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« Revision to My Systems Science Slides | Main | Happy Spring Equinox, 2012 »

March 14, 2012


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Technology for the down slope in the making! is a web platform for the promotion and development of pyrolysis as an efficient way to dispose of human remains using the least amount of energy possible.

Humanity has long travelled along an unsustainable path and is now confronted with a scarcity of fossil fuels, rising global temperatures due to a higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, an economic model in tatters and an exponentially rising population. will be a forum for collaboration in an “open source” kind of way to improve, develop and divulge this idea, and to make sure that it is not patented so that it is available to the whole human race as a tool to be used on the down-slope towards a sustainable future.


I certainly hope you're wrong about the Dark Ages! I also hope that there is a possibility to use current technical knowledge to promote more sustainable living arrangements. Computers and ipads do have educational uses. It would take planning and maybe even some sort of energy rationing to make sure that important technical/scientific advances could be maintained, albeit in a different way.

Aboc Zed


I call our default human condition the goo of institutionalized ignorance.

Science, of course, still contiues but on the side byt the efforts of individuals who happen to be addicted to learning and use their addiction as the means to escape the "craziness" of the rest.

But this aloofness and non-engagement in politics of power cannot continue forever.

Because it costs homo species dearly: those who refuse to learn will let the momentum of evolution out of ignorance to continue for as long as there are lessers under them tha insulate them from the heat of the reality.

With such a set up the politicians and money men have no incentive to learn and will never have incentive to learn.

And the cycle of die-off and permanent decrease of carrying capacity may continue for very long.

What will it take those who understand to organize and move into government?

I can only come up with one answer: the love of learning and adiction to knowing.

Somewhere on the Internet I saw a saying which seems appropriate here:

To know and not to act is not to know.

Anywhere But Here Is Better

It's always an interesting exercise to consider whether the Dark Ages could return, or have returned. The last incidence we officially know about was a period in which the transfer of knowledge was reduced to a trickle, via the scribing of monks tucked away in monasteries while barbarism reigned outside the walls. Conversely, with the internet - while there remains an electricity supply - we appear to have a growing deluge of information, although the actual quality of it and its factual base can be questioned.

I was just thinking, however, that it is access to factual information that is the key here. Yes, we did have the Enlightenment, which you feel is over. But did the majority of the world's population participate in this? Did they share in the benefits? Were they ever allowed to share? Looking at the course of history, I am wondering if for the overwhelming majority, the Dark Ages have been and still are a permanent feature of life. The voters who may, just may elect a clearly deranged president in November - whom we might term a Knowledge Luddite - are acting out their glorious ignorance and non-participation in any kind of enlightenment. The same goes for the short-termist “investment” bankers who have decimated the standard of living for untold millions of previously comfortable fellow inhabitants of this planet, for the purpose of amassing vast though ultimately pointless wealth for themselves behind their barricades.

George, you are one of the relatively few in human history who carry the torch of knowledge and pass it on to the next generation. I believe there have always only been a few who do this. For the majority in the US, UK and worldwide with perennially low access to enlightened education, Magic has never lost its grip – whether through their unquestioning acceptance of what they are told by their religious leaders or their blind obedience to the iron fist of the “strongest man in the village”.

I can’t help thinking that to an extraterrestrial observer, the human race must look like archetypal lemmings, jumping to their demise generation after generation simply because the guy in front is leading the way to the cliff edge. What’s actually changed from prehistory to now?


Humanity is on its way out if we continue our overpopulation, pollution and non-cooperation (not to mention our continuing depletion of natural resources). It doesn't look like it's going to stop until Mother Nature stops us - which she is in the process of doing in dramatic and subtle ways. Storms are becoming far stronger than we're "used to," flooding is on an unprecedented scale, earthquakes and volcanic activity is WAY up, airborne, pest-borne and insect-borne diseases are increasing each year. Trees and plants are being stressed, species extinction continues, overfishing the oceans and beaching of marine life is becoming larger is scale and scope. Birds are beginning to have problems with diseases, habitat change and other troubles to their existence.

So with just these few examples we can see the trajectory of the next few years and it points to less reliable weather causing less food production, aquifers and other water sources drying up, rising sea level on the coasts of every continent (displacing billions of people), conflict over scarce resources and chaotic and probably violent societal reactions to all this. Some countries are already experiencing starvation. If the electrical grid starts failing, those involved will be brought back to the Stone Age immediately.

