Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Pink Slip for the Progress Fairy

If you’ve ever wondered just how powerfully collective thinking grips most members of our species—including, by and large, those who most forcefully insist on the originality of their thinking—I have an experiment to recommend: go out in public and advocate an idea about the future that isn’t part of the conventional wisdom, and see what kind of reaction you field. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll get some anger, some argument, and some blank stares, but the most telling reaction will come from people who try to force what you’re saying into the Procrustean bed of the conventional wisdom, no matter how thoroughly they have to stretch and chop what you’ve said to make it fit.

Now of course the project of this blog is guaranteed to field such reactions, since the ideas explored here don’t just ignore the conventional wisdom, they fling it to the floor and dance on the crumpled remains. When I mention that I expect the decline and fall of industrial civilization to take centuries, accordingly, people take this to mean that I expect a smooth, untroubled descent. When I mention that I expect crisis before this decade is finished, in turn, people take this to mean that I expect industrial civilization to crash into ruin in the next few years. Some people, for that matter, slam back and forth from one of these presuppositions to another, as though they can’t fit the concepts of prolonged decline and imminent crisis into their heads at the same moment.

That sort of response has become more common than usual in recent months, and part of the reason may be that it’s been a while since I’ve sketched out the overall shape of the future as I see it.  Some of my readers may have lost track of the broader picture, and more recent readers of this blog may not have encountered that picture at all. For that reason among others, I’m going to spend this week’s post summarizing the the decline and fall of  industrial civilization.

Yes, I’m aware that many people believe that such a thing can’t happen:  that science, technology, or some other factor has made progress irreversible. I’m also aware that many people insist that progress may not be irreversible yet but will be if we all just do that little bit more. These are—well, let’s be charitable and call them faith-based claims. Generalizing from a sample size of one when the experiment hasn’t yet run its course is poor scientific procedure; insisting that just this once, the law of diminishing returns will be suspended for our benefit is the antithesis of science. It amounts to treating progress as some sort of beneficent fairy who can be counted on to tap us with her magic wand and give us a wonderful future, just because we happen to want one.

The overfamiliar cry of “but it’s different this time!” is popular, it’s comforting, but it’s also irrelevant. Of course it’s different this time; it was different every other time, too. Neolithic civilizations limited to one river valley and continental empires with complex technologies have all declined and fallen in much the same way and for much the same reasons. It may appeal to our sense of entitlement to see ourselves as destiny’s darlings, to insist that the Progress Fairy has promised us a glorious future out there among the stars, or even to claim that it’s humanity’s mission to populate the galaxy, but these are another set of faith-based claims; it’s a little startling, in fact, to watch so many people who claim to have outgrown theology clinging to such overtly religious concepts as humanity’s mission and destiny.

In the real world, when civilizations exhaust their resource bases and wreck the ecological cycles that support them, they fall. It takes between one and three centuries on average for the fall to happen—and no, big complex civilizations don’t fall noticeably faster or slower than smaller and simpler ones.  Nor is it a linear decline—the end of a civilization is a fractal process composed of crises on many different scales of space and time, with equally uneven consequences. An effective response can win a breathing space; in the wake of a less effective one, part of what used to be normal goes away for good. Sooner or later, one crisis too many overwhelms the last defenses, and the civilization falls, leaving scattered remnants of itself that struggle and gleam for a while until the long night closes in.

The historian Arnold Toynbee, whose study of the rise and fall of civilizations is the most detailed and cogent for our purpose, has traced a recurring rhythm in this process.  Falling civilizations oscillate between periods of intense crisis and periods of relative calm, each such period lasting anywhere from a few decades to a century or more—the pace is set by the speed of the underlying decline, which varies somewhat from case to case. Most civilizations, he found, go through three and a half cycles of crisis and stabilization—the half being, of course, the final crisis from which there is no recovery. 

That’s basically the model that I’m applying to our future. One wrinkle many people miss is that we’re not waiting for the first of the three and a half rounds of crisis and recovery to hit; we’re waiting for the second. The first began in 1914 and ended around 1954, driven by the downfall of the British Empire and the collapse of European domination of the globe. During the forty years between Sarajevo and Dien Bien Phu, the industrial world was hammered by the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, millions of political murders by the Nazi and Soviet governments, the Second World War, and the overthrow of European colonial empires around the planet.

That was the first era of crisis in the decline and fall of industrial civilization. The period from 1945 to the present was the first interval of stability and recovery, made more prosperous and expansive than most examples of the species by the breakneck exploitation of petroleum and other fossil fuels, and a corresponding boom in technology. At this point, as fossil fuel reserves deplete, the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants runs up against hard limits, and a galaxy of other measures of impending crisis move toward the red line, it’s likely that the next round of crisis is not far off.

What will actually trigger that next round, though, is anyone’s guess. In the years leading up to 1914, plenty of people sensed that an explosion was coming, some guessed that a general European war would set it off, but nobody knew that the trigger would be the assassination of an Austrian archduke on the streets of Sarajevo. The Russian Revolution, the March on Rome, the crash of ‘29, Stalin, Hitler, Pearl Harbor, Auschwitz, Hiroshima? No one saw those coming, and only a few people even guessed that something resembling one or another of these things might be in the offing.

Thus trying to foresee the future of industrial society in detail is an impossible task. Sketching out the sort of future that we could get is considerably less challenging. History has plenty to say about the things that happen when a civilization begins its long descent into chaos and barbarism, and it’s not too difficult to generalize from that evidence. I don’t claim that the events outlined below are what will happen, but I expect things like them to happen; further than that, the lessons of history will not go.

With those cautions, here’s a narrative sketch of the kind of future that waits for us.

The second wave of crisis began with the Ebola pandemic, which emerged in West Africa early in 2014. Efforts to control the outbreak in its early phases were ineffective and hopelessly underfunded. By the early months of 2015, the first cases appeared in India, Egypt, and the Caribbean, and from there the pandemic spread to much of the world. In August 2015 a vaccine passed its clinical trials, but scaling up production and distribution of the vaccine to get in front of a fast-spreading pandemic took time, and it was early 2018 before the pandemic was finally under control everywhere in the world. By then 1.6 billion people had died of the disease, and another 210 million had died as a result of the collapse of food distribution and health care across large areas of the Third World.

The struggle against Ebola was complicated by the global economic depression that got under way in 2015 as the “fracking” boom imploded and travel and tourist industries collapsed in the face of the pandemic. Financial markets were stabilized by vast infusions of government debt, as they had been in the wake of the 2008 crash, but the real economy of goods and services was not so easily manipulated; joblessness soared, tax revenues plunged, and a dozen nations defaulted on their debts. Politicians insisted, as they had done for the past decade, that giving more handouts to the rich would restore prosperity; their failure to take any constructive action set the stage for the next act in the tragedy.

The first neofascist parties were founded in Europe before the end of the pandemic, and grew rapidly in the depression years. In 2020 and 2021, neofascists took power in three European nations on anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-banking industry platforms; their success emboldened similar efforts elsewhere. Even so, the emergence of the neofascist American Peoples Party as a major force in the 2024 US elections stunned most observers. Four years later the APP swept the elections, and forced through laws that turned Congress into an advisory body and enabled rule by presidential decree. Meanwhile, as more European nations embraced neofascism, Europe split into hostile blocs, leading to the dissolution of the European Union in 2032 and the European War of 2035-2041.

By the time war broke out in Europe, the popularity of the APP had fallen drastically due to ongoing economic troubles, and insurgencies against the new regime had emerged in the South and mountain West.  Counterinsurgency efforts proved no more effective than they had in Iraq or Afghanistan, and over the next decade much of the US sank into failed-state conditions. In 2046, after the regime used tactical nuclear weapons on three rebel-held cities, a dissident faction of the US military launched a nuclear strike on Washington DC, terminating the APP regime. Attempts to establish a new federal government failed over the next two years, and the former United States broke into seven nations.

Outside Europe and North America, changes were less dramatic, with the Iranian civil war of 2027-2034 and the Sino-Japanese war of 2033-2035 among the major incidents. Most of the Third World was prostrate in the wake of the Ebola pandemic, and world population continued to decline gradually as the economic crisis took its toll and the long-term effects of the pandemic played out. By 2048 roughly fifteen per cent of the world’s people lived in areas no longer governed by a nation-state.

The years from 2048 to 2089 were an era of relative peace under Chinese global hegemony. The chaos of the crisis years eliminated a great many wasteful habits, such as private automobiles and widespread air travel, and renewable resources padded out with what was left of the world’s fossil fuel production were able to meet the reduced needs of a smaller and less extravagant global population. Sea levels had begun rising steadily during the crisis years; ironically, the need to relocate ports and coastal cities minimized unemployment in the 2050s and 2060s, bringing relative prosperity to the laboring classes. High and rising energy prices spurred deautomation of many industries, with similar effects.

The pace of climate change accelerated, however, as carbon dioxide from the reckless fossil fuel use of the crisis years had its inevitable effect, pushing the polar ice sheets toward collapse and making harvests unpredictable around the globe. Drought gripped the American Southwest, forcing most of the region’s population to move and turning the region into a de facto stateless zone.  The same process destabilized much of the Middle East and south Asia, laying the groundwork for renewed crisis.  

Population levels stabilized in the 2050s and 2060s and began to contract again thereafter. The primary culprit was once again disease, this time from a gamut of pathogens. The expansion of tropical diseases into formerly temperate regions, the spread of antibiotic resistance to effectively all bacterial pathogens, and the immense damage to public health infrastructure during the crisis years all played a part in that shift. The first migrations of climate refugees also helped spread disease and disruption.

The last decade before 2089 was a time of renewed troubles, with political tensions pitting China and its primary allies, Australia and Canada, against the rising power of the South American Union (formed by 2067’s Treaty of Montevideo between Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay), and  insurgencies in eastern Europe that set the stage for the Second European War. Economic troubles driven by repeated crop failures in North America and China added to the strains, and kept anyone but scientists from noticing what was happening to the Greenland ice sheet until it was too late.

The collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, which began in earnest in the summer of 2089, delivered a body blow to an already fraying civilization. Meltwater pouring into the North Atlantic shut down the thermohaline circulation, the main driver of the world’s ocean currents, unleashing drastic swings in weather across most of the world’s climate zones, while sea levels jolted upwards. As these trends worsened, climate refugees fled drought, flood, or famine in any direction that promised survival—a promise that in most cases would not be kept. Those nations that opened their borders collapsed under the influx of millions of starving migrants; those who tried to close their borders found themselves at war with entire peoples on the move, in many cases armed with the weapons of pre-crisis armies.

The full impact of the Greenland disaster took time to build, but the initial shock to weather patterns was enough to help trigger the Second European War of 2091-2111. The Twenty Years War, as it was called, pitted most of the nations of Europe against each other in what began as a struggle for mastery and devolved into a struggle for survival. As the fighting dragged on, mercenaries from the Middle East and Africa made up an ever larger fraction of the combatants. The final defeat of the Franco-Swedish alliance in 2111, though it ended the war, left Europe a shattered wreck unable to stem the human tide from the devastated regions further south and east.

Elsewhere, migration and catastrophic climate change brought down most of the nations of North America, while China dissolved in civil war. Australia and the South American Union both unexpectedly benefited as rainfall increased over their territory; both nations survived the first wave of troubles more or less intact, only to face repeated invasions by armed migrants in the following decades. Neither quite succumbed, but most of their resources went into the fight for survival.

Historians attempting to trace the course of events in most of the world are hampered by sparse and fragmentary records, as not only nation-states and their institutions but even basic literacy evaporated in many regions. As long as the migrations continued, settled life was impossible anywhere close to the major corridors of population movement; elsewhere, locals and migrants worked or fought their way to a modus vivendi, or failing that, exterminated one another. Violence, famine and disease added their toll and drove the population of the planet below two billion.

By the 2160s, though, the mass migrations were mostly at an end, and relative stability returned to many parts of the planet. In the aftermath, the South American Union became the world’s dominant power, though its international reach was limited to a modest blue-water navy patrolling the sea lanes and a network of alliances with the dozen or so functioning nation-states that still existed. Critical shortages of nonrenewable resources made salvage one of the few growth industries of the era; an enterprising salvage merchant who knew how to barter with the villagers and nomads of the stateless zones for scrap technology from abandoned cities could become rich in a single voyage.

Important as they were, these salvaged technologies were only accessible to the few.  The Union and a few other nation-states still kept some aging military aircraft operational, but maritime traffic once again was carried by tall ships, and horse-drawn wagons became a standard mode of transport on land away from the railroads. Radio communication had long since taken over from the last fitful fragments of the internet, and electric grids were found only in cities. As for the high-end technologies of a century and a half before, few people even remembered that they had ever existed at all.

In the end, though, the era of Union supremacy was little more than a breathing space, made possible only by the collapse of collective life in the stateless zones. As these began to recover from the era of migrations, and control over salvage passed into the hands of local warlords, the frail economies of the nation-states suffered. Rivalry over access to salvage sites still available for exploitation led to rising tensions between the Union and Australia, and thus to the last act of the tragedy.

This was set in motion by the Pacific War between the Union and Australia, which broke out in 2238 and shredded the economies of both nations.  After the disastrous Battle of Tahiti in 2241, the Union navy’s power to keep sea lanes open and free of piracy was a thing of the past. Maritime trade collapsed, throwing each region onto its own limited resources and destabilizing those parts of the stateless zones that had become dependent on the salvage industry. Even those nations that retained the social forms of the industrial era transformed themselves into agrarian societies where all economics was local and all technology handmade.

The negotiated peace of 2244 brought only the briefest respite: a fatally weakened Australia was overrun by Malik Ibrahim’s armies after the Battle of Darwin in 2251, and the Union fragmented in the wake of the coup of 2268 and the civil war that followed. Both nations had become too dependent on the salvaged technologies of an earlier day; the future belonged to newborn successor cultures in various corners of the world, whose blacksmiths learned how to hammer the scrap metal of ruined cities into firearms, wind turbines, fuel-alcohol stills, and engines to power handbuilt ultralight aircraft. The Earth’s first global civilization had given way to its first global dark age, and nearly four centuries would pass before new societies would be stable enough to support the amenities of civilization.

I probably need to repeat that this is the kind of future I expect, not the specific future I foresee; the details are illustrative, not predictive. Whether the Ebola epidemic spins out of control or not, whether the United States undergoes a fascist takeover or runs headlong into some other disaster, whether China or some other nation becomes the stabilizing hegemon in the next period of relative peace—all these are anyone’s guess. All I’m suggesting is that events like the ones I’ve outlined are likely to occur as industrial civilization stumbles down the curve of decline and fall.

In the real world, in the course of ordinary history, these things happen. So does the decline and fall of civilizations that deplete their resource bases and wreck the ecological cycles that support them. As I noted above, I’m aware that true believers in progress insist that this can’t happen to us, but a growing number of people have noticed that the Progress Fairy got her pink slip some time ago, and ordinary history has taken her place as the arbiter of human affairs. That being the case, getting used to what ordinary history brings may be a highly useful habit to cultivate just now.


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heather said...

My cat, Fred, died last night. Four days ago he seemed fine, two days ago he was sick, now he's gone. I always knew, of course, that he would die, you know, some day, but last week when I was buying cat food it would have seemed unthinkable that he wouldn't finish out the bag.

Not that I'm equating the collapse of the global industrial civilization with the death of a cat, but it kind of works as an analogy. I find JMG's predictions completely, terrifyingly plausible- just ordinary history, just as all critters eventually return to the earth. But when you put a date on the beginnings of things- tracing the Ebola epidemic changing into a pandemic as soon as January 2015, and on from there- it seems impossibly close. I want to say, nah, someday, but not yet, not now. Though of course the first round has already happened, just as poor Fred probably had something brewing inside when I bought his Friskies last week. I'm feeling echoing loss at the unavoidable realization that "someday"- such a huge crushing "someday"- is already now.
--Heather in CA

PS Captcha: "terminus great". I got chills.

Tom Hopkins said...

Wow! I hope this is a summary of the next book..."A history of the future" by JMG. I have my bright green shirt, black pants, and military boots ready when the tree of life is put on a flag. I expect a an American "Putin" to come along in short order.

MindfulEcologist said...

As a long time reader of your books and blog I can honestly say it has taken years before your sketch of the most probable future really sank in. It is indeed difficult to break the mental shackles that want to insist on an either-or instead of both-and (to use Robert A. Wilson’s favorite way of expressing it). I was one of those who asked the pointed question about timelines in last week’s comments and looking back on our exchange I see the rather simple process you propose escaped my notice yet again.

My short term, fight or flight circuits seems to insist on asking what is going to happen NOW and when that is dark and dangerous the sirens wail and the lights go off and everything else gets masticated into simple categories of black and white. Seeing the immediate threat but not losing sight of the larger descent – that is exactly the sort of third way cognition we industrialized humans seem to find so inhospitable.

On the other hand I find my story telling mind is very at home in these things. Your narratives are most welcome. I look forward to Twilight’s Last Gleaming with relish. From this understanding of my own contemplations strengths and weaknesses I take hope. Clarity of mind and resolute action does seem to grow given sufficient time for mulling things over. Yes what you have to say is not what we were raised hearing – anywhere far as I can tell – but it is not being spoken in Enochian, as it were.

Btw – I tackled Homo Colossus on my blog this week for those readers that might be interested.

ChemEng said...

Mr. Greer:
I wonder if the collective thinking mood that you allude to may be changing, at least a little bit. Two weeks ago I gave a talk to about 140 process safety professionals. These are people in the chemical and energy industries who develop and manage programs that minimize the chance of a major safety or environmental event. My theme was “Process Safety in an Age of Limits”.

Like you, I used historical analogies to support my forecasts as to what changes may happen to the process industries in coming years. One of my themes that the concept of “Safety as a Value” is actually quite recent (one aspect of your Faith in Progress); it is, in my opinion, a cultural artifact that developed in the early 19th century at a time when society was generating a surplus of industrial products and could afford to pay attention to all kinds of new activities, including worker safety.

As you might expect, I expected the reaction of the audience to be either indifference or hostility. After all, these are people who have an immense confidence in the ability of new technology to solve problems. That’s their job, and they’re good at it. To my surprise the response was quite positive; the discussion that followed was good-natured and practical, mostly on the lines of, “Where do we go from here?”

I know you maintain that the issues we face are predicaments, not problems. And I recognize that one little talk isn’t going to make all that much difference in the scope of the very big word picture you draw. Still, if we can harness the skills, education and intelligence of an audience such as the one I spoke to we may expect to see some innovative responses to the trends that you describe.

Maybe it helped that a high percentage of the audience appeared to young professionals rather than establishment figures.

Paul said...

Sorry. That was concise to the point of brusqueness.

Your posts posit a development of societies in much the same way, and with the same predictability that new fauna and flora colonise a new landscape. Pioneer species laying the foundations for further development, resulting, at least in sustainable systems in a stable climax ecosystem.

It's pretty discouraging for anyone interested in trying to make the world a better place. Why fight for equality or a better standard of living for the greater number when such battles are rendered null and void by the lessons of history?

One of the most quirkly thought provoking parts of Albert Bartlett's famous lecture on exponential growth was his table of things that encourage and discourage it (war is good. a cure for cancer would be disastrous) but still, isn't there room for trying to make things fairer?

Violet Cabra said...

Thank you so much for writing this! While the future is likely to be challenging to say the least, I hope that I am able to survive it a good deal farther. Perhaps "living during interesting times" isn't only a curse. It is also, ahem, life, and life is an adventure not to mention it's own reward. It's important to remember too that an adventure is defined by its uncertainty. I don't intend to be cavalier - I'm looking at the very real possibility of early death, poverty, and other conveniences large and small. None the less my approach to these possibilities are highly relevant and I think summoning my courage, valor and equipoise is the best inward response.

Kutamun said...

Gday There AD ,
Reckon you might be onto a few things here with your skrying ..
Theres no doubt Canada and Australia are slowly morphing into the elite lifeboat / imperial periphery resource province / leftand right boxing glove of the middle kingdom .
As our own former Prime Mnister Paul Keating stated so eloquently and proudly " we are a pimple on the arse of the world " and Singaporean Dictator Lee Kwan You " the poor white trash of south east asia ", but we are Prominent Pimply White Trash , if i may say so , currently shirt fronting our way blithely through the mouldy corridors of international diplomacy .
True enough , by my own observation , the place is infested with middle kingdom operatives , as is much of south east asia with the so called "bamboo diaspora " of the middle kingdom sprinkled strategically all over the place . There is no love lost between Indonesia and Australia , but crucially , even less between islamic Indonesia and China , who hate each other , though Indonesia have lately taken to whizzing around in Russian Sukhoi fighter jets , of which they have ordered plenty, which i find instructive . It will be fascinating to see how these two interact in future , and wether Russia and China keep it together , much of Australias future shape will depend on it .
While there those of us still marching around australia in beplumed slouch hats singing loudly " god save the queen ", the truth of the matter is Her Maj ' has been defunct now for 60 years , and as we slowly slip out of the grasp of our crazy U.S mates and into the clutches of The Middle Kingdom , it is in that guise that i believe we will undertake future wars in the time frame you describe , as Client State to China ; by then no doubt many of us will in fact be Chinese .
There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge between now and then , as 60 % of us are still Anglo , with ingrained cultural memories of our grandparents marching north to repel the " yellow peril" in the dark and stinking jungles of Papua New Guinea , and many never returning . No doubt our feckless pollies will some day flip the switch on this old programming if it suits them ( or our crazy yank mates ) ..
It is as one visiting Indian wag remarked recently " twenty five percent of australians are casual racists and the rest are full time !" ..

Mister Roboto said...

I hope this isn't too far off-topic, but one thing I wonder about with regard to catabolic collapse in the USA is our rather massive prison population. As the economy contracts, it seems unlikely that we will be able to afford mass-incarcerating people for such trivialities as drug possession and trafficking. The release of so many people predisposed to criminal behavior in a social context of decline and contraction might not be the most helpful thing for the whole situation. And that's probably only one of many dysfunctional time-bombs that will be unique to this country as collapse unfolds.

GreenEngineer said...


Thank you for this. It is helpful to illustrate exactly you anticipate when you contrast the doomers and the cornucopians. (For what it's worth, I think this scenario would get you tagged as a "doomer" in most contexts. Granted, there are some doomers who forecast immediate and complete systems failure with complete confidence. These people are fools, if only because predicting the future with certainty is a fool's errand. But I have met many self-identified doomers who do not expect to live to see the worst consequences of our current foolishness, but who are nevertheless struggling with how to live with what they know. I am in that camp myself, and I'm only 42.)

Are you familiar with the word "groaf"? Perhaps not, since as far as I know it was coined earlier this year. Groaf is simply economic growth which has a negative net cost to society. Whether you believe that all growth is groaf, or that non-groaf growth is possible but uncommon (and unpopular, since it requires investments with long timeframes), it's a useful term to introduce to discussions with the optimistically deluded. I also find that it helps bridge the gaps that tend to appear among different degrees of doomer (which as you have experienced, are often the most vociferous of all disagreements) and focus people on the central issue: the inability of most people to distinguish growth from groaf (which itself is a direct consequence of faith in the religion of progress).

Kaitain said...

Dmitri Orlov on the self-destruction of the American Empire.

