The above graph is adapted from Limits to Growth, Revisited. It is not a hard and fast prediction, but rather the product of a model with 40 years of high correspondence with developments. We are, at present, at the top of the growth curves, many of which have already begun to plateau. Slopes of decline do not factor in such worst-case scenarios as widespread urban- or domestic nuclear facilities collapse consequent to economic collapse.

I've added the shading and 'crossover' circle' (coincident with 'peak everything') to indicate my best guess as to the high probablility zone for global, economic collapse, triggering the onset of TEOTWAWKI.

I fear a hard landing... no 'reboot' or 'transition' to a lower functioning economy. I urge high priority preparation now.

I've got a short glossary of terms at the bottom of this page... if you come across an unfamiliar term, please scroll down and check it out.

Information I'm including or pointing to doesn't mean I necessarily agree with it. Rather, I've found it to be stimulating and worthy of consideration. I'm sure you'll exercise your own judgement... we're nothing if not independent! 8)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Forgetting How to Farm

 
It ain't the Old Days

Hell, before the War we was all organic farmers.
-- Overheard between two elder farmers in the 1960s

Forgetting How to Farm

One of the themes I yammer on about, here, is that things are different this time... that history is not a reliable guide for the collapse of modern civilization. And forgetting how to farm is one of the main reasons I believe this to be so.

I stipulate that more food is being produced, today, by fewer people than ever before in human history. Furthermore, I accept that modern transport and preservation technologies help maximize distribution and minimize scarcity.

So how, you may ask, can I argue that we have forgotten how to farm?

In a very real sense, human agriculture and animal husbandry are new on the scene. As homo sapiens we have only been farming for a tiny fraction of our existence. Nevertheless, some thousand generations hammered out their ways and means.

Only in the last eight millennia – a mere slice of deep time – did civilizational farming emerge. At first confined to flood plains and favored pockets. Later irrigated by labor and mechanical means. The horse harnessed and the plow perfected. Cultivars developed and breeds bred. Crop regimens and rotations increased yield. A host of supplementary technologies sprouted alongside, gradually improving the efficacy of farming within the budgets of sun and land (though not always the case).

And we thrived on its abundance. Our numbers grew in steady, exponential increase. Malthus famously plotted population growth versus the growth of food production and (correctly) warned of famine if trends continued.

Also famously, they did not. The discovery of the New World and its crops (especially potato and maize (corn)) and nitrate deposits bought some breathing room. The Industrial Revolution and fossil fuels brought new, mechanical muscle to the land. Dams and deep well technology allowed irrigation far from surface water tables. Chemistry brought pest- and herbicides and, best of all, the means to liberate vital nitrogen from the atmosphere.

And now, monoculture, 'marketable' hybrids, GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), slash-and-burn practices and other profit accelerants are displacing ever more traditional varieties.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well... there are costs. Arable acreage lost to 'development'. Topsoil loss and salination. Accumulating toxins in soil and environment. Fresh water and aquifer depletion and pollution. Evolving resistance among pests and infectious agents. New diseases leaping via crowded domesticated species to ourselves. Climate impacts. Ecosystem infringement and collapses. Our own burgeoning numbers as other species fade and fail. Systemic stress across the spectrum.

Each of these, individually, undermines the conditions for agriculture. Collectively, they undermine the very foundations of agriculture. Still, that's not the problem, per se. Societies have faced combinations of these factors in the past, and variously thrived, transformed or fell with trauma relatively local in time and space. Hence the notion that the past is a guide to the future..

But, in the course of only two or three generations, we have all but lost the means to farm without industrial technology. Should we stumble in our course – should the inputs from the grid, industrial chemistry, seed, fuel and machinery, transport, cold storage, processing and canning pause for longer than we can live from food on hand... if we collectively miss a planting season... what then?

Every two farmers feeding each hundred of us would be hard pressed to feed themselves in such a case. Hybrid seed is only worth a single crop. Plowing, planting and harvesting by hand (to name only three steps)? Water must flow by gravity or locally-powered pump. How to store the harvest? How to distribute it? To whom? Some jury rig is possible... modern understanding may ease the reinvention of some practices... but we'd be in deep doo doo.

Could something bring the global economy to a halt? I and others argue (elsewhere) that yes, it could, and sooner or later, will. Like the human body, any complex adaptive system is mortal. Blunt trauma, infection and 'normal accidents' go with the territory.

