Please note that the correct order to proceed through things here is the chronological as shown on the right, rather than the standard blog ordering in which you end up starting with the latest, as if you ever thought it wise to read a book from last chapter forward to first.
Also, this is only the blog (of energyark). The energyarks project is not a blog, but rather is about groups of people meeting together in real world localities and doing real things in the real world. And by its nature it is not in the business of transparently exhibiting all its activities in the cyber-goldfish-bowl of a website. If you want to be genuinely involved, or even just more informed of what's happening, you have to contact us via the email address or phone number in the upper right here. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Link to a fine article based on the experiences of people who survived considerably-threatening adversities.
Hard to find anything I disagree with in it. Gives a good idea of some aspects of what I mean by being a "hard"[/"strong"--see comments] person (which is nothing to do with being nasty or selfish).
There seems to be a hidden (unstated) message. Namely that on boarding a plane you might get a lot more than you bargained for.
Unlike these nice, pleasant, successful people, I don't just write and theorise about coping with extreme adversity. I have survived many years of adversity such as would have wiped out these others several times over. In the real world, not all problems have solutions. Not all victims of injustice come out as survivors.
Consider for instance my situation in recent years. I had at last discovered the cause of my chronic invalidity, as due to the dental mercury poisoning by the NHS which still pretends that no such illness exists, and I do not have the ~£10,000 to remove this mercury from my teeth. Due to decades of chronic fatigue I had few friends to speak of and none close and nearby to lean on.
Then in 2005 I was plunged into a horrendous harassment crisis. I found myself sharing my house with a violent deceitful lifestyle alcoholic lifestyle criminal in the adjacent flat. Plus all the like alco-criminals drawn magnet-like from all around. Simultaneously with being threatened on the violence front, I was also threatened by the housing "cooperative" continuing with conspiring and attacking me on a more institutional front. I struggled to write the reports on their criminality and thereafter the book linked on that website.
Then they started their corrupt legal action for my eviction. Then in 2007 the evil liar judges Truman, MacDuff and McKenna told a huge pile of lies with the result that I was suddenly forced out of my home of 17 years, just about immediately. Even though I had nowhere to go. As it happened, Mohammed my neighbour of 15 years had a barely inhabitable hovel nearly unoccupied at the time, which I was able to move some of my things to. Else I doubt I'd be alive and writing this now.
Let's look at the situation when that falsely-granted eviction was enforced. I had been working flat out for the past 50 months to try to challenge the institutional abuses, while also trying to manage relations with the criminals making an uninhibited reign of terror in my house. I really was looking forward to defeating the legal case and then at last having a bit of a rest.
But instead I had to immediately continue even faster. I had to sort out and try to remove the tons of my possessions such as this computer I'm typing on now. I was soon physically clapped out by the impossible overwork involved. I had to walk long distances to and from the new address. Many times I was close to collapsing with exhaustion in the street. I had to do a huge amount of thinking and difficult deciding of what to do about the numerous problems that had arisen. I no longer had a phone or internet or knew my local area, or where most of my things had ended up or not.
In this context there was no shortage of things to get incandescently angry about. Such as a supposed justice system that assaults the victim and gives victory to callous evil criminals. No shortage of things to grieve about. But did the nice judges say I could really do with a week or two to grieve about anything? No. Just in their deceitful pretence, the law (supposedly) could not give any extra time before the corruptly-granted eviction must take place.
I just had to get on with doing and deciding. Similarly, consider the situation of these survivors of Stalingrad, living in a hole in the ground.
Don't you think they could do with a year or two of grieving over the numerous friends and associates they have lost? And the disappearance of the whole world they have lived in all these years? But instead, they just have to get on with things. Likewise the millions of soldiers caught up in the conflict, constantly experiencing the unpleasant deaths of their team-mates, and yet having to just get on with things.
The composer Felix Mendelssohn died within months of the death of his sister. In the intervening he wrote his absolutely uncharacteristically harsh F# minor quartet. It's clear he died of a broken heart.
And not long after the Tay bridge collapsed while a train was passing over it, the designer of the bridge died, and again it seems clear that he also died of a sort of grief or shame. Queen Victoria, after the death of her husband, wore mourning black for the rest of her life.
I am not here saying that these grief-engulfed persons were unworthy or second rate. I am saying that there are some people we may not be able to help, who may not be able to be part of the future.
I question whether there is any evidence that grieving improves anything. Rather what is needed is coming to terms with that which we cannot change. Some people are better at this than others. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses. Some inflexibly carry on as if nothing has changed (low Neuroticism), some just crack up and fail that way instead (high Neuroticism), others become insane (high Psychoticism).
In my experience, emotions are only rarely useful. They are a primitive system serving as a failsafe for when more sophisticated thinking and theorising are short of useful ideas of what to do. The proper thing to do is to be in control of one's emotions and to set out on the work of rational analysis of one's predicament. And where necessary coming to terms, with resignation to that which cannot be changed anyway.
