Sunday, August 26, 2012

Collapse: Sudden or Slow?

Like everyone who is painfully aware of our perilous predicament questions arise in my mind with unwelcome regularity regarding what form a collapse will take. Will it be a gentle, flower-scented revolution in which humankind realises the error of its ways and converts to a solar powered economy as former Greenpeace director Paul Gilding reckons? Or will it be an all-out frenzy of looting and starvation that will lessen the footprint of humankind in short order and fling us back into the dark ages?

If it’s possible to hazard a guess at this stage it seems that neither of these two extremes is likely. In any case, what is a collapse and how do you realise that you are in one? Most definitions of collapse have it as sudden or gradual loss of complexity in a particular civilization. The Mayans would know about it, as would the Romans and the dynastic Chinese. To use a none-too technical definition, it’s when the wheels come off your civilization.

Just to be clear, the civilization we’re talking about and the one we belong to is the industrial civilization. Most of us belong to it these days, although a small fraction of humanity still manages to cling on against the odds to their own (although to my dismay I found out this week that Maasai tribesmen in Kenya  are now hooked on Facebook, which they access through their smart phones). Given that industrial civilization depends for its very survival on easy access to cheap concentrated energy, vast mineral resources and an ever expanding economy, it would seem to be common sense that it is hardwired to fail and contains the seeds of its own destruction. Yet this very obvious observation is itself contentious, with so-called cornucopians arguing that the resources available to us are so vast as to be well-nigh infinite.

The other fatal flaw in industrial civilization is the very thing that its most ardent proponents shout most loudly about; its interconnectedness. In a globalised economy all the things we have come to rely on in everyday life seem to end up, as if by magic, right in front of us and ready for consumption. Food is a good example, with the components of the average meal travelling several thousand miles along multiple supply chains before they reach your mouth.  Tracing the supply chains along which they travel is becoming an ever more complicated issue, with the net result being that you simply don’t know where your food is coming from.

I had an unpleasant reminder of this last year when dozens of my work colleagues and I all came down with the same condition a couple of days after eating the company Christmas meal. We all experienced a terribly bitter metallic taste in our mouths every time we ate or drank anything. Believe me, it was maddening. After consulting one another we realized that only those who had eaten the pine nuts that came with the starter were affected. Some further research revealed that we had probably been poisoned by the ‘cheap’ Chinese pine nuts which some suppliers in Europe had been cutting their stocks with. The nuts in question were said to have come from a species of pine that is different to the one the nuts are usually gathered from, and contained a form of poison. Gatherers, who were either unscrupulous or just ignorant, picked these nuts and once they had got into the supply chain there was nothing anyone could do about it. However they got there, they literally left a bitter taste in the mouth for weeks and I now avoid them at all costs.

This was a lesson in the relative powerlessness we have as consumers when considering supply chains and our ultra-complex system, but what if it’s petrol we’re considering and not pine nuts? When fuel delivery drivers threatened to go on strike in the UK earlier this year over pay and conditions, people got a gentle reminder of how reliant we all are on oil. Panic buying at the pumps ensued, as did hoarding, and one person even died as a result of syphoning off fuel over the kitchen sink. The strike was averted at the last minute, but the government later admitted that it had caused some panic among ministers and the troops were put on standby. For a brief moment, the fragility of our fuel supply was exposed, although, predictably enough when the crisis was averted everyone forgot about it in short order.

But this is all small beer when you consider what might happen should several systems collapse simultaneously or, more likely, as a chain reaction. This is what is at the essence of the report entitled Trade Off, written by risk management specialist David Korowicz. Subtitled Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in Global System Collapse, it’s not going to knock 50 Shades of Grey off the bestseller list anytime soon. But for sheer terror value it is unsurpassed and could possibly be renamed 77 Pages of Terror.

I downloaded the full report and spent a day absorbing it. It’s very hard to summarise such a lengthy and technical report into a few bullet points, but I’ll try:

  •          Our world has become so complex and interconnected that a single ‘ripping’ event could cause cascading systems collapses.
  •           Parts of the system (say, individual countries) might in the past have been able to get away with failing but such a failure now runs the risk of bringing down the entire edifice.
  •          A reverse economies of scale can be applied to critical infrastructure and it can be assumed that any collapse will be dealt with in the exact wrong way i.e. by adding further levels of complexity.
  •          Peak oil and environmental overshoot means we have little room for manoeuvre when the collapse comes.
  •          In the past there has been tolerance with regard to shocks to the system, but the system is now so brittle that a single shocking event could shatter it.
  •          People fail to appreciate the vast complexity of the system we live in and are only able to focus on the small bit of it they are familiar with but are not able to see the overall system. This, combined with decades of relative stability, has given us a false sense of safety with the belief that ‘business as usual’ can and will continue forever.

