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jeudi 9 mars 2017

How everything will collapse

A small collapse manual in French for present descent
Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens

By Michel-Pierre Colin.

The authors had chosen this title for their book, but the publisher changed this "will" to "may" for commercial reasons (in French : Comment tout peut s'effondrer). That is why it is necessary to restore the certainty that exists in the mind of Pablo Servigne and his co-author of the very close collapse (the present descent) of the world as we know it, including that of mankind on the planet Earth.

In conversations we hear more and more often expressions like: "we go straight into the wall", "animals are in the full extinction of species", or "why do they still make kids by the current times". The media is talking about disaster for crashing airplanes, trains that are derailed, but do not talk about disasters that last, those that do not keep pace with current events, such as environmental, economic, energy, climate, which have passed points of no return. All these crises are interconnected and feed on each other.

This book brings us an immense array of evidence, with more than 400 references, which suggest that we are facing increasingly systemic instabilities. They threaten some people, even humans as a whole, to maintain themselves in a viable habitat. This is a collapse for which the authors take up Yves Cochet's definition: "collapse is the process at which basic needs (water, food, housing, clothing, energy, etc.) Are no longer provided [at a reasonable cost] to a majority of the population through law-controlled services ".

The authors use the metaphor of the car to explain the notions of impassable limits and transgressible boundaries. The availability of fuel is an impassable limit that I have already spoken of in " Limits to the extraction of oil and other minerals " (French article).
In short, we pay our energies by creating debt that is taken over by our central banks (in Europe at the rate of 80 billion euros per month). Now that the cost of these resources becomes too high, the debt-based system hardly works anymore. The most urgent for the future is how long our energy-finance system may still work. We live the last sputters of the engine of our car that represents our industrial civilization before its extinction.

The borders that can be crossed for our car are road exits that lead us to tipping thresholds beyond which it is no longer possible to go back as global warming which causes extreme events like storms, hurricanes, floods, drought , water shortages, longer and more intense heat waves. There are already impacts such as the melting of ice at the poles and glaciers, changes in the circulation of ocean currents, water shortages, the spread of contagious diseases, the proliferation of ruiners and pests, the extinction of many species, destruction of ecosystems, decline in agricultural yields, economic losses, social disorders and political instability.

"The latest IPCC report indicates the possibility of food systems breakdown that will increase the risk of civil wars and intergroup violence. But the problem with this report is that it does not take into account the amplifying effects of many climate feedback loops, such as the release of large quantities of methane due to thawing permafrost. However, these loops are capable of triggering at + 3 ° C or + 4 ° C. Beyond that, it is very difficult to describe precisely what might happen. Nevertheless, the scenarios of the experts are generally unanimous and turn very quickly to the catastrophe "(page 73).

"For palaeontologists, to speak of "sixth mass extinction ", more than 75% of the planet's species will have to disappear. (Note. 58% was announced). However the society does not yet recognize the decline of biodiversity as a major factor of global change, as do other crises that mobilize the international community, such as global warming, pollution, the hole in the ozone layer or the acidification of the oceans " (page 81).

Many global boundaries have been transgressed: climate change, biodiversity, land-use change (forest decline), major biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus. These four areas are boundaries that have been irreversibly disrupted.

The collapse is now closer. There is no longer any question of stopping the use of fossil fuels, as this would lead to an economic, social and political collapse, and perhaps to the end of the thermo-industrial civilization. But keeping the engine of our car running leads to transgressing more borders, so at other climatic, ecological, and human tipping points.

We are warned:
"Today we are sure of four things:
1. The physical growth of our societies will stop in the near future;
2. We altered the entire Earth system irreversibly;
3. We are moving towards a very unstable, "non-linear" (exponential) future whose major perturbations will be the norm;
4. We can now be potentially subject to global systemic collapses" (pages 129-130).

Are there warning signs of a collapse? Not really. Attempts to develop early warning signals have failed or are not consensus-building for the moment between researchers. It is suggested to adopt an attitude of "enlightened catastrophism": act as if these abrupt changes were certain, and do everything possible so that they do not happen.

Clic to enlarge
Among the mathematical models, only one model that is over 45 years old is quite robust, the model of Donella and Dennis Meadows. At MIT, the systemic computer model World3 describes the interactions between world parameters, the most important being population, industrial production, service production, food, pollution levels and non-renewable resources. The aim is to simulate the world system on the basis of the actual 1972 data. The first result in a "business as usual" scenario highlights an extremely unstable world that foresees a collapse in the 21st century. Agricultural production collapses between 2015 and 2025, and then the population declines.

