Shrinking the Technosphere, Part VII

[Réduire la techno-sphère, Partie VII]

You have survived your first winter on the land. Congratulations! The worst part of the ordeal is quite possibly over. Gone are whatever addictions and expectations with which you arrived, be they internet access or coffee. Your new world consists of the few people around you, and a huge number of plants and animals. But it is a world that is indisputably yours—to make the best of, and to pass along to your children and grandchildren.

In the beginning some elements of unnaturelike technology will persist. But as seasons wear on your newfound world will no longer include electricity or electronics, synthetic materials or fabrics, internal combustion engines (no more outboard engines, snowmobiles or chainsaws). Firearms, synthetic pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and much else will quietly fade from memory.

In place of gadgets there will be books: the riverboat that makes its rounds of shoreline settlements exactly once a year—in midsummer—carries a lending library, dropping off books one summer and picking them up the next. It also distributes a set of textbooks made available by the government: language and literature, mathematics, botany, biology, chemistry, physics, geography and geology. Some of the textbooks haven\’t changed in many generations; after all, there has been very little new that would be useful to you. Others have needed an update or two; the geography textbook no longer lists countries such as Bangladesh, Kiribati or US states such as Louisiana and Florida, which won\’t be around for much longer. Numerous failed states with morbid populations and undefended borders will be given scant mention.

In place of synthetic fabrics or cotton there will be cloth of flax and hemp (cotton goes away along with industrial chemistry, on which it depends for pesticides). Much use will be made of leather, wool and fur, the last of which already essential for your continued survival. In place of internal combustion engines there is muscle—animal or human. Since pharmaceuticals are largely gone, everyone is busy picking and cultivating medicinal plants and practicing preventive therapies. A favorite for killing off viruses is a trip to the sauna followed by a roll in a snowbank or a dip in an ice hole.

Metals will be about the only relic of industrialism still in widespread use. There is no practical limit to the amount of mild steel scrap that will be available from industrial ruins—enough to keep all the blacksmiths (of a much smaller and widely dispersed population) busy for thousands of generations. Copper will remain a favorite, since it can be cold-worked into any shape. Where metals will be scarce, skilled artisans will work them with stone tools.

This may seem like a harsh life, but all of the alternatives are worse. As the average global temperature rises by over 17ºC—far in excess of the 2ºC still bandied about by the politicians and their court scientists—most of the inland areas further south will be made unlivable by summer heat waves with wet bulb temperatures in excess of 35ºC. Without air conditioning such temperatures are lethal, and summer heatwaves, accompanied by blackouts, will kill off entire cities. Coastal cities will perish for a different reason: ocean level will rise by at least 30 meters, putting them permanently under the waves. With the disappearance of mountain glaciers entire countries that depend on glacial melt for irrigation—and there are many of them—will starve. For populations used to living on the coasts and earning a living from the sea moving further inland will not help much—because of all the nuclear power plants that will go underwater with their spent fuel pools still stocked, producing hundreds of new Fukushimas that will make the oceans too radioactive to fish. And as climate change continues and accelerates all of these problems will get worse and worse.

But then here you will be, near one of the major Eurasian or North American north-flowing rivers that empty into the Arctic Ocean—Lena, Ob\’, Yenisey or McKenzie. You are high enough above the quickly rising ocean level, and away from everything else—including the still crowded major population centers that will be getting ready to go through an episode of mass extinction. If the summers get too hot or too dry, you can relocate further downstream, closer to the Arctic Circle, where it will be cooler and wetter. All the while, you can go on practicing your Naturelike Technology Suite, some of which has not changed much since the landscape you now occupy was first settled thousands of years ago. In the summer, the now ice-free, navigable Arctic Ocean will allow the surviving remnants of humanity to keep in touch.

But to make such a best-case scenario possible in a now guaranteed worst-case environment will take more than just relocation and successful adaptation. What has driven the planet to the edge of an environmental abyss is a culture, and the economic system it enables, which worships the blind pursuit of profit and growth at any cost. This culture, based on rapine and plunder, if allowed to persist, will drive the planet over the edge of the abyss even as it and the people trapped in it go extinct. Can it be stopped? That is what we will look at next.

