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« Happy (sic) New Year | Main

March 20, 2019

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Frank

I still can't understand, how did we get into this mess. Is mankind really so selfish, otherwise we would became insightfull in an earlier stage, unbelievable. That's why i didn't want childeren, 15 years ago. At that time I already saw, clearer and clearer that this party, couldnt last on for very long, anymore. My feeling as very young child already ( i'm 45), was that mankind, would never reach 2100. My god, i always thought that i was pessimistic then...

Karl Kolchak

You didn't even mention how quickly our political and social discourse is degenerating--a process that seems to have gone over its own Seneca cliff during the past decade or so. Trump is the leading indicator of this phenomenon, of course, but here in the U.S. the opposition is becoming almost as bad with its neo-Mcarthyism, extreme identity politics and bizarre anti-Russian paranoia. Democrats stupidly push our man-child president towards confrontation with Putin as if the consequences of nuclear war would not be catastrophic.

In the business world, the billionaires have become so greedy that bad publicity no longer inhibits them, and politicians suffer no penalty from being openly in their pockets. Meanwhile, the emotional intelligence of the citizenry is plummeting and the vast majority never lift their heads up from looking at their screens long enough to notice that things in the real world are rapidly falling apart.

Throw into the mix the rapidly intensifying decay of the national infrastructure, seen just this week in the chemical fire in Houston and last fall in the burning of an entire small California city by its own utility company. Yeah, the crackup seems to be almost at the door and is just waiting for a large enough triggering event.

Norris Thomlinson

I agree that industrial collapse is inevitable—and indeed necessary as you point out. But I would advocate that people not just "head for the hills" to try to save themselves, but that they actively work to stop industrialism's destruction, and to restore human and nonhuman communities wherever they live.

I'm part of the group Stop Fossil Fuels, working on the former piece. The sooner the flows are stopped, the more of a life support system will remain once the inevitable crash comes, the easier will be the transition for those who live during after the crash, and the faster will be life's ultimate recovery.

Thanks to everyone working on any part of it, from spreading knowledge, to resisting the system, to rebuilding communities!

Molly Radke

THANK YOU for your typically wise remarks, even if they ARE rather depressing. Alas, but you've reached the same conclusion that this ignorant old lady reached....as did you....some years ago. We are NOT homo sapiens....we are homo ignoramuses. There ARE things that could be done to minimize the coming catastrophe, but THERE IS NO WAY THE WILLFULLY IGNORANT, MONEY DRIVEN MASSES WILL ALLOW the few possible options human kind COULD take. Alas. PS....I've missed your postings....

RAQUEL Baranow

When not too many years ago I thought I could save the world, everyone would be happy to know we could abolish money, tell the truth (CIAkilledJFK) and religion is irrational (we should appreciate life/ nature), but not anymore! Life as we’re living it is unsustainable.

Fred Magyar

Frank on March 20, 2019 at 05:58 PM
said:

"I still can't understand, how did we get into this mess. Is mankind really so selfish, otherwise we would became insightfull in an earlier stage, unbelievable."

The answer probably requires a multi disciplinary dissertation.
Perhaps E. O. Wilson's latest and perhaps his last book, might help shed some light on this question.

Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies

George Mobus

@Frank,

Several years back I reported in this blog about my research in the psychology and neurology of sapience, or the brain basis of wisdom. The starter page is here: https://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2008/12/sapience-introduction.html and you can search the archives for pages related to "sapience".

Basically I argue that we evolved to pass a threshold of cognitive capacity that makes us humans unique animals. It isn't intelligence, but the capacity to develop wisdom over a lifetime. Except that the average human being is just above that threshold, so their capacity is yet weak. The series of chapters try to address your question directly.
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@Karl,

Exactly so. The evidence of collapse is all around us.
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@Norris,

Thank you for this and what you are doing. I have posted, in years gone by, suggestions for a social system based on localization and reductions in materiality. As per my comment above, these are based on a society of eusapient individuals.

I would suggest that what is needed is more than just the abandonment of FFs. What is driving the destruction of civilization as we have known it is capitalism and the belief in profits and growth. It has succeeded in taking over the zeitgeist because it appeals to our less-than-sapient selves. But it is capitalism that drives an insatiable need for FFs to drive industry and commerce.
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@Molly,

Good to hear from you. I am working on some projects that address the issues I just mentioned to Norris. When I have some results I will likely write them up for the blog. A major paper is being presented in June to the ISSS conference. So it is coming together.
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@Raquel,

Very unsustainable. But that doesn't mean some kind of life for humans and society needs to be unsustainable. We just need a better design for living and a lot fewer people! That is what we are facing and, it seems, sooner than later.
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@Fred,

Thanks for the heads up on Wilson's book. Putting it on my list right now. He is one of the most eusapient people I have ever encountered.


George

Jan Steinman
What I sincerely hope is that some of the survivors will attempt to preserve knowledge, key knowledge (as in systems science) with which to restart the social process
Hey! The blog Low Tech Magazine is publishing their blog on paper!

