Friday, June 18, 2021

Four Scenarios for a Catastrophic Future (part II)

This is the second part of the series of posts by "Rutilius Namatianus" (RN) that re-examines the 4 scenarios of the future proposed by David Holmgren in 2009 (first part). 

 In general, you may find that RN's interpretations are rather extreme, but I do believe that there is some method in the overall madness of the current situation and that the post may correctly identify some of of the reasons why we are here. You will also notice that RN is "not convinced" that Anthropogenic Global Warming is real. I disagree with this position, but I felt that this post was worth publishing nevertheless. If nothing else as evidence of how fast the prestige of science is collapsing, by now more or less at the same level as that of the cult of the Spaghetti Monster. 

Overall, RN argues that we have moved into the scenario that Holmgren called the "Brown Tech" scenario, where the ruling elites have decided that the way to go is to concentrate all the remaining resources for their use, while the commoners are left in the cold. RN describes this scenario as "a totalitarian monster gripping power through a pervasive surveillance and police state, and the majority of the population pressed into poverty and dependence." Enjoy this post!

 By Rutilius Namatianus


Ten years after the financial collapse of 2008, it was surprising that the 'establishment' had managed to hang on to control of the situation with increasingly outlandish financial manipulations. Behind the scenes though, we must also acknowledge that they only managed to pull of this magic trick because they also had a huge networked surveillance-and-control system that they expanded at top speed after the crisis. 

This period saw the proliferation of laws and regulations all designed to trap peoples finances in an elaborate electronic fun-house where there is no stable measure of anything. the proliferation of automatic collection of data, recording of every last transaction, reporting into centralized databases automatically of everything people do, and an increasingly arbitrary and opaque (and violent) system of punishment for anything 'suspicious' or 'out of the ordinary.' It cowed most of the population of the developed world into a kind of nervous submission. 

In the less developed world, we saw a huge upsurge in violence, disorder, and general upheaval as people do not accept even deeper poverty with acquiescence. It is telling that in the West the tablet-generation of people glued to small portable media devices all their waking lives has coincided with them being docile enough to accept these extreme measures of fraud which have kept the wheels on (if wobbling) the cart ten years after the big crash hit. This might well be by now a critical component of the control system and any interruption or degradation of it or its effectiveness could lead to chaos in the 'West'. So right now, in 2019, we know for sure that we're in Holmgren's 'brown tech' scenario but with a propaganda narrative of 'green tech' as a Potemkin facade. 

As real energy and resources decline, the brown tech power structures have managed to keep selling increased poverty as 'being green' but it's getting tougher to sell this to people as they realize they are getting poorer. The past couple of years have shown some developments: Brexit in Europe, the Visegrad countries resisting the EU migration agenda, led by Hungary's Orban, but echoed in not-yet-majority movements in a half dozen other countries (viz, Italy managed to put Salvini in power for a year before Brussels regained control of Italy and evicted Salvini just this year). We saw the Cyprus bank confiscation and four years of Greek 'bailout agreements' which put the country in receivership with a lapdog government executing all orders from the bankers. This continues today. 

North and West of there, the non-Greek rest of the EU can see what happened and knows they're next on the list. In the US we have the whole story of the Trump presidency. This was something the 'establishment' did not prepare for, and while they have effectively isolated him from his administration to continue the basic life support functions of the 'deep state' in the US, there has been policy stagnation in the US for three years as everything and everyone has become obsessed and preoccupied with a Trump-versus-antitrump polarization. The accompanying breakdown of reality into surrealistic political fantasy in America, with the dominance of identity politics, absolutely everything as 'fake news' and everyone following narratives instead of reality, all around, have kept America, ironically, from really moving further into the totalitarian zone of the brown tech scenario. Three more years of inconclusive wars on fringe territories have led to no real change in geostrategic balances, as the other main contenders are in equally shabby condition and busy propping up their own narratives.

