Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Next Ten Billion Years

Earlier this week, I was trying to think of ways to talk about the gap between notions about the future we’ve all absorbed from the last three hundred years of fossil-fueled progress, on the one hand, and the ways of thinking about what’s ahead that might actually help us make sense of our predicament and the postpetroleum, post-progress world ahead, on the other. While I was in the middle of these reflections, a correspondent reminded me of a post from last year by peak oil blogger Ugo Bardi, which set out to place the crises of our time in the context of the next ten billion years.

It’s an ambitious project, and by no means badly carried out. The only criticism that comes to mind is that it only makes sense if you happen to be a true believer in the civil religion of progress, the faith whose rise and impending fall has been a central theme here in recent months. As a sermon delivered to the faithful of that religion, it’s hard to beat; it’s even got the classic structure of evangelical rhetoric—the awful fate that will soon fall upon those who won’t change their wicked ways, the glorious salvation awaiting those who get right with Progress, and all the rest of it.

Of course the implied comparison with Christianity can only be taken so far. Christians are generally expected to humble themselves before their God, while believers in progress like to imagine that humanity will become God or, as in this case, be able to pat God fondly on the head and say, “That’s my kid.” More broadly, those of my readers who were paying attention last week will notice that the horrible fate that awaits the sinful is simply that nature will be allowed to go her own way, while the salvation awaiting the righteous is more or less the ability to browbeat nature into doing what they think she ought to do—or rather, what Bardi’s hypothesized New Intelligence, whose interests are assumed to be compatible with those of humanity, thinks she ought to do.

There’s plenty that could be said about the biophobia—the stark shivering dread of life’s normal and healthy ripening toward death—that pervades this kind of thinking, but that’s a subject for another post. Here I’d like to take another path.  Once the notions of perpetual progress and imminent apocalypse are seen as industrial society’s traditional folk mythologies, rather than meaningful resources for making predictions about the future, and known details about ecology, evolution, and astrophysics are used in their place to fill out the story, the next ten billion years looks very different from either of Bardi’s scenarios. Here’s my version or, if you will, my vision.

Ten years from now:

Business as usual continues; the human population peaks at 8.5 billion, liquid fuels production remains more or less level by the simple expedient of consuming an ever larger fraction of the world’s total energy output, and the annual cost of weather-related disasters continues to rise. Politicians and the media insist loudly that better times are just around the corner, as times get steadily worse. Among those who recognize that something’s wrong, one widely accepted viewpoint holds that fusion power, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration will shortly solve all our problems, and therefore we don’t have to change the way we live.  Another, equally popular, insists that total human extinction is scarcely a decade away, and therefore we don’t have to change the way we live. Most people who worry about the future accept one or the other claim, while the last chance for meaningful systemic change slips silently away.

A hundred years from now:

It has been a difficult century. After more than a dozen major wars, three bad pandemics, widespread famines, and steep worldwide declines in public health and civil order, human population is down to 3 billion and falling. Sea level is up ten meters and rising fast as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps disintegrate; fossil fuel production ground to a halt decades earlier as the last economically producible reserves were exhausted, and most proposed alternatives turned out to be unaffordable in the absence of the sort of cheap, abundant, highly concentrated energy only fossil fuels can provide. Cornucopians still insist that fusion power, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration will save us any day now, and their opponents still insist that human extinction is imminent, but most people are too busy trying to survive to listen to either group.

A thousand years from now:

The Earth is without ice caps and glaciers for the first time in twenty million years or so, and sea level has gone up more than a hundred meters worldwide; much of the world has a tropical climate, as it did 50 million years earlier. Human population is 100 million, up from half that figure at the bottom of the bitter dark age now passing into memory. Only a few scholars have any idea what the words “fusion power,” “artificial intelligence,” and “interstellar migration” once meant, and though there are still people insisting that the end of the world will arrive any day now, their arguments now generally rely more overtly on theology than before. New civilizations are rising in various corners of the world, combining legacy technologies with their own unique cultural forms. The one thing they all have in common is that the technological society of a millennium before is their idea of evil incarnate.

Ten thousand years from now:

The rise in global temperature has shut down the thermohaline circulation and launched an oceanic anoxic event, the planet’s normal negative feedback process when carbon dioxide levels get out of hand. Today’s industrial civilization is a dim memory from the mostly forgotten past, as far removed from this time as the Neolithic Revolution is from ours; believers in most traditional religions declare piously that the climate changes of the last ten millennia are the results of human misbehavior, while rationalists insist that this is all superstition and the climate changes have perfectly natural causes. As the anoxic oceans draw carbon out of the biosphere and entomb it in sediments on the sea floor, the climate begins a gradual cooling—a process which helps push humanity’s sixth global civilization into its terminal decline.

A hundred thousand years from now: 

Carbon dioxide levels drop below preindustrial levels as the oceanic anoxic event finishes its work, and the complex feedback loops that govern Earth’s climate shift again: the thermohaline circulation restarts, triggering another round of climatic changes. Humanity’s seventy-ninth global civilization flourishes and begins its slow decline as the disruptions set in motion by a long-forgotten industrial age are drowned out by an older climatic cycle. The scholars of that civilization are thrilled by the notions of fusion power, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration; they have no idea that we dreamed the same dreams before them, being further in our future than the Neanderthals are in our past, but they will have no more luck achieving those dreams than we did.

A million years from now:

The Earth is in an ice age; great ice sheets cover much of the northern hemisphere and spread from mountain ranges all over the world, and sea level is 150 meters lower than today. To the people living at this time, who have never known anything else, this seems perfectly normal. Metals have become rare geological specimens—for millennia now, most human societies have used renewable ceramic-bioplastic composites instead—and the very existence of fossil fuels has long since been forgotten. The 664th global human civilization is at its peak, lofting aerostat towns into the skies and building great floating cities on the seas; its long afternoon will eventually draw to an end after scores of generations, and when it falls, other civilizations will rise in its place.

Ten million years from now: 

The long glacial epoch that began in the Pleistocene has finally ended, and the Earth is returning to its more usual status as a steamy jungle planet. This latest set of changes proves to be just that little bit too much for humanity. No fewer than 8,639 global civilizations have risen and fallen over the last ten million years, each with its own unique sciences, technologies, arts, literatures, philosophies, and ways of thinking about the cosmos; the shortest-lived lasted for less than a century before blowing itself to smithereens, while the longest-lasting endured for eight millennia before finally winding down.

All that is over now. There are still relict populations of human beings in Antarctica and a few island chains, and another million years will pass before cascading climatic and ecological changes finally push the last of them over the brink into extinction. Meanwhile, in the tropical forests of what is now southern Siberia, the descendants of raccoons who crossed the Bering land bridge during the last great ice age are proliferating rapidly, expanding into empty ecological niches once filled by the larger primates. In another thirty million years or so, their descendants will come down from the trees.

One hundred million years from now:

Retro-rockets fire and fall silent as the ungainly craft settles down on the surface of the Moon. After feverish final checks, the hatch is opened, and two figures descend onto the lunar surface. They are bipeds, but not even remotely human; instead, they belong to Earth’s third intelligent species. They are distantly descended from the crows of our time, though they look no more like crows than you look like the tree shrews of the middle Cretaceous. Since you have a larynx rather than a syrinx, you can’t even begin to pronounce what they call themselves, so we’ll call them corvins.

Earth’s second intelligent species, whom we’ll call cyons after their raccoon ancestors, are long gone. They lasted a little more than eight million years before the changes of an unstable planet sent them down the long road to extinction; they never got that deeply into technology, though their political institutions made the most sophisticated human equivalents look embarrassingly crude. The corvins are another matter. Some twist of inherited psychology left them with a passion for heights and upward movement; they worked out the basic principles of the hot air balloon before they got around to inventing the wheel, and balloons, gliders, and corvin-carrying kites play much the same roles in their earliest epic literature that horses and chariots play in ours. 

As corvin societies evolved more complex technologies, eyes gazed upwards from soaring tower-cities at the moon, the perch of perches set high above the world. All that was needed to make those dreams a reality was petroleum, and a hundred million years is more than enough time for the Earth to restock her petroleum reserves—especially if that period starts off with an oceanic anoxic event that stashes gigatons of carbon in marine sediments. Thus it was inevitable that, sooner or later, the strongest of the great corvin kith-assemblies would devote its talents and wealth to the task of reaching the moon.

The universe has a surprise in store for the corvins, though. Their first moon landing included among its goals the investigation of some odd surface features, too small to be seen clearly by Earth-based equipment. That first lander thus set down on a flat lunar plain that, a very long time ago, was called the Sea of Tranquillity, and so it was that the stunned corvin astronauts found themselves facing the unmistakable remains of a spacecraft that arrived on the moon in the unimaginably distant past.

A few equivocal traces buried in terrestrial sediments had suggested already to corvin loremasters that another intelligent species might have lived on the Earth before them, though the theory was dismissed by most as wild speculation. The scattered remnants on the Moon confirmed them, and made it hard for even the most optimistic corvins to embrace the notion that some providence guaranteed the survival of intelligent species. The curious markings on some of the remains, which some loremasters suggested might be a mode of visual communication, resisted all attempts at decipherment, and very little was ever learnt for certain about the enigmatic ancient species that left its mark on the Moon.

Even so, it will be suggested long afterwards that the stark warning embodied in those long-abandoned spacecraft played an important role in convincing corvin societies to rein in the extravagant use of petroleum and other nonrenewable resources, though it also inspired hugely expensive and ultimately futile attempts to achieve interstellar migration—for some reason the corbins never got into the quest for fusion power or artificial intelligence. One way or another, though, the corvins turned out to be the most enduring of Earth’s intelligent species, and more than 28 million years passed before their day finally ended.

