Casaubon's Book

Aaron Newton and I are starting out our first-ever Advanced Adapting-in-Place class, for people who have taken our previous course or who have been on the adaptation journey for a while. If you’d like to join us there are still spots available and world enough and time to join, so please email me at jewishfarmer@gmail.com. In the meantime, the first step in sorting out what you need to do to get ready for a shifting future is to have some sense of what that future looks like – or the range of possible ways the future could look.

There are a lot of possible ways to imagine the future. Unfortunately, most of the time we imagine only a few of them. Most Americans are caught up in the Klingons/Cylons distinction in ways that are destructive – the default assumption is a techno-utopianism that doesn’t take physical limits into account, and if they consider any other viewpoint, they assume that the alternative is an apocalyptic nightmare, a Mad-Max-style cartoon.

Neither of these is a likely outcome – we know that we are likely to experience unchecked climate change, energy depletion and economic instability related to both (and to a host of other factors) – there’s little doubt about all of those outcomes. But assuming that everyone will have a single utopian or dystopian experience stands against pretty much all historical evidence. That doesn’t mean no one’s life is ever ideal or disastrous – merely that that’s not generally where most experiences lie.

Because none of us has crystal balls, and none of us is perfect, it makes the most sense to plan for multiple possible scenarios, and thus to put our energies in the places that get us the most bang for our buck, the most resilience and best possible responses for the broadest *range* of possible scenarios. I’m going to list five scenarios that I think are possible, running from the most unlikely to the most likely, and then we can explore this question of what the future is going to look like, not from our single bet, but from the perspective of trying to maximize utility for multiple scenarios.

Now not only do I think we should be planning for multiple scenarios, but I think that different people at different times and places will EXPERIENCE different scenarios.

Some of this may be regional or national – different countries will certainly go different ways, and different bioregions almost certainly will as well. But it is perfectly possible for you and your neighbor to experience totally different realities in a time of collapse – think of the difference in the experience of ordinary Jews vs. ordinary Germans, or Hutu vs. Tutsi.

In the depths of the Depression there were still rich people. Right now there are hungry people in most of our neighborhoods – the experience of the crisis will vary dramatically. There will always be people who say “that wasn’t too bad” and those who are living unmitigated hell. My hope is that part of coming to understand what we’re facing means that none of my readers will allow their neighbors to live in that hell if they can help – that instead of waiting for the collapse of society to be universal, people will recognize that even if they are insulated, they are part of a moment.

But more practically, I hope people will recognize that there is very limited certainty about how each family or community will experience things. That is, it isn’t sufficient to look at the world scale or one previous history and say “this is how it will play out” – because it will play out differently for different people in different circumstances.

A single woman living alone with her kids in a neighborhood that experiences a lot of violence, or a member of an ethnic group that gets targetted may well find themselves cursing me for saying Mad Max wouldn’t happen. It probably won’t on a world scale, but that doesn’t mean no one will feel like they are living in a dystopia. At the same time, there will probably be people out there doing great who are cursing me for wasting their time on food storage and preparation . There will be no one universal experience, and it is a huge mistake to imagine that there will be.

Ok, here’s my list – yours may be different. I’ve named each scenario, a bit tongue in cheek, and discussed why I think them likely/not likely and what parts of them you really might want to think about.

1. “Fluffy bunnies, Utopia and the new Green Economy” Ok, there are two versions of this. The first one is the one where we find a magic new technology, implement it rapidly and head on down the street of the perfection of the human race, rolling our eyes at those stupid people who thought peak oil was a problem, and things just get better and better. This one is straight out impossible – it will not happen and we might as well get over it. Even if a major new energy source were found, the time to implementation for new technologies tends towards a 30 year time horizon, while even the more conservative resources, like the USGS suggests that crude oil peaks will happen in the next 10-15 years. Does that mean we’re facing an oil-less future? No, but the idea that price shocks and gaps in resources won’t be an issue is nigh-impossible. So too is the idea that we’ll brush through climate change without any trouble – we already aren’t.

The scenario that is *remotely* possible is that the some new energy or combination of resources comes along and it turns out that climate sensitivity isn’t quite as acute as it looks like, and we get to grind along, destroying the earth a little more (because even if we had more wind turbines, we’d still be an environmental disaster – we tend to forget this), and then get to defer the crisis for 10-20 years until the disastrous unintended consequences of *that* technology come home to roost, whatever they are. Historical evidence suggests that there will be some – we have never yet had a large scale techno-solution that didn’t create more problems than it generated, and while one is technically possible, I wouldn’t put my money on it in Vegas.

