Answer to the Basic Questions.
The 10 presentations that led to propose answers to the questions set out initially suggest that:
Sustainable development has become a physical impossibility over time.
This concept might already fade in the second half of this century.
The reason is that, over the past 150 years, the massive use of fossil energy has exponentially increased the complexity of our civilization. (See the first presentation). The second presentation pointed out that the more the complexity of our societies increases, the more the energy flux must be high to maintain and operate these societies. So far, 80% of this energy flux comes from fossil fuels. In the third presentation we postulated that the growth of human activities has become an obligation. Opposing it would lead to social conflicts that could threaten the very existence of our civilization. Nevertheless the growth of human activities necessarily involves the growth of exogenous energy flux.Therefore this latter is doomed to grow. Since the end of WW II, the global useful energy flux grows each year on average of 1500 TWh / year. This will continue as long as possible so as not to risk a lasting global depression. However, the energy flux cannot increases indefinitely. The fourth presentation recalls that unlike money, it is not possible to create energy from nothing. In order for an energy to become useful to human, the energy provided by Nature (called primary energy), must be processed by machines that are costly both financially and energetically. The part transformed into useful energy, as well as that fraction lost in the process, contributes directly or indirectly to disturb the balance of the biosphere. The fifth presentation says that any natural wealth extraction from the Earth, in particular fossil fuel, is subject to the law of diminishing returns. This means that sooner or later, the fossil energy flux has to drop. Specialists in geology suspect this might already decrease in the second half of this century. This annual decline could be of the order of 2 to 4% representing a minimal annual loss of useful energy flux of 2000 TWh/year. To ensure sustainable development, human genius will be obliged to compensate for these losses by other alternative energy sources. Thus, the latter have to ensure an annual growth of energy flux of 1500 TWh/year, just to avoid an economic depression, and provide another annual additional growth in energy flux of 2000 TWh/year, just to compensate for the decrease of the extraction rate of fossil fuels. Thus, once past the extraction peak of the fossil fuels, the world production of these alternative energy flux will necessitate to grow each year by nearly 3,500 TWh/year. (For comparison, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, the one of the Three Gorges in China, produces 80 TWh/year). The sixth presentation and the seventh presentation show that this worldwide industrial challenge seems probably insurmountable, especially since this growth should be done synchronously with the loss of fossil fuel extraction. If this were to be confirmed, the vital structures of our societies would disintegrate fast enough to create serious social unrest leading to the collapse of civilized societies (see the eighth presentation and the ninth presentation).
However, if the human genius was capable of synchronously compensating the loss of fossil energy flux with new alternative energy sources, our civilization would still be under threat of collapse. Indeed, the tenth presentation says that:
The damages brought to the biosphere are proportional to the cumulative sum of human activities supported by exogenous energy, regardless of the type of energy source.
Beyond a certain threshold of transformation, the biosphere will seek a new balance by excluding or reducing the disruptive element, namely our civilization.
So, we come to the following sad conclusion:
Whatever we do, our civilization will collapse.
This disaster could even start already during this century.
According to the thesis presented in this site, the collapse will begin with a progressive degradation of structures of our globalized societies, triggered by the reduction of vital flows, particularly the one of energy. At first, these impairments will lead to highly severe socio-economic disruption. They will generate anger and rebellion of the peoples who will not really understand what happens to them. These strong social instabilities will accelerate the collapse. Started in the most economically and socially fragile areas, the collapse will spread step by step over the globe, like a domino effect. It will ultimately lead to widespread chaos that only few people in developed countries may imagine the horror.
If nothing is done immediately, the collapse will lead to global chaos.
Therefore, according to the author, the hope for a sustainable development no longer exists.The only thing that remains in Man’s power, provided He takes care of this problem right now, would be to avoid the post-collapse chaos. If this extremely difficult task could be achieved, it is then and only then, that it would be possible to dream of humanity more in harmony with its environment and in accordance with basic human needs. But this humanity will have nothing left in common with our present civilization. Our way of thinking and acting will have been obliged to fundamentally change.
Who shares this vision?
For now, this vision is shared by virtually no researcher working on this subject. Apart from those who think that civilization is not at all in danger, many others arrived at similar conclusions to those presented here, but less pessimistic. (See suggested readings). However, all agree that if nothing is done immediately to change the trajectory of our civilization, the crash will be inevitable. Also all remain hopeful that human genius will be able to change the trajectory in time to avoid the disaster.
The strategies that hold the greatest attention to date are: simple living, the third industrial revolution, socio ecological or energy transition, the fight against climate change and the programmed decline of our economic system. All these strategies share the idea the necessity to operate a decrease of human activities supported by the exogenous energy. According to the proponents of these strategies, by changing our behavior drastically, we can ensure that our civilization is durable and sustainable without losing the benefits of our civilization.
It is likely that the proposed strategies are heading in the right direction, but it is also likely that they arrive much too late. Indeed, most researchers agree that the risk of collapse of our civilization, if nothing is done on time, could already start during this century. If their estimate is correct then, before claiming that a particular strategy might save our civilization, a number of questions about its feasibility within the relatively short remaining time should be answered
For example, ask ourselves the following questions:
1° Which of the proposed methods should be prioritized and what criteria should be used to justify this choice?
2° With what velocity should be organised the different approaches aimed for a trajectory correction in the different parts of the world?
3° What should be the average annual degrowth rate in the different parts of the world in order to prevent collapse?
4° Up to what level would it be necessary to decrease the total of human activities in order to ensure the durability of our globalized civilization? (See the third presentation)
5° Does such an approach necessarily require a global governance to manage the inevitable various degrowth rates depending on the country and what would be the impact on the loss of individual freedom and social well-being? What might be the resilience within the various populations to the changes imposed by global governance?
6° Is there any economic tool doing consensus and deemed capable of making such socio-economic changes. If not, how long would it be necessary to develop it?
7° Is there a method to evaluate the chances of success of a risk management approach before putting this latter into practice?
Note again that all these strategies seeking to make our civilization sustainable impose significant changes in our societal paradigm. But changing a paradigm of this magnitude requires a drastic change in the thinking and the acting of the entire world population. Have we the slightest idea of the minimum time required for such a change to happen? If this time period should be much greater than that relatively short one separating us from the alleged collapse, would it not be better to spend what time we have left to organize ourselves to face what lies ahead and focus on what might still be saved?
We must remember that the difficulty to avoid an obstacle increases exponentially while simultaneously and proportionately decreases the time duration separating the start of the avoidance maneuver with that of the expected collision. This means that the avoidance strategy that would have been sufficient at the time of its study, may no longer be so at the time of its implementation because meanwhile, the problem has grown exponentially. If in addition we continue to procrastinate by asking mathematical proofs impossible to provide, if we continue to offer intellectually attractive but unworkable strategies, if all the question marks and all the different visions mentioned above, become pure subject of controversy or opinions, then we lose this race against time. We shall arrive to the limit in time, if we haven’t already reached it, beyond which any other action will not be able to protect humanity from an unprecedented disaster. The collapse of our civilization will indeed take place, and the chaos that will ensue, will no longer be avoidable.
Therefore, it would be prudent to consider that all attempts to save our civilization may fail, in which case we would be well advised to consider a plan B to avoid a post-collapse chaos.
Let's now discuss all this and go to Discussion
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