The Coming Collapse

Bryan Vestal
Age of Awareness
Published in
18 min readJun 2, 2023

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As most people are not getting a big-picture view on the topic of global warming, I felt compelled to write this article to help. In short, a group of really smart people from MIT and elsewhere published a report in 1972 forecasting societal collapse before 2050 due to decreases in food/resources, and increases in pollution/global temperatures/destructive weather. After we look at the two most likely scenarios where things get really bad, I would like to look deeper into another scenario where we transform our society into a somewhat sustainable one beforehand.

In 2021, Gaya Herrington, “a Dutch sustainability researcher and adviser to the Club of Rome, a Swiss thinktank, made headlines after she authored a report that appeared to show a controversial 1970s study predicting the collapse of civilization was — apparently — right on time.” I will add that she is far from the only who is concluding this.

The picture below is her prediction of what things will look like under a business as usual(BAU2) scenario, where we continue to seek high growth. That looks like a pretty steep drop in population shortly after 2050.

Under her comprehensive technology(CT) scenario below, she says that “even if we innovate ourselves out of resource scarcity, we would probably see an increase in pollution from those adaptations unless we also limit our continued search for growth.” In order to make this happen we would need to start making bigger changes immediately. “The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible,” said Herrington. We will look more at pollution later, but under this scenario we would see things about get twice as bad. I don’t think we will meet this scenario because we are currently seeing an acceleration toward tipping points. Global ice can only absorb so much heat as it melts.

Below is a snippet from Oxfam. https://www.oxfam.org/en/5-natural-disasters-beg-climate-action

I believe that shortfalls in food supply should be our main concern. Much of livestock has been concentrated into feedlots and CAFOs(concentrated animal feed operations which require larger amounts of industrial agriculture, which in the case of cows, to feed an unnatural diet of corn.

This is from the Wilson Center- “In Argentina, for example, the drought led to a declaration of a state of emergency and agricultural disaster in 33 municipalities of the province of Buenos Aires in December 2022. As of January of this year, estimated losses have amounted to $10.4 billion due to damage to various crops, including wheat, soybean and corn — the main crops grown in the countryside. At the national level, almost half of the stock of cattle is in areas affected by the drought, putting approximately 26 million head of cattle at risk. To complicate things further, the 2022–2023 wheat harvest yielded 12.4 million tons — 8.1 million tons below initial projections due to the absence of rainfall in a significant part of the agricultural area.”

The recent video below can give a good idea of how quickly the tipping points are taking effect.

The carbon cycle is complicated, but the main ways it is sequestered is into the ocean, into the soil, and into woody plants. To learn more about the process involved in the last two, you can read my Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture.

Humans are burning a lot more fossil fuel than nature can sequester. This picture shows how much fossil fuels were extracted from the Earth in 2021.

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-the-scale-of-global-fossil-fuel-production/

According to Natural Gas Intel 2021 forecast, fossil fuel use is expected to keep increasing even with a large increase in renewables. I hope that I am not taken as an anti green energy person. I just see no way for us to have a sustainable society when over 234 million US motorist are driving an average of 13,500 miles per year. We are also using an enormous amount of energy in the industrial and commercial sectors.

https://www.naturalgasintel.com/world-energy-demand-including-oil-and-gas-rising-to-2050-eia-says/

“Already at least 3.3 billion people’s daily lives “are highly vulnerable to climate change” and 15 times more likely to die from extreme weather, the report says. Large numbers of people are being displaced by worsening weather extremes. And the world’s poor are being hit by far the hardest, it says. More people are going to die each year from heat waves, diseases, extreme weather, air pollution and starvation because of global warming, the report says. Just how many people die depends on how much heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas gets spewed into the air and how the world adapts to an ever-hotter world, scientists say.”

Although Herrington says that we will probably not pursue/achieve her last scenario(Stable World), I believe that if enough people become active on a local level to push for real change, we could do it.

China is building a large number of additional coal plants to produce much of consumer goods around the world. Most of the new plants are high efficiency, but it does not look good.

Since possibly our biggest problem is global heating gasses(GHGs) like carbon dioxide, it is imperative that we switch to cleaner energy sources as soon as possible. As we look at the difficulties of this, I would like for us to consider how much easier it would be to make this transition if we simply cut our energy use beforehand, instead of increasing it.

