventional definitions of strength and intelligence to give confidence about survival.

The problem is that the most significant characteristics related to survival have to do with sensitivity to changes in one's habitat, and an ability to respond to these changes.

We humans still tend to panic, get frightened and angry, and then rationalize our deepest fears and prejudices with some religio-political meta-narrative to justify the mass murder we call war.

We try to kill each other and take each other's good shit.

Now we play on a scale and with such godlike technology that our wars can suck up scarce resources and deliver defeat to us all.

The last person standing will be lonely and in great physical pain.

The last person standing will not live very long to suffer anyway.

I would love it if we would decide to put our resources into dismantling weapons of war and into a huge variety of efforts for sustainability.

What are the chances of that?

So I hope and pray and do as much of my bit for positive change as I can, even though things look hopeless.

Hope is a verb. Hope is not passive. Hope struggles for life even harder when the odds are looking very, very bad.

The chances of us dismantling the weapons of war are zero.
None can trust the other.

IIRC most social revolutions (Russian, Cuban, etc.) have involved something like 10% of the total population. (Prof. Goose may have a reference on this.) The difference with PO is that that 10% was relatively organized into parties, however factionalized. The PO-aware 5% isn't organized in any meaningful way, hence has little ability to steer processes or affect events. The survivalist meme rather rampant in PO circles is centrifugal, undercutting organization. I don't have a way out of this conundrum, which is why I'm generally in the "make a difference where I can" camp.

True. However, the peak oil aware not being "organized in any meaningful way" could be a strength rather than a weakness. The fact that this is such a non-ideological group (as a whole) makes it more resilient. And that's exactly the point that Noah Raford was making, I think, that heterogenous systems and groups are less likely to collapse than homogenous groups and systems.

By the way, I hear a lot of references to "survivalism" being prevalent, but after going to many meetings of Transition, ASPO-USA, etc., I have not yet actually met a survivalist. I wonder if it is a function of the tendency of internet discussion groups to bring out survivalism. Just a thought.


here is an example of using preknowledge;

"Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (GUIDE REPRODUCTION WISELY—IMPROVING FITNESS AND DIVERSITY); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (PRIZE TRUTH—BEAUTY—LOVE—SEEKING HARMONY WITH THE INFINITE).
What's most widely agreed upon—based on the evidence available—is that the Guidestones are meant to instruct the dazed survivors of some impending apocalypse as they attempt to reconstitute civilization."

i am impressed with the success of keeping this 'project' mysterious & the guiding principles themselves.

sounds like a small group of club of rome[ers] at work.

I am amazed about the wisdom, beauty of thought and consequence shown by building this monument - I wish I could do the same in Europe.

The WIRED article talks about people looking for a hidden meaning: but to me it is as plain and simple as it could be: everything that has to be done for a saner planet has been spelled out on these stones.

A true marvel indeed. One could have wished for the inclusion of some important scientific formulas, facts and figures, but this monument is probably the best investment in the future of mankind ever.

i know the community & the extremely clever thing is how they hooked the community into ownership of these stones [which challenge their way of life/thinking], so that the stones get community support to exist.


i believe if we survive the answer to 1. is likely yes. see above georgia guidestones.

any of those excellent posts on envisioning a future in stone yet. maybe metal tablets would do. actually a lot of scenarios would allow for the occasional still functioning hard drive for a DVD etc.

This question is along the lines of a few other questions. How does knowledge of death impact the individual's life? How does knowledge of self-awareness impact the thought process and the living experience?

Knowledge, no, for the actual collapse, knowledge alone is completely insufficient and will not significantly impact collapse.

At the very least, knowledge plus accumulated experience is what we need. But this doesn't say much more than "how to go beyond knowledge into implementation".

So, let's take a very short trip to the beginning of our human existence. Childhood. Children voluntarily soak up experiences about their world in two ways: through stories and through play. See, a short trip. These are how we continue to best learn and prepare to deal with future events, through narrative and through practice (which is what playing is, practice for when those behaviors matter for survival).

The philosophical knowledge in Quinn's "Ishmael" could probably be boiled down to a few pages. But as part of an engaging narrative, it has more impact. Books, plays, movies, songs, anything that can convey a relevant story is an important vehicle.

It's the difference between "acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s^2" and "be careful, so that you don't trip and fall and break your neck".

As for practice, we need stop thinking about collapse and start pretending about collapse. How to make a game out of finding out how long can you go without Internet, electricity, running water? Can you talk to ten strangers and see how many of them you can get to change their minds about anything (Robert Cialdini's "Influence: Science and Practice" may help us here)?

When the game is fun, we will play it, and practice, naturally. The hard part now is inventing games.

The harder part will be unlearning the parental and educational domestication which makes us reluctant to play.

Some people might say that the key is just practice. But how many people practice the things they would really like to get good at? Not very many. They don't practice, because practice is boring, and what they really want to do is play, which, when you play for the sake of play, is really the practice you're seeking.

Excellent. When I was a teacher this was my preferred method for lessons but you expressed it so well.

I consider play anything that takes you out of any habit and carries with it a feeling of liberation when you engage in the act.

Games like you expressed I have played in the past were "Pretend I was homeless", "No more computers", "Isolation", "No more food", and my current game - "Only walking" which has me traveling about 2 to 8 miles a day.

very nice 710.

envisioning, reshaping[touch], replaying[listening], ... all the senses & modes; especially personal strong & weak ones.

I'm glad you bring up the topic of games. I've spoken several times at conferences about the nature of games and why they are so useful.

For one thing, games seem to be able to take the charge out of attaining any sort of goal. Seeing this, some people mistakenly think games are frivolous but that's because they confuse the concept of "significance" with "seriousness". A game does not have to be "significant" (i.e. dour, heavy, laden with meaning, no fun) and yet can still be played with seriousness. Sports teams play with seriousness all the time. When the game becomes "significant" then the fun disappears.

A game allows for human self-expression and play because it frees people from the constraints that come from a "significant" activity. Top performers in any field often describe the sheer joy of being able to do what they do and they take their "work" with all seriousness. You'll often hear winners of sports competitions say things like "I was in the zone. I went all out and I had a ton of fun." Many coaches will work with those they coach to free them up from the significance humans naturally add to situations. Music, dance and drama teachers often pay special attention to this if they see the performer become "stiff" or the smile has disappeared from their face.

As for new games to play, one of the participants in the first UnCrash Course said that they practiced a weekend without electricity and running water as a way to test their level of preparedness, just like you suggested. They described how eye-opening it was. The way they described it I could tell that they were deeply engaged and their learning was dramatically accelerated.

It struck me how fabulous that game would be to play. I have never done it myself and want to. I think it would be a ton of fun. I'm maxed right now so I can't organize it but if someone out there is particularly well-prepared and is good with people, drop me a note and we can create a course out of it.

The metamorphosis of our society should have begun 40 years ago. Why tell the populace about the possibility of collapse now and admit responsibility for corrupt and irresponsible governance. If the program for change had been advanced forty years ago, the conservative lobby would have branded it a commie environmentalist plot, an affront to our democracy and freedoms. Now where are we...... with too little energy, too late, to avoid horrific calamity.

We won't solve "tragedy of the commons" problems unless
we "fool ourselves." Below is an excerpt from my webpage on this
topic ( ):

Fooling evolved mental adaptations with "psychological illusions."

So, what are we up against to avoid ecological overshoot? Nothing less tenacious
than human nature. Hopeless? Not sure yet.

If we are to have a chance to be "smarter than yeast", we have to be
smart enough to understand and manipulate our own psychological adaptations.
We have to "fool Mother Nature." We have to agree to fool ourselves.

Can we? Yes. In fact, it happens all the time today.
We can enjoy films, TV and photos because they were not part of our ancestral
environment. We have no adaptations to counter these novel tricks -- we
often have difficulty distinguishing between virtual reality and reality.

For example, when we watch a TV sitcom such as "Friends" we are fooled (at least on an emotional level) into thinking the characters really are our friends. We may smile and say hello if we see Jennifer Aniston on the street (she was in our living room, after all).

But, don't expect a reciprocal response, though. To Jennifer, of course, we are an intruding stranger she has never met.

We cry and laugh at movies, despite the fact that we know what we are
watching is just light projected through film, the actors are reading from a
script, and there is a sound guy holding a boom mic standing just out of the frame.
Sure, it is sad that the ship sank, but no one on the set actually drowned.
Nevertheless, our psychological adaptations are fooled, and we may leave
the theater a bit misty.

So, just as we can be fooled by perceptual illusions, we can also be fooled by
psychological illusions.

Can we fool our psychological adaptations to help to live sustainably on
a finite planet? Probably.

Engineered social self-deception, intentionally designed activate psychological
adaptations, may help to modify our own behavior to help to mitigate
ecological challenges.

In addition, women may have a special role to play. They need to be prepped
to find "ecological men" of limited resource consumption really, really sexy.
Unfortunately, sexual selection has designed women to tend to prefer
"alpha males" -- high status, high consumption, high resource control men
(in ancestral times, they helped women's children survive and thrive).

Men are adapted to do their darned best to give women what they want, or face
reproductive oblivion. One way that today's men have demonstrated their
high status has been to drive big SUVs.

However, what if tomorrow women found the guy behind the wheel of a Prius irresistible?
And, what if women sexually rejected the guy driving an SUV? What do you think would
happen to Prius sales?

Powerful media / advertising messages probably could help to fool our psychological
adaptations. (This is called "social advertising" or "social marketing.") We need to
develop a strong "social narrative" of mutual cooperation on a finite planet.

Needed: A sustainability movement and world leadership that
is not "near-sighted."

A new social movement is needed - a sustainability movement.
This is particularly important for anyone who plans to live in the future.

