Collapse and The Exponential Function


This is the Guard Shack at the Washoe Smelter of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company as it looks today (this picture taken in 2020). More info can be found at the Wikipedia page and the park's page

Most everyone reading these articles probably has a good idea of what collapse is. For anyone unfamiliar with it, reading Ugo Bardi's blog, The Seneca Effect, will definitely provide insight into what the Seneca Cliff is and many different aspects of civilizational collapse. For those unfamiliar with the exponential function, the late Albert Bartlett gave a fantastic presentation of Arithmetic, Population, and Energy.

Many different examples of collapse can be seen in society today - the most visible ones are the inflation of prices of products and services caused by energy and resource decline, mass migrations, downfall of governments, loss of socioeconomic complexity, and the rise of violence (the sheer number of mass shootings here in the U.S. is a very conspicuous sign - more on this later). The hollowing out of the middle class is a symptom of energy decline, another visible sign of collapse.

More can be seen in this article from Sharon Astyk, which accurately points to the difference between problems and predicaments, quote: 

"Okay, did Sharon just write two FREAKING essays of “we’re fucked” and left us there with no solutions? Hey, that’s not fair, where’s the zero stars button?

In a sense, yes, that’s what I did. The old distinction between a problem (which can be solved) and a predicament (which must be endured and mitigated, but is fundamentally insoluble) applies here.

If you want me to pull a simple solution that will allow people to stop suffering and dying out of my bag of magic beans, and give you back the life you had in 2019 or 2015, I am doomed to disappoint you profoundly.

Even if you do all the things I suggest, it may not work for some people, and even if it does work, you are likely to be profoundly disappointed that “work” just means “make less awful” rather than “fix it and give me back what I had before.”

That’s disappointing, but it is also critical to understand.

I really like that in the process of telling us the facts about collapse, she also brings humor to the forefront as well. It is the point that collapse is deepening and the RATE of change is speeding up, evidence that this is an exponential increase rather than just a linear one, and that these changes are across the board (all systems, not just one or two) which really caught my attention. This is precisely what is difficult to get across to people - that these changes are constantly happening and that they are changing at an increasing rate. Something that yesterday you thought was under control and that you had more time to deal with suddenly changes to a new state that is ALREADY out of control and now beyond your capacity to deal with. Anyone caught up in damage to their house by extreme weather events or wildfires or other natural disasters has experienced this phenomenon and learned very quickly who was in charge - NOT THEM!

Unfortunately, society continues to ignore the warnings, as this quote from Nafeez Ahmed's article from last Thursday points out:

"Yet, despite this urgent warning, not only has it fallen on deaf ears, the UN itself appears to have diluted its own findings. Like the fictional film Don’t Look Up, we are more concerned with celebrity gossip and political scandals, seemingly unable – or unwilling – to confront the most important challenge that now faces us as a species.

Either way, these UN documents show that recognising the risk of collapse is not about doom-mongering, but about understanding risks so we can make better choices and avoid worst-case outcomes. As the report acknowledges, there is still much that can be done. But the time for action is not after 2030. It’s now.

By now, we really shouldn't be surprised that a large portion of society is too busy being distracted by a multitude of news items (such as lawsuits between famous people such as Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, failures of police agencies, failures of governmental agencies or the entire government itself, wars, and all sorts of other nefarious issues) to pay much attention to the real stories happening, namely that our life support systems are being eroded away by anthropogenic pressures. 

Furthermore, we also shouldn't be surprised that the people running these shows really don't care about the average person. Most actually have the mindset that they can control society by buying up all the resources they can and then charging a premium for them. But as the middle class continues being drained of their ability to buy these resources as a result of energy and resource decline, many will simply go without and return to what we as a society did in earlier times. As a result, many businesses which we think of as mainstays today will begin to fade into the past. Just two recent stories on the news proves this point - the story about the potential sale of Wendy's and another story pointing out how high gasoline prices are keeping boaters on land instead of on the lakes:

One can find countless similar stories across the board. Just go to Google Maps and take a look at the sheer number of businesses that are listed as "Temporarily Closed" and you will see how collapse is indeed deepening. I was busy recently posting pictures on the platform from trips I went on a decade ago when I noticed a large number of places I had been to no longer exist.

One recent story from Andrew Nikiforuk explains the scenario quite well and dispels all the myths circulating about how "the economy is recovering" or "employers have created hundreds of thousands of jobs" or other hype about how low unemployment is and/or the state of the economy, quote:

"These political explanations steadfastly ignore that our inflationary hell is due to the rising cost of oil, gas and coal all at once.

