The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label catastrophe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label catastrophe. Show all posts

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Post for the New Year: Do we Still have a Chance to Avoid Collapse?

The article below is an attempt to propose (once more) to the general public the main results of "The Limits to Growth" study of 1972. It is a brief text that appeared in a major Italian newspaper (Il Fatto Quotidiano) on Dec 30, 2022. The limits of length of these articles are, typically, under 800 words, so I had to be extremely synthetic (for an in-depth assessment, see our recent book, "Limits and Beyond"). Mainly, I was curious to see how people would react to my rather blunt statements. 

One good thing about "Il Fatto" is that there is no censorship on comments (except for extreme cases) and so people are free to express themselves as they like, including insulting the authors of the articles ("Liar!" "Idiot!" "Snake Oil Seller!"). As I said in a previous post, I listen to everyone and I trust no one. So, even the most rabid and insulting comments are a chance to grok somethingFor this article, as for many others on "Il Fatto," I received personal attacks because I am too catastrophistic, and also because I am not catastrophistic enough. Some comments are nearly completely incomprehensible and, as usual, people tend to take refuge in impossible nuclear dreams. But I received also a few comments from people who seem to have understood how things stand. We'll see how the debate evolves, for the time being, I am reporting a few translated comments after the main text. 

Happy new year, everybody! 

2022 has been a difficult year for climate and energy. But there is still some hope

Di Ugo Bardi -30 Dec 2022

The year 2022 was a year of great transformation and great difficulty. To assess what lies ahead in the coming year, we might start with the fact that 2022 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of the 1972 study The Limits to Growth. It was not a prophecy, but an analysis of current trends. It said that, if nothing changed, we could expect the beginning of an irreversible decline of the world economy in the first decades of the 21st century. The result of the combined effect of natural resource depletion and pollution.

These are phenomena that occur over a multi-decade span, but the events of 2022 are in line with the trajectory already outlined 50 years ago. Today, the "World System" looks like one of those old cars that loses parts all over the place, consumes fuel like a truck, and pollutes like a coal-fired power plant. In addition, the mechanics not only do not know how to fix it, but they spend their time fighting each other.

We are in trouble on all fronts, first and foremost with fossil fuels. After the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, production showed some recovery, but only a partial one. As for natural gas, Europeans had become accustomed to cheap Russian gas, and this year they got a nasty surprise. Replacing Russian gas will not be easy, and surely the costs of liquefied natural gas are much higher. Not to mention the costs of the infrastructure needed to handle it. And let's say nothing about coal, which is expensive, impractical, and polluting. As for nuclear power, the costs are truly out of this world. It is discussed seriously only where dictatorial governments can afford to embark on expensive and uncertain ventures.

Then there is agriculture, for which fossil fuels are needed for fertilizer and all production operations. At present, the world's agricultural production is fairly stable, but prices are rising everywhere. This is putting the poorest in dire straits. According to FAO data, we are close to having one billion hungry people, and the numbers are growing. In parallel, the growth of the world population has seen a remarkable slowdown. Globally, it is still growing but, if current trends continue, in a few years we may see the beginning of an irreversible decline. On this point, The Limits to Growth was even too optimistic, proposing that the human population could continue growing despite the economic downturn.

About climate, The Limits to Growth saw climate change (part of the general pollution problem) playing a major role only after the beginning of the collapse of the economic system. It may be that, even in this area, the analysis was correct. For the time being, climate change caused regional disasters, rather than global catastrophes. That does not mean we can ignore the problem. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to increase and, with it, the earth's temperature. At the same time, no one seems to care about doing anything serious about it anymore, as seen with this year's Cop27.

In short, we are in bad shape. It certainly seems that The Limits to Growth was even more prophetic than its creators themselves expected.

But there are also positive findings that the 50-year-old study could not account for. One is the discovery that the Earth's ecosystem can have an important cooling effect on climate. Not that this will get us off the hook but, if we treat both forests and marine ecosystems better, we can do something good to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. Another positive factor is the disruptive growth of renewable energy, which today has such low prices that it has no competitors.

If we can get a few decades of peace, perhaps even just one or two, we can expect solar and wind power to replace most fossil fuel energy production. By coupling renewables with higher efficiency of use, we could greatly reduce the problems of both energy availability and emissions.

Can we do it? Maybe we can. And if we work at it, the most pessimistic scenarios of the Limits to Growth will not come true. So happy new year to all!


