Natural examples of control of energy use and economy
Comments on Chris Martenson’s conclusions in Chapter 17c “Energy & Economy” The graph of performance of exponential banking is similar to the family of graphs of both individual tree volume growth and the summation of forest stand growth either in numbers of trees or total volume. Both of these natural functions exist in the presence of a continuous but time limited energy supply with a daily and an annual fluctuating availability. Other natural communities have similar growth curves but differ by the length of time over which they can be observed. Fungi which can only use energy stored by other plants have performance graphs that are dependent on the magnitude of their host(s) and their strategic design (whether they use only dead tissue, kill the host, or allow or facilitate the continued existence of the host.)
The forest based curves of time based performance have temporal similarities to graphs of individual human weight or value production and human societies respectively. Each of these comparable natural entities has similar outcomes and are worth studying for common threads that may provide both inspiration and insight into our own situations both individually and collectively.
The summation of individual tree growth produces the bell shaped curve of the forest stand production. In the NE USA the forest starts out with at least a surplus of colonizing individuals two or more (possibly 5-8) orders of magnitude greater than can be supported fifty to three hundred years later. So there is always a reversed "j" shaped curve of both individual numbers and volume production as seen on the right hand side of the exponential banking curve (although the shape and timing may not be coincident).
Forest stands can meet several different fates. The old growth model that is popular today as the goal for all forests is only one of several possibilities. The western regional examples of regular fires that consume substantial acreage are either means of thinning the numbers of trees remaining in a stand or the actual start of a new forest from a nearly clean slate. The NE has a slightly different set of normal scenarios in that most stands do not make it to advanced age before either a local weather event does the thinning or removal of the tall trees or other natural agents like human development see the area occupied by the forest as an appropriate place for growth of other crops, be they plants, houses, or human industry. In the NE the natural destruction by ice, wind, or rain can be followed by fires that may consume much of the undamaged or still living biota. Humans have sought to minimize the occurrence of these “tragic” scenarios. However, they are tragic only in the eyes of the beholder. Nature is prepared to retake any and all space as soon as the conditions are presented that fit particular potential occupants. There are no value judgments only the recognition of potential in the moment by potential occupants of space and time.
We are now in a human cultural situation that is trying to deny that there is any need to recognize these facts either for ourselves or for the natural systems that cohabit space with us. The similarities of the claims by the "entitled" folk (who make up most of the non-agrarian population) regarding their hopes for trees and forests and their expectations for individual people, families, and societies are amazingly close.
Analysis of the techniques used by individual trees to prolong their dominance of a site might be fruitful, but not necessarily pretty. The forest that colonizes and occupies a particular area is an expression of the sum of the tactics used by individuals to survive. Regardless of the species mix found on an area none of them are permanent and their replacement happens without emotion.
Question 1: What could we each try to do in the presence of declining energy surplus and a lack of reliable information?
Question 2: What changes should we foster if there is to be a natural analog to the impending change?
Discussion of Question 1: Chris has suggested that energy consumption need not be equated to quality of life. Prosperity and growth are alternative tracks that a society can choose. Thus it is possible to have a lot of one and a little of another or the other way around. If prosperity has a definition much different from the number of neighbors or children or market share or GDP growth, then the factors that drive the growth of any one of the above needs to be discouraged. I for one have written "do not resusitate" on my health care proxy and have chosen not to share my body parts with anyone else. But I still only roll my eyes when I meet a family with 8 kids, and I congratulate a friend on a successful operation that extends that person’s longevity. Some other things that we could do along with a decline in family size is to use the land around our dwelling to grow our own or our community’s food and involve the kids of the neighborhood in this activity, find ways to use the energy available in our surroundings for our heat and transport….
Discussion of Question 2: The forest development analog mentioned in the initial comment, is based on a set of systems that result in the reduction of rate of growth of old trees and the death of many small trees as larger ones are able take over the space previously occupied by those that have died. This is the same thing that we see happening in our response to keep the system going as it did in the past. However, trees and other living beings also have another set of limiting system parameters that come to gradually limit the eventual size and longevity of the organism. It is becoming clearer that animals have a set of genes that work to make organisms beyond a certain age more likely to produce defects in copying the instructions for maintenance of bodily functions. It is less clear to me that long-lived trees have that same built in constraint, but they have physical limitations that vary because of the quality of the place where the tree is rooted. The combination of genetic predisposition and resource limitations eventually combine with atmospheric conditions to cause the tree to decline. Could / should there be a similar set of restraints on human institutions so that large size is not the be all and end all. Well there already is one set when the human organization is dependent on one person, because that person has the built in aging genes that are given by nature. We could program a similar set of societal restraints that limit the size to which a human organization could become. We have several methods: normal progressive income taxes, limitations on geographical scope of an organization, etc. And then we have the impending "tax" of spending ever more of our surplus energy to find more energy.
Conclusions for Question 1? I am one! My experiences are important up to the point that my existence begins to limit the ability of everyother "one" to have the same quality of experiences. Recognition of that "right" will greatly change the way we each view the "rights" we have to resources of another. We need to recognize that the reality is that we need to enjoy our lives where we are and expect others to do the same. Following from that is the need to demand that we pull out of relationships that are not in harmony with those two facts.