Below is a chart showing an estimated breakdown of our energy system for 2021. In studying it, I think you will see that we are still very reliant on the burning of carbon based materials for our energy, while also being very far from meeting those energy needs with cleaner energy sources. I don’t think anyone would like to have energy cuts to Residential. I think we could cut a lot to Commercial, but it looks like Industrial and Transportation is where we really need to make cuts. The two grey boxes on the right are wasted energy, mostly from heat lost when burning fossil fuels(an example is older natural gas furnaces being less than 70% efficient). The newer high efficiency natural gas furnaces are above 90% efficient.

The carbon capture plans of polluters does not look worth doing, even with large taxpayer funded subsidies snuck into a recent US government bill. “When you look at the additional power needed to run a CCS system, and you just look at the math here, it becomes difficult to justify compared to all of the alternatives that are available in North Dakota and in the Midwest, right? You’re exactly right. The reason that a lot of states that are coal producers are excited about CCS is because it increases the amount of coal you need to produce. And I think that the point that I would like to make to people is basically this is inherently more expensive [compared to a plant without CCS].”

The ethanol industry is also pursuing carbon capture and sequestration to greenwash their industry, and also with large taxpayer funded subsidies and dangerous and unpopular pipelines.

“The IEA also points out that carbon capture can’t be used as a linchpin by the fossil fuel industry to maintain the status quo. If oil and natural gas consumption were to evolve as projected under today’s policy settings, limiting the temperature rise to 1.5C would require an “entirely inconceivable” 32 billion tonnes of carbon captured for utilization or storage by 2050, including 23 billion tonnes via direct air capture.”

Despite cleaner energy production being much cleaner than fossil fuels, it requires considerable mining, transport, processing, manufacturing, more transport, installation, ect. to get to that point. All this requires a lot of energy. The US government report below also shows that the US would need to import a lot of the components during the next ten years to meet the goals. In importing, we should understand that we are basically shifting our energy use/pollution to another part of the planet. This includes carbon dioxide pollution which effects the planet as a whole sooner than something like water pollution.

The snippet from Earth.org below details similar problems with the solar supply chain, including issues around human rights. https://earth.org/solar-supply-chain/

The following article gives a good analysis of the problems with lithium-ion batteries. I know there are a lot of people working on developing better batteries, but it seems that we should also drastically cut our use of travel.

There are countering views on whether we have enough global resources to go completely carbon free, but both sides agree that we must also make other major changes. I am sure we all hope low carbon innovation accelerates faster and saves us, but we should consider how far we are from that right now. If we look at the increasing amount of materials/energy/pollution that is involved in building/using/maintaining just our growing interstate systems, I hope you see a problem. Below is a video about the nodules on the deep ocean floor that contain the needed rare earth metals, but it could harm the ocean ecosystem.

Climate scientist Paul Beckwith makes a good case in this video that we should start our energy reductions first with the ultra-wealthy and their lavish lifestyles.

There are many kinds of pollution, but I would like to take a close look at air, water, and soil pollution.

The following video details the health hazards of air pollution. Wildfire smoke can be bad, but smoke from burning fossil fuels is worse. In this video, they talk about how toxins are not only getting into our bodies through the lungs, but directly into the brain through the olfactory nerve. We are talking about bad stuff like mercury.

Here are a few interactive live air quality maps.

In this one you can see the really bad air quality around the world. https://waqi.info/

Here is a map that show fires currently burning, from wildfires to farmers using slash and burn techniques. http://@41.6,0.0,3z">https://firms.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/map

Our problems with plastic pollution are building up. It is flowing down our waterways and building up in our oceans. These microplastics are also getting into clouds where they then end up covering the Earth, polluting our soil, and even getting into our food.

Microplastics can change soil properties and affect plant performance

If you think we have a large ocean dead zone now, it could soon multiply.

As for water, we are headed towards worse water shortages at the same time as worsening water pollution.

“Between two and three billion people worldwide experience water shortages. These shortages will worsen in the coming decades, especially in cities, if international cooperation in this area is not boosted, warn UNESCO and UN-Water in the latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report.”

