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by Jay Hanson, 02/20/98

Table of Contents

Exploit: to make the best use of something (e.g., to profit)
Lie: to give the wrong impression (e.g., to advertise)


The road to the future leads us smack into the wall. We simply ricochet off the alternatives that destiny offers: a demographic explosion that triggers social chaos and spreads death, nuclear delirium and the quasi-annihilation of the species... Our survival is no more than a question of 25, 50 or perhaps 100 years.
-- Jacques Cousteau

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
-- Proverbs 29:18

Our civilization is dying from "system"[1] problems; problems such as the population explosion, natural resource depletion, and war. Problems which have no technical solutions.[2] Moreover, our system problems have no current political[3] solutions.

If there is any hope at all, it is that people will come to understand the key systems in their world and then find the courage to make the hard decisions necessary for survival. We must find political means to abandon the competitive, consumptive social system -- or we shall perish.


Aristotle thought there were eight legs on a fly and wrote it down. For centuries scholars were content to quote his authority. Apparently not one of them was curious enough to impale a fly and count its six legs.
-- Stuart Chase

Societies have an inherent bias against original (i.e., philosophical) thought. Social order depends heavily on reification,[4] tradition and habit, and these are likely to be weakened by philosophical thinking. The execution of Socrates in Athens exemplifies this aversion to philosophical thought: he was executed for asking too many questions.

While evolution has always rewarded action over thought, in present-day America, the multitude and gravity of social problems exacerbate this bias. A crisis forms a lethal positive-feedback loop: the worse our problems become, the more likely we are to act instead of think. The less we think, the worse our problems become.

The vast majority of Americans sit glued to their TV sets soaking up news and facts. Of this vast majority, nearly all use news as a distraction (entertainment). The rest are activists: citizens who want to know the facts concerning problems in their communities so they can act to solve them.

But systems science tells us that activists can not solve[5] complex system[6] problems in their communities because complex systems are counterintuitive;[7] complex systems behave in many ways quite the opposite of the simple systems from which we have gained our personal experience. Unfortunately, activists will not accept this information, and become either constructivists (take the science lightly, change it, or abandon it entirely when it becomes necessary) or fundamentalists (deal with troublesome science through psychological denial and/or political repression).

If activists are unwilling -- or unable -- to subject themselves to the uneasiness and labor of philosophical thought, then the very idea of democracy becomes obsolete and hopeless.

The paths of philosophical thought are not altogether inviting. They inevitably lead to insecurity, but rarely to solid answers or inner rest. Also, thinking goes against the grain of our culture. Nevertheless, I wrote this essay because I enjoy thinking. I hope that some of you do too.


Since the mind evolved to select a few signals and then dream up a semblance, whatever enters our consciousness is overemphasized. It does not matter how the information enters, whether via a television program, a newspaper story, a friend's conversation, a strong emotional reaction, a memory -- all is overemphasized. We ignore other, more compelling evidence, overemphasizing and overgeneralizing from the information close at hand to produce a rough-and-ready realty.
-- Robert Ornstein

The word philosophy means the love of wisdom, but what philosophers really love is reasoning. And one thing philosophers reason about is reasoning itself. Indeed, throughout history, most philosophers believed that reason was sine qua non of humanity: "What continued to give humanity some special status, though, is its capacity for rationality."[8]

But the human mind is not rational, the human mind just happened. The mind is a billion-year accumulation of innovations through countless animals, and through countless environments for specific reactions to specific situations.

The ability to solve problems implies that "rational" thinking is carefully weighing the important, known variables and making that decision which is most likely to achieve the solution. But studies show that people are not rational,[9] they give recently presented information undue importance, thereby producing answers that are not rational.

So if people are not rational, how do "experts" get the right answers? In a paper presented to American Psychological Association, Robert Hamm tells us: "... experts who make consequential decisions based on their hypotheses about the state of the world usually follow rule-like scripts, rather than explicitly revise probabilities."[10] In other words, experts -- like all people -- behave as one of Skinner's rats in a maze, they find out what works, and then do it again!

The human mind evolved to ignore slow changes and routine events, but notice sudden changes and respond rapidly to them. It was vital for primitive man to find the right food at the right time, to mate well, to generate children, to avoid marauders, to respond to an emergency quickly. Genes for a panic response to threat are millions of times more likely to pass on to future generations than genes for contemplation -- the runner wasn't as likely to get eaten as the thinker. "Rationality is a great idea and ideal, but we never had the time for it; we don't have time for it now, and thus we don't have the mind for it."[11]

If people can not make rational decisions, how can democratic governments solve problems in complex systems? Obviously, they can't.