One billion years from now:

The Earth is old and mostly desert, and a significant fraction of its total crust is made up of the remains of bygone civilizations. The increasing heat of the Sun as it proceeds through its own life cycle, and the ongoing loss of volatile molecules from the upper atmosphere into space, have reduced the seas to scattered, salty basins amid great sandy wastes. Only near the north and south poles does vegetation flourish, and with it the corbicules, Earth’s eleventh and last intelligent species. Their ancestors in our time are an invasive species of freshwater clam. (Don’t laugh; a billion years ago your ancestors were still trying to work out the details of multicellularity.)

The corbicules have the same highly practical limb structure as the rest of their subphylum: six stumpy podicles for walking, two muscular dorsal tentacles for gross manipulations and two slender buccal tentacles by the mouth for fine manipulations. They spend most of their time in sprawling underground city-complexes, venturing to the surface to harvest vegetation to feed the subterranean metafungal gardens that provide them with nourishment. By some combination of luck and a broad general tendency toward cephalization common to many evolutionary lineages, Earth’s last intelligent species is also its most intellectually gifted; hatchlings barely out of creche are given fun little logic problems such as Fermat’s last theorem for their amusement, and a large majority of adult corbicules are involved in one or another field of intellectual endeavor. Being patient, long-lived, and not greatly addicted to collective stupidities, they have gone very far indeed.

Some eight thousand years back, a circle of radical young corbicule thinkers proposed the project of working out all the physical laws of the cosmos, starting from first principles. So unprecedented a suggestion sparked countless debates, publications, ceremonial dances, and professional duels in which elderly scholars killed themselves in order to cast unbearable opprobrium on their rivals. Still, it was far too delectable an intellectual challenge to be left unanswered, and the work has proceeded ever since. In the course of their researches, without placing any great importance on the fact, the best minds among the corbicules have proved conclusively that nuclear fusion, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration were never practical options in the first place.

Being patient, long-lived, and not greatly addicted to collective stupidities, the corbicules have long since understood and accepted their eventual fate.  In another six million years, as the Sun expands and the Earth’s surface temperature rises, the last surface vegetation will perish and the corbicules will go extinct; in another ninety million years, the last multicellular life forms will die out; in another two hundred million years, the last seas will boil, and Earth’s biosphere, nearing the end of its long, long life, will nestle down into the deepest crevices of its ancient, rocky world and drift into a final sleep.

Ten billion years from now:

Earth is gone. It had a splendid funeral; its body plunged into stellar fire as the Sun reached its red giant stage and expanded out to the orbit of Mars, and its ashes were flung outwards into interstellar space with the first great helium flash that marked the beginning of the Sun’s descent toward its destiny. Two billion years later, the gas- and dust-rich shockwave from that flash plowed into a mass of interstellar dust dozens of light-years away from the Sun’s pale corpse, and kickstarted one of the great transformative processes of the cosmos.

Billions more years have passed since that collision. A yellow-orange K-2 star burns cheerily in the midst of six planets and two asteroid belts. The second planet has a surface temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, and a sufficiently rich assortment of elements to set another of the great transformative processes of the cosmos into motion. Now, in one spot on the surface of this world, rising up past bulbous purplish things that don’t look anything like trees but fill the same broad ecological function, there is a crag of black rock. On top of that crag, a creature sits looking at the stars, fanning its lunules with its sagittal crest and waving its pedipalps meditatively back and forth. It is one of the first members of its world’s first intelligent species, and it is—for the first time ever on that world—considering the stars and wondering if other beings might live out there among them.

The creature’s biochemistry, structure, and life cycle have nothing in common with yours, dear reader. Its world, its sensory organs, its mind and its feelings would be utterly alien to you, even if ten billion years didn’t separate you. Nonetheless, it so happens that a few atoms that are currently part of your brain, as you read these words, will also be part of the brain-analogue of the creature on the crag on that distant, not-yet-existing world. Does that fact horrify you, intrigue you, console you, leave you cold? We’ll discuss the implications of that choice next week.


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Jim R said...

Your comments on the Big Bang and its relationship with epicycles has inspired me to offer another bit of idle

speculation here. The notion of a Big Bang was simply extrapolated from the notion of an 'expanding' universe,

derived from the reddening of spectral lines in distant objects. So epicycles are a good analogy -- ancient

astronomers observed cycles in the sky and imagined a kind of celestial orrery. 20th century astronomers observed

the reddening of spectral lines, and ran the clock backwards to arrive at a point source, which must have exploded

quite violently to get us where we are now. The two explanations are similar in their simplicity.

Suppose our universe, the one we know, with its four-dimensional fabric of spacetime, is merely a point embedded

in an indescribably complex multiverse?

In this multiverse, every possible state of each particle is represented, so that the probabilities of quantum

mechanics are all covered. This would explain the quantum principle that the observation of a particle makes its

wave function collapse -- you are merely establishing which branch of the multiverse you are in.

At a greater distance from our point in the multiverse, are other universes in which the fundamental properties of

matter and energy are different. So, for example, you have a universe in which beta decay does not occur. That one

suffers a failure to exist, as all its matter collapses in a useless clot of neutrons. It never launches. Or

another universe over there, where thermodynamics work differently and would allow for a perpetual motion machine.

Unfortunately that universe also fails in an early heat death. Sort of a Darwinian winnowing of the unsupportable

branches of the multiverse.

... just speculatin' ...

Gauk said...

Trippticket: The evolutionary pressures that govern human skin tone have plenty of rhyme and reason. A notable driver is the ratio of folic acid(prevents birth defects) to vitamin D(also prevents birth defects) in the population's diet - sunlight is needed to produce vitamin D but destroys folic acid. The average Inuit has more melanin than say, the average Swede at the same latitude because the Inuit diet over evolutionary timescales contained more vitamin D and less folic acid than the agricultural diet that swept across Europe thousands of years ago.

Other notable selection pressures: Humans at higher elevations get less of Earth's atmosphere to protect them against solar radiation, which selects towards darker skin than lower elevations. The closer to the equator you get the darker the skin due to greater concentration of solar radiation.

Sexual selection does play a part - in many(but not all) societies the powerful classes tend to be slightly lighter than less powerful classes since powerful men tend to marry less powerful women on their physical attractiveness - which in many cases includes lighter skin. Women's skin lightens at puberty to produce extra vitamin D during fetal development and lactation; This dimorphism is often seen as a desirable trait.

Tony said...

@JMG and MawKernewek on the subject of helium flashes: yeah, the sun and sunlike stars are indeed supposed to go through them, but it looks like even though they happen the sheer thermal mass of the sun smears out their effects in time such that rather than resembling explosions they are more like periods of ridiculously massive wind as the thermal energy works its way out from the center in a process that takes hundreds of thousands of years.

On the subject of consolation versus other reactions: the idea of my PARTICULAR atoms being recycled doesn't really add much for me above and beyond the idea that things still can recur. Matter itself seems much less important to me than our effects on events into the future; nothing I can do can make one of my neural carbon atoms influence the thoughts of anyone else who eats it and uses it to build a memory, but things I do now to OTHER groups of atoms (including other humans) can ripple forward in time even after I am long forgotten from any living memory...

KL Cooke said...

"I would not be surprised if even national parks were mined in desperation."

It'll be more surprising if they're not. If someone thinks there's oil under the Lincoln Memorial, you can color old Honest Abe gone.

Clarence said...

"Don't feel bad, most species of large mammal die's just our turn." Herb Ruhs, MD

a quote from someone i use to follow several years ago. in response to a reader's lament about the possible end of the human struggle.


Marcello said...

"They had all the information they needed to see the direness of the worlds situation, but they still weren't willing to face up to it."

Try as hard as they can to pretend otherwise leftists, environmentalists and so on are by and large part and parcel of the system. The cake getting smaller is a VERY unwelcomed development to fit in their worldview. Even those who nominally embrace degrowth still consider a lot stuff underwritten by "The Glorious Thirty" as absolutely "non negotiable". Good luck with that...

MawKernewek said...

Helium fusion is actually very unstable. Its rate goes as (density)^2 * (Temp)^40.

When it happens, the layer in which it is taking place expands as a result of the energy release meaning it's less dense and cooler, so the fusion stops again. So yes, it is a series of explosive releases of energy.

However as Tony pointed out, astronomical observers are located on the outside of stars, and the energy is absorbed by the outer layers which are driven off through stellar winds.

I did comment before on the Drake equation, either on one of these posts or on Star's Reach. It does depend strongly on the lifetime of a technological (radio transmitting) civilisation.

MawKernewek said...

Here's the Stars reach post I gave my Drake Equation comment on:

My conclusion was that the time delays in interstellar radio communication were more likely to be hundreds rather than tens of Earth years.

Cherokee Organics said...


You may have heard that we held a Federal election here yesterday (Saturday) and that there is now a change of government in the country.

The outcome of the election, reminds me of the comment that I've received from quite a few small traders in Asia, "Yes, same, same, but different".

Anyway, politics aside, out of sheer curiosity but also for some small financial gain, I sought out employment as a general dogs body at the local polling station. For obvious reasons, I can’t provide specific details, but…

I was really impressed with the systems in place as they were - shock, horror! - completely manual and paper based. To say I was in my element is an understatement! There was not even a single computer in sight. Members from some of the political parties came in during the count to provide oversight for the final vote count (again it was 100% manual) and everyone at the end of the day seemed satisfied with the processes.

It was a long (about 15 hours of continuous work) and hard day (even by my standards) but by the end I took satisfaction that such a complex task could be undertaken in a truly robust manual paper based system chock full of integrity.

To have never been involved in such a system is to underestimate the integrity that the system has.

Readers may not know it, but voting is compulsory in Australia and you are fined if you do not vote. This requirement arose in the early 20th century after federation because of the high level of general apathy from most of the population here and I can attest now that most people take the process pretty seriously.