It’s bad enough that the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations have backfired so spectacularly in the Middle East. But Orlov shows how attempts by the Obama administration to screw the Russians over have also blown up in America’s face, weakening the US while actually strengthening Russia and Vladimir Putin.

As Orlov points out near the end, one of the poster boys for the senility of the elite (and yes, Orlov uses that term repeatedly) is vice president Joe Biden’s spectacularly corrupt and debauched son, Hunter Biden.

It’s almost as if the American elites are hell-bent on imitating every cliché they ever heard of about the debauched elites of Caligula’s and Nero’s Rome or Marie Antoinette's Versailles. It's people like this who I strongly suspect will be serving as decorative ornaments for various lamp-posts and trees in the not-so-distant future...

dfr2010 said...

This post brought to mind one of the appendices in Frank Herbert's Dune, which I reread this year. In recounting the story of Liet-Kynes' father and how he came to the Fremen, the statement about the elder Kynes being not mad enough to kill, but certainly mad enough to be holy certainly echoes through this post.

"I will not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer."

(I figure three years is long enough for lurking - might ought to be somewhat sociable and leave a comment finally.)

William Lucas said...

"the things that happen when a civilization begins its long descent into chaos and barbarism"

or, as Winston Churchill put it, "History is simply one damned thing after another."

As always JMG, I enjoy your treatment - or should that be weekly treat.


Pinku-Sensei said...

That's an amazing future history and scheme of the fall of our current civilization, both of which I'll comment on later. Instead, I'm going to share a piece of news about collapse that's being repackaged as progress, both in terms of energy conservation and financial stability, but is really a sign that Detroit has embraced the salvage economy, converting waste into resources. For years, Detroit has been fighting scrappers, losing up to $1,000,000 per year in copper wires alone. As part of the bankruptcy, Detroit now plans on recycling up to 85% of its copper wires, an action made possible by LED streetlights requiring much less energy. The city could earn between $25,000,000 and $40,000,000 as a result of this action. The city would now become the biggest scrapper. If you can't beat them, join them.

William Knight said...

I believe there is one very likely crisis that belongs in the mix that you haven't mentioned. That's the collapse of what I call "Cloud 1.0". What I mean by that is an interdependent collection of vital systems at the heart of our industrial infrastructure that are critically dependent on a functioning Internet.

Because the Internet is still fairly new, if for some reason it went down hard today, many of these vital systems could still be reverted to a pre-Internet state fairly quickly.

But not for much longer. Major portions of our infrastructure are being rapidly transitioned to a state where the very ability to recover itself goes down if the Internet does.

To fully describe what I'm talking about would take some time, but to get a sense of it, consider a very simplified situation where the power grid depends on complex software systems that have failed and the software systems themselves cannot be repaired because the power grid has failed.

You might think the people transitioning us to the Cloud would be aware of this kind of danger and take steps to minimize it. I maintain that is not the case, for two fundamental reasons: 1) prior civilizations didn't have an Internet, so we don't truly grasp the scope of this danger and 2) the blind faith in progress and infallibility that JMG frequently mentions.

Think of it as "Ebola for the Cloud" where the first Cloud emerges, but without any real immune system, because it hasn't had a chance to evolve one yet.

Ventriloquist said...

Empire's cancer devours.

Grim winds
peel skins
off dark, lonesome towers

-- David

pyrrhus said...

Since IMO our civilization is getting dumber and more corrupt with each passing day, I don't see anything depressing about your narrative of a generally inevitable outcome.
On the contrary, 500-1000 years of Malthusian conditions might well produce a somewhat better breed of humanity for the next time around. Greg Clark has convincingly shown that to be what happened in England up to the 19th century in A Farewell To Alms.

Yupped said...

Gulp. I kept looking for the bit where the united permaculture guilds restored the whole earth to peace and bounty. Isn't that supposed to happen somewhere along the line? Just kidding.

But it was interesting to sketch out an illustrative story, and helpful too. I agree about this being the second crisis of the industrial age, and that we have actually just lived through an age of relative calm. As a kid I heard many family stories of misery and chaos from the 1914- 1945 years (and even before 1914 there was plenty of conflict and chaos in Europe: war, depressions, injustice, famines and migrations). But somehow I grew up with a sense that my generation, my time, was going to be different - that the grown-ups had finally figured it all out and that we would surely all live peace and prosperity.

Where did that sense come from? The optimism of the 60s? The natural optimism of a young adult? Consumer and political marketing? A generation's typical belief that they would avoid the mistakes of their parents? Some of each probably and various other things too.

But it's interesting to see how quickly and deeply this belief in progress took hold, because the stability of the post WWII years was only relative, with plenty of problems to deal with: the 50s had numerous crises; the 60s had Vietnam and social upheaval; the 70s had oil crises, terrorism and political upheavals. And the cold war ran through it all. There was only a very small number of years, during the 80s and 90s perhaps, when the industrial world really did seem stable. And that meant nothing if you lived in Yugoslavia or Russia or South Africa or Argentina or many other places across the globe.

Clearly the industrial world has been able to persuade itself that peace, prosperity and progress are the natural order of things. And that belief has gone deep. But it's surprising how deep it has gone, given so much evidence to the contrary even during the golden years of progress.

Ryan Reef said...


Hello. I am a newcomer to your blog. I have read through your last three posts and found them very interesting. I am curious if you have encountered the work of Jeremy Rifkin and his optimism regarding the possibility of a third industrial revolution. I was wondering if you (or any others on your site) have critiqued his work.



jonathan said...

i think at least one group has absorbed this message--billionaires. several of the world's richest are buying huge chunks of hawaii, including larry ellison's purchase of an entire island. sure, it's a great place for a fourth, fifth or sixth home, but it certainly looks as though these ultra ricos have chosen an easily defensible refuge.

hard to believe that they don't know something.

Roy Smith said...

Regarding Ebola, there is a report that Ebola 2014 Is Mutating As Fast As Seasonal Flu. If this is correct, then it is possible that Ebola may eventually evolve into another disease like influenza that is basically endemic in the human population, is fairly easily transmissible, and which is mostly a nuisance that most healthy people are able to survive. It may take 50-100 years to get to this point, however.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Groaf is simply economic growth which has a negative net cost to society.

Compare John Ruskin's concept of "illth", which Robert Anton Wilson says (in Prometheus Rising) "did not become accepted and incorporated into our language because people, at that time, were not ready for it."

It’s almost as if the American elites are hell-bent on imitating every cliché they ever heard of about the debauched elites of Caligula’s and Nero’s Rome or Marie Antoinette's Versailles.

I've often had the similar thought -- I may even have expressed it in this space -- that the American elite seem to be engaged in a vast and hideous social experiment: "How precisely can we duplicate the conditions that precipitated the American, French, and Russian Revolutions whilst, and at the same time, keeping the poors so frightened of what followed the last two that they will accept literally any alternative to toppling us from our perches?"

But, of course, it's not deliberate. If that were their actual goal, rather than being an inevitable concomitant of their determination to gather all the wealth in the world unto themselves at the total expense of literally everyone else, they'd at least display the rudiments of subtlety about it once in a way, instead of being so blatant that even the blind can see it and the truly sensitive (in the words of "Christian Technocrat" and authentic megalomane Hillman Holcomb) "should even be able to 'taste' it and 'smell' it."

It's people like this who I strongly suspect will be serving as decorative ornaments for various lamp-posts and trees in the not-so-distant future...

I won't attend any of their funerals, but in the words of a great American author, I'll send notes to each one saying I approve.

Tom Bannister said...

As someone who is still early in his life and will have to face much of this future (well ok the next 50-60 years if I'm lucky), I will have to admit I am a little dumbstruck by this latest post. And by that I mean i feel a kind of numbness. It appears I still have a few or more than a few 'progress' cells lingering in my body (not that that was unexpected). Its interesting because ever since I starting reading the Archdruid report I've contemplated the kind of future you're sketching out many times, but seeing it (or something like it rather) in such a clearly illustrated manner has still left me.. well like i said, dumbstruck.

As Violet said though, life is an adventure, and part of the fun of an adventure is not knowing exactly what will happen or when your number might be up. The future you've sketched out here certainly offers plenty of opportunities for adventure. Thanks for this heart stopping but highly illuminating post! I cannot tell you how helpful its been. (after your 'the next 10 billion years' post, probably my favorite!)

Kaitain said...

@ Kutaman:

Speaking of Indonesia and Sukhoi fighter jets, check out this little nugget. According to some reports, Indonesia recently signed a deal to buy 180 Russian combat jets, including Su-35 multi role strike fighters and T-50 PAK FA stealth fighters. Those are the latest and most advanced Russian fighter designs, and according to many aviation experts, outclass the F-35’s that the US and its allies are saddling themselves with by a considerable margin. At least one think tank Down Under is advocating jumping ship and negotiating a license production agreement with Sukhoi to build Su-35’s and T-50’s in Australia.

Based on military and long term strategic merits, this would make a lot more sense, but probably won’t fly due to political concerns. Still, as the downslope of the Long Descent grows steeper, Oz will have to start making other arrangements to replace the current one. If America starts coming apart at the seams or simply loses its grip on the global strategic order, there will be a number of imperial satrapies, including Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan and Israel that will be looking to make other arrangements with China and/or Russia. Indeed, there have already been rumors circulating in diplomatic and military circles that Israel has been quietly negotiating with Russia and India to join the T-50 program as a partner as an alternative to the F-35.

Sixbears said...

So I had to ask myself: how did my ancestors survive? In short, mobility and adaptability. They usually got out just before an area fell apart. I've Jewish ancestors who got out of Germany ahead of Hitler. They boarded the boat as Jews and landed in Canada as Catholics.

Rarely did my ancestors have much money, but they were willing to move to new places, learn the language and find something interesting to do.

You know how some families have a long military history? Mine were usually at the wrong place or the wrong age to join armies.

Having given up on the dream of infinite progress, I've have to find something else to sustain me. As it turns out there's lots of good and interesting things that can be done on the downward slide. Strong ties to family and friends can be worth much more than money.

I had the advantage of growing up in a dying mill town. Decades of local decline demonstrated to me that progress was not universal. My friends who grew up prosperous suburbs have a totally different mindset -which is weird considering how their lives are a struggle.

Your blog has been a useful mental exercise for me. Can't wait to so see how the next few decades play out. Hope to be around as I'd hate to miss the show.

Sven Williams said...

Thank you again for your weekly drop of sanity in a roiling and rising sea of otherwise!

It chills me to think that at 28, I'm young enough to watch in horror as this emerging second crisis picks up steam, and may even live long enough to witness its climax and conclusion, all the while living with the memories of how comparatively easy and carefree things were in my youth. How much worse it must be for someone who's had time to start careers, mortgages, and families! I'm just wallowing in wage labor with a huge pile of student debt.

In a few decades, I can't wait to tell the whippersnappers how worked up a nation got over trivialities. On the other hand, I know they won't want to hear it.

Kyoto Motors said...

A little more chilling than your account of the next five billion years from a while back, but so it goes... I do suspect that Greenland will be one hell of a wild card! Hard to know when exactly, but when it does finally happen, well, you nailed it!
Since I never got around to weighing in last week, allow me to comment on Krugman here: I thought the funniest thing about the article was how it just simply ended abruptly, as though it had proved something beyond the need to go on, which of course it had not. To use a sufficiently polite, albeit dated (and very Canadian term), what a hoser!
Thanks as always for the weekly read. Will finally be getting to Star's reach this autumn too!

wiseman said...

Interesting assessment, I understand that it's just your imagination but I still have one question, for someone who says that change happens incrementally you've jampacked a lot of catastrophic events in this century.

As far as the predictions go I look forward to commenting again about this particular post in Dec 2015 if I am still alive and this blog is still running :)

Darren Urquhart said...

I'm thinking now the worst thing about dying is being denied the chance to see how all this plays out. Hopefully I get to see the next 50 or so years. If there is an existence after this one I would be happy with a comfy chair and bag of popcorn to see how this peculiar species of mammal navigates its future.

YJV said...

I just finished and handed in a 15 page university systems engineering subject research portfolio titled "The Feasibility of Airships in a Post Peak-Oil future" (Yes, I chose the topic). If there's any technology that can stands a chance of maintaining viable air transport in an energy-starved future, it's airships. Ultralight aircraft would only possibly be used as a military substitute to today's fighter planes I reckon.

I'm thinking of condensing the report and submitting it for your year long tech competition - that is, if it's still open by the time I finish exams in three weeks.

Also, with your timeline: you didn't mention it but I'm sure one of the first actions of a hegemonic Australia would be to integrate NZ, either willingly or by force. I'm grateful to be a Kiwi, looking at the future - the country is likely to survive climate change the most unharmed, it's hard to get to compared to most other countries, relatively isolated and generally able to support enough crops to be self-sufficient (especially once the temperatures get warmer). The future is an unknown territory, but I seem to be slightly luckier than others. Only time will tell.


Joel Caris said...

Hi Paul,

At the risk of being brusque myself, of course there's room for trying to make things fairer. What's stopping you?

One of the things I've come to find fascinating in discussions here and elsewhere about a harsh future, is this idea that if the future's going to be worse than the present, then what's the point of trying to do good?

What's odd to me about this is the implicit assumption that if you can't fix the world as a whole, you can't do good.

It's a near-lock certainty that not you, not me, not anyone here is going to do a single thing that will impact the entirety of the world's population. Or a majority of it. Or even a few million people.

But you, and me, and our esteemed host, and every other reader and commenter is perfectly capable of engaging in actions right at this moment, and throughout the rest of their life, that can make the world a touch better. Similarly, we can engage in actions that will make it worse. And a heck of a lot of the time, we won't be able to accurately figure out ahead of time which way an action is going to affect things.

But we can absolutely attempt to make the world fairer, and better, and to improve the lives of a very small number of people. People in our lives. Friends and family members and neighbors and so on.

None of us are going to fix the world. It's going to rumble along it's course, and there's a pretty excellent chance that the immediate future is going to be worse than the present and immediate past. So it goes. But that hardly keeps us from making it a touch less worse, and that work is worthwhile. What the heck else are we going to do?

Our own actions are all we control. So the only response we have is our own response, our own particular actions. So, tomorrow, get to work making the world fairer if that's what you want to see happen. That's all you can do--and that's a beauty, not a condemnation. Embrace it.

Kylie said...

Exciting times ahead for Australia! It may interest you to know that we are the finest spot in the Southern Hemisphere for launching satellites and rockets. I was looking forward to us getting off the American teat, but the Chinese bosses probably won't be any more accommodating than the old British ones. Did you see where we're planning to export liquid natural gas at world export prices much higher than our own, while refusing to reserve or subsidise any for our own use? Apparently this is good for 'growth' and 'the economy' and therefore a great thing, despite the prospect of $400 increases in the annual power bill. Progress! Such is life, as the big Aussie philosopher says.

Your abandoned Pittsburgh factories have an interesting counterpart over here in the abandoned farmhouses scattered through the countryside, where one farmer after another has been driven broken and forced off the land by fire, flood, drought or pests. Quite spooky to look at from the road, and hopefully a repellent to the progress fairy.

Mark Rice said...

I liked the phrase "the Procrustean bed of the conventional wisdom".

I have been finding conventional wisdom to be more and more procrustean. The news media seems to be using an ever shrinking handful of narratives to contain the news. I find what people call the MSM to be extremely procrustean in it's treatment of reality. I prefer to call this "standard narrative news" instead of "main stream media".

Wanting to know what reality is about is one thing that keeps me coming back to this blog.

I have experienced reactions to discussing some of these topics with people stuck in some of the standard narratives. I suggested to a co-worker the thought that more expensive energy could have something to do with the anemic economy. This person's knees jerk in the Fox News direction. He few into a rage. To him it was all about less government. If we had less government then everything would be better -- end of story.

Another person whose knees jerk in the more "progressive" direction finds the sort of topics discussed here to be too distressing. She labels these sorts of things "conspiracy theories". I realize this label is not precise use of the language. These ideas that are a bit outside of the mainstream do cause distress in many different people.

Donald Hargraves said...

I actually saw a news article on the F-35, in which the weaknesses of the aircraft were reported on in full detail. What was more interesting was that the same article also talked about there being a ten year wait for a redesign of the airplanes, with the implication that the whole of the American Armed Forces were stuck with them – and, if Kaitain's right, ONLY the American Armed forces are stuck with them. And since there's no sign that the next airplane(s) is/are being designed, this may be the LAST airplane the armed forces are given....

In other news, the whole of the Apple iPhone and iPad lines that were rolled out this fall have shown to have major weaknesses in them – weaknesses not in the previous versions of the iPhones and iPads. Bendable iPhones (the Sapphire fronts must have failed them, so they went with Gorilla Glass and tried to use U2 to distract the masses) and iPads with shorter battery life (thinner is not always better) may be a blip, or – as I fear with the F-35 – the beginning of the terminal decline of the brand.

And finally, I'm still recovering from the impossibly rapid decline of four blue jeans I recently bought from Target (two tore in front, three had tears in their back pocket, a third tore on the side after a couple of months, and the remaining one's fraying on the upper leg). I'm now running short on jeans and am fearful enough to not have bought new ones since.

In short: Not only has the Progress Fairy been pink-slipped, but it appears that he's been replaced by the Collapse Demon, and that guy has started taking a sadistic pleasure in his work.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Dear heather,

My sincere condolences on the death of your cat.

John Michael Greer said...

Heather, I'm very sorry about your cat -- I've been through the same experience, and it ain't easy. As for the sudden slap of the Cold Wet Mackerel of Reality across the face, yes, it's much the same -- think of what it would have been like for people in the summer of 1914, going from ordinary peacetime to the Great War in 37 days with no warning.

Tom, it might make an interesting novel; we'll see if anybody offers me an adequate advance.

Ecologist, yes, it's difficult to break out of the conventional wisdom! The only thing I know of that makes it easier is plenty of history books, which bit by bit communicate the way things actually happen.

ChemEng, that's excellent news. The more people with their hands actually on the levers of systems start to grasp the shape of the future, the better off we're all likely to be.

Paul, of course there's a point in trying to make things fairer, so long as you don't delude yourself into thinking that you can achieve Utopia. There are plenty of moments in history when a given society can become more just or less so, more compassionate or less so, more tolerant or less so, and it's usually small groups of committed people who are willing to take action at those moments that decide things one way or the other. What history tells us is that there's no inherent trend toward betterment -- not that we can't make things better if we're willing to put ourselves on the line for that purpose.

Violet, if you grasp just how harsh things are likely to be, and still see it as a grand adventure, you're well prepared for the future.

Kutamun, quite a few SF authors have Australia as a Chinese possession in the future -- I'm remembering Cordwainer Smith especially, who imagined Australia in the 25th century or so as Aojou Nambien, one vast Chinese city covering the whole Australian continent...

Mister R., I expect to see drug legalization and mass pardons as we proceed, for the reason you've indicated -- lack of funds to maintain the prison system. Still, most incarcerated people get out after a few years anyway, you know.

GreenEngineer, no, I hadn't heard of "groaf." I assume you mean a negative net benefit to society -- a negative net cost would amount to a gain, for the same reason that -(-1) equals 1.

Kaitain, the American elite classes have always had a huge inferiority complex when it comes to European aristocracy. It would come as no surprise at all to me if they were all saying, "We can too be just as decadent, useless, and self-defeating as the Ancien Regime, so there!"

Dfr, a comment based on Dune is always welcome here. The Litany Against Fear, by the way, is worth remembering and using as we head into a troubled future!

Hadashi, exactly. Decline and fall is just business as usual.

Derv said...

I think some of the conflict and confusion you've described about your model of the future is simply a product of a lack of good terminology for all this. I see in the comments some attempts to add a little clarity with terms like groaf and illth, but it's still not nailed down.

Of course, there are plenty of legitimate doomers out there who really think we're on the cusp of total extinction or a Mad Max world in the next three minutes or so, but I think a fair number of people categorized this way would actually agree with your model quite a bit. What you mean by "collapse" and what they mean by "collapse" can be two very different things, due to the fuzziness of the term. The world financial system falling apart, the death of the dollar, rolling over the downward slope after the peak of total liquids production, the end of growth, pandemics, war and government default are all things that are easily lumped into the category of "collapse."

Not a big insight, I know, but I just don't want us all to be talking past each other from language limitations. There's a crash, a recession, a depression, hyper/de-flation, and perhaps even an apocalyptic catastrophe on the horizon, all of which might be considered the "collapse" line to others. So perhaps some more precision is in order.

For instance, we could say that the start of "decline" is the point where US or world economic production trends inexorably downward (perhaps on a per capita basis), in which case we are probably already in decline. "Collapse" could be the point where, for the majority of the US (or world, for world collapse, etc.) can no longer depend on the infrastructure systems that we've become accustomed to. A world where you don't get a "job" because there's no longer such a thing as hiring, but merely getting by on your own; a world where a tornado rips half your town apart, and nobody comes from anywhere to help you, nor do we even expect the govt to; a world where exchanging dollars for euros is the process by which you pick your favorite toilet paper; and so on. The "crash" could be when all the silly games of passing around bits and paper to generate "wealth" (which is so abstracted from reality as to be meaningless) falls apart, and the bubbles pop, and you can make a living only by doing something that actually has value.

These are just suggestions, but I honestly think some set of definitions offered up by you would be of great benefit. The situation currently reminds me of the ancient Romans attempting to discuss Greek philosophy in Latin - their disciplined, practical language was hopelessly unfit for parsing the various schools of Hellenistic thought. So they stole a chunk of the Greek language outright and added two new declensions.

I don't know of any Greek we can steal from for this topic, but we need something.

Unknown said...

Excuse me while I deal with heart sickening,floor just dropped out from under me feeling. There...6 deep breaths, maybe a little better now. At least this story is a little more optimistic than listening to Guy McPherson. But you're right, this is a very large lump of probable reality to swallow as opposed to continuing to believe in Santa Claus. Back to getting ready for this.

John Michael Greer said...

Pinku-sensei, no doubt. Detroit being Detroit, they were probably just jealous because the money wasn't going into white people's pockets.

William, no argument there. The hoopla about "ephemeralization" makes me wonder if any of the people who use that word know that what it actually means is "making something short-lived..."

Ventriloquist, good. Thank you.

Pyrrhus, are you volunteering to risk being weeded out of the gene pool?

Yupped, good. You're getting it. The fantasy of "everything's all right" is deeply rooted these days, but it's very recent. A glance back over history is a good corrective.

Ryan, industrial revolutions require adequate energy and other resources. We're running out of those. It's very comforting for people like Rifkin to insist that progress can just keep chugging on, via yet another industrial revolution, but the facts don't bear him out. If you're interested in a more detailed discussion, I suggest my book The Long Descent.

Jonathan, I think a lot of people know that the excrement is on its way toward the rotary impeller. The rich are simply in a position to do something about it -- though I suspect they won't last long in those island hangouts. Once the rule of law collapses, what's to keep their armed guards from arranging for a few weapons-related accidents and taking everything for themselves? Historically speaking, that's usually how such schemes end up.

Roy, thanks for the link! If that's true, the chances of a vaccine that will apply to more than a limited number of Ebola strains are not good. Ouch.

Tuxedo, I think we're going to watch one of the all-time classic examples of elite senility and its usual consequences. Thing is, it's not just a lack of subtlety; they seem to be ignoring every option that might defuse the situation or buy them a little time. Thanks for the reminder about illth -- I need to reread Ruskin, anyway.

