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My take on the study from MIT that predicts “societal collapse” (dana11235.medium.com)
317 points by dlevine 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 497 comments




I love that there's a "technology will fix things" model. This assumes we'll discover some magical bullet, that we haven't thought of, that will counteract erosion of topsoil, water shortages, and climate change. Another implicit assumption is that we'll be able to move forward unilaterally with such a solution, instead of it becoming a political football until it's too late to do anything, like climate change. A lot of modern democratic republics are about 200 years old, or less, but we keep thinking to ourselves, "this civilization will be different".

I'd put money on BAU2 over CT any day of the week.


The problem which we already have the technology to fix is food. What people eat is cultural and is effected by cost and availability. There is much we currently discard or do not cultivate because it not what we traditionally see as food and because there is no cost incentive to encourage a change in culture. Changes can however occur given the right triggers, like how large portion of Europe went over to potatoes during the European 19th century population boom. We could see a similar change in food culture towards seaweed if topsoil issues became widespread, and there is plenty of space for technological improvements in aquaculture.

Similar, fresh water is primarily a cost issue. Right now the only economical method to provide water at the lowest cost is to take naturally occurring fresh water. There are alternatives. It does not take a lot of solar, wind or nuclear power plants to supply a large city population with fresh water extracted from the ocean. The construction and operational costs would however be need to be taken from something else, reducing welfare and industrial output.


The Netherlands is a net exporter of food and it does this by producing what people want to eat. See https://aboutthenetherlands.com/why-does-the-netherlands-exp...

Why should we have to change what we eat? Surely taking that choice away takes away part of what we are, reduces our autonomy.

Why switch to seaweed when we can already produce what we already know we want?


My point is primarily that we are not going to run out of edible food. I have no intention to try force anyone to change their culture.

Here in Sweden we eat fermented fish. Other countries eat ferment cabbage, beans, goat stomachs, or other fermented things which in my culture we would be weird to eat. I think fermented seaweed is also a thing somewhere.

There are things that could force a culture change, such as famine, war, social status signals, media, and religion to mention a few examples. Humans are social creatures, and culture is a social phenomenon, so the cause for a cultural change would likely be social in nature. I guess a societal collapse could also trigger a change in culture, or a cultural change could prevent a societal collapse. I guess it depend on how one want to perceive it, and what meaning people put into the word "societal collapse".


I don’t see that convincing, a huge part of what we eat currently is the result of marketing (sugar, meat, dairy…), very anecdotical for defining oneself and the future of human society.


Apropos of nothing, the Soviet Union was also a net-exporter of wheat during the Holodomor. There's a lot of ways to be a net exporter.


"Net exporter" in terms of calories and protein or "net exporter" in terms of currency? The Netherlands ag economy is focused on high value crops. But you can't eat tulips.

One-third of the world's exports of chilis, tomatoes, and cucumbers goes through the country. The Netherlands also exports one-fifteenth of the world's apples.

Aside from that, a significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports consists of fresh-cut plants, flowers, and flower bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the world's total.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netherlands


I can assure you that nobody actually _wants_ to eat tasteless dutch tomatoes.


I can agree with that!

I do not believe that everyone deciding to eat something different is "fixing" the food scarcity problem in the same way that desalinization (ignoring all other issues with it as we assumed technology improved to solve them also) "fixes" water scarcity: if everyone is told tomorrow "all water will safely come from desal" we might breath a collective sigh of relief... "starting tomorrow, all food will be replaced by seaweed" a lot of people are going to be super super pissed, right? Maybe even more basic: making enough potatoes to technically satisfy everyone's calorie requirements (ignoring nutrition) might be a technological problem, but the "similar change in food culture" is kind of begging the question, as if we could just cause that change before all the food was gone maybe we could still enjoy the occasional potato (a luxury in our new era of food molded out of seaweed), and if we could get equivalent cultural shifts in how people use transportation (along with food changes, such as not eating meat) maybe we could stave off climate change without technological fixes: if you are relying on a cultural change it isn't a technological fix, and if the way the cultural change will happen is because no one will have a choice... well, then you didn't fix anything in the first place!


Imagine the uproar if you tried to build a nuclear powered desalination plant on Long Island.

That's basically what you're alluding to with the seaweed and food thing.

Cultural and ideological hangups will go right out the window in a hurry when there's a real crisis and a culturally incompatible solution. People aren't gonna let things truly go to shit over something as trivial as what they eat or where their water comes from.

The primary danger in the first world as I see it is from the moneyed and empowered people F-ing it over for large enough other groups to cause probems. Doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine how climate change might F-over downstate Illinois (because farms) but Chicago won't let them do anything about it because they hold all the cards and they make their money a different way. They'd probably figure it out eventually but with how unequal our society is I'm not gonna bet money on eventually happening before the shooting starts.


"Doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine how climate change might F-over downstate Illinois (because farms) but Chicago won't let them do anything about it because they hold all the cards and they make their money a different way."

I actually can't envision what you mean by "Chicago won't let them do anything about it". Isn't Chicago the more liberal area that wants to fight climate change?


I just picked some random state that has a farming economy (very sensitive to slight environmental changes) at one end and a city economy (not so directly tied to the environment as long as energy is cheap and it isn't flooded) at the other that runs the show so forgive me if the example isn't bulletproof.

>Isn't Chicago the more liberal area that wants to fight climate change?

Right up until you have to take some other controversial step in order to do it.

I'm sure you can imagine how things would go if downstate farmers wanted to all apply some sort of fertilizer that would make their farming economically viable but the beta and the v1 versions of the chemical also killed some sort of visible wildlife.


> the beta and the v1 versions of the chemical also killed some sort of visible wildlife

It sounds like you're referring to herbicides and pesticides that kill bees and other pollinators. People have an obvious problem with pesticides that kill bees. It's not an acceptable level of collateral damage for dirt cheap corn and soybeans.


Ah, I see.


On paper, but it is also full of rich liberals that care more about their money and look at people downstate with disdain.


Let's alter the start conditions a bit: the same Long Island with the same people, but the Hudson river dries up. And everything around dries up, too.

How about a desalination plant now? Even nuclear?


A combination of aqueducts, reservoirs, and tunnels supply fresh water to New York City. With three major water systems (Croton, Catskill, and Delaware) stretching up to 125 miles (201 km) away from the city, its water supply system is one of the most extensive municipal water systems in the world.

The water system has a storage capacity of 550 billion US gallons (2.1×109 m3) and provides over 1.2 billion US gallons (4,500,000 m3) per day of drinking water to more than eight million city residents, and another one million users in four upstate counties bordering on the system. Three separate sub-systems, each consisting of aqueducts and reservoirs, bring water from Upstate New York to New York City.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_water_supply_sys...


I know. Catskill and Croton are both on Hudson river. Imagine that the upstream has dried up, and the Delaware sources gone totally insufficient.

My idea is that a real need makes people reconsider their opinions which they held dear as long as they did not have a skin in the game.


I agree fully that it is not a permanent solution, nor a possibility to replace all food with a single different one be that seaweed, insects farming, hydroponics, or other non-traditional forms. I do however want to highlight that food is cultural thus peacefully changeable. We can extend the window much further than just what currently exploitation of farm land do. Aquaculture is just one of the more likely approaches since it is already part of some cultures, although quite small ones in term of populations.

It is an interesting question if a new world war is more likely than a major cultural change in our diet.


>if you are relying on a cultural change it isn't a technological fix

If traditional food sources go away and technology provides an alternative food source, that is what people will eat. Culture will follow technology, if that's what people have to do to survive.

EDIT:That mostly applies to the population in the developed world with access to capital, technology and industrial resources that we can use to adapt our food supply. Not everywhere in the world has those resources to fall back on though.


Yes, but survival is not living. And culture can adapt to everything, including slavery, dystopia, etc.


Indeed, I think those are much more likely outcomes than massive population collapse.


It also mostly assumes that the undeveloped world won't eat the developed world.

Societal collapse in for example India or Brazil would make things awkward real fast for a large chunk of the world


In general, that would be prevented by the fact that the developed world is militarily stronger than the developing world. If some resources are not enough for India or Brazil, they can't take them from the developed world in the style of the earlier resource wars for e.g. oil.


It is not as if the countries lack resources. Their fast growing population does [0]. So far, Europe does not seem to be willing to repudiate the asylum treaties it signed, so the young men always have the option to try and reach Europe(an resources) under the guise of seeking protection. And once they are in, their forced removal is unlikely [1], so they cease to be a resource problem for their country of origin and start to be a resource problem for the new host society.

The military does not even play a role here. All the poorer countries need to do is a) not prevent their own young people from leaving, b) not prevent activity of smuggler gangs, c) complicate deportations by refusing to issue passports to their citizens who destroyed their papers underway. None of those actions need guns, much less superior guns.

[0] ... India and Brazil aren't really in the "top population growth" league. Look up population pyramids of Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Yemen. Those graphs promise future mass migration streams. (https://www.populationpyramid.net)

[1] ... https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php...


Military might is not very helpful in the modern world. The NATO coalition could not hold their ground in a country such as Afghanistan nor could all of Europe prevent that the collapse of order in Syria (a country of 20m) caused a spill of 2m migrants into Europe.

Your parent was suggesting that the developed world could not deal with a collapse of India or Brazil or several populous African countries.


I wasn't even thinking about their states trying to take resources by force.

What would happen if 20% of India decided that their society has collapsed and they should migrate at any cost to some developed country?


I would like to see more effort towards making alternative foods acceptable to people. For example, I think that there could be a big difference between trying to get people to eat a plate of raw grubs versus a tofu like food produced from grub protein.

Perhaps seaweed could be used to produce something equivalent to tortillas or bread?


To add to that there is the obvious low hanging fruit of meat as the main source of proteins. Feeding animals perfectly good proteins and using the majority of agricultural land (more than 70% if I remember correctly) and a lot water to finally to eat them after so much waste makes no sense as a main source of feeding a population, it’s not political or philosophical question just a practical one (I’m not vegetarian but eat meat only on rare occasions).


Refine the "impossible burger" technology to the point where it's cost-competitive with beef burgers (or maybe see the beef prices rise a lot), and I suppose many people would switch without noticing much.


Normalize pork! It's delicious, it requires much less land, and produces less CO2 per pound than cows.


>The problem which we already have the technology to fix is food. What people eat is cultural and is effected by cost and availability

That's not fixing, that's a band aid, and an ugly one at that.

"Let's just eat worms, algae, problem fixed".


