Skip to content

The Titanic’s lessons for us about the coming economic crisis

4 June 2012

Summary: Bad decisions often transform a crisis into a disaster.  Sometimes bad decisions are unavoidable. Today we’ll look at two episodes of the past, mining them for useful lessons for us about leadership.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Learning from the Titanic
  3. Learning from the Great Depression
  4. Looking at responses to the 2008-2009 crash, and the crises that followed
  5. Conclusions
  6. For more information about solutions

(1)  Introduction

The world economy again totters.  The center ring of the daily media circus again features doomsters, perma-bears, and panicked experts — all hurling mockery at the decisions of our leaders. Some of this is valid. Much of this results from the critics’ combination of ignorance and hubris, like those fans at NFL games yelling that they could do better if allowed on the field.

Does history provide any yardsticks with which we can evaluate our leaders’ performance?

(2)  Learning from the Titanic

At 11:40 pm on 14 April 1912 the RMS Titanic was approaching a crisis, steaming at almost full speed through an ice field under a dark sky (no moon, no Venus), no wind (no waves breaking on the ice).  Warnings of ice have been received and ignored. The lookouts sound three bells — for object dead ahead.  Was disaster inevitable at this point, or could the officers have save most of  the passengers and crew?

(a)  What could First Officer William Murdoch have done?

He ordered the rudder “hard astarboard” and the engines “full astern”, intending to steer around the iceberg.  The Titanic almost made it; under the water it’s hull gently brushed against the ice.  Water entered through long lines where plates buckled and seams opened.

The Titanic probably could have survived if at that second Murdoch decided not to turn the ship, instead direct hitting the iceberg.  Only the first few compartments would have flooded.  The roughly 56 firemen birthed in the forward block of F Deck would have died, along with scores of 3rd class passengers.  But this was not a “by the book” response, and only a bold (genius, or reckless) officer would have done it.

.

However, neither did Murdoch give the “by the book” orders. He turned with “full engines astern”, instead of turning with full speed on the engines.  The rudder’s turning power comes from the rate of water flowing over it.  The book answer risked damage to the stern and the screws (banging into the ice), but might (possibly) have given Titanic the few extra inches it needed to survive — or at least float until help arrived.

For more about these alternate histories see Murdoch’s Decision In Retrospect.

Conclusions:  Since 2008, as on the Titanic, the people in command could have made better decisions.  But who can throw the first stone? Who has not made flash decisions that in retrospect  could have been better — with more information and the time to analyze without pressure.

(b)  The Titanic’s officers could have controlled the flooding

The weight of the in-rushing sea pulled the bow down, accelerating the rate of sinking.  Instead they could have opened some watertight doors and  allowed the water move aft. This might have delayed the sinking by 2 – 4 hours; the SS Carpathia arrived  1 hour 40 minutes too late.  .

Why didn’t the Titanic’s officers do this? This procedure became common knowledge only during WWI (the Titanic pushed development of these methods).  For example, at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 junior officers on watch ordered counter-flooding so that only one battleship capsized (inspection ports in the Oklahoma’s bilges were open for inspection).

Conclusion: History provides insights not available to the participants.  Leaders do what they can with what they know.

(3)  Learning from the Great Depression

We see both of these factors at work during the 1929-32 crash. President Hoover and Secretary of the Treasury Mellon were competent men, with distinguished histories.  Their actions were mistakes only in hindsight, based on their experiences and the theories developed with that knowledge.  Hoover’s advisers would have done better if they had a copy of Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money — published in February 1936.

But even after publication Keynes’ ideas were not well understood.  If FDR’s advisers had time to grasp its lessons, they might have avoided the 1937 recession. If the EU’s current leaders understood Keynes’ ideas they might have made better decisions.

(4)  Looking at responses to the 2008-2009 crash, and the crises that followed

Today our world’s leaders quickly and boldly responded to the 2008-09 crash, so similar in magnitude to 1929-30.  But afterwards everybody adopted different courses, since each has different circumstances. It’s too soon to say which is best.

  • China responded with large fiscal and monetary stimuluses, followed by slow policy adjustments.  Their bubble-like real estate boom has slowed and their massive trade and current account surpluses have slowed (as inflation boosted the real value of the RMB vs. its trade partners).
  • America responded with massive fiscal fiscal and monetary stimuluses plus bank bailouts — followed by business as usual (no reforms). The UK, also.
  • Europe responded with repeated small to moderate rounds of fiscal and monetary stimuluses plus selective bank bailouts.
  • Iceland defaulted on its foreign loans, which has worked well for them.
  • Japan has continued with its decades-long policy of zero interest rates (ZIRP) and mind-numbing fiscal deficits.

Unfortunately there are no clear answers as to the best policy for each nation.  We’re off the map of history. The scraps of today’s poorly interconnected economic theory give complex and uncertain answers — especially for nations with high public or private debt loads (or both).  That almost everybody is entering periods of massive demographic change adds another layer of complexity.

(5)  Conclusions

As always, leaders must make decisions despite limited information and immature theory. As citizens we can help most by avoiding quacks. The purveyors of easy simple solutions, which like roaches emerge from the walls during dark times. No matter how bad conditions become, these people can make it worse.

Fortunately, unlike the passengers and crew of the Titanic, we have some degree of choice in our leaders.  In times of crisis such decisions have large effects.  Effects which may ripple throughout the 21st century.  Let’s hope we choose wisely.

(6)  For more information about solutions

It’s sad, but these posts from late 2008 about solutions apply today, although with less urgency.

  1. A solution to our financial crisis, 25 September 2008:
  2. Stabilize the financial system3 October 2008
  3. Stabilize the economy, 7 October 2008
  4. Arrange long-term financing for steps #1 and #2 with our foreign creditors5 October 2008
About these ads
50 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 June 2012 9:46 am

    Unfortunately, the window is past and our choices have been made. Keynesian modeled decisions in the beginning of both Depressions were made. That was where the decision was made. We fought bad debt with more debt. That is what Keynes thought would work. There is no evidence that his model works.

    Had the bad debt been systematically cleared we would be in a position to rebuild based on honest accounting. Instead, we have funny money backing bad debt based on the promises of politicians worldwide. I think its a stretch to see this strategy — based on pretending bad debt will become good debt, will ever end well.

    Keep it up, great blog!

    • 4 June 2012 1:20 pm

      In fact the Keynesian response did work. There is a large and growing body of research on this. Eighty percent of economists surveyed by the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago agree that the stimulus bill passed by the US Congress in 2009 successfully lowered the rate of unemployment. Most economists, both GOP and Democrats, advocated fiscal and monetary stimulus. For examples see Economists discuss the impact of the stimulus on our recession, 6 October 2009

      This is easy to see (despite being obscured by the clouds of dust kicked into our eyes for political purposes). We had an event similar in magnitude and scope to 1929-30. See:
      The Labor Market during the Great Depression and the Current Recession“, Linda Levine, Congressional Research Service, 19 June 2009
      A tale of two depressions: What do the new data tell us?“, Eichengreen, B and K O’Rourke, VoxEU, 8 March 2010.