Tom, good. You're young enough to have a very high chance of seeing a lot of the impending crisis, and if you pay close attention now and make such preparations as you can, you've got a better than average chance of coming through it in one piece. Seeing it as an adventure is a good start!

Sixbears, that's a useful heritage to have just now.

Sven, the whippersnappers may be sitting around you, wide-eyed, listening to your stories. It's going to be a wild time.

DW said...

All this and no mention of unmanned nuclear facilities? Coal ponds? Or silting reservoirs? Let alone fragile turbines and panels..

There comes a point in the raveling where the sweater ceases to be. And then the lights go out.

irishwildeye said...

Last Monday afternoon at work I had lots of time to think (I was hand weeding). I discovered the link to Mary Odum's brilliant essay CLUTCHING OUR WORLD VIEWS WITH A DEATH GRIP, here on the Archdruid's blog and it has been much on my mind of late.

Will Ebola turn out to be an irresistible force of nature, on a collision course with the immovable object that is the modern western mindset. In so many ways this creature seems ideally placed to exploit so much of the folly of the last three decades. The payday maybe here and it may get very ugly soon.

I’ve long known that industrial civilization was doomed, but at some point in the future. Like I knew that I must die - but at some point in the future. Last Monday I came to terms with the fact that both of these things may happen sooner rather than later, because of Ebola. It was a liberating thought, in that I resolved to make the best use of what ever time is left.

Suddenly my step was quicker and more urgent, the autumn leaves and the overhead clouds seemed more vivid. It was great to be alive. I resolved to do more of the good things in life more often (nature, friends, music, cycling, etc). Monday’s bike ride home from work on quiet backroads through the Irish countryside was sublime.

By the time I got home on Monday evening I was full of warm fuzzy positive feelings about Ebola and ready to face what ever is coming. Thanks to the Archdruid, Mary Oden and the Ebola virus I had a wonderfully productive day.

If the Ebola epidemic is not contained in the next few months and goes pandemic it will do a power of good in clearing up a lot of delusional thinking very quickly.

Redneck Girl said...

Perhaps it's my innate romanticism for the natural world but I'm not too concerned with the Progress Fairy's dismissal. Some of the rough times ahead are a bit of a downer but without those times you can't get there from here! While the natural world isn't all warm and fuzzy she will work with you if you work with her. You just have to remember that whether or not you want to admit it, you DO belong, she is as much a part of you as you are a part of her.

Don't fear Nature and our ultimate fate, it is a natural ending and beginning. That is the miracle of life and Nature. That is our immortality


John Michael Greer said...

Kyoto, if you glance back at the ten-billion-year retrospective, the next century was going to be even worse than I outlined here: "more than a dozen major wars, three bad pandemics, widespread famines, and steep worldwide declines in public health and civil order" was the summary. That, this, and my other future histories are all within the same set of error bars, though.

Wiseman, how many catastrophic events took place in the 20th century? Make a list sometime; it's worth doing. Then do the same thing for the 19th, the 18th, and any other century you care to name. History is jampacked with catastrophic events.

Darren, I know the feeling! My one regret about not being immortal is that I'm enough of a history buff to want to see how all this works out.

YJV, ultralights are much cheaper, they can be built in a basement workshop, and they're superior for what I suspect will be the primary uses of flight during the coming dark age -- principally military reconnaissance. Airships will come later, perhaps in the ecotechnic renaissance of the 28th century. As for New Zealand, of course -- if Australia doesn't make it a protectorate, someone else will.

Kylie, if too many farms get abandoned, it'll be interesting to see where people get their food as global shipping breaks down.

Mark, yes, I get the same thing fairly often. Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and walk away.

Donald, oh, I think it's a collapse fairy. There are wicked fairies, too, in the old stories. I imagine this one with a dwarfish stature, big yellow eyes, a toothy grin, dressed in rags coated with concrete dust and holding a magic wand that turns all things to ruin...

Derv, that's an interesting point. One of the reasons I use stories as often as I do is precisely that they communicate very clearly what I'm trying to say -- better, I think, than a definition can.

Unknown, good. You're getting it.

DW, most of those are issues in a fast collapse, not a slow, ragged, fractal one. You'll notice that by the end of the story, though, nobody has an industrial society left, and everything you've mentioned can easily enough be wrapped up into that process.

Irishwildeye, I went through something of the same thing once I started tracking the spread of Ebola and realized that the peak and imminent decline of human population could be upon us right now. Mind you, I've known for decades that such a moment was going to arrive, and so was as ready for it as I could be, but it's still one of those moments where you take a deep breath, steady yourself, and go forward.

daelach said...

I guess with times getting rougher, it's be a good idea to put effort into physical training - now. Lifting weight gives strength not only for fighting, but also for physical work or carrying load. And of course learning to fight in case of need. Since there is no defence against multiple opponents, getting some street wisdom is useful for avoiding such situations in the first place: is a good start, lessons from areas where security has always been scarce. Violence in reality differs vastly from movies, and finding that out the hard way may prove.. unpleasant.

@ Paul: Assuming you are a US citizen, the US consume around 25% of the global ressources with just 5% of the global population. Fight for global equality would imply to drop the average US consumption (that means: also yours!) by 80%. In case you were Western European, the drop still would make 60%. Alternatively, having 80% (resp. 60%) of the global population die would render equality possible. Since neither is exactly popular in the West, global equality stays a lip service as long as the global deindustrialisation is still in the future. And then, it will be equality towards poverty.

@ Mister Robuto: Guess where the warlords will get their armies from.. partly from prisons, partly from ex-soldiers who found that their loyalty oath to the US was rather one-sided (means: the government cheated them as usually).

@ Jonathan: The rich will be quite surprised what happens when they need this refuge. In such a scenario, the cut-off will not only spare them the nasty aspects, but also the flood of goods they are used to. Getting that rich is only possible through the work of others, and if these others can't reach them because they retreated, they will find that they will have to actually work for a living instead of manipulating a complex financial system. A horse without rider is still a horse, but a rider without horse isn't a rider anymore.

Not to mention that those who are supposed to locally defend them might find out that they actually would do better without them - a lesson from the warlords of Ancient Rome.

Brian Kaller said...


Thanks again. My apologies if you explained this in a previous post and I missed it, but why do you consider the 1914 – 1954 cycle the beginning of the decline? By most measures I can think of – energy use, population, technology – we’d be in the peak right now.

I can see that it was a series of disruptions, but so were the series of wars that swept Europe and its global colonies from the 1760s to the 1810s, relative to the population and technology of its time. If you argue that the 20th century destruction was greater, that greater energy use in turn justifies us being the peak and not the Victorians. I’m not criticising, just curious.

Tom Bannister said...

- YJV (and also JMG if you're interested)

You might be familiar with this Australian 'New Zealand Invasion- 100% There for taking' Video

Tbh though also speaking as a New Zealander I reckon if the Aussies (or maybe China if we're unlucky) do think about invasion and/or forced integration of some kind they'll try and avoid a direct military occupation if possible. Our terrain is ideally suited for a domestic insurgency plus we have plenty of illegitimate firearms own in rural areas...

P.S: Thanks for the encouragement JMG!

KL Cooke said...

" certainly looks as though these ultra ricos have chosen an easily defensible refuge."

I wonder if said elites believe their refuges are easily defensible, or defensible at all against even a modest, but trained invasive force.

Think of the battles for the Pacific islands during WWII.

What will these guys do, throw cocktail umbrellas at the LSTs?

KL Cooke said...

"...the beginning of the terminal decline of the brand."

Apple has always seemed to me to be something of a cult. The test of a cult, or any social movement, is whether or not it can it survive the death of its founder.

Avery said...

Was this a response to the commentator last week who asked you for a succinct summary of all your predictions? I have to admire such a willingness to throw everything out there. I actually spent the week preparing my own list, not of your predictions, but of Oswald Spengler's, which are equally compelling. I invite readers to take a look:

Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West: The 100th Anniversary Update

Snoqualman said...

If there is a silver lining here for me, it is the suggested return of radio as a means of communication. I'm old enough to remember the glory days of shortwave broadcasting. Another victim of the internet, though there are still a few holdouts, notably Radio Habana Cuba for North Americans.

Of course the sound quality could be atrocious, interference abounded, and whistling heterodynes might pierce your auditory brain centers. But it was fun, and it sounded like it was coming from far away, which it was. Naturally propagated via the ionosphere at no charge.

I miss it. I recently took up ham radio, which is fine, but it can't replace shortwave broadcasts, and the thrill of hearing a fluttery signal from the other side of the world, coming directly to you without any of this fragile infrastructure which, even I must admit, does allow us to enjoy The Archdruid Report.

It was "real" - not a product of endless 1's and 0's. And such fun trying to identify obscure languages. I hope it returns. And if the power stays on, maybe even with the deeply reassuring orange glow of vacuum tubes.....

Marc L Bernstein said...

Your narrative is more-or-less devoid of any sort of moral prognostication. This is not a criticism but an observation.

However, it suggests that those persons (religious leaders, philosophers, etc.) expounding a moral perspective may play little role in the historical events you imagine, unless such persons also possess a timely brand of charisma modeled to meet the needs of the time.

I wonder what Chris Hedges (who combines scholarship and a moral voice with democratic political activism) would think about your narratives, which perhaps are built along lines of thought influenced by Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, among others.

Other scholarly and moral voices include Noam Chomsky and Henry Giroux.

For example, the "good" relative to our time in history might include

- simplicity
- honesty
- a modest form of asceticism
- a balanced mix of enlightened self-interest and genuine self-sacrifice
- courage, meaning standing up for the poor and less privileged while holding fast to consistent moral imperatives
- etc.

The "bad" relative to our time in history might include

- extravagance
- greed
- dishonesty
- cowardice
- hoarding
- scapegoating
- violence mixed with aggression
- abandonment of reason (?)
- etc.

Along with various ecologists such as Garret Hardin, I view ethics as profoundly situational. What is good in 1 circumstance can be less than good in others. What is clearly evil in 1 circumstance might be (sadly) expedient and necessary in another.

An example would be the issue of generosity towards those who have become climate refugees. As you suggest, letting them in has its downside, while closing your borders meets with a different set of problems. Where does ethics fit in?

This issue of changing morality as history unfolds is a large topic and one you might decide to address at a later time.

Marc L Bernstein said...

A couple of little side notes:

India and Russia were conspicuous by their absence in your narrative of the geopolitical dynamics of the next 100 years or so.

The melting of a substantial portion of the Himalayan glaciers may play a major role in the problems faced by China in the next 100 years or so. If China ever does become a global hegemon as you suggested, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers might play a role in toppling it from this position, perhaps through civil wars over dwindling food resources due to insufficient fresh water for irrigation purposes.

As a result of global warming, within 100 years or so major portions of northern Russia will have a far more agreeable climate than they do today. This would cause Russia to be a target for the migration of climate refugees, many of which would be escaping from unlivable desert-like conditions farther to the south.

Regions in the southern hemisphere which are far from the equator, such as Patagonia, may suddenly become attractive places to live as the climate warms.

Similarly, regions of northern Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and islands such as the Baffin islands, Ellesmere island and others may become livable, although this might take quite awhile, perhaps 200 years or more.

Judy said...

I guess I am one of those late-comers to your work that missed the wrinkle of the first stage of the collapse and now everything makes so much more sense.

I kept thinking that when people talked about collapse they must be talking about the US, because the UK had already collapsed. OK so we are making a good pretence at trying to stand shoulder to shoulder, but I just felt that the next crash wasn't going to hit us quite so hard because as an empire we had already collapsed. That is not to say that the fallout wasn't going to cut us down further, but just that it couldn't be 'our' collapse.

I also felt that the whole collapse situation was being viewed from the US, and envisioned the whole world collapsing with it. But there are countries on the periphery who aren't going to be damaged to the same extent. But I see where you are coming from with the cascading events.

So now I understand a bit better the stages. I don't think our brains were intended to know this much. There is probably a reason we don't know what is going to hit us until it hits. I don't suppose weeping for my children will ease anything. Short of that what else can I do other than try to make the most of every last minute?

Somewhatstunned said...

Paul and JMG:

Paul used the words "making the world a better place" and that phrase always makes me squirm.

Having an explicit ambition to "make the world a better place", stated in those exact words, is dangerous. It cannot be done with any certainty and seeing yourself as someone who can improve "the world" can be hubristic and prevent you from seeing what is really going on and what your actions are really doing.

No, I think the thing to go for is "making the world less bad, in certain respects, than it otherwise would have been". That ambition is most certainly doable, and because it sounds so modest and unexciting is unlikely to give you over-exalted idea about yourself ...

Phil Harris said...

Good ol' Fred or young Fred. Heather, I remember our Ellie and I was away and drove 300 miles like the wind and though she hung on I missed her by 10 minutes. I was late starting the drive.

JMG wrote: "-- think of what it would have been like for people in the summer of 1914, going from ordinary peacetime to the Great War in 37 days with no warning."

Well ... "It will be over by Christmas".

Phil H

Peter Nelson said...

Hello Archdruid,

while I find your posts often insightful and erudite, I consider your arguments suggesting a century-long decline unconvincing.

All your historical examples have one thing in common that is not shared with today's situation: they were regional, whereas this one affects us globally. There are no moderating outside forces/civilizations that could dampen or slow our current downward trajectory.

In addition, during all the previous downfalls of complex civilizations, the mechanization of agriculture was nowhere near as pervasive and progressed.

From these observations follow three major aspects of the ongoing decline that your perspective does not, in my humble opinion, include to their full extent.

1. The sheer scale of globalization and interdependence has made global finance extremely important in maintaining the ever crucial supply chains. A very likely breakdown of one major bank can easily put global trade on hold. Letters of Credit will not be issued anymore, halting the transport of goods and foodstuff in particular in virtually a couple of weeks. No country on earth, except maybe Russia and a couple of sub-saharan African countries, has a sufficient level of autarchy to sustain a level of functioning for more than a couple of months. Certainly not the US, Europe and a large part of Asia.

2. The mechanization of agriculture has led to a severe atrophy of manual skills on how to plant, maintain, harvest and store crops. This is compounded by future shortages of fertilizers, pesticides and replacement parts. Í cannot perceive how governments or farmers will be able to soften the shortfalls if just one crucial aspect in this increasingly vulnerable supply chain breaks down. This is an unprecedented development of our time that cannot be compared to previous collapses of civilizations.

3. Negative feedback loops are much more pronounced and immediate in their effects on a global and and interdependent civilization such as ours. Whereas the collapse of Rome had only a moderate effect on agricultural output, and the US could take over from the British Empire, this is not the case with our crumbling global financial system or our diminishing return on oil. All major and most minor economies are part of the financial system, and all are affected if one major center crumbles under its weight. The effects are immediate and will likely affect all of them.

Given these reservations I find it much more likely that anything that resembles our current civilizational setup or the current nation-states will not be in existence anymore in about 30 years time. I expect the devolution of our civilization to occur over a much shorter time frame this time around.

streamfortyseven said...

It's an interesting scenario - especially about the wars and occupations and fighter jets and invasiion forces and the like, but something is being missed, here, and that's the fact that it takes a certain kind of energy to fuel fighter jets and, indirectly or directly, fleets of invasion craft and tanks and motor vehicles.

Two things - that kind of energy is being rapidly depleted, for one, and the physical infrastructure required to make that kind of energy is pretty fragile - and very flammable. Destroying oil refineries is a pretty simple thing, a couple of missiles will do the trick - even something as simple as strafing fire using tracer will put the refinery out of business and set the distilled fuels on fire. The same goes for oil fields, inland and at sea. No jet fuel and the aircraft can't fly - that's the main thing that put the Luftwaffe out of action and sealed Germany's fate - even though they put a coal-to-liquids program in place in a hurry, it still wasn't good enough.

Over and above energy, there's food - and most importantly, water. Three days without water and the best soldier is out of action; and if the soldier is drinking dirty, polluted, or poisoned water, potentially even worse results quickly occur...

I'd recast the forecast taking these logistical factors into consideration - the results might be different.

Κασσάνδρα said...

This is the first time I post a comment after 3 years of reading your blog so please allow me some general comments and questions. First of all thanks for another insightful post. The first thing I do every Thursday morning (Greece time) is to read your blog. I really enjoyed reading The Ecotechnic Future, and so far have found the Green Wizardry to be one of the most valuable guides for the practical handling of our difficult future. After Oil waits patiently on top of my reading list. I have translated in Greek and posted on my blog the “An Elegy for the Age of Space”, which is one of my favorites. (
I mostly made my blog for warning my friends about the troubles of our falling civilization and I can say that they understand that things will not be rosy. Many more translations will follow from your latest series on the future of industrial civilization, with your permission.
I was always afraid of a pandemic as it is one of the troubles of a falling civilization that an individual can do little about it, especially if his/her family has small children. That said I hope that we would be lucky and Ebola will stay an epidemic and not a pandemic.
I found your posts on climate change greatly insightful. Do you have any book recommendation about paleoclimatology of South Europe, so I can find similar historical data about my location?
Also, as I bought a copy of Spengler’s Decline of the West, I can say that it is not what I expected. I expected a history book from the eyes of a historian who endorses the rise and fall of civilizations cycle, but so far I have found a treatise on history science which is difficult to read even if it is translated to my native language. Furthermore, this book presupposes that you know history from other sources. I will still finish reading it but I would like to have some history books that my child can learn history through the viewpoint of Toynbee and Spengler but not restricted to some highlights of civilizations’ histories that enhance the specific viewpoint. So, could you (as a history buff) propose me some history books that are analytical and earthly and unbiased? I know that an answer to that may include a great many books, but maybe it is an idea for a future post of yours about various history books for every civilization. From a answer to a commenter to a previous post I put on my book wish list Michael Grant’s The History of Rome and Bryan Ward-Perkins' The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.
Thank you again for your devotion to informing us about the perils of our future. I always believed that only the informed can be prepared for the future.

Matt said...


I'm puzzled as to why you identify 1914-54 as the first cycle as, at first sight, it wasn't driven by the ecological or resource limits you highlight elsewhere.

Do you have any material that could help me understand this any better?



Leo said...

One tradition that's slowly retuning in the classic city siege. Kobane is only the first, and a fairly odd one at that.

Since cities have lots of wealth there a target for warbands.

Defenders: YPG light infantry with AKs and RPGs, limited ammo.

Attackers: ISIS with tanks, artillery and unlimited ammo.

journalists diary of the experience:

Turns out that the Kurds won. Also as the was nerd has stated, ISIS is incmpetent/overhyped, so it might be an outlier

Brian Cady said...

Nurse blogs on Ebola prep. failures and challenges:

Spanish fly said...

Stupid question of the week:
Dear Archdruid, what do you think about this film?

Mmmm...Nolan space bats.

YJV said...

What about Hydrogen fuel produced through electrolysis aside from ethanol? Apparently there's thermal conduction methods (as you mentioned earlier, the Seebeck effect) or general wind turbine rotation etc. that can run a current to separate water molecules. It isn't particularly efficient, but in terms of creating a fuel that has bang for buck with limited technology, I'm wondering whether simple hydrogen production will be feasible. Of course compression is a bit of a problem there as well.

Somebody really needs to research this. Hopefully in the future there will be research institutes looking into transition technologies - I would definitely want to work in them.


sgage said...

@ JMG (and all),

I just happen to have a picture of the Progress Fairy, in her 'Petrolia' aspect:

Not really sure how to interpret the expression on her face...

onething said...

You might also have put into the mix a certain amount of famine or food shortage resulting from collapse of agribusiness due to topsoil loss, poisoning of the soil with pesticides and herbicides, depletion of aquifers, and so on.

zaphod42 said...

I use, when discussing impending collapse with family members who are captivated by our destiny in space, the staircase analogy. When eyes glaze over, I explain that what I mean is as opposed to a ramp of gradual decline. I expect a number of inter-spaced crises, some large and punishing, and others slight and easier to negotiate.

Of late I have seen a glimmering of awareness with one son. Daughters not so much yet.

We will have to wait for the black swan to deliver the next blow, and as you say, that is by definition unpredictable.



David said...


Serious gut-check for me with today's post. Conceptualizing decline and fall is one thing, seeing the possible context of the latter half of one's life written out in stark terms is something else. Many thanks for the motivation.

@Joel-- I agree. I have been moving myself away from the "fix the world and eradicate evil everywhere" mindset to "what can I do in my immediate sphere of influence to make the world slightly better than it otherwise would be" -- the shift in focus not anly renders one's actions more effective, but also helps to keep one sane.

onething said...

I note that several people are raeacting to this post as a sudden revelation of how bad things might get, yet for me your posts took a sharp turn southward about a month or so ago. This one I'm taking in stride.

Funny, I worry about myself or children/grandchildren being caught by violence or ebola, (and I second the motion that I want to live in part because I want to watch!) but I'm not particularly depressed about the futility of human goodwill in a time of decrease. I see little difference, really. After all, in times of increase, there are myriad sins going on, perhaps more covered up and less visible. But the overall sum doesn't change all that much. And if history is cyclic, then the seeds of each phase are planted in the other. I think one has an approximately equal change in either era of getting good ideas to stick and take hold in one's comrades, it's just that the impediments differ. Excepting perhaps during moments of the most intense crisis.

Kyoto Motors said...

Yes, but the overall effect of that earlier post was just a little more uplifting all the same - even if the same sort of near-term reality is present in both. It's not a criticism, but you have to admit, your "one thing after another" here is body-blow after body-body blow.
Luckily for us, the good news of day-to-day living, while it doesn't make headlines or history books as often, is still a daily occurence.

Claudia Oney said...

Gosh Paul, fighting for equality, sure, not unreasonable to think, 'why bother'. I'm not sure I can't go back to washing in hot water or using paper towels. Travel to Italy.
I see my little 3 acres with developing orchard, verdant garden, three lambs and a calf annually and milk and eggs all year around is now only a bit of cushion for my most immediate descendants.
This is very bitter. And sad. I have been reading the JMG for years and I think it just got through my head that dark days means, well, dark days.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

JMG, your imaginary history of the future brings to mind the stories I heard around the kitchen table as a youth, stories of disposession and flight in the face of competing armies in Eastern Europe starting with the first world war. These stories left me with a permanent distrust of any sort of permanent stability. If you hear enough stories of financial collapse, currency reforms, leaving for the train station with nothing more than a backpack because the Russians were coming in the other side of town, it's hard to take seriously the idea that the stockmarket will provide you with a comfortable retirement.
Anyone who takes your history of the future seriously not in the particulars but in the broad outline of disruption and uncertainty is already a step ahead of anyone who expects perpetual progress. Mental preparation is a valuable resource because when collapse or an invading army comes to your town, you won't be wasting time or energy saying, oh, no, this can't be happening.
Learning to farm and garden are useful skills, but only in a stable political environment that will recognize and defend your ownership of your plot of land. Ownership of arable land is a good hedge against economic collapse but becomes an emotional boat anchor that keeps you stuck in place when hostile armies advance.
Learning some foreign languages may be helpful. Learn the language of whoever you think is most likely to invade your neck of the woods.
In any case, an uncertain future is most likely unstable and your best hedge against that is to stay flexible and mobile.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

@Mark Rice: Mark, try 'the lamestream media'. Or to be pedantic, 'the corporate media'.

Simply wonderful post, JM - again!

RPC said...