And if we suggested ten years ago that your burgers would be plant-based I am sure you would tell us how much Americans hate tofu and that this was just another ugly band-aid. Food is trivial to fix and is barely a small step below clothing choices when it comes to things that are driven almost entirely by culture and fashion. My children regularly request food like sushi and spring rolls that I was ridiculed for eating the the 1980s in the US midwest. Adding insect or algae-based supplements to processed food is already happening.

It's easy. It will happen. The only question is if it will take ten years or twenty.


>And if we suggested ten years ago that your burgers would be plant-based

Ten years ago? I'll still say it now and in 50 years.


That's all fine if you want a 100% processed food diet. Some of us want to eat less-processed food than that, and save the "treat" foods for treat times.

In Toronto there is a decades-long established vegan restaurant called Buddha's Vegetarian Restaurant. They make a lot of mock meat products that are as realistic as the Impossible Burger, by layering and preparing things in such a way that they end up resembling meat fiber. You can easily fool yourself into thinking you are eating pulled pork there, for example.

So realistic vegetarian/vegan meat products have actually been around quite a while. Just not in the mainstream.


>That's all fine if you want a 100% processed food diet. Some of us want to eat less-processed food than that, and save the "treat" foods for treat times.

Where I'm at, I do the mediterranean diet, like most people (with a little more meat and BS snacks thrown in following the cultural example of the US, but still, nothing like the S.A.D.).

I'll also mention that most staple plants, legumes, etc. on that diet is cheaper in the US than here, where wages are double and more in the US. So price is not an excuse for Americans not to eat similarly.

People who want to eat "less processed food" can start eating less processed food. Highly processed, lab grown "meat" is hardly the way to eat "less processed food".


But are they "not mainstream" or just "not affordable"?


One of the great things about this restaurant is that it was super cheap. $5 could easily get lunch for two, which would consist of noodles, vegetables, some type of imitated meat chunks or cubes with sauce, and tea back when I used to go there. And it tasted really quite good. According to their current menu, you can still eat well there for less than $10 per person, and they have a whole lot more items than they did back then.

Interesting!

Just yesterday my partner brought home some seaweed so we could have sushi this weekend.

But I do agree with you on this "ah well, we'll just..." sunshiny outlook we keep hearing.

This year they've really been pushing edible "tree shrimp" cicadas. This is the first time I've heard that they were edible, and suddenly I'm hearing about it several times a week.


Food scarcity IS fixed/ is literally impossible to fix. Human population grew like five times in the living memory and people ignorant of this (willfully or not) are still trying to fix "food scarcity".


It's not that silly to model as historically that has also happened. To use the "peak oil" example this work also influenced, the technology of fossil oil reserves was a response in part to "peak whale" (not a joke). The main source much commercial 'oil' for things like Street lamps in the 1800s was whale blubber. As whales got overfished fossilised oil reserves were developed and not only took over those markets but created many many new ones.

You can of course make the point fossilised oil is worse for global warming etc but from the point of view of the economy and population growth fossilised oil was much better than whale.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but "peak whale" and "peak oil" are naturally self-correcting in a free-market, because as the resources become scarce their prices goes up hence leading to technological incentives to find alternative sources.

This would also apply to topsoil erosion. However this isn't the case with carbon emissions for example, unless we had some financial feedback loop (e.g. some carbon tax).


> [Limited resources are] naturally self-correcting in a free-market, because as the resources become scarce their prices goes up hence leading to technological incentives to find alternative sources.

You say that as though it's a theorem. It's not. It's perhaps reasonable when discussing small perturbations of resources, but it's not a magical phenomena that will "just work" in a free market (assuming one even exists) at any scale.

The globe itself is finite and we have only finite time to make corrections to diminishing resources like oil. No one knows how long it will take to adapt, or what the human cost will be on the way to arriving at that adaptation. To make matters far worse, we have global warming to contend with and that's still subject to political whims and not even a concern yet for the "free market".

If you must take "the free market" as axiomatic truth, then consider also that the free market may "decide" that human extinction is the "optimal" outcome regardless of what monopolists and oligarchs say.


The best way to understand global warming is that the market doesn't account for the true cost of carbon emissions. That's because the atmosphere is an unregulated commons, lacking property rights or other legal mechanisms to assign the costs of carbon emissions. A carbon tax or some other way to assign a "price" to carbon twill begin to assign that cost, and the market system will naturally, in a million small ways, reduce the emission of carbon. The result will be dramatic, unforeseen levels of reductions.


> ...the market system will naturally, in a million small ways...

You place a lot of faith in it but "the free market" is not a construct that functions according to immutable natural laws. It's a man-made and very much corruptible system.

Nature does not comply with property rights, legal mechanisms, nor quarterly results. People have to force ecological concerns into their markets. That's a tall order and it won't just happen without a serious taste of what is to come, sadly.


Well, in a free market supply and demand will match. But the free market is totally capable of throwing up "most humans die" as a path to equilibrium, if all the available energy disappears.


> naturally self-correcting in a free-market

Only once the resource has been consumed. And with topsoil I'm not sure you want to see what happens when food prices rise dramatically.


Even small hikes in food price cause massive local upheavals around the globe. Lots of people who cannot afford to pay more for food than they do now...


Most markets aren't particularly "free". Agriculture for example is heavily subsidized.


Don't think that's relevant since whale and mineral oil are finite natural resources. Governments can't distort them into existence like farm products.


Fertile topsoil is a finite natural resource too.


Top soil can be regenerated so it is literally not finite. Yes it takes long to regenerate and systems with latency are harder to control but it's decidely an regeneratable resource.

You'd hope so, wouldn't you? However our markets aren't free. I can highly recommend Clive Ponting's "A New Green History of the World". The weight of historical evidence is against us finding a fix. We have tended to over-exploit every resource until it's depleted. For instance, we switched to coal because the wood and whales were running out, not because coal was a better source of energy.

(My main concern with the book is the lack of references; for each chapter he provides " further reading", but I'd have preferred to see a source for each claim.)


Parent's point was that "whale oil scarcity" had a natural mechanism to get people invested in alternatives because as whale populations dwindle and it becomes expensive. That was the problem and it was solved to our satisfaction.

It also helped the whales, but that was purely incidental. Without fossil energy, the whales would be gone.

Today, there is unfortunately too much oil and coal to force the search for alternatives. And the "whales" are the the climate and, again, that problem doesn't have the feedback loop because the atmosphere, like the high seas, does the tragedy-of-the-commons thing.


The catastrophic results come from overshoot; peak whale didn't have an overshoot where the folks exploiting whale oil then got into trouble because of fossil oil. Topsoil erosion will have overshoot because it's caused by people trying to get fed. When the topsoil goes those people are in trouble. For carbon the same is true - when it passes a certain point catastrophes occur - stopping the exploitation is not an option as it's toooooo late!


I would generally agree, but i guess the point is, extrapolating about production/growth/pollution when fossil oil was introduced probably failed to account for technological change driving economic and industrial change.

We can measure global warming, it is happening, and we know what drives it right now. We should at least try to model what kind of change would fix it. Including new technologies.


Fossil fuel prices are highly political and a mechanism to sanction economies right now. So it is only partially a free market at best. Especially if many players try to keep the price that low...


Two completly different situations,

Today the problem is less the lack of ressources, but that we destroy the eco-system with our current technology. We can not just use another technologie to exploit a different kind of ressource. Instead we need a technology that has less consequences or even one that undoes the damage we already made.

Fossile oil reserves where not developed around 1800. They developed over millions of years. And actually they were already used in the middle east, china and myanmar way before europeans&americans started to use them to replace the shrinking and therefore more expensive supply of whale oil.

IMO the usage of petroleum was fueled(no pun intended) by the market and the rising price of whale blubber. It could have been used way earlier but was not lucrative.

Sadly the technologies that destroy our environment are still more lucrative then existing solutions that could solve our problem. That is especially if you look at the investments that are still made in this sector. We have the technologies to solve our problems, they are called renewable energies.

The problem is that we need a technology that takes over the market share that is currently taken by technologies that damage the environment. But that is very hard, as it would need to be more lucrative.

Just having the technology does not help, if people still use the damaging technologys. Cause they alone are enough to reach certain tipping points. And after those, no technology can save us even if it would undo damage that we caused earlier.


It's worth noting that by the time "peak oil" became a talking point on cable networks, operators had figured out that the time of barn-burner "easy oil" was over, and were starting to optimize their fracking operations, which targets mud rock instead of traditional reservoirs.

Now industry leaders are talking about "peak oil demand", the idea that demand for petrochemicals will crash over the next decade or so.


Sure, sure...and someday they'll be paying households to provide the cities with electricity! :-)


I think technology will result in a great outcome for humanity as long as our greed is checked somehow.

Most of the problems today are caused by our greed. I’m no MIT scholar nor as educated as most of you here, but from a anecdotal ground level I have seen it really seems some people at various positions from a office manager all the way to the highest political offices are driven by greed. Their greed usually results in negative outcomes for a lot of people.

I’m not sure how we can solve that.


The problem is defining “greed”.

It feels like when I want more stuff per unit time/effort, I’m just “trying to support my family and build a better life for my children”. But when other people do the same, it’s “greedy”. Is there any definition of “greedy” we could use for the purposes of this discussion that would apply yo all humans equally?


Greed is to defect in game theory.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

Its somebody who instills distrust in society by taking advantage of it.


Rent seeking and corruption are two definitions that spring to mind.


I think those are good ones because they're definable in ways that we can probably come to a consensus on.

The problem is the term greed is often used in a pejorative way as a proxy for success. If you work hard and achieve a lot and that comes with financial rewards, you are greedy by definition. Add in some snark about how the work hard part doesn't count somehow, and that's the modern critique of capitalism.

Oh, and rent seeking and corruption are because capitalism too and not at all human flaws seen to an even greater degree in every other economic system ever devised.


I think that the issue is when the financial rewards are dramatically greater than how much harder someone could conceivably be working.

A billionaire could conceivably work much harder than the median person. However, they don't work 8000 times harder ($1 billion divided by the median net worth in America of $122k).


Why is the "hardness" of the work the key criteria? If you compare "value to society based on peoples willingness to pay", then the ratio of that between a billionaire and the median person probably is 8000x - the founders that become billionaires usually capture only a tiny fraction of the value they create, but we tend to take that value for granted and it's hard to measure. So we only see the billions of dollars they have, not the 10s or 100's of billions of dollars of value they create.

The thing is nobody gets to build a fortune in the billions from saving up their salary. The principal way to do it is through ownership and control of a company. So what's the alternative to private individuals founding companies, finding ways to provide valuable goods and services, employ lots of people and grow successful businesses. Is that something we want to discourage? I think we all benefit from having hard working, innovative people creating, leading and running big companies. Or even from investors deploying capital so that it grows companies and expands beneficial economic activities.

part from my first job working for the government here in the UK all my other jobs have been for companies founded and run by private individuals. They've helped me put food on my table and clothes on my children.