To a great extent, a person's response to adverse changes can be improved by skilled use of nutrition and other techniques. I believe that my own expertise in this has been crucial for enabling me to survive so far. If you are interested in further information or discussion on this and or other matters, send full contact details and personal information to my email address. That's r [at] energyark[dot]net
Here is a sequence of questions I've put together myself. It's only a rough first draft, and I've not had time to actually try it out. (Ok, I just happen to be very shy too.) I invite readers to try out such a sequence of questions on suitable "victims" and report back here what results they get. The idea is to conclude the discourse with the victim enthusiastically taking a copy of the leaflet I put on the www.energyark.net website.[not there yet actually]
Excuse me - May I ask, are you envisaging to be alive in five years time? [Yes]
Then do you have a vision of how the world will have changed in the next five years? [……..]
Perhaps it’s a question you haven’t wondered about much?
So if you are envisaging to be alive in five years time, would you agree that it might be a good idea to join up with some people who have a clue what’s going on in the world?
Would you say that politicians tend to decide things for the long-term, at the expense of the short-term, putting their re-election chances at risk?
Or do you think they tend to decide things for best in the short term, to win the next election and so on, at the expense of the long-term?
If politicians go on choosing the short-term options for years and years and years, and ignoring the long-term needs for years and years and years, would you agree that then the long-term problems will someday build up rather disastrously?
Would you reckon that politicians tell you honestly what is going on?
Or might they just tell you what is most convenient for winning their elections?
Would you say that media journalists tell you honestly what is going on?
Or might they just tell you the things that sell more tv and papers and so on?
Update!: see factual proof at:
So where are you currently getting your information about what is going on?
How do you know how true it is?
Would you agree that it would be best to find some people who actually know what is going on and are willing to tell you?
Do you like to live recklessly? For instance would you go around dodgy areas at night, or gamble most of your money on one bet, or would you leave your house unlocked, do you have insurance?
If politicians knew some really bad news, do you think they would tell you about it honestly?
If media journalists found out some really bad news, do you think they would tell you?
Well, can you imagine that in a few years time you might think back to this moment and remember how I started asking you these questions, and imagine yourself thinking “if only I had listened to what he said”. Or perhaps instead you will be thinking back and remembering this day and thinking “thank god I had such a great stroke of luck there”.
PS: Also I have got an A5 presentation thingy with 20 leafs, in which to put oil-supply graphs and other documents relevant to one's presentation. This makes one's spiel seem less of a personal expertise bragging operation and more like an authoritative competent 'professional' operation. (And also it's easier!)
It looks to me like Charles Hugh-Smith (CHS) is there talking mostly sense, with one or two bits of fallacy. But is talking about different sorts of events in different sorts of neighbourhood from those I am thinking of in my notion that we have to relocate from cities to rural. Indeed I would class "suburbs" as another form of urban. What I have in mind with the word "rural" is an area where the local supply of food, water, etc, is equal or greater than the requirements of the local population. The crucial problem with cities, or even suburbs, is that millions of people in such an area would find themselves with far too little food between them if the grand industrialised corporatised supply-system ever became seized up for more than a few days. And in the slightly-less short-term, the grand system is almost certain to grind to a halt in a scenario of enforced energy-descent, before adequate substitute arrangements can be set up (in a vast project).
And it is such a critical crisis of the life-support system that I am weighing the relative prospects for, rather than some mere gradual impoverishment/abandonment scenario that CHS is thinking of.
If a city is as dense as CHS envisages such as to have "eyes on the street", then it could be far too dense from the local supply perspective (depending on size and location).
Meanwhile, I am far from persuaded by the concepts about restraints on crime. In the UK, insurance premiums are much higher in urban areas than in rural ones, reflecting the well-known much higher crime and risk of being attacked that exists in urban areas. As for the "eyes on the street" factor, there has been quite a lot of research on the phenomenon of "bystander apathy". This was inspired by one observation of a brutal murder carried out with hundreds of onlookers who did nothing to intervene, did not even call police. My own experience is of being repeatedly attacked in busy urban settings and never in rural, even though I have lived equally long in both. I even witnessed a horrendous attack right in the very most central part of this city, with a crowd of onlookers doing nothing to intervene. As for police response times, quite what are you smoking?, the police famously always come too late and are well-known to have negligible impact on street crime, burglaries etc.
In conclusion, there are two key problems with urban areas. Firstly they contain far more people than the locality can keep locally supplied in the event that the industrialised supply-system ever fails (which it almost certainly will within a decade or two if not year or two). And secondly they put a citizen within reach of far too many strangers with easy access to commit crimes and rapidly escape to who-knows-where immediately afterwards. As further elaborated in my 1995-1998 paper www.energyark.net/urbna.htm .
Please note that the correct order to proceed through things here is the chronological as shown on the right, rather than the standard blog ordering in which you end up starting with the latest, as if you ever thought it wise to read a book from last chapter forward to first.
Also, this only the blog of energyark. The energyarks project is not a blog, but rather is about groups of people meeting together in real world localities and doing real things in the real world. And by its nature it is not in the business of transparently exhibiting all its activities and thinking in the cyber-goldfish-bowl of a website. If you want to be more involved, or even just more informed of what's happening or being thought about, you have to contact us via the email address or phone number in the upper right here.
