The long slow decline

Progressives toy with the word “sustainability” but most others seem to be bound by the maxim “If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking.” Question: Has there ever been a civilization which acquired “sustainability” for an extended period — or has every one of them been continually in the process of either growing or shrinking?  Can a society “stand still” i.e maintain the same population/standard of living from one generation to another, without also stagnating?
Perhaps it’s cyclical and  each civilization is doomed to pass through Spenglerian seasons of spring (pioneer period), summer, (conquest, acquisition of wealth) autumn (cultural harvest, decadence) and winter (shrinking, dying). Perhaps, like Malthus said, each species is doomed to expand into a new habitat until the habitat is exhausted or changed by shifting climate – even humans, if we regard their habitat as being the whole planet. Since the first migration out of Africa, Homo sapiens have been expanding into new habitats of earth when their old one became unable to support all them. But now we’ve about run out of new lands and resources to exploit. Where else is left to expand into? The poles might become habitable for a while and attract migrants, but they’re not likely to last long. And finding new habitats off-planet is not as doable as we once imagined. So are we “marooned” on a planet where entropy is rising and no new habitats, resources are available to pump new energy into it?

However, I think some elites will go underground into bunker-cities and try to ride it out.  They will have some supplies and plans, although ultimately these will not be enough.

Some people will survive the population bottleneck, and will try to build a much more ethical future of mutual cooperation.

Most people on the earth will die.  That’s not doom-saying…just a simple fact.  There are too many people consuming too many resources for the current setup to be indefinitely sustainable.

A long term sustainable society is a stone aged society.  I think societies that use more energy, exploit more materials and the rest are less sustainable.  Arguments about shifting to new energy sources or materials are well and good, but in the end they illustrate the problem.  As we have done this things have been increasingly transient, each energy source works for a shorter period of time, and a part of this is Jevon’s paradox.  Jevon’s paradox illustrates why widening a road does not really solve traffic congestion, for it permits more cars on the road that ends up in the same congested state — now just bigger.  It is the problem with nuclear energy.  If we really ramp that up we will exhaust uranium resources in about 50 years, and thorium is at best only 100 years.  As we progress further along these lines the more unstable and unsustainable things become, which means that if we face a fundamental limit, either peak planet or peak brain, we face doomsday.  
A stone aged society can’t sustain billions of humans beings, in fact only a few 10s of millions.  Further in the wake of the coming collapse we will probably fall ultimately into a neo-stone aged reality.  However, it will be different than the past.  Our paleolithic (stone age) period was during the Pleistocene where the Earth was rich and abundant with life.  The next stone age will be in a depleted Earth, and in fact it might be so depleted that even a stone aged existence is impossible. I frankly see no escape from this.  We may be able to adapt and develop things for a while, maybe for longer even given the exponential growth/time compressed nature of what we face. Can we forestall collapse indefinitely?   However, take your time frame, 50, 100, 150, 250 years or even longer, and at some point our foot will slip and down we will go.
Advanced hominids since Homo erectus existed for a several hundred thousand years.  Neanderthals existed 350k years.  We have been here for 150k years.  If we had remained at a stone aged culture we might have lived as long as neanderthals, but now we face this complete collapse, and it is anyone’s guess whether our species survives through it.

About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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