For those who don't know this blog, it documents processes and systems that could remain through the collapse of fossil sunlight, such as mechanical transmission lines (handy to get your water-wheel to your grain mill), tips on "person-heating," rather than space heating, delivering goods via wheelbarrow, and much more.

But how long will such on-line works survive? A lot longer when ~700 pages of them are on paper, on your shelf! (And at a relatively modest cost, I might add.) And if this print run goes well, they are promising more of their content on paper. I've already placed my order.

This is the greatest thing since the Foxfire series, (please don't use Shamazon) which should also be on your shelf.

Disclosure: I have no connection to Low Tech Magazine, other than being a huge fan.

Sheilachambers2

I followed a link to here from Our finite world, another good site detailing our delema.

I have also known for a very long time that our population & way of life was not sustainable. First came "the population bomb" followed by the "Limits to growth".
I decided back in the 1960's not to have children & aside from that, I'm also poor genetic material.
Unfortunately, our rulers didn't listen to those scientist or even to carefully thought out reason.
Any idiot should have known you can't feed growth with a temporary fossil resource & yet even as we are clearly headed for collapse, our rulers continue to demand more GROWTH!
INSANE!

We are an irrational species, we refuse to accept evidence that goes against our usually wrong beliefs.
Now the media is full of happy news about "renewables", a RESOURCE DEPENDENT TECHNOLOGY!
I know we cannot replace declining resources with a resource dependent technology & I only had a rather poor public "education", I was stuck onto the "housewife" road & I never married or had children.I am mostly self tought through lot's of non fiction reading as well as internet research.

Most people are sure we can just "transition" to "renewables" or veganism can "save the world", to disagree leads to much disparaging comments & insults to my intelligence.
I think I have more valid reasons to question their intelligence.

Anyhow now I'm just trying to live as best I can, do as little damage to our ecosystem as is possible,I don't use pesticides or herbicides, grow native plants, feed the wild birds, provide them with nest boxes that for swallows at least, have been empty for years, insect collapse has hit here too.

How much longer will we even have swallows?

anon

"I still can't understand, how did we get into this mess. Is mankind really so selfish, otherwise we would became insightfull in an earlier stage, unbelievable."

It's actually quite simple. In the short term, as long as playing the technological escalation move is viable, it is a winning move. Not in the long term, but in the immediate iterative aspect of the game of evolution and survival. This is formalized in what's commonly called the Maximum Power Principle, and it's not unique to humans. Of course after even only a few iterations, this is a deadly trap and sets up all in the neighborhood for a collapse, crash, and possible extinction.

Yuneng Khong

Well, there's always nuclear power to extend our prosperity for quite awhile still?

Or is Nuclear inferior to fossil fuels? Energy density disagrees though and there's alot of U3O8 lying around.

anon

energy is only one dimension to this. The already declining net energy available to civilization has already pretty much sealed our fate. However there are plenty of other nonrenewable things whose exhaustion also spells doom for us. Supposing that this civilization found the resources (at this point almost certainly an impossibility) for a massive nuke roll-out. This might indeed buy a couple decades more of some kind of business-as-usual.. but it would guarantee that the present levels of environmental damage , pollution, habitat destruction, and general biosphere degradation, already flashing critical alarms and on the brink of collapse, would be for sure devastating and indeed those extra few decades of comfort might be bought at the price of a far more severe extinction event and ecological disaster. and that's not even yet figuring in the long term clusterfuck that is nuclear power. Precisely when it stops providing any return is when it begins to cost a lot for handling of long-lived waste and contamination, which requires resources to be dedicated by a complex civilization with wealth to spare, for hundreds or thousands of years, all paying for a legacy. Those future generations will most certainly not have the wealth and resources to devote to keeping our nuclear waste safe.. and even supposing they _did_, we cant even manage it properly right now! it's not a technical problem, its the much more basic imbalance between an installation providing X output for 50 years and requiring above and beyond its capital and operating outlays, an additional Y expense for 500 years. The values of X and Y and the capital/operating costs, all taken into account, leaves nuke power far less attractive. It's sexy, it's cool, it's techno-fetish-alicious , it's the dream of all those who grew up reading sci-fi fantasy about conquering space and so on, but it is a disaster for the living world. Future generations will already curse those who left them the nuclear legacy weve got today. Making it even worse will make not only the general conditions even more desparate for future centuries, but also leave even worse radiological hazards for them to try to deal with. so, no, its already bad enough, please no more.

anon

all that is to say, in short, there is no 'saving' industrial civilization, and it's not even a worthy cause to merit 'saving' even if it were possible. postponing the pain and the reckoning is what most people are already, and certainly in coming years will be trying all the more desperately to accomplish... futile, misguided, and it only makes the destruction worse.