(This is of course a key question, of what positive solutions are being proposed and organised here. And the answers are likely to be evolving ones. For that reason I envisage to be updating this particular post into newer versions rather than just freezing it in the first version that emerges. Besides sending replies to this post, you are welcome to email suggestions or critiques "offline" to blog[at]energyark[dot]net .)
The central idea of an energyark is that we may not be able to prevent major social and economic upheavals in an unplanned progression of energy descent. The article on this site "Will there be an abrupt collapse?" discusses how this might come about. There may be failures of food supply, law and order, and so on. It may be difficult for people to survive through such circumstances let alone work on needed changes. Especially in or near larger cities.
For this reason, it may be wise to prepare "lifeboats" or "energyarks" to relocate to. A key idea is relocation (rather than the relocalisation being promoted by the Transition (Towns) movement). A few people may already be resident in suitable relocation areas, but most will not. And others have already wisely pointed out that it may be unwise to invest all one's hopes in a particular location. One may need to be ready to adopt a travelling lifestyle, or alternatively move from one ark to another as needs dictate or suggest. Ideally there will be a network of arks rather than just one.
A suitable location and its community should satisfy the requirements of resilience against energy descent. Some conditions, requirements and resources would be as follows.
- Sufficiently remote from large urban settlements
- Land and weather suitable for food-growing
- A natural water supply, including sufficient for irrigation
- Not particularly vulnerable to attack but preferably in a defensible location
- A community of people ideally in the range of 100-300
- Members who have a cooperative mentality rather than grasping or parasiting
- A diversity of people rather than just rich or intellectual ones
- A collection of key skills
- Hand tools
- Reserves or supplies of key products
There already exist some projects which satisfy some or all of these criteria.
Energyark members could come from a variety of situations. They may already be living in suitable relocation areas (in which case their support would be particularly welcome). Or may be very unsuitably located such as in a city centre. Or equally unsuitably in a commuter-dormitory village, devoid of far too many key local resources. Or a farmer in a location which like that village lacks some resilence requirements despite its ruralness.
(to be continued)
Some of what they are now saying was already being said by me back here and elsewhere (surprise, surprise).
I don't find this concept at all persuasive. I suggest some good analogies for the transition process may be the experiences of polar explorers and record-setting mountaineers, along with the many millions of soldiers who have entered into battles, and the many civilians who have found themselves surviving in dire straits after wars had devastated their countries. All these groups of people have in common that they were faced with the knowledge of very real possibility that these challenges would be not merely very unpleasant and arduous but with very high probability of utter failure, ending with their deaths. And yet they faced up to these challenges nevertheless.
I would add to this list of analogy examples one more crucial one. That is the experiences of those obscure individuals and groups who founded civilisations. It is in the nature of things that we tend to see the ends of civilisations relatively clearly, with names of rulers and their circumstances clearly recorded. By contrast, the origins are relatively hidden in obscurity. And yet as Arnold Toynbee explained, there is good reason to reckon that these civilisations originated in response to severe, life-threatening adverse circumstances. For instance the growth of the Sahara desert putting the hunter-gatherers in prospect of starvation. They would thus have been forced to descend into the treacherous swamps of the untamed Nile valley, where they would have to cope with not only daunting huge floods but also the existing inhabitants such as crocodiles and snakes. We can only guess at how many millions may have died rather than survived to go on to create the ancient Egyptian civilisation in that once-terrible land. And yet such can be the way to the future of human community.
Some people cannot cope with a terrible prospect of the future. They may become suicidal, psychotic, depressed, paralysed by anxiety, obsessed with delusory false hopes, or too stressed out physically or overloaded mentally to be able to go on. They may lack the imagination to forsee specific key problems, they may lack the judgement to see what solutions may work and which may not. They may lack the necessary experience or training to prepare them for the tasks they must undertake for survival. They may lack the personal qualities required for survival in a group of people who find they must selflessly cooperate or else die.
For these reasons, such persons are liable to be fore-doomed to not survive the challenges they face. That's life. Regardless of how kind and empathic you and I are it remains the case that That's life.
If siamese twins share one heart between them, we can wish that they could have a separate heart each; we could even have a group session of envisaging them having a separate heart each, but that wishing and envisioning is not going to change the fact that they do not.
What all those grim example groups abovementioned have in common is that they went forward with no illusions that they were going to go down a safely predictable or comfortable pathway into the future. In many cases they even chose to enter into such challenges. And note that none of those survivor groups had any emotional therapy workshops or treatments, before, during or after their ordeals. That's life. Here to illustrate this principle is a photo of a homeless family of three living in the freezing ruins of Stalingrad in a hole in the ground with the desolation all around.
And the elegant city they had lived in.
Some most interesting thoughts from Rob here, much wisdom, but also some not-so-wisdom.
I come from a position of finding some fundamental flaws in the TT concept, which aren't addressed above. My article (below here) makes a start at presenting some of them. To that I'll add the following extra thoughts evoked by the above.
Firstly, I'm inclined to invent a new phrase parallel to "Political Correctness". Perhaps this phrase should be "Transitional Correctness", though I should make clear there's no insult or fascistic imputation intended against Rob who certainly isn't of an intolerant or domineering mindset.