On the other hand I do agree that when it comes to inheritance, rent seeking, financial manipulation, etc there's a lot to do to close loopholes and create a more equitable system. There is a good argument to be made that the main reasons inequality has risen are not good ones. I do not see those as fundamentally flaws in capitalism, they're certainly flaws but you get abuses in any economic system. They're not fundamental. The Netherlands is definitely a capitalist society, but they also have a wealth tax for example. There are good arguments for land value taxes, which some countries use to good effect. There are plenty of tools available to us.


I don't think it's black and white. I have no issue with someone starting a business and becoming hundreds of times more wealthy than the median American. However, I think that's a lot different than becoming thousands of times more wealthy.

Opposition to addressing inequality in the US tends to take the form of arguing that the rich worked harder, earned their wealth, are more valuable, etc.; therefore, it is immoral to redistribute that wealth. The argument that I am attempting to make is that the differences in wealth are so dramatic that it isn't realistic that they earned it in the sense that free market advocates are implying.


I think if you're opposed to people obtaining that much wealth is, how do you stop them? How do you prevent Elon Musk from investing heavily in Tesla, growing the company and ending up owning billions of dollars worth of it's shares?

They may not work 8000 times harder, but they may bring to the table a skill which is 8000 times more valuable than a shelf stocker at Walmart.


That's certainly possible, but the argument that usually gets made is that they worked harder and therefore earned being a billionaire.

That being said, I think it's also unlikely that they brought a skill to the table that's 8000 times more valuable. My understanding is that people who become billionaires do so by leveraging capital.


They both seem fine to me. Rent seeking keeps system stable. It keeps a balance between crash-and-burn vs absolute no risk types by taking little risks to collect rent and providing some useful service.

As a third world native I find corruption works better than everyone mindlessly following law under one self-righteous government becomes illegal under the next one, thereby making citizens life hell.


One approach might be to compare how much wealth someone is attempting to attain with how much they could conceivably be outperforming the average person.

For example, if we make a back of the envelope estimate that an elite person has skills that are 10 times those of an average person (10 times smarter, stronger, more charismatic, better educated, etc.) and works 3 times longer then they could conceivably be 30 times more productive. If, to be conservative, we doubled that, then we could define greed as attempting to amass more than 60 times more wealth than the average person.


What if our elite 30x productivity person takes a significant risk? If he flips a coin and wins he should rightfully expect 60x

And you can be much more than 10x more productive than your average person without being 10x smarter. You can just have skills or have an idea that allows you to scale your contributions much more than an average person.

For instance, if we can teach cars to drive themselves, we have the capacity to save hundreds of millions, if not billions, of man hours a day.

The people who made significant contributions to that effort will have contributed thousands of times more to society than an average person.

If a surgeon saves 50 lives a year, I'd say that's a lot more than 10x what I'm doing.


I agree, it's perfectly reasonable for someone who takes a risk to receive more than I do. I could even see them receiving hundreds of times more than I do. That's a lot different than them receiving 8000 times more ($1 billion divided by the median net worth in America of $122 thousand).


Yeah, especially when there's occasional extremists that refuse to acknowledge that putting one's own first isn't the natural state of things.

I guess the way forward is to build a sustainable future for everyone and their families. And to get everyone to agree it's the best way to go about things.


> putting one's own first isn't the natural state of things

I am very confused about this statement, can you please explain what is the "natural state of things" ?


Let's imagine a hypothetical crisis, say a building on fire. You can save your own child/spouse/relative or you can save a complete stranger. You will succeed in saving any of them, but not both.

Most people will chose child/spouse/relative without thinking twice and doing so is quite natural. Not everyone agree on that though, and would argue that the potential benefit the stranger could be to society should be taken into the equation.

Luckily, reality isn't that black and white in most cases, but most people will prioritize their in-group. That's just the way people work.


Clearly, people will prefer their own in-group. I think, however, you just made the parent poster's point.

People will often prefer their own in-group to themselves.

Thus, it depends on how one defines the in-group, and one's own interests.

Looking at Coldtea's earlier comment:

>It's either pushed to us by greed, or given to us as a substitute for things we'd rather have (no friends, but here are games you can buy), (no work-life balance, but here's Netflix you can watch when you're home exhaused from work), (no community, but here's social media, go argue with strangers), etc.

showing how the 'in-group' has shrunk. Used to be a larger tribe, now you could be lucky to consider it an atomic family.


Definitely. I was agreeing with the parent post, while adding a semi-sarcastic reply about everyone having to agree before things start moving.

Community-building might be a possible solution, but how do you pull people away from their screens and get them out on the streets to make new connections and then turn that into a positive force that actually makes a different?


I have a trick to define greed: pauses. A bad greed impulse based system won't survive a stop, it's a hog, a leak .. it needs to keep going to survive.


I think there are many examples, from French Revolution to day to day examples of people throwing others under the bus for a promotion.

Absolutely, most problems are caused by either of:

- stupidity

-fear

-greed

The problem is figuring out which instances of these are induced by society and civilization and which are inherent to human behavior in general. While we can try to address the former, the latter probably can't be fixed without significantly changing our definition/perception of what humans are.


History shows us that greedy people end up with their heads on sticks. Even when they have armies to protect them. It doesn’t take a lot to regress to that again.


I think it's excessively greedy who end up on sticks. Moderately greedy are doing just fine...


One of the main properties of many of the communist revolutions of the 20th centuries was the mass killing or removal of property of the landed gentry in those countries - sometimes more directly violent than others. Cambodia, China, Vietnam, N Korea, etc.

I think recent history has shown that simply killing the Bourgeoisie tends to just eventually create another in the form of whoever had the power to do the other killings, and not always to better ends for the people. That form of communism has been shown to not really work. Democratic socialism though seems to work out pretty well for people.


There’s still plenty of money sloshing around the coffers of European royalty, even in modern republics. If you’re good at the greed thing I think the head-on-stick risk is pretty small.


Problem is the process that brings those heads on the sticks. It often involves death & destruction of plenty other people and infrastructure.


Not to mention the countless rebellions that ended with the rebelling peoples' heads on spears. Farmer rebellions usually fail.


I dont really think history shows that. The "greedy people" can keep power for very long and it takes special circumstances for the overthrow - and overthrow usually means instability with a lot of death, torture and pain for everyone.


Yes it's not pretty


>I think technology will result in a great outcome for humanity as long as our greed is checked somehow.

That's difficult, as technology is here mostly because of greed.

Much of technology we don't really need, and even more so for most technology we consume (of course, you can't convince tech workers for that, as their salary, and hobbies, are based on the stuff).

It's either pushed to us by greed, or given to us as a substitute for things we'd rather have (no friends, but here are games you can buy), (no work-life balance, but here's Netflix you can watch when you're home exhaused from work), (no community, but here's social media, go argue with strangers), etc.


> That's difficult, as technology is here mostly because of greed.

I am not sure if by technology you mean products or ideas. In case of the latter, that does not sound right. Smart driven persons do not have to be greedy in order to devote their live to something.


However personal interest (i.e. greed) is a big factor that motivates them to devote their lives not to something that's simply very interesting to them personally, but rather something that just happens to be practically useful for large numbers of people very unlike themselves.

Smart people who have the ability and resources to change things don't really share the same problems as the target audience of mass market tech (I mean, hackernews is full of product reports illustrating this) - greed motivates them to solve problems of their "outgroup", filling the needs of all the people they don't really care about much.


I feel like greed is what drives technological progress and that you can not have the one without the other


I was talking to a friend yesterday and he put forth the idea that the only reason humans even have civilization is because of sociopaths. We're apparently wired to function in a community of 30-50 where everyone depends on everyone else for survival so, he reasons, larger groups of people require perverse systems control. Sociopaths, having no empathy and seeking to use people for their own gain, seized power and conquered other tribes and imposed such perverse systems in order to exert their influence over a larger populace and land area. Only now, having lived for many many generations in one kind of civilization or another, people know nothing but the perverse system and think of it as natural and even good.

There was a lot more to it than that, and largely speculative, but it was interesting. What if the reason we don't see alien civilizations all over our sky is that sociopathy in social animals is actually really rare or is always otherwise controlled for?


This might not be directly related but the decline of birthrates tells me that there is something horribly unnatural going on.


Most of the progress is caused by greed too.


greed or ambition?

also, scientists, doctors, researchers, even maybe the military?, progress has been defined by a lot of different motivators than just greed i would think… (was einstein full of greed when he made his breakthroughs?)


A big part is our greed to procreate, take out 3/4 of humanity and climate change is solved


Well the OP didn't talk about wipe out people, but birth control. That can be enforced in many ways but for sure the best one is education https://blogs.worldbank.org/health/female-education-and-chil...


Is it though?

Even if there were an event that wiped out 75% of people, it kicks the can down the road at most 30 years due to a baby boom.

Refusing to solve the real problem is what got us in to this mess.

It’s also utterly like us as a species to think that killing 3 out of 4 people is an easier fix than just living within our means.


> It’s also utterly like us as a species to think that killing 3 out of 4 people is an easier fix than just living within our means.

Individuals aren't really responsible for the mass amounts of pollutants put into the atmosphere the same way corporations are. In order for the human population to "live within it's means" at an impactful scale it would require a change of capitalist philosophy that quite obviously isn't going to change anytime soon.

Kicking the can down the road 30 years is by far the best option we have available to us at this point (not that it will happen in my lifetime).


> would require a change of capitalist philosophy that quite obviously isn't going to change anytime soon.

Capitalism won’t go without a fight.


In order for the human population to "live within it's means" at an impactful scale it would require a change of capitalist philosophy that quite obviously isn't going to change anytime soon.

Yes.


To add to this, just doing away with capitalism does not solve this problem, and creates myriad others.

Absolutely the scale of the problem is unprecedented though, but that message hasn’t changed in 50 years.


And you think the people in the 3/4th are going to let you do that? Because I'm guessing that the 3/4th doesn't include you and your loved ones.


PC probably meant "by not making more children", not the thing you assumed.


No, you just have about 4 times longer to become carbon neutral.


That's horrible and would not solve the climate change.


It would not solve climate change, but really, what's horrible about it?

We live in a world of finite resources. If we, as a species, overpopulate to the point where these finite resources run dry, what are the best options?


Because climate change is the only reason to do something like that - we need to solve the short term issue of pollution, because in the long run (e.g. a few centuries) overpopulation is not a problem as we're going to get a population stabilization and decrease just with current trends without a need to sacrifice anything for it; and we are getting more resource efficient over time, GDP growth has now finally (unlike all history) decoupled from growth in energy use and mineral use, etc.