Some examples of comments (translated from Italian)

From "Diomedes01" (insults)

The usual idiocies of the end of the year! The author is not an ecologist but an anti-nuclear and is willing to write baloney. The IEA wrote that the most economical energy ever is nuclear energy in any way you count! Instead the author says it is the most expensive when the most expensive are renewables that are made competitive by excluding from costs more or less everything! At the end of the day for the author better fossil and gas than nuclear and we talk about green transition! Ha ha ha.

From "Cortisol0" (nearly completely incomprehensible)

... If we are to have any hope people like you must be relieved of the social role you have, as you of how to solve this crisis from innate human behaviors incompatible with having developed science and technology that combined in tools=machines allow you to release and apply monstrous amounts of energy modifying both the natural energy flow, and the ecosystem, you will never admit it, as it is to develop precisely science and technology claiming endless growth, that the current environmental disaster is being produced and it is only possible with your PRIMARY contribution and denying that it is the fault of this combined conjugate because you are the most guilty of all and once it emerged you would be immediately prosecuted popularly for it and your career and life would be irremediably ruined, while the state and its power demand more and more science and power for weapons and social control, so you pretend to seek a solution when the solution as the initial act is to eliminate this dynamic you are part of with the state.

From "MarcoMx" (good understanding of the matter)

"One is the discovery that the Earth's ecosystem can have an important cooling effect on climate." I'll bet a coffee on that. The planet will not watch unresponsive to our stupidity, it will find a way to cool itself, plants and greenery we are late in defending will grow them themselves. If, however, in the equation we were able to bring the war factor, including armaments and related costs, to zero, or almost zero, the equation would become solvable without much difficulty. We would have much more resources for everything, hunger, energy transition, and pollution. By the way, the popularizers of the climate crisis almost never talk about the burden of weapons and wars (to think the worst...). But one only has to look at the figures to see that it is decisive, over $2 TRILLION each year.  If we fail to do this, well then all the consequent problems we deserve, including eventual extinction. In that case, we would be left with billions of cell phones full of the latest selfies ... the aliens who find them after thousands of years will come to the inevitable conclusion, "What a cocksucker civilization."

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Europe: How to Become Poor Peasants Again


"Les Glaneuses"  (the gleaners). A painting by Francois Millet (1857). Is this the destiny of the people of Western Europe?

All wars are wars for resources and, in modern times, they have been mostly for the resources that make the very existence of our civilization possible: fossil fuels. We all know how during WWII the attempt of the Germans to subdue the Soviet Union failed when they could not take control of the oil resources of the Caucasus. More recently, after President Carter declared that the oil resources of the Middle East are a "vital interest" for the United States (the "Carter Doctrine"), no one was surprised by the numerous wars and bombing campaigns waged by the US in the region. 

Sometimes, though, the role of fossil fuels in wars is more subtle than just someone trying to steal someone else's resources. Wars may not be a question of scarcity but of abundance. That may be the case of the war in Ukraine that we can interpret as a direct result of the impact of "fracking" in the United States. During the past 10 years or so, the development of fracking led to a reversal of the static or declining production trend of fossil fuels that had been ongoing in the US for about 40 years. 

The result was that American producers could reappear in the global market as exporters of both oil and gas. A potentially lucrative area where to expand was Western Europe. The problem was that the European market was in the hands of Russian producers, who had established a network of pipelines that could export natural gas at low prices to Europe. "Liquefied natural gas" (LNG) from the US just could not be competitive with pipeline gas because of the costs of liquefaction, transport, and regasification. 

In the manuals of economics it is said that, in a free market, the cheaper product always wins against the more expensive one. In the real world, though, markets are far from being free. As any mafia boss can tell you, the cocaine market is not just a question of prices: you have to defend your turf. And not just that: sometimes, you can expand the area you control by friendly (or not-so-friendly) interactions with neighboring competitors. That's sometimes called "arm-twisting," but it may involve much more drastic and painful methods than just dislocating a shoulder. Similar considerations hold for fossil fuels, a market in which states normally behave exactly like mafia families. 

During the past few months, we saw a case of a not-so-friendly interaction aimed at expelling Russia from the natural gas market in Europe. The war in Ukraine is mostly a sideshow: the real thing is the market of natural gas, and the critical point was the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. Whoever did it, sent a clear message to everybody, not unlike placing the severed head of a horse in someone's bed: the European gas market is now the turf of another mafia family. 

