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27 November 2006 @ 04:26 pm
Why we are doomed, Part 1: Human Nature  
Here are a few thoughts on exactly why we are doomed, specifically related to human behavior. Most of these have some supporting links with them, but you've probably seen them before. First off, a reminder that "the problem" is ecological overshoot (including both resource depletion and environmental degradation), which will eventually reduce the human population on earth to less than 2 billion. A side effect of the resource scarcity caused by overshoot is that industrial civilization will collapse, since industrial civilization requires not just a huge amount of resources, but an ever-increasing supply of resources, to continue functioning.
  1. Humans tend to be irrationally optimistic. That is, to be psychologically healthy, you must be optimistic regardless of reality, so humans have a bias towards being optimistic even when such optimism is unsupportable. They will even systematically ignore negative information to maintain their positive mood.
    "Perhaps the best documented of all psychological errors is the tendency to be over-optimistic." [...] "The finding of consistent over-optimism results from a number of psychological biases, such as the illusion of control and self-attribution bias."

    Montier, James (2002) "Behavioral finance: insights into irrational minds and markets" Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

    The key to modern life is strategic ignorance.
  2. Despite there being no evidence that "God" exists, humans continue to believe that he will save them:
    Inhofe: Don’t worry about global warming because ‘God’s still up there’. “In an interview with Fox and Friends this morning, outgoing Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works James Inhofe (R-OK) argued that the current wave of unprecedented warming is due to 'natural changes.' 'God’s still up there,' Inhofe said…”

    'Arrows for the War'. "Overpopulation isn't a problem in a universe where God promises a clean global slate."
  3. A very small minority of humans realize that there is even a problem and most of those people have severely underestimated the problem:
    "my city is running out of water and everyone's primary concern is how often they can water their lawns. everyone here has automatic sprinkler systems that they totally ignore, so it's not uncommon to see sprinklers firing off all over the place while it's raining." (switchstatement, http://community.livejournal.com/so_very_doomed/234795.html)

    Climate change is as serious as WMD: Annan. “UN chief Kofi Annan on Wednesday demanded that world leaders give climate change the same priority as they did to wars and to curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.” Actually, climate change is a lot more important than terrorist-weilded WMDs, which is what I assume he is talking about.
  4. As resource scarcity takes hold, people do not band together -- rather, they behave selfishly, which ultimately sabotages attempts to rise above the problem.
    Thieves target wind farms for high-cost copper cables.

    Copper theft stalls Italy trains. “Italian rail travellers have faced unexpected delays in recent weeks because of an increase in the theft of copper wire along train tracks.”
  5. Ecological overshoot is not really visible from the perspective of the overshooting species until it is too late:
    Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy
  6. Everyone is depending on economists to tell us what to do, yet economic theory cannot address a situation where all resources are rapidly becoming scarce (i.e., collapse or overshoot). I characterize this problem as overgeneralizing an expert's area of knowledge. This happens all the time. A doctor, for example, might be an expert in one particular subject, but people tend to assume that a doctor knows a lot about a lot of things. But in fact, most doctors don't even know anything about medicine outside their very specific area of expertise. Another example I'm sure you are aware of is Paul Ehrlich who is a very good entomologist but did a very poor job predicting the future price of copper because this is not his area of expertise. Everyone assumes that journalists know a lot about everything (and I think they actually believe it, too) but really all they know is how to write X column inches of blabulation before their deadline. Similarly, economists are only experts on the "normal" economy.
The Heretictheheretic on November 27th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
UN, grain, and the USA Lifeboat Solution
I basically agree with your points. However, I think that the USA is going to Lifeboat itself by making its citizens want to ignore the rest of the world during the Crash. 2-4 billion human beings are going to die in the next 15 years, probably. Most of them from Famine when the USA stops exporting grain to dependent countries. Some of them will die from famine associated with climate change, like Europe. Others from Ethnic Cleansing associated with the clash between the Muslims and Xtians, particularly in Europe.