      The outcome was far better: no massive delationary crash and depression. The first aid worked. Now we grapple with a new set of problems, far more pleasant than those of the 1930s: treatment of the underlying problems. Unlike the 1930s, we have done almost nothing to address these.

    • 5 June 2012 12:17 am

      The EMU is the Titanic, and the European debt crisis is the iceberg. Should the Fed and the US Government do everything they can to save the EMU, that is run down to the boiler rooms to try to plug the leaks by making credit available, or should they head to the life boats, that is decouple as much as possible from the EU? With luck, maybe it was the great criminal mastermind, Jon Corzine, who actually saved us. That is after the MF Global implosion, everyone was asking every single large bank “what is your exposure to Europe?” Afterwards all the TBTF’s poo-pooed this as silly talk, that they didn’t have that much exposure, but who knows what the real truth was at that time. If they confessed to massive Europe exposure they could have set off another run or crash, so we can’t trust one word out of their mouths, but if they were smart they would have been using the time between then and now to pull away.

      We won’t for sure until the EMU really starts to go down, if that happens.

    • 5 June 2012 12:35 am

      “The EMU is the Titanic, and the European debt crisis is the iceberg. ”

      Only somewhat. In The unseen but perhaps decisive grand alignment of the nations I explained that the US, EU, Japan, China — and others (eg, India) are all entering periods of great change. Forced transformations, as each has outgrown its current structure. The EU gets the headlines today, because the news media only reports what’s in front of their noses. A wider perspective is necessary to see what’s happening.

      Considering dots like MF Global and the small JP Morgan trading loss of significance is to completely misunderstand what’s happening. Those are just falling grains of sand, part of a stream falling on the sandpile. Every now and then one starts a landslide; eventually one will start one that collapses the pile. But there is nothing special about each grain. These are systemic events. Banks are the institutions most vulnerable to macroeconomic shocks, as they reflect large economic events.

  2. Don permalink
    4 June 2012 12:39 pm

    Typo? “At 11:40 pm on 14 April 2012 the RMS Titanic”… perhaps 1912?
    Very good article!

  3. 4 June 2012 7:25 pm

    I believe that the traditional methods of climbing out of a financial crisis would have worked if this were a traditional crisis/recession that we could just grow ourselves out of, but that’s not the case.This crisis is unprecented because we are running against resource limits that are essential for growth worldwide.

    Traditional techniques worked because we could kick start exponential growth again and eventually things would go back to normal. Now we face a predicament that requires change. without fundamental change in the way we live our lives then this crisis will continue. A gigantic cultural shift has to happen.

    On a personal level people need to learn, understand, accept, and change their ways and the system will change with them. Unlikely, but that is the key.

    • 4 June 2012 9:25 pm

      Honestly, how can you say that? How can we sit on a planet that receives 10,000 times more power from the sun than we expend and say that? How can we complain about dwindling energy resources when there is 100 times more Thorium fuel than Uranium fuel for nuclear energy in the earths crust? And there is much better Thorium physics regarding waste and safety than Uranium?
      Liquid fossil fuels bubbling out of the ground practically ready for use in IC engines; yes that era is ending. But spare me the histrionics about how we are running out of energy (and other) resources. If you don’t comprehend that all other material resource availability is linked to energy then I can’t help you. Let’s focus our much more limited human energy and intelligence on improving our political and economic system’s shortcomings because that’s where 100% of the action is. IMO.

    • 5 June 2012 12:27 am

      “his crisis is unprecented because we are running against resource limits that are essential for growth worldwide.”

      What evidence would you cite in support of that?

      Before the crash food prices in real terms were near historic lows.

      Mineral prices were, as often the case at the peak of a boom, high — but many have since dropped. Especially oil. The long-term trend of mineral prices probably is up as we exhaust higher-grade & easily accessable deposit, moving to lower-grade less accessable deposits — offset by lower extraction & refining costs from improved technology. But that’s not “running against resource limits.

  4. 5 June 2012 12:59 am

    Peter, could you elaborate further? I’m not saying you are wrong, but in your reply you only explain our electrical supply and there are already major advocacy groups against nuclear replacing coal (i.e – chernobyl and Fukushima).

    And yes, you are right about renewable energies, but we have no way of harnessing all of that energy, only a very small fraction. I also completely understand how other material resources availability is linked to energy (it now requires much more energy to attain a small amount of non-renewable resource in it’s pure form).

    I also agree that we need to spend our human capital on improving our political and economic system: They are completely failing the people they are meant to serve. But do you understand that that is unlikely to happen unless a large portion of the population understands and reacts to our current predicament?

    I believe that politics was meant to steer the people and the economy of it’s nation in the right direction when a crisis like this occurs and I don’t see that happening. So, from what I can tell, they have left us to our own devices and our own decisions to make the future what we want it to be. Which is as it should be.

    The problem there lies with education and media. It is education and the media’s purpose to teach and inform the people of the circumstances we face and lead us in the proper direction: it’s also meant to put pressure on our leaders – to put “fire to their feet” so to speak. It’s happening, but not at a level necessary for immediate change and usually not at all about real issues.

    It’s a mess. Any thoughts?

    • 5 June 2012 2:23 am

      We are surrounded by plentiful sources of both fuels and flows of energy. Our limitations are ones of cleverness in energy storage for use in transportation (batteries), experience in using fission safely and more rationally, and poorly managing the transition away from fossil fuels.

      I think we have also failed in the area of engine development, especially heat engines which are currently relegated to being a backwater novelty. Having internal combustion–liquid fuels engine myopia is one of the great failures of my engineering generation. Moving forward poses many technical questions with complex interactions within and between engineering and our social and political sub systems.

      It’s worse than ever in that regard. OTOH the tools and materials we have to work with are way better than ever. We are living in a new Golden Age of engineering in this regard. On balance, I’m excited and optimistic that the challenge can be met if we can get our war mongering, political and regulatory capture, and general venality and mendacity under control. Hence my comment about where the action is. Thanks for your kind interest.

    • 5 June 2012 2:31 am

      While all of those things are correct in a sense, they ignore a far more scarce resource: time.

      While there might be wonderful cheap clean energy sources in our future, that means little if peak oil arrives in the next few years. New sources take time and money to develop. We’ve not invested the latter, and the former may have run out for us. If so, we may have some difficult years ahead of us.

  5. 5 June 2012 1:31 am

    Fabius,

    If you are looking for statistics I would have to go back to the books I have read since they are not readily available in my head. But as far as readings I would recommend:

    1. All books written by Richard Heinberg (he also has some lectures posted on Youtube)
    2. The Crash Course by Chris Martenson
    3. The Post Carbon Reader by various experts
    4. The End of Food by Paul Roberts
    5. World On Edge by Lester Brown
  6. 5 June 2012 3:32 am

    Yeah, Lester Brown’s book was a bit of a disappointment and when he speaks he never seems to really say anything but useless statistics (always found that to be fishy).