That’s a gross over-simplification of some of the main points I picked up, and for a better analysis of it read what Dmitry Orlov wrote.

So let’s imagine an event – the event – which could deliver the fatal spleen-busting kick in the balls to our frail industrial civilization. Korowitz himself seems to think that one of the Euro countries defaulting should do it, but there are plenty of other scenarios, such as the US falling off its fiscal cliff this November, an Israeli strike on Iran, a large terrorist attack, a huge drought that sends food prices sky high – you get the idea.  In the default scenario, contagion would spread to other countries in a matter of hours as foreign banks self-imploded. Panicky leaders would do everything they could to limit the damage but in a very short amount of time the credit system would freeze up. With a frozen credit system you get a frozen world trade situation. People are unwilling to deliver their goods long-distance if they suspect they will not be paid (and most world trade is uninsured).

When cargo doesn’t move we have a problem of epic proportions. Our world, these days, is designed for just-in-time delivery, meaning that it functions like clockwork, with deliveries of goods timed to coincide with when the previous goods have been depleted. It’s a super-efficient system that works perfectly when the wheels of finance are moving, but the moment they jam is the moment that things stop getting delivered and that’s when we discover that efficiency isn’t the same thing as resilience. We saw this happen when the Japanese tsunami wiped numerous car parts plants off the face of the planet – and the knock on effects are still being felt.

One of the bad things that happens when goods and parts stop being delivered is that the critical infrastructure we take for granted suddenly starts to experience parts shortages. Electricity grids and IT systems are particularly vulnerable to this because of their indescribable complexity, but plenty of smaller systems are similarly affected. Some estimates say that power grids will stop working within weeks, or months at the outside, if there is a serious credit event – and that’s even assuming that they have fuel to burn to produce the electricity in the first place (coal and oil importing countries take note). I used to work within the UK energy supply system, and I’m always amazed that the lights somehow stay on even within the normal operating parameters.

But when electricity grids do fail all bets are off. By this point people will already be in an advanced state of hunger because they will by now have learned that food doesn’t grow on supermarket shelves. Fuel for civilians will be a strictly rationed and factories and offices will likely have closed down ‘temporarily’. But when the lights go off, due to the aforementioned lack of fuel or because of some other technical fault that even the most resourceful of engineers are unable to overcome, that’s when the problems really begin. Water, for a start, will no longer flow out of taps, and our communications systems will disappear in an instant. With no food, electricity or water there is no precedent for what happens next.

Nuclear power stations will still need to be cooled to stop meltdowns and the only way to do so will be with the help of large diesel-powered generators. I’ve heard it estimated that each unit will need around a billion dollars’ worth of diesel per year, and countries which don’t have their own oil supplies will need to get down on their knees and beg other countries that do in order to get the fuel they need. Do you live near one of the 440 or so commercial or 250 research nuclear reactors in the world? Do you live downwind of them? You can have a look at this map to find out.

At this point in the breakdown we have to ask what is recoverable from the mess and whether there is a chance of getting back into something approximating normality. One factor that didn’t seem to get a mention in Trade-Off (unless I missed it) was the chance that global trade in essentials might not freeze up quite as much as anticipated following a credit event. The assumption is that because credit notes are produced electronically they could never be produced otherwise. Is it likely that a strong trading relationship that had built up over decades between, say, a coffee producer in Colombia and an importer in France would suddenly be axed because of the financial log jam which, don’t forget, is affecting everyone simultaneously? Would not the two parties not just get on the phone to each other and hammer out some form of guarantee? After all, the coffee producer stands to lose just as much as the importer if the shipment doesn’t happen.