According to a rule in science and philosophy called "Occam's Razor" (after William of Ockham ), the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable, and an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known.

Evolutionary science provides the simplest explanation of human behavior that fits the physical facts. People, like all animals, were optimized by evolution to put their genes into the next generation. Those strains of humans that were not so optimized are no longer here. Three of the most important innovations that allow people to put their genes into the next generation are exploitation (making the best use of something -- including other people), lying (first advertising -- then "I love you, so let's go to bed"), and self-deception.[12] Exploitation and lying contributed to human survival for millions of years, self-deception for at least 40,000 years.

Self-deception contributed to our survival by making us better liars! In business, politics and love, sincerity is everything -- if you can fake that, you've got it made! Unfortunately, the genetic programming that makes us so good at lying, exploitation and self-deception, now blinds us to our obvious and terrible fate.


Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment -- that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.
-- Daly and Townsend

All matter and energy in the universe are subject to the laws of thermodynamics. The First Law (the conservation law) says there can be no creation of matter, only the transformations of existing matter from one form into another. The Second Law (the entropy law) says that spontaneous processes will increase the disorder (or entropy) of a system; concentrations of matter tend to disperse, structure tends to disappear, and order becomes disorder. Moreover, all physical processes reduce the total available energy.[13]

Billions of years of solar energy inputs created low-entropy matter here on Earth. Low-entropy matter is the prerequisite for human life.[14] The human evolutionary line has existed for about 5,000,000 years, biologically modern humans appeared sometime in the last 120,000 years, and behaviorally modern humans probably appeared sometime between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago.[15] Over millions of years, humans evolved to "fit" their billions-of-years-old environment. Major changes in our natural environment make it unsuitable for us -- we no longer "fit".

Humans use energy to feed on low-entropy matter (and excrete high-entropy matter as waste). When humans run out of energy, they die.


There are "theoretical minimum" energy requirements to do a certain amount of work. For example, lifting a ton of rock 100 meters out of the ground requires approximately 235 kilocalories (kcal) of energy to overcome gravity -- the higher the lift, the greater the minimum energy requirements. But in practice, we need much more energy than the theoretical minimum because energy is "wasted" building and operating machinery needed to lift the rock. The difference between the theoretical minimum and the actual energy used is known as "energy efficiency".

New technologies can increase the amount of work that energy can do by increasing energy efficiency, but technology can not overcome theoretical minimums. Technology can not repeal the laws of thermodynamics.


We use up or "waste" energy in systems that supply energy -- such as oil-fired power plants.Energy is wasted when exploring for oil, building the machinery to mine the oil, mining the oil, building and operating the power plant, building power lines to transmit the energy, decommissioning the plant, and so on. The difference between the amount of energy generated and the amount of energy wasted is known as the "energy profit".

We presently mine our fossil fuels from the Earth's crust. The most concentrated and most accessible fuel is mined first, thereafter more and more energy is required to mine and refine poorer and poorer quality fuels. It has been estimated that by 2005, it will require more energy to look for and mine domestic oil than the amount of energy recovered. In other words, it won't make energy sense to look for new oil in the US after 2005, because we will spend more energy than we will recover.[16]

Decreasing energy profits set up a positive feedback loop: since oil is used directly or indirectly in everything, as it becomes less "energy efficient", everything else will also become less "energy efficient" -- including other forms of energy. For example, oil provides about 50% of the fuel used in coal extraction.

Energy efficiency places absolute limits on how much energy we can afford to pay for imported energy. For example, if it takes two barrels of oil to produce the goods and services required to pay for one barrel of imported oil, we can not afford to pay for imported oil -- period.[17]

During the next hundred years, the energy profit for fossil fuel plants (oil, gas, and coal) will become negative. It is fundamentally impossible to provide a constant level of energy while aggregate energy profit drops. Keeping the production of goods and services at current levels will require more energy than we now generate. To have more energy in the future means that energy must be diverted now from non-energy sectors of the economy into energy generation.


Mining resources from the Earth's crust is subject to the laws of thermodynamics.The most concentrated and most accessible resources are mined first, thereafter more and more energy is required to mine and refine poorer-and-poorer quality resources:

When resource quality is defined in terms of energy investment, the record clearly shows that quality is declining across almost the entire spectrum of resources. At some point in the future, mining will stop because the energy costs will have become too great.