    Your “debunking” articles of Richard Heinberg are weak to say the least.

    But I’m always willing to get both sides of any issue, so if you have any more on Richard or any of the other authors/books I’ve recommended I would honestly appreciate it.

    • 5 June 2012 3:53 am

      Nope. I’ve gone through this dozens of times, often at extreme length. It’s a waste of time. We have literally decades of failed predictions by these people, but still they find an eager audience for their next set of soon-to-be-failed predictions.

      There is no need to listen to these cranks. The FM reference pages have scores of articles about these matters, each with links to many authorative sources. People with actual expertise, successful track records, etc. But such things are not to everybody’s taste, it seems.

      This can only be stated as a general rule or tendency (individuals vary, of course), but my experience suggests that people who find doomster nonsense of interest are beyond reasoning with.

    • 5 June 2012 3:54 am

      “Yeah, Lester Brown’s book was a bit of a disappointment and when he speaks he never seems to really say anything but useless statistics (always found that to be fishy).”

      Then why did you recommend the book, let alone list it as a rebuttal?

  7. Thomas Moore permalink
    5 June 2012 5:51 am

    Ryan Brooks’ statement is accurate and, unfortuantely, FM is incorrect here. Brooks notes that:

    “I believe that the traditional methods of climbing out of a financial crisis would have worked if this were a traditional crisis/recession that we could just grow ourselves out of, but that’s not the case.This crisis is unprecented because we are running against resource limits that are essential for growth worldwide.

    “Traditional techniques worked because we could kick start exponential growth again and eventually things would go back to normal. Now we face a predicament that requires change. without fundamental change in the way we live our lives then this crisis will continue. A gigantic cultural shift has to happen.”

    I believe what Ryan Brooks refers to here is the fact that when the first Great Depression hit, America had vast amounts of unused industrial capacity and enormous reserves of natural resources, including oil and high-grade easy-to-mine iron ore, tin, copper, and so on. In the 1920s America was by far the world’s largest oil producer, and Mexico was the world’s second-biggest oil producer; both countries have long since exhausted their high-grade oil fields today. In the 1920s America led the world with the largest factories such as the world-famous River Rouge plant which took in iron ore at one end and spat out Model T Fords at the other. Today, America has offshored its manufacturing to the extent that the world heads for South Korea when it wants supertankers or oil platforms or nuclear reactor containment vessels built, and the world goes shopping in France and Germany when it wants high-speed rail systems, and the world goes shopping in China when it wants state-of-the-art electroluminscent computer displays. None of these items can be manufactured in America today — America simply does not have the technology. It has been exported oversees by short-sighted U.S. companies obsessed with the next quarter of financial returns.

    Source: “Why Amazon can’t make a kindle in the USA,” Forbes magazine, 17 September 2011.

    “When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.

    “But as Steven P. Jobs of Apple spoke, President Obama interrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?

    “Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

    “Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

    “Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. `Those jobs aren’t coming back,’ he said, according to another dinner guest.”

    Source: “Apple, America, and a squeezed middle class,” The New York Times, 21 January 2012.

    Today, America’s economic growth is oil-limited, unlike the aftermath of the Great Depression. Today, each time America’s economic growth kicks back up, this reduces available oil supplies on the spot market to the point where speculation slams oil prices into the stratosphere and the entire world experiences a wrenching recession, which in turn reduces oil demand and thus oil prices. Rinse, wash, repeat.

    The remarkable correlation twixt the FAO food price index and the Brent oil price shows us what is going on. This has a significant economic impact on developed nations, but a devastating impact on the third world, where most of the population spend 80% of their disposable income on food.

    “The social implications of rising food prices can be severe for the urban poor. Some countries in Africa have recently had food price–related riots. In Burkina Faso, there have been demonstrations in two cities. In Cameroon, political unrest spilled over into protests over food and fuel prices. Niger has also suffered food-price-related riots, while in Indonesia there have been protests over soybean shortages.”

    Source: IMF report: Impact of High Food and Fuel Prices on Developing Countries—Frequently Asked Questions, 11 March 2012.

    This nonlinear spiking in oil prices and continually worsening series of recession of oil shocks to the world economy is something the world didn’t have to worry about in the 1930s and 1940s when the advanced economies were coming out the Great Depression. Global oil demand is growing sharply, mainly due to China’s voarcious demand for oil, while global oil production is slowing. With a predicted population of 9 billion by 2050, scientists estimate we’ll “need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000.” Yet

    “production of one kilogram of nitrogen for fertilizer requires the energy equivalent of from 1.4 to 1.8 liters of diesel fuel. This is not considering the natural gas feedstock. According to The Fertilizer Institute (http://www.tfi.org), in the year from June 30 2001 until June 30 2002 the United States used 12,009,300 short tons of nitrogen fertilizer. Using the low figure of 1.4 liters diesel equivalent per kilogram of nitrogen, this equates to the energy content of 15.3 billion liters of diesel fuel, or 96.2 million barrels.

    “Of course, this is only a rough comparison to aid comprehension of the energy requirements for modern agriculture.

    “In a very real sense, we are literally eating fossil fuels. However, due to the laws of thermodynamics, there is not a direct correspondence between energy inflow and outflow in agriculture. Along the way, there is a marked energy loss. Between 1945 and 1994, energy input to agriculture increased 4-fold while crop yields only increased 3-fold. Since then, energy input has continued to increase without a corresponding increase in crop yield. We have reached the point of marginal returns. Yet, due to soil degradation, increased demands of pest management and increasing energy costs for irrigation (all of which is examined below), modern agriculture must continue increasing its energy expenditures simply to maintain current crop yields. The Green Revolution is becoming bankrupt.”

    Meanwhile, the world is fast running out of fresh water.

    “The amount of water in the world is limited. The human race, and the other species which share the planet, cannot expect an infinite supply.

    “Water covers about two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, admittedly. But most is too salty for use.

    “Dry riverbeds border dangerously low water levels at the Shihmen reservoir in Taiwan
    Population is rising, but water supplies are not
    Only 2.5% of the world’s water is not salty, and two-thirds of that is locked up in the icecaps and glaciers.

    “Of what is left, about 20% is in remote areas, and much of the rest arrives at the wrong time and place, as monsoons and floods.

    “Humans have available less than 0.08% of all the Earth’s water. Yet over the next two decades our use is estimated to increase by about 40%.”

    Source: BBC News, “Dawn Of A Thirsty Century,” Alex Kirby, 2 June 2000.

    Here in America, the Ogallala Aquifer (which requires 10,000 years to replenish) is being drawn down with incredible rapidity by the water-intensive cultivation of corn used to raise cattle.

