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Peak Empire

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Peak Empire

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 12:14:32

Recently I've been chewing on a book about peak empire. It looks at four empties, Spanish, Dutch, English, and American, and compares similarities in wealth patterns. While the book makes some good points, a good editor would have cut it 2/3 and made it much more powerful.

The basic thesis is that a empire stars with some healthy growth in fundamentals. There is some basis in reality for the rise, SA gold, shipping, industrial revolution.

As the empire matures the folks that drove the rise invest their fortunes in financial instruments. The capital becomes locked up in the banking and investment industry and is not released to further additional physical improvements. These soft investments become more and more abstract, more of a betting game, a sort of self Ponzi. When the end comes, which is not always suddenly, this financial wealth simply ceases to exist, if it ever did to begin with. Stocks and bonds loose value and the wealthy elite loose their financial power.

The symptoms of this include a rise in globalization/off shore investments, increasing wealth disparity at home, reduction in the at home employment rate, etc. The book was written circa 2004, and before the 2008 crash. It makes one think how can we have sustained this current peak through what should have been a strong corrective turn.

My personal interpretation of the current situation is that, unlike past empires, the current level of globalization is so wide spread that there is no new entity to pick up where we leave off. China and India, natural heirs, are already fairly mature economies that rely upon the existing consumptive trade for their own existence. The USA empire has morphed into a trans-national empire of global financial institutions. In the past the collapse of one empire allowed the emergence of a new one. Not this time, we now have an empire of the whole. It is only afloat because of extreme financial measures starting back in 2008.

Worse musings are only valuable to help one ponder the future and find a way through. Is it true that the existing financial system is unstable? If so will it collapse? When? How? Are there safe investments? If the current financial instruments are at risk, what are alternative ways to hold onto your wealth? What does a guy do with a 401k, take the money out paying the tax premium and buy land?

I thought I'd throw this out as a conversation starter.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Plantagenet » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 12:49:44

This is a great topic.

IMHO the US Empire hit its peak in the 1950s, when the US was the world's leading oil producer as well as the leading military, economic and political power. Europe and Japan and China were still digging out of the rubble of the second world war and working people in those countries were struggling to rebuild their countries. In contrast, US consumers were the richest on earth, and US factory workers drove giant US made cars to brand new split level homes being built in new US suburbs surrounding still mostly nice and very livable US cities.

In the 1950s the US set up a system of military alliances (NATO, SEATO)to cement US power around the globe, and the US also set up international institutions like the UN to allow the US to direct world affairs as it saw fit. The US also set up ca. 800 military bases around the world in the 1950s.

The US was unquestionably numero uno in the 1950s. Then we stumbled into assassinations, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Race Riots, political crisis, impeachment, Iraq, Afghanistan, great recession, Libya, Iraq again with a bonus war in Syria, wage stagnation, the return of race riots, etc. etc. Its been mostly a downhill slide since 1959, and now, to finish it all off, we elected a TV reality show host named Donald Trump as President.

As far as I'm concerned the US hit peak Empire 60 years ago.

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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby baha » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 14:51:05

I was thinking of starting a new topic, but this fits...

Are we under attack? It seems to me China is using the weapons they have on hand to show their control of the South China Sea and Pacific. Our empire has weapons but China has dead weight hammers that can keep us out of the area. Is it Naval incompetence (I doubt it) or a hidden attack by China? Would they tell us if they knew?

The empire is crumbling. I think the helicopter in Charlottesville was shot down...Would they admit it if it was? It's 'under investigation'. We are on the verge of collapse and TPTB are telling everyone all is well...

I believe that and have made decisions based on that. Yes, when the empire falls, the dollar falls with it. The whole global financial system will be thrown into confusion...for a while. I have taken money from an IRA and paid off my house. I will pay the taxes now with funny money and own the house forever.

I am waiting with baited breath for the financial system to crash and the big money holders to realize there is nothing left.

The system should reset based on the value of hard goods. Real estate, farm land, resources...I think that is what you want in your portfolio.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby pstarr » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 15:19:47

baha wrote:I have taken money from an IRA and paid off my house. I will pay the taxes now with funny money and own the house forever.