Conclusions for Question 2? Maybe instead of expecting our regulators to merge failed systems into a larger system that may fail as well, we could suggest that the resources of the failed system be split into regional blocks and be distributed to smaller regional care takers that either keep that regional provider afloat or build the base for the evolution of a stable regional unit. This recognizes that there is a limit to the growth of one entity and a way to rebuild a new entity out of the resources of the prior entity. As Chris said the future can not always be exponentially bigger than the past. Yet there will be groups that have periods within which exponential growth occurs.
Chapter 17c was written slightly before the appearance of the cliff that we are currently trying to jump from – hopefully to the other side.
What if the cliff is of our own making and we really do not want to recognize that we have all allowed this to happen and our responses are now focusing only on the complicity of the leaders at the top, and the reason that we do not want to admit that trying to jump from the cliff to some other point is a silly idea is because then we would have to go back and reevaluate the underpinnings of the decisions that led us to the path up the cliff.
The fact that Lehmann(sp) was allowed to fail and GS was not appears to this very distant outsider as a judgement call with "motive". Obviously from the discussion in the popular press the CEO of Lehmann had made his wad and felt that he had no responsibility to the investors. To say it another way he got where he was in violation of the basic tenet of Question 1. He seems to have felt (feel) that he had and continues to have a right to his own experiences up to the point that he could finish taking away the possibility of others (as many others as possible) to have their own level of possible experience – each without adversely affecting the other.
Possibly the reason that Chris’s quality of life improved when he got out from within the "rat race" was that to some extent he became less of a "rat"? (I do not know Chris except for this course – his honesty has led me to this conclusion – but he has not articulated this point.)
It came to me while playing solitare on a PDA that the maker of the rules for that game understood that there are times when making points immediately is not the appropriate end for the player because this set of rules allows the return of cards from the credited position in the single suite back into the game inorder to allow the game to proceed.
We are now in a position where individuals who were part of what was assumed to be an honest transaction were complicit on so many levels that this financial "game" was no longer even as strong as a house of cards. In essence a whole sector of society had agreed to violate the basic tenet of question 1 and we have agreed to let them off the hook. Of this whole group the only ones who are really being held responsible are those who got caught (and some who didn’t) signing a mortgage knowing full well that they could never meet the payments at some point. The fact that we have been willing to try to protect some of these "victims" reflects the level of complicitiy we each have in this scam. It also reflects how our culture has built itself a sand castle on the basis of theft of others resources for our own use as if it were our right to have those resources right now. The depth of this depravity has been probed by Michael Klare in his book "Blood and Oil", but few are listening.
Chris made much of the human inability to comprehend the outcome of exponential functions. Maybe this is the intrinsic limiting factor for human dominance of the ecosphere, and that is there for good reason. Maybe the things built on continuous compound growth are not supposed to be manageable because in the end they are not manageable and we need to recognize them and make sure that like the growth of trees in a forest compound anything is appropriate only for a short time.
If we want to be competent "stewards" of our environment we need to be willing to accept that humanity needs to have circuit breakers in any situation where compound growth might occur for more than several doublings no matter what the rate at which the compounding is occurring. The concept of "jubilee" where debts are forgiven may be an ancient recognition of this fact???
Alternate Conclusion for Question 1:
Maybe each of us needs to call our representative and suggest that the only appropriate thing to do is to begin to seek out all the parties to each failed mortgage and assess penalties all the way up the chain of transactions regardless of the complexity of the fraud so that those who benefitted from foisting inappropriate obligations on a mortgage holder could be held accountable. In recognition that there are sectors of the economy that are being hurt by the unheard of level of deception it is appropriate for the government to provide some level of stability temporarily, but that the tenet of Question 1 must be upheld for all everywhere eventually. Only when this is acknowledged and repairs made should we be able to reconstruct global trust.
If this were to be implemented in a thorough going fashion, we should each think carefully about how many times a year we ought to fill up the gas tank on our vehicles, how warm we keep our house, how much water we expect to use for growing crops or our lawn, how far we expect to have our food transported, and what we expect to eat.
The Republican VP is an embodiment of many of these issues which we seem unable to address. Is the time to begin to ask embarassing questions now?
The recent bailout has differed from natural systems by allowing large systems to be rewarded for irresponsible acts. The real remedy eventually will involve splitting off regional segments of these unmanageable assets and possibly even divying them up to strong small local banks with repairs being made to stable borrowers who need help and prosecution of the fraudulent parties who were involved in creating or accepting loans that had no factual basis. The loans that remain will be watched closely by the local banks and things will eventually return to a semblence of normalcy with local currencies, and possibly completely redefined bases for regional currency release.
Eventually the concentration of ownership of all things financial needs to be broken up just as the forest turns opver and a new crop of local occupants begin the competition or collective growth process together. Sometimes this can happen in the presence of some large old entities mixed with the new entrants. In other places it will be much better to wipe the slate clean. In the forest there is no connection between regions beyond the common atmosphere and climate that they share.
The sooner we realize the trade offs between growth or prosperity that Chris described so well, the sooner we can get on with restructuring the next economy.