A new angle 

One thing I want to propose now is a modification of Holmgren's mapping. It was pretty clear to many of us back when these scenarios were being worked out (2007-2009) that the 'green tech' future was nothing but fantasy, even then. Holmgren acknowledges that a lot of the debate of these scenarios took place in an excellent forum known as 'The Oil Drum' from the early 2000s to about 2012. By 2012 most of the main contributors and discussants in the Oil Drum had concluded their own ideas about what was going on and were already putting into action their responses, most of which involved changes of career, lifestyle, and so on, and left much less time for talking on forums about it, and meant much more hard work preparing for or dealing with the crisis. That forum is now just kept as an archive. Still, even then, many of us saw 'green tech' style scenarios as fantasy. 

Now, in 2019, it is clear that indeed, green tech was never a realistic prospect. We are already a decade into brown tech. The question is where to from here. Another big factor is the 'climate change' variable. Holmgren took this as fact. Not all of us were so convinced that it was either so serious or so related to human activity. To some of us, the climate changes look more like cycles related to solar activity and orbital aberrations similar to those which brought us the Roman warm period, the early medieval cold period, the medieval warm period, and the little ice age. Beyond that, the timescale of energy and resource decline likely makes any question of climate change irrelevant. Therefore considering this possibility, we might want to rethink the climate axis on Holmgren's map. We might want to replace it with another axis! 

It has been shown that post-2008 the brown tech elites and power structures have managed to hang on to control through increasing use of extreme surveillance and tightly networked instrumentation of more and more of the economy. This intimidates people into submission and also locks them into a tighter loop of dependence- if you will yourself directly starve because your digibit-card gets shut off or stops working, then you feel it and the threat of it immediately and you will sit down and shut up much more readily than if you only know abstractly that if the city burns down in riots, that the supermarkets won't get resupplied next week. It's a weaker connection back to the feedback loop and people are more likely to rebel. And along the gradient to that extreme, if your digibit-card gets nicked by a fine or penalty of basically being subversive or voicing dissent, then you'll keep your mouth shut- viz China's rapid rollout of 'social credit' as a mechanism of automated electronic mass control. This has the potential to ride heavy demand destruction down the decline curve without the elites losing control. 

So it seems first of all that Holmgren's four scenarios are really three - brown tech is the current reality already a decade on, and there is a bifurcation (Holmgren treats this possibility in his paper) between lifeboat and earth steward depending on local conditions. in different places the scenarios coexist. A new fourth scenario might be added which we might call 'mad max,' if it could be even more dystopian and extreme collapse than 'lifeboat'. a major variable in all this would seem to be how long Brown Tech keeps control, and how tightly they manage to clamp down. Thus, Brown Tech already left behind its 'green tech' possibility but still keeps up a facade of 'green tech' and a self-indulgent shiny consumer existence for a portion of the population. This could almost be called a Huxley's scenario. Behind the pleasant facade of Brown Tech is a totalitarian monster gripping power through a pervasive surveillance and police state, and the majority of the population pressed into poverty and dependence- a scenario that could easily be named '1984'. 

It is clear that 'Huxley and '1984' can coexist and one transitions into the other as resources decline. but let's plot a new map based on this thinking: on one axis, we have, as before, resource/energy depletion, slow vs fast. on the other, we have consolidation of power, slow/moderate to fast/total. in the slow depletion, slow/moderate consolidation quadrant, we have a scenario that's Huxley with some 20th-century style fascism and the veneer of civilization, with a future of staircase type catabolic decline into one of the other scenarios depending on which one goes sooner, energy or control. This is Holmgren's Brown Tech scenario with a nice face. 

In the slow depletion, fast/total control quadrant, we have the ugly face of Brown Tech, which I've called 'brown tech apotheosis'. This can hang on as long as it keeps the resource depletion variable above some threshold limits. On the fast depletion, slow/moderate control quadrant, we have Holmgren's Lifeboat scenario. Power doesn't manage to consolidate, and resource limits break things down into wars, chaos, and finally a low complexity lifeboat world. On the fast depletion, fast/total control quadrant, we have a period of 1984 which transforms into more or less worldwide war, and then as the wars burn out, leave behind a condition I've called 'mad max'. This is a very bleak and ugly version of the Lifeboat scenario. 