PS: I think you've hit the motherlode with this essay!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Tripp,

There are no rabbits at this point in the mountain range because of 24/7 predation and lack of appropriate feed and shelter. However, the flood plain below is a different story and they seem to be quite plentiful.

I remember reading about people eating rabbits here during the Depression era who were also starving because the rabbits themselves were also doing very poorly due to prolonged drought (I think the US was in drought at the same time).

The film footage of rabbits at that time was quite disturbing in a zombie sort of way.

Dunno, about rabbits. I have eaten them and they are quite tasty (a bit gamey though). I've eaten guinea pig too and it was quite good and some people recommend raising them in preference. Dunno really as I don't raise either.


Cherokee Organics said...


On the topic of tea.

I put the dried tea leaves into a metal mesh strainer which sits in the water and can diffuse as much or as little according to your taste. When the metal mesh is removed from the water, the tea leaves are also removed. Very simple and also very elegant.

Why would someone put milk into tea? That seems wrong to me... Just like frying tomatoes which end up looking exactly like a blood clot. Not right.

On the other hand, it is just that little bit too cold for the tea camellia plant to grow here. As it hasn't snowed for about 5 years though, it may be just warm enough for a coffee plant to survive and fruit. Mmmm coffee.

Hi ChemEng,

Respect and welcome to the journey.



Les said...

Reaction to the essay? It kinda reminds me of a grander scale version of one of my favourite games - looking at the night sky and marvelling at the scale and complexity of it all.

Eg. when I just went out and looked up at epsilon crucis, I was seeing it as it was over 200 years ago. And if anyone on a planet circling that star was looking my way, they were seeing us as we were over 200 years ago.

Then the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that I only saw that star because the electrons that emitted the photons I caught only did so because the electrons in my retina were there to catch them.
The electrons in my eyes sent out retarded waves, traveling back in time until they hit those emmiting electrons over two hundred years ago, letting them know that it's ok to send out those photons, to be caught over here two hundred years later.

Or when I look at my wife, I'm only ever seeing her as she was a fraction of a second ago.

So, ten billion years? Pah! I can't even figure out what "now" is...



Roger Ebert said...

Seems unlikely to me that enough petroleum could be regenerated inside 100M years to power another petroleum based civilization of Crows that go to the Moon. Also seems unlikely you could have another 8000+ iterations of "Civilizations" of Homo Sapiens given the environmental degradation produced by say just a dozen or so since the beginnings of Ag Society for Homo Sapiens over just 10,000 years or so. Rinse and Repeat that stuff for 1M years it is hard to see how much in the ecosystem survives.

One can speculate on these things though quite extensively and dream up all sorts of possibilities.


trippticket said...

From an ongoing conversation with my grandfather:

"Recently a number of reports have shed light on an impending carbon bubble. Fossil fuel companies are valued in the market based on their reserves of unburned fuel still in the ground. If international regulations are put in place to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from rising above 450 ppm (the estimated cap to avoid irreversible climate change), much of the listed reserves couldn't be used."

This one actually cracked me up a little bit, since the "magic number" was 350 ppm just a few years one's going to stop burning fossil fuels until they're gone or economically non-viable, which thankfully, may not be as far off as most people think, and no global regulatory committee is going to convince people, particularly Americans, otherwise. I believe we can reverse climate change, but not without behavioral innovation. Substituting one technology for another is just a sweet lullaby that makes people feel better about not making real changes in their lives (thanks JMG!).

It's like claiming that there's this new condom on the market that takes the immorality out of adultery.

trippticket said...


"Women's skin lightens at puberty to produce extra vitamin D during fetal development and lactation; This dimorphism is often seen as a desirable trait."

I assume you mean "at conception."

Thanks for the additional info. Although I still believe that sexual selection plays a very big role in our looks.

trippticket said...

"It makes me feel a lot more confident about continued supply of caffeine, and it really makes me appreciate how much work goes into tea. Well worth trying next spring, for those of you who already have appropriate plants growing in your neighborhood."

This is an interesting topic and highly relative to the project of this blog I think. JMG's love of tea aside.

Chocolate, coffee, sugar, and tea were actually the perfect drugs for the industrial revolution. We were getting busier, more "efficient," working longer days in less familiar environments, giving naps a miss, and so forth. It made sense in that pattern, and the timing of their arrival on the world stage couldn't have been better.

Today, there's even more to be done in my opinion, though very few people outside of a few of these blogs seems to understand what those things are. And ultimately it all boils down to work that is a lot more...human, and done by hand. Pushing on through siesta won't be as big a deal I don't think because the work will be more cyclical and less, how should we say, retirement-driven. It'll always be there. There won't be as much getting "that couch thing taken care of," to quote the movie Fight Club.

So my question is, will the perfect storm of industrial drugs be as important in a de-industrializing future as it has been throughout our lives and careers? I have 10 tea camellias growing in my forest garden, and intend to expand that crop radically over the coming decade, but I don't really drink caffeinated tea. This is purely a cash crop issue, and because I love my wife, who does drink black tea.

I also carry considerable concern about a demographic of young people growing up in the mountains with fewer job prospects, rampant methamphetamines about, and fillers of their in-between hours like Monster energy drinks, Red Bull, Amp, etc. This seems like a lighter/match scenario to me. Care to comment?

trippticket said...

Going purely by blog membership...

I'd say that 5 out of 6 people prefer the rantings of John Michael Greer to David Brin!

Ding, ding, ding! If you follow the archdruid report, you win the prize!!

SLClaire said...

Re tea: I planted two tea camellias in my St. Louis area garden and posted about why and where I planted them in my blog:
Those of you in USDA zones 6 and 7 in particular might want to check out the post. Since I planted this spring I don't know if they will survive winter, but next spring I will let you know!

Re Robinson Jeffers: in college I took a course on 20th century American poetry and wrote the required term paper on one of his long poems. If that paper weren't in a cedar chest with a lot of stuff displaced from a painting project piled on it, I'd dig the paper out and tell you which poem it was. Initially I chose the poem because the professor mentioned he liked Jeffers' poetry and hoped someone would write their paper on it. But I ended up liking the poem for itself. Now that he's been brought up again, I'll put rereading some of his poetry on my reading stack.

Also, thanks to the reader who recommended Lee Smolin's book The Trouble with Physics. It's fascinating and I highly recommend it, especially since it discusses some of the things that have been brought up in the comments.

John Michael Greer said...

Jeffinwa, just one of the services I offer. ;-)

Geovermont, oddly enough, we'll be talking about Jeffers at some length in an upcoming post. Doesn't hurt that he's one of my faves, up there with Yeats and Eliot.

Joseph, glad you liked the book. It took the process of writing The Long Descent, my first peak oil book, to really get me thinking about the foundational ideas that structure my approach to the future, and The Ecotechnic Future was what came out of the resulting brooding (and blog posts).

Stacy, I may just have to look into that. We're up in the mountains here -- well, as close as the eastern half of the continent has to mountains -- and I'm thinking of some of the delectable mountain-grown green teas I enjoy...

Dagnarus, that's a fascinating comparison; I think you're onto something.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, that's certainly one way to approach it. Me, I simply look at the history of science, and the number of times that what looked as though it had been solidly proven turned out to rest on a couple of awkwardly placed mistakes; I also find the Big Bang way too similar to Genesis 1:1 et seq., and thus suspect that here again we've got a mythic narrative in scientific drag. Still, I could be wrong.

Tony, thanks for the updated info -- and also for your position on the depressed-to-consoled spectrum!

KL, I've been saying for years now that before this is over, the Sierra Club will be advocating stripmining the national parks -- in (ahem) an ecologically sensitive way, to be sure.

Clarence, good. In fact, it can be generalized -- large animals don't tend to last long, and why should we be any exception?

Marcello, bingo. The dependence of contemporary liberalism on the fantasy of an endlessly expanding economy is that movement's most lethal weakness.

MawKernewek, and of course that may be true. I took an average lifespan for communicative civilizations toward the upper end of the probability curve in order to make the plot work better, but I'd be far from surprised if that didn't turn out to be accurate.

Cherokee, I'm delighted to hear it. Here in the US elections involve easily hacked electronic devices, and since electoral fraud is a grand American tradition, I'm sure you can imagine the results. Asfor milk in tea, I have no idea -- my stepfamily is Japanese, so I grew up drinking tea Asian style, straight, no milk, no sugar, and light by British standards.

Les, the aliens on Epsilon Crucis III doubtless waved back!

Roger, a good bit of the petroleum you're burning today was laid down less than 100 million years ago. Please do look up the underlying science before deciding what is and isn't plausible!

Trippticket, the condom metaphor just won you today's gold star. More generally, yes, the number will keep creeping upwards; it's a consistent bad habit of environmental activists to forget that other people keep track of shifts in their rhetoric. As for the popularity of the two opinions, well, I bet if you'd asked on Brin's blog, you'd have gotten a very different answer!

SLClaire, I'll definitely check that out. Thank you.

dragonfly said...

..."Does that fact horrify you, intrigue you, console you, leave you cold?"

I'll take intrigued, with a creamy sauce of wonder, topped with fresh awe.

Really, it just strikes me as rather cool that I have gotten to hang out with such well-traveled atoms.

Thank you JMG, for the stirring of those feelings, which happens too seldom these days.

Roger Ebert said...

True enough, a good deal of the Oil we burn today was laid down in the last 150M years, but Saudi Oil for instance was mostly laid down 400M-500M YA. I put up a chart on this in the parallel thread on the Diner at;topicseen#msg31752

I'd drop it on here except I don't think your comment stream takes graphics, least I have never seen any.

In any event, to get similar Oil creation over the next 150M years, you would need similar environmental conditions to occur, which seems unlikely at the moment. One can speculate though that conditions will change though to make it possible down the line some.


Carl said...

