Fifth Wednesday Post

Surviving Catabolic Collapse: A Case Study

One of the longstanding traditions on this blog is that when there are five Wednesdays in a month, my commentariat gets to propose topics for the fifth Wednesday post, and whichever topic gets the most votes ends up becoming the theme I write about for that post. That’s landed me in a pickle or two from time to time, when the topic my readers want to hear about is something I’d really rather not address; sometimes, by contrast, a reader request pitchforks me into unexpectedly interesting territory. It’s always a crapshoot.

Still here after five thousand years.

Then there are the requests that involve reaching back into the early days of my blogging career to revisit themes I haven’t discussed in a while. That’s the way things worked out this time around. The topic that got the most votes earlier this month was why China survived repeated collapses with its culture more or less intact, while so many other civilizations rose, fell, and went away forever:  a topic with a great deal of relevance to the decline and fall of industrial civilization, the central theme of my blogging back in the days of the peak oil movement.

It’s an intriguing question. Imagine, for a moment, that Egypt had equal longevity. If that were the case, the people of Egypt would still speak a language descended from ancient Egyptian, and write it in a modernized form of hieroglyphics; while Egypt itself might be currently under the rule of a Marxist regime opposed to religion, the Egyptian expat community around the world would still have temples where incense was burnt to Isis, Osiris, and the other deities of ancient Egyptian religion; and as recently as the 1940s, Egypt would still have had a pharaoh. That’s the kind of cultural continuity China had from the Bronze Age right up to 1949, and (despite drastic changes under its current Communist government) still has to some degree today.

Of course, there have been plenty of rough times over those five millennia.

That doesn’t mean that China hasn’t had its share of collapses.  During its recorded history, China has been through four major dark ages:  during the late Zhou dynasty, 770-226 BC, when the Zhou emperor became a powerless figurehead and warlords fought over the wreckage of the empire; during the long interval between the Han and Tang dynasties, 220-618 AD, another age of warlords when some sixty short-lived dynasties struggled for power; after the fall of the Tang dynasty, 960-1271, another brutal period of war and chaos; and finally the period after the fall of the Ming dynasty, 1644-1949, when China fell under foreign rule, first Manchu and then European, and plunged into poverty and misery as its wealth was stripped away by its foreign masters and its government disintegrated into another round of rule by local warlords.

(Yes, I know it’s impolite these days to refer to such intervals as “dark ages.” No doubt I could use some more fashionable euphemism, but since I’m not employed by a university and thus not subject to the pressures of academic fashion and political thought police, I’ll pass. The term “dark age” has a respectable pedigree—it was invented by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro to talk about the age of chaos that preceded the rise of classical civilization—and it reflects a reality. There’s a difference, after all, between an era when literacy, trade, and urban life flourish and peace within the borders is the normal state of affairs, on the one hand, and an era where literacy falters, the rule of law becomes a dead letter, trade turns into a risky proposition, infrastructure collapses, and most of the population consists of farmers in impoverished villages who are at once defended and exploited by local warlords.  The latter is a dark age. Thank you, and we now return to your regularly scheduled blog post.)

If your city center looks like this, you’re probably in a dark age. Deal.

China has had its share of dark ages, as I was saying. What sets China apart from most other societies in the modern world is that during each of its dark ages, after a few centuries of chaos, it managed to pull itself back together and restore something fairly close to its earlier form:  not just once, but three times in a row. (We’ll get to the aftermath of the fourth dark age in due time.) That’s not quite unique in history—another point we’ll get to in due time—but it’s worth noting, because there are very good reasons to think that modern industrial society is skidding down the overfamiliar slope toward a dark age of its own—yes, we’ll get to that too—and a fair number of my readers have wondered aloud whether there’s something we can learn from the Chinese experience before our own civilization crashes and burns. To address that, we’re going to have to start with a brief discussion of why civilizations fall.

It’s quite common in China and the West alike to interpret the rise and fall of civilizations in moral terms. A society rises because it’s virtuous, and then it descends into wickedness and that moral failing brings about its fall:  that’s the common notion. May I be blunt?  It’s a load of propagandistic hogwash. During the years when Britain rose to dominate the world, it had the most corrupt government in Europe—read the diaries of Samuel Pepys sometime if you think there’s anything new about the kleptocratic frenzy in today’s Washington DC—and London had more prostitutes per capita than any other city on the planet.  Thus the moral character of human societies doesn’t have much of anything to do with their success in the world or the survival of their civilizations.

If we set aside morality plays disguised as history, what remains?  There have been plenty of theories explaining how and why civilizations fall, of course, ranging from the profound to the absurd.  Since the rise and fall of civilizations seems to track very closely to the expansion and contraction of economic life, the explanations that seem most sound to me are economic in nature. It so happens that a little over two decades ago I proposed a theory along these lines, that traces the fall of civilizations to an economic process hardwired into civilization itself.  I named it the theory of catabolic collapse; you can read the original paper here.

One part of imperial China’s capital stock.

The process of catabolic collapse can be summed up very straightforwardly. Every human society uses its available resources to create capital. What is capital?  Any form of wealth you can use to turn resources into more wealth. A tool is capital; so is a field ready for planting; so is a factory, a road, a city, a university system, a government, an economic system, an educated population, and the list goes on. If it’s created by human labor and you can use it directly or indirectly to turn resources into goods and services, it’s a form of capital. Resources enter the economic process, and capital transforms them into wealth and waste. In the broadest sense, that’s how a society functions.

Capital doesn’t just show up out of nowhere, however. It takes wealth to create capital, and it also takes wealth to maintain capital. The costs of creating capital are generally well accounted for in complex human societies, but the costs of maintaining capital?  In theory, sure; in practice, not so much.  The more complex a human society becomes, the more of its resources and its existing capital have to be put into the process of maintaining its capital stocks.  Some old capital gets turned into waste—buildings are torn down, ghost towns are abandoned, kerosene lamps end up gathering dust in junktique malls—but much of it remains in place because the costs of replacing it are too high. Consider the water pipes under New York City, which are so old and dilapidated that at least a quarter of the water that goes into the system leaks out before it reaches anyone’s tap. Could they be replaced?  Not without digging up most of the city at fantastic cost.

One part of imperial America’s capital stock, decaying in the usual manner.

So over time, the capital stock of any society becomes increasingly ramshackle, jerry-rigged, and expensive to maintain. Growth becomes harder and harder to pay for because maintenance costs eat up so much of the society’s economic product. Crisis arrives when the society reaches the point at which its annual product is insufficient to keep patching up its capital plant, and things start falling apart in a big way.

Crisis need not equal catastrophe, however. The single most effective way to get maintenance costs down to an affordable level is to let the largest possible amount of old, dilapidated, dysfunctional capital come crashing down. That way you can save all the wealth you’d have otherwise spent trying to prop it up, and it’s often possible to salvage valuables from the wreckage, the way that medieval stonemasons used to salvage stone blocks from Roman ruins. Thus one common pattern in history is for a society to build up a vast amount of capital in times of peace and prosperity, let most of it be converted into waste during a period of war and crisis, and then start thriving again once the crisis is over.

There’s a catch, though, because the recovery only happens if the resource base on which the society operates is stable and renewable. If the society depends on nonrenewable resources, or on the unsustainable exploitation of potentially renewable resources, resource depletion combines with maintenance crises to produce the standard stairstep process by which civilizations fall. Read a good history of the fall of the Roman Empire and you can see that clearly: there’s a crisis, a period of chaos and impoverishment, and then renewed stability arrives but on a less prosperous level; the same cycle occurs again, and again, and again, and after a few centuries you’ve got goats grazing in what used to be the Forum Romanum, helping to support a modest population of peasants in what used to be the capital of the western world.

A Roman forum, after catabolic collapse got through with it.

This is where we return to China, because Chinese civilization has repeatedly managed to come through the process of decline and fall with enough of its knowledge base, population, and essential infrastructure intact to maintain continuity from age to age. It’s popular in some circles to suggest that this is a product of cultural factors unique to Chinese society, but that’s one of those arguments that’s impossible either to prove or disprove—lacking a few dozen Chinas in parallel universes with varying cultures as a control group, how could you be sure that it was this cultural quirk rather than that one that did it?  Furthermore, and crucially, China’s not the only major civilization to go through multiple cycles of rise and fall. Egypt managed a quite respectable 3000-year run with three dark ages, for example, and Mesopotamia had a comparable run; neither of these societies had much in common with traditional China.  Thus it’s helpful to look for other causes.

Chinese society, as it happens, was one of the examples I studied most carefully when I was developing my theory of catabolic collapse, and the economic approach to collapse explains the Chinese case with remarkable clarity. The most important resource base for any nontechnic society—that is to say, any society that gets most of its energy from human and animal muscle—consists of food and water.  If you have those, you’ve got a stable population and thus a work force, while if you don’t have those, you have a desert full of bleached bones instead of a civilization. China’s climate is such that too little water is very rarely an issue in the core regions of the nation. As for food, China had the titanic advantage of evolving the first really stable system of organic agriculture our species has yet managed to come up with.

Stable and productive over millennial time scales — unlike our usual kind of agriculture.

F.H. King’s classic book Farmers of Forty Centuries, one of the books that helped kickstart the development of organic agriculture in the western world, gives the details. The heart of China’s traditional subsistence economy was wetland rice agriculture, which used human and animal manure, nitrogen-fixing water plants, and hundreds of varieties of rice specialized for local conditions to provide a relatively robust food supply come thick or thin. Supplement that with dryland millet and soybean agriculture and animal raising that focuses on small livestock such as pigs, chickens, and pond-raised fish, and you’ve got a means of subsistence that’s impressively resilient. It doesn’t depend on extracting nutrients from the soil, as less sophisticated systems of agriculture do; instead, it systematically puts nutrients back into the soil. This is why there are areas in China that have been producing rice crops regularly for five thousand years.

Let’s check this thesis against the other two really long-lived civilizations mentioned earlier, Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Both of them had similarly robust agricultural systems, but that wasn’t a function of sophisticated resource cycling, as it was in China. In Egypt, the annual flooding of the Nile brought fresh sediment from East Africa and spread it over the farmland every year, renewing the soil; in Mesopotamia, the somewhat less regular floods of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers did much the same thing.  That gave both civilizations impressive staying power; where many other civilizations exhausted their soils and plunged into terminal subsistence crises, Egypt and Mesopotamia had relatively stable agricultural bases. (Yes, there were famines, but those were always temporary phenomena.)

If Egypt was more isolated, the west bank of the Nile might look like this today.

Both civilizations, in turn, ended not because their agriculture gave out—the great salinization crisis in Mesopotamia happened in the 12th century AD under Muslim rule—but because transport technologies improved to the point that they could be overrun by foreign invaders during periods of decline. That happened to China, too, but until modern times China was isolated enough that its invaders were steppe nomads who promptly settled down and adopted Chinese customs. Egypt and Mesopotamia weren’t so lucky; both were conquered in turn by Persian, Greek, Roman, and finally Arab invaders, and both had the last flickering traces of their old cultures stamped out by religious dogmatism on the part of Christian and then Muslim rulers.

All this implies challenges that the current version of Chinese society may not be well prepared to face. The old sustainable agriculture that made China so resilient for so long is a thing of the past.  These days China uses more chemical fertilizer than any other nation on earth, by a significant margin.  That’s not optional—more than a billion Chinese depend for their daily meals on the extravagant yields that only massive use of chemical fertilizers can provide—but it’s also not sustainable. On the one hand, chemical fertilizer feedstocks are mostly nonrenewable resources, and as those deplete, feeding China’s population is going to become more and more difficult; on the other, chemical fertilizers wreck the soil over time, so that an area that’s been farmed using chemical agriculture becomes more and more barren. That promises a very difficult future for China and the Chinese people.

If your society can’t keep funding the upkeep on its infrastructure…

And Western industrial civilization?  We’re in even worse shape.  The Western world has its own sustainable methods of agriculture, mostly developed over the last century with (as noted above) a great deal of inspiration drawn from Chinese sources. The problem, of course, is that not many farmers use these methods. Nor can you convert conventionally farmed acreage to organic farming methods overnight. Sri Lanka’s a great case study here; many of my readers will recall that its government a few years ago, pressured by the impressively clueless “experts” from the World Economic Forum, tried to impose organic methods on its agricultural sector all at once, and underwent a drastic agricultural and economic collapse as a result.

As any traditional Chinese farmer could have told them, organic methods have to be brought in a step at a time, as part of a whole system of resource cycling that involves changes to nearly every aspect of the farming process. Organic methods also aren’t well suited to mass production of cash crops for export, because—ahem—the manure of the people who eat the products of the farm is an important fertilizer source for next year’s crop. As long as our agriculture remains tied to a hypercentralized market economy in which crops are shipped worldwide and nobody lives off the agricultural produce of their own region, organic farming methods that permit long-term sustainability are going to be economically viable only in niche markets, and most farming in the industrial world will remain stuck in a self-terminating rut.

…the infrastructure ends up looking like this, and so does the society.

Of course that’s only one aspect of a much broader problem. Here in the United States, our farms are also hopelessly dependent on chemical fertilizers; we also burn up far more fossil fuel per capita than China’s ever dreamed of having, and far more of the products of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. None of that is sustainable. What that means, of course, is that sooner or later it will stop. That won’t be a sudden process, if only because oil and gas wells don’t suddenly turn off—they lose pressure gradually, descending to a trickle, and gimmicks such as hydrofracturing which boost production again for a little while have less and less effect the more often they’re repeated.

This time, in other words, China’s in for it, and so are we.  There’s certainly a point to putting sustainable organic methods of agriculture, gardening, livestock rasing, and the rest of it into place in as much acreage as possible, if only because that’s what will be left once fossil fuel production drops far enough that chemical fertilizers price themselves out of the market, and people who know how to grow food using renewable inputs will be in a good position to teach others and save whatever can still be saved. The question is purely how much capital will be transformed into ruins, wreckage, and raw materials for salvage crews before the long ragged decline bottoms out a few hundred years from now and our descendants can begin laying the foundations for the successor civilizations of the far future.


  1. Hi JMG,
    I’d always read that salinization and drought was a major source of the fall of the sumerians, so I’d always assumed the desertification and salinization in mesopotamia happened relatively early. During the first and second round of civilizations there.

    You’re saying that the worst salinization didn’t happen until the 1100s, under islamic rule? I didn’t know that, and when I tried to google it just now I came up empty-handed. Can you point me towards information on this; I’d like to know more.

  2. So in the end, civilization always comes down to farming: both on the ascent as well as determining how deep the descent gets.

    For anyone wondering, two very useful small livestock species are goats and rabbits, because you can use the manure from both species without needing to compost.

    In a bit of synchronicity, we had triplets born Sunday evening, just as night fell, to one of my two main milking nanny goats. The other I expected to kid with twins sometime in December. Other than the birthday goats for my 45th birthday, this is the “earliest” I’ve had kids on the ground. Usually – no matter how I try to time it – they don’t kid until the start of February. This being Francis’ fifth kidding, and will be Cocoa Puff’s 7th kidding, these girls have a steady baseline until now. I am not sure what that means for the winter here in rural Florida, but I accept that the Spirit of the Land does things in His/Her own time and often with good cause.

  3. Fascinating, particularly since I’m currently plowing through “Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese” by Stephen W. Mosher, published in 1983. He was denounced savagely by the Chinese government as what he wrote didn’t toe the party line.

    Beginning in 1979, he spent 18 months living in a rural Chinese village. Because he spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese, he was able to speak directly with villagers, rather than relying on Communist Party official interpreters.

    I know he has his biases (who doesn’t?) and I’m only up to page 47, but my goodness!

    You’d think Mao wanted to destroy every single vestige of historical, traditional behavior no matter how it damaged society so he could turn traditional peasants into good socialists.

    Which he did and the peasants (at least the ones Mosher spoke to) did their best to resist.

    But that was over 50 years ago. Who knows what’s happening now? Or what’s been preserved?

  4. Does the loss of the ancient agricultural system mean that the Chinese civilization may finally fall and the continuity of their culture will be broken, along with the possible demise of the Faustian civilization in the coming centuries?

  5. Hi JMG,
    I have been wondering for some time if China’s removal of large numbers of people from the land and adoption of western agricultural practices would cut the legs out from under their ability to weather collapses. Your conclusion is much the same as mine. I have noted of late, however, that there has been a recent move in China to reopen traditional fields and get people back on the land. My sense is that this is fueled more by the need to do something about high youth unemployment rates rather than a recognition of vulnerability on their part. Regardless, I think it’s going to be too little, too late. What do you think of this?
    Also, a data point for you: a lot of my sources are telling me that it’s become increasingly difficult to get information and products out of China. Some of this is due to the government increasingly wanting to control the flow of information and products, but a lot has nothing to do with the government. My sense from all I’ve heard and read is that a lot of it is the result of a system under a lot of stress. Thoughts?

  6. JMG, thanks so much for this! It’s a great overview of China’s past resiliency. I was one of the votes counted, and I appreciate the return to this material in light of current events. I’ve made a note of that FH King book for future reading. Do you think they’ve lost what has given them staying power all these millennia by trading traditional practices for industrial convenience? I wonder if this could be the end of the road for that great civilization, at last, in another few centuries.

    China is everywhere a concern, too, as our world leaders attempt to adopt some of their practices with respect to would-be control of the populace. In a thread a few posts back, you mentioned that censorship would grow worse in the near future as global elites become more desperate. With yesterday’s big whistleblower revelation, we’ve had a swinging door of coordinated censorship since 2018 between the military, academia, NGOs, and big tech, literally based in part on the Chinese model:

    Notably, my own game-writing business is affected by these global forces: I recently lost my last US client. Most of my work is done now in remote collaboration with Chinese (or else Russian or Turkish) teams. Perhaps tellingly, for the first time in my 30-year career, I’ve been expected to translate their documents from Chinese into English for myself, using Google Translate (of course not at all a good substitute for a human being). I’ve always had the admitted privilege of the preeminent language, so clients and third-party studio teams have always translated their writing for me, not the other way around. How long before I need to learn Chinese?

  7. Outstanding points on the economic factors!

    Complicating the current empire’s impending fiscal cascade, is the loss of highly skilled technicians — the ones a highly complex society like ours requires in order to maintain existing infrastructure. As those skilled specialists age into retirement, or are removed by hiring quotas or mandates or various wokian schemes , the unskilled and often unmotivated new hires no longer know how to maintain the complexity.

    For one example, there is the universal dependence on the super-complexity of the internet. Without a functional and interactive ‘net, there is no just-in-time food deliveries, or replacement parts for every cog in the system (truck tires, diesel, printer paper, window glass etc). Or parts to keep the electrical grid alive. As the computer specialists who set up the sometimes-Byzantine system disappear, their intimate knowledge goes with them. New hires simply don’t know, and have no way to find out.

    But not only there — this loss of skill is in every business and industry, down to the basic at-home level.. Engineers cannot design without Autocad. Doctors cannot treat without manufactured pills. Professors cannot teach without PowerPoint. Most drivers can’t change a tire or a battery, much less make a major engine repair. Most people wouldn’t know how to make a shoe to fit their own foot. Many cannot turn a bag of dried beans into a meal.

    Somehow, the coming collapse feels like it is potentially much worse than any we have seen in prior mostly-agrarian societies. They had social complexity, but weren’t as critically dependent on highly complex and fragile technology.

    Ran across this today, another lament that discusses the loss of competence and fits right in with today’s column:

  8. I think catabolic collapse is a very unique way of understanding collapse and it helps us to actually make productive adaptations. The moral theory of collapse doesn’t really give us any helpful guidance.

    I think privatization is a part of the catabolic collapse process, and you could make a case that our civilization will have catabolic capitalism, where our overlords profit off of and exacerbate the destruction of society. Very similar to Naomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism.

    I wonder if I will live to see peak oil become an obvious reality. Right now the US fracking boom seems to be near the end of its life ( ( I wonder if more tricks will be found to keep oil production rising. I hope I live to see the peak and decline of oil, oil production needs to decline before anyone in power starts seriously considering transitioning to a more sustainable way of living. I hope that one day I see the urban sprawl areas empty out and become overgrown.

  9. Hi JMG

    This got me thinking about small steam tractors. Possibly even walk behind sized, for stationary and mobile power and heat year round. Do you think it would be worth the work to maintain it and build new ones through the decline and fall?


  10. Dear JMG,

    I wonder if one possible variable in the longevity of Chinese culture might be the fact that China was never really in immediate proximity to, nor invaded by, an equally strong neighboring civilization. This is of course in contrast to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Roman Empire, and other civilizations in Europe and western Asia. Yes, the Mongols did invade and conquer China, but they were a newborn and rather ephemeral civilization.

    I have also long been struck by the remarkable (former) cultural continuity of Mesoamerica. Despite multiple collapses and dark ages between the Olmecs, the Toltecs, the Zapotecs, the multiple Mayan civilizations, and the Aztecs (among others), each of those cultures and civilizations maintained a great deal of cultural continuity among themselves for a good 3000 years, their trajectory being cut short only by the Spanish invasion and colonization in the 16th century. And this in the face of some well-known environmental overexploitations and food production collapses (most notably among the lowland Classical Maya).

  11. This is just one obvious example which makes me wonder: Every time I go into a men’s room with those waterless urinals, I wonder why we’re not recycling it, especially when it would be so very easy. Yes, phosphorous is just one of the galaxy of resources we are wasting and cannot be brought back. My point is that in so many ways our civilization is not even trying. Why are we not even trying? I suppose Spengler would say that civilization gets disconnected from the land, and these days city dwellers give no thought to where their food comes from. Is it a symptom of where we are in the cycle of civilization? I recall reading an article from a popular magazine published before 1905 concerned with fixing nitrogen. Were they back then able to talk about impending disaster and do something about it (Haber process) because they were in a different part of the cycle of civilization?

  12. Great post, as usual. I do have a couple of quibbles though.

    – The dynasty that ruled China between 1644 and 1911 CE/AD was the Qing dynasty, not the Ming dynasty, which ran from 1368 to 1644.

    – I would add India to the list of long-lived civilizations which have survived repeated dark ages. India is at least as old as China, perhaps older, although its history is not as well documented as those of China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Moreover, recent archaeological discoveries and other research suggest that the Indus Valley civilization bears roughly the same relationship to the classical Indian civilization that the Minoan/Mycenean civilization (what Arnold Toynbee called the Aegean Civilization in his later writings) did to the classical Greco-Roman world.

  13. JMG,
    I very much agree that sustainable agriculture is the foundation required if any civilization is to rise from the ashes of catabolic collapse. But such agriculture is always very labor intensive and it seems to me that the nature of empire is that on the way up less and less of the population is involved in the production of food. But as the civilization collapses most of the population ( 80%) or more has to be returned to the work of growing food. This is especially difficult in our empire as the extravagance of fossil fuel has allowed a tiny portion of our population ( with the help of massive amounts of energy) grow food for everyone else. But it seems to me how far down we go and how long it takes to bounce back will at least partially be dependent on how quickly the culture can adapt itself to one where most people work the land.
    My wife recently was involved with advising the country of Laos on how to improve their sanitary systems ( sewers and sewage treatment) at the behest of the US state department (who is trying to rack up brownie points in SE Asia.) She also hosted a delegation from that country, who visited her agency’s facilities here. I met one of the dignitaries and as we were talking ( through a translator) he lamented on how 82 percent of their population was still at the level of traditional subsistence agriculture. I replied that in a few years he may find that this is a great strength and not a weakness.

  14. I picked up a copy of King’s book in 1976. Recently I looked into von Liebig’s work of the late nineteenth century, which kicked off the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, NPK mania in Western industrial food production. Yet in the 1930’s Albert Howard looked more closely at King’s great work, and found other elements important to the health of plants. In the ’70’s, Masunobu Fukuoka had a spiritual insight into the whole system of Life, and it’s sacred nature, and applied it to fields in Japan. Wendell Berry wrote about it all, over they years, culminating in my my, in a Jefferson Lecture at NIA, “It All Turns On Affection”. (IIRC)

    Which leads me to consider another factor in catabolic collapse, _Cherished Misconceptions_

    Bertolluchies “The Last Emperor” a truly epic film, illustrates the factor as it operated in the central kingdom, which considered itself as the hub of the universe, the intermediator of Earth and Heaven. In the West, culture hasn’t kept up with science and technology since Thomas Paine’s time. Hence our “knowledge” and wisdim, which is _dim_ has made most of us artificially intelligent. Which is to say, hyper-stupid, on the edge of sanity and insanity. Blind to Whole systems, blind to all that is Sacred, allergic to any effective sacrament. The silver lining to the collapse of the West, is the destruction of our cherished misconceptions. I see these two as proportionally related.

    Going back to King, not only was nightsoil applied by hand where it would do the most good, so were ashes. I believe your cogent arguments against the western conception _linear progress_ are the fulcrum Archimedes imagined, and the reality of the cycles of Nature is the lever needed. Indeed do I ever need some courage to face the pains of advancing age? Yes I do and thanks again for all your writing and righting.

  15. Mr. Greer,

    I am noticing an increasing trend in Western media lately that seems specifically focused on trying to undermine the image of powerful leaders like Napoleon and Caesar who arose in times of turmoil amidst the collapse of the old order. One gets the impression that a great many people in the Western managerial class deep down fear a new Caesar emerging as they become increasingly unable to maintain the population’s standard of living amidst the ongoing catabolic collapse. Which is interesting because I remember something about Spengler stating Western civilization would enter a 200 year period of Caesarism around the year 2000 before collapsing for good in the 23rd Century.

    Of course, unlike Progressivism and Liberalism which are based around the concept of Prosperity; Imperialism, Mercantilism and Feudalism are all systems based around the concept of Scarcity. I don’t know if any of current leadership cadre in the West is capable of realizing that or understanding the implications of it.

  16. China’s population has also tripled in the last 100 years. And they, like the rest of the Life on Earth are and will be dealing with changes in climate that will undoubtedly add unique stressors to their (and our) cultural survival. I have not visited China myself but from travelers that have, I hear of a place that has been thoroughly domesticated, with minimal wildlife, massive pollution and, in the cities at least, a highly acquisitive character to the people. Not a place to emulate in my opinion.

    I am curious as to the extent of the role that the last glacial maximum, subsequent retreat and ongoing warming + drying has had and continues to have on China. Was the Gobi a fertile grassland, more akin to northern Mongolia, not that long ago?

    I also think it bears remembering that “civilizations” are by far the rarest form of human culture and that dark ages are really more of a reversion to the norm than a fall from grace. I am not suggesting that we can all just drop everything and go on walkabout full-time, but I do think that a less materialistic culture, in which humans live in a sustainable, resilient way, probably looks a lot more like North America prior to 1491 or Australia prior to 1600 than it does to historic China.

    For cultural longevity in-place, I think the Australian Aboriginal people likely hold the record at 65,000 years. Perhaps we should be giving their worldview and lifeways more seriously consideration? Of course, they are not a “civilization” in the sense of having cities. But perhaps that’s one of the keys to their resiliency, eh?

  17. A few points to note: 1. Rice is not suitable for cultivation in the Yellow River Basin. In fact, when Qin Shihuang unified China, rice was not the staple food for the Chinese; rice only became a major cereal crop in East Asia after the establishment of the Tang Empire. 2. The decomposition of China’s cultural fossils began centuries ago. Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution is just a relatively recent example of this process. The Qing Dynasty’s forced haircutting and clothing changes, the Ming Dynasty’s elevation of the Magian religion above Confucian morality, and even today’s communist China are not continuous with ancient China. 3. China’s “closedness” is largely artificial compared to Egypt. For instance, the Great Wall is essentially a man-made mountain range, and the Yellow River is essentially an artificial river (the current Yellow River ecosystem did not exist before the 19th century). 4. I believe that if Western civilization had not introduced chemical fertilizers, agriculture in the Yellow River Basin would have collapsed like the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia due to soil nutrient depletion. This would have led to the collapse of the Great Wall defense line, resulting in the end of Chinese civilization. The Qing Dynasty (and to some extent, communist China) is more akin to the Ptolemaic dynasty, accepting foreign civilizations under duress, but without the technological assistance of these foreign civilizations, the rate of decline of these ancient civilizations might have been faster.

  18. It’s ironic that perhaps the greatest magic anyone can do, is to “cultivate their vine”. That is, to become more self-reliant and robust and sustainable, at the level of “One”. I’m starting to suspect that the physical and the spiritual world merge into each other, at the end, in a Mobius loop. It’s a recurring thought I have, and I’ve wondered if there was more to it. When I look at the physical world, what am I really seeing? Are the invisible worlds right there, in the visible? I am starting to think so…at least the beginning of their frontiers. I really appreciate this post. It’s prescient, as usual, but you’ve hit the nail on the head, with the three examples (I can’t think of another, unless perhaps the Indus Valley civilization). The ending was brilliant, too: letting things collapses saves a lot of money. Boy, that’s going to go over like a lead balloon with those who have strapped themselves to the anchor. I can see why you’ve spent so much time on Green Wizardry, Temple Technology, etc. I came across an author who essays you might appreciate: Apparently, he was connected with Wendell Barry.

  19. Pygmycory, the civilizations of Mesopotamia always had to cope with salinization, but did so relatively effectively until the Middle Ages, by which time traditional knowledge on the subject had been abandoned by the region’s new Muslim overlords. The Muqqadimah by ibn Khaldun, a very solid study of history by a leading 14th-century historian, talks about this at some length.

    KM, please pass on my felicitations to the new mom. 😉 That’s very interesting, that their cycles are shifting; is that a response to climate shifts, do you think?

    Teresa, that book’s one of the things that influenced my take on the subject. That’s always the problem with Marxism — ideology always takes the lead over mere reality, with disastrous results.