This article below was written by Jason Hickel, author of Less is More. I am hoping after seeing all the things I have shared, you will come around to seeing that degrowth of our economy must be a part of solving our problems. I am with Naomi Klein in that we need to relocalize our economies and produce most of our food in and around our cities. I am guessing subsidies can help make this happen. The average US farm to table distance is 1500 miles, and that takes a lot of energy. We may need to go all-in and drastically cut all our automobile use. Naomi talked about expanding light rail for transportation. We should curtail the growth of cities that are not walkable by surrounding them with food farms. We could build walkable, sustainable small towns and homesteads to handle population increases. We need to help heal the Earth and sequester carbon by returning vast areas back to nature, and switching to regenerative agriculture.

In all this, I am hoping that you are also seeing that in order to actually meet our short-term goals, we will need to enact major reforms to market-based systems that are currently highly subsidized by our governments. To do this, we will need nations to put our well-being above competition and corporate profits. I think this quote from Hadas Thier in her book A People’s Guide to Capitalism sums this up well. “Capitalists must think only of short-term profits in the scramble to stay ahead of competitors, and not the long-term impacts of their actions. We can see how this plays out all too clearly in relation to the life or death issue of global warming. After decades of hand ringing, the major world powers cannot produce a climate change agreement with any bite. Is it incompetence, or a lack of scientific evidence? Neither. No country can risk restraining the toxic emissions of its own domestic capitalists while other nations continue to push ahead and make quicker, dirtier profits. Capitalists and their representatives in government never forgo short-term economic benefits, because to do so would mean falling behind in the unceasing race to produce more for less. As climate activist Chris Williams explained- for over two decades no agreement has been reached that would move the world toward the 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that many scientists believe is necessary to avoid destabilizing the planetary climate system.” Thank you for reading! The future is in our hands. I will post my favorite book list below.

Here is a video from Paul Beckwith on the new update to the Limits to Growth.

Here is a video about our need for degrowth from Our Changing Climate.

Audiobooks:

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

The Web of Meaning, Jeremy Lent

Power, Richard Heinberg

Brave New Workplace: Designing Productive, Healthy, and Safe Organizations, Julian Barling

Transforming Leadership, James MacGregor Burns

The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions, Jason Hickel

I Want a Better Catastrophe: Navigating the Climate Crisis with Grief, Hope, and Gallows Humor, Andrew Boyd

Escape from Overshoot: Economics for a Planet in Peril, Peter Victor

The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy, Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World, Jason Hickel

Sustainability: What Everyone Needs to Know, Paul B. Thompson, Patricia E Norris

Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can, Varshini Prakash

Science for a Green New Deal: Connecting Climate, Economics, and Social Justice, Eric A. Davidson

Minding the Climate: How Neuroscience Can Help Solve Our Environmental Crisis, Ann-Christine Duhaime

A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics, Hadas Thier

Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet and What We Can Do About It, Nancy Fraser

The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jordan Randers

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes

Climageddon: The Global Warming Emergency & How to Survive It, Lawrence Wollersheim

Oneness Vs. the 1%, Kartikey Shiva and Vandana Shiva

Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, Raj Patel and Rupa Marya

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture, Daniel Maté and Gabor Maté

Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World, Peter S. Goodman

Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, Astra Taylor

Remake the World: Essays, Reflections, Rebellions, Astra Taylor

The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change, Geoff Dembicki

All Hell Breaking Loose, Michael T. Klare Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken

Shut It Down: Stories from a Fierce, Loving Resistance, Lisa Fithian

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles

Reconsidering Reparations, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, Paul Farmer, Amartya Sen

Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future, Thomas Shapiro

The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, Gary Gerstle

Civilizing the State, John Restakis

The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean, and the Looming Threat That Imperils It, Helen Scales

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, Robert Reich

Invisible Trillions: How Financial Secrecy Is Imperiling Capitalism and Democracy and the Way to Renew Our Broken System, Raymond W. Baker

Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?, Robert Kuttner

Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics, Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese

Break ’Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, Zephyr Teachout

The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, Thomas Frank Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society, Thomas Frank