Hi JMG, I have a Camellia Sinensis green tea plant here in the N. San Francisco Bay Area. I've had it in a pot for going on its second winter. It is suppose to be ok down to Zone 7 and that is what we are, but nights of 28 to 27 d weather is too cold for it and you lose most of the leaves. I'll bring it inside this winter. It is suppose to get more cold tolerant as it gets bigger. I haven't tried to brew any of the leaves yet, but will try in the spring. I'd like it in the ground as a bush (can get 8' high and wide). I got mine from Territorial Seed Co., in OR. They are shipped about a foot tall (my first one died, too much shade I think).
Good luck, Carl

Moshe Braner said...

I don't usually comment, but JMG asked us to say what his scenario made us feel like. So here. I found it unsurprising, being fairly close to how I've viewed the future myself for some time. Of course, those who read JMGs post are a self-selected sample. I was brought up monotheistic, but have strayed a long ways from that over the almost 40 years since I've set out to find my own way. I've always rejected dualism, it seems, and also am puzzled why so many are obsessed with the issue of consciousness. Whether some of the atoms currently (and fleetingly) part of my body end up in another body seems, should I say, immaterial. We don't worry about our personal existence being finite in space, why is it any different if it is finite in time? But being an, albeit insignificant, part of this grand stream of existence is a comfort. And the fact that that stream will keep on despite our worst mistakes is a comfort too.

Now where's the app to help me read the fuzzy capchas to prove I'm not a robot? :-)

Moshe Braner said...

This may be off-topic, but although I certainly believe that proper grazing management can help build up soils, the claims of an inch a year etc seem quite unrealistic. There are people claiming such around here too (Vermont), and I've heard/seen some flashy presentations. But showing a mass of un-decomposed grass roots after a year or two proves nothing. It's the longer term accumulation that counts, after a steady-state balance develops between the rate of addition of organic material and the rate of decomposition of existing matter. In some special situations decomposition is arrested and you get a peat bog, but in most climates that's not the case. The same holds for the various breathless claims the tree-planting will save us. Even in the areas where human planting of trees matters (the edges between prairie or desert and forest), there is a long-term density of biomass that balances additions and subtractions. So no handwaving please, show me the math.

Hal said...

I've actually been enjoying reading Brin's blog. He's a really smart guy, and there's a lot with which I agree. Check this one out:

JMG, I think you'll like the second topic, as it makes use of an image you used in a post not too long ago.

KL Cooke said...

"Sometimes I feel I am falling under the Archdruid's spell and don't trust myself to be smart enough to recognize it"

Darren, that happens to many of us here, myself included. What makes it particularly seductive is the contrast to the self-aggrandizing bombast typical of his critics.

rising-moon said...

Intrigued and consoled. :)

I'm delighted by the current of glee running through this post. It sounds like you had a great time writing it. Thank you!

thrig said...

a cycle of debt,
  for speculatory spin
that includes Brunet,
  druids, and the much-arrowed Brin

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I like milk in smoky teas like Lapsang Souchong. Chai is boiled with spices and milk. I don't put milk in plain Darjeeling, Earl Grey, or any green tea.

evodevo said...

I don't think it will take 10,000 years.....

jim said...

I went over to David Brin's bog and found the discussion of the "next ten billion year" essay in the comments section.

A person who goes by the name "occam's comic" tried to draw a thoughtful comment from David. But it did not really work out that way.

I think I know why he got so angry about your essay. This is what David Brin thinks of Science Fiction Writers

"the highest of all human professions....
Wait a minute. Brin said what? Oh, sure, readers of this book probably like science fiction. But isn't that taking things a bit too far, calling sci fi writing the highest profession? Well, in a profound irony that ought to amuse -- or perhaps grate -- the many atheists and agnostics who write SF, let me suggest that no other calling, not even that of monk or priest, has a greater claim to sacred status."

He apparently sees Science Fiction as the sacred text for the God of Progress, and then you (JMG) used the form of science fiction to undermine the God of Progress.

Iuval Clejan said...

As far as sexual selection, it seems pretty obvious to me that women who want to have children generally select for men who will consume more resources to keep them and the babies comfortable, with access to all the perks (e.g. good healthcare) our highly consumptive culture offers. Men who want to go off and homestead or even just devote more energy to green wizardry in relative poverty get selected against. No wonder the status quo continues as it is. This is also kind of consistent with my general observation of a division of labor in genome propagation, where females are generally in charge of genome maintenance and males are in charge of producing genome variation. Maybe it generalizes to cultural maintenance and variation as well.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- I still don't understand the urgency. You repeat, not infrequently, that there's a lot of work to be done and not a lot of people doing it.

Brin makes the same point, and his urgency I understand. His is a classic hero journey myth: there's a Great Thing to be accomplished, many obstacles on the path, and the threat of failure at every turn. In real life (or evolution) for every Parsifal who finds the Graal, there are a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand knights who get caught headfirst in a thicket in the deep woods and are never heard from again. The hero journey myth has the luxury of Author's Omniscience, and can focus with perfect foresight on that one guy who wins the prize, lending his triumph an air of inevitability. So Brin's mythology requires that we strive urgently and sincerely; it also "guarantees" success, because otherwise it's a lousy story (to modern sensibilities -- in Greek tragedy, failure is guaranteed.)

It seems you are trying to craft a different mythology, a more realistic one, and I'm simply not seeing the urgency in it. It unfolds in its own time.

Let's focus on a specific item of our culture: music. Let's say that I decide my passion is to preserve the music of Beethoven for the next global civilization.

I spend my own money (as a passionate hobby) to print up scores of all his works on archival paper with archival ink. I take a few of his best-loved melodies and etch them on glass, and again on stone. I write up a simple primer on our musical notation in a half-dozen languages, and have multiple copies printed on archival paper and bound into volumes. I even transcribe a few recordings onto platinum-coated metal disks, and hand-build cranked Victrolas that will play the recordings. I scatter these in a handful of caves in cool, dry climates around the earth, and found a Secret Society with the charge of preserving the repository locations in coded story form.

By quirk of fate, all of this actually works, and a growing civilization in what we would call CE 4100 digs up a book written in CE 3500 by some apostate member of my now-disbanded secret society, speculating on a legend that the founding story of the sect is a kind of coded treasure map. Someone goes treasure-hunting, and they find one of the caches.

The treasure they find? F**** music boxes? In a fit of temper, they torch the whole repository. Or maybe they drag parts of it back to civilization, hoping to make at least whiskey money off it.

Some fragment of one repository eventually makes its way into the hands of a member of the growing musical tradition of that society. To their ear, Beethoven is overly complex, noisy, and offensively emotional (something that would have been true had you moved Beethoven even a century backward in time, and had you moved it five centuries backward, it would have been banned as diabolical). A few composers adapt one or two of the melodies to "modern" ears. Everything I so laboriously preserved is buried in a museum and forgotten.

A longish story, the point of which is this: what parts of our culture will the future even want, and what is our purpose in trying to pass it down to them?

In James Blish's Cities in Flight novellas, the last living members of our dying universe are launched into other dimensions to spawn new universes through Big Bangs. To do so, they have to exterminate another species that is racing to get to the “fulcrum” of our dying universe first. It's clearly an act of reproductive desperation, a naked attempt to compete for dominance and control even in (literally) universal death.

That's true of all the “expanding through the galaxies” stories: they are merely European imperialism written on the stars. The Egyptians wouldn't have found those stories very inspiring at all. Nor do I any more, though they fascinated me when I was young.

How much of that is also true of our attempt to “pass on” our culture to the future?

blackwingsblackheart said...

Delurking to say hurrah for stretching your scientifictional muscles again! I particularly applaud your corvins (being a great fan of crows and ravens, as my handle might indicate), and I've long suspected raccoons were next in line to evolve higher intelligence. The corbicules remind me of my friend Eleanor Arnason's "goxhat", which are a somewhat spiderlike species of collective-individual accountants, and feature in some of her Lydia Duluth short stories and one saga:

It used to be that the thought of the end of planetary life and the planet herself saddened me dreadfully, but with (middle) age and a couple of decades of meditation on the moon and the Wheel of the Year, I'm growing more comfortable with cyclicality. It's not like Nature gives us an option, after all--we're caught up in cycles from beginning to end, and we can fight them, ignore them, accept them, or celebrate them, it doesn't change Her reality.

wagelaborer said...

I recently ran across this and was amazed. Humans were down to 2,000 strong only 150,000 years ago?

mallow said...

Iuval, another way to look at it is that some men in the peak oil scene will continue to be selected against until either they truly understand, in gory detail, just why access to modern healthcare is more than a consumerist perk and comfort for most women of childbearing age and act on that understanding, or women run out of alternative mating options, whichever comes first.

onething said...


You don't understand why I care whether or not I exist?

Christian Smith said...

Loved the post, unrelated query: have you or will you write your analysis of the Syrian conflict? I find it a good example of how Climate Change can spark/cause/exacerbate conflict (, and I think we might be able to learn some lessons from it. I'm sure you have some good insight to share.

John Michael Greer said...

Dragonfly, you're welcome. I'll be talking a great deal more about those feelings shortly.

Roger, well, since my scenario has the Earth going into a hothouse climate 10 million years from now, following an oceanic anoxic event that laid down gigatons of carbon to start with, I think I've already complied with the conditions you specified.

Carl, we get temperatures in the teens most winters, so tea probably isn't an option here yet. Thanks for the details!

Moshe, okay, one more in the "comforted" category. As for the rapid buildup of topsoil, I'd like to see data also, I admit.

Hal, of course Brin is a smart guy. That's what makes it all the more instructive that challenging the basic beliefs of his religion -- the civil religion of progress -- reduced him so promptly to spluttering fury.

KL, thank you!

Rising Moon, what can I say? I find the perspectives of deep time an endless source of delight, and am glad to have been able to share some of that.

Thrig, I'm still trying to parse that.

Unknown Deborah, well, to each her own.

Evodevo, to do what?

