Getting peeks at the the coming peaks

CCGroup post 2/12/09

responding to Alex:
Phil, I liked your coded message. You mean a threshold like ‘peak oil’? Or the peak carrying capacity of the earth in terms of population? The question is, how do you propose to reduce demand? Right now, governments are doing their damnedest to stimulate demand to save the global economy from implosion. You’re saying let’s reduce demand. How? How is this going to work? Asking a question for which there’s no answer is probably a good way to get no answer. :)

Thanks very much.  My usual worry is not leaving people with questions, but getting none in return. Whether any answer about the future is more than half an answer, after all, depends on what question you ask.   The best available answer to what “people want to know” is often only speculation.

Yes, “being able to see thresholds before crossing them” would apply to “peak oil” and to the carrying capacities of things.    For example, the rate at which a scalar peak like “peak oil” is approaching is visible in the derivative rate long before.   

If you consider any development process any resource use curve goes through, there are five basic phases , growth, maturation, maybe a steady period, then drop off and decay ¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸  The point of diminishing resources is long after the point of diminishing rate of increase.

That’s generally half way up the growth curve, right at the switch between growth and maturation when the first derivative is at a peak and starts to decline.   Even before then there’s the earlier point where the first derivative stops rising faster.

Those signals of approaching thresholds of resource availability are often rather clear and reliable.   They’re ubiquitous in life, and critical that we notice for our timing of every kind of chore, from making dinner to making love, to making it onto the bus.

For unclear reasons people mostly don’t know any more about them consciously, though, than reading tea leaves or astrological charts…

In natural systems reducing demand is done by two successful means, a) running out things so you have to stop work, and b) finishing the work you were doing before running out.

My visual image is that we have a dandy new concept for advanced civilization, a new kind of house to live in to make earth a comfortable home, only we’re just fixated on making it ever taller and in danger of running out of construction materials before more of the columns collapse and before we get a roof on.

How to reduce demand when we just spent a couple centuries practicing how to increase demand as the solution to everything does inceed seem to be a question with no answer.    Asking a question that has no answer can also be nature’s trick way of suggesting you’re asking the wrong question, though.

I found that the Keynes and Boulding proposal for how to stabalize wealth at economic climax would do that.   If you think of investment as stimulating future demand, it’s spending investment funds that reduces future demand, and lets an economy stabalize.  The whole economy is designed to continulally multiply stimulus, however, as you point out.   All one can be sure of is it won’t work, though.

The climate mitigation plans that require endless growth to implement are ill-conceived. The ones that require ever more ambitious micro-management of complex natural systems we don’t understand are illconceived too.

We need to begin categorizing things that way.   As far as the stimulus plan, it’s mainly to prevent widespread unemployment and the collapse of flagship economic and cultural institutions.     I think that’s a fine purpose.   Returning to endless vigorous growth also got hooked into it, though.

It would work a lot better to see it as a preservation/sustainability plan rather than for stimulating another great wave of creative destruction.    It’s also mysteriously not providing for any way to reduce the fictitious debt levels.

The hope is to speed up the economy so it makes enough real income in the future to pay off the artificial bubble earnings of the past 30 years.  That’s what the economy already wasn’t able to make good on with real earnings in the first place.

Natural systems that exhibit risk avoidance seem to do it by sensing these decelerations as signals of things to come, points of “change ahead”.   Read as hesitations in responsiveness, we all notice them as key turning points in the development of personal and business relationships.

I think it’s potentially a way to ‘feel’ the information readily available, far ahead of other methods.    By watching the derivative rates of change for a broad spectrum of resource uses we might have read the approach of natural economic limits from their decelerations most of a century ago, it seems to me.

If instead of having our design principle being maximum accelerating expansion it had switched to avoiding conflict, conceptually at least, we might be at today’s level of comfort with 1/10 th the burden on the earth and not in any big trouble at all…

Phil ¸¸¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸¸¸


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.