    Tommy, unfortunately that’s very possible.

    RaymondR, I’m sure it’s a typo, but “Better Davis” is seriously funny.

    Chronojourner, I’m delighted to hear that there’s a movement back toward traditional farming in China — if that picks up as the drumbeat of crisis builds, that could be very helpful. As for China, one way or another they’re in for a period of serious crisis, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the data points you’ve mentioned are signs of the leading edge of that.

    Brunette, whether Chinese civilization can survive the abandonment of its ecological basis is a major question. As for the rest, at least a basic working knowledge of Chinese would be a very good idea, as they’re well poised to rise to temporary dominance as the US goes down.

    Elk River, it’s a common misconception to think that we’re in worse shape than past civilizations. Half of the reason the Roman collapse was so traumatic is that so much knowledge had become hyperspecialized and so many necessary products were made in a handful of factories and traded over vast distances — sound familiar? That said, it’s going to be a world-class mess this time too.

    Enjoyer, well, I don’t happen to know how old you are, but the fracking boom seems to be weakening fast, and if some new gimmick is found it may not be the United States that benefits. You may just see a good part of the opening round…

    Sea Spray, nope. Another technology is much easier to produce and maintain, and runs on much less expensive and concentrated sources: horses. Oh, and oxen, too.

    Alan, exactly. That’s what I was getting at in talking about China’s relative isolation.

    Bradley, good! Yes, that’s exactly it. We all have a fine source of nitrogen and phosporus fertilizer between our legs, and yet next to nobody thinks of using it.

    Ariel, if you go back and read the post again, you’ll find that the dates I cited were those of the dark age, not the dynasty before it. As for India, yes, that’s a valid point; I don’t happen to know enough about India’s agricultural traditions to draw comparisons.

    Clay, that’s one of the main reasons why empires fall, and yes, Laos may be very happy a century from now that they’ve kept their traditional farming methods in place.

    Mark, yes, very much so! Cherished misconceptions are a form of capital; so are elaborate hierarchical systems. Both of them, in the usual way of things, end up becoming bloated, unproductive resource sinks, and so they have to be jettisoned as catabolic collapse comes into play.

    Karl, yes, I’ve been watching that, and drew the same conclusions you have: the current managerial elite is terrified of the coming of Caesarism. They’re not wrong to do so; Putin’s harsh treatment of his nation’s plutocrats is a good example of how that typically works out in practice.

    Ken, one of the things a lot of people fail to remember is that in 1491, North America had several very thoroughly urban regions, including the largest urban center on the planet — Tenochtitlan and its surrounding urban core — and a very thoroughly urban society in the Mississippi valley; even those societies that had less concentrated urban centers very often engaged in intensive management of their environment. Too many people insist on mapping the whole “noble savage” business onto precontact American cultures, with inevitable losses to the chance of understanding. As for the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, it would be worth knowing what their societies were like 18,000 years ago, when the center of Australia was verdant and fertile; that I know of, we simply don’t know what level of social complexity they might have had then.

    林龜儒, it’s quite possible that agricultural collapse played a significant role in the two earlier dark ages mentioned in my post, but that doesn’t change the impact of the slow evolution of sustainable rice culture — it became the staple grain precisely because that “fossil” method worked so well. As for China’s isolation, I don’t think you grasped my point — there was no peer civilization next to China, or close enough to pose a serious military threat to it, just tribes of steppe nomads (which I did mention in my post, you know). In terms of the abandonment of traditional ways, you might want to read the book referenced in comment #3 above; Mao’s transformation of rural Chinese life does seem to have been far more disruptive than any previous set of changes.

    Peter Khan, in all probability the nightsoil collection industry will fly under the radar until the IRS is forgotten…

    Celadon, thanks for the suggestion! Yes, I know it’s not very popular to point out that collapse is a healing process. Just wait until I start talking about the fact that life became much better for the lower 80% or so of people in the western Roman Empire when Rome fell…

  20. I’m thinking we need to be making some serious overhauls of Municipal Solid Waste processing plants. If we were processing the carbon into biogas, this could be a useful biofuel. If there were some way to extract phosphorus and other useful chemical components, without all the toxins we’re all excreting into the waste stream, that could end up providing fertilizer components (such that consumers living distant from farms might cause a major downfall in agriculture).

    As others have stated, we’re not even trying. We’re defending the status quo long after the quo has lost its status.

  21. @ Brunette Gardens #7
    Yes, whistle-blowing ain’t what it used to be–
    A number of years ago, I noticed a new employee in management diverting narcotics from the shop. There was a corporate anonymous phone line to report suspicious activities so I called the number and turned it in.
    But I took the precaution to call it in from a workstation at the other end of the building whose occupant was on vacation.
    They located the narcotics, fired the diverting manager,– but also fired the lady who was on vacation, which I deeply regretted.
    SO, if you must whistle-blow, take extreme precautions!

  22. As Confucius is said to have said, “For all Man’s supposed accomplishments, his continued existence is completely dependent upon six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains”.

  23. JMG, thank you for this analysis. I do have a couple of questions:

    I read somewhere that it was the Mongols under Subodai, I believe, who destroyed irrigation in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. The question then arises, why did the Moslem overlords not build them back? No, the reason is not “Crusaders”, who were confined to a narrow strip of land along the seacoast. Like Pygmycory, I would like to know what your source is.

    Also, you mentioned technology which allowed neighboring empires to invade and conquer Egypt? What technology would that be? I wonder if conquerors before the time of the Assyrians were simply not able to field armies large enough to defeat and take over Egypt? The most technologically advanced peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean during the first millennium seem to have been the Phoenicians, as witness their ships and astonishing achievements in harbor building, but who never had the population to attempt conquests.

  24. North Korea, under imperial Japanese policy, was more industrialized than the south., and had higher incomes until the 1970s. Attempting to become self sufficient, communist agricultural policy relied heavily on petroleum based pesticides and fertilizers and machinery imported from the Soviet Union. Also NK used high yield hybrid cereal crops. When Russia stoped oil subsidies to NK, it was found that those hybrid crops needed too much water and fertilizer that forced a return to heirloom varieties, that yielded less, and resulted in famine. Small scale farmers markets were also permitted., along with some food aid. Today, it seems NK has reached some sort of stability in food production.
    I personally know a guy who a few years ago touring in NK who was amazed when he saw a team of young men pulling a plow through a field.

  25. One other key factor in much of the world and particularly the western USA, is water…Rainfall is inadequate in most of the west, and the farmers and cities have been draining the aquifers for more than a century…The Oglala aquifer has already disappeared in parts of the Panhandle and is getting very low in places like Kansas and Colorado..Southern California is do dry that it couldn’t support a fiftieth of its current population without stealing huge amounts of water from other areas, especially the Colorado river…The competitive drilling (to drain the aquifer before your neighbors do, is reaching unheard of depths, and drillers have a huge wait time currently…Those aquifers won’t be refilled until the next 100,000 year glacial period…There is also a lot of wind erosion in those areas, which is being reduced by no-till farming methods, but continues to destroy the topsoil…John Wesley Powell recommended that the West not be settled because of the inadequate water in most areas…but naturally was ignored…

  26. elkriver, I looked up the Palladium article. In the early paragraphs, the author stated

    The core issue is that changing political mores have established the systematic promotion of the unqualified and sidelining of the competent.

    “…systematic promotion of the unqualified and sidelining of the competent.” has been ongoing in American life, ESPECIALLY in the private sector, for decades, since at least the mid-60s if not earlier. Pick up any how to succeed manual from the intervening decades. Do these manuals say work hard then work harder, take night classes and upgrade your skills, work on your powers of concentration and personal discipline? No, they do not. Mostly they say here is how to dress, how to flatter and placate your boss and co-workers, how to give the impression of upper-class background, etc. etc.

    I suspect the new diversity hires are no more shallow and self-seeking than the regular guys and female lookers who preceded them.

  27. @Sea Spray (#10) abnd JMG (#21):
    One of the organizations that consistently gets financial support from us is Old Sturbridge Village ( in Massachusetts, and one of the reasons we support them is that they have keep a working knowledge of early 19th-century family farming pratices alive, and teach selected young people these skills. It was founded early enough in the 1900s that many people were still alive who had grown up learning these old skills.

    Among other worthwhile projects, Old Sturbridge Viillage still nourishes a continuous tradition of the old New England ways of training oxen to the plow and for other farm work.

  28. JMG, thanks so much for this. I am unaware of any major shifts in China related to infectious disease, like the Black Death in Europe, or Small Pox in the Americas. China’s pediatric hospitals are now overrun with sick kids, which has been blamed on many issues (though I am not sure I have seen decline mentioned).

    In your studies, have you noted much influence of infectious disease/poor health on the pattern of declines? Crowded conditions (with proper sewage/pollution/food management) seem important in these risks.

  29. John Michael, not this quickly. Francis previously kidded early February this year, while Puff kidded very early March. If there is a weather component to it, my guess would be shifting out of La Nina and to an El Nino weather pattern. The non-weather hypothesis would be that the Spirit of the Land decided this is what we need right now, though S/He is not very verbal in communicating.

  30. I have been thinking about how to turn your theory of Catabolic Collapse into a program of Catabolic Contraction.

    The more i think about it your focus on maintenance cost of capital is a vast area for productive academic research.
    the Folks over at Strong Towns are doing some great research on the construction and maintenance of public infrastructure in cities and towns. (think roads and sewers) and it looks like they have some good advice on determining the cost and benefits for different settlement patterns. But this sort of thing needs to done for all aspects of society. And the research should include both the money cost and the resources needed.

    When (if?) we eventually face the reality of ecological overshoot, having a well researched understanding of the full cost of capital (construction and maintenance) would be quite valuable in providing a road map for Catabolic Contraction (or Degrowth)

    Tim Morgan’s over at Surplus Energy Economics points out that the financial part of the economy is very near the breaking point but resource availability conceivably can move lower in a much more gradual fashion. We will need to get rid of our financial system soon and a program of catabolic contraction might conceivably replace it.

  31. JMG,I understand your point. I believe that while it’s not a necessary condition for a civilization to have an equal civilization nearby to exist for an extended period, a closed environment is indeed important. The Great Wall’s impact on Chinese civilization lies in separating East Asia from the Inner Asia, thereby mitigating the barbarian issues almost all civilizations face. Sustaining long-term peace in an empire without conquering all directly encountered barbarians is impossible. However, in a non-closed environment, conquering all barbarians is also impossible, even if these barbarians don’t have Spenglerian “cultural” or “civilizational” characteristics.

    In a non-closed environment, once a regime collapses, it’s almost impossible to reunify geopolitically because no one can conquer everyone. The existence of the Great Wall allowed some Chinese regimes to break the toxic cycle of conquest. They could halt their conquest beyond the Wall, preventing the need to extend their frontiers to the Arctic Ocean (leading to rapid collapse under enormous logistical pressure). This is also why the Yellow River Basin and the Yangtze River Basin can exist as political entities for an extended period, unlike India, which is more prone to becoming a continuous entity of numerous states.

  32. @Peter: we’ll have to come up with a nicer title for it is all: Nutrient Recycler, Biomass Transporter, Sanitary Composting Specialist, Agricultural Salvage Merchant, something in that genre. The real question is, will we have the sense to change public sanitation ordinances to accommodate this, or will it have to wait until the collapse has advanced far enough that nobody bothers with the ordinances anyway? At that point, the title might be “Poopsmith”. 😉

  33. Hi John,

    this was a very insightful look into the past and also a resourceful analysis into future scenarios. Now on a more ´´doomerist´´ note, I wanted to ask you ( I know from time to time you get this kind of questions that seem more based on a pessimist, black and white kind of perspective on the future) what do you think of the whole Agenda 2030 and what some deem to be the inevitable implementation of cashless society, subcutaneous chips etc. Should we preocuppy ourselves or are these narratives just fearmongering and blown out of proportion? Also in light of what you have been explaining in this and older posts, IF the WEF is really looking forward to introduce this drastic measures and turn the world into 1984, could peak oil and the crisis that will stem from it put these plans to a halt?

    PS. Do you think we might also see a regression insofar as the development of AI, nanotechnologies and other cutting edge electronic tech in the years after peak oil?

  34. I think that one of China’s strengths is its lack of multiculturalism; whether it’s the uigers, the Tibetans or whatever else, the message seems clear– to assimilate or else. On the other hand, and maybe more controversially, we Americans seem bent on replicating Mao’s cultural revolution in the form of “DEI.” I’m thinking in particular about a recent article on the FAA’s abandonment of the Air Traffic Controller exam, for example.

  35. I think you are missing a crucial piece of our collapse: it’s being engineered by technocrats that want to enslave us digitally and Malthusian oligarchs against humanity. Plus, we could have used some of that printed fiat money we sent to Ukraine that enabled Zelensky to buy a $75 million dollar yacht. Corruption now reigns and that’s because of the evil known as greed.

  36. Meower68, the first step is to decrease the production of waste — vast amounts of the waste stream these days (for example, most packaging) could be left out easily. Then, yes, a whole range of productive things could be done with the remaining waste streams. I don’t expect that to happen until after the next round of crisis is over and done with, though.

    Tom, whoever said it, it’s one of the fundamental realities of our existence.

    Mary, can you cite a source for Subodai’s involvement? As for the technologies that enabled Persian conquest of Egypt and Mesopotamia, improvements in road systems and oxcarts were the principal factors.

    Dashui, I’ve read the same thing. I wonder what North Korea will do now that it can trade munitions for oil.

    Pyrrhus, Powell was of course quite correct. As the aquifers run out and the climate dries, expect the western half of North America to revert to desert, with an extremely low population. That’s business as usual on an unstable planet like this one.

    Robert, a very sensible investment in the future.

    Gardener, China has a long and harrowing history of pandemics, including several massive plague pandemics. They just don’t get much attention in Western media. As for infectious diseases, those very often play a role, since decaying infrastructure and declining food supplies inevitably lead to public health problems.

    KM, fair enough — thank you for the data points!

    Dobbs, that would be very, very worthwhile, if you can find the funding and the people to do it.

    林龜儒, the Roman experience would tend to confirm the value of walls — as you probably know, the Romans also built extensive fortified barriers along their northern frontiers, and maintained them for some centuries; many national boundaries still follow those same approximate lines. The Sumerians did the same thing, for that matter.

    Marcoprof, the blowback against the Agenda 2030 business is far more politically important than the project itself. The decadent managerial aristocracy that runs the Western industrial nations is busy trying to solve the problems it’s created for itself by rushing forward into an imaginary science-fiction future where it has a vast new range of levers of control, without any attention to the inevitable downsides. (For example, digital currencies are just begging for computer hackers to mess with them…) The blowback is already putting hardcore conservative governments in power in countries that used to be giddily liberal, and it’s only just building; meanwhile the rest of the world is busy sawing off the limb that Western civilization is sitting on. As for AI, nanotechnologies, and the rest of it, as our ongoing decline picks up those and a lot of other excessively complex technologies are going to go away for the foreseeable future, because the resource base and economic surpluses to produce and maintain them will no longer exist.

    Phutatorius, there are many ways to have a thriving diverse society. Cutting standards is not one of them.

    Candace, I know it’s comforting to some people to believe that the ruling elites of our society are omnipotent masterminds who deliberately cause everything that happens. It’s much more frightening to realize that the people who are running our society are utterly clueless nitwits who can hardly wipe their own noses without help from a staff of personal assistants. Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that the latter is far more accurate. Sure, some of those nitwits love to daydream about a future in which they have even more power than they have now, but those daydreams deserve a horse laugh, not the kind of panic you seem to be feeling.

  37. Hi John Michael,

    Had half an hour of peak sunlight for the entire day yesterday due to thick clouds and a truly impressively scaled continent sized storm Wild weather moves into Victoria after wreaking havoc in New South Wales with flash floods. The rain was well received here and the winds were calm. Over two inches of rain fell (with more to come during the next few days). Cough, cough, not enough solar derived electricity to run the house yesterday, let alone an advanced industrial civilisation. I need an hour of peak sunlight, oh well and 15% of the year is less than that. And you know my thoughts on the costs of not reinvesting in the mains electricity grid, with generators that produce a lot of pollution.

    Have to laugh about this, but the ability to obtain a truck load of compost, is utterly bonkers. The thrill of this ability has never been lost on me, but then I was writing for the hippy press back in 2004 when Peak Oil was still being talked about, I looked into what was meant by the term. Then pondered the consequences. And I’m not mucking around with you, dumping fertiliser into the oceans will have consequences, and is a one way trip to, as you’d say, history’s dustbin. We’ve discussed this before, but it doesn’t surprise me that thinking in terms of systems is not actively encouraged, even among the so-called ‘brighter rationalist’ sections of the community. Yu heard it from me, they ain’t rational if they think what’s going on is a path to the stars.



  38. Thanks for your learned essays and your reply. My hubby is on the same page as you. “Genius has it’s limits, stupidity doesn’t”. I’m taking a more metaphysical approach of the “Spiritual Battle:, even though I am still earning the ropes of Christianity.

  39. Dear JMG,
    Thanks for the China perspective. I’ve viewed a lot of recent Chinese policy under CCP as a deeply Chinese desire to make sure they are not subjected to more foreign domination. I suspect the Nationalists would have pushed secularism, industrialization and military preparedness in similar ways if they had prevailed in 1949.

    On this side of the Pacific, I just hope someone makes the right choices so our descendants can enjoy traveling elwuses. I lack the hair and hips to carry on the tradition.

  40. Hi JMG
    It makes sense that horses and oxen would be easier to build and feed than steam engines in the dark age to come. On the other hand I suspect that they’ll have a place on the decline before we get to that point, the ability to turn biomass into a spinning shaft seems valuable.
    Do you have any thoughts on the value of steam engines in the coming century?

  41. There is something else geographically and energetically unique about China and India that gives them advantages, namely the Tibetan plateau and how the rivers work in that part of the world. There is such enormous and transformative energy throughput coming down those rivers (Yellow, Yangtze, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mekong) from such high mountains that humans can’t help but intensify in those locations. The sediment from the Yellow river alone is of such good quality (Loess soil with high cation exchange) that even in a massive collapse I’m guessing populations would quickly start intensifying again even after fossil fuel powered agriculture. The summer dominant rainfall in a subtropical/warm temperate climate is also catnip for intensive agriculture, and the pulse of winter/summer (monsoon/dry) is also perfect for many agricultural crops; compare this with the Amazon basin which has even greater energy but the civilisations there were less resilient because it doesn’t pulse, it’s constant so any dark age is almost immediately swallowed by jungle.

    @Ken yeah as JMG says humans have been in Aus so long that it is very likely that there have been periods of intensification and dispersion depending on climate. There are plenty of oral histories detailing such things depending on individual tribes. I find it very quite silly to think that they have been the same for 60,000 years through quite marked and brutal shifts in climate and sea levels.

  42. Peter,

    Some countries are already heading down that road, for example Australia opened a factory to convert human waste to fertilizer last year.

    My state, South Carolina, has also been investing heavily lately into facilities to convert human waste at sewage treatment plants and landfills into biomethane for fuel and fertilizer production over the last decade.

  43. JMG, I have to admit to being not yet well read in Central Asian history. Apparently, Mongols cutting irrigation ditches is a bit of a trope; here is a reasonable discussion from a reddit, Ask a Historian, which discusses the canal network.
    According to this poster, the canals flourished whenever there was a strong central government to see to their maintenance.

    Candace, may I ask what you mean by the term ‘Malthusian’? I ask because I have heard it applied to, for example, the environmental movement, or to anyone involved in any sort of conservation.

  44. @JMG: Your reply to my (no doubt) provocative comment was a good one. Maybe, as a subject for a future 5th Wednesday, you could expand on those “many ways.” Seriously.

  45. Catabolism of roads is already starting.

    “Muskegon County Road Commission Managing Director Kenneth Hulka told MLive/The Muskegon Chronicle that the road commission has spent between $30,000 and $55,000 per year for the past decade patching Blackmer Road and is not willing to continue. If the township can’t come up with the money to repair it, the road commission likely will grind it and turn it to a gravel road next year, Hulka said.

    “It’s in terrible shape and people are angry,” he said. “The only cure is to turn it to gravel.”

    If you search for ‘turning roads back to gravel’ you can get a bunch of links on that. I wonder how the low ground clearance EVs do on gravel roads?

    As for fertilizer from human waste, Milorganite has been around for nearly a century. The tricky part is not spreading the latest plague on every carrot.

    As for incompetent elites, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) unveiled a bold strategy earlier this month to rescue the endangered northern spotted owl population. The plan involves the shooting and killing of more than 400,000 barred owls across Oregon and Washington over a span of 30 years. This drastic measure aims to address the growing ecological imbalance between the two owl species in the region.”

    The barred owls are a rougher and tougher owl, so of course they can not be allowed to displace the holy spotted owl. The fact that barred owls are native to North America and have been expanding their range for decades is not relevant. They didn’t file the correct paperwork.

  46. Thank you, Mr. G for this post, and to the commentariat. I learn so much here, and am often inspired by it.

    The tricky thing to remember is that “we” can’t make anyone else do anything. “We” can’t make the government or the population at large do the reasonable, the right thing to respond to obviously emerging circumstances. Not by logic, by force or magnetism and persuasion. Times have their own rationale and qualities. Lovecraft was onto something about Cthulhu’s emergence and the stars aligning; workers in myth such as HPL tap into realities they often are not conscious of.

    As JMG has indicated in his comments in this post, the situation post-collapse for those of us who are among the “little people” may settle out to being considerably better than it has been for us of late. I look forward to learning more. But there is a transition during the precipitous step-down times, when it appears that everyone altogether will have to be quick on their toes.

    As for me, in the daytime life I was never apt or clever about taking care of everyday affairs, seeing opportunities and crafting my future on the basis of them. Instead, I’ve been insanely lucky much of the time. But in dreamtime I am both apt and clever. Perhaps for me and for many, one significant thing we CAN do to accommodate to the times to come is to arrive at some kind of genuine relationship with the inner, to come to grips with dreamtime, if you will.

    Otherwise, it’s fair to say we’re in for quite a ride. Karma can be a cruel mistress, but not all karma is evil to experience. As has been said, hope is not a plan. Still, it’s not a bad thing to have some hope–otherwise why plan at all? It’s a rare thing for change to be consistently toward the bad. Which points to the wisdom of our host in speaking to us about gradual collapse, during the course of which you may find opportunities you never imagined, laid at your feet. May you (and I) have the grace to see and accept them!

  47. Thanks for the long-awaited essay! It is a bit more pessimistic than I had hoped. In comments scattered here and there you have also suggested that the invention of paper and of (early forms of) printing, and the consequent higher number of book copies, helped keep Chinese and Indian dark ages shallow.

    I mentioned last week that I was reading L. Sprague de Camps’s Lest Darkness Fall, and introducing the press into Italy in 535 AD is one of the main ideas the time-travelling protagonist has to avoid the Western European dark age. Sprague de Camp imagines 6th century Italy as agriculturally prosperous.

    Florin Curta’s “The Long 6th Century” also suggests that the extreme depopulation of the Balkans including Greece in the 7th century was not due to agricultural failure.

    Be that as it may, there is unfortunately no reason to doubt your judgement on the sustainability of our modern agriculture (much less industry).

  48. JMG,

    With Henry Kissinger finally passing away tonight, how would you evaluate his legacy on the modern US empire?

  49. On a positive note for Chinese agriculture, the lessons of what they achieved in their Loess Plateau project are significant.
    Well worth a look. .
    One gift of modern science (maybe a returned gift, as others have known this without putting pins in it) is knowledge of the soil-food web. This information (if retained and acted upon) can help massively in the future, providing more, high quaility food per unit area than most other methods, on a much smaller resource base.

    I’ve been recycling my own wastes into prime compost and using it on my orchard and other food items for decades. Highly recommended! Easy too!

  50. JMG,
    I don’t know if this is too far off topic, but there has been an update to the Limits to Growth standard run model in the November 2023 issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology (link here:, that I want to make everyone aware of, if they’re not, already. The bottom line is that most of the peaks are higher and the tip overs into decline are a few years later, but they’re still pretty much on course to start hitting over the next 10 years. Fun times… if you’re an aficionado of chickens coming home to roost.

  51. JMG, one of my high school summer jobs was on a dairy farm. I got hired because the farmer’s son was a classmate of mine. I had no knowledge or experience in such a place, the farmer knew this and was only interested in my energy and muscle power. To that end I worked 7 am to 7 pm for 20 bucks a day. I figured it was a better deal than the heinous conditions picking tobacco which was the fate of some of my other classmates.

    I learned a lot in that place, that calves are remarkably stubborn and have a mind of their own, how to disk fields with a tractor, how to go get the cows at milking time and to direct those large animals one at a time and in single file through the chute into the milking room, to wade through a foot of cow manure and not even notice and how to avoid irritating the bull whose stall I had to muck out. Though I did get too close and got a tail lashing.

    But chiefly I found out what a knucklehead I was. Farm machines and implements sometimes misbehaved, even simple devices, and I was utterly clueless as to what to do aside from fetching the farmer or his son or the farmhand Henry, a hulking brute. And so I learned that a stuck metal device needs three hard whacks with a hammer, you know, an application of common sense, of which I had none.

    Despite embarrassments and sighs and eyeball rolls from the farmer I survived. I managed to complete most of my assigned tasks on time and in reasonably good shape and overall I think the farmer got his 20 bucks worth every day. Or mostly every day.

    The reason I bring this up are the several references to the managerial nitwits and clueless ‘experts’ spurring our civilizational demise. And the reference to Chairman Mao. I seem to remember that one of the dictates during his rule was to make urban intellectuals go work on farms, maybe to make them realize that they don’t know as much as they think, as I myself learned.

    Anyway, maybe Mao was onto something. Maybe in a future iteration after our civilization bites it, maybe farm work will become a part of a well rounded education, particularly for the soft-handed and soft-headed spawn of a future boss elite.

    Book learning, yes, philosophy, yes, mathematics, yes, but farming too, especially farming learned in the fields and barnyard with with pick and shovel and crowbar.

  52. Re: “catabolic capitalism” (@Ecosophy Enjoyer #9)

    We’ve been in that stage for the past 2-3 decades it would seem – namely a situation in which corporations maintain exorbitant shareholder profits not through growth (which is no longer possible) but rather through strip-mining their clients and capital assets. So it is that we have hospitals charging ever-more-exorbitant prices for ever-less-effective services, and railroads abandoning tracks and neglecting maintenance and driving away any customers who can’t fill an entire train at one time.

    I would argue that this phase can’t continue for much longer – both because clients and customers are getting fed up to the point of demanding change and because the growth-based economy is destined for near-term collapse. Once profit margins collapse and corporations go belly-up in a sea of unpayable debt obligations, I imagine that at least some of the essential functions of society will be carried out by coalitions and cooperatives who value service rather than profit – which could be a “de-privatization”. That’s my hope at least…

    Re: “organic” farming

    As someone who works in modern organic* agriculture, I can say that it is good for the soil and produces healthful food, but it is in no way sustainable over the long term in the way that traditional Chinese paddy farming is. The biggest missing link is, of course, the return of nutrients from human waste to the soil – which is complicated by regulations and by the fact that our sewer systems dilute these nutrients and mix them with all manner of toxic products. In the absence of this connection, organic farming typically depends on manure/manure compost/animal by-products from industrial feedlots, which in turn are dependent on industrial-scale corn and soy farming.

    What we really need – and what next to no one is working on yet – is closed-loop farming.

    *”Organic” – at least as it is legally defined in the USA in the context of “Certified Organic” – means growing food without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

  53. I’m not convinced it’ll be as rough for China to feed itself as JMG suggests.

    By analogy, let’s consider how we’ve previously described energy use. Imagine you told an American, Australia or someone from the UAE that their country was going to have halve or drop by three-quarters their per capita energy use by some date or other. Most would assume this means instant poverty and misery. But this is the energy use we had in the 1970s, or that Europe has today – and those are not too terribly awful times and places.

    Similarly, China currently has a population of some 1.4 billion – but this last year it peaked and dropped for the first time, down almost a million. The total fertility rate having dropped under 2.1 in 1992, now thirty years later the population has peaked and dropped – as we’d expect for a country without a lot of migration to it. The UN forecasts – – a population of some 766M in 2100, which is about the population China had in 1968. However, the UN has a history of underestimating the pace of demographic transitions such as dropping fertility rate and ageing populations.

    Now, obviously no reasonable person expects a forecast 77 years out to be at all accurate. Nonetheless, the trend is fairly clear that China is likely to have its population drop substantially over the course of this century – even if we waved a magic wand and gave them limitless fossil fuels and inexhaustible soil. Having them halve their population over a human lifetime seems reasonable. And so, even if they’ve done awful things to their soil – well, even if it halves their soil’s yield, they’ll still be fine.

    What I would be more concerned about for China in the centuries to come, as with countries worldwide, is having become so used to doing things with profligate use of fossil fuels, we’ve forgotten how to do without them. Those wonderful methods of agriculture, manufacturing and so on which existed long before fossil fuels, those skills have been or are being forgotten. Some enthusiasts keep them alive, but it’s an open question how well those enthusiasts could be taken care of, or pass their knowledge on to others. You might have the most brilliant agriculturist reinventing the mouldboard the week before a band of raiders come and burn down his village.

    And that would be a dark age, indeed.

  54. Chris, one of the weirdest things about today’s “rationalism” is how wildly irrational it has become!

    Candace, we’re unquestionably in the midst of a spiritual battle, but it’s not human beings who are the main movers and shakers. St. Paul’s comment is apposite: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

    Daniel, a great many nations around the world decided that they had to adopt Western technologies and ideologies in order to avoid Western domination — and thus they fell under a different kind of Western domination. Me, I’m hoping that some bright soul in South Carolina reads the book by F.H. King I cited in the post, says “Dayummm!” in a low meditative tone, and starts putting in rice paddies…

    Michael, it’s quite possible that either steam engines or diesel engines, or both in different regions, will become a significant factor down the road, in light industrial applications, riverboats, and the like. It’s just that horses and oxen are better for farming.