I should make clear that this transitional correctness is not confined to TTers, and not necessarily all TTers will endorse it, as TT is not some exclusive centrally-enforced dogma anyway.
The key taboo of Transitional Correctness is the ruling out of the idea that the transition is going to be so difficult that many, or indeed, most people are not going to survive to see it through. Also the idea that "the community" is not going to pull together but instead is going to tear apart. It's difficult to take seriously an Energy Descent Action Plan if like myself one has negligible confidence in those implied articles of faith.
So reading Rob's latest from my "transitionally-INcorrect" perspective, here goes.
Good to see Rob's very wise points about needing for testing/validation in permaculture with which I fully agree (with relief that I won't need to work at persuading him myself anymore).
As for getting accepted into the mainstream, that's seriously unhinged I'm afraid. Does anyone remember when the mainstream was called Naziism, with the collective genius of the community concurring in a project of showing their superiority over the 'subhuman' Slavs to the east? It is seriously doubtful whether the mainstream is that vastly more sensible nowadays. The mainstream suffers not merely from Transitional Correctness, but for the most part a more serious ailment we could call Transitional Denial. They're still trying to build larger airports and cities, for hell's sake. Getting accepted into the company of doomed dinosaurs is not my idea of worthwhile progress. They only accept you as much as they do because you tell the transitionally-correct nice story of how it can be fantasised to work out without saying anything politically-unacceptable (i.e. in violation of TC).
Only show in town. Not true. There are others who are pursuing the relocation strategy which I myself endorse at my www.energyark.net just starting up. Not T-C of course, but that's life.
"If we think that we are going to weather the Long Emergency without any form of supporting each other emotionally, without any kind of ability to share the distress it is causing, if we think that the work of the next 10-20 years will be purely external, we are deluding ourselves."
But many people aren't going to weather it, full stop. They are going to be rushed off their feet with far too much physical work, far too much learning and re-skilling, too many practical problems to be solved all at once, too little preparation. They aren't going to have time or mental space for the luxury of inner work. Only the "hard" people are going to pull through, sadly.
Huge horrible things do happen in history. Stalingrad is just one example. Preparing for the reality is the best we can do. We can't help everyone so there's little point in trying. I myself have given up as lost causes my mother and four brothers, my whole family. That's life.
Arguably, "poking holes" in what others are trying to do can be just as much a valid and useful contribution as the projects that are being challenged thereby.
In recent months I have noticed some interesting thoughts from the Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins, seeing possible problems with his original concept. Not clear whether he has been learning from actual experience of turning ideas into actions, or whether he has been moved by my own challenging words. But either way it is commendable to encounter someone who can move his viewpoints rather than stick to entrenched assumptions as so many do.
The TTers have (had) some mistaken assumptions about how the energy decrease is likely to proceed. And what effects it will have. Indeed Rob Hopkins himself recently discussed his concerns about whether his Energy Descent Action Plans would avoid being overtaken by events proceeding much faster than they envisaged (in an interview with Richard Heinberg on the web).
There are a number of serious faults in the ideas of the TT movement. In an ideal world a reasonable person would embrace their commitment to a principle of inclusiveness, aspiring to involve all residents of an area in the transition process. But, with much regret, it has to be said that, however much we would prefer otherwise, such inclusiveness is not going to happen. Indeed in my own involvement with a TT steering group, the very first thing raised was this theme of inclusiveness, with the accompanying interpretation that it would mean that BNP members (or their views) were not to be permitted in the movement. So already the concept was proving logically in contradiction of itself.
Please note however that this does not mean that the energyark project wishes to seek to exclude certain groups, or be racist or classist or so on.
Merely surviving in the coming decades is going to be challenging. Dramatically interesting choices can be expected to lie ahead, very much like those that faced the whalers shipwrecked in mid-Pacific who only survived by eating their companions. There are, very tragically, quite a number of people who are simply not going to be able to cope with the future, most particularly in terms of psychological adaption. Such persons will be found in all races, classes and religions, but the problem is the same--that it will be impossible for a struggling community to cope itself while supporting such unfortunates in the manner that a flourishing wealthy advanced civilisational system has been able to recently.Mind you, the above does not contradict the truth that future communities are going to need and want many different sorts of people. We will want great artists and entertainers as well as those who can show us the boring details of how to get food, or help us with that donkey work (though preferably not as slaves). We will not want to be too judgemental about who is worthy or not. Even I myself am mentally disabled but would hope some merit might be found for considering me useful enough to compensate! Doomed unsuitable individuals will largely deselect themselves by failing to recognise there is a need to get into our sort of project in the first place.
And certainly we want something broader than a community of only intellectuals or latte activists.
Particularly misguided is the TTers' notion of "unleashing the collective genius of the community". It is true that in any group of "ordinary" people there will arise some useful ideas. And there will be some good judgement too. But it is also the case that well-judged innovations and solutions of key difficult problems tend to come only from a very special minority of people, the label for which is the only correct usage of the scientific term "genius". History is full of the great follies that can be achieved by the group-thinking of whole communities, and the word "genius" is not appropriate in their description. If our ancestors had relied on the "collective genius of the community", we would all be still chewing raw bones in caves amid the rats.