(Possible duplicate - Blogger looks like it hasn't accepted - delete if so!)
Thank you for this! My own thought is that we're actually a good deal further down the slope of decline. One could base it at the 2008 financial collapse, the 2001 tech collapse and beginning of the US security state, or even 1980, when we began to live off our children (government debt) in earnest. Still, it's all pretty arbitrary!

"An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered." - G. K. Chesterton, "On Running After One's Hat"

Neo Tuxedo said...

Thing is, it's not just a lack of subtlety; they seem to be ignoring every option that might defuse the situation or buy them a little time.

They appear to honestly believe that those options would constitute aid and comfort to the International Communist Conspiracy. Look how they still react to the New Deal, which (as I believe I've said in this space before) was clearly a desperate attempt to save capitalism from the capitalists; you'd think FDR had called for guillotining of economic royalists on the National Mall, not just for letting a few crumbs fall to the floor.

FDR pushed the New Deal for the same reason Bismarck was the one to give Germany a social welfare system: because he recognized that there's only so far down you can grind the poor. At least, there was; with the advent of television, that most dangerous of drugs, it may in fact be possible (pace Lincoln) to fool all the people all the time. (I've meant to say, and may actually have said, that if someone could explain television to Trey so he understood it, not just understood but grokked it, he would grok in fullness why Meriga and the old world fell.)

donalfagan said...

I guess I've read enough scifi that none of what you wrote was that hard to imagine happening. Is it too late to sail off to the West?
Mr Roboto, JMG,
A complication to simply releasing prisoners is that some prisons are now privately run for profit. Hard to say whether these prisons will shut down because of non-payment, cling to the cheap labor force, or evolve into a reality show.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Joel,
thanks for your well worded response about "global" change. I try to focus all my efforts locally, to make a small change in a good way among those I'm close enough to see regularly (in person, of course), and whenever someone talks about "changing the world" (shudder), I try to redirect them into some local action. Think small, think local.
I seemed to think that you thought that a unipolar hegemonic empire would not be possible with the energy remaining after the US empire collapse, and that the following BRICS empires would be multipolar, yet you feature a unipolar Chinese global empire. Did I remember wrong, or have you changed your mind?
Also, didn't this round of crisis/collapse of the West begin with the oil crisis of the 70's, when the West began offshoring its industry to the third world, and shoved its working class into poverty? So, not only did the 1st round of collapse/decline begin in 1914, but this round actually began with the deindustrialization of the West that began in the late 70's and picked up speed in the 80s and 90s

Richard Larson said...

Did this illustration come easy for you Archdruid? I am exhausted just in reading it. Would be nice if this were reduced to a poetic ten line spell!

Andrew Brown said...

I have no quibbles with your future history. As you say, it's not particularly more dire than the past, just human striving with Progress edited out. A destabilized climate and a hangover of particularly destructive technologies piles on the troubles, but so be it.

I did want to chime in on another layer of this story - and one that I think is important in the "what - if anything - is to be done?" question. You mention the withdrawal of the state from many areas. Cultural anthropology has a lot to say about how people organize themselves in spaces that fall outside of direct state control - whether that's a jungle, desert or a slum. There will be pockets of stability, and innumerable experiments in self-organization. Human culture has never been unitary and will be less so as the global system falls apart.

Even if you are right that true ethogenesis has to be further down the road, culture is quicker to organize and adaptable even to crisis. Most will be swept away, probably, but when has that ever not been the case?

Most of our green-wizardly endeavors will leave no trace - but someone's will. In any case, humans find satisfactory living in all sorts of crazy situations - and nothing in your story exempts us from the need to work on that at least.

Eric S. said...

I was actually going to ask if you were planning on using any fiction to illustrate what you’re talking about during this series, since you’re dealing with much more concrete, on the ground details than you usually do and this tour of the future can be very difficult to grasp without letting us out of the bus and showing off the scenery once in a while. I hope there’ll be more. I think I first I really grasped what history looks and feels like on the ground when as a teenager I asked my grandmother about her life. I asked what it was like to live through the Great Depression and World War II against a backdrop of people and events that had slipped into legend. Her answer was that for her it was nothing special, she was just working. Pressed for details, her recollections were striking in their ordinariness: being warned to stay away from Hooverville at night, mixing sugar and hot water because she couldn’t afford tea or hot chocolate, singing at the cinema to get in free, sneaking to the harbor as a teenager to flirt with the navy men in uniform. Even people for those who were in the middle of the action: veterans, holocaust survivors, etc. those memories have a dreamlike quality, like details in someone else’s life that just can’t be reconciled with the normality of life on the other side. I can imagine being a teenager during the reign of Theodosius II, prying my grandparents for details of life during the death of Julian, the gothic wars, the splitting of the empire, the ban on the pagan cults and getting the same thing, vague dreamlike recollection against vivid memories of the flavor of the times. If I live through these crises to be Old Man Eric telling stories about my life to neighborhood children it’ll be much the same. Everyday life takes front and center. The rest is left for historians of a distant age, poring through fragments of ancient texts by the light of saltwater lamps in the Mormon Monasteries of Zion who farm camel crickets and water vegetables descended from dandelions with moisture vaporators.

Joe Roberts said...

It's a bit mind-blowing to consider that the first full cycle of decline has already occurred, and it's name is much of the first half of the 20th century. Accepting that requires a real reframing of how most Americans think of history: that the postwar boom years (the 50s, more or less) were the all-time apex of prosperous stability, surpassing anything seen before that.

If the first round of decline started in 1914, are we then to think of the 19th century -- with all its massive inequality, slavery and at the very least state-supported racial segregation, and unflinching colonialism -- as the pre-collapse apex of western civilization? That's the part that's hard to get my head around, but perhaps I'm looking at this in an overly dichotomous way.

Dmitry Orlov said...

I find it amusing that this detailed exposition of hypothetical history makes no mention of what transpires on a certain patch of dirt that is 11 time zones wide, adds up to about 1/5 of the Earth's dry surface, contains the lion's share of the world's industrial minerals and natural resources and, last but not least, is militarily invincible. Seems like a safe patch of dirt to ignore--while sitting in an emerald gazebo on Mars. To me the future this article describes is just one of the infinity of possible alternative universes, each a faithful model of what the future is NOT. But it's a fun exercise, and perhaps useful for discovering one's blindspots.

Dagnarus said...

Well the scenario which you have just laid out certainly disagrees with that laid out in the air traffic management seminar I recently attended. (My work has pretty much nothing to do with air travel in case people are wondering). They were projecting an expansion of the number of middle class people in the south east Asia region from five hundred million to 3 billion by 2030, they will of course all want to fly. I wonder which prediction will be closer to reality :) (And yes i realize that this post is not a prediction).

Also do stories such as this

influence your opinion off how likely China is to be the next imperial power?

latefall said...

For the Europeans who may feel a slight itch to do something in the light of JMG's essay - have a look at:
CAPS stands for "Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation"
And they have a call for proposals open since a few days! If you want to start smaller - just jump on one of the projects that tickles your fancy. If it is worth its salt they should be happy to take you on...

I am currently in the process of mashing together something between library, fablab, tool sharing, documentation...

@Paul: "Why fight for equality or a better standard of living for the greater number when such battles are rendered null and void by the lessons of history?"
Come, come - just because the odds are against us (in the end we are fighting entropy, and for all we know we won't win) is no reason to give up? There is still a minority of battles to be won. Make em count. Situations are never hopeless, only people are. It can always get worse.
If you feel the need to detach from "positive thinking" (something I highly recommend) give this a shot:

@Mister Roboto re "predisposed to criminal behavior":
While I am aware that prisons are perceived as a critical factor in crises, I am not really convinced it the predisposition to criminal behavior is a bigger problem than a predisposition to seriously unethical (e.g. selfish) behavior. You should make sure you keep the latter in check (in or out of prison).

@William Knight re "cloud": I agree to a large extent. I believe the term for the problem regarding power plant is "black start".
Also, whenever I hear "cloud" too much in IT-talk - I like to throw in a "on premises". I was thinking about putting a small server into the back rest of a comfy chair. During a cold winter the <10 W would not go to waste then. I guess that would be an embedded device...

@Jonathan re hawaii:
Not sure that is such a smart move if you are trying to stay safe. In a low tech world the sea is like a highway that allows you move a lot of loot relatively fast...
Will you bring guards? Enough? Too many?

@Daelach: Thanks for the link! Looks pretty good at first glance. I hope there's some more on de-escalation, running away, and poison. I find most resources lacking in that field. I just wonder how things would change if women took to carrying a small but readily available dose with them. Not really to win a fight but to ruin an assailant's week, or take them both down...

latefall said...

@dtrammel: possibly you could get some push for the Green Wizards project from CAPS as well...

I should say that you are smack in the target group.

magicalthyme said...

Heather, I'm so sorry for the loss of your kitty. It always sneaks up too soon, and it never is easy. I'm sure you gave Fred a wonderful life.

On Ebola, I recently stumbled across excerpts from an article on African treatments for Ebola from a survivor. You will need to force down daily, for 5-6 days straight, 1.3 gallons of water with a heavy dose of salt and sugar mixed in. As if the nausea and vomiting are not enough, your mouth and throat will be filled with sores. They are trying to make the drink more palatable and she mentioned she occasionally snuck orange juice into the mix.

Nurse 2, Amber Vinson, has been declared virus-free by her mother. No official confirmation, but if true it is in record time. Possibly she hit the jackpot on the experimental treatments -- time will tell.

On the new travel restrictions and monitoring, I'm guessing it's a twofer: recognition of the likelihood that there will be more Duncan's over time combined with political compromise over calls for complete travel ban.

The Ebola czar is probably strictly political cover, since he's a PR "fixit" person. I noticed he was given Obama's full authority, so Obama is distancing himself from political fallout by appointing a fall-guy should things go horribly wrong.

On the concerns about mutation, note that over time mutations trend away from virulence and toward greater compatibility with their host. This fits with evolution, where the longer a host survives, the more opportunities to pass to a new host. And it fits with the facts. Of course, there are always exceptions, where a lethal strain -- such as the 1917-1918 Spanish flu -- emerges, but the more lethal a strain is, the greater the likelihood that it will burn itself out.

In the meantime, my hospital system has gone from totally ignoring it to a week's worth of daily email updates. An overstaffed, overpaid administration justifying its existance. (walks away shaking head).


Seaweed Shark said...

This was a very entertaining way of making your point.

I had been under the impression that Toynbee identified the 1914-1945 period not as the first stage of decline, but as the "time of troubles" that ends the creative phase of a civilization and brings on its imperial phase, which could last many hundreds of years before actually declining.

Perhaps it's the same thing -- but I've read Toynbee and as far as I recall he doesn't say a thing about resource exhaustion as a cause of decline, at least not in his magnum opus. He seems to find the cause of decline in the inexorable working out of the inherent life cycle of the civilization, never mind whether there are resources around or not. Only in some of his late works does the idea of resource exhaustion kind of creep shamefacedly in, from the side. But enough about that.

I would be interested to read your thoughts on one of the most famous earlier examples of the type of story you told in this post. I know a number of these came out during the 1970s and 80s, but I am particularly thinking of the near-future chapters of Olaf Stapledon's "Last and First Men". How does Stapledon's vision of the fall of the 'first men' differ, in general theme, from your own? If I remember right he did lay heavy emphasis on the exhaustion of fossil energy as a cause of decline, and he represented human society as being so consumed with its own fantasies as to ignore the crisis in the room, all of which appears to follow your own thinking but which must have been ground-breaking ideas in 1930.

Your blog remains one of my most anticipated weekly reads and always provides much to think on.

steve pearson said...

Apropos the prison systems and population, I believe that, in addition to the legalization of drugs or non prosecution for possession, one will see a return to penal servitude.This could take the form of the old Soviet gulag system or prisoners being used for road repair, salvage, farm labor, etc.There would probably also be a return to fairly summary capital punishment for more serious crimes.I can see forms of banishment and shunning returning to smaller communities. I doubt this will all be a sudden shift world wide, but I think the general trend will be in this direction.
Of course, during the earlier stages of decline, a lot of prisoners will end up in someones war band, probably along with the cops who put them in jail in the first place. Interesting times.

joe said...

I was reminded of Dale Pendell's "The Great Bay", tho he admitted to not writing in the scenario of the potential/probable bad news bears of radio nucleides getting into the DNA fod chain stream as the power plants are abandoned by the Hah 'caretakers'.

theotokosbooks said...

I am a bit surprised that you didn't mention religion in your blog post this week - especially as you are a Druid! - apart from,I think, the mention of “Malik Ibrahim’s armies”. As someone living in Britain, it seems clear that Islam is on the rise and if demographic trends continue, will become dominant in Europe, probably later this century. That will obviously have a huge impact, likewise the Muslim-Hindu divide between Pakistan and India,both of which have nuclear weapons. I also think Christianity is due for a resurgence in the West, as Islam grows more powerful. I agree that South America will probably become a future “superpower” - if that phrase will mean anything then. Anyway, just some thoughts, but I do make a point of reading your blog every week and always find it very instructive.

pyrrhus said...

One point that strikes me is that the West's trajectory downward seems to be much steeper than, say, the Roman Empire's.
I took a course in Roman history in college with an excellent professor. On the question of when the Roman Republic went bad, he suggested that the turning point was the costly and lengthy Spanish wars, which as I recall were around 140 BC. That's a long time before the collapse. This professor also suggested that Vietnam may serve a similar function for the US. But the US is already showing late stage decrepitude, as you point out, only 45 years later.....

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - Just finished reading John K. Galbraith's book "Culture of Contentment" (1992) - fantastic!
On a more sour note - Salon article on how 21 American cities make giving food to the homeless illegal. What is next? Death squads? Today's NY Times notes new CT rules/laws regarding Ebola quarantiune of anyone suspected of the sickness (9 interned so far)

Bob Patterson said...

In the near term, I would expect one of two outcomes, in the US. The firest, and most likely, is a revolt of the underclass (most people) in a more violent replay of the French Revolution (more guns and ammo). The second would be a popular movement (not using the existing political parties) that demands a civilized wage ($20 min.and guaranteed employment) civilized healthcare (universal coverage for a modest fee).This would be funded by a seizing of all personal and corporate assets exceeding $100 million, the income tax set at 50% for incomes over $500,000 and there would be a 5% tax on all remittances directed outside the US and a 40% duty on all goods imported. This movement would be so powerful, the governing bodies would have to enact it. (Not likely)

Glenn Murray said...

Blimps, zeppelins, dirigibles, semi-rigid: Not going to happen! Hot air balloons: sure, they were a common sight in the 19th century, and that’s where most technology will be if we are lucky and manage the current predicament well.
The notion of the airship itself is flawed: It was a rare airship that survived long enough to be dismantled (USS Los Angeles, and Graf Zeppelin). Even at the peak of airship engineering and design, run by arguably the most well-disciplined, experienced organizations in the world at the time, disasters such as the R-38, R-101, USS Akron, Macon, Shenandoah, K-5, K-14, K-34, K-53, K-56, K-57, K-111, K-133, The Italia, Roma, C-2, Hindenburg, Dixmunde, Spirit of Akron, Goodyear lightship,.... to name just a few were common headlines. They broke up, blew away, crashed, burst into flame, fell from the sky, exploded and failed in innumerably different and exiting ways.
Maybe this time it will be different.
I would not count on any helium being available for any future airship fleet: The wish that "New Technologies" and "increased demand" will magically bring new helium sources to the market is a bit like the chanting that has been going on over fracking and oil. It may be time to start training up some homing pigeons instead. They are probably more reliable/ less dangerous.

RPC said...

Steve Pearson said, "a return to penal servitude." This never left; I just read an article in the latest _Trains_ magazine about a train viewing platform constructed in Anniston, Georgia, with the labor "supplied by the Georgia Department of Correction."

Robert Haskett said...


Your predictions, or similar crises, seem uncomfortably possible given current realities and trends, about which the majority of us remain in absolute denial. Although your timelines are based on the history of previous civilizations, they seem rather too long to me. A significantly more abbreviated timeline would be more plausible given our 21st century society reliance on the rapidity of transportation and communications, the corporate supply of goods and services, the fragilities of high technology, the limited supplies of non-renewable resources (especially fossil fuels), and the destructive potential of modern warfare with its weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the hubris and ignorance of the controlling elite ensure that poor political, economic, and environmental decisions will continue to be made. And the elite will maintain power for much too long because of the active support, or the blind faith, or the apathy of the “sheep” majority.

Nevertheless, despite almost insurmountable odds, I remain hopeful that awareness of our predicament will dawn on most of us, that we will realize that a massive transformation is urgently required, and that we will demonstrate an unprecedented level of local, national, and international co-operation and generosity to embrace a sustainable lifestyle, save our planet from environmental catastrophe, and preserve the best of our current civilization. (Yes, admittedly, given what I have seen over the course of my life, it is a faint hope, but if we believe that our lives and those of our children and grandchildren have meaning and that goodness is more widespread than evil, it is essential to have hope. Yes, JMG, I too hope that, despite rather overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it will be different this time.)

EntropicDoom said...

I enjoy reading your blog each week and the comments that people add. It is a refreshing and insightful experience. We see in the use of blogs a place where the like minded, but powerless can gather their opinions and insights, sharing their outlook on those that pretend to govern and rule. In the history of humanity the small tribal units of the hunter gatherers could not assemble a group of show offs, flimflam operators or con artists and these characters could not achieve critical mass. They could only be that one weird person who was out of place in the tribe. Once humanity started the civilization project, rarely occurring unique individuals could travel, accumulate and gather in a larger setting to compare notes and as the Brain said to Pinky: “Try to take over the world.” If you look at a random sampling of people you will find very few incredible leaders, wild dreamers, poisonous schemers, and real messiahs, etc. These individuals need a vast sea of people (a nation or a culture) in order to materialize, congregate and start their shenanigans. Once the course of history takes a sudden turn to the bottom, some unique individuals will come to the fore, if they survive, but if the bottom falls out and we all end up in little bands, the rare one percent of people will not have a gathering place or a large enough organization to accomplish their conspiracies. There wouldn't be a world to take over anyway. Right now we have a gathering of well tailored, like minded people in Washington D.C. and other places where there is a daily dance of power grabbing and ego stroking. When America or its replacement cannot maintain that huge crowd of migrant, power mad egos in our far flung capitols, they will probably fall to the violence of the emerging war bands. Their only real grip on power being illusionary. Maintaining the huge apparatus of government we have today will be impossible with our steadily diminishing resources. Humankind has always relied on the variation among personalities to track new courses through evolving history. Right now it seems the power mad bureaucrats have had their day. Soon it will be a vast sea of serfs and a seasoning of roving war bands. A little like Seven Samurai, but without the seven saviors.

EnergyLens said...

As I get older the distant past seems closer and closer to me in time. But perhaps that is the effect of reading your blog and (an expanding number of histories) over the past eight years.

I get the sense that in the “future” very few people will look back and see with hindsight The Limits as a major factor in the descent, in the crumbling of this industrial culture, or even the cycles that you have so eloquently elucidated. I think for most it will be trauma has dislocated them or their fore bearers, and for a long time ideological groups will perpetuate narratives blaming this or that scapegoat, this or that conspiracy, this or that “fool”. It stuns me that there are still people who believe Rome collapsed because of lead poisoning…

I am thinking today of the conflict you had with the neoprimitivists in 2006(?) and the challenges people had with your perspective on Transition Towns… for me this post really drives home the change in perspective you have been advocating and how some over-passionate supporters for this or that “solution” or believers that there is one true path out of the crisis as they perceive it have really boxed themselves in.

It is always nice to see a reference to Ruskin! My grandfather was something of a Green Wizard… long, long before I had any inkling the deeper challenges that our culture would face. From him I inherited a full set of Ruskin’s writings. It wasn’t until after he passed that I had the opportunity to open them and decipher his margin notes. I wish that I could speak to him now to get a sense of how he really saw things; I wonder what struggles he faced in trying to communicate with his peers.

ed boyle said...

I ordered some 2nd hand toynbee books and galbraith's great crash plus oliver stone's untold us history. I just watched thefilm "cloud atlas" which gives a similar feel of decline as in this blog entry. I am now reading about corruption under journalists in germany, where I live , in a bestseller. The popular press and nightly news is in the past for me. Politicians and journalists probably have moral makeup at a very low level.

Punctuated decline, with stability at a lower stage followed by next decline follows historical experience. 80-100 year phases with a paradigm of power and structure, repeating a number of times as a civilization rises and falls is normal if we believe strauss and howe. Maybe it lasts 300 or 1000 years.

I could see russia , surviving as byzantium, slyly going down to lowest level to keep it going hundreds of more years, while in west trying to maintain high level culture results infaster collapse. Siberia is big, good for survival. Beyond that, analysis, storyline is great but who knows what will happen.

SLClaire said...

The last few weeks have found me also learning where the Religion of Progress still hangs on in my mental patterns. My thoughts tend to run in obsessive directions when I get worried about my fate. Certainly has been lots to get that going. It's probably good, though, because it's brought home to me in a big way that one of the things I need to do is come to an acceptance of death: my own, especially. It's not something the Religion of Progress or US culture teaches us to do, but it's necessary for me to have the spiritual strength to live in decline and to be an elder in the best sense of the word for however much life I have left. This post also stirs the pot in the same direction. I appreciate it even as it has given me the chills. More reason to get myself straight with life-and-death.

daelach said...

@ latefall:
You will find much stuff on de-escalation on the website. Concerning "running away", he has written a whole book on how to do it correctly: "Marc MacYoung - Street E & E". Evading, escaping, how to get over fences, when to hide and when not, when and how to strike during escaping and so on.

As for female defence, poison isn't the best option because it is difficult to inject it with stopping power. Depending on your local circumstances, a small firearm is a good option, next best is a knife (though that requires a bit training). Both equalise inferior physical force, but the latter does not require ammunition supply which may become scarce. And guess why fencing doesn't have weight classes as opposed to practically all other martial arts.

That's better than poison because even if you poisoned the attacker and he suffered afterwards, you still would suffer, too. There is a brilliant book on the topic, however not available anymore, plus that this is serious stuff I would not want to mention here as not to risk any problems for the Archdruid. In case you are interested in a scanned PDF, you can contact me through my profile.

latefall said...

@Judy: What you can/should do specifically for the Brits: , you may want to go beyond that a little with long term planning for your kids skills. Reminds me, I really need to get around to this insect/larvae eating thing. By the way I want to shout out a thanks to the person who mentioned "BBC Survivors" last week. TV seems to be a good way to sneak this content through the defensive reactions of "faith based perception".

@JMG & Donald: Should we have a drawing competition for the fairies of progress and decline? The wand would have to be a bent fuel rod for mine... I recently read about the "Heinzelmann" (a generally nice and helpful house ghost) who could appear in different forms - though the original form was said to be a stabbed child, bled white but covered in blood - with two knives sticking cross-wise in his heart. People used to make effigies for such helpful goblins "Kobolde"...

@YJV: compression is less of a problem than longer term (weeks+) storage. As fuel it still sucks compared to liquid fossil fuels. Even if you find a tank to intercalate it in. But I guess it'll be used, as well as ethanol and wood gas. Actually I'd be interested if there's a halfways efficient way to separate the (not insignificant fraction of) hydrogen out of wood gas source. I'm afraid all this is not going to fix the fact that we'd run into resource limits...
There is somewhat promising (not as in "flying car", or more energy) research on combined gas production and energy storage through compression if I remember correctly...

