Pay attention to this graph from the included article. The key feature to digest is decline is likely if you understand honest science and economics. Graph A is very likely because globalism is ending. The economy will not be able to ram up the huge investments needed in everything. Graph B is possible but unlikely until it is too late if both fossil fuels and renewables have huge investments. Graph C is the techno optimism the globalist technocrats are pushing with the ESG green agendas. This scenario is a pie in the sky lie. Graph D is less likely than A but still possible. This is a modest rise in renewables including nuclear and hydro which can happen if net zero is not embraced.
The issue is when not if. Honest science makes clear what is ahead. Honest economics is just as clear. It is the governing narrative that will not ever admit we are in decline. Problems are admitted to but there are always fixes to ease people’s fears. This reassurance is both political and through business marketing. The central message is solutions are possible. Your choosing the correct narrative now will be the difference between accelerated decline for you or one with much more inertia to decline. This message is about you the individual not our civilization. Civilization is now a retirement party.
Decline that is embrace and adapted to allows a smoother mitigation. Become viscous which is a combination of resilience and sustainability combined with courage. The reason courage is needed is the tough decisions that are required. This is proper wisdom and these days proper wisdom is “less is more”. It is about simple and small combined with humility from acceptance.
The reason this is so hard is the narrative runs opposite to this with “more is less”. “More is less” is basically a techno efficiency driving ever greater delocalization and transhumanism of the machine. Centralization is more efficient until it suffers diminishing returns. Modern governance is increasingly centralized and technocratic. The results is a bloated administrative state that is parasitic. The specialization required for centralization is a two-edge sword. It is great when growth is increasing but dangerous in decline.
Systems studies bring to the table a viewpoint that decline operates differently than growth. This view point highlights the nature of systems that push their thresholds. Degree and duration magnify when thresholds are breached.
Systems studies involves the study of cyclic change. Change oscillates within patterns. When patterns are expressed, we need to take notice. Instead, today, mankind is embracing exceptionalism as if we are different from any other species because of our high intelligence. We think we can engineer our way out of problems but instead are digging the hole deeper.
These views of exceptionalism are important in the near term because currently we are in the neighborhood of a tipping over from peak growth into a decline phase. What makes this even more dramatic is this is not only with the human ecosystem but also with the natural ecosystem. Destabilizing planetary systems from this decline are affecting both in negative convergence. Our exceptionalism is doubling down on science and tech to fix this threat to humanity when this fixing is furthering the problem.
This peaking of human influence has destabilized planetary systems that allowed human civilization. It was the relatively stable Holocene with a robust natural ecosystem that allowed human growth in the first place otherwise we would still be seminomadic hunter gathers navigating narrow bands of habitability. I would argue this is the optimum human condition in regards to scale and balance with life on our wonderful blue planet. No human arrangement can match the complexity of nature. What we are today is the furthest from harmony.
It is important to understand the elites have doubled down on growth and centralization through technology and economics. Technocratic globalism is being embraced. This is further corrupted with stakeholder capitalism. Stakeholder capitalism is fascism and fascism is elite domination. It is elite corruption that brings down civilizations. Currently we have an oligarchy of elites merging with government, industry, and security apparatuses. This merger is increasingly authoritarian and transhuman.
This merger of the political with the corporate is now a secular religion. Science is now a religion. This Scientism is the politicizing of science to fit narratives. The reason this is so dangerous is it does not allow honest scientific discussions that go contrary to the accepted narrative. Proper science is clear on the decline ahead. Scientism talks about a manifest destiny of human and artificial intelligence growing abruptly in performance and affluence.
This elite merger in a technocratic centralization is juxtaposed to reality. Reality is calling for decentralization, simpler, and smaller. This is the nature of action in a decline phase. Reality is now a reality of decline on all planes. Every physical and metaphysical dimension shows a pattern of decline or approaching decline. Diminishing returns and cumulative negative convergences of problems are becoming the new reality. This is now a period of stalling and stagnation.
Science and technology have hit their physical limits although there will be modest gains on the margins until the global economy declines and can’t support the needs of technology. Technology needs economies of scale and comparative advantage with global reach. It above all needs high quality energy delivering surplus value. All these vital ingredients are peaking or already in decline.
