Olduvai Gorge in East Africa is famous for its fossils of proto-humans and Palaeolithic (old stone age) tools. Fragmentary remains of some of the oldest representatives of hominids generally accepted to be our immediate evolutionary ancestors have been recovered there. To those interested in palaeoanthropology, it is a name steeped in (pre)history. So what of its relevance to the modern world? What the hell is ‘Olduvai Theory‘?
It’s an idea that’s been around for a while, developed about 20 years ago by Dr Richard C. Duncan. In brief, it is (somewhat ironically) an elaboration of the old denialist spleen-vent that our actions on climate change will take civilisation back to the ‘stone age’. But the similarity is at best superficial and at worst misleading, because this is a well rounded idea that claims there is a near-inevitable pathway an industrial society must follow, which involves a peaking of energy supply and tech development, followed by a fast drop-off to a low energy state that is, for all intents and purposes, a return to pre-industrial conditions. A full description is given here (with references for further reading), here and here. In sum, this view holds that it will be inaction, not action, on climate change and energy development, that will throw us back to the stone age.
Those who subscribe to the general premises of the theory readily admit that the specific dates on the timeline given in Figure 1 may be out by a handful of years (or maybe not – just think of the ‘excitement’ of 2008), but they consider the phases of the transient-pulse theory of Industrial Civilization to be securely identified and the edge of the ‘cliff’ to be at most 1-2 decades away.
The general principles underpinning this idea have their roots deeply embedded in ecology and agriculture, and were given global prominence via the much-debated scenarios developed in the early 1970s by the Club of Rome, as described in the final Climate Change Q&A by Dr Michael Lardelli.
Deep down, I’m not a pessimistic person, but an honest appraisal of the current confluence of a major global finanical upheaval, a food and water shortage crisis, the (near) peaking of resources and traditional energy supplies, and rise of internecine conflicts in environmentally stressed regions such as Darfur doesn’t brighten the heart. In particular, I’d be interested in what others think about this basic question:
“If Olduvai Theory were valid, how far along the ‘slide’ phase of the progression curve (figure 1) would we need to progress before it became generally accepted that we’d past the point of no return?” (or must we first step off the cliff?). Or put more simply, what constitutes ‘sufficient evidence’ to act?
A similar issue relates to climate change and committed warming, which I’ll develop further soon.
The key way forward in both cases is to: (i) recognise explicitly that the problem (be it peaking conventional energy supply, environmental resource limits, climate disequilibrium) is close to Endgame, and that there is no time left for ‘wait-and-see’ or ‘slow-and-steady’ strategies (this fact has now been recognised in the case of global finanical regulation of risk assessment – whether the ‘fixes’ work remains to be seen), (ii) coordinated community (bottom up) and government (top down) action, at sufficient speed, scale and duration to make the difference and halt (or reverse) the slide. This includes large-scale renewables and early systemic investments in energy efficiency, and possibly later investments in geoengineering.
Can we do it? Two of my friends recently wrote a book about (i) and (ii) with respect to climate change, called ‘Climate Cod Red‘. I’ll have to blog on it, and I strongly encourage readers to get hold of a copy.
31 replies on “Olduvai theory – crackpot idea or dawning reality?”
As you point out regularly on this blog, energy efficiency can mean that having or using less energy does not necessarily mean doing or producing less. Aside from energy efficiency, substitution of renewables such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal energy for non-renewable and polluting fossil fuels can mean that we don’t necessarily have a reduction in the total amount of energy available for society to use.
Overcoming the current climate crisis and peak oil will require major behavioural changes and new technology. They are massive challenges and we need vision, ambition and hard work to succeed.
For these reasons I am not a convinced that the premises of applying Olduvai Theory to our current situation are correct. I believe that we can succeed and still maintain a prosperous global society. While we can learn much from history, we are creating our own future by the choices we make now.
