Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2030 is the New 2012

Last week’s discussion of failed predictions in the peak oil movement inevitably touched on the latest round of claims that the world as we know it is going to come to a full stop sometime very soon. That was inevitable partly because these claims account for a fairly large fraction of the predictions made by peak oil writers each year, and partly because those same claims flop so reliably. Still, there’s another factor, which is that this sort of apocalypse fandom has become increasingly popular of late—as well as increasingly detached from the world the rest of us inhabit.

Late last year, for example, I was contacted by a person who claimed to be a media professional and wanted to consult with me about an apocalypse-themed video he was preparing to make. As I think most of my readers know, I make my living as a writer, editor, and occasional consultant, and so—as one professional to another—my wife, who is also my business manager, sent him back a polite note asking what sort of time commitment he was interested in and how much he was offering to pay. We got back a tirade accusing me of being too cheap to save the world, followed not long thereafter by another email in which he insisted that he couldn’t afford to pay anyone because his project would inevitably be the least popular video in history; after all, he claimed, nobody wants to hear about how the world as we know it is about to crash into ruin.

That was when I sat back on the couch and very nearly laughed myself into hiccups, because there’s nothing Americans like better than a good loud prediction of imminent doom. From Jonathan Edwards’ famous 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” right through to today’s zombie apocalypse craze, a good number of the biggest pop-culture phenomena in American history have focused on the end of the world in one way or another. A first-rate example is the 2012 furore, which turned a nonexistent Mayan prophecy of doom into one of the most successful media cash cows in recent times. I can testify from personal experience that toward the end of the last decade, every publisher I know of with a presence in the New Age market was soliciting 2012-themed books from all their regular authors because that was the hottest market going.

The 2012 prophecy may have been a predictive failure, in other words, but it was a whopping financial success. With that in mind, among other things, I predicted shortly after December 21, 2012 that a new date for the end of everything would soon be selected, and would promptly attract the same enthusiasm as its predecessor. As noted in a post last May, that was one of my more successful predictions; the new date is 2030, and it’s already picking up the same eager attention that made 2012 such a lucrative gimmick.

One of the great innovations of the runup to 2012, which will probably continue to shape apocalyptic fads for some time to come, is that you don’t actually have to propose a specific mechanism of doom; all you need is a date. The architect of the 2012 phenomenon, the late Jose Arguelles, seems to have been the marketing genius who first realized this.  His 1984 book The Mayan Factor, which launched the furore on its way, insisted that something really, truly amazing was going to happen on December 21, 2012, without offering more than vague hints about what that amazing event might be. Those who piled onto the bandwagon he set in motion more than made up for Arguelles’ reticence, coming up with a flurry of predictions about what was going to happen on that day.

It didn’t matter that most of these predictions contradicted one another, and none of them rested on any logic more solid than, hey, we know something amazing is going to happen on that day, so here’s some speculation, with or without cherrypicked data, about what the amazing event might be.  The pileup of predictions, all by itself, made the date itself sound more convincing to a great many people. Far from incidentally, it also offered believers a convenient source of shelter from skepticism:  if a nonbeliever succeeded in disproving a hundred different claims about what was supposed to happen on the big day, a hundred and first claim would inevitably pop up as soon as he turned his back, so that the believers could keep on believing that the world as we know it was indeed going to end as scheduled.

The same logic is already being deployed with equal verve on behalf of a 2030 doomsday. So far, without making any particular effort to find them, I’ve fielded claims that on or by that year, global warming will spin out of control, driving humanity into extinction; oceanic acidification will kill off all the phytoplankton, crashing oxygen levels in the atmosphere and driving humanity into extinction; the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone Park will erupt, plunging the planet into a volcanic winter and driving humanity into extinction; an asteroid will come spinning out of space and driving humanity into extinction, and so on.  I haven’t yet seen anyone proclaim that 2030 will see the Earth swallowed whole by a gigantic space walrus with photon flippers, but no doubt it’s simply a matter of time.

Now of course it’s possible to raise hard questions about each of these claims—well, in fact, it’s more than possible, it’s easy, since none of them rely on more than a few fringe studies on the far end of scientific opinion, if that, and most of them quietly ignore the fact that greenhouse-gas spikes, oceanic acidification, and nearly everything else but the aforementioned space walrus have occurred before in the planet’s history without producing the results that are being expected from them this time around. I’ll be taking the time to raise some of those questions, and offer some answers for them grounded in solid science, in a series of posts I’ll start later this year. Still, fans and promoters of the 2030 fad have nothing to fear from such exercises; like the legendary hydra, a good apocalypse fad can sprout additional heads at will to replace those that are chopped off by critics.

Thus it’s pretty much baked into the cake at this point that 2030 will be the new 2012, and that we can count on another sixteen years of increasingly overheated claims clustering around that date before it, too, slips by and a new date has to be found.  We’ll be discussing the trajectory of the resulting furore from time to time on this blog, if only because there’s a certain wry amusement to be gained from watching people make epic fools of themselves.  Still, the point I want to raise this week is a little different. Granted that apocalypse fandom is an enduring feature of American pop culture, that very few people ever lost money or failed to attract an audience by insisting that the end is nigh, that a huge and well-oiled marketing machine lost its cash cow when 2012 passed without incident and thus has every reason to pile into the next apocalypse fad with redoubled enthusiasm: even so, why should fantasies of imminent doom attract so much larger an audience now than ever before, and play so much more central a role in the contemporary imagination of the future?

There are, as I see it, at least four factors involved.

The first is a habit of collective thought I spent much of last year discussing—the widespread popular conviction, amounting to religious faith, that today’s industrial civilization is an unstoppable juggernaut that will keep rolling onwards forever unless some even more gargantuan catastrophe mashes it flat to the dust. That conviction, as I’ve noted in previous posts, is not confined to those who are cheering the march of progress.  Plenty of people who claim that they hate industrial civilization and all its works are as convinced as any cornucopian that it’s certain to keep moving along its current trajectory, until it finally vanishes on the horizon of whatever grand or dreadful destiny it’s supposed to have this week.

As a heretic and a dissenter from  that secular faith, I’ve repeatedly watched otherwise thoughtful people engage in the most spectacular mental backflips to avoid noticing that perpetual progress and overnight annihilation aren’t the only possible futures for the modern industrial world. What’s more, a great many people seem to be getting more fervent in their faith in progress, not less so, as the onward march of progress just mentioned shows increasing signs of grinding to a halt. That’s a common feature in social psychology; it’s precisely when a popular belief system starts failing to explain everyday experiences that people get most passionate about treating it as unquestionable fact and shouting down those who challenge it. Believing that our civilization and our species will be gone by 2030 feeds into this, since that belief makes it much easier to brush aside the uncomfortable awareness that progress is over and faith in industrial society’s omnipotence has turned out to be utterly misplaced.

That’s one reason why apocalyptic fantasies are so popular these days. A second reason, which I’ve also discussed at some length in this blog, is the role such fantasies have in justifying inaction, when action involves significant personal costs. One of the hard facts of our present predicament is that the steps that have to be taken to get ready for the future bearing down on us all require letting go of the privileges and perquisites that most Americans consider theirs by right. A few years ago, I coined the acronym LESS—Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation—to summarize the changes that we’re all going to have to make as things proceed, and began pointing out that any response to our predicament that doesn’t start with using LESS simply isn’t serious.

I’m pleased to say that a certain fraction of my readers have taken that advice seriously, and tackled the uncomfortable job of downsizing their dependence on the absurd amounts of energy, stuff, and artificial stimulation that are involved in an ordinary American lifestyle these days. I’m equally pleased to say that an even larger number of people who don’t read The Archdruid Report and don’t know me from Hu Gadarn’s off ox have gotten to work doing the same thing. Those people are going to be in a much better position not merely to weather the crises ahead, but to help their loved ones, friends and neighbors do the same thing, and potentially also contribute to the preservation of the more useful achievements of the last few centuries. Still, it’s hard work, and it also requires a willingness to step outside the conventional wisdom of our society, which claims to be open to new and innovative ideas but in practice tolerates only endless rehashings of the same old notions.

Inevitably, a good many people who sense the necessity of change won’t act on that awareness because they realize the personal costs involved. Fantasies of imminent doom provide an escape hatch from the resulting cognitive dissonance. If the world is going to crash into ruin soon anyway, the reasoning runs, it’s easy to excuse further wallowing in the benefits the American system currently gives to its more privileged inmates, and any remaining sense that something is wrong can be redirected onto whatever cataclysm du jour the true believer in apocalypse happens to fancy.  Believing that the end is nigh thus allows people to have their planet and eat it too—or, more to the point, to convince themselves that they can keep on chomping away on what’s left of the planet for just a little while longer.

The third factor, which relates to the second one, unfolds from the historical tragedy of the Baby Boom generation, which is massively overrepresented in apocalypse fandom just now.  The Boomers were among the most idealistic generations in US history, but they were also far and away the most privileged, and the conflict between those two influences has defined much of their trajectory through time. Starting when the Sixties youth culture crashed and burned, the Boomers have repeatedly faced forced choices between their ideals and their privileges.  Each time, the majority of Boomers—there have always been noble exceptions—chose to cling to their privileges, and then spent the next decade or so insisting at the top of their lungs that their ideals hadn’t been compromised by that choice.

Thus the early 1970s were enlivened by the loud insistence of former hippies, as they cut their hair and donned office clothing to take up the corporate jobs they’d vowed never to accept, that they were going to change the system from within. (Even at the time, that was generally recognized as a copout, but it was a convenient one and saw plenty of use.) By the 1980s, many of these same former hippies were quietly voting for Ronald Reagan and his allies because the financial benefits of Reagan’s borrow-and-spend policies were just too tempting to pass up, though they insisted all the while that they would put part of the windfall into worthy causes. Rinse and repeat, and today you’ve got people who used to be in the environmental movement pimping for nuclear power and GMOs, because the conserver lifestyles they were praising to the skies forty years ago have become unthinkable for them today.

One consequence of these repeated evasions has been an ongoing drumbeat of books and other media proclaiming as loudly as possible that that the Baby Boom generation would change the world just by existing, without having to accept the hard work and sacrifices that changing the world actually entails. From 1972’s The Greening of America right on down to the present, this sort of literature has been lucrative and lavishly praised, but the great change never quite got around to happening and, as the Boomers head step by step toward history’s exit door, there’s no reason to think it ever will.

Perhaps the saddest of all these works came from the once-fiery pen of the late Theodore Roszak, whose 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture played a significant role in shaping the Boomer generation’s self-image. His last book, The Making of an Elder Culture, expressed a wistful hope that once the Boomers retired, they would finally get around to fulfilling the expectations he’d loaded on them all those years ago. Of course they haven’t, and they won’t, because doing so would put their pensions and comfortable retirements at risk. Mutatis mutandis, that’s why the Age of Aquarius turned out to be a flash in the pan:  “Let’s change the system, but keep the privileges we get from it” reliably works out in practice to “Let’s not change the system.”

The expectation of imminent apocalypse is the despairing counterpoint to the literature just described. Instead of insisting that the world would shortly become Utopia (and no action on the part of Boomers is needed to cause this), it insists that the world will shortly become the opposite of Utopia (and no action on the part of Boomers is capable of preventing this). This serves the purpose of legitimizing inaction at a time when action would involve serious personal costs, but there’s more to it than that; it also feeds into the Boomer habit of insisting on the cosmic importance of their own experiences.  Just as normal adolescent unruliness got redefined in Boomer eyes as a revolution that was going to change the world, the ordinary experience of approaching mortality is being redefined as the end of everything—after all, the universe can’t just go on existing after the Boomers are gone, can it?  It’s thus surely no accident that 2030 is about the time the middle of the Baby Boom generation will be approaching the end of its statistically likely lifespan.

The three factors just listed all have a major role in fostering the apocalypse fandom that plays so large a part in today’s popular culture and collective imagination. Still, I’ve come to think that a fourth factor may actually be the most significant of all.

To grasp that fourth factor, I’d like to encourage my readers to engage in a brief thought experiment. Most people these days have noticed that for the last decade or so, each passing year has seen a broad worsening of conditions on a great many fronts. Here in America, certainly, jobs are becoming scarcer, and decent jobs with decent pay scarcer still, while costs for education, health care, and scores of other basic social goods are climbing steadily out of reach of an ever-larger fraction of the population.  State and local governments are becoming less and less able to provide even essential services, while the federal government sinks ever further into partisan gridlock and bureaucratic paralysis, punctuated by outbursts of ineffectual violence flung petulantly outward at an ever more hostile world.  The human and financial toll of natural disasters keeps going up while the capacity to do anything about the consequences keeps going down—and all the while, resource depletion and environmental disruption impose a rising toll on every human activity.

That’s the shape of the recent past. The thought experiment I’d like to recommend to my readers is to imagine that things just keep going the same way, year after year, decade after decade, without any of the breakthroughs or breakdowns in which so many of us like to put our faith.

Imagine a future in which all the trends I’ve just sketched out just keep on getting worse, a tunnel growing slowly darker without any light at the far end—not even the lamp of an oncoming train. More to the point, imagine that this is your future: that you, personally, will have to meet ever-increasing costs with an income that has less purchasing power each year; that you will spend each year you still have left as an employee hoping that it won’t be your job’s turn to go away forever, until that finally happens; that you will have to figure out how to cope as health care and dozens of other basic goods and services stop being available at a price you can afford, or at any price at all; that you will spend the rest of your life in the conditions I’ve just sketched out, and know as you die that the challenges waiting for your grandchildren will be quite a bit worse than the ones you faced.

I’ve found that most people these days, asked to imagine such a future, will flatly refuse to do it, and get furiously angry if pressed on the topic. I want to encourage my readers to push past that reaction, though, and take a few minutes to imagine themselves, in detail, spending the rest of their lives in the conditions I’ve just outlined. Those who do that will realize something about apocalyptic fantasies that most believers in such fantasies never mention: even the gaudiest earth-splattering cataclysm is less frightening than the future I’ve described—and the future I’ve described, or one very like it, is where current trends driven by current choices are taking us at their own implacable pace.

My guess is that that’s the most important factor behind the popularity of apocalyptic thinking these days.  After so many promised breakthroughs have failed to materialize, cataclysmic mass death is the one option many people can still believe in that’s less frightening than the future toward which we’re actually headed, and which our choices and actions are helping to create. I suggest that this, more than anything else, is why 2030 is going to be the next 2012, why promoters of the it’s-all-over-in-2030 fad will find huge and eager audiences for their sales pitches, and why some other date will take 2030’s place in short order once the promised catastrophes fail to appear on schedule and the future nobody wants to think about continues to take shape around them.

Mind you, there are less delusional and less self-defeating ways to face the challenging times ahead—ways that might actually accomplish something positive in a harsh future. We’ll talk about one of those next week.


Tom Bannister said...

Speaking as a member of the younger generation (otherwise known as gen Y, incidentally the children of the baby boomers), I could say a LOT about the struggle I have with facing this predicament. Though I am trying (despite the shouting screaming and general nuttiness around me) with the help of at least some people who have grasped our predicament and of course with the help of the weekly archdruid report.

That reminds me, its now just over a year since I started reading this blog. You have provided me with many astounding insights, many slaps in the face and many rather uncomfortable realities and of course many exciting realities too. I can only hope the direction I am learning off the Archdruid reports takes me somewhere useful. (if it hasn't already, at least partially as a result of reading this blog i have pulled out of fulltime academic education and reduced to part time while I figure out where else I can go with my life).

Being the children of the baby boomers we too are not encouraged to look too closely into our predicament. Instead, for the most part, we are loaded with student debt until it kills us (literally in some cases), while various media commentators decry the 'lazy, overprivilaged, its all about me generation' *ahem- projection much* because of course we are expected to do the same things as our parents- even when the jobs and money aren't available.

Anyway, that's my few solemn words from the younger generation. Good day to you all.

P.S: I am not American btw, I am a New Zealander. Though I can assure everyone out there the general nuttiness of the western world is being well felt here.

onething said...

Some thoughts on this and last week's post. First, on your prior supposition that the price of gas would fall as the economy grinds down, I have assumed that the military would requisition the remaining oil for themselves, so as to maintain "order" and their power.
Along with that is my nervousness about the trend toward oppression from our government. The idea is that they will suffer from overshoot and become ineffective, but can we count on that? What if they retain all the fuel for themselves they need?

When I ponder the probabilities of fast collapse versus slow collapse, I note that we live in a highly complex interdependent system that is therefore very brittle and it could domino, perhaps even from a natural disaster like a large solar flare as a big contribution, although that scenario also would make the govt less effective.

As for your thought experiment, I find that an optimistic scenario that I am preparing to deal with. I've been working toward greater self sufficiency, but recent life events have pushed me to go quite a bit faster. Now, I'm really thinking hard about how far I can go in disengaging from the need for a job and money. I don't expect to be completely free of it of course, but the fact is that my fears of losing that source gives me anxiety, and the thought of being poorer but more independent beckons me like a bell of freedom.

Michael Julius said...

Hmm. I can't wait to see the stars again in the night sky!

Pinku-Sensei said...

"It’s thus surely no accident that 2030 is about the time the middle of the Baby Boom generation will be approaching the end of its statistically likely lifespan."

I was wondering why that date, other than the combination of a nice round number with a time close enough to be threatening, but not too alarming. I would think something more concrete, like either 2029 or 2036, when the asteroid Apophis, aptly named after an Egyptian deity of destruction, would fly close enough to Earth to have a chance of colliding. Your explanation, though, makes sense given the narcissism of the Boomers. This way, they maintain their importance even in death, while not having to give up anything beforehand.

"[E]ven the gaudiest earth-splattering cataclysm is less frightening than the future I’ve described—and the future I’ve described, or one very like it, is where current trends driven by current choices are taking us at their own implacable pace."

Jared Diamond has turned Easter Island into a parable of how collapse happens and used it and the disappearance of the Norse colonies on Greenland as examples warning how not to deal with environmental destruction. Last month, Robert Krulwich at NPR turned Diamond's reading of Easter Island on its head in "What Happened On Easter Island — A New (Even Scarier) Scenario." His thesis was that the introduced rats slowly ravaged the island's endemic ecosystem. While that happened, the natives just muddled on through until they eventually were building gardens with rocks that caught the moisture that the trees had and then ate the rats, as there wasn't much else for meat, as all the rest of the animals had gone extinct with the rest of the original forest. Meanwhile, the people endured, worshiping their gods and coveting status objects in the midst of their ruin of an environment.

Krulwich found this alternative even more frightening. He concluded his essay with "people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. There's a lesson here. It's not a happy one."

He then quoted J. B. MacKinnon puts it: "If you're waiting for an ecological crisis to persuade human beings to change their troubled relationship with nature — you could be waiting a long, long time."

It's enough to evoke the last couplet of "Nothing but Flowers"--"As things fell apart, nobody paid much attention."

backyardfeast said...

Thank you, JMG. Your earlier series on these themes really helped me break out of my attachment to the apocalypse fantasy of environmental doom. My attachment also highlighted another point you've made, though; when we look around at the very real destruction and environmental calamity around us, we don't have narratives OTHER than either doom or technology. Coming up with some new stories is so essential right now. I think this is one of the reasons your writing is so provocative. If we SEE climate change happening...then we MUST be headed for doom, right?! If we don't believe that we're headed for annihilation, then you MUST be denying climate change, right?! Any other story just does not compute.

Thanks to your earlier series, I was able to clear the veil of the fantasy and start to see the reality around me. Power rates increasing, transportation costs increasing, a new fuel surcharge on our local ferry system. At the same time, housing values are declining, which means taxes will rise to cover the budgets. Infrastructure costs go up, even while silly consumer goods get cheaper. Our central bank governor (Canada) recently publicly voiced the concerned mumblings about deflation that have been ciculating in the backrooms. He said so far we're only experiencing the "good" deflation(!) of retailers deeply discounting prices. No word on why they might be doing that and what that might mean for their businesses!

Meanwhile, our local shellfish industry is suffering because seed stock for our oysters can't grow in our acidified inlets, and all of us are experiencing weather patterns that are raising anxiety levels...

In other words, there is no "future" apocalypse. We're living it NOW. Perhaps in slow motion.

In a conversation with a friend last year, we walked ourselves through the usual scenarios of "what can we do?" In the end, we came to, well, if things get really bad where we are, we do what all people have done since the beginning of time: move, as refugees, to wherever there might be hope, with whatever we can carry, and potentially die along the way.

In other words, we will behave as millions TODAY are already behaving. I think you're on to something with our privileged, "but WE'RE special!" thinking also contributing to the "going out with a bang" dream...

Andy Brown said...

I think you're right, especially about the fourth point. I noticed a while ago that when it comes to environmentalism, there comes a point where there is no psychological payoff for continuing to develop clear, honest insight. Paying attention to what we are inevitably doing to our own potentials and to the biosphere breaks ones heart.

But as for my descendants, they will come from a long succession of survivors, even if these latter generations are out of practice. We're a species that colonized the arctic with nothing but the materials on hand. There's no reason to think the Inuit had any less of a share of human happiness, harsh as their lives were.

Still, I'll keep reading and doing for the better than worse case scenarios.

Thijs Goverde said...

Hmmm. I don't know; of all the different futures I tried to imagine, the very worst possibility would be 'seeing my children (or, if I ever have any, grandchildren) die in a savage civil war (think Syria, Congo)'.
This might be part of an apocalyptic scenario. It might also be part of a catabolic-collapse scenario. So to me, the question is not whether a crash is fast or infinitesimally slow, but what form it takes.

Seeing my kids slowly ground down by ever worsening financial and ecological conditions? Hey, that's just life. They'll find something to be happy about (maybe a love that makes it all worthwhile, maybe just a beautiful sunrise). Humans always do. Ain't that bad.

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, glad to hear it. Yes, I've also noted the way the media loves to criticize the post-Boomer generations for following the lead of their elders.

Onething, er, you might want to reread the part of last week's post where I pointed out that the prediction in question was one of my mistakes.

Michael, as long as you don't mind looking at those stars with no food in your belly and no certainty of getting any the next day, either, sure, it's a pleasant prospect!

Pinku-sensei, I find it utterly fascinating that the thought of being comfortable living with less is more frightening to Krulwich than a spiralling nightmare of war and cannibalism. That says something really rather eerie about today's attitudes.

Feast, exactly. People cling like grim death to the progress-or-catastrophe delusion, and the more obviously that delusion is betrayed by daily events, the more frantically they cling. I wonder now and then if there'll be some kind of mass suicide cult springing up in a few years so that people can have the apocalypse they obviously want so badly.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, Gramsci's motto -- "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will" -- isn't a bad place to start. There's also much to be said for the Stoic attitude that doing the right thing is the only thing that matters and all else, including one's own survival, is a topic of indifference.

Thijs, well, yes, but then you've long since learned to think like a tinkerer. ;-)

joe said...

Noice post and apropos to a discussion in our little transition group. The others were taken by a David Suzuki piece comparing human population growth to growth of bateria in a test tube. Some expressed anxiety at the prospect of teeming hordes just around the corner. My favorite danger on the other hand is radioactive compounds getting into the food supply -like sushi tuna haha. I take your admonishment not to get too caught up in apocalypto porn seriously. Thanks

joe said...

Tinker, crofter, poacher, gatherer, gleaner, insectivore -good occupations to have skills for in a time of energy descent

Derv said...

Very good post, JMG. I can't help but feel that the last two answer directly a few questions I recently posed to you, though I'm sure it's just that I ask the same questions as everyone else. I may not always reply, but I still read every week and dwell on what you cover (and I'm sure you are waiting by your keyboard with bated breath to hear what I have to say, no doubt!).