Once global oil production "peaks", prices will quickly ripple through the economy.  From 1972 to 1982, the fraction of GDP allocated to natural resource extraction grew from four percent to ten percent.[21]


And contrary to a commonly held belief, rising fuel prices will not create new supplies of fuel ... despite quadrupling prices for oil and gas products, the "moral equivalent of war", and a 280 percent increase in drilling, the United States is producing less oil today than it did in 1973.
-- Gever, et al.

One of the most important aspects of energy is its "quality". Different kinds of fuel have different qualities. For example, coal contains more energy per pound than wood, which makes coal more efficient to store and transport than wood. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive uses only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil's many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal.[22]

Oil is the most important form of energy we use, making up about 38 percent of the world energy supply. No other energy source equals oil's intrinsic qualities of extractablility, transportability, versatility and cost. These are the qualities that enabled oil to take over from coal as the front-line energy source in the industrialized world in the middle of this century, and these qualities are as relevant today as they were then:

If one considers the last one hundred years of the U.S. experience, fuel use and economic output are highly correlated. An important measure of fuel efficiency is the ratio of energy use to the gross national product, E/GNP. The E/GNP ratio has fallen by about 42% since 1929. We find that the improvement in energy efficiency is due principally to three factors: (1) shifts to higher quality fuels such as petroleum and primary electricity; (2) shifts in energy use between households and other sectors; and (3) higher fuel prices. Energy quality is by far the dominant factor.[23]

Per capita energy use in the US has been rising since 1991.[24] World oil consumption rose by 2.4 percent in 1996 to 69.55 million barrels a day[25] with OPEC output hitting an 18-year high of 27.39 million barrels a day in August of 1997.[26] Global oil production is expected to "peak" sometime around the year 2005.[27] As oil is depleted and replaced by lower quality fuels, energy efficiency will also decline.

We can't depend on domestic gas because it will be effectively depleted by the year 2020 -- about the same time global natural gas production is expected to "peak".[28] Even if the energy profit for domestic coal continues to fall at the same rate as it has, it will thermodynamically unrecoverable by the year 2040.[29]

Nothing can replace conventional oil, gas, and coal. Several studies indicate no more than 200 million Americans could be supported at a decent standard of living on solar technologies.[30] Youngquist states that oil sands already consume almost as much energy as they produce, will never be a major world supply, and further suggests that oil shales may never be commercially viable.[31] The World Energy Commission says that a shortage of uranium limits the expansion of conventional nuclear energy.[32] By 2035, all American nuclear plants will have been decommissioned and represent an energy-production loss equivalent to about 9 million barrels[33] of oil per day. Moreover, America, Germany, and France have all dropped their fast-breeder reactor programs![34]


To the extent that we are still governed, it is by a tyranny of organized minorities.
-- William Ophuls

Consider capitalism as an organized process to ingest natural, living systems (including people) in one end, and excrete unnatural, dead garbage and waste (including wasted people) out the other. From a thermodynamic view, capitalism may be seen as the conversion of low-entropy matter into high-entropy waste and garbage. From an economic view, capitalism may be seen as the high-speed depletion of natural capital.

Politics (self-organization) among human animals is product of evolution. As soon as two or more people organize, the inevitable struggle for power ensues. This power struggle follows genetic patterns of exploitation, lying, and self-deception.

The triumph of capitalism and democracy could have been predicted by evolutionary theory. Capitalism extends the human genetic propensity to exploit (make the best use of something: profit) and lie (meant to give a wrong impression: advertise). Democracy is simply the freedom to exploit and lie. Self-deception keeps us from knowing what we are really up to.

In his 1968 classic, "Tragedy of the Commons",[35] Garrett Hardin illustrates why communities everywhere are headed for tragedy -- it's because freedom in the "commons"[36] brings ruin to all.

Visualize a pasture as a system that is open to everyone. The carrying capacity of this pasture is 10 animals. Ten herdsmen are each grazing an animal to fatten up, and the 10 animals are now consuming all the grass that the pasture can produce.

Harry (one of the herdsmen) will add one more animal to the pasture if he can make a profit. Adding one more animal will mean less food for each of the present animals, but since Harry only has only 1/10 of the herd, he has to pay only 1/10 of the cost. Harry decides to exploit the commons, and the other herdsmen, so he adds an animal and takes a profit.

Shrinking profit margins force the other herdsmen either to go out of business or continue the exploitation by adding more animals. This process of mutual exploitation continues until overgrazing and erosion destroy the pasture system, and all the herdsmen are driven out of business.