The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class, Jeff Faux

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn

A People’s History of the World Book, Chris Harman

The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World, Anthony Biglan

The Broken Ladder, Keith Payne

The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All, Martin Sandbu

What it Took the Win, Michael Kazin

The Nordic Theory of Everything, Anu Partanen

The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf

Fire in Flood, Eugene Linden

No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

The Pipeline and the Paradigm: Keystone XL, Tar Sands, and the Battle to Defuse the Carbon Bomb, Samuel Avery

The Carbon Boycott: A Path to Freedom from Fossil Fuels, Samuel Avery

Being the Change, Peter Kalmus

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, Peter Ladner

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology, Mark Boyle

A Trillion Trees, Fred Pearce

Half Earth, Edward O. Wilson

Deep Economy, Bill McKibben

Owning the Sun, Alexander Zaitchik

Cobalt: Cradle of the Demon Metals, Birth of a Mining Superpower, Charlie Angus

Unlikely Radicals: The Story of the Adams Mine Dump War, Charlie Angus

The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, Dan Egan

Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green, Henry Sanderson

A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies, Matt Simon

Ecological Footprint: Managing Our Biocapacity Budget, Bert Beyers and Mathis Wackernagel

Bright Green Lies, Derrick Jensen

Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi

Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York, Richard Zacks

Where We Go from Here, Bernie Sanders

It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, Bernie Sanders

The Fighting Soul: On the Road with Bernie Sanders, Ari Rabin-Havt

Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges

Unspeakable, Chris Hedges

The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man 3rd Edition, John Perkin

Touching the Jaguar, John Perkins

Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants, Jon Steinman

Stuffed and Starved, Raj Patel

Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and a Green New Deal, Ronnie Cummins

Human Permaculture, Bernard Alonso and Cecil Guiochon

The Clean Money Revolution, Joel Solomon

Reclaiming the Commons for Common Good, Heather Menzies

Living the 1.5° Lifestyle, Lloyd

Alter The Future Earth, Eric Holthaus

The Day the World Stops Shopping, J. B. MacKinnon

Common Sense for the 21st Century, Roger Hallam

A Brief History of the Earth’s Climate, Steven Earle

H. sapiens: The Last 12,000 Years, Fil Munas

Grand Transitions, Vaclav Smil

Rivers of Power, Lawrence C. Smith

Whitewash, Cary Gillam

Why Marx Was Right, Terry Eagleton

Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce Davies

Planet of Slums, Mike Davis

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition, Denise Hearn and Jonathan Tepper

The Day the World Stops Shopping, J. B. MacKinnon

Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund Can Provide Influence and Income to All, Lynn A. Stout, Sergio Gramitto, and Tamara Belinfanti

Capitalism, Alone, Branko Milanović

How Change Happens, Duncan Green

Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, Jeffrey Sachs

The Green New Deal, Jeremy Rifkin

A Good War: Mobilising Canada for the Climate Emergency, Seth Klein

Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, Noam Chomsky

A People’s History of the American Revolution, Ray Raphael

Voices of a People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn/Anthony Arnove

Truth Has a Power of Its Own: Conversations about a People’s History, Howard Zinn

Everything Is Possible: Antifascism and the Left in the Age of Fascism, Joseph Fronczak

Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change, Jared Diamond

Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber and David Wengrow

Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia, Alexis Q. Castor

The Big History of Civilizations, Craig Benjamin

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Eric H. Cline

Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health, Jason Satterfield

Understanding Cultural and Human Geography, Paul Robbins

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

King Coal, Upton Sinclair

World’s End, Upton Sinclair

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah

Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell

A Clergyman’s Daughter, George Orwell

The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell

Youtube:

Paul Beckwith Climate Scientist, The Real News Network, Thom Hartman Program, The Gray Zone

Regenerative agriculture books:

The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, Masanobu Fukuoka

Miraculous Abundance, Charles Hervé-Gruyer and Perrine Hervé-Gruyer

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, David R. Montgomery

What Your Food Ate, David R. Montgomery, Ann Bikle

Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food, Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle

Soil: The incredible story of what keeps the earth, and us, healthy, Matthew Evans

The Edible Ecosystem, Zach Loeks

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