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Wow, great post George! I wish I had something like this to learn instead of the worthless, redundant and awful structure of the general education at OU. How was I suppose to become a well rounded person by relearning the same government, fine arts and English stuff from high school, what a joke/waste of my time. The closest I think I have gotten to systems perspectives is through my industrial engineering curriculum, which isn't all that broad IMO. I think I've learned most of my systems thinking from works and likes of Nate Hagens, Jeff Vail, You and others at theOilDrum and various related websites/blogs. Do you have any good books you would recommend for getting a better systems perspective? I mean is there any book out there that includes, i.e The more Hierarchical in nature a system is the more vulnerable the system as a whole is to to systemic shock. While the less hierarchical and more decentralized/Rhizome-like/diversified a system is the more resilient the system is as a whole to systemic shocks/collapse? -Andrew Crews
Toggle Commented Mar 31, 2009 on The Science of Systems 2 at Question Everything
"We must, of course, plan a course that exploits all feasible renewable sources of energy as best we can........... a steady-state, sustainable world. " One other idea: I think that there are limiting factors on how comfortable of a standard of living one can maintain under a sustainable society using renewable energy flows. Renewable energy is very very disperse, and certain standards of living require certain levels of energy concentration. I'm guessing that in a truly sustainable society the only mechanism for which people can concentrate energy are very labor intensive which explains the common use of slave and animal labor throughout history? If your idea of a comfortable sustainable living is like much of the green crowd, i think that it might be a bit of a dream. It might be easier to just alter our perception of whats comfortable? Perhaps that's why drugs are so addictive? Besides, whats to keep a society from trying to increase its level of comfort? I think Jeff Vail argues that at its root, hierarchical society is unsustainable because of these types of positive feedback loops. Which he outlines in his article "The Problem of Growth." Very enjoyable post, I apologize if my thoughts and comments a bit jumbled or disorganized. Keep up the blogging! -Andrew
Toggle Commented Feb 21, 2009 on The End of Growth at Question Everything
Ironically we are not evolved to fit the environment we've created. Perhaps, though, evolution knows what is best to survive. After all, systems perspectives and thinking, lots of curiosity, the gaining of knowledge are not as useful as we'd think in the natural world that was indicative of most of our species life. This way of life we live is obviously not meant to last, so why should we think that the type of thinking used to sustain it should be a desirable trait? Wisdom seems to be a trait not inherently valuable to our long term survival as a species, then again, we might be doomed to extinction due to the unnatural environment we have created because of our lack of it. I guess only time can tell for sure? ----------------------------
Toggle Commented Feb 21, 2009 on The End of Growth at Question Everything
From an evolutionary perspective i think this comes from the fact that as a species we are not evolutionarily caught-up with our complex society's. We are relatively the same biologically and evolutionarily as we were a million years ago, however the complexity of civilization has only developed in the last few thousand years. Politicians take advantage of the fact that people are more drawn to the aspects of a person than they are the issues or complex ideals they may be discussing. Since our lineage from primates, it was much more beneficial to be able to tell class relationships and hierarchical order than it was to understand the ways and mechanics of procuring food. Recent research shows that even baboons are excellent at determining leaders and the social relationships between the two. In our society, a logical argument can be defeated in the minds of the masses with simple charismatic rhetoric, which politicians are masters of. It seems that we can't even get around the whole, shooting of the messenger, which is so often used against peak oil and many of these uncomfortable matters. I think you made an excellent point that we are not suited biologically to get past these problems. Most my college age friends while they might grasp the ideal of peak oil, don't understand it's gravity nor have the interest or patience to delve into any of this stuff. It seems like most people are apathetic on any issue or ideal outside their narrow boundary bubble, or don't rationally pursue understanding along the lines of the scientific method or logical thinking, but instead find facts to fit their conclusions. I'm sure I've done this kind of thinking somewhere along the line but not as much as most I hope.
Toggle Commented Feb 21, 2009 on The End of Growth at Question Everything
Wow, wow, wow.... This is the best summary of humanity's current predicament I've seen to date. I almost want to type one word to describe what this article summarizes but it is such a complex issue. I believe you covered almost everything, the law of receding horizons, EROEI, peak oil, discount rates and of course overshoot. Wonderful article I enjoyed reading it! The biggest problem that limits people from understanding any of these issues it seems, is their pride and huberis which seems to make the jump that humans are part of a separate environment or system than the "natural ones" or that they are above physical laws. I believe there is awful feedback loop that results when society becomes too complex. People in general lack a system perspective, sapience or wisdom, if you will, as you've said in this essay and many others. When society becomes networks upon networks built on, you guessed it, more networks, people often in their own isolated part of this network, become more isolated from the processes of the network as a whole. Before the fossil fuel age, agriculture was a relatively simple process that everyone could see unfolding all around them. They could plainly see, that if these crops failed they were in big trouble. Today, people seem to understand if mentioned that modern petro-agriculture is created through many processes which most can identify with individually. But by large, The lay persons idea of the food production process involves a man with a name-tag stacking it on the shelf, and themselves carrying it to the register and paying for it. Nobody, while they have a vague understanding of what tractors, 18-wheelers and barges do, they never seem to make the connection between these processes and the grocery store. Of those that do, It seems not many seem to make the links between energy production process and all the steps it takes to get to those tractors, irrigation pumps and cargo-container filled ships. Even the best systems analyst/generalist have only vague and generalized ideas of the the entire system as a whole, energy, economy and environment based on general relationships. I guess as we add more systems to our society our ability to understand the whole system fades dramatically. I see this in the real world all the time. The Energy Secretary of our state, whom I asked several questions and discussed certain matters with, seemed to have this problems of placing boundaries too narrowly. He seemed to understand the oil production issues but didn't quite get the concepts you illustrated about the limits to renewable energies or their reliance on fossil fuel. The more vague these concept of these systems and networks that run society become, the easier we can ignore hard facts or remain in complete denial, because the more complex things get, facts turn to opinions. It is becomes easier to label someone as a doom and gloom pessimist facist neo-liberal socialist darwin-nazi than to start to start a logical discussion or analysis of the factors involved in these issues.