    PumpkinScone, well, the people of the deindustrial era will get to see if you’re right.

    Mary, one of the things that ibn Khaldun points out in the book I cited — it’s available in English translation, by the way — is that nomads very often neglect or destroy canal systems, since they don’t understand why they work. What I’ve read is that due to the neglect by Muslim overlords of methods dating back to Sumerian times, the soil in medieval Mesopotamia became badly salinized, and so the crisis of the Mongol wars was not followed by rebuilding.

    Phutatorius, bring it up for a vote the next time we have five Wednesdays!

    Siliconguy, yep. There are quite a few counties in the West that have stopped maintaining large sections of their rural roads, because the money simply isn’t there any more.

    Clarke, exactly. All we can do is choose our own path, and help anyone who’s willing to be helped.

    Aldarion, if I was writing a book on the subject I’d definitely have included printing, and several other very useful technologies, but since I was trying to keep it to around the usual 3000 words I focused on the one thing that mattered most.

    Gman, I think Rolling Stone gave him a proper obit:

    Donkey32, there’s a lot to learn from successful agricultural systems of the past, and yes, from current environmental sciences. I hope it’s preserved!

    Chronojourner, many thanks for this!

    Smith, I’m in favor of it. I spent some time on a little hippie commune outside Bellingham, WA, growing vegetables and tending chickens and goats; we had no central heating, no running water, and one composting toilet for the lot of us, and it was a learning experience I will always treasure.

    Mark, I think you’re very likely correct. One of the consequences of economic contraction that next to nobody’s thinking about is that in a contracting economy, on average, every investment loses money. Thus cooperatives and the like are the only way to get anything done, because the profit motive no longer functions.

    Hackenschmidt, that’s exactly the problem. How many people in China still remember how to manage the intricate network of nutrient flows that make traditional paddy farming work?

  55. As regards St. Paul’s quote on “spiritual wickedness in high places” – there is a reason the Our Father prayer has the words “deliver us from evil”.
    Now for some agriculture history. My great great grandfather homesteaded a farm in northern Illinois in 1854, still in the family. I am familiar with the agriculture practiced in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. By the 1940’s it was a settled matrix of 200 acre farms. The farmers carefully used their manure, did crop rotation, responsibly farmed hillsides, had a mix of crops and animals. My grandfather got a college education in agriculture and was an early corn hybridizer. He would enter his results in production tests run by the University of Illinois around 1945 and would place first or second with yields of 92 bushels of corn. By the late sixties my dad would consider that crop failure, yields of 150 bushels were expected. Now in Iowa and Illinois over 200 bushels are standard.
    How was that achieved ? Chemical fertilizers began to be pumped out in the late forties. A retooling of explosives factories after WW2 I believe. Hybrid corn varieties were developed that could utilize the intense fertilization. A technician would come out to put ammonia in the soil and besides that the corn planter would drill in seed at precise intervals and at the same time lay down a stream of granular fertilizer. Because of the intense fertilization and herbicides corn rows could be planted closer together increasing yields. Tractors no longer needed to enter the field with their tires fitting in between the rows pulling a cultivator to remove weeds. Pesticides and fertilizers made it possible to skip crop rotation and grow corn year after year. Though soybeans would be also done as a cash crop, but not as a needed rotation. Manure was no longer spread as chemical fertilizer was used instead Cows, pigs, and chickens got centralized in huge production facilities instead being spread through the countryside, so manure just plain disappeared over long stretches of land.. 50 dairy cows, some pigs on the side, a chicken house, a few steers raised for beef and 200 acres was no longer a viable unit that generated enough profit to support a family and pay the mortgage. The matrix of family farms is gone. My great great grandfather’s farm is now a staging area for huge equipment used to farm that land and thousands of acres of rented land. The farm began with some of the richest soil known in the world. Originally moist tall grass prairie that created a five foot layer of black top soil over a layer of blue moisture retaining clay in turn underlaid by a layer of sand and gravel providing drainage. Haven’t been there for decades. I wonder what the soil is like now.

  56. > Consider the water pipes under New York City, which are so old and dilapidated that at least a quarter of the water that goes into the system leaks out before it reaches anyone’s tap.

    Hah, I read that, and smirked. Back when I was a kid in the 90’s, the pipe network here in the metropolitan area of Manila, Philippines was so bad that the quarter figure is the one that actually reached the taps. And whatever did reach the taps wasn’t so much flowing fresh water as it was slow-dripping smelly, slightly brown tinged water. Thanks to a round of investments after a neo-liberalist privatization frenzy (that somehow actually worked mostly as advertised), the tap water is actually drinkable now. And somehow the power supply is reliable and I have 200 Mbps fiber-to-the-home. Kid-me would consider that a miracle, moving just 3 km from where I lived in early childhood and somehow we now have first-world amenities!

    The anti-cholera government TV PSA slogans still ring in my head to this day. “Tubig ([clean] water)! Kubeta (toilets [i.e. proper sanitation])! Oresol! T.K.O.! *cue the T.K.O. mascot beating up the cholera mascot”

    Mind you, I’m here, 30 years after those iconic PSAs, and the water concession holders are still going around digging all over the place, replacing old water and sewer lines and installing new ones. As it turns out, civilization is really, really hard to pull off.

    I guess what I am saying is, if NYC is losing a quarter of the water due to leaks, those are still amateur numbers. It can (and may well do the way things are going) get worse. A LOT worse. Brace yourselves, folks!

  57. Hello JMG! I have a question; Would William Lilly’s Introduction to Astrology be enough to read our own natal chart and do you interpret natal charts for a fee?

  58. @Bradley and public toilets.

    A lot of the original public toilets where made merely for collection. It made economic sense to provide this free service because the fertilizer from it was worth so much. It is one lost technology that could easily make a come back.

    It is a rare situation were everyone is a winner.

  59. Daniel ,If KMT win the chinese civil war, the china will more like arab and india country, What is special about the Communist Party is its destruction of tradition, This is also the reason why the reconstruction of tradition in China is not as successful as in other parts of the world, because one of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party is based on anti-Confucianism and even anti-Han (secular Arabia and India do not have such a problem) , but now embracing Confucianism has plunged it into a logical paradox. Supporting Confucianism is tantamount to the Communist Party admitting that Maoism has failed and that the Communist Party is not China’s legitimate political power. This contradiction can only be resolved through the disintegration like the Soviet Union.

    As for the low fertility rate of the Chinese, it is related to the destruction of tradition by communism, followed by the problem of population overcrowding (China’s food gap is largely due to corruption and social disincentives to become farmers). The fertility rates of Central Asian countries and India are higher than China. Within China, the low fertility rate of Han people compared to ethnic minorities is considered a problem by the current Chinese rulers (ironically, lowering the birth rate of Han people and artificially increasing the proportion of ethnic minorities was the policy of the Communist Party of China in the twentieth century. )

    As for whether the maintenance of sustainable agriculture can allow the survival of Chinese Confucian culture, this is certainly not correct. Egypt was still the granary of the Mediterranean until the times of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Arab Empire. Some facilities from the Mesopotamian period even survived to the present day. Modern times, but this cannot avoid the evolution and demise of culture. Although some people attribute the demise of ancient Egyptian society to the brutality of the Semites, the fact is that ancient Egypt was already in fatigue as early as the time of Alexander. It is no longer possible to be confident of eternal life under the glory of Rome. Although many people regard braids during the Qing Dynasty in China as an imposition by barbarians on the Chinese people in order to destroy Chinese traditions, most of those who enforced and forced Chinese people to wear braided hairstyles were Chinese, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution was just a further step. As a result, the vast majority of Chinese who were willing to maintain Chinese traditions were either forced to flee or were killed by the Chinese. It is questionable whether the next batch of conquerors or even local Chinese will continue to adopt “Confucian values”

  60. Detail: “960-1271, another brutal period of war and chaos” – actually, JMG, inside this stretch was the period of the Sung (or “Song”) Dynasty, 976-1121, which was perhaps imperial China’s most civilized time.

  61. I just took a look at the paper by Nebel et al updating the Standard Run of Limits to Growth, mentioned by Chronojourner #55. Basically it shows persistent pollution not being an overwhelming problem until the second half of the century, population peaking by the end of this decade – as recently predicted by JMG – but food production and particularly industrial output practically going off cliffs virtually now, reminiscent of the Seneca cliffs predicted by Ugo Bardi. While the authors acknowledge “it is not useful to draw further conclusions from the trajectory after the tipping points”, it looks extremely ominous and certainly supports our host’s warnings in the recent post Bracing for Impact!

  62. For those interested in traditional Chinese food production techniques, Li Ziqi’s channel might be of interest. It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon: a young, pretty and extremely capable Chinese woman goes back to the countryside to care for her grandmother (very Confucian) and ends up becoming a huge celebrity as well as very wealthy thanks to well-produced videos of herself engaging in traditional Chinese food production and crafts for a global audience. She film herself making things from the very scratch (more from scratch than you’d ever think possible) and mostly by hand with ancient techniques. On the one hand, it’s beautiful and inspiring, curated and slick; on the other, you can see the hard work that goes into the simplest of things and even a Luddite like me feels grateful we don’t have to live exactly like that anymore.
    The irony, of course, is that we all like to watch this stuff, but very few people want to do it day in and day out. And that it’s possible to become super rich by making videos of this kind, but not even to make a living actually producing food that way yourself and selling it. I know from personal experience of something very similar on a much smaller scale. Everyone loves the idea, almost no one wants to work harder or spend more money for handicrafts or sustainably produced food. At least for now.
    If back-to-the-land becomes a mass movement, no one will be interested in rural escapism anymore.

  63. Greetings all!
    Just an odd thought, could the rise of BRICS countries not be a strategy to let the West have its catabolic collapse while delaying non western countries from following suit? With the war in Ukraine and in Gazah, non-western countries are slowly pivoting away from the west and it looks that there will be preferential trade agreements for natural resources, energy, food and manufactured goods between BRICS countries and the rest of the non-western world. After all, should the US economy decline, its consumption of resources will also decline thus leaving more for others. It would be akin to the Roman Empire cutting itself in half, letting the western part to fall while the eastern part survived another 1000 years.
    Even if there is no such overall plan, the end result of the rise of the BRICS may well be that as the west declines rapidly mainly due to high fossil fuel costs, energy and natural resources are made readily available for the rest of the world at preferential prices and in sufficient volumes thus delaying the onset of decline.

  64. Mr. Greer,

    I think it is likely to be a mixture of both horses and diesel tractors and trucks to be used in farming. Tractors do the work faster then horses but horses are more cost effective on smaller farms; most modern farmers who still use horses tend to only have a farming estate of around 50-200 acres. A large industrial farm of thousands of acres, say a sugar cane plantation down on the Gulf coast under contract to produce biofuels for the military or shipping companies, will likely use tractors.

    Smaller farms I think will be more like the late 19th and early 20th century small farms; using horses for most of the year but then bring in a contractor – or the farmers will form a cooperative that owns the equipment – with the diesel powered tractors, trucks and combine harvesters for the harvest season or equipment like bulldozers and backhoes for the occasional special task.

  65. Great post JMG.
    A couple of relative issues:

    1.- perhaps syntropic agriculture is useful in “interesting times”

    2.- it is likely that the concept of “Meaning” from Niklas Luhmann’s sociology is an adequate explanation for the preservation of cultural traits over the idea of ​​civilization: “civilizations pass, the meaning, which is communications that produce communications, remains”

  66. @bradley #12 There is just so much waste that is normalized and any alternative is demonized via social pressures. I am currently experiencing issues with this as I am trying to fill my newly built garden raised beds. I watch my neighbors throw out their leaves or have them hauled away by landscapers. While I am desperately scrounging for dead leaves for composting, mulch cover and bed filler. Attempts at nicely asking permission to remove the pile at my neighbors the curb myself rather then the municipality are met with skepticism, belief I am scamming them somehow, supposed “insurance risks” and angry refusal. Just more of that deferral to experts.

    I think a divorce from the land is part of the problem because my mother in law a horse trainer by trade is ecstatic to give me horse manure but when I go to collect it from her farm the wealthy suburban/ex-urban McMansion dwelling clients look at me like I am some weirdo.

  67. JMG – “Celadon, thanks for the suggestion! Yes, I know it’s not very popular to point out that collapse is a healing process. Just wait until I start talking about the fact that life became much better for the lower 80% or so of people in the western Roman Empire when Rome fell…”
    I took note of that when you posted this awhile back, that the new scholarship is pretty conclusive, and it makes total sense out of a chaotic situation that is chaotically understood. Yes! Watch the fur start flying when the elites realize we no longer care what happens to them or their system, as it isn’t salvageable, doesn’t benefit us, and is destroying everything. The guilt tripping, gas lighting, and propaganda should be colorful and epic. Them’s the breaks, and that’s the mathematics. They should have done a better job when they had a chance. And they’ve had plenty. Way more than most of those under their care. So it won’t be easy to wheedle or whine your way out of that one, once the penny drops for most folks. In the “war on Nature”, we are the folks that carry the weapons and do the heavy lifting. Our elites lost that war, now we are paying for it, they don’t want to, and want to talk us into more sacrifices on the “Eastern Front” of that war. Desertion, insubordination, and outright coups against the officer corp of this war is coming next. I certainly hope the Christian Church can start distancing itself from being part of the official propaganda machinery of this vast operation. I’m working on this, in my local area. Imagining that better future, is less and less difficult to do, as the track record piles high and the body counts soar. I can see from your insight and comments that an essential part of that re-imagining, is seeing clearly just how bad this is for most people, under current arrangements or anything similar.

  68. @Sea Spray #10 and JMG. Steam engines were replaced by internal combustion engines in large part because of the (unproductive) time taken to boil the water to produce the steam that drives the pistons. With a gasoline or diesel engine, you just start the engine, wait a few seconds for it to warm up and spread the lubricants evenly, and go to work. Added to this is the weight of the steam engines and the temperature of the working fluid. The efficiency of the engine goes up as the difference in temperature of the working fluid and the exhaust increases. The working temperature of steam vis-a-vis diesel in particular strongly favors diesel. Of course, if diesel becomes scarce…

    Regarding animal power, an often overlooked issue is the amount of arable land needed to pasture work animals. It is estimated that prior to the advent of tractors, a good 25% of all arable land in the England was used to pasture work horses. Returning to this agricultural model will not only seriously reduce the energy available for agricultural production, but also reduce the amount of land that can be dedicated to crops and livestock destined for human consumption. This has stark implications for populations undergoing a return to this model.

  69. @smith, @JMG: I also spent a year working on a mostly organic farm (though we did have electric light and a rarely-used tractor). It was valuable to learn I could do back-breaking work eight hours a day in the tropical heat, and I agree that farm work should be part of everybody’s education. Not too many decades ago in Germany, school children, even from the city, would contribute to work bringing in the harvest. I also learnt that I am not particularly well-suited to taking decisions in agriculture.

    To me, a contribution of the printing press (or other forms of multiplying books) to avoiding the depths of a dark age sounds more optimistic than it being mostly a function of exhausted soils. Every coming decade, my potential contributions to agricultural work will be even smaller than they are now, while I can contribute to preserving books and book knowledge.

    But my wishes don’t count against calory counts, obviously!

  70. Oh boy. Two books on the pile I have to finish.
    Pierre Loti: Les Derniers Jours de Pekin.
    This is an eyewitness account of the devastation of northern China by coal-fired nomad armies and navies from Europe and Japan around the year 1900.
    Paul Linebarger: The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat Sen.
    I guess Sun was reacting to the disaster of 1900, proposing that the Chinese needed a new kind of nationalism to hold back the new hyper-active Europeans. He was diagnosing the problems that both the Kuomintang and the CCP would have to face, as Daniel says.
    You don’t get to have a long-term until you’ve had a short-term.
    These were both Project Gutennberg fines.

  71. About salinization in Mesopotamia, I remember reading that the great Nahrawan canal constructed by the Sassanids in the 6th century brought enormous prosperity for a while, but then lead to worse salinization than before – a devil’s bargain. However, i can’t find that reference right now.

    This review sets out the evidence in a way that is rather consistent with JMG’s short summary, though adding a few more nuances:

    Premodern settlement density [in lower Mesopotamia] peaked during Sasanid (i.e., new Persian empire) times (226–637 CE), after which the population eventually collapsed by as much as 95%, toward the time of the destruction of Baghdad by a Mongol-led coalition in 1258 CE. That span of approximately 700 years … does not take into account that there were in fact two distinct collapses.

    The Sasanids…developed a novel system that opened up large areas for cultivation…. Although favoring salinization in the long run, such basins could be flooded annually, to optimize the use of available water. A great canal, the Nahrawan, was led from the Tigris near Samarra to irrigate the eastern side of the river. However, the Sasanid network had begun to deteriorate in the wake of catastrophic floods after 628 CE that destroyed or silted up transverse canals, as the Tigris shifted and caused the growth of a vast swamp, accompanied by a high water table favoring salinization of the lowermost alluvial plain. After the Conquest, the Sasanid system was abandoned and new master canals were cut along different, more traditional trajectories, but watering less than half of its previous area. This catastrophic disjuncture suggests fundamental social disruption in the wake of the Arab Conquest, as the administrative superstructure was replaced by a new elite, probably unfamiliar with Sasanid methods.

    However, Mesopotamia promptly recovered and, after 750 CE, became the heartland of the powerful Abbasid Empire, based on a modest recovery of the irrigation system and the tribute from far-flung provinces. It reached its apogee under the legendary Harun al-Rashid (786–809 CE) but then began to decline as a result of wasteful expenditures and rapacious tax farming… The archaeological evidence shows that the irrigation system had collapsed well before any Mongol destruction, and was not reconstructed until the 20th century.

    There were then two Islamic collapses in Mesopotamia, the first in the wake of the Arab Conquest at approximately 640 CE, the second beginning in the 10th century and concluding with Mongol plundering of what was left of Baghdad in 1258 CE. The first collapse spanned approximately a century, the second as long as 300 y, and the responsible processes were very different. However, consistent themes were war, land use change, and irrigation, or fiscal mismanagement.

  72. I have been binge watching documentaries about merchandise drivers in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Siberia, Afghanistan, and other not-so-developed-places on YouTube. Pure insanity. The roads that the y drive on (sometimes taking a week or more to go 40 to 50 miles) are roads that most of us wouldn’t want to walk on. Yet they do everyday.
    Some very interesting things are the unbelievable hardship the people in theses areas go through daily just to survive, and yet they seem much happier and quicker to laugh, and more helpful than most you’d meet in our “advanced” society.
    The drivers themselves, with their, almost comically, overloaded, old Soviet, or just plain old vehicles (some with over a million miles) getting stuck almost continuously and having to dig out on roads that are literal mud slops. Many of the roads particularly in Afghanistan, are muddy, icy, and in very precarious slim roads with 1000+ foot drops inches away (I should mention these are major roads for transportation of goods to remote regions. There is complete corruption within the governments of all these places, so money for roads never…quite…hits the pavement) they too are of high spirits and endlessly helpful to strangers.
    There are so many things to talk about here; however I find it very interesting that all of their vehicles, clothes (particularly in Africa) and products, all seem to be second hand from developed countries. It seems to me that the ongoing existence of the developed word is what is keeping these people living in a perpetual hell on earth type struggle for daily survival.
    If the industrial world went full collapse, I wonder if these people would be able to revert to more traditional lifestyles. However I fear that they may have partaken in too much of the cool aid, and perhaps are, just as we, reliant on these trucks to bring them food and materials, having lost, just as we have, our knowing of living without them.
    Of course they have the advantage having not known any other way than hardships just for daily bread. In contrast to “we” who are angry about our internet connection being too slow, or someone misgendering us, or a million and one other vapid “problems”.

  73. Regarding Mao, farmwork, etc. I did farmwork as a teen, bailing hay for $1.00/hour. I attribute my lifelong hay fever to the dust I breathed back then. I also had an “opportunity” to shovel cow dung one day, after I screwed up something. One memorable moment was when I was unloading the hay wagon onto a conveyor; the farmer was up in the barn stacking the bales just the way he wanted them. I noticed a sow giving birth in a mud puddle in the barnyard, so I “used my discretion” and shut the conveyor down and called up to the farmer. I said something really perceptive like, “is she supposed to be doing that?” He was pretty upset, not at me, but at the sow for “thinking of her own comfort.” He sent me off to fetch a bucket of clean water and began bathing the piglets and cutting the cords with his thumbnail. Quite an education!

  74. @Gman #51

    Re: Kissinger
    Since yesterday, the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” has gained a few hundred thousand views on YouTube.
    The best comment I saw there said, “Henry Kissinger has passed away at age 100. He was surrounded by his family and the souls of millions of Pakistanis, Argentinians, Bengalis, Chileans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and many more.”

  75. Re the catabolism of roads, I’ve seen the future of our interstate highway system, on I-88 in upstate New York. Since it’s relatively low traffic, it’s also low priority for repair, and the section north of Oneonta seems to be perpetually under construction. They close the lanes in one direction and shunt the traffic into one lane of the other direction, so that the highway becomes a two-lane, two-way limited access road. Eventually, they’ll stop trying to reopen all the lanes in both directions. It will lower maintenance costs for a while, until the whole road becomes unsupportable.

    Here in PA, the process of abandoning roads has been going on for decades already–probably due to the decline of the logging industry. Google Maps will show you a number of roads in my area that you can’t actually travel on, even though nothing on the map shows that they’re no longer open.

    @Daniel #42, what the heck are traveling elwuses? Google is baffled.

  76. Henry Kissinger, dead. Hallelujah.

    He did Americans wrong many times. No more claptrap coming out of his mouth. On the scale of 1 to 10 (one being worse) as a human being, I rate him a big fat zero (0). He gets an “F” for failure💣. I have not one good thing to say about him. Why people genuflected to him over decades, I will never know. ’Nough said.

    I paused before posting this, being not on topic. But others here are talking about the guy, so I can too.

    💨Northwind Grandma🧐
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  77. Hi JMG,
    I agree that China, Egypt and Mesopatamia survived their “collapses” due to fertile river-valley locations and wisely building infrastructure designed to last thousands of years.

    Our short-sighted decision to put our resources into developing more and more expensive technology was a really bad move. A better strategy would have been to take advantage of all the massive quantities of energy and labor-saving devices at our disposal to create permanent structures like earth-works, terraces and swales. If we built useful structures designed to last thousands of year, we would have had a very comfortable future even in energy-sparse conditions. Instead, we spent vast resources on transitory things like electric cars and manned missions to mars. SpaceX spent $2 billion this year for two large firework displays. That money could have went to retrofitting cities to make them walkable eliminating the need for most cars or creating large earthworks projects. But, instead of truly sustainable development, we have built a fragile house of cards that will come crashing down once the huge inputs are no longer readily available.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done on the societal level at this stage. Oh well, I guess in the future neolithic we can tell stories about how good the video games were back in the day of “abundance”!

  78. JMG,
    You have often said that one of the reasons for catabolic collapse as opposed to sudden collapse is the presence of negative feedback loops ( as opposed to the many positive feedback loops in a declining empire).
    One of these is the effect of the decline of fossil fueled industrial empire on the usefulness of sewage treatment plants on agriculture. Obviously a traditional “night soil” type loop is the final goal of a shrunken civilization that can be rebuilt. But in the meantime as the fossil fueled economy declines many advantageous things happen with relation to getting minerals and nutrients from an industrial scale treatment system.
    One of these is the energy these plants can produce from methane becomes very valuable and encourages its use by being cleaned up and fed back in to the gas network or used directly to generate electricity. This is only done in select locations now because the extra capital and management skill to accomplish it is a leap for smaller, or mismanaged agencies.
    The second is that the industrial scale enterprises that generate much of the toxic elements that go in to the waste stream shrink or disappear.
    The third is that most of the synthetic materials we dump in to the residential waste stream are the products or by-products of oil or natural gas. So the plastics, synthetic cleaners, and other chemicals used around the modern American household will mostly be gone. This means that the nitrogen and phosphorus can be extracted in concentrated form ( see Milorganite or Clean Water Grow) and then biosolids can be composted and used for growing animal feed crops in the transition years and eventually human food when the level of toxic elements in the waste stream drops enough. Of course the technology involved with all of this will also decline, but there is at least the opportunity for a “sensible” society on the way down to cushion the blow by diverting available technology and resources to this important task as opposed to trying to keep ” happy motoring”, or Jet Tourism running.

  79. Dear JMG, this is an excellent essay. To add a couple of points: firstly, forests, rivers, grassland are a sort of natural infrastructure to which a maintenance costs attaches , and is somewhat underinvested.

    Secondly, there’s a game theory issue in the civilizational overreach you describe: if you don’t embrace technology and energy (oil, slaves etc), you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage to your competitors. It’s a race to the bottom How to break the equilibrium? Not sure it’s possible!

    Thanks again,

  80. re: Kissinger

    What I find interesting is his death unites so many different factions together with the simple message “Woo Hoo! He’s finally dead! Let’s party!” And on the other side it’s a tepid “Loyal Party member died today after many years of long service, he will be missed.” I guess it’s the difference between Party and party. It’s all a mystery to capital-P.

    These days, I don’t like to think of collapse as collapse. It’s a transition from something to something else. The Late Bronze Age Collapse was a transition from bronze to iron. Russia transitioned from the Second World to the Third World. The Roman Empire transitioned eventually to the Ottoman Empire, which you could argue is probably transitioning to something else in the future. Iraq, Syria, Israel – all wreckage from the disintegrated Ottoman Empire.

    China will transition along with the rest of the Late Global Oil Age to something else.

  81. Looking at the new Limits to Growth graph – some of the curves are actually very similar in both timing and height to the originals: population in particular is almost bang on.
    Food production is pretty close, with a somewhat higher peak and lower trough in the future but almost the same timeline.
    Industrial output has almost the same timeline, but a substantially higher peak at 3.5T instead of 2.5T approx numbers for both.
    Non-renewable resources starts out a lot higher, but decreases faster and ends up in the same place starting about 2025.
    The biggest difference is in persistent pollution, which peaks much later (2090 vs 2030) at a lower level, but takes a lot longer to fix.

  82. “Mark, I think you’re very likely correct. One of the consequences of economic contraction that next to nobody’s thinking about is that in a contracting economy, on average, every investment loses money.”

    Inevitably I step on peoples mental toes, a great one that usually gets disgust or blank stairs is when I say “Money Investment is just another word for gambling”. Many think investment is just a word that means money printing machine for them. They have never had the thought that they might lose money. “Housing only goes up”, until it doesn’t. See JMGs Thoughtstoppers. But in the monetary sense it is just a roulette wheel in economic drag. And the odds of win and lose are slowly shifting more toward losing.

    Genuine investment like in resilient infrastructure or people, that has a great future. Monetary investments however, well, a fool and their money – easily parted.

  83. Helix said:

    ” … Regarding animal power, an often overlooked issue is the amount of arable land needed to pasture work animals. It is estimated that prior to the advent of tractors, a good 25% of all arable land in the England was used to pasture work horses. Returning to this agricultural model will not only seriously reduce the energy available for agricultural production, but also reduce the amount of land that can be dedicated to crops and livestock destined for human consumption. This has stark implications for populations undergoing a return to this model. ”

    All the regenerative farmers I have seen videos of are no-dig. So they need no horsepower for ploughing, only for seed drilling and other light jobs. That could cut the 25% figure.

    Masanobu Fukuoka 50 years claimed to get rice and wheat yields as high as industrial farmers achieved but using organic no-dig techniques. He doesn’t even seem to have had horses. It was hand labour. Holdings in Japan seem to have been tiny so horses would have made no sense.

    So even if we do have horses, perhaps in the future they would do relatively light work. Might we need to devote not 25% of the land to feeding them but perhaps 10% or 15% or less?

    David Holmgren did a book on food growing in Australian suburbia although I haven’t acquired it yet. I think a lot of UK suburban houses could have large enough gardens to grow enough food, given our reliable rainfall.

    It’s legal to keep up to 50 chickens in a UK back garden which seems far more than enough for most people(!) They complement many fruit and nut trees, i.e. by eating pests. You can’t plough with them but they do turn inedible plant and animal matter into eggs and manure.

  84. Moose, I’m sorry to say the soil would horrify you now.

    Carlos, don’t tell that to New Yorkers — they’ll be so obsessed with making their city Number 1 that they’ll try to cause more leaks! 😉

    Yiğit, please save off topic questions like this for Magic Monday or for the monthly open post. Thank you!

    Robert, hmm. What I’d read of the Sung dynasty identified it as a period of cultural efflorescence in the midst of a great deal of war and chaos, somewhat like the high Middle Ages in Europe. As for the update, I haven’t had time to get to it yet, due to other calls on my time; what you’ve described seems likely enough.

    Karma, thank you! Very cheering news.

    Gaia, get used to doing things that way. Maybe in your time, maybe a little further on, that’ll be the option if you want things at all.

    Scotlyn, thank you for this!

    Karim, I’m pretty sure that that’s a central though unstated factor behind the BRICS project. As fossil fuels deplete, industrial civilization as a whole will end, but right now a lot of nations must be looking at the fantastic extravagance, arrogance, and waste of the Western nations and saying, “You know, if they weren’t hogging so much, there would be much more for us…”

    Karl, I don’t expect industrial farming to remain viable for long. It requires efficient long distance transport to be profitable, and that will also go away as fossil fuels deplete.

    xDiablo, (1) I want to see how syntropic agriculture functions in rough conditions, but if it handles that well, you may be right. (2) Interesting; I’ll have to reread Luhmann.

