When I read through the last article I realized a skipped a stage. Why a shift, collapse, or crash is inevitable. The reason is fairly simple, but it is not one we like to look at because the implications are ones we would rather not deal with. But the issue will be dealt with, and if it isn’t dealt with by us, it will be dealt with by the cold, uncaring laws of nature.
Currently, simply maintaining the current status quo is unsustainable, and we are in fact increasing our size. The reason our current status is unsustainable, even if we did not increase any further, is at our current levels we are running out of vital resources, causing damage to the environment that we rely on to sustain us, and are in fact demolishing our food base by funding what is becoming one of the largest mass extinctions in history. Any of these by themselves would be enough, that we are doing them all at once is, quite frankly, excessive.
As we use our resources to maintain our society we need to grow because as we use these resources we also use them up. So we are in constant need of new sources of energy, plastics, metals, fertilizer, etc. Natural law prohibits the indefinite continuation of anything unsustainable. “No system based on perpetual growth can survive indefinitely in a finite universe.”
The laws of thermodynamics require unsustainable systems to fail. Specifically, the first two laws, those that deal with entropy and conservation. The law of conservation is often summarized as “nothing can be created or destroyed.” This proposition has been confirmed and verified repeatedly by hundreds of scientists over the course of more than a century. What this means is that whatever matter and energy we start with is the maximum amount we will ever have. All we can do is shift things around. So, if we reach a point where we need more than there is available, the system fails.
Entropy comes into play in an interesting fashion: it makes the problem worse. The law of entropy states that in a closed system the total entropy, or disorder, of the system increases to a maximum value. If the system is open, outside sources of energy can be used to increase the total order of the system. The trade off is that the source of that energy has suffered a loss of order, or an increase in entropy. From a general standpoint, this tells us that the more resources we use the more energy we need to get more out of them. This is further strengthened by the fact that conservation states no energy can be created, only obtained from some source. When that energy is used it is either invested in the creation of something (i.e. decreasing its entropy level), or it radiates away. And that energy has to come from somewhere. Currently, we are getting the majority of it from fossil fuels. When we burn fossil fuels we release a huge amount of energy that we can use. The cost is that the fossil fuels quickly reach a much higher level of entropy, making them useless as any further source of power.
So, our system cannot stay stable because we have reached the point where we need huge influxes of energy and resources to maintain ourselves. And we do not have the technology to obtain new sources of energy and resources off-world. This last is a typical solution proposed. Essentially the proposed solution is for the entire human race to become the aliens from Independence Day. There are four main problems I have with this as a solution. First, I have moral qualms that I think you’ll share if you really consider all of the implications of this. Second, it still isn’t an ultimate solution, because the laws of entropy and conservation do not live on Earth, they are inherent to the Universe. Three, we do not have the technology to do this, and will not before we need to have solved the problem. And four, I cannot condone an action that will end with the human race being destroyed by one of the most pathetic excuses for a plot-twist in all of cinema history.
Ultimately, this means we have to shrink. We basically have two choices. We can choose to do it, and thereby keep a lot of the advantages that we have gained. Or we can let nature take its course, and nature won’t let us keep our toys. We can attempt to shift to a sustainable system. And doing so might allow us to keep some of our toys if we can figure out how to make and use them in a sustainable fashion, as well as mitigating some of the less pleasant consequences of an uncontrolled collapse. While some of our technology may be unsustainable by nature and impossible to maintain. But, if it is possible, our best chance for figuring out how will be at the peak of our industrial might. Alternatively, we can ignore the problem, or assume it cannot be helped. Then the system will collapse or crash around our ears. Even if you do not personally plan on being alive then, believe me when I say your children will not think as highly of the “ignore it and maybe it will go away” plan as you do.