Vital resources and high-quality energy are not only in decline they have huge waste streams driving decline elsewhere. The disruptive results of gaining and applying these resources are not only creating unmanageable waste streams but also degenerative land use changes. This is important because the combination is deadly. More pollution of forever chemicals and untreatable waste streams combined with diversity loss of vital ecosystems. Today we have localized ecosystem failures because of this human activity along with general ecosystem decline that is accelerating.
This has initiated the 6th great extinction which has resulted in the transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. The stability from a planetary ecosystem that has allowed mass production of goods and monocultures of food has disrupted planet systems and most profoundly the fabric of life that is made rich with species diversity.
Digging deeper we need to look at human nature. The elites are entertaining the so-called singularity which is the merging of man with his machines. This seductive quest for machine assisted immortality is now anti-life. It is anti-human by seeking to destroy culture that offers the meaning individuals need to survive.
It is the actually tinkering with the language of life that is DNA. It is metaphysical with the dehumanization of family and community by transhumanism and delocalization. Culture is being destroyed by machine traits of efficiency and automation. Culture that provides courage from meaning is being diminished by the reliance on machine algos combined with their automation. Our culture has weakened to doing hard things at the same time hard things are increasing from the decline phase we are entering.
This singularity of a combined man and machine culture is pushing the envelope of our technology into a world of algorithms and control mechanisms which are making living structures cogs in a system that is completely unnatural. It is unstable and unsustainable. This powerful force is eliminating resilience both within life and the relationships life leverages complexity with. Human culture and species diversity is now secondary to machine domination.
This peaking and tipping will create a surreal world of overlap with forces of both decline and growth. If you are experiencing the surreal then you are not ill you are actually very healthy. If you admit to “when” and reject the bargaining of “if” then you can get on with adapting and mitigating our human world that is not ready for total decline.
The key point I am making is the individual through family and small community can change positively. Civilization can’t change because it is hardwired in self-organized growth through science and technology growth. Civilization can’t embrace decline without failing. Failure or better cyclic decline is part of the fabric of life on this planet. All ecosystems are subject to this but our human ecosystem rejects cyclic decline because of our exceptionalism now entrenched with scientism. Scientism is a religion now. It rejects honest science if it goes against the narrative of manifest destiny of intelligence both human and machine..
It is important to dig deeper into the “when” of this cyclic decline for two reasons. The first reason is time value. Time has a particularly important value to individuals because we are self-conscious of the future. We know we have shelf lives and our activities need investments requiring time. The other issue is delocalization. Delocalization has allowed affluence but at the cost of resilience.
This delocalization is more than space it is also metaphysical. Here we have degraded human relationships too through digital devices similar to what the car culture has done physically. Family and community are being distance from the individual with activities and lifestyles that lower connections. This degradation of relationships combined with families being separated by great distances is not truly appreciated. When decline gains momentum it will be localized community that makes the difference. Now is the time to get closer together.
Human scale is now disproportionate. The machine has taken the place of human relationships. Distance has disrupted this further. We depend on a web of things and this is global. It is physical and with relationships. This means without this complex machine spanning the globe our gutted local communities will not be able to mitigate crisis.
Decline will destroy this complex global machine. Since decline can be abrupt this could happen earlier than we appreciate. Growth has numbed us to this systematic phenomenon because growth is slow and incremental.
Time value offers opportunity also. There is so much economic potential still left that can be harnessed to mitigate what is ahead but this must be done quickly because soon deglobalization will accelerate destroying economies of scale. Economies of scale is what makes economic potential affordable.
If you focus on the inevitability of the “when” of decline then its effects can be better managed. Stop the delusional bargaining with “if” decline will happen. Several difficult steps down the decline ladder can be avoided by this honest embrace of reality. Time is of the essence. The problems of delocalization and transhumanism require time to mitigate. Vital efforts should begin now not later.
Delocalization has some advantages too. There are locations and lifestyles that are dead ends. You may be located in the many mega urban areas across the globe. These will be where the worst of decline both temporal and in degree will occur. These places will decline quickly when resources are reduced. The decline will be dramatic with the degree of dependence these places have on surrounding areas. Many of you have the ability to relocate or change your career trajectories.
In REAL Green it is about finding microclimes of resilience just like the ecosystem operates when complexity goes into succession. Leave these dangerous urban areas now while economics allow it. If you can get out of occupations with no future in a world of decline. Honest science is clear on what is and what is not survivable. Reject the false utopia of techno optimism.
