[p2p-research] Earth's carrying capacity and Catton
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Aug 23 18:18:45 CEST 2009
You are right that there is a variety of communities around the Peak Oil
theme and that is unfair of me to lump them altogether. I am sorry for that.
I need a better way to discuss that. From:
"Results from the Hirsch report determined multiple conclusions as well as
three possible scenarios. The report's conclusions stated that world oil
peaking is going to happen at some point. As a result, oil peaking will
adversely affect global economies, particularly those most dependent on oil.
As a transition in energy usage, peak oil will be a unique challenge, in
that it "will be abrupt and revolutionary". Mitigation efforts will require
substantial time and the problem is liquid fuels (growth in demand mainly
from the transportation sector). Twenty years is required to transition
without substantial impacts or a ten-year rush transition with moderate
impacts is possible with extraordinary efforts from governments, industry,
Although even there in the result of that Hirsch report is my argument that
technically, transitioning to renewables is, in the grand sweep of human
history, a trivial thing of ten years of a hard work globally. :-)
Still, we can argue over what percent of Peak Oilers fall into a more
optimistic "take action" camp versus, like William Catton at the end of his
video, just wringing our hands and saying we might as well enjoy life as we
are doomed as a society and mostly as individuals within a few decades.
And, of those interested in taking collective action instead of mainly
hunkering down on a hord, then what kind of action? I'd suggest, most people
hunkering under the Peak Oil banner, or likewise followers of Catton's
"Overshoot" book, are doomsters. And, in general, I'd suggest the cult
around Peak Oil is a very negative one that is at risk of dragging down the
whole world. One comment from here:
" CONFESSIONS OF AN EX-DOOMER "
"A sign of the fragility of the Cult of Doomerism is the fact that
peakoil.com, the Internet's home of Doomers, now routinely sees the shouting
down and banning anyone who voices a contrary opinion. The PO.com forum has
become a meeting place for the disaffected, the maudlin, the jaundiced of
view and the panicky by nature. Avoid at all costs, or lurk for a laugh."
Peak Oil is a fact (it seems, ignoring abiotic possibilities for
regenerating oil on Earth). But the meaning of that fact is what is at issue
-- which relates to switching to renewables versus coal and nuclear, and how
that interacts with climate change and other issues like nuclear
proliferation, a concentration of wealth, democratic aspects, etc..
But the sad thing, to me, about Peak Oil, is that we should be replacing oil
because it is polluting, it is a security risk, and it has corrupted our
democracy, not because we are running out of it. That is, to me, a central
problem with a Peak Oil paradigm for social change, even if it succeeds
because of some small percent of Peak Oilers who are not doomsters. Peak Oil
is just a very negative lense with which to view the world -- emphasizing
scarcity of oil and other resources not a universe brimming with an
abundance of renewable energy and endless ways to meet our needs (except
maybe for Peak Helium on Earth that nobody talks about. :-)
Perhaps I am just too biased from learning about Peak Oil movement at first
through the websites of people like Michael C. Ruppert and his "From the
Wilderness" site and his personal saga that I have followed on-and-of for
six years or so? Consider:
Excerpts from "Evolution" by Michael C. Ruppert
... Americans tend to think of the Third World as “the frontier”, a place
still open to settlement as if it were a divine right just for the
willingness to endure a little hardship. With overpopulation and dwindling
global resources, the “frontiers” are defending themselves to protect
diversity in many ways; ways that are far more effective than any resistance
to colonization in previous centuries. Global warming has been characterized
as a planet developing a fever to rid itself of an infection. I believe that
increasing global tensions might also be mirroring that process.
The human side of this resistance is also organic and, in Latin America,
Venezuela is its heart. It has now taken solid root, emerging almost
simultaneously in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. I do not think it
can be stopped. It is an anthropological resistance.
Living in Venezuela has been an amazing, brutal, and illuminating lesson.
It is a truly alien culture that I find simultaneously beautiful, hard,
giving, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and definitely self-protecting to the
extreme. That is why I am confident that Venezuela, and most of Latin
America, will survive the coming crash of Peak Oil better than any other
region of the world. I believe it is already starting to protect itself. It
doesn’t need me or any outsider to survive. But as a general rule, only
those who are native here will be protected by its blessings.