@Andrew Brown: Thanks for that comment! I strongly agree. I have the faint hope that at least some aspects of life will make more sense again as we return to business as usual after the fossil fit.

LewisLucanBooks said...

I think future "progress" will be more limited to rediscovering older, simpler, cheaper, more resilient ways of doing things.

I was watching some of Medieval Monastery Farm over on YouTube a couple of months ago. Cheese and butter making utensils were cleaned using, basically, salt and sunshine. Around my place I mostly use vinegar to clean and disinfect. There's enough feral apples around that I can make my own.

John Michael Greer said...

Wadulisi, a useful philosophy in the face of ordinary history!

Daelach, yes, that's certainly one option.

Brian, the homeland of industrial civilization is Europe, and in the century before 1914, the nations of Europe and their immediate colonies owned the planet, lock, stock, and barrel. That collapsed in 1914-1954, and was replaced with the far more fragile US and Soviet hegemony over a much more restive world. In looking at other civilizations, historians usually put the peak around the point of maximum territorial control, and that seemed valid in this case as well.

Tom, my guess is that some kind of indirect hegemony will be more likely.

Avery, it was indeed. Thanks for your post -- I'd also noticed how well Spengler was doing, but hadn't taken the time to make a list. That's useful, and provides a good place to point people.

Snoqualman, I expect shortwave to make a comeback in the decades ahead, first as a retro fad, and then as a serious information medium that goes around the mainstream. Keep your receiver!

Marc, to my mind the language of morality has been used to death in recent decades. I find it more useful to stay on the fact side of the fact/value dichotomy, and let people make up their own minds about morality -- that's something of a Druid habit, for whatever that's worth. As for India and Russia, this was an impressionistic sketch, you know, not a book-length survey!

Judy, by all means weep for your children, and then dry your face and teach them things that can help them get through the same kind of rough times your grandparents and great-grandparents experienced. There's quite a bit that can be done to make the Long Descent less traumatic than it would otherwise be, and the experiences of the generations that survived two world wars and the Great Depression are a good place to start

Stunned, exactly. Better by whose definition?

Phil, I'm waiting for the pundits to start saying that about Ebola.

Peter, I explained in my post why I find that sort of "but it's different this time!" argument unconvincing. It's always easy to point to a few unique vulnerabilities in the present case and insist that this means it's all over in thirty years, but those earlier civilizations had unique vulnerabilities of their own, you know. Fast-crash theorists have been predicting imminent doom since before I was born, and they've been consistently wrong; meanwhile the fractal decline predicted by Spengler et al. has proceeded exactly on the course they described. I consider their view a much better guide.

heather said...

Deborah Bender, Phil Harris, magicalthyme, and JMG-

Thanks for your condolences. Fred was a good cat and we will miss him.

One final gift he gave our family was the opportunity to begin to normalize death and the grieving process for our children (ages 6 and 10). We got to be sad together, to talk about what might happen after death, to bury our loved one and talk about all bodies returning to the earth, to talk about eventually moving on while remembering the good times and keeping the love in our hearts… Assuming JMG is accurate in his description of the type of future my (and all) children will face, they will likely need the skills for dealing with grief and loss more than my progress-fairy-sheltered youth ever demanded of me. And I frankly am learning much from my kids' direct and honest responses to the situation. I see this relatively small loss (though I feel disloyal to Fred for framing it that way!) as a form of inoculation, strengthening us all for inevitable greater future pain. I believe that the dark times will come; with luck we can learn to deal with them with some grace and acceptance.
--Heather in CA

Lesser Bull said...

@Seaweed Shark

Mr. Greer’s vision of the future is highly dependent on his conviction that economically accessible petroleum is being drained rapidly. Without that, IMHO a more likely version of the future is a series of crises that culminate towards the end of the century in the formation of some kind of world consensus governance that can go on for several centuries or longer. It will be stagnant, but will have a lot of apparent progress at first both from inertia and also from the gains from scale that will come from unification. That is, more or less, John Reilly’s vision in his work Spengler’s Future, which is a lot of fun to read. Check it out.

Part of the difference between Greer and most other people that take Spengler seriously is that Greer identifies Louis XIV as an Alexander the Great figure whereas most other Spenglerites identify Napoleon as our modern equivalent of Alexander the Great. See @Avery above.

John Michael Greer said...

Streamfortyseven, no, it wasn't missed at all. If you aren't trying to run an entire economy on concentrated liquid fuels, scraping up a little for an airplane or two (are you sure they're jets? I'm not) is not necessarily a problem. As for landing craft, did you see me mention them? Neither did I. The Pacific War was an old-fashioned naval war fought between sail-powered ironclads with steam auxiliary engines. If I do turn this into a book, you may be surprised by the technology -- yes, and the logistics.

Kassandra, thanks for your comment! I'll consider your suggestion for a post on history reading -- yes, Spengler takes some getting used to. I don't happen to have any recommendations for southern European paleoecology -- maybe one of my readers can help out here.

Matt, sure. Look up the fraction of the Earth's land area that was directly ruled either from a European capital or from the capital of one of the first wave of European colonies (basically, the New World) in 1914. Now compare that to the equivalent fraction now. That's a solid marker of decline.

Leo, sieges are a normal part of warfare -- consider Stalingrad! It's only the somewhat odd conditions of recent wars that have made them uncommon.

Brian, Mary Odum's always worth reading.

Fly, I haven't seen it, and probably won't, so don't have an answer for you.

YJV, I'd encourage you to give it a try and see what kind of results you get.

Sgage, funny.

Onething, yes, and a lot of other factors, too. It was a fairly brief sketch of two and a half very troubled centuries!

Zaphod, I hope they get it before the black swan lands in your back yard...

David, glad to hear it. That was the point of the exercise, or most of it.

Onething, different people get it in different ways, and at different moments -- thus the varying ways I try to use to get the message across.

jim said...

YJV I would love to read your ideas on Airships in a Post Peak Oil world. Did you think about using graphene based thin films as your gas bags? Graphene is the best gas barrier ever tested and it is super strong. And I have read about a pretty strait forward process for using vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to reduce thin films of graphene oxide to make excellent gas barrier films.

I think that from a perspective of Catabolic Collapse, air ships have the potential to have lowest total cost (construction and maintenance costs) for any Global transportation system. (especially if the Airships are solar powered, and hydrogen is used for both lift and energy storage)

John, I am starting to come to the conclusion that a fully fleshed out Theory of Catabolic Collapse could guide investments and policies that could postpone the collapse for a long time.

magicalthyme said...

avery: "An ethical imperative to work is probably some decades down the line"

I'm not sure it's all that far away. We've already replaced welfare with workfare, and force single mothers to put their children with strangers while they work. The drive toward the cheapest wage possible could be as much a way to force people to work evermore hours to support themselves in dire poverty (such that recently a young woman died of CO poisoning while napping in her car between her 3 minimum wage jobs). Not to mention the constant griping from the right about paying unemployment compensation. And my Gov. 38% (LePage) is on record as referring to Social Security as "welfare." Never mind the decades worth of taxes we paid into the system in order to qualify...

Just a quick correction, too. I should have written "a minimum of 1.3 gallons" to treat Ebola. Also, in Africa they say that anti-inflammatories can make things worse, although the Spanish nurse was treated with anti-inflammatories when her breathing became difficult. It may be a matter of the type of anti-inflammatory. Some act directly on the immune system, aspirin leaves mucus membranes more prone to bleeding, but maybe some herbal combination will not have the negative side effects.


Mike said...


There are just 3 options for lighter-than-air vehicles: hydrogen, helium (the only 2 gasses significantly less dense than air) and hot air.

I suppose at some point the lesson of the Hindenburg may be forgotten, but if so, it will be relearned quickly. Hydrogen is not a practical option.

It's not widely know, but helium is a by-product of the natural gas industry. The same deep rock formations trap both gases and helium is separated out when the natural gas is produced. This source will be depleted when the natural gas is depleted. So helium is not a practical option.

Hot air can be produced with any sort of combustion, but an airship (and now we're really just talking balloons) that uses wood or cow dung as its fuel will have little range and little capacity for any other cargo. More likely, a hot air balloon will use distillates of wood gassification or methane from biodigesters as its fuel. Both are possible, but with so many better uses for these raw materials, I don't think hot air is a practical option either.

Air ships are unlikely to play a significant role in any post-carbon world I can think of. But maybe I should read The Ecotechnic Future. Perhaps you've explored this topic in more detail JMG?

latefall said...

@Dealach: There is indeed a lot of useful info on "running away". Very nice. The book will also make a nice half joking present to family members. LJ lets me log in but not do anything. I will need to make another clean account for that. Not sure I'll get around to do that, but thanks for the offer I am interested though it is (fortunately) not pressing.

The point about poison was also not so much intended as a effective way to handle such a situation - more to avoid it in the first place. If it became customary for a woman to be armed (similar to a bee's sting), you could reduce the number of easy targets for serious crimes - that could make much of it nonviable. Also, I don't expect to get away without suffering if I draw a knife and the other party still insists on a fight. The additional point with poison is that they'd have a strong incentive to keep you alive, once they are convinced they actually got the poison in their system - after all you may have (or know someone who has) an antidote. Calling an ambulance may not be their first choice.
Re gun: People are very sensitive to guns spreading, and walking around armed, here. I may get one for blanks - which is a lot better than nothing at all. At the moment I carry a kubotan and pepperspray only. I may get/make a decent sling and spear gun, but I won't be carrying those. Long term I consider a walking stick/spear/blowgun thing useful. Most of all the walking stick part - to keep well clear of trouble in the first place.

Ray Wharton said...

I very much appreciate this post, filling in the blanks it is interesting how the geography of decline feels. Wider and wider segments of the Earth's surface are abandoned by civilization with each phase. Even by the end of this century it seems as though a vast protion of the rougher terrain on Earth will be sparsely populated and semi deserted.

Minutes before loading up this post I finished my third reading of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It is interesting how the apocalypse that the story follows has the same shape. The earliest phase remember in the lore of the peoples was known simply as the seven days of fire, which in due time was followed by the rise of a subsequent technological society, the Kingdom of Efrit. It build many wonders, before it fell. There were three events, each with devastated the dominant empires of the era between the seven days of fire and the time of the story. It is in the after math of a civilization which went much further down the road of technological development than our civilization is likely to reach, and the global devastation is proportionately much greater; the majority of the planets land surface is too toxic for humans to survive without protective gear.

Linking these threads of though are your military ultra light aircraft. It takes some ticklish imagining to see a dark dark age where the chieftain of a proud tribe still maintains independence from a more powerful neighbor by grace of a preserved ultra light still kept sky worthy. Cannons, a single machine gun
(used only in critical moments in battle), some ultra light aircraft, and ancient ballistic armor for the most prestigious warriors back up a main force fighting with muskets, lances, and swords.

Honestly this post didn't strike me as too down, much of the repeated body blows don't land until well after my likely tenure on the Earth. The devastation that could hit soon, its an endurance race not a sprint. True friends and good spirits are my precaution; to those ends I have many apples in need of baking, be well and thanks for the interesting read.

Ed-M said...


Well thank you very much for the timeline, it certainly puts things in perspective. It looks a lot like what happened to Imperial Russia and then Soviet Union. And it may describe what happened to Detroit since 1950... gradually increasing decline punctuated by traumatic events. In other words, not in the least like 9/11 (Twin Towers' collapse) at all.

Pace deorum.

Ed-M said...


I'm so sorry.


MizBean said...

To all who are struggling with save-the-world impulses: As for me and mine, we'll tend our garden.
For our household I added an addendum to Mr Greer's acronym:
Less Energy Stuff & Stimulation
More Effort Attention & Time
It's kind of a mnemonic in duplicate.

John Michael Greer said...

Kyoto, interesting. Maybe it's just me, but I had a harder time coming to terms with the eventual extinction of our species than I did with the idea that our future would be made up of ordinary history.

Wolfgang, exactly -- you live in a part of the world that's had to deal with ordinary history in the recent past. One of the things that makes Americans clueless is that it's been too long since we've had war, plague, famine, etc. on our own soil.

Rhisiart, diolch yn fawr!

RPC, oh, no question, the US has actually been in decline since around 1974. It's simply the beginning of the crisis stage of decline and fall that I put in 2014.

Tuxedo, the interesting thing to me is that television is losing its capacity to keep people entranced by the same narrative. Instead we've got an assortment of contending narratives, many of them fostered by radio or the internet, and no reason to think we've seen as many of them as we'll get.

Donalfagan, the Straight Path is closed. We're here, and have to deal with Middle-earth as it is.

Shane, I don't recall dismissing the idea of a unipolar hegemony further down the line -- quite the contrary, the idea that someone else will take over when the US lands on its nose has been a theme of these posts all along. My guess is that Chinese hegemony will be less intrusive than ours, just as ours was less intrusive than the British Empire's conquest of a quarter of the world's land surface.

Richard, yes, but that's because I've been living with these ideas for decades. It takes practice.

Andrew, of course. Most of the new ventures that matter will be going on inside the stateless zones, and post-migration communities that happen to preserve useful skills may become the seeds of great nations a thousand years down the road. That's also ordinary history.

Eric, storytelling is probably the oldest and certainly one of the most powerful technologies our species has come up with. We'll see about continuations or expansions of this particular story.

Joe, did you think the peak of a civilization was a moral peak -- or, let's say, a peak of niceness? Most civilizations at their peak are busy conquering and enslaving other nations, you know, and western industrial civilization was just another example. It's often on the way down that people start having second thoughts about such habits; as Hegel noted, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk.

Dmitry, you're quite correct that this brief impressionistic sketch didn't happen to mention Russia by name. It also didn't mention by name India, Brazil, Malaysia, Ecuador, or Andorra, for that matter. It was meant as a rough outline, and -- ahem -- my world view is a little less Russocentric than yours seems to have become of late.

imaginosophy said...

Really enjoying this series JMG! Thanks for your (seemingly) endlessly patient explicating. :^ D

Here's a thought: How likely is it that we will escape more nuclear reactor disasters a la Fukushima while governance and resources are diminishing (or even a plague ongoing yoinks!) since even a decommissioned power plant (spent fuel) requires decades of monitoring and maintenance? Not likely, right?

Now that I think on it, since it's ongoing, I wonder if Fukushima could replace ebola as the precipitant crisis of JMG's collapse narrative? And what about Japan prematurely achieving failed-state status as a result of the remediation costs and other fall-outs?

This from an article about TEPCO's most recent attempt to stop the radiation leaks from yesterday:

"The scary part about the escaping radioactive material all this time later is that no one truly knows the scope of the problem and how best to approach it."


Who wants a free Fukusanta jpeg for Doomer/WAFer Xmas cheer, this year?

John Michael Greer said...

Dagnarus, you should check out news stories from America in the first third of the 19th century, when pitched battles between union workers and Pinkerton thugs hired by the bosses were a common feature of life. What's going on in China right now is fairly common for a rising power.

Magicalthyme, thanks for the latest. The info on rehydration chimes with what I've seen, too.

Shark, I use Toynbee as a source for the morphology of collapse, but you're right that his theories of causation leave quite a bit to be desired. That's why I also use Spengler, Vico, Catton, and a great many others. As for Stapleton, it's been a very long time since I read Last and First Men -- will have to remedy that before I can respond in any useful sense.

Steve, certainly societies with a lot less wealth to hand will find other ways to deal with crime than locking up huge numbers of people on the government nickel.

Joe, I need to read that one of these days.

Theotokosbooks, a short impressionistic sketch of the sort I offered doesn't have room for everything! Malik Ibrahim, by the way, was (will be?) a Muslim Filipino warlord, the Attila the Hun of the 23rd century southwest Pacific, not a religious figure at all -- he briefly united Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and large chunks of Southeast Asia under his rule, though it all fell apart again after his death.

Pyrrhus, the difference is that the US is not industrial civilization, it's just one temporary hegemon. Nobody managed the Roman feat of uniting the whole industrial world under a single government, so we get a succession of hegemons, each of which collapses in turn, rather than a universal state that keeps on being propped up by one ruling elite after another.

Bob, glad you enjoyed the book! As for your two alternatives, I don't think either one is at all likely; the internal proletariat in America, no matter how bad things are here, recognizes that the implosion of American empire and the end of the arrangements that let us batten on a quarter of the world's wealth will make things much, much worse -- so nobody really wants to rock the boat.

Glenn, blimps served in two world wars as antisubmarine crafts with very few accidents and a great deal of success; what you've shown is that rigid airships are very vulnerable, which is certainly true. I suspect our descendants will find a place for some sort of airship, but as I noted in my scenario, my money would be on handbuilt ultralight airplanes powered by alcohol engines as the most likely aircraft for the next millennium, mostly because of their military value as reconnaissance craft.

Robert, yes, I'm familiar with those arguments; obviously I disagree, for reasons I've outlined in detail in my first two peak oil books, The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future. The contrast between sudden doom and the unprecedented awakening in which you put your hopes sounds rather too much like religious myth for my tastes.

Doom, oh, there will be the samurai, too. Those or the close equivalent always show up in dark ages.

Lens, oddly enough, I've been thinking of those old quarrels as well. It's always the same thing -- the myth of perpetual progress or the myth of imminent apocalypse -- dolled up in this or that set of ideological drag.

John Michael Greer said...

Ed, I could very easily see Russia doing the Byzantium trip, or contending with the Arabs for what's left of Europe a couple of centuries from now. The future could have any number of surprises in store.

SLClaire, good. It's when we wake up to the fact that life is a process of ripening toward death, that death is not the opposite of life but its fulfillment, that actual maturity finally arrives. That's how I see it, at least.

Latefall, let's do it! Pictures of the Progress Fairy and the Decline Fairy are now on topic.

Lewis, sounds like a good plan to me.

Heather, that sounds like an utterly sensible way to approach this.

Mike, no, I haven't gotten much into the prospects for deindustrial aircraft, lighter-than-air or otherwise. The thought of an army of the new dark ages, mostly rifle-carrying infantry, with some cavalry for scouting and skirmishing, some crude rocket launchers for artillery, and a couple of ultralights buzzing overhead for long-range scouting, just stuck in my head!

Ray, I'm not thinking of ultralight aircraft as something preserved from the past, but something that smiths of the new dark ages could craft for themselves: a simple alcohol-fueled engine, fabric wings, wood or bamboo structural members, and a certain amount of cordage and metal fittings, and you're in the air. It's actually far from rare for technologies from an earlier civilization to remain viable in stripped down form for military use through the dark age that follows, and this one would be both easy and useful to dark age warlords.

Ed-M, you're most welcome.

MizBean, maybe so, but my omnivore readers may decide to change the phrasing a bit, you know.

Imaginosophy, I've commented at some length about how I see the nuclear issue working out in an earlier post. The short form is that yes, that's likely to be one of many nasty legacies our society is leaving to the future, and it will account for a share of deaths, but in the near to middle future it's not going to cause collapse all by itself -- you'll notice that the wilder claims made about the Fukushima disaster have turned out to be handwaving. Nuclear power is bad enough; there's no need to insist that it's even worse than it actually is!

Kyoto Motors said...

As for Dimitri Orlov's assertion about the invincibility of Russia, I trust his tongue was firmly in his cheek... I hope (?)

Snoqualman said...

Regarding the future of lighter-than-air travel, or lack thereof, it strikes me that it would probably have to be done with hydrogen, or not (much) at all.

Helium is a wonderful element, but people casually throw it away. I often hike in the Cascade mountains downwind from Seattle, and it has long been a dreary part of many trips to find dead mylar balloons, their helium gone, presumably up through the atmosphere and on out into the blackness of space, never to be seen by humanity again. And for what? Nothing more than a few moments of selfish amusement watching a bagful of it floating away. Just one of the innumerable ways people waste the natural treasures of our fair planet.

There was a show on "Nova," I believe, a few years back, taking a new look at the Hindenburg disaster. If I remember correctly, the verdict seemed to be that it was the flammable fabric doping agents, applied to the outer shell I think to decrease gas permeability, that burned so fiercely, not the hydrogen.

I believe I have read that hydrogen burns cool, and has a rather low energy density overall, making it not that good of a fuel. There seem to be at least some knowledgeable people who believe its flammability to be quite manageable. Airships of course face other problems, and don't mix well with violent weather, as attested by the string of disasters listed by a previous commenter. But even so, they do "float on air," and it may be too soon to rule out a comeback of sorts for them, even filled with hydrogen.

Regarding the possibility of climate change making far northern latitudes more habitable and productive, I would not bet on it. The Arctic will still be the Arctic. Winter nights will still be very long. Even if "average" temperatures go up quite a bit, it is the extreme temperatures that will still dictate what can and cannot grow there.

Average, or mean, really means rather little in this context. Perhaps there will be more nice days on Ellesmere Island than at present, but I fear it will get just as cold then as it does now, maybe not as often, but it only has to happen once to destroy whatever it is that one may be growing and hoping to eat.

Talk of northern Russia or the Canadian Arctic becoming significantly more hospitable seems premature. The average can stay the same or go up while the highs get higher and the lows get lower. I worry that those lows may get lower, even at lower latitudes, with unfortunate consequences for agriculture. The term "global warming" is an unfortunate choice of words, and some have suggested it should really be called global "weirding."

As for China becoming the world's pre-eminent power, we'll see on that one, too. Previous commenters have reminded us how Japan looked to be on the verge of buying almost the whole world in the late 80's, and we know how that turned out.

Certainly China is resuming its position as a great power, but it is also beset with serious problems, like a huge population on a relatively small amount of productive arable land. Much of that land is threatened by desertification, or being ruined by runaway "development" and pollution. The fact that just about anyone there with the means to get a foreign passport does so has to mean something as regards their confidence in the country's future.

But they are a hard working, energetic people. I wouldn't bet on the U.S. keeping its position of power much longer, based as it is to a large extent on conjuring trillions of dollars into existence. We probably still have far more good land per capita than most places, despite our own energetic efforts to ruin it. As ever, we'll see.

ganv said...

Very nicely told. I love the way JMG comes up with possibilities I had never thought of before. It is a great pity that we are caught in the "procrustean bed of conventional wisdom" so much of the time. The idea of the US degenerating into a nuclear civil war within 30 years is disconcertingly reasonable but I had not seriously considered it.

I think of the first crisis of modernity (1914-1954) as an instability of the exponential growth phase of our civilization--new possibilities of warfare and mass communication developed faster than the social norms needed to manage them. It could be that a piece of the next instability will be directly caused by growth as much as by resource constraints. (i.e. internet communication and drone warfare might be equal initiators with resource constraints in the next crisis).

In the background here is an observation that humans don't learn much from the past. Our knowledge of our history is much much more complete than any civilization before us, and in theory we easily could avoid the worst of the coming crises. This time could be different. But JMG is almost certainly right that we won't. The irrational currents of human social and political movements seem to be much much stronger than the rational currents.

Kylie said...

Since progress and decline are two sides of the same coin, this picture of Hel could double as an image of the Progress/Decline fairy:

steve pearson said...

Kaitain, Very interesting about the Sukhoi.I'm sure everyone would rather have it than the F35, probably even the US military, but if Israel especially amongst US satellites actually goes ahead with it, there are some pretty major cracks appearing in US hegemony.
cheers, Steve

John Michael Greer said...

Kyoto, you'll have to ask him. He's been portraying the world from a very Moskva-centric viewpoint of late.

