Archive for the ‘Overshoot & Collapse’ Category

A couple months ago, a video started circulating among the internet niches I frequent, called “Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization.”  The video was a recording of a lecture given by David Eagleman at the Long Now Foundation and broad-casted by FORA.tv.  I don’t know why I didn’t post it back then, but I wanted to get it on the blog just because it’s a great, thought-provoking talk.  Here’s the link to the FORA.tv page for the talk.

The reason I was encouraged to post this FORA.tv talk was the result of a recent interview I listened two where David Eagleman spoke Jay Hughes of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies on his “Changesurfer Radio” podcast.

Description from the IEET post on “The Net, Brains, and Civilizational Resilience“:

Dr. J. chats with David Eagleman, a fellow of the IEET and director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law at Baylor College of Medicine. Eagleman is author of the bestseller Sum, on fictional afterlives, Wednesday is Indigo Blue, about synaesthesia, the e-book Why the Net Matters and the forthcoming Incognito: The Brains Behind the Mind. They discuss the thesis David outlined for the Long Now Foundation that the Internet makes our civilization more resilient than previous ones.

Given just how central energy is to sustaining complexity (i.e. making everything work), I’m still not entirely convinced that the internet will solve all of the problems we face in this century.  I certainly agree that it gives us a better chance of managing our civilizational risks – but that assumes the keepers of the status quo don’t fight it.  With concerns over the freedom of the internet growing every year due to cyber warfare and other disruptive possibilities, it seems at least possible that much of the liberating potential of the net will be muzzled instead of cultivated.

In terms of opportunities, I think any strategic thinker, entrepreneur, or good investor would be wise to seek opportunities related to the 6 ways that the internet could avert the collapse of civilization.  Presumably, if these are actually ways to avert or mitigate major future catastrophes, then those who figure out how to align with these ideas will stand to protect & benefit themselves and those around them.

For quick reference, the 6 “civilizational life-savers” according to Eagleman are:

  1. Try Not to Cough on Anyone
  2. Don’t Lose Things
  3. Tell Each Other Faster
  4. Mitigate Tyranny
  5. Get More Brains Involved
  6. Try Not to Run Out of Energy

Perhaps in a future post, I’ll explore these areas in a bit more detail – looking at their potential to actually avert civilizational collapse, or possible opportunities that arise out of focusing on these ideas.

Stay tuned.

Cheers,

-a.j.m.

I forgot to publish this post when I first came across it back in August.  In any case, it’s still relevant to the current environment and is reflective of thinking being done by groups like the Institute for Integrated Economic Research, people like Charlie Hall and his students at SUNY-ESF, and countless others mapping the energy-economy-nexus.

Excerpt Below

via iTulip

originally posted @ Gregor.us by Gregor Macdonald on August 16th, 2010.

The Federal Reserve Enters Decline

The Federal Reserve is an artifact of the Abundance Economics that have governed Western economies over the past 250 years. For nearly 250 years exactly we have climbed the ladder of ever increasing energy density, and ever increasing energy supply. That era has now come to an end. You can see that view, the end of the abundance era, expressed by a number of different writers, whether it’s today’s longish piece from Matterhorn Management, last year’s piece by Richard Heinberg on the End of Growth, or some of the shorter (free) posts I write here at Gregor.us. To keep things simple, oil is no longer available to fund world growth. Oil is certainly available to fund existing systems as they are currently set up, but not new growth. You can only fund new growth with an energy supply that is growing. That’s why the developing world has turned to coal, not oil, to fund its growth. Based on the most recent data, let’s update the chart of global crude oil production:

The credibility of the United States Federal Reserve is closely aligned with its ability to induce economic activity, by the provision of money and credit. But you can see the problem: if there is not an expanding supply of energy, credit is less useful as credit cannot be paid back very easily in a future of either flat, or declining growth. Now that the return on the Fed’s credit provision has gone into decline, then its incumbent on the Federal Reserve to rethink its approach. But the Fed, governed by post-war economists, is apparently unable to learn from new information.

