Happy Vernal Equinox
At my age, every spring I get to witness is a happy event!
Would that I could say as much for the state of our world. The evidence for the accelerating advance of global warming and the consequences of climate change is mounting. In spite of the drastic cold that much of the Midwest and East experienced in the US this winter, the continent has had one of the warmest winters on record. We have certainly enjoyed the milder climate where I live. Not so much for those in the Southwest where drought is still a major problem.
The only good news (until you think about the causes!) is that CO2 emission levels were stable this last year — they didn't grow. But one of the reasons they didn't is that the amount of carbon being burned has not grown. And that is because, in spite of all the clap-trap statistics out of Washington and other capitals, the global economy has not grown. The amount of real economic work (i.e. building things) has not grown. This being true even though the price of oil has plummeted. And that is the real scary part.
To me the notion of the economy not growing would be a good thing if it were done on purpose, i.e. the world governments planned for and intentionally implemented non-growth oriented policies. That would mean that they would be taking into account the potential pain and suffering that might attend non-growth especially for the lower classes. They would invoke policies that made sure that distribution of what was being produced would be equitable. Instead, look what we have. The rich continue to get richer, not because they are producing more real economic value, but because they continue to steal from the rest of society, primarily through the banking systems (thank you Federal Reserve). And the poor and the so-called middle class are getting poorer in the bargain. A non-growing economy simply translates into fewer reasonably paying jobs. The biggest number of new jobs being created, by the way, are ironically in the food services industry (not particularly known for high wages) and that, doubly ironic, is because the people who are getting richer are eating out more! Let's hope they are giving good tips (Oh wait, I just heard something about a study on the generosity of wealthy people that showed that they were the stingiest tippers!!!)
Instead, the non-growth being experienced now (and by the way don't be sucked into the numbers China publishes either!) is a natural consequence of having reached the limits of what can be done with financial wheeling and dealing to hide the fact that our net free energy per capita has long since peaked and we are headed toward complete collapse of our civilization's capacity to support 7.5+ (and counting) billion people. We are not just looking at some kind of adjustment or even a resetting to a “somewhat” lower standard of living for those in the developed countries. Once the collapse starts in earnest it will be catastrophic. For example, we are already seeing a reduction in oil production from both the tar sands in Canada and the shale plays in the US as a result of low oil prices. That unconventional oil is simply too expensive to produce compared to the revenues it generates. The oil producers can only operate at a loss for so long before they fold. And because the financial system is so distorted and full of hot air, there really is no more capital to divert their way to keep them afloat. With so many consumers working at low paying jobs the level of demand needed to boost those gasoline prices, for example, is simply not there. So it is is likely the prices of oil and derivative products will remain too low for unconventional production to be profitable any time in the foreseeable future.
Catastrophes are strongly non-linear events, like avalanches and earthquakes. You can't necessarily predict when such an event will take place. And there are generally a lot of little events (clusters of small avalanches or earthquakes) here and there that portend, but do not provide information on when the big one is going to occur. And they are rapid. Once started, and with the right underlying conditions, they are like explosions. The first occurring parts entail later parts in an amplifying way. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that a major event WILL occur.
The underlying conditions in the case of civilization are several. Basically, as I have been writing about for years the single biggest factor underlying an economic collapse (and as a result a population collapse) is the amount of net energy available to do USEFUL work per capita. As long as that number is going up or is at least steady, everything will be OK. Ideally, it would be steady because 1) the population was not growing, and 2) neither was the extraction of energy and raw material resources. More ideally still would be this steady-state situation would have obtained at a far lower total population size than we have today. In fact, had the human population stabilized at an ecologically balanced size there would have been far less carbon being burned and more trees, etc. to absorb the CO2 that was put into the atmosphere by what was burned.
Which leads me to another underlying condition that has acted as the enabling factor in what has actually happened. Human beings are just not very wise at all. Collective human knowledge had to develop to a point where we could use our intelligence to manage our affairs properly. It is just now getting to that point. Unfortunately our inherent capacity for making veridical judgements — wisdom — or what I call sapience, has lagged behind from an evolutionary standpoint. And the better part of wisdom is to not venture forth boldly when knowledge of consequences is lacking. In other words we have been really clever but abysmally foolish. And now that we do know what the situation really is, it is probably too late to apply our intelligence in any meaningful way to correcting our earlier mistakes. Our lust for convenience and conquest over nature, while natural consequences of our biological mandate, have doomed us to this collapse.