Jim, thanks for the link! As for Brin's self-conceit, that's priceless -- and embarrassingly common among SF writers of a certain temperament. Isaac Asimov used to be deeply into the notion of science fiction writers as humanity's forward scouts on the great march into the future. (Of course Asimov's ego was the size of a gas giant -- fans used to argue about which one, though I think the consensus was that it had a distinct resemblance to Uranus.)

John Michael Greer said...

Joseph, if it isn't urgent to you, then don't worry about it. Leave it to those who feel called to it. I'd simply remind you, in contrast to your scenario, what it would mean today if somebody found a collection of ancient Roman music. Only one fragment 25 seconds long has survived of the once-vast Roman musical tradition; I think you'd find more than casual interest if a significant body of Roman music were to turn up in some North African ruin today.

Blackwings, I loved the Goxhat poem! As for the death of our species and this planet, well, it's very much like each of our individual deaths: a reality we can either deal with, and attain maturity in the doing of it, or flee from, and remain children.

Wagelaborer, it's an interesting theory, and entirely possible. I admit I'd want to see confirming data.

Robert Mathiesen said...

To answer your question at the end, just for myself: It intrigues and delights me. Also, I rather like Robinson Jeffer's philosophy of Inhumanism, so far as I understand it.

thrig said...

Hmm, might have helped if I had spelled Thomas Burnet's last name properly (I kept finding Becket for some reason), as featured in a certain Gouldian "arrow" and "cycle" book. "Much arrowed" might mean doing the Boromir in the figurative sense, or perhaps leaning more to one side of that particular dichotomy.

Cherokee Organics said...


How funny is that? It was a definite tea spitter! The irony is not lost on me that as a culture here, we have a quite different process. Yep, who would have thought it, that a culture founded initially by convicts would actually end up being quite law abiding? Strange, but I’ve always wondered how elections in your country could possibly lead to court action.

Back to the topic at hand though. I reckon that you are onto something with this style of essays. People think and act on stories and narratives. That's why I reckon so many people are asleep at the wheel (Cognitive dissonance).

The real problem becomes though, what happens when the prevailing narrative no longer matches the facts on the ground and yet people still act out their lives upon the dominant story?

I assume that was what your critical thinking essay sought to address?

My gut feel says that it is a dangerous situation / time in a culture for the dominant narrative to be incapable of delivering and yet it is repeated at ever louder volumes. The problem is intensified because of the blind acceptance that the current dominant narrative requires, stops people from developing skills such as:

- how do you even know when things are going wrong?

- what do you do when things go wrong?

- Do you have the skills to correct whatever error has occurred?

- have you allowed enough resources to correct any errors that may occur?

I could just keep going on and on with questions...

It reminds me very much of the research that goes on here in the aftermath of a major wildfire. Peoples responses have consistently been evenly distributed amongst the following 3 options:

- Planned for the eventuality and acted on that plan;

- Understood the risk and thought about planning for the eventuality but decided to take a "wait and see" approach instead; and

- No idea.

I'd like to say I'm making this stuff up, but unfortunately that is the outcome time and time again. It is so consistent that there must be something in it?



Iuval Clejan said...

Dear mallow,
Seems like I've hit a sensitive nerve. You are correct that access to modern medicine can be a life or death thing (especially for childbirth and young children) and hence is not comparable to the perks of , say, central heating, flush toilets or driving cars. It is one way though, that the system has got people by the balls (or should I say ovaries?) and prevents them from making significant changes in their own lives. Change involves risk and sacrifice, but it is totally understandable that women of childbearing age are unwilling to take big risks or make big sacrifices. It is just one way the system perpetuates itself.

onething said...


"This is also kind of consistent with my general observation of a division of labor in genome propagation, where females are generally in charge of genome maintenance and males are in charge of producing genome variation. Maybe it generalizes to cultural maintenance and variation as well."

I think you are correct in this.

Iuval is worried that there are few women interested in leaving the middle class lifestyle behind for the hard work of homesteading. I wonder if that is true? I have seen a number of posts by men, Orlov included, who seem to say that their wives present a hurdle.

valekeeperx said...


Excellent. Last week’s post was like a slap in the face (for me at least), this week’s was fascinating. Back-to-back home runs. In answer to your questions, I guess I am intrigued and relieved by the prospects you describe, though having studied geology, deeper time is something that I have always found interesting. IMHO, recognizing and embracing our individual and collective fates only makes life that much sweeter. Reminds me of the Buddhist sand mandala ceremonies and their celebrations or demonstrations of impermanence.

Surprised that you did not include a large meteor impact or two in the scenario. I read somewhere several years ago that there seems to be somewhat of a pattern in the periodicity of large impacts. IIRC, there was speculation that as we complete our galactic circuits, our solar system on a regular basis may pass through regions of the galaxy that cause perturbations in our system or may pass through regions with relatively denser debris fields.

Someday this planet is gonna end.

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, one more in the "intrigued and delighted" category!

Thrig, got it! Thanks for the clarification. The line about "the much-arrowed Brin" somehow had me thinking about St. Sebastian...

Cherokee, the core theme of this blog is the need to replace defunct narratives with ones that actually help us understand the world in front of us; yes, the critical thinking post related to that, but so does almost everything else I've written. As for people shrugging and going on with their ordinary lives in the presence of grave risk, that's a fascinating phenomenon we see a lot over here, too. It would be something to see some serious studies done on it.

Valekeeperx, I'm sure there were big bolides in there now and then -- for all I know, that's what killed off the cyons, or a later intelligent species descended from land-dwelling starfish. It's just that none of them happened to hit close enough to the decimal intervals I borrowed from Bardi.

Glenn said...

Men Vs. Women in Peak Oil

My wife is the driver in our homestead. I'm not just along for the ride mind you, but she's definitely leading.

She has the advantage over a young unemployed woman with no health care in that she is married to me, a military retiree with a decent health care plan.

However, when she was younger, jobless and had no health care, she also lived this way. But she had no children, and did not consider having any until she had health care coverage.


Marrowstone Island

Glenn said...

Almost Extinct

I too, remember reading an article a year or so back about humans almost becoming extinct. The number I remember is more like 10,000, and I don't remember how long ago it was. This was derived from examining certain genetic markers, which pointed to a bottleneck at a particular time.


Marrowstone Island

Cherokee Organics said...


The big picture is really starting to sink in. Thanks for your efforts.

I don't think we're short of research on the subject matter of natural disasters and peoples responses to those here. After such major wildfires occur we often have a Royal Commission which produces recommendations and gives people a chance to vent their spleens. It’s just that once it has been finished, no one ever reads the report again.

What we are short on is action and a commitment by the community to tackle the reality of the environment that they live in. It is simply just too expensive and labour intensive and there are too many people with their fingers in the pie.

Years back I spoke to the local MP about the issue and was told that people complain when nothing is done, but they also complain when fuel reduction burns are undertaken (apparently children’s birthday parties and washing on the line are a major source of those complaints - true story).

In the past 6 months after a few wet years (and surviving the past dry, scorcher summer), there has been a perceptible shift in peoples perspectives on the matter here. It didn’t take long for people to forget.

On Sunday I travelled up to Kinglake which isn't very far from here to see how the areas affected by the Black Saturday fires of 2009 are now going.

A lot of money has been pumped into that area and there are now a lot more houses and the bakery had moved to bigger premises (yum). However, what disappointed me is that I did not see a single house in the area that incorporated bushfire resistant construction techniques. I was truly baffled by that unexpected turn of events, but don’t know why I expected differently.

Lightning can strike in the same place twice.



MawKernewek said...

I wonder if any reluctance by women to leave the industrialised lifestyle, is not as much about worries about health, but about going back to working in the "household economy", that was undervalued in the bad old days before the advance of feminism.

Les said...

@Iuval, @onething,@mallow

I know as many women "held back" (or should that be "forward"?) by men unwilling to see the need for downshifting as the other way around.

I also know a very small sample of men & women who work together to find the best way into a low energy future. The women in this sample have formed what they call the "Invisible Wives Club", as it seems all the kudos for all the innovation and all the ideas accrues to the men, regardless of the actual source.

Marie Curie aside, we have some very major cultural blinkers that make it really hard for us to see the sexes as equals. I've lost track of the number of blues I've had with my wife over this, as if I actually have some control over the perceptions of others - I spend a large amount of effort pointing out the stuff she's done, but it's like talking to bricks most of the time.

We need to lose the blinkers; if you can't get your SO on side, you aren't communicating, you need to try something other than speaking louder. And yes, it took near 5 years to get my SO seeing what I saw, but luckily my heritage is Frisian (very, very stubborn).


Juhana said...

There is one thing that makes me wonder humanity's endless capability to hoax itself. Here comes the main dilemma I have perceived...

I have been irregular commenter to this blog for a while now. With my quite terrible pidgin English I have tried to voice my firm believe that current liberal package of moral codes is totally dependent on expanding, prosperous economy. That if feeling and reality of progressing material wellbeing is taken away, liberal moral code follows into trash bin of history in short notice.

I have based this opinion on two sources.

First, my personal experiences about systemic collapse of industrial networks in former Soviet bloc during 90's, where mentioned collapse led eventually to current mood of society where patriarchy, kinship and nationalism are taken very seriously and tolerance towards deviancy is very limited. This mood is comig from grassroots level, I remind you, it is not force-fed by Powers That Be from above. Pussy Riot incident is good example of that, Mr. Putin probably saved the group of university intellectuals from far worse fate in hands of common people by throwing them into the jail.

Secondly, on my reading of history, where danger of insufficient resources and violence (pretty much all history before Industrial Revolution's second phase) has led to human societies which are conformist and narrow-minded, if measured by standards of modern liberals.