History does guide us in this; all civilizations come to an end. Ours is now global.

My great-Grandfather knew how to farm the old way. In his lifetime, truck and tractor replaced horse and wagon. He saw harvesters and later combines run the hands from field to city. By the end of his life, he was a living anachronism.

The Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites still carry the torch, but their entire output can feed no more than a small, modern city. Third World farmers are often much closer to traditional ways, but taken together can feed no more than a small, modern country.

Peoples of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, the first farmers, those who came after through WWII... they all carried with them knowledge and tools that we have scattered or lost. For some thousand generations, the ways and means of agriculture and husbandry carried survivors forward through thick and thin. But it is different this time...

We have forgotten how to farm.



PS. Even worse, we have forgotten how to live as non-farmers in the wild. How many of us thrown 'naked into the wilderness' could survive, much less thrive? How many could build a shelter or make fire? Gather wild forage? Hunt or fish with DIY tools? Dress our wounds? Find our way?

But all these things can be learned. If nothing else, they comprise a fascinating hobby!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Survival Mnemonics

This one is a little long for my taste and slides off my brain,
but embodies a lot of good advice!


Eselsbrucke (Donkey's Bridge) -- German word for mnemonic... a memory aid.


Survival Mnemonics

When crunch time comes, we may feel overwhelmed, dazed, traumatized or caught up in emotional turmoil... in many cases all of the above.

First of all, breathe... deep breaths. Still the mind. Come back to the moment.

Are we back? Seriously, this first step must be taken or nothing... and I mean nothing will help you. But the moment you have done so, you are ready to face and improve your situation.

I present the following mnemonics as among many applicable to survival situations. They are shorter than some, so I think more likely to be memorable and therefore useful. But when you find one you like, add it to your personal collection. Feel very free to craft your own.

What works for you is what counts!


F.E.A.R


There are many variations, some I find more helpful than others. Here a few of those:

Fight/Flight. Emotion. Acceptance. Response. -- This helps version progress through the series of human instinctual responses to a crisis. Without serious training, we may not be able to avoid them, but we can certainly step through them faster when we realize it's a sequence. [From SHTFSchool.com]

Face it. Explore it. Accept it. Respond. -- This one deals specifically with denial, a very common human response to crisis.

Focus. Equip. Act. Review. -- Once through the instinctual reaction phase, we might substitute this set. It's a very powerful problem solving algorithm. You might say it's the scientific method in a nutshell!

Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise -- While this is a 'mere' attitudinal bucker-upper, many experts consider attitude to be the essential for survival. I'd add the caveat that - despite the slight sneering tone regarding the first option - when SHTF, it may be the better part of valor.


Triple A

Assess. Address. Amend. -- This is one I use throughout every day. It produces what I think of as the upward spiral of stepwise improvement, whether I'm fixing the sink, facing a bureaucracy or in crisis.


S.T.O.P

Stop/Sit. Think. Observe. Plan. -- This one stems from the Search and Rescue community. Persons who become lost often travel for considerable distances, becoming very much more difficult to locate. Literally stopping and improving the situation at hand is important to survival.


Rule of Threes

As a rule-of-thumb, one can survive...

3 hours without shelter
3 days without water
3 weeks without food


This rule helps us prioritize our activities, especially as regards shelter. Be aware that hypothermia (cold exposure) is the most immediate threat in most outdoor emergencies.

*****

These mnemonics can help you get through the first moments and hours of a crisis.

Skills, tools and supplies - in descending order of importance - will help us throughout the crisis,  increasing our odds of survival. The more we have on-board before SHTF, the better the chances for us and our'n.

It's called prepperation!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Half Urban World for Doomies



Rapid globalization and economic conditions will continue to produce increasing uncertainties and risks, as well as new opportunities that will impact all phases of urbanization—often with unanticipated consequences. As a result, uncertainty must be a critical component of planning and policymaking. Economic uncertainty must be taken into consideration when new and innovative projects are developed to ensure that they are “successful” in local and global terms, and better equipped to withstand fluctuations in local and global economies.


