Feedback and Rewards

The Usufruct Delusion

Denis Frith asked:


Society has built up its civilization and operates by using up the available natural resources. Most of them are capital that can only be used once. Civilization is a cancer. Technology and energy has provided the means for this ravaging. But money has been the intangible that has provided the leverage for the rapid growth of the human population, its associated infrastructure, its consumption of natural goods and services and its devastation of the environment. This draw down is really worthwhile only where it meets the reasonable needs of the community but not when it is used to satisfy wasteful wants. It is unsustainable so unnecessary rapid use now is depriving future generations of their share. Society has gone down this track while largely ignoring the fact that all these developments come at the cost of irreversibly degrading and devastating civilization’s life support system. Consequently, civilization is a cancerous growth on Earth that is now ready to burst. The dominant paradigm throughout this rampant development has been usufruct, the erroneous belief that it can continue even as the available natural bounty declines, much of it terminally. This reality is now starting to seep through the obfuscation of commercialization. It is ironical that the decline in the major driver of industrialization, the fossil fuels, will actually promote a painful but wiser usage of the remaining bounty. We made a major blunder in irreversibly releasing so much stored carbon in our exuberant and unwise use of the energy stored in these fuels. Society will now have to face up to a range of predicaments. Over-population, the growing scarcity of energy, food and water supply together with the impact of climate change are likely to be the major ones and in combination they will entail a major change in outlook in order to cope with the power down as the natural bounty continues to decline.

The Holistic Scenario

Society has built up its civilization and operates by irreversibly using the natural resources available here on Earth. It is a parasite. It has regarded these resources as income when the reality is that most of them are capital that can only be used once. Entrepreneurs have made use of the know how and the tools provided by science and technology to foster the rapid growth of the human population, its associated infrastructure, its consumption of natural goods and services and its devastation of the environment. But money has been the intangible that has provided the leverage for this exuberant use of what was available from nature. And the powerful laud the good of this growth – for their benefit. They exploit the eco system as well as their fellow parasites using money. They continue to do this by fair means and foul even though it is promoting ecocide as well as genocide for incomprehensible reasons. The real material wealth of society is exaggerated because the draw down of natural capital is not fully taken into account. This draw down is really worthwhile where it meets the reasonable needs of the community but not when it is used to satisfy wasteful wants. Market forces stimulate this wasteful growth because it is to the advantage of the exploiters, business, and governments and enjoyed by many of the exploited. The financial market has become even more disconnected from reality as floods of fiat money promote easy credit – so enabling easy devastation of the eco system . Just as IPCC is now saying that unequivocally fossil fuel burning has instigated climate change, an equivalent body of economists would be saying that unequivocally, the recent blow out in easy credit is fostering a global depression that will not go away. Ironically, a similar body of realists is emerging that realizes civilization is unequivocally destroying the tangible eco system that supports it even as it destroys its intangible driver, the financial market.

Society has gone down this track while largely ignoring the fact that all these developments come at the cost of irreversibly degrading and devastating civilization’s life support system . We have been ignorant of the Dependence Law . Consequently, civilization is a cancerous growth on Earth that is now ready to burst. The dominant paradigm throughout this rampant development has been usufruct, the erroneous belief that it can continue even as the available natural bounty declines, much of it terminally. The reality is that the growth of civilization has come at the price of the decimation of the eco system. The global civilization is going down the failing path previously followed by the Sumerian, Mayan and Easter Island civilizations. This reality is starting to seep through the obfuscation of commercialization. The credit bubble is reaching a crescendo that will cause widespread chaos when it bursts. It is ironical that the decline in the major driver of industrialization, the fossil fuels, will actually promote a painful but wiser usage of the remaining available bounty, especially by the exploited. It will precipitate a change in the direction of market forces, as reducing supply will drive demand down. Reduced consumption will control the exploiters rather than vice versa. Governance will have to change its growth rhetoric using its usual bluster. But that rational use of the remaining natural bounty will be hard as much will have to be used to maintain some of the temporary infrastructure of civilization while also trying to cope with climate change and meet the needs of the still growing population. Few would like to see New York, London, Moscow and Beijing in ruins but the means of population decline could well be even more horrifying! Realization of what has been done will foster only some palliative treatment of the cancer. It will, however, foster the meeting of some of the ecological and sociological challenges by an Earth Revolution. This would encompass the people, the exploited, fostering the market forces for keeping consumption down by wise and frugal use of what remains. It would require widespread real understanding of the way the world operates. It would require appreciation of the fact that most of us are parasites but some, the celebrities of our illusory society, are insidious in their destructiveness – for now. The disconnection between money and what is has really happened will continue to immunize the rich from the calamity their follies have fostered while the masses, the money slaves, and other creatures will have to suffer the consequences of a degraded eco system. The decline of the eco system is, like time, an irreversible process. It entails entropic growth, the trend from order to disorder.

