Collapse is a complex and controversial subject. I found a lack of organized guides for newcomers to the topic and have set out to build my own by cataloging the most relevant individuals, concepts, and resources on the subject into the most effective overview possible.
The content here has been selected through personal research and responses to a survey of those interested or knowledgeable. The trends have become more obvious and I’ve stopped seeking survey submissions, but your feedback (collapse-aware or otherwise) on the content here and how it’s structured is still extremely helpful.
I’m not a writer or researcher, just someone who’s passionate about this subject. A majority of this information was derived directly from Wikipedia or the individual’s or organization’s own websites. My intention has not been to reinvent the wheel or rely exclusively on my own words, but to share the best and most relevant information possible in a clear and concise way. This site will never have advertising or involve any form of affiliate links and is purely for educational purposes.
Overindulging in this material may be detrimental to your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common reactions when studying collapse. Please remain conscious of your mental health and effects this may have on you. If you are considering suicide, please call a hotline or seek professional help. If you are having difficulty coping and looking for dialogue you may visit r/CollapseSupport, the Collapse Discord, or contact me personally. You can also visit with Anne over at DoomerSupport.org or visit one of Dean Walker’s Safe Circle calls.
Collapse, in this context, refers to the significant loss of an established level or complexity towards a much simpler state. It can occur differently within many areas, orderly or chaotically, and be willing or unwilling. It does not necessarily imply human extinction or a singular, global event. Although, the longer the duration, the more it resembles a ‘decline’ instead of collapse.
“By collapse, I mean a drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/social complexity over a considerable area, for an extended time.”
Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)
“Collapse is a broad term that can cover many kinds of processes. It means different things to different people. Some see collapse as a thing that could happen only to societies organized at the most complex level. To them, the notion of tribal societies or village horticulturalists collapsing will seem odd. Others view collapse in terms of economic disintegration, of which the predicted end of industrial society is the ultimate expression.
A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity. The term ‘established level’ is important. To qualify as an instance of collapse a society must have been at, or developing toward, a level of complexity for more than one or two generations.
The collapse, in turn, must be rapid – taking no more than a few decades – and must entail a substantial loss of sociopolitical structure. Losses that are less severe, or take longer to occur, are to be considered cases of weakness and decline. Collapse is manifest in such things as: a lower degree of stratification and social differentiation; less economic and occupational specialization, of individuals, groups, and territories; less centralized control; that is, less regulation and integration of diverse economic and political groups by elites; less behavioral control and regimentation; less investment in the epiphenomena of complexity, those elements that define the concept of ‘civilization’: monumental architecture, artistic and literary achievements, and the like; less flow of information between individuals, between political and economic groups, and between a center and its periphery; less sharing, trading, and redistribution of resources; less overall coordination and organization of individuals and groups; a smaller territory integrated within a single political unit.
Collapse is a general process that is not restricted to any type of society or level of complexity. Complexity in human societies is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Societies vary in complexity along a continuous scale, and any society that increases or decreases in complexity does so along the progression of this scale. There is no point on such a scale at which complexity can be said to emerge. Hunting bands and tribal cultivators experience changes in complexity, either increases or decreases, just as surely as do large nations. Collapse, involving as it does a sudden, major loss of an established level of complexity, must be considered relative to the size of the society in which it occurs. Simple societies can lose an established level of complexity just as do great empires. Sedentary horticulturalists may become mobile foragers, and lose the sociopolitical trappings of village life. A region organized under central chiefly administration may lose this hierarchical umbrella and revert to independent, feuding villages. A group of foragers may be so distressed by environmental deterioration that sharing and societal organization are’ largely abandoned. These are cases of collapse, no less so than the end of Rome, and no less significant for their respective populations. To the extent, moreover, that the collapses of simpler societies can be understood by general principles, they are no less illuminating than the fall of nations and empires. Any explanation of collapse that purports to have general potential should help us to understand the full spectrum of its manifestations, from the simplest to the most complex. This, indeed, is one of the central points and goals of the work. These points made, it should be cautioned that in fact defining collapse is no easy matter. The present discussion may serve to introduce the orientation, but the definition will have to be added to as the work progresses.”
Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988)
“Although each stage [of collapse] causes physical, observable changes in the environment, these can be gradual, while the mental flip is generally quite swift. It is something of a cultural universal that nobody (but a real fool) wants to be the last fool to believe in a lie.
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm. Collapses in General 15
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity.” Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I can die tomorrow.” My hope is that these definitions of specific stages of collapse will enable a more specific and fruitful discussion than the one currently dominated by such vague and ultimately nonsensical terms as “the collapse of Western civilization.”
Dmitry Orlov in The Five Stages of Collapse (2013)
“The difference between my view and that of many others in the collapse field is that a lot of them assume that the first wave of crisis will be followed by total collapse, and I argue that it’ll be followed by muddling through and partial recovery, then by renewed crisis, and so on. Thus I don’t think it’s actually that useful to have a single metric for what counts as collapse, because collapse is a process, not an event; the collapse of industrial civilization has been under way for quite some time now, and will still be a going concern for longer than any of us will be alive.”
John Michael Greer
When might collapse occur?
t is too difficult to determine specifically when collapse could occur given the complexity, scales, and scenarios. Although, to paraphrase William Gibson, “the collapse is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet.” If you’ve been unemployed since the recession in 2008 or live in Flint, Michigan it might seem like collapse has already hit. Ecological collapse is currently underway and drastically affecting many forms of life on Earth. Meanwhile, others have only been minorly inconvenienced or remain ignorant entirely.
“Collapse can occur at different times for different people. You may never quite know that collapse has happened, but you will know that it has happened to you personally, or to your family, or to your town. The big picture may not come together until much later, thanks to the efforts of historians. Individually, we may never know what hit us, and, as a group, we may never agree on any one answer. Look at the collapse of the USSR: some people are still arguing over why exactly it happened.”
When regarding time frames, it is best to remain cognizant of the difference between prediction and projection. Predictions have no weight or observational basis or founded in belief. Projections use existing data and attempt to project a scenario or timeline into the future based on inherent trends within an existing set of data.
How long does collapse take?
Perspectives vary widely in regard to the actual time frames of collapse. Joseph Tainter has stated it must be rapid or last no more than a few decades and involve substantial simplifications to society to constitute a collapse. Losses which are less severe or take longer are considered cases of weakness or decline. We can still observe non-linear or isolated instances of collapse within a system, as long as we are aware of the distinctions.
John Michael Greer’s theory of catabolic collapse is also a potential outcome, stating collapse will follow a stairstep sequence of decline marked by cycles of breakdown (catabolism) and buildup (anabolism).
Is collapse inevitable?
The inevitability of collapse is widely disputed and distinctions are difficult to make in terms of the potential or ability of humans to change their conscious or unconscious behaviors leading to specific outcomes. Collapse is certainly inevitable if we continue down our default path. Our ability to conceive of the inevitability or probability rests deeply within our basis of understanding collapse and numerous factors feeding into it.
“To make the case for the imminent collapse of global industrial civilization, it is necessary to prove two things. The first is to account for the Earth’s finite endowment of fossil fuels, metal ores, other industrial and agricultural inputs, fresh water and fertile soil, and to demonstrate that many of these resources are either past their all-time peak of production or will soon achieve it. The second is to prove that, as these resources become too scarce to allow the global industrial economy to grow, the result will be collapse rather than a slow and steady deterioration that could continue for centuries without reaching any conclusive, historical endpoint.
While the first task is a relatively simple matter of laying out the numbers, which are available from reputable sources that are difficult to argue against and can be grasped by anyone with a head for numbers and a general understanding of the functioning of industrial economies, the second task is much harder, because the only way to address it is through mathematical models. The first of these models is the World3 model used in the 1972 book Limits to Growth. World3 is a relatively simple model that ran on a computer less powerful than a smartphone and included just five variables: world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion. This model predicted economic and societal collapse by mid-twenty-first century. The 2004 Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update3 confirmed that, thirty years later, the initial predictions are still in excellent agreement with reality. Though your instinct may be to mistrust the predictive abilities of mathematical models in general, this wariness should be tempered somewhat when the model in question is shown to have been correct decades later.”
“All complex systems, both living and non-living, self organize to maximize available energy and resources. This is a key concept that forms the very foundation of ecology,or study of ecosystem and is also referred to as the Maximum Power Principle.
These flows of energy and resources can be thought of as “stocks” and “sinks”. Stocks are accumulations of resources, and sinks are accumulations of wastes. Sometimes these flows of energy and resources become organized in such a way that one system’s sink becomes another system’s stock.
Any system can only grow to the extent it does not exhaust its accumulations of resources or to the extent it does not overwhelm the capacity of it’s sinks. This the basis of the concept of carrying capacity, or ability of a given environment or eco system to support a species sustainably by providing stocks and flows of resources and safely absorbing accumulations of wastes.
The very definition of “sustainable” is to stay within the long term carrying capacity of your environment by not over-exploiting resources and over-accumulating wastes.
It is possible to overshoot the long term carrying capacity of your environment by over-exploiting large stocks of accumulated resources. This temporarily increases short term carrying capacity by enabling population growth above what would otherwise be sustainable by the long term carrying capacity. Once these resources are exhausted, the excess population which was enabled by the consumption of these finite stocks becomes redundant and dies off or collapses.
Home sapiens have grossly overshot the long term carrying capacity of our environment, mostly through the over-exploitation of extremely large accumulations of sunlight in the form of long buried hydrocarbons within the Earth’s crust, namely fossil fuels.
Fossil Fuels have supplied such a high quality and quantity of energy it has enabled the rampant growth of both our population and exploitation of many other resources on our planet. This has also grossly overwhelmed the ability of our environment to safely absorb our wastes, mostly in the form of greenhouse gasses, and are now beginning to experience the consequences of a destabilized climate as a result.
All together, this understanding forms the basis for global, ecological overshoot and how civilization has been unsustainable by an incredibly wide margin for a significant time and will inevitably collapse.”
