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« What is Going On? | Main | The Goal Episode I: The Basic Requirements »

August 21, 2011


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George, I find it very helpful. I have already taken a Permaculture course and am learning to grow food, albeit in my suburban backyard. It is a delicate game. How do I stay in the economy long enough to eliminate debt and acquire land? What about kids that still expect higher education? Where will climate be suitable and land affordable, sufficiently remote but not too hard to get to from my urban area? Arkansas? Missouri? Keep writing. Some of us are listening.


This series you have started looks to be interesting and will certainly be valuable to those intelligent and resourceful souls who endeavor to take action. Having said that, I'm still watching the rest of humanity which is under the enthralment of the mainstream culture and constitute a much greater percentage of the rest of the planet's population, at least in the industrialized nations.

I have a fear that individual action toward self-sufficiency, no matter how admirable and correct, will be taken down by the masses who are continuing on with business as usual.

Nonetheless, the sapient ones must follow through with what you are recommending.


George, I finished reading, "how to survive the end of the world as you know it" and it made me curl up for a few moments, sick to my stomach ! The enormity of it..

There is so much stuff to do to get to go off grid.. I agree that its a community solution, and daunting as hell...

In preperation, at 44 training in emergency medicine. Permaculture and other skills are stacked up to be tackled, but it seems kind of endless !

Keep writing. The alternatives are all nauseating, but one gets used to it.

L Pilolla

George, love your blog. Note the movie you linked to is called "Idiocracy." Your typo gives a different impression of the movie's theme. Thanks.

Nathan Chattaway

Your thoughts are always helpful! I wait with much anticipation for your next installments in this series. We've already made the decision to prepare for a low energy future and have sold our suburban McMansion and moved to 50 acres in a higher rainfall area. People question our wisdom daily. We've done this without likeminded community yet - someone has to go first! It's not much fun being first, but if we build it they will come.

Keep up the observations and interpretations!

Nathan Chattaway

Many North Americans who discover and then embrace permaculture seem to end up in Ecuador. Reasonably stable govt, cheap prices, fantastic topsoil 15 feet deep and plenty of fresh water. Lots of sunshine for year round growing. I haven't researched it much because we're staying in Australia ourselves, but I have seen 20 acres of established permaculture food forest / kitchen garden with eco dwelling in Ecuador selling for US $240k. Obviously, you could get started on less land and live in a shed for a while, for much less outlay than this. But permaculture is about breathing life back into *your* bioregion. Permaculture has techniques for desert, tropics, cool temperate etc. Choose land with community and water if you can, but most importantly get what you can afford NOW and get on with it.

Phil Henshaw

How would you determine the "sapience" of people?? Would a test be whether rather simple critical life-saving knowledge gets a response from sapient people, at least a little curiosity to start?

Keynes pointed out what to do when financial investment in exploiting the earth becomes excessive and starts making the economy as a whole unprofitable, driving it toward collapse. What he pointed out is a little counter intuitive, but easily confirmed as critically necessary. You need to persuade investors that it's in their self-interest to live in a healthy economy, and get them to spend their earnings.

The result is that their investments don't automatically multiply, so growth by the economy maturing to a healthy climax rather than exhausting its environment. His description is in Chaper 16 of The General Theory. There may be other ways to destroy an economy, but when you check it out there is no other possible way for a healthy market economy to achieve longevity.

I've raised the subject again and again for 30+ years, with a tremendous variety of people very well informed on the details of how environments and economies work. I've been doing it since having first heard about Keynes' version of this general principle of maturation from Ken Boulding. Ken had then been talking about it all over for 40+ years before me. The response that Keynes, Boulding and I have each gotten from almost everyone is "that's unthinkable" as a reason for them to wander off, leaving the subject to die.

So just as a somewhat stark example. Why isn't that a valid test of "sapience"? It's because such a remarkably small minority of critical thinkers is even open to discussing it, despite it being an easily proven necessity for societal survival on a limited planet. It says sapience isn't testable, doesn't it?

George Mobus


I obviously think the permaculture education is a right first move. There are some very tough questions and every individual/family is going to have variations and different priorities. This is why I think the only viable approach is one of community building with like-minded individuals where many minds can contribute to the conversations that might lead to answers.


Thanks. More to come.


I might suggest you take some time to get familiar with systems science/thinking as you plow ahead. It will make learning permaculture and other knowledge much easier as it is guide to how to recognize the "important" dots and then to connect them (as well as understand how the web changes over time).