Actually, Mad max, Lifeboat, and Earth steward are all along an axis depending on local conditions, as terminal points of the chain of evolution of these scenarios (extinction is also a point on this axis, even though further beyond mad max). It seems the main variables that distinguish earth steward, lifeboat, mad max, and extinction, are local conditions (environment, climate, population salvageable resources, etc), plus the trajectory which was followed to get there through the previous map- a trajectory through 1984 and WW3 is more likely to terminate in mad max or extinction, whereas a trajectory through lifeboat might lead to enclaves of earth steward. It is looking as if much of the Third World and the US are going through worse conditions now, but will avoid some of the worst later, for example.

Thus, it is useful to try to figure out not only where we are on this map but what path we have been following and how it might evolve further, acknowledging that not every part of the world is following exactly the same trajectory. So we can also try to follow different futures for different regions. It does seem clear that before the 2005-2008 time of peak net energy, there had been in force a long trend toward tighter integration of the global economy. Thus, it is useful to consider all regions more or less as starting in the same spot circa 2005 and plot their divergence since then. 



First, let's try to see if we can get a better understanding of where we are along the depletion axis. This at least should be easier to observe and quantify than the consolidation of the control axis. We know that in 2005 our scenario begins somewhere in the 'Huxley' quadrant near the left side of the depletion axis. We know (as we suspected years back) that the recent bumps in oil/gas production and plateau maintenance of coal production have been ever lower quality resources with lower net energy and steeper decline profiles in time. We don't know if we have already crossed the middle of the map with respect to depletion but we can be pretty sure we're close to it if not over it. 

We also know that absent some unpredictable step function down in production (due to some one-off natural phenomenon like an earthquake, or to some out of band event like a war), that the decline profile will be messy but accelerating downward over a period of a couple decades. We could easily already be some years into that and just on a bump- or we might have another fifteen or twenty years to go before the bottom falls out. 

So what else do we know? We know that in 2008 we fell off peak energy and have been sliding downward for eleven years. We also know that at the time the power elites of the Huxley/brown-tech-with-a-nice-face scene, managed through increasingly extreme distortions, to keep control. The rapidity of those measures is definitely a step function type of move, so we are pretty sure we took the step out of the Huxley quadrant in 2008/2009 down into the 1984 quadrant. There is still plenty of nuance in that quadrant and most of us reading this on a computer screen are living in the Huxley zone that, while shrinking, coincides with a growing 1984 zone as parts of the same general 'establishment'. We know that 2016-2019 saw a lot of bumpy resistance to the further consolidation of control, but also saw successful responses and regaining of control by power elites in many areas. We know that now in 2019, as well as in 2010 or 2015, we were further along the depletion axis than we were in 2008 and that this is basically monotonic in time. We wont find any new resources or high-quality energy sources from here on out.

We haven't yet fallen into world war 3 (apparently), so we're still in the Huxley/1984 mix, with the Huxley component bleeding out and the 1984 cauldron waiting to collect all who fall through the cracks in the Huxley facade. And yet, wherever the brown tech/1984 steamroller has not managed to erect such an effective electronic prison, we can see massive increases in riots, chaos, violence, etc, over the past decade. That's characteristic of world war type scenarios even if it's not organized military units fighting organized campaigns.

Not to mention that the past decade has seen more of the earth's surface and population caught up in organized military violence as well. So we're somewhere between 1984 and ww3 with some Huxley on top for those still living the comfortable life. We see some major bifurcation points ahead: the last round of crazy finance manipulation and twilight-zone measures like negative interest rates and financial
markets that only go up on exponentially exploding debt numbers, all the insane measures taken in the past decade, seem to be running out of gas. New injections of imaginary digibit money have less of an effect on markets than previous injections and the effects don't last as long. People are figuring out that they're poorer and even in the developed world they're getting more restless about it. Challengers to the narrative of the elites are appearing and even managing to gain positions in prominent public office sometimes, though so far the brown tech elites have managed to keep them in check. This hints that if the brown tech elites are going to keep control and keep the scenario in the brown tech apotheosis quadrant of the map, they must up their game- new measures for even more total control. And they are working hard to do so.

Thus one major bifurcation point approaching is the question of how successful will these new measures be? It seems clear that these measures will largely involve electronic and computerized technologies- surveillance, instrumentation, automation, and centralization of processes to insert a control mechanism into the loop of execution of even simple routine actions. It's an electronic panopticon prison for the whole world, something which many people (criticized by the mass media as cranks, weirdos, conspiracy theorists, or nutjobs) have been yammering about for years. And yet that's the only real option for the elites to keep control. 