Climate change is a problem that makes us need a rapid solution right now even if its costly and painful, general depletion of resources really isn't; if it wasn't for climate change then we could just let the replacement of oil to renewables happen "naturally" as oil prices slowly increase as the supply decreases, the usual market incentives would be enough to manage the resource allocation.

Finiteness of resources is not as big of an issue as it looked in 1970s (when the original Limits to Growth study was made) - with a stable or shrinking population (current situation in developed world, soon-to-arrive globally) each person's share of physical resources is the same all the while as each person's need for physical resources (except energy) is not growing now (unlike 1970s), with advances in tech meeting the same needs now requires less resources so we can continue to grow our economy within the limits of the same finite resources.


We could decrease our rate of consumption/production, for one. The rate at which we're consuming is what's unsustainable. We have enough resources today to cover everyone's needs. The problem is we are producing well past that, and even still not everyone is getting what they need. Just look at how much food is thrown into dumpsters every day. Or all the energy locked up in landfills in the form of deteriorating plastics and electronics. All the junkyards filled with cars. Look at the thousands of acres of almond farms in CA's central valley. It takes a gallon of water to grow a single almond, yet the central valley is in perpetual drought. A better allocation of resources is what's needed.

We live in a society where everything is disposable, and that has a huge energy cost that we don't factor in because energy is so cheap right now. When energy is more expensive, repairing, conserving, and reusing a thing will be a better choice instead of throwing it out and buying a new one.


I agree but it seems we’re in minority. I don’t see the rate of consumption decreasing willingly

But you're taking the already discovered "magic bullets" for granted...and are essentially acting like the next one is impossible even though they happen on a semi-regular basis. Science is simply an on-going collection of realizations where the latest realization is considered the end-all-be-all...until it isn't.

The reason they are considered "magic bullets" is because they involve game-changing shifts in technology that couldn't easily be conceived beforehand. Just look at the traveling salesman problem for a sample as to how a handful of input options could output a massive amount of output combinations. Every so often, one of those output combinations turns into a game-changer...then we have people spewing a new version of the rhetoric stated here.

I'd put my money on the game-changer.


It’s reasonable to assume there will be various kinds of game-changing new technologies, but it’s not a given that it will provide usable solutions to the specific problems we need to solve.


At the time these studies were being created the idea that PV solar would be cost-effective and that battery tech would progress to the point where it provided a viable path to grid-scale energy storage was deep into 'magic bullet' territory. There are a long list of technologies that have already started to bend the curve on several of those trend lines and the idea that we are simply done creating solutions seems unfathomably short-sighted.


PV solar and battery technology are approaching the "diminishing returns" territory, if they're not already there. Battery energy density had been improving at about 5-8% over the last 100 years, but I don't think anyone seriously expects that to continue.

IMHO, unfathomably short sighted is expecting the rate of technological progress over the last hundred years to be matched by the next 100 years. We went from the Wright Brothers in 1903, to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969, but by 2035 we'll still be using rockets similar to those we used in 1969.

The 20th C was a very unique time in history, I don't think humanity will experience something like that again for... many centuries.


People have been saying we are reaching the end of improvements to battery chemistry for decades, and yet every year we keep pumping out small improvements and we double production capacity. PV solar continues to get cheaper as we increase capacity and apply the previous generation of chip technology to the production process. None of this is 'breakthrough' technology, just the slow and constant grind of iterative improvement.

The technological progress of the next hundred years will make the previous hundred look like we were all standing still. In the 20th century GPS was a bulky device, wireless comm was power hungry and slow, and any sort of real computing required an expensive lump at least the size of a small book -- two decades into the 21st century and I have a device in my pocket that is magic and for $10 I can put a SoC into an existing device (or something new) that has good GPS, fast cellular data, and sips power to give it “smarts” that would have been unprecedented in the late 20th.

The 20th century may have seen big changes in aerospace as we first learned how to master the field, but it was the dark ages when it comes to computing, materials sciences, biology, and solid-state physics -- every one of those fields will deliver results over the next 50 years that will make the 20th century look like the 18th century in terms of technological advancement.


It's not counting on a magic bullet that concerning, it's the overconfidence we understand all the variables in the system(s). That is, we act as if there are no significant unknowns. Unprecedented, global scale, and unknowns all go hand in hand.

Even in a Covid 19 aware world there's still a fair amount of denial about the complexity of the global economy. What happens if dissent - not co-operation - increases? It can certainly be argued that both invasions of Afghanistan were for resources. Suddened the gears will shift and world leaders are going to stick to peaceful cooperation?

Put another way, as stress in the systems begin to surface it seems unlikely humans will remain rational and broadly organized. The social fabric will likely breakdown before anything else. Trying to predict the future is difficult enough. Add to that, human emotional / psychological response to extremes - real as well as perceived - and all the models / scenarios mentioned in the article could end badly.


it's fundamentally confounding to me that more people don't seem to come to this conclusion. I would love to hear a reasonable argument from someone in this cohort, because I'm willing to accept that my intuition is flawed, and I just can't see how.


OK, I'll do so.

To put it brutally it's because on Hacker News and probably your social circle, there are too many people whose social status and income depends on being clever, or at least the perception of being clever. This leads us to seriously over-index on things that look like science or data analysis, without even being able to see alternatives that in my experience easily occur to the less (over?) educated.

Consider this article. It's actually a good case in point. The article can be summarized like this:

1. In the 1970s there were these modellers who predicted disaster. Lots of very influential and educated people took them uber-seriously and thought the Limits To Growth was proof positive that everything needed to change.

2. The model turned out to be useless and the disaster it predicted never happened, because the numbers it used for natural resource availability were garbage.

3. This major error did not reduce the modellers confidence in what they were doing (this seems to be a common theme with modellers). Instead they just doubled the number of natural resources and kept on going. That sounds rather arbitrary and not like a real fix to me, but alright. The new models indicated that nothing makes much of a difference for decades (until 2020), conveniently making the predictions unfalsifiable on any timeline that the original authors may have cared about.

4. Now a new researcher has published a new paper on these models, which also says nothing useful. We read that the models "aren't terribly enlightening" because we don't have any data past 2020 yet so which scenario we're supposedly in cannot be determined.

5. Despite all the above, the author concludes that "the most important takeaway from these models is that we need to take definitive action".

Wrong! A rational person can conclude nothing from the evidence in the article. Given that we can only judge the models by prior performance, we should anticipate that the models are probably wrong again. Moreover, the model scenarios don't have any probabilities attached to them and are described in sufficiently vague terms that nobody would ever be able to conclude which scenario we actually followed, again, making it an exercise in stargazing, not science.

Therefore, we cannot actually say we've "known for at least 50 years that our current pattern of consumption is not sustainable". We've known no such thing. The conclusions of the article and many of the commenters here seem like motivated reasoning as a consequence - or at least, it's certainly not Bayesian reasoning!


Things always seem fine until they aren't, and then they're real bad.

Invariably, the nature of a difficult situation is that they're difficult to get out of, so we tend to be very interested in avoiding difficult situations. This is why people are so interested in avoiding climate change, rather than waiting for more real-time data about how much climate change actually sucks so they can update their Bayesian priors and "avoid climate change when it happens again."


This is specifically what I'm referring to. Temperatures are already getting lethally hot and we're not really doing all that much about it. It's not resource scarcity that seems like the killer, here.


It's worth noting that the Limits to Growth didn't talk about climate change, just generalized 'pollution'.

One now obscure reason for this is that back in the 1970s people didn't believe in global warming and the term "climate change" didn't exist as we know it today. Climatologists were worried about global cooling instead. At that point their records showed a generalized decline in temperature from the 1940s onwards and they believed it might continue indefinitely, leading to a new ice age. This was taken quite seriously, as newspaper records from the time show.

These days it can be hard to understand why they thought that, because if you get a modern graph of the long term temperature record it doesn't show this cooling effect. The reason is that climatologists have repeatedly issued new versions of the historical time series, each time reducing the extent to which this cooling period can be seen. The differences between versions are the extent to which models are allowed to modify the raw data. The climatologists do this because they are very certain in their theories, but a long period of cooling in the 20th century is not compatible with them, and thus they look for reasons why the data must be wrong. When they come up with such a reason it gets merged into the model and the next version "corrects" for it.

Modern graphs show basically no cooling, leading to some people concluding that the belief in global cooling was some sort of fringe belief, or even an urban legend, because obviously, how could they have thought that when no such cooling is visible.

Given the long track record of educated people having near unshakeable confidence in models even in the face of failed predictions (of which World3 is a salient example), this progressive replacement of measured historical data with synthetic data is well worth pondering deeply.


We use increasingly sophisticated models to make the same mistake they made 130 years ago when they projected the increase of horse manure.


Your intuition isn't flawed. People are both willfully dense, and typically unable to grasp extremely complex systems, and both are at play with regards to climate change and energy shortage.

The one that always gets me is how people expect us to even develop those new technologies. With what energy? The ones we're running out of? The ones that are already more and more expensive to find?

And the fact that we'll be doing that...during increasing droughts and extreme weather...water shortages...crop shortages or even widespread failures...the associated political instability...refugee crises far beyond what we've experienced in recent years...all while the population grows...

And that doesn't even mention the fact that, just as when a privileged group of people lose that privilege and call it persecution, those of us in the developed world will see any drop in the standard of living as more extreme than it necessarily actually is. I fully expect right wing terrorism to increase; even now they're running around screaming about "Jews replacing them" -- what happens when their lives get very clearly worse? Who do you think they'll blame and how will they respond?

I could go on.

That's just, like, 1% of the different angles and interplaying variables involved. It's enormously complex, but all paths lead to serious instability, perhaps societal collapse.


Why isn't nuclear power the answer to climate change and energy shortage?


We would need to build thousands of nuclear plants, adapting each plant for its location (so you can’t mass-produce a single design), and we don’t have the skilled people to do that. In addition, they will take decades to build, we lack enough fuel for those plants, and we still haven’t solved the disposal problem.

Solar panels, batteries, and wind mills are comparatively easy to produce at ridiculous volumes. They’re a cheaper, faster and cleaner solution.


Why do you have to adapt each plant for its location? or just find a suitable location and build a bunch of such plants and transmit the power to where it’s used.

Buildings are also “adapted for each location”, but there is still an entire corpus of standardized techniques to do that that massively reduces costs compared to literally solving the problem from scratch at each site.