“… A major fraction of the recent, apparently high carrying capacity for human high-energy living must be attributed to temporary resources —i.e., non-renewable fossil acreage, the earth’s savings deposits. In Panel D, it is optimistically assumed that the component of carrying capacity based on renewable resources has remained stable so far. But it is recognized that serious overshoot, induced by temporarily high composite carrying capacity, will at least temporarily undermine even the sustainable component. “Energy plantations” for example (one of the Cargoist3 proposal’s), will tend to aggravate the competitive relation between our fuel-burning prosthetic machinery and ourselves; land taken over to feed technology will not feed humans. So “temporary carrying capacity” is shown actually dipping below the horizontal line for a while, before it recovers and becomes again simply “carrying capacity”. The lesson from Panel D is that crash caused by the exhaustion of phantom carrying capacity by Homo Colossus could preclude a later cycle of regrowth….”
The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Author: William R. Catton, Jr.
Foreword by Stewart Udall
Pub Date: 1982
While we certainly have the ability to cause immense damage to the environment that will contribute to the deaths of millions in poorer nations, I don’t really see how we can get to a low energy state that results in a return to pre-industrial conditions. Even if a surprise shortage caused fossil fuel prices to increase by an order of magnitude overnight, there is no reason why we couldn’t rapidly increase the amount of energy we get from renewable sources. Already my town gets enough energy from wind, solar and hydroelectricity to run essential services such as hospitals and it wouldn’t take long to increase wind and solar energy capacity. This can be as simple as using mirrors to convert existing flat solar panels into solar concentrators, and there are no real production bottlenecks for developing thermal solar. So while things could get very nasty in poorer countries, I don’t see how developed nations could revert back to a pre-industrial state.
All it really takes is the loss of a little topsoil and all the
energy in the world won’t help.
With convergence of all of these conditions, we really need to act, and get decision makers to understand these issues and get past their denial phase. We’ll be publishing something on that shortly and welcome input on this.
Resilient Futures Network
Chris @2 and Ronald @4:
I agree it is possible to avoid this, if we act fast and at sufficient scale. The problem is we are likely to delay until it is too late. Too late in the sense that there will not be sufficient cheap energy (oil and gas) to build the renewable energy infrastructure that could then power itself. At present – right now – we are grossly squandering our one and only opportunity to make a wholesale switch.
Hence my question, which no one has offered a direct answer to yet.
“If Olduvai Theory were valid, how far along the ’slide’ phase of the progression curve (figure 1) would we need to progress before it became generally accepted that we’d past the point of no return?”
If I was a betting man I’d put my chips on the roulette wheel colour black – i.e. waiting until we’re over the cliff before we realise, to our collective horror (just like with the financial crisis), that we’ve left it too late.
I dearly hope not – I just need someone to give a bit of hope for collective human sanity. It ain’t obvious…
I don’t get it. Surely the main message of Figure 1 is that we are actually getting more efficient in the way we use energy – since I would wager that the trend of global GDP/capita/year (a much better indicator of human welfare, I would submit) has been upward throughout the period since WW2, recent travails notwithstanding. Have a look here and see if I’m wrong.
Sorry guys, have just dropped into this blog – so forgive the newbie with a potential ‘spanner in the works’. If my views are off limits or way out of the smater line – just let me know.
So, some thoughts for your consideration ………………
The Olduvai Theory is a very useful metaphor for parsing complex conditions and provoking thinking around such conditions. It allows us to take key conditions like fossil fuel energy depletion, historical events that have shaped the past and informed the future, and put that into some sort of timeline. All very useful – especially in shaking people off their backsides and doing something about changing thinking and behaviour – especially about peak oil.
But to look at it as more than the above type of metaphor, I think, is flawed. Taking it as some form of predictive model upon which we should use as a basis for planning is high-risk process and could produce wasted investment in a useless strategy.
The Olduvai Theory in its striking diagramatic form suits a purpose of seeing what’s possible, and using this as a symbol of the world we might live in, but not necessarily will live in. Anything is possible, but I would assert, that while Duncan’s modeling and model provide an excellent metaphor to provoke change, it is a two dimensional view of a much more complex, four dimensional world that we actually live in. The future as a revisitation of the past is most unlikely – and it will obviously be different and perhaps dire – but not in my view as Duncan frames it.
I think too often great thinking is done to expose and understand sets of conditions (with a limited dimension) that is highly thought provoking and useful, only to then lose the plot in asserting some form of predictive outcome for the future that may sound indicative of one scenario, but is deeply flawed as a path to follow.