It is not just that I am blond haired and blue-eyed, which does get me a
lot of double takes – some hostile. It is as though I am a fish used to
swimming in a different kind of water. The way that I swim affects the other
fish here, already swimming too much in a superimposed American cultural
blanket that has been enforced by scores of coups, debt enslavement,
colonization, exploitation, genocide and war over the course of the 20th
century and into today. In order to understand this picture a British
citizen trying to drive in super-crowded Caracan traffic where there are few
rules. Under stress the Brit might instinctively react in a way that might
tie up streets. Now change the image of traffic to a culture adapting to
dwindling energy reserves, conflict or panic. The Brit would be singled out
quickly and forced off the road so that the rest might “function” in ways
they were accustomed to.
However, the powerful lessons and principles of human justice,
sustainability, harmony with the land, freedom from the mandate of endless
capitalist growth, openness, and localization contained in the Bolivarian
Revolution led by Hugo Chavez are powerful survival tools that can and must
be studied and adapted to other regions. If one reads Richard Heinberg, Matt
Savinar, Megan Quinn, Post Carbon Institute, FTW, or any of the great
sustainability writers, one will find those same principles; arrived at
through different means.
The important distinctions about adaptivity are not racial at all. US
citizens come in all colors. American culture is the water they have swum in
since birth. A native US citizen of Latin descent who did not (or even did)
speak Spanish would probably feel almost as out of place here as I do. They
would look the same but not feel the same. And when it came time to deal
collectively with a rapidly changing world, a world in turmoil, a
native-born American’s inbred decades of “instinctive” survival skills might
not harmonize with the skills used by those around him.
Another one of my trademarked lines is that Post Peak survival is not a
matter of individual survival or national survival. It is a matter of
cooperative, community survival. If one is not a fully integrated member of
a community when the challenges come, one might hinder the effectiveness of
the entire community which has unspoken and often consciously unrecognized
ways of adapting. As stresses increase, the gauntlets required to gain
acceptance in strange places will only get tougher. Diversity will become
more, rather than less, rigid and enforced.
As energy shortages and blackouts arrive; as food shortages grow worse;
as droughts expand and proliferate; as icecaps melt, as restless, cold and
hungry populations start looking for other places to go; minute cultural and
racial differences will trigger progressively more abrupt reactions, not
unlike a stressed out and ill human body will react more violently to things
that otherwise would never reach conscious thought.
Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the
lessons I have learned here are important whether you arethinking of moving
from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever
shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the
advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you
know and which knows you.
If the time comes when it is necessary to leave that community you will
be better off moving with your tribe rather than moving alone.
Evolution is guaranteed. Useful knowledge gained by ancestors is
incorporated into succeeding generations. It may not be used in the same way
that it was when acquired. It may lie dormant for years or decades, safely
stored in DNA or the collective unconscious. But it is there, and it will
always be available should the day come when it is needed.
That just seems to me to be much more typical of Peak Oil doomsterism, with
the only optimism about how your little tribe might survive amidst global
turmoil and collapse. Like these guys:
"Alpha Rubicon Disaster Contingencies"
By the way, I have no problem with disaster preparendness as a hobby; look
at how much fun these people are having: :-)
But I do have a problem with disaster preparedness as a global ideology,
having dwelled too long in that space myself. :-)
It's just not a healthy or happy place to be. It is hard to explain perhaps
the difference in emphasis. It's like, I'm all for life jackets in boats,
but not designing boats as life-jackets, if that makes sense? Even while I
think unsinkable boats for at least boating novices make sense. :-) I think
security should be intrinsic, but I don't think all the meaning of life is
to be found in security. Anyway, this is a philosophical issue I'll need to
sort out more for myself -- the integration of security and other aspects of
a balanced healthy joyful life. :-)
Maybe I am mistaken statistically about most Peak Oilers being doomsters,
taken across the population, across related fiction, and so on? Maybe the
comment someone made quoted above is just unfair to this PO site?