Young people in particular need to mobilize and demand change now.
A grass-roots movement of the magnitude of the civil rights movement in the
1960s, the women's rights movement of the 1970s, is needed. Today no one wants
to be called a racist or a sexist. Those movements had clearly defined
out-groups to vilify as the "enemy" -- and that may have helped to mobilize
and motivate activists.

But who is the enemy now? There is no out-group. The enemy is us.
We are fighting against ourselves -- our base psychological adaptations
to compete for relative status, mates and resources.

It just doesn't have the same impact to shout out at someone driving an
oversized SUV:

"You non-sustainablist! Yeah, you. You are an SUV-driving, consumerist pig!"

(Or... maybe it would work? Try it, and let me know how it goes...)

In addition, will those who are currently powerful expend their political capital to
effect the desperately needed emergency transition to renewable energy,
and do so in time? This is an ultimate issue of vision and leadership.

There is the rub.

prof mills - if you want to elaborate these ideas into a 1,000-2,000 words guest post, please do.

We need to develop a strong "social narrative" of mutual cooperation on a finite planet.

Like with most (or all) civilisations, we had one at our foundation, called in this case Christianity. It has now been largely forgotten amidst the noise of "I want to enjoy myself" capitalism, even to the extent that most people nowadays falsely knee-jerk associate Christianity with aggressive military campaigns and oppression of others, and do so while assuming themselves to be speaking with competence even though they have never read even one chapter of the Gospels or Acts of the Apostles.

A new social movement is needed - a sustainability movement.

But I'd be amazed if it comes to dominate until such time as the existing corporatised dominance ends. Just like Christianity in fact, which had to wait for the Roman traditions to die.

We can enjoy films, TV and photos because they were not part of our ancestral environment. We have no adaptations to counter these novel tricks -- we often have difficulty distinguishing between virtual reality and reality.

Actually I am a strange exception to this. I find films etc to be so clichéd that there's no danger of being tricked. Even the "best" film stars talk and act in ways that are too artificial to fool myself. I've no idea why! Possibly that I did not grow up in a tv/films culture.

As I read these comments, I see a mix of brilliance and misconceptions.

1. There are those that speak as if collapse is a certainty. Nothing in life is a certainty, the universe is always about probabablity. Would those who speak of certain collapse say there is a 100% certaintly of collapse?

I personally have a very different take. I would say that it is close to 100% (ie. maybe there would be a true miracle in fussion but I doubt it) that our society in the developed world is about to undergo radical change. On the other hand, I think the odds of a full collapse are about 1%. Society will probably adjust. For example, if we have a 10% reduction in available oil in 2012 we have some protection in:

People will cut out most flying and vacations
Perhaps we could wind up with a 4 day (or even a 3 day) workweek.
Migration to smaller cars and smaller and shared housing will occur rapidly
Less consumption of discretionary goods (ie. clothing, stereos, cars)will occur

All of this is likely to be shed before food (which will admittedly cost more due to higher inputs).

After 2012, there will still be a gradual squeeze on the industrial world's here to for rich lifestyles as the emerging markets compete with the developed world for available energy resources.

On the other hand,

Many developed countries like the U.S. have other energy resources available. In the short run natural gas can help and shale gas (at a current marginal production cost of $13 can be profitable). Many developed countries have other energy resources to gradually shift to (coal, nuclear for a while, water, solar, etc). So...severe disruption, yes, and depression like conditions...I'm afraid likely.

2. On a separate subject, the people who run corporations are CEO's (not board members) and having met a few, and heard many speak on television, I can tell you these are generally Very Smart people. Admittedly some board members are not as traditionally smart (although many board members were former CEO's or had other successes worth noting) but there is more than one type of "intellegence"(see the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intellegence). I would posit that many of those board members who are not traditionally "smart" do have Gardner's "interpersonal intellegence". Also, for those who think they just inherited money and "automatically" joined a board; if that were true why aren't all wealthy people on major company boards and note that a study of American society shows tremendous mobility within economic classes with large percentages rising or falling in class within their own lifetimes.

3. Maybe, just maybe, Adam Smith (please read Adam Smith) is right and the invisible hand of self interest has and will continue to make capitilism an efficient system to develop productivity and wealth for society as a whole, even though the coming period. Also, by the way there are at least some politicians who are aware, apparently in many countries based on the Oil Drum articles I have read (Roscoe Bartlett in U.S.) Capitalism (a slightly altered form) is working very well to take the Chinese out of poverty. Perhaps capitilism might be the worst system except every other one.

4. As to complexity, I would guess that either simple or complex can have survivability (see amoebas and sharks) but either way it is the inherent strength of the system that is key. Here is one interesting complexity that might help preserve society during the coming times. Investors of all types(anti-capitalists call them "speculators") will buy oil and oil futures and run up the cost of oil in anticipation of shortages. This is a very good thing as the cost of oil will likely be ahead of the curve of supply shortages. If oil hits $200 a barrel in anticipation of a future supply/demand structure that should require physical oil at $200 in two years that could give people time to adjust before there are physical shortages. I anticipate that is how the oil markets will in fact move and why they hit $147 last year (a perfect example of an anticipatory first warning from investors that did in fact give us a first beneficial warning).

good morning. (at least it is in my time zone). I like many of your comments here; if I may I'll reply with things they brought to mind:

There are those that speak as if collapse is a certainty. Nothing in life is a certainty, the universe is always about probabablity.

A probabilistic worldview is, IMO, one of the most useful possessions one can have in life.

The word "collapse" is sometimes used in a narrative way to imply that all possible "collapsed" states of a system are essentially equivalent. That's simply not correct, as you point out. The potential states the system may settle into are bounded, but still huge. These states represent a huge range in the quality and quantity of subsequent human and nonhuman life occupying the earth for the next ten-million-plus years.

However, it is not nonsense to speak of a 100% certainty of collapse in some contexts. My odds of still being alive in ten million years are low, since the complex system which is me has no known stepwise path to attain this. What do you think my odds are?

Thanks much for your comments, especially the quote about a worldview that I plan to remember..

Yes, I admit the odds of making it 10 million years are low but even that is not zero. New medical technologies are making great progress with artificial body parts. There has been recent progress in transplanting monkey spines to monkey heads which is one of the final barriers to aiding spinal injury patients (or a new body). There is also the possibility of advanced cloning for body part replacement. I am not judging ethics, I'm just saying there isn't much that's 100%

I don't disagree with you about hitting my 10 millionth birthday, but I think we'd agree it's bloody unlikely enough to be usefully semantically equivalent to a 0% chance, an example of the "when pigs have wings" set of hypothetical futures.

Frankly, I prefer my monkeys with their heads on. I'd like to see some progress in using the ample oversupply of human parts to benefit ape species not in overshoot.

A decade ago I did have some discussions with a rather well-known physicist who felt that subjectively we all must necessarily experience quantum immortality, and can prove it to our own subjective satisfaction by trying to kill ourselves and repeatedly failing. He is, in my opinion, sorely mistaken for reasons I detailed to him. When I last checked he was still present in my perceivable iteration of reality, so he must nurse some doubts about this proposition.

Agreed. It's effectively zero for 10 million. I'd be thrilled with 200 (and settle for 107).

I don't want to be alive 10 million years from now, or even 100 years from now. I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the way my world has changed just over the course of the 57 years of my life. By the time I'm 80 or 90, it is certain to be a very strange and different world, especially given the profound changes that are likely given all that we are projecting here.

Let's leave the future to the people to whom it rightfully belongs. It will be THEIR time, not ours.

Capital will search the world for the highest return with acceptable risk. The surplus of low-wage workers, lax environmental laws and a command economy has lured much capital to China to take advantage of U.S. first world excess. As the standard of living scale tips slightly in favor of the Chinese, the scale sinks for its competitors. As energy becomes more expensive, Chinese advantage will only be amplified. China may continue to show some net growth even after much of the rest of the world is in contraction. Just as the demise of GM may be beneficial to Ford, so too will the contraction and financial failure of first world countries benefit the Chinese.

Capitalism will provide every superfluous product possible as long as there is a profit to be made. It is a fire that will burn through every energy source that it can metabolize. I think the collapse of standards of living will be a long slow squeeze with many punctuating events along the way. What we are beginning to experience is not sudden death but rather a chronic wasting disease that will eventually take us to the same destination.

True on the first paragraph, and let's not forget about capitilism flourishing in India and Brazil. Part of the peak oil problem is that we are in a globalized information age and half of the rest of the world turned on the internet and discovered (for better or worse) a richer lifestyle.

On point two, true it will very likely be a long and painful squeeze with punctuating events along the way but maybe not to the end of society. What about possible advances in terms of new energy sources (wave power, new gas sources, wind, advances in solar, cleaner coal)gradually helping to adjust for our current oil addiction. Also, maybe current alternative sources combined with significant adjustments (some mentioned above)can bridge the gap so we have a huge shock and stagflation but not a total collapse. Do you see a collapse at effectively 100% and based on the projections of oil supply we see on the Oil Drum, if so, when?

Hello Dopamine,

See my posting upthread, then assimilate with this following, speculative thought-process. Consider a super-capitalistic, Humanimal-Corporate, Hyper-Hyena: that seeks to profitably control and hoard NPKS and FFs--our Societal Prey; ie, "How Will Knowledge of Collapse Impact Collapse?" as a driving force. This is nothing more than the logical, genetically-evolved result towards the feeding frenzy "Me-First" desire to gorge on the High ERoEI internal organs.

For example: consider ARAMCO merging with GAZPROM merging with XOM merging with Morocco's OCP merging with POT merging with the US & Russian Military..and so on into the highest possible evolved Corporate Personhood. Thus, it would be very easy as the 'Keystone Predator' to get your fill first of NPKS and FFs, while at the same time denying those that might later wish to join your tightly constrained feeding frenzy. Webb/Pomerene for S might work just as well as Webb/Pomerene for Canpotex & Belaruskali [K], and the Phosphate Group [P] to keep the pull-system supply chain functional--the "Corporate Circle of Life".