Nevertheless, having read the report I yesterday found myself wandering around my local supermarket with a shopping trolley piled high with canned goods and pasta in a small attempt to build some inefficiency and resilience into my own family. It might not last long in an emergency but I figure three months of food should at least give us a fighting chance. I’m probably the first person in Denmark to seriously ask themselves the question of whether, after a month of meatballs, we would look forward to a can of pineapple chunks as if it was Christmas Day. As I stacked up my survival stash at home I wondered whether many other peak oil writers have done the same thing – especially those who advocate a slow collapse taking place over decades. I realise that the concept of survivalism is virtually mainstream in the US, but on this side of the Pond it is practically unheard of. We just assume that shortages could never hit us. Well, whatever, at least I have plenty of tins of food now and will not run out of spaghetti this side of my 80th birthday – hardly the worst thing that could happen to someone. As for a water filter, which I don't possess, I considered making my own along these lines:

It should be obvious to most people by now that we are initial stages of collapse. That collapse started at 1:45am on September 15th 2008 when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Since then we've been in a deflationary spiral and the signs that this is not just another oscillation of the business cycle are becoming clearer by the day. The fact that it hasn't yet manifested itself as a single earth shattering event is probably something of a let-down to the many people who anticipate such things, but future historians will probably identify this date as the starting gun for everything that followed.

So, Trade-Off is about as clear a warning we could hope for, even if it is couched in academic language and filled with jargon (but nevertheless remains surprisingly readable and opinionated). Whether you believe that collapse will be sudden and brutal, or whether it will be a long-drawn out affair characterised by bankruptcies and boredom, it’s impossible to read it and come away feeling complacent. And with many people’s guts telling them that some kind of downward lurch is likely before the year is out maybe it is time to start looking around at the critical systems you rely on in your area and try and figure out what you would do if all of a sudden they were taken away. I know I am.


  1. Emergency food stocks would not work for me - I would probably end up sharing my food with hunrgy friends and neighbors (before hungry men with knives or Kalashnikovs come and take it away from me)

  2. Yes, but wouldn't it pay to err on the side of caution? You might end up sharing it with your friends, but that means if they got hold of some food they'd likely return the favour.

  3. Today I was talking to my Taiwanese friend here in Taipei about peak oil and sustained long-term economic contraction. He's a chemist who specializes in petroleum related matters, so he knows about peak oil, but he doesn't seem to believe it to be a big deal. He's in his twenties and has only ever seen economic growth in his lifetime. The idea of stocking up on food is alien to a people with the highest number of convenience stores per person in the world.

    I tend to favour Greer's idea of catabolic collapse. As he has pointed out if a state faces collapse it has many mechanisms in place to secure its survival (the monopoly on violence helps).

    I think even if the global banking system froze up, states would step in and see to essential commodities being moved even if it meant formally administering such exchanges with IOU notes, or even exchanges of precious metals. Money might be inherently worthless, but you can still trade wheat for oil. If the tertiary economy goes down, the actual physical commodities they are supposed to represent still exist, though it might require states to acquire and distribute them until the money economy recovered. States can and do take over banks. They could just as well appropriate shipping, agriculture and oil refineries in a dire situation.

    1. I also agree with the catabolic collapse scenario - what concerns me though is that some of those first steps on our energy descent might be the size and height of small cliffs.

      Also, states may have many mechanisms for dealing with disasters, and I'm sure that in the medium term we will be able to figure out credit notes and so on and so forth. What I think is crucially important then is the time lag between a credit freeze and the re-establishment of supply chains - because the length of this lag might determine whether some of us survive, or not.

      Another factor to consider is that if states did take over oil, shipping, commodities etc *all at the same time* that's an awful lot of power concentrated in not very many hands.

  4. Trade-off did not impress me all that much. It looks good, and the visuals are well presented, but it seemed rather thin on analysis.

    When someone uses Tainter as their primary source for social collapse an alarm bell should go off in your head that they are an internet-collapse hobbiest. Tainter is not sited much within his own field, because he sounds better than his actual delivery. He offers no real mechanism for his collapse other than to say that the societies became too complex and lacked sufficient energy. Jack Goldstone, and Peter Turchin have both been much more specific about the resultant "cyle" and thus offer testable points.

    A number of collapses, including Tainter's area of expertise (the Southwest U.S.), show evidence that a change in climate did in many societies. If famring is no longer possible, it really doesn't matter how big or complex an agricultural society is, it is going to collapse. Goldstone and Turchin would likely conceed that this is an exogenis event, but Tainter rather foolishly lumps it in with his "theory". Mostly because his theory is not really testable so you can make all sorts of claims for it on very thin evidence.

