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The mid-century will be about "old people in big cities who are afraid of the sky."
January 5, 2012 9:02 AM   Subscribe


 
Hah, I was waiting for this. Thanks, Whelk
posted by infini at 9:24 AM on January 5, 2012


The pull quote you used for the thread title doesn't really make sense. He's right that urbanization, demographic aging, and climate change are three of the most important ongoing trends, but old people aren't necessarily the same as those who are flocking to cities, and neither of those are the group most affected by the rising sea and increasingly insane climate (Bangladeshis, marginal subsistence farmers, etc).
posted by theodolite at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2012


[The Well's interface is goddamn awful.]
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's never a bad time to reread The Gernsback Continuum.
posted by Artw at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Always an interesting read. Thanks, Whelk.
posted by Zed at 9:37 AM on January 5, 2012


[The Well's interface is goddamn awful.]

Maybe, but I'd defiantly take simple, old and clunky over slick, overcomplicated and clunky.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on January 5, 2012


Still rtfa, but me liking it.

His current day update of Gibson is pithy

Future already here, just not much pontificated about.


While I aim to use this wherever remotely relevant.

That's like hunting for futurity under the street-lights where it's nice and bright.



I did wonder out loud if he wrote for quotes though.

granted, I'm nowhere near the meat of it yet and may have my own arguments
posted by infini at 9:40 AM on January 5, 2012


[China will] Accelerate collapse of "intellectual property" because it's actually rentier feudalism.

I can't say I disagree, actually.
posted by bonehead at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'll just quote this qhole thing...

FUTURE CHANGE AS SEEN BY AMERICAN RIGHT-WING TALK RADIO, 2011/12.

1. Existential threats to the American Constitution. Mostly from
"Sharia Law," which is sort of like the American Constitution for
Moslem Islamofascists.

2. Imminent collapse of all fiat currencies, somehow leading to
everyday use of fungible gold bars.

3. Sudden, frightening rise of violent, unemployable, disease-carrying
"Occupy Wall Street" anarchists who are bent on intimidation and
repressing free speech.

4. Hordes of immigrants being illegally encouraged to flood the polls.

5. Lethal and immoral US government health-care.

6. Radical Gay Agenda / Litigious Feminazis (tie).

7. God's Will. Surprisingly low-key, considering what an all-purpose
justification this is.

posted by Artw at 9:45 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Entities that are meta-unaware
will more likely replicate their un-awareness


Good one.

(Is that the BIG Lebkowski or the DUDE Lebkowski?)

Price of Sterling is down this morning....
posted by Twang at 9:47 AM on January 5, 2012


Well, it's nice to say that I dislike this slightly less than I did last year. It's still all rather ridiculous, though.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 AM on January 5, 2012


Readable version.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:49 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I presumed by "Sharia Law," which is sort of like the American Constitution for
Moslem Islamofascists
he meant "a document that none of them have ever read, don't have the reading comprehension to understand if they tried, and about which they would be horrified if someone took the time to explain exactly what it meant, but which they nonetheless believe has quasi-magical properties".

I think he might have something there.
posted by Grangousier at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2012


For a smart guy, he has some weird blind spots.

SOME FRINGE BELIEFS ABOUT FUTURE CHANGES

[...]

Peak Oil. Oil probably "peaked" quite some time ago, but the "peak" itself doesn't seem to bother markets much. The imaginary Armageddon got old-fashioned fast. Peak Oil has peaked.


If we really have reached peak oil already, then we're going to see some dramatic changes in the near future.

We've had an exponential growth in the use of oil for a century now; if the supply of oil now starts to decrease, there are inevitably going to be increasing short-falls and prices spiralling up. To simply dismiss this as an "imaginary Armageddon" without proving any evidence or reasoning is intellectually bankrupt.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 AM on January 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Any revolution's great as long as our gadgets are construed to cause it!

Oh so true...
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on January 5, 2012


er, not "proving" but "providing".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2012


The future is in agronomy. Seriously.
posted by Chrischris at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Currently
based in Italy, Serbia, and Austin, Texas, he spends much of his time
on the road,


We will see more of this, many people will be increasingly post national. They will flit around while the rest of us remain tied to the land. They will establish new group identites based around opt-in groups such as websites like metafilter and no longer be limited to national ties.

These former digital megatrends are to be tossed flaming
into the memory hole: any "personal" computing that isn't "social';


The web of sites, or computers, will be replaced by a phrase I coined on HN last week "The web of people". Please contact me if you want to license my phrase for inclusion in any techcrunch articles. "the web of people" is embodied by all the grandmas, aunts and cousings that signed up for facebook, they will be there forever long after tech savy people have left.


I have many more predictions but I'll wait for the official MetaFilter state of the world.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2012


My prediction is that no one will accurately predict what will happen in the next year. How's that?

Seriously, what exactly is the point of these things? We're taking a ridiculously broad subject and then posturing as though maybe we know what will happen. It's pretty much the exact opposite of a productive conversation.
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seems pretty short for anybody's State of the World thread that's been going on since yesterday. It is still being updated sporadically, though; new post from Lebkowsky just now. Wonder if Sterling will have any more to say.
posted by jfuller at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2012


We will see more of this, many people will be increasingly post national. They will flit around while the rest of us remain tied to the land. They will establish new group identites based around opt-in groups such as websites like metafilter and no longer be limited to national ties.

