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Goodbye to all this.
March 14, 2014 4:08 PM   Subscribe

The Guardian has an article describing an upcoming study, funded by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and written by a team headed by Safa Motesharrei at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), discussing the prospect that "global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution".

"Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common.""
posted by lupus_yonderboy (101 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was not able to find a link to the actual paper, which "has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics."

The comments on the Guardian site are unusually intelligent for internet commentators and actually worth reading.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:10 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Sigh. Great start to my weekend.
posted by glaucon at 4:22 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


…and hello to oblivion!
posted by sonascope at 4:23 PM on March 14 [16 favorites]


The article reminds me of the whole Jared Diamond/Easter Island story. I wonder if at the time, people tried to stop the massive clear-cutting of trees to build statues? I can only imagine them being told "no no, we need the statutes to appease the gods and bring rain, you idiot."
posted by wuwei at 4:27 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]


My Reaction
posted by hellojed at 4:30 PM on March 14 [10 favorites]


global industrial civilization could collapse

Well, I suppose that's one way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:32 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


wuwei: "The article reminds me of the whole Jared Diamond/Easter Island story. I wonder if at the time, people tried to stop the massive clear-cutting of trees to build statues? I can only imagine them being told "no no, we need the statutes to appease the gods and bring rain, you idiot.""

I don't know what's what with the gods. All I know that if we stop building statues then my eye-making factory is up shit-creek.
posted by wcfields at 4:33 PM on March 14 [14 favorites]


This (pdf) appears to be an earlier draft of the paper (it has some, but not all, of the quotes from the Guardian verbatim)
posted by coleboptera at 4:34 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


Well, we can hope.
posted by jfuller at 4:41 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


At the risk of editorializing, I'd say that my current theory is that a global collapse is inconceivable to almost everyone until it actually happens - and thus people persist with behaviors that will actually lead to a collapse.

This makes at least one global collapse almost inevitable - in the same way that if you are at all serious about drinking alcohol, you're going to run into at least one overdose incident (i.e. you communing with the toilet). And as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum says, "And let us never forget that the human race with technology is like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:44 PM on March 14 [16 favorites]


I should also add that if you read Diamond's "Collapse", it turns out that during the 100-year collapse period, not only did the Easter Islanders resort to cannibalism, they developed techniques to destroy the heads that they'd spent years building...

He also says that they carefully destroyed all their records from that period.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:47 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


The Jared Diamond/Easter Island story isn't as reliable a metaphor as we might like... In some ways the Norse/Greenland collapse story in the book is more relevant, as it's pretty clearly influenced by several cultural factors (diet, religion, beliefs about outsiders) that parallel some current attitudes (I'm thinking of climate change denial, but science denial in general would cover it).
posted by sneebler at 4:48 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


NASA study supports eco-socialism! NASA proves more radical than I thought. BTW, Eugenia Kalnay, third co-author, is considered a pioneer in the field of numerical modeling and weather statistical analysis.
posted by carmina at 4:49 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I was not able to find a link to the actual paper, which "has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal...

I wonder if they considered the drain that rent-seeking puts on innovation?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:49 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


I'm investing in bourbon and shotgun futures.
posted by vrakatar at 4:51 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


And if you can get off the grid, that might be a good idea.
posted by perhapses at 4:51 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Welp, there goes NASA's funding for the next decade....
posted by schmod at 5:03 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


-Everyone is bad at pricing carbon — and society is paying
-Translating the EPA's new global warming rules: "next year" could mean "never"
posted by kliuless at 5:11 PM on March 14


Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

--Tao Te Ching
posted by swift at 5:13 PM on March 14 [15 favorites]


NASA study supports eco-socialism! NASA proves more radical than I thought.

NASA is about science and fact. If the facts say X and the science says Y, that's what you report, and that's what you build your plans on.

Faith in "god" didn't put humanity on the moon. Science, engineering, and accepting the facts -- even when the facts suck -- put us there.
posted by eriko at 5:15 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the less bullshit-heavy organizations are treating global warming like it's a fact like the military.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:19 PM on March 14 [9 favorites]


In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe."

Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony schadenfreude.
posted by spacewrench at 5:31 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe
Reminds me of when the worlds largest metaphor hit the iceberg.
posted by bleep at 5:47 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Ha! I used to do IT support for SESYNC. Good people, them.
posted by azarbayejani at 5:48 PM on March 14


The way this is written up in the Guardian makes it sound like NASA's all seeing eye has evaluated everything that is happening in the world and made a prediction. The actual paper (early draft found by coleboptera) is all about a fairly simple model which has been run through a bunch of scenarios as a way of studying civilisation collapse in general:
Based on the long history of collapse of civilizations discussed in the introduction, we separated the population into 'Elites' and 'Commoners', and introduced a variable for accumulated wealth ... We have also added a di fferent dimension of predation whereby Elites 'prey' on the production of wealth by Commoners. As a result, HANDY consists of just four prediction equations: two for the two classes of population, Elites and Commoners, denoted by xE and xC, respectively, one for the natural resources or Nature, y, and one for the accumulated Wealth, w, referred to hereafter as 'Wealth'. This minimal set of four equation seems to capture essential features of the human-nature interaction and is capable of producing major potential scenarios of collapse or transition to steady state.
This definitely has some uses but is being misreported. A four equation model that splits people into two polarised classes doesn't really tell us much about the real world. There are lots of reasons to feel gloomy about the future for sure, but this little model isn't really adding to the evidence in any substantial way.
posted by memebake at 6:11 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]


I'm sure my local warlord will be savvy enough to need a web presence, everything will work out juuuust fine.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:21 PM on March 14 [16 favorites]


Far away from population centers, and in direct control of food resources, this is how my team plans to win. I am accepting applications for unpaid intern positions on my compound now.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:23 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]


> A four equation model that splits people into two polarised classes doesn't really tell us much about the real world. There are lots of reasons to feel gloomy about the future for sure, but this little model isn't really adding to the evidence in any substantial way.

I must respectfully disagree. First, note that they run this model once and see a problem - it's that this model seems to run into a problem from any possible starting point.