IMHO, the problem with this option is that it is a. unlikely and b. immoral – it puts the problem off on our kids. But it is technically possible, and I include it.

2. “Zombies with Uzis” – the next most unlikely possible scenario I can think of is the Mad Max, complete unravelling of society with massive die-off. I find this unlikely for a host of reasons, which I’ve discussed many times before. There is simply no historical evidence for the universal world crisis, in which billions die quite rapidly and everyone who survives retreats to their bunker to fight it out with the zombies. What is flat-out impossible, barring massive meteor strikes or something is the idea that everyone might have this experience uniformly. On the other hand, a government that authorizes the zombies (not literally of course) and gives them uzis is not so terribly improbable, I’m afraid.

There are plenty of non-zombie versions of this scenario out there – societies that have descended into violent chaos for a time – often an extended time. And there are plenty of examples of societies in which targetted groups have this experience for a very long and terrible time. I think it is foolish to deny the possibility that your world could descend for a time into chaos and violence, or to avoid commonsense preparations for such a scenario – including community organizing, basic self-defence and security measures and political organizing to resist pressures to target victim groups. What I think is most likely, however, is that these problems will be local, regional or national, but not world-scale.

3. “Wait a Minute, Weren’t Things a Lot Better Once?” – I actually consider this one fairly unlikely, simply because we already seem to have skipped over slow grind. Had you asked me a few years ago, this probably would have been my most likely scenario, but I think while present trends may not be the best possible predictor of the future, they are probably better than many other tools we use to predict the unpredictable. And many of those tools – for example Jeffrey Brown’s export-land model – suggest that the rapidity of our decline may be greater than we expected.

This scenario would involve us slowly and steadily getting poorer, having less energy, and getting warmer, and potentially losing political power as well. Instead of dramatic single events, there would never be one thing that we could point to as “the” moment it all went to hell. We just woke up one day and realized things were bad, and getting worse. In a way, this might describe our present – but it seems optimistic to me to imagine that the rate of decline will never increase.

I suspect that right now, things feel like a slow grind to many Americans who still don’t see the current situation as one whole problem – the confluence of our fossil fuel crises (too much (climate change) and not enough (depletion)) and our economic crises (in part driven by too much fossil fuels (our insane ideas of endless growth) and not enough (rising prices, housing collapse, etc…)). But in fact, things are unravelling quite quickly in a historic sense. It all depends on how you look at it, of course, but I think we’ve moved past slow, and there are solid indications that change is actually going faster than we perceive it.

4. “Certain Stars Shoot Madly from their Spheres” I still consider this scenario substantially less likely than #5, but I’ve had to move up “an event of some magnitude occurs and things change fairly rapidly” to 4. The scenario I’m most concerned about has to do with geopolitics – I can think of several things that could result in a very drastic reduction in energy availability – and I’m guessing after Middle Eastern Spring most of us could conceive a scenario or two ourselves. Of course, you can go nuts listing all the crappy things that can possibly happen – meteor strike tsunami, currency collapse, megavolcano, the sun goes dark, night of the comet ;-)…but the thing is, it isn’t just that lots of things, some more probable than others can happen – we’re creating scenarios in which these things are enabled. We are working hard at making them more likely with the political climate we live in, rapidly accelerating climate change, etc… etc…. Every statistical analysis suggests that disasters of every kind are striking more frequently – because we are enabling them. And while comparatively few of these disasters affect everywhere at once, I am constantly reminded of the World 3 scenarios run The Limits to Growth team which pointed out that what happens isn’t that X factor causes a problem -what happens is that we run out of the ability to cope with new pressures. I think it is possible that we are not very far from the ability of the system to cope.

It is worth noting that a major event will likely eventually subside into one of the other scenarios, quite possible #3, but it is also worth giving this its own arena simply because very rapid changes that then subside into another scenario often mean that broken things don’t get fixed at all – so we imagine “X scenario with Y region still underwater” or “Z scenario, but with a vastly greater rate of depletion.”