I am waiting with baited breath for the financial system to crash and the big money holders to realize there is nothing left.

The system should reset based on the value of hard goods. Real estate, farm land, resources...I think that is what you want in your portfolio.

You are one of the Waken Few. Good for you baha :)

Real estate, farm land and resource are only as valuable as your ownership of them. Your ownership is dependent on supply/demand and your willingness to defend said ownership. Properties that is isolated, defensible, especially common . . . rich with resources/poor with humans.

I chose the remote redwood region of the pacific northwest decades ago. We are surrounded by millions of acres of virtually impassable and valuable wildlands. Lush and green all year round. Few people. Fresh water source not dependent on pumped energy. Lots o' deer, trees and fish. Good huntin' and eatin' nice
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Ibon » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 15:56:22

The fact that it is global this time does somewhat disrupt the normal rise and fall and replacement pattern.
The alliances of the elite and wealthy are more transnational than national. I think this explains the growing trend of nationalism among citizens that is not always shared by their governments who remain fixed on trade alliances and facilitating transnational agreements for multi national corporations. Meanwhile this huge flattening of wages continues to unfold around the world.

Think of it this way. We always speak on a national level about the great disparity of wealth that is increasing all the time. But if you look at it from the point of view of your average citizen worker around the world and you lump a Chinese, Indian, American and Latin American worker together as one global entity than you see that there is not greater disparity of wealth but rather less disparity, a great flattening of wage levels. From a national level growing disparity, but in aggregate the global middle class as a group are flattening with less disparity.

There is less disparity than ever before as well among the top 1% globally. The top Chinese, Mexican, Indian 1% are right up there these days with the American 1%.

Geographically there is no common unity among the global poor and lower middle class. They are all wage slaves but divided by geography and nation states and religion and languages. This division restricts any form of protest from the underclass to the national level. Government, concerned more with transnational alliances are more than happy to use immigrants and terrorists as scapegoats and foment racial tensions to keep the global underclass divided using nationalism.

There is still a long way to go to flatten everything out. The most fat undoubtedly is still with your average US consumer whose per capita of consumption of resources is still very high. The problem is that he or she is still the model the Chinese and Indians are trying to imitate. The developing countries now have more economic power combined with a highly motivated citizenry who wants their first taste of wealth. They are smart, ambitious, motivated, willing to work long hours and are competing among themselves as a sub group.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby onlooker » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 16:52:13

I do not believe it is helpful to look at past cycles and patterns in regards this topic. We are in a uniquely different set of circumstances. Part of it is how much most humans have strayed from subsistence existence. So many of us have been incorporated into modernity and Globalization. Second, is the degradation of the environmental web and how terrifying its unraveling seems poised to be due mostly to human influence. Third, is the type of weapons now in existence which can render pretty much the planet uninhabitable if these weapons of mass destruction are employed. So, while in the past Empires fell due to various vulnerabilities similar to what exist now, now the entire planet is poised to seriously collapse and malfunction. This is due not just too environmental or economic reasons but to the chaotic circumstances of so many people living at one time, this itself has introduced further instability into human affairs. So, all in all, our economic vulnerabilies and the precariousness of our environmental situation pose dangers unlike few societies have ever faced and these dangers threaten every single human on Earth.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby asg70 » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 18:00:13

All this connecting of dots people do between the west and Rome is really more of a function of some people being acutely anti-establishment and wanting the existing order to collapse down into some nostalgic pastoral existence. You know, the good days when the world was made by hand, before those dagnabbit cars and suburbs! And that's all well and good if what we were facing wasn't a global mass-extinction event. You aren't going to have your idyllic little house on the prairie in a world of runaway global warming colliding with 8+ billion people. It will be Cormac McCarthy at best.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 18:51:27

Ah, but the collapse dosent have to happen overnight. And we can be comfortable, at least for a while, maybe a lifetime, before things get seriously bad. And my lifetime is getting short!
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby asg70 » Mon 21 Aug 2017, 19:58:32

Newfie wrote:Ah, but the collapse dosent have to happen overnight. And we can be comfortable, at least for a while, maybe a lifetime, before things get seriously bad. And my lifetime is getting short!