And why is it the case that “we don’t have the skilled people to do that”? If people value it, they’ll pay for it- and people can learn new skills in response to market need / pay - there is no predetermined number of “ad-tech software engineers” for example, they were “created” by the people themselves responding to market forces (pay)


From what I’ve read it has to do with the way the plant has to cope with water. Water needs to flow through the plant, which means you cannot put it just anywhere. At the same time the plant cannot be prone to flooding and its design must be such that even with a meltdown the radioactive material will not reach the water table. Both of those are not straightforward near abundant supplies of water.

Maybe you could have a universally implantable design, and maybe you could train people with the relevant skillset. The point is: we haven’t, and we aren’t, so other ways of generating green power are easier and cheaper. Nuclear will play a role for sure (the climate crisis is such that we need to do all the things) but it won’t cover more than 10% of our energy needs. I would be glad to get a rosier outlook on nuclear though.


One aspect of customization is regarding cooling - large nuclear plants can't be self-sufficient, they need to integrate some large natural supply of water. Rivers are different than lakes which are different than seaside; each river is different, etc.


I'm having problems squaring this with the real world examples of France and Germany

>Nuclear power is the largest source of electricity in France, with a generation of 379.5 TWh, or 70.6%

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France

>France is Europe’s biggest net electricity exporter in 2019, says report

>French electricity costs are just 59% of German electricity prices.

https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/electricity-export...

>Nuclear power in Germany accounted for 11.63% of electricity supply in 2017

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France

>German power export surplus shrank 46.2% in 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/germany-electricity-statisti...


Because nuclear is effectively done for.

The dream was "power too cheap to meter". Didn't come true back then, and it turns out after you account for safety systems like a containment building and backup cooling, it's far more expensive than alternatives.

To make things worse, making nuclear remotely profitable relies on running it as close to 24/7 as possible. Given that renewables exist and produce cheaper power, nuclear only gets to offer anything when renewables aren't working, which makes it even more expensive.

Economically, it's extremely risky. Why risk billions on a plant that might profit 20 years down the line, when you could build solar or wind faster, and profit faster?

Politically, it's not great because construction times are very long, so any politician that starts building them probably won't be there to see the benefit, and may have their work stopped by a successor.

Practically, we can't build it fast enough. It's a big, complex, specialized tasks that few people do because there's not much market.


Because nuclear depends on a lot of cultural and societal factors to be safe. As Asimov once said:

> The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Nuclear can be safe but look at the failures of the USSR on Chernobyl to see how it depends completely on a country's culture and willingness to pay for this safety. Or even Fukushima, in a country very risk-averse and rich, corners were still cut even with the responsible engineer calling out that the sea walls were too low.

Should we trust governments around the world that each single one of them will keep their nuclear power plants safe for the foreseeable future until we can move away from it (let's say 50-100 years)?

I'm on the camp that no, we can't.


Because it's pretty expensive and time consuming to build and people really don't like to have a nuclear power plant near them.


This. Even France is not able to double its nuclear power output and go completely climate-neutral this way. Let alone India, China, or Indonesia.


While the time to build is certainly true, is the cost truly more expensive than that of effects of climate change? I suspect not.


South Korea seems to manage building a nuclear power plant in six years or so, they don't have to take decades to get online.


It might be more expensive than the alternative solution to climate change: renewable energy + storage.


Because something that is certainly, but slowly and progressively dangerous is much better than something usually very safe but then catastrophic


It is definitely a step in the right direction, but given the current demand the development is too slow.

Just look at China, with ~50 nuclear plants (just 5% of energy production), while they have thousands of coal plants. It's practically impossible that they can shift to a reusable carbon-neutral energy production methods.

Also, China can build a hundred coal plants in a year, but there's no way it can do that with nuclear.

The realistic picture is that growth cannot be sustained and there will be dire consequences due to other factors too.

(climate change, migration, wet bulb temperatures, crop failures, people being too good at capitalism, etc.)


Just 5% = do what you did 20 times and the problem is solved. They only need 1,000 plants.

Compared to all the construction China has done in the past 50 years, it doesn't seem that difficult a target.

> Also, China can build a hundred coal plants in a year, but there's no way it can do that with nuclear.

That isn't a law of nature. They can build hundreds of plants of any type in a year.


The stuff of nightmares... and it's all true. Well said.


Well said. It may be that we should do nothing and accept our fate. In the geological frame of reference we are just an instant from extinction.

> This assumes we'll discover some magical bullet, that we haven't thought of, that will counteract erosion of topsoil, water shortages, and climate change.

Who says we haven't thought of it? There are plenty of candidates technologies, like moving food production into cities via vertical farms so top soil erosion is irrelevant. Lab grown is on the short-term horizon as well (5-10 years).

Water shortages are a non-issue, as we have an abundance of water. Certainly desalinated water is more expensive than water from fresh lakes and rivers, but it's becoming more cost effective, and if water increases in price, they'll meet somewhere and level off.

Climate change might be a challenge, but people will simply move away from the areas where it's no longer cost effective to live, at the very least because it's no longer cost effective to run businesses there due to insurance premiums.

The "Comprehensive Tech" model isn't too far fetched. It requires some disruptive changes, but not too drastic. Errors bars are wide due to climate change though, since it's effects are still unpredictable.


Regarding vertical farms in cities. You generally need about 1 acre of farm land per (American) person per year. A vertical farm can squeeze about 5 acres of horizontal farm land into one acre of vertical farm land. If NYC (proper) has 8.4M residents, then you need about 1.7M acres of vertical farms. For reference, NYC (proper) is about 200K acres right now. (The NYC metro area has 20M residents over 8.5M acres.) It's doable, but it will require an enormous expenditure in infrastructure, so good luck.

Water shortage is totally an issue in the American West. When you build a development you need to prove that there is enough water for your development for the next 100 years before the city will authorize you for tap. This is becoming a real challenge for developers in Phoenix and other areas.

Climate change is already effecting where people live, and it will likely get worse. Likely, the places that are unaffected by climate change are going to be so expensive that most of the people fleeing the effects of climate change will not be able to relocate there.

The Comprehensive Tech model is far fetched because it requires planning, cooperation, commitment, and sacrificing short term gains for long term stability--basically all of the things humans are terrible at.


> It's doable, but it will require an enormous expenditure in infrastructure, so good luck.

It's simply one among many possible resolutions to soil erosion. There need not be a single solution. Soil erosion won't kill all traditional farming practices, and vertical farms can simply make up part of the difference (and progressively more if soil erosion isn't tackled directly).

> Likely, the places that are unaffected by climate change are going to be so expensive that most of the people fleeing the effects of climate change will not be able to relocate there.

We may or may not have refugee crises driven by climate change. There is simply no way to estimate these likelihoods.

> The Comprehensive Tech model is far fetched because it requires planning, cooperation, commitment, and sacrificing short term gains for long term stability--basically all of the things humans are terrible at.

You just described that regulations require demonstration of any new development's water access for 100 years, which is exactly the kind of planning, cooperation, and commitment you said we need. Clearly we are capable of it when necessary.

Regulations have certainly gotten a bad rap over the past few decades with the push for deregulation, but the worse the situation gets due to lax regulations, the more this will change.

Your conclusion is based on the naive assumption that circumstances don't change people's behaviour and so the past couple of decades will predict the next century, but history doesn't support this argument. Cultural views on nearly every issue have changed dramatically in each generation.


> It's simply one among many possible resolutions to soil erosion. There need not be a single solution. Soil erosion won't kill all traditional farming practices, and vertical farms can simply make up part of the difference (and progressively more if soil erosion isn't tackled directly).

I think vertical farming is a great idea, and I think crop rotation and planting native species are great ideas. I just think all the sustainable long term solutions are a hard sell in the short term, and people tend to think and invest on the short term. Theoretically, a government could used sticks and carrots to get these things done, but I don't see the American government pulling that off effectively.

> You just described that regulations require demonstration of any new development's water access for 100 years, which is exactly the kind of planning, cooperation, and commitment you said we need. Clearly we are capable of it when necessary.

You got me. I think that resolution is an exception, not the rule. In any case, water shortages are a real thing.

> Cultural views on nearly every issue have changed dramatically in each generation.

I don't see that from my perspective. I see a lot of the same taboos and biases perpetuated from generation to generation, across all cultures. Young people lean progressive, and then they lean conservative twenty years later.

I don't think circumstances effect people's behavior until it they affects them personally, but then it's too late.

Obviously this isn't true for everyone. Some people will not change their behavior under any circumstances, e.g., Representative Steve Scalise fighting gun control after getting shot in a mass shooting.


> but people will simply move away from the areas where it's no longer cost effective to live

There will be huge migration waves, that is expected.


> we'll discover some magical bullet, that we haven't thought of

Surely there are in fact, many technologies that we have thought of, that could help in a number of ways, if only we could realize them as practical and/or get them adopted in terms of politics and the economy.


The "a technological solution" crowd isn't looking for something that requires lots of money to roll out, like renewable energy.


If you count the externalities of nuclear (eventually having to abandon a city every hundred years or so), gas (some pollution, catastrophic climate change), and coal (pollution, catastrophic climate change), wind and solar look really cheap. Hydro can also be useful by creating reservoirs of fresh water for managing drought cycles.

The biggest issue is that we don’t monetize the externalities in the current state.


The biggest issue is that the costs of not changing anything will have to be paid long after the next election, so why do something today?


I always assume humans want their offspring to survive, but COVID taught us that a lot of people will gladly work for our extinction.

There's a number of technologies and traits that, if adopted en-masse, would definitely reduce our energy and material consumption and extend the sustainability of our planet.

Stop eating meat, extended warranties in home products and designing goods in a way they can be easily repaired, led bulbs, better insulation for buildings, solar water heaters, heat pumps, bicycles...

We could easily consume a fifth of the resources we use now and be as happy if twenty selected things were banned in the world. But we live in a capitalist world, there's only hope in people taking the initiative.


I kinda believe about a few tech based `deii-ex machina` but to me the most potent tool for solving this is just stop following consumerism. If all urban dwellers stopped using cars, and spent more times doing simpler activities, you'd have less importations, less consumption.. maybe this time can be used on fixing house energy expenditures, renewing biosphere a bit. We're sitting on a 8Billions man hour bucket.


Which is why we should push for the stable world (SW) scenario, rather than gambling with our collective future on something that is not a sure bet.

Why do all climate policies currently being adopted allow increased carbon emissions and assume we will have carbon capture technologies to negate them right in the nick of time? This is the kind of irresponsible behaviour that we usually see only in addicts or psychopaths. How are we allowing this?


> why we should push for the stable world (SW) scenario

Alternatively, a push for antifragility acknowledges human's scale of environmental control and the tendency for unexpected things to happen simply because they are possible.

Ergodicity expresses the idea that a point of a moving system, either a dynamical system or a stochastic process, will eventually visit all parts of the space that the system moves in, in a uniform and random sense. [0]

Antifragility is a property of systems in which they increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. [1]

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergodicity

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifragility


How do you propose making an antifragile system?