The key systematic view of this phase change into decline is abruptness. The difference in rates of changes between decline and growth phases needs to be factored into your place. Growth is relatively averaged over time whereas decline is sudden and abrupt changes downward as connections breakdown and reestablish. Key conditions of abandonment, dysfunction, and the irrational become dominant in decline.
Abandonment is with the physical of our infrastructure. Dysfunction is with our systems and networks. The irrational is with our wisdom of what knowledge to embrace and what we should discard. We have built up infrastructure that is not sustainable in a world of decline. Our systems and networks will become dysfunctional when infrastructure breaks down. Dysfunctional systems will cause further physical abandonment. Our wisdom to make proper choices becomes more irrational when we fight decline by continuing to live in the world of growth.
You the individual in many cases have the opportunity to adapt and mitigate this decline. You first must stop believing failure is not an option. Realize safe places and proper ways of life in decline now matter more than ever. Evaluate where you are and what you are doing. Embrace decline and its reality and you may find opportunity. Do what species do when ecosystems decline which is adapt. They find niches that free up when complexity declines.
There are viscosities to decline in places that have the right ingredients. There are locals that are like eddies that will spin out of the current of decline and prosper relatively. There are microclimes you can seek that offer stability. This is not secret wisdom it is what nature does. Look to the way ecosystems breakdown and embrace opportunities.
I am highlighting an article that debunks renewables as our energy transition. Renewables won’t save us but they can moderate decline. They can do this in combination with fossil fuels. Both are needed. The reason this is so important is this won’t happen until it is too late and failure is realized. Everything now at the top of the hierarchy is focused on growth through energy transition combined with technocratic centralization. Renewables and digital are central to this. Fossil fuels are being eliminated when this will instead cause a worse outcome.
The cult of technology must be ended but it won’t. You the individual can get out of this delusional cult. We can’t expect to use technology to solve the problems technology created. Technology will still be needed but technology that is rationed by a wisdom embracing decline. What needs to be done is to decouple and dematerialize into simple and smaller living arrangements. Civilization can’t do this but you the individuals can. You can’t save the world but you can make your local of people and place more secure.
The notes to this article I am including are vital to take to heart because without an energy transition the much-trumpeted 4th industrial revolution of modern marvels will fail miserably. Take this to heart now and change where you can. The top will double down on a delusional narrative that growth can be maintained. If you embrace this narrative, you risk being a victim of collapse. Remember collapse is a varied condition locally and over time. It governs all but with different expressions locally. It is here where you can make a difference.
“we cannot “de-couple” the economy from energy use. This conclusion is wholly logical, given that nothing which has any economic value whatsoever can be supplied without the use of energy.”
“We conclude that, despite their unquestionable importance, alternative energy sources cannot provide a complete or like-for-like replacement for the energy value hitherto sourced from oil, natural gas and coal.”
“First, as the energy industries expanded, they reaped continuing economies of scale. The relationship between fixed and variable costs dictates that a large oil, gas or coal field is less expensive to develop and operate in unit terms than a smaller one, and this applies to processing and distribution systems as well.”
“At the same time, the global search for lowest-cost energy supplies reduced ECoEs through the process of geographic reach. A notable milestone in this progression was the discovery and development of the vast petroleum resources of the Middle East. Despite the hopes that have been vested in various basins in more recent times, the industry has never found anything on a scale which compares with the enormous oil wealth of the Middle East.”
“The third factor which has driven fossil fuel ECoEs downwards over time has been technical progress, at every stage of the chain from extraction to processing and distribution. This process has been gradual and, in an era in which excessive faith is often vested in technology, we need to remind ourselves that the capabilities of technology are limited by the laws of physics.”
“Once the benefits of scale and reach had been exhausted, a new factor became the driver of ECoEs. This factor is depletion, a term which describes the natural process whereby lowest-cost resources are used first, leaving costlier alternatives for later. Unlike reach and scale, depletion pushes trend ECoEs upwards rather than downwards.”
“We need to be clear that we are not going to ‘run out of’ oil, or, for that matter, gas or coal. Rather, what we are experiencing is a relentless increase in costs, as older (and generally larger and simpler) deposits are exhausted, and are replaced by resources which are higher-cost, and are often smaller, more remote and more technically challenging than previous sources.”