So not only are corporations people, people are corporations now?
posted by tommyD at 9:57 AM on January 5, 2012


The imaginary Armageddon got old-fashioned fast. Peak Oil has peaked.

The US (or a lot of the modern world, really) hasn't had much experience with actual resource shortage. All the problems we've had have been things like "we need a breakthrough in $X technology" (miniaturization, medical whatever, etc) where throwing dollars at scientists usually does some good. So we're all in this mindset of "well, we'll figure something out" despite the fact that there is no way to "figure out" more oil. We have to switch to something else.
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


We will see more of this, many people will be increasingly post national. They will flit around while the rest of us remain tied to the land. They will establish new group identites based around opt-in groups such as websites like metafilter and no longer be limited to national ties.

Joo.


I did find it limiting in that he's geographically limiting his worldview (whether for the audience or he still perceives things in this way regardless of his peripatetic lifestyle)
posted by infini at 10:02 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


people are corporations now?

Have been for a while. I am thinking of a new concept, "Person states" a post "nation state" a new paradigm now that physcal location is irrelevant.

Think of "always connected" professionals. Couple years back didnt Cortex travel the entire united states and still work his day job?

I have no idea of the physical location of 90% of my coworkers. They are just voices on the telephon.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we really have reached peak oil already, then we're going to see some dramatic changes in the near future.

Unless we're not as good at predicting the future as we think we are. As Derrida told us, even the future has a future.
posted by rhizome at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Spelling and grammar is also now irrelevant.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> > If we really have reached peak oil already, then we're going to see some dramatic changes in the near future.

> Unless we're not as good at predicting the future as we think we are. As Derrida told us, even the future has a future.

I welcome any even vaguely plausible scenario as to how the world could involuntarily transition from using oil without dramatic changes. Otherwise, I have to put it in the same category as imagining that one is going to learn to breathe water when the tsunami comes - wishful thinking.

My whole life, I've been hearing this claim - "We dealt with problem X in our past (Hitler, the USSR), so we'll fix peak oil when we get to it." As we get closer to it, I'm inescapably reminded of a cocaine addict with a dwindling trust fund...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:12 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


the general trend toward entropy will continue
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The future is basically looking like The Windup Girl without the cool genetech superhumans and improbable nano-springs.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's never a bad time to reread The Gernsback Continuum.

Please do not do this while driving. Or landing an airplane. Doing it during surgery, even if the operation is implanting brain-interface-jack-sites, is generally considered impolite.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:17 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


the general trend toward entropy will continue

Predictably so.

I welcome any even vaguely plausible scenario as to how the world could involuntarily transition from using oil without dramatic changes.

What is this "involuntary transition" you predict? Our means of dealing with adversity will evolve as surely as the world itself will evolve into states of great adversity, and that is one aspect of the future of the future: it's not just the quantity of retail oil that changes with time. The dramatic changes you predict will be tempered by the evolving response of humanity. This shit ain't instantaneous.
posted by rhizome at 10:17 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the most important piece of information about this article : There are still people who use The Well.
posted by crunchland at 10:20 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The "Mud Machine." This is the Berlusconi media empire, which engages in the unique practice of suppressing dissent by suggesting that everybody in Italy equally useless and crooked, so why even bother. After all, everybody in Italy would have orgies involving underage illegal-alien Moslem prostitutes if they had the chance, so why get all worked up; mind your own business. The Mud Machine works because Italians enjoy being cynical about themselves. Nobody wants to be seen as the chump, so everybody ends up being victimized.

I dunno, a lot of American media is like that too, especially the web kind.
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The future will continue to conform to the words of Abigail Adams:

"Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."
posted by swift at 10:27 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're welcome to their ugly look, I just wish the newlines and formatting didn't screw up Instapaper.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:28 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


RE peak oil: There are other means of extracting energy from our environment besides drilling for petroleum, its just that they aren't particularly cost effective when petroleum is plentiful and cheap.

Drive up the price of oil, and your automatically incentivize innovation in those areas.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:28 AM on January 5, 2012


I've always got time for Chairman Bruce.
posted by alby at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2012


the general trend toward entropy will continue

I'm pretty sure that's how entropy always works.
posted by octothorpe at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


What you'll see is that particularly fuel intensive activities (such as shipping) will become more costly, and therefore incentivizing local industries. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a resurgence of local industry when the cost of shipping stuff from China starts to outweigh the cheap labor costs. Picture the Wind-up Girl, but without the dire post-apocalyptic coloring.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:32 AM on January 5, 2012


I didn't read his bit about teh fading Armageddon of peak oil to imply that he thought there was no such thing but more as an observation on how its fading from the media's (and thus people's) consciousness as a "big problem".

I could be wrong.
posted by infini at 10:36 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]



What you'll see is that particularly fuel intensive activities (such as shipping) will become more costly, and therefore incentivizing local industries. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a resurgence of local industry when the cost of shipping stuff from China starts to outweigh the cheap labor costs. Picture the Wind-up Girl, but without the dire post-apocalyptic coloring.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:32 AM on January 5 [+] [!]


Given that it's pouring rain in January, north of the fifty fifth parallel, I think the apocalyptic coloring may be all too appropriate.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:38 AM on January 5, 2012


He has an interesting point at the very end:

I was initially positive about the Occupy movement and the sense that
it's "for the 99%." However it won't work if we say the 99% are the
good guys, and the 1% are evil. We should rethink that point.

posted by ZeusHumms at 10:45 AM on January 5, 2012


> What is this "involuntary transition" you predict?