5. “Ordinary Human Poverty- The Great Depression, Plus Climate Change, Plus Peak Oil” – Kunstler has a better name for this of course, but my version doesn’t have asian pirates in it, and in my version, not all southerners are dumber than Jethro Clampett ;-). Seriously, this is my bet. And I don’t think I’m in the minority here – I think what we’re facing is a massive, probably worldwide economic depression, a very extended one from which the magic of fossil fuels will not lift us back into growth.

I think we are facing using a lot less energy without the money and resources to make that easy on anyone. We are likely to see large scale unemployment, lots of poverty, people unable to meet very basic needs, and a very mixed level of response – some places doing better than others at helping people, some places essentially on their own, some places becoming very violent or unsafe, some places doing better – rather like the world we live in now, where some places are violent and some aren’t, hunger is increasing, access to basic necessities going down….

This is the scenario I believe in – the one where the grid may or may not go down, but you won’t notice anyway because the power company turned out the lights months ago, when you couldn’t pay, the one where to pay the mortgage you have two other families in your house, and 11 people sharing the bathroom. That is, this is the reality for most of the world, and I think it will be our reality.

What about you? What do you view as the likely outcome of our collective ecological crisis?

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Nicole
    September 20, 2011

    I think we’re well into #3 and sliding into #5, but part of what causes #5 will be lots and lots of #4’s — Japanese tsunamis, April 27th tornado outbreaks and Hurricane Irenes in places people don’t expect them.

    I think we’ll dig out way out eventually ala #1, but I rather doubt it will be in my lifetime.

  2. #2 aimee
    September 20, 2011

    Well, I think that certain stars have already shot – I’d say the BP oil spill was a disaster of such major importance that we will look back on it – along with Katrina – as the time when the south went south for good. I can’t really see the gulf coast rising again, even if we do build that horrible pipeline. A major chunk of the US population and coastline is deep in the mire, and will be for the foreseeable future.

    My guess is that we are in the middle of a “meteor shower” of smallish stars shooting from their orbits – some environmental (the tornado storm of 2011, the drought and fires in Texas) some political (certain supreme court decisions come to mind), and some social (the rise of xenophobia against immigrants for example) that collectively are eroding our society faster than we can repair it.

    The collapse of our infrastructure is one very troubling area – I do believe that in a couple of decades many millions of Americans will no longer be able to take clean drinking water for granted, nor affordable electricity, nor that the bridge they cross during their daily commute will be safe. Many already can’t. This is likely to be one of the biggest impacts to our daily life.

  3. #3 ug
    September 20, 2011

    “There is simply no historical evidence for the universal world crisis”

    I think Sharon should read some Lovelock. The historical evidence for universal world crises is in the geological record of past mass-extinctions, of which we’re generating our own artificially-induced one. That it doesn’t unfold overnight doesn’t mean we won’t see a massive die-off in the end.

  4. #4 Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    September 20, 2011

    Ug, technically Sharon is correct. There is no historic evidence of global disaster or crisis. History requires a means of writing, or deliberate preservation of information. The information given by the geological record is prehistoric. And she does say “barring massive meteor strikes or something…” in #2. So she implicitly acknowledges that a meteorite could plunge the world into another universal crisis. But there’s really no prepping for nor averting that scenario, so there’s not much use in devoting any amount of thought to it, imho. The artificially induced and slow-to-play-out crisis that you mention seems to be subtext for much of what she writes about from day to day.

  5. #5 Brad K.
    September 20, 2011

    Sharon,

    “dumber than Jethro Clampett”, I wonder if we really learned the right lessons from that character. Jethro was endlessly cheerful, energetic, and helpful. Many “smarter” folk should be as happy.

    On “some places doing better than others at helping people“, I have a concern. “Help” has to be provided in some context.

    I have heard the aphorism, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” I think when you set out to help someone, that you have to take responsibility for what your actions do for, and to, that person. One reason that extended unemployment benefits exacerbates current problems is that it keeps people eating and housed, but does nothing to prepare them for a next step. We deplete stores of assets of government debt and of community resources, with no plan or objective of maintaining or restoring resources; we just hope it all works out.

    Teaching is usually an interpersonal, connected experience. Yes, we can learn from our mistakes. But to convey information, skills, and philosophy means the teacher has to know who the student is well enough to comprehend what the student masters, what the student hasn’t mastered, and to assure that the student knows how to use what is learned.

    Feeding someone for a day is usually a good thing. But unless the context is one that engenders respect, and enables a way to a better life, it has the potential to build cages and dead ends.

