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« Knowing/Thinking - Strategic | Main | The Future of Evolution? »

November 03, 2013


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I agree with your conclusions.


A democratic solution or a slow solution is unlikely. Some combination of lethal agents will likely be employed to suddenly and catastrophically reduce world population. Instead of being fattened up like cattle for the slaughter, we're being kept calm like sheep, herded into a false sense of security through careful editing and presentation of news with plenty of chuckle head fakery to assuage any anxiety. I think you are correct, the likelihood of agreements that curtail natural human behavior for the next 100 years or the remainder of human habitation of earth is very, very slim. The likelihood of using bioweapons is much, much more likely and judging by the amount spent on their research, their use sometime in the near future is virtually guaranteed. When 90% of the population is gone, the survivors will have created the slack needed to make the necessary changes in their approach to living on this planet.

Debby Cronenwett

I wish you were wrong, but I don't see any flaws in your analysis. I would only add to your list the need to shutter all nuclear facilities before we no longer have the fossil fuel energy necessary to keep them from melting down. But of course, we aren't going to do that either.


It's hard to for me to see how it all doesn't end badly for humans. When things get difficult, I think some humans, at local, community, levels (but mostly only those who have never lived outside the small community/tribal environment) may show some of the better aspects of humanity and work together for their common good. Whether it will be enough to save them, who knows.

Unfortuantely, I think that most people, especially the people with the power, will act according to the modern practial version of the Golden Rule... those with the gold, guns and power, make the rules.

It's hard for me to see how, in a world with so many weapons and a blatant history of using them to enforce one's will on another, the situation does not devolve into dictatorial-style rule and wide conflict. Why would those with power, gold and guns not exercise that power to control others and promote their own interests? These are the same kinds of people who almost crashed the global economy for no other reason than a few billion dollars was not enough. All the evidence seems to be that such people are a) plentiful, and b) found in higher proportions among the powerful elites. I see little evidence in history, outside of small, communal environments, that humans will act in each others' best interest. And I can't think of any situation in which humans, having lived in a consumption-based, large-scale society, have been willing to give that up in exchange for even survival. In every case of which I am aware, humans used extend and pretend until it failed and the whole house of cards came down around them. Often, as part of that process, power was seized, sometimes for a short, terrible time, and sometimes for a longer period, and used to strip-mine the last remaining resources from the civilization.

I think your conclusions are entirely logical, and your scenario is as likey as any. Human history doesn't seem to give us much evidence of graceful backtracking for civilizations or species in overshoot. It's hard to make the argument that modern humans are somehow the exception. The human inability to get past our denial and grasp that reality seems to almost assure that we, on the whole, will make the worst possible long-term decisions. As depressing as that conclusion can be, it seems unavoidable that that is, indeed, the conclusion.


My conclusion having weighed up the evidence all around us over several decades is that we are simply following a course that was set in evolutionary stone from the onset of Homo sapiens - certainly since the birth of agriculture started to generate surplus that in turn has powered reckless capitalism.

Because we are the way we are, we have built the very society that has created the ultimately species-limiting and biosphere-endangering problems that you have so expansively covered in your past essays. Because of the selfish Darwinian forces that drive us, it is beyond feasibility for us as a whole to even start attempting to fulfill your list of necessary actions.

In this, we are no different from any other organisms within the biosphere that unconsciously overshoot and fall off the evolutionary cliff. The fact that a relative handful of us have apparent consciousness of reality - and can therefore cogitate on the issues you deal with here - cannot arrest the unstoppable momentum that is bringing us to that bottleneck.

A small analogy comes in the reported lives of Jesus/Buddha/ Mohammed/Gandhi, out of which repeatedly arose a behavioral code of generosity, sharing, kindness, non-oppression, tolerance, etc that has been utterly ignored by the overwhelming majority of humans for thousands of years now. It is therefore no surprise at all that any and all warnings about human overshoot/greedy capitalism/overuse of fossil fuels/human-induced climate change and so forth have made no impact on human conduct in the main. (Diverting some household waste towards recycling seems to be the maximum action that most people will take, which is about as impactful as filling a mug with ocean water to stem rising sea levels).

