Navigating The Collapse Map – Transhuman On The Dark Mountain

Heard of the political compass? Well, one enviro person compiled something similar for those who seriously entertain the possibility that industrial civilization will collapse. (H/t Mark Sleboda for pointing me to it.)

collapse-scheme

Needless to say, the “deniers” are almost as absurd as the “rapturists.” All the business as usual scenarios lead to collapse by mid-century.

“Deep green activism” of the Derrick Jensen variety is not only negative but profoundly futile. Not to mention rather clownish (“Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam”).

Neither “elites” nor “communities” can have anything to do with “salvation”, which in this context is bringing humanity back within global limits. That is because people are short-sighted and myopic, and the elites – be they democratic or authoritarian – have to cater to their tastes to remain in power.

As regards communities in the context of transition/”resilience”, an elementary consideration of human psychology and the history of state formation will show that to be a BS prospect. It just won’t work. Either you have to settle in remote places at the end of nowhere, or you will have to deal with the local warlords, “zombies” (climate refugees), and the harsh realities of a technologically regressed environment itself. In this climate, the most viable and “resilient” political units will be highly militarized, patriarchal, and probably led by strongmen (“He who doesn’t feed his army, will feed another” – Napoleon).

So by the process of exclusion we are only left with (D) Technoutopians, (J) Dark Mountaineers, and (K) Neo-Survivalists.

Neo-survivalism just makes sense at any level be it individual, familial, or local; it’s always a good idea to hedge against catastrophic outcomes. Even if we magically solve the AGW and general sustainability crisis there will still be the prospect of economic depressions, or Yellowstone erupting, or air force base commanders obsessed with precious bodily fluids going a “little crazy” in the head… In short, there is no point even arguing against it.

Transhuman on the dark mountain - Romanticism.

Transhuman on the dark mountain – Romanticism.

While it might sound contradictory, I am also both a Dark Mountaineer* (cool name!) – a Technoutopian.

In the sense while that I am convinced “business as usual” will lead to collapse, there is a significant chance that civilization will develop real technological solutions to the sustainability crisis, such as effective geoengineering, ubiquitous self-assembling nanotechnology, or the technological singularity.

There is nothing far fetched or historically unprecedented about this. Historically, some societies solved their Malthusian crises and continued steamrolling ahead (e.g. mid-period Song China, early medieval England when its wood ran out and it seized on the idea of using coal instead, or the biggest example of them all – the Industrial Revolution in Europe). In fact, the new science of cliodynamics suggest that when a society encounters ecological stress, it tends to redouble investments into finding ways of further increasing the carrying capacity (this can be called the “Boserupian Effect“). Of course for every success story there were multiple failures: The Roman Empire, all the Chinese dynasties prior to the current Communist one, the Mayans, the Easter Islanders, etc.

The 21st century is as I’ve remarked a few times basically dominated by a “race of the exponentials” between technology and ecological/civilizational collapse.

And if technology fails, then one must face the spreading desert, the Olduvai Gorge, the Dark Mountain… Here is what its founder wrote:

For fifteen years I have been an environmental campaigner and writer. For two of these years I was deputy editor of the Ecologist. I campaigned against climate change, deforestation, overfishing, landscape destruction, extinction and all the rest. I wrote about how the global economic system was trashing the global ecosystem. I did all the things that environmentalists do. But after a while, I stopped believing it.

There were two reasons for this. The first was that none of the campaigns were succeeding, except on a very local level. More broadly, everything was getting worse. The second was that environmentalists, it seemed to me, were not being honest with themselves. It was increasingly obvious that climate change could not be stopped, that modern life was not consistent with the needs of the global ecosystem, that economic growth was part of the problem, and that the future was not going to be bright, green, comfy and ‘sustainable’ for ten billion people but was more likely to offer decline, depletion, chaos and hardship for all of us. Yet we all kept pretending that if we just carried on campaigning as usual, the impossible would happen. I didn’t buy it, and it turned out I wasn’t the only one.