I believe you're just snarking, but on the off-chance you're serious:

1. When we hit peak oil, if we haven't already, the total world production of oil will decrease. This is the very definition of "peak oil".

2. Consumption of oil has increased exponentially for a century. It is a very safe assumption that if we didn't run out of oil the consumption would continue to increase.

3. If the supply of oil decreases (linearly) and the consumption increases (exponentially or even linearly), there will mathematically be a point that supply is less than demand.

4. This means that there will be increasingly large numbers of people who wish to run gasoline engines who will not be able to do.

5. They will either have cease running their engines, or be forced to switch to some other energy source.

I wouldn't say this is likely - I'd say this is provably inevitable, given a finite supply of oil on Earth, the only question is when. Yes, it's inevitable that other sources will be found, but there will be a huge transition from an oil-dominated economy to some other economy, and it will not be voluntary.

> Drive up the price of oil, and [you] automatically incentivize innovation in those areas.

We're back to the "someone will fix this in the future" theory - with a little bit of "invisible hand" thrown in. In history, civilizations have not ended up dealing at all well with resource exhaustion - their usual strategy is simply to collapse. It is certainly possible we will do a better job this time - I think relying on this is foolhardy.

> What you'll see is that particularly fuel intensive activities (such as shipping) will become more costly, and therefore incentivizing local industries.

What you're missing is that if we run out of gasoline before there's a good substitute ready, there will be sharp changes, not gentle things like "incentivized local industries". None of my local industries would be economic if the (real dollar) price of gasoline increased by a factor of ten - very few of them would be economic if the price even multiplied by three.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:51 AM on January 5, 2012


He has an interesting point at the very end

That's actually Jon Lebkowsky there.
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


infini: to describe peak oil as a "fringe belief", without any balancing text about its actual plausibility, very strongly indicates that the writer does not believe in it himself.

I agree there is some wiggle room there, but he's basically throwing the idea away as "tired, not wired" and never considering it again.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2012


I welcome any even vaguely plausible scenario as to how the world could involuntarily transition from using oil without dramatic changes.

I spend a lot of time in a part of the world that's dependent on ferry service (coastal BC), which in the past decade has seen massive increases in travel costs (increased fuel prices fused with some sloppy corporate screwing around). Yes, some people have chosen (been forced) to move closer to more populated areas ... but most have stayed with the biggest single change in lifestyle being fewer "trips to town", and those trips that are taken are more conscious.

So instead of taking the four ferries (return trip) required to make it to the nearest box store once a week, folks are now doing it maybe once a month. And when they do it, they plan better, fit more errands in, maybe take a neighbor to help share the costs (ie: one car where previously, there would have been two).

So as per usual, the Apocalypse isn't coming, it's already here and generally not as dramatic as the doomsayers would have us fear.
posted by philip-random at 10:55 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


the Apocalypse isn't coming, it's already here and generally not as dramatic as the doomsayers would have us fear.

Yup. It's the slow grind into the grim meathook future.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree there is some wiggle room there, but he's basically throwing the idea away as "tired, not wired" and never considering it again.

Luckily, these predictions are just for public amusement then and not the basis of any scenario planning. That's an egregious error. My team in Bschool Econ had selected Peak Oil as a topic and we had an exAnnapolis grad genius type at this stuff and no matter which way we looked at it, our charts still showed peaking and declining. Bottomline is quibbling about 'when' not 'if' primarily because there is a finite cubic footage on this planet.

I believe oil has reached 111 a barrel as the average price for 2011 if I'm not mistaken
posted by infini at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2012


USD $ 111
posted by infini at 11:01 AM on January 5, 2012



I was initially positive about the Occupy movement and the sense that
it's "for the 99%." However it won't work if we say the 99% are the
good guys, and the 1% are evil. We should rethink that point.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:45 AM on January 5 [+] [!]


It's not that they're evil, it's that their interests often run contrary to ours. (As a result of material circumstances, not some diabolic spark.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:02 AM on January 5, 2012


We will see more of this, many people will be increasingly post national. They will flit around while the rest of us remain tied to the land. They will establish new group identites based around opt-in groups such as websites like metafilter and no longer be limited to national ties.

I very much want to live in a world where borders just gradually dissolve, and not a world where borders get higher for all but the privileged who stand around on the tops of fences all day shouting down to the rest of us that they can totally see everything from up there. In a way, I feel like those two worlds are bumping into each other more and more.
posted by byanyothername at 11:31 AM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yup. It's the slow grind into the grim meathook future.

On the other hand, if you consider the Gulf oil spill and even in a certain sense the ongoing fiasco at the Tepco plant in Japan (hell, while we're at it recent rashes of earthquakes in the US and UK have now been definitively linked to fracking techniques), I'd say we're in actual, dramatic Apocalyptic territory now (some of us more immediately than others), it's just that the human mind has some surprisingly robust mechanisms for smoothing over its perceptions of the scope and magnitude of remote but large-scale environmental catastrophes. When you consider the intensity of our cultural reactions to what would now seem like relatively minor environmental accidents like the 3-Mile Island melt down or the Cuyahoga River's catching on fire, and our daily, casual acceptance of near-ubiquitous industrial mercury contamination in our water supplies and fish stock, we're getting better and better at absorbing large scale environmental problems over time and pretending they're really not that important after all. But I'm still not 100% convinced the totality of the situation isn't actually already much worse than our psychological needs would ever allow us to face for any sustained length of time.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:36 AM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's the slow grind into the grim meathook future.