From a resilience theory perspective, yes we have breached key thresholds and have shifted states at many scales, and there is no returning to the past –no matter what you do, or what you invest. The question is that, in this new state and conditions, what capability do we need to build to produce what we value, and, is it resilient?
In a comment above, Todd Davies from the Resilient Futures Network (www.resilientfutures.org) spoke of work that the RFN will be doing in creating a time-based overlay of critical conditions (immediate and emergent) that will show potential convergences and feedbacks from such convergences that might be indicative of timing for severe events. Like the cumulative effect of event horizons from a collapsing economic model, peak oil, climate change etc. The starting point will be eight cost shocks I spoke of in an article titled: ‘An Imperfect Storm – Ignorance or Resilience Within Eight Cost Shocks’ (http://www.resilientfutures.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/an_imperfect_storm_lquick_july_060711.pdf).
The objective of this piece is to assert that there is a time line or window of opportunity for action, but such a timeline means we need to work on mitigation and adaptation strategy that provides resilient outcomes – the work will not be about predicting slips or slides of humanity back to the dark ages. While that may be one scenario, there are many other factors that will mean many versions of the future – all to difficult to predict at this point in time.
So, excuse me if I have missed something here, and please help me to understand if I have.
I, like Todd, invite everyone on this blog to join us in the thinking.
Mark @8: That’s production of energy per capita, not use per capita. The capita has also grown rapidly over that period. The recent analysis by the Global carbon project does show that we became more energy efficient for about a decade in the 1990s, and then because more inefficient during the 2000s.
To quote one relevant part:
“Global emissions growth since 2000 was driven by a cessation or reversal of earlier declining trends in the energy intensity of gross domestic product (GDP) (energy/GDP) and the carbon intensity of energy (emissions/energy), coupled with continuing increases in population and per-capita GDP. Nearly constant or slightly increasing trends in the carbon intensity of energy have been recently observed in both developed and developing regions. No region is decarbonizing its energy supply.”
Laz, I basically agree – I treat it as a worst-case storyline. I think we will do better than this worst case, and potentially (if we get our act together on renewables NOW) will do much better than we are doing now under oil. But the risks of a deep, sustained energy-driven recession are real, and could stymie development and a smooth pathway to sustainability. That is, there could be major, regular shocks on the way over the next decade. Call it multiple terraces that together represent an overall cliff. But perhaps we can stop on one of those terraces before we reach the bottom, and then climate back up to the summit again, and beyond. Perhaps.
Look at the links for _Overshoot_.
Catton, in the bit I quoted above, is talking about the graphs (you can see the four in a long excerpt at the link).
The excerpt there sets out four different scenarios for where we are — depending on how far we’ve overshot sustainability.
Catton’s is an earlier, and more thorough, analysis of this question than I see in the Olduvai piece.
This also comes up often in science fiction — the awareness that each planet with intelligent life probably has ONE easy chance to develop space travel and avoid the trap of using up the cheap resources. If we use up all the _easily_available_ iron ore, petroleum, and other material, then a crash into barbarism won’t be followed by a recovery. No easy resources.
We are leveraged now. If we leverage well enough and intelligently enough we can reach off the planet, and have cheap resources available for the longer term. If we don’t reach them out if this gravity well, this time, there may be no second opportunity.
Here’s one such presentation:
Barry @10, I take your point, though producing less while using more still sounds very similar to ‘more efficient’ to me.
It seems the jury is still out on the question of energy intensity. Certainly the US EIA appears more optimistic than Raupach, Canadell et al. Quoting the former,
Admittedly, the EIA’s pronouncements on future oil price and consumption, also on this page strike me as wildly optimistic, so this may not inspire confidence in their other projections.
Based on my 9. the Olduvai Theory is a great metaphor for framing the problem in a two-dimensional form, providing historical view of a complex problem, and as less than useful prediction of the future…………. Barry @10. using the relationship between GDP and energy consumption to frame the problem, ………….. and Mark @12 Economic growth and energy demand are linked, but the strength of that link varies among regions.
I think it may be useful to step way back and view the situation/conditions that we are in at a more universal level. These are some thoughts I have been pondering and would appreciate feedback …………………….