  6. #6 Vince Whirlwind
    September 20, 2011

    Discarding the idea of a global crisis and #2 on the basis of lack of precedent is wrong. Human society today is global in nature. Previous civilisation collapses affected civilisations individually because different civilisations were not linked by trade, travel, technology, and unsustainable pyramid-style banking scams.

    When Roman society collapsed, the entire geography covered by that civilisation entered a dark age which lasted around 500 years (in Western Europe, in the Middle East it persists to this day). The same collapse in modern society would affect all regions.

    #5 is obviously happening already, but the thing is that without an economy, government is not possible, and no government means no protection from the barbarians within or the barbarians without.

    #2 is already a reality in parts of the world. Look at what happened in the UK this summer. The bankrupt government from scenario #5 never regains control after such events and #2 suddenly becomes the new reality.

  7. #7 Glenn
    September 20, 2011

    We’ve been acting on the assumption that #5 is the most likely. We just fear not being ready soon enough. And it’s hard to prepare any “faster” when poverty is involved, voluntary or otherwise.

  8. #8 mememnie69
    September 21, 2011

    “unchecked” climate change? What the $%%%$$ is that?
    If you mean THE END IS NEAR then say it!!!!
    Climate change isn’t little kids planting trees, no, it’s little kids being condemned to a CO2 death (climate crisis) by the billions. NOTHING could be worse outside of a comet hit.
    Back in 1900 people like this author worried about where to put all of the horses needed by the year 2000.
    Here is a prediction, history will call this era of CO2 environMENTALism: MODERN DAY OMEN WORSHIP.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    September 21, 2011

    I should perhaps have clarified that by “scenarios” I mean “scenarios meaningful for the planning scale of people old enough to make plans right now.” It is certainly possible a six degrees climate scenario could come along (as could meteorites, mega-caldera explosions, etc…) but the time horizon for the most extreme climate scenarios is longer than our ilfetimes. That doesn’t mean we don’t have an obligation to mitigate them (which we are ignoring) but that’s not what this post is about – this is about scenario planning, and most of us will not be here in 2150 or even 2100. The scenarios we’re planning for now include the next 50 years or so. I assumed this was obvious, but perhaps not. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a case for planning out past that era – I have children who will live that long, but any project has limits, and that seems a not-unreasonable one. We’re not talking about “should we do anything about climate change” but “what should we do adaptively in the near-term.”

    Sharon

  10. #10 OneSingleGal
    September 21, 2011

    As you go about the life of daily living, thank you for noticing the childless single men and women of the world. The single aunties and unclies that contribute to our planet in huge small ways, and that don’t get noticed much.

  11. #11 Gina
    September 22, 2011

    Up until about a year ago I was thinking that #3 was still possible for us in our immediate locality (Pasadena, CA). Now we are clearly smack dab in the middle of #5. Abandoned forclosures multiply on the streets around us, one of the city’s largest employers (JPL) is talking of layoffs of greater than 25% of its workforce this coming year, the prices of necessities (food, insurance, medical care) have all increased significantly, and our neighborhood is in the midst of a wave of serious crime – the second murder in a month within a mile of of home took place last night (not to mention the numerous armed robberies and burglaries) that have gone from shocking to normal.

    We are personally trying to keep our heads above water – thankfully both with stable (for now) jobs, figuring out how to adapt-in-place in our “new” environment of violent crime, less money, and climate change while simultaneously looking for ways to get the hell out of here and we don’t see this area have a good long-term (or perhaps short-term) future.

    Not sure if you are planning to discuss crime/safety in your AIP book and class but I think it is an increasingly important topic.

  12. #12 Micheal
    September 22, 2011

    Sharon,

    You’ve read all of the technical papers that the rest of us have read.

    The human population is in massive overshoot.

    The economy must grow to survive.

    We have passed the peak of energy production and the economy has ceased to grow.

    The industrialized nations are inextricably linked each one to all others.

    A global human dieoff is inevitable.

    Animal populations do not collapse gracefully.

    Without intervention the mean and the greedy will out-compete the altruistic.

    Yes, cannibalism can be a viable survival strategy.

    And by the way, why should there be any historical precedence or evidence for the future when there is no historical precedence for the present? The current state of the industrial human society and the current condition of the earth’s biosphere are without a shred of historical precedence. Of course, we can’t peer backwards to gain insight into what lies ahead.

    But, I haven’t answered your question. What do I “view as the likely outcome of our collective ecological crisis”?