It seems that the best way to make the USA ignore the world is either shame or pride. If the USA gets nuked, there's going to be a lot of anger and resentment and probably a serious flurry of bombs. That would end badly. The more intelligent option with the end that justifies the means is to nuke someone else. It will probably be Tehran. The condemnation that follows will cause the USA to break off ties with the rest of the world and stop reporting world news. You might even see a sectioning off of the internet. Ostensibly from external embargo by nations protesting the USA's use of a nuclear weapon. An embargo like this would have many benefits. It would strengthen US internal trade. It would allow all resouces to be put to rebuilding infrastructure, including factories, highways, railroads, etc. It would immediately cease all foreign spending. The world would demand the UN pay for it, but only the USA pays for the UN, mostly, so the UN would be shown to be what it is: a tax on American Guilt. Without Americans to pay for it, the UN will be a helpless debating society. The more shrill their demands, the less credibility they have and the USA will ignore them, or mock them. Pride at work. The world starves, the USA doesn't. USA wins, lifeboat successful.

Could this happen without a nuke? Yes. If the USA suffers humiliation in Iraq and pulls out the troops and Iraq collapses into total civil war and ethnic cleansing, an OPEC embargo would almost certainly happen, as would world condemnation. If the UN demanded the USA foot the bill for peacekeeping in Iraq, using UN "troops" to siphon the money, refusal to pay would cause "sanctions" which amount to the same thing as an embargo. You get to the same place, but Iran remains a threat. Its also more politically risky, since the UN needs the USA's grain supplies. However, very shortly so will the USA since crop yields will drop fast without petrochemicals to power their growth etc.

Using the last half decade of policies in the Middle East as a guide, the nuke is being saved for an emergency. General failure in Iraq and UN embargo seem to be the basic direction of the mission there, particularly since the embargo is reversible and US farmers can make all kinds of excuses why they won't sell grain overseas. If the levies fail in Louisiana again, it will be more difficult to barge the grain out. If there's no oil, you get a very low crop yield. The USA could declare strategic emergency rationing of grain to fill warehouses and just not ship it to Africa and China and India, all of whom have been less than allies.

If the USA public think the world hates them, and the only stories they hear from international travellers are about riots, kidnapping and murder of US citizens, they'll stay home and stop watching the world. Since Peak Oil is shortly going to make travel very expensive anyway, the timing is right.
The Heretictheheretic on November 27th, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
Civilization Post Peak, Post Crash
As for civilization, I don't think that's going to stop. For one thing, the next big surge in technology requires little electrical power or resources to do. That's genetic engineering. A lab could be run on the power from a few solar panels, a computer, a DNA printer (they exist, have been around since 1980), and a fridge to keep the samples chilled. I've taken a course in gene cloning. Much easier than I thought it would be. Now that the Human Genome project is in the decoding phase, ever advance is going to help with genetic engineering of crops, fighting disease, extending human life, etc. If things go the way I think they will, when the famine is over and the UN-remnants try to contact the USA, we're going to sneer and show them some of the things we've done while "trapped" in our huge country full of resources. Then we'll probably show them the border and tell them to get f&*ked. Why? Shouldn't all those countries have labs and do wonderful things too? Well, they might but without reliable food supply people will be more interested in killing each other and 2-4 billion have to die before equilibrium is reached with arable land, climate, water supply, and local food. If overpopulation is bad, even those things won't be enough to prevent a crash at that location. Lifeboating the entire country may be the solution to the problems of peak oil and climate change. You'll have to watch the other people drown, but if you lifeboat it right, you won't want to and you'll stop caring about the outside world. That's what I think the govt is doing right now, and why Iraq is being handled so incompetently. Its not to save face. Its to insure failure at the right time.
bikerbarbikerbar on November 27th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC)
Yes OK we are doomed. But reduced to 2 billion does not mean absolute extinction. Things will level out, the planet will heal. We should be glad, in a completely self-sacrificing, ready-to-die-for-the-planet kind of way.