Jerry McManus, based on his Collapse 101 post
How do I talk to others about collapse?
“In many cases I don’t think it’s possible to communicate the reality of collapse to family and friends, because some people are simply unable to shake themselves loose from the dominant paradigm of endless growth, and will go to their graves believing that a return to growth is just around the corner, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.”
Dmitry Orlov on ClubOrvlov (2014)
Collapse is a complex, abstract, in the future, and extremely scary notion. We also currently lack the ability to collectively agree how to solve it, regardless of how you personally may have chosen to respond.
- Be aware of the ultimate purpose of whatever conversation you wish to have.
- Familiarize yourself with the subject first so you can effectively answer questions with confidence and maintain a consistent message.
- Be aware of the barriers to understanding collapse and remain patient when confronted with them in others.
How should I prepare?
Prepare for whatever you consider to be the most likely form of collapse. For many, this means basic emergency-preparedness. A supply of food and water, an emergency kit, first-aid training and resources, etc. can be useful in a wide range of circumstances. Depending on your area, preparing for various types of natural disasters can be prudent. Others develop hobbies or other preparations which will be useful whether a collapse or disaster hits or not. Getting involved with your neighbors and community is important as well. Building local connections and relationships is a powerful strategy for relisiency. This is good advice whether or not collapse occurs. You may also consider visiting r/PostCollapse for resources and discussions focused more exclusively on preparation.
How do I cope?
Coping with the reality of collapse is an ongoing process. Many of the resources, articles, and perspectives shared here do not adequately engage the psychological or spiritual implications of this predicament. Managing our intake of information and remaining aware of our mental health throughout this process is critical, as anxiety and depression are natural reactions. Paul Chefurka shared his perspectives on the various stages of awareness and how we may react throughout them:
At this stage there seem to be no fundamental problems, just some shortcomings in human organization, behavior and morality which can be fixed with the proper attention to rule-making. People at this stage tend to live their lives happily, with occasional outbursts of annoyance around election times or the quarterly corporate earnings seasons.
Awareness of One Fundamental Problem
Whether it’s climate change, overpopulation, peak oil, chemical pollution, oceanic over-fishing, biodiversity loss, corporatism, economic instability or sociopolitical injustice, one problem seems to engage the attention completely. People at this stage tend to become ardent activists for their chosen cause. They tend to be very vocal about their personal issue, and blind to any others.
Awareness of Many Problems
As people let in more evidence from different domains, the awareness of complexity begins to grow. At this point a person worries about the prioritization of problems in terms of their immediacy and degree of impact. People at this stage may become reluctant to acknowledge new problems – for example, someone who is committed to fighting for social justice and against climate change may not recognize the problem of resource depletion. They may feel that the problem space is already complex enough, and the addition of any new concerns will only dilute the effort that needs to be focused on solving the “highest priority” problem.
Awareness of the Interconnections Between the Many Problems
The realization that a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another marks the beginning of large-scale system-level thinking. It also marks the transition from thinking of the situation in terms of a set of problems to thinking of it in terms of a predicament. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head.
People who arrive at this stage tend to withdraw into tight circles of like-minded individuals in order to trade insights and deepen their understanding of what’s going on. These circles are necessarily small, both because personal dialogue is essential for this depth of exploration, and because there just aren’t very many people who have arrived at this level of understanding.
Awareness the Predicament Encompasses All Aspects of Life
This includes everything we do, how we do it, our relationships with each other, as well as our treatment of the rest of the biosphere and the physical planet. With this realization, the floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance. The very concept of a “Solution” is seen through, and cast aside as a waste of effort.
Where do you fall on this scale? Answering this question is the first step to orienting yourself. For those who arrive at the last stage there is a real risk depression will set in. After all, we’ve learned throughout our lives our hope for tomorrow lies in our ability to solve problems today. When no amount of human cleverness appears able to solve our predicament the possibility of hope can vanish like a the light of a candle flame, to be replaced by the suffocating darkness of despair.
How people cope with despair is of course deeply personal, but it seems to me there are two general routes people take to reconcile themselves with the situation. These are not mutually exclusive, and most of us will operate out of some mix of the two. I identify them here as general tendencies, because people seem to be drawn more to one or the other. I call them the outer path and the inner path.
If one is inclined to choose the outer path, concerns about adaptation and local resilience move into the foreground, as exemplified by the Transition Network and Permaculture Movement. To those on the outer path, community-building and local sustainability initiatives will have great appeal. Organized party politics seems to be less attractive to people at this stage, however. Perhaps politics is seen as part of the problem, or perhaps it’s just seen as a waste of effort when the real action will take place at the local level.
Choosing the inner path involves re-framing the whole thing in terms of consciousness, self-awareness and/or some form of transcendent perception. For someone on this path it is seen as an attempt to manifest Gandhi’s message, “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” on the most profoundly personal level. This message is similarly expressed in the ancient Hermetic saying, “As above, so below.” Or in plain language, “In order to heal the world, first begin by healing yourself.”
However, the inner path does not imply a “retreat into religion”. Most of the people I’ve met who have chosen an inner path have as little use for traditional religion as their counterparts on the outer path have for traditional politics. Organized religion is usually seen as part of the predicament rather than a valid response to it. Those who have arrived at this point have no interest in hiding from or easing the painful truth, rather they wish to create a coherent personal context for it. Personal spirituality of one sort or another often works for this, but organized religion rarely does.
It’s worth mentioning that there is also the possibility of a serious personal difficulty at this point. If someone cannot choose an outer path for whatever reasons, and is also resistant to the idea of inner growth or spirituality as a response the the crisis of an entire planet, then they are truly in a bind. There are few other doorways out of this depth of despair. If one remains stuck here for an extended period of time, life can begin to seem awfully bleak, and violence against either the world or oneself may begin begin to seem like a reasonable option. Please keep a watchful eye on your own progress, and if you encounter someone else who may be in this state, please offer them a supportive ear.
Systems Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Personal Resilience by Richard Heinberg (2018)
Update on the State of the Planet: How Then Shall We Live? by Dahr Jamail (2018)
This Civilisation is Finished: So What is to be Done? by Rupert Read (2018)
On Grief and Climate Change – Stephen Jenkinson
Ignorance is the most prominent barrier to understanding. It should not be confused with ‘nescience’ or a state of not knowing because knowledge is entirely absent or unattainable. Ignorance involves a conscious choice or series of choices to disregard information and develop an understanding of it.
Societal conditioning compels us to avoid any information which would disturb our sense of equanimity. Fear of personal responsibility and the inability to face present or future suffering are major triggers of this form of psychological resistance. Courage is required to venture through the unknown towards the reality of our predicament.
Denial occurs after we have taken in information and consciously reject it to avoid an uncomfortable truth. William Catton termed this behavior ‘ostrichism’ or the strategy of sticking your head in the figurative sand and expecting an issue to go away or persistent belief nothing will change and refusal to face facts.
A recent theory of mind proposes it may have been central to our development as a species. Ajit Varki and Danny Brower’s “Mind Over Reality Transition” (MORT) theory provides significant reasoning for our trajectory to date. They suggest we have succeeded as a species due in large part to an evolved denial of reality, but this behavior is now a disadvantage and preventing a majority of us from recognizing and acting on systemic issues such as climate change and overshoot.
We’re referring to generalized apathy, not the diagnosed syndrome, versions with a biological basis, or forms of depression. Apathy is traditionally defined by lack of motivation or feeling and can result from emotional desensitization, fear of failure, or habitualized acceptance of boredom.
Apathy can develop as a defense mechanism to guard ourselves from failure or confrontation. In certain cases, acting as though nothing really matters is the path of least resistance. It can also be a response to ‘apocalypse fatigue’, a term coined by George Will to describe the media’s fixation on framing issues in eschatological terms. Overexposure to this information or portrayals of distant suffering can trigger guilt or disconnect from the contexts presented, regardless of how capable one is from acting on them or supporting others who are able to do so.
Understanding the underlying causes and nature of our predicament is extremely challenging. Collapse is a concept against which our human brains are almost incapable of reacting to. It is complex, abstract, in the future, extremely scary, and we currently lack the ability to collectively agree how to solve it.
“None of this should prevent us from cultivating an interest in collapse, as we all start out from a place of ignorance about any subject, but collapse relies heavily on systems theory and so we can’t point to one work, person, or perspective as “the best” since we have to look at as many perspectives as possible and they way they interact.” – Dave37 in response the to the Collapse Survey
Assessing the myriad of perspectives is a significant investment and the time before we can confidently or effectively contribute to discussions on these subjects is immense. We’ve done our best to share the best introductory resources here and continually collaborate on building a basis for navigating these issues.
Hope is a belief in or expectation of some future outcome. Depending on the likelihood and variety of what we wish to occur it prevents us from seeing a clear picture of the future and taking action to address present circumstances. The variations of hope are better explored through the perspectives of individual beliefs surrounding the future and covered in the next section.