Humanity is completely unprepared for this collapse and will resort to killing each other off (i'm sure that our ignorance will defeat any bright moments we once had or lofty ideals we held for ourselves. "Man was created in the image of God" - my ass. We're on the same level as yeast in a Petri dish with a finite amount of food.)

To put it another, more popular way: "ya can't fix stupid."


On the Santorum danger-

I and my wife are geologists and freethinkers. Her family was a wonderful, caring family with lots of room for discussion and freethought. we felt loved and wanted. Relgious and political differences were overlooked. Part of this was due to her parents being different religions-- Catholic & Lutheran. Whatever, it made a free and happy place for us.

At one point my wife's twin sisters married conservative Catholic men. The one husband, a former Reagan warrior, is a fire breathing devil believing facist who has regularly announced to the family for 16 years now that it's "my way or the highway". This person is a near clone of Santorum.

This religious facist has nearly completely destroyed any semblance of tolerance or freedom of thought within the family. He deeply humiliates his wife in public. This hatemonger explodes in rage if the church is questioned in any way. He has turned everyone against each other and basically destroyed a formerly good family. And he has campaigned endlessly for 15 years to turn the other religious family members against us. I won't mention his Thanksgiving dinner gay jokes in which he hangs his rear-end over the table and spits out hatred against homosexuals.

I cannot but look with fear at the propsect of a Santorum Presidency.


That Reich and his colleagues fail to account for energy in their growth models is why I call that branch of economics a cargo cult: policy x worked in the past, ergo it will work again, so let's repeat it. Like all cargo cultists, they fail to understand why and how something worked in the first place.

When I heard one of Reich's talks in 2009, his main argument was that deficits and national debt don't matter as long as the economy's growing. Of course you cannot take real economic growth for granted, but it's easy to do so as long as you say things like "natural resources don't matter" or ignore the role of energy in your macroeconomic growth models. While I think a combination of natural gas, coal, and efficiency improvements will keep this mess going for a bit longer (and therefore make the inevitable collapse that much worse), economists have to realize that the massive growth in the real economy in the decades following WWII was a one-off thing...basing policy or budgets off the expectation that such rates of growth are normal is ridiculous.

Anyway, I recently finished reading a collection of essays on energy analysis written in the 1970s. One of the authors noted that "money printing" would be ineffective at remedying the economic problems resulting from net energy decline. Perhaps I should send a copy to the Fed and Reich?


An addendum to my post above-

As a long time student of totalitarian movements of the 20th century, I have come to the personal conclusion that the US conservative movement has become so radicalized that it is a massive threat to our free society.

We are no long dealing with good Americans who are just seeking the common good from a different perspective. No longer are conservatives just good ol folks who believe in US exceptionalism and like to go to church and wave Old Glory.

We are now dealing with a fanatical mindset that hates open-minded analysis and is no longer capable of introspection or able to accept varied points of view within the society. We are dealing with a movement that hates learning, hates science, actively applauds environmental destruction, and glorifies endless war.

This movement, which has deep penetration into the US Military, is now quite capable of carrying out a massive violent social cleansing of all those who they view as enemies- primarily the much demonized "liberals". Many of these folks are now capable of manning the concentration camp towers or pulling the nuclear trigger on those whom they hate.

Just my personal informed opinion. But I really hope that I am wrong on all this.

Aboc Zed


It appears to me that you are very emotional about "the whole thing going wrong way".

But let me ask yu why?

Why you feel so strong about the natural outcome of evolutionary process?

Yes we overpopultated the planet long time ago.

Yes we continue to do so.

Yes many will die in vilent or quiet way - that is simple math - why you get emotional about it?

I just want to say that getting emotional is not going to help us to deal with what is coming.

And it is always easier to "blame" something or someone but to me there cannot be any blame because each of us is part of the problem simply because each of us was born and is that overpopulation.

If we were totally logical we would have to kill ourselves but that is not going to happen unless we are depresed which is not logical either.

So even if conservatives in the US will eventually implement some cleansing, third Reich or start a nuclear war - what's a big deal? Who can it be bigger than the fact that everybody is talking opinion instead of science? It is all just a part of the evolutionary process - it is just keps going - and if it takes our species to first go to 12 billion and then kill each other to 12 million before we learn anything then so be it - how can we even think we can change anything about it?

John Weber

The dark ages were not so dark. I would like to share the first two paragraphs of my essay:
We will go kicking and screaming down the path to the new Middle Ages as fossil fuels desert us. With the decline of available energy, those of most of us who have sat at the top of the energy pyramid will become the new peasants. With the popular view of the Middle Ages as a brutal and dirty time filled with famine and disease and at the mercy of armed overlords. We cringe at the thought.

