Autumnal Equinox – 2018: On the way down

autumn leaves equinox

To be completely honest I am not sure what more I can say; certainly nothing that would really help our situation. Here we are at the autumnal equinox, heading for the darkness of winter, and, frankly, it seems appropriate.

The collapse of our neoliberal, capitalistic, technological Western culture is well under way in my view. And, in truth, not just my view. I have been seeing more and more commentaries on the failures of our institutions and noting the fear that our financial system is about to collapse at the very least. Moreover, the pessimistic view is leaking into the otherwise mainstream thinking. Even writers for such venues as The New York Times and The Economist have begun to raise the red flags on a number of fronts.

The socio-political front, of course, is a complete mess on every continent. Pockets of semi-sanity can be found, for example in Scandinavian countries. But even there we see breakouts of far rightest tendencies that are likely a response to the severe refugee migrations that are flooding Europe and straining the ties that bind the EU in general. Brexit was possibly just the first action in this regard. The situation in the US is absolutely abysmal. The specter of fascism looms over the government in a way most of us of my demographic would not have thought conceivable thirty years ago. Now it seems imminent.

With the revelations of the extent of the sexual abuses carried on by Catholic priests and the coverups by church officials it is clear that many (maybe most) of our moral institutions have failed us. This does not surprise me particularly. Religion is an antiquated notion but the less-than-fully sapient population clutches onto faith even when there is so much evidence that the stories told in the holy books are at best fantasies.

But that is the point, really. Our species is facing this cataclysm precisely because we are really not deserving of the species name we bear. We, a substantial proportion of we, are not sapient (wise) and so cannot truly learn from past mistakes. In fact most people don’t even recognize prior behaviors as mistakes from which they should learn.

In my view the pace of decline is increasing. In part this comes from realizing that the rate of climate change and impacts such as sea rise and extreme weather events are much greater at this point in time than were expected based on the climate models used by the IPCC. Or, in some cases, are following the worst-case scenarios instead of the expected-case ones. Moreover, the rate of CO2 emissions of many countries parties to the Paris Climate Agreement have not gone down, indeed many have increased since they signed on. The likelihood of us achieving reductions necessary to keep under the 2 degree C target is growing smaller with each passing year.

The energy situation is not greatly improved either. I do note a lot of propaganda being put out about how the price of electricity from wind and solar could actually be less than that from fossil fuels. But let me remind you that prices are not really any indication of true value. The key question is: how many joules were needed to build, install, and maintain these systems compared with the number of joules being generated over time (power). EROI is still the main test of viability. And to date, no one has demonstrated a believable EROI for solar, for example. The only pathway toward lowering emissions is by cutting way back on our energy usage. Unfortunately this goes completely against the grain of the dominant socio-economic model of neoliberal capitalism. I’ve said it many times in these blog pages: You cannot make profits in the long run. All of the rest of nature is based on a circular, steady-state economic model. Everything gets recycled and is driven by the power of the sun and some from geothermal processes.

The human socio-economic-political system is so far from the stability and sustainability of natural complex systems that I’m amazed we are still here now. But the signs of decline are all around and becoming increasingly visible even to those who just five years ago refused to believe that business as usual wouldn’t just keep going.

We’re heading into winter now. The season and the society.

George Mobus: I am recently retired from full-time teaching computer science and engineering at the University of Washington Tacoma, Institute of Technology. But my background is quite a bit broader. I have a PhD in CS, an MBA in Decision Science, and a baccalaureate in Zoology (with substantial coursework in math, chemistry, and oceanography) from the Seattle campus of UW. My textbook on Systems Science, with co-author Michael Kalton was published by Springer in 2015. Recently I have been appointed as Editor-in-Chief for the International Federation for Systems Research book series (also published by Springer): Systems Science and Engineering. For a time, in a prior life (pre-PhD) I managed a medium-sized electronics design and manufacturing company in Southern California, so I have some real-world management experience (successful if I do say so myself). My first real love in the world of academics is actually biology and specifically evolutionary, cognitive, neuro-psychology! In other words I wonder how the brain works to produce the mind and how did it come about through evolution. I have dabbled in computer models of brain-like systems to control robots. See my academic website for more information. His blog is Question Everything. Where this article originally appeared.



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