That does not mean that Russian exports of gas to Europe will immediately cease. Completely replacing the Russian gas would require increasing the exports from the US to Europe by about a factor of 10. Maybe not impossible, and other gas-supplying countries may step in to help. But it is not something that can be done in a short time. You can see the situation in the graphs, below. The EU states import some 150 billion m3 of gas from Russia and only about 15 from the US. The US has a total export of more than 100 billion m3, but most of it goes to Canada and Mexico via pipelines. 

(images courtesy of Giuseppina Ranalli)

Hopefully, Russia will not stop sending gas to Europe using the existing pipelines. Then, a strong push toward renewable energy may help Europeans a lot. But the market is likely to behave exactly the way they say it should in the textbooks: a situation of scarcity leads to higher prices. In other words, with Europe desperate to get enough gas, producers are going to have a great time. Don't expect them to be kind to the poor Europeans: why should they be? Mafias are not supposed to be charitable institutions. 

So, in the coming years, we are looking at a situation of both scarcity and high prices of gas in Europe. That will have consequences. Many European citizens, especially the poor, will have to stay in the dark and in the cold this winter, and for several winters in the future. And there will be no European leader who will declare that the European lifestyle is "not up for negotiations," as President Bush 1st said about the American lifestyle. Can you imagine Ms. von der Leyen, the never-elected president of the never-elected European Commission, saying something like that? So, the lifestyle of European citizens is going to go down the drain, and perhaps it was unavoidable that it would, one day or another. But the real question is: will the European industrial system survive the high prices of energy? 

That's not obvious at all, and the Americans may soon discover that they killed the hen whose eggs they wanted. With energy prices five to ten times higher than before, European products may not be competitive any longer in the global market. That implies the collapse of the European industrial system and the return of the continent to the agricultural economy of a couple of centuries ago. It would be a return of the old "Morgenthau Plan" that aimed at doing exactly that to Germany after that WWII was over: destroying Germany's industrial economy and starving to death a large fraction of the German population. If something similar were to happen in Europe nowadays, that would also imply a certain reduction in the European population but, hey, I already noted how mafias are not supposed to be charitable organizations! And, as Ms. Victoria Nuland clearly explained to us not long ago, who cares about Europeans? They were peasants, once, so let those who survive return to tilling fields. 

Below, an article that I recently published in the Italian newspaper "Il Fatto Quotidiano" 

From the "Fatto Quotidiano" of 29 September 2022 (slightly modified)

by Ugo Bardi

The convulsive events on the global geopolitical scene continue to take us by surprise. What is behind the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline? We can't say who did it, but one thing is certain: the conflict we are seeing is a war for resources much more than it is a warring war. To understand what is happening, we need to go back in time to find the roots of the current situation. 

In the book "Sea and Sardinia" (1921), DH Lawrence tells us how a favorite subject in the conversations among Italians was insulting the English. It was because English coal had become expensive, something that the Italians attributed to the wickedness of the English. The term "Perfidious Albion" had been invented a long time before but was beginning to become fashionable at that time. 

The history of English coal in Italy illustrates the factors still at play in the functioning of the Italian economy today. Italian industry needs energy, but there are not enough fossil energy resources in Italy to support a functioning industrial system. Thus, the industrial revolution arrived in Italy in the 19th century brought by English coal, imported by sea. But, with the end of the First World War, British coal had suddenly become much more expensive than before. It wasn't because the British were perfidious (maybe a little, but no worse than many others), it was because of depletion. As the British economist William Jevons predicted decades earlier, the costs of coal mining were rising and investments falling. As a consequence, the British coal production reached its peak in 1914, and then it began an irreversible decline. In the 1930s, coal shortages forced Italy into a deadly embrace with Germany - which could still produce it at low prices. We all know the results. 

Having emerged half-destroyed from the Second World War, the Italian industry was able to rebuild itself thanks to the US oil provided by the Marshall Plan. Even for oil, however, depletion had to be felt sooner or later. In 1970, the United States reached its production peak. The first major "oil crisis" followed, but the global market could offset the decline with other sources. Meanwhile, natural gas was rapidly becoming a low-cost alternative to oil. Gradually, Europe turned to import gas from Russia via pipelines. With this relatively low-cost gas, the Italian industrial system could survive.