Most importantly, Hardin illustrates the critical flaw of freedom in the commons: all participants must agree to conserve the commons, but any one can force its destruction. Although Hardin is describing exploitation by humans in an unregulated public pasture, his principle fits our entire society.

Private property is inextricably part of our commons because it is part of our life support and social systems. Owners affect us all when they alter the emergent properties of our life support and social systems (alter their land) to "make a profit" -- cover land with corn or with concrete.

Neighborhoods, cities and states are commons in the sense that no one is denied entry. Anyone may enter and lay claim to the common resources. One can compare profits to Hardin's "grass" when any corporation -- from anywhere in the world -- can drive down profits by competing with local businesses for customers.

One can see wages as "grass" when any number of workers -- from anywhere in the world -- can enter our community and drive down wages by competing with local workers for jobs. Everywhere one looks, one sees the Tragedy of the Commons. There is no technological solution, but governments can act to limit access to the commons, at which time they are no longer commons.

In the private-money-based political system we have in America, everything (including people) becomes the commons because money is political power, and all political decisions are reduced to economic ones. In other words, we have no true political system, only an economic system -- everything is for sale. Thus, America is one large commons that will be exploited until it is destroyed.


It was thus becoming apparent that nature must, in the not far distant future, institute bankruptcy proceedings against industrial civilization, and perhaps against the standing crop of human flesh, just as nature had done many times to other detritus-consuming species following their exuberant expansion in response to the savings deposits their ecosystems had accumulated before they got the opportunity to begin the drawdown... Having become a species of superdetritovores, mankind was destined not merely for succession, but for crash.
-- William Catton

In the language of ecology, the human scenario can be predicted in four pungent words: "drawdown", "overshoot", "crash", and "die-out".

"Drawdown" is the process by which we are using up the surrounding resources faster than they can be replaced.For example, in the space of a little more than a hundred years we have used up perhaps half of all the buried remains of the Carboniferous period -- oil, gas, and coal -- that were deposited over hundreds of millions years. Moreover, we have become totally dependent on continuing the process. One might argue about the exact date that the global human "crash" will arrive, but the outcome is certain.

"Overshoot" simply means that we have exceeded the "carrying capacity"[37] of Earth:

If just the present world population of 5.8 billion people were to live at current North American ecological standards (say 4.5 ha/person), a reasonable first approximation of the total productive land requirement would be 26 billion ha (assuming present technology). However, there are only just over 13 billion ha of land on Earth, of which only 8.8 billion are ecologically productive cropland, pasture, or forest (1.5 ha/person). In short, we would need an additional two planet Earths to accommodate the increased ecological load of people alive today. If the population were to stabilize at between 10 and 11 billion sometime in the next century, five additional Earths would be needed, all else being equal -- and this just to maintain the present rate of ecological decline.[38]

Overshoot lowers carrying capacity:

Transgressing the carrying capacity for one period lowers the carrying capacity thereafter, perhaps starting a downward spiral toward zero. David Klein's classic study of the reindeer on St. Matthew Island illustrates the point. In 1944 a population of 29 animals was moved to the island, without the corrective feedback (negative feedback) of such predators as wolves and human hunters. In 19 years the population swelled to 6,000 and then "crashed" in 3 years to a total of 41 females and one male, all in miserable condition. Klein estimates that the primeval carrying capacity of the island was about 5 deer per square kilometer. At the population peak there were 18 per square kilometer. After the crash there were only 0.126 animals per square kilometer and even this was probably too many once the island was largely denuded of lichens. Recovery of lichens under zero population conditions takes decades; with a continuing resident population of reindeer it may never occur. Transgressing the carrying capacity of St. Matthew Island reduced its carrying capacity by at least 97.5 percent.[39]

"Overshoot" is a temporary condition,[40] and is always followed by "crash" -- a precipitate decline in population. The human population of Earth is expected to "crash" around the year 2030.

"Die-out" is common in zoology and botany. Consider the everyday experience of yeast cells introduced into a wine vat. Like humans, yeast cells gobble up nutrients from their environment, and expand their population without any concern for "overshoot". For yeast, it takes only weeks to "die-out"[41]; for the "pollution" they produce to kill them. For humans, it takes somewhat longer...


