Saturday, January 29, 2005

society's evolutionary arc

Gregg Easterbrook has written up an interesting review of Jared Diamond’s latest work, Collapse over at the New York Times:

‘Collapse’: How the World Ends

Generally, a positive tone is struck even though Easterbrook disagrees with the conclusions Diamond comes to in ‘Collapse’, and ‘Gun, Germs, and Steel’.

Now, I think Easterbrook is on point in his criticism of Guns, Germs, and Steel. However, more pertinent to peak energy are some of his concluding arguments regarding ‘Collapse’, which I mostly disagree with. Given that they present a common mainstream response to peak energy doomsday scenarios, let's take a closer look.

Excerpts below in italics, followed by my comments:

If 2.5 billion more people are not ''acceptable,'' how, exactly, would Diamond prevent their births? He does not say. Nuclear war, plague, a comet strike or coerced mass sterilizations seem the only forces that might stop the human population from rising to its predicted peak.

Who knows what the likelihood of 8.5 billion people versus a comet strike is; it doesn’t matter. Right this very second we are having trouble feeding everyone in the world, as growing seasons have been going haywire over the last five years. Mix in peak oil, and we don’t have an ‘instant’ fix to replace the petroleum dependant industrial farming techniques. Sure, some years down the line all the lawns in suburbia will be converted into organic microfarms. Nevertheless, if Peak Oil happens in 2007, people will start starving in 2008. In bunches. We’ll never break 7 billion people, by my estimation.

And is it really an ''impossibility'' for developing-world living standards to reach the Western level?

Yep. Until we get energy from a vacuum, or some such nonsense, it is freaking impossible. Anyways, we use the third world as our meta - toilet. Don’t need to fancy up the bathroom as much as the living room.

Today wood is a primary fuel in the developing world, so deforestation is acute; but if developing nations move on to other energy sources, forest cover will regrow. If the West changes from fossil fuel to green power, its worst resource trend will not continue uninterrupted.

Ok. When I see a billion windmills, or hummers juiced up with orange peel biodiesel, I’ll stop worrying.

Oddly, for someone with a background in evolutionary theory, he (Jared Diamond) seems not to consider society's evolutionary arc. (…) What might human society be like 13,000 years from now?

Please. If we quantum tunnel into the sun, that would end our evolutionary arc right quick. We’d be like, wholly cow! So that’s where the dodo ended up!

Above us in the Milky Way are essentially infinite resources and living space. If the phase of fossil-driven technology leads to discoveries that allow Homo sapiens to move into the galaxy…

CUT! What moony nonsense. Strangely, it is the closest I come to agreeing with Mr. Easterbrook in his concluding remarks. Been a science fiction guy since I were a wee scooter. Speed of light is a bit of a barrier, but it certainly isn’t impossible that we expand out into the galaxy. Slowly. One way ticket, only 50 more years of deceleration. What a great use for all that nuclear waste.

We humans need to solve the problem of living in this solar system.
Declining oil means we need more energy, or less people will exist.
I’m speculating, of course.
Show me the energy.


Over at Bouphonia, Philalethes has written up a devastating critique of this same article. My take on Easterbrook's article is facile and reactive puffery in comparison...


At 9:57 PM, January 30, 2005, Blogger FatherofFour said...

You are invited to join the Peak Oil Webring from the link on my blog.

I would be honored if you would consider joining up.


At 1:21 PM, January 31, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Seems like a great idea, I don't yet have an email though, (working on it) hope that isn't a problem.

At 9:51 PM, January 31, 2005, Blogger Phila said...

Thanks for the plug, though I'm not happy to see you devalue your own very effective post!

Trashing Easterbrook got a bit of aggression out of my system, thank heavens, which is probably healthy! Glad you liked the post.

At 10:01 PM, January 31, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Thanks for the note - As to my self criticism, I probably should reign in my id a little bit, but I think a little discipline would help my writing quite a bit. It was actually very helpful to me to see your post on the same subject that was palpably better than mine. I don't mean that to kiss ass, but rather to kick my own - ultimately in a good way.


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