How Does the World Work?

  • See the About page for a description of the subjects of interest covered in this blog.

Series Indexes

Global Issues Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad

Comment Policy

  • Comments
    Comments are open and welcome as long as they are not offensive or hateful. Also this site is commercial free so any comments that are offensive or promotional will be removed. Good questions are always welcome!

« From the CANUSSEE-15 Biophysical and Ecological Economics Conference | Main | Happy Spring Equinox 2016 »

December 21, 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Your pessimism matches mine nearly point for point. But..I've been a fatalist for well over a decade after realizing that in the 25 or so prior years I'd been a population-environment activist Earth has added net 2 billion humans. The population has tripled in my 70 years. The natural 'pie' has continually shrunk and become moe toxic to us. This is not solvable by distributing the hoarded lands, money, gold, jewels, art...of the wealthy. That is largely not energy-matter throughput. If the poor converted what they could into buying power, mining, production, consumption, pollution...would all rapidly increase, and we'd hit 'the wall' even sooner. Now it is like water torture...but it is heating up as you say.

Cheers on the downslope,
Steve Kurtz

michael connolly

Love your blog mainly because I share your perspective. I've taken to poetry as a way of coping with how the world is unfolding. Here is one please let me know what you think as I value your view.

The Crisis of Legitimacy

As the tide goes out on progress
Tyrants be the first to fall
Legitimising strategies reach diminishing returns
Social orders crumble
Naked emperors lay bare

Carefully woven tapestries of elaborate lies
not long survive ecologies brutal eyes
Bloated populations on ancient sunlight’s gift
Meets economic hard limits
Factions fight and states dissolve
Smoking rubble become the spoils of war

Bigots, haters and true believers
Know well where solutions lie
With 21st century weapons & bronze age minds
In empire’s home seething embers glow
Soon enough bread & circuses loose all glamour

Children cry and widows whale
Whole populations flee the right of might
Brutalised people seek solace
In Holy book and Holy word
And these malignant memes make
Marionettes of mortal flesh

Holy warriors hack at reason’s fading light
A new normal emerges
Regression to failed state
feudal state, brigand culture
a new dark age

Matt Holbert

Hi George-

Thanks for the summary. I've noticed the mindless driving as well. Yesterday, I noticed a young woman who I thought was intently focusing on driving in terrible conditions here in Spokane. Further inspection revealed that she was staring intently at some sort of device as she traveled down an icy street in the midst of traffic.

I would be interested in your thoughts on this paper on "Revolutionary Infrastructure":

The paper contains a link to a 2013 paper by Kevin Anderson you have probably read. It pretty well sums up what is required -- but unlikely.... I don't personally know anyone who has made much in the way of changes. While I see the homeless here in Spokane, friends and family have not made any adjustments. I discovered last year (forgive me if I have already mentioned this) that several of my college buddies have season tickets to I.U. Bloomington football and basketball games and they live in Chicago, Dallas, and D.C... We merrily go along.

Dr. Judy

Dr. George,

Your observations and ruminations agree entirely with the big picture of human and planetary change that I have been developing in my own mind for decades.
I'd like to offer a possible reason for one small aspect of that picture, the phenomenon of the growing sports mania. After puzzling over it for years it occurred to me that this behavior probably goes far, far back, clear to our tribal roots. It was the strongest tribes that survived when resources became scarce. Nowadays very few of us, especially those of us in the "developed" nations, have anything that resembles a tribe around us. Sports teams offer us an identity, tribal symbols and colors, and strong, fast warriors to send to battle against the neighboring tribes' warriors. These battles are highly ritualized, but the ones closest to actual combat seem to become more popular as times get tougher. The contests between tribes offers a chance for fans to (loudly) express emotions and to bond and feed off the emotions of other members of the tribe, something that is almost entirely missing in the lives of most folks in our modern world. If your team, wins, then you can have a big celebration which might even include some destruction or theft of property, a demonstration that your tribe_rules_!

Dr. Judy

Hmm, a second comment I posted shortly after the first seems to have disappeared. The essence of it was that basically it is a power issue. Many people feel powerless to change the worsening conditions surrounding them. Team sports are a way that many can belong to a group that is showing its power.


Hi George,

I have to agree with your assessment. There is no more "we" anymore, at least in the U.S. Probably never was a "we," just multiple tribes with different cultures. I basically see a power struggle among the tribes, while problems facing humanity are ignored but getting worse. Several outcomes are possible, including societal collapse, a U.S. split into two or more independent countries, one tribe or a coalition of tribes winning the culture and political wars. Whatever eventually happens, I think the status quo is toast!

Desmond Smith

Hi George,

The problem I see with this "whole systems" approach is that you can produce explanations after the fact which are compatible with almost anything. Since everything is connected to everything else, potentially any consequence could be explained as feedback loops between components in this highly interconnected system. For that matter, almost anything could be explained as energy decline propagating through the system. As a result, I don't see how these predictions and ideas are falsifiable or risky, or how they would satisfy the criteria of science.

This is especially true when explanations are offered after the fact. What you and others anticipated back in 2007 or so was the collapse of civilization because of peak oil and peak energy, etc. That didn't happen, so now you are talking about dysfunctions in the education system, etc, as consequences of complex energy interactions. Peak oil didn't happen, but test scores are down, so these theories are right anyway (test scores aren't actually down, but you get the point). It seems like you can interpret almost anything bad as evidence in favor of this theory.

As an example, you refer to "dysfunctions" in the political system, the economic system, the education system, and so on. The question I find myself asking is: when have these systems not been dysfunctional? There have been periodic booms and crashes in the economy for centuries, going back further than the 17th century. There were swings in oil prices 30+ years ago.

I just don't see how these things satisfy the criteria of falsifiability and risky predictions. Could you point out to me which risky falsifiable predictions have been made and subsequently confirmed for these theories about complex whole systems?

-Tom S

The comments to this entry are closed.