Problems, Predicaments, and Technology

12 03 2021

My friend Erik Michaels recently posted this magnificent essay on his own blog, and frankly, after reading it, I may as well stop blogging because it says everything you need to know at this late stage of collapse. Enjoy.

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What Would it Take for Humanity to Experience Radical Transformation?

Today we shall investigate this question: What would it take for humanity to experience radical transformation of individual and collective consciousness within the next decade? This picture looks inviting, doesn’t it? But does it realistically represent the world we collectively live in today? In one word, NO.

One look at the news stories of today can easily show how individuals, groups, corporations, and nations of all stripes are arguing and fighting for attention, for purposes, and for goals and strategies. Look at social media and it is ripe with every flavor of disagreement known to society. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there are few things everyone can agree on, and even when one IS found, nobody can agree on the ways to solve what everyone agreed the problems are. Now, throw in a PREDICAMENT instead of a problem and guess what happens?

From my experience, when a predicament is put into the mix, most people still look at it from the same standpoint they did with a problem; not realizing that it doesn’t have a solution. Worse yet, most folks attempt to utilize the exact same thinking that got us into that predicament to begin with; again, not realizing that said thinking is precisely the issue – using the same strategy again and again and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity. So, if society cannot agree on a specific course of action or even if it is claimed that society DOES agree on a course of action, what happens collectively? One look at the Paris Agreement and the hundreds of articles written about it and one can clearly see that despite all the hype, emissions are still raising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases with almost no notice of slowing down since the agreement was adopted over 5 years ago, even with a SUBSTANTIAL reduction of emissions last year. As this article shows, not much has been accomplished.

Society hasn’t truly accepted the predicament of ecological overshoot yet. They are still focused almost exclusively on climate change for the most part, ignoring the other major predicaments which are symptoms of ecological overshoot. Adding fuel to the fire, most of society seems to believe that by building yet more complex technology that we can “build our way out of climate change” which is a disconnect from reality. Building is precisely what got us to this point in time, so building more is not going to help; it will instead hinder the situation. More complexity without the energy to power it is a prescription for disaster, and electricity will not solve the predicament of ecological overshoot. In fact, more energy takes us in the wrong direction altogether, as the reason we went into overshoot in the first place was the availability of energy. So, building more energy devices and/or other technologies will NOT solve ecological overshoot, and therefore will not solve climate change. People who don’t understand this simple fact are suffering fromdenial of reality

There are some people who think that due to a global population reduction that we still could use these technologies safely. The sad truth is that using technologies of ANY stripe is unsustainable. Attempting to continue civilization is exactly what brought us here, and civilization is only possible with the technology of agriculture. All ancient civilizations collapsed sooner or later due to this very simple reason; the people who were a part of those civilizations overshot the carrying capacity (ability of the landmass surrounding them to support them) of the geographical area they lived within. Some civilizations collapsed as a result of mixed issues, but most all of these issues focused on overshoot and collapse of one sort or another. This is precisely why practically all ideas based on continuing industrial civilization or anything close to what life is like today are guaranteed to fail. Of course, back when many of these civilizations failed, everyone scattered in order to survive elsewhere. There is now nowhere left to scatter to, so we are forced to deal with these predicaments on nature’s terms, not ours. 

For those still not satisfied that this is the truth, check out Joseph TainterJared Diamond, or Peter Turchin on civilizational collapse. Of those three experts, Tainter has the most comprehensive works and science to explain how increasing complexity provides fewer returns as time moves forward. This is extremely important, as many of the various plans focusing on the Green New Deal or other plans focusing on energy concerns actually take society in the WRONG direction – towards increasing UNSUSTAINABILITY rather than increasing sustainability. In addition to the science that these three professors bring to the subject, yet another professor brings a new peer-reviewed study pointing out more or less the same flawed logic; this time with energy efficiency and Jevons Paradox. I speak aboutJevons Paradox and Liebig’s Law of the Minimum quite frequently because many people tend to forget that energy and resources are finite. Using MORE energy and resources to build more infrastructure and complexity (which then will require more energy to maintain) in a world suffering from energy and resource decline can only end one way – collapse. For those who prefer a video presentation of Dr. Tim Garrett’s research, go here. Jevons Paradox has a considerable amount of evidence besides Garrett’s paper and this paper. There are countless articleswhich also point out precisely this issue with efficiency. This paragraph hopefully has made it quite clear that society cannot build its way out of the predicament of ecological overshoot; nor can industrial civilization continue indefinitely. Attempting to build our way out of these predicaments [also see thispeer-reviewed paper from William Rees] will only steepen the inevitable collapse of industrial civilization and bring the world to its knees that much quicker. 

Now, this brings us to another dimension of the original question. The original wording is here, quote: This is so that we can all wake up; recognize and accept the near-term existential threat posed by accelerating global warming; reverse, capture, and store carbon emissions; and radically transform our lifestyles and our relationships with each other and with the planet.”

I will explain here that this assumes that society (we) actually CAN wake up. I do think that certain people can become enlightened when presented the facts regarding a situation. Unfortunately, there are many people who will instead choose not to believe the facts, create an alternate theory possibly based upon conspiracies, or choose to ignore the information altogether. The possibility of all of us globally “waking up” is therefore not a given. 