The researchers modeled alternative scenarios that leaded to collapses and found that they could stabilize a sustainable world by simultaneously modifying several parameters from 1980. These parameters are:
- Stabilize the world's population;
- Stabilize (limit) industrial production;
- Reduce levels of pollution and soil erosion.
This equilibrium scenario would enable less than 8 billion people to live at a level of life close to what we know. This was published for the third time in 2004. The model updates in 1992 and 2002 confirmed the initial results and showed that nothing has been done to avoid the business as usual scenario. The worst-case scenario. The model has withstood 40 years of violent criticism and corroborated 40 years of facts.

The collapse of industrial civilization is a predicament, which is an inextricable, irreversible and complex situation for which there is no solution. But there are things to do at the local level to create the resilient conditions of subsequent life. According to Russian-American engineer Dmitry Orlov who studied the Soviet collapse, the collapse can be broken down into five stages, in order of increasing seriousness, constituting the Orlov scale: financial, economic, political, social, cultural and ecological [I]

More seriously, the systemic collapse model based on the study of the dynamics of complex systems and networks (pages 193-194) describes our civilization as a highly complex system with (1) overcoming invisible tipping points, (2) nonlinear causal relationships, (3) amplificating feedback loops. This model predicts undetected threshold exceedances with subsequent non-linear and brutal effects. In emergency situations our adaptive capacity (institutional and human resilience) is reduced and makes us less able to organize "recovery".

In this context, the major problem is nuclear risk. Given the lack of interest of the present generation in acquiring this knowledge, in front of the young graduates who leave the sector, and before the retirement of half the staff working in the nuclear power plants, how will the nuclear risk be managed in emergency situations? These large losses of skills are already likely to trigger a collapse. It should always be borne in mind that the final shutdown of a reactor requires one year of cooling and at least a decade for its dismantling with all the electricity and fuel needed to do so. Moreover, who will be able to guarantee the retention of hundreds of technicians and engineers in charge of these operations? In addition to the causes of accidents already observed at Chernobyl and Fukushima, global warming adds new instabilities such as stormy floods and lack of cooling water, and indirect effects related to migration such as terrorism and armed conflict.

In the study of the mankind's facing the collapse, one can not dismiss the examination of demography. Tackling the subject in public is absolutely taboo, because it always leads to the same question: "You want to do as in China, isn't it? ". The figure of 9 billion in 2050 is a mathematical forecast out of a theoretical model that can be stated: the population should reach 9 billion in 2050 all things being equal .

For the Meadows team at MIT, the demography of the Earth system, marked by the instability of our industrial civilization, leads to an irreversible and uncontrolled decline beginning in 2030. The human being has its imaginaries divided between the Cornucopian - the future is a continuous and unlimited progress thanks to technology and inventiveness - and Malthusian - the future comes at a time when limits are no longer able to continue a continuous population growth - which leads them to alternate these imaginaries within the course of the millennial cycles of civilizations: birth, growth, stagnation, decline, then rebirth or extinction.

According to Harald Welzer, the sociology of collapse shows how a society can slowly and imperceptibly push the boundaries of tolerable to the point of undermining its peaceful and humanist values ​​and sinking into the unacceptable. This is the case of increasingly aggressive policies towards migrants already affected by disasters. Major disasters can lead to widespread public anger towards governments and institutions in the coming years.

After a disaster that suspends normal activities and causes serious damage to a community, most people exhibit extraordinarily altruistic, calm and posed behaviors. Some even take senseless risks to help people around them. The image of a selfish and panicked human being is not at all corroborated by the facts. We are soon entering the era of mutual aid. On the other hand, in the event of an energy collapse, the individualists will be the first to die. In the event of repeated collapses (eg stock market collapse and then energy collapse) some will be obsessed with returning to the previous order, others will concentrate on the sustainability of institutions, and others will change the social order.

This transition to another society forces us to work our imagination, so to tell oneself stories to reverse these spirals of violence and pessimism. Stories that reject any cognitive dissonance and denial. Let us be the transitioners who invent their own future. Because transition initiatives free people from these feelings of incapacity so toxic and widespread in the population. The urgent need is to rebuild a solid and vibrant local social web, with a climate of trust, that is, a real "social capital" that can be used in the event of a disaster.