Snoqualman, not that many million years ago, crocodiles lived on the northern shore of Canada. If we get serious global warming, the arctic will not stay arctic; 24 hours of sunlight on the Arctic Ocean all summer, even if it's angled sunlight, puts a lot of heat into the water.

Ganv, in theory, we could have chosen a different route. In practice, we didn't, and at this point -- as I see it, at least -- it's way too late in the process to escape the consequences of our inaction.

Kylie, but which side is which?

Kylie said...

@ JMG: Aha - for us in the First World, the Progress side is the pink healthy bit, but for the larger biosphere and those people left out of the charmed circle, Progess is sickly and poisonous.

On the flipside, Decline is starvation and death for we who benefited on the way up, but for the wider environment Decline is pink and rosy as the blood we stole temporarily starts pumping back through their veins again.

steve pearson said...

Snolquaman et al, One factor that is often overlooked in discussions of migrations to and greater population densites in arctic and sub arctic regions is the thinness and poor quality of the soils.Even if the weather would permit a better growing season, the soil wouldn't.

steve pearson said...

Kaitain, Just wanted to add to the Sukhoi/F35 comment that, though so many countries can still afford to delude themselves and choose American patronage over excellence of military equipment , Israel can't. If their equipment doesn't work, they are fracked.Interesting to see where this one goes.
cheers, Steve

Unknown said...

Tomuru said
Things are not so good in South America either. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are in the midst of a nearly year long drought. This effects both their hydroelectric power generation as well as their drinking water supplies. If relief does not come by the end of the year both cities could be without drinking water. We´re talking almost 16 million people in the region. Climate change is already having a huge impact yet you see almost none of this in the world wide press. The two states the cities exist in are in dispute over who controls the water that remains and how much each should get. Local war here is a possibility, though I hope not a likely one.

YJV said...

Hi everyone, thanks for all your explorative and informative comments! I wish I had put this to TAR community earlier, some of the info that has come out would've been really useful.

@ Tom - I think NZers would be more willing to integrate with Australia over China. For all practical purposes NZ is a colony of Australia's anyway.

@latefall - yes from what I understand the basic problem is (relatively fast) leakage. I hadn't thought of fuel-ethanol or wood gas (there's so much common knowledge that you won't find in the obvious places anymore). There's research in trapping hydrides in metals like magnesium but I don't know how efficient that will be. Any attempt to create the level of fuel we have now will run into hard resource limits.

@JMG: a summer holiday project seems like a good idea indeed!

@Mike - the biggest problem is definitely the fact that Helium, the safest gas, isn't easily available without natural gas infrastructure. I'm wondering to what extent Helium was extracted prior to that industry existing. The Hindenburg design had inner cells that were supposed to be filled with Hydrogen, sealed off from outer cells that were to be filled with Helium. Hydrogen was supposed to be valved instead of Helium when necessary. I'm not sure if there's any established methods of making hydrogen gas less reactive (I read that there was NASA research on that), but if there is a lower energy way of doing it, it could make hydrogen airships viable.

@jim: The paper was done in a mundane way where I simply had to 'apply' the different analysis concepts, additionally I have to deal with non-Peak-oil acquainted academia, so I really had to tone down the harshness of reality (even with a page of background on Peak-Oil) and only focus on the immediate future. At the end the running theme was 'it all depends on the amount of available energy'.
I didn't think of graphene because from what I learnt in materials science last year, it's a heavy energy consuming modern piece of technology. Even though the first film of graphene was made with graphite and sellotape, I haven't heard of any research that produces graphene with minimial complexity of process and little embodied energy.

Juhana said...

@JMG: Your reply to one of the comments was: "It's when we wake up to the fact that life is a process of ripening toward death, that death is not the opposite of life but its fulfillment, that actual maturity finally arrives. That's how I see it, at least."

Are you exploring this path of thinking in your other writings, or can you recommend other writers having same philosophical worldview? During this storm, that thinking is very comforting, at least for me.

I have been reading this blog for a while now. It was one of the first sites I found after my own waking up to the reality of peak energy and environmental depletion, manifesting themselves currently through economy in contraction. One curious side note I have made during this time is that American readership tends to reframe everything into morality play. There must be justice and moral lesson hidden in the story, or story doesn't make sense at all, seems to be the main narrative.

After travelling extensively through areas what Timothy Snyder calls collectively as "bloodlands" that attitude makes no sense. Heck, I am born and living in the same geographical area, albeit in much luckier part of it, in the northern extension of this geopolitical fault line. This almost Manichean attitude of Americans (black/white, darkness/light) is probably biggest cultural barrier I have ever met. It seems that amoral (not immoral, mind you) assessment of situation is next to impossible for most of your readership. Timothy Snyder seems to be one of very few Americans who really "get it", history and it's consequences.

I dare to claim that anyone born to the landscape over which fire storms of holodorom/pogroms/holocaust/blitzkrieg war fronts raged repeatedly and having even tiniest amount of historical perspective has SOME inner sense about liquid nature of morality and about need to defend your own tribal contingent no matter what. They also know how to do small-scale gardening, fishing and hunting. ALL of them, including my own family, maybe counting out very small urban upper-middle class of mentioned nations.

For many demagogues painting hellfire images about doings of this or that tribal federation, same actions would be absolutely allright if it was THEIR gang in position to execute them. I believe this is basic truth about biological nature of human race everywhere, but some cultures try more desperately deny it. Longer the timeline when no war has ravaged one's own land and wealthier that peacetime has been, more easy it is to fool oneself.

This difference of worldviews going to the very foundations ensures that US dealings with resurrecting crisis in said geographical area, in Bloodlands, shall not go well for your state. You are going to stumble around the dark room with wrong mental map in your mind.

I am not so interested about long view. Any brotherhood with its descentants must survive through current problems and those looming immediately after them, and if it doesn't...long view doesn't matter to them anymore. Most logical way to react to situation is with amoral attitude towards strangers (not immoral, there is difference between them), at the same time strengthening bonds and firepower of your own kin.

Why to bother anymore about abstract wrongdoings against, let's say residents in Ferguson, if they are just bunch of strangers for you? It's not like they would be helping you in bad spot either. So why waste your time, energy and resources to have moral outrage about things that does not affect your own, and doesn't involve your allies? It seems so absurd, like some theological argument over how many angels can dance on the pin of the needle. Let the strangers fight it over between themselves, don't risk yourselves in that process irrelevant for you.

Bruno Bolzon said...

One question, JMG. Is the American decline and fall a consequence of peak oil? I mean, if peak oil was still a few centuries in the future, would the US empire be in the process of decline and fall right now?

Cherokee Organics said...


Very plausible and the seeds are already in place too. There are benefits to being an island with a massive desert. Did you know that the centre of the continent isn't technically a desert, but more of an arid land. It has always supported people, although not in the densities that we are used to.

Interestingly too, I've often thought that higher and warmer oceans may paradoxically lead to more rainfall here through greater evaporation and increased energy to the storm bands which circle the equator.

Incidentally too, a big chunk of the desert/arid lands which is to the north west of here is actually below present sea level, so you never quite know what the future brings? In wet years the area fills up to slowly drain away into the Great Artesian bore. The area fills with life during those events and the extra moisture brings rain to my part of the world.

Did you note that an Ebola case has been reported in New York of all places? I noted that the government here has refused to send any assistance other than AU$18m to the affected regions. Oh yeah, customs has been going hard on the 700 or so people that have been in that area too and returned to Australia.

It is strange that we can find the resources to send military assistance to Iraq (military advisers, whatever that means - didn't they use that language in previous wars?), but not Africa. I heard an interview with Julie Bishop the foreign minister who said that we were focusing on assistance in the immediate Oceanic region in relation to Ebola. She also happened to mention that Fiji had soldiers are active as peace keepers in the affected Ebola regions. Pragmatism, dunno?

Oh yeah, there is a new blog entry up with lots of cool photos - even some of the local insect protein! Interested? Check it out at: Trying to smile

Cheers everyone!


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joel,

Hear, Hear! Well spoken - as usual!

Hi Shane,

Welcome to reality. It is difficult indeed, is it not? Still, better learn the fact today with a full belly than tomorrow when you may be hungry.

Hi Kylie,

Yeah, there are more than few around these parts too. I should take the camera out for a drive one day and post some photos. The funny and ironic thing is that as that land has become fallow, the fertility and top soil would also increase. Interesting stuff huh? Also with the building codes as they stand, it is much cheaper to restore a wreck of an old farm house than build from scratch.



Cherokee Organics said...


I understand that you are busy, but I hope that you have had a chance to ponder the implications of transfer pricing further as there are just so many fascinating and different angles to it?

Everyday more angles spring to mind: The company performance has been dismal last year, so there will be no wage rises, in fact we're planning to off shore the local jobs. In fact we actually have to increase unpaid hours to improve labour productivity (economists love that sort of gear).

Oh yeah, I've since discovered that Adam Smith was in fact deeply opposed to joint stock companies (the modern corporation) and was very honest in his assessment of company directors of such entities. "Negligence and profusion, therefore must prevail" is one actual quote. Honestly, I believe that I would have enjoyed a quiet beer or two with the guy.

The guy actually had a preference for small business.

This is an awesome quote from John Kenneth Galbraith too: "People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage. Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason." Oh my, but he has both a sharp wit and tongue! Something to aspire to I guess.

By the way, my internet troll troubles are now sorted thoroughly. I discovered by back tracking where the guy lived. It is amazing how many clues can be found to a persons real world existence in their Internet persona (videos, comments etc). It is the unwise person that assumes that they are smarter than everyone else. Even the dumbest dog that I have had the pleasure of knowing displays a level rat cunning that can be often surprising.

Hi Heather,

My condolences for your loss.



daelach said...

@ latefall: If you click on my LJ profile and then on "profile", you'll see an non-LJ email address even without being logged in to LJ. (: A Kubotan is also a nice thing, yes. I have a "koppo stick" for everyday carry which is pretty similar, but with two holes and a cord loop for middle/ring finger. I made mine myself from a branch of a yew tree which the gardeners cut back anyway. That was also a nice exercise in woodworking; afterwards, I cooked it in linseed oil, that's pretty durable now. Much lighter than metal and more appealing than plastic.

@ JMG: The decline of the US beginning with its national peak-oil, I guess. Did you notice the coincidence of that and the termination of the Apollo moon program?

Concerning the light aircraft of the future, not made of high-tech material (which will not be available anyway) or even metal, but wood, lacquered tissue and cords, with wheels like bicycle wheels. These were the first usable aircraft, like the "Dufaux 4" from 1909.

Actually, there is a striking similarity to the life cycle of a human in that. From a weak child to a thriving adult and then as a gaffer weak again.

Darren Urquhart said...

Thinking about the potential for Ebola to knock out 1 billion people. If that were to happen now, it would take the global population back to 2000/2001 levels.

2 billion would pull us back to 1988 levels.

Little more than blowing the froth off the top really.

Gloucon X said...

Thanks JMG for a most entertaining view of the future. It sure starts off will a bang: 25% with humanity dead three years from now. The rise of the anti-immigrant American Peoples Party would make a lot of sense after such an epidemic brought here by foreigners. If they were to sweep the 2028 elections, I’m not sure why they would need to give the president the power to rule by decree. But then again perhaps such a devastating epidemic would cause people to give up on democracy. The rise of a Southern and Mt West counterinsurgency against the AIP was a bit of a headshaker though, because those areas are currently the most anti-immigrant.
I hadn't yet thought that the current Ebola epidemic could increase overall anti-immigrant sentiment. But now it seems obvious, and I wonder if it won’t be the biggest issue in the 2016 election. If the crisis worsens, a candidate who is the most anti-immigrant (probably a Republican) could emerge and this person could become part of the nucleus of the AIP should he or she go down to defeat in 2016. In any case we could see the end of unregulated mass immigration under the banner of health, safety, and survival. International travel too could come under some serious restrictions. You've certainly given us some issues to think through here.

Rashakor said...

And the thaumaturgic incantions keep getting louder and louder:

Bill Blondeau said...

::sigh:: I'm really supposed to be writing fiction today, but, well, my prime defense against temptation has always been laziness, and I'm feeling spry this morning.

JMG, simply, thank you for this inspirational post. I will soon be writing up a comparable outline for my own deindustrial future. Radically different, but still hopefully within those error bars of plausibility. I'll post a link in ADR comments when it's up.

Re the airship technology debate: it's a fascinating mental puzzle. On the one hand, airships considered from a systems perspective are superbly energy efficient and resilient (yes, efficiency and resilience are opposed principles in general, but this is an unusual case) compared to the heavier-than-air transport we use now. In fact, given the comparatively trivial infrastructure requirements of airships, they are much more sustainable than railroads in a deindustrial time.

On the other hand, airships have been shown to be, as Glenn Murray documented, fragile in bad weather; and bad weather is one of the things we are pretty much guaranteed over the next few centuries.

There is one point that I haven't seen raised yet: airship technology has never been developed very well. In the petroleum-rich 20th century, heavier than air flight simply made overwhelmingly better economic sense. Airships were abandoned, not because the technology ran up against intractable inherent limits, but because airplanes had a much better ROI. JMG pointed out that the naval recon blimps had a good safety record, which suggests that the primary concerns of airship viability are addressable, and that as-yet-untried design improvements would probably pay off.

Our descendants will be denied a lot of the scientific and engineering accomplishments that we still take for granted. However, they are unlikely to be any less inventive and thoughtful than we are. I'm betting that dismissing future viability of airships based on what we've done so far is like arguing that clippers and windjammers couldn't be practical based on the known limitations of medieval cogs.

Show me a fundamental thermodynamic, economic, or engineering limitation that forecloses the possibility of airships (ahem, before the 28th century), and I will dolefully concede Glenn Murray's point that "The notion of the airship itself is flawed", at least for present purposes

Until then, I think the question remains fascinatingly open. In the absence of such a fundamental liability, the appearance - or not - of airships in the next few centuries will depend on historical, rather than inherent, factors.

Kaitain said...

Speaking of the troubles in Ferguson, some very interesting developments are coming out of the grand jury investigation...

Eric S. said...

Since the end of the Fracking boom was one of the elements for your crisis scenario, it does seem appropriate to take a look at the latest news on how that’s going. Oil and Gas stocks rallied this week despite continued decline and stagnation in global oil prices. Meanwhile, in order to keep with what’s happening, the American fracking industry is getting ready to try out technologies that at best will deplete wells even faster than conventional fracking, and at worst may render wells useless before they even get a chance to produce yields ( The American fracking industry is showing its weaknesses and people are starting to see the boom for what it is ( It feels like there’s been a shift these last two months and no matter how much oil prices recover, even some of the most fervent supporters of fracking are starting to realize that calling the technology a road to prosperity is like finishing a rack of ribs, cracking open the bones to suck on the marrow and saying the meal is just beginning. Once wells start shutting down in earnest I’ll be interested in seeing the way the economics of energy change. It may be that as we transition to the next phase of scarcity industrialism, a fracking boom will be a sign of economic weakness that most countries will be afraid to show.

Jeff said...

I believe the USSR had at least as many minerals as Putin's Russia and was militarily invincible (except for Afghanistan). Mr. Orlov should remove the blind spot from his own eye, perhaps.

Shawn Aune said...

So you mean to tell me that the first step down the hill of collapse for industrial civilization began a year after coal production peaked in the UK?

Makes sense...

Eric S. said...

JMG: “"It's when we wake up to the fact that life is a process of ripening toward death, that death is not the opposite of life but its fulfillment, that actual maturity finally arrives. That's how I see it, at least."”

Juhana: “Are you exploring this path of thinking in your other writings, or can you recommend other writers having same philosophical worldview? During this storm, that thinking is very comforting, at least for me.”

A recent book that's had a huge impact on me as far as working towards a perspective on death of dying that puts death in context as a fulfillment of life to be celebrated and embraced, that takes a very personal and practical approach towards the process from a Druid perspective has been Kristoffer Hughes' new book "Journey Into Spirit," which was released just recently. There are many others of course both ancient and modern but that was the latest one that really grabbed me. I definitely think it’s a topic we need to be thinking a lot about, since we’re facing a time where both the lengths of our lives and the manner of our deaths will be a lot different than has been the norm for the last few decades and that can be a challenging thing to get used to. Working on our attitudes towards death is a good starting point, the biggest challenge I’m facing right now is trying to figure out how to die well even if I wind up dying violently, or of a contagious disease that prevents me from being able to have loved ones pleasant. I want to learn how to die now so that I can be ready for it when it comes, and we are a civilization that really has forgotten how to do it. A lot of people I know think that’s a morbid thought for someone in their late 20s to have… but I’m thinking learning how to die is right up there with learning how to garden in a time like this.

Shawn Aune said...

Also the 3.5 number has been mentioned on this blog before.

I find it interesting that the number of steps down appears (at least in this case) to match the number of steps up.

Kaitain said...

Recent video footage of the Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter

Note that these are prototypes that are still going through the flight test program and the Russians are being pretty tight-lipped about the full capabilities of the aircraft. Still, the ability to do a flat spin as a controlled maneuver speaks volumes about the maneuverability and flight control system of the aircraft. The T-50 was specifically designed to compete with the F-22 in air to air combat and is said to have even greater maneuverability than the Sukhoi Su-35, so it should have no problem at all dealing with the F-35. If the Indonesian Air Force equips itself with T-50's and Su-35's and Oz is stuck with F-35's, there's no question as to which side would have air superiority.

In light of that, I think that New Australia's proposal to get out of the F-35 boondoggle and negotiate a deal with Sukhoi makes a huge amount of sense. Too bad the chances of that happening are close to zero...

Ed-M said...

JMG, you're very welcome!

Dimitri, you'll be pleased as punch to know that Spengler has predicted that Russia, sustained by Orthodox Christianity, is going to last another thousand years. Assuming, of course, that it can survive the multiple curveballs that Mother Nature and the voelkerwanderung of Asia are going to throw at it. And also assuming that the ideas that US Evangelical Christians have given the Russians have not infected Russian Orthodoxy with American ChristPsychosis (US Evangelical anti-gay activists were behind the idea of Russia's "silence the gays" law as reported by Mother Jones) including its Manichaean morality.

Juhana, you are spot-on about Americans' black and white thinking on morality. But you underestimate it, methinks, when you call it almost Manichaean. I say it's totally Manichaean! And most of the outrage whipped up here against certain goings-on in other countries or certain acts against 'Murka by others, like 9/11, is done so by corporate media outlets in service of some sort of agenda, usually the looting of some country that has the chutzpah to sit on "our" natural resources. When the far left (or paleoconservative and libertarian right) point out outrages by our own, the usual response is: "Why do you hate America?" So we have this other delusion that Americans do not commit evils, held by many if not most Americans, and propagated in our media and instilled into our children in our public schools.

Shawn Aune said...

@Peter Nelson

The economy, like the climate, is a complex and adaptive far-from-equilibrium dissipative system.

A small scale system that can be described exactly the same way is the Benard Cell.

Benard cells are complex adaptive systems that self-organize in the presence of a large energy gradient.

The bottom of the mixture is heated while the top is cooled.

As the top gets cooler and the bottom gets warmer (the gradient gets bigger) the system begins to self-organize to dissipate the additional heat.

The larger the gradient the faster the system organizes its self to dissipate more heat. This is the key to the "adaptive" part of the initial description.

These complex dissipative structures are quite stable and able to shift up and down in complexity along with the strength of the gradient. So not only are they self-organizing but also seem to have a sense of self-preservation.

This, in a nut-shell, is why the economy isn't going to pop like a bubble. This is also the reason why run-away climate change will end up limiting its self long before humans are extinct.

For a far-from-sexy romp through thermodynamic land try...


Shawn Aune said...


Speaking truth to power is where I often go for that...

Kevin said...

For those curious about the possible future of airship transport, I've found that at least one small group of individuals have built and are operating a personal home-made hot air blimp:

I figure if a handful of people can do this on their own dime (and without helium at that), the technology probably has a future somewhere down the line.

Re the theme of waking up to our depressing nearer future: the post that did it for me was one the Archdruid published a few years back, whose core theme was something like "There is no brighter future up ahead." I found it a major bummer.

@ Cherokee - the go-to person for your question from last week regarding the senility of entire peoples and their decaying empires would be Morris Berman, who has written a number of books on the theme of American decline. His most salient phrase to describe his countrymen (and mine) is "a collection of degraded buffoons." He has a high opinion of us - Not!

But at least I and mine have the security of knowing that our particular corner of the continent will always have a rosy outlook, as illustrated by this classic image from Lloyd Kahn's blog:

It's a veritable cornucopia. What could possibly go wrong?

Roger said...

You can't forecast personalities that drive events - like Napoleon or Marx or Hitler. But present day conditions provide the launch-pad for future trajectories.

It's DIFFERENT this time? Well, as my father says, yeah it's different, it's just the end that's the same. Why? Maybe because people and human nature don't much change.

I wonder what comes about as a result of the "rigor mortis" (as I think you called it) in Washington. You know, the momentum into the future coming from the past and so, if the glass is going to crack, maybe it first cracks along the Mason Dixon line.

But there are other possibilities such as that of an American military intervention, not to fight turbaned tribesmen far away, but rather right in Washington DC. I can envision high ranking generals, exasperated to the gills, sending delegations to Congress and the White House to strongly suggest a - cough - "time-out" while a military council expedites solutions to certain urgent matters.

Or imagine that the glass first starts to crack not in the US but north of the border with fracture lines extending south. It's not all roses up here, we have regional and linguistic grievances that go back centuries and that sometimes erupt violently. And really messed up politics and institutions to go with it.

Not long ago three western provinces signed an agreement called the New West Partnership encompassing trade and other matters. Sounds boring right? But maybe it's a seedling for future North American boundaries? Could it maybe include border states that throw in their lot to get out of the dysfunctional morass they're in? You know, a fresh start.

Bors Sand said...

"the decline and fall of industrial civilization to take centuries" I know you are right about it taking along time for the train to go over the cliff, and yet I am one of those that HOPE it happens tomorrow.

Shane Wilson said...

I know it was just a brief sketch, but you've mentioned repeatedly that you think the best chances for an American insurgency would come from the Mountain West or the Deep South. I assume that that insurgency would come from remnants of the Tea Party/Don't Tread on Me faction. My question is this, since the South is the most diverse area outside of California, with the highest percentage of African-Americans and the fastest growing Latino population, wouldn't this focus any white Tea Party based insurgency inward in ethnic infighting, rather than outward? And wouldn't the DC government intervene to make sure that internal opposition to any insurgency was well funded? To me, the diversity of the South is a strong barrier to overcome for any white Tea Party based insurgency to overcome.
I'm surprise you didn't get any comments from Canadians loudly proclaiming that, under no circumstances could Canada survive a US collapse to become a close ally of China, and loudly proclaiming that their border is intrinsically indefensible. :)

pyrrhus said...

"Pyrrhus, are you volunteering to risk being weeded out of the gene pool?" Non-sequitur!

In a Malthusian world, which you have convincingly shown is virtually inevitable without fossil fuels, volunteering has nothing to do with it. Less "fit",and/or less lucky
individuals will, on the average, have fewer children, and fewer of those children will survive. This process of natural selection has been largely suspended during the last 150 years, but will operate in full force during any post industrial Dark Age.

latefall said...

