Collapse of an Industrial Civilization: A systems approach

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Preface and introduction:

It has been a while since my last post and it is not for lack of things to talk about that has caused this hiatus. Most of the recent posts have concerned the trajectory of the Covid 19 “pandemic” which is becoming a political clusterfuk of misinformation and a Tower of Babel from many sides. I have bigger fish to fry. I am back on familiar ground trying to understand our current civilization, its values, origins and morphology and of course its future. I am trying to generate my own General theory of Collapse, mirroring the quest that Einstein embarked upon in his attempt to create his General theory of Relativity. As in many aspects of life, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know and how much more there is to learn. The other thing I have realized is how incredibly difficult it is to understand all the factors that influence how civilization operates and how it may cease to operate.  These factors are   more than historical and anthropological and it is a subject that has interested authors from Plato to Plutarch, to Gibbon and Toynbee and Spengler in the last century. These authors were observational and tended to use comparative historical perspectives, often with “compare and contrast” techniques. Some like Ostwald Spengler in his  book”The decline of the West” freely  issued value judgments, personal opinions  and predictions. Gibbon ascribed Rome’ fall to the decline of traditional values One writer(Danandt) compiled 210 causes!! While often entertaining to read I find such writing not helpful in trying to analyze the deeper factors that must be present. In this blog which is sure to be long, I hope to draw as many thinkers and authors and choose what I think are the important memes driving the discussion. No doubt I will be omitting many more but my hope is that I hit most of those memes. I will try to cite sources and if this blog becomes too long I may need to add a bibliography which could be a daunting task. I also want to state that I am writing this for my personal education and I will not be making any efforts at dissemination as I am not in the same class as most of these innovative thinkers. I think I have a few original opinions but my goal is to aggregate as many of these opinions and marshal data so anyone reading this can try to form their own opinion just as I hope to do. I will emphasize authors aggregating those whom I feel have done the most to power the discussion. I am not above criticizing those people and schools of thought who I think have a flawed understanding.

       Normally crisis authors will write with historical perspective listing challenges and cite trends and events and conclude with solutions and hope for the future. Since I am just starting out I can make no such promise. It is time to get started                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The human organism like most living things is a small dynamo powered by energy that it collects from the environment. The cell uses this energy to assemble molecules and breakdown others to maintain its metabolism using certain metabolic pathways.. The energy furnace of the cell is in the mitochondria, an organelle inside the cell usually called the powerhouse of the cell. This energy is released when an important molecule called ATP(adenosine tri phosphate) splits off one of its phosphates and energy is released. This energy is now free to do work.  This work can be assembling new molecules or moving muscle proteins, or firing neural connections but we call it work. Work is what gets things done whether in the cell or by a backhoe digging a ditch. I will stop this physiology lesson now because I see you are starting to doze off. . It is possible to measure how much energy a person uses and needs under steady state conditions just to survive. It happens to be 90 to 100 watts.

The watt is a unit of power. There are many units of power and energy and they can be very confusing but we will KISS now. The basic unit of energy is the joule. The most common unit of power is the watt, which is power elaborated over time. One watt is one joule for a time period of one second.  746 watts is One horsepower. The watt is named for James Watt a Scottish engineer who invented the first efficient steam engine in the late 18th century; a form of power which kick started the industrial revolution. The watt can be used to measure heat or electricity or solar energy among many others. To get back to our humans, we need 100 watts  of power to live in an average day. We need more and use more of course during exercise but 100 watts is the basal state. In the US the average person uses far more exogenous watts to get through his day, upwards of 11000 watts  which come from outside sources primarily from fossil energy. With all this extra exogenous power we can do a lot of work. Carbon is oxidized to produce all this extra energy which yields CO2  and you know the rest.

     The reason I have started this essay with definitions of energy and its related stepsister, power is that I see it as the heart of trying to understand how we got to this crucial point in the world’s existence and where we go from here. This is the fundamental assumption of this paper.  My arguments and conclusions will follow from this assumption. If you accept this assumption I will lead you down my garden path.  This path will include a variety of arguments to support my opinion from fields of economics, comparative history, ecology and most particularly growth factors in ecology, evolution, physics and thermodynamics, meteorology and climate science, anthropology and other social sciences. I will use tools from of course mathematics and modeling techniques often computer aided and paired with systems analysis. I will also draw in many theories some of which are speculative and some well grounded and becoming accepted such as Chaos theory, Complexity Theory and others. . It would seem to me that retrograde or retrospective modeling would be useful but I rarely see it done. Since my blogs have often dealt with Energy issues, one can assume that I will return again and again to why I think energy is at the heart of this discussion and driving the trajectory of our civilization like no other single factor can. This is my introduction. More later.


Published by Rendezvous Mountain Farm

I was born in Cascade county Montana and raised in a dozen Air Force SAC bases. I attended Holy Cross,West Point and UNC in Chapel Hill(MD"71). Army doc in the last years of the Viet Nam fiasco. My wife and I live in a log cabin I built from standing dead lodgepole trees we cut from Shadow Mountain and regional local timber in 1976 . I've done a dozen different jobs including construction, boat building,magazine writing and commercial fishing and retired from the Emergency and Operating Room in 2004. We manage a small diversified organic farm including leased land which totals about 40 acres in the Jackson Hole valley. We raise a variety of livestock which includes some heritage breeds of animals and poultry. We grow most of our food and forage. Our land is irrigated from Granite Creek and the Snake River and we raise and bale our own organic hay. We supplement with food collected from Jackson Hole Food rescue which is mostly dairy, bread and past date vegetables and food from the grocery stores and restaurants.

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