Is global collapse imminent ? (repost from 2014)

Update I thought I’d repost this a year on, and reopen the discussion 10 September 2015

Reader ZM points me to a paper with this title, by Graham Turner of the University of Melbourne. Not only does Turner answer “Yes”, he gives a date: 2015. That’s a pretty big call to be making, given that 2015 is less than four months away.

The abstract reads:

The Limits to Growth “standard run” (or business-as-usual, BAU) scenario produced about forty years ago aligns well with historical data that has been updated in this paper. The BAU scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment (where standards of living fall at rates faster than they have historically risen due to disruption of normal economic functions), subsequently forcing population down. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030—with death rates rising from 2020 onward, reversing contemporary trends—the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. Given this imminent timing, a further issue this paper raises is whether the current economic difficulties of the global financial crisis are potentially related to mechanisms of breakdown in the Limits to Growth BAU scenario. In particular, contemporary peak oil issues and analysis of net energy, or energy return on (energy) invested, support the Limits to Growth modelling of resource constraints underlying the collapse.

A central part of the argument, citing Simmons is that critics of LtG wrongly interpeted the original model as projecting a collapse beginning in 2000, whereas the correct date is 2015.

I’ve been over this issue in all sorts of ways (see here and here for example, or search on Peak Oil). So readers won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t buy this story. I won’t bother to argue further: unless the collapse is even more rapid than Turner projects, I’ll be around to eat humble pie in 2016 when the downturn in output (and the corresponding upsurge in oil prices) should be well under way.

Given that I’m a Pollyanna compared to lots of commenters here, I’d be interested to see if anyone is willing to back Turner on this, say by projecting a decline of 5 per cent or more in world industrial output per capita in (or about) 2015, continuing with a sharply declining trend thereafter. [minor clarifications added, 5/9]

439 thoughts on “Is global collapse imminent ? (repost from 2014)

  1. @Megan
    It shows a plateau (or gentle increase following the dip) in the growth rate of world manufacturing output, which is projected to be around 4% for 2015, according to the graph. Since global population is growing at around 1.1% per annum (according to Wikipedia), the graph is projecting continued growth in per capita output, rather than a decline. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a ‘sharp decline’ in per capita output, of course. It’s just that there’s no sign of it occurring.

  2. @Tim Macknay

    And there’s that dotted black line that hovers close to the “zero” growth for “industrialised economies”.

    “No sign of it occurring” is a bit different from “a sign that it won’t occur”, yes?

    I have no “dog in the fight” and couldn’t care less one way or the other (in the sense that whatever will be, will be). It’s just that all the signs appear to me to point to catastrophe rather than nirvana.

    Maybe some happy medium of climate catastrophe + technotopian earth-bubble-sphere delight awaits the lucky, but I’m not seeing any of us involved in that scenario.

  3. @Megan

    “No sign of it occurring” is a bit different from “a sign that it won’t occur”, yes?

    Well, obviously. I just said the same thing myself, in slightly different words. The trouble is, so what? That’s really no different from saying “the future is uncertain”. There’s a hundred different ways catastrophe could strike. The particular subject of the thread is the specific claim, supposedly based on the Meadows Report Standard Run scenario, that the “onset of collapse” becomes evident in the form of a “sharp decline in per capita output” in 2015. As I said, there’s so sign at all of a ‘sharp decline in per capita output’, but in fact the available data shows continuing growth in per capita output, although the growth rate is slowly recovering from a dip a few years ago.

    And there’s that dotted black line that hovers close to the “zero” growth for “industrialised economies”.

    For someone with ‘no dog in the fight’ you seem to be pretty determined to make that data fit a particular conclusion. Some of your language, e.g. ‘cornucopians’, also looks pretty bull-terrier shaped to me. Just saying’.

  4. I also used the term “cassandras” – I don’t think those labels are particularly loaded, they’re just the words used in these discussions.