That’s pretty much the exact realization I reached a year ago. The scenario in which the tossed coin lands on the other side to the technological silver bullet.

But whatever happens there’s no point in worrying about it or emotionally overinvesting oneself into it. That is why the Dark Mountain is so appealing. After all does the beer yeast worry that the booze generated by itself and its fellows will eventually doom them all? Of course not. And you are presumably far more intelligent than a beer yeast.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Global Warming

I am an idiosyncratic person. I support HBD, but oppose white (or any other) imperialism. My attitudes towards mainstream liberalism and conservatism is to wish a plague on both their houses. I think we’re in for a world of hurt with Limits to Growth but also buy into “cornucopian” ideas like technological singularity and transhumanism. In personal life, I like to have my guns and hit the bong too. Etc.

I recently drove to the beach with a hipster chick who majored in something involving the environment (nothing technical) and recently found a marketing job with a clean energy start-up in SF. She went on and on about how important it is to buy local, observe Earth Hour, the fucking works. Only problem? She drove a four wheel drive. In one of the very few places in the US where you can get by without a car. It reminds me of an old Guardian story about a Swedish feminist police chief (“Captain Skirt”) who ran prostitution rings on the side… But on second thought all this is entirely normal. After all hypocrisy is the grease that smooths society’s wheels.

The greenies at least don’t force people into these ritualistic observances of Earth Hour, as if there’s some deity that could wave a wand and restore CO2 levels back to 1800. The conservatives tend to simply deny reality, deny AGW, as doing otherwise would make them willing accomplices in an impending global catastrophe. Not only is it dishonest but what’s worse many of them savagely smear and attack AGW’ers for the sin of pointing out the stark truth. They would have felt at home within the ranks of the NKVD.

Only very drastic interventions now stand a chance of averting tipping points that will likely send the Earth into an extreme greenhouse state by the end of the century… interventions that can only be implemented at this late stage of the game by some kind of global dictatorship. Desirable or not, justified or not, is irrelevant… it’s not going to happen, the system isn’t going to change. Furthermore, even individual interventions and lifestyle changes are irrelevant, as the Parable of the Beer Yeast demonstrates.

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3000 AD: The Rise Of Polar Civilizations

The river of time flows on, and empires crumble, leaving behind only legend that becomes myth, while new polities arise to take their place. This process of decay and creation is going to receive a boost from “peak energy” and, above all, climate change – which will redraw the maps of power to an extent unprecedented since the end of the last Ice Age. Throughout recorded history, the centers of advanced civilization have seesawed east and west, but remained constrained within a “band of habitability” that did not extend much further north than Oslo, St.-Petersburg, or Harbin. If the pessimistic scenarios of AGW come true, this band will become inverted: the tropics and mid-latitudes will become increasingly drought-stricken, desolate wastelands, perhaps even uninhabitable by 2300, while the Arctic regions, and a thawing Greenland and Antarctica, will become new centers of global civilization.

In this post, with the help of many maps, I will explore what this will mean in more detail than I believe has been done anywhere else on the Web. Needless to say, I am making the assumption that there will be no technological singularity, or other technological breakthrough, that will enable the continuation of modern high-energy civilization. But not will these be any all-out apocalypse. That part of the technological base that does not rely on high levels of energy inputs for its maintenance will survive, that is, railways, electricity generated by hydropower, radios, even elementary computing. So let us venture forth into the brave new world of 3000 AD!