While an impressive array of American individuals, companies, banks, investors, and think tanks are scrambling to prepare for the twenty-first century, the United States as a whole is not and indeed cannot, without becoming a different kind of country.
-- Paul Kennedy

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise ... economics is a form of brain damage.
-- Hazel Henderson

What can we do to avoid the "crash"? As a society, Americans can do nothing because of at least two fundamental -- and apparently insoluble -- problems:

(1) In principle, democracy (i.e., government by the common people) can not direct a country to any specific goal because democracy is "process" politics as opposed to "systems" politics:

As the name implies, process politics emphasizes the adequacy and fairness of the rules governing the process of politics. If the process is fair, then, as in a trial conducted according to due process, the outcome is assumed to be just -- or at least the best the system can achieve. By contrast, systems politics is concerned primarily with desired outcomes; means are subordinated to predetermined ends.[42]

(2) American democracy is not even true politics because it is based on money -- one-dollar, one-vote. What passes for politics in America is actually a subset of our economic system.

In principle, it is not possible for our economic system to avoid the "crash" because its premise, the conversion of nature into commodities, is the heart and soul of our system problems. Moreover, the doctrine of continuous and unlimited economic growth is a religious concept that serves as a substitute for redistribution of wealth and true politics. It's a way for the plutocrats to maintain political superiority over the lesser classes while avoiding unpleasant political questions:[43]

It is the orthodox growthmen who want to avoid the distribution issue. As Wallich so bluntly put it in defending growth, "Growth is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials tolerable" (1972). We are addicted to growth because we are addicted to large inequalities in income and wealth. What about the poor? Let them eat growth! Better yet, let them feed on the hope of eating growth in the future![44]

With no true political system -- and no prospect of obtaining one -- we have no means to save ourselves. Unfortunately, several billion innocent people will die untimely deaths over the next hundred years. Individuals in small communities can protect themselves somewhat through cooperation with others (reciprocal altruism). But groups larger than a few hundred will disintegrate under competition for increasingly scarce resources:

In brief, our research showed that environmental scarcities are already contributing to violent conflicts in many parts of the developing world. These conflicts are probably the early signs of an upsurge of violence in the coming decades that will be induced or aggravated by scarcity. The violence will usually be sub-national, persistent, and diffuse. Poor societies will be particularly affected since they are less able to buffer themselves from environmental scarcities and the social crises they cause. These societies are, in fact, already suffering acute hardship from shortages of water, forests, and especially fertile land.[45]


A belief in hell and the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton have never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumour.
-- Aldous Huxley

Worldwide, more than 10 million hectares of agricultural land are abandoned annually because of serious soil degradation. During the last 40 years, about 30 percent of total world arable land was abandoned because it was no longer productive. About half of the current arable land now in cultivation will be unsuitable for food production by the middle of the twenty-first century.[46]

In the US alone, each year we bury about 3.5 million tons of industrial hazwaste,[47] plus we store another 160 million tons of regular garbage underground for future generations to deal with. We know that heavy metals (elemental poisons) will never degrade, and every dump and tank will leak sooner or later, but we do it anyway.

American industry spews about 160 tons of mercury -- an elemental poison -- into the air each year. All compounds of mercury are poisonous and damage tissue by coagulating proteins and inactivating enzymes -- by causing birth defects, brain damage, and blindness. In water, mercury is ultimately converted into soluble methyl mercury compounds, which are picked up by algae and plankton, which are eaten by little fish, which are eaten by larger fish -- which are then eaten by man (biological concentration). If fish die without being eaten, bacterial decomposition puts the mercury back into the cycle again, and again, and again.

A just-completed study has concluded that most of the mercury in the waters of the Everglades comes from thousands of miles away. Mercury poisoning is a global problem: mercury warnings to fishermen have been issued for fresh waters in over 40 of the United States, thousands of lakes in Canada, all of Scandinavia and much of Europe and Asia. An elemental poison can not be gotten rid of by simply running it around the food chain.[48]

Federal regulations permit factories to avoid the high costs of hazardous waste dumps by relabeling their manufacturing residues as "soil amendments."[49] Fertilizers, containing industrial byproducts such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, as well as dioxin compounds and even radioactive substances, have been legally spread on farmlands across America for more than 20 years. For example, a uranium processing plant in Gore Oklahoma is "amending" 9000 acres of grazing land with ten million gallons per year of its low-level radioactive waste by licensing it as liquid fertilizer. The material is being piped to 75 acres of Bermuda grass pasture where up to 400 cattle graze. One hundred twenty four cases of cancer and birth defects have occurred in families living near the plant.[50]