Now, the fact that the model is small is a positive, not a negative. Look for example at the classic predator-prey equations - only two equations there and in the real world there are many other factors, but the beauty and power of these equations is precisely that there are certain behaviors that emerge from the model no matter what initial conditions or perturbations you apply - and that the real world actually does behave very much as predicted.

If you were wanting predict a specific outcome from specific starting conditions, then you'd want a detailed model covering all the data points. But if to show that a collapse is inevitable no matter what, you need a simple and general model that definitely covers all real world cases and then some.

A better critique would be, "This model is not correct - the real world is not this way." Do you believe that? I personally find the paper quite convincing...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:23 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: it's that this model seems to run into a problem from any possible starting point.

No it doesn't. They try various different scenarios and explore which settings tend towards equilibrium and which tend towards collapse. See page 26 for example.

But if to show that a collapse is inevitable no matter what, you need a simple and general model that definitely covers all real world cases and then some.

So you think its possible to have simple and general models that cover all real world cases?

Like I said - there's plenty of compelling reasons to try and change the directions of our civilization, but simple models breathlessly (mis)reported by the Guardian (hey its 'nasa funded' guys!) doesn't really help the situation imho. What the Guardian is doing here is taking decent enough but very specific science and adding seriously hefty dollops of generalisation and extrapolation to it. When science is weakened by crappy reporting, we all lose out.
posted by memebake at 6:39 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


This seems a lot like the story with the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth model back in the 1970s.
posted by philipy at 6:52 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


The Egyptian pyramids had their limestone layer stolen over time, right? I bet there are millions of uses for a Wells Fargo skyscraper...
posted by gorbweaver at 7:06 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Personally, I think that what Joseph Tainter laid out in The Collapse of Complex Societies is still the best framework for a general model of civilizational collapse.

In a nutshell, Tainter's theory is that as civilizations grow, they become more complex and require more and more energy and wealth be devoted towards administration, coordination of activities, resource allocation, etc. As complexity increases, there is a trend of decreased marginal return on investing resources in more administrative overhead, and at some point the marginal return drops below break-even. At that point, a collapse occurs and the civilization goes through a very rapid shedding of complexity as previous political units are replaced with much smaller ones, social structures become simpler and less stratified, and technologies are replaced by ones requiring fewer inputs.

In this model, the emergence of a parasitical elite that is nominally responsible for allocating resources but actually diverts more and more of them to itself is more like an output to the system than an initial condition.

However, I'd say you kind of get the same result when you look at our own civilization with Tainter's model as you do when you use SESYNC's, so maybe it's all whistling past the graveyard anyway.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:15 PM on March 14 [24 favorites]


Gosh, it almost sounds like NASA has been reading John Michael Greer. I'm sure his archive has several posts more directly relevant, but this week's isn't a bad fit.

I'm glad to see NASA lending its credibility to a topic about which many of our citizens and institutions are still in denial. That the space age is a sacred cow for many who believe we will innovate our way out of this predicament is particularly gratifying.
posted by maniabug at 7:45 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


> So you think its possible to have simple and general models that cover all real world cases?

I did in fact give an example of such a simple and general model - the Lotka–Volterra equations ("predator-prey").

Let me make an analogy. Suppose I create some complex mass of springs and wires, and then throw it in the air with a nasty twist. Predicting exactly how all the parts will work together will be extremely difficult...

But if I'm just interested in the trajectory that the object takes, I can instead simply consider the whole thing a point with the total mass of everything, located at the center of gravity of the entire system. That simple and general model will allow me to predict with good accuracy where the whole thing I threw will land, even though I won't be able to say, for example, which side will be up when it lands.

> They try various different scenarios and explore which settings tend towards equilibrium and which tend towards collapse. See page 26 for example.

Page 26:

The results show that in the absence of Elites, if the depletion per capita is kept at the optimal level of [a small amount], the population grows smoothly and asymptotes the level of the maximum carrying capacity. This produces a soft-landing to equilibrium at the maximum sustainable population and production levels.

Increasing the depletion factor slightly (scenario 5.1.2) causes the system to oscillate, but still reach a sustainable equilibrium, although, importantly, at a lower carrying capacity. Population overshoots its carrying capacity, but since the overshoot is not by too much - of the order of the carrying capacity the population experiences smaller collapses that can cause it to oscillate and eventually converge to a sustainable equilibrium. Thus, while social disruption and deaths would occur, a total collapse is avoided.


Summary: If we get rid of the rich and stop consuming, we can conceivably avoid the collapse altogether. If we get rid of the rich but don't cut back on consuming enough, there will still be a partial collapse, but we'll be able to pull through.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:55 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I also came in here to wonder what the difference was between this and the Club of Rome work in the 70s. That was excellent work that has stood the test of time very well.
posted by wilful at 8:05 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I was not able to find a link to the actual paper, which "has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics."

Maybe they'll make it available next year, to coincide with the new Mad Max film.
posted by homunculus at 9:09 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


This seems a lot like the story with the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth model back in the 1970s.

I was just about to link to that, having heard about it back when it was new, high school days, the mid-70s. Doom and gloom, the planet of the apes, we're all gonna die. So none of this is what I'd call news. Which isn't to say the Club of Rome were wrong. In fact, from the link ...

In a 2009 article published in American Scientist titled "Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil," Hall and Day noted that "the values predicted by the limits-to-growth model and actual data for 2008 are very close."[21] These findings are consistent with a 2010 study titled "A Comparison of the Limits of Growth with Thirty Years of Reality" which concluded: "The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features… [of the Limits to Growth] ‘standard run’ scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century."[22]

In 2011 Ugo Bardi analyzed The Limits to Growth, its methods and historical reception and concluded that "The warnings that we received in 1972 ... are becoming increasingly more worrisome as reality seems to be following closely the curves that the ... scenario had generated."[23]


Of course, the one thing you can never really factor in is that every now and then, humanity does figure out how to change. We've managed to (mostly) abolish slavery. We've managed, since 1945, to not continue to have bigger, more horrific and all consuming wars.

And so on.

I ultimately go with what my friend Curt tends to say when things get a little too bleak. "Whatever you do, don't get all Denethor about it."
posted by philip-random at 9:26 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


It wasn't until I saw a video simulation of the 2007 financial crash by Steve Keen using a system dynamics software package called Minsky that I got why systems dynamics matters.