The Questions

There is a booming economy in many regions of the globe. The material standard of living has been improving rapidly for millions of people. The leaders of society and the mainstream media assert that this trend will continue despite blips like climate change. Some problems, like health care for the increasing number of aged and the lack of sufficient food and water for billions are recognized without adequate redress.

Yet the holistic scenario painted above portends a gloomy future that is in conflict with this healthy perspective. The first question is why is there such a difference between the realistic and economic perspectives? There are a number of deleterious reasons that escape the thinking of even the informed. In summary, they include:

· the economic growth paradigm has conditioned many people to erroneously believe they are no longer dependent on using natural resources for sustenance

· society harps on human rights but not on the responsibility to look after the eco system that makes their living possible

· there is a common belief that humans have a right to reproduce even as the resultant population explosion has led to manifold species extinctions with the consequential deleterious impact on the goods and services the eco system can provide< br />
· governments and business strive for eco
nomic growth and only tackle the increasing damage to the eco system when they have financial implications while the consumers, mainly in the cities, have little reason to consider the environment and future limitations on what it can provide

· people in well off communities are encouraged to work harder and smarter so they are better able to rob future generations of natural resources whilst lauding their progress in accumulating stuff

· technology has enabled irreversible devastation of the eco system in the pursuit of a temporarily high material standard of living

· it has also facilitated urban specialization and land resumption so causing a much reduced capability for food production without fossil fuel subsidies

· the ready availability of energy sources for electricity and transportation fuels has generated a societal addiction that is inherently unsustainable but hardly replaceable

· money, like technology, has given many people the ability to consume irreplaceable natural resources to meet their desires without consideration of the long-term consequences of using natural capital for something that is not really worthwhile

· the boom in the financial market has facilitated the increasingly rapid use of exhaustible natural resources and increasingly rapid pollution, so hastening the inevitable depression

The second question is when and in what circumstances will the general perception tend to converge on the reality sufficiently to stimulate widespread moves to make wiser use of the remaining natural capital. There is no simple answer to that question due to the uncertainties on both sides, perception and reality.

The basis of the reality is really quite simple, despite the bewildering complexity of the issues thrown up by seemingly authoritative sources. Everything that humans do and use draws down on what is available from the eco system and disrupts its operation. No qualification: everything. People are conditioned to believe that goods are manufactured without consideration of where the raw materials came from and how the necessary energy was available. The resultant development of civilization has been deemed to illustrate the cleverness of humans while ignoring the continuing requirement for available natural resources. But there is a limit to what is available from the eco system: there was only so much natural capital . There was enough to meet the needs of a frugal society for a long time . There was not enough to meet the needs and wants of an exuberant society for centuries . Society has drawn down on so much of that capital that they are now running into predicaments in sustaining the edifice that has been built up. Over population, the impact of climate change and the declining oil supply are some predicaments causing concern and some action. There is, however, little recognition that industrialized civilization is in its senescence. It will have to learn to prioritize the use of the remaining capital.

So the basis of the reality is simple but the likely consequences are numerous and their severity will most likely vary appreciably with time and place. They will give rise to a range of predicaments for elements of society to face sometime. Some are described below. Some, like climate change, may become slowly apparent. There are signs that it is already under way but there is still inherent uncertainty because of the complexity of the issue. There are sound reasons to believe that oil supply is declining but the speed is and will remain uncertain. The situation with respect to water is just as uncertain. There may well be predicaments that suddenly emerge. Plagues are possible and they will be a tax on resources when they occur. What is much more certain is that various regions will have to allocate resources to mitigate a range of predicaments as they become apparent. Some are being harshly hit even now whilst others will have no problems coping for many decades. Money will continue to enable a minority to avoid most of these predicaments but this does not affect the principle that industrialized civilization has done a remarkable job in using energy to irreversibly decimate its life support system. But reality will inevitably win out as it is tangible while money is intangible, a figment of manipulation. The rich will think they are immune to the decline but they are mortal.