-- From Urban Policy in an Uncertain Economy by the East-West Center


The Half Urban World for Doomies

(Roughly rounded terms, ahead. Original numbers gleaned from UN, IMF and World Bank sources ...)
  • About 10,000 years back, agricultural civilizations first arose. From that time through the 1700s, it took from 95 to 98 persons actively engaged in farming to support 100 people; themselves and 2 to 5 non-farmers. Today - leveraged via modern, industrial technologies heavily reliant on fossil fuels - 2 to 5 farmers support 100 people when averaged worldwide.
  • In recent decades, lean production and inventory philosophy (Just In Time or JIT production and supply) has become widespread. This means inventories of supplies on hand are kept to a minimum. In the case of urban centers in the U.S., food vendors and local warehouses are stocked on average to supply only two to three days of normal demand.
  • A few years back, we passed the Half-Urban World mark. This means that more than half of us now live in urban concentrations of 2000 or more people. Current world population about 7,500,000,000 souls.
Each dot is a point along one of several exponential curves -seldom related - each of which now describes rapid, dramatic change.

Each development, in itself seems just another historical milestone on our road to the stars. Each a symbol of progress marking our advance as a species.

Taken together, they comprise an unprecedented recipe for disaster.

What we see is a situation in which an otherwise short-lived cessation of urban supply is going to have drastic consequences for urban populations who, in their desperation, will damage critical infrastructure beyond hope of recovery.

Supply chain failure essentially stops most food production in its tracks. Without steady inputs of seedstocks, fertilizers, feed, fuels, parts and manpower, production and distribution grind to a halt, with a horizon of the next planting/harvest cycle. Irrigated areas would soon lose water, as would many reliant on pumped ground and aquifer waters. No markets or transport, no point in harvest even where possible. Livestock would be put down as feed on hand is exhausted, saving only what can be pasture fed.

The hundred fed by each one or two farmers would go hungry, even if some emergency transport were arranged.

What follows is my best guess as to how this might play out on a near global scale. There will be many variations, especially among towns set in low density, rural areas. Size and local food production industries may follow a different course. Third world urban areas may have better local supply, but tend to be high density.

Stage One: Urban Implosion

This plays out much as collapse fiction portrays it. Panic, food riots, collapse of utilities and services, overwhelmed police and emergency services, emergence of gangs controlling resources and black market trade.

What is often overlooked, I believe is damage to urban infrastructures, including many which are vital to service extra-urban regions. Rioting, fire and looting can easily damage power and water stations and conduits, telecommunications, fuel storage, computer networks, railway and general equipment. Experienced, irreplaceable personnel will not be able to commute, abandon their stations to protect their families, and/or be lost to violence.

In fairly short order, without resupply, resources on hand will be exhausted or hoarded out of reach of many to most.

Stage Two: Urban Explosion

Individuals and small groups must at some point decide to abandon the city in search of food. Water and shelter will be of constant concern.

Likely, roads will be beset by 'highwaymen', exacting a toll of refugees.

Surrounding suburban areas, where present, will have their own pitfalls and dynamics, both for residents and for the refugees flowing out of the cities. Food here will likely have been exhausted or corralled as well. Their mere extant along with attrition from violence will cut into refugee numbers. Never the less, I expect many (hundreds to millions, depending on initial population) will reach the rural surrounds.

Stage Three: 'Locust' Behaviors Threaten Rural Populations

By this time, people will be desperate and ravenous. Every animal, grain, food or material deemed edible will be consumed. Every rumor that can be pursued will be, as mobs large and small pour through the countryside.

In particular, gardens will be uprooted and seedstock consumed. 

At some point, cannibalism becomes inevitable.

EROEI Energy Return On Energy Invested), I believe, will play a large role in this phase. Pillaging individuals and groups must achieve a net return, or they starve out. Dense or concentrated resources may support larger groups organized as bandits or raiders, but these will deplete quickly. Low density or well hidden resources will not, and any bandits straying into these areas will burn out.

It is an open question as to whether ex-urban mobs will topple rural societies, which will have problems of their own when supply fails. Clearly, initial urban numbers will be well down. Rural populations will diminish, but likely not to the proportional degree as urbogenic ones. They will also have intimate local knowledge on their side. It may be that some can hold out and retain social cohesion.

In this stage, something I think of as Demographic Winter (analogous to Nuclear Winter) seems possible. Large numbers of ex-urbanites burn what they can for warmth and cooking. Some percentage will get out of hand in uncontrolled forest and prairie fires. Globally. Smoke produced will likely have climate scale consequences for some time, further stressing survivors.
Stage Four: Forage, Gardening? and Husbandry?

Sooner or later, the population much reduced, small bands will begin to relearn wild forage and hunting technologies.