In the last 10 years, however, things have changed dramatically. With the technology of "fracking", the United States has managed to reverse the decline in its production of both gas and oil. As a result, they have re-entered the world market as exporters. This explains many things: the oil and gas market is strategic in the great game of world domination and, in this game, there are no rules. Pushing Russia out of the Western European market makes it possible for the American industry to take back a market they had long lost. That's what's happening. The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline is a signal that Europe will have to live without Russian gas, one day or another. 

And now? In this global strategy game, everything is always changing. It is true that imports from the United States are now able to replace Russian gas in Europe, at least in part. But it is also true that importing natural gas from the US is only possible in the form of liquid natural gas and this involves high costs, as well as a heavy contribution to global warming due to the inevitable losses in the process. To this, we should add a fundamental unknown: how long will the United States be able to maintain its production at the levels needed to supply Europe? 

Fracking has been seen as a miracle technology, but it isn't. As always, forecasts are difficult, but we can be sure of one thing: no mineral resource is infinite and sooner or later we will face the peak of fracking gas. And it all starts all over again with the frantic search for energy to keep the industrial society alive. 

In Italy, we are in a position of extreme weakness. We lack the infrastructure (regasifiers) necessary to import liquefied gas. We can build them, but it will take time and, meanwhile, the Italian industry could suffer irreparable damage. It is not certain that when we have regasifiers there will be sufficient gas available to import. Not only that, but the Italian industry could find itself not competitive in the world market if it has to bear the high costs of liquid natural gas. In both cases, we could be facing the end of the industrial cycle of the Italian economy, about two centuries after its beginning. The problem is that, before the industrial revolution, there were fewer than 20 million inhabitants in Italy and famines were not uncommon. 

It seems clear that for us there are no other ways out than a decisive shift toward renewables, already today much cheaper than fossil fuels and capable of completely replacing them. Politicians have not yet understood this, but moving to renewables would protect us from new crises of energy availability and from blackmail by producers. But it's not something that can be done overnight. Only a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine would give us the time needed to build a new infrastructure based on renewables. Can we make it? Nothing prevents us from trying. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Four Scenarios for a Catastrophic Future (part II)

This is the second part of the series of posts by "Rutilius Namatianus" (RN) that re-examines the 4 scenarios of the future proposed by David Holmgren in 2009 (first part). 

 In general, you may find that RN's interpretations are rather extreme, but I do believe that there is some method in the overall madness of the current situation and that the post may correctly identify some of of the reasons why we are here. You will also notice that RN is "not convinced" that Anthropogenic Global Warming is real. I disagree with this position, but I felt that this post was worth publishing nevertheless. If nothing else as evidence of how fast the prestige of science is collapsing, by now more or less at the same level as that of the cult of the Spaghetti Monster. 

Overall, RN argues that we have moved into the scenario that Holmgren called the "Brown Tech" scenario, where the ruling elites have decided that the way to go is to concentrate all the remaining resources for their use, while the commoners are left in the cold. RN describes this scenario as "a totalitarian monster gripping power through a pervasive surveillance and police state, and the majority of the population pressed into poverty and dependence." Enjoy this post!

 By Rutilius Namatianus


Ten years after the financial collapse of 2008, it was surprising that the 'establishment' had managed to hang on to control of the situation with increasingly outlandish financial manipulations. Behind the scenes though, we must also acknowledge that they only managed to pull of this magic trick because they also had a huge networked surveillance-and-control system that they expanded at top speed after the crisis. 

This period saw the proliferation of laws and regulations all designed to trap peoples finances in an elaborate electronic fun-house where there is no stable measure of anything. the proliferation of automatic collection of data, recording of every last transaction, reporting into centralized databases automatically of everything people do, and an increasingly arbitrary and opaque (and violent) system of punishment for anything 'suspicious' or 'out of the ordinary.' It cowed most of the population of the developed world into a kind of nervous submission. 

In the less developed world, we saw a huge upsurge in violence, disorder, and general upheaval as people do not accept even deeper poverty with acquiescence. It is telling that in the West the tablet-generation of people glued to small portable media devices all their waking lives has coincided with them being docile enough to accept these extreme measures of fraud which have kept the wheels on (if wobbling) the cart ten years after the big crash hit. This might well be by now a critical component of the control system and any interruption or degradation of it or its effectiveness could lead to chaos in the 'West'. So right now, in 2019, we know for sure that we're in Holmgren's 'brown tech' scenario but with a propaganda narrative of 'green tech' as a Potemkin facade. 