If temperatues spike several degrees by the end of the century that would mean they'd spike another 1-2 degrees within the next couple decades. That might be enough to seriously damange the planet's carrying capacity. Since I'm still in my 40s, I'm expecting things to get pretty uncomfortable by the time I hit retirement age and my daughter will definitely face the tip of the spear. It's only in the next decade or so that I feel we might enjoy a last gasp of normalcy.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby baha » Tue 22 Aug 2017, 05:10:02

A stock market collapse would shake up the world...but it is all 'fake money'. Why are little pieces of paper needed to operate society. A monetary collapse does not have to lead to societies collapse. Just like in '08 TPTB will just paper over money problems.

When you can't trust the police and they don't trust you, collapse is imminent. When police refuse to help out, a race war will break out. It seems we are dividing along racial and ethnic groups and getting less tolerant of each other every day. Like Ibon said. we are being equalized. And the folks who are used to being on top are starting to feel threatened.

There is a problem when a person gets laid off and the only solution they see is to shoot their boss. There is a problem when other people have so little worth you feel the need to run over them with your car. There is a serious problem when you can't trust the police to do the right thing.

Collapse is all around us. Just like we stick our heads in the sand and ignore GW, we ignore the fraying around the edges of society.

Is it Religion? Race? or just over-population causing these conflicts? I don't know. But I think this is going to hit us hard before CC has a chance to really kick in. I think the population problem will be solved by war and conflict, not by floods and drought.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Newfie » Tue 22 Aug 2017, 07:41:28

According to the author, the past collapses have been precipitated by war. In the war the old empire out spends their resources and the née pier makes a ton of money in the process.

I don't know that this will happen this time, I can't see a really big war, all the players have too much invested in the status quo.

IMHO the time will come when the financial shenanigans will become too ludacris for anyone to believe in. The trust between states, traders will be broken. Then trade will freeze up. This is what Bush and Obama described during the 2008 panic. It took the Fed taking extraordinary actions to reassure the market. But have we really fixed anything? Or just papered over the problem for the short term?

My thought is that while the USA will take a hit other parts of the world will fare worse, so relatively, we will be OK. The USA and Canada has large food and water exports and is among the very few calorie exporters in the world. We would have to relearn how to build things and reconstruct our industry, but that is doable. Food importing nations would be in rougher shape.

I know China has some land holdings in the USA. Would we allow them to continue to raise and export food to China? Would we nationalize these farms? These kind of arrangements exist for many countries. Russia has made long term leases on farm land in Siberia. Will they honor those leases?

The USA can probably contribute to stability for some period of time. How long is a good question.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Tanada » Tue 22 Aug 2017, 09:58:02

asg70 wrote:
Newfie wrote:Ah, but the collapse dosent have to happen overnight. And we can be comfortable, at least for a while, maybe a lifetime, before things get seriously bad. And my lifetime is getting short!


If temperatures spike several degrees by the end of the century that would mean they'd spike another 1-2 degrees within the next couple decades. That might be enough to seriously damage the planet's carrying capacity. Since I'm still in my 40s, I'm expecting things to get pretty uncomfortable by the time I hit retirement age and my daughter will definitely face the tip of the spear. It's only in the next decade or so that I feel we might enjoy a last gasp of normalcy.


Generally speaking the paleoclimate record does not support your climate scenario.
From the record as we know it the climate operates in narrow ranges around nodes. The climate bounces around a node for a long range of CO2 values, then it snaps to a higher or lower nexus point where it again bounces around a broad swath of values once again. From what we know the temperature 'steps' are around 10C for a minimum value, 16C for the mid range plateau and 22C at the top of the range. The inter-glacial periods like now are in the 10C-14C range. This is the top of the range around the bottom step point of attraction. When the climate pops to the next step it will fluctuate around the 16C point ranging as low as 13C or as high as 19C but varying around that 16C center point. The record shows that above about 520 ppmv CO2 we 'step' from the bottom climate step to the middle climate step, and around 790 ppmv CO2 we 'step' into the hothouse climate state.