I hadn't seen this type of tool or it's graphed output before so it was novel and the subject matter was of interest when I watched it in 2010-11.

The most interesting part of Keen's talk and demonstration of his simulation of the 2007 crash was the portion where many of the terms being tracked go from oscillating and rising and falling in what look like small creative and destructive cycles(or tugs of war) into a state where many lines became more visually harmonious and there is a lovely gentle upwards growth trend in many of the indicators.

Keen takes on a chiding tone during this portion of the demonstration and directs criticism to economists in general who used these positive indicators as proof of a new state of equilibrium achieved through economic policy.

Soon afterwards the worms take more and more deliberative directions and then completely without warning they go to outer limits that we don't bother mapping. Output graphs show a shifting of poles to a completely new normal not unlike the shifting of the magnetic poles of the earth.

The sudden and unexpected shift into a new (not necessarily better) normal is the thing that sticks with me; people who have a math or science background have seen these types of graphs before but I hadn't.

Misallocation of resources seems to be the prelude to a lot of strife; if history is any indicator.
posted by vicx at 9:50 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Thank God that Boards of Canada released that album last year, perfect soundtrack to the collapse. I just hope they can pump out more for the continuing saga of mankind's downfall.
posted by symbioid at 10:28 PM on March 14


uh . . .

marx
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:57 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


he never did finish what he was trying to say
posted by philip-random at 11:02 PM on March 14


vicx, exactly. The graphs look like a visual representation of Hyman Minsky's financial instability hypothesis, i.e. "stability is destabilizing, but applied to entire civilizations and with a larger magnitude of consequences than just "market crash."
posted by wuwei at 1:09 AM on March 15


me: > So you think its possible to have simple and general models that cover all real world cases?

lupus_yonderboy: Let me make an analogy ....

OK but centre-of-gravity is an analogy from Physics, which has generally proven to be much easier to reduce and model. You really can't get away with the same abstraction in fields like sociology, ecology, etc. You mention Lotka–Volterra - this has certainly been used a lot, but models have to miss something out and Lotka–Volterra misses out concepts like minimum sustainable population and it assumes exponential growth (no consideration of resource constraints that predator and prey may be competing for).

At the end of the paper we are discussing, they mention some of the many shortcomings of the model and how they plan to expand it in the next version. If small models are a positive, like you say, why would the authors talk about making it more complex?

If simple/small models were preferable (as you suggest), the IPCC could just model the earth as a sphere of glass and show that it heats up over time. But in complicated situations (like pretty much anything in the domain of ecology, environment, sociology) you can't just make simplifying assumptions in your model and then still claim to be producing real-world results.

I'm happy to join in with the 'down with the elites' chanting at any time but this model does not really add anything to the already very well worn arguments about unequal societies. I'm not saying its not a useful paper, I'm saying its been misrepresented by the media.
posted by memebake at 3:18 AM on March 15


I want to carve this thread deep into stone, in many languages, so archaeologists will know that we worried about this.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 4:30 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


i guess the collapse of civilization would ward off the robot apocalypse
posted by angrycat at 5:48 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Except on the literally insular scale (eg Easter Island) civilizations don't collapse: they evolve to fit their environmental and political situation. That evolution can be cataclysmic (conquest, famine, plague) and it can look bad (urban to agrarian, abandoning palace construction, like Mayan civilization) but it isn't collapse.

This is part of what so annoys me about post apocalyptic and zombie movies and TV shows. People are organizing animals. Disrupted communities quickly reform on whatever basis is available, scarce resources are allocated according to the new community order, and new elites arise to administer the new system and maximize their share of the resources.
posted by MattD at 6:37 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


To complete the post apocalyptic thought -- that reorganization is the good thing, while the fictional treatment tends to make the disorganized losers the heroes and the reorganizing elites the antagonists, often full-on psychos.
posted by MattD at 6:40 AM on March 15


> stability is destabilizing

I want a cross stitch sampler for my wall, with that as the maxim.
posted by jfuller at 6:56 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


a question: did the end of civilization manifest itself in culture prior to the atomic bomb? I can't think of any but mebbee that's 'cause I don't know the first half of the twentieth century well, in terms of cultural output.
posted by angrycat at 7:25 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


a question: did the end of civilization manifest itself in culture prior to the atomic bomb?

Not a historian but here's my two pence worth:

Between WWI and WWII I gather people feared another big war.

Before WWI apocalyptic fears were mostly focussed on religous apocalypse. I'm told that Christians have always thought they were living near to the end times. Jesus thought the end was coming within one generation apparently.

So one way or another people have always thought they were living in the end times. Of course it does seem that we _really_ are, but still, a historical perspective on apocalyptic thinking is worth reflecting on.
posted by memebake at 7:49 AM on March 15


strangely stunted trees: In a nutshell, Tainter's theory is that as civilizations grow, they become more complex and require more and more energy and wealth be devoted towards administration, coordination of activities, resource allocation, etc. As complexity increases, there is a trend of decreased marginal return on investing resources in more administrative overhead, and at some point the marginal return drops below break-even. At that point, a collapse occurs and the civilization goes through a very rapid shedding of complexity as previous political units are replaced with much smaller ones, social structures become simpler and less stratified, and technologies are replaced by ones requiring fewer inputs.

Funnily enough, i've had Tainter's book sitting on my shelf for over 10 years and never got more than a third of the way through it (too busy).

As I read this now, it strikes me that 'this collapse might be different' in kind as a function of the kind of technology that we have available to us. In theory, we have the technology to 'shed complexity' without reducing quality of life -- sort of.

I put that together in my mind with the fact that major societal collapses are rarely total. The classic Diamond examples are extreme; larger scale collapses will tend to leave privileged enclaves.

SF'nal depictions of societal collapse in the post-cyberpunk era tend to account for that -- the 'slow collapse' is now almost a cliche, and one of my favorite depictions is that in Bruce Sterling's "Bicycle Repair Man"/"We See Things Differently"-era work. (Or, for a more recent take, "The Exterminator's Want-Ad".)
posted by lodurr at 8:05 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


That evolution can be cataclysmic (conquest, famine, plague) and it can look bad (urban to agrarian, abandoning palace construction, like Mayan civilization) but it isn't collapse.