    1. I've never read Tainter so my thoughts are not, er, tainted by what he writes. Still, at this stage, we still have the luxury of being able to compare theories on collapse. I'm certianly hoping that it won't be as bad as the 'wilder' theories predict, but, again, the most we can hope for are educated guesses and then to plan accordingly.

  5. I am of the opinion that Greer is overly dependent on history, as if any previous civilization were as energy and resource hyper-complex as this, at the same time that global climate is going haywire, at the same time four of the major world nations are getting bellicose about Iran and Syria - uSofA, Russia, China and Israel - at the same time we have pushed the limit of the earths carrying capacity, it's resources, and our thirst for exploitation - we have initiated a mass extinction, for fucks sake! What we are seeing is UNPRECEDENTED, and anyone making broad assertions about how it's all going to go down is fooling themselves, and that goes as well for Bardi's Cliff as Greer's catabolic, as it does for russell1200's rank dismissal of Tainter and Korowitz. Let's not forget, the drought is on ALL OVER THE WORLD, and corruption is pervasive throughout the system, as well as obliviousness about the danger. Fraud in financial circles, with the complicity of the judiciary and the political, is not even hidden anymore, and yet hardly anyone can even muster a complaint. If there are global food shortages, and Israel bombs Iran, and China and America go into recession, and Euro nations start to default, and, and, and...

    Historians may point to the collapse of Lehman, or 9/11, or maybe even the turning of the Mayan long count calendar. 'Cause my intuition tells me, a transition is coming, and the world thereafter isn't going to look like anything we have known.

    1. William, see my reply to Justin below.

      I agree on your other points. We are in an unprecedented period. Much of past history to my mind, is only partially relevant in an era where our destructive capabilities are so enhanced.

      I'd love to be proved wrong.

  6. I believe the collapse actually began, in the U.S. at least, on election day in 1980....

    Been a long downhill slide since then - despite any appearances to the contrary.

    1. I've even heard it being put back to the early 1970s.

      In Britain, at least, we're ahead of the game. We began our collapse about 100 years ago. Thatcher and Blair made it look like they'd slayed the collapse monster ... but it just keeps shambling back at us out of the mist every time we turn our backs.

  7. I second the point about Greer, he is well versed in history. Its always important to remember that history has a consistent point of view - that of the people with the wealth and power to control how it is written. These people have consistently had very little in common with the vast majority of humanity. I mean, can you imagine if Donald Trump was allowed to write a history of collapse after it cost him his position and place - i.e. his television show got cancelled and his fortune reversed? It'd be apocalyptic, filled with rogues and miscreants, barbarians at the gates, etc.

    1. Justin and William - I'm with you. I have read practically everything the archdruid has written - sci-fi and Earth spirituality included - and I regard him as one of the greatest teachers in my life.

      Still, that doesn't mean I agree with him on everything, and this is certainly one of those points on which I remain not entirely convinced. I once tried to ask him about his temporal projections for collapse and got a pretty sharp response in return! I respected him too much to press the point any further, and in any case, with his formidable knowledge of history and philosophy he could beat me hands down in any argument. So basically I learn what I can from him, and try and keep an open mind to any points of view that jar with me, entertaining the possibility that I might be wrong.

  8. Personally, I blame Prometheus. Trying to fix a point where economic collapse began ignores the underlying eco-pocalypse that is driven by population and per capita consumption. There's a reason popular culture is obsessed with zombies and doomsday - it's just plain obvious that we are growing exponentially, and unsustainably, on a finite planet. It's equally clear that after we burn every lump of coal and every drop of oil and gas, the last man standing will burn the last tree. With rare exceptions, it's intrinsic to who we are.

    I found 22 Billion from (I think) one of your comments at Greer's blog, so I'm not sorry I went there. But he banned me for the exact same reason you got a "sharp response" - he won't tolerate anything but adulation...which is more tedious than anything else, I don't care how well-read he is or how well he writes.

    The way I look at it, there's a race on between peak oil and consumption, climate change, and pollution to see which destroys industrial civilization first, if a nuclear conflagration doesn't surge out front, and we've got ring-side seats at the finish line. Because I absolutely do think it's going to happen soon enough for anyone reading this to witness. There is so much collapsing already, but people don't recognize it, nor do they realize how swiftly collapse is accelerating. The droughts, floods, melting arctic ice, and the oceans and forests dying from pollution ought to give a clue though.

