Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy

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ashvinp's picture
ashvinp
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Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy

I recently came across this fascinating article on The Oil Drum and thought I would share it. I don't know if anyone on this site is interested in chaos theory and its relation to the dire situation we are in, but if you are or would like to be then definitely check this out:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6360#more

I think this fits in very well with Chris' message in the Crash Course and the great quote from Albert Bartlett - "The greatest shortcoming of the human species is its failure to understand the exponential function".  Maybe that could be expanded further to include our failure to understand complex dynamic systems and their tipping points. In fact, our entire universe can be viewed as a complex adaptive system and may explain many of the tensions between Einstein's Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Anyway, for a more thorough examination of the implications of a peak oil tipping points, take a look at this study:

http://www.theoildrum.com/files/Tipping%20Point.pdf

ashvinp's picture
ashvinp
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Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy

Just as a follow up, the basic point is that the coming energy crisis will involve a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop that will cause many systems we "depend" on to break down. Here is one of the examples I found pretty interesting:

"A major collapse in greenhouse gas is expected, though may be impossible to quantitatively model. This may reduce the risks of severe climate change impacts. However the relative ability to cope with the impacts of climate change will be much greater as we will be much poorer with much reduced resilience."

I found the above example to be analogous to real interest rates rising in a debt deflation even though nominal rates are falling, because prices are falling even faster.

This report apparently has a much more pessimistic outlook than most "peak oil" analysts, but it really makes sense when you think about it:

"We are at the cusp of rapid and severely disruptive changes. From now on the risk of entering a collapse must be considered significant and rising. The challenge is not about how we introduce energy infrastructure to maintain the viability of the systems we depend upon, rather it is how we deal with the consequences of not having the energy and other resources to maintain those same systems. Appeals towards localism, transition initiatives, organic food and renewable energy production, however laudable and necessary, are totally out of scale to what is approaching.

There is no solution, though there are some paths that are better and wiser than others. This is a societal issue, there is no "other‟ to blame, but the responsibility belongs to us all. What we require is rapid emergency planning coupled with a plan for longer-term adaptation."

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deggleton
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Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy
ashvinp wrote:

"We are at the cusp of rapid and severely disruptive changes. From now on the risk of entering a collapse must be considered significant and rising. The challenge is not about how we introduce energy infrastructure to maintain the viability of the systems we depend upon, rather it is how we deal with the consequences of not having the energy and other resources to maintain those same systems. Appeals towards localism, transition initiatives, organic food and renewable energy production, however laudable and necessary, are totally out of scale to what is approaching.

There is no solution, though there are some paths that are better and wiser than others. This is a societal issue, there is no "other‟ to blame, but the responsibility belongs to us all. What we require is rapid emergency planning coupled with a plan for longer-term adaptation."

What is approaching is huge, indeed, but it will hit people where they are, with few, many or very many others.  That's a lot of locales and a lot of different situations, not a monolithic predicament.  Furthermore, the locales that have meaningfully increased their resilience will be able to improvise from plans, if any.  The ones with plans only will struggle and spin wheels, unless very lucky to have envisioned changes with some accuracy.  If so fortunate, they might be able to add some resilience and start improvising, but will do so in greater desperation, against greater odds.

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JAG
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Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy

Thanks for the post Ashvinp, the articles you cited look very interesting. I look forward to reading them in more detail.

I disagree with Dr. Bartlett's quote however. I think it should be: "The greatest shortcoming of the human species is its failure to understand itself"

Best...Jeff

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ltlredwagon
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Posts: 87
Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy

You nailed it Jeff. And I might add (no disagreement with Mr. Santayana) that man is condemned to repeat history, not because he doesn't understand it, but because he doesn't understand man.

ashvinp's picture
ashvinp
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Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy
JAG wrote:

Thanks for the post Ashvinp, the articles you cited look very interesting. I look forward to reading them in more detail.

I disagree with Dr. Bartlett's quote however. I think it should be: "The greatest shortcoming of the human species is its failure to understand itself"

Best...Jeff

Yeah you're right about that being the greatest shortcoming. I think it takes a lot of introspection for humans to truly understand themselves. Exponential functions, on the other hand, are relatively simple and a great place to start.

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deggleton
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Re: Complexity Theory, the Economy and Energy
ashvinp wrote:

I think it takes a lot of introspection for humans to truly understand themselves.

Competent guidance is important, too.  For that, I very highly recommend The 8th Habit by Stephen R. Covey (2004).  There's understanding oneself and there's understanding the human being.  The whole person paradigm Covey introduces is going to be a large part of what works from now on.

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