And for how many centuries has this idea been promulgated?
posted by rhizome at 11:53 AM on January 5, 2012


Since that fucker Plato.
posted by Artw at 11:55 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


> So instead of taking the four ferries (return trip) required to make it to the nearest box store once a week, folks are now doing it maybe once a month. And when they do it, they plan better, fit more errands in, maybe take a neighbor to help share the costs (ie: one car where previously, there would have been two).

These are the changes that happen when gasoline increases a small amount.

Now imagine the price of gasoline multiplies by a factor of three - or thirty. Imagine if it's no longer economic to burn gas to grow food crops.

Sure, there might be a comparatively smooth transition to some other fuel "as yet to be named". That this will happen without a great deal of advance planning and worrying seems to be a pipe dream.

> > It's the slow grind into the grim meathook future.

> And for how many centuries has this idea been promulgated?

Your argument is exactly the same as "I've been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for years, and nothing has happened to me, despite your predictions."

Yes, Malthus mentioned this a long time ago - but this was seen as a distant future until recently. Yes, the green revolution managed to buy us several decades - there won't be another green revolution.

It's not resource exhaustion that worries me - it's the fact that so many people dismiss this as no big deal, nothing we can't deal with when we get there. And yet our modern civilization has never had to deal with resource exhaustion in any sort of big way, and previous civilizations that have, have almost invariably collapsed when faced with this issue.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:02 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's not resource exhaustion that worries me - it's the fact that so many people dismiss this as no big deal, nothing we can't deal with when we get there.

So... it's a fringe belief about future change?
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on January 5, 2012


> So... it's a fringe belief about future change?

"So many" != "almost all".

Or perhaps you could say it's a fringe belief in the same way that belief in climate change is a fringe belief in the United States.

It frankly baffles me that so many apparently intelligent people can dismiss the issue out of hand, even though they don't have the faintest idea of any possible solution. If people were saying, "These concerns are real, but we have this under control," I wouldn't be so worried. That people, both here and elsewhere, can dismiss the whole idea without providing even one fact or one argument aside from, "We've been fine so far," that terrifies me.

To repeat the underlying facts:

1. We are consuming all the resources we have at an exponentially increasing rate.
2. We only have finite quantities of any given resource on Earth.
3. For almost all of these resources, science's "best estimates" of the amount remaining gives us only decades left until we are in severe shortage.
4. For many if not most of these resources, there are currently no alternatives - and many of the alternatives we might have are also resource constrained.
5. In the US, at least, there is little if any attention given to the issue, at least amongst our rulers.

Now, I haven't seen any sort of rebuttal of any of these points above, just a generalized mockery. I'd really welcome a description of how we get to 2050 without dramatic, involuntary changes in our way of life.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:27 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


4. This means that there will be increasingly large numbers of people who wish to run gasoline engines who will not be able to do.

And many of those gasoline engines would have been powering agricultural equipment.
posted by gimonca at 12:31 PM on January 5, 2012


Same way we got to 2012, probably. Maybe oil gets a bit more expensive, travel a bit harder, life a bit shittier. Nobody is saying it isn't real, but the whole thing where someone pulls a switch and suddenly everything is Mad Max? The world does not appear to work like that.

Anyway, we'll be too busy getting fucked over by climate change induced famine, pandemics and the 40 year long global recession to really notice.
posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2012


If we really have reached peak oil already, then we're going to see some dramatic changes in the near future.

What, like maybe a price spike to $150/barrel that catches almost every annointed conventional energy expert by surprise? Followed almost immediately by the near-total collapse of the global financial system? And the Big Three US automakers teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and needing basically a temporary nationalization to restructure and survive? Followed by three years of the greatest demand collapse in oil in a generation, which still leaves "cheap" oil hovering at $80-100/barrel? Something like that?

Nah, never happen. Shale plays, baby. Gonna save the world.

/not even half-kidding
posted by gompa at 12:34 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Naw, man, abiogenic oil for the win.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2012


[The Well's interface is goddamn awful.]

It appears to differ from a MeFi thread only in using a fixed font and giving some indication of supporting pagination.

The "Mud Machine." This is the Berlusconi media empire, which engages
in the unique practice of suppressing dissent by suggesting that
everybody in Italy equally useless and crooked, so why even bother.


I think FOX regards this situation as their endgame.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:42 PM on January 5, 2012


> I'd really welcome a description of how we get to 2050 without dramatic, involuntary changes
> in our way of life.

I'm working hard at seeing dramatic, involuntary changes in our way of life as a bad thing. Not there yet.
posted by jfuller at 12:46 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nah, corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel will solve everything. We'll just have to eat, unh, something else.

Make room! make room!
posted by bonehead at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nah, corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel will solve everything. We'll just have to eat, unh, something else.

I have the perfect idea, and it will help with the overpopulation problem, too! The name even sounds environmentally friendly!
posted by entropicamericana at 12:50 PM on January 5, 2012


Civilization won't collapse.
Industrial civilization, on the other hand...
posted by Chrischris at 12:50 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no "can't" in cannibalism.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of it is armageddon fatigue. As a Gen Xer who lived through a constant bombardment of fear mongering about impending nuclear war Real Soon Now, then the threats of The Big One, Global Warming, Peak Fundamentalism, and the Singularity, I know everything's going to shit and we'll all have to Adjust. Hell, I already adjusted -- I ride the bus or a bike to work, try to live simply, and eat better. I even hate corporations and cars. But after having gone through all of the above, it's hard to get the old fear and indignation glands a-pumping.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of it is armageddon fatigue.

