C7 of The Great Disruption - The Road Ahead

Although details of the future can't be predicted, Gilding thinks the outline is clear. Our complex, growth-addicted culture cannot survive as is. The end might have begun in 2008 or it might not happen until next year in 2012. But it will happen. Growth will stutter to a stop. After that civilization will either...
  • Stabilize and evolve to a higher plane (Gilding's belief).
  • Or become much much simpler (e.g., it will collapse like the cultures described in Jared Diamond's book Collapse).
The fall of a system (ecological/economic) resembles the end of a human life. Gilding's friend Dr. John Collee describes it this way...

"Every patient with an incurable illness will ask how long they have to live. The answer goes something like this: 'No one can say how long you may live, because every individual is different, but focus on the changes you can observe and be guided by those. When things start changing for the worse, expect those changes to accelerate. So the changes that have occurred over a year may advance by the same degree in a few months, then in weeks. And that is how you can judge when the end is coming.' "

"Planet Earth, being a web of complex self-regulating systems, operates very much like a human body. Terminal illness gives us the template for most forms of ecological collapse. One set of changes initiates another, and so on in a downward cascade of negative feedback until the whole system falls apart."

Like the terminal patient we must look for certain signs. Gilding says to look for an accelerating cascade of...
  • Ecological, social and economic shocks driven by climate change.
  • Increases in food prices due to demand and lower output.
  • Diminished water supplies, fisheries, agriculture resulting from damaged ecosystem - further increasing prices.
  • Increased oil costs as peak oil happens (if it has not already happened).
  • Falling stock markets driven by fear and uncertainty.
Does all this mean the world is coming to an end? Gilding says not necessarily - but it does mean we (or the children and grandchildren of those of us approaching senility) are in for a ride.

Weathers asides

A theme in Gilding's book and in other recent books read by the semi-sober Thinking Men's book club and social organization is the nonlinearity. In the real world events are not neat. They start slowly and end fast - stuttering to a stop. This was the theme of Nassim Taleb's Black Swan book, which I obsessed over in...


A less obvious theme but one that seems obvious to me is complexity. In the process of getting where we are we have become complex. According to Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book The Upside of Down, complexity has left us rigid. In another fit of obsession I wrote this...

(Regarding us - Homer-Dixon says human societies adapt to resource scarcity by becoming more and more complex, more connected and interdependent. We squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of our systems, until there is nothing left to squeeze. In the process we loose resiliency, become fragile, subject to disruption. )

in this...


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