Is a loose amalgam of geo-strategic planetary control of recovered-S, I-NPK & FFs inevitable? I wish I knew, and I also wish other TODers would consider this scenario as they practice the Yeasty Peakoil Shoutout or consume the yellow-gold of sulfur-smelling eggs. IMO, we need to olfactory-ignite a lot more [S]ynaptic Wildfire[S] by the Flehman Response. :)

Recall my Ft. Knox scenario, and also consider that Morocco is the USA's oldest ally, dating back to Thomas Jefferson, and Morocco also enjoys good relations with KSA. Recall my link where KSA gave Morocco $500 million [possible down payment for later P-control cooperation?] and the USA's sale of F-16s to Morocco.

IMO, this is similar to the ancient process 'Circle of Life' process whereby volcanic-S met H2O to form sulfuric acid to leach Elements, such as P, from the rocks to jumpstart the paradigm shift to create life. Recall the deepsea volcanic vents where worms feed off the emitted-S [with a tremendous oceanic desert across most of the deepsea floor], then compare to a SuperCorp feeding off depleting FFs & P,K and recovered-S [with a tremendous land-based desert caused by CC & Resource Depletion].

Perhaps the best name for this SuperCorp might be to call it CyanoBacteria,Inc. Will they thermodynamically lead us to create the next FF-cycle 150-million years from now by our extinction, or might they knowingly lead us through the Bottleneck by some measure of Optimal Overshoot Decline?

Hello Totoneila,

I'm going to have my pork CHNOPS for dinner tonight :). I wonder what types of beasts will evolve to take advantage of the world's resources. I am sure it will be a candy coated Dr. Jekyll intent on spreading democracy and freedom and assisting in the development of infrastructure. Unfortunately Mr. Hyde is the hyena hiding behind Dr. Jekyll's goodwill, ready to feast upon the choicest parts of the unfortunate victim.

I'm with you concerning the many ways shapes and forms of collapse,and the various degrees of severity.

Personally I am highly confident that survivors will continue to enjoy quite a bit of technology,and that they will be fairly numerous.

I have remarked here before that I believe that the US and other highly developed countries can achieve a controlled descent similar to your scenario except more austere by means of rationing and other emergency measures that might well extend to martial law-but nearly all of us would at least survive.A trigger event of some sort capable of focusing the attention of the public to a very high degree would be necessary to set the nation on such a course.

If we are VERY lucky you may be right.On the other hand as an avid reader of history,and a serious student of agriculture(which is now in developed countries almost totally dependent on ff and the industrial infrastructure) it is obvious to me that the four horsemen are rested and ready to ride.My bet is collapse involving one hell of a lot of gunpowder.Peak lead may be a term used tongue in cheek by future historians of the next fifty years.

I was recently discussing the possibility of an industrial collapse with an elderly mechanic who is a relative and a good friend a while back and he "got it" almost immediately.Before I was well started he said something to the effect that we can't go from tractors back to mules cause there ain't no mules and even if there wuz they couldn't pull a wagon from where the farms are to where the people are.(He is well traveled within the US because he used to drive trucks.)A little while later he came up with his own analogy as to why if our modern economy ever crashes really hard we can't get it started again:

It's like you're driving a loaded truck along in high gear and everything is ok as long as you don't have to stop.If you ever have to stop you ain't got no firstsecond third gear to git going agin cause the oldtimers that built everthin we used to build what we got now are gone an there ain't hardly noboby left that can do nothing the old ways.

Now it may be that he is more open minded in this one respect than most people because the only book he ever reads other than a service manual is the King James Bible and collapse is a very real part of his world view.He expects to meet his deceased parents again some day with the same certainty that most of us attribute to tomorrow's sunrise.

My buddy is a grade school dropout but he could have been a fine engineer if fate had dealt him a better hand.

Here is where I argue further against total collapse (although I do have ammo in case of my 1% worst case.)

1. What about possible advances in terms of new energy sources (wave power, new gas sources, more efficient wind, advances in solar, cleaner coal)gradually helping to adjust for our current oil addiction. OK, I admit only possible but never count out advances in technology. I also recently read an interesting article about solar thermal that I believe uses mirrors instead of photovoltaics (anyone can tell me if that is an efficient future energy alternative?). Higher prices are an incentive for the free market for innovation.

2. Stronger argument: painful societal adjustments (take your vacations while you can)like some mentioned above can likely bridge the gap so we have a huge shock and stagflation but not total collapse. At $13 an mcf production cost shale gas (but higher as oil goes up as that is one input) could wind up to be even more plentiful than thought. We probably have 50-200 years of coal (hey, I'll take dirty or cleaner coal over total collapse and worry about the possible myth (or possible reality) of man made global warming later).

3. Smart investors of all types (including me- sorry anticapitalists) are likely to drive the cost of oil up (in my case the cost of oil companies) ahead of actual physical shortages. Higher cost oil can drive demand down and alert the public before the actual shortage. It was $147 last year when there were no severe physical shortages and the public became aware and began the adjustment process.

If not for the not totally coincidental collapse (possibly partly triggered by peak oil but it had to happen anyway) of a largely Government induced subprime mess (sorry democrats but the hated President GW brought Eight bills to control subprime mess but B Frank and friends wouldn't even consider those- equality for all even those who need a home and need no income check to qualify) maybe oil would have remained very high and the public would still be adjusting ahead of the next physical shortage.

it depends on your definition of collapse. I didn't define it in this post because I thought it too subjective - but all collapses don't lead to huge dieoffs - some would only collapse the current socio-economic system under their own weight...collapse to me means the end of something brittle and the beginning of something else.

wallstreet, this quotation from your post argues FOR your 1% case:

"(although I do have ammo in case of my 1% worst case.) "

A couple of data points for your condideration:

1) I have spent several years trying to educate colleages about the Long Emergency. The results I know of so far: one has started growing food in his back yard AND got a concealed weapon permit, the other bought guns and ammo for himself and his wife.

2) I work in an inner city high school, and can report on circumstances there. In the last two years we have lost 4 students to gunfire; the most common weapon was AK47. Many students have bought into the 'thug life' paradigm, and intend as Fiddy Cent put it, to "Get rich or die tryin". The sense of entitlement these students have has to be experienced to be believed. Further, studying and in-class showing of movies has kept the appalling US slavery period well-defined in the minds of the black portion of our student body; I feel pretty confident many of our students will die before picking up a hoe (I mean the agricultural kind:). They will view any attempt to relocate and retrain them for agricultural production to be an attempt to re-enslave them.

I have well-founded doubts that my colleages and students are going to join hands and sing Kumbayah when the pie starts shrinking and the social safety net dissappears.

Errol in Miami

Hello Oldfarmermac,

Tightly constrained and depleting postPeak availability of FFs & NPKS will inevitably setoff a huge move towards full-on O-NPK recycling [See Jenkins' Humanure Handbook & Macfarlane PDF for future postPeak trends]. If you can't buy NPKS--you have to make your gunpowder the old-fashioned way:
First US patent for Potash
I would prefer O-NPK recycling for boosting photosynthesis with wheelbarrows and SpiderWebRiding [to partially make up for insufficient draft animals] versus using O-NPK for boosting explosive weaponry, but my guess is that we will get a lot of the latter: we love being stupid Fire-Apes instead of grazing peacefully like high mountain African Gorillas with well-developed Innate Territoriality instincts. Such is life..

"If you ever have to stop you ain't got no firstsecond third gear to git going agin cause the oldtimers that built everthin we used to build what we got now are gone an there ain't hardly noboby left that can do nothing the old ways."

Interesting post and some astute thoughts. I would advise folks not to underestimate the talent out in the countryside. It is not that there "ain't hardly noboby left" who can do things, it's just that they are virtually invisible and in many cases they are considered by the elite think tankers and message board posters as socially inferior, thus, they don't exist.

I started my career in the fabrication shops, machine shops and sheet metal shops and repair shops of this country. How many folks here have ever been in one? I am sure some have, but I am willing to bet that most of the folks at the banks, the universities, the policy think tanks, foundations and the corporate offices have never been in one.

Everyone should work in the fabrication end or our culture(welding, machining,sheet metal fabrication, hydrualics shops, electric motor and electric systems fab shops, foundrys, etc. at least once. The things they can do, the precision they are cabable of, the creative arrangements of components, the pressures and tempetures they deal with on a daily basis, it is astounding.

I left the shops of the nation because there is no reward there in most cases. No money, no status, but worst of all, no allowence for creativity. Many of the people in the shops are involved in hobbies such as model making (some of which are so beautiful, creative and precise they will bring a tear to your eye if you respect the art of craftsmanship), drag racing (a whole subclass in America that can build in steel, aluminium, carbon fibre, understands the physics of combustion and mixing and burning of fuel, understand various fuels such as methanol, ethanol, nitromethane, gasoline, Diesel, propane and in many cases even compressed natural gas) understands the effect of massive cubing of forces as speed and pressures increase, on and on and on...but of course they are socially classed as blue collar rednecks, so they use their talent purely as an act of the human need to create and express themselves).

The incredible talent of this nation in the small shops, labs and farms of this country is out there waiting to be tapped. It is our shame that we do not put it to use to help enrich our nation and acknowledge and reward them for all they already do to keep this nation running, and all they could do to make it better.



Its out there?

I don't think so..not in quantities enough to matter.

Right now its all about shaved heads,massive tattoos,metal things in the body and pretending to be vampires in love or whatever the latest craze is.

I guaranteed its not metal working. Yes there are a few. A very very damn few. I hunted a long time way back to find some decent blacksmiths but even those are likely dead by now or in the old folks home.

Dream on but the reality is we wasted a couple of generation on trinkets of zero value.