But in the here and now I'm getting worried about the value of the dollar, it looks to be plummeting. (yet again) Gold jumped $11 dollars today. I'm wondering when to jump on the gold train, ie sell all my dollars for gold, maybe on goldmoney.com
Good article on The Real Deal
I like this quote from the peakoil.com forums about the crash of the dollar:

"It seems like it may be the only way out for the people running things. It will do a lot of things for them. They pay their debts back in worthless paper dollars, get rid of the middle class, and the elites are probably devising a plan to get rich off of all this. They probably have their assets in some eurobonds or something. "

The Heretic: Aquamantheheretic on November 27th, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
The crash of the $$ also stimulates domestic manufacturing since imported goods are getting too expensive. There's clearly a lag between this realization and the opening of domestic factories, but the economic push is there. With domestic goods comes domestic shipping, thus more impetus for trains. It also means that the price of gasoline will rise against the dollar. As inflation is fairly steady, that means the rise is steady even if oil production can become stable again. So the good news is, even though this country is at war with the middle class (and winning!), there will be poorly paid factory jobs to keep people occupied in their special mortgage slavery. Yay!
devintrout2525 on November 28th, 2006 01:30 am (UTC)
I don't think we'll become extinct altogether, but the population will certainly be thinned out a good deal. I figure there will be wars over dwindling resources followed by settling down at a much lower standard of living then before. Unless there's mass suicide over the collapse of our extravagent modern lifestyle.
fried2stylesfried2styles on November 28th, 2006 06:36 am (UTC)
I think that without most of these traits, primarily #1, we never would've achieved much of anything as a species, such as: literature, agriculture, metal-working, gun-powder(near and dear to YOUR heart, of course), computers, flight, cities(yes, they were a HUGE advance over scattered nomadic tribes), space travel, and internet pornography.

My point is that it's very hard to start blaming the attitudes/tendencies that got us out of the caves and into the cities in the first place.

As for the rest:
#2) I dont know how many non-loonies believe this, but it covers those who are not optimistic in that they believe the world WILL end, but by God's hand, not man's

#3) True, but refer back to #1

#4) I would argue just the opposite. I believe that the primary goal of technology in Modern America is to CREATE isolation and that if we lived on a "lower" level we'd have to revert to more common and normal sort of community-based thinking instead of mindlessly repeating the phrase "rugged independence" and beating off over Reagan's corpse.

#5) I agree.

#6) Absolutely true. Economics is no more of a science than Astronomy or tarot reading. I firmly believe that the modern "advances" in economics, such as credit-cards and non-gold based currencies are even worse for society than religion.
Sperm Production Unit 873peace873 on November 28th, 2006 03:44 pm (UTC)
1) I see what you mean, and you may be right. Regardless of how valuable irrational optimism was in the past, it is a big problem now and a contributor to our doom. I think all those things could have been possible through some other psychological mechanism, too.
2) It applies to the USA much more than any other Western nation. They *are* optimistic. The irreligious are ultimately pessimistic because they know they are going to die and that will be the end, whereas the religious have fooled themselves into the optimism that something else will happen after they and the earth are inevitably destroyed.
3) OK, but the problem was first brought to our attention in the '70's. If we had not simply stuck our heads in the sands then and had worked diligently on the problem, it would have been solved by now.
4) A) Selfishness and isolation are orthoganal* to one another. B) True, a primary function of technology (and resources) is indeed to allow us privacy and independence from other humans, and it has increased them in both good and bad ways. Removing technology/resources won't immediately remake community, however. First, there will be a lot of conflict and upheaval because so many dissimilar people are living near each other, and people will have to relearn that kind of behavior. That will be part of the collapse, and could take a couple of generations.
5) Good!
6) Economists sicken me. :D

* "In the social sciences, variables that affect a particular result are said to be orthogonal if they are independent. That is to say that by varying each separately, one can predict the combined effect of varying them jointly. If synergistic effects are present, the factors are not orthogonal. This meaning derives from the mathematical one, because orthogonal vectors are linearly independent."
caelidhcaelidh on November 28th, 2006 11:54 am (UTC)
Thank you for that.... Do you mind if I share that with others?

Sperm Production Unit 873peace873 on November 28th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
Sure, go right ahead.