It is at times of transformation such as the present that the contribution of real geniuses becomes particularly life-critical for finding well-judged novel solutions to novel challenges. (More on this in the 1987 article linked here which is now very relevant to the present/future).
Re-Localisation or Relocation?
Another major difference of my ideas from the Transition Towns movement is as follows.
The TTers envisage that they will stay in the same "communities" (i.e. towns, cities, villages) that they are already in, and transform them into viably resilient communnities. This might just about be a credible objective in a small remote village of perhaps 100 to 300 clued-up people. (Not that there are many such villages now that the UK countryside has become largely the commuter dormitory of city execs and the like. (Well, what a surprise that the Chief Exec of Birmingham Airport had his home in a quiet country lane of Sambourne village rather than somewhere within easy listening distance of the jet engines!))
But the chances of such a transformation usefully succeeding in a town or city would be remote. There would not be a sufficient level of community cohesion and personal feeling of making a necessary difference. There would be too high a level of strangerness, a word I coined in my 1998 article about excessive mobility urbna.htm.
Instead, the way forward has to be relocation: to select locations reasonably remote from existing oversized (and somewhat doomed) population agglomerations, and to set up coherent communities of positive people within those remote localities.
Such relocation projects will be fairly impossible to succeed in, but the alternative re-localisation projects of the TTers would be infinitely more impossible. For evidence of this you only have to consider the case of Rob Hopkins's flagship Totnes TT. This should have so many advantages over other TT projects:
- a relatively small settlement of only 8000;
- one selected by the founder rather than just happening to be there;
- relatively rich and leisured and educated population, with time and resources to spare unlike so many elsewhere;
- warmest easiest climate in the uk;
- good agricultural countryside location.
And yet on checking out the first ten links from a google search of totnes it is clear that Totnes has been hardly touched by the transition concept and has a huge way to go if it is ever to have enough resilience.
This has been only a brief initial selection of problems with the TT concept, to which I could certainly add more if I had a bit more time and energy. Perhaps at some future date.
(and if so then why, when, and how?)
Robin P Clarke
Among those who recognise a peaking of oil supply at about the present, there are some who confidently assume that there will be some abrupt cessation of the industrial/economic system on which we depend—an abrupt collapse. And there are others who confidently assume there will not be such a collapse, but instead a relatively gradual decline (which is what some others have in mind when they use the collapse word).
And yet there has been little or no systematic analysis or argument presented to justify these assumptions.
A most useful conclusion would be if we could state with confidence that major collapse would have negligible probability within the next few years. That is because such a conclusion would enable us to make relatively coherent life-plans over the coming years. A rational person will see that the only way such a conclusion should be reached with maximal confidence is via seeking as diligently as possible to undermine it. And for that reason, my modus operandi in the following will be mainly to try to undermine my (already low) confidence in that convenient wished-for conclusion, by confronting it with all the plausible collapse horror-theories I can muster; and to operate a sort of precautionary principle, whereby any particular collapse-theory retains its credibility unless the case against it is significantly clear.
For the purposes of this article the following things will be assumed as being true  (notwithstanding that they may be disputed by some readers and writers).
1. Oil supply ceased its longstanding growth in about 2005 and is now starting a relentless decline of several percent per year.
2. There are no alternative fuels for transportation which are sufficiently scaleable to offset this decline within the next few years (for either technical or social/political/economic reasons).
3. Over the next 1-5 years there will be a decline of oil and other energy supply of several percent due to shortsighted under-investment, creating an energy crunch and an oil crunch.
4. The design of the global financial/economic/corporate system of the past century is such that its functioning depends on continuing growth of key resources, especially cheap easily-produced oil. And cannot continue for long once that growth ceases.
Others have assumed that the essence of collapse is reduction of complexity. But when a building collapses due to earthquake or explosion, the complexity is increased rather than decreased. This is proven by the fact that the adequate description of a collapsed building needs far more words (or a larger jpeg image) than that for the uncollapsed building, unless one resorts to the false simplification that it is “just a disordered pile of debris”.
Likewise an anarchic society in which everyone functions as a unique individual is more complex than the same people organised into relatively few standard roles in a bureaucratic society.
Rather the essence of collapse is full or partial dissolution of some organised arrangement, and especially some functional arrangement. Ccomplexity reduces resilience against collapse only if it is (in approximate electrical analogy) ‘in series’ rather than ‘in parallel’: if I have two independent internet connections, that increases resilience; if in order to get to a meeting on time I need to travel by car followed by plane followed by boat, that compounds the probability of failure, reducing resilience.
Given a relentless decline of energy available for long-distance travel and communication, then some sort of reduction of global systems/organisations followed by national ones is inevitable sooner or later. But the question I am trying to address here is not whether there will be some sort of cessation of some or all of these eventually, but rather whether there is likely/certain to be some abrupt collapse within the next few years.