    Meanwhile, rare earths like Indium, essential for touch-screens on computers as well as solar cells, are rapidly being depleted:

    “Chances are that if you purchased a new handheld gadget this holiday season, it had some kind of touch screen. That’s good news for touch-screen makers, but they face a problem that is literally invisible. Indium-tin oxide (ITO), the transparent conductor used in touch displays, is in short supply. In fact, experts predict that we could run out of indium, a silvery metal produced as a byproduct of zinc mining, in the next 10 years. The price of the metal has shot up from around US $100 per kilogram to nearly $1000 in the past six years.”

    Source: “The Trouble with Touch Screens,” IEEE Spectrum magazine, January 2009.

    “All Seafood Will Run Out In 2050, Say Scientists,” The Telegraph, 3 November 2006.

    FM has previously ridiculed the Club of Rome’s 1972 “Limits To Growth” report. However, recent articles discussing the actual predictions made by the Limits to Growth report find that

    “Interestingly, history since 1970 has shown that the surprise-free scenario — the `standard run’ of Limits To Growth — has proved to be a good description of developments so far.”

    “In an energy white paper, Simmons (Simmons, 2000) notes how accurate many of the trend extrapolations are after the original LtG publication. He specifically presents global population figures, and generally reviews the production and consumption of energy for broad comparison with the LtG.”

    Sources: “A comparison of the Limits To Growth with thirty years of reality,” Graham Turner, CSIRO Working Paper 2008-9; and

    “Revisiting The Limits to Growth: Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All? — An Energy White Paper,” Matthew R. Simmons, October 2000.

    To put it bluntly, when you look at the coming century, the math doesn’t work out. The richest 20% of the world’s population currently consume 85% of the world’s resources. Obviously, it would be impossible for the bottom 80% to consume at any where near the levels of the richest 20%. And The World Wildlife Fund estimates we’ll need two entire earths to meet demand by 2030, while other environmental groups estimate four.

    Two to four earths to support demand by 2030. And that’s not taking into consideration the possibility that developing nations might increase their consumption at faster rates, as they grow in size and technological reach. Indeed, the curve of China’s growth in oil usage appears to be steepening upward.

    Meanwhile, worldwide, species are dying off at rates not seen since the Ice Age. Fish stocks all over the world have reached endangered levels. Safe, drinkable water is disappearing all over the world, including the American Southwest, due to the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

    “On average, it takes 10 kilocalories (kcals) of fossil energy to produce one kilogram of plant-protein feed for livestock. In the case of milk production, the ratio is 14 to one. Feeding animals a combination of grain and forage requires 40 kcals (the energy in one small peach) to produce
    1 kcal from beef (a piece of meat about the size of a pea).”

    Source: “Energy Ins and Outs: On-Farm Energy Use,” 2012.

    And all of this is happening while we have massive inequality and more than two billion people living off just $1.50 a day. All of trends are occurring when billions of impoverished people around the world have a smaller global footprint than a few million Westerners and the wealthy from other developed nations. Imagine the pressure on the earth’s resources when those billions start to consume even a fraction as much as the working poor in developed nations.

    • 5 June 2012 7:04 am

      This is absurd, or several steps beyond. This is a grab bag of worries. Some small, some past, some false, some worries about the future. Do you seriously believe that in the past they had no such laundry list of worries? That a similar list could not have been drawn (and probably was) in 1880, 1920, etc etc? That we have a monopoly on fear about the future?

    • Pluto permalink
      5 June 2012 11:33 am

      FM,

      I hate to say this but you’re going to have to give a more detailed reply.

      Thomas Moore has spent quite a while gathering his data and setting up his arguments and he’s a heavy hitter on this website. He deserves more than the usual slap down (well deserved) from the casual drive-by commenter. By the way, I agree with you but don’t have the sources at hand to match Moore’s arguments.

    • 5 June 2012 12:37 pm

      You don’t get to say what I “have to” do, or how I spend my time.

      It’s “google knowledge”. Dredging up dozens of stray references and declaring they add up to something. If that’s the basis on which you choose to believe the world is doomed, that’s fine with me.

      As I have learned from responding to the 22 thousand comments on the FM website, one can spend hours responding to this sort of stuff — and accomplish nothing. A long comment read by six people. Influencing none of them. Which is why we have the comment maximum size. After a certain length nobody reads them, nobody responds to them. It’s like somebody on the bus giving you a book to read, with an earnest “It will change your life.” No it will not. I used to enfore the limit, but discovered people grew angry — so why bother, so long as it’s on topic.

      In another sense it’s like Ryan Brooks citing prominent doomsters. I doubt he’s living his life on the assumption they’re correct. My guess is that perhaps one in a thousand who tout those books — retreat to the hills and grow veggies because civilization is doomed! — change their life in any meaningful way to prepare for the END. Which is why debating them is a waste of time. Most of them don’t really believe that nonsense; for them it’s like playing fantasy football — so the debate is a waste of scarce time.

    • 5 June 2012 4:28 pm

      my sources can only be considered doomsters if the audience is not intelligent enough to think critically and make decisions on there own. It’s simply information from a particular point of view. Are they correct? Who knows, time will tell – just like your worthy sources. That’s why I do my own research and investigate all sides (this is why I keep up with your blog). Remember, nobody knows exactly what is going on here, so all we can do is research and do some critical thinking and come up with what makes sense.

      Now if you can give me solid evidence that clearly states there are no such limits occuring – or going to occur in the near future – that can’t be questioned, then I will gladly change my frame of thought, but I don’t believe that’s possible since no information is absolutely certain.

      And you are right. I’m not completely living my life around those assumptions; mainly because I don’t have the means to. But to simply say such things do not exist (especially man-made climate change) is wrong. why? Because you have to ask yourself: what happens if SCIENTISTS/doomsters are correct and we do nothing about it?

      Also, I don’t believe it’s the end in your sense, but an end to our current paradigm/culture. Question is: will the next one be for better or for worse?

    • 6 June 2012 4:39 am

      To re-state the obvious: these people have a long history of failed predictions. Grossly wrong predictions. That is sufficient to put their work in the trash, in addition to their sloppy analysis and weak factual basis (ie, often wrong).

      It’s not worth discussion. I did it once: Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, looking at Matt Savinar‘s Life After the Oil Crash. That’s more than enough.

  8. Pluto permalink
    5 June 2012 11:34 am

    Great responsibilities come with great information sources.

    • 5 June 2012 12:41 pm

      Yes, that’s my point. There are 2,091 posts on the FM website. Easy accessed by category, tags, or the Reference Pages on the right-side menu bar. They all have links to excellent reference sources. If someone wants information on these topics, I point them there. Not one in a hundred bother, which shows their level of interest.

      Anything other than casual chat in comments is usually a waste of time. I attempt to recognize and respond to the exceptions with reasoned and researched replies. I probably spend too much time doing so.