A.K.A. "Armageddon tired of all this doomsaying."

You knew someone would
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:53 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Civilization won't collapse.
Industrial civilization, on the other hand...


Our civilization is such that if the industrial component collapses, I'm not sure that the other components won't follow very quickly.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:54 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Same way we got to 2012, probably.

We got to 2012 with ample amounts of every resource we cared to use, and in particular, cheap gasoline. Western Civilization has never faced a systematic resource exhaustion.

> The world does not appear to work like that.

Almost every time a civilization has hit resource exhaustion, it has in fact worked like that.

> Anyway, we'll be too busy getting fucked over by climate change induced famine, pandemics and the 40 year long global recession to really notice.

And yet we'll have the resources during all that to come up with a substitute for oil (and all the other resources we'll have run out of like rare earth elements) and retool our entire civilization?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:56 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gompa, because I respect your contributions to these kinds of threads so much, can I ask you to expand on your last point? I'm having trouble parsing the layers of irony in your comment.
posted by kaspen at 12:58 PM on January 5, 2012


Our civilization is such that if the industrial component collapses, I'm not sure that the other components won't follow very quickly.

Well... If you know the right folks, you can (re)learn to drive an ox team. And there's plenty of wood (even, gasp, coal) to keep you and yours warm.

You won't starve (well, maybe, slowly) but the 4G reception will probably be a bit spotty...
posted by Chrischris at 1:01 PM on January 5, 2012


Make room! make room!

The grim overpopulated future of 1999...
posted by Artw at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


the 4G reception will probably be a bit spotty.

In much poorer countries where cellular telephony is only now being installed, they're experimenting with a variety of alternate power sources. Recently I saw one with a windmill on top of the tower. I'm going off grid for a total of a month in two rural locations starting at the end of the month, I believe I'll have access to solar for the laptop and phone but the modem's gonna work on 3G.
posted by infini at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2012


Gompa, because I respect your contributions to these kinds of threads so much, can I ask you to expand on your last point? I'm having trouble parsing the layers of irony in your comment.

Well, I was being a little smart-assed about it, but I was basically pointing out that we're already living in one of the most volatile, contentious, wildly unpredictable eras in the energy economy since the days of Rockefeller's Standard Oil. Which is actually not so far off from what some of those peak oil "loons" were suggesting the first chaotic years of the near-peak/post-peak phase might look like. Which we might've paid more notice to if the credit default swapping of Wall Street hadn't hogged the economic catastrophe spotlight.

I mean, the banking crisis is the chief and proximate cause of the current rut, but it wasn't the only one. The Big Three automakers nearly failed in large part because they failed to notice (or failed to respond to) the (long-predicted and long-dismissed) oil supply crunch and what it was doing to SUV sales just before the Wall Street madness started. There was an amazing quote from some GM executive as they were shuttering an assembly plant in Wisconsin back in late '08 I think where he basically said, well, who could've predicted high oil prices back in '05 when we retooled this thing for large trucks? Well, tons of people I read and trust were saying it back in '05, but GM and the IEA and everyone else was still calling it "doomsaying" in 2005. (The IEA's World Energy Outlook for 2008 was the first to explicitly acknowledge the emerging reality of peak oil, though they placed the date at a rather optimistic 2020 or so.)

So what was I saying? Well, basically that what we're witnessing is the convergence of several catastrophes - in finance, ecology and energy - that are all basically one big crisis, tied together by fossil fuel dependency, the eternal growth economy they've spawned, and the climate chaos their waste has created. It's not peak oil or extreme banking that caused the current wreck; it's peak oil and. It's total system failure. The beginning of the end of the age of fossil fuels.

Clearer?
posted by gompa at 1:27 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously we are going to run out of oil. But there are too many people who want to keep their standard of lving, and too much money at stake. There will be some pain along the way but we will figure out a solution, even if it is a solution everyone hates. Nobody wants a coal power plant or a nuclear plant in their backyard right now, but we will see what people will accept when they have no lights or TV.

In the short to mid term we will see a hodge-podge of solutions. In the long term I have every confidence we will find something just as easily exploitable.

Who knows? Some of the side effects in the short term may be beneficial. Less reliance on cars would certainly be good.

Civilization has existed for thousands of years through ups and downs. We might be entering a down right now but we will adjust.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2012


Well, basically that what we're witnessing is the convergence of several catastrophes - in finance, ecology and energy - that are all basically one big crisis, tied together by fossil fuel dependency, the eternal growth economy they've spawned, and the climate chaos their waste has created. It's not peak oil or extreme banking that caused the current wreck; it's peak oil and. It's total system failure. The beginning of the end of the age of fossil fuels.

May I go add this to the comment thread in this link where it far better articulates what I was trying to capture in words? Please?
posted by infini at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2012


> I'd really welcome a description of how we get to 2050 without dramatic, involuntary changes in our way of life.

Daniel Yergin & Cambridge Energy Research Associates have a description. I don't believe it myself, but it's out there.
posted by bukvich at 1:33 PM on January 5, 2012


My money's on He-3.

Finally, a reason to go back to the moon.
posted by bonehead at 1:34 PM on January 5, 2012


And yet we'll have the resources during all that to come up with a substitute for oil (and all the other resources we'll have run out of like rare earth elements) and retool our entire civilization?