Of course it's collapse. 'Collapse' is a word with a meaning that we agree to, and most of us would agree that what you describe (especially since it involves drastically reduced quality of life, life expectancy, infant survival, caloric intake, etc.) constitutes 'collapse.'

Clearly it's also cataclysmic evolution. They are not mutually exclusive.
posted by lodurr at 8:08 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The thing is, we have far too high a population to survive a collapse, and the needed skills to enable a civilization at a lower technological level are almost extinct.

So a collapse would involve 95-98% of the population dying off, and a rapid descent to stone-age technology. After that, remember that pretty much all of the formerly easy to acquire resources would be in forms where one needs good technology to extract and refine them.

So, in short, if we fall, we fall hard, and there'll be no getting back up. Pretty much all knowledge, everything we care about and share on metafilter, everything that makes civilization worth living,will be gone and forgotten. Of course I know people who like the idea and can't wait, but I'm happy I'm over of the people who wouldn't be able to survive such a crash.
posted by happyroach at 8:27 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Open source "civilization re-starter kit"
posted by memebake at 8:51 AM on March 15


Considering there's a whole continent -- Africa -- that's only had the merest percentage of its mineral resources discovered, dug up, and made into something useful, maybe we'll stave off collapse for several more generations.

Oh look, the World Bank is right on top of it: World Bank in US$1bil plan to map Africa's natural resources.
posted by notyou at 9:02 AM on March 15


I'm interested in these issues and have an inclination to be sympathetic to reported conclusions...but a look at the SESYNC site does not exactly inspire confidence. (Similarly for Dr. Ahmed...) One has to worry about political stalking-horses in this vicinity. Though we've now got a draft of the paper, and, of course, that's where the proof of the pudding will be.

Can we expect an evaluation of the study by the GSFC or another group? Seems pretty tough for non-experts to evaluate this on their own...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:14 AM on March 15


> At the end of the paper we are discussing, they mention some of the many shortcomings of the model and how they plan to expand it in the next version.

Which is probably the paper that the Guardian is talking about.

> If small models are a positive, like you say, why would the authors talk about making it more complex?

Small models are a positive. But what you want is the right-sized model. As you quite rightly point out, you can improve the predator-prey models without too much complexity to take into account limited external resources (still only giving you three equations...)

Still, given a choice between two competing models, with no other information I'd always pick the smaller one. It's not just Occam's Razor, it's not just the risk of overfitting if you have too many dials to change, and it's not even that the small model is easier to understand and thus easier to see errors in - it's that the small model is likely to cover a wider range of outcomes.

Look. I'm not claiming that this model is infallible, or even that it's necessarily correct. Heck, we haven't even see the actual paper yet!

What I am saying is that generically criticizing it because it doesn't have enough equations is not a good criticism. If you have specific issues with the model, lay them on us.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:18 AM on March 15


> Though we've now got a draft of the paper,

I think what we have is an earlier, complete paper on the same topic, not really a "draft" of this paper.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:19 AM on March 15


At least the Georgia Guide Stones will still be standing.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:08 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


As of today, Ecological Economics does not have anything by Motersharrei. Click on this link every few days and see if it's in press yet.....
posted by lalochezia at 11:19 AM on March 15


The Economist's Solution to Climate Change - "The most likely scenario is that we will find out just how bad the climate change problem is slated to be."

Ashok Rao adds comments:
But ultimately, economists need to step up on climate change. It is more than a textbook example of externalities and far more nuanced than many simple accounts make it to be. It is also far more harmful than many of their models suggest (consider the limits). Economic logic sometimes fails. It was, if I recall, Larry Summers who prevailed over Gore and Browner, convincing Bill Clinton not to follow a more aggressive reduction in carbon emissions wary of economic consequences. (Not a criticism of Summers – just one of his decisions).

Lomborg makes a lot of sense in the snippet of the linked symposium. Subsidizing basic research and hoping for the best is our only real option. But, in general, he doesn’t acknowledge scientific realities that clash with his optimism and occasional myopia. Indeed, climate change hurts the poor more than anyone and, when the water runs dry, probably more than anything else he worries about. But, even within his economic frame, an ideal, international, permit trading system would be the most beneficial. Think about what would happen if each of us were limited to some level of carbon output. The west would need far more than this limit, and poor Africans would need far less. Money is going to flow in one direction and, given the need for carbon in the west, would be enough to replace the inefficient foreign aid already in place. An international carbon marketplace is the ideal cash transfer – something economists should be killing for.

I believe in economics and, indeed, the value of economists. They are unfortunately neglected in important policy decisions which – independent of any political affiliation – may be cited as a cause for much hardship over the past thirty years. But if an astroid was about to crash into New York City, we wouldn’t ask economists to create a poorly-founded model of its costs. We would tell NASA to do whatever it can to save us. Economists need to stop telling us what the program for change should be, but rather identify the most efficient means of implementing a program scientists already deem necessary.
posted by kliuless at 11:22 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I would argue that we're already in the collapse, though, it's not visible for a lot of people. A lot of us posting here arguably fall into the "elite" category. We're buffered from a lot of what is going wrong either by location (living in the developed West) or by income.

Here are some examples:
New Orleans. Hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. During the Hurricane, lots of people abandoned to die within the city (hospital patients). Afterwards, rebuilding stalled out. Many residents had to leave entirely for other cities-- an exodus of sorts.

Detroit. Self explanatory. Empty houses, Devil's Night, etc. No jobs for a generation or so.

Sandy: yes, the nice parts of NYC are rebuilt. But I'm told that places like Rockaway still aren't. Those are places that were hard up before the disaster.

California: The water crisis, which we discussed here last month. Even before the drought we're still in tenuous circumstances, enough that in Orange County they've been recycling raw sewage to augment their drinking water supply since 2008.

Also, we're the largest producer of many fruits and vegetables in the country, so prolonged drought will affect food prices.

Arguably we're hitting overshoot already.