I recommend "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella H. Meadows if you are new to systems science. Permaculture is the application of systems ecology (in particular) to living. Good luck.


Must have been a Freudian slip, given that I see ideology as a main symptom of our time and idiocracy as the result! Thanks.


Good on you and good luck. Interesting about Ecuador. I've heard rumblings of this before so maybe I'd better look into it. Thanks.


It probably comes down to the definition of sapience that you are using. Mine posits a brain basis and either genetic or imaging testing is at least feasible. There are probably quite a few psychological correlation tests that could be devised. The field of wisdom studies (in psychology) has already developed a number of probes that seem to correlate with good judgment in complex life-problem domains in older people, an indication that they had developed a fair amount of veridical tacit knowledge over their lifetimes.

In my version of sapience the brain facilities act in earlier life to provide judgments about what knowledge to gain, what information to attend to. This would include correlates in curiosity and ability to see relations that matter over the long term. I suspect there are ways to test these capabilities.

What we should be very careful to not do is conflate intelligence with sapience. While the two are strongly correlated in terms of strength (as shown in the wisdom research) they are not the same thing.

My updated working papers on sapience are at:



i don't think the global climate change to come is going to cooperate with humanities' last gasp efforts to survive after all the damage we've done. To get an idea of how bad it's becoming we only have to look upon THIS YEAR to see that the trend is not only continuing but getting worse by the year with the spring flooding in the midwest, followed by increasingly strong tornados and the extended drought in Texas.
[Now we have a rare earthquake on the east coast (just a small part of the bigger global picture) and Hurricane Irene barreling up the coast.]

Looks like, projecting into the future about 5 years and it should be painfully obvious to everyone that we're on our way out - BY OUR OWN HAND!

Robin Datta

The solutions, to assorted groups, are "Drill, baby, drill!", "Technology will save us!" (reminiscent of "A certain Jewish gentleman from 2000 years ago will save us!", "Spend, baby, spend!", "The Tea Party's Over", etc.

There are plenty of folks out there preaching the collapse gospel as well. They cover the spectrum from financial advise to guns & ammo, and from advice at $500/hour to free blogs.

The proof or the pudding is in the eating. When setting out on after a particular preachment, one should make sure that one is EMULATING the source. If they have started a business charging $500/hour for advise, while ignoring the advice themselves, then one should do likewise. If they are prolifically writing books and producing documentaries while themselves ignoring the advice, that is the course to emulate.


The carbon-based, soft-skinned human ape species lives precariously on a warm, wet, molten-centered rock orbiting an insignificant star in an equally unremarkable solar system in a galaxy far, far away from the center of the known universe. We are far more vulnerable than we imagine to grid-disabling, civilization-ending CMEs, asteroid impacts, pole shifts, Yellowstone-like eruptions, and any number of mass-extinction events that could wipe us out literally in the blink of an ape's eye, or perhaps no longer than a few weeks or months.

Were this conditioned into the brain physiology and mass-consciousness of the human ape species collectively, would the wisest among us permit (have permitted) the suicidal rate of growth of population, resource consumption, and waste of the past 30-40 to 100+ years?

If we are collectively fatalistic or suicidal as a species, as one might argue, then we are unlikely to do anything of consequence to prevent or postpone a mass die-off of the human ape species.

Thus, if mass die-off is inevitable, the lot of us perhaps are innately aware of our eventual fate, human life being as short as it is, and our steep discount rate for consumption being what it is, why would not most of us human apes want to party as long and as well as we can until we can't?

If so, how would the most sapient among us perceive this situation? In the interest of self-preservation of the allegedly wisest among us, might we not see the merit in facilitating the process of mass die-off for the vast majority of party apes?

Why allow the party animals to suck down all the good swill and stuff their faces with the fat of the land, leaving the sapient remnant to pick among the scraps left after the party is over and the die-off has commenced and culled a significant share of the masses?

Can the sapients permit the party animals to commit suicide on their own good time? Or should the sapients find an efficient, low-entropy, humane, and just way to expedite the die-off at whatever scale is practical?

Who among the human ape population would decide who lives and who dies? Would it be the banksters? The shadowy Power Elite? Scientists? Philosophers? Clergy? Corporate leaders? Politicians? Engineers? Military leaders?

What moral, ethical, philosophical, metaphysical, or scientific rationalization can justly be applied?

Given a potentially worse fate than a quick death, can one not envision a group of like-minded sapients dispassionately devising a timely end for the vast mass of the rest of us?