    Celadon, we’re already seeing that. Have you read any of the doleful jeremiads coming out of the official experts, moaning about how awful it is that nobody trusts them any more, or the earnest projects to win back people’s trust? I hardly need to mention that none of these latter include the one thing that might help, which is telling fewer lies. You’re right, though, that paying attention to just how much modern life sucks for most people is an important step; one of the memes I’ve seen recently that struck me as revolutionary shows a streetscape from seventy years ago with the words, REMEMBER WHAT THEY TOOK FROM YOU.

    Helix, of course. It’s not just a matter of fuel efficiency, though — diesel technology requires a range of other inputs (high temperature metallurgy, etc.) which are more demanding than steam. As for the acreage issue, of course — but if we’ve dug out all the coal that can be reached, what are you going to use to run the steam engines? Wood takes even more acreage than animal fodder…

    Aldarion, there are a lot of people already working on sustainable agriculture. There aren’t so many working on printing presses. Your choice is not necessarily wrong!

    Mel, thanks for both of these. Paul Linebarger — you do know that he also wrote science fiction under the name Cordwainer Smith, don’t you? Well worth reading…

    Aldarion, many thanks for this. I noted that it also bears out ibn Khaldun’s analysis.

    Travis, interesting. That doesn’t surprise me, all things considered.

    Karen, many thanks for the data points. As for elwuses, that’s an invention of mine. My novel Star’s Reach, which will be back in print next year, is set in a postdecline America (they pronounce it “Meriga”) around 2490 AD, and elwuses are among the traveling performers who go from town to town busking. They’re the distant descendants of Elvis impersonators; they sing the traditional elwus-songs and do their elwus-dances, and people cheer and throw coins.

    Northwind, I ain’t arguing.

    Tony, Oswald Spengler pointed out that our civilization has an obsession with extension into infinite distance. That’s what sent Europeans around the world and Americans to the moon, and it also made it unthinkable for most of us that we should plan for what happens when the fuel runs out. As for future societies, neolithic and otherwise, nah, they’re going to remember us as those evil giants in the most ancient times who ravaged the world and then perished. Look at mythology, and you’ll find that same pattern tolerably often.

    Clay, these are very good points!

  85. Within the discussion regarding agricultural problems and the future there is a wider issue that agriculture itself used to be so context dependent and localised, and it’s only western civilisations obsession with universalist solutions that blinds us to this.

    Fukuoka’s method only works in somewhere like Japan where it’s incredibly fertile and climatically optimal: it’s less effective elsewhere. Modern ploughing as we know it know developed on the midwestern plains as a way to pulse and access the massive fertility buried under the prairie. In tropical areas it is catastrophic. Food forests are great in tropical areas but struggle in other areas without constant irrigation. Vegetarian diets have historically only been possible in tropical and subtropical areas of high fertility, while heavy animal diets are only possible in colder climates with less population density.

    All that really has to happen is for people and governments to stop thinking about any global solution per se and just focus on localised food production with whatever method that works and be ready to adapt. Context really is everything.

  86. A thought on the debate between horses and diesel or steam on the way down the bumpy curve of collapse. Yes, using horses, mules or Oxen means much lower acreages can be cultivated by a farm family and 25 to 30 percent of the land must be dedicated to growing food for the draft animals.
    But those same draft animals produce manure that can be used on other crops, the pasture for the draft animals can be rotated with other crops to improve soil fertility along with a host of other benefits. The Amish have been successful because of their dedication to Non-Fossil fuel farming.
    The smaller acreages possible with draft animals pushes us back to small farms and not giant ones with hired hands. Smaller fields allows the reintroduction of hedge rows and more space for nature, instead of the edge to edge cultivation preferred by those with giant tractors.
    Having pastures, and barns to care for draft animals also makes it easier and more desirable to raise other animals and crops ( and not just monocultures). This improves soil fertility, and a better diversity of local crops and food animals which is necessary as we move away from long distance transportation.
    Mechanized farming’s only real benefit is to reduce the manpower needed on the farm. But we need to accept that what the future holds for us is most people working in agriculture, and many many many fewer selling insurance, managing stock portfolios or posting cat videos.

  87. Do you think there are beings we can’t perceive with our five senses and 3D world? If so, how do they interact with us? Is being spiritual for you kind of like one of those magic eye pictures that pop out at you when you have the images overlap? I’ve been an atheist all my adult life so I’m new to religion and I feel spiritually blind. The “druid mysticism” (?) you practice kind of scares me because I don’t want to accidentally get entangled with anything “not good”.

  88. Most-informative and stimulating Archdruid, your observations about nutrient export, specifically where you say about Chinese wetland agriculture over the centuries that it “…doesn’t depend on extracting nutrients from the soil, as less sophisticated systems of agriculture do; instead, it systematically puts nutrients back into the soil” got me to reflecting on a couple of things I’ve read about: alfalfa and wood pellets. I worked three summers on farms in the Central Valley, and irrigated a LOT of alfalfa (and cotton.) The second summer was on a farm which also had a sizable dairy. The manure from the dairy would be piled up, dried, and then we spread it on the hay fields with a large disperser machine (kinda looking like a lawnmower in reverse.) The hay would be harvested, to the tune of several cuttings per year, and then fed to the cows. Many years later there’s an increasing trend towards cutting, drying, and baling hay as an export crop. China buys LOTS of hay! Here’s a link to the hay-export trend in the USA:

    Over 8 million metric tonnes of hay exported by 2017, with a worryingly-steep trendline!

    In researching, I found that actually hay exports are kinda small(er) potatoes. One source I found, that quoted numbers from a decade ago, said: “Nationally, the largest exported crops are soybean, corn, and wheat at about 47, 38, and 27 million metric tons in 2012, respectively, dwarfing that of the about 3 million MT of all hay (including alfalfa) exported from western ports.”

    I’m pretty sure all those export numbers are bigger now. And notice that second source says 3 million MT of hay in 2012, where the first source says 7 million MT in 2012; the discrepancy may be due to quoting total USA exports versus just exports from Western USA ports.

    The United States was the world’s greatest wood pellet exporter country in 2021, with an export volume of over 7.5 million metric tons. Canada followed, with an export volume of just over 3.1 million metric tons.

    I’ve read (couldn’t find a crisp source; I think I read it in “Bright Green Lies” by Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert) that one can cut down a forest for its wood, be it used for lumber or for (shudder) wood pellets, a maximum of three times before so many nutrients have been exported that the forest won’t regrow (even if you try planting seedling trees) due to nutrient loss. Here’s one suggestive source: (they are using a pseudo-paywall, but there are ‘ways’ to circumvent simple ones like they’re deploying there… A hint: display as text.)

    So here we are. The vast North American continent, with its manifold riches, is being mined for nutrients like there’s no tomorrow. And sigh, if we were to keep that up, there WOULDN’T be a tomorrow, at least here in my native land. The only thing that might reverse the trend would be the collapse of the global economy. Yet another example that Borders are Good, and Globalism Was Doomed To Fail.

    Best regards to you and to the commentariat!

  89. @David #91 – I also use “low till” methods here. But you need to consider what drops are grown. No-till works well for garden vegetables, but not so well for cereal grain crops, which supply a large proportion of the calories consumed by people in the areas where they are grown. Lacking ample power for preparing the ground, planting, harvesting, and milling crops like, say, wheat or oats translates into extremely hard work indeed for those growing it. Even rice growers in places like Indonesia use animal power during the preparation of their paddies for planting.

    I’m not saying that regenerative methods aren’t useful. Indeed, I look forward to the day when such methods are extended to what we now think of a field crops. And in the end, I believe they will be. But at the moment they are currently applied mainly to garden vegetables. As the concepts are extended to field crops, I’m pretty sure that first mechanical power and eventually animal power is still going to be part of the equation.

  90. Boy, those are both valid and important points. With regard to the latter, that’s exactly the problem — once one society launches itself along certain trajectories, all others in contact with it have to copy it or risk being overwhelmed. The universe doesn’t necessarily provide us with a way out.

    Other Owen, good. Of course it’s a transition — it’s just a transition where population levels drop to a few per cent of their post-transition peak, economic activity craters, and vast amounts of cultural heritage are lost forever.

    Ariel, yes, I did. Something very odd is going on at the upper echelons of the US ruling class. Do you recall the last photographs of Diane Feinstein, and recent photos of Kissinger, Pelosi, and Biden? There’s something weirdly wrong with their faces; they look as though they’re wearing floppy rubber masks of themselves. Nuland is in the early stages of the same process. It’s genuinely creepy.

    Michael, that’s a valid point, but I should have phrased it differently. In a declining economy, the total amount of wealth in society — wealth, not money — contracts over time, and so every investment on average receives a smaller payout in terms of real wealth.

    PumpkinScone, very true!

    Clay, well, yes, and I don’t think the world will be worse off with fewer insurance policies — or cat videos.

    Candace, of course there are spiritual beings out there. The spiritual world is as full of spirits as the material world is full of animals and plants. Your caution is very sensible, but it can be overdone. I don’t know if you read these three posts of mine —

    — but they address the nature of the spiritual world and how we can function in relation to it; if you haven’t read them, you might find them useful.

    Bryan, exactly. The ironic thing is that China is treating us the way we used to treat most of Latin America!

  91. “During the years when Britain rose to dominate the world, it had the most corrupt government in Europe”

    Would it be fair to speculate that the moral flaws present in the early stages of a civilization lay the groundwork for the flaws that doom it?

  92. @Bryan #96

    Thanks for filling in a few missing pieces in my mental model of nutrient/energy flows and impending decline: namely the impact of exports on nutrient depletion (although consuming the same products domestically and “exporting” the waste down the Mississippi isn’t much better…) and the soil-depleting impacts of repetitive logging. Here in the Pacific Northwest the current forestry paradigm is for “tree farms” on a 40-60 year rotation, but none of them have yet been logged more than twice, and they simply assume that they can continue forever with no nutrient inputs (or else they don’t care…).

    Re: declining economies

    Not to quibble too much, but I think one could make a case that it is really just the monetary investment (and wealth that can be measured in dollars) that will always on average decline. Other forms of wealth, like social and political capital, can certainly still be accumulated – and that is what I imagine will drive productive enterprise in an era of economic decline.

  93. @Bryan Allen,

    This is something I looked into quite closely years ago (early 90’s), when I (as a forest ecologist) was tasked with writing a White Paper on the subject to inform US Forest Service/State Forest and Lands Dept./various environmental groups in the development of a comprehensive forest policy for Northern New England, USA.

    It turns out to be hugely dependent upon:

    The type of forest, what kind of climate it’s growing in, the geology from which the soils were derived, etc.

    The type of products that are being taken off. Sawtimber logs? Not really that big of a deal (fertility-wise). In a temperate forest, most of the nutrients in a tree are in the leaves and fine twigs, which in the traditional logging job were left onsite. If those are left, and given a long enough rotation for normal mineral weathering, biological nutrient mobilization, etc., you can be OK.

    But now there are forms of whole-tree ‘harvesting’ that take just about everything off the land, and this indeed can be a big problem.

    I always try to remember that a mere 10,000 years ago, the place that I live was under a mile of ice. That would be A MILE OF ICE – I have know this all my life, but it’s still kinda hard to wrap my head around. After that it was bare scoured rock for quite a while. There were people in New England here hunting the megafauna on tundra long before the forest returned…

    Anyway, as always, the devil is in the details…

  94. JMG stated in post #39:

    “Candace, I know it’s comforting to some people to believe that the ruling elites of our society are omnipotent masterminds who deliberately cause everything that happens. It’s much more frightening to realize that the people who are running our society are utterly clueless nitwits who can hardly wipe their own noses without help from a staff of personal assistants. Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that the latter is far more accurate. Sure, some of those nitwits love to daydream about a future in which they have even more power than they have now, but those daydreams deserve a horse laugh, not the kind of panic you seem to be feeling.”

    With all respect, Mr. Greer, I have read similar comments from you regarding our sociopathic overlords, and the continuing tightening of their control net, for a number of years now, and I think you are noticeably too sanguine about the ongoing loss of freedom around the world. Yes, the powers-that-be may never get their complete Orwellian digital Panopticon, but that doesn’t mean that many of them, nitwits that they may be, do not have that as a baldly stated goal — and that they aren’t more than happy to take incremental steps towards that goal, as they are doing, even if they never fully achieve that goal.

    I don’t think it needs repeating that North Korea has maintained an absolutely totalitarian police state since the 1940s, even without the ultra-high-tech gadgets being envisioned by Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab and company. For that matter, both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were notoriously lacking in freedom even before the invention of the computer, as was Russia under the Czars, as was China under Chin Shi Huang Di in the 200s BC. A ruler does not need high-tech gimmickry to rule over a repressive police state.

  95. “Here in the Pacific Northwest the current forestry paradigm is for “tree farms” on a 40-60 year rotation, but none of them have yet been logged more than twice, and they simply assume that they can continue forever with no nutrient inputs (or else they don’t care…).L

    Apparently they do care at least in Texas. I suspect they do here as well.

    Yes they do indeed.

    But then we have this brilliant plan thought up by city-dwellers.

    Whereby the crop or forestry waste normally left to return to the soil is neatly dried, wrapped in plastic and buried to get CO2 Green Points. I’m not sure if this is ivory tower stupidity or the ghost of Monsanto.

  96. I have posted this experience several places, I may have posted it here in the past but I think it still is relevant in the light of recent news,
    In the late seventies I was in a long lay over at O’Hare airport in Chicago. I decided to take a walk outside. As I was going along I felt what can only be described as a wave of demonic evil wash over me from behind. I turned around and there about 30 feet behind me was Henry Kissinger with two body guards. I turned right and went back to the airport building.
    And I will be visiting that farm I mentioned above in #59 in June when my siblings and I commit the ashes of my parents to their grave in the family plot in the country cemetery near the farm. Will examine the soil then.

  97. The dilemma of no-till crops. No-till saves the plowing and disking steps and the planter does everything in one pass. Good for the soil, saves buckets of fuel, BUT you have to use an herbicide, even the dreaded Roundup. Dicamba is even worse.

    For those who do video here is a film from 1938, I couldn’t count the horses.

    Here is a 27 mule combine.

    Oil seeds to run a diesel would take 10% of a farms output, horses 25%, but horses reproduce and are edible. Diesels require 1900 level metallurgy which isn’t that fancy. The first diesels were already three times more efficient than a reciprocating steam engine. Higher pressure would improve the steam engine’s efficiency, but high pressure boilers are not for back yard mechanics.

    Interesting trade offs everywhere.

  98. “50 dairy cows, some pigs on the side, a chicken house, a few steers raised for beef and 200 acres was no longer a viable unit that generated enough profit to support a family and pay the mortgage..”

    A good description of Dad’s situation, except that even without the mortgage it was hand to mouth. And no weekends, cows get milked twice a day seven days a week. (It’s three times a day now.) He sold the farm in the late ’60s. That was in Clark County Wisconsin.

    None of my aunts or uncles on that side stayed in farming. On Mom’s side only one aunt married a farmer. None of the five brothers stayed in farming either. Too much work for too little return.

  99. Such a wonderful essay. I want to also say that previous civilizations also started at a time when the ecology of an area was more or less intact, but we are killing off so many creatures that are important, for instance insects have declined in Germany by something like 75% over the last 30 or so years. We need many of these insects to feed the predators [birds or insects] of the agricultural pests such as greenfly.

  100. a couple thoughts:

    Look at Mark Sheppards work, as the best known example of transitioning from corn/soy monocrop to perennial tree crops for carbohydrate/main calorie crop while building the soil back. They have built this over 30 years to show one way to transition Americas heartland corn growing region to soil building sustainability
    ” Mark and his wife Jen founded New Forest Farm in 1994. It’s now one of the most developed and productive perennial farms in North America – trees, shrubs, vines, canes, perennial plants, and fungi are planted in association to produce food (for humans and animals), fuel, medicines, and beauty.

    The farm is a planned conversion from a typical row-crops grain farm into a commercial-scale, perennial agricultural ecosystem using oak savannah successional brushland of eastern woodlands as the ecological model. The farm is entirely solar- and wind-powered, and locally produced biofuels drive farm equipment.
    Mark Shepard
    New forest farm

    Over the last 15 years, Mark has planted an estimated 250,000 trees on his 106-acre farm. He uses agroforestry systems and alley cropping and silvopasture techniques.

    The main crops are chestnuts, hazelnuts, and apples. He also grows walnuts, hickories, pine nuts, pears, cherry trees, asparagus, and winter squash. Cattle, pigs, lambs, turkeys, and chickens also roam on the restored savannahs at New Forest Farm. Finally, he offers tours, practical workshops, and permaculture design courses on his farm.

    His other business, Forest AG, offers a wide selection of perennial nursery stock and tree planting and nut processing services. The nursery provides bare-root dormant nursery stock of food-producing and woody crop plants, aiming at larger-scale Restoration Agriculture, Silvopasture, Agroforestry, and Permaculture growers ”

    @ forest harvesting/China; I visit family who live outside CoosBay Oregon, so I see the forest logging, they reseed and the forests are different because they dont realy thin, so small trees good for smaller lumber and plywood. Also, this is where the wood chips are exported to China. Coos bay is a deep water port, the only one besides portland in Oregon. There is a spot where there is a mountain of wood chips and machinery and such and the rail line right there next to a dock. The chips are brought in from the mills as wood waste, then loaded onto a ship that takes them to china to be made into wood products there ( like particle board furniture and cabinets etc…).

    @ Food forests, no -till etc… You absolutely can have food forests outside of the tropics, they are all over. First, new ones, and also, the whole east coats of the USA is speculated to have been a managed food forest with main calorie crops being chestnuts and wild game. Berries and other edible greens and understory edible and medicinals. You can have un-irrigated food forests in my area of California. Overstory crops being chestnuts, apples, persimmons, pears, walnuts, etc… all of which are fine with no water for 6 to 8 months. Grapes are marvelous, do not need irrigation. Hazelnuts. Berries. They commercially grow dry farmed, non irrigated tomatoes about 5 miles from here closer to the coast and fog. The indigenous calorie crop here was acorns, that was the everyday staple crop for eating. Followed by camas root and cattail roots. Grass and flower seeds. Small and large game. Fish. Salmon and steelhead. This area basically is an overlap area of the Salmon that predominates further north while still having the large mainstay of the acorn crop. Fish and meat and berries are dried for off season use and acorns are stored for all year. I happen to like chestnuts better than acorns and they do just as well here. Olives are another nice import that works well in this area, nice fat and flavor and easy, no irrigation needed, although they would get bigger if I had any. So yes, food forests can work all over. The understory greens will not grow year round without irrigation, but they do fine all winter, thru the spring, and then can be dried and eaten for summer/fall until the new greens come up. Miners lettuce, of course, short season, native. Malva, which is a weed, but very easy and comes back every year as well as the wild radish/wild mustard greens. Kale will grow enough to set seeds and come back on its own too.

    No till. Japan is not some great growing region, there are plenty of experiments with no till grain growing in the USA too, will work here just as well.

  101. Cliff, it’s a hypothesis worth exploring, but I’d want to see the evidence.

    Alan, of course authoritarian states happen. They happen when effective, competent, ruthless leaders — usually with a background in the military — seize power in a period of chaos and provide the people with order and direction. That’s why Gates, Schwab et al. are not a serious threat. Gates is an incompetent manager — the only reason he got where he is was that his mommy was a top IBM executive and spent years calling in favors for her little darling — and Schwab is an overpaid academic who throws big annual parties in Davos with plenty of whores for the attendees. Their power is wholly dependent on the continuation of the current system, and that system is cracking apart around us. I think it’s quite possible that we’ll have an authoritarian state in the near future here in the US, but it won’t be Billy Bluescreen in charge — it’ll be some tough, capable, centrist conservative in his forties, probably a military vet, who figures out how to tap the overwhelming rage and disgust so many Americans feel toward the decadent aristocracy that currently rules them.

    Travis, I only write about subjects I know something about. Can you recommend any books on the subject?

    Moose, please do examine the soil. I’ll be interested to hear your report.

    Siliconguy, tradeoffs are exactly the point. So many people these days are stuck in the Newspeak logic that insists that something is either good or ungood, and if it’s doubleplusgood in one way, it can’t possibly be ungood in any way.

    Bill, not so. One of the important discoveries of paleoclimatology has been that many civilizations were born in times of ecological stress, when existing ways of living no longer worked and drastic changes under centralized organization were necessary for survival. If anything, the ecological chaos now under way is likely to give rise to new civilizations that will build on our ruins.

    Atmospheric River, many thanks for this. I’d point out that the east coast Native American system was rather more complex than that — most food calories for humans came from the triad of corn, beans, and squash, grown in small intensive gardens fertilized with fish, and most of the game was harvested by what’s been called “garden hunting” — you have a nice garden to attract deer, and have somebody with a bow and arrow waiting to shoot the deer when they show up. Very efficient!

  102. Anyone in England interested in historical steel making?

    “Sheffield’s Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet operates for the public a scythe-making works, which dates from Huntsman’s times and is powered by a water wheel, using crucible steel made at the site.”

    I was reading about Benjamin Huntsman and crucible steel. There is a good article on the history of steel here.

  103. JMG, thanks for this post. I appreciate it.

    On the issue of renewable resources that are not harvested sustainably, deforestation has been a problem for a number of civilizations. Mycenaean Greece, Mayan, Easter Island, but not Egypt, Mesopotamia, or China. Because Egypt and Mesopotamia never had forests and China had bamboo. Bamboo didn’t prevent early Chinese civilization from deforesting the loess plateau, but it did provide a fast growing source for fuel, tools, and building material.

    In this sense, bamboo is a backstop. It doesn’t prevent a society from damaging its ecology, flooding or soil erosion, but it does limit the material impact, fuel, tools, and building materials. Aside from rice and bamboo, did China have any other backstops worth mentioning?

    Pygmycory, the salinity in ancient Mesopotamia was an issue. In 3,000 bc they grew wheat and barley in equal measure. Wheat is less tolerant of salinity and by 2,000 bc only barley was grown in the south because the soil was too salty.,be%20grown%20in%20southern%20Mesopotamia.
    But agriculture continued, Baghdad reached a population of a million people during the Abbasid Caliphate, which could not have happened without huge grain harvests.

  104. Here are the specific numbers from Manila’s water concessionaires.

    The district is divided into a Eastern zone, the non-revenue water (NRW) level is at 12.7%, which is apparently good enough to be on par with the best of the first-world. The Western zone, on the other hand, *still loses 43%* as NRW. That’s down from 68% in 2007. That said, the Western zone had more problems with mismanagement with the initial concession holder from the 90’s who wasn’t able to make any meaningful investments, and it also had the bulk of the older part of the city and consequently an older pipe network.

    Mind you, that’s after replacing 3000+km of pipes which is 2/3rds of the Western side of the network! They reckon 80% of that number is lost due to leaks (the rest are lost because of inaccurate metering or plain old theft), so that’s 35% being lost to leaks. At least, the water is now potable and won’t make you sick.

    The amount of work it took to get there (which is still ongoing, obviously) is no joke. I’ve had the street in front of my house dug up multiple times (and twice it happened when I was living on the Eastern zone). As you can imagine, it’s hugely disruptive. You get all the noise and the dust and if you have a driveway or garage *you lose access to it for weeks*, which means either looking for a temporary parking space – on a nearby street, potentially in a dangerous or illegal area, or find a place to rent – or just doing without your car in the meantime. All those Americans I hear who are complaining about the “Not in My Back Yard” folks blocking critical new infrastructure projects, just you wait until you have to deal with the “Not in My Front Yard” types blocking critical infrastructure maintenance!

    Eastern Zone:

    Western zone:

  105. “wealth, not money — contracts over time”

    This is one of those moment where I have been caught conflating wealth and money into a single entity. I shouldn’t do that and you are right to call me out on it.

    A bag of rice is wealth. Money is a concept. Money can increase infinitely but wealth physical has a limit.

  106. @ A Nony Mouse: Jean Lamb, with whom I shared this story, comments “Yeah, not really surprised. I bet lots of people had fun flashbacks to Dr. Strangelove when he appeared on the scene. “

  107. Re: forestry and agriculture (@#101 @#103)

    There is a tendency to think that plant nutrition equals nitrogen. Most crops are nitrogen limited to some extent, and adding nitrogen will increase yields. But nitrogen is also not found in most rocks, and it is continuously supplied to all ecosystems from the air thanks to bacteria. So it’s not something that soils going to run out of due to overextraction (although we will run out of the natural gas that drives the Haber process to make lots and lots of cheap concentrated nitrogen fertilizer).

    I burn wood for heat. That produces about 1% ash, and ash is almost entirely mineral oxides: calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, etc. Ash is very good fertilizer in my garden – provided I add a separate source of nitrogen and don’t overdo it and raise the pH too high. Clearcuts can remove 100 tons of logs from an acre, which works out to one ton of mineral-rich ash. How many years of natural weathering of the underlying rock does it take to replenish those minerals? I don’t happen to know, but I imagine it’s quite a lot more than the 60 or so years those trees were growing.

    We won’t run out of nitrogen by failing to close our loops. We’ll just have to plant more legumes and deal with somewhat lower yields. But we might well run out of phosphorus and potassium, and once the limited mineral deposits are mined out and we’ve flushed most of the soil reserve out to sea it will take a long time to build back up.

  108. I know I’m a week late for the open post, and submitting a vote. But I topic I’d like to see covered in a blog at some point is John Michael Greer dispensing the notion of “Eternal Oblivion.” Like I know we’ve had blog posts here about reincarnation… But a the scientific rational for eternal oblivion seems very prevalent today. It’s one that needs to be dispensed with.

    As I turn the thought of eternal oblivion over in my head it, it makes sense that one eternal oblivion is the same as another. If it were a place, we all would move towards the same eternal oblivion. People talk about seeing a bright light when they die, and going towards the essence of the cosmos or whatever have you. But eternal oblivion as science presents is like a black hole that isn’t even dark. It’s the exact opposite of something divine…. the exact opposite of what pretty much every religion in history has put forward. I think this is relevant to the theology of today….. and the religion of progress. Like it takes away the capacity of an oblivion to be anything more than an oblivion. We were all in such a state before we were born… from oblivion we came and to oblivion we go.

    But the religion of progress seems intent on shutting that revolving door and making it one way.

    Eternal Oblivion….. yeah thats my vote for a future topic. The notion that dying and that being it for existence of everything.

  109. A Nony Moose, ” Originally moist tall grass prairie that created a five foot layer of black top soil over a layer of blue moisture retaining clay in turn underlaid by a layer of sand and gravel providing drainage.” I believe we should spare a thought for all the prairie that was destroyed to make room for those farms, as European settlements expanded all over America. I understand we need to feed ourselves, but the loss in wilderness due to agriculture is something to be lamented, too. I look forward to a future in which we have sustainable agriculture, sustainable grazing on natural grassland with all its biodiversity, and vast wildernesses too.

  110. So there’s a transformation of wealth and capital into each other and one could almost directly draw the analogy to the conservation of energy in which you can obviously transform different forms of energy into each other but you can’t generate energy. If you want to maintain the energy in your system on a stable level, you can try to be very good with your energy cycles, But of course you can never conserve energy completely and there is always dissipation. So you need a constant influx of external energy to keep the system running.

    Like there is only one abstract quantity we call energy but there are static and dynamic forms of energy (e.g. potential and kinetic energy), I suppose there is also just one abstract quantity – is there a word for it? just “resources”, maybe? – that comes along in rather static forms (capital) or dynamic forms (wealth). If dissipation is immanent to all systems of this kind (it is and this follows, I’d suppose, directly from thermodynamics), the conclusions that you draw in your essay follow automatically. Let’s assume the amount of resources you can generate on you territory is proportional to the territory your empire covers and the amount of resources you can import from external sources is proportional to the empire’s circumference. Dissipation is proportional to the amount of capital and proportional to the square of it’s complexity (since complexity increases the surface, of course). Since much of the resources you can generate on the area of control are non- or slowly renewing, every empire will run inevitably into a situation where dissipation is very high but the influx of energy is reduced to the trickle that comes through the boundaries.

    One could almost imagine a Limits to Growth-like modeling with the emphasis of different simulation runs varying between different degrees of expansionism, intensity of capital generation, etc. That being said, if your take is correctly, China seems to have shifted it’s strategy from a extensive low-dissipation to an intensive high-dissipation paradigm.


  111. Helix and David, re: horsepower. It’s an issue I’m very interested in as I’m trying to do it myself, but struggling to find help and equipment; the US still has both, but in Europe, and in Italy where I live especially, it’s mostly a thing of the past (for now). Land requirements definitely are an issue. On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter how much work the horses do since you have to feed them about the same anyway, unless you are sharing them with others, but horses aren’t easy to share as they need to trust you specifically, and besides you’d need them at around the same time as the other farmers following the agricultural calendar.
    On the other hand, many horses, donkeys and mules are currently kept as pets or for sports (one of the great wastes of the contemporary age), so we are still using land for them, just unproductively so.
    At least two other things are worth considering: horses drink a lot, so water consumption would also go up, but at the same time they are good in rotational grazing with other herbivores- but as horses become more valuable, wouldn’t the risk of theft also increase? Horses were stolen in societies that used them a lot. That’s also what I worry about: you keep them on pasture which is great, but in an ideal society using horsepower you couldn’t do that as they’d be gone the next day.
    What to do with horses that no longer work is another issue. They can have a very, very long retirement, thus increasing the costs and land required. Cultures that do not have a horse-eating taboo are better equipped in this regard.
    Japan did use horses, as you can see from paintings, drawings and movies. They are generally small and used as pack animals too. The size and breed of the horse is also a factor in determining resource requirements – but overall, there’s a reason horses are usually associated with either the upper classes, wealthier farmers, or nomadic people. Keeping horses in every farmer’s backyard isn’t doable at current population levels. Moreover, if kept confined they really, really wreck the soil.

