Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CLXXV

Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)
16 min readFeb 7, 2024
Teotihuacan, Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Energy and Its Interconnections With Our Financialised Economic System

Petroleum geologist Art Berman recently posted an article discussing an issue regarding the mainstream energy transition narrative that I wanted to highlight. This is the connection between our monetary/financial/economic systems and energy, something that as Art argues is apparently not understood by most (all?) of the cheerleaders of this energy transition.

Or, perhaps it’s not that most don’t understand it, but that the complexities and interconnections are (conveniently?) ignored/dismissed/denied/overlooked/simplified as part of the bargaining/magical thinking/avoidance of anxiety-provoking thoughts that takes place in attempts to provide a ‘solution’ for what is for all intents and purposes a ‘predicament’ that at best might be mitigated at the margins — I’m referring to human ecological overshoot here, but also the recurring ‘collapse’ processes that complex human societies have been experiencing since our first experiments with them many millennia ago.

As Art concludes in his article:
“Most of the world’s leaders and the public accept that we are in the early stage of an energy transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Few of them understand what that means for our financial system because renewable energy — for all of its progress and benefits — cannot replace our 383 billion fossil energy slaves.

Money creation is nothing but debt. Debt is an IOU on future energy. If future energy can’t provide the same returns as present energy, money supply and credit will radically contract. A future based on renewable energy will collapse the money supply and the financial system.”

The importance of this connection cannot perhaps be overstated given the degree to which our many complexities have grown to be dependent upon our monetary/financial/economic systems. The impending implosion of these systems places the hopes/dreams of a ‘smooth’ energy transition in great peril; in fact, I would argue it’s an impediment that cannot be avoided and may be as or more significant than the hard geophysical limits of Peak Resources. I also believe this aspect helps to connect the dots between a number of themes that I have written about over the past handful of years as I reflect upon and attempt to come to a better understanding of the immense complexities involved in our predicament of human ecological overshoot and the recurring collapse processes that impact our societies.

I’ve written about fiat currency’s role and our economic/financial systems in our predicament and recurring societal collapse a number of times and from a variety of angles[1]. In particular, I’ve highlighted the debt-/credit-based nature of our relatively recent economic growth dynamics and how this is not sustainable since it pulls potential future growth and, more importantly, all the concomitant resources (especially energy) into the present leaving less and less resources to access and use in supporting our complexities down the road — and on a finite planet this self-evidently means the practice is not sustainable, not even close. And, due to the law of diminishing marginal returns, we need to do this resource drawdown more and more quickly just to maintain status quo complexities — to say little about efforts to pursue continuing growth expansion, the biogeophysical limits to this, and the speed at which it adds to already overloaded planetary sinks and degrades our ecological systems.

While many go to great lengths to deny/bargain with/rationalise away this perspective (including the notion of hard biogeophysical limits), it seems these systems have become little more than a Ponzi Scheme as a result of the approach that has been taken — especially their financialisation. We have, for better or worse, been inclined to pursue perpetual, exponential growth to now keep them from collapsing and having to face the consequences of such an implosion. And these consequences will be significant, especially for so-called ‘advanced’ economies who are the main beneficiaries of this arrangement.

Perhaps the most salient and problematic consequence of a monetary/financial/economic systems ‘collapse’ for our complex societies would be a cessation of global energy averaging systems; that is, trade of goods. For families/communities/regions/nations dependent upon import of goods (especially food, potable water, shelter needs, and the energy that underpins virtually everything), this could be disastrous if local circumstances/resources cannot support population needs. And, given the way and amount that humans have expanded across the globe — particularly the last couple of centuries — most localities cannot support their populations with locally-derived resources; again, not even close.

For example, in considering my home province of Ontario, Canada, the 15+ million (and growing) population imports well over 80% of its food needs and a very significant portion of other important goods. Very little of our basic needs are met with local resources indicating our population is well beyond the natural carrying capacity of our immediate environment and almost wholly dependent upon international trade — and the situation is made worse each passing year as more and more of the limited arable lands get ‘paved over’ in the pursuit of human expansion. In no uncertain terms, should trade-based supply chains breakdown for any reason our population will be in a very dire situation. The ‘inconvenience’ of Covid19 lockdown supply chain issues that was recently experienced by many regions was just a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what may arise in the wake of credit-based, supply chain ‘disruptions’ — to say little about geopolitical-based disruptions that are beginning to expand and can be argued to have a base in resource access/control.