They cant control the depletion axis, that's physics driving that dimension. They can slow down the progress along that axis only be destroying resource demand, which means making people poorer or reducing their number (or a combination of the two). While an extreme version of this might be a mass-extermination of most of the human population to allow an elite to live richly for centuries yet to come in some techno-enhanced prolongation of the Huxley scenario, this is an absurdly unlikely trajectory fraught with too many real engineering problems to be realistic. Not that the elites of the brown tech world couldn't accomplish the kill-off of billions, that's a technically feasible move, but rather that they wouldn't be able to keep up a technological empire afterward. They would merely instead transition rapidly and sharply through a world-war-3 phase into the mad max with enclaves of an especially evil lifeboat scenario, some of which would be whatever remained of those elites. 

Thus it seems clear that all trajectories ultimately lead monotonically to the right and eventually either down to (near-?) extinction or, even if they bow deeply down through mad max, ultimately curve back up into lifeboat. So some combination of population decline and increased poverty, though, can prolong the elite's hold on a brown-tech/Huxley scenario, and this seems obvious to be their main focus. The equal amount of noise about the evil lurking beneath the surface of trends like the UN 'agenda 21' and other such forces, while they might sound like far-out conspiracy theories would actually fit perfectly with an effort to hang on to a brown-tech Huxley/1984 hybrid world as long as possible, with the Huxley fragment keeping control. 

However, it is not at all clear how they will manage this next round of measures without also breaking some of the electronic facades that have kept the populations of the developed countries docile thus far. It looks like their aim there instead is to drop the facade and dump the mass of them into 1984 rather swiftly by closing the last loose ends in economic activity, communication, and individual tracking of people's movements 24/7. Once they feel confident they have those pieces in place they can drop the remains of the facade and they will have locked the majority into the 1984 scenario, which can continue for perhaps even a decade or more before it melts down into mad max. 

That's a scary proposition for anyone alive right now, because it would mean most of the rest of his life would be lived through such a scenario. Another bifurcation question is in the world war direction- will for example the widening rift between the US and China turn more hostile and end up in a hot war? will it percolate into more proxy wars in the third world? Cold war? How rapidly will it move in that direction? In some aspects, the map and our experience hint to us that we're already in WW3, it just doesn't look like any world war we've seen before. Further refinements can be attempted at drawing trajectories, for smaller regions, by trying to identify local conditions which will influence the bigger trends as the play out in those regions. Let's try to picture what we know or think is a pretty solid guess for some major modern blocs: the US, the EU, the 'third world', and China. (places like Japan and Australia go largely with the US in this picture). 

The future will be examined in the next installment of this series of posts.


  1. Thanks for the post! It is very useful to loo at things from more varied point of view.

    Regarding the dismissal of Climate Change as axis, I do not think it is a matter of it existing, but a matter to time-scale:
    if a big chunk of all the action to a new scenario will happen within a couple of decades,
    it is unlikely that climate change will be one of the main drivers as it operates on longer time-scale like half a century or more.
    So while it is true that the mitigation of climate change must happen as soon a possible,
    the really heavy consequences of not doing so won't be felt for many years to come,
    so it is reasonable to assume that it won't feature predominantly in the policy discussions
    when things get serious on very short time-scales, and those discussions are what actually drives the politicians.

    Also it feels hard to refute some considerations about the elites trying to herd the masses along demand destruction in the aftermath of the pandemic:
    In many countries, even for a good reasons, the level of control of the state on its citizens clearly climbed up a notch.
    Also it is possible to see the Huxely/1984 group divide simply by checking whether one can 'Work From Home' (Huxely) or not (1984).
    To be said though it is also true that, at the least in Europe, some safety net is in place to avoid people getting too detached from society
    and so lower the mean resentfulness of the population against the elites...

    Really curious to read the remaining posts!