Those CO2 values have changed over time as continental drift and the procession of the axis and the other Milankovitch factors like the eccentricity of the orbit. When the continents are all clustered into one mega land mass the CO2 values to have the same steps are different, and as the sun steadily increases in energy output over time the values slowly change as well, but so far as science has been able to determine the 520 ppmv and 790 ppmv values for CO2 are the general range of the step change with the current Milankovitch cycle and continental drift and solar energy output factored in.

The tricky part is humans emit a lot of GHG other than CO2 so while the CO2 value is a kind of minimum factor the NOx and CH4 and SF6 and various CFC chemicals we have released over the last 150 years all add to the CO2 impact to some extent. Current estimates are that CO2e is somewhere around 480+/-(50) so a range from 430-530 CO2 equivalent. A lot of these industrial emissions have very long atmospheric lifetimes.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhous ... x_2012.png
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Newfie » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 03:43:35

Tanada,

I like your approach, but I'm confused. If the tipping point is around 520 and our current CO2e range is as high as 530 doesn't that make the shift possible shortly? On the outside of the range but still there?
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Newfie » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 04:16:01

Climate change aside, looking at the subset of empire dynamics only, the situation is quite interesting in its own right. Many good points have been made above. I too feel we are in a post peak empire mode. We are at the same point GB was between world wars, there are areas where we had influence, but that is slipping through our fingers. We are spending a lot of effort to retain that influence, but it is still slipping.

After WWII the accendence of Amercian economic power was evident to all. It was simply clear that the seat of power had moved. This situation was not so clear 20 years earlier when the British were still struggling to hold on. 1937 and 2017 are both murky times.

Churchill could clearly see that bringing American economic power to bear in the war was the solution. Britian alone could not bear the strain against the Axis. The Axis could not bear the strain against America. Churchill clung to his visions of Empire, he knew that as the Empire slipped from the British orb so would Britians wealth and influence. So he hung onto India, and it's markets, for dear life. The war debts and reconstruction costs drained Britian.

The USA was once a the dominant producer nation and the world was our India. As our economy grew we needed bigger and bigger markets and birthed Consumerisim to support our factories. As the economy matured, we switched to a service/financial economy, we relinquished our producer role. In recent years, we have been fighting a costly war of stabilization. The 2008 economic shock caused us to go deeply into debt and invent money and financial tricks to keep the game going.

We're the past cycle to repeat some other nation, such as China or India, would have ursurpped our role by becoming the producers. China moved in this direction but already they are maturing, off shoring their own manufacturing, playing in financials, leasing land outside China to feed Chineese.

So I think this time the cycle will be broken. There is no next empire. What there will be remains a question, whose answer climate change will influence deeply.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Tanada » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 08:49:16

Newfie wrote:Tanada,

I like your approach, but I'm confused. If the tipping point is around 520 and our current CO2e range is as high as 530 doesn't that make the shift possible shortly? On the outside of the range but still there?


Correct, that is why I keep telling people the time for prevention is past and the time to adapt is upon us. Even if the USA were to suddenly decide to go carbon free electricity building windmills and nuclear plants and solar farms everywhere and couple that with synthetic fuel the other 7,200,000,000 people on the planet will still burn enough fossil fuel to push us firmly onto the next step. The cultural inertia of burning fossil fuels is too strong for any other result to take place.

Yes the error bars are very large because the number of variables is very large and each influences
the exact point at which we step up to the 16C world average.