Action on these predicaments will depend on their nature and on the perceptions of those who will make the decisions. The slow awakening over decades to the deleterious impact of the use of fossil fuels is just one major example of widespread misperception. The murky moves by the transportation industry to provide some degree of substitution for vehicles dependent on oil for their fuel illustrates a reticence to face reality. There is a tendency to believe that industry will provide the leadership in the responses to looming predicaments with governments providing some support. The abject failure of this tardy mechanism calls for people power to become the main driver but that is only slowly emerging. It seems that widespread mitigating action will only develop when the predicaments are having a severe impact.

What has happened

The use of the exhaustible fossil fuels has powered industrialization but, unwittingly, has instigated an irreversible climate change and other malfeasances, including harming our own health as well as that of many other creatures. This use has also fueled land, sea and air transportation that is unsustainable as the natural resources needed to build, operate and maintain the vehicles deplete and the damage done accumulates. The emerging signs of the decline in oil supply is encouraging the production of agrofuels at the expense of food supply. As peak oil appears out of the fog and a decline in world production is imminent, the oil industry must choose among four alternatives: try to become a dominant participant, find a niche operational talent, harvest assets, or liquidate quickly. The last thing the industry will do is take into account the damage done by their exploitation. The fossil fuels have also facilitated the temporary explosive growth in food production but that has speeded up the irreversible depletion of soil fertility and groundwater supplies while it has often created maritime, salinity and desertification problems. This growth in food production by synthetic means has contributed to the explosive growth in population but at the expense of knowledge about how to farm sustainably garnered over millennia. It has also fostered urbanization and specialization, so reducing the capability to meet basic needs when the supply of energy from the fossil fuels declines. The use of natural resources to build cities and the associated infrastructure has so depleted the natural bounty that there will be a major predicament in maintaining them as the bounty becomes scarce. The use of natural resources to provide urban water and sanitation systems has contributed profoundly to human longevity, so the large population, but maintenance of these systems will become increasingly difficult as the available natural resources decline. A number of cities are already having to face up to this predicament. Logging of old growth forests provides the material of junk mail promoting the virtue of buying more stuff that ends its short life in landfill! De forestation to feed the wants of the burgeoning population has reduced the carbon sinks so has contributed to the irreversible global warming but not as much as burning fossil fuels. Industrialization has facilitated the semi-regulated building of large cities and the associated infrastructure without providing sufficient natural resources for their maintenance and repair. Science and technology has enabled business to utilize natural resources to meet societal needs and wants without using the precautionary principle to ensure harm is not done to the eco system or its, human and animal, populations. Society has the unwa
rranted belief that they can devise so
und substitutes for the self-regulating natural measures that have evolved over eons. The resulting unintended consequences are starting to be felt. Human health is deteriorating, despite medical advances, because of the deleterious impact of many products marketed for their illusory beneficial attributes. Other species are suffering even more. Climate change is adding uncertainty to the complexity of the operations of modern society with deleterious consequences. The material standard of living is improving for many but the quality of life is plummeting as many work harder for no beneficial purpose.

Carmania is an addiction, like smoking, whose apparent transitory beneficial aspects are, in reality, far outweighed by the long-term costs on the natural bounty and societal attitudes. It is an addiction that is spreading from the developed countries to the developing ones even as its insidious nature and its costs become more apparent to the bourgeois. Carmania is fostered by a cancerous growth industry that feeds indiscriminately on the eco system, while it is able. It has made a major contribution to using up oil as well as other natural resources. It has now been complemented by flymania because distant grasses are always greener in the myopic view of the blind. It, too, has been fostered temporarily by an industry that has a major harmful impact on the eco system. These invasive species will quite rapidly die out due to lack of fuel, despite desperate efforts to use nature to produce fuel instead of food. There is still the view that the well off must have their toys even if it means that many cannot have sufficient food or drink potable water.

War machines have a similar problem. The resources available to them to chase after natural resources are declining while the opposition are often not playing the game. They employ more effective means of using fewer material resources by using their intellectual resources better! Consequently, war machines are another struggling invasive species but they are not dying without a fight.

People like as much comfort as they can afford. Heating in their homes and offices when it is cold outside and air conditioning when it is hot are regarded as essentials by the well off. Electricity from coal-fired power stations emitting noxious gases some distance away often powers these devices. The slow realization that this dirty source of energy is having widespread deleterious effects is only very gradually causing a change in attitude amongst those most able to mitigate the harmful effects by ensuring others suffer the consequences. Many around the globe have never enjoyed the benefits of having electricity. But they are likely to suffer most from the damaging effects of its generation.