“Here, then, is the point of contention. In stark contrast to the perpetual growth promised by orthodox economics, energy-based analysis informs us that prosperity can only expand, or even be maintained at current levels, if two conditions can be satisfied. If aggregate prosperity is to be maintained, aggregate energy supply must not decrease, and we must find a way to stop further increases in trend ECoEs. Unless both conditions can be met, the economy gets smaller”
“For simplicity, it is assumed in all scenarios that fossil fuel supply declines by 18% between 2021 and 2040, and that there are modest increases in the availability of energy from nuclear and hydroelectric power. On this basis, and despite incremental contributions from nuclear and hydro, total primary energy availability is 12% lower in 2040 than it was in 2021.”
“If prosperity is to stand any chance of being maintained at current levels – taking into account rising ECoEs – aggregate energy supply needs to grow by at least 1.5% annually (Fig. 7C). For this to happen, we would need a 900% increase in the supply of energy from wind and solar power. This is roughly the set of projections which corresponds to the lower end of consensus expectations, and we’re not jumping too far ahead if we state here and now that this is extremely improbable.”
“The final scenario (Fig. 7D) is the one actually used in SEEDS analysis. By 2040, fossil fuel supplies are 18% lower than they were in 2021. Wind and solar power, taken together, have increased by 90%. There has been a 21% rise in the combined contribution of nuclear and hydroelectricity, and a modest increase from renewable sources other than wind and solar.”
“The limits to transition. Simply stated, the consensus view is that the supply of energy from wind and solar power will increase so dramatically in the coming decades that we can reduce or even eliminate the use of climate-damaging fossil fuels without experiencing any contraction in the economy. There can be no question about the importance of the environmental imperative contained in this view.”
“But the orthodox line doesn’t just postulate the attainment of environmental sustainability through like-for-like transition to renewables, let alone suggest that we can attain sustainability by making some economic sacrifices, which might be a reasonable point of view. Rather, it holds out the bold promise of “sustainable growth”.”
“We’re told, for instance, that most of the world’s vehicles – totalling close to 2 billion, and including 1.1 billion cars – can be replaced with electric vehicles (EVs). The aggregate of global prosperity will carry on growing indefinitely, perhaps by between 3% and 3.5% annually, meaning that the economy will be somewhere between 75% and 90% bigger, in real terms, in 2040 than it was in 2021. Needless to say, there won’t have to be significant sacrifices made by the public, who will carry on driving, flying and consuming at ever-increasing rates.”
“Where efficiency is concerned, the harnessing of energy is subject to the laws of physics, which set limits to what is possible. This is certainly true of renewables. The potential efficiency of wind power is determined by Betz’ Law, which states that a maximum of 60% of the kinetic energy of wind can be captured by a turbine. The equivalent for solar is the Shockley-Queisser Limit, which is 34%.”
“For practical purposes, two observations need to be made here. First, we cannot expect to lift conversion efficiency all the way to the Betz and Shockley-Queisser maxima, because no technology can attain perfect theoretical efficiency.”
“Second, and more importantly, current best practice is already close to theoretical maxima. The conversion ratios of solar panels (where the limit is 34%) already exceeds 26%. The efficiency of wind energy conversion, where the maximum is 60%, is already above 40%.”
In short, and whilst technical progress is likely to continue, there can be no quantum leap in conversion efficiencies, a conclusion well stated here.”
“If we are to attain very large increases in the supply of wind and solar power, the heavy lifting will have to be done by capacity expansion.”
“Both of these considerations leverage the necessary quantities of material inputs. Battery weight is about 60X higher than the weight required for the storage of an energy-equivalent quantity of fossil fuels, and between 50 and 100 tonnes of raw materials are needed for each tonne of batteries produced.”
“A rocky road ahead. The situation, in summary, is that (a) fossil fuel supplies can be expected to decrease more rapidly than alternatives can be expanded, and (b) that the material connection between renewables and fossil fuels makes it implausible that the relentless rise in ECoEs can be stemmed, still less reversed, by renewables expansion.”
“As we have seen, decreasing energy availability reduces economic output, whilst rising ECoEs leverage the adverse consequences for prosperity.”
“The Surplus Energy Economics project concentrates on the analytical rather than the prescriptive, and the foregoing should not be taken as disputing the imperative of transition to renewables.”