I’ve also repeatedly touched upon the ruling class’s abuse/leveraging/manipulation of these systems to meet their primary motivation — the control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams[2]. In order to maintain their privileged positions atop the power/wealth structures inherent in complex societies, the ruling class have taken control of virtually all of society’s interconnected systems (e.g., government, media, academia, security, etc.), but especially the monetary/financial/economic ones. This provides this relatively small group of individuals/families with, at least for the time being, perpetual income/wealth to sustain their living standards and privileges — particularly because of the very significant dependencies on the various systems by the masses that have been established, especially over the past century+ (i.e,. a loss of skills/knowledge to be self-sufficient breeds total dependency upon those providing basic goods such as food, potable water, shelter needs, and energy).

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
-Edward Bernays

Given these organisational tendencies in large, complex societies it should be no surprise, that at the behest of those that stand to profit significantly from their pursuit (i.e., accumulation of wealth and the power/influence that flows from this), we have been guided towards maladaptive strategies via legislation but also very much by way of narrative management/control[3]. In order to sustain/expand the various wealth-generation/-extraction rackets, the ruling class has created broad-based narratives/stories to not only legitimise their positions atop our sociopolitical and socioeconomic systems but also to dissuade the masses from questioning the pursuit of perpetual growth on a finite planet.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
-Edward Bernays

The world’s ruling class and profiteers are motivated to pursue the infinite growth chalice at every opportunity (making a bad situation worse) and in order to keep the various rackets going/expanding (that they control and profit from) they spin/market this as both inevitable and necessary despite it being the exact opposite path for ‘sustainability’, long-term survival of our species, and health of our planet and its various ecological systems. They insist that growth is ‘progress’, only beneficial, has no limits, and can be accomplished in an ‘environmentally-friendly’ (aka ‘green/clean’) manner. Anyone who challenges this zeitgeist is a tinfoil hat-wearing, doom-loving conspiracy theorist and must be excised from spreading their mis-/dis-/mal-information.

In particular, it is completely against the interests of the ruling class for the masses to be independent and/or self-sufficient as this challenges their wealth-extraction/-generation systems and thus positions of power and privilege (see the most recent denigration of home food gardening as being bad for the environment[4]). Rather than risk a loss of their revenue streams and the influence it brings, they steer beliefs towards the support of actions/policies that in the end create greater and greater dependency upon the complex systems they own and control.

It is because of these interconnections between our energy/resource needs/wants and the ruling class’s control/influence upon these various systems that I have personally come to the conclusion that probably one of the last places we should look to/depend upon for a ‘rational’ approach to our ecological overshoot predicament and pending societal collapse is our sociopolitical systems — a ‘rational’ approach being to pursue degrowth and self-sufficiency policies[5], not continue chasing the perpetual growth chalice and sociopolitical dependencies.

While our sociopolitical systems are marketed/trumpeted as ‘representative’ and ‘for society/the people’, when one wipes away this surface narrative they are anything but[6]. They have been created by and remain controlled by society’s ‘elite’ in order to benefit a relatively small number of our species at the expense of the rest of us, as well as the entire planet and its other species. This group’s motivations are, despite narratives to the contrary, diametrically opposed to human ecological ‘sustainability’.

Not wishing to believe or acknowledge the predicaments/insoluble problems we are mired within and believe that we have agency in our lives and society, we story-telling apes have crafted a variety of soothing, cognitive dissonance-reducing narratives to help minimise our anxiety and avoid reality[7]. It seems it is in our uniquely human nature to avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts by telling and believing in stories that are disconnected from physical realities and also overlooks our ecological systems dependencies. We have tales that put us above and beyond the vagaries of the natural world and capable of overcoming biogeochemical limits at the wave of a wand called human ingenuity and technology. And, not surprisingly, our ruling class have dominated the storytelling and leveraged them to their advantage, creating a number of rackets from which they benefit significantly[8].