    Well, certainly none of the above make any sense – not even Mad Max.

    First, you have to ask, “what are those folks who own the currencies of the world willing to accept?” More to the point, what might they be willing and able to do in order to assure their own survival? What can multiple trillions of dollars buy?

    Answer those questions and you have the likely outcome of our collective ecological crisis.

    I strongly suspect that nothing will ever appear as it really is and this final game of charades will begin soon.

  13. #13 kevin r
    September 22, 2011

    I tend to be a techno-utopian as you call us, but I am also a realist. I accept the reality of climate change. I accept that the world is overpopulated. I accept that we face massive challenges in attempting to deal with the need to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide for a global population. I see some promising energy technologies being developed, but without them our current mainstays of oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear are going to continue to be used (at a significant environmental cost) and will outlast my lifetime.

    I see the collapse of global fisheries as the first “wake up” call for the planet. That is likely to happen within the next decade and will have serious consequences for both world food output and environmental health. There is a lot of room for doubters and naysayers to postpone action on climate change. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The collapse of the global fisheries is happening now and in a few years the effects will be undeniable.

    I would like to think such a worldwide calamity will lead to a significant re-structuring of how our global political and economic systems deal with the environment.

    I am in my 50’s. I have seen some of the best times in history. I lived a life of peace and prosperity. Think there is a lot of promise in the future. There is also a lot of peril. A hundred years ago H.G Wells wrote that “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”. That was true then, that is true now.

  14. #14 David Veale
    September 22, 2011

    I think you’re right on #5, but the events of this past spring brought something to light which I think you’ve missed. Like you, I think that a grid failure is likely in the cards with this most likely scenario. The only problem is that a grid failure automatically moves us to the #2 Zombies with Uzis scenario. Why? Because we have 400 odd nuclear reactors and spent fuel ponds located around the globe, each of which will go Fukushima on us if they have no grid for continued cooling. No grid also means no fuel for the backup diesel generators. Shutting these down needs to be priority one for anyone who believes scenario 5 is even *remotely* possible!

  15. #15 Claire
    September 22, 2011

    I see a mix of 2, 3, 4, and 5 overall, depending on when, where, and who is being discussed. As you’ve pointed out, what any one person experiences at any one time depends on particular details of what is happening to and around them. To varying degrees, each of these scenarios will occur to someone, somewhere.

    For me personally, 3 is happening right now. In theory it will be mitigated somewhat over the next couple years as first me and then my DH become eligible to receive our pensions and take them. But receiving our pensions could well be affected by a #4 type of scenario that collapses the debt boom and in turn makes our pensions, and later Social Security, unpayable to a greater or lesser degree. Not to mention the interest-paying government debt that provides our current income; hard to know how stable the interest payment would be under some of the #4 scenarios I can imagine. So for me, scenario planning includes figuring out how to live on even less than we do now and having some idea of how my DH and I might earn at least enough to pay the property tax on our house if we lose part of our debt-based income. Or, in a worst-case scenario, how we can invite someone to live with us who has earning power. We have no children so that’s not an easy thing to work out.

    I could easily see #5 happening as a result of continuing drought in Texas, for instance, leading to migration to areas that have sufficient rainfall, like ours most of the time. An overload of migrants could really strain local infrastructure, including social structures. I could see that precipitating a #4 type of event, which would push us and a lot of other people into a #5 scenario. I see #5 as what’s happening now, but faster and harder, and not easing up while I’m alive.

    Yep, got to buy that wood stove this fall so we have a way to heat and cook during the winter if either electricity or natural gas becomes unavailable and/or unaffordable. Otherwise I think we are OK (not real comfortable, but OK) in case of loss of utilities, at least.

    Interestingly, sales of million-dollar-plus houses seem to be on the increase again, according to a news article my DH read to me last night. I don’t have a link, unfortunately.

  16. #16 Mike
    September 22, 2011

    To me, the most likely is mass casualties from another world war. What made WWII a world wide event as opposed to just wars between neighboring states? Japan and Germany needed more natural resources. To get those resources both Japan and Germany had to take even more territory.

    With dwindling resources, the remaining become more valuable. Also the guise of a major war allows government to more readily restrict the amount of resources going to the ‘peons’ so that the government, military and elites have plenty.