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The media does us all a major disservice by portraying climate change as a smooth integral function where we slide up out of major glaciations and smoothly back down. That is a completely false view of reality. When the world is in a major glaciation like it was 25,000 ybp the temperature of the globe cycled up and down a bit and the glaciers advanced and retreated every few thousand years around the margins. Then about 20,000 ybp the change from major glaciation to the current interglacial took one step that was effectively overnight. The only delay was the fact that there was so much ice extending from the poles it took a long time to retreat. People look at this image and they see it took 6,000 years for the massive ice sheets to melt so they think that means the world temperature was slowly rising for that 6,000 years. That is deceptive and incorrect, in reality the world temperature jumped from around 10C to around 13C in a very short period of time but the ice was so massive it took a long time to all melt from that increase in temperature.
Image

World average temperatures meant that in Florida (for example) the climate 15,000 years ago was very close to what it is today, but then over time as the massive glaciers melted half of Florida became drown land tens to hundreds of feet below sea level. In Virginia the climate 20,000 years ago was a lot like Michigan or Wisconsin today, then overnight the climate changed and it became much more like it is today with massive glaciers located just a few hundred miles further north in NYC. Because major glaciations cover a more or less circular area extending from each pole the outermost edge covers a very long perimeter. This means if the ice retreats a mile from its maximum extent it releases a lot more water in the beginning of the melt cycle than it does at the end when the perimeter is much much smaller.

This means to create that mostly smooth integral of sea level rise in the graph the rate of melting had to steadily speed up as the ice extent became smaller and smaller closer to the poles. The cause is believed to be the albedo effect, as the edge moved closer to the poles the area where sunlight was reflected away in summer shrank. However when you are talking about a sheet up to two miles thick for a long time the melting that happens is in the form of thinning, not losing extent. This is the same argument people are having about Arctic Sea Ice today, one person looks at the picture in spring and says the extent or area is almost as large as it was 20 years ago, while another person looks at the sea ice volume and point out while it looks visually similar the actual amount of ice is a tiny fraction of what it was. So the extent shrank very slowly while at the same time every summer the volume shrank a lot more. Only the ice around the edge where the layer was thinnest actually retreated closer to the poles every summer, further inland the glacier deflated a few meters ever summer and then got a fresh dusting of new snow each winter. Because of the surface melting being the predominant way the glaciers melted very large melt water lakes were formed, and as each of these was breached and drained into the world ocean the sea level pulsed higher. Each MWP on the graph means Melt Water Pulse showing when one of these took place.

As the ice edge retreated the newly exposed territory did not revert to tundra like it does when the world average temperature is around the bottom, instead it reverted to prairie or forest landscape within a couple of decades of becoming ice free. It you look at what is taking place in southern Greenland today you can see the same effect.

Check out this graph, over the entire geological history of our planet the world average temperature in Fahrenheit has ranged between 55 and 75 degrees with a few minor excursions here or there. The constant hyping of the idea that if Canada starts averaging 75 F again as it has many times in the past we will go extinct is just plain fear mongering.
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Far better to prepare ourselves for that reality, which could happen any time, than to fantasize we can prevent it from taking place. We are past the point of no return. Time to wake up to that reality.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Ibon » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 09:14:43

Newfie wrote:
So I think this time the cycle will be broken. There is no next empire. What there will be remains a question, whose answer climate change will influence deeply.


The cycle will be broken. But then again we assume an empire to rise under the context of the past couple of thousand years when technological progress and greater exploitation of resources was always coupled with each emerging empire.

What happens this time is that something may reconfigure but it will not be coupled with exponential resource exploitation and technology gains as in past empires. So this raises the interesting question. Assuming we will preserve scientific knowledge this will be applied to any cyclical new empire but in an ecological environment and resource base that will be diminished. Doesn't this force any new empire to adapt another set of cultural regulations?

Every past empire for the past couple of thousand years emerged in this cyclical pattern with greater technological inventions at their disposal and greater energy exploitation and a biosphere of still unexploited resources.

How does a new empire adapt with science preserved but a diminished ecological resource base?

Doesn't self regulation of consumption and population become a higher priority under these circumstances? This assumes of course that some new empire emerges.