The most antifragile system we know is the earth's biosphere and its component ecosystems. By reorganising it for our industrial processes, we have made it pretty fragile and we will be experiencing the results of that (in the form of more droughts, storms, temperature swings etc.) increasingly if we keep it up.

Adopting the stable world scenario would be accepting that we need to limit our use of the world's resources and give back a lot of land and ocean use to the natural ecosystems that gave us those resources in the first place -- rewilding large portions of the earth. This is about the only reasonable suggesting for antifragility I could conceive of, making it basically the same thing as the SW option.


It's probably a horizon thing. Over millenia BAU would have been totally off, 50 or 100 years - not clear to me. Should be historically testable, i.e. mean and median time between larger changes. I suspect that in the last 300 years it accelerated a lot on the tech AND social side.


I disagree with this take on why this model was there. I understood it as it being there to illustrate what it _would_ take to avoid a societal catastrophe. This is helpful, because it shows that we won’t avoid it!


I don’t know man, the human race makes great technological leaps, or rather leaps in understanding that allow new technology. And nobody can really predict that. It’s almost like your Einsteins, Newtons, Boltzmanns, Maxwells Paulis and Plancks had some kind 2-way channel with divinity. Even though we all stand on the shoulders of giants, sometimes a new giant appears out of the ether. And there’s no doubt we’re done. I saw a 60minutes where an air force pilot dead ass states that they saw a tic-tac lookin ufo churn water in the Pacific Ocean before basically teleporting away, only to be relocated 60 miles later. There’s more for us to know, even if that air force crew (there were more than 1 witnesses) were all just tripping on peyote.


I don't know either. We made giant steps in the 20th C, but I feel like we're seeing diminishing returns now. From 1950 to 1970 cars advanced a lot, but from 2000 to 2020, they're still largely the same. (Sure, there's Teslas with highway autonomy, and some systems can handle an on-ramp, but "Mexico City" autonomy seems really far off.) Unless someone breaks Moore's Law, figures out general quantum computing or general AI, I think the next 30 years are going to look a lot like the last 10, but with more hurricanes and global migration.


I think everyone has said this in every decade of the last century.


It’s also not true. Cars are currently undergoing the single largest revolution since they were invented: electrification. Designs that people have been optimizing over a century are suddenly obviated and new challenges are taking their place.


True but the usage of cars themselves is the main problem. Electrification of cars helps, certainly, but we should be walking and biking, not driving. They’re more efficient, but we are still just using expensive energy to power them when we could just build better and not need them. Calories are cheaper than watts.


There are massive advances in subjects like materials and biotechnology happening now, they're just not big and flashy despite being at least as game-changing as any other major advance over the last century.


That is true, but basing a prediction model on the assumption that "technology will fix things, and someone will save us" is bad in my opinion.


Huh? Solar power generation at scale is exactly such a thing. Wind power, too. Also hydroponics are a thing at the industrial scale now as is desalination of seawater. These are not magic bullets but they do fix a lot of things.


because we know how solar, wind works and that is "reality". Basing a model on some imaginary future technology that we don't know is possible or not shouldn't happen in my opinion. It is one thing to think or create different models with possible future technologies taken into it and other to be certain about that happening based on that imaginary technology.


How does new technology help these things exactly? Isn't technology, along with the discovery of coal and oil, a major contributor to the scaling of the human population and the effects of that? The vast industrialization over the past 150 has not been good for humanity or the planet.


I think they generally mean: optimal and sustainable farming, abundant clean energy, and world leaders that can think more than two years ahead.


They specifically mentioned technological leaps, so that's what I went on, for better or worse.

I think clean energy will not by itself solve much. We need to reduce and reorganize at the same time as bringing on clean energy production, but that won't happen. Look at China, who is the world leader in clean energy production. I worry if fusion ever happens, people will just be like "great, electrical energy is free now", which won't be good.

I agree we need leaders thinking more than a few years ahead.


> and world leaders that can think more than two years ahead

They can do that. It's the electoral system which doesn't give an incentive to do so.


We already discovered it. It’s nuclear energy.


I agree with you and made a similar comment when the article talking about the report was posted here.

COVID-19 is a perfect example of the folly in believing "technology will always save us". In the U.S., the general sentiment was that technology in the form of vaccines and entrepreneurship will rise to the occasion, so let's just ride it out until then. Well after more than a year of shit show after shit show and 600,000+ deaths in the U.S. alone along with countless reverberations in society (businesses failing, long term health effects of COVID-19, basically a year wasted of schooling across all ages, unemployment, shortages, etc.), people are still like "we got the vaccine, we did it everyone!" I still hear people saying they got COVID-19 like it was an inevitability and no big deal and also now that the vaccine is here no worries. I honestly doubt that climate change, agricultural exhaustion, ecosystem destruction, over population, etc. are anywhere near the public's or even government's serious thoughts. If they are, they're likely to be wholly short term.

We can't even solve simple problems like destroying the dams and decreasing salmon farms in the Pacific northwest that are decimating wild salmon populations which has side effects like starving the resident orcas.

I have zero hope humanity will solve these upcoming problems in any way shape or form. We'll end up just dealing with them and reacting to them once they're here, like we do with everything else (at best).


>COVID-19 is a perfect example of the folly in believing "technology will always save us".

From a purely collectivist point of view, unchecked Covid only kills around 1% of the population and the vast majority are retired people, so it's not something society needed saving from as it has pretty much zero effect on humanity's long-term economic/technological progress.


I think the serious issue is more around long COVID and the associated symptoms with something that could perhaps become a chronic issue down the line.


Yeah, COVID is pretty bad. If possible, nobody wants to catch it.

But COVID to human civilisation is like a badly stubbed toe to a human. Painful. To be avoided. Maybe quite a bit of damage. Not really a threat if responded to in a rational way & with some whimpering.


What chronic issues?



Oh man, COVID-19 was a huge wake up call. I thought the response to Hurricane Katrina was bad, but the response to COVID-19 has been much worse. Scientists did a great job with rolling a vaccine out, but now every family's weird uncle refuses to get a vaccine. It just blows my mind.


> every family's weird uncle refuses to get a vaccine

Suppose I thought you should get some injections, and you researched it and concluded they almost certainly wouldn't benefit you, and might harm you. Would you be OK with being characterized as a weird uncle who refused to get a treatment?


This civilization IS different.

Not in any magical way just simply in the fact that we are the first who through our combination of wealth and knowledge-creation and with the help of technology and science have the potential of solving the problems we encounter.

It's not a guarantee but it's very different than previous civilizations (just as the challenges are).

In general humans and our ansestors have gradually been turning an environment that was sheer hell in its inception, into a much more habitable environment.


It really isn't. History is littered with civilizations that were on top, got complacent, and were swallowed by up to that point irrelevant tiny neighbours.

They all had the wealth, the power, the tech. They didn't have the tolerance for short term pain for greater future gains anymore. So they stood there watching how they went down, slowly but surely . And talking a lot.

I would not be surprised if future historians mark the 1990’s as the peak of the US empire


History is not littered with civilizations that got universal computation and computers to execute them.

Again there is no certainty in life, but to say that this civilization is not very different than others before it is in my view ahistorial.


All civilizations are very different than others before. I am not convinced that universal computation is enough of a game changer to make us different enough. Older civs each had access to tech the ones before hadn't. The one constant is human behaviour.


the difference is that with computers we have ai and with modern forms of energy we have machines and knowledge previous generations couldnt even think about.


> History is not littered with civilizations that got universal computation and computers to execute them.

All countries have this now. How's this relevant to the point that less complacent countries will eclipse more complacent ones?


almost a billion people dont have reliable access to energy a large part of them dont have any at all


You're so far away from the original point, that computation etc is available to any up and coming competitive country, and thus this computation is not the most the previous commenter was implying it was.

What do you need for computation?

When I was an undergrad I discovered blogs about peak oil, the limits to the growth, and Turchin’s cliometrics. As an adolescent I really enjoyed Asimov’s Foundation and all of this knowledge resonated with me.

I had a fried who read Von Mises’ Human Action and he labeled me as a neo-Malthusian . And, according to his “school of thought”, my understanding of the world and economics incorrect. We had many interesting discussions about what we thought we knew.

Now I’m in my 30s and my thought has changed drastically. I believe that reductionist (materialistic) approaches to analyze human endeavor are misguided. There is a bit of hubris in thinking that a computer simulation can predict the entirety of human action. I am definitely not suscribed to the Austrian school of thought, however.


> I believe that reductionist (materialistic) approaches to analyze human endeavor are misguided.

A systems theory approach is an opposite of a reductionist approach. From Wikipedia ( https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Complex_system ) :

> The study of complex systems regards collective, or system-wide, behaviors as the fundamental object of study; for this reason, complex systems can be understood as an alternative paradigm to reductionism, which attempts to explain systems in terms of their constituent parts and the individual interactions between them.


I think that statement about "complex systems" being an alternative paradigm to reductionism is a bit unfortunate (articles in Wikipedia have varying quality). I believe they refer to emergence, a concept which they include in "complex systems", because reductionism in its simplest form means that the whole is composed by the parts and emergence says that there are phenomena which emerge from the combination of individual parts and distinct to these. But these two concepts are not orthogonal, see:

https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/4615/whats-th...

The World3 model of the MIT study is just a set of 149 differential-algebraic equations [1]. The output of the model (population, industrial output, etc.) is mathematically a composition of simpler parts. They are saying that the earth is a very complex system but these four or five variables can be explained by these bunch of equations that represent basic processes. To me, that is reductionism.

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S147466701...


> I believe that reductionist (materialistic) approaches to analyze human endeavor are misguided. There is a bit of hubris in thinking that a computer simulation can predict the entirety of human action. I am definitely not suscribed to the Austrian school of thought, however.

That sounds very much like what FA Hayek called “the presence of knowledge” and warned us of in his 1974 Nobel acceptance speech [1]. Maybe you are an Austrian after all. ;)

1. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/1974/hay...


presence -> pretence


Damn you autocorrect. :)


One thing that people underestimate with Malthusian thinking is that we live in a dynamic system. The amount of oil that is "out there" is connected to the oil price. Sometimes that supply effect of higher prices is limited (we are, potentially, seeing this with copper) but if you are projecting linear trends, you don't understand economics (and btw, this was the issue with the original Limits to Growth and almost all of these studies...for some reason, people who are attracted to this problem spend more time fooling around with their toy models rather than just talking to someone in mining or O&G).