These are not my preferences but observations, which I have made after spending huge amount of time with people from backgrounds with no exposure to Western indoctrination about morality and ethics. I have heard it all said in loud without any memorized self-shame: Elders of Zion conspiracy revisited, that female's plave is between stove and fist if she does not behave, that dark-skinned Caucasians are vicious breed of untermensch. These have not been opinions coming from marigins of society, but opinions that engineers, civil servants and welldoing small-scale shopkeepers have voiced after vodka glass or two without any shame or hesitation. This scenario is utterly outside any imaginable in the current Western society, and while trying to describe how wild mood changes you experience just by travelling outside your own culture's borderland, you probably just agitate persons so immersed in their own cultural narrative that they do not see it's limited sphere of influence. It is not about MY opinions, but observed facts about huge cultural gaps between moods of even Indo-European nations.

Now, it seems to me that among JMG readers there is faction of people that subscribes his vison about huge population decline during current century, but at the same time have instinctive dislike against anyone that points out that just maybe this kind of future scenario does not hold change for current mix of Western morality (sentimentalism, feminism, multiculturalism, pluralism, racial diversity without subordination)to survive.

In the Europe last big fall in population was during Little Ice Age from 1600's onwards. That development led among others to horrible wars (Thirty Years War, anyone?), general hysteria against witchcraft, tightening of moral code, subordination of female gender when compared to Late Middle Ages. World War Two was nothing compared to good old 17th century, if you look demographics. Little Ice Age is last historical event in Europe that truly measures against scenario JMG describes, and fall of Soviet bloc is only known internal breakdown of advanced industrial system known in human history. In both cases, current package of Western morality had no more change to survive than snowball has in the flames of Hell.

So I throw ball to you folks who believe that mankind can both collapse and maintain it's Western morality inherited from distant forebears of Sixties hippie generation. How you are going to do it? And while wondering that question, remeber that shooting the messenger does not solve the underlying problem.

trippticket said...

RE: tea

"It is suppose to be ok down to Zone 7 and that is what we are, but nights of 28 to 27 d weather is too cold for it and you lose most of the leaves."

Lest anyone outside of the subtropics get discouraged, ALL of my 10 Camellia sinensis bushes grow in a fairly shady place and have seen temps at least as low as 20F, and are doing just fine.

Juhana said...

One clarification to my earlier post: conversations and revealing sentences clarifying other person's inner landscape I have heard have not happened in any kind of political context; this makes them far more frightening for Western observer. They are casual opinions of common people. Conversations have happend during leisure time with work mates or in casual social gatherings like weddings. I have been adamantly non-commited participant in most of them, throwing only vague comments or light-hearted jokes... That angle takes you surprisingly far.

After glass or two (or three...), as social awkwardness starts to vanish, people somewhat reveal their inner reality in more unreserved conversations... This phenomenon is universal.

I can assure readers of this blog who have had unfortune to spend their whole lives inside just one bulking cultural or even state formation that opinions indeed change between different parts of the world... Cultural climate of Hungary cannot be assimilated with that of UK, and things viewed as perfectly normal opinions by Byelorussians are anathema to enlightened citizens of US... We indeed are no harmonious world village with shared views...

Liquid Paradigm said...


Today's guest post at Orlov's blog takes square aim at that very issue. No comments at it thus far, though I expect howls of rage and indignation if/once it makes wider circulation.

blackwingsblackheart said...

JMG, glad you liked the poem! It sounds like I'm shilling for a good friend--which of course I am--but I truly enjoy Eleanor's work. Another Goxhat story, "Knapsack Poems," was published in Asimov's a few years back, and she has new books out from small presses: "Mammoths of the Great Plains" from PM Press and "Big Mama Stories" from Aqueduct Press. I think you might find them enjoyable.

Speaking of books, I was delighted to find the paperback of "Blood of the Earth" at good old Magus Books in Minneapolis. We have a new anarchist bookstore in town, Boneshaker Books (named after a type of bike, apparently), and when I ordered "Green Wizardry" from them they told me they were so intrigued by it that they ordered copies for the shelf. I'll have to stop in again and find out how the book is doing.

You're right, acceptance of mortality is not only a marker of maturity, but of wisdom. I've buried the entire elder generation of my family, and learned amazing things about death--ugliness and pain, yes, but relief and peace and grace as well (and some startling experiences that aren't a subject for this blog). It's a profound initiation for those of us who witness it...if we allow it to be.

Ing said...

"Men who want to go off and homestead or even just devote more energy to green wizardry in relative poverty get selected against. No wonder the status quo continues as it is."

luval, this has not been my experience at all, across many families including my own, although I won't pretend that finding a mate with similar sensibilities is always easy. The above seems, to me, to reduce a complicated issue that deserves its own attention (what props the status quo) down to an argument that may not even be true or relevant, and worse, may prevent one from seeing other contributing factors that would have an impact on being selected against.

Juhana said...

It seems to me that people who are aware about hard resource limitations facing us right now, but have strong New Left or neoliberal ideology as framework of their minds tend to think that after sudden resource crisis enlightened minority shall lead survivors into some kind altruistic version of sustainable society.

But if you look those societies that are too weak, stiff or brittle to roll effects of resource restraints today into tomorrow of near future by financial gimmicks and account frauds, as the West does, you notice that actual reality is not that pretty. There is very lively conversation about this difference between expectations and reality in both Russian and Finnish languages going on, but as those are not useful for most readers of this blog, here is link to American blogger doing decent job by tracking down societies that have already hit the resource limits wall... He has no limitation of pidgin English fighting against him. Do societies he describes look like they are going to be agrarian utopias any time soon...?

So when Soviets overstretched their imperial muscles and simulated resource depletion crisis quite accurately, they got horrific demographic crisis and evetually settled down as today's reactionary society, with no rainbow weddings behind the corner. And as societies in Near East are hitting actual resource depletion wall described by blogger above, they succumb to this:

But maybe, just maybe in the West everything shall be different when we run out of financial gimmicks and real, physical limits have still not vanished, as current economical theory insists. Right..?

I reccomend that there should be at least some plan B for worser scenarios thought up. What if so-called civil society is not so civil anymore? How to guide your kids through uncertainties of next decades into at least moderately happy life? Hard questions and I have no answers to give. Reason enough to continue reading different opinions and be aware about different options.

I am off from this mirror world of internet for a while, adios.

artinnature said...

JMG, in answer to your question, I'm not really sure any of your categories fit my response, but as others have said, "delighted" seems about right. I think I read the whole thing with a goofy grin on my face.

I've been darting in and out trying to balance work in the garden (just planted Swiss Chard, it grows all winter long here) and keeping up with this delightful and surprising discussion. David Brin, seriously?! I loved "The Postman" and had no idea he was so deeply into techno-cornocopianism.

Regarding Corvids, sometimes I feel like they've been mocking me my whole life. The fact that they live so happily around humans and have prospered from our activities seems to predict greater things for them. Last winter a crow decided to dive upon and "swoop" my wife five or six times as she walked one block to work. This was the middle of winter, so no nesting activities or young to be protected, I cant figure out why...they must be panning something big.

Cherokee Organics, I've really enjoyed your posts over the years! I like how after addressing the theme of JMG's topic you always give an update on your farm activities, keep it up!

Regarding growing tea and coffee, I'm a professional gardener here in the Seattle area on Puget Sound, and Camellia sinensis grows easily in this climate. Minimum winter temperatures here (lately!) range in the high to low teens Fahrenheit. After mild winters (high teens F) the plants are completely undamaged. After a winter with temps in the low teens F, the plants definitely have some damage but grow back vigorously in spring. Coffea arabica on the other hand is not even close to being hardy here. If you are unsuccessful with tea but are able to grow coffee, hardiness to winter cold probably is not the issue. I'm sure there are many factors relating to your "down under" climate that are unfamiliar to me.

Now of course as you know there is always a wide range of hardiness within a given species depending on where the parentage originated and human selection for hardiness. The tea plants grown here are undoubtedly selected for increased hardiness to cold. Perhaps also there are coffee varieties that I am unaware of that have been selected/developed for increased cold hardiness? I Don't know.

Time to go out and collect coriander (cilantro) seed. Ive been making my own bhindi masala lately, yum!

Cheers from Seattle!

Bill Pulliam said...

Juhana -- I wonder about this frequently also. I live in a part of the U.S. where the politics are decidedly conservative -- our local rural government is essentially an evangelical theocracy that is only kept in check by state and federal laws. But on the other hand I see how in actual interpersonal interactions all these ideologies go out the window, and decent people are treated decently no matter what their religion or politics, by and large. I also should note that I did NOT find this to be the case in (more affluent and theoretically less conservative) Colorado, where if someone hated your politics, sexuality, or religion, they also hated you, yourself, as a person. Here they just feel sorry for the "fact" that you are going to hell.

There are certainly many example of the sorts of things you describe, present and past. But I wonder if pervasive structural oppression requires large-scale social organization? What is likely to follow the fading to the fossil fuel era is much smaller scale social organization. Some pre-feudal societies of 1st Millennium Europe appear to have given women more freedom than the more complex Feudal societies did, for example. I believe tribal societies vary greatly between each other when it comes to these things . So I am not sure we really can just extrapolate from what Russians say and do now, in a very early post-peak (and still completely fossil-fuel-based) industrial society, to guess what it might be like in 200 or 500 years.

Enrique said...

John Michael,

With regards to your question about the outcome of the Syrian crisis being partly a question of whether Obama is more clueless than usual, here is an email/op-ed from a friend of mine. A bit overheated, but I think it sums things up pretty well.


OMG!!! Once again, our Community Organizer In Chief gets his head handed to him on a silver platter by Vladimir Putin. As someone recently put it, “That’s what happens when an Administration filled with arrogant, petulant political animals plays chess against old pros”.