As real energy and resources decline, the brown tech power structures have managed to keep selling increased poverty as 'being green' but it's getting tougher to sell this to people as they realize they are getting poorer. The past couple of years have shown some developments: Brexit in Europe, the Visegrad countries resisting the EU migration agenda, led by Hungary's Orban, but echoed in not-yet-majority movements in a half dozen other countries (viz, Italy managed to put Salvini in power for a year before Brussels regained control of Italy and evicted Salvini just this year). We saw the Cyprus bank confiscation and four years of Greek 'bailout agreements' which put the country in receivership with a lapdog government executing all orders from the bankers. This continues today. 

North and West of there, the non-Greek rest of the EU can see what happened and knows they're next on the list. In the US we have the whole story of the Trump presidency. This was something the 'establishment' did not prepare for, and while they have effectively isolated him from his administration to continue the basic life support functions of the 'deep state' in the US, there has been policy stagnation in the US for three years as everything and everyone has become obsessed and preoccupied with a Trump-versus-antitrump polarization. The accompanying breakdown of reality into surrealistic political fantasy in America, with the dominance of identity politics, absolutely everything as 'fake news' and everyone following narratives instead of reality, all around, have kept America, ironically, from really moving further into the totalitarian zone of the brown tech scenario. Three more years of inconclusive wars on fringe territories have led to no real change in geostrategic balances, as the other main contenders are in equally shabby condition and busy propping up their own narratives.

A new angle 

One thing I want to propose now is a modification of Holmgren's mapping. It was pretty clear to many of us back when these scenarios were being worked out (2007-2009) that the 'green tech' future was nothing but fantasy, even then. Holmgren acknowledges that a lot of the debate of these scenarios took place in an excellent forum known as 'The Oil Drum' from the early 2000s to about 2012. By 2012 most of the main contributors and discussants in the Oil Drum had concluded their own ideas about what was going on and were already putting into action their responses, most of which involved changes of career, lifestyle, and so on, and left much less time for talking on forums about it, and meant much more hard work preparing for or dealing with the crisis. That forum is now just kept as an archive. Still, even then, many of us saw 'green tech' style scenarios as fantasy. 

Now, in 2019, it is clear that indeed, green tech was never a realistic prospect. We are already a decade into brown tech. The question is where to from here. Another big factor is the 'climate change' variable. Holmgren took this as fact. Not all of us were so convinced that it was either so serious or so related to human activity. To some of us, the climate changes look more like cycles related to solar activity and orbital aberrations similar to those which brought us the Roman warm period, the early medieval cold period, the medieval warm period, and the little ice age. Beyond that, the timescale of energy and resource decline likely makes any question of climate change irrelevant. Therefore considering this possibility, we might want to rethink the climate axis on Holmgren's map. We might want to replace it with another axis! 

It has been shown that post-2008 the brown tech elites and power structures have managed to hang on to control through increasing use of extreme surveillance and tightly networked instrumentation of more and more of the economy. This intimidates people into submission and also locks them into a tighter loop of dependence- if you will yourself directly starve because your digibit-card gets shut off or stops working, then you feel it and the threat of it immediately and you will sit down and shut up much more readily than if you only know abstractly that if the city burns down in riots, that the supermarkets won't get resupplied next week. It's a weaker connection back to the feedback loop and people are more likely to rebel. And along the gradient to that extreme, if your digibit-card gets nicked by a fine or penalty of basically being subversive or voicing dissent, then you'll keep your mouth shut- viz China's rapid rollout of 'social credit' as a mechanism of automated electronic mass control. This has the potential to ride heavy demand destruction down the decline curve without the elites losing control. 

So it seems first of all that Holmgren's four scenarios are really three - brown tech is the current reality already a decade on, and there is a bifurcation (Holmgren treats this possibility in his paper) between lifeboat and earth steward depending on local conditions. in different places the scenarios coexist. A new fourth scenario might be added which we might call 'mad max,' if it could be even more dystopian and extreme collapse than 'lifeboat'. a major variable in all this would seem to be how long Brown Tech keeps control, and how tightly they manage to clamp down. Thus, Brown Tech already left behind its 'green tech' possibility but still keeps up a facade of 'green tech' and a self-indulgent shiny consumer existence for a portion of the population. This could almost be called a Huxley's scenario. Behind the pleasant facade of Brown Tech is a totalitarian monster gripping power through a pervasive surveillance and police state, and the majority of the population pressed into poverty and dependence- a scenario that could easily be named '1984'. 