“On the contrary, renewables offer our best chance of mitigating economic decline. If we decided to stick with fossil fuel energy and back-pedal on renewables, the economy would contract under the combined pressures of decreasing energy supply and relentlessly rising ECoEs.”
“There is not, as is so often assumed, any necessary contradiction between our economic and our environmental best interests, which means that transition is imperative for economic as well as environmental reasons. If we tried to carry on with reliance on fossil fuels, we might wreck the environment but would definitely wreck the economy, as supplies of fossil energy decline, and their ECoEs soar.”
“But there really is no justification for techno-optimism around transition, and claims that “sustainable growth” is assured are starkly at odds with reality. The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels offer energy density, flexibility and portability that no other source of primary energy can match.”
“We cannot circumvent the laws of physics, nor sever the necessary connection between energy use and economic output. Neither can we reverse the rise in ECoEs by switching to lower-density sources of energy supply.”
5 thoughts on “when not if”
Good work putting this together, Shoal – thanks. Had a look at the highlights. I’ll come back and read all of it during the week.
The future is quite predictable as populations keep increasing, resources keep declining, & pollution keeps increasing. EVs are just another bandaid designed to perpetuate the illusion of sustainable & perpetual transport.
The “elites” is just another label for the “haves”. Human nature is also quite predictable. “I got mine, to hell with you!” Add this attitude to those that simply are ignorant in the true sense of the word & you have a perfect storm to dividing & conquering.
When climate change manifests in forcing the relocating of “environmental refugees”, the party will really get going. If people resent refugees now, be this from other countries, other US states or from “the cities” to rural areas, will be interesting to see how attitudes play out with mass migrations. I have no illusions, people are quite predictable.
Enjoy the now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
“Enjoy the now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.”
I would add to that enjoy being awakened to the truth. So many are oblivious to how much of their discretionary lives are going to disappear real soon. Hopefully the worse ahead holds off for a time. Starvation is brutal way to go. Meaning prepares the soul for a good death.
Thanks again for sharing your reflections!
I wonder if though all of this we develop a shared religious identity (akin to Christians in the late stage Roman Empire) or it being more distributed (as the world breaks apart) but potentially share things in common (celebration of rain and harvest season) but differences (technology or remnant power structures)
I think you write about the tangent not covered by “mainstream” permaculture or back-to-land writers in really exploring what it means for spiritual aspects. Myself I am so left brain dominant of years of scientific reductionism indoctrination/application that I look upon spiritual people with awe…all I have is my early Catholic alter boy days as reference
My gut tells me we will drift back to our true nature that was increasingly lost in the buildup of civilizational structures. What we had then was properly scaled science with a spirituality that was oral and living. The written word has done much harm to living spirituality. We call our ancient ways superstitious and brutish. Yet, look at the world now and try to convince me what we have today is not far worse. The more we know the less we understand.
I preach hybridization because there is no going back to that world of harmony with nature many of us idealize. Yet, we can start the journey back in this world to that world. We can use wisdom to reject those aspects of this world that are anti-life. We can take the best of science and our things and triage out what is deadwood. The decline process of the cyclic will now force this on civilization. The individual can adapt to this and in many cases thrive but decline must be embraced.
I see no way to breakout of this trap we are in. Civilization is now our ecosystem but this does not mean we can’t also embrace the real power that is the greater ecosystem. The best way I see to do that is rural permaculture. Cities are corrupt spiritually. Religions are corrupted by urbanization. Yet, the humble Catholic perish with a school is where the body of Christ is. The kindom of Heaven is within small community. Religion like civilization will be reimagined as the human world declines.
I do not preach that spiritual is better than science. What I preach is proper scale that yields a balance of the two. Our nature is scientific and spiritual this means life has this nature too. How could it be any different if we are part of life which I can find nothing to contradict this. Balance for you and I comes from acceptance and humility to a greater power that is the sacred. I hesitate to call that God because I am a mystic. I practice an extreme form of acceptance and humility which is unable to define what the sacred is.
In some ways this is a wonderful time in human history because we were lost and now will start to find ourselves. Tap into this with spiritual tools. These tools are natural but also modern. Proper wisdom if embraced will navigate the trap allowing transformation. It is about the journey not the destination. Death is the destination for you and I. Something more is there but this wonder is in the glow and warmth of the sacred. This is not for us to have or to hold but to enjoy and rejoice in.