Otherwise there will be a lot of small tribal communities thriving in the monumental shadows of our ruins much like the Mayans who were living in grass mud huts in the shadows of their ruined pyramids when the Spanish first came to the New World 500 years ago.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Ibon » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 09:24:23

Tanada wrote: When the world is in a major glaciation like it was 25,000 ybp the temperature of the globe cycled up and down a bit and the glaciers advanced and retreated every few thousand years around the margins. Then about 20,000 ybp the change from major glaciation to the current interglacial took one step that was effectively overnight. The only delay was the fact that there was so much ice extending from the poles it took a long time to retreat. People look at this image and they see it took 6,000 years for the massive ice sheets to melt so they think that means the world temperature was slowly rising for that 6,000 years. That is deceptive and incorrect, in reality the world temperature jumped from around 10C to around 13C in a very short period of time but the ice was so massive it took a long time to all melt from that increase in temperature.


Enjoyed that post Tanada. That ice acted like a big sink of energy stored in a flywheel or a battery which is what permitted that slow rising for 6000 years. As you point out there is no stored sink remaining today to moderate change. This is why we can fully expect an inflection point with accelerated changes coming very very soon in geologic terms, even in human life time terms. There is no base line normal that we will return to in the foreseeable future

Which institution in the private or public sector has anything to gain from explaining this to the mass of humanity.

Crunch time on a global level
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby onlooker » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 11:28:16

Okay, here I put on my optimistic hat . I do not see any Empire arising again as we interpret the meaning of the word. What I think can happen is what Ibon says must happen. The remaining humans coalesce under certain principles which they rightfully deem crucial to sustain themselves. Among these principles is a sense of unity, of avoiding violent conflict, of living within what the natural world provides and having a deep veneration for Nature and for life itself. Remember, they will have gone through harrowing ordeals or said ordeals will have happened recently so that they will be leaving a profound imprint on the humans trying to reconfigure communities and society. Harmony will be a prized concept as it will define how these humans wish to live. What advanced information and technology survives will be warily viewed and employed as humanity will be naturally wary of it given how it facilitated the destruction of the commons and very nearly humanity itself.
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby pstarr » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 11:32:00

All past empires expired due to resource exhaustian, not one as a consequence of industrial pollution. We will collapse when we overshoot, not when we dirty our nest. If it were only a matter of CO2, then our ingenious engines would cleanse the atmosphere and the party would go on forever. Forever is a nice place.

All animal populations go through periods of die off. We are no exceptional. The question is how far can we rebound? Do we end up like the remnant reindeer population on Isle Royale, or the pitiful 24 humans left on Easter Island?
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Re: Peak Empire

Unread postby Ibon » Wed 23 Aug 2017, 14:00:46

pstarr wrote:All animal populations go through periods of die off. We are no exceptional. The question is how far can we rebound? Do we end up like the remnant reindeer population on Isle Royale, or the pitiful 24 humans left on Easter Island?


This is true as is the carrying capacity following the die-off being reduced due to the impacts on the ecosystems caused by overshoot. Regeneration will be centuries or millenniums.

Consider what Onlooker is saying here which is what I have been suggesting for many years. If we preserve science and knowledge we will carry this through the die-off and into the rebound. Furthermore we will have references of our overshoot as ruins for centuries to come. In addition we will also have the historical data of how abundant things were before we went into overshoot. All of these facts together form the basis for the foundation of a cultural code of self regulating principals that could be incorporated in a future society. We will have the reminders of this as a constant for many generations.

Past cycles of emerging new empires built on the technological gains of their predecessors which laid down the foundation for new technological advances.

This time around we will once again build on the legacy of what came beforehand. In addition to the science and technology it will also include the detrimental impacts of overshoot.

And so we might learn.... .

If modern human civilizations are only 10,000 years old this is the blink of an eye for a species. Human civilization only 10,000 years old has not had the test of time to prove its resilience. If it does evolve as a stable form of "ecology" for our species it actually requires these die-offs to increase resilience.

How else would we ever build in a set of cultural and ethical self regulating principals if not through the harrowing consequences of not having done so. This has always been the central driving force moving us toward a less rogue existence as a species and to a place of more long term resilience.

There is room for optimism as Onlooker suggests.

Why else would one Worship the Overshoot Predator if not to recognize what he will teach us?
Our resiliency resembles an invasive weed. We are the Kudzu Ape
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