    I’d still be interested in any data anyone can point to showing “global per capita industrial output” currently and historically so we have an idea what we are discussing.

  5. @Megan
    I generally read the word “cornucopian” as a disparaging term for those who are considered (by the person using the term) to have an unreasonable, fairy-tale optimism about the future of civilisation. In my experience it’s typically been used by those who are arguing for an inevitable, short-term collapse of civilisation, typically in the context of ‘peak oil’ discussions. But I accept your statement that you didn’t consciously intend it that way. I agree that “cassandra” isn’t a particularly loaded term.

  6. @Megan

    I’d still be interested in any data anyone can point to showing “global per capita industrial output” currently and historically so we have an idea what we are discussing.

    So would I! I’ve done a search and it seems that a difficulty arises, because all the information I can find that includes time series of world per capita output (or GDP per capita) for reasonably long periods seems to cut off around 2009-2012. The data for more recent years is much more fragmented. Given that we’re trying to ascertain what’s happening in 2015 vis a vis the longer term trends, it’s not very helpful.

  7. Thanks for throwing out this explanation for your skepticism John. Much appreciated. You provide an excellent model of the sympathetic genuine sceptic with questions I dont see well addressed or often. To address your concerns rather than try and directly convince you I’d like to throw out a number of ‘heads of consideration’ you might entertain while mulling over whether ‘we are doomed’ .

    1. I frequently see ‘doom in 20xx’ in economics blogs – while I routinely dismiss such as spruiking an advisory service there is still this memory of those people in the early 2000s who repeatedly cried wolf – on first principles that the economic system was going crazy – until 2007/8 when many were lauded as prophets. So while your skepticism is well founded….there is that nagging recognition that like 2007/8 when the plot was nearly really lost we may be in a period of undetermined duration before hell breaks loose – like the Phoney War on 1939/40. But how to tell the difference???

    2. Turner’s approach is to read the predictive model entrails which is the best one can do. Unfortunately when you use large number of variables (though even this is simplified) you run the risk of generating noise. The fact is revisitation indicates business as usual is impressive but it needs more scrutiny rather than faith based acceptance/rejection.

    There is a really nice article here that discusses the modelling problem precisely in reference to LtG HAYES, B. 2012. Computation and the human predicament. Am. Sci, 100, 186-191. From my dabbling in models I have to concur. The LtG model has 150 empirical variables. Its a worry. But at the same time there is the old saying that while “All models are wrong (but) some are useful”.

    Now one solution to this is to get more data, do more basic research and develop more powerful models – all requiring more resources.. But ask yourself how much has been thrown at this compared to climate change????!!! The answer is as you know bugger all.

    Why is this? One hypothesis for this decrying of LtG modelling and by implication the ecological economics community is active opposition / antagonism from mainstream economics and dark satanic vested interests (like those damn interstellar lizards) because the challenge it throws up is a challenge to mainstream freshwater/saltwater/Keynesian economics. How dare those scientists intrude on our turf!!! ( a sentiment the Papal inquisition threw at Galileo).

    Or perhaps the whole of ecological economics is delusional?

    Maybe addressing this could be your next book (not being facetious as I still havent seen anything of the kind).

    3. Bearing this in mind these matters and uncertainties the question of judging Graham Turner’s predictions becomes more difficult. Should you judge his prediction being in/correct on the precise numerical prediction or should you judge him on the basis of his analysis providing useful ‘Decision Support’. My opinion is the latter is still as far as we can go though it still provides a rationale for action…..like illustrating that economists need to invert their thinking to see the human economy as a subsystem of the natural environment rather than vice versa as that nasty red rag term ‘externality’ implies. And eventually agree or disprove the central paradigms of LtG.

    4. Objectively Turner is right in principle – the world does not have the resources to keep growing exponentially forever as any ecology oriented biologist knows…populations rise until they reach their carrying capacity in a particular environment – then they crash or stabilise depending on circumstances.