THOUGHT ONE – The current economic model and form of measurement is deeply flawed and is not a good way of modeling and measuring the economy of a 21st century society. For instance, in the 21st century GDP (gross domestic product – the gross outputs at a domestic level of a community) is not measured appropriately. The main reason being is that while tangibles provide a basis of measure – intangibles don’t (and there is a whole history and movement that has/is trying to reconcile that). In today’s Western economies (and most of the OECD) the primary source of growth is in intangibles with for example circa 70% of workforces working in service-based industries. Hence much of what we measure in inputs and outputs and the GDP number itself are not measured accurately. Equally the sharemarket has the same problem in accurately measuring value of business stocks and tradable bonds. Think about this when you think of the dotcom boom and bust, the housing bubble, the blind buying of CDO’s/mortgage securities (Moody’s et al couldn’t really value them so they relied on the institutional credibility of the promoters to give AAA ratings), and the consequential financial collapse (though I prefer correction).
This is still a major problem in framing how to address the economic meltdown – and no amount of bailouts will work until this issue is addressed as part of a more complex systems view of the problem.
The bottom line for this conversation is that we have the wrong economic measure to correlate with energy intensity.
THOUGHT TWO – We don’t measure energy in a complex enough manner. Stepping back from oil, fossil fuels etc etc and thinking about the word energy – the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity; power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, esp. to provide light and heat or to work machines; and, the property of matter and radiation that is manifest as a capacity to perform work (such as causing motion or the interaction of molecules). If we take the idea of energy in its more holistic view we might define it as human energy (thinking and physical work), animal energy (horses, cows etc), planetary energy (oil, wind, water, air, fire, earth etc), and engineered energy (eg. machines, petrol), and systems energy (information technology, web etc).
THOUGHT THREE – If we then overlay the idea of Thought One – tangible and intangible inputs and outputs, and Thought Two the expanded notion of energy, we begin to see a pattern begin to emerge at a systems level that makes a different sense to conventional thinking on the economy/energy correlation and equation. For instance, the USA, UK and some other economies have created their primary growth in the past ten years based on intangibles through human energy and systems energy (financial instruments and networks, designs, intellectual property (Microsoft et al), web-based networks (Google), online advertising etc). With say the big BRIC movement’s – Brazil, Russia, India and China – primary growth model of taking over the production of tangibles through the leverage of the Western World’s intangibles (designs, IP), and their BIG move into the leveraging of planetary energy (eg. oil, gas, iron ore etc), engineered energy (eg. hi-tech manufacturing) and systems energy (eg. leverage of software in manufacturing and distribution).
THOUGHT FOUR – The questions then are …… what resilient value is being added to the human/planetary perspective in this framing? How can we move toward a resilient future that further embraces the notion of an inclusive economic measure, more expansive understanding and utilization of energy, and a combination of the two.
In taking this forward I might propose that we a) keep this comment motoring on this comment stream, and also, in addition, b) place this article on the Resilient Futures website (www.resilientfutures.org).
Yours in resilient futures,
“Climate Cod Red” (Barry @0)?
Inaction is not the same as not doing anything targeted at decreasing CO2 emissions. We are on an exponential technological roll that will help us past using carbon anyhow. Just the cost of carbon fuels and giving our money away to others will stimulate the alternative energy developments.
We have to let the economy grow, not stunt it unnecessarily, and not through some trumped up junk science about global warming of a planet which has seriously ceased warming.
We, the US and industrialized nations, need to develop our technologies while the 3rd world countries develop their carbon resources (yes, and release their share of CO2) while we gradually decrease ours. They need to have their shot at building themselves out of poverty and it would be unfair to try to prevent them. Then, when they can, our technology will be easily delivered to them and the world will be in much better shape.
It is ingenuous of the climate alarmists to assume that we will continue using fossil fuels, as we are today, for the next 50 to 100 years. That is patently idiotic! But, you see, if they prognosticated a good, optimistic future, they would have nothing to alarm people about and make them do things that they ordinarily would not do, particularly if they knew the real science and the real facts.
Has anybody heard in the news that the Arctic ice is easily a month ahead in freezing than it was last year at this time? It is making a fine recovery after melting significantly less than it did the previous summer.