I certainly agree on the psychological attraction of apocalypse, especially when framed as it was in your fourth point. The idea of just "all the things decline forever" is troubling to the very heart of our culture. It basically undoes the narrative of America which, as far as I know, has been the same since the 16th century.

We were a land unexplored, with hidden riches to be found. Then we were the place where you could start over, then a city upon a hill, then a new experiment in human governance, then the men destined to rule the continent, then the place where the poor could become rich, then the heart of progress and industry, then the empirical heir to Rome and the UK, and on and on. The bright, shining future toward which we are inevitably fated to reach has changed, but the motion has not. Unlike every other major American cultural shift, you aren't changing the promised land; you're denying the journey.

That won't be accepted. I'm sure you know that. Perhaps that's the driving force behind a second religiosity; the narrative of empire fails materially, and so transforms into something new (which is also old).

I must admit that my personal view of the future lies somewhere between your fourth point here and the apocalypse narrative. Besides the purely religious notion I hold to of an inevitable end (a product of faith and not extrapolation of current forces), I don't foresee an extinction of mankind, nor a zombie apocalypse, nor anything else. The decline for the average person will continue unfailingly until we reach some new, simpler equilibrium.

Nevertheless the hiccups along the way are, I think, going to be perhaps more severe than at least the "softest" form of catabolic collapse. I don't think the cognitive dissonance now in play will go quietly into that good night. How can people who resolutely believe, even define themselves, by the myth of progress accept perpetual regress? They will break, even if only to fulfill their own (second-worst) fears of apocalypse.

And I think it will spread. As you've noted before, my generation (Millennial, or whatever less stupid label people care to use) has nothing to gain by sustaining the status quo. We want to see the world burn, or at least a reset, because we don't want to pay for the Boomers' twenty years of elderly windsurfing while we struggle to feed our kids.

We see that progress ain't happening, and I can't help feel that if things get much worse, our generation will snap, and people will start dying, and it won't stay here or there but rage across the entire West. We've seen the French riots, the British backlash to tuition hikes, Occupy, the Arab Spring, and much else besides, and these are just the first hiccups of something larger.

It's not the apocalypse. But it won't be slow suffering either, after that. It'll be blood and rapid decline. The only hope of avoiding it, I'd think, is the forecasted second religiosity. Give our generation something to believe in, and we just might stick it out. Just my two cents. Apologies, as always, for length!

Bruin Silverbear said...

I am a zombie fan. I have been since I was rather young. I even got myself (for a time) into the zombie apocalypse camp. I believe that your use of the word "fantasy" sums it up nicely. It has been my experience that most people who subscribe to the zombie apocalypse scenario, which has evolved into a metaphor for sudden collapse, see it as a fantasy in which they get to live out their hollywood dreams of shooting people and not having to answer to some moralistic entity for it. Nowadays, in the survivalist scene, individuals who are unprepared for sudden collapse and who seek to take your carefully hoarded goods are called "zombies" which implies a rather sinister fate for such folks at the hands of those more prepared. I suspect I could write a paper on the concept. Be that as it may, it is an easy fantasy to find yourself in. We live in a culture of limited or non-existent social justice, war, unreason and power allocated to people who do not have our best interests in mind in any way. Those that do are drummed out of the corridors of political power rather efficiently if they get elected at all. People like the idea of a zombie apocalypse or a falling meteor or a sudden collapse of any kind because it also feeds the idea that they can take more immediate control over their own lives when a secular authority no longer prevents them from living their fantasy of a large farm and a trusty assault rifle, even if that life is difficult and fraught with danger. There is also what you mentioned in that people can use impending doom as an excuse not to have to stand in front of the Tiananmen Square Tanks of progress who will stop for no protestor. In their version of events, as essentially pointed out by yourself if I am interpreting correctly, there is no need to stand in front of those tanks when you can just let them run out of gas on their own? I have often found that people want to join their voice to large scale social justice causes without actually doing anything in their communities for much the same reason. In the end, when the cause fails to gain ground, they need not be held personally responsible for the failure where at a local level they might be pointed out as being another ring leader in a failed philosophical coup de tat. All of this of course going back to what you have been saying for some time, cognitive dissonance. Is it wrong to tell believers in infinite progress that they will only be correct if we get the aliens to begin trading technologies with us? I am sure they could use Preservative filled frozen dinners and Microwaves for those long space/inter-dimensional journeys in return for whatever powers their spacecraft...

PhysicsDoc said...

The first time that I heard the date 2030 used for NTE (Near Term Extinction)was when reading a post or article by Guy McPherson. I think Guy, if he indeed was the source I am thinking of, would likely say that it is not a hard and fast date or year but rather a rough estimate (-10 years + 20 years?) around which things might be rapidly accelerating as far as climate change and its impact goes. This is based on extrapolations and predictions of possible temperature increases from now till then based on various scientific sources. Although the earth has gone through rapid swings in average temperature in the distant past, it was not loaded with 7 billion humans entirely dependent on a efficient but non-robust technology-based system. although extinction (zero humans left) is highly unlikely, a large scale die-off is not out of the question in this century and possibly within the first 50 years. I think you have essentially said the same thing in your own past posts.

onething said...

Yes, JMG, I remember. I was merely pointing out my own take on what will likely happen when there isn't enough oil to share with the populace.

Steve From Virginia said...

John Michael I get the sense you are falling into the habit you accuse others of, limiting options to one or two most fashionable.

Indeed, it is likely that all the options will occur at once as they have been so far. Those living in Greece or Syria would certainly understand that the world has come to an abrupt end, at least their part in it. Meanwhile, countries around the world teeter on the edge of a knife: what will happen when China's massive, interconnected debts are recognized as un-collectible? China as a nation could break up into warring states, with famines, disease epidemics and banditry ... as occurred during the 19th and early 20th century. Nothing new has to be invented particular to China, only for it to revert to its past; and the Chinese can discover for themselves how edible gigantic concrete towers, steel mills and shipyards are.

So too, Japan, which could be rendered largely uninhabitable by another large earthquake: with 51 reactors lurking like ticking time bombs and thousands of tons of nuclear fuel -- much of it plutonium -- the outright chance of a catastrophic event is greater than nil. Neither is the chance of a nuclear exchange, if not between the now-aggressively militaristic US and some other nation but between over-populated India and Pakistan, France and England ... who share over a thousand years of enmity ... between Israel and any number of countries, Russian and Europe.

Or perhaps all of them, we are mad and in our sense of lost 'prosperity' there is the urge to collective suicide: every fifty years of so half the human race is seized by the uncontrollable urge to murder the other half.

Don't forget, the world's food supply depends on a few varieties of seed stock, a gift from the agriculture corporations: a few each of corn, fewer than ten; rice, wheat, soybeans, potatoes, yams, cassava; all are vulnerable to rusts and fungi or, in the instance of cassava, vulnerable to a devastating and incurable plant virus.

We are ten meals away from civil war and worse ... there are a lot of moving parts to our modern world, anything wrong can happen. Murphy's law is a law not conjecture.


John Michael Greer said...

Joe, glad to hear it. Apocalypse fandom may be entertaining, but it's not helpful.

Derv, oh, granted. I've been saying all along that catabolic collapse is a matter of localized crises and disasters on many different scales, some of which will kill a lot of people in a hurry -- and a domestic insurgency here in the US is one very real possibility. By the way, thank you for being clear about the difference between the religious concept of a final end of time and the ordinary play of history! That's a distinction far too few people seem to get.

Bruin, fascinating. As I'm not a zombie fan at all, it's interesting to hear from someone who gets that part of popular culture. I have to say, though, that I'd wondered whether the dehumanization of potential enemies was part of it, and it's rather troubling to find that I was right -- that way lies some very ugly futures.

Alchemyguy said...

The Stoics were the first thing to come to mind in your proposed thought experiment, and it's in the same flavour as exercises they encourage to harden one against the vicissitudes of fate, both boon and bane. I truly believe that for one to be psychologically prepared for a future down the Third Path of decline one really must study the Stoics and perhaps the Buddhists to really lay some serious coping skills down.

Nassim Taleb's interpretation of Seneca the Younger in Antifragile (a grand read, though it took me twice for me to penetrate his style and get the meat out) is appealing; though a wealthy man, he would routinely perform thought experiments in which his wealth was gone (compare with the experiment proposed by our host) and would actively go out and travel as though he'd lost everything, and would return appreciating what he had all the more. Taleb interprets this as an attempt to mitigate the downside and retain the upside. I think there's something of value there for the 21st century Westerner studying stoicism; it isn't all an attempt to be utterly emotionless in the face of, well, everything.

Ray Wharton said...

I think a lack of courage is a big part of it, picturing the world you speak of is frightening. Over the last year one of the big shifts in my thinking is coming to appreciate how slow the decent can be, from a non dramatic day to day perspective, yet fast it can be at the same time, from the perspective of "wow, this would have been easy 3 years ago!"

From experience with people, I have seen how far some people have fallen. Its tragic, but many people are already starting to fall into tragic tail spins. Having grown up going to 12 step meetings, I know well how sometimes one pulls out before rockbottom, but also that it is never a sure thing, little can be done to enable such a recovery from the outside, and the side effects of how people stop one destructive pattern in their life can start another pattern. This will become more visible as the ability to maintain the appearance of functionality becomes harder for individuals. I now know families that don't even pretend to be okay, lots of nihilism, drug abuse debilitating otherwise capable people, financial ruin, legal, and health issues crushing individuals. Basic cost of living, even if it stays the same, is unsustainable for most. This is what I have seen that makes it clear, even with no downward bumps the future is very difficult and dangerous.

Danger is one of the important aspects of our future blindness. Danger is something our culture teaches little about how to live with, other than "stay away!". But this advice is not useful, because there is too much danger, soon to be even more. A superbug could get me anytime and there is little I can do about it. I can be prudent and develop good habits to avoid infection, and I have made modest progress in that, but it is a danger which I can only mitigate, and only to a degree. This danger and many others are likely to keep growing. Medical costs mean that many conditions my elders would have treated are to me something that should they come I will have to face them directly, and growing up safe I don't know how I would bear such an encounter from experience. Death our culture can grasp at because we are mortal, but danger I think is much more challenging because we have to live with it, it is uncertain while death is very certain.

Ray Wharton said...

I have also been reexamining fiction's role on how I look at the world. Especially stories about events that seem like a surefire end of the world, but in fact these great events become just another, perhaps brutal, part of business as usual, the stories of this kind from my upbringing have a big effect on me. Tolkien is the best western example I can think of, in it heroes face deep danger, a situation very nearly hopeless. The fellowship's mission was nearly suicidal, for there was little rational hope 9 could bypass the armies of Mordor, but that mattered little because trying anything was better than waiting for Sauron to crush the world. Even if there were no path to victory, the heroes would still choose the long defeat over the short. 20th century Japaneses culture has many examples which influenced me, their lived experience since WWII was very different, and important perspectives have arrisen from that differene. The video games I was raised on were crazy, but a few decent stories were given to me in my youth through them. Only one example: Final Fantasy 6 had [SPOILER alert] the "end of the world" in the middle of the game . The characters failed to prevent the civilization from entering a brutal dark age, but they had to carry on and do what they could for the world that kept on going, even after the beautiful villages became slums, they still needed heroes to do what they could. [End Spoiler] Then I have read Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind, here humanity has endured untold generations of brutal decline and warfare since the collapse of Technological Civilization, and the very prospects of any given tribes chance of survival are bleak beyond another couple centuries, but Nausicca consistently does what her heart tells her is right for world and the many she loves, even at great pain, danger, and sacrifice. Her compassion and courage are so deep in her. Good hero stories feature courage and faith, even if hopes are few and modest and dangers are many and great.

Good stories are important, when we think about something alot it soaks into our whole being. So many heroes my age mates were raised on were nothing but the glorification of the thrills of power. Of course we have had so much reason to be lustful for such a feeling. This is a hazard. Better to focus on heroes whose goodness is not predicated on their power, but on something deeper. This is why I think Star's Reach is a good story too, much of what is powerful about each character follows from what is good about them.

Uncertainty is the most certain companion for our future, what we as individuals and communities will have to face, and may even be crushed by, are unpredictable in detail. I do little things, and mostly use LESS each year, but have far to go, and I know that terrible tests I may not pass could be around the corner soon, but I do hope to pass some of these terrible challenges, for each time I have passed tests of courage in the past it did good things to me, who I was. I focus alot of loving life in all of its beauty and brutality, because without love, at least a little bitty bit, life becomes something too unnerving. Something I have seen in the confessions and eyes of a few people, something which few can endure long except at terrible cost to self and often to others.

Compound F said...

Do you read Stoneleigh? Aka, Nicole Foss? In my view, she throws a rather large monkey wrench (debt deflation) into your hypothesis of graduated collapse. What makes you think she, in particular, is incorrect? I say "in particular," because her's is the most cogent and devastating view in my field of entertainment.

You're writing is also excellent, but at loggerheads with her.

Best Wishes for the New Year.

Mark Rice said...

"Imagine a future in which all the trends I’ve just sketched out just keep on getting worse, a tunnel growing slowly darker without any light at the far end

This exercise has us imagining the death of our civilization. Saint Ignatius had a spiritual exercise where one imagines their own death. I have never done this exercise or any of the others suggested by Saint Ignatius. I have heard it can actually improve one's happiness though.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Yet again it occurs to me that the thinking over on your side of the Pond is markedly different to the thinking over here. If, as you say, the (US) Boomer generation was raised on a diet of idealism, optimism and cheap energy, it's probably quite true that they are unable to deal with the reality of a slow and messy end.

By contrast, Britain had to deal not only with the psychological shock of losing an empire, but also the long post-war decades of real austerity and rising costs. My own parents fled the UK as soon as they were able (in the late 1950s) to live in north America because the assumption was that Britain was a sinking ship. They only came back again when the UK began to resemble America.

Indeed the election of Reagan and Thatcher was like an unexpected gift for many and a measure of illusory wealth returned. But the effect has been a general infantilising of the culture without the idealism. Just beneath the surface however I suspect there is a lurking feeling that the good times will/have come to an end and that we still have a date with Doctor Decay. Perhaps that's why apocalyptic fantasies such as 2012 and now 2030 gain very little traction over here, except perhaps with the younger people who follow US culture closely.

I'm with Thijs: slow collapse and rising general misery is fine with me, just spare us the civl wars and idealogical nutters.

Ruben said...

JMG, I am a very longtime reader of this Report, and am quite convinced by your theory of Catabolic Collapse. I have 124 blogs in my RSS feed, and you are the person I cite most in my conversations and writing.

But I have never been comfortable with your position on climate change, so as you flesh out the further posts, I would appreciate it if you could be quite specific about what you think is likely.

Many, many climate scientists have quite dire warnings. Talk of the planet being locked into 4 and 6 degree rises is quite regular now. I believe you have talked about sudden--within a decade--temperature spikes, and that is supported by research.

You have also said a human population of half to one billion is likely.

Such quick spikes, plus the global weather weirding, and all combined with diminishing oil supply, could easily overwhelm our industrial agriculture system, making it unlikely we will survive.

In these comments you said, "Michael, as long as you don't mind looking at those stars with no food in your belly and no certainty of getting any the next day, either, sure, it's a pleasant prospect!"

So, I am not sure where my discomfort lies, but I am hoping you can clear it up over the weeks to come.

I have one thought--I don't believe in human extinction. It seems much more likely to me that a greatly reduced human population will be trekking towards the poles.

So, I don't think climate change will cause extinction. But I do think just not being able to drive to 7-11 will feel like the Apocalypse to some people, let alone a much higher than normal death rate and the darkening tunnel you mention.

The loss of our industrial civilization and agriculture is not the same as extinction, but I think many people see it as such.



YJV said...

I always keep in mind that you usually keep your predictions and references to within the scope of America. However, it is interesting to note that children of baby boomers (or the equivalent) in other countries have a very different narrative. My parents were 'baby boomers' of a young independent India struggling (and still is) to educate and feed its people, and to rebuild what has aptly been clarified as "highly developed [society] in an advanced state of decay".

That Asian baby boomer generation, at least those lucky enough to be born into middle class families and have instilled in them intense ambition to claim the lavish lifestyles of the non-deserving western baby boomers, mostly took (or tried) to succeed on other shores. I am the continuing product of such ambition and the inheritor of the desire to finally reach what my parents' or grandparents', in a holistic sense, were deprived of.

To most of my generation your effective experiment outlining the trajectory of the future leads to a sort of existential crisis that needs to be addressed head on. Yes, we have the capability (and even training) to get what our parents wanted, but for what? To only fight it out in a newly decaying society with no upswing to hope for.

It is an interesting predicament with many imaginative solutions. In the least I am thankful that I live in a safe and stable society (NZ).


SophieGale said...

OY! There will be doom and gloom in the land when people don't have Baby Boomers to kick around anymore!

Back in another millennium I read Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood by Lenore Terr.

From Publishers Weekly

Terr, child psychiatrist at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco, explores the dire effects of childhood trauma, defined here as "a single overwhelming experience or a series of overwhelming ordeals." She focuses on the 1976 abduction of a group of children in Chowchilla, a California farm town, who were seized from a bus as they were returning from day camp. The author, who interviewed the victims soon after their release from the abandoned rock quarry where they were buried, and who continues to make periodic assessments of the children, analyzes their attendant losses in cognitive and emotive function. Expanding on her Chowchilla research, Terr discusses post-traumatic behavior patterns she discerns in the works of writers such as Poe, Hawthorne and Stephen King, and in the films of Ingmar Bergman. Written in an anecdotal format, the book is penetrating and illuminating.

The details have faded in my mind, but I was taken with the loss of cognitive function. The children clung to "magical reasoning." I tend to revisit the notion whenever I hear stories about poor school performance in the inner cities where almost every child knows of another child who has been murdered by gunfire--or has seen a child murdered by gunfire. You want to talk about apocalyptic thinking: most young men in the inner cities don't expect to live past their twenties. And I've watched that Gansta mentality spread through music and video into mainstream culture...

In the last year, however, I've been thinking more and more about a connection between trauma, PTSD, whatever you want to call it, and our predilection for apocalyptic fantasy. A thousand years later, you can read A.D. 1000: A World on the Brink of Apocalypse, by Richard Erdoes with an amused sense of superiority:

"It is the onej(sic)-thousandth year of Christianity. The end of the millennium is fast approaching, and with it the nightmare visions of Armageddon and the Apocalypse. Europe is wracked by war, famine, carnage,and pestilence. Madness plagues the continent.

"Tracing the career of briliant visionary Pope Sylvester II, Richard Erdoes has composed a vivid tapestry of a century frighteningly similar to our present one. This chilling historical account holds up a darkling mirror."

Erdoes quotes accounts of strange manifestations in the sky, of thunder out of nowhere, showers of rocks, and thick fogs that terrified people... Except, that I found out by accident that those events may have been linked to a devastating volcano in Iceland in the mid 900's. Maybe I don't have room for amused superiority anymore... There was an huge eruption in 1783 that killed 10,000 people in Iceland and another 100,000 people across Northern Europe. I haven't gone looking yet for apocalyptic fantasies in Europe a generation later, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to something around 1820. Feel free look for correlations.

In 2030, the Hurricane Katrina generation will be in their mid-forties. They had the Apocalypse dropped right in their living rooms night after night when they were kids, and they are ripe for any crazy prediction you want to put out there. They've already seen it! They've seen Hurricane Sandy. They've seen the Deepwater Horizon spill. They've seen a dozen or more mass school shootings. They've seen mountain top coal removal and fire coming out of water faucets. The Apocalypse is already in their backpacks! How could it not be just around the corner?

KL Cooke said...

Perhaps the wild card in the game of decline vs apocalypse can be found symbolized in American literature--Moby Dick.

We recall how the dying whale rammed and sank the Pequod

Our host has given given well reasoned arguments why this is unlikely, but these assume dying whales act according to reason.

Seb Ze Frog said...

Hello and happy new year.

Reading this post made me think of an other reason that might be behind the apocalypse fad. It relies also quite heavily on the second point developed by John Michael, but with a slight pinch of my own salt.

While I admit not paying close attention to the last apocalyptic movies, I have as a side effect of my job, the dubious pleasure to be reliably the one toward who people in my surrounding turn when the question of imminent doom by asteroid impact arises. In those scenarios the end that, from my experience, trumps the total extinction of the human race is the belief that it will be hard, tough, terrible, but it will bring out the hero in all of us. We won't have any choice left but to be Good and then at least Do the Right Thing.

Now, imagine some weird Joe, that has a bad habit. Say he drinks too much. He is not an alcoholic, but every evening he likes to enjoy one or two glasses. It relaxes him. With time, he has come to suspect that his habit is getting bad. He awakes in the morning with a tongue like an old carpet, and some mornings when he wonders what he had for dinner, it takes him a moment to remember. Sometimes fuzzily, and once or twice not at all. That scared him, and he thought that he should stop drinking for a while, to purge his system. Yet, he is really convinced that he is in control. It is not that he doesn't see the problem, but he has all these reasons that tell him how the problem is not really a problem in the end.
Time passes, and while things don't really get worse, the idea that he should stop becomes more and more present. Not in his day thoughts, of course. And definitely not in the evening, when he is tired and needs to relax. But now almost every morning he has this thought that he should stop for a while.

He is even aware of the fact that every time he decides to do something in the morning and forgets in the evening it hurts his will. It makes him weaker.

This weird Joe, who is probably alien to most of you, this weird Joe might very well end up having some apocalypse fantasies to get him out of his habit.

The second point developed would manifest as the fantasy to be hit by a bus. He would have it in very bad mornings, when the day ahead looks gloom. "At least, it will all be over."
But he will also have an other fantasy, one that comes even more often. The fantasy that a visit to the doctor that would diagnose a terrible illness, would shake him and force him to take the step he is failing to take so far.

In other times, this weird Joe would probably have turned to a priest, to a god, for help. But he has no god, he has no one to turn to. Of course this weird Joe is completely hypothetical, but in this thought experiment his apocalyptic fantasies are actually a call for help to the blind material universe.
But this has probably no bearing what so ever with what is actually going on with 2030. Now, I have to figure out why it is that I wanted to write this here...

I have recently been told that irony is not, as I though, a leafless vegetable. But I am not sure I believe it.


Cherokee Organics said...


Sometimes I suspect the boomers not only made up the quote, but are spreading the thought, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". Thus they have a tendency towards faith in apocalyptic fantasies. A future of decline is unthinkable to such a mindset.

However, I expect that the baby boomers will reap what they sow. A culture of greed and debt that they have nurtured to their own ends will be the seeds of their own undoing.

As a disclaimer, I have no inheritance forthcoming as my actions have already caused me to be shut out of any family will. I always thought that such threats were telling in themselves anyway.

My grandfather was a very wealthy and connected person and before he died I told him I did not expect to wait around on dead men's money. Mind you, he delivered on that as the randy old coot gave it all to his new family anyway!

So as an outsider, I can see the baby boomers here in Australia have captured the lion’s share of wealth in this country.

To have done this wealth heist means that they have simply set themselves up as targets for raids on their assets in the future. It seems obvious to me that such accumulation strategies are inevitably self-defeating.

I can already see such raids on assets happening, but of course no one mentions this in polite company, but it's happening alright.

Those raids look like actions like putting oldies in the cheapest nursing homes possible so as to maintain their asset base when they eventually die. I'm not judging those actions either as I can well understand the difficulties faced by mine and even younger generations. Something will eventually have to give. That is what decline looks like.