This is not to mention the problems of increasing poverty and normalization of unemployment-- our economy simply isn't working for those people. That's not just blacks and Latinos in the inner city, but white people in the central part of the US as well, in places where manufacturing jobs are gone and all that's left is meth and low paying service jobs.

And that's just the US. In China, they're out of control industrialization is literally killing people with air pollution, and that air pollution is blowing out over Japan as well.

Also, we're losing our ability to develop new technology. I'm not talking about the cool phone apps and social media sites, but rather, complex new products that require a lot of fundamental research. That's the conclusion some MIT researchers reached:
The loss of apprenticeships and job training are similarly problematic. Today’s companies do not intend to keep employees in lifetime careers, so they no longer invest in the skills they nonetheless need from employees. This not only creates challenges for companies that once could rely on workers trained in house; it has a negative effect throughout the economy. Even in the days of long job tenure, significant numbers of workers who started in large firms moved around, so big-company investments in training benefited the broader industrial community.
Link
Lest anyone think that it's an inevitable part of being a high wage economy (compared to , say China) the authors of the article point to Germany as an example of a high wage country that still retains significant manufacturing capability. This is true of Switzerland as well.

The models discussed in the subject article illuminate a trend which many people have already intuited; the models are important because they give us some kind of guidance about possible courses of action.

Bottom line is that we're going through a collapse, and it's up to us to decide how bad that collapse is going to be.
posted by wuwei at 12:07 PM on March 15 [13 favorites]


- Bottom line is that we're going through a collapse, and it's up to us to decide how bad that collapse is going to be.

- SF'nal depictions of societal collapse in the post-cyberpunk era tend to account for that -- the 'slow collapse' is now almost a cliche


we were talking about this other night over beers. Somebody had never really heard of the Singularity, so a couple of us got to trying to explain it, and she suddenly said, "Oh, you mean what's already happening."

Which is pretty much my take, and has been for decades. We're either doomed as a functional species or we're evolving, with the big, unforeseen development of my time being these media we're all currently using for this discussion: the interwebs and all the related info-tech that makes them functional, and evolving. So many levels of connection (intellectual, artistic, empathic even) that were simply inconceivable (unless you were William Gibson and a few others) up until at least the late 1980s.

Brings to mind a sunny winter day in 1981, tripping on a little acid with a friend while wandering the decaying waterfront of Vancouver, talking about this-that-everything. He suddenly said, "This is it, you know? The Apocalypse. It's not something that's coming. It's already happening and we're in the middle of it, and we have been for a whole lives."

welcome to the future
posted by philip-random at 12:19 PM on March 15 [8 favorites]


A Water Revolution for the Thirsty West - "Cities in California and beyond are trying new technologies to avoid a parched future"
Still, extended droughts can overwhelm the gains of even the most miserly water-conservation programs. Just ask the citizens of Australia, where a drought that began in 2003 forced all of the country's big cities to develop new water supplies. Australia invested about $9 billion in seawater desalination plants—a shovel-ready response to the crisis. In Perth, the city hardest hit by the drought, desalination plants powered by a wind farm and a solar energy plant now provide about half of the drinking water. As technology has grown more efficient, desalination's energy consumption and operating costs have dropped by some 40% over the past two decades.

Southern California has followed a different path, driven by worries about the cost and potential environmental damage of desalination plants. Since the 1970s, communities in southern California have been feeding the treated water flowing from a handful of their wastewater-treatment plants back into the region's groundwater. This drew on some of the same technology (known as reverse osmosis) that made seawater desalination possible. But southern California's utilities chose the cheaper option of passing wastewater effluent, which is significantly less salty than seawater, through the reverse-osmosis membranes. Engineers there now plan to use this technology to satisfy the water needs of about 15% of the region's population by 2025.

The West's biggest city, Los Angeles, has new plans to construct massive ponds to capture the rain that falls on the city's roofs and streets. Most of sun-baked southern California's precipitation arrives in a handful of winter storms, so Los Angeles will need to turn abandoned rock quarries and sand mines into "capture ponds" to collect storm water. In the past, cities without such storage ponds might have employed green roofs and rain gardens to briefly slow the movement of rainwater into nearby rivers to reduce the risk of flooding. But L.A.'s new systems are designed to gradually feed large amounts of captured water into drinking-water aquifers after passing it through constructed wetlands—creating a new water supply while preventing neighborhood flooding and keeping coastal beaches clean.
Dr. Sedlak is the Malozemoff Professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Water 4.0: The Past, Present and Future of the World's Most Vital Resource," published by Yale University Press.
posted by kliuless at 12:21 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


sonascope: "…and hello to oblivion!"

Hi Oblivion! How's the wife and kids? Your wife, my kids... I'll explain later.
posted by Reverend John at 1:51 PM on March 15


So a collapse would involve 95-98% of the population dying off, and a rapid descent to stone-age technology. After that, remember that pretty much all of the formerly easy to acquire resources would be in forms where one needs good technology to extract and refine them.

I'm not going to argue with the population issue, but I disagree strongly with the rest of your statement.

2-5% of the worlds current population is going to be able to find all the metals it needs for centuries just lying around already extracted & refined, and as we already know metals exist, and how to work them, I can't see any reason why we'd suddenly stop using them.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:29 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the paper yet (for whatever I could take from it), but ok, KPMG have given us 15 years until we pop? And Dr. Ahmed, maybe fewer, to inspire a world of largely frightened, largely right-wing populists [insert disagreement here, please. Please] to follow his prescriptions, which are to redistribute wealth within and across societies, establish grassroots & transnational participatory political and economic processes along with an equitably distributed renewable energy system, put the monetary system on a short leash and get rid of interest altogether, redefine GDP in terms of well-being, and promote post-materialist science and compassion-based ethics.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:23 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The Human Development Index shows a steady upward trend in all parts of the world. Income, life expectancy and education levels are all improving. The only downtrend was Eastern Europe 1990-95 .. that is what a small collapse looks like.
posted by stbalbach at 10:28 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, thanks. See also the draft article and Hacker News thread.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:14 AM on March 16


As someone who has listened to Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards of Canada every day since release, this was the perfect article to read at the same time as todays listen. Dystopian for the win.
posted by Wordshore at 5:24 AM on March 16


...as we already know metals exist, and how to work them, I can't see any reason why we'd suddenly stop using them.