These fossil fuels still perform the majority of work in an ailing civilization struggling with the weight of its unsustainable numbers and unpredictable complexity. Houston geologist Art Berman, a reliable guide to the vagaries of our fossil fuel culture, recently put it this way: “What is going on is a system collapse.”

Other critics have their own terms for what we are experiencing. The U.S. analyst Nate Hagens calls it “the great simplification.” Geographer Peter Zeihan calls it “deglobalization.”

The ecologist Bill Rees calls it “overshoot.” And the late Donella Meadows called it “limits to growth.

One of the most accurate assessments comes from Art Berman, who says simply that, quote: Energy is the economy. Money is a call on energy. Debt is a lien on future energy.

As I described that one of the examples of collapse above simplifies the economy (loss of socioeconomic complexity), all the complexity that we are used to is slowly contracting as the energy which once powered said complexity disappears. That energy will now be needed for more basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Nikiforuk gives us an expanded view of this in the second part of his story.

I have found few articles as realistic and to the point as these two by Nikiforuk. He lists many of the same experts as I have here in this space and has himself written extensively on these topics over the years. His quote at the end of the second part is rather instructive:

"Years ago the great psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book about what happens to people in dehumanizing environments. Having survived two Nazi concentration camps, Bettelheim knew the subject well.

Near the end of The Informed Heart, he offered this prescient observation. Jews who accepted the status quo and believed in business as usual perished. Those who did not believe in business as usual left before the Germans arrived, sailed to Russia or America, or joined the resistance. Many survived. “Thus in the deepest sense the walk to the gas chamber was only the last consequence of a philosophy of business as usual,” wrote Bettelheim. It was “a last step in no longer defying the death instinct, which might also be called the principle of inertia.”

Now a widespread inertia prevents us from seizing control of our fate. We must do all we can to overcome that torpor. The implications are plain. Those communities that reject business as usual and cut their energy spending and all the materialist values that go with it, just might survive the long emergency and write a different ending to this story.

His point is so completely accurate and yet society is literally "running into the wall" with regard to reaching the Limits to Growth. Why does it take the laws of physics, thermodynamics, and nature to reel us in? The answer is denial of reality and optimism bias, unfortunately.

Many people have this magical thinking that EVs and/or electrification will solve things. Unfortunately, this just won't happen in a widespread manner. Electricity will become scarce and quite local, or regional at best, as time moves forward. There are many other fairy tales floating around which discount the simple reality, and there will certainly be many more claims like these in the future as society attempts to deny this said simple reality. Perhaps this video regarding the GM Firebird III gas turbine car says more about conditions back in 1958 and why people tend to think we are in the same place as back then. Unfortunately, in 1958, the world was still in a constantly expanding system of surplus energy. This expansion of surplus energy has been continuously shrinking for many years (or even decades) due to the energy cost of extracting the fossil hydrocarbons which is the basis of this surplus energy, and at the end 2018 we reached the peak and now are on the downside of that bell curve. While there is still a remote possibility of a higher peak in the next two or three years, this will do nothing for surplus energy, which will still be lower at that point due to declining EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested) values. Needless to say, we now exist in an entirely different world than the one in 1958.

Not that anyone needs yet more proof of collapse, considering the links I've already provided today; still here are two more articles here and here pointing to the inevitable slide down the Seneca Cliff. The first one deals with how Syrians are turning to herbal remedies versus mainstream drugs because of the drugs' high costs. The second one is about the epidemic of mass shootings, and as I revealed above that there would be more on the topic of mass shootings and violence, Umair explains precisely why these events are proof of social collapse.

I hope that this article helps explain where we are now and why so many of the stories one hears in the news claiming all kinds of great things about "jobs, the economy, and inflation" in general are nothing short of fantasies, myths, and fairy tales.


  1. Because we are dealing with predicaments, the intellectual struggle is coming to terms with a future where the only certainty is that things will get worse (the exact opposite of the positivist, humanistic tripe most of us are fed constantly, which is why I feel like I'm being gaslighted just from reading the papers). I think it's largely about accepting death on death's terms, something our culture has really tried to overcome. But now the future is dark enough we increasingly can't deny it. I fear the earthquakes when a majority of society grasps how bad it is. But at the same time, as long as we keep lying to ourselves about it, things can only get collectively worse.

    I enjoy reading your pieces because they don't gaslight me, likewise, your use of predicament was a lightbulb moment (eureka, we can't solve everything, which of course I knew but simply restating problems as predicaments is sometimes a relief). As you like to say, Live Now!, it really is the best advice.


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