This. This is what worries me most: We need to plan ahead so we can, at a certain point, use what's left of our industrial resources to transition to new ones. Instead, we're expending even more of those dwindling industrial resources to search for more of the same resources.

If you truly despise every aspect of modern life and post-industrial society, then you've got nothing to worry about. The modern world depends on planning for the future, but a return to our hunter-gatherer historical norms, after a long miserable unwinding of modernity, probably would not.

If, on the other hand, you'd like to see a future that includes at least some of the comforts and conveniences of modern life (or more importantly, some intentional control over what features of modern life we want to preserve into the future), then you find the current approaches to these problems deeply troubling. (I'm thinking back to how my buddy, an academic oceanographer at the time, once put it in the context of the Macando disaster: It's like there's no hand on the till.)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My money's on He-3.

Nah. Engineered algae to make biobutonal. At least that's what I hear...
posted by Chrischris at 1:40 PM on January 5, 2012


Clearer?

Quite, thanks. What I wasn't sure about was whether your last statement was included in the veil of sarcasm: Shale plays. Aren't they going to save the world, from the oil companies' perspective at least? Since no one apparently cares to address carbon, and the public at large (including much of this thread) is more concerned with how to turn hydrocarbons into carbohydrates, doesn't shale gas open the door to an indefinite future of more of the status quo?
posted by kaspen at 1:40 PM on January 5, 2012


If you don't mind the groundwater problems, the possible earthquake linkages, the vapour emissions and, yes, increasing the carbon budget, then there's nothing to be concerned with at all for shale gas production.
posted by bonehead at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Civilization has existed for thousands of years through ups and downs.

Which "civilization" is that?

We had the Egyptians; that lasted for a couple of thousand years, but then fell. We had the Greeks; that fell. We had the Roman Empire; that collapsed. The Khmer Empire; built some of the greatest buildings ever, which now sit deserted in the jungle.

In many cases there was some continuity; in many cases there wasn't.

But that's almost beside the point. None of these civilizations had to deal with resource exhaustion. The few cultures that did, like the Anasazi people and various other pre-Columbian civilizations, the Greenland colony of course, Easter Island - they almost inevitably collapsed, with a huge amount of suffering and cost of human life.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2012


It's like there's no hand on the till.

There's a hand in the till.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:46 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, we are aware you have read a Jared Diamond book.
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2012


Hey, Artw: you're awfully free with the mockery - could you try perhaps addressing my arguments instead?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:48 PM on January 5, 2012


I'm not saying I don't mind, just that as long as it's profitable then it is going to happen, and that the volume of available energy is such that it would simply put off the peak oil scenario by a couple of decades, much as the green revolution did to the food supply, solving nothing but enabling further inflation of bubbles so that there is ever so much more to lose when the shit hits the fan as it inevitably will.
posted by kaspen at 1:52 PM on January 5, 2012


Shale plays. Aren't they going to save the world, from the oil companies' perspective at least?

They're gonna be very profitable and might help them extend their hegemony in the global energy business for another generation or so, though it remains to be seen whether shale plays and the rest of the unconventional oil sources can be exploited fast enough to not just cover the accelerating depletion rate as conventional sources go offline but actually grow the oil supply from its current level of 86 million bpd to the 105m we need to maintain the status quo as of 2020 or so. And in any case, in the absence of a concerted effort to wean ourselves off their doomed status quo in the meantime, we fall off an even higher metaphorical cliff a little further down the road. Or else hasten the truly catastrophic phase of climate change before we can exhaust our ingenuity at resource extraction.

So, no, I don't think they do much for the world, but then the health of the world after 2030 isn't really a top concern of oil companies.
posted by gompa at 1:55 PM on January 5, 2012


Hey, Artw: you're awfully free with the mockery - could you try perhaps addressing my arguments instead?

Are you making any arguments? You just seem to be going around in circles and getting louder and louder. yes, we are aware of the concept of peak oil. Yes, we are aware that you are invested in that concept feel dissed by Sterling when he lumped that particular change-drivers in with fringe stuff - but lets face it, peak oil was predicted for 1965 and has been shifted more times than X day or the Christian apocalypse. It's a little tired. And TBH if we can accept that global warming is happening, inevitable and has real consequences we'll just have to just get on with dealing with the fallout from that energy getting pricier is small change, and that looks more likely than a This Easter Island Earth global collapse.

As for Sterlings more general argument, that people get hung up on change drivers that suit their particular reality, well, you're basically supporting evidence. That's a pity, really, i;d be hoping for one of the chem trail guys.
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on January 5, 2012


Thanks for the followup, I always appreciate your contributions to these threads.
posted by kaspen at 2:04 PM on January 5, 2012


Human civilization as a whole. The great loss when specific cultures fell to ruin was the loss of entire bodies of knowlege. I am pretty certain that won't happen again. Then again, maybe it will and we will just have to bootstrap yet again.

In a long enough timeframe these are blips. Painful and tragic, but not an extinction level event yet.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:08 PM on January 5, 2012


but lets face it, peak oil was predicted for 1965 and has been shifted more times than X day or the Christian apocalypse. It's a little tired.