Sustainability has to include sharing and maintenance of abundance, otherwise people in western cultures get a bit grumpy and start working out ways to game the system for their own benefit.

The whole 2030 date must have arisen because of the Limits to growth study which someone, somewhere must have taken note of? I can almost hear their thought processes: This sounds like a definitive date for sure, lets latch onto it. Shame they hadn't read the book.

Meanwhile, here I just keep throwing my resources into building top soil, diversity and infrastructure. There really is no other game in town.

PS: I was angry about all of this matter over a decade ago, however I channelled that anger into gaining clearer insights and motivation for actions on the ground. It hasn't been an easy ride at all.

PPS: I'm about to score two days of 40 degrees Celsius weather this upcoming week. Not good. More time would be a good thing, but that is what decline in an ecosystem looks like.



mkroberts said...

I don't think CO2 (and other GHGs) have been this high whilst humans have been on this planet, certainly not Homo sapiens, so it will be interesting to see your posts with regard to that aspect of the 2030 doomdate (not that I buy into that date at all, even if our situation could well be ugly by then).

Shining Hector said...

If anything it's nice to know I'm not the biggest Debbie Downer out there.... Yikes.

I can maybe add a little bit as one of society's designated "trained professionals" in motivating the public to make personal lifestyle changes. The pressure to put on a happy face as you tilt at that windmill for the 1000th time is probably the main reason for the justified cliche of doctors all being tired, jaded cynics. I marvel at how you continue to do it on a voluntary basis so regularly. You must not be quite right in the head, it's really the only explanation. :)

I liken our current predicament to diabetes. It's weird, I know all the lines about fixing it with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, but at some point I think I stopped believing it was possible, because I just never saw it happen. I eventually started to feel like a parrot, rehearsing the same canned speech over and over again without really believing in any of it anymore. Might as well just start everyone on meds since they'll need them anyway. If anything the worst prognostic factor is probably when the patient is horrified at the very idea of meds and think they'll beat it with willpower. More often than not they'll just learn to avoid doctors until they have end stage renal disease or something.

I can easily picture one lady who did pull it off, though. I gave the canned speech, but somehow she pulled it off. I wish I could say how it happened to help people faithfully reproduce it, but truthfully I feel like she mostly makes for an inspiring anecdote when I see people in a similar situation. I guess the right factors were there, a strong will, a supportive partner, a lack of denial about her condition, and regular follow-up.

On the other hand, I've seen lots of people quit smoking, with or without help from me. It usually takes several tries and lapses are common, but it does happen on a somewhat regular basis. Unlike the essential cause for despair of diabetes, there is some cause for hope. I wonder why that is. My best guess it really just requires making the one right decision, no matter how frequently the urge comes up. That's something the human mind can easily wrap around and get motivated about. Diabetes is more pervasive, you have to keep making the right decisions on more than one axis, over and over again. I imagine most people just give up and figure they'd rather deal with the consequences if they can admit them at all.

That's kinda where we wound up as a society. Like smoking, we were able to give up DDT, CFC's, etc. The really pervasive stuff I have less hope about, as seemingly do you.

How do you keep doing this? Is it the satisfaction about the vanishingly small amount of people who actually do make the sweeping changes, like my patient who beat diabetes? I have to say as nice as that is, I honestly can't see that being enough motivation, week after week. Once you discount that warm inner glow one gets from being the Only Sane Man, which most likely got old a really long time ago, I imagine it gets a rather poor emotional return on emotional investment.

Karim said...

Greetings all!

For once I am one step ahead as I have on several occasions tried to imagine my own personal future as things will wind down here in Mauritius (for the time being Mauritius is still experiencing economic growth though at a slower pace than a decade ago). It is an interesting exercise that I can recommend to all.

And it is not that terrible either! One can either imagine to live miserably and die miserably or one can decide to imagine a different future where although there will be less energy, stuff and stimulation as JMG puts it succinctly, life can be just as interesting.

After all what we are asked to do, is to rethink and recreate a new civilisation for where we live. That's an exhilarating perspective I find. Anyone of us can actually contribute towards imagining a new civilisation within the physical constraints of decline and work for it to come about.

It is really about reworking our own inner worlds and changing our expectations. Once this is underway, our focus changes and our actions also change in accordance.

In my limited experience I find that going to bed early, waking up early, growing vegetables, composting green wastes, buying less stuff, eating less, reading more books, favouring home cooked food over fast foods, building human relationships and trying to follow some spiritual path (any!) all together help mightily to face the gradual collapse of our civilisation.

Indeed I wish you all a Happy New Civilisation!

Freebooter said...

I'm not sure that the impetus for the 2030 NTE idea comes from the same place as the desire to see a 'relgious' apocalypse such as 2012. What Wilber would refer to as a category error. The mayan stuff is obviously connected to the ongoing Christian revelation mythic, but without the neccessity to be Christian to believe it. That all or most of these 'events' speak in reality to the transmutation of the human psyche, falls on deaf ears to the 'literal interpretation in history' meme that inhabits this realm these days in its struggle to prove it's as on the money as science.

I think what's more likely to be happening is that as the reality of possible runaway climate change becomes increasingly evident, the previous hyper conservative estimates from the scientific community are being seen to have done more harm than good by stretching out the timelines to far. That and not realising just how much heat the oceans had already absorbed.

The reaction to this, and the grasping of that date is out of a genuine fear, and a desire to shock and drive people to the changes that are useful in a degrading world system.

The strong individuals that make up the readership of this blog are likely to be way ahead of the curve, psychologically if not yet literaly, but on the outside most drift waiting for the leaders to suggest right action - that ship has sailed, available as an ipad app.

Some will choose the outlook to give even less of a damn, some will demand answers and be driven to change, some will take even more money from the 'Society Of Free Thinking Citizens For The Truth About Climate Change' (really, not big oil) to prevent any collapse in their identity paradigm.

Me, I'm still looking for the perfect tree to sit under where all the different voices in my head can shout at me together.

My longest and most incoherent post.

Loved the section about choosing between priviliges and ideals - the nub of many middle class therapy session.

To the woods....

Bogatyr said...

That particular thought experiment is one that I've been working on for the last few years; it's a tough one indeed. I think I see a way forward, but it'll take me approximately five years to get to where I want to be. Hopefully I'll be able to surf the wave of collapse and get there... It's taken me to unexpected places: tomorrow morning I'll be boarding a plane and moving to live in Russia, where I hope to learn from people who've already experienced collapse.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, there are odd snippets of news surfacing which suggest that the message of decline and collapse is being understand in more and more circles. In one issue alone of the right-wing newspaper The Daily Telegraph (albeit for British values of 'right wing', which in US terms are perhaps more like the 'traditional conservatism' whose disappearance in the US you've noted), I saw two very interesting articles:

- Growing popularity of log-burning stoves fuels rise in timber thefts. The title speaks for itself, but you've noted before that switching to 'sustainable' energy sources such as wood isn't a solution if there isn't actually enough wood to be had;

- in the same edition, a front-page story had the headline: Stop buying new appliances and cars and repair them instead, Government adviser says. Someone quite senior in our civil service ranks is advocating a move to a salvage economy... Sadly, the government is having none of it: a prominent Conservative MP, Peter Lilley, a fervent believer in the religion of eternal growth responded: "He [Prof MacKay] should either decide whether he’s chief scientific adviser or whether he’s going to join Friends of the Earth and knit his own socks.”Sad, but hardly unexpected.

Still, as I say, I've been seeing a number of stories like this; even though our politicians and media are still singing the gospel of growth, perhaps the choir is choir is becoming a little ragged.

Now to pack my bags; this time tomorrow, I'll be in the air towards the Gulf of Finland...

Richard Larson said...

It is not the end of the world. It is not the end of humans. It is not the end of civilizations. It is not the end of North America and all its geographic features. But it might be the end of a carefree life and it might be the end of you (baby boomers)!

Russ said...

John - My wife and I have anticipated your 4th factor since retirement 20+ years ago. It is the logical conclusion of the slow depletion of cheap energy. We have tried to live our lives as simply as possible. I agree that the slow deterioration of our society/civilization will be a prolonged disaster. We have most of your recent books and I urge you to keep writing. Regards, Russ Day

Ursachi Alexandru said...

Oh, Mr. Greer, imagining such a future is not as hard as it seems, at least not for me. Being an Eastern European, I am well accustomed to things getting steadily worse.

Rashakor said...

I tend to agree with Derv on this: the generations still remembering the privileges of the industrial civilization (gen X, Y, and Millennials) are likely to snap back hard in most of the industrial world. This “discontinuity” may be characterized by widespread low intensity civilian warfare and will certainly be perceived as the “Revelation” to many people. It will only intensify the feeling of the “Zombie Horde” to the apocalyptophiles (Silverbear’s zombie analysis is actually very useful here to understand the zombie meme).
Humans will certainly come out of the other end and carry on a much poorer world and lifestyle. But that step down on the long descent will certainly be remembered as the A-word.

Nestorian said...

In my own experience, I've found that it takes quite a long time to come to terms emotionally with the type of future we face. But, after many years of trying to do so (going back to 2003), I think I finally have. Being a regular reader of this blog since its inception has been a significant help in getting there.

It also takes quite a long time to come to terms with the fact that other people in your life to whom you are close are themselves still in denial about the type of future we face. The second issue is actually quite distinct from the first issue, and I must say that I personally still struggle with it - though recognizing and accepting the fact that you have no control over close others in this regard, which I have, is at least half the battle.

However, thought the two issues discussed above are distinct, I think the solution to both difficulties is the same: One must devote a lot of time and effort to personal spiritual development. Though I have not necessarily been a paragon of spiritual development over the past ten years, I have believed from the very beginning that spiritual development is far more important than material preparations in coming to terms personally with the "long descent."

Indeed, spiritual development is the "one thing necessary," and the attempt to engage in material preparation in its absence, or even without its sufficient cultivation, is doomed to failure, I believe.

M said...

Eternal progress or Judgement day, Heaven or Hell. This, of course, is a classic example of the binary thinking that you covered some time ago. When forced to think of an end to progress, and a slow descent into grinding poverty, "most people these days, asked to imagine such a future, will flatly refuse to do it, and get furiously angry if pressed on the topic."

In fact, it has been my experience that this scenario of the long descent or long emergency itself qualifies as apocalyptic for many, in the sense that the world as we know it, wish it to be, believe it must always be, is coming to an end.

So for all intents and purposes, when I mention the likely end of air travel in the near future, or the fact that it's doubtful our 4-year old son will be going to college, this eminently qualifies as a belief in the apocalypse.

I personally do not know of anyone fixated on a particular Date of Doom (though obviously they are out there, and may not be wearing DOD windbreakers for easy ID) but I do know lots of people who would consider an apocalyptic event to have arrived in force if they could no longer drive a car to Walmart.

Thanks for mentioning Stoicism, which has a lot going for it in terms of a system for dealing with the realities now and into the future. I'm not sure the idea of indifference to one's own survival is entirely accurate, since the responsibility to live a good moral life among fellow citizens was part of the deal. Anyway I plan to skip that tenet, if indeed it is one. (I only have cursory knowledge of the subject at this point.)

Tyler August said...

A good many people who are able to entertain your thought experiment will, I suspect, react with the ultimate answer to dispair -- the flip side of the all-too-common "hope I'm dead by then", which is the willingness to make that hope a reality.
They can even think it virtuous-- freeing up scarce resources for everyone else.
I can admit it; that was part of my own reaction. Only part, but a part I have and shall be wrestling with for some time.

blue sun said...

Right on! For a long time I have thought that whatever happens in future of this country, it would revolve around providing the Boomer generation its expected standard of living, or the appearance thereof. Since the former is becoming harder to prop up, 2030 feeds right into the latter, as a convenient justification for theft from future generations.

As a member of one of those future generations, my only hope for 2030 is that perhaps in that year it will become socially acceptable for media pundits not to have to be cheerleaders for Progress!

Twilight said...

Of course, this is hardly the first time you have described a future of this type, and to be fair a large portion of the planet's population is already there. To me, the real challenge of the thought experiment you propose is to try to find ways to make life in such a world meaningful, and it is certainly possible to do this. Then to try and take the things that would be meaningful in that world and focus on them now.

I still think the best way to help people visualize these scenarios is through fiction. Video would work but is much too expensive and complex, so fiction (even short stories) make the most sense. Star's Reach envisioned a time of recovery (even if only temporary) long after the scenario described here. It would be an interesting project to describe the world you outlined here, and to find something to focus on in a world of decline that will outlast the characters.

Phil Harris said...

An apocalyptic idea I have not heard for a while is the one about the reversal of the poles. A decade or so ago I remember such concerns became popular especially for a few earnest souls who confused reversal of the magnetic poles (which has happened pretty frequently in geological time) with a change in the spin axis of the globe, which would be a bit cosmic!

And what about Chem trails? I have noticed it pops up in unexpected places here in Britain. Some of this seems excusable given most of the ‘facts & debate’ people are fed commercially - which includes political, cultural & educational as well as corporate sources - which few if any of us are in any position to make sense of?

In some ways these 'really odd' beliefs, as long as they occur in obviously odd others and only marginally in ourselves (via enjoyable frisson), are useful for 'the rest of us normal folks'? They make 'normal' or 'positive' sound much more reassuring terms than they should be?

Phil H
PS Thanks for the reminder to keep up the thought experiment(s)!

John Michael Greer said...

PhysicsDoc, yes, I've been saying all along that by the time the current mess bottoms out, a couple of centuries from now, there will be fewer than a billion of us on this planet. That's one of the consequences of the "it just keeps getting worse" future I outlined in this post. Do you recognize the difference between that and the "We'll all be dead by 2030" fantasy I'm discussing in the post?

Onething, okay, but then why bring in the prediction of declining oil prices?

Steve, thanks for a good example of the mentality of "if you pile up enough worst case scenarios, that proves we're all going to die by date X!" Not so; life is going to get a lot harder for a lot of people, as it's already done in Greece, Syria, etc., but that's simply a reversion to normal history after the brief interval of fossil-fueled prosperity.

Alchemyguy, exactly. Stoicism isn't about not having emotions; it's about not letting your emotions, or anything else, own you.

Ray, excellent! You get this morning's gold star. In some future posts, I'll be talking about stories that might help make sense of the future we're facing. As for the distinction between death and danger, that's crucial -- a case could probably be made, in fact, that apocalypse fandom is in large part an attempt by people who have no tolerance for uncertainty to impose certainty on a future of high risk.

Compound F, have you noticed that Stoneleigh's been predicting over and over again that this is the year that debt deflation is going to bring the world to a sudden stop -- and that she's been wrong year after year? No, that doesn't mean that it's got to happen one of these days; it means that she's forgotten that money is simply a system of abstract tokens subject to manipulation in a dizzying variety of ways. We've already seen in the case of Japan that it's possible to strike a rough balance between deflationary conditions and inflationary money policy, and keep that balance in place for decades on end; the same thing is being done elsewhere, including in the US, and the result is a slow grinding decline rather than an apocalyptic crunch. As, by the way, I've predicted repeatedly...

Mark, if you're a Catholic, I highly recommend those exercises; I'm sure you can find a Jesuit to help you work with them.

Jason, I hope that attitude's common on your side of the pond! It may help you avoid some very ugly events.

Ruben, I've tried to be as clear as possible about climate change in previous posts. Is it happening? Of course. Is it largely caused by human activity? Of course. Is it a linear process? No. Thomas Friedman landed a rare hit when he pointed out that what we're facing is "global weirding" rather than global warming, an increased range of extremes on all ends of the weather machine. That's going to cause disasters in some places and land benefits in others -- during the last post-ice age warm period, for example, it rained regularly in the Sahara. I'll discuss all this in more detail as we proceed. As for your latter point, though -- that people will think the apocalypse has arrived if they can't pick up JoJos at the local supermarket -- no argument there!

YJV, this is why I don't try to make predictions for the whole world. It's a big planet, and cultural forces and factors vary dramatically from one part of it to another.

Sophie, nah, the Boomers aren't even irreplaceable as punching bags. Many thanks for the comments on the psychology of trauma -- that's a worthwhile point, especially as we'll be facing traumas in the future that will make Katrina look mild.

KL, the last thing I'd assume is that anybody but a few random Stoics will act according to reason!

Larry said...

I think you have successfully hit the nail on the head as to the nightmare scenario that some of us think is most likely – all downward trends continuing full speed ahead. Fear of this scenario is, I believe, what motivates some people to try to go the extra mile so as to get something positive done.

One book I found very informative which describes how a powerful person (Obama) dropped the ball and made the nightmare scenario more likely, is the 2011 publication Confidence Men by Ron Suskind. The book describes in detail how both the health care industry and the financial industry turned the need for reform, which a special alignment of the stars had (maybe) made possible in 2009, into a confirmation of the status quo. The book contents that it didn’t have to turn out this way, but because of Obama’s action or inaction, it did.

As a result my guess is Obama will not end up as the fifth head at Mount Rushmore. The author had amazing connections with numerous insiders in the process (many of whom he quotes). The book is a marvelous yarn.

I read about Confidence Men in David Stockman’s recent polemic, The Great Deformation, which is the only economic history I’ve seen which spells out how the money printing by the Federal Reserve in the 1960s and 1970s turned things that cost a nickel or a dime in my youth into items costing a dollar or more. That seems like history that, if not repeating, will at least rhyme.

John Michael Greer said...

Seb, yes, that's probably another part of it. As for irony, nah, it's a necessary nutrient -- aren't you supposed to worry about whether there's enough irony in your diet?

Cherokee, you may well be right about the origins of the 2030 date in Limits to Growth -- that's so often the way such things get started.

Mkroberts, it's important not to fixate on a single number -- what matters with climate, and more generally, is the state of the whole system, and in particular the way the whole system responds to rates of change. More on this as we proceed.

Hector, do you ever get people who respond to a diabetes diagnosis by saying "Oh well, I'm certain to die a horrible death now, nothing I can do about it," and use that as an excuse to keep on with their existing lifestyle? That's what I think is happening here.

Karim, true enough. Try telling people that here in America, though, and they'll start jabbering about how we're all going to be dead by 2030 anyway, so why bother?

Freebooter, it started out that way -- trying to scare people into doing what you want them to do by threatening them with the end of the world goes back a long way in American culture. The problem with that strategy is that nobody buys it any more, and so your narrative promptly gets taken over by what I've termed apocalypse fandom, the people -- and there are a lot of them -- who have various personal reasons to want to pretend that they don't have to live with the consequences of their own actions. That's where we are with the climate change narrative, and unless something shifts in a big way, banging away on the "death by climate" drum is just going to feed the fad.

Bogatyr, that's interesting -- thanks for the data points! Best of luck with your relocation.

Richard, nicely summarized.

Russ, thank you!

Ursachi, of course -- people in eastern Europe haven't had the luxury of being unrealistic about history. That's mostly an American vice these days.

Rashakor, will it be remembered as the apocalypse, or as a triumph over the forces of evil?

Nestorian, no argument there -- but I try to wear my archdruid's hat lightly in this forum.

M, the Stoic idea about personal survival is that it's a good thing if it can be done without sacrificing anything that's actually important. I'd encourage you to read Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius sometime, and get the tradition straight from the source.

Jasmine said...

Dear Mr Greer.

I remember a while ago that someone has left a comment about a women who was convinced that the millennium bug was going to bring about a great crisis of civilization. Therefore she made careful preparations for the expected disaster and laid aside large stores of food, water etc. However after New Year 2000 arrived without any problems she expressed a great sense of disappointment. She had found that the contemplation of the expected disaster and all the preparations she was making for it, had filled her with a kind of excitement and given her a sense of purpose in her life. The person who left the comment thought that her attitude was highly irrational. Now I would agree that her attitude was irrational. However I can really understand what she was feeling and know where she is coming from. It is easy for forget that life in a modern industrial bourgeois society can be really boring. Spending most of your life working in a boring office in order to pay off a mortgage and buy ever increasing amounts of consumer gadgets is an existence that is devoid of purpose, meaning, adventure or excitement. Such an existence is safe and comfortable, and I am well aware that if I was a starving peasant slaving all hours to scrape a meager living, it would seem like paradise. However human beings need more than just comfort and security. We need meaning, purpose and excitement in our lives. I am sure that this is one of the reasons why so many millions throughout Europe were jubilant at the prospect of going to war in 1914 and looked on it as just a wonderful adventure. They had no idea at the time what modern industrial warfare was like. I note that there is a part of me that also gets excited whenever a war starts. I am not alone in having this kind of excitement. Look at all the millions who get a vicarious excitement from watching people being killed in film and on the TV. Human beings crave drama and excitement.

I am well aware that an hour spent in the cellar of a burnt out house while bombs fall around me would cure me of any such excitement. There is also a large part of me that hates war and all the legalized destruction and murder it brings in its wake. I know enough of history to know that nothing good can come of it. However human beings are often filled with emotions and feeling that are completely contradictory. We have this image that comes from the enlightenment that man/woman is a rational creature. It is easy to forget that underneath this veneer of rational thought there is a whole world of contradictory feeling and emotions that can exert an influence over the way we think. If we are not aware of this, then these feelings and emotions can easily become the monsters from the Id, as they were called in that film the Forbidden Planet. I am sure that this longing for excitement and purpose is one of the factors behind this desire for apocalypse and cataclysm. I am afraid that your concept of a long decent is rather tedious and boring and does not fulfill our need for drama and excitement. If someone was to make an action movie out of your book the “Long Decent” it would be a real box office flop. It would be so boring. Such a response is irrational, but it is vital to remember that human beings do have a streak of irrationality in them.

Jasmine said...

If you go into this subject even deeper it will become apparent that the wish for cataclysm is not restricted to those who live a comfortable bourgeois existence in modern industrial societies. I was recently reading Norman Cohn’s “The Pursuit of the Millennium”. This is a book about the eschatological pursuit of the millennium in medieval societies. There were mass movements of people who were obsessed with the idea that they were living in the last days when the old world would be destroyed and a new heaven on earth would appear with a second coming of Christ. They often thought that this would be brought about by exterminating the sinners such as the rich, clergy, Jews etc. Mr Cohn notes that this kind of millennial movement did not normally take place in traditional peasant societies, where there was a kind of community and people had a place. Such societies may rebel against their masters, but these rebellions where not of a millennial nature, and tended to have down to earth aims such as removing unjust taxes. Mr Cohn noticed that millennium movements tended to take place in societies that had large populations of people who were alienated and rootless and had little stake in their society. This would often occur in areas with expanding towns that had large poverty stricken populations who were not part of the guilds, had lost their connection with the land and former peasant communities and who had very insecure jobs.

It does strike me that that there are some similarities between this medieval fascination with the apocalypse and our modern obsession with this. A modern bourgeois society may be comfortably off in economic term, but it can also be quite rootless, alienated and lacking in any connection with a community or the land. While modern bourgeois societies remain economically secure such obsessions with the apocalypse may only remain fantasies. However when such societies are disturbed by the shocks of poverty, war etc they can easily get caught up in the same kind of dangerous millennial movements that shook the Middle Ages. In the pursuit of a new heaven on earth, these movements can lead to the extermination of millions. We have already seen this with Communism and Nazism in the 20th century. Both of these movements were fundamentally millennial in their outlook. In the near future there are going to be millions of disenfranchised urban poor who could be caught up in such movements. Such a process is not inevitable. Britain, America and France maintained their democratic institutions in the 1930’s even though they were in the throes of the great depression.