Firstly we need to clarify quite what (one or more things) it is that could be going to collapse. “Civilisation” is a rather nebulous term. Arnold Toynbee in A Study of History  identified it as a form of society involving the organisation of many thousands of people in contrast to the much smaller primitive societies such as nomadic or hunter-gatherers. Those who have not studied his work invariably mistake empires as being civilisations. Toynbee explains that such “universal states” are merely symptoms of civilisations which have already entered breakdown. For instance the Roman Empire was the tail-end of the Hellenic civilisation. That Hellenic civilisation was surely already in a very bad way four centuries before Christ, when the Athenians sentenced Socrates to death merely for asking reasonable questions, and launched a ridiculous grand invasion (the Sicilian Expedition) which ended in loss of the entire Athenian army and navy, and thence its democracy system.
Toynbee concluded that the cause of breakdowns was an internal failure, due to a proliferation of “mechanical mimesis”, mindless copying rather than independent judgement. I myself wrote an article in 1987 (www.energyark.net/decadenc.htm) , analysing this more systematically in terms of natural selection. I concluded that judicious genius mentality is a requirement for originating a viable civilisation; but it eventually solves all the key practical problems thereby making itself redundant; and so it becomes displaced by authoritarian mentality (of which “mechanical mimesis” is a major part). (I later updated and elaborated on that article within my book www.lulu.com/content/140930. )
I think it is important to note that we see in the here and now the various characteristics which Toynbee ascribed to a decadent civilisation, in which the founding creative minority (which commands respect with its charm) has been displaced by an incompetent dominant minority (which enforces its control by force and trickery so long as it can). ( I hardly need to point out to readers of theoildrum.com that there is no shortage of very competent people who are completely sidelined by governments which astound us only with their persistent incompetence.)
A vitally important lesson of history is that such decadent dominant minorities are almost entirely useless at doing anything useful; the only talent they have is in short-term preservation of their own status (and they’re not even much good at that).
All the previous twenty-plus civilisations have broken down and collapsed or aborted, and the present global one shows the signs of heading towards the same.
Anyway, back to the question of quite what could be going to collapse.
A thousand years ago, the European civilisation was already flourishing as evidenced for instance by its inventions of church bells and written-down music. And now a thousand years later that civilisation has passed through the scientific, commercial, agricultural, and industrial revolutions, and encompassed nearly all of the human race to greater or lesser extent. There are key features of our present organisation that were invisible a thousand years ago:
· The concepts of money and profit have become essential to everyday life.
· There is an elaborate industrial infrastructure dependent on fossil-fuels; and of which few if any people have more than partial understanding.
· There is a whole system of corporations and international agencies and educational/brainwashing institutions and banks and crooked legal systems which were almost or entirely absent in Medieval times.
Many people would dearly love to see the collapse of these latter systems, which they may see as an imposition displacing somewhat more civilised arrangements. Toynbee reasonably labelled our civilisation as “Western Christendom”. I suggest it might be useful for us to refer to the “Original Western” civilisation becoming transformed as above into the “Advanced Western” civilisation (even though many of us are highly critical of some of the “advances” involved).
I suggest the following as some key systems with potential for collapse.
· Money (currencies).
· Credit (borrowing and lending).
· Commodity markets (especially energy and food).
· Electricity supply.
· Energy supply (other).
· Food supply and water supply.
· Government operational systems.
· Trust in government and in legal, social, and informal norms.
· Trust in, and cooperation with, other persons of varying familiarity.
I suggest the following as potential candidates for causation of abrupt collapses.
· Crossing of balance-sheet thresholds; under-recognised key roles
· Market failures (short-termism and panic-paralysis)
· “Unexpected” events in a context of corner-cutting
· Loss of confidence in various assumptions.
Inability to organise downsizing?
This would be an aggravating factor rather than a mechanism of catastrophe in itself.
Biology thrives on growth. Organisms have been natural selected for growing and proliferating. And meanwhile, those organisations which are best at growing, persistently eliminate those that are less growth-orientated, for instance hypermarkets drive corner shops out of business. Success (“=”growth) attracts more talent and more success.
But we now come to a new world in which almost everything has to shrink instead. Talented, creative, people retreat from shrinking organisations and fields. Geniuses rarely aspire to make Strad violins anymore. Highway engineering departments get no green-minded visionaries. Shrinking is rarely conducted willingly or competently. A case in point is the car industry which is not exactly shouting out that “We have now made enough cars and we have triumphantly succeeded in our task!”. Instead they demand assistance in carrying on to the bitter blinkered end.
Thus the shrinkage can be expected to result in a great multiplicity of conflicts, of psychological and social friction and rigidity punctuated by shocks. A social equivalent of the slip-stick mechanism that produces the sudden jolts of earthquakes.
In these conditions it can be expected that political leadership will become a thankless, unattractive, profession. And it will be difficult for leaders to focus rationally on how to address the key problems raised below when they have also to cope with a constantly-full agenda of angry disputes.
I will briefly add in here the additional concept that there IS going to be an involuntary downsizing of populations worldwide and in most nations during the next two or three decades. (I appreciate that some are convinced that “if only” we were to “Make Poverty History” then the world “could” easily feed even more than at present, optionally trashing the biosphere even more intensely in the process; but I find that notion entirely unrealistic.) Such a prospect of reducing populations is one which policymakers are incapable of embracing. It follows that they are incapable of formulating any policy which is actually compatible with the real world.