Did anybody hear in the news that a huge body of warm water was injected by the North Atlantic Oscillation into the arctic basin in early 2007? It, being less dense than sea water, very efficiently melted the sea ice from below.
Did anybody hear in the news that they have found a number of active volcanoes and sea floor geothermal vents on the Arctic sea floor? Oops, more low density warm water, more melting!
Did anybody read in the news that much of the sea ice that melted in summer 2007 did not melt there? It was blown southward by the wind patterns that summer and melted in lower latitudes. It was not warmer in the Arctic; in fact, it was cooler according to the weather stations around the Arctic Rim. The extensive in the Arctic melting that summer was largely from warm water below the ice and not from warm air.
By the way, since there is hardly any sunlight in the Arctic – 2.7% intensity at summer peak and largely none most of the year – there is no significant heat to be absorbed even if the Arctic ice totally melted. The 2.7% energy would be lost by evaporative cooling almost immediately upon absorption. Al Gore’s Sun beating down on the Arctic sea is an outright lie.
Why is it that only innuendoes and rumors or “what if’s” are published and not the facts or the real science?
The cure for our problems are going to be a healthy world economy, technological development, and a future not one crippled by environmentalist whining and nefarious political agendas.
I edit front line research papers from all over the West Pacific Rim and the stuff that is in development is truly amazing and exciting – everything from superior nanoprobes for MRI imaging, to high energy density rechargeable lithium derivative batteries for cars, to superconducting nanotubes, to superior nanoparticle catalysts, to herbicides derived from fungi (totally biological), to better medicine delivery systems, to better catalysts for water treatment of heavy metals, to nitrate treatment of sewage, to . . . . . It’s exciting.
Nuclear power (and eventually fusion power), has the smallest footprint on the planet and will free up land for the environment. They can efficiently replace coal fired plants, but we need the time to build them. The latest generation of nuclear plants are pebble bed design and seriously safer and more efficient than ever. They even use the fuel up so thoroughly that the spent fuel is useful for other applications through processing, minimizing waste radically. Furthermore, the system cannot overheat and melt, it is not possible with the pebble bed design. It would even be worthwhile dragging out our old “spent” fuel, which really has half of its unreacted fuel still in it, and using it again in this new design, retrieving the other 50% of the energy.
Only an evil or anti-human environmentalist want to bring down our civilization to save the planet. We want to maintain our civilization while preserving the environment. It will not happen successfully by crippling man, but by enabling man.
To add “fuel” to the problem, the alarmist predictions of bad weather and disasters of every kind is truly idiotic. THe idea of continuous warming comes from computer models which can do nothing else; they are programmed to show warming. They are all wrong. They should be modeling the mechanisms which keep our climate to steady and only then should they see how factors might influence it. The current models are designed to tip as they are built on chaos. Ignoring completely the water cycle and the atmospheric heat engine which controls our climate and assuming that all natural climate cycles are overwhelmed by CO2 predetermines the outcome. When they start writing mature code and modeling ALL of the factors realistically they will only have started. Since we have trouble modeling the weather a week form now, why do people believe such stupid models? They even believe the head of the IPCC when he says that it is warming faster than ever now, even when we have been cooling for 9 years and more rapidly recently. He is the one who supports the junk science of CO2 and computer models.
We are even learning to culture meat without the animal. We need to grow up and learn to ask the right questions about genetically modified foods. They are the only strategy which will feed the world population in 50 years. Grains will have all of the essential amino acids and contain key vitamins. To deny such foods to the starving is evil. Concerned citizens and environmentalists need to learn the science and stop the knee jerk reaction that human engineering is always bad. Nature is genetically altering organisms all of the time. All we are doing is speeding up the process. Again, with the proper questions, it is easy to detect what is safe and what is not.
Incation by letting us progress, grow and develop is the best of everything for us, the planet, and the environment.
Capt. Higley, PhD, Bichemist/Marine Biologist
Charles Higley @ 15
You are mistaken if you think the Prof Brook and his peers are wanting a downgraded lifestyle and a return to a less comfortable lifestyle. What this blog, and most others on this topic, are pushing is the very same thing you want i.e. the move to a green/alternative technology world which provides the power we need without further damaging the climate and the environment. Many of the points you have raised here have already been answered on this blog in previous postings – in particular I suggest you download the podcasts, and PDF files of the lecture series. You just might learn something.