    This is a given as fundamental as CO2 generating the Greenhouse effect. That economists other than the ecological variety appear surficially to ignore or minimize it or even reject it is the source of acrimony since the time of Malthus.

    I would presume all mainstream economists would accept this. But then where are the limits to growth and indeed how does economic growth related to resource utlization and impacts?

    5. I find it curious that you give climate change prediction a high degree of credence but not LtG as the modelling and decision support and decision making problems are very similar. Is it that biologists also show a remarkable ignorance of mainstream economics which in fact offers many many insights they need to be aware of but are not still – to judge not least from my discussions with colleagues about where they think their retirement funding will come from.

    6. How to deal with all this? Clearly there is a need for communication / engagement. On this matter perhaps a cross-disciplinary gaggle could help if you would like to pursue the matter – suggestions > Ross Gittins who seems more aware of LtG conundra than he seems to make public, Dick Smith who is well aware of the contradictions in his businesses and your fellow academic Ove.

    I make this suggestion as they seem more open minded than those like Graham who have immersed themselves so deeply in the Doom narrative it is doing things to their psyche which could distort their objectivity.

  8. For anyone who is sincere in their convictions that civilisational collapse is just around the corner, the time to act is now. There are remote rural properties in South Australia, or indeed all over the nation, that are going for a song. I can advise you on what sort of off grid solar system you will need and how many spare appliances you will have to store to enjoy the comforts of modern living for decades after the rest of the word decends into barbarism. The fee for my services is likely to be nothing whatsoever. All I ask for is $100,000 in payable in 10 years time, or $250,000 payable in 20 years time. If you are right, money will probably be worthless by then, so what have you got to lose? You owe it to yourself and your family to get in contact with Brak Apocalypse Preparation. A subsidiary of Vault-Tec.

  9. I would have thought the growing water problems in the USA would be a pointer to a possible limit to growth … currently agriculture in California is still profitable and productive, but primarily through massive unsustainable groundwater harvesting. If this El Nino doesn’t deliver a good level of rain and snow (that doesn’t melt) then the problems in the southwest are just going to get worse …

  10. @faustusnotes
    @faustusnotes
    There’s plenty of “possible limits to growth” around. But are they clear pointers to “a sharp decline in per capita output” beginning in 2015? That’s the question addressed in the OP.

    It seems to me that part of the reason this argument never goes anywhere is because many people make no distinction between “yes, there are ecological limits to growth that will take effect at some point”, and “LTG predicted that civilisation will collapse, beginning on [insert preferred near-future date]. Therefore, civilisation will collapse, beginning on that date”. I take the point of the OP to be critical of the latter, rather than the former, claim.

  11. Is this a revisit of LTG and Turner for a reason? I understood JQ you did not accept the data or descriptions applied by Club of Rome Paper or Turner and there was a lot of cross discussion about variables and models.

    Meadows et al always said the predictive capacity of the LTG analysis was not that it gave limits but the behaviour and data one limits were passed became highly problematic due to (too many variables) nor did they ascribe drama or hyperbole to the problem but to call up the issue of limits, they are all ecological and they are all environmental, simple out come of application of the exponential function.

    I think the core and more interesting issue is? what current economic theorem will survive and be useful to understand the downside ride for humanity and societies or help? See the approach is simple, the economic trajectory once you pass marginal cost/utility of firms and individuals being able to obtain and use all resources has not been considered because a rational or reasonable person would not foreseeably engage in continuing such activity at such rates, whereas we have and we really have not thought about what this means and how to approach it.

  12. Still haven’t had any luck trying to find the data we need to work out the past and present “world industrial output per capita”.

    But the CIA World Factbook (for what it may be worth) has a lot of data that may contain pieces of the puzzle – it certainly doesn’t contain the answer in one place.