We can now draw some the above points together as follows. Governments of scientifically-illiterate congenital incompetents will take charge of tackling the following daunting problems in the difficult context of constant shrinkage disputes and while being incapable of admitting or planning for the reality of population overshoot anyway. That is the unpromising context in which the continuation here has to be put.
Chris Martenson has pointed out that over a thousand currencies have ended up destroyed by excessive inflation. Governments find it difficult to resist the temptation to print money even in absence of increasing real products to give value to it. So the question arises as to whether we might see something like that of the Weimar republic or Zimbabwe. But it has been credibly argued that what devastated those two economies was not the printing of money per se, but the hostile actions of other nations, forcing the printing of unbacked money to pay off international pressures. And this would not apply on a global scale.
On the other hand, we are seeing governments printing huge amounts of money at a time when assets and production are if anything decreasing instead. Perhaps the enemy now is not foreign agencies but the undefeatable Nature that does not do bailouts. So perhaps the jury remains out as to whether deflationary pressures will indefinitely prevent hyperinflationary panics. (Hoarding of cash and defaulting on debts have a deflationary effect akin to “de-printing” of money.)
It might be argued that history shows that hyperinflation would not destroy a society anyway. But (while not understating the great hardships of the Weimar experience) one may reasonably wonder what fate would have eventually come upon Germany if it had not been “rescued” (from hyperinflation at least) by the Nazi’s monetary policy of “One Mark for one Mark’s work”.
More crucially, our societies are now far more commercialised and far more dependent on the commercialised systems and corner-cutting therein. While it is not something I can readily demonstrate, I personally reckon that hyperinflation would rapidly lead to the total collapse of the globalised-corporatised capitalist system on which we depend for most of our life-support requirements. This would be a die-off scenario. But then it depends on whether hyperinflation occurs anyway. Could it perhaps result from a sort of money-printing “arms-race” between nations? (My dental-amalgam-drugged brain isn’t up to answering that at present.) Perhaps the strongest argument against hyperinflation causing early collapse is that the deleveraging/defaulting process must first run its course, which will either take some years, or if it somehow happens faster could then make an abrupt collapse anyway.
Many future-predictors proceed by projecting existing trends onward into the future. A higher level of sophistication involves anticipating when trends are going to be disrupted by discontinuities.
I suggest that a major class of discontinuities is that indicated in Charles Dickens’ famous words: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and sixpence, result misery."
Some people argue that there is so much luxury and wasteful consumption in developed countries that there is nothing to worry about because we can simply cut out that waste and indulgence. The problem they overlook is that one man’s luxury spending is another man’s life-supporting earnings.
There is on the web a lecture by Elizabeth Warren titled “The coming collapse of the middle classes” in which she shows that many middle-class households in the US are already struggling to balance their books, even though nowadays both parents are employed. Already many are failing and being forced into traumatic bankruptcy.
As costs of necessities rise relative to available income, then an increasing proportion of households, of professions, and of organisations, are going to find that their income is no longer sufficient to meet those costs.
The households will then become dysfunctional, with homelessness, hunger or other problems, and ultimately death if not aided by charity or social security payments. The members of these households will then be unable to properly undertake their roles in employment and education. The professions, businesses, and other organisations will become unviable, making their workers unemployed and their clients unprovided with services.
There will then be secondary consequences of decreased efficiencies and increasing crime and distrust. Burdens on government services will increase at a time when their funding is being cut. In their own defence, governments will increase taxes on small businesses to the extent that they drive them out of business and thereby create deadly enemies for themselves (besides losing the tax income too).
At first it will be only relatively optional services such as those of cosmeticians or artists which fall off the edge. But as the relative costs continue to rise, an increasing range of occupations and professions will cease. Two further discontinuity effects can then be expected.
Firstly, there are likely to be some key critical services which are underappreciated by others until they have already collapsed, and consequently are not defended against such collapse. Possible candidates for this fate could be sewer maintenance workers, safety consultants, or oil production operatives and consultants. And once these services have collapsed, they bring down all the rest that depends on them. And thereby at least a partial collapse scenario. It does not depend on these key people dying or being sacked from their jobs; merely the fact that their lives no longer add up financially is enough to render them unable to fulfill their employment roles properly.
It might be tempting to think that priority would be given to such key workers. But I suggest that the usual shortsightedness would apply, so all too often resources would be commandeered by those with most political muscle (politicians, judges, military, wealthy ) rather than those modest and despised people most crucial to system functioning.
Secondly, as increasing numbers of persons find their balance-sheets are no longer balanceable, there comes a point at which there accrues a critical mass of such failed persons. The discrepancy between the costs to the government and the tax income becomes intolerable. The concept of government as a provider of solutions becomes outbalanced by a concept of government as parasitic cause of the problems.
And the ranks of the disaffected threaten to become more powerful than the authorities they are disaffected by. Not least because so many of them are skilled organisers (but relatively dispensible professions) such as lawyers, managers and teachers.