Will said...


the trouble with self-sufficiency is that, while a potentially good answer for some individuals, it is a disastrous answer for the society as a whole.

it's a lot like spending versus saving in an economic depression: if everyone does the "sensible, prudent" thing and cuts back, saves, grows their own food etc., the purchasing power of the country drops further and the depression gets worse.

similarly, if any sizeable percentage of Americans were to move to small farms, grow their own food, go off-grid, etc., they would trash the environment of rural areas (by their numbers) and cause the economy of the country to decline, with a cascade of effects on issues like debt repayments.

the answer is to wring most of the waste out of our existing civilization while investing in sustainable power sources like wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and YES nuclear. you need to get over your belief that nuclear has terminal problems with safety and waste disposal. it does not. it has an image problem driven by popular hysteria. when times get tougher, people will rethink this.

Maria said...

My more New Agey friends were convinced that 2012 would bring a consciousness expansion and that we'd all become more psychic and in tune with nature and be so busy having a good time with all of it that war would cease. Or something.

I couldn't really square that with apocalyptic fantasies until it occurred to me that it's the other side of the same coin -- they expected to become more enlightened and kinder and so forth without any sort of regular spiritual practice or doing the tedious work of looking at their own less-than-helpful attitudes and behaviors and making changes. It will all happen magically, and in the meantime, they got to look down on unbelievers.

A quick Google search found this guy, who has already done a marvelous cut-and-paste job to include 2030 on his website: Earth Awakens 2012-2030 . There are also numerous websites that indicate 2030 as the new date for The Rapture. The next 16 years are shaping up to be vastly entertaining. It'll make a nice break from the hard work ahead.

Greg Belvedere said...

"today you’ve got people who used to be in the environmental movement pimping for nuclear power and GMOs, because the conserver lifestyles they were praising to the skies forty years ago have become unthinkable for them today."

Cough* cough* Stewart Brand. It really appalled me when I saw that a few years ago. Though, for the reasons you point out, I can't say it surprised me.

LESS is really a great rule of thumb. While not everyone can make the changes needed overnight, we can all do with less and steadily make the needed changes.

Jasmine said...

The mistake that we make with these fantasies of apocalypse is to think that we will have an Armageddon that will destroy civilization across the face of the globe. If you think about it we have had a number of apocalypses in our lifetimes. There was an apocalypse’s in Rawanda in the in the mid 1990’s and Cambodia in the mid 1970’s which cost the lives of millions. There were some major apocalypses during the Second World War. As we go down the reverse slope of peak oil these Armageddon’s will become more frequent and are more likely to occur somewhere near you. However these Armageddon’s are likely to be localized. Even if they occur on a continental scale, they are unlikely to wipe out civilization across the whole globe. There are scenarios where civilization could be wiped out on a global scale such a large asteroid, a super volcano or an all out nuclear war between superpowers. We did come uncomfortably close to the last scenario during the cold war. However the odds are that we are unlikely to see such scenario’s in our lifetimes. If there is a nuclear war it is more likely to be a small exchange of war heads rather than an all out nuclear war. Our civilization will decline, but it is more likely to be a slow death by a thousand cuts than a bullet to the head.

Carl said...

My older brothers are two of those baby boomers that sold out long ago. They were your typical hippies in Boulder, CO in the early 70's and now are very far removed from those ideals. The older one runs a company that lends money to temporary employment agencies across the US at super high interest rates (pretty sure that covers five or six of the seven deadly sins). He likes to pretend he cares about the earth as he flies to Hawaii a couple times a year (I sent him a couple of your post a little while ago, and he said he likes to save them for the flight to Kauai, I couldn't tell if he was trying to be funny or just clueless).
My other brother use to be very environmental minded in his youth, and then spent his career being a sales person that had to drive and fly all over the Western US. I've never known anyone that has driven as much as he has. Now he sells huge landscape rocks mined from around the world to rich people for their mansions' yards. He will complain about climate change, but doesn't seem to make the connection. 
I don't think they've heard about 2030 yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they get behind the idea when they do. After all, they've had their fun right? Carl

Unknown said...

Jay here. I can't help but notice that the time from 2012 to 2030 isn't too different from the time between Y2K and 2030.

Also, your prediction for the slowly worsening future is obviously true for each of us individually; aging is like that. I suspect that human evolution has favored those who are don't dwell on the sort of scenarios you're talking about, precisely because there has been nothing useful to be done about aging.

James Yamano said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

I have long ago acknowledged that the future is neither uninhabitable nor wonderful, it is uncomfortable and adapting to uncomfortable conditions is the key to the future. So if the fear of the uncomfortable is the reason that people are willing to embrace eschatology, I wonder if American society will face "peak-eschatology" when individuals can no longer find excuses to not make adaptive changes in their lives.

jonathan said...

I am very impressed with your consistent avoidance of ideological blindness and breadth of vision. The instant essay though, demonstrates even the broadest vision can include blind spots.
The "baby boom generation" consists of 76 million people who have one thing in common: they were born between two arbitrarily chosen years. Indeed, you may recall some years back when the front end time limit shifted from 1960 to 1964. this annoyed my wife no end since she's convinced that she, born 1963, is from a very different cultural place than am i, born 1950. stones vs. ramones if you will.
generational divisions--baby boom, X'ers, millenials etc. can, i think, best be understood as marketing devices. shouldn't every nillenial own the latest electronic gizmo?

people born between 1946 and 1964 are of all races, religions and economic classes. some went to grad school, some went to war. their parents were doctors, judges, coal miners auto workers and cab drivers. some sleep on silk sheets in mansions, some sleep on cardboard under bridges.
ask yourself honestly, would you apply the same sort of broad generalizations to everyone who is more or less your age?

LewisLucanBooks said...

I don't have to imagine the trends. I'm living them.

Nano said...

As a side note, what do you all think about this article?

Seaweed Shark said...

Who was it, back in those dark distant days of 2010, that uttered the terrifying and prophetic words, the obsidian-edged counterspell that guards those who are prepared to wield it from the incantations of the heedless: "There is no brighter future ahead." Hmm, it seems to have been the Archdruid!

PhysicsDoc said...

I understand what you are getting at in you post. Setting a specific date (such as a year 2030) in the future for some grand apocalyptic event (e.g. NTE) is nonsense but great for business. On the other hand there are many degrees and shades of gray between that and the other end of the spectrum (e.g. it will take centuries or millennia for things to play out). I think you may be engaging in the same kind of binary thinking you have mentioned in the past. What I was getting at was that a date like 2030 can be used as an indicator of the rate of decline. It is essentially saying that we are much closer to large scale effects than a date of 2100 or 2200 etc. One way to think of it is as a probability distribution that may have a peak at 2030 but is broad and highly asymmetric (toward longer times). Of course the estimate for the peak date of this distribution is itself part of a secondary distribution. The kind of apocalyptic fantasies you speak of essentially replace the distribution with an almost/essentially infinitely sharp delta function centered at 2030 and even the probability of the time/year is 1.

Bill Pulliam said...

About 2012/2030... at least there was some actual basis for the 2012 date, in that the Mayan long count actually did reach a major rollover point on that day. Of course the predicted apocalypse had nothing whatsoever to do with actual Mayan beliefs, but at least there was some source for the date. As far as I can tell, there's nothing similar to back up 2030, which will make it easier to say "Oh well I guess we were off by a bit" when that year actually rolls around.

About zombies and survivalists. What I have actually seen first-hand when sudden stress strikes an American community (flood, tornado, hurricane, etc.) is that once the debris stops flying and the waters recede, people immediately pull together, look for who needs help and who has resources to offer, and take care of things. I suspect that in an episode of acute food scarcity (about the only thing the average survivalist is actually prepared for), if someone were to open fire on those who were going without, the community might collectively string him up from the nearest tree. And during a period of quasi-permanent food scarcity, that same survivalist would likely starve alone in his bunker after his provisions ran out, having been shunned and exiled by the larger community for his antisocial behavior. Who is going to want to share their hard-earned meager crops, forage, and game with someone who sat atop his own hoard with his guns, not participating at all in the work to get some sort of subsistence food production going?

And a final note more relevant to last weeks post, JMG... "Monsters" is not a very good choice for bedtime reading!

Ray Wharton said...

Thanks for the star, I am glad you are stepping in what I am smelling! I very much look forward to more on the importance of stories, and I look forward to seeing more in the comments on what stories have influenced the various regulars on this blog, and how those stories have affected their morality. What Would So-and-So Do is, I suspect, a very important question for dealing with moral difficulties beyond our own experience, and having alot of worthwhile So-and-Sos in ones stories is important to being well rounded. There are so many stories I look forward to discussing on this forum when the time becomes proper.

Courage, in the face of danger, is one of many limiting factors on how deeply one can, or perhaps should, look into the murky depths of humanities prospects. One thing about internet discussions is that many of the zany fads for futurology are supported by people who live provisionally, and who have not had the opportunity to be tested in courage. Until one has been tested it is hard to have faith in ones own courage. Without the test courage is speculative, and cannot really participate in self image. Bearing an uncertain world when the self is uncertain is alot to ask.

thecrowandsheep said...


The point that an apocalypse excuses one from doing anything is a good one as it is the exact method we already use to prepare for our own death. Of course we put away something for our retirement but death itself is as abstract as giant space walruser - and is just as shocking if encountered up close.

thecrowandsheep said...


Another point is that 2030 is a really nice round number. Here's Blair Kinsman discussing how waves tend to travel in groups which has led some to believe that the wave heights within that group follow a consistent ordering..."Every seventh wave is the highest" so they said:

On the coasts of my childhood, seven was the magic number. As I traveled about, I have found every integer from three to nine enshrined in the folklore. If you put your faith in any "pet integer" and have the temerity to prove your faith in a sailing dinghy, you will sooner, rather than later, be slapped silly by a wave numbered "pet integer plus one". (footnote on "Wind Waves", 1984, pg. 10).

Christian Herring said...

Excellent post as always!

I have been thinking a lot lately about what the world, and America in particular, might look like once people finally let go of both their belief in progress, and their belief in immediate apocalypse. I think a good way to get an idea of how people might react when they lose their belief in our current society is to look at places like Detroit, which has been in steady decline for quite a while longer than most American cities and where you would therefore expect the belief in both progress and collapse to be the most tenuous. In other words, the rust belt might be a good approximation for how the rest of the country will look in 20 - 30 years (and who knows how bad places like Detroit will be by then)

I have a (somewhat unrelated) question, by the way: what do you think will be the criteria that separates the 'useful' innovations that we keep maintaining in a post-industrial society from the ones that we will ultimately decide to scrap? Will we even be able to keep the more important appliances, like refrigerators, running,even though modern appliances of all types require massive, international supply chains and exotic chemicals/minerals to produce? Can we be sure that we will be able to produce any industrial-age innovations on a non-industrial scale?

Chris G said...

I was going to comment about the 2030 date's linkage to the Limits to Growth study, but Cherokee (another Chris!) already beat me to it. Incidentally, I saw a PBS documentary about the Mayan calendar around Christmas-time 2012 that noted the big upheaval around the 2030-2032 period as well. It was called 2012: The True Mayan Prophecy. It is not filled with spectacle, nor doom, nor unfulfillable promises. I think, for what it's worth, there is a recognition of the need to place the complexity of the real world into some mythology that people can understand. And indeed, for those who are capable of being the Bard, telling the stories, this is very important. Getting out of pure abstraction, into a story: the story leaves enough flexibility to allow every individual to interpret to their own circumstances, while still giving everyone a common understanding.

Apocalypse stories, or transcendence stories (Star Trek, Star Wars, the Secret, the quantum physics-based "you make your own reality" hocus pocus) have drawbacks in a time of the barbarism of reflection, in which the abstraction process tries to force the world into simple binaries - transcendence or annihilation. People have too much time sitting around trying to figure everything out, thinking thinking thinking, not much living. Me included. In reality, though it can't fit in language, we all experience the bliss of transcendence - sometimes - and we will all experience the annihilating apocalypse. In between is life, and it doesn't really fit into words - but what's more, in can be really quite a painful struggle to keep trying to fit the real world into the words. It takes some recognition of language/mind's limits, and turn that function off, as much as can, and be where we are now.

A personal synchronicity: as personal care-giver to 98-year old former nuclear physicist, and before that, adopted boy raised on a Western Kansas farm; each night to help him get to sleep, I read from books about the frontier life. Most recently, I've been reading a story to him called Cabin on Trouble Creek, by Jean van Leeuwen; about two boys left in the forest of Ohio 1803 to fend for themselves until the family arrives from Pennsylvania.

Why is that a synchronicity for me? Let each reader perhaps interpret the story according to their own experience. But to me, it is as though 2012 (or 2000, or whatever) can be imagined as a point of reflection. As a point of passing through the looking glass. On one side, the past, was growth, away from that old frontier history. On the other side, a long story of return to that old way, sort of. The difference is, it's like a mirror image and everything is in reverse. Instead of (effectively) empty frontier land, it's a crowded space - and it's filled with all the old conceptions of growth, prosperity, etc. It is a kind of bizarro-frontier world.

John Michael Greer said...

Tyler, I expect to see a lot of that as things proceed.

Blue Sun, I hope we can get to that point before 2030!

Twilight, no argument about fiction. I'll be doing a post in a bit about my favorite long-descent novels.

Phil, I'm sure we'll hear before long that the reversal of the magnetic poles will happen by 2030. As for chemtrails -- well, no doubt you can find some way to add that in!

Larry, thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out.

Jasmine, well, actually, I did go fairly deeply into all this in the runup to the 2012 nonevent -- I wrote a book, in fact, titled Apocalypse Not. Of course you're right that it's a complex phenomenon.

Will, repeating propaganda from the nuclear industry doesn't change the fact that nuclear power has never been economically viable anywhere without huge government subsidies -- and if you think it's not a problem to load the planet with radioactive wastes that have to be isolated from the biosphere for a quarter of a million years, I encourage you to volunteer to keep some used fuel rods in your basement.

Maria, exactly -- the apocalypse meme has two sides; one's the horrible death that's going to be inflicted on everyone else, the other's the blissful destiny that awaits the chosen. Exactly where that line gets drawn varies from one apocalyptic fantasy to another.

Greg, Brand's a little old to be a Boomer, though otherwise, yes, it's the same embarrassing story.

Carl, my condolences. I wonder how many members of their generation will ever realize what they could have accomplished if they'd chosen differently.

Unknown Jay, well, except that you can respond to aging in better or worse ways, with significantly different effects. Same's true of a difficult future!

James, if we do hit peak apocalypse I for one will be glad of it.

Erica H said...

I see parallels between our current civilization's situation and an individual who has just gone through an acute and rather embarrassing midlife crisis. He/She's got the red Camaro (and the monthly bills to go with it) and is now driving confusedly around and around the crumbling cul-de-sacs of his/her suburban neighborhood, with the burgeoning anxiety that this might be all there is. Decline is a certainty for all of us, as we age, and it is a horrifying prospect for a popular culture that prefers to live fast and die young (and glorifies the idea). It is likely that the predicament our civilization is in brings up fears for us based on our own lifespans, especially when we haven't recently had healthy role models for aging and decline. I think you've made similar parallels before, but the connection stood out to me in this latest post, as an explanation for why some of us are so horrified by the idea of decline, seeing it as perhaps even worse than apocalypse.
It gives me hope to see how much depth, wisdom, and learning can come from these much maligned years, in many older individuals around me. I'm not old enough to have direct experience with this time of life yet, but I see the potential for profoundly interesting and enriching years. I don't hold out as much hope for our civilization being able to make use of these gifts but we'll see.

John Michael Greer said...

Jonathan, by the same logic every generalization of every kind is inadmissible, including those that shape the meaning of every word in this sentence. I'm quite sure you know what I mean in talking about "Boomers."

Lewis, and so are many others -- it's just that most of them don't realize that yet.

Nano, good to see that the fine art of whistling past the graveyard still has its enthusiastic practitioners. Lomborg, remember, was the guy who insisted that petroleum would stay near $20 a barrel through 2020.

Shark, yes, it's the same message, expressed in a variety of different ways.

PhysicsDoc, er, I'm trying to point out that one particular set of cultural mythologies isn't a useful guide to our future. Of course there are many ways things could play out, and I'm not at all sure why you think I'm disputing that.

Bill, my guess is that the date will have mutated by 2025 or so, so that it always stays between 10 and 20 years in the future. As for Monsters, good heavens -- what's wrong with a little light reading before bed? ;-)

Ray, that's another good point. So many people, especially among the middle class, have never had to face significant risks, and it's not at all surprising that they would be acutely uncomfortable at the prospect...

Sheep, I'm not sure if it's just a round number or if some other factor led to its adoption. I suspect it could have been any date this side of 2050 or so, as long as it was far enough in the future to give the marketing machine time to rev up.

Christian, the only ways to know which technologies can last is either to try making them work now with low-tech tools and resources, or to wait and see. I have my guesses, and will discuss some of them next week, but it's a gamble, no question.

Chris, the thought of the future as a kind of inverted frontier world is a good one -- worth reflection, in several senses.

RPC said...

Regarding Derv's "we don't want to pay for the Boomers' twenty years of elderly windsurfing while we struggle to feed our kids." I'm probably atypical, but my retirement savings are funding my children's education. My hope is that at least one of them will be grateful enough to give me a place by the fire and a place at the table; otherwise I'll be waiting for "the old man's friend," as pneumonia was known in the old days.

RPC said...

Tangential to today's post but perhaps worth pointing out is that Social Security and Medicare are both "current account" systems. They started paying out as soon as they were instituted, not when pools of savings were built up. The money the boomers paid into those systems actually went to support their parents. From simple symmetry, the fact that there were beneficiaries at the inception of these programs who never contributed implies pretty strongly that there will be contributors at the end who will never benefit.

PhysicsDoc said...

My point, and I agree it is taking a long time to get there, is that the year 2030 may have come up differently than the year 2012. Namely not as a specific end date/year prophesy but as a year that is used as a rough estimate for the time till SHTF.OF course that will not stop it from getting used exactly the same way as 2012 was.

Compound F said...

JMG, I have indeed noticed Stoneleigh's timing issues. However, she did, in fact, anticipate the financial crisis of 2008. I also recall when Paulson told Pelosi that "she didn't have a few hours to convene Congress!" to grant a trillion bucks to Wall Street when overnight lending froze, as I have also noted the continuing deterioration of the global economy.

Timing is hard; the situation, i.e., the spiraling crises, dynamic. Non-linearities abound in these inter-related messes. The only sure thing is that that which cannot go on (unlimited growth) won't.

Carolyn said...

Really? Has no one gotten the Bloom County reference yet? I confess it had me bouncing in my seat and giggling a bit :)

Alphonse Houner said...

“Imagine a future in which all the trends I’ve just sketched out just keep on getting worse, a tunnel growing slowly darker without any light at the far end—not even the lamp of an oncoming train. More to the point, imagine that this is your future: that you, personally, will have to meet ever-increasing costs with an income that has less purchasing power each year; that you will spend each year you still have left as an employee hoping that it won’t be your job’s turn to go away forever, until that finally happens; that you will have to figure out how to cope as health care and dozens of other basic goods and services stop being available at a price you can afford, or at any price at all; that you will spend the rest of your life in the conditions I’ve just sketched out, and know as you die that the challenges waiting for your grandchildren will be quite a bit worse than the ones you faced.”

I won’t attempt to speak to any other apocalyptic fantasy but one does need to be addressed. I recall one commentator insisting global warming would never be a problem as peak-oil would cut consumption to such an extent that GHG levels would never approach a danger point much less start feedbacks exacerbating the problem. The basis for the current “revolution” in oil & gas recovery is an old technology that found a new application due to advancing geological technology. This outcome was evident to many who worked in the O&G business as far back as the 1960’s. That is why large oil companies were in a land rush in the early 1970’s to acquire at lease in kerogen bearing shale ground in Utah and Colorado – I was taking leases on that ground. At the time those companies said this land could be brought into production if the price of oil would stabilize at $60-$65 barrel – 1974 dollars. That didn’t happen but 40+ years later the price stabilized at $100+ and now that land is being seriously considered for exploitation.

The commentator apparently did not know these details as he seemed to fall into the trap that conventional oil production was the only alternative and surely - as it proved to be – said production would fall precipitously, prices would rapidly escalate, the economy would collapse, GHG’s would fall and we would be saved from global warming. This neatly supported his postulation that the collapsing economy - which it is - supported his notion of a stair-stepped decline and collapse. The theory of and a decline is proving valid but the potential impact of environmental degradation seems to be put-off as a “disruption” rather than a potential catalyst for a rapid collapse - I am reminded of profile of Bardi’s “Seneca Cliff” at this point.

It is convenient to disregard – deny - the rapidly expanding body of evidence supporting the some of the direst of global warming consequences. As evidence accumulates the most severe of predictions are working their way into the mainstream of thinking. The outcome of our planetary experiment will not happen in a day or week but the time frame suggested is in historic terms “the blink of an eye.” Yes, lots of ill-considered climate mediation will be attempted with nasty unforeseen side effects, we will increase our use of fossil fuels, the financiers will make lots of money, yet more fiat money will pipe-line to the 1% and climate degradation will further accelerate. Unfortunately none of this seems to set well with the span of time needed to fulfill the theory of a stepped decline and collapse.

It is easy to dismiss McPherson or increasingly others, such as Hansen, who have a dour take on climatic change. The process they describe is not rapid as it would take decades as feed-back thresholds are progressively breached. Is this an apocalypse? That depends on the definition of your timing but from the standpoint of humanity it is fair to say it is an apocalypse or more gently “a darkening tunnel.”

Keep up the good work, it is stimulating reading.

Ruben said...

Will, you are correct that 7 - 9 billion people cannot live "self-sufficiently" without destroying the ecosystem.

But you are wrong that 7 - 9 billion people can live thanks to whiz-bang technology--with or without destroying the ecosystem.

As our host so regularly points out, look for the third way.

Many fewer billions can live much more self-sufficiently.

John Franklin said...

I received a reply about your Wikipedia article's deletion. I'll post it here, and again feel free to not publish it (I don't know if you have a separate moderator, or moderate yourself):

Dear John Franklin,

you can read the deletion discussion at For a subject to be notable in wikipedia terms it has to have received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject (see ) Having had several books published is on no relevance if there are no sources talking about him.

Yours sincerely,
Nigel Pepper

Wikipedia -
Disclaimer: all mail to this address is answered by volunteers, and responses are not to be considered an official statement of the Wikimedia Foundation. For official correspondence, please contact the Wikimedia Foundation by certified mail at the address
listed on

MawKernewek said...

I think the 2030 date may come from the peak-oil based "Olduvai Theory" of Richard Duncan, which detailed "industrial civilisation" as measured by per capita energy consumption as peaking in the late 1970s, forming a pulse of about 100 years from 1930. This way of thinking assumes a Malthusian catastrophe (die-off) around this time, though not actual human extinction.

I don't know how useful it is to classify people into generations, I suppose the way it has value is in recognising shared experiences as people move through life, i.e. the people who were military conscription age in the world wars had particular kinds of experience due to this.

Other changes such as the expansion of the numbers expected to go to university in many countries were more gradual, so less defining.

As a "mature" student doing another MSc, I sometimes think of this, knowing that 1st year undergrads will not remember when it was not usual to have access to the Internet at home, nor a mobile phone.

Is it merely an age thing, that I see progress slowing even in areas it is still happening, for instance I see a clear difference between an 8-bit early 80s computer, to an early 90s 486, to a PC typical of the early 00s. But there's not as much difference in capability between my 2002 PC and current models as between it and 90s ones.

