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« Evolution: The Roles of Competition, Cooperation, Coordination, and Strategy | Main | How Long Will it Take for the Egyptians to Realize... »

July 02, 2013


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@George - Apologies if it seems like I am clogging up your blog with my words, but I am simultaneously impressed and chilled by the realism of your posting, which is obviously based on a firm BPE footing.

For many years, I've harbored an inkling that Nature/the Earth/Gaia would 'respond' to human overpopulation (and its concomitant rapid depletion of energy resources as part of the attack on the biosphere) in a Newtonian Third Law manner. I thought this would likely be through a 'new' epidemic disease against which we would be unable to develop sufficient resistance in the short timeframe. Recently, however, it has struck me that Nature is far more subtle than I could have imagined.

I now believe our own flaws - including those you have mentioned - are the actual generator of depopulation, contrary to the popularized belief that we are masters of our environment. In other words, it's inbuilt in us; we are ourselves inexorably yet unthinkingly generating our general demise as a necessary population reduction measure.

To follow your prognosis, this will likely play out in the initial militarized responses of one government after another towards their citizens rising up, with intensifying violent reaction by armed forces protecting the elite. This will escalate as societal structure breaks down and people en masse assail and overrun the ruling forces and then turn on each other, all in the hunt for increasingly scarce food and clean water, let alone fuel for warmth and moving around.

I get no philosophical satisfaction from this projection, but I do find it interesting that we appear to be fulfilling a journey from species growth to species entropy as if by preordained clockwork. All the warnings, prophesies, philosophies, analyses, and other output of critical thinkers have made not one jot of difference to the end point of our trajectory.

So my question is, could it have been different? If we accept that we had the seed of sapience in us but we blew it, was it inevitable that we blew it? If not, what could realistically have changed the game, given that since the development of agriculture, capitalism has always been the only system in town? (I never fell for the propaganda that communism was in action in some countries - this was in truth totalitarianism which, surprise surprise, entailed the tight control of resources by the few ... same as capitalism with a different ideological label.)

It would be great to learn your views on this. You've long discussed the possibility of post-bottleneck remnant humans evolving towards eusapience, which is a fine idea to ponder over. But now that your attention has shifted to current issues of collapsing available energy per capita, the concept of a eusapient existence alas feels even more like a dim and distant future.

Bill Roope

And, still there are so many people that don't realize you can't grow forever on a finite planet. Just today
I read another article about how terrible it is when a country's population stops growing and starts to shrink.

Exploding Demographic Time Bombs

I live in Japan and the only thing that might save Japan from the worst of what is coming is if the population could shrink much more rapidly. Japan has about 125 million people.
The last time it was a self sufficent closed society it had about 30 million really tough people that were mostly farmers.Sixty percent of all food is imported. All the rest is is grown with imported fuel or fed with imported feed.
I'll be 70 this year. If I'm really, really lucky it
will all hold together for the rest of my time on planet earth.
The tsunami and earthquake 2 years ago were a good fortaste of what's coming.
the stores all empted out in 2 days.
I really appreciate your outlook.

Bill Roope

Juan Pueblo

Egypt is a basket case. I've been waiting for years for it to become a failed state after it went from an oil exporting country to an oil importing one. Without oil exports, they are are running out of foreign reserves to buy the wheat they need to support their ridiculous 88 million people. The country is 97% desert, with nothing but a very narrow flood plain alond the Nile, and they are so stupid and ignorant that they built their cities on those meager fertile acres. The only way out is depopulation through war, migration, and starvation. Reminds of Haiti in many ways.

St. Roy

Hi George:

An excellent post! Rapidly declining net energy per capita says it all about where we are headed. Each of us in the developed world have gotten use to having the energy equivalent of 100 slaves working for us daily (in China only 10). That compares to the pre-fossil fuel age where humans barely had enough surplus energy to reproduce. I predict a return to this level of sustenance buy the end the of the 21st Century providing we don't poison the environment sufficiently to cause our extinction. The next 85 years are not going to be pleasant.