Economic growth is a measure of the increasing ability of the huge population to ravage, for now, the eco system for its selfish and self-destroying purposes. It means that more people are able to enjoy a high materialistic standard of living at the expense of what is still available from the ecosystem. The Americans have led the way. They have plundered their natural bounty capital to such an extent that they have to import, by fair means and foul, sufficient to maintain their wasteful life style. Naturally, other countries are doing their utmost to emulate these ‘leaders’ with China now heading the materialism race, with disastrous ecological and social consequences at home and away. The generation of paper wealth is facilitating the consumption frenzy and ensuring that the inevitable inflation will be harder for the emerging middle classes to live with.

This leadership race means that there are many people who cannot get their fair share of what the ecosystem can afford. Globalization has added variety to the lives of the well off but not all its impacts have been beneficial. It is proving to be a good mechanism for spreading diseases. The equine ‘flu disaster in Australia could well be an indicator of much more to come.

Science and technology has attempted to produce sound means of using natural resources. Often the procedures that have resulted have had unintended consequences. The impact on climate of burning fossil fuels is now being recognized but it is not the only deleterious consequence of our very limited understanding of how the eco system really operates. This system has checks and balances that have evolved over eons to provide a degree of natural self-regulation. Yet humankind has the arrogance to believe they can quickly devise means of substituting for these proven natural operations without paying an unexpected price. They believe that it is possible to continually use the limited natural resources, like oil. They believe it is possible to continually produce irrevocable wastes without harming themselves or the environment. They believe it is possible to take over a large part of this environment for their civilization and still expect the ecosystem to provide sufficient of its goods and services to meet society’s needs and wants. They are now slowly learning the lesson that they are not omnipotent, despite the trumpeting of their ‘leaders’.

The powerful in society have traditionally used their leverage to satisfy their lust for symbols of their success. They have been able to use the labors of the proletariat, the advances of technology and the available natural resources to build up their edifice. They believe they are immune to the demolition of the foundations so they continue to play their money games. But the subprime mortgages, leverage, hedge funds, so credit squeeze, have made the game so opaque that the game is now beyond the ken of those who hope to gain from their investments. The coming crash into the depression will have to vie with climate change, conflict for energy and the awakening of the bourgeois from their dreams for their endeavors. They will doubtless apply their version of the ‘precautionary principle’ in that they will rely on market forces to correct the problems exacerbated by market forces!

Big business takes pride in reading the signs so their operations are profitable, so rewarding to many who have nothing more to offer than money. They look ahead for opportunities for them regardless of the consequences for the ecosystem or society as a whole. They manipulate the labor and natural resources markets to be competitive: this is a lose-lose situation as it is like a rattlesnake chasing its tail. Their efforts are just hastening the demise of the organism they feed on. Yet capitalism continues to grow in its influence even as the operations of civilization become more chaotic. Many businesses are turning to making the most of this chaos!

The proletariat, as ever, chase after the material standard of living thrown up before them on TV yet wonder why their quality of life is dissipating. They are encouraged by business to consume a declining natural bounty. They are encouraged to work hard, often uselessly, to leave a legacy that, in reality, will be a paucity of natural bounty.

The limits to growth of civilization are constrained by the remaining natural bounty. This growth continues today only because the powerful encourage ravaging of the declining bounty without concern for future generations and for the health of the life support system. Society is encouraged to believe in usufruct even though it is a delusion. The elite believe, falsely, that money can continue to usurp the Dependence Law. That sums up the misdirection of civilization. That is what has gone wrong.

As a consequence, society will have to face up to a number of predicaments. There is uncertainty as to when and how severe they individually will be in various regions but it is certain that they will have to be faced in the relatively near future and, in aggregate, they will force a major change in the way society operates although that will have little influence on the ensuring decline. The responses to these predicaments will, naturally, var
y appreciably from country to country, region to region an
d society to society with the powerful, as ever, trying to set the rules even though nature will determine the outcome.