Now, onto the “reverse, capture, and store carbon emissions” portion of this topic. I need to make it perfectly clear that the above science already more or less explicitly stated that technology will not solve the predicament of ecological overshoot. Here is a rather poignant video from Dr. Becker Sidney Smithpointing out these facts. This means that climate change, being a SYMPTOM of ecological overshoot, also cannot be solved by technology. Climate change, by definition, is irreversible on human timescales. This should make it evident that schemes devised to utilize technology to reverse carbon emissions is a non-starter. So far, the only proven ideas to capture carbon emissions AT SCALE are what nature has already provided to us in the form of plants, trees, and phytoplankton. Once again, anyone thinking of using technology to do this job can pretty much forget it. There is no known technology which can do this at the scale required without causing just as much damage in emissions as the emissions it can capture, and this doesn’t include the damage to the environment caused by the pollution building such technology produces. Obviously, storage is also a huge issue. Where would one store all this carbon? Considering the simple fact that we also have thousands of tons of nuclear waste we still haven’t figured out how or where to store where it would be safe for thousands of years, this is the exact same issue when it comes to carbon stocks. If this carbon were to somehow escape from storage anytime within the next thousand years, it would compound the already huge issues we have with climate change because CO2 stays in the atmosphere easily for hundreds of years. The likelihood that we would have the energy necessary to recapture and restore this carbon is rather remote and the question of whether we would have enough energy and resources to accomplish such a task in the first place remains unanswered but since energy demand currently ALREADY exceeds supply, I think it is a fair prognosis that the answer is we don’t. 

I hate to be such a downer, but the truth is stark; most every idea I’ve seen offered with regard to carbon capture simply doesn’t cut the mustard. They are, of course, all energy negative, requiring more energy to operate than the captured carbon is worth or which can be turned back into hydrocarbons to be burned yet again (this seems like one of the dumbest ideas – what is the point of capturing carbon only to turn it back into fuel to burn again; especially when it will not come anywhere close to the original value of energy it had when it was burned the first time around?). None of them can yet be done at scale, either. Given this is a hot topic quite often, I will round up just a few articles dealing with this subject:

As one can see, the idea of carbon capture and storage is one where the idea of utilizing technology to perform a task already accomplished far more efficiently by nature (albeit not enough and falling further behind all the time) is really just more human arrogance of command and control. 
Here is the rest of the idea, quote: I train trainers to experience this inner transformation so that they can go on to train others. The organizational model is network marketing, with the possibility to generate substantial income. This income is needed for the radical transformation of our lifestyles. The key issue is this: if we stay in the same consciousness within which we have created the very real threat of near-term extinction, then most likely we have had it. But if we are able to radically transform our individual and collective consciousness, and then focus all our energy on reducing carbon emissions by 50% every decade for the next thirty years, can we survive and co-create a more beautiful life for ourselves and the planet?”

I hate to say this, because it pretty much discounts entirely the whole premise of this idea, but we cannot create a system that focuses on sustainability and a transformation of lifestyles from within the current paradigm. The current paradigm only works with growth and expansion. We cannot have growth and expansion when the system is operating on fewer and fewer reserves of energy and resources. In other words, a large part of the problems and predicaments we face today are the result of marketing, network or otherwise. What the supposed goal here seems to be cannot be attained from within the system we are all embedded within. Basically, this means that while the idea is a noble one, the complexity and constraints of today’s embedded systems prevent most of it from actually being experienced. I have little doubt that carbon emissions WILL be reduced, but not because society voluntarily chooses to conserve energy, rather because the energy stocks those carbon emissions come from are a limited, finite resource. Many people wonder why I think this way, and it is because the upcoming disasters will FORCE this to be done as long as it CAN be done. As I have mentioned throughout this blog, we REQUIRE habitat – it isn’t optional. Homes and businesses will need to be repaired. Some homes and buildings will need to be demolished and a new building built in its place. Infrastructure such as roads, dams, culverts, bridges, electric transmission towers, etc. will be required to be repaired. Trees and other debris from extreme weather events will need to be removed. This is going to require substantial amounts of energy which will be diverted from other uses until it can no longer be done.
I do think that transformation of individual consciousness is possible. Whether this can become a collective transformation remains to be seen, although over time it won’t matter because individuals will be forced into compliance by nature. Perhaps it is a good thing to consider how optimism bias can play a role in our thinking many times. 
I expect a lot of static on this post, because many people don’t like to hear that we won’t be able to keep everything humming right along and continue happy motoring into the next century with EVs, flying cars, and all kinds of space missions to Mars. Folks need to take stock of where we are and come back down to reality; because if they don’t, nature will solve it for us. Thanks to Michael Wolff for this idea!

Climate ChangeCollapseDenialEnergy DeclineExtinctionPopulationResilience

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3 responses

12 03 2021
Ted Trainer

Mike,

Thanks for the posts over time.

I thought you might like to either repost the attached, or sus out Standing’s analysis and put something up. I thought he is very good on understanding what is happening in the “immiseration” domain. As I see it there are two huge forces leading to collapse; one is the general limits to growth, focused on over-consumption, but the other is the way capitalism grinds to greater wealth for the rich and immiseration for the rest. I sometimes think it’s the latter factor that will bring things down first. Of course dwindling resources are fuelling the deprivation at the grass roots.

ted

12 03 2021
mikestasse

Hi Ted, great to hear from you, long time no see….. You can’t attach files to comments, so I don’t know what you are talking about, but I’ll Google it to see…

15 03 2021
lemmiwinks

You can keep blogging about the farm and house though Mike!

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