“Casey Maddox wrote that when philosophy dies, action begins. I would say in addition that when we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free—truly free—to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. I would say when hope dies, action begins.”- Beyond Hope by Derrick Jensen article in Orion Magazine (2006)“Clive Hamilton in his Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.” This obliteration of “false hopes,” he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth — intellectually and emotionally — and rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us.” – The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies by Chris Hedges (2013)
“One problem with hoping things will be OK is that it means we give up our agency. We assume someone will fix things. That is what some call “passive hope.” Meanwhile, any unrealistic hope steals possibility, by wasting the precious time we have to attempt to reduce harm and save humanity. So the problem with proponents of the hope that “we can fix this” is that it makes taboo the needed conversations about what to do given that we can’t fix things. That is what we could call “magical hope”, as it often comes with an overt or implicit suggestion that we can make the reality evolve according to moments where we are choosing to hope (as an aside: if we are co-creating our reality through our consciousness then it is through every moment of attention, not just those moments when we choose to pull ourselves together and do some magical hoping). In distinction to passive hope some have called for an “active hope” where we drop mainstream or received ideas of hope and instead face what we think is reality and construct a new hope based on what we believe in. That is a powerful rethinking of what hope means, as it makes us realize that hope involves actions to make it real. But I don’t think it is a sufficient reworking of the concept of hope. Because it can downplay whether we really think our actions will add up to the outcome we are actively hoping for. Instead, the emphasis is on intention, without being precise about the nature of intention, such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and so on. Therefore, people who speak of “active hope” may actually be practicing magical hope, and avoiding either deeper inquiry into the intentions they value or into the implications of the futility of their actions.” – Hope and Vision in the Face of Collapse article by Jem Bendell (2019)
“Grief requires of us that we know what time we’re in. And the great enemy of grief is hope. The basic proposition of hope is: you hope for something that ain’t. You don’t hope for something that is. It’s always future oriented, which means, hope is inherently intolerable of the present. The present is never good enough. Our time requires of us to be hope free. To burn through the false choice between hopeful and hopeless… it’s the same con job. We don’t require hope to proceed. We require grief to proceed.” – Stephen Jenkinson – On Grief And Climate Change (2016)
Growthism is the insistence upon the limitlessness of growth regardless of the present circumstance or consequences. It disregards the finiteness of the world and accepts uncritically a myth of limitlessness or notion of eternal progress.
“This need to grow—Growthism—is the foundation of our current condition and the key concept of our present worldview. It has become a sort of theology and advanced democracies are equally theocracies of Growthism. It is our official ideology, but not in the common partisan sense of the word. Rather, it describes a value or a good that is mainly invisible and obediently accepted without question. Growth, and growth without end or limits, seems like the natural and inevitable order of things, like the best possible arrangement between people and their lands, like all that is left standing when false gods are slain and ancient beliefs are stripped away.” – Erik Lindberg – Growthism (2016
Cosmeticism is the belief relatively superficial adjustments in our activities will ensure a positive future and perpetuate growth or the Age of Exuberance. Individual recycling, environmental protection laws, and individual choices are perceived as the best and common strategies for overcoming the limits of growth.
Optimism is the general attitude or belief a specific endeavor or outcomes in general will be positive and desirable. Humans are biologically predisposed towards optimism (123), but takes many different forms. Techno-optimism is especially common and the subnotion technology will always save us or technological innovation will stave off collapse. Both stem from our inability to fully conceive of the risks and negative aspects of future technology or present circumstances.
Pessimism is the general attitude or belief a specific endeavor or outcomes in general will be negative and undesirable. It is marked by the tendency to see the worst aspects of things or believe the worst will happen. Defeatism can be linked to pessimism and is the acceptance of defeat without struggle, often with negative connotations. It can also be related to determinism, fatalism, or the belief we have no power to influence the future or our own actions. Pessimism should remain distinct from cynicism, which has more marked philosophical origins. Modern cynicism is more defined by a distrust of others’ motives and belief individuals will act solely based on self interest.
Realism initially appeared within the context of climate change as an antonym to alarmism. Currently, it generally points at someone who either actively strives against both optimistic and pessimistic tendencies or someone who has reach a degree of acceptance with the possibility of extremely negative outcomes. Realism is a difficult road and involves agitating for the best option while still preparing for the worst. It can also be used as a form of shorthand to dismiss any perceivably ignorant or naive belief in opposition to what we perceive as the systemic and wicked problems inherent to our predicament.
Analysis of Several Modes of Adaptation to Ecologically Inexorable Change from Overshoot by William Catton (1980)
These are the primary pressures pushing civilization towards collapse. I’ve chosen to outline those which are the most global, systemic, and potentially impactful. I’ve also shared these with others in the community in an effort to obtain as much feedback as possible.
- We are overwhelmingly dependent on finite resources.
Fossil fuels account for 87% of the world’s total energy consumption.1, 2, 3 Economic pressures will manifest well before reserves are actually depleted as more energy is required to extract the same amount of resources over time or as the steepness of the EROEI cliff intensifies.4, 5, 6, 7
- Global energy demand is increasing.
Global energy demand increased 0.5-2% annually from 2011-2017, despite increases in efficiency.1, 2, 3 Technological change could raise the efficiency of resource use, but also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use (i.e. Rebound Effect).4, 5, 6
- We are transitioning to renewables very slowly.
The renewable energy share of global energy consumption had an average growth rate of 5.4% over the past decade.1, 2, 3, 4 Renewables are not taking off any faster than coal or oil once did and there is no technical or financial reason to believe they will rise any quicker, in part because energy demand is soaring globally, making it hard for natural gas, much less renewables, to just keep up.5, 6 New renewables powered less than 30% of the growth in world energy demand (which went up 15%) from 2009 to 2016.7 In contrast, transitioning to renewables too quickly would likely disrupt the global economy. A rush to build a new global infrastructure based on renewables would require an enormous amount resources and produce massive amounts of pollution.8, 9
- Current renewables are ineffective replacements for fossil fuels.
Energy can only be substituted by other energy. Conventional economic thinking on most depletable resources considers substitution possibilities as essentially infinite. But not all joules perform equally. There is a large difference between potential and kinetic energy. Energy properties such as: intermittence, variability, energy density, power density, spatial distribution, energy return on energy invested, scalability, transportability, etc. make energy substitution a complex prospect. The ability of a technology to provide ‘joules’ is different than its ability to contribute to ‘work’ for society. All joules do not contribute equally to human economies.1, 2
- Best-case energy transition scenarios will still result in severe climate change.
Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change. Reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.1, 2 The speed and scale of transitions and of technological change required to limit warming to 1.5°C has been observed in the past within specific sectors and technologies. But the geographical and economic scales at which the required rates of change in the energy, land, urban, infrastructure and industrial systems would need to take place, are larger and have no documented historic precedent.3
- Global economic growth rates peaked decades ago.
The increased price of energy, agricultural stress, energy demand, and declining EROEI suggest the energy-surplus economy peaked in the early 20th century.1, 2, 3, 4 Our institutions and financial systems are based on expectations of continued GDP growth perpetually into the future. The size of the global economy is still growing and OECD forecasts (2015) are for more than a tripling of the physical size of the world economy by 2050. No serious government or institution entity forecasts the end of growth this century (at least not publicly).5
- World population is increasing.
World population is growing around 1.09% per year. The annual growth rate having reached its peak in the late 1960s at around 2%. Although, the rate is expected to continue to decline in the coming years.1
- Our sources of food and water are diminishing.
Global crop yields are expected to fall by 10% over the next 30 years as a result of land degradation and climate change.1 An estimated 38% of the world’s cropland has been degraded or has reduced water and nutrient availability.2, 3 Four billion people currently live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month per year.4 Global agriculture is still extremely dependant on fossil fuels for processing, fertilization, and transportation.5
- Climate change is rapidly destabilizing our environment.
An overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree humans are the primary cause of climate change.1, 2, 3 15,000 scientists, the most to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article, recently (2017) called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”4 Carbon emissions are rising at increasing rates globally and far from enabling us to stay under the goal of two degrees of global average warming.5, 6, 7, 8 A global average increase of 2°C is very likely locked in and will already incur significant consequences. In addition to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, many disrupted systems could potentially trigger various positive or negative feedbacks within the larger system and exponentially accelerate climate change.10
- Biodiversity is falling.
The current species extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the natural background rate.1, 2 The Living Planet Index showed a 60% decline in global wildlife populations between 1970 and 2014.3
1.1 Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019). Energy Production & Changing Energy Sources. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/energy-production-and-changing-energy-sources
1.2 British Petroleum Company. (2018, June). BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Retrieved from https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2018-full-report.pdf
1.3 Andrews, R. (2018, June 14). How much of the world’s energy is supplied by renewables? [Online article]. Retrieved from http://euanmearns.com/how-much-of-the-worlds-energy-is-supplied-by-renewables/
1.4 The Next Turn. (2014). EROEI and the Energy Cliff. Retrieved from http://thenextturn.com/eroei-energy-cliff/
1.5 Morgan, T. (2013, January). Perfect Storm: energy, finance and the end of growth [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://ftalphaville-cdn.ft.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Perfect-Storm-LR.pdf
1.6 Bardi, U. (2019, March 5). The Real Energy Return of Crude Oil: smaller than you would have imagined [Blog article]. Retrieved from https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-real-eroi-of-crude-oil-smaller-than.html
1.7 Rye, C. (2018). A Review of EROEI-dynamics Energy-transition Models. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/385677010/A-Review-of-EROEI-dynamics-Energy-transition-Models-Rye-2018.
