Climate change? Will cost trillions of dollars and billions of lives, but will likely be played out over course of several decades. We will be stressing out about it but its not going to be electronics-ending apocalyptic
Nuclear war? Please. The countries that have the capability are also level-headed enough to use them to play brinksmanship, despite what the news is telling us. These countries want deterrence, not to blow stuff up.
Disease? We're too widely distributed and the most successful viruses are ones that infect but do not kill. Ebola is scary but its too destructive for its own good which makes it easy to contain. The most successful virus is the common cold, and possibly HIV which is certainly a serious problem, but nobody's out there building shelters because of that.
Water/food supply? Fresh water is a function of energy, and if anything is a plus about climate change its that we're gonna have a lot of fresh water raining down on us from the Earth trying to compensate for higher temps.
Second order effects from climate change will likely affect arable land and is worrisome but it may also open up new areas for growth and will likely play out over time, so I'm considering this more of a political problem.
The only things I can think of are either:
1) A sudden disappearance of rare earth metals needed to make electronic, which would be massively inconvenient but we'd figure out a way around that, either by it suddenly becoming more valuable to recycle old electronics or not needing them in the first place. Besides if this happens we'd just get extra motivated to start mining asteroids.
2) Celestial events like asteroid strike or Coronal Mass ejection hitting Earth in the wrong way. The first problem is mitigated with asteroid tracking and we're getting better at that, and the second one would make for an interesting 6 months but pretty sure we'd get back on track pretty quick.
I am all for technology that does not depend on a complex global supply chain - we will need to manufacture simple but sophisticated tech in space and mars in the future but this prepper BS is just fantasy driven by a hyper-apocalyptic news cycle shlepping around clickbait.
What am I not worried about that I should be? What massively apocalyptic event is going to happen in 10 years to turn us back to the middle ages? Seriously.
Au contraire, it’s the belief that our system can continue like it’s doing that is the real hyperbole. Collapse is just baseline reality of civilizations.
- HISTORY: Collapse is a property of every civilization we’ve studied. These people were as smart if not smarter than us, working with societies smaller and simpler than ours.
- ECONOMY: The way money is created and managed today is an ongoing experiment that almost ended in 2008, and we are still on uncharted ground. We can only continue paying for debt by increasing consumption in the following year, yet our debt keeps increasing, by the ever-devaluation of our currency, requiring more production and consumption. No one is planning on an end to this model of growth.
- TECH: Most of our infrastructure is built under the incentive of increased efficiency and profit, not long-term robustness since profit has to be sacrificed to plan for contingencies like price fluctuations in supply. Short term tech outcompetes the long term, easy. Strong but fragile. And then there’s the incentivized inefficiencies from economies of scale: one calorie of food now requires ten calories of energy from our system to produce.
- COMPLEXITY: “More is different.” As everything becomes interconnected, things become entrenched into dynamics that become increasingly difficult to control and even reason about. Rational decision-making must always be filtered by the interests of the current system, thus there is a loss in agency in what we can do (read: incentives), and we are stuck trying to find creative solutions that must accept the framework of what may be a harmful system, often just making that system more effectively harmful.
- ENVIRONMENT: Some call it the sixth mass extinction. Whatever it is, the biosphere is changing dramatically. Soil is in a weird zombie state kept alive by oil. The basic line is that the value of life is diminished through the lens of our economy, as dead resources. So our model will continue bringing the real world into consistency with that deadness.
- MYTHS: When we live in a civilization that sanctifies all forms of advancement and improvement and growth, there is no fertile soil for the acceptance of limitation. We only have the vocabulary to label it pessimist. Thus, optimism becomes co-opted for the aspirations of a mythical techno-utopia beyond all conceivable boundary.
How would you define "civilization?" Because sure, every civilization has an expiration date, but for current computing technology to be lost requires a worldwide civilizational collapse. Current global civilization is a decentralized collection of many civilizations which have all shared and replicated the knowledge of computing.
>our debt keeps increasing
Public and private debt are separate things. Public debt has generally seen a continuous march upwards. Private debt has been peaky, with no upward trend. Debts are fine when the debt is incurred for a purpose that has a sufficient return on investment. Public debts of sovereign currency issuers can always be repaid, and the yields on those bonds are whatever the currency issuer decides. And further debts shouldn't be judged as nonviable just because of the quantity of existing debt. Rather, the question at each point should be whether the investment is a good one.
