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The Seneca Cliff Explained as a Network Phenomenon: a Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model


A Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model
In this post, Geoffrey Chia illustrates one of the fundamental characteristics of the “Seneca Effect”, also known as “collapse,” the fact that it occurs in networked systems dominated by feedback interactions. This is a qualitative interpretation of collapse that complements the more quantitative models that I report in my book “The Seneca Effect.” (U.B.)

A post by Geoffrey Chia

The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 by a group of world class scientists using the best mathematical computer modelling available at the time. It projected the future collapse of global industrial civilisation in the 21st century if humanity did not curb its population, consumption and pollution. It was pilloried by many “infinite growth on a finite planet” economists over the decades.

However, updated data inputs and modern computer modelling in recent years (particularly by Dr Graham Turner of the CSIRO in 2008 and 2014) showed that we are in reality closely tracking the standard model of the LtG, with industrial collapse and mass die-off due sooner rather than later. The future is now.

The LtG looked only at 5 parameters, with global warming being a mere subset of pollution. Dramatic acceleration of ice melt and unprecedented, increasingly frequent, extreme weather events over the past two decades clearly demonstrate that global warming is progressing far faster and far worse than anyone could possibly have imagined back in the 70s. Global warming certainly deserves a separate category for consideration on its own, quite apart from the other manifestations of pollution.
The LtG did not include a specific category looking at the human dynamics of finance, economics and political manoeuvrings, which was fair enough, because it is impossible to mathematically model such capricious irrationality. Economists may beg to differ, however no economic mathematical model has ever been shown to accurately reflect the real world, nor ever consistently predict anything useful (unlike the LtG and other proven science based models), not least because of their hopelessly incomplete and deeply flawed ideological economic assumptions. Garbage in, garbage out. In 2013, the “Nobel-type” prize for economics (properly termed the Bank of Sweden prize) was jointly awarded to different economists who had mathematically modelled diametrically opposing ideas. That was akin to awarding the physics prize to different scientists who “showed” that the universe is both expanding and contracting at the same time.
Despite that, I do advocate that we should include finance, economics and politics in our subjective conceptual framework of collapse mechanics, because financial and economic troubles are triggers for political upheavals which can lead to conflict and the collapse of nation states. Syria is a prime example. This unquantifiable category, despite being subjective and unpredictable, will nevertheless significantly contribute to population die-off, just as any quantifiable category such as global warming or resource depletion or ecosystem destruction can and will cause human die-off. Economic collapse can lead to loss of healthcare, homelessness and starvation. Political madness can trigger global thermonuclear war at any time, causing our extinction.
All the categories contributing to collapse are deeply inter-related and intertwined. This is the basis of systems thinking, which is essential for making realistic judgements about our future and mitigating against the troubles ahead. How can we confer such complex ideas to the general public in a manner which is clear and understandable, yet does not significantly compromise accuracy or detail?
I first alluded to the idea of a 3D collapse overview model during my Griffith University Ecocentre presentation in March 2017

It is a refinement of my older, less complete, 2D model “the three horsemen and one big fat elephant of the apocalypse“, originally conceived as a joke, a play on a hackneyed biblical phrase, albeit with serious intent.

When various pundits try to analyse matters relating to sustainability, their biggest deficiency is often blinkered or tunnel vision. They focus on only one issue while ignoring other issues. Most global warming “solutions” advocated by climate activists fit this description. They assume limitless energy availability to deliver huge renewable energy infrastructures and massive carbon sequestration fantasies to enable an approximation of business as usual to support 10 billion people by mid century. 

In reality we are poised to fall off the cliff of net energy availability very soon 1,2 and not even the most optimistic carbon sequestration fantasies (all of which will require colossal energy inputs and none of which are proven) will be able return us to a stable climate unless the total human footprint is also reduced drastically and immediately 3 (which will not happen short of global nuclear war – which in itself will exponentially release greenhouse gases, devastate remaining ecosystems and destroy industrial civilisation and thus our ability to technologically sequester GHGs).
Blinkered views produce flawed pseudo-solutions, which if attempted often exacerbate other problems, or at the very least are a complete waste of time and energy.