    William Hunter Duncan, thank you for this refreshing outburst! "...we have initiated a mass extinction, for fucks sake!"

    This is my new favorite video:

    1. In recent comments at Archdruid, I said that the difference this time than all his examples is the once in a 65 million year extinction rate scientists are saying is a result of human activities. 50 species a day go extinct, historical norms have it at 1 every 5 years. That's 91,250 species every five years.

      If the human material economy is derived from the natural economy, and it self-evidently is, then we are witnessing a pretty fast collapse by any objective standard and its a condition that no other civilization in decline has faced. I don't think Greer bothered to respond to the point in his reply. My take is that cognitive dissonance and cognitive bias afflicts even the archdruid as he continues insisting that everything is just as it ever was. (This is the comment section) I could be missing something though.


      You are what you imitate. Greer has a deep knowledge of a particular version of history and he has internalized the values of the people who wrote it in his studies. That's not meant negatively nor complimentary, only offered as an observation. I enjoy his writing immensely and consider him an influential thinker. He has helped me open my eyes.

    2. Yes, blame Prometheus (actually he was only trying to humankind, his favourite species, a favour!).

      Talk about things backfiring!

  9. Can't say I respect Greer any more than anyone else. Smart fella with very interesting insights and points of view but he lacks the personal. Sounds like sucking up, but I prefer to read your blog and William Hunter's blog. Far more interesting and I can relate to your variety of experiences. As for collapse, strangely I see that as a non event. Sure it's going to hurt, people will probably die, etc. But collapse seems to be part of the human story. I personally do not want a collapse to occur. I'd rather not add that to my life experience resume. In the end we the people will muddle along as we have, doing what people have always been doing. And maybe that is the problem. I despair more about the damage done by seven billion people on the planet especially worst case predictions of climate change. I detest the fact we are taking other species down with us, that we are plundering and degrading our home. That for me is difficult to live with. And I have no answer for that. That I am a part of it, I also have no answer other than to lighten my personal footprint as quick and best as I can. Perhaps as I lighten up I will be at the same time preparing for collapse. After all I still want to live and see how the story is going to unfold.

    1. Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Rob.

      I'm also probably in the 'muddling through' camp most days. Some days it all seems so bleak, but then I remember how resourceful people can be. That doesn't mean it won't be pure chaos for a while (reducing the ecological footprint of seven billion people isn't going to be easy), but at the same time I'm not and could never be a doomer who thinks that all life of Earth will be extinguished within the next 40 years. If I seriously thought that I'd just top myself now and get it over with.

      In fact I try and stay away from reading doomer blogs because it seems to me that they are a kind of morbid death-obsessed porn.

  10. The industrial era is simply on a bigger scale than anything else in history. For example, there were less than a billion people living on earth during Napoleon's day. Now its seven billion and climbing. If the world's population just went down quickly by one third that is an uprecedented amount of suffering.

    Ian Morris came out recently with a strange but engrossing book entitled "Why the West Rules, for Now". Ostensibly the book is why the industrial revolution happened in Europe and not China, but the book seems to be a framework for Morris to throw in all sorts of ideas about history and archeology. At the end of the book there is a chapter helpfully listing most of the factors that could bring down civilization by 2045. Morris then argues that possibly this can be adverted by the arrival of the Singluarity, which seems to mean that humans upload the contents of their brains to machines and then go extinct. This actually seems worse than some of the collapse scenarios he sketches. The book is actually a thinly disguised piece of doomer literature, but the last chapter makes a valid point that the four horsemen have shown up and really only one has to get to us to destroy everything.

    Incidentally, one of the more interesting sections of the book was that how materially civilizations kept advancing until they hit resource limits, at which point they either collapsed or found a way to "break through" those limits. He cites the 2nd century AD Roman Empire and the 11th century AD Song dynasty as societies that came close to industrialization and then crashed through a resource barrier. But when the entire world hit resource limits in the late Middle Ages, the discovery, conquest, and exploitation of the Western Hemisphere and its resources allowed everyone (China as well as Europe) to break through the barrier. Then resource limits were hit again in the 18th century, but the exploitation of fossil fuel deposits enabled the world to transcend resource limits in a big way. The problem is that having exploited the entire world and the deposits under the Earth, humans are stuck.