  17. #17 ganv
    September 22, 2011

    This list of scenarios is useful. We frankly have very little idea what humans will do when the economic signals make it clear that resource and ecological problems threaten western lifestyles. You are missing quite a few possible scenarios. You paint #1 far too narrowly. Humans might adjust over a few decades to living fairly comfortably compared with the current global average standard of living. Energy usage may or may not be lower than the current global average (using nuclear, renewables, and some fossil fuels). But there is a lot of suffering that could be eliminated if current knowledge is widely applied. I agree that the change will be fast (over decades and not centuries) but scientific understanding of climate change and energy resource limits is of very little use in predicting what we will change into. Everything will be determined by whether humans decide to fight over resources or work together to address difficult realities. And the future will almost certainly include some of both. It is politics and ‘politics by other means’ (in Clausewitz’ usage) on which everything hangs…and we really have very little idea what humans will do.

  18. #18 Raye
    September 23, 2011

    I agree that we’re not seeing, nor will we ever see, the same experience and timing of collapse, all of us. So, many are in and soon will be in scenario 5, with the occasional 3, 4, and even (currently) 2. Like the oft-cited model of stages of grief, I don’t see things moving smoothly or predictably or in numerical order.

    It’s really tricky to be prepared for any eventuality. But just thinking about possible futures has helped me get a better grasp at just how much is outside my control.

    Okay, back to the housework.

  19. #19 yogi-one
    September 23, 2011

    I agree with the mixed-bag scenario.

    Already, some countries have descended into chaos (Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, a few others). Some other nations have already experienced catastrophic eco-disasters that completely derailed their regional lifestyles (Haiti, Bangladesh, Pakistan), and other countries have endured disruptive wars from which they have yet to recover (Iraq, Afghanistan).

    The USA has sustained a few eco-disasters, but only one so far (Katrina) has impacted us the way the third world has been impacted. We still really haven’t seen the full impact of the southwest droughts and fires yet, either, so that may be the second big eco-disaster that hits us hard.

    Africa is in a class all it’s own when it comes to failed states, wars, disease, and ecological disasters all converging on their people over a period of decades.

    All this is, of course compounded by human mismanagement. Political leaders usurp the public money and goodwill to profit their own families/tribes/industries without feeling any responsibility towards the people that in many cases elected them to help solve these big problems.

    Our financial leaders are all, pretty much without exception (Goldman Sachs, Wall Street, IMF, World Bank) steeped in a philosophy that says make money first, worry about everything else later. This includes setting up deals designed to fail, like driving third world countries into unsustainable debt, hell, even nowadays driving first-world countries into unsustainable debt.

    The USA in particular, has become completely, religiously even, devoted to a very nasty and mean-spirited economic philosophy which says that every entrepreneur or corporation must seek only profits, that laws should not apply to markets (deregulation), nobody should have the right to any basic comfort including food, housing, health care or any social need such as education unless they are one of the lucky few with gobs of money to pay for everything and shove everybody else to the back of the line. On top of this, a new movement firmly belives that government should stop providing infrastructure to society such as roads and schools, and all areas of human activity should just be dumped into a completely unregulated market where only the law of dog-eat-dog, and no other applies – A sort of Ayn-Rand goes Lawn-Mower-Man philosophy.

    Humans right now are exacerbating the problem by bad management philosophies, mis-assigned causes of issues, and the creation of a political atmosphere in which dealing directly and realistically with problems is a surefire career-stopper for public officials.

    The people are beginning to organize mass protest-style revolts, but history shows us that huge people movements, while effective at throwing out current governments, are not so good at setting up new ones that are better than the ones they toppled.

    So I say #5 is most likely. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and unfortunately, we will learn lessons the hard way that would have been much easier for everybody if we had been a little more realistic about dealing with our problems.

    The basic principle I see is evolutionary, and in social evolutionary terms, it is just going to take us while – maybe centuries, maybe just a few generations (if we catch on quick) to develop the collective wisdom to run a global society in an efficient and compassionate manner.

  20. #20 Deni
    September 24, 2011

    I think that Michael (#12 above) has pegged the missing piece in almost all of the what-the-heck’s-going-on discussions currently being waged.

    The missing piece (which is implied, if not outwardly stated), is that we are, in fact, animals who strive to survive – very complexly wired animals, but animals none-the-less. And animal behaviors have been extensively studied in both the field and the lab. With a not-too-difficult re-labeling of the basic stimuli/responses/reinforcers that guide almost all animal behavior (with money being the primary, though token, reinforcer), a picture begins to emerge which looks very much like the picture formed in many other animal studies.