There is another limit to the Fed’s provision of money and credit: and that is the quantity of debt already being carried in the economy.  As debt levels rose in the US economy over past decades, the Federal Reserve simply kept repeating itself in a kind of argumentum ad infinitum, providing ever more money and credit as though completely unaware of the levels to which debt was rising. Now, presently, the Fed has declared a war on debt-deflation. But, the Fed indicates no understanding of the core thrust of debt-deflation. I’ll help out: there can be no kick-starting of economic activity, until debt levels are reduced significantly. What the Fed is looking for is not the effects of more credit provision, but instead, debt jubilee.

The Federal Reserve is now in permanent, irreversible decline because it has no tools to fight both the limits placed on the economy by oil, and, current debt levels. Were the Fed to conduct debt jubilee on a scale sufficient to restart demand, that would vaporize the currency. But even if it were possible to manage a workable debt jubilee, then the economy would come more squarely back into confrontation with the energy limit. And there too the Fed would discover that its role as provider of money and credit was reduced, as credit itself relies on future growth.

The Federal Reserve came into existence during the fattest part of the abundance curve, made possible by the extraction of energy-dense fossil fuels. The early part of the last century was the moment when the world started to transition from Coal to Oil, with the fullness of oil’s resource spread out before the industrial economy like a broad forest. As an artifact, not a creator, of this abundance the Fed was merely a mediator of wealth and performed (at best) a smoothing operation as the economy traded credits on future labor and future growth. Like most institutions in decline, the Fed can either reform itself now and embark on a substantially new mission, or, it can decay into irrelevance as it attracts lower quality intellects, and is dismembered of its power. Indeed, if you look around the edges, that process of decay in the Federal Reserve has already begun.

-Gregor


An important quote from the father of resilience science – Buzz Holling (via Computing For Sustainability “Visualizing Sustainability“)

Thomas Homer Dixon: “Why do you feel the world is verging on some kind of systemic crisis?”

Buzz Holling: “There are three reasons,” he answered. “First, over the years my understanding of the adaptive cycle has improved, and I’ve also come to better understand how multiple adaptive cycles can be nested together-from small to large-to create a panarchy. I now believe that this theory tells us something quite general about the way complex systems, not just ecological systems, change over time. And collapse is usually part of the story.

“Second, I think rapidly rising connectivity within global systems-both economic and technological-increases the risk of deep collapse. That’s a collapse that cascades across adaptive cycles-a kind of pancaking implosion of the entire system as higher-level adaptive cycles collapse, which causes progressive collapse at lower levels.”

“A bit like the implosion of the World Trade Center towers,” I offered, “where the weight of the upper floors smashed through the lower floors like a pile driver.”

“Yes, but in a highly connected panarchy, the collapse doesn’t have to start at the top. It can be triggered at the microlevel or the macrolevel or somewhere in between. It’s the tight interlinking of the adaptive cycles across the whole system-from the individual right up to the level of the global economy and even Earth’s biosphere-that’s particularly dangerous because it increases the likelihood that many of the cycles will become synchronized and peak together. And if this happens, they’ll reinforce each other’s collapse.”

… (via WorldWatch

The first response of many people hearing something like this is probably “that’s ridiculous chicken little propaganda.”  The idea that our meteoric growth & progress is subject to limits, and very likely “collapse,” is despicable to the mind of modern man.  After all, the Enlightenment was explicitly about the progress of humanity through the application of reason.  So, those who remind us that our success is about more than just our own human faculties, and is in fact, intimately connected to the natural world are often marginalized.  The famous Erhlich-Simon bet, the vilification of the Club of Rome and their Limits to Growth work, and other such examples make clear that those who dare to question the dogma of neoclassical economics are often met with notable resistance.

But just because the so-called “techno-resource-market optimists” can claim isolated victories (in a world of continuously rising energy availability), doesn’t mean that the debate is over.  To the contrary, I think the debate is just about to get interesting.  As global oil production peaks, I think many of the past victories of the Pollyanna’s will be put into a more comprehensive picture which shows that they were only right in a very limited sense.