Will the sapients see fit to use escalating wars? Pandemics? Genetically engineered viruses? Famine? Racial and ethnic conflict and genocide? Attrition? All of the above, and more?

David Ando

This blog has been an incredibly illuminating force for me. Please continue, your work is tremendously important and will spread wide and far.

John D

George, an interesting topic for a post would be speculating on the actual number of years left to collapse. I would propose the D-date would be the point in time when money becomes worthless, A few years ago I would have said that we have ten years left, but I would say now I feel it is less than that. Maybe readers could post their guesses?


John, at the trend rates of growth of private GDP, gov't deficit spending, net interest on the debt held by the public, and China-Asia's oil consumption and imports, I project the D Day for de facto US insolvency (net interest reaches or exceeds 25% of US gov't receipts) and breakdown of US-China diplomatic relations and trade (and even indications of military conflict between the West and China) to be no later than '16-'17.

In the meantime, data indicate the potential for another global deflationary contraction and BIG bear market (50%+) over the next 18-24 months, including The China Crash, which is likely to be coincident with the U rate rising above 10% and deficits of 100% of total US gov't tax revenues.

The Fed will be compelled to print money to fund banks' purchases of US Treasury issuances that will in large part go toward just covering net interest costs on the US public debt, which could double by the end of the decade.

The bulk of gov't deficit spending will go to income maintenance and subsistence for the aged (increasingly Baby Boomers), poor, and working poor, including unemployment, food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, etc., not to any net "stimulus" to overall economic activity.

Local and state gov'ts have not even begun to stem the flow of red ink, and they will be hit again with falling receipts and deeper cuts to capital and infrastructure spending, jobs, benefits, pension payouts, etc.

The Japanese disaster, tornadoes, floods, heat wave, EU debt debacle, and now hurricane will push the teetering global economy into another recession (not that real private GDP per capita ever recovered).

Therefore, expect the Bernanke Fed, ECB, BOE, and BOJ to announce QE3 (or QEn . . . n+1 or QE 3.0); but the additional reserves will end up as cash and gov't debt at banks and insurers, providing next to no stimulus and coinciding with money velocity and the multiplier further plunging.

WRT to money becoming worthless, risk aversion and liquidity preference among Boomers and the general public will surge in the years ahead, making cash today about as unappreciated and undervalued as it can get vs. just about every other asset or debt-money substitute, including gold and silver.

IOW, cash available to be spent after debt service and taxes will be at falling velocity and in high demand vs. the high relative hoarding value of gold and the low, or no, income stream from fixed-income and overvalued equity assets.

One cannot spend gold and silver as currency. One must exchange it for "worthless" fiat digital debt-money currency in order to realize the purchasing power of gold as a debt-money substitute. When the hoarding value of gold far exceeds its production and relative exchange value vs. the outstanding currency and its velocity, by definition the value of the hoarding substitute declines as it is eventually exchanged for currency.

Thus, I will not be surprised were the price of gold and other commodities to crash 50%+ during the next global deflationary contraction and BIG bear market.


WOW, just came across this site and I will have a lot of reading to do!

George Mobus


I've done my share of speculation on the timing; nothing quite as abrupt as you are suggesting WRT the END.

The truth of it is that we humans were instrumental in changing the environment in such a way that we may no longer be fit as a species. I don't think that means total extinction of Homo, at least I hope not.


Cryptic? I was wondering where I might fit in this?


It is probably not a good idea to second guess the supersapients! I think it unlikely that anyone with enough 'power' to take effective action, whatever that would be, would be among the supersapients. In the end there is a force that will take care of everything and that is evolution. While I can see some supersapients preparing and doing what is needed to survive and provide Homo with a future, I don't see them being quite as proactive as some of your speculations suggest. The Earth will abide in spite of the change agents we've set in motion. Life of some kind will continue. I just hope it includes some form of sentient beings who, maybe, learned some lessons from our example.

Sounds like you've done a lot of thinking about the financial side of this long emergency!


David A.,

Thanks for the support.


John D.

From my perspective we are already in collapse. The beginning of the end is already in the rear view mirror. My thought is that there might not be a definitive "collapse" event that is clear to all. Right now, for some people in our society things have already collapsed.

I'm in some agreement with John Michael Greer, that the decline will be in fits and starts. We will even continue to have periods of seeming recovery (the current period seems to be of this sort).

