Vultures of Collapse

Seneca Collapse Shape

What do you expect happens when continued exponential growth depends on a non-renewable resource?

As we go round in political circles in Australia, it seems that the future coming into focus is that of collapse, based on the hard pressed biophysical constraints of our environment. The mordant observers of this process are academics and media people whom I call the "vultures of collapse", see the processes working out as if from a great height, a good way removed from the battles being waged on the ground by high finance predators to fund the last resource extractions, and the economic chains of supply profit.

Fortunate for them and us, our far seeing vultures are able to obtain public interest and funding and use our systems of global communications, literacy and off-mainstream journalism while still last, to explain their anticipations of collapse. Our descendants will be left the pick-overs of our dead and decayed civilisation. They will be the true vultures. Collapse is not yet officially denied, but it is still very real.

A lot of historical material has been collected together on the subject of resource-depletion collapses of all kinds. Ugo Bardi has put lots of past examples into a framework to simplify our view on what are sometimes called "complex adaptive systems", in a book called the "The Seneca Effect : Why Growth is Slow, but Collapse is Rapid". As Ugo says "Collapse is not a Bug, it is a Feature".

Economists like to pontificate about supply and demand, but system dynamics people like to talk about where the supply comes from. Questions like much non-renewable resources are left as "stocks", how fast it can be removed as "flows", and how much work (energy) and resources (capital) have to be expended for delivery, takes economics to a complex adaptive systems level. Graham Turner performs his role at the University of Melbourne, and has published a number of pertinent system observations that tell us where we are and where and how fast we are going. "Business as Usual"  - BAU is the synonym for the journey we are undergoing, taking us far into the desert of final collapse, and there isn't much time left. Collapse by 2030 is fairly certain, according to deeply investigated models after "Limits to Growth" was first published in 1972. Australia political parties may talk about carbon emissions reductions targets of 2050,  but the collapse processes "already in progress" promise they will be entirely mandatory much sooner. This more than anything shows our governments becoming more clueless and helpless with each passing year.

Graham Turner's most recent publication is free to read : "Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of "The Limits to Growth" with Historical Data. 

Main stream media, and financial journalists in particular are utterly dismissive, when collapse predictions are not totally ignored.  For example this Forbes Magazine article touted the "infinite substitution of resources" as an unshakable postulates of economics.  And then goes on to practically negate the "substitution doctrine" by saying we are really not going to like some of the substituted alternatives. I suppose that extreme hunger and chronic malnutrition is not an acceptable substitute for regular food. Most food production in the developed world requires burning fossil fuels with around ten times the food energy content. It is clear that different arrangements need to be worked out fast.

Particularly for oil production, the costs of extraction have risen fast over past decades, until the costs of production exceed prices that our economic systems can withstand, and uneconomic production has to be abandoned.  Turner uses the term "Fraction of capital allocated to obtaining resources", as the reciprocal of the "Energy returned from energy invested".  As capital is always finite, and s part of a needed subset of our finite earth resources, there isn't any infinite substitution, unless everything gets recycled. 

National economies collapse in stages. As things get worse, we naturally prefer to re-assign scarce capital to sustaining our lives, and live simpler, rather than investing our declining surplus in projects with bad economic returns. Even worse are projects with bad environmental returns, that diminish total carrying capacity for us and other species in the future.

 As energy or material returns on investment decline, and costs of living rise, and more wealth gets corralled by the very rich, our populations always fail to cope with unemployment, homelessness and starvation.  For how long are the starving masses going to heed comforting placebos of media entertainment, truck loads of political bullshit, and the diversions of blame heaped on popular scapegoats?

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has published yet another Global Sustainability Study, as a Springer book called "Failing States, Collapsing Systems : Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence"   I expect it will help connect us to the must recent progress of collapse. 


The central thesis of this study is that the escalation of social protest and political instability around the world is causally related to the unstoppable thermodynamics of global hydrocarbon energy decline and its interconnected environmental and economic consequences.

I am certain this article and all others like it will always be ignored in the popular media. We might see an article pop up here and there. But there will be little or no result, in further discussion, social media, face to face, or result in changes of government policy. Surely everybody already knows. So much for democracy. Business as usual will laugh it off.

Nafeez Ahmed has published an article on the close interconnections of wealth, corporate media, and military industry that weave a global network of power, control and misinformation. I doubt that these powerful control and misinformation institutions and hierarchies can be subverted from below, as the best we can do is covert sabotage and pestering on a small scale, and prepare for collapse.  Those at the top are not subject to public embarrassment, only loss of faith, as each party takes turns in failing to deliver the promised cargo-cult rewards of "growth and jobs". 

Our oncoming collapse is a feature, and not a bug. Our prestigious elites do not want us to know. They are happy to play the game of getting riches while it lasts. And we for the most part do not want to know.  Our denial keeps us happy. We are happy enough so long as someone is worse off, until the biophysical limits of survival strike us hard. No amount of digital encryption or block-chain technology for scary collapse reporting is going to change anything. Real collapse will do the work. Secret messages do not overthrow, they just increase the resort to other social subterfuge and control, until actions finally take place.

Eventually we will be forced to do the right thing, only when all other options, and all other resources from exploitation of further away have been exhausted, with the world in very poor condition.


author: Michael Rynn
description: Vultures of collapse. Todays generation awaits the pickings of our dying and decayed civilisation. Collapse is not officially denied, but is still real.
keywords: Vultures of collapse