Joseph Tainter

4 12 2021

Over the years, I’ve read many books and articles, watched lots of videos, by people who continually claim to be influenced and inspired by Joseph Tainter, famous of course for his book on collapse of civilizations. Surprisingly, I’ve never read his work. I kind of figured that instinctively I’d know what was written in them. Then along comes this video on a day I’m trying to set up a swale behind the house, with rain interruptions I’m getting sick of.

No doubt he’s an expert on his speciality, but I found myself astounded at disagreeing with him several times on energy and overshoot issues… What do you think?



4 responses

4 12 2021
Anthony William O'brien

The “but we are different” escape clause. Using his methodology that a peak of any critical input will cause a civilization to collapse, we are screwed. We face peak everything.

5 12 2021

I guess I am much more tolerant of Tainter in this talk. This was recorded in 2005 (16 long years ago). I was nowhere near his level of understanding at that time and I was highly educated (biology, law) and understood there were problems with climate change and energy. I was also taken with optimism bias and had hope for a bright, green, Star Trek like future. Needless to say I have since learned a lot. Even in this talk Tainter is acknowledging that solar/wind is not easily going to replace fossil fuels (we now know that’s impossible) and that population is a problem. I think his contribution is the idea that the more complex a society is, there is an inherently greater the risk of collapse. He was, at that time, as unaware as I was that climate change was just a symptom of multiple resources being overshot. Perhaps a better example of collapse aware thinking at that time is William Catton.

6 12 2021
Bev Courtney

Just finished watching it (from the Olduvai site). Yeah,I disagree with him a lot too, but I didn’t know it was 16 years old till I read the comment above. I think he might have a different view now. I almost turned it off when he started talking about giving people hope. That’s only going to make most people think we can go on living the way we do if we just do a few more tweaks to the system. And he didn’t even mention that without fossil fuels we CANT have a renewable future, not with solar and wind anyway. And did he actually say that we need to find a renewable energy source that will enable us to have the things we have today! And keep growing!

7 12 2021

Here is a very recent interview with Tainter, on RT.
“The two keys to a sustainable society are energy and innovation and in both areas I say that over the next several decades there are reasons for concern.”
That’s certainly an understatement!

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