  9. Burke G Sheppard permalink
    5 June 2012 1:14 pm

    First of all, Fabius, thanks for the link to the site about Mr Murdoch. Fascinating stuff, and a lot to think about when it comes to how decisions are made in a crisis. Murdoch wasn’t negligent, he fell back on what he knew, or thought he knew. So did the Keynsians. Both of them hit icebergs.

    In fairness to Murdoch, the loss of the Titanic was the end result of a long chain of bad engineering decisions, and the ship would probably have gone down even if he had hit the berg head on. (That high sulfur steel would have shattered.) The ’08 financial crisis came at the end of a long chain of bad decisions as well.

    I wonder if they’ll carve that on Obama’s grave? “He fell back on what he thought he knew?”

    • 5 June 2012 1:24 pm

      (1) Several teams have been modeled a head-on collision; all conclude the Titanic probably would not have sunk — and almost certainly would have been afloat when the SS Carpathia arrived (1 hour 40 minutes too late).

      (2) Most large-scale disasters result from a long chain of prior events. In fact, almost everything does. Disasters usually include in those one (or more) low-probability event (eg, weather for the Titanic). And the significance of that is … what?

  10. Burke G Sheppard permalink
    5 June 2012 4:31 pm

    I guess the sifnificance is that in a crisis, we tend to act on instinct. Sometimes those instincts are right, sometimes not. The first officer acted on his instincts So did the Keynsians. Both times, it ended in a sinking ship. The Keynsians knew how to spend money, and God knows they’ve spent a lot of it, though judging from the last set of jobs numbers they don’t have all that much to show for it. Maybe they should have done something else. Maybe Murdoch should have done something else, although I don’t think plowing head on into the ice in a badly engineered ship made of high sulfur brittle steel would have been a great idea. I’m sure some really smart people have modeled that one, but absent a functioning time machine it’s pretty much untestable. As for Murdoch, at least he went down with the ship rather that blaming everything on the guy stood watch before him.
    Maybe they’ll carve on Obama’s grave that he plowed head on into the iceberg.

  11. 6 June 2012 5:51 pm

    Mr. maximus,

    I read your article and I feel the same way; you may be trying to fit me into a particular group. I admit there was a point when I was full on doomster, thinking that it would all collapse in an instant, but after more readings and much more research I realize that that is unlikely. I agree with your well-founded assumptions completely and that it most likely will be a slower decent as each shock in supply and demand will spur new technologies, efficiencies, innovations, etc.

    But on the other hand, no one really knows how the decent will occur, no one knows if new initiatives will live up to their ideals. Renewable are a long shot, but should be implented on a grand scale regardless. I also tend to believe that, even implemented all together, these things will not provide enough cushion for our peak oil dilemma to land on. It will inevitably cascade into a multitude of other negative and positive feedbacks. Which, in turn, will require us to act in different ways as a society in order to cope with whatever happens.

    That is what I mean by a cultural shift/paradigm shift – not necessary all at once, but on a timeline. But like you said before – which I think is a perfect 21st century lead-in phrase – “time will tell…” Everyone out there is making all kinds of assumptions and assertions (whether educated or not) and no one actually knows for sure what’s going to happen. That’s what’s so great about the future; it’s never too late to shape it.

  12. 6 June 2012 6:50 pm

    The bottom line is: we are not screwed because we are too stupid. This is not a, “Small furry mammals are stealing our eggs and we have brains the size of walnuts.” , scenario. In the pure technology arena things are brighter than ever. In governance, understanding of macro-economics, social cohesion, and basic allegiance to the tenets of humanism, we are in trouble.

  13. 6 June 2012 7:20 pm

    As usual, FM got there way ahead of me. This post gives an excerpt from “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power“, John Gray, op-ed in The Guardian, 28 September 2008 — “The global financial crisis will see the US falter in the same way the Soviet Union did when the Berlin Wall came down. The era of American dominance is over.” Home truths from a critic of America. An adaption of this, “Utopia Falls”, is in December 2008 Harper’s Magazine.

    • 7 June 2012 2:13 am

      nicely put. I can’t say I keep up with what’s happening in the technology arena, but your post coupled with your reference article is succinct and I don’t doubt it. In fact I witness it on a daily basis.

      So what you are kind of saying is that as this crisis deepens we have lost the human tools to climb out and instead may dig ourselves even deeper (peak oil, climate change or what have you) – as we’ve been doing?!

  14. Thomas Moore permalink
    6 June 2012 8:43 pm

    “With forests and fish stocks declining, water demand rising and lack of action on climate change, humanity’s path is anything but sustainable, the UN warns. The Global Environmental Outlook says significant progress is seen on only four out of 90 environmental goals. Meanwhile, a team of scientists warns that life on Earth may be on the way to an irreversible `tipping point’.”
    — “Green decline `may bring irreversible change’”“, BBC News, 6 June 2012

    Denial of reality remains one of the hallmarks of our peculiar era, from liberals who steadfastly deny that Obama implements and extends repressive far-right policies started by Nixon and Reagan and Bush, to conservatives who adamantly deny the reality of Peak Oil, America’s defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan by bands of ragtap 15-year-old barefoot children armed with bolt-action rifles, and America’s technological and economic decline.

    So no one shoudl find it surprising that FM also occasionally slips into reality-denial. This is one of the characteristics of our time. We all do it from time to time. I actually believed that Barack Obama was a candidate of “hope and change,” so I’m as guilty as anyone else.

    • Pluto permalink
      6 June 2012 11:55 pm

      Mr. Moore please tell us your vision of the future.

      We’ve seen an awful lot of really depressing news snippets but I would like to have a better understanding of where you think we are going. I disagree with your apparent complete doom and gloom. There are always at least two sides to every story and it feels to me like you are over-emphasizing the negative.

      The world and the human race have survived innumerable difficult situations and it seems to me that the current state of world affairs is neither particularly worst than say 50 years ago nor more prone to predictable collapse. It is the unpredictably good things in life that make it worth living.

    • 7 June 2012 1:26 am

      This is beyond foolish, into deep silliness. The news media have been saturated with forecasts of doom for decades, as they give space to anyone making a dramatic claim of disaster — no matter how weakly-founded (or even imaginary). Nuclear winter, herpes, famine, AIDS, radon gas in the home, BSE, Y2K, avian flue, swine flue — it’s a long list. This trait was well-docmented by Peter Moore in “The Crisis Crisis”, Playboy, March 1987.

      Citing general news media for this stuff demonstrates a sad lack of skepticism. My guess is that you are either very selective in the prophets of doom that you believe, or that you only pretend to believe. We have lots of those come and go in the comments, drama queents pretending to live in terror at some shadow certain to eat us all.

      “Denial of reality remains”

      Thanks for that. The “you denier you” tactic for me tags the writer as an unserious person, not worth reading. This saves a great deal of time. There are sillier things to say, but none that I recall at the moment.

      Many of these threats are discussed on the FM website, citing real research. Some are real, some are unlikely, some are clearly false, some we cannot yet classify.