  2. La catastrofe è servitas direbbe Hitchcock.
    Leggevo Orwell e Huxley negli anni '90, mentre mi
    recavo all'università e pensavo con sollievo che il
    nostro mondo somigliava più al mondo nuovo,
    che all'ìncubo elevato al cubo di 1984.
    Il vecchio mondo nuovo si squaglia come neve al sole.
    Per prima se n'è andata la scuola superiore,
    come un nevaio ostinato; il prof. Bardi ci ha
    tenuto al corrente di come stia andando all'università.
    La vecchia religione viene soppiantata dalla nuova:
    si chiama scienza.
    Ambedue richiedono fede cieca.
    Ce lo ricorda Burioni: "farsi iniettare un vaccino
    è un atto di fiducia".

    In origine non era così. Chiunque poteva guardare
    nel cannocchiale di Galileo e verificare i risultati.
    Oggi, per allestire un lab occorrono miliardi
    e possono permetterselo quattro gatti che
    tra di loro si scambiano figurine.
    Hanno pensato di riesumare il vecchio dogma: fidarsi!
    Almeno la vecchia religione predicava compassione e misericordia,
    la nuova cosa offre? Il vaccino contro la morte.
    Chiuderà tutte le porte, così la vita non scappa via.
    Grazie, anche no.

    Resto fedele alla Scienza,
    quella che al dubbio concedeva dignità.

    Arriva la variante delta. In ambito tecnico-scientifico,
    delta significa "variazione".
    Così abbiamo, la variante "variazione".
    Vien da pensare che prendere per i fondelli.
    non richieda neppure troppo sforzo di fantasia.

    Contro ogni logica,
    Abramo se uscì da Ur,
    seguendo una voce interiore.

    Anch'io sento una voce interiore.
    Se Dio c'è, me lo ascriverà a giustizia?
    Se Dio non c'è, perché ascoltare le sirene?

    Questo pezzo non l'ha scrito il pescatore giapponese,
    ma l'anonimo narratore per i suoi 25 lettori.

    1. Hi Sanpei,
      I noticed your post had Japanese in Italian so I google translated it. I agree perfectly with your ‘the new thing offers? The death vaccine’.
      I’m an old man in Japan, though neither Japanese nor a fisherman.
      Really interesting to me is that the 4 scenarios only go through 2019. Which is right before the Covid 19 madness started. Really good way to control most people is to broadcast Covid 19 news on TV all day long.
      Most people are susceptible to ads and propaganda.
      Me I’m not, due some kind of genetic defect.
      Covid 19 has been the perfect opportunity for elites to increase control worldwide. And this Covid 19 world is more and more dystopian every day. Yesterday I went to the local coffee shop and they had installed high plastic barriers down the middle of all 4 people tables. I won’t go back until they’re gone.
      The whole idea seems to create more and more stupid regulations. Restaurants and bars have to close at 8, I guess the virus is nocturnal. But, the Olympics will be held and 90,000 athletes and entourage will come to Japan from all over the world. Japan will require all the 90,000 athletes and entourage to be ‘vaccinated’ Seems to me athletes, a super healthy cohort, are good test group.
      Japan is now a total mask world. The only place I can escape it is hiking in the mountains. Actually, when it comes to masks it OK. I’ll wear one until about 15% of old guys that are Japanese quit wearing one. But, the next step after masks is ‘vaccination’. The one thing I won’t do is get ‘vaccinated’. Fortunately, a mask you can see but ‘vaccinated’ or not you can’t and Japan, relying on social conformity has no hard document type regulations yet. I have no problem with people who think that getting ‘vaccinated’ is a good idea doing it. I just don’t want it forced on me.

  3. Huxley and Orwell were a product of the same outgoing fossil fuels age...

    Huxley didn't tell us where the Energy will come to manufacture all his countless test tubes from.

    Orwell didn't tell us if his Big Brother will run one day out of fossil fuels.

    Both Huxley and Orwell have miserably failed to realise that their revolutionary, fine literature will actually be widely popularised - a beautifully-paralysing-tool;

    A beautifully paralysing tool in a bigger game - the Energy Musical Chairs Game.

    Today, we understand that the problem facing humans is much bigger and harsher than what Huxley and Orwell have both ever imagined...

    It is in Physics - only expressed in the - now - emerging 21st Century Energy Physics:

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future".

    It is Physics what makes Power not Power what makes Physics.