Limited gardening may begin as non-hybrid seed caches are discovered, and growth propagated from those which escape being eaten. Hybridized cloned varieties may survive for propagation in this phase, as well, so long as they are not overly dependent for success on insecticides and other industrial measures.

Livestock may be propagated. Most draft animal technologies as well.

But propagation of skills, plant- or animal stocks, takes time.

Of course, somewhere in here, domestic nuclear plants and spent rod storage facilities go LOCA.

Stage Four: Return to Organic Agriculture?

Assuming our species makes it this far, methods of organic agriculture, if it happens at all, will have to restore what is remembered and reinvent much that has been lost, under conditions of changed climate.

My guess is that this stage is unlikely. That we will not return to agriculture in any near future (millennial scale), and will likely have to rediscover it by the time we do.

But most of human experience did without it, and by some estimations, were better off before its adoption transformed us.


*****

Are full economic and urban collapse  plausible? And if so, are these dynamics likely?

If we are indeed approaching the limits to growth (see this blog's header), the conditions underlying the capital-based, global industrial economy. Events over the last 45 years are in high conformity with that hypothesis. We have seen the depicted curves flattening, with the model suggesting the dropside is nearly on us. Should a tipping point initiate cascading failures which outstrip capacity to halt them, ensuing collapse may well be catastrophic.

Global economic collapse is entirely conceivable to the IMF, World Bank and central bankers at national and international levels. Crushing global debt (national, corporate, individual), fiat currencies weakened by quantitative easing, non-productive spending (e.g., military), wealth disparity, rising cost of insurance, unstable business environment... and under it all plummeting EROEI on fossil fuels... are seen individually as potential threats to the global economy. Collectively, they are ominous indeed. Notice that growth within a limited system is not appreciably on their radar.

Global supply chain cessation would be the natural result of economic collapse (arrest). Again, there are many historical cases of financial breakdown leading to supply interruption. Typically, these have been short lived as support arrived, originating from stable surrounds.

Are tools available sufficient to restore confidence and restart interrupted global trade in a time to avert runaway, systemic failures (of which urban collapse is an example)? It's a matter of debate, but the very concept of 'too big to fail' implies that failure is not an option since it brings down the house. Once something big gives, it may well be that issues multiply faster than they can be brought under control.

There have been many historical examples of dramatic urban collapse due to war (especially siege), local economic collapse or natural disaster. Most of them follow stages one through three to some degree. Deviations appear to be more or less proportional to how much outside supply and assistance they receive, and how soon 'normalcy' is restored. How well the general population is armed plays a role. Long duration and/or lack of significant outside assistance makes the worst case the probable case.

Should supply chains fail, military and National Guard assets, running on strategic reserves, may attempt to run stopgap supply services. But the task will be enormous, and efforts diluted by attempts to establish order and control. Personnel will be difficult to keep on task as they go AWOL in support of families, taking what they can get away with. Most assets will be stranded overseas.

To my mind, the combination of low on hand inventories, food producer to consumer ratio and staggering numbers of the people involved and the high aspect ratio of critical dependencies in service infrastructures mean that we are in uncharted territory. 

That the transition from functional to desperate can proceed in remarkably short order. 
That urban breakdown will not be confined within urban city limits.
That the infrastructures necessary for restoration of function can be damaged beyond repair.
That rapid population loss - both urban and rural - can be catastrophic.

In a scenario of global economic arrest, extrapolate outward, demographic explosion from every urban center, world wide. Looking at a map, the world appears a minefield..


*****

In regard to the rural vs. urban bug-out debate, the preceding considerations suggest that rural wins hands down.

Urban areas, producing no significant foods from their own ground must be abandoned. Sooner or later, survivors will bug out rural. Those already rural will be ahead of them.

A further observation is that, the farther one is from urban concentrations, the better, lest the locust phase sweep over your position.

My advice? Relocate rural, now.

Git while the gittin's good.





PS. I searched the terms "half urban world" collapse in several variations looking for serious, non-fiction analyses, and found little to nothing (mostly my own, amateur efforts!).

I would welcome serious consideration of global urban collapse dynamics by anyone who's guesses might be better informed and referenced than my own.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Survival from a Survivor: Selco's SHTF School

Note foodstock at lower left


Learn things, people always need somebody who know to fix things (people, shoes, whatever).
It was not survival movie, it was ugly, we did what we have to do to survive.
Nobody wins, we just survived, with a lot of bad dreams.
-- Selco


Survival from a Survivor: Selco's SHTF School

In my opinion, there is a whole lot of BS in survivor circles.