The most catastrophic influenza pandemic of the 20th century was the 1918 Spanish flu, estimated to have killed 25 to 40 million people. It's only a matter of months -- years, at most -- before researchers nail down the genes for virulence and airborne transmission in influenza, Ebola, Lassa, you name it. Then any crackpot with a few thousand dollars' worth of equipment and a college biology education could manufacture bugs that would make the 1918 pandemic look like a walk in the park.[51] [I just learned that Russian researchers have developed a new anthrax bio-weapon that is reported to be resistant to vaccines. Stay tuned to your local civil defense station...]

famine.jpg (31119 bytes)


The consequence is, that in comparison of what [Attica] then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left.
-- Plato, 360 BC

A recent New York Times poll found that only one percent of Americans considers the environment the most important problem facing our country.
-- ENN, 1/7/98

For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.

What kind of future will our children have? Shortly after the year 2000, industrial activity will rise high enough for it to seriously degrade land fertility. This will occur because of contamination by heavy metals and persistent chemicals, climate change, salinization, topsoil loss, falling water tables, and increased levels of ultraviolet radiation from a diminished ozone layer.

Around the year 2005, global oil production will "peak", and the spike in oil prices will quickly exacerbate other major problems facing industrial agriculture.[52] Food grains produced with modern, high-yield methods (including packaging and delivery) now contain between four and ten calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of solar energy. It has been estimated that about four percent of the nation's energy budget is used to grow food, while about 10 to 13 percent is needed to put it on our plates. In other words, a staggering total of 17 percent of America's energy budget is consumed by agriculture![53]

By 2040, we would need to triple the global food supply in order to meet the basic food needs of the eleven billion people who are expected to be alive. But doing so would require a 1000 percent increase in the total energy expended in food production.[54] Guess what? Eleven billion people won't be alive by 2040.

The dependence of industrial agriculture on fossil fuels, the declining fertility of the land, and the positive feedbacks imposed by declining resource quality will force the economy to divert much more investment into the agriculture and energy sectors as part of a desperate attempt to maintain agricultural output. Government budgets also decline in real terms as greater and greater fractions of the economy are diverted into the resource sectors.

As resource quality and land fertility continue to fall, society will be forced to allocate more and more capital to the agriculture and resource sectors, otherwise the scarcity of food, materials, and fuels would restrict production still more -- it's circular, there is no way to avoid the positive feedback. Ultimately, industrial capacity will decline rapidly taking with it the service and agricultural sectors, which depend upon industrial inputs.

Constrained by the laws of thermodynamics, the availability of life-supporting resources will go into a permanent, steep decline.

In many ways, the next hundred years will be the inverse of the last hundred. As fossil fuels dwindle, supply lines collapse, and societies disintegrate, muscle will gradually replace machinery. "Home grown" will replace "imported". Obviously, large cities will be mostly abandoned.

Well-intended activists from both the Left and Right -- armed with facts and ideologies -- will form political movements, select the best liars for leaders, and take to the streets demanding that government take us back to "the good old days". The worse our problems become, the more they will act instead of think. The less they think, the worse our problems will become. Social order will disintegrate, and Roadside Warriors will go mad, killing, raping, torturing, and burning...

It really will be back to the good old days! Shouts of "BRING ME HIS HEAD" will ring through the land, slaves, scalps, souvenirs and trophies of all sorts, ... exciting possibilities limited only by our ingenuity.

The good news is that recycling will finally become fashionable! We will see feral children mining the dumps for plastic to burn (Pampers) so they can heat the hovels they are forced to live in. The strongest kids will set traps for fresh meat -- rats -- while the weaker kids will eat anything they can cram into their mouths (old shoes, styrofoam peanuts, newspaper soup). Pandemics will sweep the world, punctuated every so often by explosions as abandoned and rotting nuclear facilities blow up. Leaking dumps and tanks will spew PCBs and radioactive hazwaste into the feral food chain spawning surprising new shapes for young mothers to enjoy nursing.[55] Toxic chemical fires, blowing garbage and trash, genetic mutations, filthy water, cannibalism ...

As the Easter Islanders say: "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth".[56]

The situation will be especially serious for a short time because the population will keep rising due to the lags inherent in the age structure and social adjustment. Then mercifully, the population will drop sharply as the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services.[57] Trapped in obsolete belief systems, Americans won't even know why their society disintegrated.

A hundred thousand years from now -- once the background radiation levels drop below lethality -- a new Homo mutilus will crawl out of the caves to elect a leader. Although we have no idea what mutilus might look like, evolutionary theory can still tell us who will win the election. He will be the best liar running on a platform to end hunger by controlling nature.

