Global collapse? What global collapse?

Apocalypse later?Futurist Brian Wang has had it with the doom-mongershe’s pretty sure there’s not going to be any global collapse, and he’s got a list of reasons why. Here are just a few:

1. Efficiency, conservation and an energy plans can be enhanced beyond current levels with minimal strain. There has been partially voluntary reductions in energy demand during the credit crisis. 10% reductions with minimal effort and 20% reductions with more austerity.

OK, seems reasonable.

5. In regards to global warming and environmental concerns:

  • a rapid switchover to totally clean power would stop the air pollution of coal and most oil and would greatly reduce any additional CO2
  • geoengineering can be used to reduce global temperatures if necessary
  • if the beliefs of climate change being from man-made sources are right then we are already geoengineering by accident as a side effect of our industry. It will be cheaper and easier to geoengineer to cancel those accidental side effects with intentional reversal efforts

Well, possibly, but geoengineering is a very speculative field indeed, as noted yesterday. And how are you going to defeat the political inertia on energy source changes?

9. Financial doom scenarios

  • Mandated resets of debt forgiveness, re-issuing script etc… can be used to reboot a country or a financial system
  • People and systems for production would still exist even if there was 1000 trillion in debt

Yes, but where’s the motivation for those hungry and desperate people going to come from?

Wang’s points all make sense, but they all seem to assume the presence of a strong and clearheaded global or national leadership which, most importantly, hasn’t lost the respect of its subjects or its power to organise them into productive and efficient units.

Wang frequently compares these potential responses to war-time mobilisation efforts, and as regards the scale of effort needed that comparison has validity. But I’m not so certain about his confidence in the psychology of a mobilisation of that sort; before his list, he says:

One thing of note is that most people usually think that Hitler and Stalin were bad guys for killing or causing the death of about 100 million people. Most of the civilization die off scenarios are that level of death each and every year for 70 years. 1000 times the number of deaths in the holocaust. Why is there the belief that significant mitigation efforts would not be made ?

Because political rhetoric is more easily focussed on an enemy with a face, perhaps?

The problem with existential threats is that they’re hard for our fundamentally selfish and short-range psychology to focus on. When you’ve not got enough to eat, your first priority will be filling your stomach, not saving the world. Mobilising people on the scale of nations takes a government with its people’s ear and trust, or at least their obedience under pressure… and with exception of some of the more totalitarian regimes on the planet, those are in short supply at the moment, and likely to be more so as the number of tangible existential risks increases, in my opinion. [image by sashomasho]

What do you think – would the world come together in the face of a genuine extinction event, or would it be every man for himself in the last days of civilisation?

4 thoughts on “Global collapse? What global collapse?”

  1. My feeling is that a centralised nation-state response a la WWII is required but that the process itself will entail less central command-and-control and more *genuinely* free market solutions.

    What I mean is that states, as the most powerful actors, need to set the terms of victory (a reduction in greenhouse gas output to zero and a reduction in current levels of atmospheric CO2) and then let the free market do what it will do.

    Also governments need to be wary of attempting to control greenhouse gas emissions by setting intermediary targets for things like biofuels, which as we’ve seen, have caused more trouble than they’re worth.

    If there are colossal taxes on anything that vents large amounts of green house gases then businesses and consumers will favour less GHG-emitting products.

  2. As to the basic question: I have every confidence that human ingenuity will find a solution to many of the problems of anthropogenic climate change but I am sceptical of the ability of governments to find the solutions on their own.

    Governments should sponsor research efforts but should avoid being overly directive and controlling. There will be a conflict there, but hopefully innovation will emerge.

    So I guess it will be every man for himself: but from this competition will evolve the solutions to the problems.

  3. We can continue and will continue to have business as usual so long as the problems are just
    financial meltdown and depression in scope. I would prefer if we chose to get our
    collective act together, but my point is that if any of the doom monsters got big enough to
    clearly cause the deaths of 1 million or so people in the UK (double the usual annual deaths)
    then the new Churchill would emerge and people would be willing to listen and follow.

    Similary for the US and other countries. When the danger is clear and present then the two minute
    drill is initiated.

    There are scenarios where we can have decades of zero or slightly negative growth and
    various places can stay disorganized and accept it.

    Air pollution is the kind of thing which for some reason people just accept at certain levels.
    If it is in your face darkness and coughing up black then people do something as in the sixties.
    A London Fog of 1952 forced some action.
    But the level of todays Los Angeles and people are ok with it.

    For global warming, if New York or London have to start taking measures like Venice. Then there
    will be action.

    You won’t go from here to Water world or Mad max Road Warrior without serious mobilization
    efforts. The mobilization efforts would work and would be triggered for sure when the
    evidence is day to day walk out the door obvious.

    For some reasons, more people are not willing to make better plans now and have less
    pointless bureaucracy and less corruption and ineffectual plans but that is another
    series of essays.

    My point is you cannot have the total doomer scenarios without getting to the
    “well obviously you realize this means war” moment for everyone.

  4. How about an X Prize for climate change? We need good climate models that can be used as test beds for different prize contestants. The models we have now are total losers, already falsified barely into the 21st century. First we need good, reliable, consistently performing models.

    That would be the first set of X Prizes: models we can trust for a change. From there, it will be easy.

    Dr. Wang has some excellent ideas which I would like to see incorporated into Dr. James’ world government approach. James has seen that when the average intelligence of humans worldwide is less than 85 points of intelligence quotient, only a benevolent dictatorship will do.

    Would Dr. James be willing to serve as first dictator? He seems to be up for the job. I nominate him forthwith!

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