That being said, it is equally true that very few people who study economics actually ask basic questions about how and why economic growth occurs. Economic growth is just energy consumption. That is it (whether humans burning food or oil or gas or whatever, the industrial revolution was about unlocking energy for production...note, this plays no role in Solow growth). And if you build a system which is unable to improve efficiency than that process is logically finite (but, as in paragraph one, no-one knows how finite...you can do all the computer simulations you want, no-one knows...a good example of this is shale oil, Russia has unfathomably large resources of shale oil...everyone knew it was there but it didn't matter until fracking, peak oil was a mania).

So I don't think anyone is really asking the right questions. It is really simple: do we want free energy? Do we want to improve the efficiency of our energy use? Even if climate change wasn't happening, we would need to look at solar/wind/whatever (and, hopefully, this will lead to a new industrial revolution). Imo, population control is also important. We can improve energy use but population will just grow to fill the space (and part of the problem is here actually poor quality elder care and weak pension systems caused by low savings rates). Obv, population control isn't popular anymore but...it makes sense once you understand economic growth.


Economic growth is not just energy consumption. We measure it in dollars, not watts, because energy is just an input. We have ways of optimizing to use less or do more valuable things with it.


Yes, there are ofc different byproducts (knowledge, health, leisure, fulfillment of needs, …) but, at the end of the chain, a dollar spent is ultimately converted into energy/resource consumption, no?


I've always seen it more as a measure of human attention. A dollar gives you acces to someone else's time.

Energy and resources are force multipliers for that human, so making more energy available increases what someone can do.

There is also an organisational aspect in there: A better organized group can do more with resources and reach more resources for the same amount of human time. A human's time is more valuable if the human has a more centralized location an an organisation.

I look at psychologists, hookers, priests as people who sell basically their attention for emotional needs. Not much energy or resources in those transactions, but very lucrative. At the other end of the spectrum is the sun, dumping tons of energy on us, mostly worthless until humans organize the power.


Not really. It used to be that economic growth is strongly coupled to energy and resource consumption, that meeting more needs was done through people getting more stuff. But this has decoupled now for some decades already (in the developed world - in the developing world there's still a hug lag of "stuff backlog") as consumption and its growth shifts towards various intangible goods and services where people get increasingly more desires met in better ways (i.e. economic growth) without an increase in electricity and metal and plastics required for that.

More people than before getting a car inherently requires an increase in consumption of energy and resources as car manufacturing needs to grow; but more people getting access to a Netflix series does not; if people use larger cars then it requires an increase in consumption of energy and resources, but iPhone 12 mini is much better than the original first iPhone and meets more needs while requiring about the same energy and resources.


Right, that is the confusion that I was trying to highlight (although the general point about greater efficiency is quite correct).

With a product like Netflix, is that the result of greater productivity? Did Netflix invent some kind of new food that meant humans who made the films or created the website could work twenty hour days for the same wage? The innovation was cutting out other parts of the distribution chain, not more efficient energy usage.

It isn't about more stuff either but more inputs. And there has been a significant increase in energy capture (I was talking about a far larger timescale, but this is over the 20th century) but there has been a larger increase in inputs (and a small increase in efficiency, although one that continues to compound), that is why climate change is occurring. Intangibles are neither here nor there because humans still expend calories (real solar energy) to produce those intangibles.

To say this another way, the value of an intangible product is (usually) closely related to the productivity of other parts of the economy. A film in Mauritanian street market is not worth as much a film on the Apple Store in the US. That elides the point that growth either comes from growth in inputs, or growth in efficiency of input usage (the increase in energy capture is, I think, efficiency...but it is usually not what people are thinking of when they think about efficiency).


You're right that energy ultimately dissipates as heat, but the important thing is what the energy achieves in between hitting the earth as sunlight and then heading off into space as infrared. If you put a solar panel in place to turn the light into electricity and then use that electricity to write a Python plugin for Flake8 https://github.com/tlocke/flake8-alphabetize then maybe you've contributed something to the economy :-)


> population control isn't popular anymore

The IUD in my gf says otherwise. What forms of population control did you have in mind? (And where are you in the queue?)


Love your comment because honestly I didn’t understand anything you said at first. However I’m now on Wikipedia and trying to understand it. Thanks!


> There is a bit of hubris in thinking that a computer simulation can predict the entirety of human action.

Individually humans are hard to predict... but a flock of humans might not be so hard to predict :)

That said: it's easy to underestimate the power of economics. Once natural resources becomes expensive, we'll find ways to minimize, recycle and migrate to renewable resources.

The biggest risk is if we don't limit pollution.


I think you are positing the question of 'does human behavior have emergent properties'.

I wonder this a lot myself, but how could we see it without Aeons of data? Will we survive ourselves long enough to find out?


I had never heard of Neo-Malthusianism but I realize that I ascribe to this school of thought.

What ideas made you change your view?


When a ressource gets rares, prices go up. This drives big incentives to work on substitutes, recycling, higher efficiency, etc.

Ex: People were predicting Peak Oil is the end of our civilisation. Turns out there is plenty of oil deep in the seabed if you are willing to pay $100 per barrel. In turn, $100 barrel push hard on consumers to use more efficient vehicles.

Market prices are a powerful signal that causes everyone to adapt.


Large populations have lots of interactions, which is good for innovation and commerce.


The Austrian view of economics (and of human philosophy), when I finally sat down and read through the material, made so much sense to me and deeply affected me. It clarified several things I had been feeling about the world that I couldn’t fully comprehend, and made me feel much less stressed and more content.

The Malthusian (doom scrolling) impulse is stronger than ever. I feel happier not subscribing to the “end of the world” views that are prevalent everywhere.


What part or version of the Austrian school? Mostly I hear of people who subscribe to anarcho-capitalism, which I think is a pretty terrifying view, and I've never understood how people get there.

It reminds me of a lot of theory papers you see in the likes of the Journal of Finance where they start by saying, "This is how x works (given this large list of constraints or ignoring this large list of variables)" which makes it completely unrealistic.


Anarcho-capitalist here, ask me anything.

There are two general approaches that lead me there: the utilitarian and the ethical.

The utilitarian approach: I see lots of government interventions that, while allegedly well-meant, end up causing more harm than good. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_controls and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariff for a couple of examples of clearly economically counterproductive policies that governments nevertheless engage in again and again; lots more are less clear but just as bad. Some of these are due to special interests somehow convincing the government, or voters, that the policy is net beneficial or virtuous or something, when it actually enriches the special interests at the expense of others. Some terrible policies are just due to naivete or lack of caring—and those who suffer from the policies not being a sufficiently well-organized political force to stop it. Others have more complicated explanations.

The common thread I see is, these are policies imposed by force on nonconsenting people. (The "social contract" theory is a rationalization that doesn't pass basic scrutiny. When a person opposes a policy and votes against it, and then 60% of the other inhabitants vote in favor of it, you can't meaningfully claim that the person has "consented" to the policy; that's not how contracts work. It's even less tenable when the votes are for politicians, who make decisions years later on issues that didn't exist at the time the votes were cast.) When those policies cause suffering to some people, it doesn't matter—they can't do anything about it, so the policy remains. Well, occasionally the suffering group is better at politics than whoever created the policy, but often they're not.

A question is, if these policies are so good, why do they have to be imposed by force? After all, if, for example, a policy would benefit three people by $100 worth and harm someone else for $50 worth, one could arrange for the three to each give, say, $30 to the fourth person, and then it would be +$70 for each of the three and +$40 for the fourth—i.e. it's net positive to everyone, and then it could be done voluntarily. (It might not happen in practice due to transaction costs, or if someone else holds out for a better deal, but one would expect something like it to happen eventually.) Every net-positive policy could be implemented voluntarily. The only policies that absolutely require force are those that are net-negative. Sounds like an excellent heuristic for policies to forbid. Only allow policies that are voluntarily agreed to by everyone involved.

Transaction costs are not zero (although technology tends to reduce them), and there are some things where a force-based approach looks simpler and more workable. And there are certainly hard problems—how to fund public goods and what to do when someone doesn't want to pay, how to have a stable society with multiple competing private police forces. Various people have proposed solutions; I suspect that at least some of them could be made to work tolerably well, and I think experimentation plus further technological development will make some of them clearly better than state-based alternatives.

I wouldn't advocate tearing down every government in the world today to switch to anarcho-capitalism. I do think it's a goal they should all approach, and that many of the paths in that direction (i.e. reducing government interventions) are obviously net-positive. (There do exist some policy kludges to make other policies less harmful, and if you canceled the kludges but kept the original harmful policies, you could be net-negative; you do have to be somewhat intelligent about it.) Some problems might not have anarcho-capitalist solutions that could be implemented today; some might never have them, I can't rule out the possibility. But I suspect it can be done; and anyway, if we only manage to cancel 95% of harmful government interventions and conclude we can't remove the last 5%, that'll still be a great achievement.

The ethical approach is this: The non-aggression principle. Physical force is immoral unless it is used to defend against or punish the aggressive use of force. You do need a concept of property and a notion of what counts as "force", but that's basically it; I think an ethical system has to be a Schelling point, which everyone might agree to without needing to communicate let alone negotiate, and I haven't encountered anything else nearly as good as this one. Anyway, it follows that all government interventions either involve aggressive force, and are thus immoral, or else they could be implemented by private parties.

Now, ethics aren't necessarily to be obeyed absolutely. Pretty much any ethical system will tell you that murder is wrong. But you can imagine scenarios where, say, someone with godlike foresight perceiving what Hitler was going to turn into when Hitler was still a child, and deciding to kill him first. (Somewhat more realistic are trolley problems and organ donor problems. Also genuinely realistic is a whistleblower engaging in stealing, lying, and possibly worse behaviors to exfiltrate the data. If the data is important enough, how far do you go?) My take is, the law must forbid such things—the law must be ethical—but individuals might rationally decide to step outside the law in extreme circumstances. When they do, they should bear in mind that (a) they now have no right to complain when good people use force to stop or punish them, and (b) ethical violations generally have bad second-order effects ("So, does that mean the guy with five healthy organs should expect the doctor to try to murder him, and therefore he should incapacitate the doctor first and skip town?"); but it's not impossible to conclude that breaking the law is still the best approach.

So, it's possible that a grossly unethical legal system—one which routinely violates the non-aggression principle—is the best choice in a tough situation. (Earth is a tough situation.) But there'd better be a damn good reason for each violation—which I expect there usually isn't. The violations should be scrutinized, and unjustified ones should be eliminated, as quickly as possible. We probably won't eliminate everything—any more than we can bring the murder rate to zero (and the most salient proposed societies with zero crime are dystopias)—but, again, every step in that direction is a good one, so let's go as far as possible.


The term "Austrian School" reads innocuous yet it really is about the fundamentals of neo-capitalism driven by greed.