Likewise basic electricity generation, agriculture, machines (bicycles!), carpentry, books, a big chunk of medicine, and a whole lot of other stuff. What's not going to make it is the conjoined evils of "Democracy"* and Capitalism.

The threat that "any change to the existing economic system will take us back to the Stone Age!" is mindlessly repeated in every online discussion about how we could maybe try to move away from economies based on increasing consumption, or completely dependent on burning non-renewable energy. It's an indicator of something, but I'm not sure what.

*ie. that thing that's called Democracy, but is really a corrupt storefront for various oligarchies.
posted by sneebler at 11:46 AM on March 16


but a look at the SESYNC site does not exactly inspire confidence.

Why not?
posted by atoxyl at 3:34 PM on March 16


The problem is the metals are in forms that require high-temperature forging, something that is difficult for simple charcoal furnaces to achieve (and does anyone even know how to make charcoal anymore?). And as for regaining technology, with a massive dieback, it's unlikely that people with the right specialized knowledge will survive. In other words, Mr. "I have all the knowledge needed to bootstrap civilization", roll two craps dice- if you get a twelve, you're one of the survivors.

I think more disturbing to me are the people who think we need to crash civilization to rescue us from the perils of Capitalism and stuff. I think they're being extremely naive if they think the result will be positive, much less some sort of communal paradise.
posted by happyroach at 9:55 AM on March 17


eh... a lot of those folks will tell you they don't care about whether the results are positive for humans.
posted by lodurr at 10:26 AM on March 17


what I keep coming back to in my trans-apocalyptic thinking is that we have a resource constraint problem, and it's not the one that we mostly talk about in this context.

The biggest resource constraint is around attention -- as in, the attention we pay to each problem, in all phases: identifying problems, finding solutions, and implementing solutions.

Right now, truly immense portions of our attention are devoted to haggling over what gets our attention.

That will certainly persist well into the post-apocalyptic phase. ("As the stakes get smaller, the fighting gets fiercer.")

I take it as given that any apocalypse is likely to be slow (at least at first) and uneven. Some communities -- e.g. the kind of resilient communities people like John Robb have advocated for developing -- will do better than others, and advanced research in some areas may even continue. But what areas?

Furthermore, our best facilitative technology (computing) has a pretty complex supply chain that requires exotic metals and manufacturing capabilities. We're on various paths to simplify those supply chains, but how fast will those technologies pan out (if they do at all)? So if we pass the tipping point where the research can be done and the plans can no longer be implemented, we're stuck with technology at that level or below -- and if that technological level is roughly equivalent to our current level, a very much larger proportion of us are pretty screwed.

If I'm writing a SF'nal scenario for this, it gets a lot more attractive if I can posit that we get past a certain degree of technological capability -- say, strong nanotech -- before the collapse enters full swing.
posted by lodurr at 10:37 AM on March 17


Put another way: right now we have the luxury of running research on an awful lot of stuff, and theoretically we get the best solutions rising like cream. It's a brute force approach, and one of the things that (AFAIAC) life in the trans-industrial age has taught us is that brute force will often surface highly effective solutions we'd otherwise ignore due to cultural/aesthetic biases of various sorts.

After the collapse, due to our resource constraints, we'll no longer have access to brute force as a solution path.
posted by lodurr at 10:43 AM on March 17


The problem is the metals are in forms that require high-temperature forging, something that is difficult for simple charcoal furnaces to achieve (and does anyone even know how to make charcoal anymore?)

Huh? The metals are in the form of... metals. Both copper and iron were both smelted and forged in prehistoric times. There's no reason people with limited access to technology couldn't do that, but with plentiful scrap at hand we don't even need to smelt. Aluminium of course melts at even lower temperatures.

Charcoal is made by heating wood while excluding oxygen, and if you can't figure out how to do that, there are still a lot of places in the world where coal is readily available.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:28 PM on March 17


Steel making in any real quantity is difficult without large scale industrial process. Yes, sword and knife making existed but that kind of production is tiny scale in comparison.

lodurr, I'm with you on this. The thing that is most fragile is silicon based technology. Silicon refining for wafers etc is, like steel, a large scale industrial process. It also requires clean room practices. That's not to mention the manufacture of the finished chips, which again, is a fragile process best done in peacetime. There aren't that many manufacturers. Crucially, there aren't that many chip manufacturing tooling companies, off the top of my head, there's basically only Lam Research and Applied Materials, and then a bunch of smaller outfits. And if I'm remembering right, most of Applied's production is in Taiwan. In fact, most of the semiconductor manufacturing is in Taiwan and South Korea with a little bit moving to China.

That does NOT bode well for any collapse. Without those items all the wonderful gadgets and open source software the resiliency guys love so much aren't going to work. At all. And then we're back to the 19th century relatively quickly. Some of that even isn't going to work that well since that era really was about brute force approach-- armies of machinists and skilled laborers were integral to mass production. A good example is firearms. Colt's interchangeable parts really weren't. If you look at the .45 calibre 1911, for example, that's a weapon that required hand fitting of parts at the factory to work. So did the old .45 revolver, one of the reasons that Colt's stopped selling them because of the cost. Today's 1911 production is typically done on computer controlled machinery, and the age of the design still often requires hand fitting. Colt's had endless problems in the late 80s with quality because the cost of skilled labor went up and they hadn't adapted to computer controlled machinery.

But guess what, with the advent of computer control, there are far fewer machinists. Those take time to train, and with the current "fuck you, if you aren't job ready we don't hire you" attitude driven by financialization, there simply aren't master machinists out there to train enough people ....this is a long way of saying that going back to the 19th century way of building things pretty much means the end of mass production.
posted by wuwei at 9:58 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


wuwei, to support a point: at my last job one of our clients was a company that did a lot of custom machining (for medical implants, as it happens). they were in the awkward position of having to choose clients because they didn't have capacity to support just any kind of order. one of their biggest limiters was in finding trained and experienced machinists. There were a bunch of factors: people weren't willing to put the time in to learn the trade; experienced guys they weren't willing to relocate to where they were (central Pennsylvania); there were very few training programs; the young trainees and apprentice-candidates were decreasing in quality, at a time when their work needed to be more precise and cleaner than ever; etc.
posted by lodurr at 4:47 AM on March 18


HiroProtagonist, the metals are a lot less useful if you can't smelt them, and smelting and re-smelting them in ways that preserve or enhance their properties is a nontrivial enterprise. The difference between a really good blade and a totally crappy and unreliable one, for example, is any one of a dozen factors that takes skill and technology (of some sort) to achieve. Most of the technologies can be dumbed-down, but we don't really have the skill, anymore.