2.1 International Energy Agency. (2018). Market Report Series: Energy Efficiency 2018. Analysis and Outlooks to 2040. Retrieved from https://www.iea.org/efficiency2018/
2.2 British Petroleum Company. (2018, June). BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Retrieved from https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2018-full-report.pdf
2.3 U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2017, September 14). EIA projects 28% increase in world energy use by 2040. Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=32912
2.4 Jevons Paradox. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Jevons_paradox
2.5 Rausch, S. and Hagen, S. (2018 October). Does Higher Energy Efficiency Lower Economy-Wide Energy Use? [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/mtec/cer-eth/economics-energy-economics-dam/documents/people/srausch/wp-reboundefficiency_April2018.pdf
2.6 Nikiforuk, A. (2018, February 26). The Curse of Energy Efficiency The Tyee [Online article]. Retrieved from https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2018/02/26/Energy-Efficiency-Curse/
3.1 Ren21. (2018). Renewables 2018 Global Status Report. Retrieved from http://www.ren21.net/gsr-2018/
3.2 Smil, V. (2015, September 15). Energy Revolution? More like a Crawl [lecture]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5guXaWwQpe4
3.3 Tverberg, G. (2017, January 30). The “Wind and Solar Will Save Us” Delusion [Blog article]. Retrieved from https://ourfiniteworld.com/2017/01/30/the-wind-and-solar-will-save-us-delusion/
3.4 Heinberg, R. (2017). There’s No App For That. Retrieved from http://noapp4that.org/
3.5 Smil, V. (2014, January). The Long Rise of Solar and Wind. Scientific American [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/scientificamerican0114-521.pdf
3.6 Niemeyer, K. (2012, March 20). Study: alternative energy has barely displaced fossil fuels. Ars Technica [Online article]. Retrieved from https://arstechnica.com/science/2012/03/study-alternative-energy-has-barely-displaced-fossil-fuels/
3.7 Saxifrage, B. (2017, September 20). Fossil fuel expansion crushes renewables. Canada’s National Observer. Retrieved from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/09/20/analysis/fossil-fuel-expansion-crushes-renewables
3.8 Smil, V. (2015, September 15). Energy Revolution? More like a Crawl [lecture]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5guXaWwQpe4
3.9 Heinberg, R. (2015, June 5). Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth. Post Carbon Institute [Blog article]. Retrieved from https://www.postcarbon.org/renewable-energy-will-not-support-economic-growth/
4.1 Hagens, N. (2018, April 23). Where are We Going? The 40 Shades of Grey [PDF article]. Retrieved from https://mahb.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/MAHBBlog_WhereAreWeGoing40ShadesOfGray_NHagens_May2018.pdf
4.2 Zehner, O. (2012, October 8) Green Illusions. Talks at Google [Lecture] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6uVnyjTb58
5.1 Fork, D. and Koningstein, R. (2014, November 18). What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change. IEEE Specturm. Retrieved from https://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change
5.2 Plumer, B. (2017, March 24). Scientists made a detailed “roadmap” for meeting the Paris climate goals. Vox [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/3/23/15028480/roadmap-paris-climate-goals
5.3 IPCC. (2018). Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/4-0/
6.1 Elliott, L. (2018, September 20). Global economic growth has peaked, warns OECD. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/20/global-growth-has-peaked-warns-oecd-economic-outlook
6.2 The World Bank. (2017). GDP growth (annual %) chart. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locati
6.3 Ahmed, N. (2017, August 21). Inside the new economic science of capitalism’s slow-burn energy collapse. Insurge Intelligence. Retrieved from https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/the-new-economic-science-of-capitalisms-slow-burn-energy-collapse-d07344fab6be
6.4 Morgan, T. (2013, January). Perfect Storm: energy, finance and the end of growth [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://ftalphaville-cdn.ft.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Perfect-Storm-LR.pdf
6.5 Hagens, N. and White, D. J. (2017, November 30). GDP, Jobs, and Fossil Largesse. Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-11-30/gdp-jobs-and-fossil-largesse/
7.1 Roser, M. and Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2017, April). World Population Growth. Our World in Data. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
8.1 Gilbert, N. (2018, March 27). Top UN panel paints bleak picture of world’s ecosystems. Nature [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03891-1
8.2 Arsenault, C. (2014, December 5) Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-food-soil-farming-idUSKCN0JJ1R920141205
8.3 Powers, M. (2019). Soil Science and Society: We’re Running Out of Dirt. Retrieved from https://www.fewresources.org/soil-science-and-society-were-running-out-of-dirt.html
8.4 Mekonnen, M. and Hoekstra, A. (2016, February 12). Four billion people facing severe water scarcity. Science Advances. Retrieved from http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/2/e1500323
8.5 FAO. (2011). Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate. [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/i2454e/i2454e00.pdf
9.1 Surveys of scientists’ views on climate change. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Surveys_of_scientists%27_views_on_climate_change
9.2 NASA. (2018). Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming [Online article]. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
9.3 Cook, J. (2016, April 13). Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002
9.4 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries. (2017, November 13). World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. Bioscience. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229
9.5 Plumer, B. and Popovich, N. (2017, November 6). Here’s How Far the World Is From Meeting Its Climate Goals. The New York Times [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/06/climate/world-emissions-goals-far-off-course.html
9.6 Mooney, C. (2015, November 29). The magic number. The Washington Post [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/11/29/carbon/
9.7 UN Environment. (2018, November 27). Emissions Gap Report 2018. Retrieved from https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2018
9.8 Levin, K. (2018, December 5) New Global CO2 Emissions Numbers Are In. They’re Not Good. World Resources Institute [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/12/new-global-co2-emissions-numbers-are-they-re-not-good
9.9 Climate change feedback. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Climate_change_feedback
10.1 Center for Biological Diversity. (n.d.) The Extinction Crisis [Online article] Retrieved from https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis
10.2 Gilbert, N. (2018, March 27). Top UN panel paints bleak picture of world’s ecosystems. Nature [Online article]. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-03891-1
10.3 World Wildlife Foundation. (2018) Living Planet Report. Retrieved from http://www.livingplanetindex.org/home/index
MS in finance and PhD in Natural Resources
Teacher, speaker, and author
Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA
Hagens is a well-known speaker on global issues and teaches a honors seminar at the University of Minnesota called ‘Reality 101 – A Survey of the Human Predicament’. He is on the boards of the Post Carbon Institute, Bottleneck Foundation, Institute for Integrated Economic Research, and Institute for the Study of Energy and the Future. Previously, he was lead editor of The Oil Drum, one of the most popular websites for analysis and discussion of global energy economics. Hagens has appeared on PBS, BBC, ABC and NPR, and has lectured around the world.
Hagens holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He spent his early career in finance and was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers.
“I used to work on Wall Street. I made (and spent) a lot of money. Around 1999, I started to learn about energy and ‘limits’. I intuited that in my lifetime, and possibly quite soon, global energy production (and therefore consumption) would peak and decline. A big deal it seemed. Eventually I quit my job to study the topics involved in our human ecosystem: biology, ecology, energy, environment, human behavior and economics – full time.”
Martenson is an economic researcher and futurist specializing in energy and resource depletion, and co-founder of PeakProsperity.com with Adam Taggart. As one of the early bloggers who forecasted the housing market collapse and stock market correction years in advance, Chris rose to prominence with the launch of his video seminar, The Crash Course, which has also been published in book form. Prior to spending four years educating himself and developing the course and other materials to help individuals understand and take action, Chris was a Vice President at a Fortune 300 Company and spent over ten years in corporate finance and strategic consulting. He has a PhD in pathology from Duke University and an MBA from Cornell University.
“…I am not an economist. I am trained as a scientist, having completed both a PhD and a post-doctoral program at Duke University, where I specialized in neurotoxicology. I tell you this because my extensive training as a scientist informs and guides how I think. I gather data, I develop hypotheses, and I continually seek to accept or reject my hypotheses based on the evidence at hand. I let the data tell me the story.
It is also important for you to know that I entered the profession of science with the intention of teaching at the college level. I love teaching, and I especially enjoy the challenge of explaining difficult or complicated subjects to people with limited or no background in those subjects. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
Ph.D. in Range Science
Professor, author, speaker
Born in Wallace, Idaho, USA
McPherson is best known for his many predictions regarding imminent global collapse or near term extinction (NTE), as he has termed it. He first gained notoriety in the mid 2000s by predicting the end of civilization in under a decade due to peak oil, but now largely cites climate change and self-reinforcing feedback loops.
“We are in the midst of abrupt, irreversible climate change. In a culture in which celebrity is valued over science, opinion is valued over fact, and authority is valued over evidence, abrupt is confused with gradual and irreversible is assumed to mean “we can turn this trend around.” (Source)
According to McPherson, current climate data demonstrates it is far too late to cut down on carbon emissions and mitigate the 40-year global warming process; accelerating climate feedbacks could cause a global average temperature increase of between 1-6° Celsius. The extreme nature of his predictions have granted him significant publicity and criticism. His warnings go far beyond most, as he generally considers humanity could dry out by 2030.
“I’m routinely called the world’s biggest proponent of near-term human extinction. It’s as if I love the idea. It’s as if I’m promoting the notion. It’s as if I’m a fan of abrupt climate change, near-term human extinction, and the Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth. I hate my message. I hate the primary conclusions I’ve reached. I hate the stunningly adverse consequences promulgating my evidence-based message has had on my life. I hate the idea that I’ll soon die, undoubtedly painfully. I hate the very thought of human extinction, ever, much less within the time span any decent actuary would claim I’ll be alive and in good health.” (Source)
McPherson’s message has shifted from evidence-based claims or commentary in recent years to being more focused on love and finding purpose amidst the implications of his perceived timeline for humanity.
“I’m often incorrectly accused of “giving up” the patriarchal battle to “fix” climate change by promoting only love. There are many faults with this accusation, including the notion of giving up, reversing an irreversible trend, and the laser-like focus on a single emotion. Due to a lifetime of kinship and personal ties, I love the living planet. The concept is abstract to most people, which precludes their understanding. The concept is pragmatic and also concrete for me, which allows the relationship to have meaning. The meaning is not explicable to those unable or unwilling to develop a loving relationship with the living planet. Even rudimentary understanding is beyond most people embedded within a culture that refers to relationships as resources. I have never suggested love could make a dent in the climate-change predicament. I’ve pointed out that predicaments don’t have solutions, and trolls lacking linguistic skills remain unimpressed. I’m still not suggesting love can make a dent in the climate-change predicament. I am suggesting it can make a difference in the lives of most people. Love is worth experiencing pain, at least for me. Love is worth suffering for, at least for me. Love is worth dying for, at least for me. No definitions are needed for this kind of love. Not for me. As always, your mileage may vary.” (Source)
B.A. in Mathematics, M.S. in Astronomy, and Ph.D. in Physics
Scientist, researcher, activist, author, speaker
Born in Denison, Iowa, USA
Hansen is best known for his research in climatology, his 1988 Congressional testimony on climate change that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to avoid dangerous climate change. In recent years he has become a climate activist to mitigate the effects of climate change, on a few occasions leading to his arrest.
After graduate school, Hansen worked with radiative transfer models, attempting to understand the Venusian atmosphere. Later he applied and refined these models to understand the Earth’s atmosphere, in particular, the effects that aerosols and trace gases have on Earth’s climate. Hansen’s development and use of global climate models has contributed to the further understanding of the Earth’s climate. In 2009 his first book, Storms of My Grandchildren, was published. In 2012 he presented a TED Talk: Why I must speak out about climate change.