I don't think things like touch screens, or faster mobile internet are anything like as fundamental as what went before. Augmented reality is for the most part, a gimmick.

Social networks, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, though I haven't used them, sound a bit like moving away from the likes of Facebook back to something like MSN or Yahoo Messenger that we used in the late 90s.

onething said...

JMG, I guess it seemed like a connecting thought to musings on oil availability and price.

I expect to be one of the boomers who never sees a dime. I do get irritated when people speak of funding indulgent old timers. My paychecks have been garnished for 40 years with a few more to go, and it seems very questionable if I'll see any return on that. I don't have a retirement fund, partially because during the few years when I had some extra income I was helping my kids go to college, and partly because I seem to be allergic to the stock market. Instead I chose to live in an inexpensive place that I could pay off, and thus live well enough on a smallish social security check. Oh well.

Marcello said...

"Along with that is my nervousness about the trend toward oppression from our government. The idea is that they will suffer from overshoot and become ineffective, but can we count on that? What if they retain all the fuel for themselves they need?"

Democratic Kampuchea showed how it is possible to maximize the amount of human suffering of a fairly modest fuel budget. The DPRK is a pretty decent example today, once you exclude what they have to spend on their bloated inventory of military hardware aimed at the ROK.
My guess is that fascism in America would happen, if it happens, when things get so bad that the notion of invading some oil rich country, stealing the oil and engaging in wholesale mass slaughter of the locals begins to be openly cheered by the population at large as a workable way out of the economic mess. It might be a tempting option once you get to the point that you cannot cut down the US military further without losing the ability to run OIF size operations.
Eventually it might become impossible to support an oil based military at all but it would happen much further down the curve.
Note though that it is possible, in principle, fighting global wars with just sail ships and muskets.

Ray Wharton said...

Sad day here, the green house I have been designing and building was just ordered dismantled by the land owners mother. In words it sounds quite strange, but such circumstances are common, with old debts called in because of taste. It was to raise starts for next year's garden, and help to heat the house it was attached to during the winter. As I type this it is being dismantled, but I am in no spirits to witness such a process and have retreated.

These kinds of insanities, not caused by deficiency of materials or skill, but by... I have no words appropriate to this venue. It has been a slow process to work on, and designed slowly and organically, putting together parts as materials become available at discount or for salvage, each part of the design slowly evolving to fit the needs of the resources at hand. Ordered taken down as it was with in a couple of steps of completion. Brooding though I may be at the moment, I know my own nature, and it is such that anger and pain don't last long. It's half life is less than a day. I have many times in my life prayed thanks that I was born with such a disposition, I wouldn't want to know what enduring anger like this would cause.

Even as I type the intensity of the hurt has mellowed enough to notice a difference. I contemplate how many other good things will be ended by similar circumstances, how many other projects have been killed. Things like this sow dragons teeth, and we don't know what will germinate in the next few years as certain old ways of thinking continue to plant little seeds one by one in entire generations and classes of people.

For me, a good cover crop of gratitude for what I learned during the process and humility about how my own unskillfulness in tidiness and subtlety of the plans made way for this outcome will hopefully discourage such dangerous weeds.

Dethe Elza said...

Actually 2038 is the new Y2K in a fairly real sense. That's when the 32-bit integer most computer software uses to keep track of how many microseconds have elapsed since midnight of Jan. 1st, 1970 (the epoch, or beginning of time for most computing purposes) will overflow (no more digits, resets to 0).

Hopefully by then most software will have switched to using 64-bit numbers for measuring dates and time (for instance Java software does this by default), but I'm sure there will be a wave of consultancy and panic just as there was when two-digit dates (with an assumed "19" behind them) rolled over in the year 2000.

Of course, 64-bit numbers will suffer the same fate eventually, so we can all gear up for the *next* date-crashing panic, but it will occur sometime after the sun has burned out, so there may not be the same level of excitement among retired programmers.

John Roth said...


What you’re describing in India sounds a lot more like a Civic/Hero generation than a Prophet generation. Prophet generations like the Boomers here in the US tear down the existing social consensus when they come of age - that’s the story of the 60s and 70s. Civic/Hero generations, which occur two generations later (about 40 years, give or take) build something new on the rubble.

See Strauss and Howe, Generations and Fourth Turning for the definitions. A table of dates, etc. is here:

As long as I’m on the subject, the Boomer generation here in the US is a pretty garden-variety instance of the breed. They show up every 80 years or so, not all that different from the Reformation, Puritan, Awakening, Transcendental and Missionary generations. When they show up, everything that came before is seen as garbage and gets thrown out, babies, bath water and bathtub.

I should note, by the way, that the usual fate of a Prophet generation is to live to see most of what they stood for rejected by the upcoming generations. The fate of Hero/Civic generations is exactly the opposite: they will live to a respected old age.

Which makes an interesting set of predictions. Note that this is a cycle that’s on top of the decline; it’s not a substitute for that scenario.


One prediction for 2030: Brood III of the 17 year cicadas will emerge for a few weeks of feeding and mating frenzy. I’m not at all sure anyone will make global note of the fact, though.


Generations have a central tendency. It’s quite legitimate to recognize the tendency in a generation without claiming that everyone in that birth cohort has the exact same tendency. Some people lead, some follow and some do their own thing.

@Bill Pullam.

No, the Mayan Long Count did not reach a rollover on that date. Exactly when it did is debated, but one thing is agreed by all real anthropologists studying the matter: the 2012 date is complete bunk.

Cathy McGuire said...

Another great post! It is amazing, isn’t it, that one has to walk people through these logical threads slowly and repeatedly, to get them past their denial? I’ve stopped trying with my suburban friends and family, but I’m thinking of “adopting” the young family next door, who say they are totally into permaculture, but do nothing about it – they have land and time… I’m gonna learn about how to teach those who have a million excuses. ;-)

The thought experiment I’d like to recommend to my readers is to imagine that things just keep going the same way, year after year, decade after decade, without any of the breakthroughs or breakdowns in which so many of us like to put our faith…Those who do that will realize something about apocalyptic fantasies that most believers in such fantasies never mention: even the gaudiest earth-splattering cataclysm is less frightening than the future I’ve described.

Thanks to your other writings, I have been doing this one for a while… it is a very different image than any of the popular collapses, and, as you say, it’s more frightening in many ways. And one of the reasons is that such a future means an endless need to make hard decisions, any one of which might suddenly make things much worse – and then the “blame” will feel like it’s yours. And part of the yearning for cataclysm is that it lets us off the hook in so many ways – if you’ve ever been in crisis, you know how some things just get very simple – you response to the emergency and let everything else go… not like the slow implosion when you have to pay attention to everything because it’s all so finely balanced…as I simplify (and as I see systems breaking down, just as you describe), I struggle to avoid major anxiety: I hate knowing that I’ve made a bad decision, or that I simply wasn’t physically able to respond to a mini-crisis, and so the repairs will be more costly… but one mental “change” that is helping is for me to drop that semi-automatic perception that struggle means “I’ve failed” – our Boomer culture really has fallen into the assumption that “doing it right” means it’s easy, smooth sailing (with enough money and few enough morals, of course). To tell myself that struggle (or a certain amount of constant effort) is normal in life is to change an old perception, and to give myself permission to do my best and accept that many things will be hard, anyway.

But a simpler life can be a very interesting, fun life: I built a top bar bee hive yesterday (3/4’s done); I’m taking a drop spindle spinning workshop Saturday, and as I type this I’m drinking some of my berry wine made this summer.

Carl said...

I am a Platinum member of the baby boom generation. Born 1957 the year of peak births at the time. Our generation for sure is likely one of the more self centered; one you can't dismiss as catalysis for lots of change. Much of it not so positive. It's excessive focus on material existence, craving absurd status in cars, houses and consumptive life styles. Building an infuriating complex organization to life, grasping at the hope of an idealized utopia but ending with grotesque twisting of Americans absurd legalistic tendencies, which in the end define torture as OK. I suggest to those younger that at the first chance pull the plug on my generation.

Andy Brown said...

@ Hector

Thanks for that distinction of yours about tobacco versus diabetes. I think there is a great insight there that I intend to keep in mind.

Brian Bundy said...

JMG - I hear what you're saying about false-apocalypses, but what about the real one that's coming? Have you heard that in 2030 the Earth is going to be swallowed whole by a gigantic space walrus with photon flippers? That's nothing to laugh about!

Joe Rice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Michael Greer said...

Erica, that's a fascinating parallel, and one that I'll be considering. The one issue I see in applying it is that if the patient is industrial civilization, he may not be looking at an extended old age.

RPC, keep up good relationships with your kids, and make sure you remain able to help with child care and the like, and you probably won't lack a place to spend your last years. Not that long ago, having an elderly relative around the house was an asset, not an inconvenience.

PhysicsDoc, well, of course -- it's rare for any two apocalyptic fads to have a date picked for them in exactly the same way. It's the way the date becomes a magnet for the same old delusions that's of interest to me.

Compound F, when you say every year "A whopping financial crisis is about to hit!" your chances of predicting every crisis that happens along are fairly high; it's the false positives that are the problem. As for limitless growth, it's lurching to a halt around us right now -- it's just that the fog of abstractions surrounding it is so thick that the actual changes are hard to see.

Carolyn, good for you. You get tonight's gold star with acomplimentary Bill the Cat campaign button for catching that!

Alphonse, kerogen shales? Yes, they're being sold (again) to another round of suckers; nobody's yet found a way to extract fuel from them with a positive net energy, but that doesn't keep the incautious from being sold an equivalent of the Brooklyn bridge. More generally, claims of runaway climate change, as I've commented here repeatedly, ignore ample evidence for negative feedback loops -- which themselves will cause quite a bit of disruption, but not the kind that make fast-collapse or apocalyptic theories work.

MawKernewek, yes, it could be from Duncan's work -- I hadn't thought of that.

Onething, I'm right on the tail of the boom, and don't expect to see a dime either.

Marcello, hang onto that thought. We'll be talking about the prospects for American fascism shortly.

Ray, sorry to hear of it. It's a real challenge trying to pursue constructive projects in a culture so heavily biased against them!

Dethe, fascinating -- I hadn't heard of that yet.

John, I'll keep an eye out for them.

Cathy, thank you. It's when somebody makes a comment like that last paragraph of yours that I feel that I'm not just shouting into the empty wind.

Carl, you may get that wish.

Brian, funny. Bill the Cat would probably agree.

Joe, every probability curve has its far ends. If you think your experience is widespread, you really need to get out more.

John Michael Greer said...

Will (offlist), please see the text above the comment box about repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed -- a point, please note, that's also off topic.

Ben Echols said...

You’ll notice that the 1% have not suffered the decline that is effecting the rest of us. They seem to have profited quite nicely this year as well. Certainly the country isn't poorer, if rising GDP is to be believed. So your recipe of LESS is only for the bottom 99%. LESS may even help make things generally worse, if Jevon’s Paradox holds true.

Bruin Silverbear said...

One of the things I like about Zombies (The slow, zoned out Romero zombies) is the context. Romero was once quoted as saying that the "artistic" inspiration for his first zombie film "Night of the living dead" was that he believed we were becoming such a consumer culture that eventually we would consume ourselves, something I have found, after a fashion, as being a theme of your blog as well. This is a point he attempted to hammer home in some of his more recent films that worked less on subtlety and more on shock value with mixed results. To me, this is a great metaphor for the long decline although the "zombies" already walk among us in Big Box stores and Fast Food joints. I have a feeling that cognitive dissonance is well in play...people cannot imagine a change that isn't sudden because our gratification in this culture is also very sudden. Most everything you want is at the nearest retailer. Our culture has become, in my opinion, very impatient and the popularity of zombies is a reflection of that impatience in the sense that most people want a sudden collapse because it frees them from the rules they have been socialized to operate around. For a time I was an administrator on a zombie themed social networking site and constantly read through the forums. One of the common themes was "You have to be more careful about humans than zombies" which would almost always devolve into "If anyone comes near me I'll kill them." One thing I can say about the internet is that on forums where few people really know each other you get to see the underbelly a bit more clearly. When that forum is primarily predisposed to an incredibly violent (and also incredibly farcical)apocalyptic scenario, all sorts of vitriol rolls out about what happens to people. Most of it is childish bragging and things learned from watching too many action films but this is what fuels those expectations...everyone gets to be the Alpha and nobody better cross them...chilling fare indeed.

Compound F said...

your characterization of Stoneleigh:

"...when you say every year "A whopping financial crisis is about to hit!" your chances of predicting every crisis that happens along are fairly high; it's the false positives that are the problem."

strikes me as grossly unfair. She does a lot more than simply predicting a financial crisis. Her detailing of the nature of the crisis, e.g., devastating from periphery-to-core (look at Yurp!), or how financial disarray interacts with (and often leads) energy shortages, remains remarkably astute. I have found her & TAE's views extremely educational. The Fed pumped tens of trillions of dollars into the system to keep it afloat (according the Inspector General, Barofsky) and continues to do so. TBTF & TBTJ have only become "bigger" and "jailer." The take home seems to me to be that the system had a near-fatal heart attack and continues dieting on pure lard and high fructose corn syrup, while eating stress sandwiches. It may be hard to pinpoint the day of the next heart attack, but chances are the widow-maker is getting increasingly clogged.

Bill Pulliam said...

Oh come now, what is all this nonsense about the Baby Boomers (1961 baby here) not getting benefits from Social Security and Medicare?? We are reaping huge benefits from them now! They are supporting our parents and paying for their medical care. Without that, we would be in dire straights having to take care of them entirely on our own.

Now, who is actually *not* going to benefit is going to be the generation that follows us. They will be bankrupted supporting us and paying for our medical care if the federal programs are kaput by then. Even those of us without kids, we will become burdens to our nieces and nephews, or to society as a whole, as we enter retirement with no savings and one or two cancerous growths per person. They're not going to have to pull the plug on us; the lights will go out and it will not matter whether or not we are still plugged in.

John Michael Greer said...

Ben, don't confuse the supply of abstract tokens (which is what GDP measures) with the supply of actual wealth. Most of what's concentrating fictive wealth in the hands of the paper-rich is precisely the replacement of actual wealth with more paper, which lands disproportionately in their hands. (What percentage of Americans have any money at all invested in derivatives?) As real wealth trickles away, LESS becomes essential -- and the 1% are simply writing their own eventual death warrants by ignoring it, as I've mentioned more than once before.

Bruin, that makes sense. One of the reasons I'm expecting to see a violent domestic insurgency here in the US is precisely the obvious longing, on the part of a great many people, for the freedom to open fire on their fellow citizens.

Compound F, I'm not saying there's nothing of value in Stoneleigh's writings, far from it; I'm simply pointing out that if you're going to credit her for a predictive success, you also need to notice her repeated predictive failures, and include that in your assessment of her work. One of the problems with fixating on a heart attack when you have only theories about what's going on inside those arteries is that your patient may have some completely different ailment, and may take decades longer to die while you sit there feverishly checking the pulse.

Bill, point taken. I'm two years younger than you; my father and stepmother are indeed doing very nicely without any need for funds from me, which is just as well -- but I don't expect to see a dime from social security for my own (nonexistent) retirement.

Neo said...

2030 will just be the the period between 2025 to 2035 when peak energy arise due to Nat gas and coal reaching their peaks respectively leading to the next step down in the catabolic collapse unless the technology can somehow delay it for a few more years.

Shining Hector said...

"Hector, do you ever get people who respond to a diabetes diagnosis by saying "Oh well, I'm certain to die a horrible death now, nothing I can do about it," and use that as an excuse to keep on with their existing lifestyle? That's what I think is happening here. "

Yeah, that's common and actually my favorite rebuttal, because it's so handily shot down and turned into a teaching moment.

Death by diabetes is actually a rather slow, grinding, miserable affair that takes years. You'll just generally feel miserable all the time, have wounds that won't heal, be more prone to infection, possibly have a heart attack or stroke that more than likely won't actually kill you but won't do anything for your quality of life, quite possibly get a few amputations, and finally spend the last years of your life going to dialysis for 4 hours 3 times a week. One of the most astounding things about modern medicine is just how long we can keep diabetics alive. All else being equal it's really rather easy for us to do if you discount the resources involved and the whole "fate worse than death" aspect. That road is rather well-trod these days, naturally.

We can go that route, or you can take a few extra steps to take care of yourself and quite possibly live out a basically normal life, largely free of major complications, and die at an old age of something boring like everyone else. I have yet to hear a coherent counter-argument to that one.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill,

Quote: "What I have actually seen first-hand when sudden stress strikes an American community (flood, tornado, hurricane, etc.) is that once the debris stops flying and the waters recede, people immediately pull together, look for who needs help and who has resources to offer, and take care of things."

Your quote exactly matches the responses in the community here post disaster (think bushfire).

It has always seemed strange to me that people prefer to indulge in extreme fantasy rather than examine what happens on the ground both now and in historical episodes such as the Great Depression.

Sure, during and after these events there are the occasional looters, but they are reviled by the community as there is no place for them. Also given the heightened state of emotions, if those looters were caught... well I read a quote recently, "Australia is a big place and shovels are cheap"...



Marc L Bernstein said...

Shortly after doing an interview with Guy MacPherson, Michael C Ruppert produced the following video:

Here is my comment from below the video:

I believe that people will still be here in 2030. In fact, I would be surprised if human numbers are anything other than what the United Nations growth curve shows, based on simple extrapolation and statistical analysis.


However, in every other respect I agree with Michael Ruppert's concerns and his analysis.I just happen to believe that the feces will hit the fan a bit later, as predicted by Jorgen Randers in his book "2052".

In addition I believe that there will be a massive die-off of human beings at some point during this century but that it is far from clear that all of humanity will be obliterated from the face of the earth. By 2100 there may be less than a billion people around. That's more or less what James Lovelock predicted.

Nuclear power is a tragic boondoggle, and Ruppert's analysis is spot-on. When industrial civilization declines to the point where it is no longer feasible to run the electric pumps which circulate and cool the water which holds spent fuel rods, we are in deep trouble. And that's just the beginning of the tragedy.

Human global population is exploding right now, and as a result we are destroying the biosphere at an accelerating pace. We are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction. By the time global human population starts to crash later this century, the world will be a changed place, with far less biodiversity, massive displacements due to climate change and a natural resource base that has been all but destroyed. The future is bleak. However, we still don't know if we're done as a species. Each individual is wise to follow their conscience. If possible, drop out of the destructive fossil fuel based economy, or else try to live as simply as possible within it. What else can we do?

Both Michael Ruppert and Guy MacPherson are very intelligent men. Both are prone to apocalyptic thinking. As you mentioned, MacPherson is a scientist and ought to know better. Ruppert is not scientifically trained but he's a thorough researcher and journalist. Both men have a substantial following, paticularly on facebook.

I noticed that MacPherson does not give many specific mechanisms for his near term human extinction scenario, other than just catastrophic global warming. Hence I decided to list the most notable mechanisms for the die-off that seems to be inevitable later this century. I made a weblog entry out of it.

Steven Zerger said...

I’m eager to read those upcoming posts in which you’ve promised to provide analysis based on hard scientific facts. It is certainly not enough to waive away the problems by saying the planet has been through these changes before unless you consider the brief, stable, and hospitable period of human civilization to be irrelevant to the discussion.

I think you have painted a psychological portrait here which is a caricature, and I’m curious to know who you have specifically in mind, though I don't expect you to name names. It seems you are conflating some pretty sober-minded people with wacky millenarians. Dmitry Orlov’s recent posts, especially his October post “The Sixth Stage of Collapse”, would seem to put him squarely in your sights. Likewise, you may not agree with the Korowicz “Trade-Off” paper, but it is a very credible sober-minded analysis. I could easily expand the list to include other well-known analysts who see collapse unfolding rapidly. Perhaps your main target is the NBL folks. Their views may be over the top or not, but I don’t think they have specified any magical date for the apocalypse, and there are some serious people there who wrestle thoughtfully with the facts and can’t just be dismissed as delusional.

Your writing is always entertaining and often enlightening.

Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote
"Bruin, that makes sense. One of the reasons I'm expecting to see a violent domestic insurgency here in the US is precisely the obvious longing, on the part of a great many people, for the freedom to open fire on their fellow citizens."

Violence is endemic and lurks even in conversational modes let alone in dysfunctional families, bullying at school etc. But the social phenomenon waxes and wanes and its expression in extreme form has been highly variable. Can you explain what on earth goes on in the USA? Is it more cause or effect?

We out here know that USA 'official violence' can be (has always tended toward) extreme - I remember very high casualty rates during suppression of prison riots and other defiant minorities in the past, as well as extreme violence inflicted during military ventures.

We understand the USA is more than one place, despite the flag and school ceremonies and ubiquitous retailing. 'Normal' homicide rates in some places in USA are comparable with tormented environments like Colombia. I have had a quick look at scholarly articles on Colombian experience. Could international comparisons contrasting Colombia with say Canada, help bracket the US experience?

I wonder also about the relevance of the historical surge in European violence in the 20thC as dynastic governments – with and without global imperial extensions - weakened and then imploded and populations were exposed en masse to industrial warfare and the breakdown of basic services like money?

Phil H

latheChuck said...

I rise to point out that each of the four factors enumerated in this week's post describe the relationship between the Individual and Nature, but not so much the relationships between the Individual and his or her social surroundings. So, I'll add a fifth factor: if your friends are talking "this tomorrow's apocalypse" (TTA), chances are you'll want to find out what all the fuss is about. So you buy a book (or just click on a link), which is a signal to the bookseller, the publishers, and the authors that books (ads) can be sold on the topic. Note that this factor can be just as effective even if no one is seriously concerned about TTA. It's behavior that shapes commerce, not belief.

Consider also another social factor. If I'm the first in my social group to discover TTA, I have a topic for conversation. "Have you heard...?" is a popular pastime. Whatever novelty comes along, to introduce your social group to it shows that you are alert and potentially interesting to socialize with. (How often is the fact of conversation much more important than the content of that conversation?)

Both of these factors, in my mind, go a long way to explain the popularity of the professional sports industry, with is otherwise a complete mystery to me.

latheChuck said...

Will/bill wrote to describe the importance of maintaining "business as usual", claiming that attempting self-reliance would promote a cycle of declining trade as measured by GDP. There's a little bit of truth to it, in that specialization of labor allows goods to be produced efficiently, but the main flaw is that it runs into a paradox: an economist will claim in one breath that we need to spend (to maintain jobs) but that we also need to save (to allow investment). In fact, what we need to do is live with efficiency, regardless of how this affects the counting of currency units. Removing insulation from our homes would boost GDP, as we pay extra for heat (especially relevant this week). Buying and driving big, heavy, expensive vehicles boosts GDP, too. But if we gradually shift to greater and greater efficiency, we simply have more control over our lives (individually and collectively).

So, I'm pleased to report that I restored a ham radio transceiver to working status, but pulling a component out of a piece of obsolete junk. That added value to my world, but had no effect on GDP at all.

sunseekernv said...

JMG - Did you ever read or hear of The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine?

Besides oriental medicine, in particular acupuncture, Ted Kaptchuk has been doing placebo research, and this just came out.

Migraine patients were given either the real drug or placebo, being told "real", "placebo", or "could be either" (i.e. 6 arm study). The real drug labeled fake and the fake labeled real had the same effect. Best results are real drug labeled real, the drug effect and placebo effect add together almost linearly!

Ted's at

This got me thinking about 2030 and denial of peak oil, climate destabilization, etc., in that denial/distraction/etc. may have some kind of placebo effect, thus the slower than (many of us) expected collapse.

