How and why, empires like ours decline

Our modern civilization can thank plant life from the Jurassic period for the free lunch we’ve experienced during the last 150 years.

[Diagram: Peak oil (red line) overlayed with historical events and probable future scenarios. The downside slide from the peak unravels our social institutions, while destroying the wealth and largess gained during the ride up.]

Note: 98 tons of prehistoric, buried plant material – that’s 196,000 pounds – is required to produce each gallon of gasoline we burn in our cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicles. We are literally cutting down the forests of the past to fuel the automobiles of the present.
[Since a mature oak may weigh 20,000 lbs and 10 mature oaks can grow on one acre in the wild (total weight =200,000 lbs), their combined oil  residue  is equivalent to 1 gallon gasoline. Imagine burning an acre of ancient forest for one gallon gasoline.  However, it doesn’t stop there, we usually top off the auto’s gas tank with say 10 gallons gasoline.
So consider this: If a mature oak tree lives 200 years, then ten end to end generations of mature oak trees (across a period of 2000 years) from that same one acre of land, are required to fill your gas tank just one time.
Of course there were many profligate acres of land covered with trees, grasses, or shallow coastal seas filled with algae for millions of years. But, with each filling of our vehicle’s gas tank, we mine not only the vegetation from a given area, but take ownership of that areas energy supply for several thousand years.
Ultimately, 50 years worth of your driving time x 52 weekly refills of 10 gallons x 2000 years equivalent/ 10 gallons gas from one acre vegetation = 5,2000,000 years equivalent energy use from the trees produced on that one acre. Each person who drives and uses 10 gallons of gasoline per week, during a 50 year driving period, has claimed the vegetal life from one acre for over 5 million years.
In 2011 there were 1 billion vehicles in the world. Mr. Larry]

There seems something wrong with creating a world filled with sovereign debt, debt so great that it eliminates future growth and expansion, while at the same time pumping and burning the forests of the past, all to fuel our needs for the immediacy called – now.

Every civilization eventually faces its limiting factor. Their previous successes allow for a large increase in population. The citizenry continue to follow the same pattern of socio-economic-military behavior as those who  founded the empire. When a limiting factor is encountered, ie, water or food shortage, reduced flow of other important resources, geographical over-extension, disease or debt (whether from building huge labor intensive structures or ‘feeding the masses’), the system teeter’s and begins to breakdown. The governing bodies bring out all efforts into play to maintain the system, despite the fact that its resource base – to population demand has become seriously altered. The situation becomes a proposition of, “When there’s a gap between perception and reality, more reality won’t close the gap”, so governments do whatever possible to maintain the perception that all is well.
When you have finally reached a point of being a nation whose debt load so huge that it cannot be paid,  where there are large and growing numbers of the unemployed; where the welfare rolls are expanding; where the civilizations primary energy resource peaking and about to decline and where there are no prospects to address that decline; there is a general future that everyone can look forward to, a future of, less.

It’s human nature not to look forward and readjust during times of plenty, but to overshoot our means, then maintain the status quo, while sliding down the backside of our civilization’s energy-resource curve, into a condition of, want.

Where are we heading in the 21st Century? Although the future is perceptually dim, and even tomorrow is distant, we can paint broad pictures and fill in the details as time passes. The images that follow are representative of our current path into the future. Global national leadership and the captain’s of international industry would have us believe optimistically, in a future of technological, social and economic nirvana – a future of Plenty.

However, looming immediately ahead and extending for a period deep into the future is an alternate and more likely path, which is characterized by continued growth in the global human population. Population demands are leading to broad Economic Impoverishment. This is the rapidly approaching Post Peak Oil world, a place where there are simply too many people competing for too few goods and services, and for a reduced quantity and quality in our food supply; it’s a place where long time, full and meaningful employment can no longer be seen as common place; where ‘everything substandard’ has become the rule. The world of Economic Impoverishment has a much different paradigm than we have grown up knowing; it’s a world of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ of a diminishing middle class. It’s not a happy world, it’s over populated, it’s less healthy, it allows much less personal freedom than we have known; it’s more expensive and less safe. It’s a world that is ripe for disaster, for plague, it’s a civilization in decline, a world on the edge.

As we move through a decade or two along the Economically Impoverished world line, the situation will be seen morphing to a Limited Energy-Resource future. By the time we reach this period there are already a lot fewer people. The global population has stabilized, and most of the old technology has been retrofitted to meet local, current circumstance. Energy use per capita has greatly diminished. People are again fully employed, as has always been the case in a low energy flow environment. The paradigm has changed daily life and personal expectations away from what we have today. This is a relatively happy world, where the individual is gaining value. It’s a world beginning to grow in its own unique direction, and depart from the collapse of the great civilization of the early 21st Century. Within a few hundred years, the budding, new civilization will have its own renaissance; meanwhile, many of our economic and technological temples will be gone, collapsed from their lack of value; figuratively and literally, trees will grow amongst their ruins; life will both enthusiastically and optimistically continue. Its nature’s way.

As Ron Hera points out at the end of his two-part article, How the U.S. Will Become a 3rd World Country: Pasted from <> “The United States increasingly resembles a 3rd world country in terms of unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, falling wages, growing poverty and concentration of wealth, government debt, corporate influence over government and weakening rule of law. Federal Reserve monetary policies and federal government economic, regulatory and tax policies seem to favor the largest banks and corporations over the interests of small businesses or of the general population. The potential elimination of the middle class could reshape the socio-economic strata of American society in the image of a 3rd world country. It seems only a matter of time before the devolution of the United States becomes more visible. As the U.S. economy continues to decline, public health, nutrition and education, as well as the country’s infrastructure, will visibly deteriorate. There is little evidence of political will or leadership for fundamental reforms. All other things being equal, the U.S. will become a post industrial neo-3rd-world country by 2032.”

[The problem is not with our leaders per sae, but with human nature, you see, we need to understand our own nature, and at times act to restrain ourselves of our appetites. Time is the variable, for there is really little other difference between a child gorging on candy one day only to become hyper active or ill; an adult’s compulsion to eat unhealthy foods for years and slowly becoming obese and developing cardio-vascular problems or diabetes-2; or a government continually over spending its budget, becoming debt laden, and-or over utilizing it natural resources, and finally collapsing the socio-economic system that initially created it. Mr. Larry]

Ugo Bardi explains how we, as human beings set ourselves up for social collapse, in his article Fall of the Empire <>

Mr. Bardi writes, “…Our leaders are no better apt at understanding complex systems than the military commanders who ruled the Roman Empire. Even if our leaders were better, they would face the same problems: there are no structures that can gently lead society to where it is going. We have only structures that are there to keep society where it is – no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it is to be there. It is exactly what Tainter says: we react to problems by building structure that are more and more complex and that, in the end, produce a negative return. That’s why societies collapse. Civilizations and empires, in the end, are just ripples in the ocean of time. They come and go, leaving little except carved stones proclaiming their eternal greatness. But, from the human viewpoint, Empires are vast and long-standing and, for some of us, worth fighting for or against.”
Read Ugo Bardi’s complete article in my post: (Survival manual/2.Social issues/The fall of empire)–It’s an eye opener to human nature; comparing the past with the present.


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