As of 2014, Hansen directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The program is working to continue to “connect the dots” from advancing basic climate science to promoting public awareness to advocating policy actions.
Hansen is representing his granddaughter as well as “future generations” as plaintiffs in the Juliana v. US lawsuit, which is suing the United States government and some of its executive branch’s positions for not protecting a stable climate system.
In 2007, Hansen alleged that in 2005 NASA administrators had attempted to influence his public statements about the causes of climate change. Hansen said that NASA public relations staff were ordered to review his public statements and interviews after a December 2005 lecture at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. NASA responded that its policies are similar to those of any other federal agency in requiring employees to coordinate all statements with the public affairs office without exception. Two years after Hansen and other agency employees described a pattern of distortion and suppression of climate science by political appointees, the agency’s inspector general confirmed that such activities had taken place, with the NASA Office of Public Affairs having “reduced, marginalized or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public”.
In June 2006, Hansen appeared on 60 Minutes stating that the George W. Bush White House had edited climate-related press releases reported by federal agencies to make global warming seem less threatening. He also stated he was unable to speak freely without the backlash of other government officials, and that he had not experienced that level of restrictions on communicating with the public during his career.
Hansen and 1251 other activists were arrested in August and September 2011, at another demonstration in front of the White House. Hansen urged President Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline extension intended to carry more synthetic crude oil from Canada’s Athabasca Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico. On February 13, 2013, Hansen was again arrested at the White House, along with Daryl Hannah and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., during a further protest against the proposed Keystone pipeline extension.
Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Some of his notable books are The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee (1991), Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), and The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies (2012). His book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) has been translated in thirty-three different languages and garnered sales of millions of copies across the globe. The book shot him to global fame and also fetched him the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ in 1998, apart from other awards.
Diamond is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award; research prizes and grants from the National Geographic Society, American Physiological Society, and Zoological Society of San Diego; and many teaching awards and endowed public lectureships. In addition, he has been elected a member of all three of the leading U.S. national scientific and academic honorary societies—the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a founding member of the board of the Society of Conservation Biology and a member of the board of directors of World Wildlife Fund/USA and Conservation International.
“I’ve set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years. Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? This problem has fascinated me for a long time, but it’s now ripe for a new synthesis because of recent advances in many fields seemingly remote from history, including molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics.”
Diamond’s field experience includes seventeen expeditions to New Guinea and neighboring islands to study ecology and evolution of birds; rediscovery of New Guinea’s long-lost golden-fronted bowerbird; other field projects in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. As a conservationist he devised a comprehensive plan, almost all of which was subsequently implemented, for Indonesian New Guinea’s national park system; numerous field projects for the Indonesian government and World Wildlife Fund; founding member of the board of the Society of Conservation Biology; member of the Board of Directors of World Wildlife Fund/USA.
“Because we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies. While all of those grim phenomena have been endemic to humanity throughout our history, their frequency increases with environmental degradation, population pressure, and the resulting poverty and political instability.”
Greer is a neo-pagan whose work focuses on the overlaps between ecology, spirituality, and future of industrial society. Greer blogged for many years at the now retired “Archdruid Report” and has authored more than fifty books on esoteric traditions, nature spirituality, and the deindustrial future of civilization. Greer now blogs at ecosophia.net and continues to be a widely respected writer and teacher within the occult field.
Greer was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1998, which he claims shaped his enthusiasm for esoteric subjects at an early age. “Kids with Asperger’s have a lot of trouble learning social skills, and usually become loners with some sort of obsessive interest to make up for the lack of social contact. That was me, and my obsession was anything weird.”
Greer is an initiate in Druidic, Hermetic, and Masonic lineages and served twelve years as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. He currently heads the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn and is a certified instructor in one of the old “temple styles” of t’ai chi ch’uan. Greer’s involvement in sustainability issues dates back to the early 1980s, when he was active in the Appropriate Technology movement and became certified as a Master Conserver. He is the author of many titles relating to collapse, including The Long Descent (2008), The Ecotechnic Future (2009), The Wealth of Nature (2011), After Progress (2015), and Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, the Hard Future Ahead (2016), and Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress (2018).
“The core hypothesis shaping my view of the future is the proposal that our time differs from the past only in the way that one past era differs from another. The notion that the present epoch is utterly unique in history, popular as that is, fails to convince me, and the habit of using that notion as an excuse to project an assortment of utopian and apocalyptic fantasies on the inkblot patterns of the future strikes me as frankly delusional. It makes more sense, I think, to recognize that imperial overstretch is imperial overstretch no matter what technologies the empire in question happens to use, and that trying to make sense of the future on the basis of historical parallels is a more useful strategy than insisting that the future must conform to our desires, our fears, or both at once.”
Ph.D. in Anthropology
Professor, author, speaker, historian
Tainter is an anthropologist and historian who currently works as a Professor of Sustainability in the Department of Environment and Society College of Natural Resources at Utah State University. While in New Mexico he worked as an Archeologist at the USDA Forest Service.
He has published several works, including Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma (2011), Supply-Side Sustainability (2003), Evolving Complexity and Environmental Risk in the Prehistoric Southwest (2018). Additionally he has published numerous articles, monographs, and appeared on film and television, including the documentary The 11th Hour.
Tainter is best known for his book The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988) where he examines the nature of collapse through numerous ancient civilizations. Tainter argues the collapse of a society follows from the success or failure of its problem-solving institutions and occurs when their investments in social complexity and energy subsidies reach a point of diminishing returns. From Tainter’s perspective, we are likely already past the tipping point towards collapse, but just don’t know it yet.
“Sustainability requires that people have the ability and the inclination to think broadly in terms of time and space. In other words, to think broadly in a geographical sense about the world around them, as well as the state of the world as a whole. And also, to think broadly in time in terms of the near and distant future and what resources will be available to our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.
One of the major problems in sustainability and in this whole question of resources and collapse is that we did not evolve as a species to have this ability to think broadly in time and space. Instead, our ancestors who lived as hunter-gatherers never confronted any challenges that required them to think beyond their locality and the near term(…)
We have developed the most complex society humanity has ever known. And we have maintained it up to this point. I have argued that technological innovation and other kinds of innovation evolve like any other aspect of complexity. The investments in research and development grow increasingly complex and reach diminishing returns. We cannot forever continue to spend more and more on technological innovation when we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, which I argue we have reached.
Our system of innovation is going to change very significantly over the next twenty to thirty to fifty years or so. By the end of the century, our system of innovation will not be anything like what we know today. It will have to be very different. And it’s likely that innovation is not going to be able to solve our problems as readily as it has done to this point. The technological optimists have assumed that the productivity of innovation is either constant or increasing. And in fact, what I think my colleagues and I can show is that the productivity of innovation is actually decreasing. What that means is that we will not forever be able to solve resource problems through innovation(…)
And so individuals need to take responsibility for their own ignorance. As I said, our species did not evolve to think broadly in terms of time and space and if we’re going to maintain our way of life, people have to learn to do so. People have to take responsibility for knowing and understanding the predicament that we’re facing. I have argued over the last few years that we need to start teaching early school age children in K to 12 to think differently, to think broadly in terms of time and space – to think historically, to think long-term about the future, to think broadly about what’s going on in the world around us instead of the narrow way – the narrow, local way – that most people live and think. So I put responsibility on individuals to broaden their knowledge.”
Anderson is professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester. He was previously director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organisation, where he held a joint post with the University of East Anglia. He is an active researcher with recent publications in Royal Society journals, Nature and Energy Policy, and engages widely across all tiers of government.
Anderson has a decade’s industrial experience, principally in the petrochemical industry. He sits as commissioner on the Welsh Government’s climate change commission and is a director of Greenstone Carbon Management – a London-based company providing emission-related advice to private and public sector organisations. Anderson is a chartered engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Anderson’s work on carbon budgets has been pivotal in revealing the widening gulf between political rhetoric on climate change and the reality of rapidly escalating emissions. His work emphasizes there is now little to no chance of keeping the rise in global mean surface temperature below 4°C, as early as 2050, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary.
“Despite [five] IPCC reports, 23 rounds of international negotiations, and thousands of climate change papers and conferences, annual emissions are more than 60% higher than in 1990, and are still rising. Put simply, the international community has presided over a quarter of a century of abject failure to deliver any meaningful reduction in absolute global emissions.”
Anderson has concluded only a planned economic downturn accompanied by severe energy austerity by the one percent who use 50% of the world’s energy can avoid a climate disaster. He has also accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments and regularly criticized our own overconfidance on the promise of new technologies to forgo our predicament.
“Certainly the rhetoric of action is ramping up. Yet those who talk confidently about renewables, nuclear and “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) eventually driving down emissions in decades to come are guilty of misunderstanding the fundamental science of climate change.
We face a “cumulative problem”, with rising temperatures relating to the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Based on this, the Paris 1.5°C and 2°C commitments demand total emissions remain within a small and rapidly dwindling “carbon budget”. Time is truly of the essence. Less than 12 years of current emissions will see our 1.5°C aspiration go the way of the dodo, with the 2°C carbon budget exceeded by the mid 2030s.”
Master of Arts
Journalist and author
Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, USA
Heinberg has written extensively on energy, economic, and ecological issues and is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on the urgency and challenges of transitioning society away from fossil fuels. Heinberg has authored scores of essays and articles and is the author of thirteen books, including Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (2004) and The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (2011). His latest book is Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path to One Hundred Percent Clean Energy (2016), co-authored with Berkeley energy expert David Fridley. Heinberg also hosts Resilience.org’s online course Think Resilience.
