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Peak Complexity, Peak Ignorance and Peak Selfishness

By Johnson Dantis, POI member

I have been reading many posts on the Peak Oil India website about various events related to environment, sustainability, climate change, energy etc. I often find that such conferences and seminars do not have the seriousness these issues deserve. I sometimes visualize the importance of these as a sort of kitty party-like events, where most attendees do another kind of window shopping and socialising.

Forums and similar events are a necessary part of the process for change, but when they become a mere platform for awards, demonstration of personal skills, casual get-togethers and publicity-mongeirng with little focus on the severity of the issue, then they lose all meaning. As Einstein said, doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is nothing but insanity. In many of these events, we see the same drama playing out in full force.

All sources of energy generate heat. When 10 people generate heat there is only a minimum effect, usually unnoticed by the individuals or the community, but when 7 billion does the same and in rising quantities, it obviously will have a proportional effect somewhere. So, scale matters in whatever we do and innovation does not come in time for rescue. To take an example, if you invite 100 people for a wedding and 1000 turn up, you can understand the chaos and drama that would unfold.

Whether we call this “climate change” or something else does not make any difference to the outcome. What we are realizing now is that this planet was never designed for such intense energy consumption and for so many people to live at the same time and aspire for a high standard of living. The problem simply cannot be solved unless you reduce energy use per capita or population or both in equal proportion and stay within earth’s carrying capacity. As for breaking people’s habits and demanding sacrifices of them, it is near impossible to do in the democratic world we inhabit. So there are no choices before us, and the whole debate will eventually be settled by nature (floods, droughts, desertification, diseases, famine etc) and also by human conflict (war) arising from resource depletion and environmental damage.

As you climb the ladder of complexity, technology becomes just the means for a stop gap arrangement to buy time until we find ourselves getting deeper into the crisis, which prompts a need to innovate further. This cycle continues till innovation lags behind the crisis, which takes over the race, resulting in collapse.

We as a species look at everything in the very short term and are never inclined for long term planning. Even though our actions are short term in nature, our dreams are of the long term, which is why we nurture the next generation in the form of children.

There is no solution to the crises confronting humanity without massive pain, deleveraging  and sacrifices, which is why people either run away from them when they can, or immediately find ways to disagree so that the problems can be put aside for now. But we are too far in the game now and there’s no getting out. We all know the problem – and the solution – and yet we try to find our own glory in these desperate times by beating around the bush instead of tackling things head-on.

The fact is that the days of conducting seminars and talks and then continuing with ‘business-as-usual’ is over. There is a saying that it is easy to go with gravity (in other words, to indulge in misdeeds like corruption, speaking lies, perception, deception etc.) but going against gravity needs effort. One way to go against gravity is to tell the truth and bring one’s actions in alignment with reality.

We may continue with our ‘business as usual’ attitude, with some occasional ‘green initiatives’ but it looks like it does not matter anymore what individuals do as the damage we have caused collectively seems to have pre-empted any effort we may undertake in trying to reverse it. To take just one example, if we reduce use of fossils fuels even by 10-15%, the entire global financial system may crash due to deflation, deleveraging  and debt defaults, which may result in endless depression, destruction and wars. And that is, not counting the possibility of runaway climate change being triggered soon. (read this article  by Michael P Byron, and let us hope it is not even 0.1 percent correct).

We simply cannot bring down our massive global population on time, nor can we do something to stop climate change by reducing energy consumption since finance, growth, energy and economy are all tied together. Add religious belief and resource depletion to it and we have potent mix for catastrophe. The only mantra left after that is ‘just enjoy the party as long it lasts’. In other words, we as a species are facing a precarious situation of life and death. Some 30-40 years back, we still had the opportunity to power down gracefully with less pain, but having wasted it, we must now await our fate of almost extinction kind of scenarios.

In my view, nothing can prevent a catastrophe and endless crises at this point of time other than a miracle (hoping no nuclear radiation engulfs the planet, in such a case all bets are off for human species) and we can only watch in despair as the system is too huge – and deeply interlinked – for any turnaround, unless there is a massive movement of knowledge and a lot of sacrifice. People who think that they only need to survive the coming onslaught of peak oil, resource depletion and climate change somehow, will find that life is not worth living after such planetary turmoil. So there are no choices on the table really – except only enjoy life as long as it lasts. In other words, to continue with business as usual.

