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Posts Tagged ‘catabolic collapse’

I hope I’m wrong, but it is starting to seem to me that the Housing Bubble here in the ‘States has a lot of the characteristics of what is termed a “depletion crisis” in John Greer’s scholarly paper “How Civilzations Fall: a Theory of Catabolic Collapse”, postulating models for historical civilization cycles.

A society that uses resources beyond replenishment rate (d(R)/r(R) > 1), when production of new capital falls short of maintenance needs, risks a depletion crisis in which key features of a maintenance crisis are amplified by the impact of depletion on production. As M(p) exceeds C(p) and capital can no longer be maintained, it is converted to waste and unavailable for use. Since depletion requires progressively greater investments of capital in production, the loss of capital affects production more seriously than in an equivalent maintenance crisis. (John Greer)

It seems to me that consumer credit and the unusual mortgage structures spawned over the past few years can be mapped onto Greer’s system particularly well, especially the cycle of increased capital production C(p) also leading to an increase in maintainance production M(p). Unfortunately, the housing bubble, like the Gulf war and our current system of agriculture, is depleting a resource, namely oil. Worse, oil seems to closely fit the model of a driver for catabolic collapse via depletion crisis:

A society that uses resources beyond replenishment rate (d(R)/r(R) > 1), when production of new capital falls short of maintenance needs, risks a depletion crisis in which key features of a maintenance crisis are amplified by the impact of depletion on production. As M(p) exceeds C(p) and capital can no longer be maintained, it is converted to waste and unavailable for use. Since depletion requires progressively greater investments of capital in production, the loss of capital affects production more seriously than in an equivalent maintenance crisis. Meanwhile further production, even at a diminished rate, requires further use of depleted resources, exacerbating the impact of depletion and the need for increased capital to maintain production. With demand for capital rising as the supply of capital falls, C(p) tends to decrease faster than M(p) and perpetuate the crisis. The result is a catabolic cycle, a self-reinforcing process in which C(p) stays below M(p) while both decline. Catabolic cycles may occur in maintenance crises if the gap between C(p) and M(p) is large enough, but tend to be self-limiting in such cases. In depletion crises, by contrast, catabolic cycles can proceed to catabolic collapse, in which C(p) approaches zero and most of a society’s capital is converted to waste. (John Greer)

Our major infrastructure projects, including dams, highways, railroads, municipal water supplies, all fit this scenario. As a society, we are barely able to maintain what we have already built, and are falling behind. Climate change provides further destabilization.

We’re entering the era of the Long Emergency. That’s the bad news. As if you didn’t already know it! The good news is, it’s a LONG emergency, and there’s a plan. Which we’ll talk about tomorrow.

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