I can shape metal with a forge and anvil but I don't. No market. No desire. I got the tools but not the demand and it won't be there til its tooo late. I will be gone and my blacksmith buddies too.

All the rest is needful of electricity.Mig,Tig,and so forth...most no one can even sweat solder on one.

Todays youth are a waste of human flesh...IMO...I see them at work.I am not impressed.



Your phrase,"not in quantities enough to matter" will be the issue. I have not done enough research to know how many will be needed doing what, so I would be not qualified to refute you on that statement.

On a more local basis, I seem to have been luckier in my contact with younger people. I work with them and I know many who stayed in the shop trades, and my experience of them on an individual basis has been mostly positive. And appearances can be tricky...I have seen a guy with tattoos all over him and a nose ring who could weld together anything from furniture to car chassis in about any metal you asked for.

It is true that some of the blacksmithing skills seem rare (although there are still some hand craft folks around doing it, and also blowing glass, working in pewter etc. (some of the ones at Berea Kentucky are great, including woodworking and craft furniture that is artistic as well as well made) but you hit the nail on the head, if there is no market for it, people will not learn to do it. But the young people I know learn surprisingly fast. Given that many of them were born of parents who have never worked anywhere other than an office or a college campus, I am amazed they can do as much as they can!



I have a lot of experience in these things. I have my own shop with oxy acteylene torches,three welders incliding tig and mig one engine driven,auto lift,drill press,two chin high rollaround boxes full of hand tools.I can fix almost anything that does not require a lathe or milling machine found on a farm if it was made before electronics took over,and I can troubleshoot that wellenough to locate the bad part-most of the time.A nieghbor has a machine shop of the old sort.

But I have only the foggiest idea how to go about making a wooden wagon wheel,and I wouldn't know where to start if I had to make a saddle or make hand fired brick.

The stuff you are talking about is like seven and eight in a nine speed truck.And as Airdale points out below,there are damn few of us left that can do even this much.

The only people who really know anything about first and second gear are historians,and I doubt there are very many of them.

Airdale has nailed it in his post below-not enough to matter in terms of the big picture.

But enough to maybe save your personal butt if you are on good terms with a couple of them.

You are right about respect.There was a time when a true master machinist was looked upon in the same light as the musicians who play today in the worlds finest orchestras.

I have a foggy idea on how to make a wooden wagon wheel and the hard part is making the parts to specification and that requiers lots of training and good tools.

But why would you like to make a wooden wagon wheel when it is about as hard to set up production of steel hub and spoke wheels? It is about as much work to tool up for series
production of either type of wheel and a hub and spoke wheel dont use much more steel then the rim on a wooden wheel.

Why plan for a fallback that is less usefull then reusing the scrap heap? If you want to keep and develop skills you need to aim higher then that.


My personal plan IS to use the scrap heap exactly as you suggest.
Mine is getting to be fairly impressive.I packrat anything that won't rot.

But there is no iron ore or coal nearby,and my welders have circuit boards that will fail eventually,and although I might with a litlle luck keep a tractor running twenty years without purchased spares(tractors are very sturdily built) I couldn't possibly make a rubber tire.

The oxy acteylene out fit will last if husbanded for emergencies two or three years once I can't exchange the empties.

But I am fairly confident I can work the dumps for as long as I am physically able-maybe as much as twenty years if I'm really lucky.

Every thing after that is an academic question for my part.

In any event I am reasonably sure that we can avoid the body parts strung out for miles kind of hard crash and limp along at a severely reduced levels of use of nonrenewables for a good while yet,and that I will be able to buy tractor parts and diesel fuel -even if the fuel is rationed and fifteen bucks per gallon.

But all bets are off the table in case of a major war.

These comments refer to my expectations for the US and the next couple of decades.I try not to think too much about the rest of the world,it's too depressing.

The point is that a business need to do something that in some way is better then what is avialable on the scrap heap to be a viable business and contribute to a sustainable society. A scrap heap runs out of usefull stuff but a small or large scale wheel factory can last for manny generations and continously improve its products to fit the needs.

I rather figure out how to build a small scale series production wheel factory then how to make a single wagon out of scrap.

Sounds a lot like tool manufacturing. The demand for welders, toolmakers etc has been very robust in Sweden and there are still lots of open positions in the midst of the financial crisis. I think the problem to a large degree comes from a physical separation between youth and workplaces due to safety, long commutes and a competition that makes it hard to take care of visiting children or apprentices and a mental separation where mainstream media do not show or talk about "dirty" work and mostly expose each others pretty feathers and trivial consumption.

The "dirty" work is usually quite or very clean.

It's good to know there are still others here who do not have an 'all or nothing' mindset. So many of the most vocal here seem to view total collapse of all societies in the entire world forever as a virtual certainty. Of couse in reality there are a range of possible outcomes post peak oil, from improvement of civilisation, to the aforementioned total collapse.

Realistically, no-one has ever predicted the future accurately about anything and it is pure arrogance for anyone to state that they know what is going to happen. The only correct course of action is to plan for a reasonable range of possibilities.

Incidentally, if collapse does occur, it would be very difficult to plan in any reasonable way for the aftermath as that future would contain so many uncertainties and be so different from the current situation that any attempt at predicting what would be most useful to a particular individual is likely to be rather difficult.

Just as all individuals die, all species eventually go extinct. You may say that "it is pure arrogance for anyone to state that they know what is going to happen" but I know for sure that you and I are going to die and that Homo sapiens is going to go extinct. When I, at least, use the term "collapse" in the context of peak oil, anthropogenic climate change, the collapse of ecosystems and decimation of biodiversity, I mean by it human population collapse to extinction. Since human extinction is inevitable, the only question is one of timing. Will collapse be to the point of extinction within the lifetimes of those already born? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps it will only be to the point where relict populations in the Southern Hemisphere oscillate in number for several centuries before Allee effects drag them down one by one to extinction. I agree that "it would be very difficult to plan in any reasonable way for the aftermath" since doing so as a society would be as futile as the individual attempting to "plan for" evading death. During a mass extinction event of the scale of the one ongoing, one of the only reliable predictors of survival is small body size. Vertebrates much larger than a rat, starling or bullhead catfish are doomed, on the timescale of decades to a few millenia. All the "tipping points" have already tipped.

That is what people are not acknowledging: We are in a great mass extinction event, that has only happened 5 other times in 3.5 billion years.
And we are on a aging star, and will be really challenged to reach the diversity of the last 100 million years, even with the K/T event counted in.

I wonder if all nonhuman animals lack the understanding of collapse. I believe that pack/herd animals can notice when their group is decimated through starvation/predation/environmental change, etc. This noticing, however framed, could be consistent with an understanding of collapse when considered from the perspective of the nonhuman considered.

I also don't believe that older civilizations were unaware of their collapse. In fact, it is possible that they were more aware of the limitations affecting them because they were living in closer contact with the underpinnings of their civilizations. For example - a decrease in agricultural fertility requiring more intensive practice would be noticed by a larger proportion of the population than now. And, unlike us, they would be intimately aware of the effects of a poor harvest. I believe it is very likely these people saw the hard times coming.

Because we have the language and a framework to label what is coming as a collapse does not mean that we are the only ones to have noticed when one is on the way. In fact, due to the opiate of mass media our society may be less aware of the approaching storm than other cultures were. The fact that behavior did not change in older collapsed societies until after they collapsed is not evidence that some people did not know a collapse was coming. in fact, it is not even evidence that many people did not know a collapse was imminent. After all, most suggestions I have read for mediating the effects of PO or CC amount to little more than tweaking BAU. If it is not possible for our society with its advantages to change in response to the ecological/resource limits approaching then why should we be surprised that other societies couldn't? We as 'modern humans' cannot shake the belief that problem solving and technology will allow (modified) BAU to continue. Neither could the easter islanders shake the belief that their long-standing (sorry - pun) society's method of getting things done would not continue to do so.

I wonder if any society is able to transition through a discontinuity? It may very well be that the base nature of a discontinuity does not allow us (however well prepared) to successfully transit one - if we define successful as retaining the same structure with which we entered the discontinuity. And it may also be that the nature of the outcome post discontinuity is defined more by the nature of the discontinuity than any preparation for it.

Sorry for the long-winded post - it's a quiet Sunday :)


Hmmm.... appears to be a quiet monday too.

I also wanted to state - but thought that the above was getting long - that just because our society has a lot of information does not mean that it has a comparable amount of wisdom or ability to act.

Here at TOD we are viewing the change of things (?collapse) through one lens, that of peaking oil extraction. We are basically in agreement that there will be a point of maximum extraction followed by a diminishing rate of extraction. We are also in agreement that if this peak has not already happened then it is just about to. Beyond that, however, all bets are off. We cannot agree on some rather basic things - the ELM, the impact upon agriculture(mechanics, chemicals, transport)and thereby our food supply, the impact upon resource extraction, the impact upon lifestyle. For every dire scenario painted there is a response either directly minimizing the impact or outlining mitigation sufficient to minimize the impact.

And peak oil is only one of the issues facing our civilizations these days. What do we do to address the others (environmental, economic, resource, population)? Since just about any decision we make will result in hardship in the short term and only hopefully result in improvements in the long term it is not difficult to see why BAU has such appeal. As an analogy - does the captain run from the storm (which may or may not catch him according to the weather office)hoping to steer around the rocks or does she sail through looking for calm on the other side (if the ship even makes it to the other side with all hands)? It's a hard decision to make - with positives and negatives and potential for mutiny along any decision trajectory. And this is just a ship and a storm - not our society with multiple stressors, cohorts, special interests and leaders.

I don't think it is hard at all to see why no real action is taken on a grand scale.

When we think of easter island I'll bet we think of one lone mature tree in a barren landscape falling victim to the axe. It likely was something quite different. Likely the last mature tree was felled in an environment where there were lots of juveniles around. But people underestimated how long it took trees to mature, they underestimated firewood needs, they underestimated the effects of predators on seedlings, they underestimated the effect of a few bad years of growth. And then one day there were no more trees.