Why "people do not believe it", that is, the psychology of collapse is due to this tendency of people, when told the truth, to become pessimistic, resigned or just reject the message . According to Clive Hamilton in "Requiem for the Human Species" (and also Paul Jorion in "Le dernier qui s'en va éteint la lumière") we are not equipped to perceive the dangers of systemic threats or long-term threats. Our brains are too accustomed to carrying out immediate problems and have developed sensitivities to concrete and visible dangers. This is the problem of the frog and boiling water.

In the case of denial, people do not find credible scientific data or alarming media findings, because the obstacle is the impossibility of believing that the worst will happen. With data becoming more and more accurate over time, deniers continue to change the reasons for not changing their behavior.

Among those who seem convinced, there are five categories of reaction:

The blowinists ("it's blowing up") show an imaginary of the very dark, even nihilistic catastrophe, showing an anger towards society. This attitude is toxic in times of disaster for political and social organization.

Very frequently, the todowhatists ("to do what?") are those who say "fucked for fuck, let's enjoy what we have left! ". With two trends, the Rabelais-style epicurean who enjoys the pleasures of life, and "the bastard" who want to consume or sack before leaving.

Increasingly, survivalists or preppers ("to each his shit") barricade themselves, lock themselves up, bunkerize, store the necessities, inform themselves about the purification of water, wild plants. Their imaginary is Mad Max and the belief that the human being is profoundly evil.

Transitioners ("we are all in the same boat") often non-violent, collectivist, call for a transition on a large scale, because life no longer makes sense if everything collapses. Practicing openness and inclusion, they are convinced that the future lies in eco-villages, mutual aid and the transitional imaginary. They think "together we go further".

Collapsologists have a passion for the subject. Studying, sharing, writing, communicating, understanding, becomes a time-consuming activity for these "collapse geeks" whose most famous are called "collapsniks" who are often engineers and men. This cleavage is revealed when men debate figures, facts and techniques, while women approach the emotional and spiritual aspects.

How to live with, and live in good health, is to see in the necessary psychological transition a process of mourning that goes through five stages according to the model of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, American psychologist specializing in mourning: denial, anger, fear (Bargaining), depression and acceptance. It has been observed that the moments of testimony and sharing of emotions with others allow those present to realize that they are not alone in confronting this future and in feeling these emotions, in expressing their anger towards political leaders, multinational leaders and climate-deniers, all responsible for the lateness impossible to catch up.

You can not wait for everyone to grieve before you start acting. In the politics of collapse, action is part of the "internal transition" that allows consciousness to emerge from the state of incapacity and maintains optimism. It is never too late to build small resilient systems at the local level to better deal with future economic, social and ecological shocks.

Resilient anticipatory systems include citizen cooperatives for the production of renewable energies, local food groups or new local and cooperative economic and monetary models. While allowing the coexistence of two systems, one dying the other nascent. This paradoxical policy, which is both catastrophic and optimistic, raises the problem of publicly and officially accepting the death of the old world, the populations reacting by disturbances that will precipitate what we wanted to anticipate.

Transitioners do not wait for governments, they invent the way to live collapse in a non-tragic way. Once connected to small autonomous, resilient and low tech systems, the transitioners can then "unplug" from the old system, which could carry them away in its fall. It is moving from independence to interdependence: is a mosaic of small local democracies a democratic project?

In fact, there is not even a solution to seek our predicament, there are just ways to try to adapt to our new reality. Utopia has changed sides: the utopian is the one who believes that everything can go on as before, the realist puts all his energy in building local resilience, whether territorial or human.

Collapsology is the transdisciplinary exercise of the study of the collapse of our industrial civilization, and of what could succeed it, based on the two cognitive modes of reason and intuition, and on works of recognized scientists.

At the beginning of 2015, the authors thought that the window of opportunity to avoid a global collapse was already closing.
"During his European tour 2011-2012, Dennis Meadows, more pessimistic than ever, repeated in the interviews and in an article written for the Momentum Institute:
It is too late for sustainable development, we must prepare for shocks and build small resilient systems in an emergency" (page 173).

The collapse is not the end but the beginning of our future!

____________

[I] The Soviet collapse stopped at the political stage. The social collapse is to be found in internal conflicts: civil war and "every man for himself" with a process of depopulation that is taking place. Cultural collapse occurs when faith in humanity is lost. The stage of ecological collapse is reached when the possibility of recovering a society no longer seems possible because of an exhausted environment.

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