The predicaments

There are many fundamental predicaments to be faced by a society aiming for a sound future in association with the eco system. Society has taken for granted for millennia that they have a right to use up natural resources without due redress. That mistake has been exacerbated tremendously in recent times with the exuberant use of the exhaustible fossil fuels and the consequential synthetic food production, population explosion and climate change. We now need a means to realistically deal with this draw down of the natural capital in cost accounting that reflects all eco costs. There is growing recognition that oil is too financially cheap in many regions for the long term good. This has resulted in its wasteful use and is precipitating a supply crisis, desperate moves to get a share of what remains and to put in place alternative supplies of energy. There will be a gradual responsive move in the cost of exhaustible resources. That, however, does not reconcile the fact that a society should really pay a realistic price for the right to use up exhaustible resources now, so that they are not needlessly depriving future generations. This is a moral and ethical question. It is ironical that business looks ahead in deciding the policies most likely to lead to profits, yet governments do not look ahead as to what measures constitute the most worthwhile use of the remaining natural bounty capital. The implementation of a rational financial cost for this right is one predicament for which a solution should be sort even though most of the damage has already been done. The market is already showing the way but the price is still too cheap for the well off in developed countries. The ones that have done the most damage are the ones who will suffer least from the coming consequences!

The above highlights a major mental predicament, how to get the powerful to think about the realities of the operation of civilization rather than in terms of that abstraction, money. The argument can be made that money will continue to be a useful mechanism for the operations of society once circumstances ensure that it more accurately values issues. Inflation will reduce the ability of many to wastefully consume natural bounty. The restoration of true worth to money could well prove to be the case eventually but the transition would require a major change in the mindset of those who presently gain the most from the current economic growth paradigm. Some businesses are adapting to the developing chaotic natural and societal circumstances by adopting disaster capitalism. This will help society to cope with these developments, but at a price, their outrageous profits.

There is no existing procedure to take account of what will happen in the future in view of decisions made now about constructing cities, buildings, infrastructure, plant, equipment and vehicles. We know this infrastructure will deteriorate with time. That is an irreversible process that can only be eased by using other natural resources for its maintenance and repair. That is, there is a commitment to use more resources, including non-replenishing ones, in the future implicitly embedded in the decision for construction. There is no mechanism to meet this commitment using this rational approach. There seems to be a widespread belief that San Francisco, the Kremlin, Panama Canal, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the London sewerage system and the like will be everlasting. There is an increasing tendency to cut back on budgets for this maintenance purpose even as the requirement increases as cities and the associated infrastructure blossom in an uncontrolled fashion. Governments are going to have to face the dilemma of a commitment to use natural bounty at a high rate for this maintenance and repair when the capability is declining rapidly. The existing predicament will be exacerbated so long as growth continues. Continuing population and consumption increases will make the dilemma harder. Of course, this predicament will become different when population inevitably starts to decline.

Industrial installations and urbanization have unexpectedly seriously modified biodiversity and geodiversity deleteriously in many cases. Natural mechanisms have had a limited capability to cope with these misdemeanors. Nevertheless, there have been circumstances where the operations of civilization have been noticeably adversely affected. There is a need to divert natural resources away from normal operations to enable remedial action when the cost is judged to be worthwhile. Current programs to ease species extinctions are but a small step in the right direction. Establishment of wildlife corridors will slow the biodiversity devastation down only slightly. Society will have to adapt as best they can to the damage their activities have done to the operation of the eco system, like causing climate change.

A crucial example of this lack of self-regulation in the operation of civilization is the treatment of industrial and human waste material. The current sewerage and waste disposal systems entail the use of copious amounts of valuable water to contaminate lakes, rivers and seas with toxic wastes and to remove valuable nutrients from the soil. A good case can be made for using some of the remaining natural bounty to remedy this situation to some extent by more appropriate measures. The predicament is that such a measure would put a major strain on the natural bounty available to many communities while the beneficial effect on human health would exacerbate the over population predicament.

Civilization has traditionally fostered social diversity with reinforcing feedback mechanisms tending to grow the range from those unable to obtain the basics to those rich people who presume the right to devastate the ecosystem to their heart’s content while making no real contribution to the basic operation of the community. Society has built up a material standard of living by using cheap industrial energy in processes that focus on personal comfort, transportation, consumptionism and self-gratification – for some. There is an urgent need for those in an advantageous position because of this mechanism to accept the consequential moral responsibility to alleviate the impact of their eco cost. Unfortunately, there is very little sign of that happening. In fact, the contrary is still growing rapidly in many communities, accentuated by the growing disconnect between money and real worth. Easy credit is giving many the leverage to hasten the decline.