@Snoqualman re "I have read that hydrogen burns cool":
Large concentrations of hydrogen are not your friend (unless they are really far away). They may be helpful, but in many cases they are just waiting for you to drop your watch. Buildings for e.g. fuel cell research are often designed in a specific way to vent the explosion and keep the rest of the compound somewhat intact. You need to seriously consider something _will_ go wrong.
That is in my opinion also what the next generation of airships need to include at the early design stage. Bail out systems (can have relatively large volume) come to mind. I tend to believe that they'll come back to be used for a number of things in the next couple of decades. Materials got a lot better (performance wise and to a dregree availability) not the least because we started to understand them. And if you need to ship semiconductor products or intermediary products around the world I'd put it in a submarine or an airship. I am pretty certain they'll go "poof" once in a while - but so does everything in a dark(er) age. And if you can get at the cargo before someone else does - it is half as bad.

latefall said...

@YJV: LTA flight, ultralight, and graphene

If you have a microwave and graphite you can get something that'll start being useful already. Hummer method with acids and furnace is another step up but significantly more sophisticated at the moment (for high quality - the process is pretty old). Then there's CVD growth which is highest quality but small yield at the moment. The reactor is a airtight quarz tube at some 500-800 C with some (ideally well known) carbon containing gases going in. People haven't really started to optimize the process for cost (or sustainable footprint) as it is pretty finicky and only moderately well understood as it is. Most of the time people will grow stuff like that on Si-wafers
just to keep conditions easier to control and compare. There may be much cheaper, self stabilizing recipies to do it out there. Or not.

On H2 storage: Well either you keep it cool (eats energy, adds complexity and some volume) or you keep it compressed (adds lots of weight, cost, and volume). And hydrogen is small so it can seep through many materials fairly easily (sometimes degrading them in the process). Graphene would stop that (or significantly reduce it in case of a incomplete layer, e.g. flakes the hydrogen would have to side step).

On ultralights: They were diddling around with them before the combustion engine already. Knowing some of their potential will surely keep them attractive, and from being forgotten altogether. Airdropping troops onto fortresses with one-way gliders was fairly successful at times. Also Germany used human powered flight a lot to train their Luftwaffe pilots back then (weren't allowed engines). There's a bunch of boxes with some 4000-5000 articles regarding that sitting at the library of congress. If one of the library buffs here could help me and point out how to get my hands on (copies of) them in some way, I'd be happy to give it a shot and try to archive these long lost relatives in a second location. If it is any help, this stuff was my family's property before.

onething said...


I'm also curious about what hospitals are doing right re ebola. I had assumed that the usual, knee-jerk assumption of reducing fevers might mean giving Tylenol which is hard on the liver. Then, too, the body creates the fever in part to kill microbes. NSAIDS would increase the likelihood of bleeding. Yet I recently read that fever reducers are part of supportive care, possibly in Africa rather than the U.S. Perhaps an herb like feverfew could be used - but even there, I am unsure whether or when it is a good idea to reduce a fever.

Meanwhile, I got this from someone in the herbal business:

Anything that will boost one's glutathione levels should help with protection against any viral disease. The 'cytokine storm' you refer to is caused by an imbalance in the TH1/TH2 immune cells which happens when glutathione levels are low. The Cysteine in NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) is used by the body to synthesize glutathione.

So, I looked up glutathione and found Glutathione: The Mother of all Antioxidants. There are some tips to increase your levels, such as eating sulphurous foods (brassicas, onions, garlic), exercise, some supplements (N-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, selenium, folate, B6, B12, vite C, E, and milk thistle.

Bret said...

I want to echo Matt's question -- I see your response, but I'm not sure I follow why a change in acreage covered by former European empires is the most salient measure. It's just my purely amateur, off-the-cuff view, but I feel like aggregate worldwide energy extraction/consumption, or perhaps "wealth pumped", or some other such measure (Smil probably constructs a few good candidates) would be more telling and on that score I'd have guessed you'd have constructed the civilizational growth-and-decline curve differently, with the growth phase more or less tracking the time from the start of the industrial revolution until, say, some point in the late 20th century or early 21st century, and a bumpy plateau that we're perhaps near the end of. On that construction -- meant to more closely track the story of growth and decline in fossil energy extraction and use -- I'd have thought you'd characterize all the horrors of the early and mid 20th century as less a first crisis phase of decline than some sort of quite nasty growing pains. No?

latefall said...

re hydrogen storage

If you run into a slightly darker age, I imagine ammonia (NH3) would be a very good hydrogen storage state.
You can have significantly more hydrogen in a volume of ammonia than in liquid hydrogen, and it doesn't try to get away all the time. It is still not very friendly (especially to aquatic beings) but you'll smell it before it kills ya. Conversion is not without losses (and some added weight) though. Some losses can be recouped with smart design - others not. You end up with a bit below half the energy density of diesel, which is not thrilling but not much worse than other alternatives. The tank is MUCH simpler. Here's some background: and
Here's the up side though: ammonia generally stays put so you can wait till you really need it. And you will need it for something - it is a very, very useful intermediary product. Fertilizer, plastics (bakelite or acrylonitrile -> PAN -> Carbon Fiber*), cleaning agent, disinfectant, and of course, explosive. Oh yes - and lifting gas.
I assume what is going to be critical is how well you can localize the downstream steps without killing yourself or advertising for a raid.

*This is probably rather hypothetical as you would opt for the slightly lower quality pitch derived version...

btidwell said...

I'm not sure it's worth posting this far down the comment thread but I was too busy to read this week's blog before now. I'll add my obscure observation anyway...

JMG's assertion that the first Crisis began in 1914 has a particular personal relevance. In the past few years I've become involved in Steampunk subculture, mostly because it's fun, partly because it supports my custom fashion design profession.

Those intrigued by "Steampunk" should google it as I can't do it justice in a few words and it is a supremely visual phenomenon anyway. The shortest form is that it is a historical reenactment movement inspired by Victorian/ Edwardian society and Victorian science fiction (HG Wells, J. Verne)and a vast and growing body of modern fiction in the same style, although the social movement far transcends it's literary roots.

The common trope is that the interest in Steampunk is fueled by a disaffection with "magic plastic boxes" and a romantic longing for technology that was tactile and understandable and a society that was gracious, stylish, and "real." (Steampunk rarely acknowledges it's upper class focus and prejudice)

The idea that our civilization went into significant decline in 1914, pretty much the later date of the Steampunk era, adds another layer of significance for this growing social affectation ...a completely unconscious longing for the last glory days of Western Civilization.

While the end of Civilization may be one raison d'etre for Steampunk. Steampunk, as a rapidly growing pop cultural idiom, would seem to be a social acknowledgement that, if only subconsciously, we all know that was the beginning of the end.

Derv said...

JMG et al -

My artistic skills don't extend beyond MS paint, but I took a stab at a progress fairy: an ugly little brown and gray monster covered with a cracking bacchus mask and an oil martini:

troy said...

Regarding Ebola, there was a bit of good news I heard yesterday. North Korea has completely closed its borders to tourists or foreign visitors of any kind because of concerns that they might have Ebola. (North Korea has tourists, you snark? Well, not any more. Heh.) The journalist writing this up-- I think it was in the NY Post-- expressed some puzzlement as to why NK would quarantine itself despite the fact that no Ebola-infected people have traveled there yet, so far as anyone knows. But that of course is the whole point of quarantine-- to be effective, it has to be enacted before the sick people get in, and enforced ruthlessly. I thought everyone knew that? But evidently not. I guess they really don't teach anything in journalism school.

But anyway, it's possible that at least one pocket of humanity will ride out the plague relatively unscathed, due to their being at least one world leader with a vestigial shred of common sense. (The fact that it's Kim Jong Un is, to borrow a phrase from Cherokee Organics, "not a good look" for the rest of the world's leaders, but no matter. I wrote the them all off as hopeless dullards and short-sighted crooks a long time ago). So I'm more optimistic about the future today than I was yesterday.

Imagine a future where 70% of the world's population is wiped out by the first wave of Ebola, and then when it mutates into a new strain, 70% of the original survivors are wiped out because their antibodies don't recognize the next year's mutant strain. And then again with the next strain. But North Korea remains unaffected by the rest of the world's decision to commit mass suicide for the sake of political correctness. And when Ebola finally burns itself out due to running out of victims, the North Koreans spread out and repopulate the globe, remembering and worshiping Kim Jong Un as the savior of humanity. Perhaps centuries from now, religious scholars will gather in the world's largest and most prosperous city, Pyongyang, to formally debate whether stories that The Holy Un could communicate telepathically with dolphins or hit holes-in-one consistently when golfing are literally true or if they are divinely inspired allegories for the moral edification and enlightenment of humanity.

Wouldn't that be something? That would certainly be something. Good setting for a space bats story.

Random Man said...

Do not underestimate the psychological contributions to collapse.

Yes, yes, we can talk about history and net energy decline and declining marginal returns on investment. That is the main driver.

But everything humans do has a distinctly cultural aspect to it. Once people stop believing that the system works, all bets are off and confidence will never return.

I'm a physician. My patients are a mess, and I'm a mess. There is little improvement on either their or my part. All of healthcare can be considered something like a second rate team that always loses, or a town nobody wants to live in.

Progress faded a long time ago, now there's just money for people who work in healthcare, and the need for some, any kind of care, by patients who have acute pain or other symptoms.

But take away those incentives and there's further breakdown. If there's no money for payment, nobody will show up to care for the ill. I'm not predicting that, I'm guaranteeing it. People have too many individual and family problems as it is. And if patients stop believing they will get even substandard care, they will stop coming in and just stay at home and get morphine and other drugs on the black market.

Anyways, that's my point. Remove incentives, and then psychologically people behave differently, then collapse accelerates.

Paul said...

John, thank you for taking the time to reply. Joel too.

What prompted my post was not this blog entry in particular, but the general thrust of things here. In particular, your treatment of Marxism.

My experience of Socialists and Communists (community and society are the same thing, no?) comes from direct involvement in various causes. Generally they come from the libertarian side of things, and have nothing in common with the Authoritarian crap of Stalin and Mao. They're not utopians. They're just trying to make sure we dont end up deeper in the mire than we need to, whether the general trajectory is up or down. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote,

" I of course understand that the widespread revulsion inspired even now, and perhaps forever, by the word Communism is a sane response to the cruelties and stupidities of the dictators of the USSR, who called themselves, hey presto, Communists, just as Hitler called himself, hey presto, a Christian. To children of the Great Depression, however, it still seems a mild shame to outlaw from polite thought, because of the crimes of tyrants, a word that in the beginning described for us nothing more than a possibly reasonable alternative to the Wall Street crapshoot."

There is nothing utopian the writing of Socialist like Vonnegut or Zinn. The Noble Worker is nowhere to be seen.

They. We. I. are just trying to get somewhere towards the Golden Rule.

When I read your posts about how society is about various interest groups striving to extract what they can from a limited pot, I think of pressure groups such as AVAAZ, and it fits perfectly. I have Socialist friends who are steadfastly in favour of Fracking because it fits their ethos of ordinary working people doing useful productive work to benefit society. To them, environmentalism seems like middle class pollyanna stuff.

To assume that the party could continue if it weren't for the greed of the 1% is as mindlessly dualist as the business as usual ethos dispensed by the elite, but it's a popular idea. Yet despite the increased reach of protest groups through social media etc, it seems to me pretty obvious that the world is becoming a) more polarised and b) more right wing.

The first seems inevitable in times of crisis (and the crisis has hardly touched us yet) The second is not inevitable, although it is probably the path of least resistance. This is a cause of deep concern.

It seems to me that the great social advances of the last couple of centuries - the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, and all the rest, were made possible as much by the surplus energy of fossil fuels as it was by any mass moral upwelling. Peak oil may also mean peak liberality.

dltrammel said...

Sorry I was a bit late to last week's discussion, only getting to read the comments late Sunday.

One comment stood out to me;

Bogatyr said:

"I absolutely support and applaud @dltrammel and others in their efforts to build a Green Wizard movement, but this problem of how to fend off predators is a huge, huge gap in the concept. In fact, there's a huge conceptual gap afaik between Green Wizards/Transitioners on the one hand and the individualist preppers on the other, and that's building a strong, resilient community."

Least Bogatyr and others think that I intend Green Wizards to be pacifistic, let me smile and shake my head in the negative.

To me the archetype Green Wizard is Leonardo Da Vinci. Artist, scholar and lets not forget military genius.

The Green Wizards who sit on the Prez of West Merica's Cabinet of the 2200s will be as learned in military skills as of gardening and energy conservation if I have anything to do with it. The reason we don't "currently" discuss security and military skills is for two simple reasons.

First, JMG asked us not to.

As the one sort of leading the whole Green Wizard movement I defer to our "patron saint".

Secondly, his point was there are plenty of informative sites on the Internet that talk about such things that Green Wizards don't need to repeat the discussion. He also pointed out that such discussions often are very emotionally charged.

People have strong opinions on the subject.

And I've seen this myself. Young boards that don't yet have a sense of "community" like we have at the moment, can crash under the anonymity of charged discussion like those about firearms and personal security. It only takes a few trolls to ruin a community.

We want the Green Wizard's site to be a place where even rabid right wingnuts and left leaning ecofreaks can come and share. I don't care your political leanings as long as you can politely discuss the best compost to use for tomatoes.

If we can moderate the discussion for a while, as people learn that the people who are sharing are "people", then when down the line you disagree with something they say, you won't start a "flame war" over it.

Now for me its a simple matter of evolution and growth to avoid a few subjects in the beginnings of growing Green Wizards.

Personally I consider nutrition a key skill as the world descends. If you are not eating well then things like disease and stress will work against you. Your bottom line survivability drops when you eat poorly.

Unfortunately at the moment, there is a big push back by government licensing boards on what they see as "amateurs" giving food advice. I eat "primaly" and have seen where the "powers that be" go after those they consider not giving them their due with licenses and such.

So at the moment we are not discussing "nutrition" on the Green Wizard forum.

Nor alternate medicine I'm afraid.

The truth is as long as JMG "owns" the name Green Wizards, he is a target for any loonie that wants to sue him, since we all know he's a rich author, should they follow some internet advice on our forum.

In the next year we will be creating a Green Wizards non-profit. Once we do the we will have more freedom to discuss the subject like nutrition, homeopathic and herbal medicine and yes, security and protection.

Til then, I ask you bear with us and by all means, visit the forums, get registered and contribute.

We've been a bit lax on the GreenWizardsDotInfo site with update but thats about to change. The Summer was crazy for me but we have a few guest writers with some amazing articles to post this month. And I'm going to do a series as I winterize my home that should help teach people to conserve.

Hopefully we can get the ball rolling before JMG's prediction of a Ebola pandemic turns the lights out.

dltrammel said...

Let me add something I just noticed;

"I absolutely support and applaud @dltrammel and others in their efforts to build a Green Wizard movement, but this problem of how to fend off predators is a huge, huge gap in the concept. In fact, there's a huge conceptual gap afaik between Green Wizards/Transitioners on the one hand and the individualist preppers on the other, and that's building a strong, resilient community."

I added the bold.

I will disagree, Green Wizardry isn't about building a strong, resilient community.

For better or worse, given what I've seen of the people interested in Green Wizardry, GW is a solitary profession.

As much as I would like different.

The people that seem to be attracted to what we teach are more lone wolves than momma bears.

That doesn't mean that Green Wizards won't learn how to help a disorganized group of people a functional community, just that we aren't "Transition Towners". We don't come in at the start and advocate that we need a holistic systemic approach to the problem of surviving in a World Made Harsh.

Maybe you will think thats a wrong way to approach the coming collapse but theres alot of single people out there, without a group that want to help, in what ever small way they can. To me Green Wizardry is that skill set.

LOL. of course I can be wrong. Feel free to join the discussion on the forum and weigh in with your opinion.

After all "dissensus" which is unity in different opinions is one of the GW core principles.

I look forward to the discussions.

Bill Pulliam said...

Hmmm... well, your 21st Century is really just a reboot (as we say in Hollywood now) of the 20th Century, with the volume amped up and a new cast. Open with pandemic and depression, then we go to fascism, nuclear war, a global hegemon holding together an uneasy peace, and finally the climate starts to come unraveled. Been there, done that.

So let's just scrap all those pages, and what say we move straight into that next bit, all that stuff about dissolution of all the nations, breakdown of all that global sh... um, I mean stuff (we're shooting for a PG-13, right? Gotta watch the language, Bro!), pirates, lots of pirates, the kids love pirates, then just a gradual darkening of everything -- one by one, without too much fuss, all the lights just slowly go out. Do we really need a whole nuther century of all that battling of the empires? Let's just go right for bleak and postmodern, no winners, no heros, no morals, just fade to black, roll credits for the empty theater. Very Scandinavian; they'll love it in Denmark. Oh, right, Denmark is all underwater. Well, you get my point.

Derv said...

Paul (and others discussing Communism)-

I can't speak for everyone, though I know there are others who share my mindset. But my (intense) dislike of Communism isn't on account of Stalin's crimes. It's because the system is inherently evil.

Given that, in at least the standard Communist model, the government takes control of the means of production, and distributes goods to the people, it is inherently totalitarian. Since it seeks to eventually abolish any form of monetary exchange, any step toward that which is not strictly voluntary (which then only ever takes place in small communities) is universal slavery. As its aim is an eventual one-world system, it is inherently imperialistic. Since the whole purpose of this planet-wide social engineering experiment is a classless society of equality, harmony, and peaceful anarchy, it is inherently utopian. And given that it sees history through the entirely secular lens of Marxist class struggle, and Communism as the inevitable outcome of history, it holds to an "ends-justify-the-means" philosophy, the justification of every evil governing power in every age.

I might also add, as a personal note, that I believe in Original Sin and concupiscence, which means that there is no possible conceivable system of earthly governance where greed, wrath, envy and pride will no longer be a problem. This means a state apparatus will always be necessary to some degree, which means the end-state of Communism is completely impossible to achieve. Others may differ on their particular religious beliefs, but a fair number of secular people, and those of other religious views, also believe in free will. This, too, renders mankind essentially uncontrollable, such that no set of cultural programming can undo the free choice of some people to do evil things.

The actions of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and all the rest are not an unfortunate coincidence for Communism. They are its inevitable outcome if executed outside of a fully voluntary commune. The state takes control of the means of production and distributes scarce goods, which puts it in the position of choosing who gets to die. The inevitable thrust of history toward Communism is for the greater good, so those who act against Communist interests are enemies of mankind, and thus treated less than kindly. The dictatorship of the proletariat - the traditional approach to Communism's second stage - concentrates unimaginable power into the hands of a few Communist zealots. If they pursue the aims of Communism, they will commit atrocities. If they shun the aims of Communism and pursue self-interest, they will commit atrocities. (continued in second post)

Derv said...

I could continue ranting for quite some time about this. The notion that Communism is a great idea that's never been properly tried is a vile myth. Those who say that it's simply not practical are closer to being right, but still assume that we ought to do it if it were possible. We shouldn't. It's evil.

I am a traditional conservative (which nowadays has nothing to do with the GOP). Progressives, the other side of that coin, tend to think that human society can be shaped or molded into new forms successfully, and that therefore social experimentation can be greatly beneficial. They may recognize the risks and try to minimize them, but large-scale social experimentation (justs like any form of experimentation) requires a good deal of centralized control. There has to be directors, a shared vision, and the means of attaining it (which in this case is all the nasty powers that are a part of the state apparatus).

A traditional conservative doesn't agree with this. It believes that humans have a relatively fixed nature that, while adaptable, can never be undone. There has never in history been a society where murder was extolled as a virtue, disrespect of your superiors was praised, and lying to your mother was rewarded, to give a few examples. Even societies that engaged in cannibalism did it to honor their ancestors or to dehumanize an enemy, impulses found in our civilization as well as all others. So the idea of social experimentation is quite simply bad. It has little to no upsides and plenty of downsides. Centralizing power and trying to remake mankind have led to more atrocities than any man can name. If it also will never lead to a utopia, or even a fundamental change in human society, why bother?

In this sense at least, the main thrust of this entire blog is unabashedly conservative. We are not different. It is never different this time, in the ways that matter at least. We will see our civilization decline just as all human civilization declines. No new state model, technology, ideology, or space alien will come along to fix our problems and undo the inevitable result of human nature. Civilizations grow, become dysfunctional, and decline, and that's all there is to it. We can understand that process, perhaps even make it more bearable, but we will not escape it.

Communism is a utopian fantasy built upon the dream of worldwide enslavement and reprogramming of all mankind. It deserves its place next to Nazism on the shelf of "worst ideas from the 20th century."

My donkey said...

Lockheed Martin's announcement last week has set off a new round of rosy predictions that fusion will replace fossil fuels, put an end to global warming, and (as Kunstler puts it) allow us to keep driving to Walmart forever.
Here's an example article:

However, even if fusion took the place of fossil fuels and was offered free to everyone (which it never would be, but for the sake of argument), we'd still have to contend with the ongoing depletion of resources such as fresh water, topsoil, various minerals, and space to live and grow food. And we'd still have to deal with types of environmental pollution other than greenhouse gases.

Considering how thoughtlessly we've wasted valuble resources and poisoned our own back yard in the past, I wouldn't expect our habits to change. Giving humanity ad libitum access to energy would be like giving a bacterial colony ad libitum access to agar in a Petri dish, precipitating a similar boom and bust in short order.

I never looked at life from a multi-faceted ecosystems perspective until taking an Ecology course in university. Too bad we're not taught Ecology throughout primary and secondary school; maybe it would help us to recognize and be wary of one-sided views on anything.

Bogatyr said...


Thanks for your responses! I really do agree with you on most things, you know.

Still... Personal experience has taught me that staying under the radar is harder than most people think. When things turn sour, no-one should bank on that.

Similarly, recent experience has shown me that you can't count on most friends and acquaintances being there for you either.

Lone wolves won't survive when packs are ravening; associations built for peaceful times won't withstand severe shocks. Hence my focus on community-building. I don't necessarily mean military skills, though the issue of violence has to be considered. I'm more concerned, though, with how we build something that, when very bad times come, means you can count on having people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you.

If the Green Wizards project is looking at that, then my perception is definitely out of date. I'll try to visit the forums as time allows!

YJV said...

Interesting stuff! The crux of it is whether the embodied energy of graphene will match with available energy and tech complexity.

Using Ammonia to store hydrogen is similar in principle to using Metal Hydrides. The latter is non-toxic and there's already tank designs out there. Scrap metals will be abundant in the future so maybe that option can be viable.

I did gliding myself back when I was in the NZ air cadets. Gliding still requires a method to get to an adequate height, so if airships are around I can easily envision glider paratroopers from those airships being used.

Also, it's great that someone's thinking of archiving this stuff. This is one of the few places where plastic based paper comes in useful and I hope everyone learns the skills needed to archive important technical texts.

Thanks for all the info!

Marcello said...

I suspect people have missed that there are in fact periodic attempts at reviving airships with serious amounts of money thrown at them from both private and public sources; while planes rule the sky there is a real need for something that can pick up a load from point A and deliver to point B without going through airports, roads etc.
This is one of the most recent for example:

You can check up CargoLifter to see how such attempts end up.
A small blimp pose no significant challanges and can carry out a number of useful roles. Scaling up however seems to create a number of issues, perhaps not unsolvable but not easy to tackle.