Here is a 10 second video-clip, my first attempt to make this 3D model in real life, “doom explained by confectionery abuse”
In my 3D model I have maintained the central position of the total human footprint as the “big fat elephant”, to emphasise that if this is not addressed, then nothing is being addressed. Few commentators advocate voluntary energy descent, reduction of consumption or simplification of lifestyles, however those are essential strategies to reduce our footprint. Even fewer talk about population reduction. This 3D model is a far superior way to visualise the predicaments we face, compared with disparate and disconnected one dimensional views or compared with simple mnemonic headings. For example, the three “Es” of energy, economy and environment represent a simplistic and incomplete text list, with no graphical demonstration of the links between each “E”.
Trying to further subdivide, refine or complicate this model is likely to be counter-productive. As it is, this 3D model, a six sided double pyramid with a proliferating tumour at its core, probably represents the limit of complexity which can easily be stored in the average mind as a visual snapshot. It is an easily remembered image which can be conjured up at the dinner table by scribbling on a napkin or by building the actual 3D model with meatballs and skewers, to both entertain and horrify your guests.
Compartmentalising the various intertwined global issues is obviously an artificial approach, but is necessary to help us understand the highly complex dynamics involved. It is necessary in the same way that compartmentalising the study of Medicine into specialties such as Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Neurology, Nephrology etc is an artificial but proven approach to understanding the highly complex mechanisms within the human body. Just as different bodily systems (heart, gut, brain, kidneys etc) directly interact with and influence each and every other system, each component of my 3D model also directly interacts with and influences each and every other component.


R affecting F: every major oil disruption eg 1973, 1979, has always resulted in economic recession. Another R affecting F example: diminishing per capita resources leads to economic hardships, shattered expectations and anger in the population, which leads to the rise of megalomaniacal fascist demagogues, multiplying the risk of global conflict.
R affecting F affecting R, affecting E and P: decline of conventional oil production since it peaked in 2005 has led to desperate harvesting of unconventional oils pushed through by means of political deceit, fraudulent market misrepresentations and financial/economic distortions. This Ponzi scheme will lead to an inevitable market crash dwarfing the sub-prime mortgage scam. It has also led to severe exacerbations of E and P.

R causing C: this is obvious

C affecting R affecting C: as heatwaves worsen, airconditioning use and hence fossil fuel consumption escalate, liberating more GHGs and worsening global warming
Unfortunately with today’s advanced state of planetary malaise, most of the feedbacks between components are “positive” or bad self-reinforcing feedbacks. Few are “negative” or good semi-correcting feedbacks. The reader will no doubt be able to think of many other examples of bidirectional feedbacks between components, both positive and negative.
I advocate that each article discussing sustainability (or lack thereof) should be slotted into the part or parts of this 3D model where it belongs, in order to appreciate how comprehensive or incomplete that article may be, and to enable other related discourses to be slotted into adjacent positions, so as to build up a more holistic picture.
As visual animals I believe this is a useful tool to educate ourselves. It can even be used in primary schools as part of their science curriculum (but will no doubt be banned amongst global warming denialist groups or neoclassical/neoliberal economic madrases). Children can make these simple 3D models with toy construction kits or plasticine and sticks. They should probably be discouraged from playing with their food, unlike us adults, who are terrible hypocrites anyway.
Geoffrey Chia MBBS, MRCP, FRACP, November 2017
Geoffrey Chia is a Cardiologist in Brisbane, Australia, who has studied and written about issues regarding (un)sustainability for more than 15 years.

Cassandra’s legacy by Geoffrey Chia

17 Comments on "The Seneca Cliff Explained as a Network Phenomenon: a Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model"

  1. Davy on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 6:40 am 

    The very first image is profound. The question that nobody can answer yet is “how long. IMO, the “IF” has been spoken for.