My father is an avid follower of the political situation in Egypt and does take the view, which is so prevalent in the mainstream media, that the crisis in Egypt is predominately a political crisis.

I have tried to stress the fact various systems are interconnected and that when the dysfunction in the economy is large enough it will spill over into the political and social systems. I have stressed at length that this crisis, at its core, is an economic one and until those economic problems are addressed changing the leaders will not amount to any long-lasting change.

It remains to be seen how the peripheral economies in the world will react to these crisis and I do see many of these nations as the canaries in the coal mine in what to expect for the larger more core economies such as the US, German or Chinese economies when they face their own crisis. Again by holding onto this belief that these crisis are primarily political in nature one can hold onto the thought that our economies in the west are different and therefore immune to the problems faced in MENA or the Southern European countries.

Reverse Engineer

Hey Monsta, you forgot to PLUG the upcoming PODCAST with George coming on the Doomstead Diner!  Your Interviewing skills are great, your advertising skills need some work here. LOL.


George Mobus


So my question is, could it have been different? If we accept that we had the seed of sapience in us but we blew it, was it inevitable that we blew it? If not, what could realistically have changed the game, given that since the development of agriculture, capitalism has always been the only system in town?

Hard one to call. In evolution you have both random events and what Dan Dennett calls "forced moves". These are evolutionary events that appear to have been compelling. Convergent evolution, where the same (analogous) structure or behavior arises in separate genealogies simply because those are the best way to exploit an econiche, is one example. Then there are cases of the very same genes from far distant common ancestors being mutated in long separated lineages in exactly the same loci to produce exactly the same effect. Opsin evolution for color vision is a case in point.

So the problem in speculating about what could have happened versus what did happen is unlikely to lead to any conclusions. I suppose it is possible to conjecture what we might have been like if sapience had kept pace with cleverness and was strong enough to counter the effects of agriculture. On the other hand it could very well be that agriculture and culture in general was a forced move. If it inevitably leads to extinction then at least we will know the solution to Fermi's Paradox!

If you recall, my speculations on eusapient evolution has to do with the possibility that the kind of environment we might reasonably expect to develop in the future (and be part of the cause of our collapse) will put added pressure on cooperation for survival. Without access to anything other than real-time solar energy (food, wind, running streams) we will be returned to conditions that preclude increasing selection for mere cleverness, hence my hope for an eventual return to the trajectory toward eusapience emerging. It seems a plausible story to me!


Thanks for the comment. James Howard Kunstler thinks Japan will be the first society to go "medieval", or, in other words, go back to the time they were effectively self-sufficient.

@St. Roy,

Possibly the next 10?


I use systems analysis. Place a boundary around Egypt (or any other region of interest) and instrument it for inflows and outflows of material, energy, and messages (information). If the internal production of energy and materials is not self-sufficient for the population (consumption) and the net flows across that boundary are negative it doesn't take much to figure out how that will come out. As I understand it already emigration is ramping up.

Happily there are a number of reporters on the ground in Egypt who are beginning to focus on the food and energy cost issues as being more motivating than whether or not the government is pro-Islamist or not. Hey, if you guys can make sure I and my family are fed and sheltered, I'll believe whatever you want!


By now you've seen my post on the podcast! Thanks.


Alexander Carpenter

Two minor quibbles about a brilliant and insightful summary of the world situation as exemplified by Egypt:

1. It is more incisive to call it the "corporate media" than the "main-stream media" (MSM). Let's remind ourselves who (in general) is pulling the strings, even if we can't finger the actual persons and interests in every case.

2. I find it quite parochial and pathetically hypocritical that those who are habituated to "democracy" and focused on elections as its key indicator have forgotten their own roots and are affronted at the process in Egypt. "Mob rule" is as democratic, or perhaps more-so (given the corruptibility of elections and electorates) as elections. It is even more direct and immediate than elections, and less ambiguous and diffused. None of that "republic" equivocation when the wheels are falling off.

Thanks for another great posting.


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