In particular, tales have been weaved about smoothly transitioning away from the fundamental resource that has underpinned our significant exponential growth in technology (i.e., hydrocarbons), allowing us to — for the moment — ignore the hard, physical constraints of living on a finite planet and believe we stand outside/above Nature and, as a result, created ‘solutions’ that are exacerbating our dilemma by leading us further into ecological overshoot[9]. They are exacerbating our predicament through the continuing expansion of our global, industrial societies, our population numbers, and the prolonged avoidance/denial of it.

Rather than face the anxiety-provoking thoughts that arise from the realisation/awareness that our most adaptive ability — tool innovation and use to enhance the extractive exploitation of our environment and leverage it to our needs/wants — is, in actuality, facilitating our demise (and perhaps that of most other life on the planet), we have employed protective psychological mechanisms to convince ourselves that our eyes are lying to us[10]; that our tools and the human ingenuity from which they arise are not only our greatest asset but will, regardless of impediments or even physical laws, ‘solve’ all potential difficulties/problems we encounter.

The leveraging of hydrocarbons through our tool innovation/use (along with some other ‘innovative’ catalysts, such as credit-/debt-based fiat currency) and subsequent exponential expansion has helped to put us in the predicament of ecological overshoot with all the associated symptom predicaments a result (e.g., biodiversity loss, sink overloading, resource depletion, etc.)[11]. But rather than recognise and acknowledge the one-time cache of easy-to-access and easy-to-transport dense energy resource as a main reason for our ‘progress’, we have woven narcissistic narratives that place the reasons upon our unparalleled ingenuity and tool-based innovations.

Those of us who have become aware of our predicament and have attempted to speak out/raise awareness of it tend to sit on the margins. Given most people wish their beliefs confirmed as opposed to challenged, we have experienced the emotional ‘reactions’ that accompany the speaking of anxiety-provoking thoughts — particularly ad hominem attacks. I, personally, have experienced this most often when I challenge the mainstream narrative around non-renewable, renewable energy-based technologies and the notion that they can smoothly replace hydrocarbon-based energy and products[12]. I would argue, however, that there is overwhelming evidence that this approach is putting us further into overshoot and reducing the natural carrying capacity of our planet especially as a result of the various planetary boundaries we have already or are close to broaching.

On top of this human ecological overshoot predicament are the recurring processes of complex society collapse, a phenomenon that has impacted every human complex society to date and that also appear to have been sped up by our exploding growth. I’ve written extensively about such complex society collapse particularly through the lens of archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s thesis elaborated upon in his monograph The Collapse of Complex Societies[13]. What’s important to focus upon here and gets us back to Art Berman’s point is the economic nature of ‘collapse’ within Tainter’s framework.

Fundamentally, when the ‘benefits’ of participating in and supporting the sociopolitical system one exists within have for some time been far less than the ‘costs’ associated with it (and, yes, it can take a long, long time — decades to centuries), regions/communities/families ‘abandon’ the behaviours necessary to maintain the system. In one form or another, they ‘opt out’. As more and more people make this choice, the various complex systems of society are undermined eventually resulting in societal ‘collapse’. This recurrent ‘collapse’ process appears to be occurring simultaneously with our human ecological overshoot predicament, creating a double whammy of dilemmas for our species.

Given the pre/historical tendency for the masses to abandon support for their sociopolitical system in the face of ‘costs’ exceeding ‘benefits’, it seems logical to deduce that the breakdown of energy-averaging systems due to diminishing returns on resource extraction (especially energy) will result in a similar loss of support. Maintaining support (in order to sustain privileges/revenue/etc.), even if just passive in nature, is an important consideration for the ruling class and it is increasingly likely (and I would argue we are witnessing this currently) that the ruling class will tighten their grip in order to sustain their privileges for as long as they can.

“Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege…”
-Noam Chomsky

All of the above is interconnected, and these two phenomena of ecological overshoot and complex society collapse are impacting our species and planet at the same time, creating nonlinear feedback loops that appear to be speeding us towards some consequences we are ill-prepared for — to say little about emergent phenomena and Black Swan events. Uncertainty shrouds the timing and manner in which things will play out. Pre/historical precedents and bio-ecological principles, however, are strongly indicative that the future will not be one of a smooth transition to some technocornucopian-based utopia — not even close.

I have little doubt that the coming phase shift for our global, industrialised world will be transformative in nature, but probably not in a way most are hoping/wishing for; particularly for citizens of ‘advanced’ economies who have ‘benefitted’ the most from our extractive and exploitive behaviours and actions.

If you’ve made it to the end of this contemplation and have got something out of my writing, please consider ordering the trilogy of my ‘fictional’ novel series, Olduvai (PDF files; only $9.99 Canadian), via my website or the link below — the ‘profits’ of which help me to keep my internet presence alive and first book available in print (and is available via various online retailers).

Attempting a new payment system as I am contemplating shutting down my site in the future (given the ever-increasing costs to keep it running).

If you are interested in purchasing any of the 3 books individually or the trilogy, please try the link below indicating which book(s) you are purchasing.

Costs (Canadian dollars):
Book 1: $2.99
Book 2: $3.89
Book 3: $3.89
Trilogy: $9.99

Feel free to throw in a ‘tip’ on top of the base cost if you wish; perhaps by paying in U.S. dollars instead of Canadian. Every few cents/dollars helps…

https://paypal.me/olduvaitrilogy?country.x=CA&locale.x=en_US

If you do not hear from me within 48 hours or you are having trouble with the system, please email me: olduvaitrilogy@gmail.com.

You can also find a variety of resources, particularly my summary notes for a handful of texts, especially Catton’s Overshoot and Tainter’s Collapse: see here.

It Bears Repeating: Best Of…Volume 1

A compilation of writers focused on the nexus of limits to growth, energy, and ecological overshoot.

With a Foreword and Afterword by Michael Dowd, authors include: Max Wilbert; Tim Watkins; Mike Stasse; Dr. Bill Rees; Dr. Tim Morgan; Rob Mielcarski; Dr. Simon Michaux; Erik Michaels; Just Collapse’s Tristan Sykes & Dr. Kate Booth; Kevin Hester; Alice Friedemann; David Casey; and, Steve Bull.

The document is not a guided narrative towards a singular or overarching message; except, perhaps, that we are in a predicament of our own making with a far more chaotic future ahead of us than most imagine–and most certainly than what mainstream media/politics would have us believe.

Click here to access the document as a PDF file, free to download.

[1] See [NOTE: the following is a sampling of my posted Contemplations that discuss the topic/issue referenced and not all have been uploaded to my blog or Substack; it is an ongoing project at this time]:
-Feeding the Growth Monster: Fiat Currency and Technology (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Fiat Currency: Debasement and Infinite Growth (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Fiat Currency, Infinite Growth, Finite Resources: A Recipe For Collapse (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Greenwashing, Fiat Currency, Narrative Management: More On Climate Change and Elite Confabs (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Energy Future, Part 1 (
Medium)
-Our Banking System: Government vs. Private Control, Part 1 (
Medium)

[2] See:
-Finite Energy, ‘Renewables’, and the Ruling Elite (
Blog Medium Substack)
-’Net Zero’ Policies: Propaganda to Support Continued Economic Growth (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Climate Change And Narratives To Support Continued Economic Growth (
Blog Medium Substack)
-More Greenwashing: ‘Sustainable’ Development (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Are We Being Duped Regarding Climate Change? (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Beware the Snake Oil Salesmen: Climate Change and Elite Confabs (
Blog Medium Substack)

[3] See:
-’Renewables’ and the Overton Window That Ignores Biophysical Realities. June 1. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-On Narrative Control and ‘Fact Checking’. December 21. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Decline of ‘Rationality’. January 15. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-The Road Not Taken. Feb 19. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Primary Motivation For Society’s Elite. Mar 6. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Carbon Tunnel Vision, Externalised Pollutants, And Story-Telling Apes, April 19. (
Medium)

[4] See this, this, this, this, and/or this.