  2. joe on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 7:48 am 

    How many scientists seriously consider that our collapse could be an entirely natural process, that our evolutionary success is not designed to make us last forever but rather our intelligence could be nothing more than a horrible freak of evolution, bound to die off like any other anomaly, but one so bad that it will take with it almost everything bigger than fungi.
    Our downfall could be as unstoppable as a falling tree, and that our ecoefforts are not important to the greater process of nature correcting the mistake of allowing a single species to so dominate the earth that it consumes all the others. Humans weak efforts to control itself via abortion and contraception (forced abortions in some countries) have not stopped human populations from exploding their birth rates while the so called developed populations linger on with medical miracles long past natural life and straining resources because our brains won’t let us let go of loved ones. Some media examined these problems, Logans Run sees the elderly killed off for the sake of quality of living standards for the young, but only after the world has begun to collapse. Max Max originally asked us about the collapse during peak oil (later changed to energy generally and water issues) but did not delve much deeper and ask was this process acceptable or inevitable. So what will convince people? Will it take a middle eastern, global ww3? Right now it seems the masters of the west appear to be driving us in exactly that direction. They know that the prospect of a global population of 9 billion where there are as many old and sick as young and healthy is a doomed consumer society, and that concept alone is a death knell for capitalism. Our society is likely to lurch towards neo-feudalism before it dies. The 1% knows that Trumps efforts towards peace with Russia and ending globalisation scupper their hopes to leading the human population into worship of the neo-paganism of love of money.
    All of this might be entirely out of out control and we might never have had a choice in whether or not we control our destiny, many think we do, and their efforts indicate why they will fail, every new advance in green tech is being framed as allowing us to continue with bau yet bau is a flawed concept. BAU for the last few billion years was that species would grow and develop, confined in the habitable zones they could live in up to the limit of resources and predators would allow, periodically the earth would remove all the large animals and start again. We are probobly no different. We will probobly continue to live in denial because if we really were special we would defy nature and immediately take all measures required to correct the damage we have done and readily accept the required standards of living resulting because the bigger picture is survival of our species, yet we do not. Therefore the bigger cycle (true BAU) will turn and we will go the way of the dinosaurs.

  3. Shortend on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 8:17 am 

    In the back of my mind this is already in progress and for most others also. Like most I am hoping (falsely), that this fall occurs after my last breath. To be honest reaching the big 60 soon, relieved and not too worried. Since 1970 and the first Earth Day,
    Heard the warnings and also witnessed it was all just ignored and acting out to make this all tolerable.
    Just waiting for the shoe drop.

  4. joe on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 8:43 am 

    Trump is about to announce Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Ww3 may soon follow. Evangelicals need this to fulfill their apocalyptic goals.

  5. fmr-paultard on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 9:46 am 

    Jerusalem is war spoil so it’s part of the government of Israel much like East Germany was part of the eastern bloc.

    But Israel best maintain minimal security and share security responsibility with religions. This way the city gain new characters for year to come and bring in tourist money.

  6. fmr-paultard on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 9:50 am 

    since fighter President Trump makes the call the responsibility is all his. Religions, Israel, regional arab neighbors and alt-tard media be damned.

    this would be a matter of fact that the president of the US decided. that’s all, the end.

  7. Revi on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 10:06 am 

    The standard run has been telling us about this since the 70’s, but we decided not to hear it. The Paris accords were a step in the right direction, but “Our Dear Leader” has decided to take us on a different path. I wish we could understand this, but the Romans and the Mayans couldn’t understand it, and we are the same nowadays. The Mayans put more and more white limestone paint on their temples, accelerating deforestation in the mistaken belief that their gods would save them. We are doing the same with our belief that everybody needs a car…

  8. twocats on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 11:29 am 

    If you are over 30, even in this post-peak-dynamic world, you have experienced luxury almost beyond measure in civilizations past. Other than the fact that most people live pathetically isolated lives, its pretty great.