Heinberg is the Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute in Santa Rosa, California and editor of MuseLetter. He also serves on the advisory board of The Climate Mobilization, a grassroots advocacy group calling for a national economic mobilization against climate change, with the goal of 100% clean energy and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
Richard has appeared in many film and television documentaries, including Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour. He is a recipient of the M. King Hubbert Award for Excellence in Energy Education. Richard’s animations Don’t Worry, Drive On (2012), Who Killed Economic Growth? (2011) and 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds (2010) (winner of a YouTubes’s DoGooder Video of the Year Award) have been viewed by nearly two million people.
“Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.”
“The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”). Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.”
Scientist, author, speaker
Born in Plzeň, Protectorate of Bohemia
Smil has spent his career exploring the fields of energy, environmental and population change, food production and nutrition, technical innovation, risk assessment and public policy and is widely regarded as one of the most important thinkers of our time. He has published forty books and over 500 papers, worked as a consultant for many US, EU and international institutions, and lectured at many conferences and universities around the world.He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010 and received an OPEC Award in 2015 for his research on energy.
Smil’s range of expertise is expansive. In 2013 alone, he published four books on a wide array of global issues. Harvesting the Biosphere looked at the extent in which we exploit the world’s resources for food and raw materials. Should We Eat Meat? provided a systematic look at the evolution of human carnivorism and modern meat production. Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing explained how manufacturing made the U.S. a superpower and how that achievement has been been dwindling. Finally, Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization focused on material foundations of modern civilization and more efficient uses of materials.
Smil is critical there will be a rapid transition to clean energy, believing it will take much longer than many predict. Smil said “I have never been wrong on these major energy and environmental issues because I have nothing to sell,” unlike many energy companies and politicians. Smil notes that as of 2018, coal, oil, and natural gas still supply 90% of the world’s primary energy. Despite decades of growth of renewable energy, the world uses more fossil fuels in 2018 than in 2000. His work points out the modern energy industry constitutes the world’s most massive, indispensable, expensive and inertial infrastructure.
B.S. in Mineral Engineering Physics, M.F.A. in Creative Writing
Author, activist, speaker
Born in the United States
Jensen is an author and radical environmentalist. He has published several books, including The Culture of Make Believe (2002) and Endgame (2006), many of which critique civilization as a social system, explore its inherent values, hidden premises, and modern links to supremacism, oppression, and genocide, as well as corporate, domestic, and worldwide ecological abuse.
Jensen is a direct opponent of civilization, rejecting the notion it can ever be an ethical or sustainable model for human society. He describes the linguistically and historically defensible definition of civilization as “a culture — that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts — that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities and the definition of city as a group of “people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.” He states civilizations and cities are both unsustainable, since if you require the importation of resources, you’ve denuded the landscape of those particular resources, and, as your city grows, you will be forced to denude an ever-larger area. He then states your way of life must be based on violence, since if you require the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable, and if you require the importation of resources and the people in the next watershed over aren’t going to trade you for it, you’re going to take it by force.
Jensen advocates non-anthropocentrism, or ecocentrism, according to which humans should primarily support the flourishing of natural communities and their many individual species, rather than the flourishing of humans alone and they should extend the status of personhood to all organisms and ecosystems, including non-human animals and plants. His view, which moves the central moral focus away from civilized humans, names and chastisizes some of the underlying values most championed by modern civilization, including technological advancement, economic growth, the inevitability of progress, and sustainability as seen through the lens of “development”. Jensen promotes a way of life which is harmonious in a truly ecological sense, and is thus lastingly sustainable, such as the diverse ways of life historically exhibited by many indigenous, non-civilized cultures. He claims “the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners generally perceive listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is.” While indigenous peoples understand the world as consisting of other beings with whom we can enter into relationship, he argues Westerners believe the world consists merely of objects or resources to be exploited or used.
Jensen argues that dysfunctional and antisocial behaviors pervade civilization, and the psychopathology of modern civilization’s global, industrial economy obliterates healthy personal relationships as well as the natural environment and indigenous ways of life. Accordingly, he exhorts readers and audiences to help bring an end to industrial civilization, promoting its dismantling by any means necessary, thus challenging pacifism, since he believes violence may be justified at times, particularly as a form of self-defense or resistance against oppression. Jensen has clarified, he gets “accused of being the ‘violence guy’… but I don’t ever think that’s really fair, because I really consider myself the ‘everything guy’, that I want to put everything on the table and talk about all forms of resistance…. We can certainly parse out cases where we think it’s appropriate to have militant response or non-militant response.”
Jensen also considers himself an anti-capitalist, a critic of organized religion (including Buddhism), a critic of science, an anti-racist, and a radical feminist, and seems to agree with those critics who have called him an “anti-civilizationist”. He has also been called anarcho-primitivistic, a label which he once accepted, although more recently he has distanced himself from both the terms “anarchist” and “primitivist,” especially criticizing modern anarchism’s herd mentality and describing “primitive” as a “racist way to describe indigenous peoples.” He prefers to be called “indigenist” or an “ally to the indigenous,” because “indigenous peoples have had the only sustainable human social organizations, and[…] we need to recognize that we [colonizers] are all living on stolen land.”
With respect to the question of human overpopulation, Jensen concedes that it is a social and environmental problem, but only at a “tertiary” level, and that overconsumption—along with civilization and its ruthless, expansionist cultural mindset—is the primary problem faced by the world.
“To reverse the effects of civilization would destroy the dreams of a lot of people. There’s no way around it. We can talk all we want about sustainability, but there’s a sense in which it doesn’t matter that these people’s dreams are based on, embedded in, intertwined with, and formed by an inherently destructive economic and social system. Their dreams are still their dreams. What right do I — or does anyone else — have to destroy them. At the same time, what right do they have to destroy the world?”
Journalist, author, speaker
B.A. in English, Master of Divinity from Harvard
Born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, USA
Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, West Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He has reported from more than fifty countries, and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, NPR, Dallas Morning News, and The New York Times, where he was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years. In 2001, Hedges contributed to The New York Times staff entry which received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002.
In 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began, Hedges was asked to give the commencement address at Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois. He told the graduating class “…we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power and security.” He went on to say that “This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war of liberation by Iraqis from American occupation.” As he spoke, several hundred members of the audience began jeering and booing. His microphone was cut twice. Two young men rushed the stage to try to prevent him from speaking and Hedges had to cut short his address. He was escorted off campus by security officials before the diplomas were awarded. This event made national news and he became a lightning rod not only for right wing pundits and commentators, but also mainstream newspapers. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial which denounced his anti-war stance and the The New York Times issued a formal reprimand, forbidding Hedges to speak about the war. The reprimand condemned his remarks as undermining the paper’s impartiality. Hedges resigned shortly thereafter and became a senior fellow at the Nation Institute.
Hedges is a columnist for the progressive news and commentary website Truthdig, for which The Los Angeles Press Club named him Online Journalist of the Year in 2009 and 2011.His books include War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction; Collateral Damage (2008), Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009); Death of the Liberal Class (2010); Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012), Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015), and his most recent America: The Farewell Tour (2018). Hedges currently hosts On Contact on RT, the Russian television network.
Hedges’ focus has shifted to ever more provocative examinations of American collapse. His time spent observing conflict and collapse in other countries has made his political and historical perspectives poignant and highly regarded in the collapse community.
“The state, in its internal projections, has a vision of the future that is as dystopian as mine. But the state, to protect itself, lies. Politicians, corporations, the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and our ridiculous television pundits speak as if we can continue to build a society based on limitless growth, profligate consumption and fossil fuel. They feed the collective mania for hope at the expense of truth. Their public vision is self-delusional, a form of collective psychosis. The corporate state, meanwhile, is preparing privately for the world it knows is actually coming. It is cementing into place a police state, one that includes the complete evisceration of our most basic civil liberties and the militarization of the internal security apparatus, as well as wholesale surveillance of the citizenry.”
Arithmetic, Population, And Energy
University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
By Albert Bartlett (2002)
The late professor Barlett is said to have given this celebrated lecture no less than seventeen hundred times to audiences world-wide. He first gave the talk in September, 1969, and subsequently has presented it an average of once every 8.5 days for 36 years. His talk is based on his paper, “Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis,” originally published in the American Journal of Physics, and revised in the Journal of Geological Education.
Bartlett begins by telling his class he hopes to convince them that “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” He gives a basic introduction to the arithmetic of steady growth and consequences of steady growth in a finite environment. He proceeds to examine many of the oddly reassuring statements from experts, the media, and political leaders which remain dramatically inconsistent with the limits of growth.
Why Societies Collapse — And What it Means for Us
Local Future 2010 International Conference on Sustainability in Grand Rapids, Michigan
By Joseph A. Tainter (2010)
Tainter is best known for his book The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988). In this lecture he explains the relationship between historical societies and complexity, collapse, productivity, sustainability, and innovation, largely focusing on the Roman Empire. Tainter argues societies can become too complex to effectively solve problems or meets the costs of such complexity, leading to some hard questions we must ask ourselves regarding our present day society. The audio quality is somewhat lacking, but it serves as a great summary of his book and influential perspectives on collapse.
Unfixable: Welcome to the New Abnormal
Gold & Silver Meeting in Madrid, Spain
By Chris Martenson (2011)
Martenson is best known for his video series Crash Course and book of the same name. In this lecture he presents a condensed version of the material and explains why he thinks the coming twenty years are going to look completely unlike the previous two decades. He focuses on the economy, energy and environment and explores their interconnectedness He explains how our economy is dependant on expential growth and how quickly things will speed up as we approach the end of the curve. His lecture is not as detailed as his book or polished as his video series, but gives a personalized and condensed presentation of his core ideas.
Energy, Money and Technology – From the Lens of the Superorganism
Winter Enrichment Program at King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia
By Nate Hagens (2018)
Hagens is best known for his ‘big picture’ talks and deep understanding of the economy, energy, ecology, and human behavior. He discusses how our lives will be influenced by the coming era of harder to extract and more costly fossil fuels when combined with cleaner but more stochastic energy types. Hagens said regarding the talk he “finally condensed the relevant aspects of what we face into less than an hour, but had to speak pretty fast to do it. If you haven’t watched one of my talks for a while this would be the best one to watch.”