    If we stand back and look at the current situation through this lens, we get a glimpse of the human behaviors that are likely to unfold, and can imagine who will end up on top of the heap commanding the behavior of those beneath. As Michael noted:

    “First, you have to ask, ‘what are those folks who own the currencies of the world willing to accept?’ More to the point, what might they be willing and able to do in order to assure their own survival? What can multiple trillions of dollars buy?

    Answer those questions and you have the likely outcome of our collective ecological crisis.”

    An understanding of the “alpha male” (or female) survival behavior – which, by-the-way, also explains how we ended up in this current mess to begin with – will enable us to start filling in the blanks on our what’s-likely-to-happen, “collective ecological crisis” sheet.

    And for those who insist that humans – even if they ARE sometimes guided by animal survivalist instincts – have the capacity to over-rule these baser urgings, I wouldn’t disagree. Sharon’s emphasis on helping others (whether or not they are family, friend…or enemy?) by sharing what we have (or by “teaching one to fish”), is an example of this.

    Unfortunately, unless those on top who wield the primary reinforcer (money) choose to over-rule their baser urgings, the behaviors and, indeed, the survival, of those below them are at their command. And, much to society’s chagrin, too many of these top-dogs choose, in fact, to feed their baser natures rather than to over-ride them. As Yogi-one (#19 above), in a darkly poetic fashion, notes:

    “The USA in particular, has become completely, religiously even, devoted to a very nasty and mean-spirited economic philosophy which says that every entrepreneur or corporation must seek only profits, that laws should not apply to markets (deregulation), nobody should have the right to any basic comfort including food, housing, health care or any social need such as education unless they are one of the lucky few with gobs of money to pay for everything and shove everybody else to the back of the line.”

  21. #21 Gene Callahan
    September 26, 2011

    “History requires a means of writing, or deliberate preservation of information.”

    Nonsense. This view of history was debunked a hundred years ago. See, for instance, Collingwood, _The Idea of History_.

  22. #22 Gene Callahan
    September 26, 2011

    “When Roman society collapsed, the entire geography covered by that civilisation entered a dark age which lasted around 500 years (in Western Europe, in the Middle East it persists to this day).”

    1) The idea of the “dark ages” is passe.
    2) The Middle East certainly did not “enter” any dark age when the Western Roman Empire was overthrown, because:
    a) The Eastern Roman Empire continued for another 1000 years; and
    b) Arabia and Persia were never inside the Roman Empire anyway; and
    3) The Golden Age of Islamic scholarship and civilization was well after the fall of the Roman west.

  23. #23 JonF
    September 26, 2011

    Actually, we have had a worldwide catastrophe in historical times.
    In or around 535AD the world was plunged into a nuclear-winter like period due (probably) to a colossal volcanic eruption. Sulfuric snow fell in China throughout the year, India had killing frosts in summer, famine struck throughout Europe and the Middle East, the Mexican civilization at Teotihuacan and the Peruvian Chavin suffered stavation and both declined rapidly. Then a few years later much of the Old World suffered an epidemic of plague that put even the medieval Black Death in the shade.
    The death toll is estimated at around 100 million– a large fraction of the global population at the time. And things were rather grim for quite a while after.

    Still some areas bounced back: China most notably. And the Islamic Caliphate restored civilization in the Middle East, and the Mayas best years still lay ahead in the New World. And even in the worst hit areas, things were not reduced to “Mad Max”, (which is unrealistic and runs counter to human nature away). Governments still functioned, trade resumed, the Christian Church in Europe continued to spread. Life went on– albeit with far fewer humans.

  24. #24 JonF
    September 26, 2011

    Another more generic comment: Beware the error of presentism. There’s an old saying that Trees Do Not Grow Up To The Sky. Don’t mistake present day trends as permanent realities, for good or ill.
    A Roman in the 250s AD, who had just survived the Plague of Cyprian, watched Decius’ men haul his Christian friends and relatives off to jail, heard that Queen Zenobia had conquered the eastern provinces, and that Gaul and Britain had seceeded, would have thought the end was near for Roma Mater. And he would have been off by two to three centuries depending in how you reckon it. In the year 2090 our grandchildren may well be saying (as we do of the 1930s), “What a rotten time– glad we didn’t live then.”

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