Sure, maybe we could learn it from youtube videos, but who'd make them & where would we get them?

Sure, maybe we could learn them from library books, but those are gettng discarded for digital versions as fast as the funding will allow.
posted by lodurr at 4:52 AM on March 18


Okay so I was wrong about Applied and Lam, I did some research:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiconductor_equipment_sales_leaders_by_year

Top three are ASML, Applied and Tokyo Electron.
posted by wuwei at 4:53 AM on March 18


I had a project I was working on some years back, working title was Journal of Tompkins Plague Studies. It was a post-plague project -- anachronistic in some ways (the title and the form were parodies of these ultra-nichy journals I used to see at the library where I worked), but in others I wanted to really make a statement about post-collapse technology. So while I couldn't imagine giving up my word processor for the writing, I was going to re-type everything onto mimeograph sheets or even ditto-masters and distributed it as a zine. (this was a LONG time ago.)

years later i worked on it a little more and at that time I envisioned putting it out as a plain-text file, to represent the idea that you might see a resurgence of teletype as a communications medium, since it could be achieved with only electro-mechanical technology.
posted by lodurr at 4:56 AM on March 18


lodurr, and your former client doesn't have enough business that it's worthwhile for them to pipeline trainees right?
posted by wuwei at 4:57 AM on March 18


It's complicated, but the short answer is: they'd love to, and would if they could find good candidates. But they can't, because it's not a profession people are interested in going into anymore.
posted by lodurr at 7:36 AM on March 18


Lupus Wonderboy: Look. I'm not claiming that this model is infallible, or even that it's necessarily correct. Heck, we haven't even see the actual paper yet!

What I am saying is that generically criticizing it because it doesn't have enough equations is not a good criticism. If you have specific issues with the model, lay them on us.

I'm sure the models fine for the purposes it was built for. Its the way its being reported that bothers me.

OK, yes, we have to wait for the actual paper. OK let me place a bet:

When this paper is eventually published (I think it will be the Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics?) I'm sure the writers of the paper will turn out to be quite modest in their claims about what they have 'shown'. Their model was created to explore the dynamics of collapse in a general way, with Elites and Commoners and a few simple mechanics. They're not really trying to model our world directly, they are exploring the concept of Collapse in general. People who write papers are generally very careful not too overreach in their conclusions. So I bet that the claims made in the eventual paper will bear little resemblance to the hyperbole that has been written about this unpublished study in the Guardian and elsewhere.

Lets chase this up with another thread or a meta or something when the paper is actually published.
posted by memebake at 11:14 AM on March 18


Official prophecy of doom: Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy
posted by homunculus at 12:25 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


-California Just Had Its Warmest Winter on Record
-CA rainfall still near record lows, no big increases expected until next winter
-Drought is forcing westerners to consider wasting less water
-Why California's drought is a disaster for your favorite fruits, vegetables, and nuts

otoh...
American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga - "A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state"
Even with the worst conceivable climate change, the kind of global warming that brings 70-year droughts to California, the state might do okay. That seems counterintuitive, but that's what Jay Lund, who heads the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, loves about his model of the state water system, CALVIN. He and his colleagues ran a range of climate scenarios through CALVIN, asking for a look at what very dry, very warm scenarios might do to the state's water system out to the year 2100. The results were shocking.

Basically, in CALVIN's rendering of the future, the state's economy is fine. "It was amazing how little the damage was to the state's economy," Lund said. That's because the state's cities sail through. First, they can afford to pay for water at quite high prices, so the economic gravity built into the model sends it their way. But it's not just buying water from agricultural interests or through the State Water Project that saves them: a whole portfolio of nascent water ideas bloom.

Agriculture does not fare quite as well, but the state's agricultural production only falls 6 percent. That's despite increasing urbanization of agricultural land and, in the driest scenario, a 40 percent reduction in water deliveries to the Central Valley. "The farmers are all smart people and they'll cut back the least profitable stuff," Lund said. They'll also fallow land, according to CALVIN—roughly 15 percent of the irrigated parcels currently farmed today, or 1.35 million acres.

Throughout his description of these scenarios, Lund is almost cheery. He seems to enjoy cutting against the foreboding of the times. "We think climate change and think. 'Oh this is terrible, and the optimization model says, 'What's the best I can make of this?' " The whole thing will work out, he says, because "the water system is run by all these smart people" who are, in fact, trying to get the most out of the water here. The current institutions and infrastructure are going to buckle one way or the other, and that will get people to reset their expectations of what water can do for California, which is still a whole hell of a lot.
posted by kliuless at 8:18 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


We definitely must prevent the rich and powerful elites from protecting themselves from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the commoners".
posted by jeffburdges at 6:13 AM on March 19


He and his colleagues ran a range of climate scenarios through CALVIN, asking for a look at what very dry, very warm scenarios might do to the state's water system out to the year 2100. The results were shocking.

Gotta love it when the models pretty much tell you what you'd like to hear. Unlike those pesky climate models. When they give results we don't like, we claim they're biased and not based on real-world observations. When it turns out they're based on real data and have accurately projected historical changes, we say, "Oh come on! They can't even predict the weather for the day after tomorrow!"
posted by sneebler at 5:57 PM on March 19


Another article about this paper is currently on the frontpage of reddit and the second-highest comment is this rather good analysis (imho) by /u/burnshimself
I don't really buy the methodology of this model. For one, the model is constructed by a mathematics grad student at the national socio-environmental synthesis center. While this may be a useful background for both a) examining the mathematics of modeling and b) examining the natural resource limitations of our world, it is a background with a dearth of knowledge in other areas. Understanding of economics, institutions, governance, and history in particular seem to be lacking. These fields are crucial to making any rangy predictions like this paper seems to suggest ...
posted by memebake at 8:26 AM on March 20


Another good reddit comment and they also have an updated link to a later draft of the paper, dated March 18th 2014:

http://www.atmos.umd.edu/~ekalnay/pubs/2014-03-18-handy1-paper-draft-safa-motesharrei-rivas-kalnay.pdf
posted by memebake at 8:31 AM on March 20


And, to be clear: This is not a "NASA-funded study" in the sense that NASA commissioned it, but rather that NASA provided a research grant to the research institution. It's not NASA "endorsed" in any way. This is terrible journalism, a terribly weak paper, and we're making it worse by propagating it.
posted by memebake at 9:22 AM on March 20


so memebake, are you saying that no one should do simple models? that all modeling attempts should try to take account of all these complex factors?