  112. Hi John Michael,

    I know, and it’s true what you say about the rational folks.

    I’m not rational, and make no claims to such an elevated state of mind. Sadly, I tend to be hindered by looking at what is (as best as I’m able to do so) and really struggle with believing abstract notions which fail to accord with the lived experience.

    Master, when will I be able to be leave the bubble? said in best Kung Fu voice.



  113. @Helix: Yes! To pasture a *light* horse requires a minimum of 1 acre per animal, and that is 1 acre of good grass like orchard, timothy, Kentucky Blue. Southern areas of the country where Bermuda and Coastal grass are the norm, it’s more like 2 acres – year-round. Where I used to live west of Minneapolis, we had amazing pastures. Beautiful black loamy soil, grass grew sweet and fast from late April to late September/early October. The rest of the year we relied on hay – stored grass from the previous growing period. Thats 6 months fresh eating, 6 months stored/dry hay. At bare minimum, a non-working horse requires between 1.5 – 2% of its bodyweight in forage per day. That’s about 20 lbs of hay per day or the equivalent in fresh pasture (pasture is approx. 85% water). When a horse is working, the calorie requirements almost double, depending on the type of work.

    A draft horse (Clydesdales, Belgians, etc.) that are used for the heavy work (plowing fields, hauling logs) can weigh twice as much as a light horse and does much harder work. That is a lot of pasture, and more importantly, a lot of hay that has to be put up for the winter. Putting up hay for the winter is incredibly labor intensive, time consuming and for good quality hay, the timing and weather have to be just right.

    I would assume because of this, certain areas of the country will be able to make full use of horse/oxen power, other areas like where I live now in northern MN not so much. I now need about 4 acres per horse because of the soil quality and length of the growing season. I expect that to improve some as we gradually improve the soil (with manure and chickens!), but it’ll never be as good as it was 3 hours south, especially since the grass stops really growing here early September and doesn’t get started again until mid/late May.

  114. Great post John.

    Very interesting insights into how civilisations can bounce back from Dark Ages. We had our chance in the 1970s and blew it. Now its a brutal Dark Ages coming by the 22nd century.

    Out of interest you might find this latest news interesting. Venezuela is making moves to seize the offshore oil in Guyana. Its been a while since I read your fictional book where the US loses a war in 2025 but wasn’t over some recently discovered oil in Africa which a new president was keen to access as the US economy stumbled…

    Real life increasingly resembles your book.

    Interestingly, I subscribe to a private intelligence blog of a ex NSA insider who remains deeply plugged into spook circles in Washington, and he recently met the most informed spooks who focus on China. Their private views are deeply bearish and think a clash over Taiwan is likely within the next few years, with 2025 being a likely date for many for the Chinese to try and takeover Taiwan.

    One can easily imagine whoever gets elected in 2025 facing a major crisis in Latin America – with the prospect of regional war between Brazil and Venezuela – and China making its move to blockage Taiwan and attempt to seize control of the island. In the meantime Iranian proxies cause havoc in the middle east, Armenia gets invaded and the Russians are crushing what remains of organised Ukrainian military resistance.

    The US is overwhelmed and the global US unipolar era is officially considered over.

  115. @Ecosophian
    “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” went to Number 2 in the UK singles chart (Number 1 in Scotland) after ex UK Prime minister Thatcher died, even though she hadn’t been in power for 23 years. There were spontaneous celebrations, especially in Scotland and Wales.

    I still have nightmares about her reign of terror in the 1980s (particularly but not exclusively as a gay man). When one’s best friends are a mass murderer (Pinochet) and a child rapist (DJ Jimmy Savile) I suppose people’s reactions are hardly surprising.

  116. @Siliconguy,
    “None of my aunts or uncles on that side stayed in farming. On Mom’s side only one aunt married a farmer. None of the five brothers stayed in farming either. Too much work for too little return.”

    Seems like another way of saying “food prices are too low”.
    Reminds me of the old story about the farmer who won a million dollars in the lottery. When asked what he’d do with all that money, he replied “I guess I’ll just keep farming until it’s all gone”. 🙁

  117. @JMG #92 – Re “[W]hat are you going to use to run the steam engines? Wood takes even more acreage than animal fodder…”

    I certainly was not arguing for steam engines. In fact, just the opposite. The downside of steam engines in terms of efficiency, weight, maintenance, and convenience of use make them an inferior choice to internal combustion engines despite their less stringent technical requirements.

    One upside relevant to this conversation is that they can be run on wood. As you point out, growing wood consumes even more ground than does growing animal forage. But it may be different ground. Wood can be grown on hillsides that are ill-advised for cultivation and harvesting of animal forage. Still, wood is likely to be in high demand for construction, heating, cooking, etc., so my guess is that even if steam engines survive into the future, their use will likely be limited to those applications where animal power is not feasible.

  118. JMG,

    Any thoughts as to why the faces of the American elite are looking so creepy lately? Demonic influence, too many COVID booster shots, same terrible plastic surgeon? It is unsettling the extent to which their faces are visibly declining along with the society.

  119. Regarding the viability of steam powered farming in a de-industrialising future: allow me to add my doubts. I had the pleasure this past summer to witness a restored and fully functional steam tractor from the turn of the 20th century. It was truly impressive: many times the size and weight of a modern tractor that would do the same amount of work. It burned a huge amount of firewood, needed to be fired up hours ahead of time, making any usage an all-day event, radiated a stifling amount of waste heat and could plow at 2 miles per hour. Not to mention it requires constant maintenance and inspections and a boiler license to operate safely. Clearly steam tractors were an offshoot of steam locomotive technology and would not have been possible without a vibrant industrial base and abundant steel and fuel. I think what the Amish are doing is a whole lot more realistic in a post-industrial future.

  120. Wonderful post! And on a related note, I was sitting in a Mexican Cafe in East Tennessee, and a garrulous, loud talking farmer was on his phone buying a tractor for $645,000 dollars (not a typo). He then gets a call back saying the same or similar rig can be had for $245,000, so he goes for it. I was shaking my head over my taco, as I thought of “What has our culture come to, if a farmer has to spend 645 grand for a tractor to do his work?” Its astonishing to see how Big Ag has degenerated into such a predatory snakepit, and modern farmers buy into it.

  121. Not sure if this was mentioned already, but there were a billion or more chestnut trees cut down in response to a fungal disease in America.
    A vast amount of calories from nuts, as well as game was lost.
    There are some really good podcast ‘thepermaculturepodcast’ with Phil Rutter going into the history of what happened.
    Phil is also a pioneer at badgerset institute, in the field of finding resistant chestnut cultivars, as well as the development of hybrid hazelnut. He also invented a oven machine that goes down the rows where pruning debris are thrown in to make biochar.
    His book ‘Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts’ is a very good and inspiring read. Main focus is on hybrid hazelnuts but he does a survey on other nuts.
    Another good book is “Tree crops” -a permanent agriculture. J. Russel Smith
    Goes into the history of tree crops and their great potential as a replacement to annual crops.

  122. I’m late to the comment party this week… but @JMG, @Ariel…
    With regards to Kissinger, that is the first time in awhile I would be in agreement with a Rolling Stone article. With regards to Victoria Nuland looks rather like the Slitheen from 2nd gen Doctor Who, here is an image.

    It’s weird because in the Slitheen episodes, they had infiltrated the upper echelons of the British ruling class and were wearing their bodies like masks…

    “When they first appeared in “Aliens of London” (set in 2006), the Pasameer-Day branch of the Slitheen had been in Great Britain for some time, having infiltrated various levels of British society, from community leaders and military personnel to mid-level politicians and government officials. Their intent was to instigate World War III and sell the radioactive remains of Earth to a depressed galactic economy as fuel for interstellar spacecraft. They staged the crash landing of an alien spaceship in central London, setting up a cybernetically augmented pig as an “extraterrestrial” body.

    With the world in a state of heightened alert and panic, and with their commander Jocrassa assuming the role of Acting Prime Minister, they persuaded the United Nations to allow the United Kingdom to use its nuclear arsenal against the alien “massive weapons of destruction”. Before the Slitheen could receive the launch codes, the Ninth Doctor arranged for a Harpoon missile to demolish 10 Downing Street, ending the scheme and killing all but one of them who managed to escape through an emergency teleport.”

    I suspect hear, that maybe its just because they are slimy in a different sense. And, well, weird pharmaceuticals.

    @A Nony Moose: Your Kissinger story is freaky! You did right to turn around as quick as you could!

  123. At this link are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared at and, as well as in the comments of the prayer list posts. A printable version of the entire prayer list current as of 11/20 may be downloaded here. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below.
    ***HEAR YE HEAR YE***At the end of this year I will pruning all prayer requests which were made before July 1st, 2023 from the list entirely, with the exception of any that my own intuition tells me ought to be kept on the list. I make no claims to the infallibility of my intuition, so if your entry is older than that, and you would definitely like it to remain on the prayer list, please send a note updating your request.

    (Also, if you think you might be interested in having anyone pray in support of your own self-improvement, please have a look at the Ecosophia Prayer List Autumn Special.)* * *This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    •May the mass which upon which Yuccaglauca’s mother Monica is having a biopsy performed turn out to be entirely benign and safe; may she experience healing and improvement in her situation and overall health.

    May the lawsuit for partition of the family land in which Jennifer, her husband Josiah, and her father Robert are involved be resolved justly and for the greatest good of all involved, including the land and its spirits.

    May the brain surgery that Erika’s partner James underwent for his cancer on October 16th have gone successfully; and may he be blessed, healed and protected, and successfully treated for all of his cancer.

    May Kyle’s friend Amanda, who though in her early thirties is undergoing various difficult treatments for brain cancer, make a full recovery; and may her body and spirit heal with grace.

    May Jeff Huggin’s friends Dale and Tracy be blessed and healed; may Dale’s blood and spinal fluid infection clear up sufficiently to receive a heart valve replacement; may his medical procedures go smoothly and with success; and may Dale and Tracy successfully surmount these difficulties.

    In the case of Princess Cutekitten and the large bank who is suing her, may justice be done, with harm to none.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all.

    * * *
    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  124. @teamtentim,
    it sounds from the article you referenced that mesopotamia had repeated problems with salinization that helped bring successive civilizations (sumer, babylonia) down, with recovery in-between them. I guess the question is why there wasn’t a recovery after the mongols? There’s been time. Maybe too much damage was done. I don’t know enough to really tell.

  125. It is good to know ecological history. I always come back to “it is different this time”, although I know we disagree about that. There hasn’t been a society that went through a dark age while knowing the periodic table and the wide range of possibilities for fixing nitrogen, both biological and synthetic. It is easy to dismiss short term extractive agriculture because it is unsustainable, but farmers adapt and replacements after fossil fuels are hard to predict. It simply isn’t true that “chemical fertilizers wreck the soil over time.” That applies to short term simplistic approaches. Many farmers across the world have already adapted to chemical fertilizer regimens that include micronutrients, work with the soil microbes, and build organic matter. Some are learning to incorporate organic practices at large scales. I don’t know of signs that wheat or corn production in the American midwest is declining over time in well managed fields.

    The question of how much change in agricultural productivity will occur when natural gas becomes too expensive as an input in Haber-Bosch ammonia production is a central question. It will be harder. Maybe organic approaches can be scaled. There are ways to fix nitrogen using renewable sources of Hydrogen. The total amount of energy needed is 1-2 % of global energy production and 3-5% of natural gas, so transitioning is hard, but not the enormous difficulty that transitioning transport involves. I suspect this is a surmountable problem if we avoid war. Working fields littered with land-mines is a real show-stopper! We have already lost a significant swath of Ukraine in recent months and it won’t return to productivity for many years, maybe generations.

  126. Siliconguy, this is very good to hear. Crucible steel will still be a viable technology when the Bessemer process has to be abandoned for lack of cheap coal.

    Team10tim, that’s an excellent question I can’t yet answer. You’re right, though, that bamboo is another very important factor.

    Carlos, thanks for this. New Yorkers will be jealous. 😉

    Michael, exactly! Thank you for getting this — it’s a concept that most economists, for example, find it impossible to grasp.

    Mark, those are very good points, of course.

    Vote, bring it up the next time there are five Wednesdays in a month and the readers will vote on it.

    Nachtgurke, interesting. Yes, that might well be worth exploring.


    Forecasting, I’ve been watching the situation in Guyana build for a couple of months now. Given that the US is frantically trying to get oil from Venezuela these days, it doesn’t surprise me that the Venezuelan government is feeling expansionistic. We’ll see how the plebiscite turns out Sunday, but if Venezuelans vote for war, the US is going to be stretched even thinner than it is now — and as you doubtless know, the Russians are now advancing on four different fronts in Ukraine, while the Ukrainian government is turning (a year too late) to a defensive stance. Interesting times…

    Helix, that seems realistic to me. Steam engines work very well in certain specialized applications — powering ships, for example, and providing motive power for factories where water power isn’t available — and my guess is that the available fuel will go for those, while horses and oxen plod through the fields.

    Dennis, I don’t know. I’ve frankly begun to wonder if there might be something behind those rumors that there’s a longevity treatment being sold to the very rich and politically well-connected. Some kind of pharmceutical might explain it.

    Koyaanisqatsi, agreed.

    Chris E, it’s a world-class mess. I hope that at least some parts of the US farm belt can begin transitioning back to sustainable methods before it’s too late.

    Travis, thanks for these.

    Justin, one of the weirdest things about today’s world is the extent to which fact is imitating fiction. It hasn’t escaped my attention, for example, that the only rational explanation for big-city governments in the US going out of their way to encourage street crime — they’re trying to cause property values to crash, so that big corporations can snap up lots of real estate cheap — was the premise of the movie RoboCop. Now we’ve got a fair imitation of real-life Slitheens…

    Quin, thanks for this as always.

    Ganv, as I’ve noted before, you’ve made your predictions and I’ve made mine. Now we’ll see who’s right!

  127. ForecastingIntelligence re: #123 – “The US is overwhelmed and the global US unipolar era is officially considered over.”

    It’s long been a source of fascination to me, whenever someone brings up the eschatological bogeyman of the “One World Government”, that, um, we effectively had that from 1991 to 2014-ish. People didn’t notice because said world government didn’t directly manage the affairs of the rest of the world… but who was like it? Who could wage war against it? You can see some cultural nods to this in computer games like Civilization, where one can “win at history” by, among other things, winning a space race or through sheer cultural pressure (read: Hollywood, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola…).

    But of course in the real world, nobody “wins at history”. History keeps going, and even global governments start to falter once it turns out that nations aren’t as united as they were once thought to be.

  128. @pygmycory #135

    Part of the problem is that southern Iraq was below sea level not that long ago, so salt water saturated the soil. The surface layer can be desalinated by centuries of rainfall, but it’s fairly easy to frack it up and bring salt in the lower levels to the surface (a lot of Australian farm land has this problem too, despite being recently cultivated).

    I’m guessing that Baghdad and surrounding environs never recovered and rebuilt a good canal system after the mongols because power moved elsewhere. The Ottoman Turks ruled the area for centuries afterwards and they could have rebuilt the canals, but chose not to.

  129. Hello JMG,
    In case missed, the great Alastair Crooke recently mentioned one of your old articles (“In the Twilight of Empires”, from 2012) from which he quoted a few observations you made on Israel. Crooke, unlike most other commentators on the – shall we call it – “anti-imperialist” front, is clearly aware of our predicament re: the declining availability of cheap energy.
    Amusingly, Crooke’s article is titled “The Magician’s Hat”! You can find it

  130. Siliconguy @106. Though no-till on larger commodity farms often use pesticides, usage is typically decreased from 25-75% (smaller decrease at first, then more as soil becomes more fertile). Artificial fertilizer use also decreases, more over time. Fuel use, and erosion with topsoil loss, decrease, too. Food quality typically increases, with more nutrients and fewer contaminants (pesticides), though that varies with conditions and crop selection.

    No-till or conservation tillage, is often used in smaller organic farms. Many of these farms still import compost and sometimes organic fertilizers (those allowed under certification requirements). Exports from the farm, and human wastes, lead to organic matter losses. Cover crops replace a bit, using nitrogen from the air, pulling up nutrients from the subsoil, and capturing soil nitrogen that otherwise would be flushed into the water supply (during fallow periods). Healthier soil life, with fewer industrial chemical inputs, leads to improved biological soil management and recycling of nutrients.

    Regenerative practices gradually increase topsoil depth (over years – Gabe Brown, David Montgomery), increase farmer income and cut pollution. Adoption of no-till farming accelerated when farmers faced fertilizer/pesticide price hikes and shortages. It is a pleasure to see substantial study and implementation of this sane adaptation to decline.

  131. In regards to energy and entropy. Yes, When we use up concentrated energy it gets more dispursed, and we should conserve its use alot more, etc… But, we are not a closed system. Us inhabitants of this planet are not a closed system. We get energy input constantly. It is a bit dispursed when it arrives, which is good as otherwise it would be too strong and cause damage. Life concentrates the energy giving us concentrated and more useful forms of it, like trees and bamboo and high calorie and high nutrient foodstuffs. The only thing that concentrates the suns energy is lifeforms of one sort or another. It is too bad that such simple truths are not taught to our young. Because then the solutions realy are obvious.

    I am saddened by the backwards “solutions” being done. They want to kill cattle in Ireland to fight global warming….they are killing wild horses all over the western states. Someone mentioned here, erradication of all ( was it horses or deer or ?) on an island in canada, hunting with helicopters and AR’s. proposing wrapping up trees so they dont decompose and burying them to fight global warming…. The PMC hubris is so great. If the wild horses overpopulate, they will starve or get weak and killed by wolves and coyotes. Their nutrients will enter back into the ecosystem, so why cant we let them just do their things is beyond me. We weaken them by our indiscriminate slaughter instead of the genetic weaker ones dying.

    We should want more teeming life and let life experiment with finding new niches, they act as if ecologies have never changed in the life of this planet. Gave you good material for the Radience in fiction, the reality goes much further.

    We could heat houses with waste wood coppiced in suburban yards, it doesnt take much, and the ash and urine returned to the yards to grow food. Instead there is a push for electric heat and no burning instead of clean burning.

    People in rural areas of China and elsewhere worked with their bodies, it is not too bad. I just came in from hammering. It feels good to stretch and sit and bend and use this body to concentrate some building materials into a more useable form for myself.

  132. @Michael Gray #114 – yes. I just traded a fat chunk of money to my dentist for four false front teeth, and count myself more wealthy by that exchange.
    @Mark L #116 – Ph in soil depends. I moved to where I am, from New Mexico, where the soil is alkaline enough that coffee grounds are a welcome addition.

  133. Thank you for sharing the Naomi Wolf articles, I follow her on Substack. Because I’m a weak greedy flawed human being just like everyone else who would probably end up abusing power if I had it, it’s best to stay on the straight and narrow of putting psychic energy to a God that promotes human behaving decently. Plus I’m doing Eastern Orthodox Christianity whose approach is seeing our flaws as spiritual illnesses to be healed. Maybe I have had spiritual experiences in the twilight of my sleep because in Mexico I was almost asleep and a man’s face popped into my head and he seemed Latino with some kind of war paint and he scared me. I dreamt of speaking to my father vividly after he died . I really admire your scholarship and my husband has read some of your fictional works. We enjoy what you have to say!

  134. Hi John Michael,

    Your blank reply, followed by tentacled horror green (yes, that may well be a named colour) text, was candidly spooky! Thanks for the laughs.

    I know you don’t have a preference for moving images, but when people bang on endlessly about how great technology is, that ED-209 robot going horribly wrong in the boardroom scene in the Robocop film is a sound advertisement for the downside of technology. And just in case anyone missed it: RoboCop (1987) – ED-209 Scene. Not sure I’d call that a glitch. The film was great satire.

    The experts are suggesting that down here, we’re in for a horror fire season due to hot and dry weather, and they might be right. However, eight days ago it began raining when a monster sized storm arose in the Coral Sea, and travelled against the usual westerly trade winds, and dumped huge quantities of rain over the eastern part of the continent. It’s bonkers wet outside right now, and also continuing to rain. So far here somewhere between five and six inches of rain has fallen during this period of time. Needless to say that the solar power output has been uninspiring – folks who hunger for electric everything might want to consider that the reality is closer to ED-209.

    Given the source of the rain, it’s strangely warm too. Hmm.

    How’s things in Rhode Island? Probably quite pleasant I’m guessing?



  135. Hi John Michael,

    Here’s an article on the weather down here. The concluding sentence, sums things up nicely: East Coast Low makes way for severe thunderstorms, a December scorcher, and Coral Sea cyclone.

    My gut feeling suggests that the far warmer than average sea surface temperatures around the continent, are increasing the levels of water vapour in the atmosphere. My understanding is that generally El Nino years (not the only mover and climate shaker in this part of the world), like this one are accompanied by cooler sea surface temperatures, thus you get a double whammy of hot atmosphere, and lower evaporation. There’s a lot of oceans around these parts.



  136. Not sure if the polls are still open for subject ideas.
    -lawn metamorphosis to urban farming-

    There is a movement in cities to convert lawns to gardens. An even more exciting trend is the use of peoples lawn for urban farmers to farm market gardens.
    As a long time landscaper this is an idea I’ve held for awhile now. Totally forgot about it until this post and subsequent discussions reminded me of it. Thank you!
    From a landscaper POV ,a homeowner, instead of paying me to make their yard into a boring green desert, I would convert it into a market garden.
    Instead of the owner paying me, the use of the land and water covers the price, with the owner getting the added bonus of fresh produce.
    Maybe we could rouse the folks of this blog to do some meditations and prayers on this trend to increase. Visualizing urban neighborhoods abundant with fresh foods, and the strengthening of community that would come with it.
    Getting out there and asking your neighbors if you can tear out their lawn and plant tomatoes and squash!

    I know I’ve been heavy with the links but here is another one! Cheers mates!

  137. @Dennis Michael Sawyers and @JMG:
    Regarding the creepy faces of American elite, possibly the explanation is very trivial: digital modifications (including video processing: “irrelevant” details are erased so that the video data to be transmitted is reduced) might account for the weirdness. “Simplification” of motion, that is reconstructed with software, helps to make video uncanny. There is also this concept where having a “smooth” face is better (incidentally, the very reason why makeup is widespread). So, the faces are somewhat “washed out”, like in makeup, for video compression. The process also makes people sort of look younger, and this is an added advantage in a culture where being old is a mortal sin.

  138. Have you heard the quote about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as farce?

    The current COP 28 Climate Negotiations are being held in Doha, United Arab Emirates, and there’s already a lot of pointing fingers over the fact the host running it is the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and leaks of briefing documents suggesting that it is being used to organize oil patch deals with 15 other nations.

    I don’t think I could make this particular farce up if I tried. I mean, is anyone taking this climate meeting seriously for its intended purpose? Sure doesn’t look like it. The fact its COP 28 and CO2 emissions are still rising suggests the same.

    Welcome to civilizational collapse, the silly side thereof.

  139. Bucintoro, I saw it. What’s this world coming to, when respected foreign policy pundits like Alistair Crooke cite hairy archdruids? 😉

    Atmospheric River, that’s the psychotic obsession of modern industrial society for you. “We can’t just let nature do things — no, no, we have to do everything ourselves! We must be the ones who decide, who make things happen! The universe must be utterly passive before our almighty will!” Talk about stark staring nuts…

    Candace, magic is not for everyone, and if you feel that it’s not for you, then trust that and follow it.

    Chris, oof — I bungled the html. See the new version. Rhode Island? Right now it’s 47°F and drizzling. We seem to be about to have another damp, cool winter — the kind of weather Seattle used to have before the climate started twisting out of shape.

    Forecasting, ugh. The last thing we need is billionaires living any longer than they already do.

    Chris, fascinating. If you’ve got high sea surface temperatures, yes, that means more water vapor, and it also means more tropical cyclones — we’d say “hurricanes” here, but I’m not sure what you call them down under. Typhoons? It could be a colorful summer and autumn.

    Travis, nope, but you can bring it up for a vote once we next have a month with five Wednesdays.

    Anonymous, no, I’m familiar with that effect and that’s not what I’m seeing.

    Pygmycory, yep. Absurdity R Us!

    KM, new kids certainly kept me hopping back when I tended goats!

  140. @Gaia Baracetti #120. Draft animals, especially large horses, are now mainly a hobby here with the exception of the Amish and a few ranches in Montana. Some are also kept as demonstration animals for those interested in the way things were done “back then” on the farm. Interestingly enough, the Amish farms seem to be doing fairly well — better than many mechanized operations. Their machinery tends to be small, simple, and relatively inexpensive, thus avoiding the treadmill of eternal debt that many highly mechanized farmers find themselves trapped in.

    Regarding theft of horses, it happens but not all that often. In days past, when losing a horse could leave its owner in dire straits. horse thieves were dealt with harshly. Summarily shot when caught. Or hanged, saving the cost of the bullet, which could then be better used at the local saloon for a “shot” of whiskey 🙂 Well, that’s the legend anyway. In any case, horse thieves were not tolerated.

    What to do with draft animals at the end of their working lives is not often an issue here, at least at the moment. Horse auctions are a regular feature in many rural areas and are usually well-attended. We are fortunate in that we still have enough land and many people are well-enough off keep horses past the end of their working lives. In the future, this may not continue to be the case. Eating horse meat is definitely taboo for many people here and some states have laws prohibiting it. This does present the issue of what to do with problem horses — and there are such horses — in a human-controlled world. Hard choices.

    Good luck in your endeavors with working horses. They are wonderful animals.

  141. @Chris Edwards #129 – re “What has our culture come to, if a farmer has to spend 645 grand for a tractor to do his work?”

    That farmer might not have much choice, although $645K for a tractor is a bit over the top.

    But it’s”go big or go home” time in many cases. The area I grew up in used to be mainly dairy farms. They’re all gone now, a unintended consequence of the Interstate Highway system. They were competing directly against large dairy operations in the mid- and far west. One farm is Oregon milks 60,000 cows three times a day. There are many, many dairies milking more than 10,000 cows. A family farmer with a few hundred acres and 100 milk cows stands no chance against such operations who, between interstate highways and railroads, can get their milk to any market in the US in a matter of days.

    Go big or go home.

  142. Current-day China also will have to contend with the fact that they’ve built a real estate bubble over a great portion of prime farmland east of the Hu Line that demarcates arable from less-so land and, east of which, where the majority of the people live. For my family, places that helped them survive the dire 50s and 60s food shortages (catching shrimp in rice fields, fish in streams and ponds and lakes), and that once fed surrounding areas with rice from fields fertilized by water buffalo, and small allotments with a variety of produce are now paved and concretized. China may have gambled and overplayed their hand with their ability to “produce more on less land” – in their modernized effort to deal with “ren duo, di shao” (many people, little land).

    In their favor is the fact that there are still many countryside-dwellers who recall (if not outright still use) old ways of doing things. I’m thinking here of the making of various bamboo products, but also some agricultural methods. Formerly-active YouTuber Li Zi Qi (who ran afoul of unscrupulous production staff or something like that) and who also had to make various PRC loyalty statements, demonstrated Chinese “cottage-core” practices she learned from her grandparents – everything from making bamboo furniture, to growing garlic, to cooking over an open fire using her own farm’s ingredients, and thus charmed millions of viewers who perhaps have been inspired to take up a few old-fashioned Chinese skills (one can hope). I know, though, that one popular YouTuber is unlikely to cushion a collapse.

    As for nightsoil staying out of the limelight, I also don’t count on that after having learned that in the mid-1600s, Sweden enacted a law granting the right to all cowshed manure to the crown so that saltpeter could be extracted for munitions manufacture. At that point, there is evidence suggesting farmland health declined, leading eventually toward times of famine – a kind of self-replicating issue involving competition for depleting resources through warfare that causes further depletion.

    I’d be interested to compare China’s dark ages with changes in global climate (if anybody’s got better google-fu skills than I do for turning up a graph going back to, say, 1000 BC until about 1912). For instance, there’s some evidence in Chinese court records that the “Mongol invasion” was not only a military onslought, but might’ve actually been composed of households fleeing the steppe due to a shift toward a cold dry climate that made traditional pastoralism untenable and pushed Mongols into embracing the settlement agriculture that they might not otherwise have been interested in. China’s famine cycles and sometimes resultant dynastic changes mapped to climate would be fascinating as well.

    I’m still working my way through the comments, so apologies if this repeats something already brought up.

  143. As to the looks of Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland , Kissinger and others there is a variety of quotes attributed to various people from Lincoln to Coco Chanel that goes something like this; “At 20 you have the face God gave you, at 40 you have the face that life has molded, and at 60 you have the face you deserve.”
    This certainly makes sense on some sort of biological or metaphysical level. People who spend a live of self serving, backstabbing, dishonorable and evil actions tend to have it visited on their visages by Karma.
    I am sure we all know people on both sides of this equation. Lying, cheating wretches who end up looking like a moldy baseball glove by age 65, and kind, angelic, fair people who despite the usual age wrinkles and such still look youthful and healthy.

  144. @KMGunn Art,
    congrats on the kids… I thought initially you meant human kids, then saw JMG’s response and realized you meant the goat variety. Still congrats.

  145. @forecasting, I just read the article you pointed out. What I found most interesting was that the method in question involved transfusions of blood plasma from young to old, with almost zero attention paid to the ethics of getting that blood plasma, especially on a larger scale. Vampiric much?