I see the decline as a set of diminishing pulses. With each period of rapid decline a greater portion of the population will fall into despair. At some point, here in the US, we may even see a major unraveling of our so-called democratic government and a likely dictatorship as the people turn to a strong man to save them. I'm sure most of us will feel like that is the collapse, but if it happens it may actually buy some time for whoever remains with their heads above water (the elite).

In other words, I'm not sure there is any real demarcation between normal and collapse. It will be a drawn out process. But, as I said, I think it is already well under way. So every person will have to assess their own futures and consider when it is time to jump out of the 'normal' society and into a lifeboat.


Welcome aboard.


Matt Holbert


"What about kids that still expect higher education?" I would get them a copy of Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society" along with George's recommended "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella H. Meadows. The heartbeat of "higher education" is specialization and it has made it extremely difficult for most to be able to recognize that there are limits to growth.


I think that it will be easy to put all the collapse eggs in the wrong basket. As a consequence, I would recommend that potential permaculturists put resources in an organization that owns property in diverse locations around the world. Those who have capital, but no skills, would share access with those who have skills (or are willing to learn the skills), but no capital. Let's be honest, most of the capital today is held by those with no productive skills.


'“What’s interesting is not that we have so much biological diversity and evolutionary change, but that we have so little,” Uyeda said. “It’s a paradox as to why evolution should be so slow.” [It is?!]

Long periods of little change, Uyeda said, are called “stasis,” a pattern that originally led to the concept of “punctuated equilibrium,” controversial when it was first proposed in the early 1970s. This research supports the overall pattern of stasis and punctuational change. However, Uyeda says there may be different causal mechanisms at work than have often been proposed.
“We believe that for changes to persist, the underlying force that caused them has to also persist and be widespread,” Uyeda said.

“This isn’t just some chance genetic mutation that takes over,” he said. “Evolutionary adaptations are caused by some force of natural selection such as environmental change, predation or anthropogenic disturbance, and these forces have to continue and become widespread for the change to persist and accumulate. That’s slower and more rare than one might think.”

Though slow, however, the process appears to be relentless. Most species change so much that they rarely ever last more than 1-10 million years before going extinct, or developing into a new species, the scientists noted.

The exact cause of these long-term, persistent evolutionary changes is not certain. The scientists said that climate change, in itself, does not appear to be a driving force, because many species have remained substantially unchanged over time periods when climates changed dramatically.'

This argues all the more for the higher probability that our oil-based civilization and evolutionary phase is transitory as Hubbert argued, and the Olduvai Theory implies about the longevity of industrial civilization being a century or so, i.e., not persistent enough to force lasting adaption and selection.

That we evolved to be what we are over millions of years as low-entropy species with just a fraction of the population we have today suggests that, were we to persist a million or more years hence, we are more likely than not to re-evolve from a high- to low-entropy species at a dramatically smaller population, whether or not that includes what we today refer to as "civilization".

Recall the 1960s "Star Trek" episode about the overpopulation of the planet Gideon and the "solution" the leaders implemented. "Life is sacred. That the love of life is the greatest gift. That is the one unshakable truth of Gideon. This overwhelming love of life has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity."


What percentage of westerners know how many "energy slaves" per person are required to maintain our obscenely wasteful, inefficient system of economic and political organization, allocation, and distribution? I wager it is in the low single-digit percentages.

Now, imagine the Asian half of the population of the planet attempting to appropriate their own 100-150 "energy slaves" per capita to achieve a western standard of material consumption, with US supranational corporations investing billions of dollars to encourage it.

Suggestion for a book title:

"Mass-Suicide for Dummies: Seven Billion Ways and Counting to Commit Mass-Suicide."

Phil Henshaw

George, You responded to my Aug 23 question about how to test individuals for sapience on Aug 23 above. I don't think you caught my drift. I gave the example of a whole culture of normal people that unquestionably fail any test of sapience, who mostly think of themselves and often of each other as rather "sapient".

That culture is us, of course, with our stark raving mad beliefs like our world consensus, involving 98% of the scientific community, to accelerate resource depletion forever as a way to sustain prosperity. There are also other strangely misguided policies that extremely broad range of seemingly intelligent people agree on too.

I've been trying to get you and others to discuss these curiously insurmountable "dysfunctional fixations", with no success so far. Why do you think that is? I'd think the presence of undiscussed gaps in our assumptions about the mental competence of our culture would be important to discuss. I think there might be a physical world, and our knowledge culture generally treats it as a social construct.

The evidence is that we need "sapience" more than ever, of course, but it's not to be found in our brains. Where it's so starkly missing is from our culture.

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