Yuneng Khong

@anon posted at 05 Apr, 4:56

I'm not so certain nuclear waste is that hard to deal with. Even whilst I was working as a production technologist in an oil major, it was common knowledge to us even way before the 80s that some oil reservoirs actually had unacceptably high radioactivity too, not to mention other more common contaminants eg. mercury, sulfur, H2S etc that may be present. But that didn't prevent its eventual appraisal and production. Just stick a decent number of waste treatment programs especially on the waste water coming out of the production wells, done. All possible so long as the "economic" numbers match up and everybody is happy with their share down the value chain.

Nuclear Power (fission) has throughout its history by any measure of safety, produced much less injury and death per watt compared to other energy sources. And energy density as a fundamental also seems to point towards it being perhaps a more viable energy source than fossil fuels. I'm all ears to be proven wrong. Maybe there's a reason I've missed as to why Nuclear hasn't become the global go-to power grid? Still, France points otherwise.

I do not think there's a very reasonable reason as to why Nuclear Power won't be feasible if it can be stored and disposed of safely? There's been trials of storing CO2 in depleted oil reservoirs kilometers under the ground. I do not see why the same can't be attempted for nuclear waste, ionized into salts and diluted with liquids before the injection, powered by Nuclear Power itself. Hence a completely energy-self-sustaining exercise till we exhaust the viable grades of U3O8.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether we will figure out a new way to harness a potential new higher energy dense source all the while continuing with our current fossil fuels to sustain the plateau for the next half a century in the best case? Or will we run out of time before the fossil fuel cliff? I would argue there's a good chance we won't end up in the latter, especially IF indeed nuclear fission is the way forward for the next few hundred years at least.

anon

the 'deaths per kilowatt-hour' mesaurement has been a beloved favorite of the pro-nuke crowd for decades now. It's such a narrow metric as to be meaningless. How about 'squares miles of earths surface rendered no-go zones for ten thousand years , per kilowatt-hour?'
How about trying to estimate this figure, not just during the operating lifetime of the facility, but through the entire hazardous lifetime of the waste products as well. meaning several thousand to several tens of thousands of years?
How do you quantify the damage or degradation done by changing mutation rates by X percent over a period of a millennium?
those sort of things dont fit anywhere on a spreadsheet, but they will over time turn into real tangible conditions for those living through those times, and they will curse the names of those who left them with such a mess.

the problem with your thinking is that you see it as imperative to 'find a way forward' at all costs.
Rethink that part and youll stop caring about why we supposedly 'need' nuke power and instead youll think about planting a garden.

Yuneng Khong

@Sheilachambers2

I sincerely share your frustrations. It is utter madness what most kids will grow up thinking about the world that we live in today, with perspectives completely out of touch with the physical world.

Then again, a majority of our population, including the elders, the politicians etc too are oblivious (or feigned ignorance?) and all in on this "Growth Forever" train and that things will always keep getting better and better.

One might argue the biggest failure of our generation, would be our failure to educate a sufficient number of the next generation and subsequent generations in charge of our planet, of our addiction to growth and the ecologically dangerously unsustainable path/lifestyles we as humans are now on.

I think it's without a doubt, that the harnessing of fossil fuels have made many of us feel like literal gods, able to seemingly conjure up things as needed and bend nature to our will.

Oh no water in Saudi Arabia? No problem. We'll burn oil to make lots of fresh water from the sea via desalination plants in the middle of no man's land in the desert.

Declining copper grades in your mines? No problem, just need to dig more ore for the same quantity. More fossil fuel to the rescue to add energy intensity to the machines to solve the problem.

And so the party continues, practically everywhere

Yuneng Khong

@anon | Apr 05, 2019 at 06:01,

I think it's probably fair to say the dosage of radioactivity is far more important as a metric than the radioactivity level. Pro-nuke community will vehemently say it's the other way around.

That said, surely the cumulative ecological damage of even Chernobyl pales in comparison to eg. Oil Spills like the Exxon Valdez? I'll readily admit I'm no expert on this matter but looking at all the nuclear plants in operation today,

One can't surely not wonder, "Hmm, more than 400 nuke fission reactors, only 2 major reactor disasters." even as safety technology has improved. ~0.005% rate. ~0.0025% incidence rate discounting Chernobyl, notwithstanding the fact that the Tsunami at Fukushima caused more mortality than the Reactors themselves. Seems a favourable comparison to me.

I remember clear as day the moments Piper Alpha, a North Sea oil platform blew up with 100s of lives lost in an instant. 100s of lives from just that rig alone. Terrible day for the whole industry.

Yuneng Khong

@anon | Apr 05, 2019 at 06:01,

Apologies, ~0.5% and ~0.25% without Chernobyl. Both rough estimates without counting decommissioned plants.

Cantab

As Francis Bacon wrote in the early 17th century:

'We must enquire into the secrets of Nature, and master them, so that we can bend Nature to our will'.

We seem to believe, as a civilization (if we reflect at all) that this task has been accomplished.

We will be fully disabused of this Grand Delusion quite soon!

Thank you to our host for all his work: we can only share his disbelief and dismay at the situation; but no sincere attempt to understand reality -and do better - is ever quite wasted even if it may appear futile.

Rajib Dalui

Thank you for your post. keep it up.

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