Is there any doubt left in America and the rest of the world that this country is being run by a bunch of amateurs, craven fools and utter incompetents? I mean, they can’t even push through and implement their signature domestic policy initiative, Obamacare, without completely bollixing it up in the process. Moreover, it’s not just Obama; it’s the rest of these idiots and numbskulls on his foreign policy team, including John Kerry, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, all of whom and their boss have proven time and time again that running the foreign and national security policy of a great power is completely beyond their level of ability. And that’s not counting the stupidity, corruption, dereliction of duty and irresponsibility that has become the order of the day in Congress. This is beyond belief. Unlike many on the Right, I don’t subscribe to the view that Obama and his team are part of some vast, subversive conspiracy to subvert the United States. Rather, these people are exactly what they appear to be: a bunch of inept fools, incompetent hacks and arrogant half-wits with overinflated egos who are way out of their league and don’t have a clue. You would at least expect that someone who could slither his way to the top of the Chicago political machine would be more intelligent and competent. Judging from the quality of its leaders, America must really be slipping. Wow!!!!!

Meanwhile, Obama’s Minister of Propaganda, David Axelrod, jumped the shark once more again with another tweet.

It’s hard to tell whether this guy is a shameless liar, completely delusional or a combination of both. Too bad we’re stuck with such nincompoops for the next three years. There’s something seriously wrong with this country when it entrusts the leadership of the nation to such people as Obama, Axelrod, Pelosi and Kerry. As I’ve said before, these clowns make George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz look like strategic geniuses by comparison. This whole comedy of errors would be hilariously funny if it weren’t such a fiasco for the nation and the rest of the world. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.


As I said, a bit over the top, but not a bad summary of how clueless Obama and the rest of the American political class has become.

D^2 said...

Not relevant specifically to this post but The Onion must be reading Greer. Not the future we ordered, indeed:,32156/

wall0159 said...

It's fun to think about how human history would have been different had we not had coal. I think it would have retarded our industrialisation substantially. It might also have meant that we'd never have achieved today's standard of living, and wouldn't be in such a pickle right now...

JMG, I think a more detailed description of the history of the Corvin's industrialisation would be very interesting and informative (in your spare time, of course :-)

Liquid Paradigm said...

@Bill Pulliam

"I also should note that I did NOT find this to be the case in (more affluent and theoretically less conservative) Colorado, where if someone hated your politics, sexuality, or religion, they also hated you, yourself, as a person."

I moved to CO from the American South well over a decade ago for a job. What you say rings sadly true; my fellow native Southerners have their numerous faults, but the people out here are crazy.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- regarding Roman music.

My sense is that there are only small windows during which any culture/civilization is even interested in other cultures, particularly its own ancestor-culture.

Certainly, no one in Europe would have had much interest in Roman music from CE 400-ish to, say, 1200 (beastly Pagan stuff, ugh!) There was a huge surge of interest in things Pagan in the late 1400's in Italy, and it might have made a splash then. But from 1500-1900, Europe was perfecting its own styles, from Palestrina to Liszt, and I suspect no one would have cared much about ancient Roman music. At best, it would have been grist for the composer's mill.

It wasn't until 1900-ish, as Western Civilization was reaching a certain point of ossification, that composers started casting about in earnest for new ideas from outside the Western European style, such as the influx of Hungarian themes under Liszt, or (as you note in EF) African themes in the Jazz movement. That might have been a window for ancient Roman music to enter the living music scene. After that, music became a commercial commodity, and $ucce$$ mandated certain formulas.

If we are now heading into civilizational senescence filled with material hardships, I can't imagine that a treasure-trove of Roman musical scores would be used as much of anything but kindling.

I would expect the same to be true of Western European music preserved for the next culture.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- good advice: leave things to people who are motivated.

I'm merely trying to understand the urgency.

I think I understand Brin's urgency. I don't agree with his mythology, and so I don't share in the urgency, but I understand it.

For the Long Descent, not so much. I'm seeking clarification.

Urgency implies both an objective and a deadline.

I think I understand the objective, the deadline, and a sense of urgency in the 1970's. But that ship sailed, and it isn't coming back.

What is the objective today, and what deadline constrains it?

team10tim said...

Hey hey Glenn,

wagelaborer is referring to new study. I think that you are probably referring to the Toba catastrophe theory:

About 10,000 people about 70,000 years ago.


Joseph Nemeth said...

@Juhana, Bill,

Curious exactly where in Colorado you lived, Bill.

Colorado is a rural/urban mix. Urban centers tend to be more affluent and vote Blue, while rural folk are less affluent and vote Red, though they tend to be more radically Libertarian than Red: private property and free market magic.

I think the rural/urban split makes it a little too easy to not talk to each other, which leads to demonizing.

Agree with you both. Small towns and communities are more conservative, not less. Affluence begets selfishness and isolation.

wall0159 said...

PS. I saw my comment printed, and am concerned it might be taken as rude or condescending. That's not my intention and sorry if so. It was meant as a light quip. Thanks again for the excellent posts!

Tom Bannister said...

Just One Final Comment on this Post:

To everything
Turn Turn Turn
There is a season
Turn Turn Turn
And a time
To every purpose
Under Heaven...

A time to live, a time to die... etc

Lovely Bible quote/Byrds Lyrics. I thought it fitted in nicely with the general theme of this post.

Bogatyr said...

I haven't had time to read all of the comments yet, but I thought I'd throw in a response to what Juhana said regarding the gulf between worldviews in different cultures.

Speaking as a card-carrying member of the Anglosphere's liberal wing, with a firm belief in Enlightenment values, I have to say he's absolutely right.

As it happens, this is something I've been working on recently, so for anyone who is interested in learning more, I'd suggest going to Google Scholar, and searching for "russian cultural characteristics hofstede"; the first four PDF links that come up are quite accessible, and give a good insight into how Russians (and Chinese) think very differently to us.

I'd also suggest searching for "blat and guanxi" to pull up a paper by Michailova and Worm which shows how expectations in Russia and China on how to get things done are very different to the way we think in the West...

These may also shine some light on how things might go in the West as collapse sets in, by the way, per Orlov.

con-science said...

Hi, JMG,

The source of the idea that lost civilizations are actually destroyed and abandoned by the very people that built them comes from the novel "Beyond civilization" by Daniel Quinn. It is a great read and one of my favourite books. Here is a brief quote, discussing why none of the theories proposed for their decline will be satisfactory:
• The soil may be depleted here, but it’s not depleted everywhere.
• Earthquakes and hurricanes don ’t last forever.
• Climatic changes can be ridden out.
• Diseases run their course.
• Insect pests come and go.
• Peasant revolts can be put down —or survived.
• Invaders can be repelled—or absorbed.
It couldn ’t have been things like this that made these people quit, becau se look at us. These
things are mere in conveniences compared to what we’ve faced—all these things, plus much worse:
famines, wars of every kind, inqui sitions, government by torture and assassination, endlessly rising
crime, corruption, tyranny, madness, revolution, genocide, racism ,social injustice, mass poverty, poisoned water, polluted air, two devastating world wars, and the prospect of nuclear holocaust, biological warfare, and extinction. We faced all that and more—and never once have been tempted to abandon our civilization.
There had to be something else at work —or missing — among these people. And indeed there
was something else.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi artinnature,

Thank you. That is a very sweet thing to write. The updates are also a practical insight as to what is required to live a sustainable agrarian life (in an ecotechnic future sort of way). I was brought up in the city and so have no fixed ideas about any of this sort of stuff, so I try my best to tell it like it is. I'm not doing it as hard as some of my forebears were doing it here even 100 years ago. Our host makes some good points in his books about the benefits of organic agriculture and the concept of permaculture and they truly are really worth the time. The plants that I have access to, our ancestors would have killed for.

As an interesting side note, the rats and mice versus chooks situation has been resolved in a truly disturbing and certainly most definite way this morning with some help. I can't say any more as there is an internet article with some fascinating photos in it - hopefully over the next week or so. Stay tuned!

PS: Thanks to Trippticket, SL Claire and Carl about your experiences with tea camellia. I read in a lovely plant catalogue today that they don't like the hot dry summers here, but I find that they survive these but die off in the winter. It may be the cold winds, so they may require a very sheltered spot just like avocadoes which died off but are now bouncing back. Thanks for the link SL Claire as I'll have a good look at it.



MawKernewek said...

An important point I think is that just because "liberal-left" social morals don't stay in the ascendant in the future, it doesn't mean that the future will be like the 1950s or indeed the 1850s, or 1600s.

CAPTCHA: eivepi 314

Marcello said...

Juhana, I do not want to rain on your parade but I suspect you overestimate the cultural shift that took place in Russia.
While the USSR might have thrown the odd bone to women and minorities it was not a liberal society, not by a long shot. Homosexual acts for instance were punishable by law with up to a five years sentence and the "black asses" epithet was not a 90's invention either. In other words, they did not reject politically correctdness, feminism, multiculturalism etc. They simply did not get them in first place.
They might have grown more conservative lately, but is it really a sea change from soviet era attitudes? Probably not and in the 90's people were likely more concerned with putting food on the table than social mores.

Bill Pulliam said...

Joseph N. -- Fort Collins in the 1990s, when it was right in the transition from cowtown and Aggie College to yuppie suburban boomtown and Major State University. I didn't actually find that the rural=conservative and urban=liberal thing was hard and fast in CO. Colorado Springs was and is a major hotbed of the global evangelical "family values" religiopolitical conservative movement. The mountain towns were all over the map (this one occupied by paleo-and neo-hippies, that one occupied by gun freak survivalists, the next one a posh ex-urb with associated ski resort). Look at La Veta versus Alamosa, just a few miles apart on the map but miles away on the prevailing ideology (at least in 1998, maybe not now). True, the eastern plains were universally old-school farming/ranching conservatives. But once you approached the Front Range it was a lot more complex. Dunno what the situation is now since the suburban mall culture has swallowed most of the Front Range.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@Bill -- I started thinking about that right after I posted, which is always a preferred order of things, right?