  4. @RN, thanks for your observations and dissection of the issues. The rapid consolidation of power axis and concomitant regions of societal experience is very pertinent and I think this essay, from 2019, was so perceptive in advance (well in advance of my confirmatory experiences - being thrown into home detention recently)
    I can't comprehend how a person with intact cognition cannot affirm the central role and relevance of climate change in 2019, let alone 2021, so I look forward to your further essays. (and urge you to consider maintaining a multi-axis model, though complicated this may be) Accelerated climate change damages over the next few years will shock all societies, my own opinion is that in 10 years time this will be clearly dominating societal (d)evolution and is already amplifying the damages inflicted by resource declines.

    1. I agree - his denial of the importance of AGW makes me start to doubt the rest of his thesis.

      This feeling is potentiated by him appropriating the term 'mad Max' without reference to the first person to use it in scenario building - Robert Costanza, who was truly original I believe.

    2. To add a further note. He dismisses some of the climate variables we have seen as part a cyclical cycle of sun activity. Just a small amount of research would show that the sun has been in a reduced activity phase for some time now. (source is NASA Website. I am speaking in very general terms as it has been some years since reading of NASA's sun monitoring satellite/program and don't remember the specifics. Not remembering the specifics does not, however, detract from remembering the general narrative and conclusions)
      In other words, sun activity should have contributed to cooling, rather than the continued Global Warming as experienced. Sloppy reasoning on his part.

  5. The Record Temperatures Enveloping The West Are Not Your Average Heat Wave

    June 19, 2021

    "...this record-setting heat wave's remarkable power, size and unusually early appearance is giving meteorologists and climate experts yet more cause for concern about the routinization of extreme weather in an era of climate change.

    These sprawling, persistent high-pressure zones popularly called "heat domes" are relatively common in later summer months. This current system is different.

    "It's not only unusual for June, but it is pretty extreme even in absolute terms," says Daniel Swain, climate scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. "It would be a pretty extreme event for August," Swain says, when these typically occur.
    From the Great Plains to the coast, cities are setting record temps

    This heat dome's reach is remarkable, too: It has set record highs stretching from the Great Plains to coastal California. And these aren't just records for that specific date or month, but in a few spots, they are records for the singularly hottest day in the entire period of record, sometimes stretching back 100 to 150 years. "That's a pretty big deal," Swain says.

    "It's unusual in that it's more intense in terms of the maximum temperature," says Alison Bridger, a professor in the Meteorology and Climate Science department at San Jose State University. "And how widespread the impact is."

    For example, Palm Springs, Calif., recently hit 123 degrees, equaling its highest recorded temperature.

    Las Vegas set a daily record of 114 degrees. Phoenix reached a record 118 degrees, the earliest the city has hit that high a mark. It broke the previous record of 114 set in 2015.

    Sacramento, Calif., set a new daily record of 109 degrees. The National Weather Service just extended its excessive heat warning through Sunday night in the Central Valley and parts of northern California.

    Denver this week hit 100 for three straight days, the earliest date of such a streak on record, tweeted meteorologist Bob Henson. He noted that all of the 100-degree streaks in Denver's 150 years of climate record keeping have occurred in the last three decades.

    And in the Plains, several cities including Omaha, Neb., set records, including a daily record high of 105 degrees. That breaks an Omaha daily record set in 1918.

    The "heat dome" is making droughts even worse

    It's also coinciding with and worsening record drought across big parts of the West. These two things, Daniel Swain says, are now making each other worse.

    "The drought is leading to extremely low soil moisture, which is making it easier for these high pressure systems to generate extreme heat waves because more of the sun's energy is going into heating the atmosphere rather than evaporating nonexistent water in the soil."

    And that is only making things hotter and drier.

    "That's sort of the vicious cycle of drought and extreme heat in a warming climate," he says.
    It's more evidence of human-caused climate change

    The excessive heat and widening drought continues to elevate wildfire risk across much of the West. New federal data show that the number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a 10-year high, signaling a long, potentially dangerous summer and fall for wildfires.

    Experts say this current heat dome is yet more evidence of the impact of human-caused climate change.

    No matter how many records are smashed to hell year after year, the hardcore climate deniers and minimizers keep it up somehow. I have noticed their overall numbers have dropped the last few years, consequences can do that to a man, but there's a subset of them who just can't manage to let go even as the world burns around them.