Or I could just be befuddled in my insomnia…

Though I just had the thought that the nocebo effect could be part of the hopelessness (thence distraction of armageddon).

Will said...

Facts matter. Numbers matter.

I really enjoyed The Long Descent and continue to appreciate your unwillingness to be alarmist about short-term events. But I am dismayed by your parallel unwillingness to use hard numbers and calculations to support your long-term economic pessimism.

We should be suspicious of any book about economic trends that lacks copious use of hard data. This why MacKay's book on Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air is so good. He actually calculates the potential of non-fossil energy sources, using realistic assumptions and his expertise as a Ph.D in physics. and finds it adequate.

Add to that the potential for breakthroughs like the fracking boom (which grew out of new technology). just yesterday, the journal Nature published about a break-through on flow batteries

which appears to offer a path to solution of THE key problem with energy renewables (which is not really EROEI, but storage).

I will continue to read your blog for the sake of the writing and some ideas. I urge you to publish this post as a contribution to dialogue, but I myself do not plan to post here again.

with regard to your challenge about storing nuclear waste in my own basement -- I would be very willing to store one such 10-ton canister in my garage, if someone will pay me a few hundred dollars a month. the radiation outside such a canister is less than that that flows naturally from a brick house.

Alphonse Houner said...

You miss the point. "Another round of suckers" may be your take but, the Kerogen shale will be worked and can produce if enough extraction energy is jammed into them. They are an inefficient source of energy and one that will be brought to production by in order to continue the party.

As for negative climate feed-backs, I suggest your casual dismissal may support your collapse notions but it misses key findings that are now developing.

I am curious to see your "scientific" support of your assertions in the next post.

Nestorian said...


Thank you for your reply. I can certainly see how wearing your Archdruid's hat lightly has merit as a general policy on this blog, in view of its central purposes.

However, it seems to me that in this week's particular post, you have attempted to confront readers starkly with what is essentially a spiritual problem - one that we all face, to one degree or another, given the times we live in. Such a problem, by its very nature, admits of nothing other than, and nothing less than, a spiritual solution.

jonathan said...

jonathan here:
of course i know what you mean. you mean bill mckibben, rick santorum, kareem abdul jabbar, ellen degeneres, father michael pfleger, donna summer, david sedaris, and 76 million others right?

of course generalizations can be useful, but really, would you give any credence to a statement that began "all christians are..", "all white people are", or "all immigrants are"?

My donkey said...

I've recently noticed two traits coming from babyboomer voices in blogs, freelance articles, and social media sites that I don't recall hearing or reading about 10 years ago:

1. a tendency to contrast several of today's everyday activities against a list of similar activities in the 50s-70s (when babyboomers were growing up), with the unstated point being how much better or morally superior the old methodology was

2. a tendency to fawn over familial relationships (child-parent, brother-sister, grandparent-grandchild etc.) as though the middle-aged author has suddenly discovered their "true depth & value" and must trumpet it to the world... repeatedly

Are these simply personal "mid-life crisis" things, or is there a societal/historical explanation?

I get the impression there's a lot of angst floating around out there, and it's making people say things like "You know, Johnny, you kids have it too easy these days, but you mean so much to me I'm gonna tell you I love you 6 times a day."

John Michael Greer said...

Neo, The Limits to Growth also pegs 2030 as the peak of global population before famine, collapsing public health, and the other downsides of decline send it skidding downward.

Hector, that's good to hear. Any suggestion on how to point out to people who are saying, "Oh well, we're all going to be dead by 2030 anyway" that they're making exactly the same mistake?

Marc, that seems reasonable enough. I expect the compost to hit the wind turbine at different times in different regions -- here in the US, rather sooner than 2052 -- and a population below 1 billion in 2100 is a plausible estimate. It's worth remembering that the future can be very, very ugly without coming to a sudden stop!

Steven, industrial civilization is toast, and it's far from certain that any kind of civilization will make it through the mess we've prepared for ourselves. I've been saying that all along. The issue I'm trying to point out here is the distinction between a realistic view of the harsh future ahead, on the one hand, and yet another rehash of apocalyptic fantasy on the other. The fast-crash issue is actually a little different -- the reason Dmitry and David Korowicz are wrong is not that they've bought into a set of religious fantasies with the serial numbers filed off, as the apocalypticists have, but that they've failed to pay adequate attention to the way that systems in the real world respond to sudden crises with negative feedback loops; thus they're waiting for a fast crash that isn't happening, and missing the slower declines already under way.

Phil, the US is a Third World nation that happens to be much richer than most, so comparisons with Colombia are quite appropriate. Still, my point about the potential for domestic insurgency here is a little more complex than that, and will require a post or two of its own down the road.

LatheChuck, that's another good point. As for professional sports, you got me there -- it doesn't make the least sense to me either.

Sunseeker, indeed I have. As for the placebo effect, that makes perfect sense of my own experience -- as a practicing mage, I make use of the placebo effect all the time. If the medical profession knew how to use symbolism and ritual drama, they'd be able to get even better results!

John Michael Greer said...

Will, facts and numbers matter, but they also lie, especially when pulled out of context and used to support some preexisting agenda. That's why it's always necessary to balance such abstractions against the real world -- for example, regarding your hobby horse of nuclear power, to notice that no nation on earth has been able to keep a nuclear power program running without huge government subsidies. I'm not a physicist or an engineer; my academic background is in the history of ideas, and so I tend to leave the number crunching to those who have the relevant background and whose predictions match real world experience; I distrust claims that we can have a comfortable industrial future powered by nuclear or renewable sources precisely because, in the real world, neither seems to be able to operate except as a subsidy magnet -- and the real wealth needed to maintain such subsidies is exactly what we can't expect to have as fossil fuels sunset out.

Alphonse, if it takes more energy to extract kerogen than you get from burning it, it's not an energy source, it's an energy sink. As for the "key findings," I'm aware of them -- and would be more impressed if the people trumpeting them showed the least awareness of the evidence from paleoclimatology. Once again, history is how we check theories against the real world!

Nestorian, no argument there -- but how do you communicate that to people for whom "spiritual" means either "nonexistent" or "whatever I want it to be"?

Jonathan, yes, and if I commented in a couple of months that "Christians are looking forward to Easter," no doubt you could find some who weren't and insist on that basis that I was all wrong. Granted, it's a nice way to evade the point I'm making.

Jennie said...

John, I'm a long time reader, although I rarely comment.
Your blog has been my weekly point of sanity for years now.
I'm a millennial that donned the corporate uniform of a computer engineer after college, largely because of the amount of debt accrued at the fine institution of learning. (Why did 17 year old me buy that line about "Good debt?")

I'm writing today because with a little bit more luck and hard work, this is the year I'll be transitioning my small family out of this rat race and into a more sustainable path. I want to grow food. Real food, for real people, on our own small patch of land. I've been gardening and feeding my family for almost 5 years now, so I'm hoping we can make the transition without any of us starving.

My boomer parents don't understand of course. I know they want what's best for me, but their questions about my retirement plans after "dirt farming" and quips about hippies who don't pay their bills illuminate quite clearly their assumptions about the future. Assumptions I don't share.

Your though experiment is pretty much how I see the future. It doesn't matter to me if I ever see the wealth that my fellow engineers will see. I feel like it's much more important to set my family on a path that won't be quite as dark.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Iowa, eating locally grown food, maybe it will be some of mine.
I hope someday to meet you in person and shake your hand. But just in case that never happens, (and it probably won't, given our geographic locations and the lack of travel inherent in the lifestyle I'm about to choose,) I wanted to drop you this note of thanks.
Thanks for all the inspiration, appropriate tech talk and the unflinching illumination of our path ahead.

shtove said...

Hadn't come across Nicole Foss before. Titles of her articles suggest she's in the same vein as Gail Tverberg.

If multiplication of financial tokens is masking a decline in the rate of wealth generation then a quick collapse of the financing of energy extraction is a serious prospect.

The current plights of oil-producing nations are interesting, but it's hard to find convincing common themes.

Venezuela - daft inflation. Russia - sub-replacement birth rate. Egypt - dependence on imported wheat.

Steve W. said...

"....cataclysmic mass death is the one option many people can still believe in that’s less frightening than the future toward which we’re actually headed...."

Well, yes. Personally, I would much rather die from quick carbon monoxide poisoning than lie in bed slowly wasting away from a terminal least the pain and suffering would be considerably less that way.

I seem to sense a disconnect with the general population here in the USA. While most people don't believe their grandchildren will be as well off as they, I don't see many behaviors changing to reflect that new-found attitude. From my personal experience, most people seem to think that they and their families can still "beat the odds" and continue to enjoy security and prosperity. Are we just in massive denial over where we are going. Maybe JMG and you all have a different perspective on this?

Ruben said...


Nicole Foss and the Automatic Earth are very aligned with Tverberg, but have produced a large body of writing about how to make yourself more resilient.

Check out the Primers on the Automatic Earth website.

Juhana said...

Ah, baby boomers... Theirs shall be the story of untold riches wasted into the four winds. Born into the very pinnacle of industrial society, dreaming about some version of godliness in their youth, spending their last years in growing secession from the reality. That is the stuff from which great tragedies of Hellenistic writers was made of.

For me it seems that baby boomers are trying to freeze time just long enough that they can die away with their privileges still in place.

Pension system? For people with any skills in mathematics it's obvious that racket just can't go on very long. Maybe, just maybe, long enough for boomers to die away in relative comfort. For younger generations, it shall be only distant memory.

Out-of-hand immigration into the Europe? Well, that mess shall fall into the laps of generations X and Y. Long-established communities are gutted in the name of openess and progress. Ensuing insecurity and endemic violence are just left for others to handle. First to the poor native Europeans living in the same public housing areas, and then to younger generations as whole. But as long as leaders of boomer generation can die with their delusional, extremist ideology of globalism intact, everything is fine.

Energy predicament? Well, answer is already mentioned above. As long as consequences can be rolled ten-to-twenty years into the future, everything is just fine for our beloved boomer leadership.

Sometimes it surprises me that whole political system of the West has been distorted into some kind luxury hospice for just one generation, nurturing their sentiments and opinions into the very end. It is not the basic opportunistic nature of the human beings that surprises me. But this willingness to sacrifice their own children to Baal of crappy future, that surprises me, even now.

Carthageans only sacrificed their firstborns to the idol of city's Lord, when they faced serious difficulties. Rest of the flock survived, to carry on family's name. Boomers sacrifice ALL their children. That, JMG, is truly historical anomaly from normal human and animal behavior.

sunseekernv said...


Generally yes, Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air is well written and informative, and I recommend it to all interested in sustainability.

But as he explains here:
" … in calculating our production stack we threw all economic, social and environmental constraints to the wind."

(and note that production stack shown is smaller than the current consumption stack.)

The rest of that chapter he looks at other estimates, and at the politics - and things don't look so rosy. Yes, PV can power the world, if we all had the willpower to accept peak oil… and that we ought to and can do something, and decided to make the massive investments and changes in lifestyle needed. But most people are like Tony Blair - asked about not flying to the Barbados for holiday, he dismissed the idea as "a bit impractical actually".

As for nuclear power, MacKay was (in 2009) still buying the line that a Gigawatt coal or nuclear plant cost a billion pounds.

The EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) going up in Finland, 1600 MWe, was initially 3.7 Billion Euro, but as of 2012, costs are now estimated at 8 Billion Euro.

8/1.6 = 5 Euro/W.
In Germany that could build 2+ GWp of PV, with no fuel costs, and no radioactive waste disposal issue. If module costs come down to 50 cents/Wp, and BOS went that low, 20% capacity factor PV would be way way cheaper than "advanced" nukes.

The anthraquinone based flow battery is interesting, though it requires a proton exchange membrane (if I interpret the fuzzy graphic right). Probably not great energy density due to the molecular size. Definitely be checking my mailbox for the magazine in a few days.

Some guys at Stanford have a membrane-less Lithium Polysulfide flow battery.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. It was the only mention of 2030 that I've come across and coincidences are rare. They've certainly misinterpreted the study though - in a big way. Still, peddlers of such nonsense rarely let the truth get in the way of a good (and lucrative) story.

Hi everyone,

This is a truly shameless plug for my latest article on weeds. It reveals my lazy secret to deal with those pesky garden nuisances, plus the photos are nice to look at:

Weeds - What are they good for?

I'm still chuckling to myself about the title...

Oh yeah, I'm set for a horror weather week here (at least it isn't windy too):

Heatwave conditions in SE Australia

Please spare a thought for us!

By the way:
40C = 104F and
50C = 122F

Not good.



daelach said...

Hello JMG,

I've been reading this blog for years now, I'm enjoying thursday evening when I get home for reading (living in Germany). This is the first time I'm writing a comment.

Funny that you mention Seneca, I read him 20 years ago. I'm doing exactly what he recommends, playing end times. That translates into sitting at home, having only a little rapeseed oil light burning, computer and stereo off. I don't even own a TV to turn off. It's quite dark, but hey, that just makes the night more nightly. I'm just sitting there, enjoying the silence, thinking, staring at the Futhark I made myself, drinking tea, or just doing nothing - taking a break from the daily sensory overload of our time. The mind calms down and becomes clearer, something many overloaded people are lacking, considering the continually lowering attention span of average people.

That's an idea I'd like to contribute: approach times of LESS playfully. This way, it is easier to examine what we actually can afford in the long run. Like children do in their games. Do you remember when some pieces of bark and a big puddle made a ship fleet that sailed the oceans? They were more gorgeous than the radio controlled ship models some adults are playing with because they are just little ships while a child's mind builds up a world. As any magician knows...

There's all kind of thinking about how we will survive with LESS. I want to encourage you of thinking how we will have fun with LESS. What will we play when gaming computers go out of feasibilty? Well, pen & paper rolegames with friends. Classics like chess or backgammon.

I don't agree that the tunnel is all dark. It is dimly lit - it's just that our eyes are still flashed, rendering us blind. There is so much useless consumption we can (and will) refrain from before things get really hard.

I don't have a car, my old Dutch bicycle is enough and gives me physical exercise, sparing me fitness clubs. I don't have air conditioning. I don't use aircraft for making holidays - why would I, I'd still sit on my own back at the other end of the world. I don't need new electronic gadgets every year because I'm planning carefully what I buy so that I can use it for a long time, e.g. computers typically for 10 years.

That's why I'm rich - not because I have so much money, but because I have so few wishes. When friends ask what they can give me e.g. as birthday present, I answer "your time", because that's what I appreciate and can't buy.

LESS, you say. But just as more wealth doesn't mean more happiness, LESS of it doesn't mean suffering, at least as long as the Maslow Pyramid's basics are met.

On a side note, I am a believer in progress. Though not in the sense of technology, that's coming to a halt due to lacking resources. But in a spiritual way, we can evolve. We can learn. We can become. It doesn't matter whether there's a limit to our mind because the amount of what we can understand is limited by our lifetime anyway.

And you are contributing to this kind of progress, JMG. Every week. Thank you!

It was you that pointed me e.g. to reading Spengler, and if any English speaker here complains that he is hard to read, be assured that this isn't the translator's fault. It is the same in German, his use of language is complex. I am very good at reading, plus that German is my native language, and yet, I didn't manage more than 30 pages per day.

Anyway, the depth of his thoughts is astonishing, and reading such a book means happiness for me, in a way.

P.S.: The captchas are really a pain. When I'm lucky, I need at ten times before both words are readable, or 20 if I'm not lucky. With bad luck, it can become 30, and then it becomes completely unreadable with blobs. The audio version is even worse and so unusable that it is pointless for visually impaired persons anyway.

Enrique said...

About diabetes, Hector is spot on. I’ve known a few diabetics who have gone through most of their lives without needing insulin injections because they took good care of themselves, watched what they ate, exercised regularly and so on. This is good advice for people in general, and used to be considered conventional wisdom (those who are interested may want to go back and read the Archdruid’s essay on Jack Lalanne and the Physical Culture movement), but it seems to have been largely forgotten since modern mass consumer societies tend to reduce much of the population to the status of lazy, complacent, overfed herd animals with oversized entitlement mentalities.

I have also known a much larger number of diabetics who suffer from serious complications because they won’t take proper care of themselves and continue leading a self-indulgent and sedentary lifestyle even though they know better. This is even more tragic since one of the reasons why chronic diseases like diabetes are so common is because the mass consumer society and mass media promote these sorts of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Many (but certainly not all) of those who develop diabetes do so as a result of decades of unhealthy lifestyle choices coming home to roost. Sad to say, but this will be a major source of Darwinian selection in the decades to come.

Still, we all have choices to make. Will they be constructive and healthy ones?

Enrique said...

I find the attitude behind the fast crash/NTE mindset fascinating. I agree that a lot of people are hoping for a fast crash or NTE because it means not having to deal with the messy consequences of our collective choices. If we are all going to die in the near future no matter what we do, what does it matter? It's a form of escapism. It's also a form of abject cowardice, to say the least. Rather, I admire the heroic attitude portrayed in the Lord of the Rings, in the ancient epics and in the writings of pulp authors like Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, in which people fight against the odds and try to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and don’t worry too much about whether they are likely to succeed. They fight the good fight, even though they know they will probably lose, because it is the right thing to do.

It’s that sort of heroic attitude that built the great cultures, nations, empires and civilizations of the past, and I have nothing but contempt for the pathetic whiners who pray for NTE or think that Jesus/the Space Brothers/whatever will bail them out because they don’t want to have to deal with consequences of their society’s bad choices and think they can’t live without the luxuries and conveniences that most of us have become accustomed to.

Ruben said...


Would you mind posting your analysis on your blog? That is the sort of thing that could be useful to link to.


russell1200 said...

Most folks don't have the resources to prepare for a survivalist strategy that has to be in place for multiple decades. Thus like the drunk looking under the streetlight for his keys (because that is where the light is) they prepare for what they can cope with/afford.

On a different note, Laurence C. Smith's The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future is a balanced book that looks at our future prospects in the year 2050.

2050 is relevant because it is the projected time that world population is expected to peak and begin to decline. Obviously there are a lot of "wheels within wheels" within that projection, but it seems like a reasonable starting point. Population being 1/2 of the Population x consumption equation, it may not be the driver of all our issues, but it sure seems to be in the background of a lot of them.

Enrique said...

Juhana said: “Out-of-hand immigration into the Europe? Well, that mess shall fall into the laps of generations X and Y. Long-established communities are gutted in the name of openess and progress. Ensuing insecurity and endemic violence are just left for others to handle. First to the poor native Europeans living in the same public housing areas, and then to younger generations as whole. But as long as leaders of boomer generation can die with their delusional, extremist ideology of globalism intact, everything is fine.”

The Israelis are desperately trying to avoid being saddled with huge numbers of asylum seekers from Africa by dragging their feet and studiously avoiding the use of the dreaded “R Word” (refugee). The concern is that if Israel has to comply with UN laws on asylum seekers and refugees, they will be swamped with huge numbers of non-Jewish immigrants from alien cultures. Of course, European nations have been dealing with this problem for decades as a result of misguided UN and EU laws that were forced on them by undemocratic means by a bunch of left wing do-gooders.

My suspicion is that one of the things that will drive the collapse of the UN and the EU will be desperate national governments withdrawing in order to avoid having to comply with well-intentioned but misguided laws that were rammed down their throats by the UN, the EU and the bobo do-gooders. Based on Juhana’s recommendation, I recently read “Generation Identity”, and I think Markus Willinger is correct when he argues that the triumph of the 60’s generation was a catastrophe for Western civilization, and one that needs to be fought by the young peoples of Europe, North America and elsewhere if they wish for themselves and their descendents to have a future.

As for the bit about the difference between the Carthaginians and the Baby Boomers, Juhana nailed that one right on the head. I think that in the future, the terms Baby Boomer and 60’s generation shall carry connotations of hypocrisy, self-indulgence, an overinflated ego, an out-of-control entitlement mentality by a bunch of spoiled brats who never grew up and selfishness masked by a shallow idealism.

Joseph Nemeth said...

Thought you all might be amused:

YMMV (Your Maya May Vary)

Christophe said...

My, this week's article certainly brought the data fetishizers out of their troll caves all a-bluster. What on earth set them off en masse? Did I miss something controversial in the article, or is the gibbous moon wreaking havoc on their all or nothing mentality?

Steven Zerger said...

I’m still a bit confused JMG. The piece by Dmitry I mentioned lays out a clear best case scenario in the first paragraph in which there is a sudden massive die-off but a few survivors with “sufficient social cohesion and cultural wealth” (i.e. the righteous remnant) survives. Then it goes on to give reasons why this may be too optimistic (nuclear meltdowns, ocean death, etc.) When I read this piece it’s hard for me to see any real difference between what Dmitry and Guy are saying. But Dmitry is not a member of your apocalyptic fandom because he hasn’t bought into a rehash of apocalypse fantasies with the numbers filed off. I’m not sure about Guy, though I suspect he meets your criteria. Puzzling.
Maybe you aren’t talking about concrete people at all, but just cultural meme which we aren’t supposed to apply to real people.

Shining Hector said...

"Hector, that's good to hear. Any suggestion on how to point out to people who are saying, "Oh well, we're all going to be dead by 2030 anyway" that they're making exactly the same mistake?"

It's a somewhat positive sign if they're not in complete denial that there's a problem at least. Showing someone how to frame a painful problem is a lot easier than getting them to accept there's a problem in the first place. Mostly you just have to plant the seeds and hope something grows eventually. Accept them for where they are and try to push just a little bit further.

Your job is a lot harder I think because denial is so much easier. Moving past denial is probably the biggest step. It's a lot easier for someone to paint a future they're comfortable with because it's all really abstract speculation anyway until it happens. You don't have the advantage of a concrete lab result or existing people who've been through the situation to point to.

mammonista said...

As someone with more than a passing interest in this topic...
If there is a way for any significant human survival in the near future I just don't see it. Even if one chooses for a moment to leave out the nuclear question (bombs or reactors). If this weren't a question of climate run amok and merely the loss of fuel and water maybe a hugely reduced population of self-sufficient people could make a go of it tending their gardens and reading by candlelight. But what happens when Death Valley-like temperatures become the average everywhere? What happens when (in America at least) an extremely well armed population of starving people are pitted against each other? What happens if huge weather changes make any form of agriculture or animal husbandry impossible?
It seems to me than all of those scenarios are now possible/probable in the near term. Does that make me an alarmist or a realist? Should I believe the experts who say we can expect a 'contraction' or an 'extinction'?
And if I fall into the latter category what should I do when confronted with those who believe in the former?

ozoner said...

Another insightful examination of the current zeitgeist and how we might get our "minds right" to face the Great Crumbling (as I would all-too-flippantly describe it). It's very helpful, just so you know, and thanks much!

As I make a new fire in the furnace every day of winter, newspapers from two years ago (and a bit) go through my hands. Guess what? Things were much "better" in 2011 than they are now. Who woulda thunk it... right there in black and white?

Ps. I am heartened to see that many of your commenters are addressing the crucial issue of civility vs. savagery (and all points in between), as I feel it will be an important determinant in how we will face the current predicaments and those that arise in future.

Fidelius said...

I found your description of the baby boomer generation interesting, because the experience in central Europe, where I live and grew up, is quite different.