How could it be otherwise?

NOTES: The notion of "philosophical thought" comes from POLITICAL THINKING; Tinder, 1979.

[1] Interacting, interrelated, or interdependent parts combine to form a "system."A system exhibits emergent "properties" that are different from the properties of the individual parts. Alone, the individual parts of a bicycle do not exhibit the property of a bicycle (people transporter). The property of a bicycle emerges once the parts are in their proper places and interacting together.

To solve a problem in a system, one must analyze the relationships of the parts to each other and to the environment. For example, if the spark plugs were removed from a car's engine and put in the back seat, an inventory of the parts would show the car intact. To understand why the car's properties had changed, one would have to study the relationship of the spark plugs to the rest of the engine.

It is important to understand that system properties derive from the ongoing interaction of the parts. If a system is producing unwanted effects, then we consider improving the system so that it stops producing those unwanted effects. For example, should we "treat the symptoms" of an unmoving car by attaching a horse, or should we improve the system by putting the spark plugs back into the engine? This example is not as silly as it seems, because we usually treat symptoms rather than improve systems -- it's the way our economic system works.

For example, some unwanted effects of the "booze" industry are alcoholics. Rather than trying to improve the system (e.g., by banning booze advertising), we treat the symptoms by creating a new industry to treat alcoholism. If the pesticide or tobacco industry causes cancer, then so much the better for those in the cancer industry. The same illustrations also apply to many other social and environmental problems.

[2] "A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality." TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS; Hardin, 1968;

[3] "Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon." [Hardin, 1968]

[4] "Reification" is the apprehension of man's ideas as if they were something other than his own ideas, such as physical objects, facts of nature, universal laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world. p. 89, THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY; Berger & Luckmann, 1966.

[5] Our society "treats the symptoms" instead of solving the underlying problem -- this is what ultimately brought down the Roman Empire. See: COMPLEXITY, PROBLEM SOLVING, AND SUSTAINABLE SOCIETIES; by Joseph A. Tainter, in GETTING DOWN TO EARTH, 1996;

[6] "Most of our intuitive responses have been developed in the context of what are technically called first-order, negative-feedback loops. Such a simple loop is goal-seeking and has only one important state variable. For example, warming one's hands beside a stove can be approximated as a first-order, negative-feedback loop in which the purpose of the process is to obtain warmth without burning one's hands. The principal state variable of the loop is the distance from the stove. If one is too close he burns his hands, if too far away he receives little heat. The intuitive lesson is that cause and effect are closely related in time and space. Temperature depends on the distance from the stove. Too much or too little heat is clearly related to the position of the hands. The relation of cause and effect is immediate and clear. Similarly, the simple feedback loops that govern walking, driving a car, or picking things up all train us to find cause and effect occurring at approximately the same moment and location.

"But in complex systems cause and effect are often not closely related in either time or space. The structure of a complex system is not a simple feedback loop where one system state dominates the behavior. The complex system has a multiplicity of interacting feedback loops. Its internal rates of flow are controlled by nonlinear relationships. The complex system is of high order, meaning that there are many system states (or levels). It usually contains positive-feedback loops describing growth processes as well as negative, goal-seeking loops. In the complex system the cause of a difficulty may lie far back in time from the symptoms, or in a completely different and remote part of the system. In fact, causes are usually found, not in prior events, but in the structure and policies of the system." p. 9, URBAN DYNAMICS; Forrester, 1969.

[7] This means that we will intuitively select the wrong answer.

[8] p. xi, THE NATURE OF RATIONALITY; Nozick, 1993.

[9] People do not make inferences according to Bayes' Theorem, which is a formula used to calculate the probability that a particular event will occur.


[11] p. 262, THE EVOLUTION OF CONCIOUSNESS; Ornstein, 1991.

[12] p.p. 264-265, THE MORAL ANIMAL; Wright, 1994.


[14]  Solar "emergy" is the solar energy availability used up directly and indirectly to make a service or product. Its unit is the solar emjoule.





VALUE, 1992 Em$

World infrastructure**


9.44 E26

6.3 E14



1.89 E27

1.26 E15

Terrestrial ecosystems


4.7 E27

3.1 E15

Cultural & technol. information

1 E4

9.44 E28

6.3 E16


1 E6

9.44 E30

6.3 E18


2 E7

1.89 E32

1.25 E20


1 E9

9.44 E33

6.3 E21

Genetic information of species

3 E9

2.8 E34

1.86 E22

* Product of annual solar emergy flux, 9.44 E 24 sej/yr and order of magnitude replacement times in column 1.
**Highways, bridges, pipelines, etc.  [p.p. 201-203]  INVESTING IN NATURAL CAPITAL; ISEE, 1994.