    They do say this (under the “world” tab):

    Beyond the current global slowdown, the world faces several long-standing economic challenges. The addition of 80 million people each year to an already overcrowded globe is exacerbating the problems of pollution, waste-disposal, epidemics, water-shortages, famine, over-fishing of oceans, deforestation, desertification, and depletion of non-renewable resources. The nation-state, as a bedrock economic-political institution, is steadily losing control over international flows of people, goods, services, funds, and technology. The introduction of the euro as the common currency of much of Western Europe in January 1999, while paving the way for an integrated economic powerhouse, has created economic risks because the participating nations have varying income levels and growth rates, and hence, require a different mix of monetary and fiscal policies. Governments, especially in Western Europe, face the difficult political problem of channeling resources away from welfare programs in order to increase investment and strengthen incentives to seek employment. Because of their own internal problems and priorities, the industrialized countries are unable to devote sufficient resources to deal effectively with the poorer areas of the world, which, at least from an economic point of view, are becoming further marginalized. The terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 accentuated a growing risk to global prosperity – the diversion of resources away from capital investments to counter-terrorism programs.

    And, noting that we are talking about “industrial output” as distinct from GDP, Wiki defines that as:

    Industrial production is a measure of output of the industrial sector of the economy. The industrial sector includes manufacturing, mining, and utilities. Although these sectors contribute only a small portion of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), they are highly sensitive to interest rates and consumer demand.

  13. I think it is important to note Turner’s work has been on comparing the predictions by the LtG with historical data.

    My memory of the paper is that he said that the decline begins around 2015-2030 (?), and that the decline is caused by mineral and fossil fuel resource extraction becoming more expensive and taking up a larger proportion of the economy.

    I don’t know if that reflects reality or not, and I don’t think the paper looked at that point in detail.

    A geologist told me that keeping costs low has been the factor in the move to clear cut mining and mountain top removal mining and similar things — so possibly the industry itself along with governmental policies etc work to maintain a situation where mining takes up a similar proportion of the economy even when resource stocks are diminishing and becoming more difficult to access conventionally. There is still the need to move to a circular economy as soon as possible to recycle non-perishable resources and this will take the pressure off landfill sites.

    I think I remember when I saw Turner talking about the paper last year he said since the Business As Usual scenario has played out historically till now, the time frame has now passed where the model shows it is possible to stabilise the situation along the lines of one of the more positive scenarios.

    It is difficult to say whether this is likely or not without a better knowledge of the model than I have, but I think technology means it is now possible to implement changes more quickly if citizens agree, and technology also means there is the ability to make change management more participatory as well.

    It will be interesting to see what is agreed to at the Sustainable Development Goals assembly in a fortnight and at the climate change negotiations in December.

  14. Bloomberg article, in part:

    A renewed plunge in oil prices and the winding down of other financial lifelines is forcing shale drillers to auction off once-prized assets and settle for less in potential deals. This week, companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. said they are embracing the strategy as they confront the reality of a prolonged, painful crash. While executives have assured investors that it won’t be a fire sale, recent deals suggest that prices have fallen significantly from even a few months ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With one-sixth of major independent oil and gas producers facing debt payments that are more than 20% of their revenue, austerity has replaced the swagger that characterized the earliest days of the oil bust.

    Contracts that locked in higher prices are expiring, leading banks to reduce credit lines in coming months. Drillers caught in the squeeze may be forced to auction off some of their best holdings to raise cash or accept more expensive financing to avoid bankruptcy, according to more than a dozen bankers, lawyers and company officials who specialize in energy deals. “These companies are starting to be a little more realistic about their situation and to face up to the fact that they will probably have to do something they don’t want to do,” said Omar Samji, a partner in law firm Jones Day in Houston. “There’s not going to be an easy lifeline.” The first wave of deals is already looming: sales of land holdings in prolific oil regions. Oil market gyrations since July have made valuations hard to pin down, dimming the outlook for sales of whole companies.

