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« What is a Feasible Living Situation for Future Humans? | Main | Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom. Not Again! »

February 18, 2010


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Mark Twain

Mr. Mobus, another great article! Your explorations of the necessary requirements of a future sustainable community are invaluable.

Regarding past communities that have organized around sustainable principles, I think the Edo period in Japan is another good example. Here are some links (I've posted previously) about the sustainable communities of the time:

A few comments:

Population growth (or limits thereof) is a fragile element of any such sustainable community. To be truly sustainable, the community must:

1. Determine the carrying capacity of the community (how many people/animals can the food base support).
2. Determine a way of limiting the population to this amount.

This has proven to be one of the (if not THE) biggest obstacles to sustainability, IMHO. Humans do not want to be told how many children they can have (or not have). This will be one of the largest issues any Council of Elders will need to address (again, IMHO). How are the limits enforced? What is the punishment for breaking the rules around this limit? What methods could the community use to reduce or eliminate unplanned babies?

Another comment is that history shows me that when a civilization collapses, it is followed by a loss of knowledge and a reawakening of superstition, spirituality/religion, and authoritarianism. This has happened many times, perhaps EVERY time a civilization collapses. Despite our more advanced knowledge, I don't see how this can be prevented (barring some Grand Enlightenment that suddenly affects the human race). Again, just my opinion, but history shows that this is usually the result.

Your exploration clearly shows the things that are NECESSARY for such a sustainable community. However, human nature works against sustainability at every turn. Harnessing, redirecting, and controlling that human nature is a difficult proposition in the real world, though.

Lots of great work here, Mr. Mobus. I really appreciate your efforts!

Larry Shultz

Hi George,
I do appreciate you posts. They are well thought out and presented. I think you have to give serious concern for the land/ energy capture area needed for defense as it is unlikely that the decline in net energy will automaticaly lead to selection for pure altruism. Raider societies will develop like Ghengis Kahn or the Apaches. If the raiders are sucessful then genes that help code for deception and theft will spread like the horses of Kahn fed on solar pastures...
Any thoughts on this subject?


If you're not already you should be reading The Archdruid. No, I'm not kidding.

You two are very much on the same page.

George Mobus

Hi Chris.

Many people have said the same so I started reading John Michael Greer sometime back. We do seem to have some similar ideas. I am currently reading "The Long Descent".

The one thing I question about Greer's assessment of the two myths, as he calls them, one about apocalypse the other about progress, is that I would not discount them too easily. Everything he recounts about collapses in history is generally valid. He subscribes to Joe Tainter's work, which I do too.

But Joseph Campbell recognized that myths (hero's for example) are not just imagination. They are based on deep, perhaps hardwired, gestalts that have some basis in evolutionary history. There have been cataclysms and there has been progress throughout mankind's long evolutionary (both biological and cultural) history.

I think JMG's observations are sufficiently grounded on working out likely scenarios from the evidence and projection into the future. He doesn't really need to offer myth-hood as an additional argument for why catabolic collapse is the more likely scenario.

I'll know how much alike our thinking is when I get to his last chapter and see how he interprets spirituality (archdruid-ity has a sometime ominous tone!) We may part company on that matter, but I don't yet know.

One thing for sure, he is a superior writer (to me and many others). Very clear in getting across his analytical thoughts.


George Mobus


I know that these problems you address have been the historical bugaboos that have thwarted sustainability; although there are a few examples of tribes reaching a mode of population control, unfortunately by infanticide or some other objectionable means.

What I envision is that successful future communities will be comprised mainly of much more sapient individuals who will understand the need to maintain a level population given the constraints of their particular environment. I actually suspect (and admittedly hope) that a form of group selection will be operative in the distant time. I suspect that the number of worthy locales will be few and far between. Groups that are less sapient will fail to maintain balance with their environment and succumb to unsustainable practices. Thus groups that are wise in procreation (without coercion) will persist while those that aren't will not.

That is the hope, anyway!


George Mobus


In my response to Mark's comment I mentioned that I think viable locales will be far apart. The model you project, from historical precedents, is based on the marauders being successful in invading nearby territories because those territories were viable in terms of energy capture. Since we humans have so thoroughly denuded or at least diminished the productivity of so much of our lands, I am thinking that marauders will have great difficulty succeeding at that strategy. The distances, and remaining populations between viable locales may act as effective buffers that will make the historic pattern very difficult at best. Of course not every viable community will be immune from invasions. But statistically I suspect that most will be (if they choose carefully). And by the time the lands recover enough to support more such communities, natural selection will have worked its magic.

Admittedly this is a wishful hope, but it seems feasible to me given what I see as the trajectory toward a severely energy-constrained future.




Don't sell yourself short! You're an excellent writer in your own right.

"He doesn't really need to offer myth-hood..." Yes he does! He's the archdruid. LOL Personally I can do without all the woo which is why I appreciate what you are doing.

Keep up the good work while I try to accept the need for the great dying of the human race that must precede your small agrarian communities. One can only hope there are enough people left to found communities.

Marc T. Cryer

I read Greer myself and am convinced by my small knowledge of history that collapse will, indeed, be slow, not entirely predictable, and punctuated with episodes of both recovery and sudden catastrophe. I am also unsure about the spiritual stuff (non-rational stuff) although for someone with the title of "Arch Druid" he doesn't really say much about spirituality. I personally practice hunting and gathering as a preparation for collapse and also as an alternative to retirement since the fate of my job and what little pension I might receive always hangs by a thread itself in danger of catastrophic failure even in relatively good times. I have been surprised at how well I can meet my needs; isn't it possible that small bands of primitive hunter and gatherers might also do relatively well? Albeit I can't imagine them building and maintaining a U. of Noesis.

George Mobus


I'm glad you brought up the H-G lifestyle as an option.

Yes I do think that there will be successful H-G groups, especially among those who already have this life style. The big question will be how sustainable their activities will be. If they were to depend on rifles and bullets (or shotguns and cartridges) they would not be able to go much past the current generation since these would not be re-supplied. Bow and arrows and spears are the ancient methods (along with trapping) that require considerable skill in constructing, but it is feasible.

Then there is the issue of game. I strongly suspect that not every environment is going to fair well on this score. Climate change may be problematic. But we have so depleted habitat or diminished viable populations to the point that recovery may take a really long time.

I do envision my community obtaining a fair amount of their calories from hunting and gathering as well. That is part of the consideration of how much forested and meadow lands are needed for the territory.

On Greer's version of collapse, I must confess I go back and forth in terms of the slowness or rapidity with which collapse will occur. Occasionally his arguments hinge on historical precedents to show how partial recovery can take place in an otherwise collapsing economy. But what this argument misses is the fact that those recoveries relied on there being nearby economies that were not as bad off and which supplied some of the resilience the collapsing economy needed.

In a global collapse, I suspect that there will be no assistance coming from outside. There won't be an outside.

Thus the experiences of local scale may not scale up to fit the global situation in our future. The big unknown is how people will react to loss of privilege.

I expect Greer's model of catabolic collapse will be close to how things actually play out, but I don't exclude the more extreme versions simply because what we are facing is truly different in involving the whole planet, not just a local civilization.


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