[15] p. 355, THE FORAGING SPECTRUM; Kelly, 1995.

[16] p. 61, BEYOND OIL; Gever et al., 1991. Of course, any producing wells will continue to produce oil.

[17] Japan and Germany can afford to pay more for imported energy than America because they are more "energy efficient". p. 77, POWER SURGE; Flavin and Lenssen, 1994.

[18] p. 11, Gever et al., 1991

[19] p. 43, Gever et al., 1991

[20] p. 12, Gever et al., 1991

[21] p. 101, Gever et al., 1991

[22] p. 87, Gever et al., 1991



[25] BP America, June 19, 1997

[26] Reuters, Sept. 7, 1997.

[27] etc.

[28] Domestic gas: p. 56, Gever et al., 1991. Also see Riva: . Global gas: p. 119, Campbell, 1997.

[29] p. 67, Gever et al., 1991

[30] "For the United States to be self-sustaining in solar energy, given our land, water, and biological resources, our population should be less than 100 million -- significantly less than the current level of 246 million." . Also see Pimentel, 1997.

"Ethanol production is wasteful of fossil energy resources and does not increase energy security. This is because considerably more energy, much of it high-grade fossil fuels, is required to produce ethanol than is available in the ethanol output. Specifically, about 71% more energy is used to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy contained in a gallon of ethanol." Pimentel:

[31] GEODESTINIES; Youngquist, 1997;

[32] "Overall, uranium is relatively scarce in the earth's crust, at about 4 parts per million on average. Therefore, a significant expansion of nuclear power -- even the five-fold expansion widely canvassed before the incidents at Three Mile Island and (much more disturbing) at Chernobyl -- would out-run readily accessible supplies. These supplies include both deposits previously exploited but mothballed due to lack of current demand, and known high concentration pockets that could be opened up quite quickly. Therefore, the expansion of nuclear would highlight the need to bring rapidly back on course the development of fast-breeder reactors and pursue fusion technology." p. 90, ENERGY FOR TOMORROW'S WORLD; World Energy Council, 1993.

[33] Assuming 40% efficiency.



[36] "A commons is any resource treated as though it belongs to all. When anyone can claim a resource simply on the grounds that he wants or needs to use it, one has a commons." Virginia Abernethy, POPULATION AND ENVIRONMENT, Vol. 18, No. 1, Sept 1996. cited in CCN's FOCUS, Vol. 2, No.2, p. 20.

[37] An environment's carrying capacity is its maximum persistently supportable load (Catton, 1986).


[39] AN ECOLOATE VIEW OF THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT, G. Hardin; in McRostie, ed. GLOBAL RESOURCES: Perspectives and Alternatives Baltimore: University Park Press, 1980.

[40] "Temporary" is implicit in the definition of carrying capacity.

[41] p.p. 24-26, DWELLERS IN THE LAND; Sale, 1991.

[42] p. 242, ECOLOGY AND THE POLITICS OF SCARCITY REVISITED; Ophuls, 1992. A good example of "systems" politics is corporate politics. Also see how democracy selects for corruption.


[44] p.p. 103-104, STEADY-STATE ECONOMICS; Daly, 1991;


[46] p. 293, FOOD, ENERGY, and SOCIETY; Pimentel, 1996.

[47] RACHEL'S #180 at

[48] See, for example, RACHEL'S #597

[49] ENN, 2/4/98 , The Seattle Times, 7/4/97.

[50] Grain Supply Update, 6/25/97

[51] p. 603, THE COMING PLAGUE; Garrett, 1994.

[52] Here "agriculture" means the entire food system, including packaging and delivery.

[53] p. 172, Gever et al., 1991

[54] p. 291, Pimentel, 1996

[55] "Just visit the children's ward and you will see the effect such [radiation] levels have on peoples' health," said a paediatrician at Baley hospital. "We have many cases of babies born with mutations, six fingers and six toes, children with hare lips, wolves' mouths, back deformities and huge heads. Often they have entire limbs missing." CASE STUDY: The Russian Mine and Deformed Babies, Electronic Mail & Guardian, July 28, 1997.

[56] Easter's End, by Jared Diamond (1995).

[57] p. 134, BEYOND THE LIMITS; Meadows et al., 1992.