    I remember (as a long time lurker on The Oil Drum) an ‘epiphany’ moment. The simplistic “peak oil” concept was that as oil became less easily/more costly extracted the price would rise astronomically. Then a model was proposed (can’t remember the details off-hand but they are easily available) which said something like: the top oil price – in early 2000’s values – is about $200, because at that price demand destruction kicks in and the price must fall. Then there would be a “stepped” decline where uneconomical supply is chasing unaffordable demand downward. The dynamic involves economics every bit as much as oil geology.

  15. Given the manipulation of the LIBOR, gold prices, silver prices and share prices over recent years, it would be highly surprising if the oil price was not manipulated.

    Saudi Arabia has manipulated the oil price to attack Iran, US frackers and marginal producers in general (like tar sands). The US has acquiesced, or maybe even been a party to it, as the oil price drop was also useful in attacking Russia’s economy. It’s a price war with Saudi Arabia over-pumping, dropping prices and trying to push marginal producers out of business. The oil price war is also being used in another attempt to kill the electric car and the renewable economy.

    The term “free market” is a misnomer. There is no free market only the manipulated market. The prices of all major commodities and goods are manipulated and rigged. The stock market is also rigged and propped up in various ways country by country. Thus any theory about supply and demand under free competition is fallacious. There is no free market competition in world markets in major goods and commodities.

    There is no such thing as a free market. There are only different forms of rigged markets. The serious question is what do you rig the market to favour? Do you rig it to favour rich people and climate destruction? Or do you rig it to favour the ordinary masses and the environmental preservation?

  16. Megan oil hit US$150, demand destruction kicked in and took out the last entrants into the US RE ponzi bubble, that took out everyone in the finance business ala 2008 and since. Prices are low because demand has decreased, quantity on offer has not shifted and cannot due to peak oil. This is what real scarcity begins to look like because the downside of peak everything is that entrants to and from the economic cycle become damaged and cannot participate. The other sign of a downside or passing limits was money and hence deflation which is now prominent and it is not a recession the lack of growth it is deflation but let us call it correctly, its contraction. The passing of limits is about contraction, the adaptability of substitution but above all the only change possible is to change the share of activity, now who proposed that once before?

  17. Is this a revisit of LTG and Turner for a reason?

    As I said, the reason is that this kind of argument is almost invariably associated with claims that decarbonizing the economy through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency is not feasible. So, it’s important to make it clear that LTG-style predictions don’t stand up to scrutiny.

  18. @Newtownian
    How dare those scientists intrude on our turf!!! ( a sentiment the Papal inquisition threw at Galileo).

    This Galileo statement always annoys me. The Church went after him but not because they wanted to suppress learning. Heresy, yes, but not learning per se. It was not heresy if you could prove it. Q.E.D was the get-out-of-jail car.

    What the Church said to Galileo was, “You didn’t make a good case the last time, so don’t bother us until you can prove it”. You are free to continue to speculate, and even publish, about the issue but don’t claim it is true until you have something concrete.

    Unfortunately Galileo made an elementary courtier’s mistake and annoyed the (by now rather paranoid) Pope Urban VIII, who thought that he was Simplissimus in Galileo’s latest book. Urban had been a supporter of Galileo and, probably, was personally hurt as well as insulted. Suddenly, what Galileo thought he was passing off as speculation was taken seriously. Oops.

    The real problem was that Galileo’s theory did not work. It’s a bit difficult to accept a heliocentric theory that predicts one tide per day. He had the right idea but his theoretical formulation stank.

    The Church would have had no problem accepting a heliocentric solar system, they just wanted some believable evidence and Galileo did not have it. A heliocentric theory would have required a bit of rejigging of scriptural interpretation but that was not a problem.

    The Catholic Church did not interpret the Bible literally like a American fundamentalist. It would just have fired up a few theologians (17C spin doctors?) and reinterpreted scripture in light of the new knowledge.

  19. @jrkrideau

    You are trying to depict the Church as reasonable by omitting some of the history.

    “The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could only be supported as a possibility, not as an established fact. Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII and thus alienated him and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo up until this point. He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.” – Wikipedia.