My father, born in 1942, would be regarded as part of the baby boomer generation in the US, but his childhood and youth was quite different. Some of his first memories are seeking shelter from bombs dropped by allied bombers; after the war, he often went to bed hungry and froze in winter because the house couldn't be heated and his clothes and shoes had holes. Still, his family was moderately wealthy so he never starved. But he recounted how one of his schoolmates ate the covers of his schoolbooks because he was hungry. Only in the 1950s did conditions slowly improve and the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) did not come about until the 1960s. This was the decade when it became common for middle class people to own cars, televisions and similar goods, a process that was mostly completed at the end of the 1980s.

So, in contrast to the US, most people alive today are not members or children of a generation that grew up in privilege, but rather the exact opposite. Famine, poverty and even war are still part of the collective consciousness - if not from direct experience, then from vivid stories told by parents or grandparents. There's a general feeling that we live in extraordinarily good times, and that we have to be happy while it lasts.

Hamish said...

I don't need to imagine the scenario you offer as I am living it on a daily basis. As a tail-end baby boomer I am constantly reducing my expectations to comport with the economic realities you have identified. However, as Daelach wisely points out, this is not necessarily a cause for despair, as it can also be an opportunity to grow. Once you get over the initial shock of having to get by with less, you simply get on with life and there is no less joy in it as a consequence. I am also a first-time contributor. Thank you so much for your wonderfully thought provoking posts.

daelach said...


Less energy, stuff and stimulation is more other rapt existence.

latheChuck said...

dealach -- Why burn nutritious rapeseed oil for a little light (plus soot, heat, and water vapor), when you can very easily get a solar-powered sidewalk light spike? At least here in the US, these things cost no more than $5, containing a PV panel, rechargeable battery, and an LED lamp. Though they're intended to be driven into the soil, you can let it soak up the sun during the day, then bring it inside to light your table at night.

Some of these units have special batteries permanently wired in, but others take standard AA (or AAA) -size cells. These are better, because you may be able to use the charged cells for other purposes (such as radio), and you can replace the cells when they can no longer hold the charge. The PV panel should last much longer than the NiCd or NiMH "storage" batteries.

LED lights won't set your home on fire, either. Burning down your house is a very inefficient use of construction materials and labor.

daelach said...

@ Chuck: There is no soot if the light is constructed correctly, this means by and large a short wick. Granted, this means only little light, but in turn also little consumption. If it is constructed as swim light with oil upon water, there is no danger of burning the house because the flame just goes out if the oil is empty and the wick draws water. It can't flip to the side like an exhausted candle.

As for solar driven battery things, they are only available as long as the whole oil-driven industrial infrastructure is there, and in that case, I could as well use the ordinary power plug in the wall. In past articles, JMG pointed out that we are facing deindustrialisation. This means: no batteries to stock the sunlight, rendering the long life expectancy of solar panels useless for this purpose. Besides, it's cloudy winter here where I'm living, solar energy doesn't work even today.

I've done quite some research on the technology of lighting in history, and my reasoning: after deindustrialisation, we will be roughly in the same situation as people were before it (or worse, I know). Oil lamps have been in use for millennia, there are lots of pieces left over from Ancient Rome. They were driven with low-grade olive oil.

Since olive trees don't grow here, this leaves only rapeseed and sunflower. Rapeseed is fine because it was available centuries ago precisely for this purpose, and so it will be in the future - though of course not even nearly in the quantity required to run today's mass motorisation.

A side note for religion: one of the points of the Church was, as JMG pointed out, that they could run despite Rome's economic collapse because they were not being driven by profit. My own research mentioned above led me conclude that in the long and dark winters, these churches must have been islands of light. People must have come to the churches, found light, and got their mood up. Today, we label this as light therapy, but back then, it was certainly a religious experience for them.

I think this will be an important point in the decades, or maybe centuries to come, with respect to the second religiosity.

@ Hamish: Just look what happens if you just slap the car of the average car-owner with your flat hand, not even causing any damage. They react as if you had hit themselves. They don't own their cars, their cars own them. Living with less also offers freedom, in a way.

nuku said...

To YJV: I also live in New Zealand; I emigrated here 13 years ago as “refugee“ from the USA, aka “The Evil Empire.” While living in N.Z. is infinitely better than living in the midst of a crumbling superpower, NZ is rapidly becoming not so “stable and safe.” The current government is in the midst of another round of selling off state-owned assets like power companies to mostly foreign buyers. Big Oil is moving in and there is talk of expanded fracking. The enviroment is taking a huge hit from Big Dairy. The level of random alcohol-fueled violence is rapidly raising, and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and deeper. “You can run, but you cannot hide.”

Juhana said...

@Enrique: Glad to hear that you red "Generation Identity". As our blog host's books "Long Descent" and "Blood of the Earth" are crucial books explaining our current crisis from the perspective of deep ecology and mass psychology, Willinger's and Jack Donovan's books are equally important from the perspective of neotribalism, which shall be our only and last life buoy during near-future. Just always, always support conservative or populist Right, on voting booth and on the streets. Even if they are stupid, even if they are narrow-minded, theirs is better option for us native Europeans than the one offered by political equivalent of dodo species, left-wing liberals.

Half-jokingly one could say that intellectual leaders of baby boomer generation, kind of evil hippie overlords of our societies, have cast black magic thaumaturgy over Western nations. This insane extravaganza and leaving the orbit of pragmatic thinking behind is all their doings. From my point of view, today's Russia is far saner place than any Western nation. Roots of these suicidal trends run deeper into the history, but boomers have truly hammered them in. They want us and our families to join suicidal path into self-humiliation and weakness. That is not the road for survivors. Using less does not mean bending over and taking it prison-style.

Merle Langlois said...

Why do NTE-people even bother to post on a Long Descent blog? Surely there must be many NTE-themed blogs on which they could console each other and scare each other with the latest theories and data? They aren't likely to change anybody's mind. Even if they did, unlike the Long Descent, NTE doesn't suggest any course of action. You just find out about it, emit a primal "Noooooo!" and then go about doing whatever it is you were already doing.

This hoard of new wonderful NTE-posters are merely exercising their phatic communication (thanks JMG) skills. It seems their deepest wish is to make us all repent so we can shout the same lament, "the sky is falling." Attempting to take over the ADR and turn it into just another NTE blog is real mean-spirited in my opinion.

sunseekernv said...


ok. A little expanded, added a link to E.ON's decommissioning of their Stade nuclear plant in starting in 2003 - because it wasn't economical any longer for various reasons, among them is having to start paying for their cooling water (due to low temps -> low thermal efficiencies, light water reactors need a lot of cooling water).

Also a bit more on the rhubarb thing for flow batteries - there's not so much of the anthraquinones in most rhubarb.

Joy said...

Yes, you know that 2030 is the date to watch when that wonderful satirical news source, The Onion, refers to it.

“It will take massive investment and cooperation on a global scale, but I’m optimistic we can be in good shape by around 2030 or so.”,34896/

S P said...

Personally speaking I have decided to make real changes in my life, but still I find the need to speed things up a bit. It's not so much wishing for and preparing for collapse as it is a hard realism.

I plan to fairly soon have rip off the bandaid, cathartic discussions with my parents and sister and brother-in-law who are the only people I can really talk to.

I also plan to leave medicine, though admittedly I might keep one foot in the door for awhile. I don't anticipate going longer than a few years.

You see, I'm confident that I'm right and that the American consensus is wrong, and this confidence gives me the courage to act and push things along a bit.

Esther said...

I've been contemplating the same OneThing mentions: that government will begin to "absorb" what's left, so that everyone's only "hope" will be to get government jobs, benefits, etc. Isn't this what is happening anyway? Isn't the government now employing almost half the country? However, there's the time frame to consider - how bad will the jolts be? Who and what will be jolted loose?
Also, I've noticed a lot of my ideas depend upon using energy to gain time to learn skills, which seems self-defeating. I think I should consider projects that don't require huge energy inputs to get going. Meanwhile, salaries are probably better expended on buying sturdy equipment that is going to last. Lots of thinking and planning to do...

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Fidelius--the term "Baby Boomer" is a coinage derived from the Baby Boom, a rapid and long-lived increase in the US birthrate from just after the end of WWII into the early 1960s.

During the Great Depression the US birthrate dropped below what it had been during the prosperous 1920s. The US birthrate stayed low until WWII ended, because most adult males were in the armed services and separated from their wives and sweethearts.

After a brief postwar recession, the USA enjoyed a long period of economic expansion fueled by several factors: pent up demand for consumer goods that had been rationed during wartime; the national agricultural and industrial base had not been destroyed by the war; large domestic supplies of oil and coal; continued high military spending; social policies and taxation that distributed wealth to all classes except the very poor. The result was that many people could afford to marry young and have a lot of children. They did. The needs of these large families for housing, consumer goods and education further stimulated the economy in a positive feedback loop.

The Baby Boom generation, counted from 1946 to 1960 or later, was much larger than the generations that immediately preceded it and followed it. As it gets older, it has been compared to a rat being swallowed and digested by a python (the entire US population).

It is the combination of being a large population of roughly the same age, economic expansion and physical security for over a decade during its youth that molded the outlook of the Baby Boomers. If your country didn't have that, it didn't have a Baby Boom generation.

Steven Zerger said...


I think the answer to your question is that JMG's piece appears to be aimed at the NTE-people. It's hard to take a shot at them and then expect them to stay away from the discussion.

onething said...


I can see where dense planting could work well for flowers and herbs, but how well does it translate to a vegetable garden?

KL Cooke said...

"I think that in the future, the terms Baby Boomer and 60’s generation shall carry connotations of hypocrisy, self-indulgence, an overinflated ego, an out-of-control entitlement mentality by a bunch of spoiled brats who never grew up and selfishness masked by a shallow idealism."

We seem to be carrying it in the present.

It's all true of course, but so's all the bad stuff about America and Europe you can see on Russia Today.

Four legs good, two legs bad.

But hey, at least we brought you the personal computer.

Like the bad fraternities say, "If you don't like us, don't drink our beer."

KL Cooke said...

"The Baby Boom generation, counted from 1946 to 1960 or later, was much larger than the generations that immediately preceded it and followed it. As it gets older, it has been compared to a rat being swallowed and digested by a python (the entire US population)."

Actually, the ingested animal of the analogy is usually a pig. A rat wouldn't leave a bump in a python (maybe a small python).

In any case, given the current level of animosity directed toward the Boomers, a pig is probably an appropriate symbol.

Worth noting, in their day, the Boomers were equally negative about their predecessors.

"Never trust anybody over thirty"

"Off the pig."

"The things they do look awful cold
Hope I die before I get old."

Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g generation.

Blaming it all on one's parents seems to transcend generations. I have a forty-five year old teenager who is wont to remind me of my failings in this area. But at least I know he had a happy childhood, as evidenced by his unwillingness to leave it.

Unknown said...

Re: Bill Pulliam's actual experience with what people actually do in collapse/catastrophe situations, here's a book about a professor's research on that very subject, "A Paradise Built in Hell", by Rebecca Solnit. And check her article in Harpers in 2005.. "The Uses of Disaster", etc. It seems to me that our culture deliberately feeds us the Koolaid of 'scarcity, competition, conflict, violence,etc.' as a control mechanism. I'd like to speculate that as we 'decline' we may be 'ascending' to a re-discovery of "abundance, cooperation, generosity, understanding, etc." After all, there are actual studies showing that, when we have the option to choose between strategies of cooperation or competition, in a game with a stranger at a distant computer terminal, the choice to cooperate stimulates the pleasure centers in our brain. Maybe we should throw these factoids into the speculation mix.

John Michael Greer said...

Jennie, thank you -- it's encouraging to hear from people who are making the necessary changes. As for Iowa, who knows? I have a good friend in Iowa City, and might end up traveling out that way someday.

Shtove, a quick collapse of financing can be fixed just as quickly by jerry-rigging some new means of financing. I'd encourage you, for example, take the time to read up on how the Weimar Republic stopped hyperinflation in its tracks.

Steve, remember, this is the country where by Federal law, this year, every schoolchild in the country must get an above average score on standardized tests. Of course people can convince themselves that everyone else is going to crash and burn but not them!

Juhana, I've long thought that if there's ever a tombstone for the Baby Boom generation, it's going to read something like this:



Cherokee, especially when the story they want to peddle is hardwired into pop culture, and the peddlers and purchasers alike have no intellectual resources other than pop culture to assess those claims...

Daelach, that's one of the secrets of LESS -- it's actually a lot more interesting than wallowing in the glut of stuff. Still, try telling that to anybody who's still paddling around in the muck, and see how far you get!

Enrique, thank you for getting it. I'm going to have more to say about heroism, about narratives, and about the ways we might imagine and tell our own stories more richly in the months ahead.

Russell, the point I've been trying to make all along is that a muddling-through strategy that takes things a step at a time, but with some sense of the overall pattern of things, is actually one of the best options we've got. More on this as we proceed.

Joseph, too funny.

Christophe, hang on for next week. It should be colorful.

Steven, I'm reading Dmitry's essay in the light of his work as a whole, which I've been following since the original publication of "Closing the Collapse Gap." I'm also reading McPherson's work in the light of at least some of his earlier work -- for example, his claim less than a decade ago that by 2013 there would be no more cars on the road because all the fuel would have run out. I highly recommend that approach -- and yes, you're welcome to apply it to my work as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Hector, the best I can do is point out how many times in the past the same weak excuses have been used to justify the same fatal inaction when action was vitally necessary -- and of course those get dismissed out of hand, since that was in the past, and of course we have nothing to learn from history. Sigh.

Mammonista, of course you can convince yourself that we're all going to die by 2030 if you spend your time piling up vaguely described worst case scenarios and never ask the hard questions. So? As for how to talk to people who disagree with you, why bother? If everybody's going to die soon anyway, what justification is there for doing anything at all?

Ozoner, that's a crucial realization -- that decline is happening right here and now, and can be traced by something as simple as a glance at three-year-old newspapers. As for civility and savagery, yes, and it deserves even more discussion as we proceed.

Fidelius, that's one of the huge advantages central Europeans have right now. Most Americans literally have never considered the possibility that life could get hard here -- and they're being blindsided as it does.

Hamish, thank you! We're all living that scenario in one way or another; it's simply that some of us have noticed.

Daelach, hmm. I'm going to want to think about that second acronym for a bit.

Merle, nah, they're just emoting. I expected some of that when I decided to make another post on the latest developments in apocalypse fandom, and it's entertaining, at least to me: the same old arguments endlessly rehashed, indistinguishable in tone (though not in detail) from the equal and opposite cornucopian arguments.

Joy, it worries me that the Onion very often provides better news coverage than any of the mainstream media...

SP, that confidence is crucial. So many people continue to go through the motions of conformity when they know with every fiber of their being that they need to go do something else, because the confidence and the courage aren't there. Glad to hear that you've got it.

Esther, good. I'll have some things to say next week about potential things to study and practice.

KL, I'm not sure that blaming one's parents is universal, but if Boomers are getting blamed by their kids, as you point out, it's not as though they didn't earn it. What goes around comes around...

YJV said...

Yes, I've heard of the Strauss-Howe model. Many dismiss it as pseudo-science, however I find some value in it. If I'm not wrong the last Civic/Hero generation in the west was those who fought during WWII.

I would say that the Civic/Hero generation in the decolonized world was that born post-independence or even during independence. I still feel, from personal experience that Prophet generation is the current or upcoming one. A trip across Asia reveals the young generation rejecting most of the old traditions and values that the previous generation had. Of course, taking into account things like class divisions it is hard to put everyone in one group. How these dynamics play out in immigrant populations is a wholly different and complicated matter altogether.

Yes, you're right. There is an interesting phenomenon of hard-right maniacs sweeping into power across the social democracies of the west - Cameron in UK, Key in NZ, Harper in Canada and Abbott in Australia. However it seems that Cameron is definitely on the way out, Key and Harper might be, whereas Abbott's just begun.

It seems that the only sane thing to do in the midst of the coming age is to create a sanctuary of one's own, wherever it is.


YJV said...

@ JMG & John Roth
I noticed that the Strauss-Howe generational theory also follows 80 year cycles and ends/starts at a 'crisis'. All three of these crises are the same as those identified by JMG as the crises in anacyclosis. Obviously this isn't a coincidence. Would JMG mind adding this extra dimension in a future post?

Bike Trog said...

I just realized how appropriate and true Murphy's Law is. Everything that can go wrong, will continue going wrong, until civilizations stop working against nature and start working with it.

Steven Zerger said...

Yes, of course JMG. I use the same approach. We know from following Dmitry’s work that he is no flake, and we know from Guy’s history that he is prone to making statements which damage his credibility (though I’m not sure he’s wrong about the big picture). My limited point, and I may not have made it very well, is that there are people who we consider credible who are making the same dire predictions as those who might seem like a loose cannon. But those credible people don’t fit comfortably in the psychological portrait which you’ve painted of raving millenarians. Your portrait is a caricature. It is something of a straw man. Mind you - not that it isn’t entertaining to watch you beat it.

ed boyle said...

In 2030 date I saw an obvious pointer towards next Saturn-Uranus conjunction in 2032. Last time we had such a conjunction was in 1988 around the time of the dissolution of the Eastern bloc. The last opposition was around 2008 almost collapsing capitalism. In a very simple extrapolation I take it that conjunctions of these two planets mark dissolution of "left wing" ideas/powers/movements and oppostions of these two planets cause or mark dissolution or disturbances of right wing powers.

The opposition of 1965-1966 is an obvious example of left wing power disturbing the power of the right wing. The conjunction of 1942 is at the peak of Nazi expansion. 1920 Opposition was Russian Civil War with bolsheviks coming out on top. 1897 conjunction was Gilded Age with low social progress.

Saturn represents conservatism and Uranus radicalism with new ideas.

The approaching square of the two planets is in 2020-2022 and corresponds to the next conjunction in 2020 of jupiter and saturn so marks some instability similar to early 60s, early 80s and early 2000s and early 40s. Lots of factors always at play here but really there are only so many planets.

This marks a social mood. Mid phase jupiter-Saturn(1970/1990/2010) is quite liberal and conjunction 1940/1960/1980/2000/2020/2040 is conservative.

So conjunction of saturn and uranus 2032 and opposition of jupiter saturn in 2030 mark oppsite influnces. The first is against the left and the second is pro-left. So maybe these will cancel one another. But as we have seen in 1990 Russia blew up despite relatively same planetary influences. Maybe China will be in for this treatment next time(internal collapse or similar) although you can hardly call what they have "communism" except nominally.

I hope mundane astrology is an accptable comment. World end predictions are only good when discussing the long term future of the solar system as a whole or when scientists discuss possibility of methane hydrates going out of control. Nuke problems early 60s and 80s and WWII early 40s gave people similar feelings however. I am sure first half of next decade will give similar surprises for us and then we will all calm down again(From early 60s Beatles "Hard Day's Night" to mild "Let it Be, Let it Be". Same trend seen in early 80s new wave to ca. 1990 in music, etc.)

So a focus on cycles avoids end of world clap-trap and inevitably lands in mundane astrology territory or other cyclical historical analytical techniques whose authors you have often discussed.

Still, hype makes money. Maybe someone has a good idea for an ETOWAWKI book ca. 2030. Getting rich quick as a bad author would save the pain of a bad conscience at any rate.

mammonista said...

You said, "Surely there must be many NTE-themed blogs on which they could console each other and scare each other with the latest theories and data? They aren't likely to change anybody's mind."
Am I to understand then that the latest 'theories and data' don't hold any sway with you and the other 'long descent' adherents? So much for science I suppose.
You said, "you spend your time piling up vaguely described worst case scenarios and never ask the hard questions."
I thought I asked a couple of VERY HARD questions. Like how you might convince a heavily-armed starving person to just 'live and let live' when he or she happens on your garden? Or how such a garden might even be possible if temperatures become as severe as the latest data now suggests is possible?
Your thoughts?

shtove said...

"Shtove, a quick collapse of financing can be fixed just as quickly by jerry-rigging some new means of financing. I'd encourage you, for example, take the time to read up on how the Weimar Republic stopped hyperinflation in its tracks."

There may be a crucial difference in that all the good collateral is already spoken for and more, ie. peak debt arrived some time before 2007.

Since then phantom equity and junk bonds have been driving the credit-to-debt conversion.

If that conversion rate is at, or past, its limit then a redenomination of the currency is irrelevant. At that point it's impossible to avoid a deflationary collapse.

That's a hypothesis. So far the evidence from 2009 onward is that more collateral is being created. I don't buy it (literally!), but accept that the jerry-rigging may be happening before my eyes.

John Michael Greer said...

YJV, I'll consider it -- I wasn't that impressed by the Strauss-Howe model when I first read it, but that was a while ago, and it may be due for a rereading.

Trog, that is to say, if you spit into the wind, you're going to end up with spit on your face!

Steven, I wish it was a straw man. I field far too many comments and emails from people who, if anything, make my description look unusually charitable.

Ed, I'm familiar with mundane astrology but don't normally discuss it on this forum, since most of my readers aren't into it. As for making money off the 2030 thing, hang on -- my guess is that within a year or two, the marketing machine is going to be picking up steam in a big way.

Mammonista, yes, and if the planet gets swallowed at a single gulp by a giant space walrus, whatever will we do? That's not an example of the hard questions I'm talking about, as I'm sure you're well aware. The questions I'd encourage you to ask about the 2030 end-of-the-world claims are (a) what happened the last time in the planet's history this occurred, and what were the consequences? and (b) how accurate have predictions made by this person turned out to be in the past?

Shtove, all that has to happen is a large-scale default on the more vaporous classes of debt and the issuance of an asset-backed currency -- which doesn't have to involve precious metals, by the way. (The new currency that got Germany out of its hyperinflation was backed by taking out one big mortgage on every square inch of Germany.) Six months later, the rubble's stopped bouncing and most people get on with life. As I pointed out in an earlier post, default normally results not in collapse but in recovery. Of course there are bigger-picture issues, so the recovery will be fractured and anemic at best, but it's still likely to happen.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I long ago adopted a fatalistic view of my most probable future - while politely declining to pursue the financial rewards that I could have pursued with vigor equal to my current efforts. Financing that, wisely used, would likely have insulated myself for the rest of my natural life. A very odd decision in the opinion of my siblings and parents.

IMO, I made the wisest choice for me.

I view happiness as a byproduct of life, but meaningless as a goal in and of itself.

What I seek is the highest and hardest goal in life - fulfillment. I think that even if I die alone, shivering in a cold dirty alley (my mental image of one possibility), I could still manage a smile knowing that I did all that I could - and the world was a slightly better place for my journey through it.

Once one accepts the worst, then there is very little to fear or to stop one from seeking fulfillment with every thing one has.

I look on those that seek, and then gain, unworthy goals with pity.

OTOH, I have seen, and worked with, Hans Herren. I truly envy him, and the path that he has taken.

dltrammel said...

Sophie Gale found this one. Its truly moving.

"Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500"

Joel Caris said...


Apropos of your catabolic collapse theory and this week's mental exercise, might I provide a link to this chart of employment-population ratio. It might be helpful to compare it to this chart of the official unemployment rate.

Would anyone care to hazard a guess as to which statistic is more easily manipulated?

Basically, in terms of employment, we are at essentially the exact same rate as we were after the 08-09 crash. The first chart is a pretty excellent example of your stair step collapse, JMG. I imagine we'll stay on that plateau until the next eventual crash and another step down.

I won't hazard a guess as to when that crash will come, but I'm confident it will show up sooner or later. And I'm pretty confident there'll be a plateau on the back end and a period of assurances about our imminent return to former glory--fueled by a procession of bubbles, no doubt--until the next drop on the rough road down.

Joel Caris said...