It is clear that 'Huxley and '1984' can coexist and one transitions into the other as resources decline. but let's plot a new map based on this thinking: on one axis, we have, as before, resource/energy depletion, slow vs fast. on the other, we have consolidation of power, slow/moderate to fast/total. in the slow depletion, slow/moderate consolidation quadrant, we have a scenario that's Huxley with some 20th-century style fascism and the veneer of civilization, with a future of staircase type catabolic decline into one of the other scenarios depending on which one goes sooner, energy or control. This is Holmgren's Brown Tech scenario with a nice face. 

In the slow depletion, fast/total control quadrant, we have the ugly face of Brown Tech, which I've called 'brown tech apotheosis'. This can hang on as long as it keeps the resource depletion variable above some threshold limits. On the fast depletion, slow/moderate control quadrant, we have Holmgren's Lifeboat scenario. Power doesn't manage to consolidate, and resource limits break things down into wars, chaos, and finally a low complexity lifeboat world. On the fast depletion, fast/total control quadrant, we have a period of 1984 which transforms into more or less worldwide war, and then as the wars burn out, leave behind a condition I've called 'mad max'. This is a very bleak and ugly version of the Lifeboat scenario. 

Actually, Mad max, Lifeboat, and Earth steward are all along an axis depending on local conditions, as terminal points of the chain of evolution of these scenarios (extinction is also a point on this axis, even though further beyond mad max). It seems the main variables that distinguish earth steward, lifeboat, mad max, and extinction, are local conditions (environment, climate, population salvageable resources, etc), plus the trajectory which was followed to get there through the previous map- a trajectory through 1984 and WW3 is more likely to terminate in mad max or extinction, whereas a trajectory through lifeboat might lead to enclaves of earth steward. It is looking as if much of the Third World and the US are going through worse conditions now, but will avoid some of the worst later, for example.

Thus, it is useful to try to figure out not only where we are on this map but what path we have been following and how it might evolve further, acknowledging that not every part of the world is following exactly the same trajectory. So we can also try to follow different futures for different regions. It does seem clear that before the 2005-2008 time of peak net energy, there had been in force a long trend toward tighter integration of the global economy. Thus, it is useful to consider all regions more or less as starting in the same spot circa 2005 and plot their divergence since then. 



First, let's try to see if we can get a better understanding of where we are along the depletion axis. This at least should be easier to observe and quantify than the consolidation of the control axis. We know that in 2005 our scenario begins somewhere in the 'Huxley' quadrant near the left side of the depletion axis. We know (as we suspected years back) that the recent bumps in oil/gas production and plateau maintenance of coal production have been ever lower quality resources with lower net energy and steeper decline profiles in time. We don't know if we have already crossed the middle of the map with respect to depletion but we can be pretty sure we're close to it if not over it. 

We also know that absent some unpredictable step function down in production (due to some one-off natural phenomenon like an earthquake, or to some out of band event like a war), that the decline profile will be messy but accelerating downward over a period of a couple decades. We could easily already be some years into that and just on a bump- or we might have another fifteen or twenty years to go before the bottom falls out. 

So what else do we know? We know that in 2008 we fell off peak energy and have been sliding downward for eleven years. We also know that at the time the power elites of the Huxley/brown-tech-with-a-nice-face scene, managed through increasingly extreme distortions, to keep control. The rapidity of those measures is definitely a step function type of move, so we are pretty sure we took the step out of the Huxley quadrant in 2008/2009 down into the 1984 quadrant. There is still plenty of nuance in that quadrant and most of us reading this on a computer screen are living in the Huxley zone that, while shrinking, coincides with a growing 1984 zone as parts of the same general 'establishment'. We know that 2016-2019 saw a lot of bumpy resistance to the further consolidation of control, but also saw successful responses and regaining of control by power elites in many areas. We know that now in 2019, as well as in 2010 or 2015, we were further along the depletion axis than we were in 2008 and that this is basically monotonic in time. We wont find any new resources or high-quality energy sources from here on out.