Toggle Commented Feb 21, 2009 on The End of Growth at Question Everything
Dr. Mobus, I can't agree enough George! I was wondering the other day, if it would make a difference if policy were enacted to use different and abolish the old metrics then perhaps people would start to function along different economic paradigms? I think Memmel's comments a while back at theoildrum,have an interesting perspective on real wealth. I like the furniture analogy. I worry that basing our economy on strictly energetic inputs, could falter in two ways. 1. I'm not sure that pricing based on energy could account for negative externalities such as pollution, overfishing. Also a cost that has to be considered is a risk price mechanism accounting for the marginal risk of degrading a resource, pollution ect, that might cause some sort of calamity. i.e Monocropping may be more efficient and the better idea in energetic terms but the risk of relying on a single strain of crops for food, can have disastrous consequences, i.e irish potato blight. What is to keep us from cutting down every last tree that will lead to a great than 1 energy ratio? 2. Also, the way society and the world is today, it seems we are heading towards the net energy cliff which I suppose in an energy based currency would just be a hyperinflation crash? Perhaps this is a system better based on renewable energy sources, for the people of the future? I'd love to hear your thoughts George. Keep up the blogging! Regards, Andrew
George, I have never seen that non-renewable energy source model before, Thank you for the excellent post. I agree that coming up with PRACTICAL and realistic ideas is the best thing we as people can do at this point. I was wondering about the graph of net energy and total raw energy extracted, and I was wondering what role our relentless pursuit towards efficiency plays towards shaping the net energy curve. I believe that the equation of the net energy for sonsumption graph is energy_yaxis=(Ereturned-Einvested-Econsumed)time+current net energy. So the slope of the graph would be (Er-Ei-Ec)? and efficiency increases mean you can keep growing energy consumption? Would that mean chasing efficiency speeds up the way along this curve, although, I think at some point not chasing efficiency allows you to do less with your net energy thereby causing human suffering, famine, economic turmoil? Just some thoughts. Also in the back of my mind I have considered a rather unpleasant scenario. The scenario that industrial society will continue to live ,via vast reductions in the population of the world poor and starving, for many more decades than many peak oiler's and related views would think. We have seen that the market mechanism places those poor to be the first to lose out in the bidding on the world food supply. Starvation, Famine and Economic turmoil would tend to intensify this process, where the poorest third world countries, will collapse first, due to rising social instability among the poor, aka food riots, health riots ect, along with their populations. What keeps industrial civilization alive is per capita energy, so reductions in population and consumption would allow, the civilized world to drive their cars and eat their McDonald longer( maintain per capita energy. So basically via pathogens( man made?), famine, war and all those other horsemen, population becomes reduced to lengthen survival on dwindling resources. The negatively sloped portion of the overshoot-collapse waveform, might allow the elite of the world to continue listening to ipods. The marketplace will shed demand, and I'm afraid it might be done by rather crude and unforgiving methods, all while they elite of society fiddle/go to parties/listen to ipods while the world burns. It is a disturbing thought indeed but, I think in the lens of history, this scenario might be relevant. After all, If we took the moral optimistic side in our predictions 1000 years ago we would not have foreseen a fraction of mankind's bloody and violent history. One could argue that morals are a luxury, and there are few who stick to their morals even when their survival is a stake, (that's why they call them martyr's) Are they all of rich and elite of the (it would only take a few) going to sit by and watch civilization crumble, or are they going to use all those, weapons of mass destruction (Modern Armies, nuclear weapons, human manipulated Virulent 99% lethal Ebola strains, the marketplace pricing mechanism) or just let them sit there? I am not arguing a conspiracy theory as much as that these outcomes could arrive by much more reasonable processes, such as war for dwindling resources? I think in a way the world has chosen, out of ignorance, to bring this scenario upon itself by growing population in that face of dwindling resources[ who has all those Somalian children anyway, ]. Most of the smooth net energy curves, oil consumption, and population graphs) are assumed to be static in these type of speculative analysis. However, we all know the world is many systems connected together, and that smooth curves, only result from very simple one variable experiments, and these problems involve an incredible amount of variables. When I'm researching these issues, I always come back to the quote said by whom I don't know, probably someone very wise, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Regards, Andrew