Sound familiar?



I spent over two decades living with and attempting to understand Native subsistence cultures of northern Alaska . The over riding impression gained was one of resilience. The economy was largely based on hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. Wildlife populations are dynamic, so the Natives had learned not to overly rely on any single specie or activity. They were flexible and able to rapidly shift from one resource or activity to another as opportunities presented themselves. There was also little tendency for one individual or family to attempt to acquire more than their neighbors. When this did happen it was expected that the fortunate would share with the less fortunate largely leveling the playing field. The reward for exceptional success as a hunter/gatherer is prestige rather than material wealth. Individualism, as understood in Western cultures, was not idealized. Native subsistence users usually belong to loosely structured cooperative groups that share the burdens and rewards of traditional economic activities. Within a given village there may be numerous small cooperative groups centered around fishing, hunting, gathering, building boats and sleds, etc. Membership within a group is strictly voluntary. Individual cooperative group members consider themselves to belong to the larger village social organization and to have ties of responsibility to all other villagers. This sense of membership was summed up in one village with the saying; no one goes hungry, unless everyone goes hungry.

Tremendous economic and social changes have taken place in rural Alaska villages since I left. Life has become more dependent on modern technology and the cash economy. Children spend more time in schools learning Western ways and less time absorbing the wisdom of village elders and following their parents in harvest activities. Sadly, there has been serious erosion of the skills and knowledge built up over countless generations of subsistence living. However, the basic cooperative group structure continues to exist and will serve the Natives well as they realize they must return to the old ways.

Those who are serious about developing sustainable lifestyles adapted to the realities of a post Oil Age would do well to study the tribal/village cooperative system that served Native Americans for hundreds of years before the arrival of Western civilization.

guest post welcome on your experiences, especially if you could parse it down in conclusion to the several core aspects that makes those cultures more resilient (what traits are reinforced and what ones are punished/ostracized and how did these come about, etc.)

Cooperation has a purpose and can be in one's self interest and maybe it can work sometimes but here is an interesting different story. (Read Thomas Sowell).

When the Puritans arrived in Plymouth, Ma. in 1620 to settle they decided on a communal type economic approach. This was America's first experiment with socialism. They decided that everyone would work togeather and they would share the fruits of their labor and share all their food. Well, after a few years of this approach the colony was almost wiped out by famine.

Here is a clip;

The Pilgrims’ Governor, William Bradford, described the folly of embracing the theory of collectivism:

“The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.

“For this community was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors everything else, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

The Pilgrims, a pious and decent people, discovered that even the best of men cannot thrive under socialism’s incentive-crushing system. This experiment with socialism—probably its best chance for success amongst such selfless, righteous people—failed miserably. The Puritans discovered that government cannot deny man’s inherent desire to work hard to provide for his own family and be rewarded when his labor exceeds his neighbor’s.

(clip credit to Thomas Sowell and Merideth Turney)

The next year, a self interest based system was installed (before famine finished the colony) in which plots of land were alloted and each took the fruits of their own harvest to do with what they liked. That very next year the colony began to thrive and the famine was finally ended.

I'll take my chances on Adam Smith's invisible hand, especially in a large country.


I have read Adam Smith,many years ago,and I believe in the invisible hand.It has after all enabled me to live a materially far richer,longer,healthier life than the kings and popes of preindustrial times-not to mention enjoying this utterly magical exchange with you!

But you are (perhaps) mistaken as you seem to think that we "doomers"-I dislike the term but it DOES sum up the crash scenario in one short word-have no faith in the market and /or technology.
Quite a few of us have a great deal of faith in the market,but believe that unless tightly regulated for the larger good it will lead us into a corner we can 't back out of,if it hasn't already.I believe that we can and should continue to have a free hand economy,but government at some level must prevent at least some of the worst abuses.Two tycoons can be relied on to not throw thier trash in each others yard,but no tycoon big or little can be counted on to refrain from tossing his trash in the nearest river from which we must drink or the air we all must breathe unless forced to do so.

Now so far as technology goes I am perfectly willing to accept the premise that we can innovate our way out of our current problems,GIVEN ENOUGH TIME.The problem is that speaking as a professionally educated member of another field(agriculture) my conclusion is that we don't have even a snowball's chance on a hot stove of commercializing and scaling the technologies needed to get the job done,
within the time frame we face.

The many professionally trained folks in the crash camp have come to the same conclusion by the same means that you would use.You examine the books and business prospects of a corporation and pronounce judgememt on it-buy,sell,hold,run like helland even get rid of any stock in any company doing business with the one with the plague cause they'll catch it too.

Theses people include numerous engineers,biologists,and other professionals of many stripes including many of the worlds best.

The Hirsch report offers up some good arguments we are running out of time to mitigate the peak oil problem.


I more than agree with the report and believe we are actually past running out of time but not necessarily to an entire collapse, yes to a lot of not to pleasant change. The 2005 Report did on the other hand say we had technologies to mitigate the problem if timely action is taken. Hopefully, the last four years wasn't the difference (because we should started 20 years ago) and there has been some progress in the past four years.

Here is my recipe for collapse. You may use different ingredients, but this makes a tasty broth that can be refrigerated (if you can still power your refrigerator) and used for leftovers.

Start with declining top line world oil production.
Then add in the decline of oil available on world export markets because of rising producer country usage (Jeffrey and Khebab's Export Land Model).
Then add in producer countries holding back production for future generations (see the king of SA's comments).
Then add in the declining net energy of the remaining oil (EROEI).
Then add in the increasing disrepair of our basic infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity transmission, transportation) and our inability to pay to repair it.
Then make fertilizer very expensive and start decreasing food production.
Then add "hordes of unemployed" (from Hirsch's congressional testimony).

At this point, take note of the consistency of the human population when placed under this sort of stress. If it is calm and cooperative, you must be on a different planet making this dish and you should seek a different recipe.

Throw in a currency collapse as energy is taken away from the economy and the crushing debt remains.
Then start taking the nuclear power plants offline as they reach the end of their design life (about 25 more years) with insufficient replacements ready.

You really must add some fuel shortages or the spiciness won't be quite right.

All of these ingredients are easily obtainable from various well-sourced and credible reports.

If that doesn't get you a collapse soup unsuitable for company this Saturday night, nothing will.

Edit: Sorry, I forgot a major ingredient and it's quite embarrassing. Around the step where you add the currency collapse, add lowered crop yields, declining water supplies and major migrations of people due to climate change. You can also add depleted fisheries and massive releases of methane from the permafrost if you wish, but usually the soup is interesting enough at this point; more ingredients just crowd out the other flavors.

MPJC is having a meeting and potluck dealing with local energy issues (Marin) tonight (Monday)-
Let me know if you want more info.

Hi, HT.
Alas, I can't be there tonight but sometime soon we should have a coffee together. BTW, July 2nd in SF I'm showing How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Kirsten Schwind from is going to lead a Q&A session on urban farming afterward and you're invited.

I would love to attend, but I'm off to the Kate Wolf Music Festival, then some down time up on Bull Creek in the Big Redwoods.
When I get back, lets meet.

The Cod Fisheries collapse is a real world example

to oldfarmermac,

You are right that the market can not fully solve the problem (although it will hopefully mitigate some of the problem). Adam Smith did however say that there are some "social goods" (where the public could over consume an asset- sounds like peak oil?) ,that along with military matters, that are one of the very few areas where government might need to be justifyably involved. Government will have to be more involved in energy in the future (but ideally in the most unobtrusive and simplest way).

Then again it should also be noted government regulation in the U.S. is (rightfully or wrongfully) preventing or slowing nuclear plants and coal plants (and caused most or all of the Katrina disaster when environmentalists in the 1980's won a court case that prevented the building up of dams around Lake Ponsatrane (sp?) which had been recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers). So government involvement to protect this social good will admittedly be certain but hopefully as unobtrusive possible.

Also, the Adam Smith note was more to those who feel a socialist society or a Cuban/Korean approach will help.


Jamestown was founded as a capitalistic 'plantation'.
It was a complete failure and nearly was wiped out until Captain John Smith abolished 'freedom'--gentlemen-capitalists who wanted to hunt for gold were warned
'He who does not work neither shall he not eat!'--Thessalonians 3:10

Wallstreetexpress? Sounds like just another Ponzi crook.

There are many forms of work that can benefit society.

You are ignoring the facts. James Bradford was real and part of history and his quote was very real (read it carefully). They became a "capitalist plantation" only after a real socialist experiment failed.

Thanks for the insult but I am a hardworking very honest individual who helps people every day and I take my hard earned money and honestly invest half of it in oil companies, instead of a bank. Most of the rest is also honestly invested in Canadian government bonds.


Everything will be fine! Steve Jobs rolled out the iphone 3G - he left us with the ultimate survival tool before leaving the planet : )

The newest version has a video camera - so you can leverage all your capabilities. Collapse won't come as fast as long as communications networks remain intact. But if Kim Jong or his 26-year-old in charge of ending life on planet earth go kablooey - I want to see climate impact plans that study the effects of radiation on farmland in the US.

Recall that Steve Jobs just had a liver transplant: from one Hyena to another? How's that for resource maximization in the scheme of keystone predation? I'm an organ donor myself when the time comes..

By definition, all previous ecosystem and non-human collapses were not 'understood as collapse' by those organisms alive during the collapse. Similarly, during historical human social collapses, (Rome, Easter Island, Anasazi, Maya, etc.), people might have known they were in the middle of some unpleasant trajectory, but they didn't have the knowledge, historical record, technology or communication that modern society possesses in understanding/explaining what was transpiring.