Sometimes, this has to do with profiteers, hyping their nostrum for survival. Sometimes, it's those whose 'experience' is drawn from media stereohypes (sic). Sometimes the scenarios for which they prepare appear improbable in the extreme. Sometimes the scenarios are plausible, but advocated responses are not. Cruising through resources - both on and offline - it's buyer beware!

So I perk up when I encounter someone who a) has real life experience, b) seemed to learn from it, and c) can share it effectively.

Selco, a Bosnian man writing largely at SHTFSchool.com, shares very hard-learned, first hand lessons from surviving a year of urban collapse in Bosnia.

In the early 1990s, his town of around 50,000 people was surrounded during civil war. Civil authority disintegrated, public services (electricity, water, information) ceased. A desperate struggle for survival ensued among civilians, gangs and the dregs of authority. And all the while, the town was being shelled and bombed.

It was dirty, messy, smelly and deadly.

Selco writes eloquently and movingly about impossible choices under pressure of life and death, and long and short term prices paid for survival. Paid in blood and soul. Not only what must be done to survive, but the impacts of survival itself. He affords both rare insight and example in the struggle to survive and the struggle to live with it.

His is a sobering counterpoint to those who revel in the idea of coming collapse. Who look forward to grand adventure.

Who lived and who died? Persons alone and Rambo types were  the first to go. Those who sought or prioritized violence. Those who were too curious. Or trusting. Or inflexible. Or just unlucky. Many, many choices led to quick death. No honor. No glory. Guts required.

As you read, recall that - bad as that situation got - it was not a full collapse. Airdrops of MREs were ongoing... while mostly commandeered by gangs, these reduce the overall competition for food. Smuggling provided a trickle of resources from less affected areas. It was a crisis, lasting 'only' a year before 'order' was restored (rather than permanent collapse).

From these experiences, Selco has assembled a unique resource. What he and others did, what they might have done, how we might see disaster coming and what we all might do before, during and after.

Social distance is a term borrowed from pandemic response. I believe it to be a foundational strategy of any response to SHTF with a chance of success. In urban settings, it is almost impossible to achieve, and - as Selco's experiences confirm - only then at considerable cost. Relocation to a rural or wilderness setting, outfitted with appropriate skills and tools, is strongly recommended.

If you live in or near a city, or if you must pass through one; if you plan to bug in or out; if you merely plan to survive, Selco and SHTFSchool.com have something we all need.



List of open access articles by category, here.




Saturday, February 4, 2017

Musings on the Archdruid's Comments on Korowicz

One of many possible Tipping Points for Humpty

Cartoon by Tom Toles of the Washington Post

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again. 

Musings on the Archdruid's Comments on Korowicz

I am one who reads both the works of David Korowicz, with whom I largely agree, and John Michael Greer, with whom I largely disagree. They represent reasoned poles of the fast vs. slow collapse debate.

David Korowicz has written numerous papers examining Catastrophic Collapse (fast and deep). Principal among them is Trade-Off: A Study in Global Systemic Collapse. It's tough going, but well worth the effort.

He describes the global economy in systems terms.

The global system includes a handful of hubs - agriculture, energy, finance, IT, transport, water/sewage -  critical to the on-going function of the global system. All elements of the system are interdependent to some degree and most are dependent on one or more hubs. A failure in one element can spread to the next in a process called contagion. Failure of interdependent elements can infect a hub. Failure of any one hub brings down vast swathes of the system, and likely one or more others. Enough loss of function and the system collapses, fast and furious.

Historically, crises in the modern global system have been overcome by adaptive and  negative feedback mechanisms (directed and reflexive responses which curb runaway behaviors and ease the system toward normal function). But there are limits. He writes, "...our experiences of diverse system collapses, albeit on a smaller scale, should warn us to be cautious in our assumptions.

Korowicz builds his case and concludes that the global system is stressed and near a tipping point, beyond which contagion spreads at an accelerating rate which overwhelms available response mechanisms, and the system as a whole fails.

Okay... what does Greer think?

John Michael Greer blogs eloquently at thearchdruidreport.com, and has proposed a theory of Catabolic Collapse (slow and staged in the Long Descent). This theory is founded on the assumption that history is a reliable guide to the future, specifically in respect to the rise and fall of civilizations.