    1. Sounds like an interesting book - I have never read anything by him. Saying that, I'd recommend giving a wide berth to anyone who thinks we can upload human brains onto microchips - chances are the last human alive will somehow lose or break the chip reader.

      As for the second part of what you wrote, that sounds very much like what Catton wrote about in Overshoot. We just keep looking for new ground to conquer, but we have basically run out. Fossil fuels have given us the illusion of having extra resources, what he calls 'ghost acreage'.

  11. I'm a peak oiler and I believe that some nasty sh*t is coming down the pike. However, as with any theory, it's necessary to examine the underlying presuppositions. These are presuppositions that guys like Orlov, Kunstler, Korowicz and even you seem to take for granted. Please consider this: It is obvious that resources are finite. They are going to run out. We've probably passed peak oil production. That's very bad news for industrial "civilization." And, we've passed several other important peaks as well. Again, bad news. But, built into all the rapid collapse theories are various "mechanisms" or "events" that "rapid collapsniks" believe (often without consciously stating or examining) will multiply the problems brought about by passing these various peaks. You discuss letters of credit at some length above. But, is all world trade conducted this way? I am no economist, but I wonder if China or Russia would suffer as badly from an economic collapse of London or New York as you guys seem to think. The fact is, there are several different economic and political systems working in parallel in this world. Furthermore, the governments of this world are very varied in their ability and willingness to step in and act effectively in a time of crisis to ease the crisis (as are the peoples of the world). Look at how quickly the people in northern Japan were fed, housed and clothed after the tsunami last year. Of course, other governments would not have acted as quickly or as well (I'd happily point to the US government's handling of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans of how badly a government can screw up emergency management).

    I want to say that one should work very hard to ferret out the unvoiced/unwritten assumptions in the fast collapse scenarios and see if they stand up to real scrutiny. My feeling is that we all overestimate the importance of the financial sector because the financial sector runs the world (for the most part). They feel themselves important, and they are important, but they do not grow food, ship food, drill oil, or mend broken limbs. After marinating myself in peak oil philosophy and doomerism for the last several years, I'm starting to find that it's not a healthy preoccupation. That's right, I can hear the Greek chorus saying I'm whistling past the graveyard, but, no, I think I've just finally decided to believe that A) there are assumptions in these philosophies that aren't being fully examined and B) the human species is more resilient that the doomsters would have us believe. Also, I am just sick of reading about financial matters. I'd like to see almost everyone in the FIRE sector - well, I'm against the death penalty, so I won't say "taken out and shot" - but I'd like to see them suffer some really annoying condition.Let the productive workers of the world produce and go about their business. And, in closing, let me state emphatically that I am not a deluded or smug cornucopian or technological optimist, the kind you see sitting listening to a TED talk with a self-satisfied grin. I think the belief in "singularity" and the notion that it will save us is about as idiotic as the belief that America invaded Iraq in order to bring democracy to its people.

    1. Yes but ...

      Like I have stated before, I don't prescribe to any rapid collapse scenario for the whole of civilization - anyone who does so is just being short-sighted IMO. I think it much more likely that we'll see the 'catabolic collapse' that John Michael Greer espouses. Some regions/people will fare better than others and the whole affair is as complex and ever-changing as a fractal.

      However, what I'm anticipating is that there will be various shocks along the way, rather than a smooth downward trajectory. Some of these shocks will be pretty violent in nature and some people will be able to cope with them better than others. Last week I wrote about Greece, and if you read that you'll see that I'm more or less optimistic about that country because people there, on balance, are fairly tough and can still look after themselves.

      Contrast that with many other places and I don't see people faring so well. Where I live, for example, in Denmark, people are so used to an extraordinary level of comfort that even the slightest problem renders them incapable. Most people have skills that only relate to their (office) job, have little tolerance to heat or cold, cannot walk on unlevel ground or up many steps, are overly-prone to pathogens, have no idea how to produce food or purify water etc etc. It's these places that concern me - primarily because I live here. Mongolian herdsmen will do just fine.

      Add in the fact that we face a rapidly deteriorating natural environment and a drawdown of natural resources and it becomes very hard indeed to think that we are dealing with a situation that we have much control over.