But, the fact is, these sorts of "overpopulation" themes have been around
for a long time. I was hearing them in school in the 1970s. I saw all the
commercials about running out of oil back then as a kid, and how kids
probably did not have a future. I built a seventh grade (age 13-ish?) social
studies project on a big black board about a meter square (representing a
nuclear glassified wasteland) with a domed enclosure, near one lone oil
well, all modeled loosely on "Logan's Run" ideas. :-( They needed the oil to
build the plastic dome in that scenario (why not build out of glass I think
now?). It had one satellite communications dish building to keep it in touch
with the other domes. The project had this cool outer transparent tubing
that had a bead that was pushed around by an air blower my Dad helped me set
up, the bead would get blown around the tube and then fall into a funnel and
do it all over again. So, while I did not see it then, I was using the bead
renewably, in a sustainable recyclable way. :-) And also providing energy
efficient mass transit that did not rely directly on oil. :-) I later used
that dome (a huge black plastic salad bowl gift from one of my sisters to my
mother, maybe half a meter in diameter) as the head of an R2D2-looking
robot. :-) I just showed that robot and dome to some homeschoolers the other
day, though I did not mention its earlier use. :-) So, doomster themes have
long been in my life, as they have been in the entire popular culture for
The Douglas Trumbull movie "Silent Running" is another formative movie for
me from the early 1970s that mixes doomster themes (no plants anymore, the
last few are blown up with nuclear explosives to return the carriers to
commercial service) with abundance themes (everyone has enough to eat,
nobody is sick, everyone has a "job" [questionable]) in a wierd mix.
Often, these ideas of overpopulation go about in the guise of reasons for
population control of other races. There is often other hypocrisy, for
example, William Catton has four kids according to Wikipedia, but goes on
about there being too many people in the world.
Also, that essay by Ruppert has several-half truths. We are running out of
oil perhaps, but not renewable energy (and we have centuries of coal). It
may make sense to have lifeboats on a cruise ship, but if the entire cruise
ship was made of lifeboats, it might not be fun to take a cruise. A US$60
trillion a year global economy has a vast amount of capacity to relocate
people or build them nice places to live, whether inland or on artificial
islands. If we chose not to do so, it is an issue of arguments about global
human equity in a global commons and human accountability of industrialized
societies for external cost of CO2 pollution felt in other countries, not
anything about resource limits. Again, the cost (conservatively) of the USA
switching to all solar is less that one-half of one years US defense budget.
And so on.
Still, Michael Ruppert is correct about the central issue of "survival
skills" perhaps being different in the 21st century. One might argue that,
at least in the USA, peer-to-peer skills are much more important now than
they have been in the past fifty years when the US economy was more
functional in terms of a more hierarchical economic paradigms somewhat
reflecting the then-current reality of a "successful" US empire (even as the
empire still failed many people within US borders, and obviously failed most
of the people outside the borders compared to what could have been).
Michael Ruppert's essay is well worth reading in its entirety, as well as
his related writings of his journey from the USA to Venezuela and to Canada
and back to the USA. In his essay are some more reasons why, for US
residents, emigration abroad to avoid the madhouse themes that are all too
strong in US culture is not as much of an option as one might think (as I
touch on myself from a different angle, as a child of immigrants). So, we
should, if possible, bloom where we are planted and try to make the world
around us a nicer place, as well as improve the global commons on the
internet. Then maybe there won't be so many thirteen year olds building
mock-ups of dystopian domed enclosures, but instead there will be more
teenagers building mock-ups of happier ones, the ones that come from seeing
abundance where others see only wasteland:
"Finally, these settlements would grow to huge Earth-like ecospheres
covering whole lunar craters. Since lunar gravity is much weaker than
Earth's, it would be possible to cover fairly large craters with a
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> I have no doubt that some type of fundamental change is coming, and that p2p
> will be a substantial part of a new configuration which respects material
> externalities, but I'm agnostic as too how much this transition will 'cost';
> in the meantime, we relentlessly build the new so that this integrated
> alternative can emerge, when the old order no longer provides ...
> But taking this 'cost' in account, is very important, and by the way, if you
> were familiar with the Peak Oilers you would not say they are Doomsters ...
> Peak Oil, like climate change, is really no longer much a matter of
> discussion, the interesting things is what comes next, and here discussions
> of energy EROEI and how we get from here to there are not mere
> technicalities on the way to post-scarcity, but crucial variables.
> On Sun, Aug 23, 2009 at 12:16 AM, Paul D. Fernhout <
> pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> There is a lot of truth to what you wrote.
>> Still, here is what I wrote to the OM list in response to Herbert
>> Snorranson making a similar point back in February, about what has changed:
>> "Getting to 100 social-technical points (was Re: a Change)"
>> One can think of it this simplified way. Imagine abundance for all takes a
>> society earning 100 "social-technical" points. :-) These points come from
>> the multiplication of the "social" points times the "technical" points.
>> So, 50 * 2 = 100.
>> Or, 2 * 50 = 100.
>> or, 10 * 10 = 100.
>> Social points might be things like learning to share better, or learning to
>> get along with each other better in resolving conflicts with less damage,
>> in general, even eventually a global mindshift:
>> "Global Mindshift: The Wombat"
>> Technical points are like the ones we are usually talking about here, how
>> to make things efficiently and effectively. Let us consider three scenarios
>> for these points, with the numbers as above. ...
>> A different way forward is to get 10 social points and 10 technical points.
>> And I feel we are almost there on both fronts. Conflict resolution ideas
>> other social ideas maybe have us to a 5 social points in some places on
>> that. And technically, we are at a 5 also, as above. Still, multiplied as
>> 5*5, that only gives us 25 points in the more socially progressive
>> communities like the Netherlands (the US is otherwise overall still
>> Now, we can raise both social and technical levels to 10 points globally,
>> and then 10 * 10 = 100, or we can perhaps raise our understanding of
>> technology from 5 to 20, and then get 5 social points times 20 technical
>> points, to get to one hundred. Either way will work to provide global
>> abundance, even though they imply different types of societies at first.
>> So, a big aspect of P2P is getting some more of the social points. A big
>> aspect of Open Manufacturing is getting some more of the technical points.
>> But the key idea is that the points are multiplicative.
>> So, that's what is changing, to make all global abundance easier, despite
>> food dragging and sabotage by vested interests, using the technologies of
>> abundance to create artificial scarcities.
>> Anyway, even if we were socially stuck at "2" points (debateable with all
>> the "blessed unrest" going on that Paul Hawken documents), it's only a
>> matter of time before technology reaches "50" points and the irony of
>> current social policy (paying US$500 a barrel for oil in external costs or
>> whatever when people can print their own solar panels) will become
>> Part of getting points also means throwing off some memetic parasites, of
>> course, so it is not all just growth perhaps. For example, in the USA, it is
>> claimed that insurers take about one third of every health care dollar:
>> but they provide no service that could not be done with much less cost. So,
>> shaking them off, or at least transforming them into supplying some real
>> healthcare value, is part of social growth. Now, it is true, this may never
>> happen in the USA. In which case, the USA will die as the parasite grows
>> larger, but hopefully, it will not take the rest of the world with it
>> (though the US has a lot of nukes, so we can't be sure).
>> Something despairing, to agree with you: :-)
>> You didn't get mad when the Supreme Court stopped a legal recount
>> and appointed a President.
>> You didn't get mad when Cheney allowed Energy company officials to
>> dictate energy policy.
>> You didn't get mad when a covert CIA operative got outed.
>> You didn't get mad when the Patriot Act got passed..
>> You didn't get mad when we illegally invaded a country that posed
>> no threat to us.
>> You didn't get mad when we spent over $600 billion (and counting)
>> on said illegal war.
>> You didn't get mad when over 10 billion dollars just disappeared in
>> You didn't get mad when you saw the Abu Grahib photos.
>> You didn't get mad when you found out we were torturing people.
>> You didn't get mad when the government was illegally wiretapping
>> You didn't get mad when we didn't catch Bin Laden.
>> You didn't get mad when you saw the horrible conditions at Walter
>> You didn't get mad when we let a major US city, New Orleans, drown.
>> You didn't get mad when the deficit hit the 57 trillion dollar mark.
>> You finally got mad when the government decided that people in
>> America deserved the right to see a doctor if they are sick.
>> Yes, illegal wars, lies, corruption, torture, stealing your tax
>> dollars to make the rich richer, are all okay with you, but helping
>> other Americans... well forget that.
>> At least we know what kind of American you are.
>> I'll remind the grandchildren to stay away from you.
>> And, effectively, I'm trapped here, in this madhouse. :-(
>> Some practical examples:
>> "US Gov’t out of wheat. Completely."
>> "U.S. corn supply seen tight; soy stocks shrinking"
>> My mother lived through the Hunger Winter in Rotterdam, and saw others
>> starve. It can happen anywhere.
>> It's been said any country is only three meals away from revolution. But,
>> what sort of revolution?
>> "The Handmaid's Tale is a feminist dystopian novel, a work of science
>> fiction or speculative fiction, written by Canadian author Margaret
>> Atwood and first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1985. Set in
>> the near future, in a totalitarian theocracy which has overthrown the United
>> States government, The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in
>> subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency."
>> As things are now, that's possibly the sort of revolution we'll get in the
>> USA, same as in Iran after the fall of the the Shah (who the US installed
>> after deposing a democratically elected head of state).
>> And sure, if Peak Oilers and other Doomsters become dominant in other ways
>> in the USA, more things could go wrong.
>> Sure, in theory, I could leave, like both my parents left the Netherlands
>> after WWII to come to the USA. We've passed on a couple chances to move
>> abroad. But life as an expatriate is often unhappy for various reasons
>> (language, finances, culture, no roots, etc.), family ties get severed, and
>> it is not clear US Americans abroad might not be individually targets of
>> rage even in industrialized nations in years to come. Plus, it is expensive
>> to move, endless paperwork to change countries on a permanent basis, and so
>> on. With high global unemployment, no one wants more mouths to feed,
>> especially fat US American mouths. Sure, there a few exceptions for people
>> with high technical skill; I'm speaking generally, and most people are
>> stuck, and that affects the whole dynamics of moving; the USA in the past
>> was truly rare in accepting so many people for all sorts of reasons, so
>> entire extended families would move.
>> So, effectively, I'm trapped, as is my family, even though physically we
>> could drive over the border to Canada is a few hours and go on from there.
>> Also ethically, would it be right to just walk away from such a mess I've
>> helped make, like by supporting Princeton University in the past with my
>> time and money, or any of numerous other social institutions, including the
>> US government with taxes? And we would leave behind extended family to
>> suffer, and neighbors, friends, and so on. And it is not clear to me that
>> effectively, US ideology is not in many ways everywhere; certainly US media
>> is many places. Many countries have serious social problems, even affluent
>> ones like the Netherlands. They may handle some of them better, but the
>> abundance idea is still limited, even there. So, it is not really clear that
>> moving gets one that much.
>> And there are many nice things about the USA -- freedom of speech is one
>> that still is mostly there, as well as various types of diversity. While I
>> decry problems in the market, it has been nice to me personally in many
>> ways, and I may yet make use of it. :-) It is much easier to start a
>> business in the USA than many places, even if you risk your life without
>> health insurance.
>> And the negative US trends still are counterbalanced by some positive ones,
>> so it is not so easy to make the case as in 1930s Germany; and it was very
>> hard even then:
>> "Why I Did Not Leave Nazi Germany in Time"
>> The USA may still recover; I can hope. It may turn a corner, maybe with a
>> new president in four years, or maybe after that one in twelve. But, I have
>> little hope for any US president making any positive change unless, as here,
>> they are forced to by the grassroots:
>> "Now Make Me Do It"
>> Maybe I'd be more socially optimistic if I lived in an urban part of the
>> USA, but from the rural part, the day-to-day culture is so out of touch with
>> reality of technical possibility and global issues that it is hard to be
>> optimistic (rural populations in the USA often tend to be either the very
>> young or the very old, or the very escaping). But it is perhaps a
>> responsibility to be optimistic anyway, or pretend to be. :-) There is
>> enormous social energy and potential even in a rural area, US$20K per kid
>> spent on school prisons each year here, huge numbers of educated competent
>> retirees acting like spoiled teenagers, huge amounts of idle land or empty
>> factories, and so on. A vast potential. So, all reason for optimism if you
>> see the possibilities instead of the problems.
>> On a practical basis, the only reason I can ask the rest of the world to
>> have any practical concern for the USA is how dangerous the wounded beast
>> is, even if its wounds are self-inflicted (including getting rid of its food
>> stores for reasons of private profit).
>> Naturally, I can *hope* the rest of the world shows the USA more compassion
>> than it has shown recently as a society. I can *hope* that US ideology has
>> not so poisoned the rest of the world that it is dying too of it.
>> But the question is not "Why 9/11 happened?" or "Why the hate us?", which
>> is a difficult enough question to talk about in the USA, even now. The
>> question is more, "Why is 9/11 not happening every day given US history?"
>> And while there are many reasons why 9/11s do not happen every day
>> (ignoring the slaughter on the US highways, the obesity epidemic, teen
>> suicide, and so on, all self-inflicted 9/11s), the reason I am most hopeful
>> about is the compassion and tolerance of the world, even for dumb dangerous
>> self-wounded beasts. :-)
>> But, those are all social issues. Technically, the USA has huge
>> agricultural fields and can convert to solar energy IMHO in a few years. And
>> so on. So, while the USA may disintegrate, like the USSR (or worse since it
>> is so more unexpected by the mainstream), especially as some may see profit
>> in troublesome times to satisfy all sorts of psychological dysfunction that
>> thrives in times of disaster, there is no technical reason for failure. The
>> reasons are all social-psychological.
>> And you are right, they are deep and difficult to deal with. But, let's
>> just be clear that the body is mostly sound, whatever Peak Oilers say; it is
>> the mind that is diseased (and Peak Oil philosophy is part of that disease
>> IMHO, sorry).
>> But short of the world blowing itself up, or the USA doing it locally, we
>> have no resource issues, no technical limits, and no technical reason we
>> can't have an "Imagine" society globally.
>> Socially, though, you are right; it is another issue.
>> A very ironic one, IMO.
>> But, compared to the scale of the US or global economy, or even just the US
>> defense budget, any technical problems the USA has or other limits are
>> trivial (except maybe helium). And I don't feel we'll get good social
>> solutions, even in the p2p realm, unless the solutions are based on that
>> understanding, which is why I've made such a point of that.
>> Or, as the natives in my part of the world used to say before they were
>> systematically exterminated out of fear of scarcity and thankless greed:
>> The Field of Plenty is always full of abundance. The gratitude we show as
>> Children of Earth allows the ideas within the Field of Plenty to manifest on
>> the Good Red Road so we may enjoy these fruits in a physical manner. When
>> the cornucopia was brought to the Pilgrims, the Iroquois People sought to
>> assist these Boat People in destroying their fear of scarcity. The Native
>> understanding is that there is always enough for everyone when abundance is
>> shared and when gratitude is given back to the Original Source. The trick
>> was to explain the concept of the Field of Plenty with few mutually
>> understood words or signs. The misunderstanding that sprang from this lack
>> of common language robbed those who came to Turtle Island of a beautiful
>> teaching. Our "land of the free, home of the brave" has fallen into taking
>> much more than is given back in gratitude by its citizens. Turtle Island has
>> provided for the needs of millions who came from lands that were ruled by
>> the greedy. In our present state of abundance, many of our inhabitants have
>> forgotten that Thanksgiving is a daily way of living, not a holiday that
>> comes once a year.
>> It was true then. It is true now. Those Americans failed because of
>> communications problems. Maybe some will succeed this time, given better
>> global communications in a Peer-to-Peer way. :-)
>> --Paul Fernhout
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