Re Charles @ 15, and Perps @ 16…………….
I would be interested to hear more about the common ground you (Charles & Perps) share. I also understand the angst that emerges out of the positions you hold – but we (me included) the non-science fraternity need to understand a balanced argument, and not just hear two positions battling out for supremacy of ideas.
If it is true that you are both about a resilient future for people and planet – is it possible for the creative tension that you bring to your excellent thinking to be used to form a joint view that makes sense to the people in the trenches?
Hi again Charles,
A point or two..
“It is ingenuous of the climate alarmists to assume that we will continue using
fossil fuels, as we are today, for the next 50 to 100 years. That is patently
I am sure most concerned people are not assuming that, but hoping otherwise. However it would seem to be a fair assumption that, in the absence of policy measures to cause a change in behaviour, that’s exactly what will happen. What is so “idiotic” about that? (By the way, I think you meant to use “disingenuous” rather than “inegenuous”.)
“Has anybody heard in the news that the Arctic ice is easily a month ahead in
freezing than it was last year at this time? It is making a fine recovery after
melting significantly less than it did the previous summer.”
Charles, many people looking at this site, myself included, are quite familiar with the NSIDC sea ice extent and area data. We don’t need to “hear” it. We also know that your comparison of sea ice with this time last year is spurious – last year’s dramatic low pointin ice extent would make anything else look relatively healthy.
The trend, though, is clearly down. The latest full month of estimates for Arctic sea ice extent are for October, with an average of 8.4 million square kilometres. These satellite estimates go back to 1979. Over that time there have been only five Octobers with values less than 8.5 million square kilometres. Guess which October? That’s right, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, with an average of 8.1 million. The average over the 25 years before that was 9.2 million.
Charles, have a look at this ftp://sidads.colorado.edu/DATASETS/NOAA/G02135/Oct/N_10_plot.png then look deep into your heart and tell me again that Arctic sea ice “making a fine recovery”.
And while you’re at it, can you explain why you think this was “after melting significantly less than it did the previous summer”.
The NSIDC data show Arctic sea ice extent fell from from a high of 14.67m km2 in March 2007 to a low 4.3m km2 in September 2007 then from a high of 15.21m km2 to a low of 4.67 km2 over the same interval in 2008. That’s a fall of 10.54m km2 this year compared with 10.37m km2 in 2007. I guess while you are re-writing the laws of physics you might as well re-invent mathematics as well. Maybe in some parallel universe 10.54 really is less than 10.37. Pelase send us a postcard.
Looks to me like their is little to no common ground here, and maybe, no willingness to create some.
To be frank, I think a conversation that took the acerbic comments out is much more useful.
As I say, I, we, the non-scientific community would find it extremely useful to observe and engage in a healthy dialogue that showed key points of accuracy come to together in a more balanced manner.
What do you mean “balanced”?
This isn’t a marriage guidance counselling session, it’s an argument about the future of the planet.
Charles’ position is, in essence, that the scentific knowledge accumulated over more than a hundred years is wrong, that the laws of phsyics don’t apply, and that anyone who disagrees with his position is idiotic, evil, lacking morals, anti-human, incompetent, basing their views on innuendo and rumour, interested only in feathering their own nests, etc etc.
Not one of his points stands up to scrutiny.
The insults peppering his rant and not the worst – what really riles people is that he pops up on to this site and assumes people are so ignorant, so naive and so gullible that they will simply accept the nonsense he is offering.
If Charles wants to present some well-researched arguments instead of the same tired old factoids trotted out with such regularity by people of his mid-set, debunked countless times in countless venues, and sadly familair to anyone more than a passing interest in the subject, then he is welcome to do that. I’m sure they will be considered on their merits.
Gee Gaz – that’s really helpful.
I was under the impression that a good argument was not about losing your temper – even if your counterpart does.
And isn’t a good argument about crafting persuasive dialogue that would align with the true believers, and, more so convince people observing such a debate who need an informed conversation that exposes both views to arrive at a logical conclusion.