All in all, I find myself emerging out of depression into a calm realization that as we are clearly unable to change our species' basic nature to any meaningful degree, why should we few thinkers live in angst? In my opinion, we ought to live each day noting reality but extinguishing any fear of death - and dare I suggest, enjoying as many moments as possible. Death comes to each of us, whether or not all Homo sapiens are for the chop sooner rather than later.

That's my tuppence/two-cents' worth. And thanks for the long-term enlightenment, George.


I was recently thinking that it would be amazing if agronomists, biologists and ecologists could come up with a model of a self-sufficient agrarian community that would work in Siberia and North Canada (without touching the taiga). If it were possible (physically and politically), it could potentially be an ideal area for small communities to wait out the bottleneck (due to the isolation), and it could possibly serve as a destination for climate refugees from warmer areas. Anyone know if there has been research done in that direction?


Sari, do you think that the people with the guns would let them stay there in peace, with all that food and water? I doubt it, myself.

St. Roy

I have been following hour work for some time. This excellent post seems to be a culmination of much of your thinking and coincides with my own view of the human epic.
The post reminded me of what Ronald Wright said in his book “A Short History of Progress”. The human experiment is now moving very quickly and on a colossal scale. Since the early 1900s, the world’s population has multiplied by four and its economy by forty. We have reached a stage where we must bring the experiment under control (ala, your nine action items). If we fail – blow our selves up (continued resource wars) or degrade the biosphere so it can no longer support us (maybe already non-reversible) - nature will merely shrug and conclude that letting the apes run the laboratory was fun for awhile but in the end was a bad idea.
Both Wright and E.O. Wilson in his book “The Social Conquest of Earth” (that you reference) began their manuscripts by asking Paul Gauguin’s three questions in his artwork masterpiece of the same name. “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going”? The first two have been answered. The last one seems to be NTE and probably in this century. I agree with your conclusions.

Paul Chefurka

What more is there to say? This piece is absolutely airtight.

Neti neti.
So it goes.


Thanks for your insightful post, George. I think that the population issue needs to be addressed from more angles - particularly what would happen if resources were shared differently (not via capitalism) -populations would naturally drop. See th is link:

Paul Chefurka

George, your list of necessary actions would be completely feasible if we could simply repeal the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Write your Congresscritter today!

richard pauli

Excellent words. Thank you.

First thing unified humans must do is to CONSCIOUSLY choose a goal: to merely live out remaining days or multigenerational survival
Then act with certainty to make huge, bold changes, Act fast to discover the extent of change necessary. Science is non-negotiable.

The bigger problem is the momentum of the changes to come. Humans don't understand that we can all turn into Adam and Eve, but still there will be plenty of warming. Which is why we have first choose to survive - or not. I have not thought much about humans consciously choosing not to, but that might be valid if we all agree.

Risa Bear

Well set forth but seem to me a bit optimistic, alas. If it gets this bad (which it will) who will keep all the spent fuel pools cooled? (._.)


A clear post and I agree with the arguments.

My comment concerns the lack of sapience. In this (and other) posts on this blog it is blamed on nature, i.e. genetics. I would think that part of it is also nurture.

It is natural for humans to want to advance in the society one lives in. In a hierarchical society this means one has to compete with others for a good position in the hierarchy. This means that ones intelligence is used for this type of competition. This does not leave much time for sapient thinking.

All previous civilisations were hierarchical and all collapsed. Ours will too. This does not decide the nature/nurture argument about sapience.

But if sapience is indeed repressed by our hierarchical culture, there will be more sapience after collapse, then when sapience is solely a genetic affair. So if the collapse is not an extinction event, it would give one some more hope.

Paul Chefurka

Risa, in a bottleneck a few melting nukes will barely be noticeable - even to "us". Mother Nature won't mind - it's just radiation, and She has seen it all before.