In his post, The Far Side of Denial, he devotes a large portion to an effort to rebut the Fast Collapse conclusions of Trade-Off.

In essence, he argues that some combination of actions and effects can and will always halt runaway collapse on the scale of a civilization. Always has, always will. No reason to think it's different this time.

Greer concurs with Korowicz' assessment of current affairs and that collapse is imminent or underway. He differs in that he believes that responsive actions and mechanisms limit the drop. That multiple collapses will continue in more or less descending, stair-step fashion, playing out over generations.

To my mind, his rebuttal misses the mark. I will argue that a) capacity to arrest collapse is limited , b) Korowicz addresses actions that might be attempted and c) we are in historically uncharted waters.

Greer supplies the historical example of the systemic US banking crises of 1932/33, introducing the crux of his rebuttal. He writes:
It’s the sequel, though, that didn’t get into Korowicz’ analysis. Faced with the imminent reality of national collapse, the US government did not sit on its hands, which is what those with the capacity to do something are always required to do in fast collapse theories.
...
A nation facing collapse, it bears remembering, has plenty of options, and it also has the means, motive, and opportunity to use them.

First, in fast collapse theories, it is definitely not required that anyone sit on their hands. One the contrary Korowicz (among others) anticipates a great deal of effort to recover, contain or regroup once a tipping point occurs. But his analysis indicates that, beyond a certain threshold, these efforts are insufficient. Crises spread faster than damage control mechanisms can cope, thier own systems failing as the crisis deepens.

In this quoted passage, Greer is challenging Korowicz' assessment that "governments will respond to the crisis by choosing the minimal option they think will solve the immediate problem" (JMG's paraphrase). He considers this an assumption, rather than a conclusion.

Yet, taken in context Korowicz concludes that governments are unlikely to take decisive action in advance of a crisis, and lag behind a rapidly unfolding one. This itself has plenty of historical precedent.

Korowicz  explicitly discusses inhibitions to prior action and several drastic response approaches (historically more or less effective) with detailed analysis of why they would come up short should the global system tip. He further examines radical approaches that have never been tried and finds them wanting.

In other words, he very much includes action on the part of those able to act.

I'll stipulate that a nation (aware that it is) facing collapse has plenty of options and motives to use them. But are those options both viable and sufficient to the task? Unproven at best. Past success is no guarantor of future success. Many of the options available in past crises are long gone from the table.

Future options are unspecified and can only be guessed at. At best, they are likely to be improvisational (see Greer's 'kluged together response' from his defibrillation analogy, below).

Means? Maybe; but in many cases doubtful. Means to avert some threats are physically out of reach, some technically so and others would break the bank.

Opportunity? There's the little matter of adequate time. Responses require time. In any given crisis there is but a window of opportunity before responders are overwhelmed.

That these allusions to unspecified 'drastic' options 'bear remembering' presuppose Greer's conclusion, and fail to address Korowicz' well-developed and explicit arguments to the contrary.

It is insufficient capacity to stabilize a tipped system which implies fast collapse after a tipping point.

Should the system tip and hubs fail, those who might act are in the dark without power. Lost without communication.  Immobile without transport. Starving without food or water. Blind, toothless and very soon struggling to survive. Yesterday's plenty languishing undeliverable. Tomorrow's waiting for the smoke to clear.

Capacity degrades even as opportunity slams shut. Like the rest of us, all the King's horses and all the King's men are constrained by the resources on hand..

Is the past a reliable guide to the future in terms of fast vs. slow collapse?

Greer's assumption that 'nothing is (fundamentally) different  this time' dismisses critical technologies that demonstrably and fundamentally alter the contexts through which historiical events must pass.

To pick one example, in 1859, the Carrington Event (high magnitude solar storm) caused telegraph systems around the world to fail and spark, causing many fires. Telegraph wires acted as antennas, capturing enough energy to exceed limits.

Before about 1850, the Event would have had little to no impact whatsoever, as telegraph technology had not yet become widespread. By 1859 its impact was profound. Now... well. Now we're wired.

Sophisticated circuitry doesn't hold up nearly as well as telegraph wire.We might have the means to shield all our vital electrical and electronics (as one might against EMP). But we haven't yet shown the will. In another such event we'd certainly develop that will.

But all the King's horses and all the King's men would arrive too late with too little. Would Humpty merely suffer a few cracks, or be reduced to egg drop soup? The past cannot rule the latter out.