You're right, of course.

The more reliable division recently has been between urban and suburban, with the city-city folks leaning left, and the suburban-city folks leaning right. On the front range, at any rate.

I'd kinda forgotten how nasty it got in the 1990's. I think it's gotten a little better, but it could just be that I don't stick my neck out so far any more.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

The historical patterns Juhanna cites are one reason that American Jews (who pay more attention to history than many other Americans) tend to be more politically liberal than short term class interests might dictate.

A society with widespread prosperity and some social solidarity is less inclined to go in for scapegoating and pogroms than one in which groups are played off against each other by elites.

I agree with Marcello that liberal values never had a chance to take hold in the Russian culture; I don't know much about the Finns.

How deeply Enlightenment values and social tolerance run in US culture is arguable. More deeply than in Russia, but there are people still living who remember when public lynchings were widespread and popular, and not just in the Deep South.

Roger Ebert said...

Just to let The Archdruid Report readers know, Ugo Bardi and I just recorded a Vidcast discussing the 10 Billion Year scenarios.

You can find it at


Ray Wharton said...

@Joseph Nemeth, Liquid Paradigm, & Bill Pulliam

I started putting down roots in Fort Collins over the last year and wanted to chime in.

The Front Range is a very strange place. Right now it is almost as sheltered from decline as anywhere in the country, but those days are ticking down fast, just last year I got to watch Catabolic Collapse in action digest a foreclosed community near Berthoud. I suspect that Fort Collins will be hit hard when the Student Loan bubble bursts.

In the longer settled and poorer areas I find as many reasonable and agreeable people as anywhere, but the sprawls of built up suburbs of the last two decades are absolutely mad house places filled with the odd ducks of the whole country clustered around a 'lovely view of the mountains'. On the other side, some of the folks who are in the libertarian mountains are also very strange, but in a way that I find agreeable, under the politics I find on an interpersonal level the old homestead values of 'leave well enough alone' and 'help a neighbor in need' to be tolerably well intact. The various modes of hippie who have settled down in the Front range are in small groups wonderful, but in the sorts of concentrations found around Boulder prone to some weird political mutations.

Being Native to the mountain folk of Colorado I find this state to have what feels like an under current of sanity, maybe for no better reason than finding it easy to get along with a type of craziness I already understand.

Jose Coces said...

JMG, what's your opinion on the wisdom of this investment?

Robert Mathiesen said...

@ Deborah Bender:

And not just lynchings! I'm old enough that I remember hearing about three living Civil War soldiers, one Union and two Confederate. That was when I was about 9 years old. The last person probably born into slavery in the USA died at a very advanced age in the 1970s, after both of my children had been born. These things weren't all that far back.

Villager said...

So I guess you decided the temptation to channel a very blurry Hari Seldon too great to resist.

Too bad that the symbiosis of a cyanobacteria and an archeon that eventually became a nucleated cell powered by ATP has only happened once in the universe. Kind of throws a monkey wrench into your ending. See Nick Lane for details.

But hey! This is all good fun. I'm sure you'd have a great time shooting the breeze with Olaf Stapledon.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Hmm, curious. The second time thru, I read it while listening to "In the year 2525,' followed by "Dust in the Wind" -- Your essay was more hopeful than either.
I think it would be lovely to have Racoon People, Crow People and Clam People as the next tenants of Earth. Someone once came up with the idea that God decided to break him/herself up into gazillions of bits of matter and consciousness, then let all of us bits interact to create a grand, new Story. The Raccoons, Crows, Clams and whatever else would fit into that idea very well. Meanwhile, I plan to make the best use I can with the bits I've got.
(PS -- here are YouTube links to the two songs above -- and ).

Hal said...


Thanks to Emmanuel Goldstein, I now have one of the worst songs ever "composed" in my head and refusing to leave! And I didn't even have to look at the video. It's going to be a rough night.

starfire rage said...

wow! thats an amazing version of events! its really to bad one will never be around to experiancee it :)

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

But remember Hal, "Friends Don't Let Friends Become Dust in the Wind." I'm there for ya, buddy! :-)

Alphonse Houner said...

Wonderful post and rollicking fun in the comments, too bad some of those responding are so thin skinned.

For all its allure I would love to accept the techno fantasy that weaves through so much of the dissent to the ideas expressed but they are essentially illogical. Down deep I think the techno fanatics are really fearful of the future and just blow a bit louder when someone makes a well-constructed argument that the future may, and probably will, be entirely different.

I found the early writings of Kunstler useful in raising awareness of the then less obvious events with a general roadmap into the future. Your books “The Long Descent” and “The Ecotechnic Future” cast doubt on what was then our high-tech path plan of adaption. Course correction came through your “Green Wizard” effort and we are now close to the land.

You most recent effort is developing in a void that is opening. To me that void is one of a wounded spirit based on a heightening sense of loss. It can be expresses as being well into a death experience, a greatly expanded version of that experienced by all of us as we move through and enter the autumn of our life. In that time we see new generations come and older generations die and in time it is our turn as well.

Are civilizations any different? Perhaps not.

Michael Byron said...

Cherokee: I live about a dozen miles from Brin (he in Encinitas, myself in Oceanside. Both cities are in north coastal San Diego county.) I have been physically disconnected from the grid running on solar and wind, with battery backup, for about one and ne half years. So, given this, I don't see why David couldn't do so also if he was so inclined.

fred said...

Thank you for sharing this grand Stapledonian vision of deep terrestrial time.

Eddie said...

In case you've not heard it...

Travis said...

This may be my favorite post of yours yet. I find being reminded of the vastness of time and space, and the continual dance of being and non-being deeply reassuring.

Thanks again.

Travis said...

Not to be greedy, but I would love to hear your musing on the next 100 years, possibly 200,as specific as you care to get. As always I appreciate and thank you for your work.

Adrian Skilling said...

"they themselves were unlikely ever to have the chance to board a starship and go zooming off toward infinity."

Sounds like those Tea party support who support lower taxes for rich. Even though they'll almost certainly never be rich they still want to dream.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

- Habitable conditions on Earth will be possible for at least another 1.75 billion years – according to astrobiologists at the University of East Anglia:

Plenty of time for Earth to recover and for new intelligent species to evolve. Your science fiction novel is the best I've ever read in this genre!

Annie B said...

I found this tale completely consoling. I feel right-sized again.

Max12345 said...

There is one aspect that I think is missing which probably should have been included. Given that we have recently started to understand evolution and also genetics and biochemistry and genetic engineering we soon should be able to master these disciplines fully to create post humans. In other words take control of evolution and its processes and mechanisms and more rapidly evolve (more rapidly than in another 100,000 years which is roughly the length of time from when homo sapiens came into being as a mutation of some earlier human species) a brand new human species which could be called "homo sapiens authenticus". This new name would distinguish it from the current homo sapiens "non sapiens" or homo sapiens baloney. That new post-homo sapiens "homo sapiens authenticus" would have a negligible reptilian brain a much more developed frontal cortex and would be much more in conscious control of itself than homo sapiens. It also would have a far greater perspective and understanding of itself as a conscious biological evolving entity than homo sapiens has.

But even without our own conscious role in evolution playing any role, the "normal" Darwinian ++ ongoing evolution of the human species is very likely to continue. So the human species of a million years from now, if any survives at all, is going to resemble us probably about as much as we resemble humanoids of a million years ago? And will resemble us far less than we resemble Neanderthals which are almost "tit for tat" the same as "homo sapiens baloney" I don't know exactly how long it took in the past for successive species of humans to evolve from earlier ones. But I am sure somebody more or less knows this. What I am suggesting is that this is going to continue at about the same speed and we may even start to play a conscious role in accelerating the process.

Not to even mention the obvious idea that if we cannot adapt the universe to ourselves, perhaps it may be easier to adapt ourselves to the universe?

Or maybe we can only think of that once homo sapiens authenticus fully evolves from homo sapiens baloney?

Himanshu said...

On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Of course that comes to mind.

A brilliantly written essay. I have a question - how do you mark the beginning and the end of an intelligent species. Is it an extinction-new species cycle, or an evolution of current species into forms that adapt to their own biological environment, but eventually are removed enough to count as a new species. Also, somehow, even with a gulf between two consecutive species, I hope to imagine that a species will leave behind some signs, clues and chunks of their legacy of technological advances. At least the humble wheel, surely. I sure have that hope from our batch.

Jagataband said...

I enjoyed this post (as I do all of your posts). Thinking into the future isn't easy, and is almost always wrong, but it can shed light on where other's heads are at in terms of what humans truly represent as a species~ how important they really are in the 'grand scheme' of evolution.

However, there is one subject that makes me wince a bit~ the one of climate change. Of course, the climate has been changing throughout geologic time according to our best efforts at interpreting proxy data, and it will no doubt continue to change into the future, but I honestly don't see any good evidence that human activity has any measurable effect on climate. In forecasting the future, I see no reason why the earth would deviate from the glaciation cycles of its more immediate geologic past. If the glaciation (ice age) cycle holds, we are due for the next one, as we are currently near the statistical end of an interglacial period. I would imagine that the 'near term' future (+100,000 years or so) would be dominated by severe cooling, not warming. There is evidence that sea levels have been much lower than they are today~ undersea ruins on the continental shelf for example, but scant evidence of sea levels being much higher than they are currently, and that is with proxy data indicating that co2 levels were as high as 8000 parts per million in the past. I'm not posting this to argue. I'm sure many will take offense with this post, but it is only intended as another point of view. How the future plays out will determine who was right or wrong. Anthropogenic Climate Change has become a religious topic~ an anathema to the religious sensibility of progress. I can find no one who takes peak oil seriously whom does not believe in the actuality of Anthropogenic Climate Change. Why are the two so intertwined? That is a good question to explore, because science favors one, and newspaper headlines favor the other.

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