We haven't yet fallen into world war 3 (apparently), so we're still in the Huxley/1984 mix, with the Huxley component bleeding out and the 1984 cauldron waiting to collect all who fall through the cracks in the Huxley facade. And yet, wherever the brown tech/1984 steamroller has not managed to erect such an effective electronic prison, we can see massive increases in riots, chaos, violence, etc, over the past decade. That's characteristic of world war type scenarios even if it's not organized military units fighting organized campaigns.

Not to mention that the past decade has seen more of the earth's surface and population caught up in organized military violence as well. So we're somewhere between 1984 and ww3 with some Huxley on top for those still living the comfortable life. We see some major bifurcation points ahead: the last round of crazy finance manipulation and twilight-zone measures like negative interest rates and financial
markets that only go up on exponentially exploding debt numbers, all the insane measures taken in the past decade, seem to be running out of gas. New injections of imaginary digibit money have less of an effect on markets than previous injections and the effects don't last as long. People are figuring out that they're poorer and even in the developed world they're getting more restless about it. Challengers to the narrative of the elites are appearing and even managing to gain positions in prominent public office sometimes, though so far the brown tech elites have managed to keep them in check. This hints that if the brown tech elites are going to keep control and keep the scenario in the brown tech apotheosis quadrant of the map, they must up their game- new measures for even more total control. And they are working hard to do so.

Thus one major bifurcation point approaching is the question of how successful will these new measures be? It seems clear that these measures will largely involve electronic and computerized technologies- surveillance, instrumentation, automation, and centralization of processes to insert a control mechanism into the loop of execution of even simple routine actions. It's an electronic panopticon prison for the whole world, something which many people (criticized by the mass media as cranks, weirdos, conspiracy theorists, or nutjobs) have been yammering about for years. And yet that's the only real option for the elites to keep control. 

They cant control the depletion axis, that's physics driving that dimension. They can slow down the progress along that axis only be destroying resource demand, which means making people poorer or reducing their number (or a combination of the two). While an extreme version of this might be a mass-extermination of most of the human population to allow an elite to live richly for centuries yet to come in some techno-enhanced prolongation of the Huxley scenario, this is an absurdly unlikely trajectory fraught with too many real engineering problems to be realistic. Not that the elites of the brown tech world couldn't accomplish the kill-off of billions, that's a technically feasible move, but rather that they wouldn't be able to keep up a technological empire afterward. They would merely instead transition rapidly and sharply through a world-war-3 phase into the mad max with enclaves of an especially evil lifeboat scenario, some of which would be whatever remained of those elites. 

Thus it seems clear that all trajectories ultimately lead monotonically to the right and eventually either down to (near-?) extinction or, even if they bow deeply down through mad max, ultimately curve back up into lifeboat. So some combination of population decline and increased poverty, though, can prolong the elite's hold on a brown-tech/Huxley scenario, and this seems obvious to be their main focus. The equal amount of noise about the evil lurking beneath the surface of trends like the UN 'agenda 21' and other such forces, while they might sound like far-out conspiracy theories would actually fit perfectly with an effort to hang on to a brown-tech Huxley/1984 hybrid world as long as possible, with the Huxley fragment keeping control. 

However, it is not at all clear how they will manage this next round of measures without also breaking some of the electronic facades that have kept the populations of the developed countries docile thus far. It looks like their aim there instead is to drop the facade and dump the mass of them into 1984 rather swiftly by closing the last loose ends in economic activity, communication, and individual tracking of people's movements 24/7. Once they feel confident they have those pieces in place they can drop the remains of the facade and they will have locked the majority into the 1984 scenario, which can continue for perhaps even a decade or more before it melts down into mad max. 

That's a scary proposition for anyone alive right now, because it would mean most of the rest of his life would be lived through such a scenario. Another bifurcation question is in the world war direction- will for example the widening rift between the US and China turn more hostile and end up in a hot war? will it percolate into more proxy wars in the third world? Cold war? How rapidly will it move in that direction? In some aspects, the map and our experience hint to us that we're already in WW3, it just doesn't look like any world war we've seen before. Further refinements can be attempted at drawing trajectories, for smaller regions, by trying to identify local conditions which will influence the bigger trends as the play out in those regions. Let's try to picture what we know or think is a pretty solid guess for some major modern blocs: the US, the EU, the 'third world', and China. (places like Japan and Australia go largely with the US in this picture). 

The future will be examined in the next installment of this series of posts.