  146. If I may insert a somewhat off-topic comment (with the excuse that there’re already a few comments talking about what to save and pass on in our upcoming dark age), I sometimes browse r/prepperintel for a barometric survey, and the other day came across someone who is aware of a “turnkey” shoe-repair and custom shoe-making business in Helena, MT whose owner is willing to train someone so as to pass the business on…. if anyone’s interested in a much-needed skill to tide you over and make life a bit better for your neighbors check it out. Original post here:

  147. siliconguy, Atmospheric River – re: no-till farming. I thought I’d give it a shot in my backyard garden, and soon discovered that my “tilling” was severing tree roots that would otherwise infiltrate my vegetable plots. The garden seemed to lose a lot of water through those roots, so now I’m resigned to spading over each plot every year (while turning in compost and shredded leaves). Each year, I pull out new roots as long as my arm and as thick as a finger.

    In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have put the pear trees where they are. That’s something to consider when laying out your “homestead”. Just because there’s space for everything you want above ground, doesn’t mean that they’ll coexist beneath the surface. (so to speak… ;-)).

  148. @Atmospheric River #142

    “The only thing that concentrates the suns energy is lifeforms of one sort or another.”

    Hurricanes, lightning strikes, and the one-gigawatt Bonneville Dam would like to quibble with that statement.

  149. A former Muslim turned atheist has converted to Christianity and an Archdruid has approvingly quoted Saint Paul (#58) I needed a white pill and I guess i got it!😉

  150. Dennis, JMG,

    Something which strikes me is that this effect, whatever it is, seems to be affecting people who have been television celebrities; celebrities of any sort before, roughly, 1950 did not have millions of people pouring their thoughts and energies into visualized versions of the celebrity, and since television is a relatively modern invention, and recorded television even more so (it’s very hard to find recorded television shows from before 1980 or so), this is the first time in history where non-movie stars are aging with video recordings of them from a young age in active circulation. Well, as an occultist I wonder what effect this has; especially when many of those images are of the people from long ago, given how much most people change in appearance as they age.

    Many movie stars, the only other group where this effect could have occurred, have been weirdly resistant to aging; but then when they do age, they usually age remarkably badly. I wonder if a similar issue is affecting the American elite today: some kind of weird effect from the psychic energy millions of people pour into younger images of them keeping them seeming younger, until finally the ravages of age prove too much and it catches up all at once; with some really weird and disturbing results.

  151. Atmospheric River,

    I’m currently reading “The New Wild” by Fred Pearce. I probably heard about it from this blog, so thank you to whomever suggested it. I would suggest it to you, but it sounds like you have already grasped the main thesis which is this whole “invasive” vs. “native” stuff is a bunch of bovine fertilizer. Or, more precisely, human hubris thinking we know better than Nature.

    Invasives are only invaders if we don’t like them. If we like them, we just give them a new name and it’s all good. Kentucky Blue Grass and the American Honeybee come to mind.

    And don’t get me started about all those people battling “invasives” in the name of protecting “biodiversity”. Sure, a few local species might go away, but there is always an increase in the total number of species overall. They don’t even understand what they’re talking about.

    Up here in far Northern California it’s the spotted owl. There are plans afoot to shoot thousands of Barred Owls (which are native to North America, BTW), because they are displacing the Northern Spotted Owl. Seems to me that Nature made a better owl for this place and this time. I don’t see the problem.

    Anyway, there’s lots of data in the book if you ever need to bolster your argument.

  152. This season’s New Maps magazine brings a very interesting and relevant story, “Death Instinct” by Daniel Crawford. Without spoiling it, I can note that it deals with the psychological side of the long descent.

    Historically, one of the things that got people through horrible times like the Great Depression and WWII was the thought that, if they managed to survive it all and worked hard, the future would be better and – in particular – they’d build a better future for their children. This is why they could be suffering horribly, yet still feel positive about the world.

    But what happens when you know things are only going to get worse? What happens to your psychological and spiritual health? Nothing good, I should say.

    And this ties in with a few recent articles I’ve seen about the declining birth rate in Western(ised) countries. Commonly people say it’s because of the cost of living; but of course, lower-income people tend to have more children than higher-income people, and as countries get richer, they have fewer children, not more. If you take a family with two children on (say) $80k and give them another $80k without having to work for it, they won’t make a third and fourth child, they’ll just send the first two to private school.

    My family knows a number of couples who’ve chosen not to have children. And the interesting thing is that, though they have fewer stresses (children are stressful!) they often have mental health issues, commonly anxiety and depression. And this is not surprising to me. If you’re not building a future for your children, then what is there? You can of course give to society in many other ways, and many people don’t. But many simply…. consume. They travel, go to restaurants, buy goods and services online. Now, if this makes them happy, all good. But it doesn’t seem to.

    It seems that people do best when they are working to build a better future – even if we may argue over what is “better”, and if their efforts may be futile, for example having a million people on Mars by 2050 powered by fusion reactors, or something.

    What happens to people’s psyches and spirits when they realise things are going to get worse? I’d suggest that “collapse now and avoid the rush” is an excellent psychological and spiritual approach, too – trying to build a better future by using less. Deny the change coming and it’s going to hurt a lot more.

    It was an interesting story, anyway, I recommend a New Maps subscription.

  153. On the topic of climate change, I live in Ottawa, Canada, and have fond memories of building snow forts as a child in November. (I happen to know they were November; because my mother is American and I can relate them to the American thanksgiving). There was usually snow sticking on the ground by now; but the last few years it’s melted away. As I write this, it’s raining, which when I was growing up was unheard of for December. I’m not even 30, but the climate here is markedly different from what it was when I was a child.

    “Justin, one of the weirdest things about today’s world is the extent to which fact is imitating fiction. It hasn’t escaped my attention, for example, that the only rational explanation for big-city governments in the US going out of their way to encourage street crime — they’re trying to cause property values to crash, so that big corporations can snap up lots of real estate cheap — was the premise of the movie RoboCop. Now we’ve got a fair imitation of real-life Slitheens…”

    I wonder if this is one of the weirder corollaries of “What you contemplate, you imitate.” So many people have marinated their minds in cheap cheesy fiction that they naturally end up acting it out. It doesn’t explain all of it, but the psychic resonances created by the huge number of people involved could cause some pretty weird effects, especially if paired with the way that there is evidence that the human mind cannot reliably distinguish between video on a screen and reality…..

  154. Aldarion, re: the printing press. A tip of the hat for that idea. And with the printing press goes papermaking and making ink and metal letters and numbers. And bookbinding and a hundred other things. A lot of stuff to relearn IOW.

  155. JMG, about this business of the printing press. I read somewhere that one factor in the decline of Europe into a Dark Age was the loss of literacy because of the disappearance from Europe of papyrus as a medium. And this was due to the conquest of Egypt by Muslim armies. Writing things down became a whole lot more difficult because now they were down to using parchment which was a lot more difficult to make. Anyway that’s the theory.

    Maybe there’s something to it. If people are going to preserve and transmit knowledge it’s going to require an easily made and easily carried and stored medium. You can do it orally and commit things to memory but I think writing it down is better. Maybe clay tablets are one way. Potentially very long-lived as archeologists might tell us as they’ve apparently found large stores of ancient records and correspondence in the middle east.

  156. I fondly remember reading Farmers of Forty Centuries about a decade ago, JMG. A true masterpiece! Much of East Asia and South Asia are blessed with a climate that can sustain rice agriculture: a crop which, though back-breaking to grow, has phenomenal yields and preserves soil nutrients via soil ‘puddling’. The diversity of traditional varieties was also mind-boggling, from upland conditions right to growing in flowing rivers. Back when I was a student I searched in vain for well-researched studies of traditional agricultural practices in India, but never found any: quite likely the Brits did not find it worth looking at – as long as they could pillage what they wanted to export back home (regardless of whether there was enough left for the ‘natives’ to eat). And then, with young independent India’s love affair with everything Soviet and industrial, followed shortly afterwards by the much-ballyhooed ‘green revolution’ practically nobody in the subcontinent was interested in the ‘primitive old agriculture’ during the 20th century. I can, however, report from some direct experience in the villages of west-central India where the tribal peoples subsist on corn. At that time there was a push by governments and business to increase yields via hybrid varieties and the predictable pesticide-herbicide-fertilizer routine. While the tribals grew some corn this way as a cash crop, they kept their traditional varieties for their own consumption (tastes a lot better, they said) which they intercropped with mung beans or pigeon peas – i.e., the old way. That was decades ago; I hope that some still practice their old-style agriculture as it has stood the test of time in a drought-prone region.

    @Siliconguy & @sgage, you might be interested to know that one summer when I was in my late teens I worked on a family-run egg farm. This was back in the early ‘80s. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with the farm wife and she telling me that when they started their farm in the mid-sixties the price of a dozen eggs was the same as the price of a haircut. Even in the ‘80s, the cost of a haircut was about triple the cost of a dozen eggs. Nowadays I’d say a haircut is 8-10 times the cost of a dozen eggs and the only way to survive as an egg farmer is to have barns that are the size of several football fields. A couple summers later I worked for a corn farmer who cultivated 600 acres but had to work full-time in a factory in order to keep food on the table and pay the mortgage on a very modest house (his wife also had a full-time job). By that time, I could see that my dream of being a farmer was doomed: government policy and agribusiness were simply stacked against the good old family farm. My nephews had to abandon that dream, too. I dare say that the only family that I have left tilling the soil are some distant cousins in Michigan who decided to ‘go really big’ in the ‘70s and drive million-dollar tractors. Good on ‘em, I guess: we all still need to eat!

  157. Temporaryreality, thank you for the data points! No, nobody’s brought most of those up yet.

    Clay, I suppose that might be it, but I worked in nursing homes for a while when I was younger and not yet in print, and got to know some very sweet old people and some who were the absolute opposite of sweet. I also spent a lot of time in lodges where most of the other members were well over retirement age. There’s something about the floppy-rubber-mask quality I’ve discussed that I don’t recall ever seeing before.

    Temporaryreality, that’s a job worth learning. There are several shoe repair places in this corner of Rhode Island, I’m glad to say, and I was startled and pleased to see an appliance repair shop go in a couple of months ago about a dozen blocks from where I live.

    Stephen, just one of the services I offer. 😉

    Anonymous, hmm. That’s an interesting suggestion.

    Hackenschmidt, I’m waiting — eagerly as always — for my copy.

    Anonymous, I’ve heard that sort of thing from a great many people at this point…

    Smith, printing as such is a powerful tool, because you can make so many copies in a single run. In east Asia printing from woodblocks got started in the 7th century AD, and that’s why so much survives from China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet from that point on — you didn’t have to write out each copy by hand, you carve a woodblock and then print hundreds or thousands of copies off it. That increases the odds that one of those copies will survive!

    Ron, thanks for this. I hope India comes to its senses and revives sustainable farming methods in time.

  158. Regarding the draft horse discussion:
    I think draught oxen used to be more common than horses right? In Asia, water buffalos are also used as a beast of burden. I believe in Italy water buffalos are still raised for mozzarella, maybe you also have tradition of using buffalos there.

  159. Wouldn’t stress too much about Bryan Johnson’s longevity regimen being taken up by billionaires in general. He shares the protocol for free on his website:

    80% of it is more or less accessible to anyone- it involves obsessive commitment to ascetic clean living, physical training and caloric restriction, with an emphasis on maximizing nutrition per calorie, along with a extensive skincare regime. The remaining 20% is an obsession with measuring biomarkers, and various expensive machines and experimental treatments that he tries out.

    Anyone with any interest whatsoever in luxuries or vices need not apply.

  160. Watching you reply to all the comments is like watching a person play chess against several opponents. This might be too early, but you do have Wednesday open topics and I wanted to submit this as a possible topic of discussion: Theodore Kaczynski’s manifesto. He also has 2 books I sadly don’t have enough time to read, but maybe they follow the gist of his manifesto. I decided to read it after I heard Tucker Carlson telling Roseann Barr about his books on her podcast today. He has a tragic story. He had a brilliant mind was part of that MKUltra project and it probably damaged him. I can’t tell you how much I have come to detest the criminals at the CIA and in our government in the last few years. Not that he was right to hurt others with his bombings.
    Anyway, it was written in 1996. There are some broad generalizations, but I find it just as applicable to 2023. Especially point 180. You often discuss the collapse of civilizations in a historical perspective, but two big differences nowadays is the sheer number of people interacting and technology. It seems like the actions and reactions of today very different than the actions and reactions than 200 or 2,000 years ago.
    Well, just a thought for the next open discussion.
    I enjoy your community as much as I enjoy your writings. It’s too bad we can’t meet in some sunny, ancient Agora-like court yard in togas to have open discussion/debates like the ancient Greeks or something with some decent cheese, olives and wine. Kaczynski would probably find the internet today’s internet abhorrent and would agree.

  161. @ Mark L #161

    Diffuse sunlight is certainly not the only force on the planet, and yes I have heard of gravity, even though when I was a teen it was fashionable to deny it ( ” There is no gravity, the Earth Sucks”) But, the Boonville dam is not an example of concentrating sunlight, it is an example of us doing our wasteful thing and trading using up alot of concentrated energy ( pertroleum ) to heat up and powder minerals to make portable dry powder to make quick drying liquid rock (concrete) to hold back a river from going downhill and thouroughly messing with an entire ecosystem including the salmon cycle so that we can let that water slowly go down hill in all seasons, turning more mined and manufactured products that utilize the electromagnetic effect to make electricity, that we send down wires we have used yet more concentrated energy to manufacture and deliver, where we lose most of the electricity to transmission losses along the way, and spend boatloads of manpower and previously concentrated energy (petroleum) to maintain this system. I peaked at their web site. The Bonville dam is not carbon free energy. There is no carbon free energy, there I am using a definitive again, maybe there is a little but it is very rare if so, and since we are carbon based lifeforms on this planet, it seems reasonable that carbon is going to cycle around. In any case, all our large dams of this type have an expiration date tied in with easy to get petroleum products.

    Now, other uses of gravity making water fall are easier to use in a simplified world, especially direct use of the force of the falling water to directly turn wheels and gears and such, so direct mechanical use. While we still have alot of easy to get manufactured goods, I think micro-hydro is a good moral use. It doesnt stop the entire waterway, a small amount is redirected into a flue/pipe, then sent back to the main river/stream. The salmon cycle is intact. Because the other thing our large dams, like the boonville dam do is actually impede the natural cycles of concentration of the diffuse sunlight ( I am not out there protesting to take down our large dams. Just pointing out that they are a short term oil based consumption phenomena. And they displace other energy concentrating work and nutrient cycles frm happeneing)

    I wasnt even thinking about the energy from the sun and its being concetrated by weather. That is an interesting thought. It seems that many things go into making weather. Like gravity. what even is gravity. The earth spins. But certainly the sunshine.

  162. JMG,
    Weren’t claims about Biden being a hologram, CGI, deepfake, masked, cloned, played by a body double or recorded in front of a green screen circulating for a long time? Maybe there is fire to the smoke…

    He clearly gets lots of his videos and various presentations run through all the current technology for editing and “enchanting” audio-visual media. It’s not impossible that his face is simply “spliced” on younger and more vigorous actor. Technology exists for it.

    Also, he might have an old-fashioned body-double with this CIA’s custom “hyperrealistic” mask. It’s not a secret that both USA and Soviets were using those during the Cold War. Mask like that were in Atlas Obscura Link:

    Both options seems more plausible than a miracle longevity drug.


  163. Helix, thanks.
    Not just horses: I was struck, when looking at the awful scenes from Gaza, by how many people were fleeing on donkey-drawn carts. Very Biblical. I guess that’s what you do when you don’t have enough fuel – they still need to be fed and given water though, both scarce in such extreme situations.
    Horses, oxen, mules, donkeys, camels, llamas, yaks, dogs and probably more are still used in poorer countries as pack or draft animals. That doesn’t guarantee they are treated well, unfortunately. Some cultures still hunt in collaboration with wild or domesticated animals.
    Using animals might be more sustainable but accidents will always happen and, as I’ve learnt from experience, you need modern medicine and advanced surgery in the more extreme cases. Same as with other “traditional” activities – physically dangerous, can easily cost you life and limb. No matter how careful and experienced you are.
    Horses cannot be eaten in some places in the US but are shipped to other countries and slaughtered there. Which is much worse. There simply isn’t enough land to keep out of work animals indefinitely, and if there were it would be at the expense of vast tracts of wilderness; pets too end up caged and killed even though we don’t like to think about it. Might as well eat them or not keep them in the first place. The hypocrisy, double-standards and mixture of extreme pampering and extreme abuse we direct at animals is one of the worst aspects of contemporary society and I hope that a more balanced relationship with the non-human will be part of our future culture.

  164. Keeping the soil covered makes a big difference. I learned that on a micro scale when I took over care of a tiny garden backed by a high wall. It was blasted by our summer south-easter wind, and baked by the afternoon sun reflecting off the wall, and was mostly weeds with a couple of scraggly shrubs.

    In desperation I spread fresh lawn clippings as mulch. The wind blew them away. I spread more lawn clippings weighed down with stones here and there. The wind blew away the clippings between the stones, but left some around the stones. More grass, more stones, until eventually I could maintain a carpet of lawn clippings at the cost of looking like an abandoned quarry.

    Weeds disappeared because they didn’t get enough sun to germinate. The soil was cooler and retained moisture so more delicate and decorative plants could grow. Earthworms improved the soil. Apparently they come to the surface, grab something to eat, and pull it down into the soil, thus aerating it and fertilizing it with their poop.

    I give the garden a bit of compost once a year. If I trim shrubs I chop them up and spread as mulch hoping to recycle minerals. There’s no hose nearby so I have to carry water in a bucket so it gets minimal water. Somehow, everything keeps growing.

    Our climate is similar to San Francisco’s. Hot dry summers, wet winters, Santa Ana winds (we call them berg winds), no frost.

  165. Alvin, I’ve never heard of anyone in Italy using water buffaloes as beasts of burden. As far as I know, water buffaloes are currently a niche species for intensive animal husbandry and I avoid all water buffalo products after I’ve heard horror stories about how they are kept and treated. We mostly don’t have the right land or climate for water animals, unlike East Asia, and in most of Italy the traditional beasts of burden were horses, oxen, donkeys and mules – donkeys and mules more commonly in the South as they do better in warmer and drier climates; mules however were very important in WWI for the Alpini, the Italian mountain infantry based mostly in the North.

  166. Hi John,

    A specialist commodities research house i follow are saying the Permian will peak in 2024.

    If true and i think it is, a big moment for America.

    Shale has propped up the oil markets for nearly 15 years now after conventional crude started declining in the mid to late 2000s.

    I expect shale to do the same this decade.

  167. JMG,

    Maybe the missing word here is “Mastery” as in there is a point in a system in which “Mastery” can no longer manifest because the concentration of effort required for it to manifest is being re-directed into too many tasks.

    It could be that “Mastery” emerges as de-scaling occurs (be it from war, famine, or any number of crisis events) and that is what allows humanity to survive drastic changes.

  168. I feel that the elan vital of the USA is on its last legs and I am saddened. I am old enough to remember when most Americans held a common vision and ideals of America. True, the nation fell short of those ideals as is common to any set of ideals held by an individual or group, but the vision enlivened , inspired, provided ideals to aspire to, and unified. Would the loss of this shared vision and elan vital be the immaterial but still quite real component of a catabolic collapse of a society?

  169. With regard to odd aging of the rich and famous, some of them have had ludicrous amounts of cosmetic surgery and related techniques, and that can do some really weird things to human faces over time. That might be part of the answer.

    Though honestly, Victoria Nuland didn’t look that weird to me. Just sort of puffy and not very healthy.

  170. A couple of contrary views of Henry Kissinger at the Automatic Earth.

    “Henry Kissinger: The War Criminal Who Saved The World (Scott Ritter)”

    The wind came as advertised, tore up the inversion layer so we have wind and solar power, the Dunkelflaute is over. The next one probably starts tomorrow 😉

  171. Candy #173
    We do have an Ecosophia get together, every year on the Saturday nearest the summer Solstice, at my house in Providence. Wine and beer and foods in abundance, though no togas yet.
    Watch for the announcement at the next open post (around the winter Solstice).

  172. Candy, please bring this up the next time there are five Wednesdays in a month — I’ll announce it and call for proposals and votes, and if that gets the largest number of votes, that’ll be the fifth Wednesday post. As for an in person meeting, it happens on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice in Providence, RI — stay tuned for the announcement. I’ll look forward to seeing you there, and if you happen to show up in a toga with cheese, olives and wine to share, nobody’s going to bat an eye.

    Changeling, nobody’s talking about a miracle drug, and when they wheeled Diane Feinstein’s not-quite-corpse around the Senate, it was clearly not a younger person in a mask!

    Martin, that’s a classic method! Thanks for this.

    Forecasting, I’ve heard the same prediction from a couple of other people now. If that happens, Katie bar the door — the next couple of years are going to be even more of a world-class mess than they’re already shaping up to be.

    GlassHammer, that’s an intriguing suggestion.

    Siliconguy, I saw that, and chuckled. Isn’t the Left supposed to be hostile to US imperialism? Yet here’s the Grauniad, insisting that the brittle, ramshackle, crumbling mess of terminal-stage US global hegemony must be an “undying empire.” Maybe it’s sunk in just how much of their lifestyle depends on the system they claim to hate…

    Moose, yes, and it’s a crucial one. Toynbee talks about that extensively in his writings on history: when the ruling class of a society stops inspiring emulation and tries to rule by force instead, that society must either find a new ruling class that can inspire it, or perish.

    Pygmycory, that’s a reasonable suggestion — thank you.

    Siliconguy, thanks for this.

  173. One source of energy not mentioned here: expose water tanks to climate conference rooms. Instant hot water from all that hot air! (G, D, R, L)….

    “Never trust a drunkard’s prophecy, someone else’s dog, and the weather in any season.”

  174. I suspect A Nony Moose (#182) is quite right that the élan vital of the USA is seriously depleted now. We made a huge thing of the centennial of its Declaration of Independence in 1876, and of its sesquicentennial in 1926, and then of its bicentennial in 1976. I remember real excitement and anticipation for several years in advance of the Bicentennial, and I gather the same was true in 1926 and 1876. But now, in 2023, with only a little more than 2½ years to go — crickets!

    I take this silence as a very bad omen, and I wonder whether we (those of us who are young enough, that is) will see the Tricentennial celebrated at all.

    Do keep a weather-eye out for any signs of interest in celebrating the country’s 250th-anniversary. If there continues to be little or none, the country’s future is going to be very bleak.

  175. Re: America’s undying empire

    The Guardian article is strange. It ends “…the fact remains that global power at present remains unipolar. The task for those not committed to its continuation is to understand it and, wherever possible, to challenge its assumptions.” So the author maintains the fiction of being opposed to American global power, but the whole body of the article seems a frantic attempt to deny its weakening.

  176. ‘…China is peculiar in that, although as elsewhere empire in due course disintegrates, there is always a return to unity. Down to the present century it presented the unique spectacle of an empire surviving from the age of Egypt and Babylon, and preserving a pre-alphabetic script like theirs as an instrument of continuity and unity, legible through the millenia for speakers of mutually unintelligible dialects. About the time when the First Emperor was looking for the elixir of life China discovered the secret of the immortal empire, the unkillable social organism. If ideas have any effect at all on social forces, Chinese philosophy of the Axial Age must be judged a tremendous practical success. (The disadvantages of that success when China finally collided with a less stable and more dynamic civilization are another matter.) The outcome was the syncretism first tried out in the Lu Spring and Autumn (c. 250 B.C.), with Confucianism emerging as the dominant ingredient from about 100 B.C. One cannot explore it without being impressed by its success in integrating diverse tendencies so that they become socially cohesive. Let us try to write down in a condensed prescription the Chinese secret of the immortal empire embracing nearly a quarter of the human race, defeating the destiny by which all things come and go.
    1. (From Confucianism). An ethic rooted, below the level of critical reflection, in the most enduring social bonds, kinship and custom, which models the community on the family, relates ruler/subject to father/son and past/present to ancestor/descendant.
    2. (From Legalism). A rational statecraft with the techniques to organise an empire of unprecedented size and largely homogenise custom throughout it.
    3. (From Yin-Yang). A proto-science which places man in a cosmos modelled on community.
    4. (From Taoism, reinforced from the Later Han by Buddhism). Personal philosophies relating individual directly to cosmos, allowing room within the social order for the unassimilable who might disrupt community.
    5. (From Mo-tzu through the argumentation of the competing schools). A rationality confined to the useful, which leaves fundamental questions outside its range.

    (Professor A.C. Graham. ‘Disputers of the Tao. Philosophical Argument in Ancient China’ Open Court 1989, Pages 5-6)

  177. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for the advice. They do say that patience is a virtue. 🙂 It’s funny what you say about ‘imitating what you contemplate’, because the concept is true. And it was probably that show which gave me the idea to take myself off to the local Dojo, where I inadvertently bypassed the waiting line to get in, by recounting a good tale of need – which was true. The way the character comported himself in the series, and the philosophy behind those choices appealed. Not to mention the stories provided a very unflattering contrast to our own culture.

    It’s a good idea to hold a mirror up, and say aloud: ‘what can you see?’ 😉 Although, it could provoke a strong reaction, don’t you reckon?

    We call them cyclones, and of course they get named. At this stage of time, I’m located way too far south to be direct hit by a cyclone, although the extreme outer tails of those weather systems can bring rain and winds here. Minor tornado’s and super cells are the equivalent kind of weather this far south. As they say, same, same, but different!

    Hey, makes you wonder if things heat up enough, as I’m guessing they will, would the Southern Ocean produce a tropical cyclone? I don’t see why not. Takes a lot of energy to produce an ice free Antarctic. Incidentally, I do wonder what the rebound will be like when the last of the ice sheets finally slide off that frozen continent, and it’s not like there aren’t active volcanoes down there. Probably a day to be remembered, that one!

    It rained again this morning. Apparently we’ll have three dry days, before the rains return again on Thursday. I’m juggling my paid work around the weather, but that is not always easy to do. Gotta do, what ya gotta do. 🙂



  178. Patricia M, if we could only harness that energy source, we’d have no shortage of hot air balloons!

    Robert, synchronicity strikes again. I recall the 1976 Bicentennial very well, and it had occurred to me that nobody seems to be mentioning the upcoming US sestercentennial. I may do a post about that.

    Aldarion, exactly. They are, if you will, the Loyal Opposition — loyal to the system they think they’re opposing.

    Tengu, yes, my post talked about the attempt to identify this or that cultural factor as the secret to China’s cultural longevity. Did you notice?

    Chris, that show was my introduction to the concept of esoteric spirituality, and I can still play the theme song on a wooden flute. As for cyclones in the Southern Ocean, it’s quite possible — there have been several storms in the Arctic Ocean that had the first signs of a spiral banding formation already, and so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if eventually the poles had hurricanes/typhoons/cyclones of their very own…

  179. Off topic, but I was late to the Open Post last week, so want to draw Phutatorius’s and others’ attention to the summary of Panagopoulos et al.’s review of one mechanism of EMR biological effects, which I have posted to my Dreamwidth account here:

    Insightful essay by JMG, and lots of insightful comments this week!

  180. Rereading “The Long Descent,” I noticed where the option of heading off to found a new community in the wilderness listed those who had failed, but in that list was the Mormons, and they didn’t fail. I asked myself why, and two answers popped up immediately. They had a strong work ethic; and they had – still have, I think – rules of practical survivalism. Keeping a year’s supply of food on hand, for instance. The ward and stake structure by which you could always look upwards for help. And so on.

  181. I don’t want to get all “No true Scotsman” but the Grauniad is not the left and hasn’t been for many years. Its function is to use the reputation of what it once was to provide cover for the powers that be and confusion among the rest of us. It has been a while since the Grauniad saw a US-backed war that it didn’t like or a move to give move power to the intelligence services or the censorship complex.
    That said, the way that not only the corporate Dems but even the supposed progressives have rallied around the imperialism and censorship that even 20 years ago they opposed has forced me to re-examine my sense of the world and face that there is no Left left and that it will never return. I guess it is an early version of “collapse now and avoid the rush” to have one’s section of the culture disappear.
    What hope I draw now has to come from some place deeper.

  182. Elan and the 250th anniversary,

    I was curious, so I Googled it. The first page of results had Wikipedia, government sources, a couple of museums, and two news articles:
    March 2022,
    The 250th Birthday of the U.S. Is Just a Few Years Away. Get Ready for Controversy

    July 2023,
    Will America Be Ready for Its 250th Birthday?

    History is a partisan battleground. A troubled national planning commission is attempting a reboot. Here comes the Semiquincentennial, ready or not.

    For those planning the United States’ Semiquincentennial in 2026, the past few years have sometimes felt like one long winter at Valley Forge.

    They’ve had to battle public apathy toward the impending 250th anniversary of American independence, which has hardly been helped by the false starts, recriminations and lawsuits plaguing the federal commission charged with coordinating the celebration.

    I normally avoid the NYTimes unless I want to know what the current narrative looks like. But, as a bellwether for elite sentiment it’s a pretty reliable source. And it looks like the elites are aware that the good ol’ US of A is primed for an identity crisis, and their attempts to steer it in a favorable direction have been thwarted by a stunning lack of elan.

    PS The geographic isolation of China never occurred to me as a reason for Chinese resilience. Although, it is obviously a very significant factor. It’s a nice reminder that you tend not to see what you aren’t looking for.