Closing down people – even of the Charles perspective – is understandable – but not an argument.
Sorry Gaz, I am an believer and provocateur for what I think you believe in. But I am beginning to be convinced that the style of ‘argument’ I am hearing here might be part of the problem, and not be of value for people like me who are trying to learn how to deal with the Charles’ perspective, and to be able to reinforce what I think your view is.
I guess what I mean by balance is in the dictionary: stable, equilibrium, steadiness, egalitarianism, equal opportunity, counterbalance ……… I won’t go on.
Re your comment: “This isn’t a marriage guidance counselling session, it’s an argument about the future of the planet” – if I could offer a suggestion (a balanced suggestion I hope) – if you are taking the future of the planet on as your individual project – then good luck. If you are enrolling people in joining your view of the future of the planet, then maybe you might re-think your attitude to leading such a mission.
What was it that Gandhi said – ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ – maybe that might be something we could discuss?
I’m not losing my cool (unlike the planet), nor am I tying to close Charles down.
As I said, if he wants to propose a well-researched argument it will undoubtedly be considered on its merits.
On the other hand trotting out some bogus claim that’s been discredited over and over again will not enegender much good will.
You seem to think Charles might change his mind given some calm and patient explanation of the facts. If you see any evidence in his posts that this might be the case, please point it out – it’s much too subtle for me.
Charles’ overt hostility toward anyone who holds a different opinion to his suggests objective consideration of alternative positions is not Charles’ main priority in this forum.
I think it’s more important to demonstrate to casual readers of this site that what he asserts is backed neither by evidence nor logic, and that applies to his assertions about the science and his derogatory comments about the people doing the science.
While Charles may have made up his mind there are others who might accept his views uncriticially, so it’s important to point out to those people that he is not only wrong, but that his ideas have been shown repeatedly to be wrong.
As for the idea of balance in an argument, I can only repeat what someone much smarter than me said not long ago – you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts.
Gaz @ 22
Absolutely spot on! The reply you gave to Laz said everything that I would have said – if I was more eloquent. Particularly important, as you said, to ensure that casual visitors to the site are informed of the rational( or lack thereof) behind these disingenuous bloggers. Keep up the good work!
Dear Rich Duncan,
Thanks for your great work.
The road ahead will not be an easy one, I suppose; precisely because the mistakes our not-so-great generation of elders are making now simply cannot be repeated by our children. Thankfully, new leaders are emerging. Some have called this phenomenon the appearance of “transformational” leadership. That is also what I am observing.
The unrestricted consolidation of filthy lucre and political/military power, the unbridled expansion of economic globalization, the unrestrained per-capita overconsumption of limited resources and the unchecked human overpopulation on the relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planetary home God blesses us to inhabit, could soon become unsustainable. Perhaps the humane, reasonable, sensible and wise regulation of these activities will make make it possible for the family of humanity to build a patently sustainable, distinctly human world order, one that adequately enough models key biological systems and physical structures of Earth.
New leaders with new ideas are coming forward. A new day is dawning. My hope is for members of our generation to become helpfully engaged by openly acknowledging and effectively addressing the challenges presented to humankind rather than by perversely mounting a “rear-guard action” in denial of looming, human-driven threats to human wellbeing and environmental health.
Rich, thanks always for your spot-on scientific research.
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
[…] Olduvai theory – crackpot idea or dawning reality? […]
Glad to see Dr. Hansen linked to this thread, from his advice for Obama.
But see _Overshoot_ (#3 above) for an older and I think clearer and better presentation of the same idea. Look for citations to it in later work.
The graphs sum up the possible situations.
“… A major fraction of the recent, apparently high carrying capacity for human high-energy living must be attributed to temporary resources — i.e., non-renewable fossil …. the exhaustion of phantom carrying capacity by Homo Colossus could preclude a later cycle of regrowth ….”
Dang. Lose the trailing slash, which used to help speed up lookups; it now breaks something somewhere.
[…] mine is patently not a ‘doomer’ vision. I don’t buy the Olduvai Theory. I don’t accept the argument that a peaking oil supply will cause our society to collapse. […]
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