Actually, as this source explains, that original prediction applied specifically to oil production in the lower 48 states in the US, and it's since been recognized in the industry that the projection was basically correct.
He supposed that the rate of oil production would follow a similar curve, now known as the Hubbert Curve (see figure). In 1956 Hubbert predicted that production from the US lower 48 states would peak between 1965 and 1970. Despite efforts from his employer to pressure him into not making his projections public, the notoriously stubborn Hubbert did so anyway. In any case, most people inside and outside the industry quickly dismissed the predictions. As it happens, the US lower 48 oil production did peak in 1970/1. In that year, by definition, US oil producers had never produced as much oil, and Hubbert's predictions were a fading memory. The peak was only acknowledged with the benefit of several years of hindsight.
Just because we don't care or mislaid the fact that the original peak oil predictions were actually correct we shouldn't confuse that feeling for information.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would be information if we were talking about whether or not people *cared* about Peak Oil as potentialy apocalyptic event, which we are. Hell, your big gotcha point there is that it already happened and nobody noticed.
posted by Artw at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2012


> In the long term I have every confidence we will find something just as easily exploitable.

Soylent Green is biodiesel.
posted by jfuller at 2:31 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> You just seem to be going around in circles and getting louder and louder. yes, we are aware of the concept of peak oil.

I made a series of arguments, not one of which you have addressed.

> peak oil was predicted for 1965

Near as I can tell, the whole concept of peak oil was invented by Hubbert in the early 50s; he predicted peak oil between 1965 and 1970, and he was right on the money.

> the fallout from that energy getting pricier is small change

Most of the jobs that that we humans in Western Civilization have depend on cheap oil to be economically viable - so if oil prices rise by some large multiple, even as little as three times as what they are now, many of our jobs will vanish. Our entire agricultural system with its tremendous bounties depends entirely on cheap oil.

We have been "lucky" in the last ten years that a world economic downturn has slowed the growth in oil consumption and kept a lid on oil prices. But one day soon there demand will actually exceed production - what do you think will happen when that happens? Do you think OPEC will nicely raise oil prices 20% to keep an orderly market - at that moment when everyone realizes that, oops, we really are running out?

The Arab world is in a poor position - they have taken in literally trillions of petrodollars, and they have pissed them away. They haven't built universities with this money, or created great industries - they literally have nothing else to fall back on to make money.

So what are they going to do when they realize that even with the pumps running as fast as possible, the world cannot meet the demand for oil, and at the same time, their production rate is starting to dwindle?

It's simple - they're going to hoard their oil and jack the price to whatever the market can bear. And why not? Is this not Capitalism in action?

And there will be a price shock.

What will happen when Americans can't get all the gas they want? Will they line up and take gas rationing from the government? What happens when gas breaks the $10 mark? The $20 mark?

> Hell, your big gotcha point there is that it already happened and nobody noticed.

Why would you expect anything to happen? The key point is when demand outstrips supply which hasn't happened yet. However, if we have hit peak oil, then given the ever-growing demand for gasoline, that time cannot be very far away.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oil probably "peaked" quite some time ago, but the "peak" itself doesn't seem to bother markets much.

It would actually be much more sensible if he were saying that peak isn't going to happen for some long time yet. Still probably wrong, but plausible. If he's right that it's already in the past, though the latest numbers say probably not I think, then he's wrong that its day as a central focus of markets in media is also past. The moment economic growth gets going again it will be back in the centre of attention. Failing that, just give it a couple years of post-peak decline to have even worse crisis-generating potency.

But I was more put off by the fondness for "chemtrail people". Get some new conspiracy theories going people, that one is so played out.
posted by sfenders at 2:51 PM on January 5, 2012


I kind of love the "Future Change as Seen by Serbia"

1. Albanian ethnics occupying the ancestral land of Kosovo, an obscure
patch of mountains that nobody else in the world has ever heard of.
However, Kosovo's nevertheless incredibly and totally crucial and
important to the general fate of mankind; like, seven-hundred
tooth-grinding grudge-grumbling years' worth of importance. Tennis
stars, busty turbofolk singers, everything else pales by comparison.


Serbs seem to have replaced Russians as Sterling's favorite nutty conspiracy theory driven put-upon Slavs.
posted by Artw at 4:00 PM on January 5, 2012


See also:

6. "Russia." Serbia's fantasy version of Russia is like nobody
else's conception of Russia; most everybody else thinks of Russia as
some half-blind, yellow-fanged ursine creature bristling with rusty
nuclear weapons, while for Serbia, Russia is a fluffy angelic-winged
flying bear to be depicted in stained-glass windows in a cloud of
Orthodox incense. Tremendous emotional energy is invested in imagining
that Russia will somehow show up and set everything to rights someday,
even though Russia has never really done that anywhere for anybody.

posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2012


Most of the jobs that that we humans in Western Civilization have depend on cheap oil to be economically viable - so if oil prices rise by some large multiple, even as little as three times as what they are now, many of our jobs will vanish.

Most jobs are vanishing anyway thanks to automation and better production techniques yielded from new technologies.

But one day soon there demand will actually exceed production - what do you think will happen when that happens? Do you think OPEC will nicely raise oil prices 20% to keep an orderly market - at that moment when everyone realizes that, oops, we really are running out?

This whole idea of the world suddenly being caught with its pants down is ridiculous. When it appears that Peak Oil will really be a threat, the public and the elites will be aware of it at least years if not decades beforehand. Maybe the people who currently worry about Peak Oil the most will get to pat themselves on their backs for worrying about it since the 1950s, but it's completely silly to assume that global society will somehow be surprised by a gremlin that has been as long foretold as Peak Oil.