As far as the Romans go, they DID know that Rome was going to collapse...for centuries, in fact. (The other civilizations are non-literate and it's hard to use them to support the thesis.)
In fact, there were many prophecies of the fall, such as the dream of Romulus at the founding of the City of Roman ~700 BC.
Romulus dreamed on 11 vultures and the interpretation was that Rome would last 11 cenutries, until 400 AD.
In fact the old prophecies were so demoralizing that a Roman General Stilicho destroyed the Sibyline books (on the grounds that they were pagan).
And the Western Roman Empire ended ~476 AD( on time) when the imperial crown(diadem) and sceptre were sent to Constantinople(New Rome) and Rome dwindelled down to around 10,000 people in 900 AD from 1,000,000 in 400 AD.

And the Romans did many things to mitigate the inevitable.
They knew Rome, which as built in a swamp was unsustainable so they built Nova Roma at Byzantium(today Istambul) with an endless supply of fish to be caught in the Bosporus and directly on major trade routes. And Byzantine Rome lasted until 1453 when Turkish gunpowder brought down Constantine's walls.

They divided the Empire to reduce the dangerously oversized military.
They brought in Visigoths, even Huns as allies(sometimes) to bolster the military.

Another reason(cited by many Emperors from Augustus, Domitian, even Justinian) for the collapse of Rome was a globalized trade systems that traded Roman gold and silver(mined in Spain) for Chinese silks and Indian spices.

So the answers to the above are
1.) No.
2.) No, a mathematical (economistic) model will not destroy civilization. We need to concentrate on real reasons.
3.) Clearly, new leaders are necessary and more sustainable political systems--more like Cuba or North Korea. Our globalized networked system is growth driven and is doomed.

Interesting Roman analogy, You cann't mean starving people living in absolute dictatorships with no freedom.

See post above on Plymouth on 6/21 6:26

Right, I was about to say the same thing. The inhabitants of the Roman empire were more or less aware of the ongoing collapse. They DID think about it; many of the writings and analyses have vanished, but some remain, as do many of the records of the mitigating actions the authorities took, as Majorian detailed above. And the thinking was certainly more sophisticated than "the gods are angry with us because of our moral lapses," ALTHOUGH the most influential of all the analyses, Augustine's "City of God" ended up taking an altogether different tack, that basically "the truth" is ahistorical and not to be found on Planet Earth.

Interesting that the most influential of all the commentaries was the one least constrained by trying to understand the "facts on the ground."

I wonder if there's been any systematic study of all the Romans' reactions to societal collapse? Probably; that's the advantage of two thousand years' worth of historiography :-)

I think the City of God was mainly an attempt to defend Christianity against the charges of the Pagans(there were still a lot of Pagans around), that Christianity was destroying Rome by destroying Roman values. Much of the national wealth went to churches and clergy were exempt from military or public service etc.

By Pagans, you have to include all the philosophers of
the Classical civilization. One reason the classical world was 'lost' is that the Christians at that time hated the past.
They resembled today's Taliban.

Almost nothing of the enormous knowledge of the Classical Age came down intact--some 'liberated' during the bogus 4th Crusade(Sack of Constantinople).

And by Christians, you have to divide the Arians( Christ is the Son of God, but not God) from the Catholics(Christ is also God). The Visigoths and Vandals who starved and sacked Rome were more 'christian' to the Church than pagan philosophers.

I'm not sure I've seen any contemporary explanations(beyond Augustine's), but it probably wouldn't occur to those people to seek any systemic, rational explanations, everything was the will of God or Fortune(ahistorical).

During the 410 AD sieges of Rome by Alaric(a 'Christian' Visigoth general), the Pagans even attempted a comeback promising that they would direct lightning into the enemy camp if the Senate would vote thanks to Jupiter--the Senate didn't dare to defy the Emperor Honorius(hold up in the citadel of Ravenna). Honorius was the son of Theodosius, the first Catholic emperor who officially banned Paganism(before there was a Edict of Religious Toleration since 311 AD).

My source is almost always 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' by Gibbon.

Is there any actual evidence to support your PC-standard anti-Christianity diatribes?

One reason the classical world was 'lost' is that the Christians at that time hated the past.

A more likely reason is the observation that the ancient texts rotted (over hundreds of years) in the humid north, while they were preserved in the arid desert south (Egypt). You have to remember that the time of collapse of Rome and after was the barbarian Dark Ages when trivial things such as manuscripts were not valued much among the wandering and fighting, let alone if they related to the discredited past rather than the New world. How many people nowadays are thoughtfully preserving their 386's with Windows 3.11 installed? Let alone their slide-rules.

Dark Ages--If you look at the archeological record (in uk) you find you can see the Roman era, and later the cathedrals (still in use!) built by the Normans from 1066 onwards, but over the 5+ centuries in between you find hardly more than the rare ditch or posthole. That's how dark it was.

Is there any actual evidence to support your PC-standard anti-Christianity diatribes?


Decree of Theodosius, destruction by Theophilus in 391
In 391, Christian Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all "pagan" (non-Christian) temples, and the Christian Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria complied with this request.[19]

Socrates Scholasticus provides the following account of the destruction of the temples in Alexandria in the fifth book of his Historia Ecclesiastica, written around 440:

“ At the solicitation of Theophilus, Bishop of Alexandria, the Emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rites of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples. ”

The Mithraeum was an underground temple for worship of the god Mithras. Hundreds of such temples have been discovered throughout Europe, northern Africa, the Near East, and Great Britain.

The Serapeum once housed part of the Great Library, but it is not known how many, if any, books were contained in it at the time of destruction. Notably, the passage by Socrates Scholasticus, unlike that of Ammianus Marcellinus, makes no clear reference to a library or library contents being destroyed, only to religious objects being destroyed. The pagan author Eunapius of Sardis witnessed the demolition, and though he detested Christians, and was a scholar, his account of the Serapeum's destruction makes no mention of any library. Paulus Orosius admitted in the sixth book of his History against the pagans:

“ Today there exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen, and, when these temples were plundered, these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our time, which, indeed, is a true statement. ”

However, Orosius is not here discussing the Serapeum, nor is it clear who "our own men" are (the phrase may mean no more than "men of our time," since we know from contemporary sources that pagans also occasionally plundered temples).

As for the Museum, Mostafa El-Abbadi writes in Life and Fate of the Ancient Library of Alexandria (Paris 1992):

“ The Mouseion, being at the same time a 'shrine of the Muses', enjoyed a degree of sanctity as long as other pagan temples remained unmolested. Synesius of Cyrene, who studied under Hypatia at the end of the fourth century, saw the Mouseion and described the images of the philosophers in it. We have no later reference to its existence in the fifth century. As Theon, the distinguished mathematician and father of Hypatia, herself a renowned scholar, was the last recorded scholar-member (c. 380), it is likely that the Mouseion did not long survive the promulgation of Theodosius' decree in 391 to destroy all pagan temples in the city.

There are many more.

One instance is that Julian the Apostate
who tried to restore Paganism issued a decree that Christians could not make a living teaching rhetoric and philosophy as it was pure hypocrisy.

I invite you to read up on the degeneration of knowledge caused by Christians prior to 900AD(Charlemagne): Dark Ages 500-900AD.

When the Church realized how useful the knowledge was they re-branded classical civilization as an ornament of Christian civilization after having systematically demolished it. A good example is Rome itself which had been covered in marble and gold leaf but was literally torn down to make churches( except the Pantheon--the only intact building in the entire city)--the rest is GONE, compare that to Athens or even Constantinople under the care of the iconoclast Turks.

Dear Majorian, do you seriously not understand that just because someone claims to be a twxyzian, it does not follow that they really are even in the remotest. People constantly pretend convenient labels to themselves. The entirety of your "evidence" above rests on that basic fallacy.

The only genuine criterion of what is or is not Christianity is the four Gospels plus the Acts of the Apostles, which make crystal-clear the message of total pacifism to anyone who can be bothered to read them rather than just knee-jerk into a Politically-Correct bigotry that finds it unnecessary to bother with such key texts' mere key facts.

And excuse me, the Turks destroyed the great pagan Parthenon temple which had stood intact and functioning for TWO THOUSAND YEARS before the Jihadists arrived.
And as for destruction during the Dark Ages, again nothing to do with Christianity, it was simply due to an age dominated by barbarianism. We use the names of the barbarian's gods as our weekdays: Moonday, Tuesday, Woden'sday, Thor'sday, Fria'sday Saturnday, Sunday, While meanwhile the barbarians took over the bits they liked of Christianity (and ignored the pacifism at its heart). Meanwhile culture was preserved by the genuine Christians in monasteries such as Bede 14 centuries ago inventing footnotes and the idea of dating years from a fixed year 1.
The cultural heritage of Rome (via Christianity) is also recorded in the names of the months which are basically Roman gods and latin words. (Barbarians perhaps wouldn't have a long enough organisational span to bother with months.)

The real big destroyers of culture have been the Jihadists of the personality cult of the terrorist of Medina. For instance:
All these Jihadists were merely carrying out the directions for total terrorist Jihad as laid out in "Allah's" flawless last testament, not least 59:2-7. Throughout Europe you will meet the Roma people, who are dark-skinned and speak an Indic language because the are the descendants of those enslaved to dhimmitude in the above-cited Jihad against India.

Actually, The Parthenon was partly blown up by the Venetians who bombarded it in 1687. The Ottomans used it as a mosque before that.

In 1456, Athens fell to the Ottomans, and the Parthenon was converted again, into a mosque. Contrary to subsequent misconception, the Ottomans were broadly respectful of ancient monuments in their territories and did not willfully destroy the antiquities of Athens, but at the same time made no special effort to protect them. In times of war they were willing to demolish them to provide materials for walls and fortifications. A minaret was added to the Parthenon, and its base and stairway are still functional, leading up as high as the architrave and hence invisible from the outside. Otherwise, the Ottomans did not further modify the building. European visitors in the 17th century, as well as some representations of the Acropolis hill, testified that the building was largely intact.