Revealing the Naked Emperor – Paris, 2° & Carbon Budgets
Danish Institute for International Studies in København, Denmark
By Kevin Anderson (2018)
Anderson is professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester.He also has a decade’s industrial experience and is director of Greenstone Carbon Management – a London-based company providing emission-related advice to private and public sector organisations. Anderson’s work on carbon budgets has been pivotal in revealing the widening gulf between political rhetoric on climate change and the reality of rapidly escalating emissions. His work emphasizes increasing infeasibility of keeping global mean surface temperature below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Anderson shows how the Paris agreements reflect our misplaced belief in technological solutions and fundamental misunerstanding of climate change. He suggests deep and rapid changes in our behaviors and practices are necessary if we wish to actually meet our goals.
Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
By Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jørgen Randers (2004)
The Limits to Growth (LTG) started in 1972 as a report funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, commissioned by the international think tank Club of Rome. Using system dynamics theory and a computer model called “World3,” the book proposed twelve potential futures and environmental outcomes of the world over two centuries from 1972 to 2100.
The scenarios showed how population growth and natural resource use interacted to impose limits to industrial growth, a novel and even controversial idea at the time. In 1972, however, the world’s population and economy were still comfortably within the planet’s carrying capacity. The authors found there was still room to grow safely while humanity considered its options.
Since its original publication, over thirty million copies of the book have been sold in thirty different languages. It has continued to generate debate and been the subject of several subsequent publications. Beyond the Limits (1993) was published as a 20-year update by the original authors. The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004) followed it a decade later. Most recently, Jørgen Randers authored his own forty-year update, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (2012). Jorgen issues his own retrospective on the book in an article for GAIA, a journal for scientists:
“…the main scientific conclusion of the [original] study was that delays in global decision making would cause the human economy to overshoot planetary limits before the growth in the human ecological footprint slowed. Once in unsustainable territory, human society would be forced to reduce its rate of resource use and its rate of emissions.
This contraction could only happen in two ways: either through “managed decline” organized by humanity, or through “collapse” induced by nature or the market. The only thing that could not happen was for world society to remain forever in unsustainable territory, using more of nature every year than nature produces during that year. “
Jorgen reflected further regarding the intial report’s conclusions:
“LTG appeared at a time when human belief in the power of technology was at an all-time high. There seemed to be no challenge that could not be overcome through application of human ingenuity and effort in the form of economic growth based on continuing technological advance. In this perspective, its main message was unbelievable and unacceptable, since it could be paraphrased as follows: global politics in the first third of the 21st century will be dominated by global resource and pollution constraints. LTG warned that in the 2010 to 2030 period some resources would become scarce or expensive while environmental damage would become increasingly visible. And importantly, all of this in spite of continuing technological advance. LTG warned that resource and pollution problems would occur because the world is physically finite and actually quite small compared to the human footprint in the 21st century. The problems would start regionally, and gradually embrace the world unless corrective action was taken immediately. Man was no longer omnipotent.”
Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
By William R. Catton Jr. (1980)
Catton was a sociologist best known for his work in environmental sociology and human ecology. His book formulated perspectives many years ahead of its time and continues to be a source of insight into the ecological basis underpinning human society. He observed our lives have been built around an obsolete cultural belief system, a “cornucopian myth,” or “myth of limitlessness” as he called it, which developed when the size of human civilization had not yet outgrown the carrying capacity of Earth. Catton observed a lag between this reality and the dominant worldview which has affected our rate of consumption and growth:
“This book is meant to overcome our habit of mistaking techniques that evade limits for techniques that raise them, it is, in a sense, a book about how to read the news perceptively in revolutionary times. That cannot be done without certain unfamiliar but increasingly indispensable concepts. “Carrying capacity” is one of them. Until recently, only a few people outside such occupations ·as wildlife management or sheep and cattle ranching have even known this phrase. Its vital importance to all of us has not been as obvious as it is now becoming. The time has come for scholars and everyone else to take a piercing look at the relationship between the earth’s changing capacity to support human inhabitants and the changing load imposed by our numbers and our requirements. The direction of recent change makes this relationship just about the most important topic there is for people to know about, and think about. We have come to the end of the time when it didn’t seem to matter that almost no one saw the difference between ways of enlarging human carrying capacity and ways of exceeding it.”
Catton explained how the inhabitants of modern civilization (homo colossus, he calls us, due to our prodigious use of energy and prosthetic amplification devices) are living more and more luxuriously, but more dependently on limited resources and energy we have unearthed from the geological past. The result, he says, is a mortgaging of our and our descendants’ future.
“Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future [by way of] diachronic competition, a relationship whereby contemporary well-being is achieved at the expense of our descendants. By our sheer numbers, by the state of our technological development, and by being oblivious to differences between a method that achieved lasting increments of human carrying capacity [agriculture] and one that achieves only temporary supplements [reliance on fossil fuels and other mined substances], we have made satisfaction of today’s human aspirations dependent upon massive deprivation for posterity.”
Many of Catton’s observations were fairly prescient. Because of humankind’s lack of understanding and wisdom, he saw likeness of collapse as our current exuberant interlude comes to a close. We may claim innocence by reason of ignorance, but Catton reminded us, nature does not care about our ignorance.
“History will record the period of global dominance by Homo colossus as a brief interlude. Our most urgent task is to develop policies designed not to prolong that dominance, but to ensure that the successor to Homo colossus will be, after all, Homo sapiens. Developing such policies must be so enormously difficult that it is not easy even to accept the urgency of the task. But the longer we delay beginning, the more numerous and colossal we become – thereby trapping ourselves all the more irredeemably in the fatal practice of stealing from our future.”
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
By Jared Diamond (2005)
Diamond’s previous books include The Third Chimpanzee (1991), The World Until Yesterday (2012), and Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
In Collapse (2005) Diamond explores how climate change, overpopulation, and political discord create the conditions for the collapse of civilization. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), Diamond traces the fundamental patterns of past catastrophes, weaving through a series of historical-cultural narratives. He looks at the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland.
Diamond identifies five factors which contribute to collapse: climate change, hostile neighbors, collapse of essential trading partners, environmental problems, and the society’s response to the forgoing four factors. The root problem in all but one of Diamond’s factors leading to collapse is overpopulation relative to the practicable (as opposed to the ideal theoretical) carrying capacity of the environment. One environmental problem not related to overpopulation is the harmful effect of accidental or intentional introduction of non-native species to a region. Diamond summarizes his methodology for the book as such:
“[This book] employs the comparative method to understand societal collapses to which environmental problems contribute. My previous book (Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies), had applied the comparative method to the opposite problem: the differing rates of buildup of human societies on different continents over the last 13,000 years. In the present book focusing on collapses rather than buildups, I compare many past and present societies that differed with respect to environmental fragility, relations with neighbors, political institutions, and other “input” variables postulated to influence a society’s stability. The “output” variables that I examine are collapse or survival, and form of the collapse if collapse does occur. By relating output variables to input variables, I aim to tease out the influence of possible input variables on collapses.”
The Collapse of Complex Societies
By Joseph A. Tainter (1988)
Tainter’s book examines the collapse ancient civilizations in terms of network theory, energy economics, and complexity theory. Tainter argues that sustainability or collapse of societies follow from the success or failure of problem-solving institutions and that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity and their “energy subsidies” reach a point of diminishing marginal returns. He recognizes collapse when a society involuntarily sheds a significant portion of its complexity.
Tainter proposes societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can be recognized by numerous differentiated and specialized social and economic roles and many mechanisms through which they are coordinated, and by reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy (meaning the consumption of resources, or other forms of wealth). When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of energy, or difficulty in gaining access to it, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Tainter, who first identifies seventeen examples of rapid collapse of societies, applies his model to three case studies: The Western Roman Empire, the Maya civilization, and the Chaco culture.
Tainter begins by categorizing and examining the often inconsistent explanations that have been offered for collapse in the literature. In his view, while invasions, crop failures, disease or environmental degradation may be the apparent causes of societal collapse, the ultimate cause is an economic one, inherent in the structure of society rather than in external shocks which may batter them: diminishing returns on investments in social complexity. Finally, Tainter show that marginal returns on investments in energy (EROEI), education, and technological innovation are diminishing today. The globalized modern world is subject to many of the same stresses that brought older societies to ruin.
The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment
By Chris Martenson (2011)
Martenson is best known for his video series Crash Course and website PeakProsperity.com. His book delves deeper into the concepts presented there and why he thinks the coming twenty years will look completely unlike the previous two decades. He focuses on the economy, energy and environment (the ‘three E’s’ as he calls them) and their fundamental interconnectedness. He shows how our economy is dependant on exponential growth and how quickly things will speed up as we approach the end of various curves.
Despite the percieved drops in global living standards, Martenson offers a positive vision for how people can reshape their lives to become more balanced, resilient, and sustainable. His skills as a teacher make his work widely accessible and available in many forms.
“The world is in economic crisis, and there are no easy fixes to our predicament. Unsustainable trends in the economy, energy, and the environment have finally caught up with us and are converging on a very narrow window of time—the “Twenty-Teens.” The Crash Course presents our predicament and illuminates the path ahead, so you can face the coming disruptions and thrive–without fearing the future or retreating into denial. In this book you will find solid facts and grounded reasoning presented in a calm, positive, non-partisan manner.”
The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age
By John Michael Greer (2008)
Greer has written extensively on matters of ecology, spirituality, sustainability, and future of industrial society. He is the author of many titles relating to collapse, The Ecotechnic Future (2009), The Wealth of Nature (2011), After Progress (2015), and Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, the Hard Future Ahead (2016), and Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress (2018).
The Long Descent is Greer’s best known work and an extension of his previous, online essays and perspectives on peak oil. Greer does not expect collapse to occur suddenly or abruptly, but proposes it will follow a ‘catabolic’ process of progressive disintegration, possibly over centuries. In his scenario, short periods of abrupt and sharp downturns- the beginning of which we are experiencing now- punctuate longer periods of relative stability. Like an organism that begins feeding on itself, society will collapse in a series of stepped-down stages as it becomes progressively unable to meet maintenance charges with income.