So what are they going to do when they realize that even with the pumps running as fast as possible, the world cannot meet the demand for oil, and at the same time, their production rate is starting to dwindle?

The Arab world has been in a state of decline for decades. Hell, in this past year alone we've seen dramatic changes occurring there. Peak Oil may add to the trouble but it will hardly define it. The more canny regimes (such as Dubai or Qatar) have already been focusing their industries on non-petrochemical ventures anyway. In any case, if terrible chaos erupts there it's more likely to be caused by other factors, not the loss of oil capital.

The way I see it, Peak Oil will add fuel to the fire (haha) of the general apocalyptic conflagrations that will erupt later this century, but I see it as no greater threat than global warming or the coming population crunch or any other problem.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:29 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


we're all gonna die




same as it ever was
posted by philip-random at 4:51 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


But in fire or ice, dude? FIRE or ICE?
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on January 5, 2012


Further to my current state of apocalyptic nonchalance, I notice that my #1 bell-weather of imminent doom is currently signifying positive (ie: non-imminence) .

That is, the lead story at The Guardian is "local" news (something to do with Labour needing accept spending cuts). When their lead is international -- that's when I start to feel those distant orc-drums of Armageddon.
posted by philip-random at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> This whole idea of the world suddenly being caught with its pants down is ridiculous. When it appears that Peak Oil will really be a threat, the public and the elites will be aware of it at least years if not decades beforehand.

Right, because we're doing such a great job on all the other long-term issues that face us, like the climate change and the destruction of our ecosystem .

Let's look at climate change as an example. It's seeming clearer and clearer that we're on a knife edge and we need to act immediately to avoid greater damage. We're at the point where I can't name a leader of a developed country who doesn't believe in climate change. And yet we're unable to actually act in any effective fashion whatsoever.

The "elites" as you call them wouldn't be discommoded. In fact, their lot will be improved greatly - there would be a small amount of gas, and they would have it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:00 PM on January 5, 2012


Did anybody look at the Paddy Ashdown TED talk that was mentioned by a commenter?
posted by bukvich at 5:04 PM on January 5, 2012


The "elites" as you call them wouldn't be discommoded. In fact, their lot will be improved greatly - there would be a small amount of gas, and they would have it.

No, the elites would be driving super special awesome future automated electric vehicles. The difference between peak oil and climate change is that the former crisis is far more consumer-oriented. Skyrocketing gas prices is far more of a first world problem for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Suburbia than Tuvalu becoming submerged, and showcases a far more clearer threat to their way of life than the weather going wonky. By the time we reach the threshold of peak oil, the average consumer will be purchasing alternatives that reduce oil dependency, and those alternatives will be cheaper than old-moded gas vehicles. EVs are probably a decade away from being mainstream, in any case.

Of course, the question then is what will be the fate of the developing and undeveloped worlds. Perhaps the PRC can mandate its citizens from driving gas-inefficient vehicles, at the very least.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:40 PM on January 5, 2012


Hell, your big gotcha point there is that it already happened and nobody noticed.

FWIW, wasn't meant to be a gotcha point so much as an illustration of my previous point about the human mind's robust, self-defensive, very-unpleasant-reality-denying mechanisms. Our memories like to spring leaks at convenient times. Happens to me on a near minute-by-minute basis...

The point is not that peak oil will be some instant catastrophe, folks, and never has been. The point is it's a long sloping trip down from there, but meanwhile, our consumption of fossil fuels continues to increase exponentially, which as lupus correctly explains, will eventually lead to major shortages.

The peak oil point was never supposed to be taken to be the point when the crisis actually starts. It's just the point after which we know with a strong degree of statistical certainty there will be fossil fuel shortages at some indeterminate point in the future. It's the point at which we've eaten half the pie, period, not the point at which there's no more pie left.

It's not that you've been hearing all sorts of claims about peak oil coming and causing chaos that haven't born out. All the specific claims based on peak oil models and predictions have been born out. It just feels like there isn't anything to the predictions because our minds really aren't wired to handle long-term threats: our attentions wander, our memories falter.

There's lots of clinical evidence for this view, too: We handle threats by stressing out about them (stress hormones prime us to act immediately--run or fight the threat--that's, in a nutshell, our biology's entire "take a threat seriously and respond to it now" wiring). But remaining in a high-stress state for too long is physically and psychologically harmful, so our threat response mechanisms can't handle long-term threats without doing us physical harm.

So our minds' find ways to trick us into deactivating our threat response arousal over time, if the source of the threat is too persistent and long term to be managed. That's why we get "doom fatigue," etc. It's nothing about the reality that's changing for the better or becoming less of a problem; our minds eventually just rationalize away remote threats to ease the toll of physical and psychological stress those threats would otherwise take on us.

Unfortunately, that means we fairly quickly lose interest and any real sense of urgency or immediacy when faced with slow-moving, long-term threats, like global warming or fossil fuel depletion.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:53 AM on January 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


oops. 'our minds' also find ways to inject typos into everything, in at least one case.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:56 AM on January 6, 2012


Up to 3 paged today.
posted by Artw at 8:48 PM on January 6, 2012


Reads like a disjointed series of posts today with random links
posted by infini at 12:17 AM on January 7, 2012


cstross: World building 301: some projections
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on January 8, 2012




1984 all over again
posted by philip-random at 2:49 PM on January 10, 2012


1984 II

I like where this is going.
posted by rhizome at 1:37 AM on January 12, 2012


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