The cultural values that used to be the foundations of so many communities have been largely dissipated in urbanization in pursuit of meaningless work to earn money to purchase stuff. This loss of values has degraded human self-esteem. It is a predicament that needs to be tackled to ease the inevitable power down. There needs to be a trend towards relocalization, the sense of community, doing rather than having, less work for financial rewards so there is more time and energy for family, friends and pleasing and satisfying activities. The Earth Revolution could well contribute appreciably to that objective.

This social diversity has gone hand in hand with specialization. The reducing availability of industrial energy will apply pressure on those careers fostering consumerism and intellectual (including financial) games but there will most likely still be a need to actively divert workers into what are presently regarded as mundane jobs. The foundations of society have to be maintained to hold up the edifice. People need to get sufficient food and water and other essentials. It will be quite a predicament to establish a reasonable balance between what is necessary and what is desirable in an egalitarian sense.

The rise and fall of a number of civilizations have been examined. The unsustainable use of the available natural resources has been seen to be a
major contributing factor to
their demise. These discussions have been couched in various terms but they are all consistent with the view expressed in terms of the tendency to go from order to disorder, from simplicity to complexity. There are clear signs that entrepreneurs are seeking to take advantages of cracks in this complex society. This is a reinforcing feedback mechanism as measures to counter these efforts just add to the complexity. This predicament will ease only slightly as society is forced to power down due to the scarcity of natural resources.

A major predicament is that there are many millions who believe that they have a right to a high standard of living by using natural resources. This is a standard of living that the ecosystem cannot possibly sustain. They have to learn that they should be responsible for making their fair share of contributions to worthwhile operations in order to earn the right to what they and their kin consume.

There is a need to reduce consumption as this will reduce the rate of draw down of the natural bounty. More realistic pricing of goods and services will contribute to that objective but have the dual consequences of tending to deprive the poor of needs while having little impact on the rich. This is a major predicament. There has to be some means of positively encouraging fairer sharing of the remaining natural bounty else social unrest will have a serious impact.

There are many millions of knowledgeable people who can take the provision of sustenance for granted so have appreciable personal energy that needs an outlet. There is a major predicament in channeling this energy into worthwhile activities. There will be forces, including the Greater Depression that will foster this re-direction. The Earth Revolution could well provide a major motivation to be more realistic. Society has to learn to live frugally on the remaining natural bounty. It has to embrace a diet to ease the senescence of civilization.

Most communities have governance that believes in the economic growth paradigm but are ignorant of the associated acceleration of demolition of the foundations. These governments encourage population growth and tend to encourage business to also grow. That is, the powerful are doing their utmost to encourage increasing rate of natural bounty draw down, so societal suicide as well as ecocide. This predicament has to be overcome to aid the power down. These people are in a position to have a major influence on what are worthwhile uses of what is left of the natural bounty. However, they have the inherent problem that they are likely to lose power if they propose measures that are unpopular. The wising up of many informed people cannot really accomplish a lot unless the community leadership also heads down that path. More realistic education can encourage the young to embrace the Earth Revolution but positive measures will be necessary to change the mindset of those in power. That will be difficult because they will be immune to the reality of the decline until trickle up belatedly hits them.

Business is competitive. They aim to make a financial profit and to grow. Corporations compete to produce goods and services, so, generally irresponsibly, to draw down on the natural bounty unnecessarily. They are essentially competing to unknowingly contribute to the demise of civilization and the desecration of the eco system. This is a major predicament to be faced to ease the power down. It is a seemingly impossible task to harness the power of business to only draw down on the natural bounty for purposes worthwhile to the community at large while easing the devastation of the eco system.

The powerful in government and business believe in the continuing availability of the vast amounts of energy that drives industrial civilization. They believe technology will provide substitutes where scarcity may emerge. The predicament is to make these ‘leaders’ pull their heads out of the sand and recognize the reality that the era of cheap energy is over for good. Worthwhile use of a reduced supply of energy would do much to ease the necessary power down. A realistic appreciation of this predicament would do more for this process than un-directed technology.

The fact, however, is that industrial civilization is addicted to using this cheap energy so will have to try to maintain a reasonable supply to avoid a collapse rather than a power down. This is a major predicament as the easy oil has already been extracted so future sources will come only at an increasing rate of draw down of the natural bounty. Reducing the demand for energy will certainly help to ease this predicament.