If that's what you're arguing, don't you have to write off about half of the modeling in classical economics?
posted by lodurr at 2:02 PM on March 20


are you saying that no one should do simple models?

Simple models are fine and useful as long as they are calibrated against known empirical data in order to make an honest assessmenrt of how accurate the model is and what kinds of situations it models well and what kinds of situations it doesn't. For example, extrapolating a simple model beyond the domain in which it is credited with having high validity is dodgy ground to be on, scientifically.

Mostly this paper we're discussing seems to be fine, its the way its being reported in the media that is irking me. Me and most of /r/science apparently.

As for economics, I'm in the (rather large) camp that doesn't class it as a science. "The trouble with economics is that it lacks the most important of science’s characteristics — a record of improvement in predictive range and accuracy." - NYT
posted by memebake at 5:31 PM on March 20


memebake,
Of course it's not a science in the Popperian sense, it's political economy. Not economics.

I am confused however, that you approvingly quote a comment which reads in part that "[u]nderstanding of economics, institutions, governance, and history in particular seem to be lacking." If you view economics as "not a science," then what's the problem here with "not incorporating economics" into the model?

On a slightly different tack, did you even read the comments upthread about Hyman Minsky's instability hypothesis? The paper certainly tracks very closely against Minsky's observation of financial systems.

Minsky in his own words:
The readily observed empirical aspect is that, from time to time, capitalist economies exhibit inflations and debt deflations which seem to have the potential to spin out ofcontrol. Insuchprocessestheeconomicsystem'sreactionsto a movement of the economy amplify the movement--inflation feeds upon inflation and debt-deflation feeds upon debt-deflation. Government interventions aimed to contain the deterioration seem to have been inept in some of the historical crises.
Link [PDF]
posted by wuwei at 5:39 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


IPPC's "Darkest Yet" Climate Report Warns of Food, Water Shortages
posted by jeffburdges at 2:26 PM on March 23


But, jeffburdges, have they incorporated economics into their model? I mean economics isn't really even a science. And do redditors approve?
posted by wuwei at 3:36 PM on March 23


Some of the scientists involved take serious issue with this piece.

There is nothing here [in the paper] that was not presented in the 1960s and 1970s by Paul Ehrlich and other “Cassandras” as they called themselves. Their views, repeated in this [Guardian] article and study, have been completely discredited.

Sagoff ended on a down note:

I am sorry to have seen the paper you sent — it is discouraging. Nobody learns anything or bothers to try.

posted by Rumple at 7:50 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


wuwei: I am confused however, that you approvingly quote a comment which reads in part that "[u]nderstanding of economics, institutions, governance, and history in particular seem to be lacking." If you view economics as "not a science," then what's the problem here with "not incorporating economics" into the model?

Maybe I can help. I think you are confused because you're taking two different strands of two different conversations (one of them not really relevant), then smooshing them together in order to try and manufacture a contradiction for me.

1) I quoted that reddit chap because I thought his overall argument was a good takedown of the article. Doesn't mean I agree with every word he said. The point of the quote is that there are lots of things the model does not take account of, but the media reporting has glossed over that.

2) In a separate debate about models and simple models and their usefulness, lodurr bought up economics. So I replied. But what I think of economics (hardly a controversial view btw) doesn't really have any bearing on the main argument. I don't view history as a science either, but clearly a better understanding of history would improve the model/paper under discussion (if, and its a big if, we interpet the paper as an attempt to make predictions about the real world).

wuwei: But, jeffburdges, have they incorporated economics into their model? I mean economics isn't really even a science. And do redditors approve?

Thanks for the snark. I commend that IPCC report, and its a good example of the amount of work you need to do to start making respectable global predictions. Comparing the IPCC report with the simple model in the FPP is pretty instructive. And for what its worth, you can snark about reddit but its a big place and some of its corners have real merit. r/science's collective analysis of this paper and its media coverage managed a ton more critical thinking than mefi in this instance. Read the 2nd, 3rd, 4th highest voted comments.

Anyway, all this is getting away from my main point: The paper is fine, but the (global, clickbaity, breathless) reporting of it in the media has been atrocious, and (as far as I can tell) misrepresents what the paper is trying to do.

Case in point: all this bollocks about it being a 'NASA funded study': its true that its NASA funded, but that's largely meaningless. NASA gives grants to around 850 institutions, who then use that funding for all kinds of things. You may as well call it a "US Government funded study" - equally true, equally irrelevant.

We may well be heading for a collapse, but dodgy science reporting should be called out even if it points towards a conclusion you agree with. 'There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear. - Daniel Dennett'

Lets follow this up when the paper is actually published.
posted by memebake at 11:49 AM on March 24


Climate impacts 'overwhelming' [says] UN (bbc)

Climate Change 2014 : Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (approved yesterday)
posted by jeffburdges at 1:37 AM on April 1


-Civilizational Collapse (Part 1)
-What Does the New IPCC Report Say About Climate Change? (Part 1)
  1. The warming is unequivocal.
  2. Humans caused the majority of it.
  3. The warming is largely irreversible.
  4. Most of the heat is going into the oceans.
  5. Current rates of ocean acidification are unprecedented.
  6. We have to choose which future we want very soon.
  7. To stay below 2°C of warming, the world must become carbon negative.
  8. To stay below 2°C of warming, most fossil fuels must stay buried in the ground.
posted by kliuless at 2:22 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


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