  9. Dredd on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 11:33 am 

    Makes sense.

  10. Davy on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 12:55 pm 

    Paris accord is a step in the right direction and the dear leader is the problem. Lol. Read the article again for deeper insight. That part of what you said was pretty shallow. Both sides are the problem and it is called science denial. People like Trump use science optionally. Fake greens use science optionally when the solutions are discussed.

  11. Apneaman on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 4:35 pm 

    Global Warming Denier Rupert Murdoch’s LA home ‘burning down’ in wildfire


    Too bad he is not in it. Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  12. Apneaman on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 4:43 pm 

    Winter is Supposedly Coming; So Why is California Burning?

  13. Shortend on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 4:55 pm 

    What we are witnessing in the US and indeed throughout the western world is the total failure of capitalism. Capitalism is now merely a looting machine. The financial sector no longer supplies capital for production. What the financial sector does is to turn discretionary consumer income into interest and fee payments to banks. Aggregate demand can only grow through debt expansion, and the consumers reach a point where they cannot expand their debt.

    Capitalism, hiding behind “globalism,” which is misrepresented as a good thing when it is death itself, locates production where labor is cheapest, thus depriving First World labor of good wages and work opportunities and putting First World countries on the path to becoming Third World countries. Short-term profits and executive and board bonuses and stock options are maximized at the cost of the destruction of the domestic consumer market.

    Plunder Capitalism also privatizes as much of the public sector,

    Shortonoil is spot on….

  14. fmr-paultard on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 6:39 pm 

    capitalism is fine because there’s nothing that’s perfect. government and religion and economic systems all fail. this is because these are mere attempts to moderate human nature. that’s what supertards are doing all day long moderating extremism. this is what bastiat said that no moral code or systems devised can defeat human nature.

    alt-tard media is all about anti capitalism. guess how supertards succeeded in life? capitalism!

    when capitalism goes their way they sit quiet. this is the case of bitcoin which alt-tard media supports. a lot of alt-tards get rich on it. it’s only a system of electronic speculation and nobody complained. nope, only complain when USA is involved.

    at least capitalism gave me the intardweb that supertards gave me to enjoy and indoor plumbing and electricity, safe electricity only

  15. Apneaman on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 8:33 pm 

    Oh look, the fascist corporate states worst fear.

    “We Don’t Want to Repress”: Police in Honduras Refuse Orders to Stamp Out Pro-Democracy Protests

    “We are tired. And our job is to give peace and security to the Honduran people, not repress them. We want all Hondurans to be safe.”

    I guarantee you will see it in America too. Not in every instance, but some will refuse.

    Their grip is slipping and the blow back is coming, they know it and are afraid. This is why the censorship, propaganda and criminal brutality are increasing.

  16. Shortend on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 10:02 pm
    Southern California is burning, and so is Rupert Murdoch’s house. For your consideration, a series of facts:
    1. There are five (five!) wildfires currently burning in the Los Angeles area today, and upwards of 50,000 people have been evacuated.
    2. They look like this.
    3. This has been (and continues to be) California’s worst wildfire season to date.
    4. There are many reasons for that — including increased drought, tree disease, and rising temperatures due to climate change.
    5. California news station NBC4 reported that media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s $30 million Bel-Air estate is one of the homes to succumb to the blaze.
    6. Rupert Murdoch has deemed climate change “alarmist nonsense.”
    7. The last two facts, taken together, are definitely a total!!! coincidence!!!!
    8. Destruction wrought by climate change has a disproportionate effect on low-income people and people of color

    Yep, now its payback time Denier Boys…no whining

  17. Aspera on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 11:24 am 

    Re: Apneaman, “This is why the censorship, propaganda and criminal brutality are increasing.”

    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Gandhi

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