The industrialized countries have used this cheap energy to build up their capability much more than the developing and undeveloped ones. This is reflected in their financial wealth, which generally artificially augments their capability to ravage the eco system. This means that they have the leverage to gain more than their fair share of the remaining global natural bounty capital. This reinforcing feedback mechanism means that a very large section of society faces a major predicament in preventing catabolic collapse as the bounty declines while a small section carries on with its pillaging hardly diminished.

Cheap energy has undoubtedly been a major factor in the growth of civilization but water supply has not grown. In fact it has been depleting in many regions as groundwater has been drawn down just to meet present needs, primarily to produce food. China has been trying to address the water supply problem in the north for years, without success, as economic growth over whelms their eco system. It is a developing predicament in many regions.

It is ironical that as populations increase and the food demands of many increases, the capability for food production is declining. The declining availability of groundwater and arable land coupled to the declining ability of the fossil fuels to aid food provision is causing a major predicament that is spreading globally. Declining soil fertility is essentially ensuring that there will be traumatic population decline in many of the undeveloped regions.

An associated need is for a major cultural change, which can be dubbed the Earth Revolution. There are a few communities globally that recognize that they have to make do with the natural bounty available to them and are adapting accordingly. However, most people have very little appreciation of what has actually happened, what has gone wrong. There needs to be a widespread awakening. The Revolution needs to spread rapidly so actions to mitigate the decline can be implemented in a timely manner. It is most likely to spread from some of the middle classes in the developed and developing countries.

Industrial civilization has been able devastate the ecosystem largely because the use of the fossil fuels has provided many with cheap energy slaves. This has levered up their personal energy to consume and encouraged urban society to be habitat robbers. This is a physical reality. It has, however, been compounded by the rampant creation of paper money in many countries. The resultant ‘wealth’ has further encouraged consumerism by many people and has augmented their ability to sate their lust. This is an imaginary reality compounding the physical one. It is likely to continue even when the price for energy increases appreciably. The predicament is to foster timely power down amongst the well off. This would slow down the wasteful consumption of the natural bounty.

Many enjoy the advantages of the affluent society stemming from the exuberant use of the natural bounty. It will be a major predicament to convince them that this pillaging of the natural bounty cannot continue, as the store is getting low. Price, as ever, will be the major means of reducing the rate of draw down but that will hardly be social justice. The Earth Revolution could foster a fairer power down. But it will be an awesome task to convince most people
that the supposed progress was really degrad
ing the life support system for their descendents. They need to be convinced that many of current society will leave a horrifying legacy. They will have to change the mindset they were indoctrinated with.

A major predicament is to convince society that economic growth only confers temporary and unsustainable material standard of living gains on some people at the expense of irrevocable degradation of the life support system for all. Society has to learn that the reality is the tendency for civilization to become more disordered. The current common belief that the high material standard of living will trickle down needs to be replaced by the understanding that the predicaments facing society will inevitably trickle up as the global natural capital irreversibly depletes.

Industrial installations have produced wastes that have profoundly influenced operation of the ecosystem. The emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is undoubtedly the major one because it has instigated climate change. But land, sea and air pollution is having a significant impact on flora and fauna, including human, health. A reduction in the rate of usage of fossil fuels is quite likely in the future but that will only, at best, slow climate change down. There is little doubt that appreciable amounts of natural resources, including fossil fuels, will have to be used to mitigate the impact of this climate change and to adapt to its consequences. Those activities could take various forms in the different regions. Industrialized regions have been the prime causative factor of climate change and have the greatest dependence on using fossil fuels to maintain their life style. Agricultural regions are most likely to suffer from climate change and their access to the basics is threatened. An appreciable eco cost is irrevocably entailed in adaptation to and mitigation of this change. Some predatory regions may be able to mitigate the impact by importation of natural resources or goods, whilst there are still communities they can prey on. Emigration could be beneficial if there are still communities that can cope with the additional eco cost but investment does not necessarily help.

There is little doubt that climate change is detrimentally affecting biodiversity. This adds uncertainty to the disruptive effects of the build of civilization. It is expected to have a detrimental effect on food production. Mitigating this disruption is a major predicament even as we become more aware of how dependent the operation of the ecosystem is on balanced biodiversity.

Climate change is beginning to get a lot of attention but it is by no means the only major impact of polluting due to industrialization. Atmospheric pollution is posing major health problems in many cities, particularly in Asia. Ground water pollution by toxic chemicals is having numerous deleterious impacts on many forms of life, including marine. The chemicals used to foster agriculture often have a serious impact on soil fertility. Attempts are being made to reduce the use of plastic bags because they do so much harm during their long life. These predicaments can only be slightly ameliorated by improved management of the causative factors.