  15. 7 June 2012 2:34 am

    Fabius is absolutely correct. Time is our most scarce resource as of a couple decades ago. Implementation of new technologies on a scale large enough to offset the shock(s) of peak oil has been said to take at least 20 years at war time speed. Plus we haven’t figured out where to put these new sources, how they are going to work, how the excess energy is going to be stored, etc.

    There is going to be a painful transition phase. A great book on this is “The Great Reset” by Richard Florida.

    But in pain comes healing right?

  16. Thomas Moore permalink
    7 June 2012 4:42 am

    Stating that the human race is currently beyond the carrying capacity of planet earth is not “complete doom and gloom.” In fact, if you or FM would care to read the original Club of Rome “Limits to Growth” report from 1972s, you’ll find that the scientists and scholars who compiled the report also indentified 2 possible outcomes.

    1. The “standard run” scenario. The world continues on with business-as-usual behavior. Technology advances at a rate characteristic of the annualized growth in scientific knowledge and new technologies since the start of the industrial revolution (ca. 1796). No radical new disruptive technologies such as mythical “zero-point energy” or a low-cost space elevator or asteroid mining are developed before the 2170s.

    2. The “comprehensive technology” scenario. The world develops radical new technologies for food production, pollution control, energy generation, industrial output, and services per capita. Possibilities here include Drexlerian nanotechnology (the ability for micromachines to take apart any substance and rebuild it from its component atoms, leading for example to the capacity to pour a vial of nanomachines on a table and turn it into a 3-course meal), humanoid robots, true artificial intelligence, advanced biotechnology (design of plants that use sunlight + soil nutrients to synthesize petroleum fuels, for example, as suggested by Freeman Dyson), and genetic engineering of humans to enhance their abilities including (but not limited to) their intelligence and imagination.

    Let’s let a recent scholarly paper summarize these results:

    As shown, the observed historical data for 1970-2000 most closely match the simulated results of the LtG “standard run” scenario for almost all the outputs reported; this scenario results in global collapse before the middle of this century. The comparison is well within uncertainty bounds of nearly all the data in terms of both magnitude and the trends over time. Given the complexity of numerous feedbacks between sectors incorporated in the LtG World3 model, it is instructive that the historical data compare so favorably with the model output.

    By comparison, the “comprehensive technology” scenario is overly optimistic in growth rates of factors such as food, industrial output and services per capita, and global persistent pollution. Similarly, significant departures in the trajectory of key factors such as population, food and services per capita, and global persistent pollution are evident between the data and the “stabilized world” scenario.

    Source: “A Comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 Years Of Reality,” Graham M. Turner, CSIRO Working Paper Series 2008-9.

    It’s worth noting that Herman Kahn and his associates produced a rebuttal study in 1976 called “The Next 200 Years: A Scenario for America and the World.”

    Kahn et al. conclude that the population of earth will enjoy abundant energy, raw materials, food, and living space, with no extreme deleterious effects on the environment and with exponentially increasing affluence worldwide even if the population grows to 30 billion, and even if world GDP reaches 60 times the level of 1972. Moreover, Kahn and company claim this conclusion holds true even without any inputs of energy, materials, or manufactured products from beyond Earth — as in, for example, asteroid mining.

    We have now progressed 40 years into the 100 year projection range covered by the 1972 Limits To Growth.

    Which of these projections best fit the available data over the last 40 years?

    Let’s go to the peer-reviewed scientific literature for the answer:

    In a 2009 article published in American Scientist titled “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil,” Hall and Day noted that “the values predicted by the limits-to-growth model and actual data for 2008 are very close.”

    Source: “Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil,” Hall, C. & Day, J., American Scientist, 97 (2009): 230 -238.

    These conclusions are also consistent with a 2010 study titled “A Comparison of the Limits of Growth with Thirty Years of Reality” which finds that: “The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features… [of the Limits to Growth] ‘standard run’ scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century.”

    Source: “A Comparison of the Limits of Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,” Graham Turner, CSIRO Working Paper Series, 2008-9.

    In 2011 Ugo Bardi analyzed the The Limits to Growth, its methods and historical reception and concluded that “The warnings that we received in 1972 … are becoming increasingly more worrisome as reality seems to be following closely the curves that the `standard run’ scenario had generated.”

    Source: “The LImits To Growth Revisited,” Ugo Bardi, Springerbriefs on Energy, 2010.

    So 40 years into the 100 year prediction range of Limits to Growth, we have enough data to at least make a preliminary assessment of the accuracy of LtGs scenarios. At present the world is progressing along the “standard run” model, and resource usage as well as population growth and pollution are following the numbers in LtG with considerable accuracy.

    Does this mean that the world is doomed and we’re all going to die and civilization will collapse back to the Olduvai Gorge level?

    No, it means that our current course of exponential economic growth along with our present associated exponential increase in usage of non-renewable resources is unsustainable. There are a variety of possible outcomes.

    One outcome is for the world to shift to renewable resources. Genetically-engineered foodstuffs, renewable nuclear energy like thorium breeder reactors or possibility solar-thermal or solar photovoltaic, artificial substitutes for various limited resources like indium and other rare earths, and new technologies which bypass bottlenecks on current resources — for instance, genetically modified organisms which produce petroleum fuel, GMOs which require much less water than current varietals of corn or wheat, meat grown in a lab rather than raised on the hoof, and so on.

    Another possibility is for the world to obtain new non-renewable resources from off earth. Asteroid mining by remotely controlled robots, for instance.

    Yet another possibility involves voluntary decrease in the human population. With a population small enough, the limits to growth become manageable.

    Yet another possibility involves a Malthusian dieoff, almost certainly concentrated in the Third World. The developed world won’t be severely impacted by a doubling or tripling of current global food prices or by dramatic reduction in water supplies, since food prices today are lower in the developed world than in the 1970s when corrected for inflation, and most fresh water in the developed world is actually used for industrial processes rather than human consumption. But the Third World would be devastated by sharp increases in current food prices and decreases in available water supplies.

    A Malthusian dieoff of much of the Third World would impact the developed world, albeit tangentially. The most important impacts would be economic (loss of markets for goods and services, loss of cheap production for those goods and services) and epidemiological (tens of millions of the world’s poorest peasants jammed into refugee camps offer an ideal breeding ground for pandemics, and courtesy of international jet travel, pandemics can now spread around the world in a matter of days). The CDC and international Red Cross have developed rapid response measures using computers, the internet, and networks of doctors worldwide to identify and quarantine victims of such pandemics, and automated database-controlled systems are now in place to effect global quarantines in the event of another Spanish Flu- or H5N1-type outbreak. So the developed world is probably not in much danger of a mass dieoff.

    It seems evident from these scenarios that the most viable outcome involves a global change from the current form of exponential-growth capitalism based on exploiting new resources into a zero-growth fully renewable-resource social-economic organization of society. Various scholars have already explored zero-growth economic systems, and find that they don’t necessarily entail a descent into global poverty, provided that we change from the existing social-economic organization of capitalism into some new method of social-economic organization. In particular, see Tim Jackson’s book Prosperity Without Growth, 2009.