The best evidence for my claim that human beings are collectively and individually foolish can be found in the US federal government. The people manning Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary branches, as well as all of their underlings have made a mockery of the whole notion of representative democracy. The decisions they are making are beyond the pale of foolish. Those who would applaud Mr. Obama's recent decisions regarding fighting climate change, for example, should consider that he has acted far to late and what he is proposing is far too little to make much difference. Then there is the plain stupidity of people like Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky), Senate majority leader, who is actively fighting Obama's plan to have the EPA regulate emissions. Or consider Senator James Mountain Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works committee — throwing a snowball on the Senate floor to prove that climate change is a hoax (he wrote a book about it being a hoax). These people are clearly ignorant or possibly criminally insane to continue to hold such views in light of everything that is going on around them as well as the scientific evidence. But there you have it. Among Republicans there are many more like them. Among Democrats there are many who, while they talk the talk of understanding the threats of climate change, are completely clueless when it comes to making the connection between that and neoliberal capitalism (in which they share the belief with the Republicans). This makes Democrats even more dangerous than Republicans if you think about it. It's one thing to be ignorant and another to use double-think in your reasoning process. Both lead to disaster.
But here is the thing. We the people put these fools where they are. We voted them into office. We are responsible for what they are doing. We have no one to really blame but ourselves. And the reason is, as I have been asserting, the average Homo sapiens is anything but sapient. The average person's ability to make wise decisions is practically nil. Part of it is due to the lack of adequate tacit and explicit knowledge. This is a major failing of our cultures and our education systems. But even those are the products of our cravings for cheap and easy. We want profits but don't want to do the hard work of understanding reality sufficiently well to know what we can and should do to make them (or even what they are).
The Global Vernal Equinox (Spring)
With apologies to my Southern Hemisphere friends!
We've seen the so-called Arab Spring in the MENA region. By all accounts the people there were demonstrating, and fighting, for democracy. Or at least that is the prevailing theory. Presumably what has been holding back the peoples of these regions from producing great economic conditions (defined perhaps more by their own cultural interpretations of what those would be) was the repressive regimes that ruled over them. Have a coup or revolution and get rid of those bums and let democracy flourish. Then all would be well.
Except it doesn't seem to be working out so well after all. Get rid of one set of bums and the next set somehow turns out to be bums as well. How can this be? The answer, and take Egypt for an example, is that the new set starts out with good intentions but soon discovers that the real problems of the region have nothing to do with democracy but with resources (other than oil in some cases). There aren't any. There are too many people for the natural capacity of the land to hold. There is nothing really there for outside investors to invest in that could draw capital into the region. The problem isn't a lack of democracy, it is a lack of everything that is vital to life. The people are hungry and they are angry about it. But they haven't figured out that the problem isn't some political philosophy. The problem is that the only way to parcel out the inputs of resources from other parts of the world (when they are available) is through a top-down, command and control mechanism (look at Saudi Arabia or Iraq under Saddam Hussein for other examples). If you put in a democracy friendly set of administrators they simply soon discover that they need to do the same things their predecessors did in order to maintain any kind of order at all. But the reality is starting to catch up to the region. Influxes of resources from other regions are diminishing and as they do it is increasingly hard for whoever is in power to keep the machinery running. That is why the discontent is rising again in so many of the MENA countries. They are in an advanced form of collapse and we are witnessing what it will look like everywhere in the world in the coming decades.
But there are certainly many more regions in the world where the same basic phenomenon is playing out. The US and its allies have not yet figured out that the conflicts going on, that they feel compelled to meddle in even though they haven't a clue what to do, are beyond their ability to resolve. Nor have they come to grips with the fact that they really don't have the resources to do anything useful anyway. Meanwhile, in the US, the governments (local, state, and federal) are failing to provide basic services to its citizens. Europe has taken in many Middle Eastern refugees in an attempt to assist them have a living. But now the native citizens of those countries are starting to turn negative (hateful actually) and at least some of the emigres are feeling alienated enough to start killing people. The pressure is building and we are seeing little catastrophes play out all over the continent.
Russia may be next. Or Africa. Or... Eventually, however, one of these seemingly local events will lead to a cascade of events that will cover the globe. It is impossible to say when, where, and why (in particular). But the pressure is building ineluctably. There is no escape, no reprieve, no alternatives.
Please enjoy your spring. Ours came earlier than ever this year. So our enjoyment got going a few weeks earlier than usual. That's a good thing, right?
 For those interested, my forthcoming book on sapience is nearly finished. The working title is: Sapience: A Systems Science Approach to Understanding the Mind. I'm in discussions with several publishers now so hopefully it will be published soon, before the collapse!!!
 That is right. His middle name is Mountain! The height of absurdity and irony rolled into one large pile of...[you fill in].