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The Collapse Party Fulfills Its Own Name

I founded the Collapse Party one year ago after coming to the hard realization that industrial civilization is unsustainable and that – barring revolutionary socio-political (e.g. “ecotechnic dictatorship“) or technological (e.g. geoengineering) transformation – it’s catastrophic unraveling by the middle of this century is almost inevitable. As neither of development seems to be in the pipelines, I decided it was time to explicitly thinking about the political dimensions of adapting to a re-localized world, in which resource depletion and climate change make impossible the huge economies of scale and their supporting technologies that we know take for granted.

collapse-party-end

The immediate inspiration was Dmitry Orlov’s essay The Collapse Party platform, which argued for setting up a mechanism to clean up the mess left behind industrialism and preparing society for the collapse. Orlov was personally pessimistic about the chances of political organizations achieving this, since to some extent the very notion of a “collapse party” is a contradiction in terms. After a year, it turns out that he was right – at least in the short term. I have neither the time nor the means to push this project, nor have I been able to do anything substantial about it apart from the (soon to disappear) site and a Facebook group. Furthermore, on further examination it never would have any good prospects anyway – even apart from the fact that few comprehend the sheer scope of our predicament, such a “pessimistic” view is politically unappealing to the vast majority of people.

This post will archive the Party’s Manifesto, which I do think contains some useful pointers to future action. The longer its recommendations remain the laughing stock of “polite society”, the more violent will be the long-term outcomes as the industrial engine splutters and screeches to a stop – and the more brutal and dictatorial the means that will be required to mitigate and adopt to the new conditions. But as a political project the Collapse Party is quixotic, and in any case there’s no point worrying about things you can’t change. Instead, I would recommend focusing on the great new opportunities of an opening Arctic: getting in early on its coming investment boom, snapping up prime Far North real estate and establishing your family as the future landed aristocracy. For true prophets are despised, but Tsars are feared and respected!

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Review of “Limits to Growth” by Donella Meadows et al.

If I could recommend just one book to someone with a business-as-usual outlook, someone who believes human ingenuity and free markets will always bail us out of any resource scarcity or environmental problem, it would be Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (henceforth LTG). After reading it, you may never look at the world in quite the same way again. This post contains a summary, but I really do recommend you go and read it all. It is well argued, eminently readable, and pertains to issues central to our common future.

Meadows, Donella & J. Randers, D. MeadowsLimits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004). BUY THE BOOK!
Category: world systems, resource depletion, pollution; Rating: 5*/5
Summary: wiki; synopsis; WSJ story.

The first book was published in 1972, commissioned by a circle of statesmen, businesspeople, and scientists called the Club of Rome. The LTG models, using the latest advances in systems theory and computer modeling, suggested that business-as-usual economic growth on a finite planet would eventually lead to stagnating and then falling living standards, as ever more industrial capital has to be diverted towards mitigating the consequences of growth, e.g. soil degradation, resource depletion, and runaway pollution.

Cornucopians and establishment “experts” have tried to discredit LTG by claiming that its predictions of global apocalypse failed to materialize; instead, hasn’t the world seen remarkable economic growth since 1972? These criticisms are unfounded. First, the LTG modelers did not make any concrete forecasts, but merely a range of scenarios based on varying initial conditions (e.g. global resource endowments) and future political choices. Not all the scenarios led to collapse – a reasonable global standard of living is preserved under scenarios in which humanity makes a transition back below the limits towards sustainable development.  Second, none of those scenarios projected a collapse before 2015 at the earliest, so the claim is invalidated even if you treat the worst case scenario as a prediction. As such, we can only conclude that these critics are either liers or haven’t actually read the book.

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Collapse Ethics: Anarchy or Coercion?

The reaction to my article on the “ecotechnic dictatorship” garnered a vigorous response on this blog, and more of a vitriolic one elsewhere (see below for a summary). So let’s ask the question outright. Suppose that all your observations and models indicated that business-as-usual would doom the global industrial system to collapse, causing the premature deaths of the many surplus billions it now supports on a “phantom carrying capacity” based on fossil fuel-powered agriculture, industrial fishing fleets, and a stable climate. In this hypothetical scenario (IMO, no longer very hypothetical at all), would it be ethical to support the coming of an “ecotechnic dictator”, a despotic Messiah, who would suppress individual freedoms in order to force an unwilling populace into making the consumption sacrifices needed to avert the Crash?

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