      Saying all that, the most important thing we can do, in my opinion, is to face these stark realities, take a deep breath, and get on with the work making things more resilient for ourselves, our families and our local communities.

    2. I think someday we'll get past using the language of collapse. The downward arc has been going on for 100 years.

      I know you don't live in the U.S., but what I look at is the collective mental and physical health of Americans, this is not what a peak looks like. We are overweight, anxious, aggressive, depressed, addicted, de-skilled, disconnected from each other and our ecosystem, and afflicted with all manner of maladies arising from the shitty food we eat. I'll offer that the surplus of energy is a primary factor in all of these phenomena, given where I am posting, I think that will be stipulated. We are also the most war like and prison loving place in the world, if 'collapse' means a mitigation or even reversal of any of these phenomena, I say bring it on. You can't construct a prison and call it a home.

  12. I live in an earthquake zone here in the San Francisco Bay area where prudent people have a three week supply of food and supplies, three weeks being the amount of time that services could be disrupted by a strong earthquake. I also understand that Mormons are supposed to maintain a 6 month supply of food. For what reason, I don't know, but many of them do.
    I have made a half-hearted attempt at creating this emergency supply back in 2006, the anniversary of the big 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But I find, that even though I realize that the emergency stash of food is inadequate, I am lacking in motivation to upgrade it. Preparing for disaster is not something that humans are psychologically suited for, I think. We seem to prefer to react to rather than prepare for disasters and I think that collapse is no exception.
    If I really believed that collapse was imminent and would be quick rather than slow, then I would not be sitting here typing into the comment box but stockpiling food and tools and canning jars. I do not doubt that the present civilization with all its material excess will go away and that billions of people may even starve to death before the end of the century, but somehow, while the trucks keep rolling and bringing in the goods, it is hard as a community to prepare. In a way, it is not until the trucks stop rolling that we can react as a community and decide what our new lifestyle will look like.

    1. Wolfgang, I think you've hit the nail on the head there.

  13. Lot's of meat on this bone.

    I agree with the idea that catabolic collapse is the most well thought out of all of the collapse theories. I think you are right to be concerned about some of those cliffs however. Katrina is a perfect example of what those cliffs can look like, only worse, and that was mostly just a natural disaster making a mess of human infrastructure and exposing the worthlessness of a bureaucracy ground to a halt under the weight of it's own complexity and worthlessness.

    I too have tended to disagree with Greer's complete assessment. He's just a man, and men are wrong a lot. I think it's imperative to let in the idea that the winners write history. This one idea is the Achilles's heal for the worth of history in general. The fact that our civilization is unprecedented due to communication technology, energy, and global systems is enough for me to know that it's anybodies guess.

    For my part, I'm doing everything I can to diversify my survival options for any scenario. Obviously growing food and capturing water are the most important aspects to be concerned with. Permaculture answers all of that for me, so I know that learning permaculture is about the most useful habit I can personally cultivate. However diversity breeds resiliency. Therefore I'm actively husbanding an illusory paradox in hopes that it will somehow short out what should happen in my life. That's what my last blog is about.

    Personally I've grown tired of trying to figure out slow or fast collapse. It's all theory. What I find interesting now is addressing the collapse issue in general by doing things in my own life to prepare. I think the truth will be somewhere between Orlov, JHK, and Greer. For me, the bottom line is that there are too many mofo's on the planet and not enough resources to go around. That fact is going to continue spreading and being exacerbated all over the planet by the changing face of physical reality. After all, you can't get blood out of a turnip.

    1. Yes, when I first 'got into' peak oil, after I had had time to digest, my first thought was that there was too much thorising and pontificating going on. Perhaps that's unavoidable, given the complexity of the issues, but at the end of the day theorising isn't going to keep you on this side of the grass.

      I'm thinking of starting a website based on your words above. Hopefully all peak oil blogs will point to it - it will just be a blank screen with 72 font height characters that reads "There are too many mofos on the planet and not enough resources. Now grow some vegetables." Succinct and to the point.

      BTW I read your latest blog post - it's a brave and sensible move (plus exciting) you are making and it is also very inspiring to read about it. I wish you all the best of luck with your Druid Permaculture Gypsy Magic and eagerly await your uploads to the matrix!

      (As an aside - my spellchecker didn't recognise the word 'permaculture' when I typed it above and suggested 'Did you mean monoculture?' Gotta laugh!)


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.