The southern side of the Parthenon, which sustained considerable damage in the 1687 explosion
Fragment of an exploded shell found on top of a wall in the Parthenon, thought to originate from the time of the Venetian siege. In 1687, the Parthenon suffered its greatest blow when the Venetians under Francesco Morosini attacked Athens, and the Ottomans fortified the Acropolis and used the building as a gunpowder magazine.

Dear Majorian, you really know how to waste time here while misleading. The point is that the Parthenon survived intact for 2000 years until the Jihadists turned it into a gunpowder store. If you can't see that that means that the Jihadists were to blame for endangering it and hence for its destruction then clearly your gross bias is as incurable as your halfbaked replies are overlong. Cheers.

Of course the people who actually shot at the building had no responsibility.

Religious fanatics of all stripes cause problems. If you can only see this when it's somebody else's fanatics causing the problem I'd suggest you take the log out of your eye.

Heck, even non-religions have fanatics that cause serious problems, as demonstrated by football riots that pop up every now and then.

The problem is the fanaticism that closes minds and incites unreasonable actions, not the particular source of the fanaticism.

Of course the people who actually shot at the building had no responsibility.

Infinitely less responsibility than those who had already turned it into a military target and potential explosive catastrophe, yes.
Filling a building with gunpowder puts it in great danger even without anyone firing at it. (But this really is rocket-science for the P-C-blinkered.)

The remainder of your comment consists of points which are obviously true but of which I have never suggested otherwise so so what.

The historical record does show the cult of the terrorist M to be particularly prolific in its incitement of violence and conflict and destruction. Not exclusively so, sure. And of course the European/American society went on to become vastly more advanced than the rigid Islamic one, and consequently much greater in negative ways as well as in the more positive-- again so what!

PS--The current situation in Iran (the first ever revolution against an Islamic regime, and first of many), represents another turning point in the decline of Islam. And a war has already been lost by Islam, in that even the Grand Ayatollah in his "hardline" speech was appealing for respect for elections, that is a Western Christendom invention widely appreciated to be in contravention of the rule of Allah & Co. Rot of the rotten from within.

Way to miss the point completely.

Islam is just another belief system, only special in that it is part of the small group of belief systems with vary large numbers of followers.

Buddhism is the only such belief system that I have encountered that seems resistant to the spawning of violent fanatics, though the Quakers are proof that even Christianity can spawn truly non-violent sects.

Now about that log...

No, Islam is not just another belief system, that is the whole point. It was founded by an amply documented warmongering terrorist psychopath liar, and has been responsible for millions of deaths and horrendous terrorism against millions more innocent people. And still is. If Holocaust denial is a crime (or at least has to be censored out of websites including this one), how much worse can be Jihad Denial, denial of the roots of the terrorism which still continues to terrorise people around the world right now. I don't mean mainly the conspicuous al-Quaeda. Rather for a small instance of countless, in this city there's a large area where non-Muslims don't live (due to jihad harassment). I was surprised recently to see a white man getting off the bus in that area (just round from where some bombers were based). Then it dawned on me that he had a crutch for his right leg, a plaster cast for his left arm and a big scar on his right wrist. Anything dawn yet??? Are you proud to condone that? You'll be happily next in line forced to bow down reciting the required verses?

You speak as if the current Islamic Jihad is something special.

It isn't.

The Islamic Jihad is the direct result of those fanatics I referenced a few posts back. I don't give a damn if they are Islamic, Christian, Atheist, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Zarathustran: fanatics are bad news.

Beware the True Believers. Doubly Beware the ones that agree with you.

— The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...
Am I missing something? From those on the outside, one has to smile at Bronze and Iron Age Fiction.

You're just missing the lightning bolt, but it will be along anytime soon, Insh'allah!

Great video Nate. Saw some similar dynamic system modelling in a DVD lecture series on Chaos Theory It is pretty graphic how even with simple systems all you need to do is exceed the threshold of one of the variables to cause a discontinuity. Benoir Mandelbrot has also written on this in his book, The(Mis)behavior of Markets.
A critical question and unknown is how many cycles it will take to reach the discontinuity and I suppose this important variable will be hard to know until it is too late.

1. We have already seen some change in demand behavior due to the recent oil price spike, though it has been relatively small. If you look at "The Oil Age" chart, this same trend was observed on a larger scale around 1981. It is possible if the spike were much higher this could cause some long term behavioral changes. It is doubtful, however, whether these changes would be large enough and in time to prevent an eventual collapse. One problem is not knowing what "in time" means. BAU seems so natural and easy to trend from. It is also hard to imagine/understand that there can really be such an abrupt change after so many periods of stability.

2. Perhaps if enough people understood the concept of collapse dynamics our behavior could cascade in the reverse direction. This is doubtful though....especially given our history of often knowing the right thing to do yet ignoring it and doing the opposite. It may change some of the "initial conditions" but that would not necessarily change the eventual outcome. Our brain derives so much pleasure from anticipating short term benefits that it often ignores the long term to our detriment.

3. This is possible but seems unlikely. We would almost certainly need a new system and probably some different wiring in the brains of our leaders. How do we get this new wiring? Perhaps after enduring a few growth and collapse cycles as we head down the back of the oil depletion curve we could learn how to adapt.

"How Will Knowledge of Collapse Impact Collapse?"

This is somewhat reminiscient of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Studying the system might change it.

That is exactly what first came to my mind.
It seems like a variation of the uncertainty principle but the small numbers that are aware of the dire predicament aren't going to have any impact.
On second thought uncertainty in the quantum physical sense only applies to distortions that are possible because the observers scale is so much larger than the system being studied and the act of observing can change the conditions.......that is definitely not the case here.

Very interesting video. Thanks for posting it. After looking at the video, I felt somewhat more optimistic about the chance for meaningful change.

1. Will knowledge of upcoming collapse (or at least the possibility of such) change behaviour in anything other than self-interested, intermediate term (5-15 year) preparation?

2. Will spreading knowledge of collapse dynamics (such as Noahs video linked up top) meaningfully change the initial conditions of future real-life iterations? If so, how?

Just a guess, but I'd say Yes to both questions. After some further shocks, the collapse of the financial system or whatever, it will become a political issue. People will start saying to political leaders (those that are still around or those who have taken over), "we don't like approach X because it makes our social system or environment too complex and interconnected, we'd prefer something less complex and more loosely connected."

3. Could educating our current leaders about collapse/system dynamics result in their adoption of behaviours outside of the current business as usual system? Or would it require new leaders and/or a different system?

Just a guess, I don't think so (I'm in the U. S.). I think it will take new leaders. But it is possible -- and post-collapse, we will have new leaders anyway. Don't assume that they will necessarily be fascist dictators. They might be, but they also might be reasonable people who will try to understand what is happening.


Every body'
I seem to have flagged a few comments by accident somehow.Please accept my apologies.

I have deliberately flagged only about three comments ever and all three were exceptionally vulgar and way out of place on this site.

Nate--You used a very naughty word in your title above: "knowledge".
The people who dismissed Copernicus and Galileo had exactly the same knowledge. The geologists who for 50 years dismissed Wegener's continental drift had exactly the same knowledge.

Knowledge does not necessarily confer understanding. As Planck said, (see

For this reason, the answer to your Q3 is No. The current "leaders" can no more be educated to understand than those scientists' contemporaries could. They are authoritarian mentality ( who have assumed from schoolhood that physics/chem/biol are lower-status subjects forever ruled over by their own king-subjects of politics and economics.

Wow, late to the party and now 160 comments! Did anyone invoke the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? It was my first thought, honest!

The answer to Nate's questions are no, no and no.

Humanity is in the grip of a deterministic system of which we have no control. No politician, government nor any other group of people or institutions can change the overarching system that controls our actions. As we cannot alter the rules governing the system, we can only repackage it to make it look different without changing its underlying nature. Jacques Ellul gave the name "Technique" to this controlling system in his book "Technological Society".

Like Evolution, Technique also has its peaks and troughs, where evolutionary dead ends are erased to allow new paths to be pursued. People may wish to think of it in terms of complexity (Tainter) or overshoot (Catton), in that once a certain path or trend is embarked upon its eventual end is deterministic. Regardless of who knows what. The only unknown is how long it will take before the eventual collapse ensues.

As for what to do about collapse? Using an analogy of the stock or housing market, if you're aware its a bubble and its going to collapse, you take your skin out of the game. There is nothing that you can do to stop it, except avoid the worst of the collapse yourself. It is the very act of peoples awareness of the pending collapse and their response to it that creates the final structural failure. Awareness allows you to front run the crowd, to be first on the new trend, but it doesn't allow the mistakes of the past to be undone.

Also check out Dmitry Orlov’s "Definancialisation, Deglobalisation, Relocalisation" for those wanting to do a bit of front running.

No politician, government nor any other group of people or institutions can change the overarching system that controls our actions. As we cannot alter the rules governing the system,

Strongly disagree. A great idea can change the system, which after all was made from ideas in peoples' heads in the first place.
After many years research and thinking I put forward a practical handbook on how to do exactly that, in my book
The only reason that has stalled is I was seriously ill with chronic dental mercury poisoning and just after printing some copies (for stalls etc) a horrendous harassment scheme was launched against me .... and now the system looks likely to collapse of its own within a few years anyway, so I'm not returning to chase up that project.

"Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. Death, procreation, birth all submit to technical efficiency and systemization" -- Jacques Ellul

A great idea can change the system, but only if it conforms to the technical efficiency and systemization required by Technique. We can repackage, but we cannot change, just as the political system in the US was repackaged from Bush to Obama. The system underlying the political arena carries on unaltered, its course unchanged. It matters not whether people choose Capitalism, Socialism, Communism or even Anarchy; Democracy, Dictatorship or any other system, they all submit to the tyranny of Technique. It doesn't matter whether the politicians are good, bad or corrupt.