The way I see it, ecological thinking will be one of the most valuable perspectives to have in one’s mental repertoire in the 21st Century.  People like Buzz Holling, Herman Daly, Bill Rees and others are the people whose ideas will have a major impact on the world for the remainder of this turbulent century.  As the 19th Century French writer Victor Hugo once said “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” If it’s true, as I believe it is, that Peak Oil will drive a fundamental change in how global systems operate, then I think it’s fair to say that understanding & being able to apply ecological principles will be a major asset.  Only those with a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of nature and the way it’s systems operate, will have a chance of really grasping what’s going on.

I for one plan to dig more deeply into the work of these thinkers.  I’ll share more as I learn.

Cheers,

-a.j.m.

Another fascinating talk by David Korowicz of the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (FEASTA):

Embedded below is a great video by David Korowicz of the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (FEASTA).

As with many of the resources I share on this blog, the following video explores the pressing concerns of today from the perspective of complex-adaptive systems theory.

Complexity is one of those things that most people “get” (at least intuitively) but about which very few people think systematically.  Instead of trying to comprehend, cope with & adapt to complexity, many people’s response to it is just simply to ignore it or to minimize it.  But, the law of requisite variety says that “if a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled (wiki link).” So, for us to properly understand and control our responses to complexity, our mental control systems must be broad enough to be able to handle the massive range of inputs.  In a world of hyper-specialization with subject matter experts, pundits & guru’s, very few of us have a perspective that is transdisciplinary enough to actually understand what’s really going on in the world.

People like David Korowicz of FEASTA, Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth, Nate Hagens of TheOilDrum & The Institute for Integrated Economic Research, Buzz Holling – the father of resilience theory, or the noted trans-disciplinary thinker Thomas Homer-Dixon – these guys & gals are among a select group of individuals with enough understanding of enough different fields of study to actually have something useful to say about how the future might unfold.  Although the subject matter experts have their purpose, I am of the opinion that in the current environment, anyone who fails to understand complexity and the role that energy plays in sustaining it is not worth listening to for very long.

We live in a complex world.  To deny or ignore this is to severely limits one’s ability to understand and consequently, to make wise decisions.  So, I try to focus on the trans-disciplinary thinkers who make complex-adaptive systems an explicit part of their perspective.

Korowicz is one such thinker.


Additional Resources:

http://www.feasta.org/

https://catagenesis.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/tipping-point-near-term-systemic-implications-of-a-peak-in-global-oil-production/

Embedded below is a series of youtube clips from a talk given by one of my favourite thinkers – Nate Hagens.  The talk was given @ the University of Wisconsin in April 2009.

I’ve said it before, but Hagens “gets it” better than almost everybody I’ve come across in my 3 or so years of pretty intense research on the various global threats in the 21st Century.  The reason that I think Hagens has so much to offer those of us who care about what’s really going on in the world, is due to the relevancy of his background & experience.  Having done his MBA in finance at the University of Chicago and then becoming a hedge-funder on Wall St., it was a significant change of direction for someone like Hagens to then go back to academia and study natural resources by pursuing a PhD in Ecological Economics.  Due to his understanding of finance, natural resources & human behaviour, I take what Hagens’ says as some of the most valuable commentary available on the net.

Check out the videos below to get a good big picture overview of the supply & demand side factors relevant in the Peak Oil/Limits to Growth debate.

“When you look at Tainter, and his study of classical collapse, what you see is that in every case, life was always as good as it was going to get just before the fall. In the Mayan civilisation, for example, you have the greatest rate of monument construction just before the collapse. It’s like Dubai now. We’re at the height of our powers and blowing our trumpets as loudly as can be to scare away the darkness.

But history reveals that this never works. Ever. And nature shows us why.”

~ Noah Raford

Additional Resources:

– Skyscrapers & Business Cycles –  (link)

– Collapse Dynamics – Phase Transitions in Complex Social Systems (link)