    Science fiction writers like Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks have also explored post-capitalist societies. See the books “The Cassini Division” and “The Stone Canal” and especially “Newton’s Wake” by MacLeod, and “The Player of Games,” “Use of Weapons” and “Surface Detail” by Iain Banks.

    Is it possible that wild and totally unanticipated new technologies will render projections like 1972s Limits to Growth obsolete?

    Possible but unlikely. In the 40 years since the original series of projections, none of the blue-sky technologies bruited about over the last 70 years have come to fruition as workable practical industrial-level infrastructure. While FM claims that the Bussard fusion system is far advanced beyond Philo T. Farnsworth’s fusor of the 1930s, the blunt fact remains that both systems are identical in respect of their inability to generate more energy output than input. Likewise, despise all the impressive-sounding plans to build space elevators, genetically engineer organisms, and so on, the brutal reality remains that no material known has sufficient tensile strength to support a space elevator and even if it did, the engineering technology today does not exist to build the 30-mile-tall tower required to anchor it; likewise, our current knowledge of genomics does not even allow us to create a vaccine for a simple virus like HIV, much less usefully rewrite the genome of an organism as complex as homo sapiens or varietals like corn or wheat to radically change their properties in useful ways (as, for instance, in creating a plant that could synthesize high-grade petroleum using photosynthesis).

    John Horgan has dealt with the root causes of this technological and scientific plateau in his book The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age,” 1997, while Tyler Cowen has dealt with the implications of this scientific-technological sigmoid curve in his e-book “The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better,” 2011.

    Cowen writes:

    America is in disarray and our economy is failing us. (..) Median wages have risen only slowly since the 1970s, and this multi-decade stagnation is not yet over. By contrast, the living standards of earlier generations would double every few decades. (..) How did we get into this mess? Imagine a tropical island where the citrus and bananas hang from the trees. Low-hanging literal fruit — you don’t even have to cook the stuff. In a figurative sense, the American economy has enjoyed lots of low-hanging fruit since at least the seventeenth century: free land; immigrant labor; and powerful new technologies. Yet during the last forty years, that low-hanging fruit started disappearing and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are barer than we would like to think. That’s it. That is what has gone wrong. The problem won’t be solved overnight, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

    Horgan doesn’t really mean the end of science — his book title is facetious. What his book points out is that there are a limited number of basic forces and consequently profound fundamental laws of nature organizing the universe, and we’ve discovered the most important features of the most important ones already. Science will continue, knowledge will increase, and new technologies will appear, but they are unlikely to represent the kind of enormous leap in capabilities represented by (for example) Pasteur’s germ theory or Einstein’s relativity (which unlocked nuclear power). When we look at the increase in power generation over human history, we see an exponential-looking curve until we get to nuclear power, at which point the growth stops. For the last 80 years, no one has suggested a practical energy source more potential than nuclear power, and there exists no scientific theory on the horizon which would provide an inkling of any such power source. String “theory,” even if it pans out, only operates at energies so great that there is no practical way to generate such conditions: even a particle accelerate the size of our galaxy wouldn’t provide enough energy to create conditions under which string “theory” would operate in ways we can scientifically test. Likewise, supersonic and hypersonic (this latter term refers to Mach number 5 and beyond) has proven technologically and financially impractical, for a variety of simple practical reasons, including the fact that air resistance increases as the fourth power of Mach number once you enter the hypersonic regime, that at high Reynolds numbers aerodynamic instability becomes uncontrollable, that the melting point of existing materials is reached well under Mach 20, and so on.

    None of these conclusions or projections fits FM’s description of “gloom and doom,” so it is pointless to respond to FM’s remarks in that regard. The Limits to Growth and associated projections and more recent studies suggest that the world is going to undergo a tremendous change in its economic-social arrangements within the next 60 to 80 years. But that is already apparent to most people from data like the end of large-scale land wars since 1945, due not only to the introduction of nuclear weapons but also, as historian Martin van Creveld has pointed out, as a result of the exponential increase in cost, lethality and complexity in conventional weaponry. Fuel-air munitions, for example, currently exceed the Hiroshima bomb in blast overpressure, yet use only conventional explosives. Global decreases in violence over the last 70 years, the enormous increase in education worldwide, and other trends, along with the final collapse of utopian social-engineering schemes like Marxist-Leninist historical-determinist communism, augur vast changes in our current social-economic arrangements. This is only as we would expect, since the social-economic arrangements which define our societies today (including capitalism as it currently exists, nation-states, conscription-based mass land armies, surface navies, one-to-many communications systems like conventional radio and TV networks and movie studios) were formed in the immediate postwar period when current technologies and current social and economic trends did not exist.

    So, ironically, the conclusions of these various studies pretty much converge in the largest sense on what FM has been saying, despite his vehement protest against what these various studies say. Namely, that the social-economic methods of organization since 1945 are due for some very large transformations. The transformations are unlikely to be catastrophic worldwide, but will probably affect some parts of the world (particularly the poorest and most uneducated parts of the third world, such as sub-Saharan Africa) much more than the best-education and wealthiest parts of the world (the little tigers in Asia like Singapore and Thailand, North America/Europe, etc).

    “For 50 years literature has been accumulating pointing out the contradiction between the pursuit of economic growth and ecological sustainability, although this has had negligible impact on economic theory or practice. A few, notably Herman Daly (2008), have continued to attempt to get the notion of a steady-state economy onto the agenda but it has only been in the last few years that discussion has begun to gain momentum. Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth(200) has been widely recognised, there is now a substantial European ”De-growth” movement (Latouche, 2007), and CASSE (2010) has emerged.

    “The argument in this paper is that the implications of a steady-state economy have not been understood at all well, especially by its advocates. Most proceed as if we can and should eliminate the growth element of the present economy while leaving the rest more or less as it is. It will be argued firstly that this is not possible, because this is not an economy which has growth; it is a growth-economy, a system in which most of the core structures and processes involve growth. If growth is eliminated then radically different ways of carrying out many fundamental processes will have to be found. Secondly, the critics of growth typically proceed as if it is the only or the primary or the sufficient thing that has to be fixed, but it will be argued that the major global problems facing us cannot be solved unless several fundamental systems and structures within consumer-capitalist society are radically remade. What is required is much greater social change than Western society has undergone in several hundred years.”

    Source: “The Radical Implications of Zero-Growth Economics,” Ted Trainer, University of New South Wales, Australia, Real World Economics Review, Issue 57, 6 September 2011.

    • 7 June 2012 5:23 am

      (1) Moore,

      Your comments have become far too long. Comments should be a few hundred words. They are comments, not lectures. WordPress tracking shows near-zero clicks on long comments (long being 1/3 the length of yours above). List as many references as you like, and leave it to the reader to pursue them.

