More signs the end is nigh
Human civilisation has definite boundaries. I believe they have now been identified. Regardless of the fact economists are loathe to admit it, we have reached a stage of resource limitations that will kill any kind of future growth, and I mean growth of real wealth, not that pretend debt-based paper rubbish we carry around in our wallets….. No technological breakthrough is going to alter the fact we have used up the low hanging fruit. Only a technological miracle from a science fiction novel will give us the completely new kind of previously unimagined energy source we now need. Such a miracle energy source might make it feasible (in principle) to recycle our currently wasted material resources. Make no mistake, it takes loads of cheap and abundant energy to combat entropy. Every time civilisation consumes, dissipates, or wastes concentrated or manufactured material wealth, we come that much closer to entropy’s last post. The material throughput in our economic system is all one way at present, with only limited quantities of things like aluminium and copper being actually recycled.
Civilisation’s major source of energy is stored in fossil fuels, ancient sunlight. We are depleting those at the most unbelievable rate possible. We have now without a doubt reached the peak of conventional oil extraction (despite the recent bullshit being reported by the MSM and the likes of George Monbiot (who has yet to reply to Nicole Foss…!) Combine that with the declining ERoEI in both conventional and non-conventional fuels, such as shale oil, there is absolutely no hope that fossil fuels will provide the energy we need for the future maintenance of civilisation, let alone growing it…….
Long time readers of this blog will be aware of all this, so how can we know when the end is nigh…? So I thought I’d share with you the sorts of things I keep an eye on in the world that will mark events and trends signalling the collapse of modern civilisation. I never expected to be around to see the most catastrophic events, but the rates of change we are seeing now means I might have to re-assess that….!The processes I keep tabs on have largely been covered in my previous posts. What I will show you now is simply when a significant change or event that provides me with a better handle on how quickly the collapse is happening. I intend to also look at the relationships between all these processes and attempt to work out how changes in one may effect changes in others. Should be interesting.
The things that most affect daily lives immediately around the world are economics and politics. Those two are tightly interconnected, but not in ways most people are aware of. Political actions cannot and never will make the economy better; certainly not in any way I can think of. In fact, it’s now obvious, Politics can only make matters worse. We are seeing this in action right now.
So I expect to see a lot of mismanagement ensuing in the not-too-distant future. Probably made worse by Abbott winning the next (Australian Federal) election… No matter which party gets control of the Parliament, they will both screw things up equally badly, just trying different approaches. We know that PM Gillard will do so, because she already has; insisting on a budget surplus at any cost, just as the (fiddled) unemployment numbers start to rise was the wrong move…. Like all the other world leaders, she is in the banksters’ pockets….. And the Wall Street bankers and investment houses are guaranteed to steal from us, the rest of society, inevitably bringing the Australian banking system to its knees too; Barclay’s Bank showed us that fraud is a global phenomenon and Wall Street is just a symbol for the general condition which will soon make an appearance in our High Streets…. Even worse than just stealing “real wealth”, bankers create money out of thin air and pay themselves huge bonuses for doing so. They also happily create debt and gambling bubbles that are guaranteed to implode on everybody except themselves, and pay themselves even more huge bonuses for doing that too. And as the US President and British PM have demonstrated, they can do this with impunity because when the shit hits the fan, governments will simply bail them out so they can do it again……. and again…..
The economy is totally governed by energy flows. So I watch those very very carefully. While a lot of the focus from “people like me” continues to be placed on Peak Oil as a critical event, the real issue is nett available energy to do all that “useful” work per capita. I don’t like the word “useful” here, most work is destructive…. ERoEI is the limiting factor.
The belief structure operating globally today is that a capitalistic, market-based, consumer-oriented economy is the best/only approach to creating wealth. To give credit where credit is due, once upon a time that was true. At least before exponentially exploding debt caused the emphasis to shift toward the consumerist aspects of the economy. Share holders’ profits, competition to drive down prices (usually by off-shoring labour), and all of the mechanisms that are essential to this kind of economy did indeed produce enormous wealth for some scattered segments of humanity. But the whole notion of such an economy is based on continuous growth (to pay the interest on previous debts) and that required the shift to consumption as a sort of modus operandi. For the engine to keep going, ever expanding purchasing of stuff and services had to become the norm, even if that “stuff” and services did not contribute one iota to fulfilling happiness. Today, economies are trapped needing growth to maintain investment opportunities against a loss of the very basis of wealth creation — energy. Without the latter capitalism will die.
Watching the political process in Australia is like watching the clown act in a circus. Just watch question time on the tube one day….. Only your average Australian doesn’t get the joke. They take everything the clowns say and do seriously. They think it really means something. And the media just encourages it….. just ridiculous.