Greer notes americans are expressing deep concern about US dependence on petroleum, rising energy prices and the threat of climate change. Unlike the energy crisis of the 1970s, however, there is a lurking fear the crisis may not easily be resolved. His book examines the basis of such fear through three central themes:
- Industrial society is following the same well-worn path that has led other civilizations into decline, a path involving a much slower and more complex transformation than the sudden catastrophes imagined by so many social critics today.
- The roots of the crisis lie in the cultural stories that shape the way we understand the world. Since problems cannot be solved with the same thinking that created them, these ways of thinking need to be replaced with others better suited to the needs of our time.
- It is too late for massive programs for top-down change; the change must come from individuals.
“Candidates for public office, and the voters who elect them, should be required to read John Michael Greer’s accurate diagnosis of the terminal illness our fossil-energy subsidized industrial civilization has too long denied. He shows how stubborn belief in perpetual progress blinded us to the abyss toward which we were speeding and thus impeded wise preparation for our unavoidable descent into a deindustrial age. We must hope that the array of mitigating tools he prescribes may yet render that descent down the back side of Hubbert’s peak less devastating than it will be if we insistently claim a right to be prodigal in using this finite Earth.”
William R. Catton, Jr.
Collapse explores the theories, writings, and life of Michael Ruppert. Ruppert, a former Los Angeles police officer who describes himself as an investigative reporter and radical thinker, authored Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil (2004), A Presidential Energy Policy: Twenty-Five Points Addressing the Siamese Twins of Energy and Money (2009), and Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (2009). Ruppert is best known for predicting the 2008 financial crisis in his self-published newsletter, From the Wilderness and public confrontation with C.I.A. director John Deutch where he reveals his experiences observing the C.I.A.’s involvement in the drug trafficking. Deutch stepped down as director only one month later.
Ruppert recounts his life and career as an LADP cop and detective in the film, then summarizes our current energy and economic issues, focusing mainly on peak oil and sustainable development. He criticizes fiat money, fractional reserve banking, compound interest, and leveraging, and discusses alleged CIA drug trafficking Ruppert also makes an array of predictions including social unrest, violence, population dislocation and governmental collapses in the United States and throughout the world.
Critics have described the film as supportive and as critical of Ruppert’s views. Smith himself, speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere, said that “What I hoped to reveal was … his obsession with the collapse of industrial civilization has led to the collapse of his life. In the end, it is a character study about his obsession.”
There’s No Tomorrow (2012)
There’s No Tomorrow is an animated film dealing with resource depletion, energy, growth and collapse created by animator Dermont O’ Connor. Inspired by the pro-capitalist cartoons of the 1940s and 50s, it is an introduction to the energy dilemmas facing the world today.
“The issues of energy shortages, resource depletion, topsoil loss, and pollution are all symptoms of a single, larger problem: Growth. As long as our financial system demands endless growth, reform is unlikely to succeed. What then, will the future look like? Optimists believe that growth will continue forever, without limits. Pessimists think that we’re heading towards a new Stone Age, or extinction. The truth may lie between these extremes. It is possible that society might fall back to a simpler state, one in which energy use is a lot less. This would mean a harder life for most. More manual labor, more farm work, and local production of goods, food and services.“
Connor noted most people misinterpreted the film, which was not about peak oil or energy per se, but an attack on exponential economic growth. Connor also stated he would not make the film again if he knew how long it would take, and in the intervening years it became clear “people are deeply set in their opinions, and most of the writing/commentary/movies that are made simply reinforce existing beliefs, rather than change them … It would have been wiser to create a cartoon about crime-fighting squirrels with super-powers.”
The Accelerated Crash Course (2014)
The Accelerated Crash Course (ACC) is a condensed version of Chris Martenson’s four hour long video series, Crash Course. The film attempts to provide a context for many of the massive changes currently underway, primarily the end of economic growth due to depleting resources. Martenson narrates an instructional presentation covering the nature and interconnectedness of the economy, energy, and enviornment, and forcasts the massive upcoming changes he sees as a result.
“We must reach a critical mass of individuals and ensure that they have an understanding of the ideas presented in the Crash Course, before any national or global solutions will even be possible. Because we are still quite far from this tipping point of understanding, we must first focus on educating. Many people have already reached a place of understanding and assumed responsibility for their futures, but most have not. Once we have achieved a critical mass of people who understand the issues and have taken responsible actions as a result, solutions will find more fertile ground in which to take root.”
Reddit is a social news aggregator, discussion website, and currently ranks as the sixth most-visited site in the world. Communities are organized in various ‘subreddits’, /r/collapse being the largest relating to collapse with over 60,000 readers. The subreddit focuses on discussion regarding the potential collapse of global civilization, defined as “a social and technological upheaval that results in a far more simplified society in terms of social order, technology, economy, and interdependencies, with an inability to rebuild within centuries or millennia.” /r/collapse represents and shares some of the most relevant and informative collapse-related content on the internet.
Resilience publishes news, research, and analysis on energy, economics, the environment, and society with perspectives from many notable contributors. They explore geopolitics, ecology, population, finance, urban design, health, and religious and gender issues. They also publish many articles which demonstrate practical models of how to respond to issues locally.
They imagine the site as a “community library with space to read and think, but also as a vibrant café in which to meet people, discuss ideas and projects, and pick up and share tips on how to build the resilience of your community, your household, or yourself.” They define resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.”
The site is a program of Post Carbon Institute (PCI). From 2004 to 2012 the site was known as “Energy Bulletin.” Over the years Energy Bulletin broadened its coverage from peak oil and energy to include other resource depletion, related issues, and articles which describe, encourage or educate on meaningful responses — in essence, the task of building resilience. From this came the inspiration to create resilience.org, which combines the best of the Energy Bulletin with the addition of sections for Groups engaged in building resilience, and Resources — a combination of user-generated and Post Carbon Institute media and reports. In January 2009, Energy Bulletin was adopted as a core program by the Post Carbon Institute and in 2012 relaunched as resilience.org. Except for PCI, resilience.org is unaffiliated with any private, government, or institutional body.
Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet
Vital Signs of the Planet is produced by the Earth Science Communications Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology. Their mission is to “provide the public with accurate and timely news and information about Earth’s changing climate, along with current data and visualizations, presented from the unique perspective of NASA, one of the world’s leading climate research agencies.”
Their site features news and resources related to the measurement, analysis, and dangers of global climate change. Interactive features include the Climate Time Machine, which allows users to go backward and forward through four different climate indicators including Sea Ice, Sea Level, Carbon Dioxide, and Global Temperature. Other resources include the water cycle, a virtual tour, and more.
Peak Prosperity was founded by Adam Taggart and Chris Martenson and is best known as the home for the Crash Course materials, video series, and Featured Voices podcast. They aim to provide insights into the future of the economy and help its readers build resilience for their lives and communities and connect with other like-minded individuals. They believe we must reach a critical mass of individuals with an understanding of the ideas presented in the Crash Course, before any national or global solutions will even be possible. Because we are still quite far from this tipping point of understanding, they focus on educating and spreading awareness.
Post Carbon Institute
Founded in 2003, Post Carbon Institute is a think tank and non-profit organization based in Santa Rosa, California, United states. They are dedicated to leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world by providing individuals and communities with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated ecological, economic, energy, and equity crises of the 21st century.
They envision “a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.” They believe the world is experiencing the confluence of crisis in four interrelated systems — energy, ecology, economy, and equity — which they call E4. They summarize these crises as the age of extreme energy, overshoot, the end of growth, and increasing inequality. They aim to build resilience to withstand these crises, and support social and cultural change to make society more ready to take decisive and appropriate action. They also support the growing movement of innovators and early adopters who can develop best practices and provide leadership both now and during future crises. They manage a variety of forward-thinking websites, including Resilience.org, OurRenewablefuture.org, Energy-Reality.org, and Shalebubble.org. They host events, publish a variety of articles, reports, and books, and their fellows include Richard Heinberg, Chris Martenson, and William Rees, among others
Ashes Ashes tells tales of systems out of control, environmental collapse, and ultimately a broken world. Each episode is free of ads, meticulously researched, and explores a specific systemic issue society is currently facing or will have to face in the coming decades. The show aims to draw the listener to the conclusion our overarching economic and political systems are inherently flawed, but once the fact is accepted, it becomes easier to do something about it.
Featured Voices is focused on economic events, environmental issues, and building an understanding for effective solutions.. Martenson is an economic researcher and best known as co-founder of PeakProsperity.com and his Crash Course book and series, which attempts to teach the nature of energy, envioronment, and economy as we approach various limits to growth. The show features perspectives on current events by Martenson and interviews with many prominent scientists, economists, and politicians.
Radio Ecoshock is broadcast to over 90 college, community and commercial radio stations on three continents. The show is provided for free, contains no advertising, and is entirely funded by Smith. Smith is a long-time environmental activist, world-traveler, and former reporter. The show features interviews with scientists, authors, and activists from around the world. The focus of the show is largely climate change and “to help create a better environment, safe for all coming generations.” It also covers related issues, such as the fossil fuel supply system, peak oil, and the economics of energy.
Resistance Radio features interviews with a broad spectrum of activists and focuses on building a culture of resistance and defending the natural world. Jensen is an outspoken opponent of civilization and author of several books, including The Culture of Make Believe (2002), and Endgame (2006).
This guide is intended to evolve along with my own understanding and feedback from others. I am profoundly lacking in many areas of knowledge required to give quality or complete perspectives on collapse. I will eagerly welcome any feedback or potential collaborators. You can give the most effective feedback by taking the Collapse Survey, even if you only have limited experience in one or two areas of the field or forms of content.
This site will never be monetized and is for educational purposes only.
Last updated October 21, 2018.