I do not feel easy about your comment. Sure the Austrian School describes a comprehensive model which might give you feelings of being able to describe the world, yet it might be a model towards self-destruction?


You summed up my unease about the Austrian School. In my mind it’s on par with the feeling that someone claiming to be an Objectivist gives me.


>neo-capitalism

The term doesn't make much sense, it was likely coined by people who do not understand our economic system. Capitalism never went away, it's the dominant system we live in now and have for centuries. There isn't anything "neo" about today's capitalists.

As for some of the promoters of Austrian school teachings I agree with you they aren't the most charitable types, however the theory itself just looks at the economic system the way it works - there's actually less social judgement in Austrian school thought than other economic schools. Which is why it's less popular. A rational and neutral approach when it comes to macroeconomics does not have mass appeal.


No idea what your comment means. The Austrians begin by looking at the individual. Only individuals can ascribe value to things. Nature does not know that an apple or a house has value - only people do. Individuals thus are the drivers of the economy. Furthermore trying to model the economy and predict the future is a fool's errand - the amount of variables are too complex, and macroeconomics as a discipline is no better than guessing.

Individuals are motivated primarily by self-interest. Within a family people are strongly charitable, within a neighborhood (tribe) somewhat helpful, and beyond that altruism cannot be relied on to power the system forwards. Any system that relies on people to be altruistic to strangers is doomed to failure. Instead, you should create systems where people, by acting in their own self interest, help the larger society.

Capitalism is emergent phenomena - where you ban markets, they spring up organically. This occurs even in the most socialist / communist systems such as Cuba and North Korea. Markets allow people to agree voluntarily to prices based on their own subjective opinions of value.

Within any society that isn't forcing everyone to be perfectly equal by threat of death, differences in wealth naturally emerge. Over time they become pronounced. It is impossible to end inequality without coercion - some people naturally value their leisure time over being productive, and it is unfair to coerce someone to artificially reduce their productivity. There is no such thing as economic equality in any meaningful sense, only equality under the law.


Do you have any recommendations on what material to read?


This Wikipedia page on Carl Menger’s “Principles of Economics” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principles_of_Economics_(Menge... says:

> Ludwig von Mises called the book the best introduction to the Austrian School of economics


It would also help to read Marx's Das Kapital at the same time, that way you can plough through two equally discredited economic theories and get them out of the way before you move on to actually reading something worthwhile.


Someone once said: If you are a teen and you aren't a lefty, you have no heart. And if you are in your 30'S and you are still a lefty, you have no brain. Many travel along those lines.

And in analogy to this, I am very optimistic about the future, because the resources are indeed infinite, because the human ingenuity is infinite. There is no peak oil. There is no peak food. There is no peak climate. There is no water. It's all bullshit doomer porn.


If you're in your 30s and are still thinking in political binaries of "right" and "left" or believe in infinite growth theory you are indeed doing something rather silly


Human ingenuity might be infinite, but we also do really bad shit all the time that causes horrible suffering and death.

We had a world war less than a century ago that killed around 80 million people. Did it end the world? No, but it ended the world for 80 million people.

So yes, you might be right that the world won't end from any of these scenarios.... but a lot of people might die horrible deaths, and I don't want me or my loved ones to be among them.


The world doesn't have to end for climate change to be bad. It could simply immerse hundreds of millions in absolute misery, for reasons they had no control over. For example, by causing large-scale sea-level rises in Bangladesh or widespread drought in the Indian subcontinent.

The follow-on effects of the resulting refugee crisis are hard to predict, but likely won't be pretty.


> resources are indeed infinite, because the human ingenuity is infinite

Human ingenuity is impressive, but not infinite. I recommend Collapse by Jared Diamond. It's a long read, but every single society he examines thought they were doing great but ended up eating each other (literally) within a couple of generations once some vital resource dried up. Human ingenuity failed all of them.

I'll give you peak oil: our ingenuity is already finding viable alternative energy solutions. But climate change is going to destabilise so much more - food, water, land, security - that I'm pessimistic that our civilisation will last more than a few generations.

So far we've only discovered more positive feedback (e.g. methane from melting Siberia), when we desperately need strong negative feedback. A bit like Covid, where everyone assumed the ingenious new vaccines would get us back to normal in a couple of months, but mutations, politics and social dynamics mean we're still very much on the back foot.

But hey, I'm 60 and still a lefty so obviously no brain and just a bullshit doomer :) But do grab a copy of Collapse, there are a lot of "whoa!" insights and it's a fascinating read.


I never accepted the premise of that book as being universally true.

Societies have collapsed for reasons other then resource scarcity. In fact I'd say more often they collapse for reasons other then resource scarcity.

I don't think the Mayans ran out of anything. Neither do I believe the Romans ran out of anything.

My guess? The professional political/priestly/mid-level manager class gaining self serving control and cannibalizing productive (and competitive) capacity is a very common cause of collapse.

We see it on a smaller scale in companies real time.


> I don't think the Mayans ran out of anything. Neither do I believe the Romans ran out of anything.

Is this true? I thought it was drought and deforestation and over-farming that sped up the Mayan decline and that soil erosion and exhaustion and agricultural decline aided in the fall of Rome.

https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/0...


One suggestion I heard was that the Mayans were a bunch of imperialist tax collectors and their "empire" simply started refusing to pay tax when the military advantages were no longer so important.

You could probably say the same about Rome. Once everyone in the empire could out-Legionary the Romans (the provinces were the main source of military might anyway at this point), sending tribute suddenly became a bit of a waste of time. Any disruption can trigger a chain of revolts. A revolt could be armed, or a soft revolt where the locals start acting like feudal lords and claim it's necessary to keep the peace.


Rome got much (most?) of their grain from Egypt (which renews fertility due to annual flooding) and the cause of the Mayan collapse is unknown but I highly doubt it was primarily scarcity driven.

Societies collapse from social factors, not just resource scarcity and social factors are in my opinion a more common cause. War, internal conflict, and political instability.

And my favorite theory, the rise of parasitic and short sighted bureaucracies which snuff out the creative and competitive impulse of a culture.


That link appears to disagree with you regarding the Mayans and even points out that ecological issues can fuel and exacerbate social, political, and cultural problems. Of course these things are multifaceted but it seems obvious that a multidimensional domino effect can occur when kick started by ecological issues. Look at what happened with COVID. Gun and ammunition purchases were off the charts, increases of homicidal crime, civil unrest, unemployment, etc. Such a "simple" thing as a virus destabilized society in multiple ways. Just imagine if it was food and resource scarcity.


> Societies have collapsed for reasons other than resource scarcity. In fact I'd say more often they collapse for reasons other than resource scarcity.

This is a bit moot, considering that resource scarcity is a very, very good reason for societal collapse, as well as potential a root cause of other reasons you cite for societal collapse, and resource scarcity is exactly what we are beginning to experience.


Check out Joseph Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies. He looks at a large number of historical complex societies that collapsed and suggests that they collapsed when the cost of the complexity exceeded its utility. A very appealing concept. His arguments about why our society is not at risk were not convincing.

Food/water/land can all be solved via war. Which is probably more concerning than rising costs of those things alone.


Sure there will be weather events, but none of us will live to see anything climate related that causes an entire country to whither.


I think that big diverse countries like the USA will be able to cope better than small countries. So places like Fiji are probably more exposed than many imagine.


I'd take that bet.


Multiple countries have already began to buy foreign land because they know their entire country will wither because it will be underwater.

Perhaps you should... fuck, I don't even know. All of this information is completely free and accessible and nobody gives a single fuck because they think they're smarter.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/24/kiribati-and-c...

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-maldives/w...

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-maldives-environment/mald...


This is what a lack of comprehension of exponential growth does to a person.


as people have children they become less interested in political theory (and theater) and more self-interested. These days voting preferences are almost entirely along generational lines in many countries.


No.


Wow, actually slightly shocked how seriously this model seems to be taken or, at least, how sticky it is.

Coefficients, dynamics, number of entities involved, stationarity. There are so many unknowns and so many reasons to believe incomplete understanding could scupper predictions...

I know everyone likes to believe themselves to be a good Fermi estimator. But trying to model the world beyond 2050 when the weather a month from now is a hard problem. Well, let's say it's Quixotic at best.

Which makes me think the model isn't actually under discussion here, it's just all our priors about how much we fancy technology as a solution or not etc.


> In many ways, this scenario is even gloomier than BAU, and many say that it predicts the dire outcome of allowing climate change to go unchecked.

But if they are using the same World3 model, created in 1972, with a single variable representing "pollution", then surely it's just a coincidence if the effects of climate change end up modelled correctly.

The climate is a non-linear system, and there certainly weren't good models for its influence on / from the economy back in 1972. If the model (even just the updated one) has managed to include some universal physical law that can predict the aggregate of the interactions between the global climate and economy, then that deserves much more attention than the clickbait "societal collapse" prediction.


I thought that "pollution" chart showing it dropping off sharply in all scenarios (due either to clean technology or societal collapse) were unlikely. If you are counting CO2 as pollution (and you should) then it's very hard to get it back out of the air, especially in a short timeframe. So in all cases the pollution line ends up in a steady state at roughly wherever society either weaned itself from fossil fuels or collapsed.


"If you are counting CO2 as pollution (and you should)"

There is a caveat. They only consider CO2 from specific sources to be pollution, so we can't just blanket call it pollution. For example, the CO2 I exhale would not be considered pollution, but if it's coming from fossil fuels or even burning trees, then it is. I'm not sure how they handle the natural burning of tree, like wildfires though.


I am absolutely not a climate scientist but my understanding is c02 from the likes of us isn't a problem as we are naturally part of a cyclical process. Same goes for forest fires which is burning trees that had been absorbing carbon.

However we are releasing an excess amount that had been trapped and removed from that cyclical process, adding more energy into the system than its natural equilibrium usually takes.


"Same goes for forest fires which is burning trees that had been absorbing carbon."

This actually isn't true. They say they burning of trees requires such a long cycle time that the release of CO2 does contribute to global warming.

My main point was that this distinction isn't something that people commonly think about. Usually think mercury, sulfur, etc, which are not things we naturally emit.


Rather than burn coal to smelt steel beams, we could start opting for more timber frame construction and growing more trees, capturing carbon out of the air and turning it into housing.


A very rough ballpark estimate is that you'd need to use at least as much timber as we've mined coal. Probably a lot more since coal has a higher carbon content than timber and we've also burned plenty of oil and gas. That's a mind boggling amount of timber.


They are saying to stop using steel in construction.


Even a sin(x) function can be approximated as a line for small values of x. Potentially the predictions will start to diverge as feedback loops come into effect?


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