Clearly, to state that X has never happened does not mean it can't or won't. Or that we survived a previous (superficially) similar event, so we will survive the next. All history plays out in context. Solutions to previous problems cannot be simply repeated. Cause and effect propagate differently as linkages change.

New technologies create new conditions:

They multiply the number of interacting parts, (inter)dependenciesparts and overall complexity. They supplant historical infrastructures - organic agriculture, beasts of burden, localized economies. They interrupt or degrade the transmission of skills all but lost after a single generation's hiatus. They supplant and degrade whole ecosystems. They expose us to dangers our species never imagined, much less faced.

Change the context (system), change the flow of history. In matters of kind, quantity, complexity and tempo, we live in a changed world. Despite historical resemblances, guidance and intact commonalities, we are in new and uncharted territory.

***** 

Greer concludes with the following (emphasis mine):
Korowicz’ study points to one very plausible way that the next major round of crisis could slam into the industrial world. The fact that the nations affected by it could kluge together responses to it, slap the equivalent of defibrillator paddles onto their prostrate economies, and get a heartbeat again for the time being doesn’t change the fact that a financial collapse followed by even a partial supply chain breakdown would be a massive crisis, the sort of thing that could well plunge hundreds of millions of people into permanent poverty and push the global economy further down a long ragged decline that will be much less amenable to drastic responses.  We’re in agreement, in effect, that the patient is terminally ill; the question is simply whether first aid measures available to the paramedics on site can get his heart beating again, so he can drag out the dying process for a while longer.
 As a paramedic I feel this analogy (patient in cardiac arrest) is apt, but weighs in against Greer's thesis..

It is not at all a 'fact' that defibrillation, even at the hands of skilled technicians, can reliably 'get his heart beating again', much less a "kluged together response". Nor is it sufficient. Once a patient tips over into cardiac arrest, they are in crisis with severe danger of whole system collapse.

Absent prompt, correct action and well managed recovery, the patient will likely die in very short order.

Here's the concluding analogy from Trade-Off:
Collectively, it is like we are passengers traveling in an unimaginably complex plane locked onto a perilous course. Our understanding of the engine and guidance system is partial, nor do we know many of the connections between them. We may want to change course by retooling the guidance system, but there is a meaningful risk it will stall the engine, and we’ll plummet to the ground. Good risk management might argue that before repairs are done, we ensure the passengers have parachutes, but time is running out, maybe it already has.
Greer presumes a Horn of Plentiful Options to intervene should this plane begin to plummet He appeals to the authority of the past.I can't follow him there. But...

Collapse - fast or slow - is the unproven negative until it happens.

We all come to believe, one way or another. Life is an act of faith. I believe the value of debate is refinement one's understanding. Through debate, we may confirm our conclusions, be persuaded of our opponents' or be inspired to new possibilities.

My advice is to prepare for the worst (fast collapse), hope for the best (slow collapse) and take what comes with prepperation!







For more on the Carrington event, see NASA news and analysis. In 2012, a solar storm of similar magnitude narrowly missed the earth.



Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Farmer is the One Who Feeds Them All



If you'll only look and see, then I think you will agree
That the farmer is the man who feeds them all.
-- American Folk Song


The Farmer is the One Who Feeds Them All

In prehistoric times, there were few known urban centers of 2,000 persons or more.

Recently, we passed a milestone marking the half-urban world. More than half of us now live in urban centers ranging from 2K persons to mega-cities in the tens of millions.

At the height of the Roman Empire, there were fewer people alive than now live in the U.S., alone. For every person alive then, there are around 25 persons alive, now.

At the founding of the U.S., around 90% of the population were farmers.

Today in the U.S., between 1 and 2% are farmers. Of these, virtually none are subsistent, organic farmers, meaning they are reliant on fossil fuels, fertilizers, purchase of seed stock and markets.

Globally, traditional farming skills, means, lands and infrastructure has been degraded or wholly lost.

Climate change - whether or not it is anthropogenic - is making serious inroads into agricultural outputs. Top-soil loss, salinization, fresh water depletion, introduced and resistant pests are increasing their toll. All threaten worse.

For the first time in human history, agriculture broke the hunter/gatherer mode of life, and we grew dependent on the farmer.

A series of green revolutions has vastly increased the farmer's efficiency, but also their dependency on non-farm goods and services.

For the first time in agricultural history, we depend in unprecedented numbers on the production of one or two among a hundred of us, and therefore the uninterrupted flow of those same goods and services.