"Solid stone is just sand and water, baby -
Sand and water and a million years gone by."

~Beth Nielsen Chapman


It is a sad dire situation and if there is no change in what people think and how they live all is lost. If there are radical changes in understanding the world and radical changes in lifestyles their is hope. In that situation modified forms of your proposals will suffice. I'll not quibble the specifics now but concentrate on what is missing in the analysis you've given above. I'll address what needs to happen to change human understanding and lifestyles so the human race can survive.

Human understanding is primarily affected by social considerations. People stop thinking whenever answers come from authority figures. That authority figures will lie and that what they say may not seem quite right sometimes is totally irrelevant. Social considerations establish beliefs and behaviour patterns, not truth.

Consider religion. Faith in any revealed religion is prized and consists of how much illogic an individual can comfortably swallow. The more nonsense one can swallow the more holy they are and the better they fit in. The more faith or insanity they believe, the more they are rewarded in their social sphere. Social strokes override reason in the vast majority of individuals and exceptions are very rare. You call these rare exceptions sapient and regard the rest as not being sufficiently evolved and in so doing you miss a point.

Religion is an extreme example but the continuum covers all human activity. People believe whatever gives them social strokes and go to great lengths, incredible lengths, to successfully rationalize nonsense. The scientific method can for brief moments bring the rule of law into human affairs but the tendency to fit in and accept the current beliefs system of any society is overwhelming however irrational a belief system may be.

Unique circumstances produce your 'sapient' individuals not any special ability. It is true that only healthy reasonably balanced individuals can be sapient, but at birth that covers most of us and concentrating on individual differences is a waste of time. The circumstances which make people different as they advance through life is what counts.

The situation is dire. Mass media has forced a conformist mould onto the entire population and dissent from the orthodox point of view is no longer tolerated. In today’s world free thinking can get you labelled as a dangerous terrorist and you will be dealt with appropriately. There is a war on terror across the land and the symbol of terrorist can be applied to anyone who threatens the status-quo of the social structure. Doom and gloom are labels applied to you and I. Neither of us deserve it. We both want a better world and we both wish more people would also, but to many people such a wish borders on the criminal.

Reverse Engineer

"Stop all reproduction
No new babies for twenty years at least and then only ten percent of the adult population should be allowed to reproduce afterward."-GM

Seems to me this would cause a demographic nightmare 20-30 years down the line.

You would have ZERO people in their working/reproductive age prime for this length of time.

In 20 years after the reproduction Boycott is over, current infants would be hitting their reproductive years, but you would have a huge gap between them and 40-50 year olds.

The better solution demographically speaking would be to reduce life expectancy of aging people. This will happen rather naturally as medicines and proceedures that keep older folks alive become unavailable.

An increasing Death Rate for the Elderly is a better demographic solution than decreasing Birth Rate for the young.

Basically, Old Folks like you and me gotta take the walk into the Great Beyond here.



"Stop all reproduction"

Wow. Just. Wow.
Is this the conclusion of the "sapience" you talk about or is this a joke?

Paul Chefurka

RE, it might be a better solution "demographically speaking" but it's just as politically impossible as the approach George listed. It could be accomplished, however. "All we need to do is"* make all medical care illegal. Or too expensive, an approach that is already showing signs of working in the United States.

* The phrase that identifies hope-filled dreamers of hopeless ideas.

Zola Akinyi

Suppose that we are at the cusp of the bottleneck: the current homo sapiens are dying out and the homo eusapiens, who have wisely prepared for this event, are starting to thrive. What would prevent the sapiens from attacking and raiding the eusapiens? It seems to me that the sapiens would either vote to take what the eusapiens have or to simply take it by force (e.g. looting).

Also, I don't think it's too crazy to expect that space mining will be achieved before planetary resource exhaustion. Unfortunately I'm afraid that this would mean that capitalism would be able to continue. I'm reminded of those sci-fi stories where the evil aliens come to Earth to strip it of its resources, only the "evil aliens" would be the humans...

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