Civilization has built up a major infrastructure, primarily in the cities, to enable its operations. Many of these will become redundant or, even worse, useless as the decline reduces need for many goods and services while many leave the cities in an endeavor to obtain the necessities. This modification of the infrastructure will place an additional demand on the natural bounty, so hastening its decline. It will be another reinforcing feedback mechanism. It will place a demand for improved risk management to ease this decline.

Society has also built up arrange of services that are now regarded as indispensable, even though they are based on using exhaustible natural resources. Health care is one of that has blossomed in recent times and is doomed to a large degree of decimation just when demand is increasing due to the aging population.

Many people are deemed to be wealthy by virtue of having financial or material assets. This is a reality in the illusory operation of current society. The material assets will continue to be valuable only so long as natural resources are used to maintain them. The financial assets grossly over-estimate the real worth because the real eco cost of their accumulation was not incorporated. There will be a major predicament in encouraging these wealthy people to understand that the diminution of their financial wealth by hyperinflation is the result of the malfeasance of the economy.

These predicaments stem to a very large extent from the fundamental one that we have irresponsibly reproduced our kind. There are now too many humans. We have temporarily overshot partly by means of using up cheap fossil fuels to synthetically but temporarily bolster the food supply. The major advances in hygiene and medicine have had a big impact that has only partly been offset by the consequences of pollution. There are many communities where the population is way too high for the available natural bounty, so accelerating the emergence of a range of predicaments. It is a major predicament that will slowly go away, predominantly by natural means although rational approaches may help. Potential parents should recognize that children are a liability that they should pay for by making worthwhile contributions to the actual operations of civilization.

The rapid increase in food production in recent times has fostered the delusion that a majority of this large population can continue to be well fed. Climate change is expected to aid declining fossil fuel supply in killing that delusion. There is little scope for science and technology to ease this predicament, despite the corporate claims.

Some of these are predicaments have existed for millennia. Others have sprouted in the past century. It is to be hoped that awakening to the present situation will encourage concerned intellectuals to come up with a means of handling them to some extent. Science and technology are powerful forces that need to be more directed to easing the predicaments that, in many cases, they facilitated in the first place. There will be no panacea but a range of measures may ease the pain. This remedial action will have to encompass wise use of technology to enable worthwhile substitution for existing wasteful procedures. Sound tackling of some predicaments could well ease others. However, a profound cultural change will also be necessary and that will take time and wisdom: both of these are in short supply! This cultural change would be profoundly helped by people asking themselves ‘What right have we to use up resources that it took nature eons to produce and thereby devastate the environment with our irrevocable wastes while we degrade the habitat of other species’.

One of the major predicaments is that there is a wide range of views, even amongst the powerful, and this inhibits action. There are deniers of over population, global warming and resource scarcity. This is due to a range of factors including lack of understanding of the mechanisms involved, conditioned prejudices, vested interests and conflicting views. The written and spoken word has its limitations in conveying understanding that is compounded by the above noisy influences. It will take time and effort to reduce the associated uncertainties and biases sufficiently to lead to action. Focusing on the predicaments listed here will help this unwieldy process but not enough to lead to action that will mitigate the decline appreciably. It would require an almost unbelievable change in mindset of the many ‘informed’ people who have been indoctrinated by the fallacious economic growth paradigm . Doubtless, however, there will be a growing number of earnest people rising to the challenge. They will foster the Earth Revolution because they understand the Dependence Law.

The I
nformation Revolution has exacerbated this
understanding predicament. The computer age has aided the communication of knowledge but has resulted in information overload . It is ironical that it is very dependent on the continuing availability of the natural resources for the construction and operation of the technology on which it is based. There will be a major predicament in extracting worthwhile knowledge from this morass of information and storing it in a sustainable medium for future generations.

The treatment

Devising means of slowing down the use of the remaining natural bounty, including what climate change is doing to the environment and its inhabitants, is the only feasible treatment. The plundering countries need to lead the way. That treatment means encouraging both population decline and the decline of what many people, the exploiters in particular, consume for their selfish wants. And we do not have much of that bounty left as we have already used up a lot of the exhaustible sources of energy, that driver of civilization. That is what has gone wrong.

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