With great sadness, we must recognize the direct connection between present day population levels and the use of fossil fuels in food production, medical procedures, medicines and hygiene. With the fall in fossil fuel availability there will be a reduction in population. Population soared with the industrial revolution and the development of industrial, fossil fuel based agriculture. It cannot be sustained.
From: The New Middle Ages

George Mobus


I'm afraid I think we are already in the dark ages. To anticipate some other comments made below yours, what I am referring to is the ignorance that runs rampant in our population. Some of this ignorance is due to an incapacity among people to learn complex technical knowledge, and, admittedly, almost everything looks technical these days. But a large part of it is intentional ignorance. I especially refer to those social icons like Friedman and politicians like Obama who incessantly promote the very things that got us into this predicament in the first place.

It is possible to promote sustainable living. My systems science course focused on permaculture is such a use of current (appropriate) technology to achieve such. But we have to be realistic. The number of people who can be sustained in this manner is substantially fewer than we have at present. The Earth just can't support so many people living at even a modest standard (i.e. permaculture). Until we, as a people, start to change our ways, quickly, and especially reduce our numbers (by attrition w/o births) there can be no hope for a reasonable downsizing (vs. a die off). Sorry to say...


What will it take those who understand to organize and move into government?

This might have been a feasible solution as late as the early 1970s. But the same problem that haunts us today haunted democracy back then too - the people elect and have to be won over with false promises. No truly wise person would have ever been able to move into a government position. Indeed a wise person probably eschews the constraints of being in government.

To know and not to act is not to know.

Yes, but who gets to say what constitutes proper action? Perhaps the action taken will not look like action to those with a priori expectations, especially if they believe we are facing a problem that can, in principle, be solved rather than a predicament which can't be solved, even in principle. In this sense, even not acting can be a form of action.


What’s actually changed from prehistory to now?

Lucid analysis. And the last question is highly relevant. Humans have continued to evolve to some extent, but by my estimates it has been more a form of devolution rather than progressive. Ironically, however, as individuals, on average, have grown less sapient over the last 10-12k years, they have applied their cleverness to acquire enormous amounts of knowledge about how things work. Or at least the few very clever have done so. The majority, however, neither appreciate this body of work, nor grasp its significance. Thus they can repudiate parts they least understand and don't like even when they have a sense of what science does.

So now, here we are, on the cusp as it were, with lots of stored knowledge and almost no understanding. Lesser beings on average than we were at the beginning of the Holocene, our individual sapience seems to have been paid out as a cost of letting our cleverness (motivated mostly by emotions and feelings rather than rationality) expand and control. My thought turns to how to encode, in compressed form, the seed knowledge that would enable a future people, should they exist, to recover the most important of what we have produced along with a capacity to understand its importance and use it wisely.


No you can't fix stupid. But might not the wisest among us acknowledge the decline and prepare for a distant future when we might not be so stupid? I certainly hope this is feasible.


I cannot but look with fear at the propsect of a Santorum Presidency.

Yes. But also, the fear of living amongst a population of people who would actually nominate and then vote for him! Santorum is just a signature of the dark age mentality of which I write.

RE: your addendum.

Our long-range prospects for "freedom" are not just threatened by the radical right. They are really just a reaction to the larger threats to the world as a whole. I give you that they are mindlessly (and thoughtlessly) imposing their vision of what should be in an attempt to gain the safety that they thought they had but is now slipping away from all of us. As a world, we are in a lot more danger from the anarchy that will come with the rapid decline in net energy and acceleration of weather anomalies due to climate change.

Too I have to say I see just as much craziness on the left, though it takes a different form. It seems, to some, a more reasonable approach, but as I wrote above, it is just as laced with magical thinking as anything the right has.


After my recent experience with Reich, I'd say you'd be wasting your time!

For ALL, I just got my copy of Charlie Hall and Kent Kiltgaard's new book, "Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding Biophysical Economics." I'm well into it, partly because I've read most of Hall's work and I can peruse quickly. And I am probably a little biased here, but I have to say, someone has finally written a scientific book on macroeconomics! I will most likely write a review of it when I can get some time.


Thanks for the link and summary. It is my understanding that the term "dark age" refers to the period starting after the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (in the west) in which a significant amount of knowledge was lost or "buried" as far as the populace was concerned. It was the kick-off of the Middle Ages, but not the whole of the middle ages. As you point out in your essay, things did start to pick up later during that time.