What's more, the chain of transmission of hard won organic agriculture technologies has been broken and all but lost. Modern farmers across the first world have lost the ways and means to grow non-hybrid food in quantity. Seed stock is not available in quantity; fossil fuels empower every aspect of modern farming.

In the third world, farmers retain more traditional, low tech skills, but rely on ever more inputs from the global economy to manage their crops.

Should the inter-dependent hubs fail - energy, transport, finance, IT/communications, water/sewage... failure of one takes down all - so does the supply of critical, agricultural tools and materials and the markets for whom their assets and production is geared.

Should any of the conditions fail that allow the few to feed the many...

What happens in the mega-cities? The cities? The towns? Who will feed them? What will they eat? What will they do?

What might 3.75 thousand million desperate people do?



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Exponential Growth for Doomies


A whirlwind tour of growth versus limits


The problem is, exponential growth patterns don't give you an early warning sign.
Because the dangers really speed up at the end, when it's too late to do anything about it.
-- Dr. Kent Moors 
  

Exponential Growth for Doomies:       
      Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

We all think we're familiar with growth.

If we can earn $1000 a week, that's $4000 a month and $48,000 a year. Nice, neat and linear. Most of what we count in our everyday lives is like that.

But exponential growth aka geometric growth aka non-linear growth isn't as intuitive. Even if one is familiar with it, this kind of growth can ambush us.

If something is growing exponentially, each dollop added to the heap is proportional to (a fraction of) the heap that's already there. The bigger the heap, the bigger the dollop, the bigger the heap the bigger the dollop... a dash, a pinch, a dollop, a handful, a bucket.....

We typically say the heap is growing at some percent rate per unit of time, say 5% annually (that is, 5% of the total heap size added to the heap every year... the amount added gets bigger each round).

Or we might say that it has such and such a doubling rate, or doubling time (the time it takes the heap to double in size), say every 14 years.

The Rule of 69 (or 70) allows a rough estimation of doubling time if we know the percent rate of growth per unit of time. Using 70 is more convenient than 69, but the math is easier.

Rule of 70 --> Doubling.Rate = 70 / (%Rate.of.Growth /Unit of Time)
[Divide 70 by percent rate per unit of time to yield the doubling rate in units of time.]
This looks worse than it is.
From the example above, If our percent rate of growth per unit of time is 5% per year, then 70/5 = 14, and so our heap will double in 14 years. If the rate of growth applied quarterly, say, it would double in 14 quarters.

Or, if an economy grows at 2.5% per year on average, then 70/2.5 = 30 years. That economy will double about every 30 years.

US GDP growth overlayed on yellow exponential curve

Now, the thing is, at a low rate of exponential growth, things might look nearly flat for a long, long time (like my father before me, time out of mind; as if nothing will ever change). Then things pick up to an exciting time of change for the better (that old woman saw the first automobile AND the first moonshot). Things pick up more, and things get a little scary (That kid born in 2000 is now looking at super bugs, cyber warfare and an ice-free arctic).

Each doubling time... tick, tick, tick... doubles the entire heap.

The rate of change may stay the same, but the increment of change - the dollop of change - gets bigger. And bigger. And BIGGER! As we go from the more horizontal portion of an exponential curve to the more vertical portion, any given stretch of time - a year; a decade; a lifetime - spans an astonishing increase. Each stretch encompasses an ever more fantastic volume of change.

In rough terms, the global economy - the world's heap of goods, services and assets - has been doubling every 25 years for the last two hundred (give or take).This means today's global economy is roughly 256 times that of 1800. Double the economy of 1990.

At every doubling, close to twice the resources are consumed. Twice the waste produced. Twice the 'footprint' is required, as it were. The next doubling is due about 20 years from today according to the IMF.

A 'next doubling' assumes nothing happens big enough to derail that juggernaut. It has mass. It has momentum. If it hits a wall or leaves the tracks it'll make one hell of a wreck.

My friends, we live in a time when the now vast human world is doubling every few decades.

Kurzweilians foresee the Singularity (when the technological curve goes vertical in) about 2045. If we make it that far, all bets are off.
We Doomies think that, coming somewhere soon-ish along the economic curve, something's gotta give. We'll hit the limits our planet can support. And then the trend will break. Break bad.

How many more doublings have we got?




PS. Ugo Bardi recently posted this clever discussion of and mnemonic taxonomy of exponential growth (and decay) curves.