      If you have that much to say, open your own blog. You can post links at other websites (such as here) where topical.

      (2) “Stating that the human race is currently beyond the carrying capacity of planet earth is not “complete doom and gloom.” ”

      Doom or not, that’s not a very meaningful statement. First, the carrying capacity is a variable — dependent on many factors, with tech the largest. Second, we’re already into demographic collapse as fertility drops below replacement in nation after nation. It’s not clear how far it will fall. The population will peak roughly 2050, then begin what looks to be a long slide. If places like Southern Europe and Japan will become typical, then people of the 22nd century might worry about boosting fertility to stabilize the population crash — perhaps in a world with a theoretical carrying capacity of a hundred billion.

      (3) About the Club of Rome report and resource scarcity

      See Recovering lost knowledge about exhaustion of the Earth’s resources (such as Peak Oil), 27 January 2011.

    • 7 June 2012 5:56 pm

      Moore,

      I don’t think anyone here is doubting what you are saying. I think we all fully understand the severity of our situation, but we have never had a crisis large enough in the past to push us into action. Now that that time is here, time will tell how we choose to act and all actions – whether considered good or bad – have both positive and negative feedbacks.

      Another problem is that you can never get everyone to be on the same page as you. No matter how hard you try. We’re all different: we all want different things, we all have different ideas of what is utopia, we all have seperate likes and dislikes, different ideas. There’s no way to know how things are going to turn out.

      But on the bright side, with your knowledge you can start your own small steady-state community when things get bad enough and “be the change you want to see” as they say. I think it’s so important to lead by example, otherwise we’re just shouting nonsense!

    • 8 June 2012 3:01 am

      “but we have never had a crisis large enough in the past to push us into action.”

      I disagree. The Civil War? The Great Depression, followed by WWI? Threat of atomic war during the Cold War?

      The difference is that now, unlike then, we’re a bunch of whiney drama queens. Every day brings something new so that we (or that part of the population) wets their pants. Fortunately over time a large part of the citizenry appears to be re-building its immunity to cartoonish exaggerations.

  17. 7 June 2012 6:22 pm

    My all time favorite quote from the FM website:

    “People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!”
    the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences”

    This is the best bullshit filter/detector I have found. When Ideas are placed ahead of people, we call that Totalitarianism. When both ideas and hardware are placed ahead of people we call that Totalitarian Fascism. Please re-read these comments with this in mind. There is no escape from Boyd’s order(ing). Our response to reality must not trump Boyd’s iron rule, no matter how bad reality gets. You either believe this or you don’t. No widjing. No hedging. No compromise! If you don’t embrace Boyd’s law, you are not just silly, you are evil. The Global Warming crowd scares me to death in this regard. The “technology is not keeping up with our problems” crowd is also just getting ready to pull a “and so…”, followed by moving hardware up in priority over ideas and even people. At the end of the day, even the Earth is hardware.

    • 7 June 2012 1:40 am

      Really nicely said. Colonel Boyd would approve, I believe.

    • 8 June 2012 12:37 am

      This is horrible. Right from your first four sentences you put a filter onto the reader’s mind (or a narrow focus may be better)! <—–kidding

      Nonetheless I followed your experiment and don't quite see what you were getting at. What's your conclusion? That climate changer supporters see people last and hardware and ideas first and so they are inherenly evil?

  18. 8 June 2012 2:37 am

    People is us. Ideas are like rule of law, the constitution, capitalism, free markets, the ideas and ideals we choose to live by in a republic, or which are imposed upon us by a tyrant or a plutocracy.

    Hardware is everything else including corporations, banks, their assets, our houses, money in retirement accounts, and so on. Hardware is wealth broadly defined.

    When times get tough like now, it’s often offered that the people can give up their primacy or their ideals in return for wealth preservation. There are a million ways to cloak the offer in nonsense about how our problems stem from us having too much freedom to consume, to travel, to associate, the list is endless.

    Look around you. Banks and bankers are well along the path of superceding capitalism. TSA is helping inhibit freedom of motion. The constitution is in tatters in the name of security. Trust me, as things get worse the offers to help us rearrange Boyd’s priorities will multiply but always will be cloaked in pseudo science, or some other self serving mumbo jumbo. They’re just trying to help you know.

  19. 8 June 2012 6:57 pm

    so just maybe the peak resource and climate change science is a quiet coup set up by special interest groups (banks, corporations)?

    That seems very difficult to keep quiet. And if correct, seriously terrifying!

    Or is it more like these ideas kind of just sprouted up because they finally found an audience and money is to be made from it? Or maybe they do (perhaps foolishly) believe in what they are saying, but fail to see the wider picture?

    Sorry about all the questions, but I’m still fairly new to understanding the underlying causes of this crisis and everything we’re losing in the name of it – not to mention I’m fairly young with only an associates in Criminal Justice. not at all an excuse: I’m just trying to understand as much as I can in order to make better decisions. My future depends on it. Plus I don’t find many people my age concerned about these things.

    • 8 June 2012 9:48 pm

      “so just maybe the peak resource and climate change science is a quiet coup”

      That’s absurd, on several levels.

      Peak resources is a certainty; although we don’t know when (too many variables and unknowns). But peaking does not mean “running out”. Over time it need not have a large effect on society, esp if (as seems likely) population drops in the 2nd half of the 21st century.

      Climate has ALWAYS changed. Such changes have been a major driver of evolution and (over shorter time horizons) of human history. It’s cutting edge science, and as such (as always) the realm of confident guessing. Immature models, short-duration and uncertain accuracy data sets. Given the investments being made in these sciences (albeit in an uncoordinate and sloppy manner), much of this will all become clearer during the next decade. All we know for sure is that the sea levels have been rising at a steady rate for thousands of years, and global temperature has been warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the early 19th century. These trends provide as yet no basis for alarm.

      State of the art models provide a basis for alarm, but these have not been tested to the level usually required for serious public policy decisions. Indeed they’ve not been tested to the degree the FDA requires for a new drug to treat stomach aches.

    • 8 June 2012 9:49 pm

      To learn more about climate change issues, I recommend these FM Reference Pages:

  20. 8 June 2012 7:13 pm

    Savor Boyd’s proposition. Turn the implications of what he is saying over in your own mind. I can’t force you to understand, but eventually you will either understand and agree with Boyd, or not. These are confusing times, and there are many who seek to benefit from your confusion. Free. Your. Mind.

  21. 8 June 2012 11:37 pm

    I get it. I get it. I understand all of this about peak resources and climate change.Why are you trying to confuse me by bringing up this Boyd fella when I agree with y’all (peter and Fabius) for the most part.

    Sheeesh!

  22. 14 June 2013 10:55 am

    I needed to thank you for this excellent read!
    ! I certainly loved every bit of it. I have you book-marked to look at new
    stuff you post…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,181 other followers

%d bloggers like this: