To fight climate change, we need to understand humanity

Banksy graffiti

Taking humanity's pulse. Photo: Banksy Graffiti.

The evidence is gaining increasing clarity: We’ve reached a crossroads unlike any other in human history. One path leads to despair for Homo industrialis. The other leads to extinction, for Homo sapiens and the millions of species we are taking with us into the abyss.

I’ll take door number one.

Fortunately, the former path gives us one final chance to rescue humanity. And I’m not considering merely our own species. Consider, for example, these definitions of the word humanity from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

  1. the quality or state of being humane (i.e., marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals)
  2. the quality or state of being human b: plural: human attributes or qualities
  3. plural: the branches of learning (as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry) and social relations (as in anthropology or economics)
  4. the human race: the totality of human beings

Sure, that fourth definition matters. We’re selfish creatures, after all, interested primarily in persistence. Unfortunately for our species, we’re really, truly interested in persistence of our own selfish individual selves, and not so much interested in our own species. Ergo, we achieve the self-induced, greed-inspired, utterly human, generally predictable (but specifically chaotic) predicaments in which we’re currently marinating.

As a society, we will not willingly halt the industrial economy. We’d much rather reduce the planet to a lifeless pile of rubble than diminish—much less halt—economic growth. But, perhaps soon enough, we’ll run out of options and the industrial economy will take its last breath, thereby giving us our final, slim hope for averting extinction within the next few decades.

Viewed through other lenses

But I’d like to consider the other three definitions, too.

If we’re to bring down the industrial economy, and therefore save our own sorry selves from our own self-induced, greed-inspired…well, you know…then we’re going to have to tap deeply and meaningfully into definitions one, two, and three. In doing so, we just might retain the attributes associated with those definitions. But only if we get serious about throwing large buckets of sand into the gears of empire.

Being “only human” includes our better angels

We could argue all day about the first definition (the others, too, for that matter). Are we capable of being humane? How deeply do you have to drill into your memory to come up with a time you saw a large group of people acting compassionately, sympathetically and considerately toward other people or animals?

On the other hand—and please excuse my eternally optimistic outlook as it bubbles to the surface yet again—it’s probably quite easy to recall the last time you saw an individual person displaying those same characteristics. Probably it was you, earlier today.

There’s plenty of evolutionary theory to explain altruism among individuals in small groups, even if the individuals do not share grandparents. That same evolutionary theory becomes tenuous, verging on useless, when group size becomes sufficiently large. Throw in all the attributes of industrial culture, nearly all of which reward competition and individualism over cooperation and teamwork, and suddenly we’re trapped beneath an avalanche of self-generated hubris.

If we manage to retain the quality or state of being humane—that is, if we’re to retain some semblance of compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals—we’ve got to jump off the imperial train before it crashes in a calamitous heap at the bottom of a precipitous fall.

There’s some question about whether the train has driven off the cliff, but there can be no doubt it left the station quite a while ago. There’s no legitimate hope for saving the industrial economy or a large proportion of the nearly seven billion humans on Earth. But there is great hope for saving the “quality or state of being humane” for relatively small groups of humans.

Will you be part of one of those groups? Will you be among the people with access to water, food, shelter, and a decent human community?

Who am I? What am I?

On, then, to the second definition: the quality or state of being human.

What makes us human? The question is easy to address on the surface and nearly impossible to address in depth.

DNA tells us whether we’re human, that is, whether we’re of the genus Homo and the species Homo sapiens, as opposed to one of the myriad other organisms on the planet. We’ll leave the easy question to gene jockeys, and take up the more difficult and deeper question: What makes us human, beyond DNA?

I’m hardly the first person to ponder that question. My predecessors include a special issue of Nature (Great Britain’s preeminent scientific journal), Hollywood, British television, and dozens
of authors
, including a passel of philosophers dating at least to Plato and Lao Tzu. I defer, as I often do, to Friedrich Nietzsche (particularly in Human, All Too Human).

Nietzsche recognized humans as tragically flawed organisms that, like other animals, lack free will. Unlike René Descartes, Nietzsche thought our flaws define us, and therefore can’t be overcome. We are far too human for that. Although we’re thinking animals—what Nietzsche termed res cogitans—we’re prey to muddled thoughts—to ideas that lack clarity and distinctness. Nietzsche wasn’t so pessimistic or naive to believe all our thoughts are muddled, of course. Ultimately, though, for him, incompetence defines the human experience.

The holographic world

It’s a short, easy step from Nietzsche’s conclusion—we are flawed organisms—to industrial culture as a flawed product of our incompetence. But the same step can be taken for every technology, with industrial culture as the potentially fatal blow. In other words, progress means only that we accelerate the rapidity with which bad things happen to societies. American “exceptionalism” thus becomes one more victim of the imperial train wreck.

If this second definition of humanity contributed to the tragedy of industrial culture—and it’s difficult for me to believe it didn’t—is it, like definition number one, worth saving?

Will completion of the ongoing industrial collapse retain our inherent, all-too-human flaw? This question is analogous to John Stuart Mill’s famous line from Utilitarianism:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

We simply don’t have a choice in the matter (and neither did Mill’s pig). We’re tragically flawed regardless of the industrial economy’s lifespan. In this case, bringing down civilization neither benefits nor harms our humanity.

Divide and conquer

On then, to the third definition of humanity: “the branches of learning (as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry) and social relations (as in anthropology or economics).”

The branches of learning are defined by the culture. In the present case, arbitrarily dividing knowledge into natural sciences and the humanities has contributed to the division found in all levels of human interaction.

Echoing C.P. Snow’s conclusion in his eponymous The Two Cultures, Edward O. Wilson argued forcefully in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge that the separation of learning, hence knowledge, into two groups is a huge blow to meaningfully understanding the human experience. C.P. Snow was, of course, echoing Plato and Lao Tzu.

Shouldn’t we be trying to integrate knowledge, instead of compartmentalizing it?

In an effort to serve the culture of death that is industrial society, we’ve taken the worst possible approach: We developed our entire educational system around the twin pillars of compartmentalization and ignorance. Throw in a huge, ongoing, forceful dose of opposition to integration and synthesis, and we’re left with a tsunami of incompetence. We probably stood no chance of overcoming the all-too-human incompetence described by Nietzsche, but we purposely designed an educational system to reinforce the incompetence on a massive scale. Is it any wonder we’re a nation of overfed clowns?

It’s easy to blame industrial culture for the sorry state of our educational system, and therefore for our lack of relevant humanity. But I think it’s an equally easy path toward improving education by bringing down industrial culture.

A truly comprehensive approach to learning would focus on humans as part of the world, rather than apart from the world. It would strive for integration and synthesis. It would assume the learner is one part of an ecosystem, but not a superior part. It would be as unique to a specific location as climate, topography, and the durable culture that assumes its place in that place.


About that fourth and final definition, the one that absorbs our tender existential psyches: Nobody who ever gave the matter serious thought could honestly reach the conclusion that “the totality of human beings” was destined to last forever. But we would try to bring down industrial civilization if we had even a token amount of “compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals.” Our persistent, ridiculous, and all-too-human attempts to prop up the industrial economy not only reveal our stunning lack of humanity, they pose a grave threat to our species.

Humanity is at a crossroads. Let’s save it, shall we?

–Guy McPherson for Transition Voice

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  1. says

    “There’s no legitimate hope for saving the industrial economy or a large proportion of the nearly seven billion humans on Earth. But there is great hope for saving the “quality or state of being humane” for relatively small groups of humans.”

    This produces somethig of a dilemma when you speak about altruism, since the fact is that in order for you or me to be one of the survivors, somebody else (or several somebody elses) will not survive. You can try to avoid being a direct causation, such as getting conscripted into the military to shoot your competitors for survival, but you can’t avoid indirect causation. For instance, fresh water you use upstream from me and then replace with waste you produce will cause someone downstream from you to get cholera or some other water borne disease. Only so many people can use the same water source.

    The collapse of the industrial economy will make altruism a very difficult thing for indiivduals or societies to engage in for quite some time. Some places are going to have to be abandoned as unsalvageable, and frankly those places are where the vast majority of people live now, in the Big Cities of the world. You’ll mever be able to move all these people back to the land, the land in the absence of Oil powered Sewage treatment facilities and copious amounts of water flowing nearby simply won’t support them. If you live in a small community, how many people could you altruistically give refuge to among the masses of migrants seeking to escape death in the Big Cities? You’ll be overwhelmed before you know it, and altruism will give way to the same sign you saw in the Great Depression “Jobless Men keep on going, we can’t take care of our own.”

    These hard facts of life will force people to become very hardened to the misery of others, simply as a matter of survival. before real altruism can function again, the population of Homo Sapiens has to come back into balance with what the earth actually can support in the absence of fossil fuels. Precisely what that number is I do not know, but I do know its nowhere near the 6.3B people living on the planet right now. Who can I really save and how many, and moreover how could I possibly choose who to save and who not to save? Beyond the small circle of people you call your friends and relatives, its hard to make such a choice.

    In the end, the best choice IMHO opinion is to RUN AWAY, just as far as you possibly can from where lots of people live. There will be fewer of those hard choices to make in such places, although to be sure, they will still be there as well.


  2. tamnaa says

    Reverse Engineer; you certainly miss the point about altruism. Your analogy about the river reveals how indoctrinated into the idea of competition you are. The altruistic way to use river water is precisely opposite to that which you portray.
    Clearly, those who are aware are working on ways to take far less from the river and to deposit nothing harmful in it.

    The whole idea is to leave the world genuinely improved through our actions, in ways which benefit not only humans, but the whole, because we are not separate from the whole.

    The “I gain, you lose” view of life is what is dying. It’s time to let go of that.

    Giving refuge doesn’t mean just feeding the desperate migrants, it means teaching them how to live in sustainable independence. It’s the creation of a better way of life for all.

    People who don’t understand what is going on may indeed resort to violence, etc. when they no longer have access to the products of industry which they are so helplessly dependent on. Sure, they might actually kill the teachers just to steal their food etc. I think that kind of thing would happen mostly in places like the U.S. where the ignorance and indoctrination are very deeply rooted but there are plenty of pre-industrial communities all over the world where people have always known how to live without oil or money.

    Humanity will survive but “homo industrialis” won’t.

  3. Auntiegrav says

    Another great article, Guy. Thank you for the time and effort it must have taken to put this all together.

    This gets to the heart of the problems we face:
    “A truly comprehensive approach to learning would focus on humans as part of the world, rather than apart from the world.”

    I think that a good definition of a human being is “Adept, problem-solving primate that creates a model world inside an exaggerated brain memory and spends most of its awareness within that model, rather than in the physical world.”

    To get people to focus on being part of the world, we first have to directly engage them outside of the imaginary one that is the prevailing paradigm of human existence (especially in industrialized societies) with real needs and self-dependent future usefulness. In other words, people have to be physically active at creating their own resources, rather than consuming resources they are not involved in. Cooperation is a means of creating a resource (stability), as is nurturing plants and animals.
    Money and property-based economics are systems that disconnect people from the natural world. Checks and balances need to be part of societal systems to moderate profitable behaviors. “Freedom” only works if it is within useful limits.

    We could also split the population into two parts: homo sapiens and homo sapiens petroleumus. The latter being those who are only in existence because of the use of petroleum to enable cheap, easy food access and wealth-based support systems (almost all affluence in today’s world is petroleum-based in some logistical way, as 95%? of transportation is petroleum based, and without transportation, most of us would be dead, and population levels would return to pre-industrial levels.)

    As for compassion, humanities, etc.,,I think you got it covered well. Compassion and cooperation are an inherent part of our individual persons for the most part(cooperation is inherent in language use), and need-based living would both encourage and discourage the various forms of cooperation and competition, depending on local conditions (chaos theory dependencies). Luxury-based economics (almost everything we see around us) is a tool of competition and profit-based artificial individualism that pits imagined groups against imagined fears (“buy this product or you won’t be accepted”).

    Nietzche may have the logical description correct (humans don’t have free will) in the general sense of nature (“Fooled by Randomness”, etc.), but we do have free will within our imagined model, and that imagined model influences the actions we take indirectly, whether we choose those actions ahead of time or not. A faulty model influences us to take defective actions, and disconnected, humanistic models (religions, for example) have little or no regard for the real costs of those defective actions on nonhuman worlds: presenting exaggerated rewards for minimal labors in the nonphysical model (sort of like college ;-).

  4. says

    “Clearly, those who are aware are working on ways to take far less from the river and to deposit nothing harmful in it. “-Tamnaa

    People are working on Clean and Renewable energy sources also, but they are unlikely to be developed in time to replace the depleted fossil fuels. You have the Green Techology Calvalry approach here, that somehow in the absence of the energy we can still provide all the clean water billions of people need to survive. There is no reasonable way that could be accomplished. Besides that, there is no way to keep the crop yields up once you don’t have energy to pump water up from the aquifers for irrigation in many areas. So besides water, every bite of food I take in such a situation will take away from someone else. This is the inescapable outcome of overshoot, and the Green Calvalry will not be arriving over the Hill in time for a Stick Save.


    • Auntiegrav says

      For the most part, I agree with you, RE. Cynicism aside, though, I wonder if anyone is actually running the numbers or just exaggerating them (on all sides, for dramatic effect). I know I tend to exaggerate for effect. In the case of the industrial world, however, how much of our energy is being used for actual necessary food (not the wasted calories of corn syrup and twinkies, etc.) and water, how many people will be available to produce that food by hand, and how much of the world population is NOT dependent on our high energy cost systems? In other words, does overshoot mean that population will decline evenly or unevenly, and if the high affluence/low population density of the western world declines by 1/3, does that make resources more available or harder to produce?
      We have spent the last 100 years replacing labor with petroleum.
      I don’t have much faith in the Green Cavalry, but I have enough experience with people to know that most will do the right thing when all else fails. Powering down will happen one way or another. How steep the cliff is depends on our leadership (not much hope from above, but some from below in the trenches of sustainable ideas), our cooperation, and our problem solving skills. Climate is probably the biggest risk at this point. A lot of water is going to be falling from the sky until the ice caps melt, then the temperature gradients will smooth out on the high end. Fresh water will be available: just not where we want it when we want it.
      Will we still be pushing for consumerist economy “job programs” when Memphis has washed down to the Gulf?
      I also agree that running to where there are fewer people is a decent strategy (if they are poor), because people who are accustomed to living without money will be the most prepared for this economy’s future. I don’t think we can predict where the weather will be necessarily to our liking, though, and subsistence living style is usually based on stable weather patterns.
      I feel that there are a lot more negatives to humanity’s future than positives for most people alive today, but this situation could change with a Black Swan event at any time (new technology, disease, climate events, etc).

    • tamnaa says

      RE; you seem to be saying that a lot of people will die before there is any end to this crisis and I agree, that seems inevitable to me also. The “overshoot” you speak of started a very long time ago, is very severe and this is not a computer game. Nobody can really predict, though, how it will all play out.

      Pumping water from aquifers, using artificial fertilizers, and so many of the things we’ve been doing are just a dead end street. This has allowed huge population growth but when was it ever decided that what this planet needs is a few billion more people? That was never the motivation. Population overshoot is just an unintended consequence, while the real motivation for using fossil energy in the destructive ways we have, even to grow food, is to sell stuff, make profit, raise oneself in the hierarchy of wealth and power.

      The living systems of this earth are profoundly elegant and beautiful. When we look at a forest we should see immeasurable value in its diversity, its ability to conserve water, its production of oxygen. Clearly we should leave a forest just as it is.
      Unfortunately, the commercial mind perceives nothing of value in a forest until it is cut down, hauled away and processed into newsprint, chipboard or whatever else that can be sold for profit. Later we’ll pave it over and build a strip mall. We may call it “economic development” but it is anthropogenic desertification: destructive to life.

      Similarly, we should have recognized the real value of coal and oil when we found it. Huge amounts of carbon sequestered from the biosphere. How wonderful! We’ll just leave it where it is and be grateful to nature.
      Instead we decided to bring it to the surface and sell it to be burned it as an “energy source” thus returning all that carbon into the atmosphere.

      Having made these terrible mistakes we can’t expect the lesson we are about to go through to be an easy one.

      We don’t need alternative energy sources. The sun already provides ample energy every day. Plants transform this energy into forms that sustain our lives. Complex technology is a distraction from real life. If you are feeding yourself and your community in life enhancing rather than destructive ways, you are not depriving others of food. You are demonstrating the healthier, happier, more satisfying way of living, that they need to learn about.

      • says

        You can’t predict anything with 100% certainty, but we sure do have plenty of good mathematical models to predict how the Energy will deplete, both M. King Hubbert and Richard Duncan’s graphs are holding up very well here. We also have good mathematical models of what happens to biological organisms in overshoot, I referenced the Deer on St. Matthew’s Island earlier.

        So, within say 2 standard deviations here (very generous), the likliehood is for a fairly extreme die off event. So then you have to ask yourself, how does altruism really play itself out in such conditions. Actually, truly altruistic people might choose to take themselves into Great Beyond, to leave more for others. I suspect suicide rates will increase dramatically, in fact I think they already are.

        I do not think anyone who remains alive during a die off event can do so without inderectly causing the death of somebody else. That is why you get resource wars during such an event. You don;t have to directly be one of the soldiers, as long as you beenfit in some way from the resource war undertaken, you are just as responsible for those that die as the people who pull the trigger.

        I hope eventually that a society will re-emerge which values our ecosystem and each other, where values of cooperation and altruism re greater than those of greed and selfishness, but I do not see it possible for that to occur before the population is reduced to a level that is sustainable. During this period, abut the only people who truly are altruistic are those who buy their own ticket to the Great Beyond. Long as you remain alive during a period of overshoot, it comes at the expense of someone else. There is no “Win-Win” in such an era.


  5. says

    i am wondering in our ‘humanity’ if we are not limited to a point by our very physical neurological hard wiring… as referred to as Dunbar’s number and which was recently referred to in this article… (albeit it colourfully)….

    “Thus, we routinely find ourselves functioning in bunches larger than our primate brains are able to cope with.” By increasing the number of people that we connect/live/affect/have relations with we are stretching outside of the ‘monkeysphere’. Where i think this is relevant is that socially we have stepped out of the tribe and INTO something else and not only that it PAINFULLY is obvious it does not work.

    It needs to be acknowledged what works and what does not … and i believe we need to stop using words that limit our monkeysphere to “us and them” .. and the divisive thinking that has been behind how we and yes i mean WE have allowed ourselves to be food for the craziness of the current moment.

    How to save our humanity…… to be honest I am not entirely sure we can.

  6. Ron Parry says

    Great essay and beautiful, insightful comments. The most painful part of thinking about this comes from the realization that there is no way seven billions people can survive once industrialism collapses. We are in extreme overshoot. The suffering and destruction that will be associated with the reduction of the world population back to a sustainable level will be acute and traumatic. It may be more than some of us are willing or able to handle.

  7. the virgin terry says

    i’ve only read 1/2 guy’s essay and glanced over the comments, so this is by no means a full response. it may be ill informed also, but i wish to point out an absurdity.

    ‘We’re tragically flawed’…. ‘Humanity is at a crossroads. Let’s save it, shall we?’

    how can tragically flawed beings without free will save themselves? isn’t that like asking a dog to sing like pavarotti?

    ok, let’s examine the ideas of free will and ‘tragic flaws’.

    as i see it, the obvious tragic flaw of our species is in too many cases intellectual. instead of free clear thinkers, there’s far too much muddled (thanks, guy) thinking, lazy, limited, flawed ideas, opinions, and beliefs. far too many what i call ‘dogma addicts’ clinging to misinformation/lies/delusions against all reason.

    it certainly appears that our species as a whole is tragically, fatally flawed, but if that is the case, what’s the point of caring and wanting/trying to change any one/thing?

    if our species is beyond redemption, what about us as individuals? are those of us who see the folly of dogmatism and industrial civilization fatally flawed?

    and what of free will? why have awareness/desire if we’re fate’s puppets? are we simply an absurd cosmic farce created to tickle the funny bone of a sadistic ‘god’?

    whether or not we have free will, we’re programmed with desires which direct our behavior, and among these desires is to feel contentment with our lives, which are always less than perfect. it appears now our situation is hopeless, but if so, guy, why this essay? why not just hunker/party down and let fate have it’s way with us? why try to make sense of anything, or enlighten/inspire anyone with your fine writing? why strive to survive?

    i have no doubt the fate of our world is out of our hands, and unless our species rapidly evolves it does appear fated for self-inflicted extinction. but i balk at the notion that we’re all fatally flawed, all responsible for the madness and stupidity that pervades civilization. i’m inclined to believe that if our species gets rid of it’s dogmas and corrupt civil institutions, it may yet be redeemable. collapse should eliminate corrupt coercive institutions like corporations and governments. perhaps the few (if any) survivors will rapidly evolve as well?!

    • says

      Absolutely correct, virgin terry. The concept of the “fatal flaw” has haunted humanity and the planet for a few thousand years. It received fundamental endorsement with the Greeks. in Plato, we find the metaphysical articulation and de-construction of a hierarchically-organized tripartite human soul, where the rational part – well trained by culture and civic convention, and with the aid of its higher spiritual part – rules over the lower, natural, concupiscent part, the baser and insatiable animal desires. In short, hypotheses were already being floated to justify the very model of hierarchical civil society, its dominion over and management of the body-politic, the unwashed masses.

      Throughout the ancient world, well into medieval times, and right up to the present day, civil society has been viewed as both a necessary and a coercive corrective to the hypothesized inherent egoism, self-interest, and concupiscence of human nature, mankind’s allegedly brutish instincts. While Freud made this a cornerstone of his early twentieth century work in The Future of an Illusion, Marshall Sahlins confirms that the concept of “Original Sin pretty much sealed the deal in Christendom for centuries to come.” (The Western Illusion of Human Nature) As Elaine Pagels argued in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Augustine “offered an analysis of human nature that became, for better and for worse, the heritage of all subsequent generations of Western Christians and a major influence on their psychological and political thinking.” Thus, in the pre-Socratic philosophers and early Church Fathers lay some of the theoretical groundwork for political philosophers in the West thereafter, including Enlightenment philosophes like Thomas Hobbes and J.J. Rousseau, themselves relying upon concepts already in the noosphere from the time of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War.

      In these conceptual summersaults lay the foundations of civilized society, its institutions of domination, competition and control. This is the boogeyman of human nature we fear. It is an illusion articulated by philosophers, and endorsed by kings, princes, priests, and entrepreneurs throughout the centuries. There is no evil, barbaric human nature that’s been tamed by the civilized hierarchy; there is only the propaganda of hierarchy that has perched itself atop the unwashed masses. The culture has spawned its own sacrificial lamb. Stop believing the press releases and let the monster die.

  8. tamnaa says

    I think the “fatal flaw” is our strong tendency to make unwise choices.

    When given a choice between two doors, the vast majority of humans will choose to open the large and elaborate golden door surrounded in blinking colored lights and emitting the sounds of drum rolls and a trumpet fanfare. It’s the entrance to a glitzy casino which seems to promise the excitement of gaining a high score and turning out be a winner.

    Very few are intrigued by the modest, hand carved wooden door. The only sound heard from it is that of a soft wind in the trees and quiet running water. It’s just too peaceful there to satisfy the sense of ego.

    Even if some people experience a moment of indecision, the need to conform to the group makes it overwhelmingly hard to turn toward the small and simple door.

    The point is; we humans still have the ability to recognize our errors, to learn from their consequences and to begin remediation. As time goes on, more people are exercising these qualities of wisdom. Whether we have enough time is an unknown right now so it would be irrational to throw hope away.

    • says

      Extinction is a possibility,perhaps even a probability, but it is not a certainty. What is a certainty is that parameters for living will most surely change in the not to distant future. The question then becomes, do you want to live in a world with such changed parameters?

      Quite a few people would say no to this. Presented with the choice of Death or trying to eke out an existence as Bushmen of the Kalahari, death is preferable. Inside industrialized culture, most people simply do not have the skills to survive nor are they in a location they could survive this way, so they really have no choice.

      Thing is here, even if every last person inside the industrialized nations buys the farm here, its not the end of Homo Sapiens, because there ARE still Bushmen in the Kalahari. Go up to the far North, there still ARE Inuit who live pretty close to the traditional ways they used for subsistence living. If everybody else in the world dies off, EVENTUALLY those Inuit will migrate down to the empty territory left behind by a failed civilization.

      Its not like this has not happenned before to Homo Sapiens, it did 70,000 years ago when Toba went ballistic. After that nature induced conflagration, only 10,000 Human Souls remained on the Earth to repopulate it, and repopulate it they did, to the tune of 6.3B in just 70,000 years. To completely extinguish Human Life on the planet will take something even BIGGER than a Supervolcano, and it is unlikely anything Human Induced can match what a Supervolcano can do.

      So for myself, I work under the assumption that no matter how bad it gets here, SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE will make it through the Zero Point. We are a tenacious species, and some will survive. Would you like to be one of them, or would you prefer death? I you would like to be one, you start thinking about what you personally can do to enhance your chances. That is the main purpose behind all the people who Blog on the collapse, everyone is passing out their best advice for trying to make it through such a tough period of human existence on Earth.

      The fact is of course, most of the avenues open to most people just will not cut the mustard, and offer false hope. Inside the industrialized countries, its unlikely we can move many people back to the land, and those already trying to live this way will be inundated by refugees. In the end, I suspect its quite possible the only people who really have the skills to make it through the Zero Point are a few Inuit and a few Bushmen of the Kalahari. I don’t have those skills, but I’m willing to learn and give it a shot for as long as I can and perhaps teach a few kids things I do know which might help them make it through.

      So, I write and pass out my best advice on the internet. GTFO of the Big Cities. Go as far away from the center of Industrial Civilization as you possibly can, and then make yourself as ready as you can for some very tough days to come. You can do no more than that, so if when as is most likely you eventually do fail, you can go into the Great Beyond with the knowledge you gave it your best shot.


      • nobody says

        i’d like to say to tamnaa, hope it keeps fine for you.
        and to re, “are you nobody too?”

        my son, learning to drive, mentioned his awareness of my lifelong hatred of cars.
        i told him, “yeah. it’s like i came to my first awareness of my life and said, ‘oh hell!!!.. we’re not doing THIS!.. tell me we’re not paving the entire earth and roaring around in little metal deathtraps snaring all of creation in our net of need for going anywhere at will, and going there fast.

        we could have done anything. we could have been anyone

        i’ve been alone most of my life because i didn’t come to the party. i never talk to anyone anymore. i’m trying to figure out how to leave my sons a legacy of survival and suicide (probably by self neglect) has been the plan for me that’s easy. your lucid talk of the reality of the crash is always in my mind now like Frodo’s ring of fire. when thinking of the self sufficient life we might sustain for awhile if we’re lucky or blessed or whatever, i always think what can i do about hundreds of refugees who show up out of the bush in various degrees of insanity. some will want killing and do i do that? do i live that way, protect my own. harbor guns. plant mines in amongst the potatoes?

        for awhile now, i’ve thought as family members melted away (lost all my friends a long time ago), the choice now is how you die. how you go down and with whom. waiting for your death to find you? fighting alongside comrades -but who are we killing? not the cause of all this misadventure but other renegades, brothers. the entities who want us to kill one another are the enemy. there must be a way to counter them.

        • says

          Well, you aren’t completely isolated since you have sons. I don’t have any children so I am a bit more isolated in this sense. I’m also a kind of modern day Monk, and I have many hermit-like qualities. However, I do try to remain part of my community by teaching. If I were to stop doing that, it might make me a Nobody also. Being a Nobody is a choice you make when you withdraw from everything.

          Anyhow, I don’t have my own garden to grow potatoes for precisely the reason that I don’t see how I could protect such a thing. However, as a community we do have some farms that produce potatoes. I’m hopeful that when the container ships stop coming up to Alaska from the lower 48 packed with goodies, as a community we will be self sustaining and develop our own economy.

          Far as the “entities” go, the power and control they mainfest is completely dependent on the monetary system. When the monetary system goes, they go right along with it. The world will change mightily when the time comes, and it will. It’s Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You.


          • nobody says

            Do you really think so -that the controlling entities will go by the way of fiat currency? I’m guessing at what you mean by the monetary system. What about the theories suggesting the ruling elite plans/desires/needs to eliminate most of the surplus human population?

            I’m far behind you in organized thought here so I understand if you elect not to continue with my inquiry; you are a good teacher and i can’t help but ask.

            Besides sons, i also have a husband stashed around here somewhere so I guess I don’t mean “i’m nobody” so literally. I was alluding to the Dickinson poem where a person of an unpopular worldview seems to meet another, similarly placed individual and feels a kinship.
            The way friends and extended family members have fallen away when I suggest that all is not well has been an uncanny experience. I know I have been choosing isolation more because I don’t want to fight about it.

            what do you think about groups of wanderers/gatherers sort-of sustaining patches of shared plantings. like the shared bikes in cities?

          • says

            Well first off let’s give our “entities” the more common conspiracy theory name of the Illuminati.. We can identify them further by the attendees at Bilderberger, members of the Trilateral Commission, et al. Far as the modern era is concerned, where this really has its roots is with the founding of the Bank of England in 1692, at which time Sir Issac Newton, one of the two inventors of the Calculus was Master of the Mint in Jolly Old England. At the same time the other guy not quite as well known, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz was an advisor to Queen Sophia of the Hapsburg family over in the land of Beer, Brats and Sauerkraut. It is no coincidence that the major banking houses as well as Industrialization were concentrated in Britain and Germany, these were direct evolutions from the Calculus.

            Anyhow, what they did was to take a fairly crude monetary system that had been in use pretty much from Babylonian times and survived the Dark Ages to emerge in the House of Medici and applied analysis of growth and rates of change to the money supply. Long as you could get everyone to buy into this system, it enabled transnational power to develop beyond the sovereign state. Getting everyone to buy in was the job of the Military, and industrialization handed England and Germany massive advantage in this regard. This monetary sytem has grown in power ever since, and with it the power of the Illuminati has grown.

            However, one word repeats itself here throughout, which is GROWTH. The whole system is predicated on it. Even if you engineer a collapse, the expectation is to reboot again with assets further consolidated and recycle the process. I’m sure you have read Richard Heinberg’s Limits to Growth message, and the fact is there won’t be a reboot this time, at least not of the same type of system. So the strategies employed by the Illuminati over the last 300 years simply will not work in this go round.

            The goal is of course to consolidate a One World Goobermint, but this is not what is occuring. In fact, the system is fracturing, the first big fracture was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The next big fracture is likely to be the Eurozone. The collapse of the Goobermints in MENA is an example of still more fracturing underway at the moment. I refer to this phenomenon as One to the Many Reversion. The Many to One consolidation phase reached its Zenith more or less at the top of the Peak Oil curve.

            There is little doubt that those at the top of the food chain intend to try to use their position of power to orchestrate this collapse, but such an orchestration requires maitaining control of important Conduits, monetary, military, communication and energy which will be less and less possible over time here. There will come a point of catastrophic failure of all the Conduits, at which point the central control of the Illuminati will devolve to more local power centers. They are unlikely to be the same as the ones who control the current power structure.

            Its similar in nature to the collapse of Rome. Are the descendants of the Caesars still in control of the world today? No, one central power structure dies, other new ones are reborn and then a Many to One consolidation phase takes place. This whole bizness appears to undergo a regular cycle of around 1600 years.

            The problem when a major Civilization power structure collapses is the long period of anarchy which follows. We all are pretty aware of the problems during the Dark Ages, and they are likely to be similar and perhaps worse in this go round.

            There are all sorts of scenarios that can be played out here, some operate on shorter timelines, others longer ones, and there is no certainty as to exactly when or how this will actaully work, all you can do is run Game Theory simulations on the myriad possibilities. I do this all the time on Reverse Engineering. There is no scenario however that I find plausible which suggest the Illuminati can maintain control over this spin down once the Conduits fail. Thus I do not really buy into the idea that they will be able to selectively engineer a population reduction down to the Georgia Guidestones number of 500M worldwide population of Homo Sapiens. Not necessarily a good thing, because in the absence of control, we are likely to Undershoot well below that. On balance however, its important to get rid of what is fundamentally a very EVIL system, so however many it takes here is what it takes.


          • nobody says

            Ran out of replies behind your last post. Hope you see this.
            Thank you for teaching my kids (via me). Are you actually in a public school somewhere?
            May be the Illuminati will simply coast with a tremendous store of resources and Blackwater body guards, but why not the global currency? won’t so many folks be terrorized by the dark ages sort of anarchy that they will go along, as they have been, with anything? I’m not disputing your references to systems breaking down. They’ve been getting everything they could ever want for so long and lately It seems like fewer and fewer resist their siren song. n

  9. tamnaa says

    RE; on the one hand, I feel some understanding and sympathy with your perspective. On the other, though, I detect a contradiction in your thinking.

    At one point you say; “During this period, about the only people who truly are altruistic are those who buy their own ticket to the Great Beyond. Long as you remain alive during a period of overshoot, it comes at the expense of someone else.”

    In a later post you say; ” Presented with the choice of Death or trying to eke out an existence as Bushmen of the Kalahari, death is preferable.”

    If I understand correctly, you feel that those people who exercise their abilities to continue living in a post petroleum world are not truly altruistic because their survival somehow causes others to perish.
    You think this is not altruistic even though the challenges of living in such conditions will be so challenging that most people would prefer death.

    So, for you, taking on the responsibility, extremely difficult and challenging as it will be, of contributing to the continuation of “humanity” on this earth is not altruistic. Would you say it is unethical? According to this logic, everyone should just die. Obviously, I don’t agree.

    I’d like to say something about this “hunter gatherer” idea. We get the impression from what we have been taught in school that the Bushmen and Inuit are remnants of the foraging way of life that was largely replaced by agricultural civilization (the Neolithic Revolution) and more recently by Industrial Civilization.
    Okay, there’s a lot of truth in that, but it gives us the false idea that the failure of industry and modern agriculture leaves us with pure “hunting and gathering” as the only alternate means of survival.

    Actually most of us have engaged in foraging activities at one time or another. I spent most of my life in Western Canada and I have fished for salmon and trout, caught crabs and dug clams, picked huckleberries, wild raspberries and, my favorite, saskatoons! I’ve eaten wild greens such as lamb’s quarters, comfrey, even spruce tips. I’d be surprised if you have never done anything like this.

    Now I live in Northeast Thailand. The local people forage a lot for fish, snails, lizards, frogs, insects…. the list would be nearly endless. The land around our house is abundant with wild edible plants more tasty and nutritious than anything I can grow in the garden. We use them all the time.

    We grow rice and a wide variety of tropical fruit as well, in a kind of permaculture pattern that is very ancient in this area. The people here grow everything they really need and will not be too upset if petroleum is unavailable or if the electricity fails.

    Humans are versatile and adaptable. It’s time to adapt! We don’t have to live like the Bushmen. Everyone (except those who surrender to despair, I guess) will make the attempt in their own way and time will show which ways work best. I think it’s an interesting time to be alive.

    • says

      “So, for you, taking on the responsibility, extremely difficult and challenging as it will be, of contributing to the continuation of “humanity” on this earth is not altruistic. Would you say it is unethical?”-tamnaa

      I’d like to see the experiment in sentience continued on with, so I’d rather not see the extinction of Homo Sapiens.

      You can’t do a whole lot about the time you were born into. The fact this time period will encompass a whole heck of a lot of death and destruction is a fact of life, its not an ethical question. You live with the fact your survival comes at the expense of someone else. You can try to reduce your energy footprint some, but then there are the water issues. In any event, the fewest of these problems are found in the lowest population zones, so that is where I live.

      “Okay, there’s a lot of truth in that, but it gives us the false idea that the failure of industry and modern agriculture leaves us with pure “hunting and gathering” as the only alternate means of survival.”

      What is your basis for claiming it is a falsehood?

      The real problem with agriculture is not its sustainability on an ecological level. I’m quite sure with careful practice you could run permaculture farms as long as you get soil replenishment in some way.

      The real problem is a political one with the sedentary way of life. It’s wherefrom comes the ownership of property and money. Its no coincidence that money came right along with agriculture, of course.

      As long as we have these things, people will fight over them, until they destroy themselves and this way of life. In the neolithic revolution, ag based societies grew and grew, by sheer size and number they wiped out any hunter gatherers living within their boundaries. Eventually these societies butted up against each other, causing the essentially non-stop Wars which have been part of the landscape since the time of Babylon.

      People won’t give up the ag life unless and until they are forced to do so. It will mainly be the decision of Mother Nature on whether this happens or not generally across the globe. In marginal areas like the Arctic and the Kalahari desert though, its the only way to live. There is a reasonable chance here most of the world will be a marginal area in the not too distant future.


  10. tamnaa says

    First let me get this out of the way: “with careful practice you could run permaculture farms as long as you get soil replenishment in some way.” — maintaining and improving soil quality is what permaculture and other natural farming practices are all about. Extractive commercial agriculture and the use of artificial fertilizers has proven to be one of the monumental blunders of human history. Of course it can be done for small stable populations.

    “What is your basis for claiming it is a falsehood?” —
    While hunting and gathering in sparse habitat necessitates a nomadic way of life, foragers in more abundant territory tended to settle in favorable locations, perhaps near a reliable water source, a place with good natural shelter, offering fishing opportunities, etc. From their base they would go out on excursions for a day or two and then return home to share what they had harvested with their group.
    Most historians acknowledge that agriculture began with unintentional propagation of useful plants around these dwelling places. Slowly, people learned to do this intentionally. Most of these plants would have been perennials, i.e. trees and shrubs. They continued with foraging practices while they learned to improve their habitats by encouraging useful species and removing less valued competitors. This mixed livelihood strategy of foraging and rudimentary subsistence permaculture went on for untold thousands of years before the “Neolithic Revolution” and still goes on today.

    The eventual development of larger scale field cultivation (annual crops such as grains and pulses) provided enough surplus food to supply more densely concentrated populations, thus allowing towns and cities to be established. Occupational specialization, commerce, stratified social structure, competition, oppression and warfare…. all the cherished “benefits of civilization” arose from this innovation.
    That’s what academics are referring to with the term “Neolithic Revolution”.

    Money is just a kind of information medium devised to facilitate commerce. Agriculture in itself, the cultivation of plants and animals for human use, does not give rise to money; commerce does. If the purpose of human activity is confined to subsistence, i.e. consuming what we produce ourselves, rather than piling up ever increasing wealth, property and power, money is irrelevant and we can maintain ecological balance indefinitely.

    Many people would agree with you, that what happened in the past must inevitably happen again, that humans are incapable of learning from their mistakes and are therefor doomed to repeat them.

    Here is the persistent notion that just doesn’t make sense to me:
    — Humans are capable of using their free will to abstain from cultivating plants and so to survive by nomadic hunting and gathering, but
    —once they settle in any given location, or (horror of horrors!) plant a fruit tree, humans somehow lack the ability to avoid the pitfalls of property accumulation, competitive hierarchy, unsustainable growth and environmental destruction.

    I think we do have free will and, with wisdom gained from harsh experience, humanity can learn to live as contributors to the overall life of the planet rather than as destroyers.

    • says


      I wrote an argument about the problems with Ag on Reverse Engineering, but I won’t post it here because it isn’t in a format appropriate to this forum. I have long history of getting myself banned from forums because of my ideas, so I am trying to stay active here as long as I can. LOL.

      In any event, you wrote the following:

      ‘Money is just a kind of information medium devised to facilitate commerce. Agriculture in itself, the cultivation of plants and animals for human use, does not give rise to money; commerce does. If the purpose of human activity is confined to subsistence, i.e. consuming what we produce ourselves, rather than piling up ever increasing wealth, property and power, money is irrelevant and we can maintain ecological balance indefinitely.”

      This is not exactly true. Money is not just an information medium devised to facilitate commerce. In fact money developed as a tallying system for grain. Money in its initial form represented something very real, a Coin represented a given quantity of grain in a warehouse. Because Ag societies produce a surplus each year and because that surplus can be saved, the coinage you produce represents the entirety of your saved production. For so long as you remain in surplus and for so long as the coinage get distributed fairly, you got no problems. You only run into problems when you no longer have a surplus of the grain, but in the hands of the savers of the coins you don’t have enough grain to cover the value of those coins. The coins then devalue with respect to the grain, and it does not matter what they are made of really. Could be Gold, Silver or Lead, the coin still would lose value with respect to the grain in the warehouse.

      The problems with all Ag societies relate to their tendenc toward saving and their tendency toward reproducing more people than the land can actually support at any given time. I wrote about this in more detail on Reverse Engineering. I invite you to join in the discussion there. I do not think it fits well on this forum as I perceive it so far.


      • tamnaa says

        RE; right, so you’re saying the word “agriculture” can only mean large scale field production of grain with all its attendant surpluses and commercial commodity implications, including money.

        I have already made it clear that I find that to be at the root of much of what ails “civilization”.
        (I should add; not necessarily causal but closely entwined)

        Alright, what term would you accept then, for plant cultivation that has nothing to do with the above?

        Thanks for the invitation. I’ll have a look.

        • says

          No, it’s not just large scale grain production that flips the switch out of sustainability. Its an aggregation problem which comes from savings and a tendency to reproduce faster than the land can support. Beyond that, it demands ownership of property. You cannot plant, grow and eat food unless you possess property upon which to do that. Unless you strictly adhere to just reproducing what given property you live on will produce in the ag paradigm,you ALWAYS must expand. Permaculture or Industrial Ag does not matter, ALL Ag societies produce more people than the land can sustain. It is as a result inherently not a sustainable paradigm for existence. You need to have a counterbalance to the procreation. Predation generally does that in most ecosystems. The real problems occur at the top of the Food Chain.


        • says

          Missed answering a specific question here.

          “Alright, what term would you accept then, for plant cultivation that has nothing to do with the above?”

          Trying to answer this question is pretty tough. I’m not sure what level at which people can purposefully plant and grow food stuffs and still avoid the aggregtion problems and ownership problems that are concommitant with controlled Ag production.

          Small gatherings of people who do this sort of thing seem sustainable, but they tend to aggregate larger all the time. Keeping a lid on the procreation resultant is quite a problem.

          In an idealized situation, at the top of the food chain you need some means of fairly competing amongst that group as to who lives and who dies. The real problem with wars is they are not generally fair in competiton since the industrial revolution. I am pretty confident that once the Oil is gone the playing field will be much more level and such large scale warfare will no longer occur. Still will be battles though as people seek to control enogh resource to survive. If you are top of the food chain, the only predation possible is against each other for survival.


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