[5] See:
-Preparing For Collapse. Apr 4. (
Blog Medium)
-It’s Too Late For Managed Degrowth. November 15. (
Medium)
-Local Community Resiliency And Political Systems, April 9. (
Medium)
-Local Self-Reliance Is Imperative To Pursue In Light Of Ecological Overshoot May 8. (
Medium)
-Only Local Leadership Can Help Communities Now, May 20. (
Medium)
-Collapse Now To Avoid The Rush: Our Long Emergency, June 6. (
Medium)

[6] See:
-Who Do Representative Governments Actually Represent? (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Loss in Trust of Government: A Stage of Collapse (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Ecological Overshoot and Political Responses (
Blog Medium) Substack)
-Climate Change ‘Solutions’: Follow the Money (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Faith in Government: A Misplaced Belief (
Blog Medium)
-Democracy: It’s Not What You Think It Is (
Medium)

[7] See:
-Mythical Narratives Everywhere to Avoid Reality (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Finite Energy, Overconsumption, and Magical Thinking Through Denial (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Cognition and Belief Systems in a ‘Collapsing’ World: Part One (
Blog Medium)
-Magical Thinking to Help Avoid Anxiety-Provoking Thoughts (
Medium)
-Magical Thinking About the Energy Transition (
Medium)
-Reality is an Inconvenience to Beliefs (
Blog Medium)

[8] See:

-’Renewables’, Electrify Everything and Marketing Propaganda (Blog Medium Substack)
-Degrowth, Green Growth, And The Ruling Caste of Society. (
Medium)
-Leveraging Non-Renewable, Renewable Energy-Harvesting Technologies To Expand Wealth-Extraction/-Generation. (
Medium)
-Ruling Caste Responses to Societal Breakdown/Decline. (
Medium)
-Ruling Elite Rackets Everywhere… (
Blog Medium)
-Rackets: Keeping the Curtains on Reality Drawn (
Blog Medium)

[9] See:
-Electrify Everything: The Wrong ‘Solution’ (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Electrify Everything: Neither ‘Green’ Nor ‘Sustainable’ (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Growth Greenwashing: A Comforting Narrative. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Climate Emergency Action Plan: Electrification and Magical Thinking. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-The Growth Ponzi Must Be Kept Alive (
Medium)
-We’re In A Predicament But Insist On Making It Worse (
Medium)

[10] See:
-Grieving: There Are No ‘Solutions’ to Overshoot. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-’Clean’ Energy and the Stages of Grieving. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Sometimes People Don’t Want to Hear the Truth. (
Blog Medium)
-Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Denial: Avoiding the Pain. (
Blog Medium)
-Growth and Denial: A Bad Combination. (
Blog Medium)
-Avoiding ‘Collapse’ Awareness. (
Blog Medium)

[11] See:
-Infinite Growth, Finite Planet; What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Fossil Fuels: Contributing to Complexity and Overshoot. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Ecological Overshoot, Hydrocarbon Energy, and Biophysical Reality. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Overlooking Ecological Overshoot. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Exponential Growth, Natural Carrying Capacity, and Ecological Overshoot. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-The ‘Predicament’ of Ecological Overshoot. (
Blog Medium Substack)

[12] See:
-Criticising ‘Renewables’ is Not a Sin. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-’Renewables’ Are The Solution: Just Ignore All That Ecological Systems Destruction Over There. (
Medium)
-Enough Already You Malthusian Doomer! (
Medium)
-Non-Renewable, Renewable Energy-Harvesting Technologies (NRREHTs): For and Against…Again. (
Medium)
-Critiquing Renewables Is Simply A Right-Wing Conspiracy. (
Medium)

[13] See:
-Energy-Averaging Systems and Complexity — A Recipe For Collapse. (
Blog Medium Substack)
-Declining Returns, Societal Surpluses, and Collapse. (
Medium)
-What Do Previous Experiments In Societal Complexity Suggest About ‘Managing’ Our Future. (
Medium)
-Societal ‘Collapse’: Past is Prologue. (
Blog Medium)

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Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

A guy trying to make sense of a complex and seemingly insane world. Spend my days pondering our various predicaments while practising local food production...