    That last bit is important… “He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.”

    A life under house arrest for a theory (later proved substantially correct)!

    The Church, in any form and of any denomination, was never reasonable until it was forced by science and humanism to become a little reasonable. Only when it was losing the intellectual battle and thus the battle for hearts and minds was it dragged kicking and screaming to a semblance of reasonableness. Of course, there are many fundamentalist holdouts who are unreasonable (unable to be reasoned with) to this very day.

  20. @jrkrideau

    So what you’re saying is that the Church didn’t lock Galileo up for giving the right answer to a scientific question, they only locked him up for giving the wrong answer to a scientific question.

    Well, that’s all right then. Locking people up for getting wrong answers is totally fair and reasonable and in no way any sort of interference with science. Thanks for straightening that out.

  21. John Quiggin :

    Is this a revisit of LTG and Turner for a reason?

    As I said, the reason is that this kind of argument is almost invariably associated with claims that decarbonizing the economy through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency is not feasible. So, it’s important to make it clear that LTG-style predictions don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    Agree, decarbonising the economy is not feasible as there is not an adequate, abundant or useable substitute for oil or coal. There is only less to go around and how that less is to be distributed.

  22. @MH

    So, just to be absolutely clear, what you mean by ‘Agree’ is not ‘Agree with John Quiggin’, but rather ‘Agree with those claims, the ones that John Quiggin is disagreeing with, and so disagree with John Quiggin’.

  23. @jrkrideau

    To paraphrase you say that the Roman Catholic church had no problem with a heliocentric universe.

    I don’t buy it. Surely the church, with man as God’s prime creation, wanted the heavens to revolve around Earth? The idea that we were just one planet orbiting the sun took away our specialness, and hence reduced the power of the church.

    I’m sure the church was in favour of science, as the study of God’s work, but with the proviso that you did not discover anything that reduced the power of the church.

  24. @James Wimberley

    Warning: do not read with a mouthful of soda, or, like the narrator, a lime margarita.

    But by all means have a lime margarita, if the mood strikes you. The Stross piece is a cracking yarn. It may even be partially true. 🙂

  25. @MH

    Agree, decarbonising the economy is not feasible as there is not an adequate, abundant or useable substitute for oil or coal. There is only less to go around and how that less is to be distributed.

    You forgot to say “amen”.

  26. In an instance of good timing, Samuel Alexander and Simon Ussher’s The Simplicity Institute has just sent an email linking to their YouTube video interview with Graeme Turner on the LtG and his work comparing the LtG scenarios to historical data, which is going to be in their forthcoming simple living documentary A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

  27. @MH

    OK, so you agree with the claims made by Turner as regards renewables, and that this means “less for everybody”. Are you willing like Turner, to put a date (2015) on when we the global economy starts contracting, or is this one of those claims like the Apocalypse, that can be deferred indefinitely

  28. @John Quiggin

    While you’re here…

    Tim and I were unsuccessfully trying to argue the issue up-thread. It seems we agree at least that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be measuring and where we can find the various reliable sources of data on:

    world industrial output per capita

    What is the measure and the source you would be looking at to check the current and historical level of that?

  29. John Quiggin :

    Is this a revisit of LTG and Turner for a reason?

    As I said, the reason is that this kind of argument is almost invariably associated with claims that decarbonizing the economy through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency is not feasible. So, it’s important to make it clear that LTG-style predictions don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    climate change, species extinctions, ecological disruption and loss of eco-services are going to be our real limiters.

    Spot on!

    John, Thanks for running this thread and providing indirectly the link to Graham Turner above. After looking at your comments such as the quotes above my impression is 2015 is a bit of furphy a bit like predicting global bubble and collapse around 2000s when the details of the process werent in though people were seeing the drivers emerging as part of earlier crises.

    Also this looke more a in the way of uncertainties rather than disagreements and maybe you might revisit this issue later in a way that explores the uncertainties. In particular it would be good to see what you think economists have got right and wrong about LTG and differentiate between the short and the long term which seem very different worlds.