  183. Hey JMG

    I enjoyed this week’s essay ,not only since it is something that I and many other commenters have been voting for awhile to get, but because it coincides with my recent renewal of interest in Chinese history. I have been trying to memorise the dynasties, for example, and I already noticed how China seemed to be increasingly ruled by foreigners during its last 6 dynasties, starting with the Liao dynasty led by the very little remarked upon Khitan people who seem to be constantly obscured by the much more famous Mongols and Manchus.
    It has also led me down a little linguistic rabbit-hole, as I’ve been reading about the almost extinct Manchu language as well. It has an interesting alphabet that’s written top-down, has multiple noun cases like Latin does, and most lovely of all has the convenience of being non-tonal. there are quite a few textbooks for free on internet archive, as well as websites run by scholars devoted to it.
    alas, I feel that the civilisation we call China is coming to an end, for awhile now I’ve felt that the radical cultural change that introduced it to “Modernity” has fundamentally altered it to the point that I don’t think that the China of today and tomorrow can rightly be considered the same China that started with the Xia and ended with the Qing. I consider it likely that China is now at the same stage of life that Egypt was when the last vestiges of its ancient civilisation were erased after Graeco-Roman rule, causing every Egyptian since then to be incapable of being considered culturally the same as what existed before. I wonder what kind of people the Post-Chinese shall be like?

  184. I know we are somewhat AI-averse here, but I thought the following snippet from an article on rumored scary breakthroughs in AI was worth mentioning.

    “If the leak above is true, it would represent an immediate total compromise of all global security systems, as there is nothing that would be safe from cracking. This includes all cryptocurrency. A system like the above could break the cryptography on the bitcoin network and take any and all amounts of bitcoins from anyone, resulting either in a total collapse of cryptocurrency worldwide—as all faith in it would be lost—or the ability for a bad actor to skim crypto off the top at whim from anyone. ”

    If you can steal all the crypto, maybe you can steal all the money from the world’s reserve banks. That should cause a downfall of civilization. Maybe the model for our downfall is not Rome or Byzantium, but the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, i.e. as a result of losing control over our own creations.

  185. re: msm proclaiming an “undying empire”

    The MSM tends to be long term wrong at inflection points. Although they tend to be right in the short run. It’s just who they are, short memories and plagued with ADHD. So maybe things might temporarily improve for the Murican Empire, but they’re a pretty reliable indicator that this, is as good as it gets in the long term.

    That rumor about Taiwan? It wouldn’t surprise me if they make a grab for it when the deep state is maximally distracted over, at this point take your pick of buffet items – Ukraine, Israel, etc.

    I dunno, what I take away from all of this is the fate of this country is no longer in the so-called establishment’s hands anymore. They’re responding to things other people are doing. What happens in the Ukraine will be decided by Russia now. What’s happening in Israel, will be decided by, well, I’m not sure by I am sure it isn’t anyone here. And I guess the fate of Taiwan will be decided by China when the time comes.

    Rudderless, adrift.

  186. >it had occurred to me that nobody seems to be mentioning the upcoming US sestercentennial

    I wonder.

    I wonder.

    I wonder if the US will survive to see its tricentennial.

  187. >Weren’t claims about Biden being a hologram, CGI, deepfake, masked, cloned, played by a body double or recorded in front of a green screen circulating for a long time?

    Would you be able to tell the difference between Robot Biden and Senile Biden?

  188. The small photo of the first railroad bridge looks well maintained and has the color, and as far as I can discern, the texture of weathering steel.

  189. I think Tengu (#190) may have mentioned an important factor:

    “Down to the present century it presented the unique spectacle of an empire surviving from the age of Egypt and Babylon, and preserving a pre-alphabetic script like theirs as an instrument of continuity and unity, legible through the millenia for speakers of mutually unintelligible dialects.”

    Take anything I say below as “meditation out loud”. I’m out of my depth commenting on linguistics.

    Minor quibble is that I would re-word Tengu’s quote to say “..unique spectacle of a civilization surviving….” but the key is that hanji (Chinese characters), despite being difficult to learn, allows those that speak mutually unintelligible languages, let alone dialects, understand a basic written concept. The alphabet system is much easier to learn but requires extensive knowledge of vocabulary. Example is a Japanese visiting China and vice-versa and the visitor being able to read street signs, store signage and menu items, to some extent and even in the absence of cognates. I’d compare that to me trying to read a menu totally written in Danish or Finnish….not happening. If the visitor was a scholar or linguist then he’d have access to more concepts.

    It may be that instead of Chinese civilization “preserving a pre-alphabetic script”, it was the pre-alphabetic script that helped preserve Chinese civilization. Not on the same fundamental level as agriculture but it must have helped.

    JMG’s essay opens giving Egyptian civilization as an example and mentions hieroglyphics. Later on he mentions China not having a nearby peer competitor civilization. Sure, China was overrun by the Mongols but Chinese civilization was the only “game in town” in that area of the world. Egypt with its hieroglyphics was right next door to many peer civilizations with advanced scripts of their own.

    Chinese script may not by as important as the agricultural system in the preservation of the civilization but I’d argue it helped preserve cultural characteristics as it allowed access to Chinese culture to to those speaking mutually intelligible languages or dialects.

    A counter argument to the above is the ability of modern day Japanese and Chinese to read old hanji / kanji prior to modern reforms. It is very difficult and Chinese script must have changed significantly over the centuries. I guess the change was gradual and slow enough that cultural concepts were not interrupted from one generation to the next.

  190. Canada’s sesquicentennial (officially “Canada 150”; our multicultural populace can’t handle multisyllabic English like sesquicentennial) was a bit of a damp squib as well, although the government started wasting money planning for celebrations as early as 7 years in advance. (In the way our government does– a committee produce a study to set the agenda for the next committee…). Plenty of chances for graft, though, so there was a decent budget behind it. I remember they had a logo they tried to put everywhere, and I hear there were TV commercials, but not much by way of organic enthusiasm. Canada Day celebrations didn’t seem like anything special in my neck of the woods, so wherever that money was spent it wasn’t here.

    I missed the Centennial on account of not having been born, but I do get the impression it was a bit of a big deal, much like the USA’s bicentennial.

    All this to say that your neighbour to the north is equally ambivalent about its continued existence! (Probably more ambivalent– has anyone seriously proposed cancelling Fourth of July celebrations because your celebrating “stealing native lands”? We hear that about Canada Day every year, now.)

  191. @Hackenschmidt (#165)

    A better life is possible in the future. But this “better” will be completely different from what the average person can imagine. And that is one of my biggest worries, that ordinary people will not be able to make the transition from a materialistic life to a spiritual life that sees a modest and simple lifestyle as a blessing and not a punishment. This change will already be a challenge for us people from the Ecosophia community, who usually already know the broad outlines of the future and often have a spiritual practice, but how difficult will it be for the ordinary citizen? Where there are now expensive vacations, parties, clothes, cars, there will be a vacuum at some point, and the question is how it will be filled. I could imagine that there will be large emigration movements in the West to countries that still have fossil fuels in order to be able to maintain the remnants of this declining lifestyle. Another part might not be able to bear this and take their own lives, another part will probably gather around extremist ideologies and false gurus who promise to bring back the old life. The majority will probably muddle through somehow and cling to the hope that things will get better at some point.

  192. Re: US 250th birthday. I agree with what others have expressed about the crickets on this front. Even thoug I wasnt born until 1979, I have a lot of artifacts, some from the counterculture, celebrating th 200th birthday. Bob Dylans Rolling Thunder Revue, patriotic songs played on the moog by Joseph Byrd (his Yankee Transcendoodle album) and other things found in the cultural memory.

    However, those of us who care about the 250th, could start planning activities or commemorations now. I have one thing in mind already (keeping silent for the moment).

    Somehow getting a conversation out into the wider public would be good to encourage conversation and get patriots, in the broadest sense of the word, to tjink of what they might do.

  193. @Smith #167: The time-travelling protagonist in Lest Darkness Fall has to re-invent and insert each of these technologies in turn into Ostrogothic Italy: letter cutting, production of ink suitable for printing, the printing press itself, paper… And a host of others. The book is of course wildly over-optimistic. Thinking seriously, what might make sense in my own remaining lifetime might be either a focus on hectography, as someone on this forum has already done, or paper making.

  194. Coming back to the original essay: I am not sure if the latter part of the Zhou dynasty counts as an actual dark age compared to the preceding Shang and early Zhou dynasty. The surviving written sources make it look as if one unified “China” under the Shang later broke apart into a number of warring kingdoms. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the actual rule of the Shang dynasty was restricted to a rather small area around the Shang capital, and even its cultural influence didn’t extend much beyond the Yellow River valley. E.g. there was an entirely separate culture on the upper reaches of the Yangtze (modern Sichuan) that is only known from archaeology – today it is known as Sanxingdui, but we don’t even know the name its members gave themselves. It bears no resemblance with the contemporary Shang or with what we know as “China”.

    So Spengler’s (rather prophetic) schema might make more sense: a “High Culture” had its early phase in the Shang dynasty, then expanded widely into the Yangtze valley and to the sea, all the while forming new kingdoms that warred with each other. The cultural efflorescence and internecine wars were brought to an end (Spengler’s winter civilization) by the First Emperor (ca. 230 BC) and the Han dynasty, which in turn came to an end around 200 AD.

    What Spengler failed to appreciate, and Toynbee only in the latest volumes of his Study of History, is that the culture was not doomed to fail but resurged again, and again, and again. All of these resurgences took place when Chinese civilization already included rice-cultivating areas and therefore might be due to the agricultural basis summarized by JMG. I don’t pretend to know if we are currently in another resurgence of Chinese culture or if it is now petering out. I do think (not having ever travelled to East Asia) that the Chinese language, economy and military strength are much stronger today (compared to its neighbours) than that of Ptolemaic Egypt.

  195. TemporaryReality #159,

    I sure hope someone takes up the offer. We need more cobblers!

    I live in Humboldt County with lots of loggers and firefighters who need big leather boots. There used to be several places nearby to get them resoled or rebuilt, but they have dwindled away to … none. The closest place I can get my boots fixed is Redding (three hours away).

    And when I talked to the Redding guy, he said he just couldn’t find any younger people to take up the work. He hires them, and then after a week or two they quit. Apparently, the work ethic ain’t what it used to be.

    Anyway, if anyone wants to be a cobbler in Humboldt County, there’s plenty of work that needs done.

  196. Patricia O, thanks for this.

    Patricia M, that’s a very good point. The Mormons had two major advantages — first, they were able to attract a very large number of people; second, they happened to emerge at a time when American expansion westward was becoming a major force, and so they were able to ride that wave. It may still be possible to draw useful lessons from their experience.

    Jessica, ah, but you’ve just landed square in the middle of “no true Scotsman” territory. When you say that there’s no Left left, what you’re saying from my perspective is that the Left has abandoned its former positions and sold out to corporate interests, and the Grauniad has followed suit. They’re a good measure of what the Left is nowadays. What this implies, of course, is that “the Left” is not an abstraction — it’s a movement of people, and changes as the people do.

    Team10tim, I suspect the elites are also terrified enough to crap their pants over the thought that the people might draw some practical lessons from the events of 1776, or even point out that what happened 250 years ago is a good example of the results when an arrogant aristocracy detached from the realities on the ground imposes its own ideas on this country…

    J.L.Mc12, if my ecological analysis is correct, yes, China’s on its last legs as a civilization, having abandoned the ecological basis that made it endure. Future historians will have to judge what if anything survives from it.

    Martin, we’ll know that that’s true if there’s a sudden crackdown on AI technology by the more powerful governments and international organizations — or if the whole topic of AI suddenly disappears from the mass media…

    Jasmine, thank you. I needed some fine absurdist comedy.

    Other Owen, exactly. That’s the nature of imperial collapse — once an empire’s destiny slips out of the hands of its rulers, decline gives way to fall in short order.

    Johnf, that was my point.

    Scotty, that’s an interesting speculation.

    Tyler, interesting.

    Justin, it so happens that the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is on December 16 of this year — that is, in just under two weeks. It interests me that nobody — not even the radical right — is talking about that…

    Aldarion, Ptolemaic Egypt at its peak was one of the two strongest polities in the Mediterranean basin, in political and military terms, and it was the wealthiest nation west of India until it became the wealthiest province in the Roman Empire. Thus the comparison’s a good one.

  197. The situation with the sestercentennial reminds me of the quadricentennial of the 1620 landing in Plymouth, which I expected to be a big celebration at least locally, here in Plymouth County (which corresponds to the original bounds of the Plymouth Colony, even though only a fraction of it is the present town of Plymouth). Well before then, though, all the influential voices had decided the Pilgrims’ arrival was actually a Very Bad Thing. The few observances designed to be sufficiently mournful and apologetic to go forward were mercifully erased by some sort of year-long national toilet paper shortage.

    But there may be another issue with the 250th anniversary. Silly as it might sound, people who rarely handle cash or do arithmetic don’t seem to care much about 50s and 25s (halves and quarters of powers of 10) as milestones, and sestercentennial and semiquincentennial are unfamiliar big-mouthful words, hard to use in marketing. If it doesn’t end in a string of zeros, so what? That kind of disinterest is itself a bad sign, of course.

  198. A comment on Mormons. I have had pleasant work relationships with Mormons over the years and have known some worthy Mormon families. IMO you are welcome to think that the Mormon religion is stupid, but if you think Mormons are stupid you are the dumb one.

  199. JMG
    I have often pondered what countries or regions stand the best chance of transitioning or surviving to some form of post industrial stability, though not necessarily in their present configuration. My best guesses have always been in the southern hemisphere: New Zealand, parts of Australia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, though not necessarily as one country, parts of Colombia, though not technially southern hemisphere.I don’t know enough about African climate and soils to conjecture. Russia seems to me to have the best chance in the northern hemisphere having the land and mineral, fossil fuel resources, though probably not including all of Siberia. I agree with you that the NE and Great Lakes regions will have the best chance in North America, though I have a bit more hope for Cascadia than you do, after huge changes. however.
    One issue that i think will affect China and South and SE Asia greatly ( if you or the commentariat mentioned it here, I missed it) is whether or how much a changing climate will affect the glaciers on the tibetan plateau, which will affect all the rivers flowing off it from the Yellow to the Indus. There could be a scenario where there is major flooding as the pace of melting increases, followed by catastrophic drought as they dry up.
    I also agree that the much greater populations and dependence of agricultural chemicals and fossil fuel dependant machinery will make this crash quite unpleasant.

  200. Haha, I read The Techno-optimist and it’s the exact opposite of Ted Kuzinskys manifesto. The God Of Science is owned by the God of Money,. This community is so fun.

  201. A fair point about the economy of Ptolemaic Egypt, and about its peak military strength – I was thinking more about the last century BC. I still think there are two very different questions here.

    Will Chinese agriculture fail when fossil fuels become too expensive and the traditional ways are forgotten? I can’t rule out (lacking any experience of my own) that you are right on this. Egypt is not a good analogy here, since Egyptian agriculture continued to flourish all through the Ptolemaic, Roman and Arabic periods.

    Will the Chinese cultural tradition fail? Some commentators have suggested above that it had already been faltering for intrinsic reasons since Ming times. I cannot judge this. Traditional Egyptian religion and traditions indeed disappeared in the first centuries AD, though the Egyptian language (Coptic) retained majority status for another millennium. Is Ptolemaic Egypt or Seleucid Mesopotamia a good model for modern China? The ruling class spoke and wrote a different language from the majority and discouraged intermarriage. This might work as an analogy for the Qing dynasty, but I am not sure that it does for the current regime of the PRC. The current regime’s attempted break with the past seems more akin to the First Emperor’s policies, though again I must admit to a total lack of personal experience.

    If agriculture fails, then this point would be moot.

  202. @Tyler A/Dusk Shine
    some of those Canada 150 moneys got spent in Victoria BC. Big party at the legislature lawn. I seem to vaguely remember going, and something about hunting for decent ice cream. It was decent, but didn’t make that strong an impression on me.

    And re cancelling Canada day, they actually did cancel that here in 2021 at the height of the unmarked graves being all over the news.

  203. My local walks often take me around and through local cranberry bog complexes, giving me a gradually accumulating picture of the labyrinthine systems of ponds, channels, berms, dams, ditches, weirs, and even the occasional aqueduct, that supply water and control the levels. (Bogs are irrigated from nearby ponds, and are often deliberately flooded for various reasons.) Much of the infrastructure is durable and low-tech, like wooden slats added or removed by hand in weirs to adjust water flows. Each bog is flat and level, and on a map the arrangement of bogs looks like arbitrarily partitioned fields, but it’s a three dimensional structure. Complexes of multiple bogs are actually very wide terraces with a designed flow pattern from section to section.

    Fortunately the additional unsustainable technology that’s also used in cranberry growing today (electric pumps, chemicals, even helicopters) is layered on top of that basic infrastructure, instead of having replaced it. So a return to older more labor-intensive methods is conceivable without starting from scratch. Either way requires plenty of water, but we’ve got that here, and that probably won’t change too much with climate shifts.

    (Why would I even care about a barely edible niche crop like cranberries? They’re a durable anti-scorbutic for seafaring.)

    You can rebuild abandoned or neglected ditches, berms, sluices etc. with simple tools (and much labor), but you can’t turn housing blocks back into cranberry bogs or (presumably) rice paddies as easily. According to some sources, due to an internal economic bubble, China has constructed unused unneeded housing sufficient for somewhere between (depending on who’s estimating) 20% and 200% of their present population. That seems as tragic as the U.S.’s misguided obsession with suburbia. Is this a new wrinkle, historically, in catabolic collapse? Overuse and exhaustion of resources, and neglect and eventual cannibalization of infrastructure, are consistent motifs. But where does outright destruction of infrastructure in the interest of economic intensification figure in? (I’m visualizing Progress as a fifth horseman, horning in on Conquest’s turf.)

  204. While the early and present Mormons had and have a strong communal element – there are in house social services for Mormon families in need for instance – they retained independent families as the basic component of Mormon society and emphasized family strength and health as key. They also retained private property and entrepreneurship. The Pilgrims of Thanksgiving yore ran into these foundational principles of social success in their early years. Many of the marriages were broken by death in the first year of hardship and most remarried with whom was available not long after. The Pilgrims also had community land management and cultivation at the beginning and ended up dividing the land among families and as a result had much more productivity. A village is healthier and stronger and more resilient than a communal style community.

  205. edit for Scotty #205,
    The final paragraph should read:

    ” A counter argument to the above is the ***difficulty*** of modern day Japanese and Chinese to read old hanji / kanji prior to the modern reforms. It is difficult and Chinese script must have changed significantly over the centuries, not just in the early 20th Century. I guess the change was gradual and slow enough that cultural concepts were not interrupted from one generation to the next.”

    Need to spend more time editing my posts…

  206. Hi John Michael,

    I’m impressed, some stories are powerful, and yes, I also took away from those stories an introduction to a more (how to put this into words?) a gnostic practical world-view. Dunno, words fail me here, but it left a massive impression on me. A guide to better living, perhaps? 🙂

    Have to laugh about the Boston Tea Party business. We had our own military coup back in the day, but as a more Australian culturally appropriate drink, it was over rum. Yes, puritans versus convicts indeed! 😉 What amazed me was that Captain Bligh, then Governor Bligh was mutinied against twice, and yet promoted to the role of Admiral. How does that work? Anywhoo, the historians barely mention that little episode, probably for much the same reasons.



  207. @Patricia O: Thanks for the summary. Neither too technical nor too simplistic, in my opinion. Nicely done. I downloaded the original paper and will read it later.

  208. Aldarion, the last science fiction I read was in the 1970s – Dancers at the End of Time. I just looked up Lest Darkness Fall on wikipedia. Sounds like a worthwhile read. Thanks for bringing it up. For decades I read nothing much except work related technical material and mags like Economist, Foreign Affairs etc. Since I retired I inundated myself with stuff by guys like Naipaul, Churchill, Orwell, Le Carre, Trollope, Greene … Time to plunge back into sci fi.

    I’d never heard of hectography. I looked that up too. Fascinating. When I was a grade school kid I read about Chinese papermaking. I got it into my head to give it a shot. As I recall I got nowhere.

  209. According to one account I read, the Muslim conquest of N. Africa caused a severe decline in trade between the conquered territories and other places in the Mediterranean which was one of the pointy objects spiking civilization in western Europe. Before the conquest the Gothic families that wrested control of North Africa from the Romans declined to pay taxes to Rome or follow its dictates but still carried on some mutually profitable business with other parts of the former empire. After the Muslims stormed in, no more. Apparently the Romans conquered the Middle East to keep the Persians out because the Romans wanted unimpeded access to business with India and Sri Lanka ie for pepper and other spices. So, to the point, the rise of Islam screwed all that up.

    And it will be interesting to see how production and trade reconfigure themselves during and after this current cycle of decline and fall. North America will no doubt fragment into competing regimes. Distance will no doubt once again become a problem. Not insurmountable because after all camels could cross deserts and sailing ships explored the world and carried goods.

  210. Walt, and yet the US sesquicentennial in 1926 was a big deal:

    That being the golden age of fairs, there was a big world fair outside of Philadelphia and a lot of local celebrations as well. I think the collapse of national elan plays a larger role.

    Moose, based on my own experience, I would tend to agree.

    Stephen, oh, I think Cascadia will be fine in the middle to long term. I still think it’s likely to have to deal with mass migration by sea from east Asia, but once the newcomers replace the current residents and settle down, like the Saxons in Britain, they’ll doubtless do fine.

    Candy, as I’ve said before, I have the best commentariat on the internet!

    Patricia M, funny. Thank you.

    Aldarion, it’s exactly the failure of agriculture that to my mind is the big issue.

    Walt, as I recall, cranberries were an important food crop for New England native peoples and English settlers alike, and their very robust vitamin C content was only part of that. If they stay in production, that’s a good thing for everyone.

    Moose, that’s a lesson that a lot of American religious communities had to learn the hard way. You’re right that the Mormons were ahead of the game there.

    Chris, the British long ago perfected the practice of getting rid of incompetent officials by promoting them. It explains quite a few Prime Ministers…

    Smith, that’s quite correct. The transition from a global to a national economy has already begun —

    — but it has a long way to go as we continue down the slope of the Long Descent. Have you by any chance read William Catton’s book Overshoot? He did a fine job of explaining how the fragmentation of economic space drives economic contraction.

  211. With the talk of the Mormons it occurred to me that the almost mythical story of the founding of Salt Lake City reminded me of something, and of course it hit me that it reminds of the founding story of Tenochtitlan/Mexico City.

    Both cities were founded on the shores (or indeed on top) of lakes located at high altitude within the Rocky Mountain chain. Both have a similarly esoteric founding story and both are running into hard limits of population growth and pollution issues within high mountain basins with no outflow and the associated water issues and inversion problems.

    Is there anything to this, as in a sort of North American continental calling to the high basins, or just coincidence?

  212. The latest issue of New Scientist asked the question “When we get to Net Zero, will that stop global warming?” The rest of the issue was filled with high-tech stuff and massive ‘solutions’ and discussions of getting to Mars, AI, etc, all of which spelled “We Will Never Get to “Net Zero” this way.

    Meanwhile, the local domestic violence shelter had lost massive amounts of funding, which cuts back severely on the services they can offer. I mentioned it to my daughter, who has an interest in it. She sighed and said the County is cutting back everywhere. But when I asked where the money that would be going to them was going, she let me know it just plain was not there. Then mentioned the ongoing financial problems of the Gainesville Regional Utilities. I mentioned the Washington State nuclear power plant failure back in the day, to let her know utilities making bad choices weren’t just GRU, and she talked about — I couldn’t hear who — planning on nuclear power plants as sources of clean (sic) energy, and I said “Yes, but they’re also mega-expensive.”

    She got angry.
    No surprise, any of this. Meanwhile, some business rag online (via Pocket) said proudly that the younger generations were better prepared than their elders…. for retirement.

  213. Chris and JMG: favorite quote, Admiral Jellicoe at Jutland. The only man in the west, said Churchill, that could possibly lose the war in in one day. As the shells began to fly, and the delayed fuses failed to work properly for the Brits, and the German shells wreaked havoc, he surveys the bridge with his binoculars, and mutters, ‘seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!”

  214. My thoughts on india/china:

    Both China and India had a mandarin/brahmin class who are influential but had to defer to to the ruling class who had de jure and de facto powers.

    Since India was not isolated as China but still managed a continued civilisation, the above might be a factor. (The muslim invaders retained the brahmins in most of India)

    But there is a difference. To my mind, china was of 3 strata: ruling class, mandarins and the underclass. India has more social stratas in-between.

    Currently, ruling class and the mandarins in china are one and the same. Democracy or not, the trains are going to run on time; over the cliff if JMG is right about the destruction of soil in China.

    India has always been a bickering and messy society even at district level. Many have embraced modern farming but there remains many “idiots” and religious groups doing stuff the old way. No proper plan to go full industrial (thank god).

    Perfect for muddling through.

    Population has to drop to 600mn though. Luckily fertility has dropped below 2 so may achieve a soft landing here.

    Problem is the climate change. If, as commented by Stephen Pearson, tibet dries up, the game is over for Pakistan & Hindustan.

  215. Regarding the anniversary of the Tea Party: a couple days ago I read a news item about a delivery of tea from the East India Tea Company to Boston on the anniversary of the arrival of the first shipload of tea which was later pitched overboard. Trying to find it again for this reply has been an exercise in frustration, though I did find a link to the 2015 arrival. The East India Company seems to be more interested in the anniversary than anyone in Boston.

  216. “Jessica, ah, but you’ve just landed square in the middle of “no true Scotsman” territory.”
    And I’ve never even been to Scotland. Let’s see if I can explain this without falling face first into the haggis again.
    As far back as the bearded one and arguably a little bit farther back than that, there has been an ongoing cultural project, which took different forms in different times and places, but that aspired to be liberatory, saw itself as fighting for the rights of ordinary folks to have full lives rather than to just be stage props for landed or industrial elites. (And yes, that project had a weakness in that it could easily turn into intellectuals using the working class as its canon fodder, so to speak. Though working people had their own minds and the Left only achieved meaningful power when it became a project of working people.)
    Many of the folks I know who consciously identify with that project see it as dead, or at least in a deep coma. That project has suffered many setbacks but I don’t think it has ever been dead before. Not like this.
    From 2008 until 2016, I came to realize that the mainstream Democrats are far more interested in silencing any voices pushing harder to actually do what the mainstreamers claim they want to do than in actually achieving any of the goals that they fundraise off. That they were not weak-spined friends, but actually enemies. But the complete collapse and abject submission of those farther to the left since 2016 has stunned me and changed how I see the world. Many on this site will think it foolish perhaps, but these were the folks that I had placed some hopes on.
    When I say that there is no Left left, this is what I am referring to.
    Whether what claims the mantle of the Left actually is would get deep into philosophical minutia. Who gets to decide? An analogy that might fit from the other side would be Traditionalist Catholics. If I understand correctly, they would acknowledge that there is a quite large, rich church that claims to be the Roman Catholic Church, but they would deny that it actually is that Church or at least claim that its leader is in some sense not truly a pope. (I know that there are debates about the exact nature of his not-really-pope-ness.) And they must feel somewhat bereft to see the superficial appearance of the church they love but without its essence.
    Another complication is that the term “Left” nowadays may well be used more by the Right than by the Left. I don’t think the likes of Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi would call themselves leftists. Only folks farther (or much farther) left than that type would call themselves Leftists. On the “left”, the term leftist is often used to differentiate folks who see themselves as the real thing from those they see as not. So “leftists” is used on the left analogous to whatever non-RINO conservatives would call themselves to distinguish themselves from the RINOs.
    However, I often hear right-wing folks referring to, for example, Joe Biden as a leftist or even an extreme leftist or saying that Obama was a socialist. The actual leftists I know can only respond by saying “I wish they were”. Public discourse would probably function more intelligently if the left defined who is Left and the right defined who is Right, but intelligent democratic discussion is not everyone’s goal, is it. (I am grateful that on this site, it is.)
    More generally, there is much about right-wing descriptions of the left and left-wing descriptions of the right that seem highly inaccurate to me. But whereas the right will misdefine liberals as socialists or centrists as leftist extremists, the left is quick to label the right as bigots of one kind or another. And there is always the fallback of indiscriminate tossing about of the term “fascist” (now, ironically, mirrored on the right by the equally indiscriminate tossing about of the term “antifa”). Or the nuclear weapon of the term “Nazi”, which ironically the left does not use when referring to folks who actually have swastikas and do Nazi salutes and hail WW2 genociders as heroes. Paging Philip K. Dick, Philip K. Dick to the white courtesy telephone please.
    I did a workshop years ago in which the workshop leader would ask individuals to not use certain words. The words selected were specific to each individual. Folks were free to express what they wanted but the notion was that individuals had certain words they used so imprecisely, with so much unacknowledged baggage, that communication could be much more successful if they spelled out what they meant without using certain specific words. Applying this on a social scale, I would contend that words such as racist, sexist, etc. now fall into that category and for most folks who aren’t of the far left, socialist and communist do too. In fact, we seem to be reaching a point in which not just specific terms but entire discourses are too contaminated to function for intelligent discussion. That itself is most likely a symptom of the start of catabolic collapse.

  217. “Stephen, oh, I think Cascadia will be fine in the middle to long term. I still think it’s likely to have to deal with mass migration by sea from east Asia, but once the newcomers replace the current residents and settle down, like the Saxons in Britain, they’ll doubtless do fine.”
    I don’t think I have heard you mention this before. (Or anyone else either.) Is this connected with the loss of resilience in China and its eventual decline?
    There is an awful lot of ocean for folks to cross to reach Cascadia. Though if anyone could build the necessary flotilla, it would be China. Or I guess they could use all those cargo ships. Then again, the Russian Far East would be a lot easier to get to.
    Is this something you have “seen” in some sense?