Here I am simply analogizing with the fall of civilization and loss of knowledge. Our civilization has seemed to revert to magical thinking as a way to stave off its downfall. It appears to be incapable of dealing with the facts of the diminishment of fossil fuels without equally powerful renewable alternatives to substitute.

What will make the next fall of civilization significantly different from the original dark ages and subsequent climb back up during the Middle Ages is that we will have used most of the fuels civilizations need to build themselves. Whereas the inventors working in the late Middle Ages had increasing access to energy sources, our descendants will have decreasing access. Pity that.



Energy and the Wealth of Nations is sitting on my bookshelf right now; I just need time to read it!

For those who might want a copy, you can get a paperback edition for $25 + free shipping if you order through a library that subscribes to Springer's "MyCopy" service.

Another relevant book published by Springer is The Second Law of Economics: Energy, Entropy, and the Origins of Wealth by Reiner Kummel. (Kummel is a speaker at this year's ASPO conference in Europe.)

siddharth soni

Mr. Mobus, I enjoyed this piece of writing. Caustic and witty.

I checked the two books mentioned above. Both come at a price >60$. Pretty expensive for me actually. Otherwise, I would have liked to read them. Anyway, I can probably guess what the authors are talking about.

Off late, I've been struggling to understand what can lead to a behavioral change, even in the smallest of matters.

People become obese and look at themselves in the mirror and again hog like there's no tomorrow. If they can't resist eating (bring themselves to work out) in spite of such a simple and clear evidence, any behavioral change is a big ask.

Catastrophe brings humanity to examine itself it seems...

Am planning to launch a little initiative that can get people to think and, and that's a big 'and', perhaps change their choices.

I only wish I could get some help from people around. Trying...

Cheers! :)


I am in agreement that the Left also has a big problem with disconnects with reality. However, the Left still generally respects science and the basic tenets of a free society. The left also undertands that war is a scam that benefits the few while bringing impoverishment and destruction to the many.

The Right, however, is truly batshit crazy and now sees destruction of any who have different viewpoints as the answer to their problem. Among the conservatives, respect and understanding for Enlightenment principles is nearly gone. And any who espouse Enlightenment principles are regarded as weaklings.

The nightmare scenario is when political moderates (Obama a moderate???) lose a large amount of politcal power due to an economic collapse or large-scale terror attack and the US population votes in a strongman from the Right. The German Enabling Act of 1933 gives a map which shows how a moderate society can be swept away in a flash and evil can become firmly entrenched- and not disempowered until the German nation was a massive pile of rubble and whole populations extinguished.

These folks mean business. I am familiar with the history and am now seeing the same characters arise from the dank swamps.

George Mobus


Thanks for the comment and the tip. I've been getting e-mails from a lot of folk who are recommending various books that call neo-classical econ into question.


Is it possible to get a copy through a library? Rich also provided a tip on getting a soft cover version copy. But it is true that if you have been reading my stuff for very long you will have a pretty good idea what they are talking about. Its just good to get the hard data from the source. Charlie Hall is the knowledge fountainhead when it comes to biophysical econ. That is why I spent my sabbatical with him!!!

PS. I will respond to your e-mail shortly!


...the Left still generally respects science and the basic tenets of a free society.

You know, I basically believed that too until I kept hearing Obama and Steven Chu, his physics Nobel laureate, continue talking about "clean coal" and watching what they have done regarding the basic truth about biophysical economics.

All of the left and progressives claim to be in support of science but they don't bother to actually look at what science is telling them. They don't acknowledge what the science infers. They cherry pick their science (Yeah I believe in evolution, but I also believe that God made mankind special...) I can't give them a by on the science point because they don't behave as if they actually understand it. Personally I think they espouse their belief in science simply as a talking point and as a way to differentiate themselves from the right.

They may understand that war is a scam but I don't see Obama following through on his campaign promises. We're sort-of out of Iraq (but not really) but we're still very much in Afghanistan and rattling our swords at Iran. I have no illusions that Obama would not use a nice little war to further his political agenda any less than Kennedy or Johnson did! War has its domestic-front political uses, make no mistake.

I agree that the right has largely turned into a holding pen for loonies. As I watch the Republican primary process unfold I am just dumbfounded by the rhetoric and outright lies that every single candidate (including Ron Paul) are using to win the hearts and minds of the ignorant masses. My god, has it really come to this?

These are the dark ages in my book. Ignorance and folly know no political bounds. Everyone is involved. But there is nowhere to run to. Nowhere to hide. Every nation on Earth has its problems. And no nation on Earth has any idea of how to solve any of them.

Batten down the hatches.


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