This is the practical reality that undoes all attempts to better our political and economic circumstances. Its why intentional communities, transition movements and cooperatives always fail in the end.Technique undermines everything and eventual it will undermine our very existence.

This probably sounds strange and outlandish. You need to read Jacques Ellul's book to fully understand.

You need to read Jacques Ellul's book to fully understand.

Perhaps indeed, as your comment was incomprehensible. Not least due to repeated use of the otherwise meaningless word "Technique" which you never explained anything about there.


On the whole I agree with you that some kind of collapse is baked in. But I differ in looking at it as deterministic in the way you portray. I think we are in for a lot of surprises.

For instance, a front runner might assume that the banks are failing and having your savings in cash is a good strategy. But, the banking industry and the government are also worried about a bank run. Since most money these days is already electronic the easiest thing to do would be to eliminate cash altogether. You go to the bank for cash they give you a debit card in that amount or you go to the ATM machine and it reloads your debit card. This would of course have other effects such as eliminating much of the underground economy - drug buying, under the table payments, informal purchases etc. And you with your wad of cash have to turn it back into the bank or lose it.

It's straightforward enough to get out of a bubble, but very hard to anticipate changes by others meant to counter the same trajectory you assumed was what you were countering.

There is something to be said for either waiting until you must act or being one of those that seemingly had no clue. The actual conditions at that time might open a path that had never occurred to you because the new conditions themselves were unanticipated.

I see the slide down as just one damn thing after another. The way down will be just as ad hoc as it was on the way up. Better to be lucky than rich has been my lifelong motto.


Hi Vicky, thought you might be interested in this article:

To fight deflation, abolish cash. Could Japan make reality of ‘science fiction’?

Trouble with front running is that you risk being crushed by the stampede behind. What I should of said was to step aside and let the crowd pass by, decouple from the mainstream. This of course means that you put yourself in a situation where you don't take a speculative position in the future. Try and control your own destiny as much as possible and minimise dependency on the wider economy.

I believe people make their own luck by dealing with reality . The hard bit is finding reality in a World full of illusions and deceptions :)

Even if they abolish cash, it doesn't mean people would stop using it. It might possibly be a bonus for localisation if local businesses (ie. those with local production capabilities) continue to use cash for local transactions.

Hi Burgundy

Funny you should bring up the Japanese article. I read it not long after I made my comment. The reason for the Japanese no cash society from my understanding of the article was to be able to pull in all the 'hoarded' cash stashed in mattresses so that they can have negative interest rates. Your savings would lose value if you didn't spend it, provoking consumer spending. Not that this proposal has a chance to be enacted. But if it was, it would lead to some kind of bubble with people attempting to invest their money in something like real estate. Kind of an engineered inflation.

My example was more about our perceptions about which strategies to use to decouple from the coming storm. Here, bank failure seems a possibility and if the FDIC cannot make good our deposits or rations how much we can withdraw, having our money in cash seems like a smart thing to do before too many others have the same bright idea. Which parallels your argument that everyone becoming aware of the collapse take actions that bring about the collapse. A bank run is a good example of this.

However, other parties to the banking system have their own motives to thwart a bank run. They have skin in the game too.

My point is that it isn't possible to not take a speculative position in the future. If we think about the future we are speculating. We're just guessing that the tower will fall in a particular way. And our expectations may be thwarted.

A lot of bandwidth is spent surmising that the great number of people that aren't as up to speed about collapse as we long term doomers, are not capable of dealing with the mess because they don't have foresight.

Many of us are committed to certain strategies [doomsteads, informal economy] that seem logical on their face, but we committed to those strategies based on projections of very simplified models of the process of collapse. Nobody has the map with the details, because it will unfold in real time.

If being aware of the coming collapse has any actual advantage for us I suspect it will be less than we had hoped for. And for the unaware it may not be such a great handicap.

I suspect that some of the freshest ideas for adaptation along the way will come from people that haven't spent 20 or 40 years thinking about doom.

Unless the blackest of all black swans happens, the unwind will drag on for many generations changing character all the way down.

Shouldn't tell, but not all my money is in the bank.


I suspect that some of the freshest ideas for adaptation along the way will come from people that haven't spent 20 or 40 years thinking about doom.

Any evidence to back this up? More likely such people will be utterly unprepared (no stores, no prior study of options etc) and will be paralysed, shocked into neurosis and psychosis and take to drink, drugs and death as happened in USSR etc.

Unless the blackest of all black swans happens, the unwind will drag on for many generations changing character all the way down.

Again, any evidence in support of this declaration of confidence?!


I am convinced that there is a collapse on its way. But I don't think that either you or I can predict just how it will go. What foresight we have is based on the modeling of LTG. Very big picture. We look at the smoothed curve of population dropping and get hypnotized.

Nobody modeled the collapse of the FSU and only a select group of those in the know survived. Yes, it was difficult and some people died. But the people muddled through. It may be much worse at times during the coming years and fewer may survive proportionately to those in the FSU. If it's climate that is the heavy hitter on the way down, our precious strategies of doomsteads and food storage just might hit an immovable object.

Presumably not everyone who suffers from lack of knowledge or interest in the big picture is an idiot. Is that evidence enough for you?

This is campfire, not a thesis defense.


Is that a bug of a feature? I am much more comfortable with gradual political changes that adapt the present systems to the new realities then initiating some kind of revolution. Gradual changes has worked for generations and the local political system do work with mitigating medium term problems like an underfinanced pension system or the need to plan for climate changes and prepare for the post peak oil era. The market parts of the "system" adapts faster and that is how it should be from my p.o.w. since it is very hard to reduce the complex reality down to a short policy document.

I dont think we will save the world but a fairly smooth working culture and political system is good for us AND other people that we trade with as we muddle through whatever happens. It might not be enough but it is better then nothing or turning everything upside down.


VERY good point!Revolutions almost always make things worse.

I wonder sometimes if the USA might fail as the result of too many groups of people pushing hard all at the same time for what seems like radical change to the vast majority of the people.

Such a failure would not arise directly but rather from createing new political coalitions that could grow farther and farther apart until we could no longer govern ourselses due to the inability of any one or two parties to win enough seats in the Congress and Senate to maintain a governing coalition durable enough and powerful enough to deal with a long term crisis..

Can knowledge of collapse change behaviour? If it is accompanied by consequences that reinforce the knowledge than yes. Otherwise no. As has been pointed out on this thread humans are either to dumb, disinterested, selfish or preoccupied with more immediate problems to act on knowledge alone. Consequences of our overshoot actually can cause the "awareness of collapse meme" to grow exponentially because it brings rapidly into the fold those less intelligent and altruistic members of our society. You may not able to grasp the dynamics of complex societies and systems but you certainly can understand when your basement floods, your daughter dies of a flu pandemic, your grandmother wasn't able to get out of the way of the hurricane and you lost your job. You may be a selfish opportunist but when consequences start undermining the very foundation that supports your selfishness than you will take seriously the threat and agree to mitigation even if it still remains within the motives of your selfishness. Consequences can be fickle though. They can come to fast and severe to stop the momentum they unleash. But consequences are the only force that can unify such disparate and often competing voices.

Knowledge of a collapse - think about how unaware most people are about the issues discussed here on TOD. People are not good at assimilating new, radical and significant ideas. It takes a long time. Any information that is too far outside someone's existing mental model of how things work is simply rejected, no matter how well supported by facts. Everyone is different in this regard, and some are much quicker on the uptake, but even if you could get an audience it would take a very long time for most to understand and accept the reality. And it would be far more successful doled out in small bits.

I have noticed this process at work among the long time TOD posters - there has been a clear evolution in the positions and thoughts of some (including myself), even though this group is already one predisposed to accept some fairly radical ideas.

I think if people are forced to see too much too fast, it will only lead to disorientation and panic.

Lot of sense in there Twilight.

What's most bizarre is that people use equations to represent systems with dynamically opportunistic learning parts. That obviously has real limitations, but we keep ignoring them. Any physical system with learning parts (nearly all environmental systems like economies and ecologies, etc) have regularities that are destabilized by being pushed to their limits of internal self-organization.

So why is this "news" and why is "news all over again" to people 5 minutes after you explain it in detail and give lots of examples? You could say willful ignorance of how physical systems are built and operated by nature, perhaps. You could say the habitual great self-absorption of human beings, believing that nothing but what is in our minds is real. Explanations themselves don't have that property seems to be the rub.

Explanations have no such internal self-organization to be destabilized, so as soon as it's explained and internalized, the evidence vanishes from view. It sounds nutty, but the persistence of making the same error on matters of the greatest importance over and over and over points to it.

Unnecessary/inappropriate using of equations is not bizarre. It is just an example of the standard normal pretentious behaviour of authoritarians who know how it helps to give the impression of being intellectually superior and rigorous even though they actually aren't.

As opposed to the authoritarians who don't even try to put a veneer of rationality over their actions?

Of course we try to comprehend systems using easier to understand analogs. There is a nasty trap when you start believing that the map is the territory, that the equation *is* the system. For people who can manage to avoid the trap they get to take advantage of the 90%+ of the time that the formulas work, and they have contingency plans for the times they don't.

Better still, if you can tease out the underlying causes you have a shot at predicting when the equation isn't going to work.

As opposed to the authoritarians who don't even try to put a veneer of rationality over their actions?

There do seem to be different levels of veneering in use at the same time.
As for map=territory, there's a similar thing with people assuming that words are concepts. Example from an email I've just got.

"What we face is a predicament, not a problem. Problems have
solutions, predicaments don't. "

The writer there is assuming that because there are two different words, they must map to, and be the manifestation of, two different concepts. What's wrong with "not all problems have solutions"?, which that author makes logically impossible?