Nothing less than a global crisis event would force governments and people to even consider changing track from business as usual. It is a fact that the industrialized nations, where awareness of such issues is more widespread, has throughout history used all the resources and energy and cannot tell the truth about our current predicament, let alone change the path.

Then again, even if they did so, it would have little impact as few look up to them now. Whereas under industrialized and non-industrialized nations are increasingly focused on removing poverty, which is actually a function of external energy use per capita. Basically, poor nations are trying to enter the party just 5 minutes before midnight, which is unfortunately, closing time.

Both sides revere technology, forgetting that it is just a means of using that energy – either efficiently or inefficiently – but incapable of creating any new stored energy. All that we have achieved throughout history has been using stored and flow energy that is found on earth surface or crust, thereby increasing the population and complexity of the civilization. We are a complex species, who have built a complex civilization of the highest order needing ever increasing energy supply to sustain and grow – which might be approaching/reached its highest point– and hence ‘Peak Complexity’. In fact, the term Peak Oil itself is misleading in the first place. It should have been ‘Peak Complexity’ or ‘Peak Everything’.

I don’t want to discourage anyone or be negative in any way, but the truth is the truth and it cannot be hidden by perception and deception for too long. I think human emotion has no place when it comes to the kind of problem we confront. There is always a tendency to shoot the messenger rather than analyzing and diagnosing the message.

I understand that for those people already using low energy, these things does not matter. That said, knowledge, especially knowledge of history is key for future survival as well as prosperity in terms of healthy living if that is the objective and larger goal irrespective of rich or poor, location and religion.

It is really understandable that after society used fossil fuels for so long and many (at least 1-2 generations) have benefited in the form of a very high standard of living. And to ask the present generation to give up fossil fuels without really seeing any really profound impact on the ground yet from its usage surely looks like some kind of anomaly, stupidity and doubtfulness. Also there is no alternative for its substitution as a solution other than conservation and powering down gradually which are both unattractive and painful options. People also are relatively uninformed about the evolution of technology, and therefore remain ignorant about what technology can achieve and what it cannot.

What people do not realize is that, to understand with their own eyes the impact of climate change, resource depletion and peak oil and the event that are unfolding as a result of them, you first need the special lens that is knowledge of history and energy and how the two are entwined. Without that foundation, you remain blind to what they mean and tend to ignore them as unimportant and isolated events, some of which you would even regard positively because you personally benefit from them.

But the time when these impacts and their causes become visible to the naked eye for everyone is not far away. Things would worsen to an extent that you too will be overwhelmed by the calamity, multiple crises events and the accelerating loss of biodiversity with its attendant widespread destruction, making the situation look hopeless and unsalvageable. At that time you may repent not discovering it earlier. But when the messengers are actually warning you today, you ignore them for short term gains. So it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Almost all the phenomena that dominate our headlines – from improvement in standard of living, climate change, civil war, abundant food, wealth creation mirage, economic growth, poverty removal schemes, terrorism – are linked directly or indirectly to fossil fuel acquisition or its use. You need the right lens to look at the events, or else you are just another person on the street busy in day to day chores. Coming decades will never look anything like the past for the generation currently alive on this planet, not to speak of future generations if they manage to survive. Decline cannot be avoided but at least pain can be relieved and reduced as we go down the slope and avoid extinction, which is the only motivation why knowledge is important to be shared. What is not our side is time, it is running out for any kind of response we may mount to ward off the crisis. We are all are on the Titanic and we need to co-operate. There is simply no other choice on the table.

Business as usual is the norm and that option is only last one and easy one. My suggestion to readers would be to find their own path to truth with personal curiosity and vigour. I leave you with some few quotes from the Buddha on some realities of life, which are as relevant to our own times as they were to his:

“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

“Three things cannot hide for long: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.”

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

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One Response “Peak Complexity, Peak Ignorance and Peak Selfishness”

  1. 9th September 2014 at 2:47 pm

    “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”?
    No one saves me, only I have to save myself.
    I have to walk the path.

    I is a game called the responsibility game.
    We is the beginning of another game …

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