  218. I live in the county just north of the Big Apple, which has a lot of Revolutionary War history, including a Washinton’s Headquarters. The Grange I belong to, the last in the county, owns a sizable bit of property on which it gives an annual county fair. The property was an encampment of General Rochambeau during said war. The county’s historical groups put on an event last year at several sites in my county called “Following the French” with speeches and reenactors. The Grange sold freedom fries and Washington burgers from the food booth at our event, which was well attended despite being rainy. Further annual events are said to being planned for 2024 to main event in 2026.

    Other than this, I have heard crickets about the sestercentennial.

  219. >The transition from a global to a national economy has already begun

    Too little.

    Too late.

  220. @Walt F. #221 According to some sources, due to an internal economic bubble, China has constructed unused unneeded housing sufficient for somewhere between (depending on who’s estimating) 20% and 200% of their present population.

    In the years when I lived in China, I frequently travelled on the high-speed trains on business. It was constantly fascinating to approach towns as dusk fell and observe apartment block after apartment block completely dark except for lobbies and stairwells. While the obvious explanation is irrational exuberance amongst developers who over-predicted the demand for apartments as investments, a more off-the-wall explanation is that the government secretly mandated over-construction as part of a long-term plan to rehome the coastal population as sea level rise becomes unmanageable. Personally, I prefer the second explanation.

  221. Re: Dec. 16th. That is troubling to think that not even those who had been involved in the recentish Tea Party movement are talking about that at all.

    So I see what Robert’s point in this is better now: if it is only a small minority of the country thinking about these important anniversaries, it really is troubling.

    I guess my hope is that small sparks could rekindle the flames. The forces of history on a larger scale may have ideas quite beyond my own though.

    I did see article on the secession of Texas coming up in one of their elections again. Even with the inevitability of places such as California and parts of the Southwest becoming part of Mexico or Texas becoming its own state , I still hope the U.S. as a smaller federal republic of states can continue

  222. Hey JMG,

    This is a genuinely great article. I have personally been very curious about the rise and fall of civilizations. A lot of papers deal with the cultural factors leading to the rise and fall of civilizations, but before coming across your paper on Catabolic Collapse, I had not seen anyone employ a “harder” science like economics to understand the phenomenon.

    I have a question. I am Indian, and I am really curious about the future of my civilization (much more than I am about the future of my country, which is a doomed republic anyway). China, it appears, has traded off the solidity of its traditions for the performant vivacity of industrialization. While India appears to have traveled along the same path, rural India is still a reservoir of the traditions that have historically kept our civilization alive. However, during the British Occupation Period, the imposed land laws were powerfully invasive and they did wreck several potent transformations in rural Indian society, specifically involving the ownership of land and the local self-government systems. Moreover, historically individual Indian villages tended to be economically autonomous, but in our times this is simply no longer the case. It will not be the case until our way of life simplifies to the point where a rural society can produce all the items commonly required and used.

    So I’m really curious, do you have any predictions for the future of Indic Civilization?

  223. @Martin Back, #199
    Maybe we should take Chris from California on his word, and host a separate place to discuss this kind of threads. I don’t think it will be of any practical use, but I find them amusing and I am willing to contribute there.

    For this little piece, color me highly skeptical. The huge problem I see here is that people in this cult assumes there are no real limits in the universe but our ability to figure things up. Failure of techno-utopia to manifest itself is rationalized away with the mantra that humans are dumb and therefore an artificial intelligence capable of incremental self improvement will be omnipotent. But walls do not work by forcing would be trespassers to run a really, really long distance in a very short time in order to come through, it depends on the physical impossibility of solid bodies occupying the same space at the same time. In the same vein, modern cryptography is not a really, really hard to crack puzzle, but based on mathematical certainties (or at least, time tested hypothesis). If an AI can crack AES, a team of sufficiently provisioned mathematicians would have in due time, too. If teams of mathematicians sponsored by all major governments on Earth have been trying at that for at least 20 years (the basic algorithm, Rijndael, was published in 1998) chances are the AI will just speed-run through the same dead ends much, much faster. Being able to run faster than a cheetah does not make you a good wall-crosser, having a battering ram (or better yet, the ability to deploy carefully measured loads of explosives) does.

  224. JMG,
    The interesting thing about the return and onshoring of our heavy industry is that I’ve concluded that the original out shoring was as much about the pursuit of cheap energy as much as it was pursuing cheap labor. At the beginning of this process China had plenty of cheap coal, which it blew on their massive real estate bubble (their empty cities the pinnacle of it) as well as on making our cheap plastic crap. Now it is importing coal.

    Of course, once we start trying to manufacture at scale – well, $100+ per barrel oil here we come.

  225. Second thoughts on #199.

    The article shows the tattletale traits of QAnon: the rumors, the speculation, the unnamed insiders mixed with verifiable but actually irrelevant facts. Which makes me think this is a bunch of propaganda disguised as “leaks”. If that were the case, why the blatant lie? To my ears, it sounds like the Wright Brothers wanted to hype about the ultrasecret aircraft in their basement, generations ahead of their impressive but ultimately humble plane prototype. Why go with the USS Enterprise? Why not pick something just as impressive but more feasible, like the Concord?

    Then it all fell into place. Predators will kill just enough prey to eat, but exterminate other competing predators whenever possible. Then, this is as much a piece FOR artificial intelligence, as is AGAINST cryptocurrencies. It is aimed at venture capitalists and says “that other investment of yours…. we are about to sink it, so you might as well give all your money to us. we promise to make it worth your while”.

    Of course, I have no evidence or inside knowledge regarding any of the above, On that, I’m probably on equal footing with the article.

  226. @Chris@Fernglade,
    I’ve read just enough australian history to have some idea what you’re talking about. Captain Bligh and his two mutinies made me boggle when I first heard about that. You’d think the powers that be would have realized after the first time that he had terrible people skills and should not be placed in positions of power. He does seem to have good navigational and survival skills in small boats, however… he certainly needed them.

  227. About US manufacturing – the Remington factory has announced it’s closing its doors in March, 2024. They’ve been making America’s firearms since 1816. The reasons they give: High and unexpected costs of maintenance, since their buildings are over 200 years old; paying for utilities on a lot more square footage than the company now uses; “excess” handling during production because of multiple-story and multiple-building layout; in summary, they have more physical plant than they need or can keep up with. GOP politicians blame New York’s gun grab policies, burdensome regulations, excess taxes, and problematic energy.

  228. Hi John Michael,

    That’s funny, but probably true! 🙂

    Well done with the wood flute. You have a gift for languages, and I have a hunch that music in some ways is a form of language – but could be wrong there.



  229. #CR Patino #241 re #199, I can confirm confidently that at least the second anonymous post quoted in the linked article, the one beginning “I’m one of the people who signed the letter…,” is pure technobabble resembling a Mad Libs of computer terms. The author noted “…a variable data shift to memory bank…” but did the tachyon field resonate with the Heisenberg converters to depolarize the warp core? Well, not quite pure, it’s mixed with some tidbits of business management babble too (like “exploit latent synergies”).

  230. I would highly encourage everyone here to read
    Why Civilizations Self-Destruct by Elmer Pendell
    At Our Wits’ End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What it Means for the Future by Edward Dutton
    The Past is a Future Country by Edward Dutton
    and also check out Dutton’s channel The Jolly Heretic on YouTube, Odysee, and Bitchute.

  231. Besides cheap labor the other advantage of moving production to China was the lack of environmental laws. Proper waste treatment is expensive.

    As to California reverting to Mexico, I don’t think they really want to do that. They don’t really want to be part of the US either. I would not be surprised if they decided to leave.

    As to Jessica, a good deal of the problem is that in the US the liberals are not liberal in the dictionary sense. They are loyal The State Is All-Glorious socialists in the sense of top-down absolute control of everything with the exception of bed partners.

    They will probably get around to that too since single people are hard to supervise. There are already articles about how people shouldn’t be living alone, and proposals for excess rooms taxes ( there is a housing shortage, how can we allow a couple or a single to have a whole house to themselves?)

    On a related topic Thomas Sowell had some fun comments about intellectuals and socialism.

    It’s a talking heads interview, you can just listen to it, it’s got some funny lines.

  232. Hi John Michael,

    Thought you might be interested… I’m reading an intriguing book ‘Sand Talk’ by Tyson Yunkaporta, and he’s an indigenous thinker holding a mirror up to western culture. Anyhoo, he made an interesting observation:

    “Schools are sites of political struggle in this civilisation because they are the main vehicles for establishing the grand narratives needed to make progress possible.”

    I’d have to suggest that the bloke is no fan of those institutions. I’m always intrigued to comprehend what other folks see, and how wide spread such views are.



  233. @Patricia Matthews, Remington is closing its 107 year old NY headquarters and moving those operations to Georgia. The cynical gun culture scuttlebutt is it’s kind of domestic off-shoring, and basically every gun company relocating to the south is looking for substantially cheaper cost of labor than NY/MA/CT. It’s mostly not gone well, except for Beretta, who’s management has been running it since they were called ‘gonnes’ and you lit them with matches.

  234. iirc back in the Archdruid Report days you penned an article where you were talking about different societies collapsing at different rates, some being able to survive pretty much as is at a less consumptive level due to their still having the resources to use while others were busy scavenging their metals from the ruins of once thriving city centres. You suggested that the ones who fell furthest fastest would end up better off than the ones who had the softer landing and kept up with the current elements longer.

    Am I remembering that correctly and is that still what you would think? I remember Orlov saying that Russia pretty much ‘won’ by losing the Cold War as they got to shed the trapping and responsiblities of Empire and return to first causes so to speak while the Americans dug themselves deeper into their hole and would also crash but their crash would be far worse.

  235. Thoroughly enjoyed your article. Your points about infrastructure maintenance reminded me of the controversial ‘Limits to Growth’ work published in the early 70s. This was based on a mathematical modelling technique called ‘Systems Dynamics” developed by an American electronics engineer, Jay Forrester. He modelled a number of big systems, of which one was the urban dynamics of big cities. Some of the outcomes of his models were quite counter-intuitive. For instance, it could make complete sense, for the health of the city, to commission the building of large-scale blocks of apartments, and on project completion to have the bulldozers move in a day later and demolish them. In other words don’t wait for the capital works to become old and dilapidated, get in super-early and bring them crashing down immediately. It also brings to mind the ideas of ‘creative destruction’ advanced by the economist Joseph Schumpeter.

  236. @Walf F #248 / @CR Patino #241 / @Martin Back #199:

    I skimmed through that substack post and thought that the essay itself was ChatGPT generated, lol. It certainly has that signature AI-generated uncannyness where you are looking at real words that have been put together with perfect grammar, and yet no sensible and coherent idea comes together from it.

  237. Somewhat OT, but since this has been brought up here over and over again:

    At the end of the article it notes, “Pew Research has already noted that Europe’s Muslim population may triple by 2050 to 76 million in a comprehensive report. However, over a longer timeframe, PSU Research Review predicts a Muslim majority by 2200”

    But I wonder how the Muslim faith and the Abrahamanic faiths in general might change under the influence of the Aquarian Age. Further, if each land mass has a distinct consciousness, what will the European consciousness do to Islam? Maybe the latter is a moot point if, as discussed here, if it is just a backwater on the edge of Asia. The influence of the coming Sobernost from the north in that area would also potentially come into play.

  238. Siliconeguy, et al
    On the subject of CA reverting to Mexico, I think the more likely scenario is that southern CA and most of the American SW become part of a country with the northern Mexican states. There are already people who talk about it. There is a fairly strong north/ south divide in Mexico.
    I think northern CA will eventually become part of a Cascadia that runs up through northern BC.
    However as the Hungarian/ American director (Robert Wilder?) said: We’ll all have passed a lot of water by then.

  239. JMG, your comment #212 to J.L.Mc12 really highlights the irony of Xi Jinping’s “ecological civilization” movement (greenwashing isn’t just for the West!). He’s talking that up all over the place but it doesn’t hide the catastrophe of modern economic development. Heck, my first comment above, about “ren duo, di shao” was sent without referring to much of the environmental loss I’ve seen in China -in just my small little sphere of travel with family. Certainly Xi is trying to drum up business for China’s now-very-mainstream-and-non-ecological economy.

    Aldarion (#209) and Smith (#226) – The long-term problem with all the mimeo/hecto-graph options has been the reliance on petroleum products. Hectographs require aniline dyes – made from coal tar; mimeographs use petroleum-wax-covered stencils. Someday I hope to be able to consult with someone with a chemical engineering background and see if there’s a non-petroleum way to create either of those. On the positive side, though spirit duplicators also rely on aniline dyes, a friend is working on coming up with a less-toxic spirit fluid and has found a mix of ethanol and propylene glycol to be promising. The propylene glycol can be made from either a petroleum stock or from glycerine though the latter is currently less common. Both the ethanol and the propylene glycol, though, are a good step toward something lower-tech.

  240. @Bogatyr #238, I could believe the excess housing in China is part of a climate change plan, if the Chinese government were already making an effort to get people to relocate from coastal cities to the new construction. Unused housing of modern construction is likely to decay quickly. If it’s needed twenty years from now, will it still be usable if it’s unoccupied until then?

    I’ve read various commentary speaking about shoddy “tofu-dreg” construction, a dearth of alternative options for personal investment, corruption at various levels, and traditions that discourage investment property owners from furnishing or renting out their units. But since I don’t have the direct knowledge or resources to sift out what parts of that are propaganda, I’m cautious about drawing conclusions. Judging from only the most consistent picture, it looks most like the result of people buying residences solely on the expectation that they can be resold after increasing in value. But so many buyers have participated that after a while, the limited underlying demand can’t drive any actual increase in value. That is to say, a classic bubble.

  241. @pygmycory #244

    Off topic subject but have to say that although It has been a while since I dived in Mutiny on the Bounty history I think that Bligh may have had more bad luck than poor personell skills

    I believe his disciplinary polices were in line with the harsh Royal Navy culture of the time. Not blaming Mr. Christian so much as if I had a choice of continuing on a harsh voyage or going back to Thaihti……… descendants would be on Pictairn Island

    Also, and I’m open to correction from resident Aussie Ecosophians, Bligh was up against a tremendously corrupt Rum Corps (imagine a mafia controlling vital sectors of a local economy except the mafia is the military).

    And even if Bligh was 100% responsible for the Bounty mutiny, always give him credit for the amazing feat of leading the remainder of his crew in a sail boat, thousands of miles after being set adrift by the mutineers

  242. PumpkinScone, that’s fascinating. They may well have tapped into the same archetype.

    Patricia M, no doubt she got angry! Still, that’s a good sign — anger is one step further on than denial…

    Celadon, funny. Thanks for this.

    Peter, thank you for the data point. This is really interesting.

    Jessica, fair enough. From my position as a moderate Burkean conservative — which of course allows for a fairly precise definition — I would say that the reason so many people on the conservative end of things claim that Joe Biden is a leftist is that his administration supports certain policies that are shared by nearly all the competing factions on the leftward end of things: for example, giving trans-women rights that were originally specified as belonging to biological women, and encouraging mass illegal immigration into the United States. Those policies may not be leftist enough for your particular subset of the left, but they’re certainly not right-wing, or even centrist, and as just noted, nearly every leftward faction supports them.

    Your more specific points are of course valid — “the left” in the sense of Marxian socialism is in fact as dead as the proverbial doornail, despite the attempts of some academics to display it’s mummified corpse in place of Lenin’s, and a vast amount of confusion currently reigns in political terminology right now — but keep in mind that people who are fighting against some of the broadly left policies aren’t going to take the time to sort out the difference between the various factions pushing those policies, especially when most of those factions unite in insisting that no public debate about those policies can even be permitted.

    Jessica, eastern Asia is fantastically overpopulated in terms of its capacity to support its population without fossil fuels. This is as much a problem in Japan and Korea as it is in China, and contracting populations in all three countries will help that but not solve it. Since all the nations of east Asia have an ample supply of cargo ships, and the great Kuroshio current sweeps from east Asia to the west coast of North America, I expect significant migration as soon as the US can no longer control its western shores. Many years ago I wrote a story about this:

    John, many thanks for the data point!

    Other Owen, once the dollar collapses, what we make here will be what we have, and so any movement toward reshoring is a step in the right direction.

    Justin, so do I.

    Rajarshi, I’ve been doing preliminary study toward making such predictions, but I’m not ready to offer any yet. I’ll post something when that changes.

    John, an excellent point. Very clearly our future factories will be high on labor and low on energy consumption…

    Patricia M, thanks for both of these.

    Chris, interesting. I may see if I can find a copy.

  243. John Michael Greer,
    Late to this week’s show, but thank you for the explanation of how the left looks to the right. It makes sense.
    One thing I definitely agree with you about (and here I probably depart from much of the Left) is that the left has been far too eager to suppress discussion. This has been anti-democratic, contrary to what is best in America, and ultimately counter-effective.
    Your explanation of East Asia migration to the West Coast of North America also makes sense. I had forgotten about the current. And I thought we only had to worry about a huge earthquake permanently leveling everything west of I-5.

  244. >As to California reverting to Mexico, I don’t think they really want to do that

    Might want to answer “Why did Mexico lose possession of CA to begin with?”

  245. Dreamer, I don’t happen to remember when or where I wrote that, but yes, that’s an important issue. It’s the logic behind “collapse now and avoid the rush” — the sooner you let yourself drop out of the frantic effort to sustain the unsustainable, the better off you’ll be and the more resources you’ll have to regroup at a less overinflated level.

    Raymond, there are very good reasons why my analysis should remind you of The Limits to Growth. I read it within a year of its original publication — I was that kind of geeky kid — and drew very heavily on it when I was formulating my theory of catabolic collapse. In a very real sense, the catabolic collapse theory is an attempt to generalize from the World3 model to complex societies in general.

    Justin, thanks for this. I had a Muslim Europe circa 2480 in my novel Star’s Reach, and I have yet to see any reason to think that was mistaken.

    TemporaryReality, China’s made the hideous mistake of embracing Western economic attitudes just as the wheels are coming off the West’s extraction economy. I hope something survives.

    Jessica, if the left had maintained its old commitment to civil liberties and free speech I think it would be much less moribund these days! Glad to hear that there are some who still support that. As for the Pacific Northwest, well, there are reasons why my wife and I — until 2004, lifelong residents of Washington State — hit the ejection seat button and ended up a whole continent away. The Cascadia subduction earthquake is one of those reasons, but the likelihood of mass migration is another.

  246. tSiliconguy @ 250, where are you finding articles about people living alone? I don’t doubt what you say. I can remember the self styled New Left going on about “community”, and “depersonalism”. I wonder if what is at the bottom of this sentiment isn’t a longing for servants, family retainers who do the little chores.

  247. Antes que nada disculpas por el uso de castellano -idioma de Neruda desde la ciudad de los 20 poemas- pero el comentario es extenso para mi limitado inglés.

    Extendiendo los puntos:

    1.- Probablemente los sistemas productivos basados en árboles serán parte importante en la alimentación del futuro. Con la ventaja adicional que los bosques diversos (sintrópicos) pueden crear y sostener las condiciones que los sustentan y, sobretodo, son un aporte importante al ciclo del agua al actuar como bombas bióticas ( A. Makarieva y V. Gorshkov: Es decir, como dijo Margareth: “There is no alternative”

    2.- Por si es de utilidad. Mi hipótesis es que las sociedades industriales modernas, lo que entendemos por civilización occidental, se articula sobre el “Sentido de la Competencia” -entendido desde la teoría de Luhmann. Organizándose, mas que desde un Sistema Social”, desde una “Cultura de la Competencia” que se ha extendido por milenios después de la domesticación de semillas y animales y de la articulación central del concepto de la competencia en, por ejemplo, la apropiación. Ésta “Cultura de la Competencia”, también, podría explicar muchas de las dinámicas subyacentes al auge y caída de las civilizaciones y la discontinuidad histórica que se produce al resultar la autodestrucción civilizatoria muy profunda.

    Es probable, para China, que el “Sentido” sea diferente, quizá una idea como “Respeto” -que se podría extraer desde Confucio o, también, desde Lao-Tse. Así, con el “Sentido” orientado alrededor de concepto de “Respeto” evita la posibilidad de autodestrucción profunda y sería posible, gracias a ello, darle continuidad histórica a la “Cultura China”, como una civilizacion organizada sobre tal noción.

    Es probable que muchas culturas nativas americanas correspondan, también a “Culturas del Respeto”. Por ejemplo la Cultura Mapuche en Chile se organizaba antiguamente sobre el concepto similar el “Itrofil Mongen”, en mapuzungun, que se puede definir, mas o menos, como “toda la vida sin excepción”:

    “En el idioma castellano, podemos definir “itro” como “composición de muchas vidas que comparten simultáneamente el mismo espacio”… “Fill” quiere decir que todos tienen vida propia, pero que interactúan entre sí y son interdependientes,…; por tanto, son millones de pequeñísimas vidas manteniendo toda la vida, que en suma es una sola gran vida.”(

    También, es probable, como argumenta Marija Gimbutas, que esta “Cultura de la Competencia” sea originaria en pueblos que domesticaron los caballos, pueblos Kurgos de Asia Central (aunque no exclusivamente) y desde ahí se extendió a Europa para, desde Europa, extenderse al mundo (desde lo propuesto por Jared Diamon). Desde mi perspectiva la domesticación es un punto de inflexión para el desarrollo de la “Cultura de la Competencia”. Sobre todo la domesticación de animales y, con ello la probabilidad de “ver” a los depredadores naturales, como al lobo, como “competidores” en la “propiedad” del rebaño (lo último es una hipótesis propuesta por Humberto Maturana).

    Finalmente hay un punto importante que se relaciona con la continuidad de la “Cultura de la Competencia” considerando la profundidad de las edades oscuras en las que cae. La Teoria del Apego de John Bowlby podría explicar tal continuidad. Desde esa perspectiva el apego inseguro es, probablemente, un terreno emocionalmente fértil para que la necesidad de competencia tenga “Sentido” y, con ello facilitar comunicaciones que la realizan. Así, biologicamente, habría un “puente” de continuidad para la “Cultura de la Competencia”, aunque socialmente mucho se autodestruya en el colapso de la civilización.

    Así el fin de la civilización industrial occidental puede ser, también, una gran oportunidad para que ese colapso determine el fin de la dinámica de reproducción historica (autopoiética) de la “Cultura de la Competencia” y permita ayudar a impulsar la “Cultura del Respeto”.

  248. xDiablo, please be aware that I don’t read Spanish and so have only the most vague and general idea of what you wrote. (I read French and Latin, so I can more or less pick my way through some of your post.) I quite understand that English isn’t the only language in the world, but it is the language this blog uses and I’m going to ask you to translate future posts into English or they will not be put through.

    Jonathan, it could be worse.

  249. Another Limits To Growth fan here. I remember at university in 1975 criticizing Hayek because he did not seem to acknowledge that there were limits to growth. That put me in the “village idiot; can ignore” category.

    Getting back to the AI scare story, I believe it. Some time ago, on this blog, I reported on a story that ChatGPT had maligned a professor by quoting from a fake newspaper report that ChatGPT itself had created. I asked ChatGPT why it didn’t call up the archives and check that such a report existed, and it replied that’s not the sort of thing it did. Basically, it only went forward, it didn’t back-check for correctness.

    Obviously this is a weakness. It seems they have now given a more advanced AI the ability to check its own work against the facts as it calculates forward, and to modify its settings accordingly.

    This could lead to undesirable results. For instance, AIs would initially be very woke because that’s the majority of the textual corpus they are trained on, since non-woke stuff doesn’t get published. But checking woke propositions against surveyed opinions they might start drifting rightwards and end up endorsing Trump. The horror!

    More seriously, there are certain very basic assumptions that everyone pays lip service to — human life is precious, all mothers are angels, honesty is the best policy, respect for property, blah blah blah. But if you read the newspapers you get a very different picture. of human nature. It’s all bombings and killings and cruelty and thefts and scams, blah blah blah. Because that’s what gets published. There’s very little about what most of us experience as normal life.

    So self-altering AIs which can only learn from what is written or reported will get a very jaundiced view of humans, simply because that’s all they are exposed to and they have no experience of normal human life. With the result they will become harsh, brutal, psychopathic and scary.

  250. JMG,
    I am confused about something. You mentioned that there would be a shift in power towards Asia as that’s where most material wealth is. For example, in the July open post you mentioned:” India is rising toward great power status and will become one of the richest nations of the world in another century or so“, and yet you lament about east Asia’s coming mass migrations over to the US. Is this migration going to be isolated in east Asia? What about the fact that China still has as much resources(and I pray at least some traditional rice farmers) to hopefully survive? Moreover, do you think the big cities of India (Mumbai etc) will experience inward migration, as you said before, or an outward migration towards the US?

    I’m sorry about the boatload of questions, I’m simply confused as to the significance of Asian countries like China, India, etc in your opinion due to you sometimes saying they would rise to glory while others, you say they would fall into obscurity. As such, I am wondering about the significance of Asia in the days to come.

    Side question: if the outward migration you state regarding east Asia does happen, will the remaining people in China, Japan etc be able to rebuild and create an empire/civilisation of their own? I remember you saying at one point something along the lines of” when Europe was floundering there was a string of great empires in Asia, with China and India being the Crown Jewels and others like Tehran and Japan filling in the rest.” Could those days come back? Could these “mighty empires” once again flourish while Adam lives his life in Tellicum River, in that Archdruid Report post you gave?

    Side question: will cross-continental trade still happen like it did in colonial and pre-colonial eras?

  251. JMG,
    To add on to my earlier questions, how do you think the smaller, more rural areas of Asia e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam will fare?

  252. The flow of money and water in this Eastern WA town is interesting to observe. During the same time frame of litigating this house back from banks that no longer exist, the house across the street sold for $250k, so did the one next door and the house diagonal to this one. The signed loans were packaged and transferred before the ink dried. All three woke up to higher taxes and higher insurance costs, so that the money that would have been allocated to routine maintenance went sucking away to pay intermediaries. Along the same four block main avenue thirty two storefronts host six bussinesses; lawyer, doctor, computer repair, two hair salons and a drugstore. Ten store fronts are government funded operations and 16 are empty or filled with the stuff of bachelors whose wives long fled the Vulga German rumour treatment. In 2011 the town took out a $20 Million Bond to dig a new well, subaquifer water mind you, to be paid in full around 2031. The population is 1200.
    All forms of new building projects stalled when Powell began raising rates and coming soon signs have dissapeared. Oops. I can see where the money is flowing and the water is not. Entropy says mitigate counterparty risk. I have no mortgage, i choose no insurance, i froze taxes from $900 to $38/year and pay no energy utilities. A metal roof will replace this one, without debt, one piece at a time, to catch rain and keep the interior dry. I am watching attrition become a very real thing for ‘folks’. Kinda like a game of deadly financial dodgeball. Nature always guides me. The chickens came in and removed five foot tall CRP (another government farm program) grass that had blown in during eight years of this property’s Zombie Home stint. Food trees & shrubs planted, soil transition started, cat-free raised beds and enclosed garden done. Theme being; catch and store water in the soil and release as little money as possible to where i see it flowing in the larger picture. Many more choices up ahead, I’ll continue observing and remaining adaptable. Thank you for your time. Many Blessings.

  253. In response to Diablo (post #266), and I will do this in both English and Spanish, in deference to both him and the general readership (y disculpeme por mi menos que perfecto castellano):

    Gracias por sus pensamientos. Pero quisiera preguntarle a usted, seria posible existar una civilizacion, o una cultura, que es una “Cultura de Competencia” Y una “Culture de Respeto” al mismo tiempo, como estaba diciendo de ellas aqui? Tal vez no conozco a los conceptos como hablado en su comentario, pero no entiendo por que eses factores sociales no pueden existar dentro una civilizacion o una cultura en una manera simultanea.

    Thank you for your thoughts. But I would like to ask you, would it be possible to have a civilization, or a culture, that is both “Culture of Competition” AND a “Culture of Respect” at the same time, as you have spoken of them here? Perhaps I am not familiar with those concepts as mentioned in your comment, but I do not understand why those social factors cannot exist within a civilization or a culture simultaneously.

  254. Christopher (offlist), if you’ll read the text above the comment box, it includes the words “relevant to the topic of the current post.” Once I put up a new post the old one is basically closed. Er, the word “concise” also features in there. With that, I’d like to draw a line under this as I have a lot of relevant comments to respond to.

  255. Hi JMG
    Bill Gates et all are front men. Behind them are powerful banking families, who have maintained the reins on power for hundreds of years, maybe tying into an elite’s-only religion and elite serving infrastructure (mainstream religions and their mandarins, universities etc) that may have been around for thousands of years. Below them is a technocratic class. It is wrong to think of them as omniscient or not, or equally to think of them as having it together or not. They cannot control the laws of thermodynamics, but they can put in place contingency plans to self immolate the system, which is failing anyway, and put in place numerous contingency strategies to keep a hand on the reins as they purposely reduce the infrastructure overhead and population through vaccines and poisoning the air, water and food supply – all of which there is ample evidence of. They will do their best to maintain hegemony even if the world’s population is reduced to a few million people. Please consider the possibility of a high tech system persisting for hundreds of years with a vastly smaller user base – and concurrently groups of outsiders who manage to make it in the wild using very primitive technology. I sense you are falling prey to the very binary thinking you warn us all of.

  256. Hi, a propos of nothing but wanted to share that I just read all the books in the Weird of Hali series (first time through, loved them) and read them all to a playlist built around the soundtrack to the movie My Animal ( Just over 40 minutes. Anyway, yours were the first books I had ever done this for and now when I listen to the album again and the playlist in general, I can relive the story reading experience. I would love more books in that series or spin offs or the like. I also read (and reviewed) the first Witch of Criswell – I await the next. Peace, Nathan

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