At this point, one can envisage a revolution such as those of France and Russia. But in this case there will be the complication that the problem cannot be solved merely by a change of regime. That being because it is Nature (physics, biology, geology, chemistry) which is the cause of the hardship, and Nature will not do bailouts however many revolutionary activists may be demanding them.
It is not clear how a government can continue to provide any useful social functions for much longer once such a situation develops. So it seems that this could thus cause a collapse of government authority, and therefrom a collapse of the legal and commercial systems, and the entire globalised-corporatised-industrialised-oilised system would promptly fail, at least in one country at a time. This would then produce failures of the transport systems, energy distribution systems, and food distribution systems, radically adversifying daily life. Whereupon anarchy would take over (the real horrible anarchy (Baghdad 2004 or worse) rather than the fantasy utopia of the “anarchy” theorists).
The failing growth-based system is heavily dependent on giving credit to enable the funding of needed projects. The credit has been available to be loaned only because there was a reasonable expectation that the future would be larger than the present. But now the world’s oil supply has ceased its long-term growth, and population growth has also slowed particularly in the wealthy countries.
There has already been a conspicuous credit crisis, and yet the grand global economic system is continuing to function anyway, it seems. This may be entirely due to the widely-promoted myth that this is just another business cycle recession, just a burst housing bubble that will correct in the next year or three.
It is to be expected that some people will still be believing that myth in three or four years time (assuming there has not already been a collapse by then). But as the “recession” drags on with every “recovery” failing and no real recovery in sight, and with increasing awareness of the energy descent concept within investing circles, a point can be envisaged where credit-granting confidence collapses with sufficient depth and duration that the entire system is indeed unable to continue functioning—a collapse scenario of the most radical kind.
There has already occurred some spectacular market malfunctioning in the energy sector. That is the currently low energy prices failing to take account of the future reduced availability and the need for more investment now to compensate for it.
That is a manifestation of the more general rule of human psychology, that people tend to seek cures rather than preventions. So long as a crisis has not yet started, most people are complacent; they fail to keep prudent stocks of fuel, food, water, etc. Then when the crisis comes they have no option besides panic-buying and hoarding what little they have left.
Matt Simmons in 2008 presented a particularly credible version of this concept. The US government has its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but it is a reserve of unrefined crude rather than of finished fuel products. Simmons proposed that in the event of a shortage, it would result in everyone topping up their tanks and hoarding it, which would result in no supplies of diesel being available for transport of food. And thus within five days the nation’s local food-stores would be empty. This looks like a potential total collapse scenario. With a whole nation subjected to lack of food and lack of transportation how much longer could the systems of government and commerce continue to function? And could there be a recovery from such a crisis?
How sound are these words of Simmons? (in his Platts conference slide #28):
“This is a “lights out” occurrence. One energy shortage soon trips another. The energy system could shut down in too many places. Without energy: Everything, including food system runs dry. The world has no early warning system for the chaos: There are no fuel gauges; there are no fuse boxes; we have no in-place rationing systems; we have no “firewalls”; we have no contingency plans.”
Similar questions arise about reserves of food. One source reckons that “we now face one of the tightest margins in recent history between food reserves and global demand, with global reserves estimated to be at their lowest level in 25 years.” http://www.stwr.org/food-security-agriculture/the-importance-of-food-reserves-in-a-hungry-world.html (28 May 2009)
Governments are trying to address this problem, but there appears to be more of a would-be work-in-progress than a solution nearly imminent: “Global food reserve idea faces huge obstacles.” (7 June 2009) http://news.uk.msn.com/world/article.aspx?cp-documentid=147829146 .
And then we must put this in the context of the vulnerability of globalised monocultures to such contemporary pestilences as wheat rust fungus and potato blight. Plus the erratic extreme weather events that are accompanying the start of climate catastrophe.
I will leave off till further down this page my own reckonings of probabilities of whether, when and how there will or will not be a collapse.
Instead I shall first invite commenters to suggest what flaws there may be in the collapse-cause theories I have presented. Or what considerations make them all the more sound. Or how they would modify the theories, or evidence thereof. Or what other theories they may prefer.
1. The defectiveness of the growth-based system is best presented in Chris Martenson’s Crash Course; also some posts by Gail the Actuary on theoildrum.com. The other three assumptions have seen extensive discussion on theoildrum.com.
2. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, is ten very heavy volumes (there is a set at Birmingham University uk); even the 2-volume abridgement is not particularly short. I suggest to at least study the first chapter and the “Argument” and tables presented at the end of the each volume.
3. My 1987 decadence article www.energyark.net/decadenc.htm was published to my filing-cabinet because (in pre-internet days) I could not imagine how to find any audience that would be interested let alone a publisher that would be receptive to such an anti-authority analysis. Note that even Prof. Toynbee’s work itself remains rejected by professional historians, in line with this historical evidence: www.energyark.net/gen.htm.
4. My 2005 book The Future is Here! www.lulu.com/content/140930 was put on lulu.com not for publication but to print copies as the practical handbook of the RDP project. But no sooner had I got some copies than I became submerged by the harassment conspiracy crisis documented at www.2020housing.co.uk. And the RDP project has since been overtaken by oil-supply events such that it now seems likely that the system is going to collapse anyway without needing that project to push it over.