Air transport on a substantial scale is not viable in an energy constrained society. The large mass of people will be stuck in the farm/village, while perhaps traveling to the provincial town once in a blue moon. Goods will be moved by ships/barge over seas, rivers and canals. Gravel roads will have to do where water won't be viable and some sort of rail based solution could remain an option as long as strips of iron can be turned out at a sufficiently economical price.

For the records the napoleonic military deemed hydrogen filled balloons not worth the investment in chronically scarce transport and resources. It took a sizable number of carriages, hours to set up and the benefit was relative.

Ursachi Alexandru said...


I've been following both of your blogs with great interest lately, but I'm mostly lurking around, reading the comments, until I come across a subject that I just have to speak about. So, here it goes:

Your answer to Dmitry Orlov - THANK. YOU.

Dan the Farmer said...

Regarding fever control, a number of people have said NSAIDs are bad for the liver and kidneys and should be avoided. Well then how to reduce fever? I was sick once and my doctor told me that if my fever spiked over 101° (it had spiked to over 103°) I was to get in the cold shower. He didn't care if it was uncomfortable. It would be brief and would quickly feel better than frying my brain.

Thank you to all that have researched the care we'll need in treating this thing. I'm still wondering if it's best to catch early or late.

Mark Rice said...

Spiegel online has an article The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails. It touches on the fact that those in the middle and the bottom are getting squeezed. The new buzzword is "inclusion". How can we make the system work for everyone?

"It isn't necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on "inclusive capitalism" to realize that industrialized countries have a problem."

Various figures of economics and finance are profiled who are not quite mainstream but respected by many.

pyrrhus said...

"the decline and fall of industrial civilization to take centuries" I know you are right about it taking along time for the train to go over the cliff, and yet I am one of those that HOPE it happens tomorrow.

I doubt that it will take centuries. Industrial agriculture takes a lot of energy (and water), and will likely collapse in short order after serious energy shortages.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Seems the Blogger monster ate this ditty earlier today..

My copy of 'Twilight's Last Gleaming' - first published 2015(!) - arrived good and early this morning. So I'll judge this book by its cover.

I got a book today, oh boy
The Chinese army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
Beached USS Ronald Reagan enveloped in smog
I know this much for sure - Having read the blog!

Kudos to your cover artist as well as the author! (And apologies to John Lennon!)



Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Following up on latefall's remarks on airship development, the dangers of hydrogen as the lifting agent are mitigated if the ship is remotely controlled. Imagine a cargo airship traversing lands without good roads, escorted by one person on a mule or camel with camping gear and a radio controller. Or the Pony Express version, with relays of riders.

As latefall proposes, if cargo is padded and can be jettisoned by radio signal, it might be retrievable after an airship catches fire.

I can see this making economic sense for overland transport across deserts and remote places currently supplied by air, like the interior of Alaska. It wouldn't be good for crossing mountain ranges, because of the winds and storms.

Andy Brown said...


I'm no Communist, but I think the "standard model" as you put it is pretty much a straw man as far as discrediting communism (lower case 'c'). In history, humans have organized many different forms of social and property arrangements including some that are arguably communistic - at least when it comes to the means of production. Communism, fascism, nationalism and indeed capitalism have been used to experiment with large scale human domination as well as human emancipation. I'd have to agree with you that it hasn't been pretty, though I would spread the blame farther than you - to include those who claim to be bound by human nature as well as those who claim to be able to remake it.

YJV said...


Yes I saw those in my research. Nobody has thought of building airships in a simpler way rather than putting more complex gizmos and making them hybrids and stuff (apart from this guy: The reason airships haven't been invested in is because the relative cost of fuel makes investment in improving aircraft easier and more worthwhile. Give it another 20 years and I can definitely see government thinking about investing in airships (the US and Royal Navies already have, for example) due to the vastly increased costs of moving material through the air.

As for airships being unviable in an energy-constrained society, I'm not too sure whether they will be or not. There are definitely methods of making small and low-fuel airships. Also the cost of building an airship route can be cheaper than building a rail line, since you don't need tracks - and both technologies require metals on a similar scale. If a future society can support rail I reckon it could support airships. In the interim canal barges and tall sail ships will rule. In this case the major 'if' will be the lifting gas. Perhaps future societies will risk using Hydrogen until they find a more suitable gas or way of getting Helium. After all, pioneer pilots took the same sort of risks crossing the Atlantic.

Mokey44 said...


After having read your blogs for so long, I've seen an odd but interesting convergence in wider media.

Russell Brand, the British comedian/actor, has started a Youtube Channel he calls 'The Trews' (True News) in addition to his latest book, Revolution, where he seems to have found a whole new direction- using many of the same ideas that are found here, he's advocating for local, decentralized communities to get involved around issues that impact them and not wait for the politicians. He also talks about the more spiritual dimensions of creating a society based around the ideas of connection with nature and others.

He uses the language of comedy to get people thinking about bigger issues and seems to seriously want to change the society. His last stand up show actually discusses the language of symbolism that gets pretty close to an understanding of thaumaturgy.

I've also noticed that the larger media write about anything they can to actually not engage with his ideas. They write about his 'hypocrisy'- but as someone who had made it to the top of his profession after being on welfare for years he seems to be uniquely positioned to have had a chance to be a part of the 1% and decide that it wasn't worth anything if poor people are still being exploited. It's fascinating to watch.

In many ways he reminds me of what you've said in your posts about being on the outside of society and not having your ideas misrepresented by the mainstream.

In one of the latest episodes, he and Max Keiser and Alec Baldwin talk about Peak Oil and how many of the famous wealthy people Baldwin knows are buying up massive acres of land in Northern areas, saying that they will have people working for them growing food in fifteen years.

I think the ideas you've spoken about here are trickling into parts of society in rather unexpected ways.

rapier said...

Communism suffers from the exact problem that capitalism does. They are both ideologies and ideology in itself is the problem.

No system is perfect or perfectible in theory, and in practice every ideology will be corrupted. Those with a will to power can operate under the guise of any ideology.

Not that today's ideologies are really ideologies at all. Rather they are an amalgamation of policy views based upon prejudices and then stuffed into a box called conservatism, liberalism, capitalism,whatever.

True believers will disagree violently.

Mokey44 said...


After having read your blogs for so long, I've seen an odd but interesting convergence in wider media.

Russell Brand, the British comedian/actor, has started a Youtube Channel he calls 'The Trews' (True News) in addition to his latest book, Revolution, where he seems to have found a whole new direction- using many of the same ideas that are found here, he's advocating for local, decentralized communities to get involved around issues that impact them and not wait for the politicians. He also talks about the more spiritual dimensions of creating a society based around the ideas of connection with nature and others.

He uses the language of comedy to get people thinking about bigger issues and seems to seriously want to change the society. His last stand up show actually discusses the language of symbolism that gets pretty close to an understanding of thaumaturgy.

I've also noticed that the larger media write about anything they can to actually not engage with his ideas. They write about his 'hypocrisy'- but as someone who had made it to the top of his profession after being on welfare for years he seems to be uniquely positioned to have had a chance to be a part of the 1% and decide that it wasn't worth anything if poor people are still being exploited. It's fascinating to watch.

In many ways he reminds me of what you've said in your posts about being on the outside of society and not having your ideas misrepresented by the mainstream.

In one of the latest episodes, he and Max Keiser and Alec Baldwin talk about Peak Oil and how many of the famous wealthy people Baldwin knows are buying up massive acres of land in Northern areas, saying that they will have people working for them growing food in fifteen years.

I think the ideas you've spoken about here are trickling into parts of society in rather unexpected ways.

Derv said...


I don't mean to imply that there aren't many other evil systems, or abuses by those in power under other systems. I think it's obvious that Nazism and other forms of Fascism naturally tend toward the kind of atrocities committed in their name as well.

Moreover, the sort of communistic systems you describe are quite different than state-level Communism, which is what I was warning against. It's not a straw man argument because it is, in fact, what Marxist-Leninist Communism (and its close cousins) actually believe.

Now, as I said, a communistic system that is totally voluntary, and which has no strong ideological underpinnings, is a very different sort of gig. But it's practically a different system altogether, such that the two deserve totally different names. State-level, Marxist-based Communism has a utopian dream it seeks to fulfill by dominating the world. That is its stated aim, and it MUST be their aim, given what they believe. A stateless, classless society is impossible so long as other states exist; their very existence requires a standing army by the Communists, and therefore a state apparatus, such that a transition to the final Communist society is impossible.

But this doesn't apply to some group of people who have decided to place control of their production in the hands of some trusted authority and form a community around it. Heck, that's practically identical to the most common forms of monasticism. And a small group of people (a tribe, a town, whatever) that chooses for themselves to follow that model aren't seeking to impose anything on anyone; they do not carry the ideological baggage. I say leave those people be. They're fine, even if I wouldn't want to be a part of their group.

But when we're talking about the future of the West, and Communism on a scale any larger than that, the ideological stuff must accompany it. You will never find a populace that will, to a man, willingly give up their control over the means of production. You can only remove the natural law of private property by force. This requires revolution, or at the very least long-term indoctrination (the Fabian or Gramsci approach).

A group of people who advocate seizing private property by force and imposing via revolution a re-engineering of human society to create a utopia are exactly the kind of scary people I was talking about.

I wish there were better terms for some of this, but I find the ordinary labels insufficient. I guess you can follow the distinction between Marxist/Engels Communism and non-Marxist communism, with Marxist Communism being the worrisome kind (or any of its children: Trotskyism, Leninism, Maoism, etc.).

Again, it's not about taking away a community's right to live how they wish, even if it is as communists. It's about stopping the people who want to prevent me and others from living how we choose.

David said...

I lean towards the likelihood of a fairly rapid collapse, for the simple reason that it takes years of effort to push the boulder of civilization up the mountain, but only a second's inattention to lose it. At the moment the world is hanging by a thread, one that is being actively unraveled by a number of global forces. Climate change and resulting crop failures (California's Central Valley), religious war (ISIS) and a variety of potential pandemics (not just Ebola).

I doubt we have a century left for your proto-history to play out. Complex systems become increasingly fragile and sensitive to disruption by relatively minor factors. Maybe a decade, if we are lucky.

Gloucon X said...

Derv said...A traditional conservative doesn't agree with this. It believes that humans have a relatively fixed nature that, while adaptable, can never be undone.

Sorry Derv, you blew it. I was about to join the ranks of the traditional conservatives, but then you used the the weasel words “relatively” and “adaptable”. This caused me to ask myself: From where did all these rebellions, revolutions, social movements and experiments that arise? They arose from the human mind, and the human desire to make things better, in other words, from human nature. Traditional conservatism now looks to me like only one of a range of options used by these adaptable humans.

Which leads us further, to the oft mentioned Progress Fairy. How do we keep the human mind from applying technology to solve problems? Three hundred years ago humans just happened to discover that fossil fuels can help them solve lots of problems. Humans have been improving their technology since the Stone Age, so it must be a part of their adaptable human nature. If that is the case, then how can we criticize them for doing what nature designed them to do?

buho62 said...

One of the real challenges in facing this future is taking an exciting, even shocking big picture sketch like this and transcribing it into one's daily life. In that latter realm, this is all just the backdrop to the personal travails of love, tragedy, boredom, hard work, old-fashioned fun, etc.

After all, it's hard work to move beyond reading these kind of sketches as something more than just doom porn, and to get up and start muddling towards doing something about it. And the hardest part of that is going against the social grain.

Derv said...


I agree with you that modern (pseudo) capitalism is also evil, and that even a "pure" form of capitalism is amoral, with no consideration for human needs or long-term damage. But it does, more or less, respect the natural rights of man, so long as it's not combined with the sort of monetary system we have presently. When you add control of the currency and loan money into existence, the only possible outcome (all else being equal) is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Gloucon X-

I make a conscious effort to soften my tone both online and in person, because my natural tendency is to be extremely harsh. People tend not to even give what I say a second thought if I'm overly blunt. I agree. They are weasel words. I believe human nature is fixed.

I said "relatively" because I didn't want to get into a hypothetical debate about whether human nature could be different in, say, a million years or so. I said "adaptable" because I didn't want people to think I was suggesting that our fixed nature cannot manifest itself in a variety of ways (while still retaining its particular traits).

I suspect that you were joking when you said you were nearly convinced, but I hope you weren't. Join us. We have pie.

It is certainly true that progressivism and social experimentation are the products of the human mind. But they are a manifestation of an innate human drive - the desire for a better, fairer, more just, more kind world - combined with a particularly strange, modern cultural delusion. We believe, for reasons utterly beyond me, that we are in total control of creation itself.

Moreover, the tendencies toward utopia and apocalypse that JMG often notes is another quirk of human nature. Regardless of your religious persuasion, the idea of these two contraries manifests itself in all religion, even if it is only as a part of a cycle. It's the consequence of our moral tendencies combined with our need for agency. If our actions really do have a moral dimension (and they do), and we really are able to shape our world (which we can, albeit in a very limited fashion), then we will eventually bring the world to a state of happiness or a state of destruction. This works fine in the spiritual sphere, but in a secular framework it becomes the religion of progress.

And it just so happens that this particular set of secularized beliefs which were once part of religious frameworks is horrendously destructive. It is destructive in the capitalist form, promoting egoism, hedonism and short-sightedness. It is destructive in the Marxist-communist form, which abandons moral guidelines altogether and imposes its totalitarian doctrine from the top down.

Of course, as JMG would likely point out, these are not the only two options. It is a false dichotomy. We can take other paths. But we need to abandon those which are destructive, totalitarian, and reinforce the most selfish tendencies in man.

jean-vivien said...

When I was a kid, we had to read this book about a kid taken by an old man to a balloon trip. Balloons were invented way before oil became a widely used fuel. And more recently, watching a giant strawberry gliding through our skies was quite a sight ! Balloons will be more widely used for recreation, because they are an older and more poetic means of flying.
On a more somber note, it looks like banker rain season has just started :

Tragic for them... and pretty scary for Europe too

Andy Brown said...

Derv, Thanks for the considered responses to some of the challenges posed to you. I prefaced my last comment by saying I'm no Communist, so for this one I'll say that I'm no Burkean conservative. One flaw in your argument as I see it is in your mistaken idea that social arrangements are "voluntary." The idea that I voluntarily take part in a cash economy based on private property and individually-based "natural" rights is simply not true - or at least understates the difficulties of not taking part.

This probably isn't the place to argue world-views, but I would like to clarify that "conservatism" doesn't have to come from a narrow view of what human nature is or what humans are capable of.

The great adaptation of the human animal is the capacity for culture, which hugely expanded the diversity of human arrangements (though not infinitely of course).

Humans strive (to varying degrees) in whatever cultural system they find themselves in. For deeply motivating reasons, they strive to be liked and respected by the people they want to be liked and respected by; they strive for some degree of material security or success; they strive for the benefit of whatever group they identify with (self, family, tribe, nation). The details of that are more various than admitted by most conservatives – or most members of any culture (who tend to consider their way of doing things the natural, sensible way)

I agree with conservatives to the point that grandiose social experiments that try to tear people from their culture are doomed to fail. Small scale ones end up trying to replace culture with psychological dependencies (charismatic leaders) and state-scaled one with institutions of oppression. So, again, I agree with conservatives that incremental changes are much more likely to make sense and stick – I just bridle when conservatives invoke “human nature” to limit things to their preferred scope. Yes humans are selfish, but they are also altruistic; they abuse each other, but also have an innate sense of justice; they perceive what’s going on around them and have also the tools to delude themselves and others.

The collapse of culture (as JMG describes) tears away culture – it destroys some of the things we’ve built our identity on – nation, tribe, family, even self; it destroys the avenues by which we pursued public regard and success. It simplifies things down to a narrower set of options - to homesteads and warbands and the demands of physical survival for example. These are more basic, but to think of it as an underlying “nature” is like thinking of baskets and goat bladders as nature, just because we sometimes forget how to make proper pottery.

(Please don't take any of this as a personal attack - I'm trying to clarify my difference of opinion in a way that explains why a "progressive" like myself pretty much agrees with most of what JMG has to say here.)

Bill Pulliam said...

Capitalism/Communism/Socialism are all products of the industrial era. All assume the existence of a functioning industrial economy to support them; indeed, they *require* this. This in turn requires cheap available energy indefinitely. Ergo, all three are doomed.

Communism, in *any* implementation, can survive about as long as the gasoline-powered automobile. Because, like the auto, it is fossil-fueled.

Marcello said...

"Nobody has thought of building airships in a simpler way rather than putting more complex gizmos and making them hybrids and stuff"

The older, "simpler" types of large airships crashed and burned quite a lot. What you linked to is not much bigger that various small blimps and assorted that are normally used successfully.
Payload would be minimal.
As a mater of fact a single train, even an old steam one, can pack the load of a fleet of large Zeppelin, so the economics don't really add up except for specific applications like oversized loads, very remote locations and such; not that I would expect railroads to be viable in the modern form either, I was thinking more about animal drawn carriages over strip rail or plateways that could be used to link a mine or such to the nearest port

Eric S. said...

@Bogatyr (and Dltrammel and whoever else is involved in Green Wizardry please correct me if I'm totally missing the point):

Green Wizardry isn't so much about standing alone as I understand it, it isn't necessarily about being a lone wolf or laying low. It's about recognizing that in times of crisis, skills and habits are the one thing that can't be taken away from you as long as you're alive. No matter how strong the communities you build now may be, they may not be the communities you have 30 years from now if you're still alive.

If you're in the suburbs, people may foreclose on properties when they can't afford to pay bills and move closer to their jobs, if you're in the city new people will move in and the landscape will change drastically, if you're in the country people will pour out in search of work and you'll be swept up in a tide of "Okies" searching for this or that promised lands. You may lose jobs and wind up in urban hovels and shanty towns, your town may become the staging ground for a decisive historical battle in some future war and you may have to pick up and move away until it's over only to discover that there's a crater where your house was from a stray missile. You might have to do odd jobs around town, or you may find yourself on the wrong side of whatever government comes into play and decide your chances are better with the insurgents. And if you make it through everything you may finally get your happy ending and have a home, a trade, and a community to carry you through your old age. A community with a mix of languages, customs, and religions that may not be yours.

There's a lot of on the job training through all that, but it'll be a lot easier if you start building a reportoi of skills and habits that'll make it easier to get accepted into those new communities and get hired into those odd jobs. You can't learn everything so you've got to pick the things that suit you and the future your home town is likely to have. And yes, community building can be one of those skills. The difference between Green Wizardry and Transition is that for Green Wizards the skill of building strong, resilient communities rather than the communities themselves is the thing that's valued and is one skill among many. Is the difference between insulating and weather stripping the house you live in now because you want a strong, resilient house and learning how to weather strip and insulate starting with the house you live in now because you know that's a good thing to know how to do. Yes your house benefits in both cases, but in the latter case you've gained something valuable even if your house gets taken away from you.

Shane Wilson said...

@ Juhana,
Americans are compulsively idealistic--we have a whole civil religion around our founding/nation that both sides of our political process pay homage to. We were founded upon the American dream as a land of bounty that knows no limit, and every limit we've encountered, we've overcome. Once the frontier (land limit) was closed, we began industrializing/exploiting our bounty of fossil fuels, once our fossil fuels peaked (1970s), we exploited our empire for its wealth. Americans are basically congenital idealists who congenitally can't understand or accept limits. It's going to get VERY interesting in North America as we finally have to come to terms w/limits in short order, and our idealism/optimism finally comes crashing down. I live in the black sheep region of the US, the American South, which has consistently foiled the idealism of the elite regions/coasts by being impoverished, unequal, "backward", etc., at least until recently. We've always been the sore thumb that refused to succumb to the progressive idealism of the rich, elite regions that represent the American norm.

Shane Wilson said...

There were two foundational colonies in the U.S., the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay and the Virginia company. The Virginia company was explicitly a commercial venture, while the Puritans were a fundamentalist protestant sect that nevertheless became as commercial as the Virginia company (for God and profit was the Puritans' motto) The Puritans became the dominant faction, while the Virginians (southerners) became the minority faction, which is why Americans celebrate that landing at Plymouth rock as thanksgiving rather than the founding of Jamestown (Virginia). So the die was cast, and the moral imperative of America was fixed, and that's the reason why everything the Americans do is set in moral tones of good vs evil w/the Americans on the good side, dates back to 1620 & Plymouth rock.

Shane Wilson said...

I think I'm witnessing the "downward shove" JMG has discussed as a society declines and those higher and higher the class scale get shoved down. The North side of downtown Lexington has been the ghetto/"bad part of town" for as long as I can remember, yet it's seeing an influx of young people with degrees, many of whom are in to homesteading. It's where I've been hanging out and learning. Much has been made of "gentrification", but I'm not sure that that's what's at work. Most of these people moving in and homesteading aren't sinking a lot of money into the properties, if they drive, they drive older cars. A lot of them rent. They buy secondhand at thrift stores. What I'm thinking is happening is the downward shove JMG has mentioned, that people who, 20 years ago wouldn't have considered these neighborhoods are reconsidering. It also helps that they're pedestrian friendly. It's really poignant for me because these are the same working class neighborhoods where my grandfather grew up poor in the early 20th century. Our prosperity really was a blip in time. ..

Moshe Braner said...

[sorry if this is a duplicate, Blogger glitch here]

Regarding northern regions becoming better for agriculture as the climate warms: warmer temperatures are not enough. Rainfall patterns matter too. But even more so, good soil will take more than a couple of centuries to build.

Regarding lighter than air flying machines. I keep wondering why peak-oilers are enamored of them. Perhaps it comes from the Hollywood-created myth that it is strong engines that keep airplanes in the air, and as soon as the engine sputters an airplane dives straight down. Look at a glider (sailplane, not so much hang glider) flying without an engine, and see how efficient long wings and steamlining can be. And staying up is not enough - need to get somewhere! A sailplane can maintain altitude while moving a mile a minute with just a 5 horsepower engine. Airships displace a lot of air as they move, thus require large, multi-hundred horsepower engines to move relatively slowly. As for hot air balloons, they use more fuel per hour, just to keep the air in the balloon hot, while floating at the wind's whim, than a small airplane uses while flying where the pilot pleases at 90 mph.

If the "floating in air" part is the important part, for freight (rather than reconnaissance), floating on water is far easier. Doesn't work inland (except where canals are feasible), but railroads are the next best thing.

And yes it is tragic how we throw helium away on frivolous nonsense, and emblematic of how as a species we are no smarter than yeast. But no, airships is not the best use of helium. There are other uses where helium has no substitute, such as superconducting electromagnets which are essential to technologies such as MRIs.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Even so, the emergence of the neofascist American Peoples Party as a major force in the 2024 US elections stunned most observers.

I think you're off by a few decades. Orwell only missed by several years.

Dennis D said...

I think that a lot of the confusion in the fast crash vs long term decline is whether you are looking at global or local dimensions. For those of us in first world countries, such as the US, an 80% drop in standards of living will probably feel like collapse. even if it is just reverting to the mean, I arrive at that figure by extrapolating the fact that the US uses 25% (minimum) of the worlds resources and energy, but only has 5% of the world population.This will be a drop to 20% of current use, and many will consider this as collapse.

Avery said...

Derv, you should point out that most of the "revolutions" in world history have been about restoring a lost principle, not about disposing with all social norms. The Chinese epic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" elucidates this in great detail. If someone has become addicted to the French Revolution, it might be a good book to read.

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