The only reason for watching any of this spectacle is what it can tell you about humanity’s likely responses to the traumas that are coming…. The Liberals are not only denying Climate Change, in my state of Queensland they have just decided to remove it from the science curriculum in our schools, even as all records are being broken (we just got three times the normal rainfall for June, just as the SOI is way down in negative territory and should be producing dry weather). Just what kind of evidence do you need to get them to realise that something weird and important is happening? Furthermore, at what rate do you need to see changes taking effect before you admit that there is something not quite right going on?
The ALP, unfortunately, are really not much better in regard to their responses. They acknowledge the science of global warming, even introduce a Carbon Tax; but then turn around and ignore hard science when it comes to wishful thinking about “going green”. They continue to spout off about how all of our problems will be solved by technology, and are now attacking the Greens who helped them gain government. And, they think, with no real evidence to go on, that that shift to “green” will create wonderful new, high paying jobs. They are no more realists than the Liberals who slash and burn Feed in Tariffs to protect their coal burning mates…..
Then of course there are the biophysical realities of climate conditions, water over-consumption, soil degradation, food production declines, and biodiversity loss. All symptoms of what is coming. As with all symptoms we need to monitor them just to understand the progression of the disease. To make matters worse, environmentalists never admit that humans have screwed the environment and are THE number one problem. They won’t touch population, and they are equally guilty of counting on technological solutions as the politicians.
Climate change, while merely symptomatic, may be one of the most critical long term factors to keep an eye on. Radical weather extremes and shifts in climate parameters will probably provide some of the worst kinds of stresses on civilisation. Populations will be displaced (some already are), or, more likely due to lack of energy to power mobility, they may simply expire in situ. The energetic (and therefore financial) costs of mitigation and adaptation will be unaffordable, given the decline in nett energy. I suspect there will be little real large-scale adaptation attempted as a result. All you have to do is look at the failures of our governments (at all levels) to simply maintain critical infrastructure like health and education…! Where will the resources to pay for mitigation and adaptation come from if the climate disturbance gets as bad as some climate scientists now reckon is likely to be? We will not only have to suffer political failure but also failure of governance in general. Systems of global governance are so fragile that they cannot possibly adapt to the rapidly changing situations. We may well witness many revolutions like what we saw in Egypt (a classic case of Limits to Growth), and likely with similar, though more bloody, outcomes, especially in the US where everyone is armed to the teeth! Without fundamental changes in the way societies operate, the revolutionaries will not be able to do any better; and so there could be waves of revolutions as long as there is some energy to drive the effort. Such revolutions would likely destroy the very capabilities of extracting energy, and so defeat their own futures.
I consider the simultaneous predicaments of energy decline and climate change stresses to provide the greatest forces driving collapse.
From where I stand, the real “cause” of our dilemma is our own mental weaknesses. We cannot possibly be truly rational creatures. We are guided more by heuristics and producing biases than rationality. This weakness extends to everything from decisions to buy big SUV because some pouting babe was on the bonnet, to choosing a business career because that happens to be the hot topic du jour. None of us is immune from insufficient wisdom (except for those rare few), not even those among us supposedly endowed with high IQ’s. And then of course we have the financial wizards and bankers — the egotists who faithfully believe that their creation of paper assets based on smoke and mirrors is “doing God’s work”.
I’ve met so many people who believe that once the housing market follows the US and bottoms out, we’ll get back on track for economic growth again — the mind boggles. But the truth is simply too inconvenient…. My past posts have attempted to demonstrate that all of these events have a common source: our dangerous reliance on finite fossil fuels, and the resulting bursting of the biggest bubble of all, the energy bubble. We are reckless in all that we do to use that fossilised sunlight, including and especially expanding our populations and profligate consumption of “stuff” just for the sake of consuming. We have no natural awareness of the long-term consequences of this recklessness because our brains are incapable, on average, of modelling such outcomes.
Ultimately, it will come down to how people react to contraction once it sets in in earnest, and the pain simply can no longer be ignored. In all honesty, I have no idea how people will generally react. Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t live in the gun blazing US of A…
Older civilisations have collapsed and different cultures have produced different reactions. But in all of those cases the civilisations were localised. People had other places to go when the going got hard. In a global collapse there are no other examples and no other places to run to and hide. There is no Planet B…. Everything and everyone will be subject to similar conditions. Given that the dominant culture of the day is greedy capitalism I fear that the predominant reaction might be violence, both in terms of attempts to steal, and attempts to protect possessions.
But we will just have to wait and see what happens next……..