climate, extinction 

humanity will go mostly extinct (climate change, etc) in:

What is your outlook on the future of human civilisation?

(Piggybacking off @cwebber's thread / poll)


What is the present state of civilisation and challenges facing it?

(Piggybacking off @cwebber's thread / poll.)

Intent here is to focus on the relationship and scope of problems, not the specific problem(s) themselves, if any. Though I suspect some may wish to discuss that in comments....

Boosts to both my polls in this thread welcomed.

Usual poll caveats 

Self-selected polls are all but useless in judging sentiment. At best they're a tool for getting some very rough idea of sentiment ranges.

Discussion of why given answers were chosen tends to be more substantial than the answers themselves.

I'm trying to be as objective as possible in framing Qs and responding to As. Typically I'll try to limit any indication of agreement/disagreement whilst a poll is active. I'll ask for reasons, whether I agree or disagree with PoVs.

That said, the two frameworks here are ones that I wish I'd thought to incorporate as polls / questionnaires earlier. I've found both useful for years.


@dredmorbius I voted for 'Numerous systemically-interconnected problems' as correct, but I feel like some people interpret this in a sort of revolutionary fatalism where you have to burn it all down and rebuild.

Rather than (in my view) a potential for both addressing the large scale problems to make everyone better off in the shorter term while reconstructing the system while living inside it. (And in fact that this is really the only game in town, as people in a collapsed/collapsing world are not likely to think in a long-range, systematic way.)


@Azure The isuse may become clearer if we replace "problems" with "constraints" or "relationships".

An unconstrained system is easy to maximise: pedal to the metal, and find the global maximum or limit.

A system with a small number of constraints is a bit more complex, but there's still usually a clear direction and optimum.

With many interrelated constraints, even determining where or what the optimum is becomes complex, and addressing one constraint may render others stronger. Even Liebig's Law of the Minimum approaches of increasing some limiting factor may be only minimally effective.

Dennis Meadows defines a socially/politically hard problem as one in which everyone cannot be made better off. There's a price to pay for at least some group. That becomes all but unworkable in democratic governance.

You can't grow your way out of a growth problem.


@dredmorbius I think I might disagree on how large the groups that would be made worse off are and how worse off they would be. Part of that is based on my sense of JUST HOW MUCH waste there is in the current system, in terms of resources and labor that go into things that either give little to no return OR actively make life worse. As well as a dividend one gets from living in a more equal world. (If my material conditions fall in terms of what fraction of resources I can command, say, but the number of people with leisure time and nutritional sufficiency and education comes up, I'd expect to be overall better off in the long term, just because they'd be able to make, do, and discover interesting things.)


@Azure What's ... sobering ... about waste-oriented discussions is how persistent waste is, across places, times, systems, and attempts at managing, mitigating, or minimising it.

Food waste is one common example, and from my own explorations (somewhat informal), over the past 50 years, and quite probably 100--150, it's consistently been about 30--40% of all food production.

The mechanisms for waste vary. Much more food now is scrapped after intensive processing, transportation, and preservation, which actually increases the net impacts.

In other domains, "waste" is largely integral to specific modes of operation. Any heat engine will operate with a Carnot (or Rankine) efficiency, ranging from a low of about 20% to a high approaching 50% (combined motive + heat utilisation can raise this further, but the motive component remains limited). The critical factor is the difference in hot and cold sides of the engine.

You can eliminate this by replacing combustion motors with other forms (e.g., electric), but then you find inefficiencies elsewhere within the system.

And, even addressing all of this, there is the Jevons paradox. Making something more efficient means making it cheaper, and hence increasing induced demand.

Increasing efficiency to limit consumption is like fucking for virginity, to paraphrase a popular saying.

Distribution is a separate matter, though that too may be subject to a somewhat similar argument.


@dredmorbius I think the Jevons Paradox is more something to keep in mind when trying to build energy policy (e.g. we'd probably want to increase the gas tax if more fuel efficient engines come along.) Rather than a fundamental problem with efficiency.

@Azure Unless offset by some other price-increasing mechanism (taxes, accounting rules, depletion), that's simply not the case.

The problem in natural resources, or sinks, overlaps strongly with the utter failure of economics in concerns with having a proper and rational theory of natural resource cost acounting.

The existing theory simply doesn't match established behaviour or geological realities. It's based on Howard Hotelling, L.C. Grey, and David Ricardo's work.

Hotelling's paper itself is somewhat staggering in its failure to account for geological facts. It does draw heavily on cost accounting, see Alexander Hamilton Church (and yes, related to that A.H.).

Contrast the fact that humans consume petroleum at 5 million times its rate of formation ("Burning Buried Sunshine", Jeffrey S. Dukes, 2003: www-legacy.dge.carnegiescience). If formation time were a cost input, the price of petroleum would likely rise somewhat.

@dredmorbius I don't think we necessarily disagree in this case. The Steady State book you linked did remind me of the issues of pricing in overshoot, or otherwise having SOMETHING to try and limit it. (Pricing may not be ideal due to that whole inequality thing. And, you know, the whole short termism. And how to price it.)

@Azure This gets in to a larger question of markets, their biases, and capital/labour price trends.

TL;DR: Absent some explicit control, capital tends to extract economic rents (surplis value), labour tends to claim wages at or below sustenance value. These factors tend to compound. So you've got a built-in inequality issue.

Markets reflect highly-apparent ("manifest") characteristics, and short-term, clearly-articulable benefits or attractions. They discount long-term benefits, long-term risks, or complex interactions. (This holds for goods, services, and information, which is among the reasons the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor fails so badly.)

Sustainability and resilience are ipso facto long-term, complex, and non-apparent. Markets are blind to them.

(There are some exceptions. Insurance tries to price in risk. Even that works far better for spatially distributed rather than temporally distributed risks. E.g., if an event happens to few people but at scale across a population, it's generally reasonably well-handled. If it occurs infrequently in time, assessment, pricing, and payout tend to become more problematic.)

Present state of civilisation and challenges facing it poll

Again, looking at responses, I'm surprised that there were no takers for #2: "There is one major problem".

I'd really be interested in what the rationales for #1 are, and what might constitute a major problem in the views of such respondants, as well as why any of a set of issues in heavy play in recent times don't qualify.

"Other" explanations are also appreciated.

The general trend to #4 & #5 (87% of responses) is pretty strong unanimity on an underlying complexity. Again, self-selected polling is not a good guide to general sentiments, though it speaks to this crowd.

(Maybe I need to diversify my contacts more?)


Answering "What is the present state of civilisation and challenges facing it?"

I'm very solidly in the "The predicaments we face are fundamental to and concern all aspects of life" camp.

As I just noted answering the other poll in this set: humanity's challenges are endogenous, self-created, self-imposed, and largely emergent from our present conditiona and intrinsic behaviours.

This makes addressing them rather a challenge as solutions tend to go against "human nature".

Which I suspect extends well beyond humans, to fundamental dynamics of complex adaptive systems.


@dredmorbius @cwebber This is in line with what I was thinking about last night re: social limits to adaptation. Apparently it is a studied concept in climate change lit.

@vortex_egg William Ophuls (Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity and Plato's Revenge) looked at this question for 50 years. Thomas Homer-Dixon is probably the leading current investigator of it.

(There are numerous others, these two I can specifically recommend.)


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