    Parting comments:
    – Graham Turner in the video is quite circumspect about making predictions so 2015 seems more his guess about a change which is still too hard to detect rather than entrail reading.
    – Unlike economic breaks which we cant predict either we have very little coherent data on what happens during resource linked economic collapse except the metaphors of famine, storm damage as per Hurricane Katrina and war. Maybe you know of something. But without this we really are in the dark except that by the time we see such crises coming it is too late.
    – Turner is I understand tackling the personal question of how far to plan/prepare. This is getting into the field of survivalism which is a dead end and does things to ones head. So he needs to be forgiven for what may seem a little loopy in some ways. He is just following the logic

    Maybe the issue for you to explore at a later date is the idea of runaway collapse. e.g. when we saw 2007 coming what might we have done and when precisely did we detect it? In this regard to this other possible metaphors to explore are:

    1. Runaway Greenhouse which we will never see but will happen eventually on earth possibly induced by CO2 emissions and all the secondary if we are extremely stupid. The point about this is not that it is imminent in economic terms but how do we respond to the risk…350.org is one illustration of people who are taking this really seriously I think.

    2. The collapse of the Roman Empire….which was a slow motion collapse over several centuries. But when were the key decisions taken? One expert on this Tainter ascribes it to the gradual debasement of the currency. Given this was a factor it is unlikely when debasement started its proposers understood the long term economic ramifications of the tipping point which could only be seen in hindsight. Perhaps there is something in the hyperinflation literature which also seems a good metaphor for rapid out of control change which you would be very familiar with.

  30. @ZM

    The CSIRO paper seems to show that the LTG growth was pretty accurate – looking at figures 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and comparing the green plot (standard run) and observed data.

  31. In the past, I have always beaten both the LTG drum and the Collapse drum. It’s worth noting that those are two very different drums. I no longer beat the drum of “inevitable collapse” drum. Ultimately, LTG must still apply, at least in terms of peak population, peak physical infrastructure and peak disruption to ecological systems. On the other hand, collapse is not inevitable: although civilization might well face a couple of tough centuries ahead. I think we have baked in quite a bit of trouble for ourselves but technology if wisely applied might save us. The advances in solar and wind power (to solve the entire energy problem essentially) are very heartening.

    The graphs of the CSIRO paper linked to by ZM are well open to the interpretation that collapse is NOT inevitable. What I mean to say is that they are still well open to a scenario of stabilisation (of population and physical infrastructure) rather than collapse.

    I still expect a long period (20 to 200 years) of “salutary crisis” as I would term it and bad things will happen in many regions and countries. The climate and ocean crises will still be very severe. But once we realise we need to be on a total dirigist-mobilized footing to save our planet (the “salutary crisis” will indeed be that serious), I believe we could still save civilization. I just don’t know what the odds are. Rough guess is 50:50.

  32. Ikonoclast,

    “I still expect a long period (20 to 200 years) of “salutary crisis” as I would term it and bad things will happen in many regions and countries. The climate and ocean crises will still be very severe. But once we realise we need to be on a total dirigist-mobilized footing to save our planet (the “salutary crisis” will indeed be that serious), I believe we could still save civilization. I just don’t know what the odds are. Rough guess is 50:50.”

    The literature I’ve read looking to return the atmospheric levels of greenhouse as emissions to 350ppm posits a time frame from about 2015/2018 to 2100. This is staged, with sharp easy cuts in the first 5-10 years, more difficult cuts to 2040/2050 , then drawing down emissions to 2100.

    This would need a lot of effort as it would take a great deal of coordination and diligence, only comparable to times of war and recovery in Western countries which go for shorter periods. However the plus is there is no fighting and killing despite the longer duration, and it would be interesting to be part of such historic changes.

    I don’t think you need a crisis. You just go to court and sue the government for the court to order it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the necessary magnitude to maintain a safe climate.

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