> Soil is in a weird zombie state kept alive by oil
Soil is renewable, and can be made even with simple techniques. The terra preta soil of the Amazon rainforest was largely human-made, and thus the Amazon itself is largely a human construct. Creating it didn't require any oil.
>there is no fertile soil for the acceptance of limitation
Malthusian thinking has often been the default, and one of the most popular modes of thinking since the Enlightenment. The mid 20th century was full of best-selling Malthusian books by the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, M. King Hubbert, and EF Schumacher. The entire fields of biology and ecology have been predicated on Malthusianism. Darwin was explicitly inspired by Malthus.
It has been to the great surprise of the intelligensia of each successive generation that there hasn't been mass starvation. We've been able to do more and more, with less and less. Any serious type of collapse hypothesis needs to factor in the history of losing bets on that side of the argument, and internalize why their predictions were wrong. It wasn't just luck every time.
This empirical optimism is also paradoxically irreverent toward the immutable attrition of complexity. Our creativity has limits, whatever they are just pick something. At the risk of sounding flippant, 200 years of “creative patching” is historically too small a window to say we can continue subverting this “law” with eternal vigilance (I’ve heard this described as “we are running out of tricks”). Maybe I’m oversimplifying when I say we would have to approach the limit of absolute foresight to achieve this, but I think there’s some truth to it. For example, I like these explanations of our rational limits, with regard to managing a complex society:
- CHOMSKY: We have in our heads a certain set of possible intellectual structures. In the lucky event that some aspect of reality happens to have the character of one of these structures in our mind, then we have a science. And that doesn’t mean everything is ultimately going to fall within the domain of science. Quite the contrary… personally I believe that the nature of a decent society might fall outside scope of possible human science.
- ZIZEK: Hegel says, the owl of Minerva only flies out in the dusk. [owl being the icon of wisdom] So philosophy can only grasp a social order when it’s already in its decay.
Particularly unsettling is our reaction to the blurriness of our creative boundaries—that we insist on walking blindly toward cliffs to find where they are. Optimism in uncertainty is great, but some projections cannot be certain until too late.
A final quote that might address your first points:
- OPHULS: Because our own civilization is global, its collapse will also be global, as well as uniquely devastating owing to the immensity of its population, complexity, and consumption. To avoid the common fate of all past civilizations will require a radical change in our ethos—to wit, the deliberate renunciation of greatness...
Anyway, this debate is covered in the book The Wizard and The Prophet. I think we can tell which schools we belong to.
You could buy a new EPYC server with solid state drives, grind it up and homogenize the whole thing in acid, and the resulting solution would have a smaller percentage of rare earth elements in it than the same mass of ordinary crustal rocks treated the same way.
Computers don't need rare earth elements. Nor do solar panels, nor do most wind turbines.
See for example the "Consumption" section in the USGS 2015 Minerals Yearbook Rare Earths report:
In descending order of global consumption volume, rare earth elements are consumed by the manufacture of catalysts, magnets, glass polishing media, and metal alloys. Everything else is just miscellaneous.
Near miss in July 2012:
Also, while I think a big solar flare would break a lot of stuff--- I think we're better prepared for it than many give us credit for. Tens of millions of people might be initially without power; some fraction of them may need to wait for a long time (months or even years) to get it back; and various bits of transport and production may get disrupted. Enough to require rationing and a major pain to quality of life, but not enough for any kind of catastrophic chain reaction, IMO.
Either way, I don't think such is a good premise to start this/an OS. There are much better argument to be made to prefer a lightweight OS. Intellectual curiosity, for one.
When the product lifecycle changes from 1 year to 10+ years, you'll find that people will just keep their stuff around longer and the demand on the supply chain goes way down.
Plus, there will be a shitload of data centers with capacity that will no longer be necessary (because of reduced devices making requests, segregated internet, less connectivity) in apocalyptic scenarios. Those can probably be re-purposed.
We haven't had to get clever about computer conservation because there's been so much supply.
Also, "middle ages" are going to take a good century at least. Think instead of the collapse of Soviet Union (with some places playing the part of the Balkans / Caucasus), but worse...
Btw, rare earths are not so rare - it's just that the US got rid of this industry.
No large scale technology was lost. If anything, human civilization became more technologically advanced.