EDGE of the Apocalypse (Preface)

Inspired by …

The Black Swan - Nassim Taleb
The World is Flat - Thomas Friedman
Collapse - Jared Diamond
The Upside of Down - Thomas Homer-Dixon
The Great Disruption - Paul Gilding

Something Is Coming

You can smell it. We are approaching an edge which overlooks an apocalypse. A sulfurous odor comes from below.

If it were just me it would not be a big deal. Old people like to celebrate their own mortality with tales of doom and gloom. We associate our demise with the demise of the world – which from a certain perspective is truth.

However, it is not just me. Jared Diamond, who won a Pulitzer Prize says there might be a societal Collapse. Paul Gilding a respected environmentalist says there will be certainly be a planet-wide Great Disruption and if that is not preceded by a Great Awakening there will be a Great Collapse. Thomas Homer-Dixon another respected environmentalist says a Fall (what he calls a “pulse”) is likely but there will be an upside. Homer-Dixon also says there will be an upside if there is a Great Awakening first.

Diamond, Homer-Dixon and Gelding have written books explaining what will happen. Taleb and Friedman, although it was not their intent, have written books that explain some of the factors behind the disruptions and collapses.

All these books get below the surface of common assumptions, revealing obvious truths that aren't all that obvious. They shift our point of view, forcing us to regard emperors without clothes and unseen elephants in the corners of rooms.

Everybody should read these or similar books (there are a lot).

Of course not everybody does.

Some people just don’t like to think about these things. They are in one of the phases of denial described by Homer-Dixon and paraphrased below…
  • Existential Denial – We say the problem does not exist; it has been manufactured by eco extremists and anti-capitalists.
  • Consequential Denial – We say the problem has been exaggerated and the problems that do exist (e.g., loss of artic ice) do not really affect us. It’s too bad for the polar bears.
  • Fatalistic Denial – We say there is a serious problem but we can’t do anything about it so we might as well live as we have been living all along.
Some people simply don’t care.

Some people simply don’t read.

And some people do care and do read and aren’t in denial but simply don’t have the time.
My book is for the latter group. By distilling the main points of these books, reducing over 1,000 pages of others’ words to 200 or so pages of my words, I hope to appeal to those who don’t have time. Perhaps after reading my book they will find time and go out and buy the other books.

I also hope to promote awareness of the issues.

Book Inspired by Books

Here is a brief summary of the books discussed in this book inspired by books:

Paul Gilding – The Great Disruption. Gilding says that we are about to be seriously disrupted. It won’t be a once-in-a lifetime, or even once-in-a-century event , but something that happens once-in-a-civilization, something that defines an era – like the Renaissance, Enlightenment, or the Dark Ages.

(It might be even bigger, redefining us at the evolutionary level. People with certain propensities might breed more. Those that survive might think and behave differently. )

Why? The earth is running out of room. There are too many people consuming too much stuff. The planet cannot replenish itself. It is like a global Ponzi scheme driven by the momentum of economic activity. It is just a matter of time before the game plays out.

Most people don’t know an end is coming. But soon everyone will. Gilding calls this the Great Awakening.

Jared Diamond – Collapse. Diamond has written a book about societies that have collapsed – ancient and modern – and a few societies that did not collapse. The book notes various factors contributing to collapses, but tends to focus on environmental issues. He lists a “five-point framework of possible contributing factors”:
  1. Environmental damage caused by people.
  2. Climate change – today caused by people in the past by natural factors.
  3. Hostile neighbors who prevail when a society becomes weak – maybe because of one of the other factors.
  4. Friendly neighbors who become unfriendly or weak and no longer support the society (maybe the formerly friendly society has been weakened by other factors)
  5. A society’s responds to its problems. Are its people smart, perceptive, honest – or the opposite?
Thomas Homer-Dixon – The Upside of Down. Homer-Dixon says that human societies are threatened by interrelated stresses:
  1. Population – growth rate is different in rich and poor societies, has peaked in some rich societies – the poor flood into rapidly growing megacities (e.g., Dhaka in Bangladesh)
  2. Energy – high quality energy (oil) that fuels growth has peaked – we are now scrambling
  3. Environmental – natural environment is being destroyed
  4. Climate – atmosphere is changing, planet warming
  5. Economic –gap between rich and poor is widening, societies becoming unstable – prone to revolution, terrorism
These conditions are like tectonic plates bumping into each other building up pressures which ultimately must be relieved.

Nassim Taleb – The Black Swan. Taleb believes the world is much more unpredictable than we pretend, beset by black swans, and unforeseen (and unforeseeable) events. Tricks for getting by include learning to ignore people to who claim to predict the future and learning to recognize and run with good luck when it happens.

The main words to remember from Black Swan are non-linear and chaos. Environmental changes which bring about a collapse or disruption will not proceed in a regular, straight-line fashion but in a non-linear, chaotic manner.

Thomas Friedman – The World is Flat. Friedman says the world is smaller than we image, flatter. Everybody is connected to everybody else. Barriers between trade and communication have come down (been flattened). The playing field on which people, companies, and countries compete and play has been leveled. The people on the playing field are just as likely to be brown and Eastern as they are to be white and Western.

The main point to remember in the Flat World book is how an event in one place, can, because of globalized connections, rapidly have repercussions across the entire planet. The repercussions feed back into the original event which spreads outward again, then feeds back, then out, then back in a loop, every iteration reinforced and stronger. It is how non-linear chaotic systems develop. How a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can cause a tornado in Kansas.


This is my book. Although inspired by the words of others, these words are mine. Also, in some odd sense the ideas are mine. After all the rewrites and edits I own what I say – even though I am “only” interpreting the ideas of the smart men listed above. Consequently the mistakes and the misinterpretations are mine. If you have a problem with something, bear in mind that you are reading me. That’s who you have an issue with – not with the smart men.

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