Oh, and one of the more amusing moments for me this week was listening to the new jobs number report on NPR. After noting the low number (74,000 jobs for December) they promptly brought on two different economists who swore the numbers had to be wrong. It was a statistical outlier and the jobs growth was definitely stronger. Their other data points guaranteed it. Eventually, they expected the jobs numbers to be revised upward.

Now, granted, that may very well be true. Statistical outliers happened. But I thought it was interesting to hear how confident the economists were that, gosh, the economy's doing really well so these bad numbers just can't be true.

Tom Bannister said...

nuku and To YJV-
Good to see my people of my own country reading JMG. What I predict for us throughout the next 100 years of so is first more land assets being sold off (the wealthy new zealanders/ foreign buyers retrenching their wealth) following by a retrenching of central government (when the large corporations collapse due to global instability), followed or accompanied by a vassal state arrangement with china, followed or accompanied by a gradual weakening of central government and established regional authorities gaining more power (for example maori iwi). Its actually quite a common phenomenon. colonizing people are absorbed into the local preexisting culture/political patterns (vikings in europe, mongols in china etc). anyway just a rough prediction of mine.

"Ahavah" Gayle Bourne said...


About the garden, it might not be as hard as you think. After all, many americans live on processed food and the only vegetables they walk by at the grocery store are a handful of hybrid varieties designed to look like plastic toys.

If you design your yard to companion plant or permaculture heirlooms, unconventional, & little known varieties mixed in with herbs, medicinals, and some ornamentrals that bees and such like, many people would not recognize a lot of what you were growing. Root crops particularly.

Put some of the "plastic" varieties in the middle of your yard in an obvious "garden" and they'll take that stuff and leave the real food that appears to them as merely overgrown badly-tended flowerbeds...

Bill Pulliam said...

About the fascinating graph linked to by Joel Caris... back the start date up to 1948 and it shows an even more dramatic picture. Though I am not sure exactly what it is a picture of. I see two state changes -- one in the late 1970s, and one in 2008. The "business cycle" is evident and reasonable well-behaved through 2008, but starting around 1978 you see a big sustained bubble in employment that peaked in the 1990s. Then, the last 5-6 years are an unprecedented flat period, and the first recession that did not turn around in to a recovery pretty sharply. You could say that what changed in the late 70s was that women entered the work force en masse; but the economy still came up with jobs for them! Look at the present and you can see how just wanting to enter the work force does not create a job for you to take.

So if you feel like the world is just spinning its wheels, with nothing actually happening, this graph might suggest you are correct in that feeling.

Even if I had no idea what that was a graph of, my intuitive projection for its future would be that this flat period will terminate (pretty soon) in another sharp drop.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Quote: "I can see where dense planting could work well for flowers and herbs, but how well does it translate to a vegetable garden?"

I'm not 100% sure I understand your question.

What do you mean by "a vegetable garden"?

If you mean nice neat rows of plants with lots of the same species in blocks for ease of picking, then the answer would have to be no.

Although you could plant a block of vegetables inside a densely planted garden similar to the photos. It would work for sure, I just never thought of doing that. In fact jerusalem artichokes (for example) do form blocks of vegetables inside these systems on their own.

However, if you look at how nature grows edible plants in a natural environment then you'll notice straight away that they are in what appears to our eyes to be a random collection.

By the way, did you check out the lists of useful and edible plants in the article?

Nice, neat vegetable gardens are efficient, but inevitably their yields decrease over time as the soil is strip mined due to the lack of plant and animal diversity (think Irish potato famine). Yes, before people skewer me for that example, please remember that of the hundreds of potato species available from South Amercia, the Irish at the time selected just two and both were susceptible to blight. The sheer volume, spread and lack of diversity of those plants made easy pickings for the blight too.

Nice and neat are however easy to pick from for humans, but this also just makes it less confusing for pests (birds, insects, diseases etc) to pick from as well. They want lunch too.

There are few, if any free lunches in nature, it just depends when the bill becomes payable.

The other thing that comes to mind is how do you tell a flower or herb from a flowering vegetable? Seriously, I let all of the vegetables here go to flower and seed. I ask you, why would a plant grown for flowers be any different from a flowering vegetable? Flowering carrots for example support many beneficial insects that happily consume other problem insects and thus brings the system closer to balance. It's complex.

My gut feel is that people spend a lot of time trying to break larger things down into smaller categories of understanding. It is far more advantageous to yield to the whole of nature. The Aboriginals described Westerners as splitters in their approach to knowledge.

Most industrial agriculture doesn't look like the systems that I install and maintain here.

You asked a very complex question.



Cherokee Organics said...


I haven't quite finished reading the comments yet, but a thought keeps popping into my head every few comments or so:

Supply lines are now so efficient that people fail to see them.

However, ask any Napoleonic soldier on the retreat from Moscow about supply lines and I reckon they'd have a different thought on the matter.

Efficient and resilient are very complex and different end points.



Cherokee Organics said...


About the whole NTE thing. Isn't it just representative of a bad case of nihilism?



Nano said...

Would it be far fetched to suggest that Venezuela, as it stands right now, is a good example of how some, but not all of the US states might end up?

Ray Wharton said...

I have another cause for apocalyptic thinking I would like to suggest.

When American prosperity began to shoot up during the boom times one of the most crucial problems to deal with was the distribution of that wealth. This isn't the place for a play by play, but the outcome is that many ideologies whose stated function was to redistribute wealth at the time used a very elegant trope to their end. "There is plenty to go around, if we just work together." is the conditional form, the declarative form is "We are all in this together!"

It is a powerful move, and very adaptive to the era which bore it. It functioned in several of the popular moral systems of the time, and it matched with the appearances of the time and the myth of progress with some simple tailoring. It provided a very important rallying point for people contending to adjust the distribution of the Imperial spoils, which was very important at the time, as poor distribution was a hazard to the system's smooth functions, and the humanitarian cost of most distribution systems features lots of not strictly necessary human tragedies and death.

The two forms are important, the conditional form has a bit of reason to it, following from an assumption to a conclusion. Given plenty to go around, if we can collaborate with the distribution and work together we can end . It is an 'iffy' conditional, but at least it states the key 'if'. A stated 'if' can be thought about.

"We are all in this together, against death and tragedy." Is an unspoken axiom which appears in many many ideologies today. Suppose a certain Arch Druid were to posit "There is not plentiful wealth to end human tragedies and deaths." A reaction resembling the form "If there isn't enough to prevent human tragedies, then all of us together will die tragically." is not surprising in the least.

jonathan said...

how does the 1% historically maintain control over the 99%? the best way, whether its poor whites blaming poor blacks for their problems or russian peasants blaming the jews is to get the 99% to fight among themselves. i've noticed a concerted effort in the last few years to convince young people to blame the "boomers" for all their problems. sorry jmg, but its the same old fast shuffle the powers that be have been using for millenia. unfortunately, it seems to work just as well as it always has.

John Michael Greer said...

Alan, good. That's the kind of attitude that's essential in this work.

Dltrammel, I'm reminded of the William Gibson quote about the future already being here -- it's just not evenly distributed yet.

Joel, good. Yes, what's happening is that the official unemployment rate -- which consists solely of those people who still have unemployment benefits -- is increasingly detached from how many people are actually out of work. As for the economists, well, what do you call an economist who makes a prediction? Wrong.

Bill, well, that's my sense as well!

Cherokee, I think it's a little more complex than that, but yes, nihilism has a lot to do with it.

Nano, Venezuela's in transition -- it hasn't "ended up" yet. Yes, I think some US states will pass through the same transitional state on the way down.

Ray, that's worth considering, since the alternative amounts to "You're on your own, and a lot of other people want whatever you have."

Jonathan, now let's talk about how the 20% use talk about the 1% to keep the 80% from noticing that many of the people yelling about the 1% benefit hugely from the system they claim to be critiquing. How often in recent years has "we must stand together against X" been code language for "don't you dare challenge the privileged status of middle and upper middle class faux-hemian activists"?

Ray Wharton said...


I also sometimes feel discomfort about the tendency to blame the baby boomers, though for different reasons. As a member of a younger generation, and a man who generally keeps my finger on the pulses of many groups, I feel strongly that the hot embers of hostility felt by my age mates toward our elders is certainly something that should not have fuel poured over it. On the other hand maybe I just don't have a strong enough stomach to shoot fish in a barrel. Which is what critiquing mainstream baby boomers amounts to. As a member of a generation, millennial, comparably dysfunctional in terms of having been brought up with a baseline for reality which is completely dysfunctional, it doesn't take much imagination to understand the very real inner challenges the baby boomers have had in trying to overcome their upbringing; on the other hand, the depths of the consequences from what has come to pass merit a serious polemic. A similar polemic could be fielded against much of my generation, and a number of my yet unvanquished habits, but my generation has the advantage, in terms of overcoming our upbringing, of some very through schooling at Hard Knocks University.

I attend a Men's Group of upper middle class liberal Christian baby boomers. They are the cliché of every critique of their generation which could be launched, and they lived in positions of great power, and used their privileged on their on things which to them seem completely reasonable and normal, even to their perspective morally courageous. They tell war stories about the triumph of their political reforms, and the way that Obama fulfills the prophecy of their people. Though they seem to me in a permanent adolescents, lovable scamps with little ill will, but friendly intentions alone do not make a good man.

Greer was fairly careful to note that there were "noble exceptions" to the generalization that boomers chose privilege over ideals, there is a real danger that those types of qualifications, which are essential, drop from the conversation as the heat of the youths discomfort increases.

As for the 1% thing, dude, that sounds like projection. Just as their are noble boomers, their are noble ultra powerful, though in both cases they maybe rare. And consider how the 99% over history is filled with many a variety of deep depravity. The various non ruling classes can contain some real monsters, its just that on an individual basis they don't get as many opportunities to frack the big seams. Lower class people cannot blame white, blue, and no collar vices on the machinations of Rulers. Rulers aren't that skillful, doubly so today's 1%.

Bill Pulliam said...

John Roth re: the long count; 100% incorrect. The correlation of the 12/21/2012 date with in the long count was widely agreed upon by scholars. To quote the wikipedia article on the mesoamerican long count:

"The generally accepted correlation constant is the Modified Thompson 2, 'Goodman, Martinez, Thompson' – GMT correlation of 584,283 days. Using the GMT correlation, the current creation started on September 6, 3114 BC in the Julian Calendar or August 11 in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar. The study of correlating the Maya and western calendar is referred to as the correlation question.[10][11][12][13][14] The GMT correlation is also called the 11.16 correlation."

Go to the original page and its footnotes for a more detailed review of the lines of evidence, dissenting opinions, and rationale for the consensus. Like all wiki articles, it is not a final word, but is a good starting point to lead on to scholarly sources. The strongest dissent is from some astronomers, but the preponderance of the evidence leans against them.

The GMT correlation put the b'ak'tun rollover on 12/21/2012. This date was celebrated in the Mayan areas as the b'ak'tun rollover. All the newagey hocus pocus associated with this date was nonsense; but the date itself was correct.

I am not one to accept any of the astronomical, calendrical, etc. bunk that spews forth from the founts of newage (rhymes with sewage) at face value. I check the sources before making universal proclamations.

Cherokee Organics said...


Fair enough.

Hi Joel, Bill and JMG,

Actually, something did happen during that period from the 70's when workforce participation increased across the community.

Household incomes went up dramatically.

The problem is that house prices here went up, which absorbed all of the gains of that increase in household income.

Back when I started work, the average house cost 3x an average wage. Nowadays, economists talk about "household income" because the average house costs 7x an average wage.

The difference between now and then is that household income combines 2 peoples incomes, rather than the usual single income way back then.

Somewhere I smell a rat and a wealth pump (all we have is our time)...

The US may possibly be returning to household incomes that resemble history. Houses are only worth what people will pay for them.

It is a shame that people haven't cottoned on yet and got on with the job of developing the household economy which was also a historical norm. They may just find the household economy to be more empowering than getting tricked by business.



onething said...


Well, by a vegetable garden I mean a place to grow vegetables, but it's a funny thing that I had an idea recently (I'm going to start a garden this spring) of planting the vegetables in a rather haphazard and random pattern. I'm not sure if I will regret it. Don't I have to plan some pathways to get around?

It seems like a good idea to get a few of each vegetable started, mix them up, and then in a couple of weeks do it all over again, so that you have a younger set and not all things ripening at once. On the other hand, some things grow slowly, and you don't want to wait to long, such as tomatoes and squash.

I'm wondering if I do that perhaps it won't be necessary to carefully rotate crops, as they'll mimic a natural landscape.

However, about the strip mining, I don't really see that my proposed method would really change that? Isn't that what compost, manure and perhaps kelp are for?
I'm not sure I understand what you mean about the difference between a flowering vegetable and a flowering flower. I'm pretty well obsessed with my flower garden. I'm told lilies are delicious, but haven't tried them yet. We do make tea out of the bee balm after it stops flowering. It's quite delicious. Vegetable plants do flower, but mostly are smaller. Tomatoes make tiny flowers. Squashes and such make bigger ones, but low to the ground. These, you have to let flower. An herb like basil, you want to pinch off the flowers until late in the season, or it will stop making the delicious leaves. Are you suggesting I view my vegetables as a flower garden, or plant flowers among them?
I find that a bit funny - I have a small lawn surrounded by flowers like fox gloves, irises, day lilies, and gladiolus. These are big, tall, and luscious.

Bill Pulliam said...

I'm still pondering that graph of jobs/population from 1948 to the present, and what the fundamental state change in the late 1970s might have been. Whatever it was, it cleared the way for the huge expansion of the labor force and the mass movement of women in to it. As I mentioned before, it can't have just been because women started working; had their not actually been more jobs available they really would have just been taking jobs from men and total employment would have stayed the same. But that's not what happened.

Relevant to one primary topic of this blog, I wondered if that overall trend might track oil production per capita But that peaked , both globally and domestically, in the 1970s. It was declining while the job market was exploding. So that is a no-go.

Another thing that happened in the late 1970 was the conversion of the U.S. dollar to a pure fiat currency. This enabled the creation of massive amounts of imaginary wealth. But, wealth does not create jobs unless it is tied to meaningful economic activity, which this imaginary wealth generally is not.

This brings me to my final thought, globalization and the wealth pump. The boom in jobs may well coincide with a real ramping up of the U.S's imperial wealth pump via "free trade" arrangements. If this is what drove the boom, interesting that it is no longer working. Maybe the WTO pushed it too far and the wealth pump started flowing the other way? I'm not sure what economic metrics to look at to evaluate that part of the puzzle.

August Johnson said...


You might find this interesting:

"If, indeed, most analysts are concerned about the wrong limit, this has huge implications for energy policy:

1. Climate change models include way too much CO2 from fossil fuels. Lack of investment capital will bring down production of all fossil fuels in only a few years. The amounts of fossil fuels included in climate change models are based on “Demand Model” and “Hubbert Peak Model” estimates of fossil fuel consumption (described in this post), both of which tend to be far too high. "

John Roth said...


The generational cycle is easily disrupted by major disasters, including wars, etc. It also doesn’t synchronize between countries, so I wouldn’t expect other countries to have a Prophet generation like the U.S. Boomers at the same time. One reason why the generational cycle is clear in the U.S. and not so clear elsewhere is that the U.S. has been blessedly free of the kind of disasters that disrupt the cycle, the major exception being the Civil War.

I thought JMG has been reasonably clear that he’s sticking to the U.S., where he has experience, rather than trying to talk about the rest of the world.


I’m not sure I’d classify any theory of history as science, so having mainstream historians call something they don’t like a “pseudo-science” is a bit rich. As I commented to Fidelius just above this, generations don’t synchronize across countries or cultures, so I find your comment about the upcoming generations in the East being a Prophet generation interesting. Here in the U.S., the Millenials are a Civic/Hero generation, and are showing all the signs of a non-jelled Civic/Hero generation. Whether they’ll actually jell and do something useful? Only time will tell.

In any case, three of the four generation types reject most of what their Prophet ancestors stood for. The only one that doesn’t is the one that follows the Civic/Hero generations: that type of generation is more interested in bringing the benefits to the people who got left out.

@Ed Boyle

I think you’re over-analyzing it. Saturn benefits people and systems that do the hard, thankless work of doing whatever it is right, without falling into delusions and building jury-rigged structures on the shifting sand. Uranus represents changes, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t have a preference about what changes or what direction the change is going to go. When the two get together structures that aren’t sound are challenged and tend to fall apart. This contrasts with Saturn and Neptune, where unsound structures just vanish without your noticing, leading to Wile Coyote moments - the ones where he realizes he’s run off a cliff, looks down and then starts falling.

@JMG, others

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes six, that is, SIX, different “unemployment rates,” labeled U1 to U6. The headline rate, which is the one you see in the main-stream media, is U2. If you want to understand actual unemployment, you need to ignore the headline rate and do a deeper dive into the statistics. Flailing at the headline rate as being inaccurate is, as far as I’m concerned, a mug’s game. Of course it’s inaccurate. It’s a preliminary estimate - not all the data is in yet, and that’s why they publish other rates.

The participation rate is a good one to keep an eye on: it’s the rate at which working-age people are actually working regardless of whether they want to work, and it’s not at all healthy. You won’t see this discussed in the MSM, though, to any great extent.

@Bill Pullam.

I also check with sources, and I don’t trust Wikipedia as the final work when I have access to the actual scholars.

@JMG on Strauss and Howe

I agree that they aren’t all that good as a theory of history in general. Where they shine, in my opinion, is in tying together generational archetypes with the feel of historical eras. Beyond that, they’re pretty useless. That’s why I pulled them in for a discussion of the Boomers, who aren’t all that different from the preceding Prophet generations in their ideological certainty. As far as I’m concerned, blaming the Boomers for being ideological and trying to stuff it down everyone else’s throat is about as meaningful as blaming a wolf for being a carnivore.

For anything else in the historical cycle, elsewhere is a good place to look.

onething said...

Bill Pulliam,

I think you got it right that the wealth started flowing the other way after the free trade agreements. In the 70s there was a lot of infrastructure and real economy; it may simply take time for that to ebb. Now, the US is an importer rather than an exporter. I wonder if women entering the workforce caused a drop in real wages, as well? Then too, the monetization of the home economy could also have simply made the dollars run around in circles more frequently.

Phil Harris said...

Thinking about late 70s female in the workplace dynamic in USA.
Elizabeth Warren in a 2007 Berkeley lecture compared mom & pop & 2 kids back in the early 70s with 2005: big structual changes in opportunities for middle-class family finance. Male wage rates stopped going up. Females worked at lower rates and families took more risk.

Could have been more 'push' than 'pull'? It seems that was when the big structural changes in post-war American industry started to kick-in - i.e. the de-industrialisation trend that JMG has talked about?


Bill Pulliam said...

About the work-force participation rate and its decline in recent years... I have actually heard a fair bit of discussion of this in the mainstream media, especially in the context of explaining why the drops in the "unemployment rate" are not necessarily "good." I get my mainstream news mostly from NPR, being a broadcast-TV-free household. But I'd imagine it has gotten coverage in the conservative cable news also, since it feeds well into the narrative of Obama destroying America.

Much was said lately in the media that work force participation has dropped to levels unseen since the early 1980s. So I looked up a graph of the data from 1950 to the present. I don't have it in front of me so I am speaking from memory, but it was just a few days ago.

As I recall, the participation rate for men has been dropping continuously from 1950 to the present, boom or bust. It was extremely high, like 95%, at the start. I suspect (have no data to support this, but I expect others do) that a major contributor to this drop has been inreasing longevity and more widespread retirement. In 1950 men retired at 65, if ever, and died at 69, so there was not a whole lot of gap in there. Work participation by women rose steadily from something like 20% up to well over 50%, then began to tail off in the last 5 years. The rate of decline for men did slacken during the 90s boom years (while the rate for women was peaking), and then the male decline accelerated after the turn of the milllenium. But the curves for men and women are both surprisingly smooth, without the big business-cycle ups and downs shown by that jobs versus population graph. And the present-day participation, widely viewed as alarming, is still miles above where it was in the 1950s, an economic boom time.

I have to wonder if reduced workforce participation is really a bad thing. I think it is more likely to be an appropriate and intelligent response to a contracting economy. It seems likely it will be the key to reestablishing the household economy, and larger community economy, that long comprised the foundation for societies and on top of which the commercial economy rested.

GawainGregor said...

Many thanks for the moderation you bring to the subject of our current decline. Your writing style and thoughtfulness has been quite the comfort to me.
It seems from the comments that several are determined to take action and abandon the sinking ship of our current culture. I would suggest to those taking action to consider that the single greatest EROI as they transition is that of small, capable community. Friendships established in our local community have returned essential benefits in our pursuit of resilience. And I would add, do not underestimate the cost of raising children as you straddle these cultures. Community and family are both essential investments that have to be accounted for. I think we will need many sons before this is over.
I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on courage.

Phitio said...

Yes, you are undoubtedly doing the right reasoning prolonging the trends, but not entirely. Things can be stretched, but until to an extent, after which they break down.

Poverty and famine and instability lead to wars, a lot of wars, endemic wars. Not maybe, hopefully, in the next decade, but considering the latest projections from the World Energy Outlook, we will lose in 2020 the oil production from current sources equivalent of two Saudi Arabia.

This is an accelerating downslope, not a quiet gradual one.

I do not fear for doomsday like you say, caused by an unpredictable and fancy event. I'm considering a real, concrete risk, and it seems that you have it outside of your radar screen.

You are suggesting that humanity will fall like an Alzheimer patient like Romans did, just to say, but Romans didn't had nukes.

We have nukes scattered all over the world. We have a real doomsday trick left to our folly.

A nuclear war is like the elephant in the room, it has been here by decades, until it has become part of the forniture.

Global warming is a seriosus treat, but I suppose it will unleash fully in a few centuries, not tomorrow, not in 2030, maybe not in 2100.

Peak oil is not really "the" problem, it is more a trigger.
It will degrade the system and will made it crazy. Hitler would gladily use the nukes if he had the opportunity. An new guy of this sort could easily take again control in impoverished and crazed country with nukes.

Lets' hope that my fears are wrong. It make my hard tries to change my lifestile to counteract the long descent even more grim.

Bill Pulliam said...

An addendum, here's the graph of labor force participation I talked about in the comment above:

I remembered the trends correctly, but I was a bit off on the absolute numbers. The figure only goes to 2011; one can guess that the 2012-2013 data show a continued decline (though I'd not be surprised if the rate of the decline has slackened a bit.. will look for info).

A complete aside -- I always find it both amusing and offensive that many people attribute the increase of women's employment to the birth control pill. After all, as everyone knows, women are ruled entirely by their uteruses (uteri...). Never mind that the increase began decades before the arrival of The Pill.

thrig said...

"household economy" reads "household house manage" if one expands the original Greek term oikos 'house' + nemein 'manage'. Ahh, abstractions.

John Roth said...

@Bill Pulliam

Here's the charts I use, from the excellent Calculated Risk blog. This post and the next couple have a lot of analysis of the employment situation.

If people are actually being exposed to more nuanced employment data, that's a good thing. I have my doubts, however, or the general punditry wouldn't be angsting over the preliminary U2 so much.

Joel Caris said...

I believe these are your updated labor force participation rate numbers, Bill. And, yep, the decline continued unabated in 2012-13.

Bogatyr said...

Oh, and I've been a steampunk, though it was a couple of decades before I heard the term, ever since I read Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable trilogy in my early teens... Consequently, I've been glad to see the movement develop. I can now happily wear tweed (cf. my comments in an earlier post regarding twee manufacture as a sustainable, post-collapse industry).