20 Responses to “Shrinking the Technosphere, Part VII”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks Dmitry. Unflinching realism of the highest order. I only know of JMGreer as another commentator who can match it. Even before your later paragraphs, I was thinking: \”This is Northern Siberia, isn't it? And Northern Canada too.\” Wonder what happens, though, to Antarctica. There were dinosaurs there at one time – though its plate may have drifted to polar latitudes since then, becoming less habitable for humans even in a much hotter world. I don't know.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Holy words, Dmitri; spot on.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It does seem like a harsh life- but perhaps not much harsher than that currently lived by the poorest here in the UK, who already endure cold, food insecurity, workfare drudgery, media vilification, and the constant threat of eviction and destitution. They will need to act fairly drastically if they want to survive the next few years of austerity, though I don't think relocation to the Arctic will have crossed the minds of many who plan to leave Britain for a better life. It's good to read this blog precisely because it's often several steps ahead: your thoughts on collapse will have helped many to prepare, and now that collapse is actually here it's interesting to peer cautiously into the post-collapse future.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Great post Dmitry. I'd be interested to know what population numbers you think such a state of affairs could support? My guess is it would be much less than the 500M or so usually bandied about as our best case scenario. I can't envision many first world city dwellers making the cut in this scenario, or even desiring to. Homo domesticus has simply gotten too soft and pampered to ever put up with such barbaric conditions.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    @NowhereMan. I agree that most city dwellers in the US (or even suburban) would not make it past the first week. Some dudes from West Va. or Montana could probably survive.My question is, what is the acceptance criteria? Do they get some training first? To be honest, I don't know how to cure leather using moose brains. I could learn.That is why multi-generational relationships are important. Probably my great-grandfather who came from Poland knew how to do all this stuff and whatever else would be required. My father was good with tools. I am good with the keyboard (not typing).See a problem here?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Shawn. Books are the next best thing to having your great grandfather around. It is unfortunate that we have lost much of the really valuable knowledge, but there are sources to which we can look for re-education.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I began to study these issues midway through college, in 1970. At that time I concluded that humanity would almost certainly fail to make the fundamental changes in attitudes and methods that would be necessary to avoid the catastrophe that is now on the horizon, but in my darkest moments back then I never imagined that we wouldn’t even try.For attempting to convey these issues to friends, family members, or associates I have met responses ranging from the most dismissive incredulity to outright hostility – no less so in recent months than forty years ago.With all respect for the clarity and cogency of your presentations here, I believe that the number of Americans who might conceivably undertake the steps you suggest will be negligible. Surely peoples who have never lost their mastery of these naturelike technologies and who live along natural migration routes into the northern territories you have described will amply fill their human carrying capacity.One fears that those who have access to the authorization codes for nuclear arsenals are precisely the sort of people who would rather see the whole world engulfed in flame than impotently watch their own country go down. They may ultimately be the ones who decide whether or not some vestige of our species might be given an opportunity to survive the times ahead.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    A documentary film that portrays the life style that you describe: \”Happy People: A year in the Taiga\” directed by Werner Herzog and Nikolay Nikiforoviych Siniaev and a book that deals with the emotional component of living in this harsh climate: \”The Consolations of the Forest: alone in a cabin in the Siberian Taiga\” by Sylvain Tesson. Interesting real existing lifestyles.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Speaking as a US'ian my condolences for your two brave Russian pilots!I feel so bad to be in a nation that is in the wrong in this proxy war, and that seems so eager to get I to a real one.Is is not difficult at all to find information from credible sources that proves that the USA is effectively supporting DAESH. We're using intermediaries in turkey to funnel weapons, supplies, vehicles, and money to them. Even Obama is sounding like a hawk which greatly disappoints me. Even if we end up with Hillary and Sanders in office it will be the same, because they all have the same oligarchs pulling their puppet strings.All I can do as a subject of the USA is to pay as little into the government as possible, and since in our glorious new economy I only make about 10 grand a year, I pretty much have that covered.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I think Skillington has it right. The viable zones already have the few who know how to endure there, and they are more likely to defend rather than share. I doubt they would even waste bullets on us. But even their chances are slim: we've already peppered the planet with plutonium & sundry isotopes & have only just begun to reap the impact on our genes. Even the robots get fried when sent in. Soon enough, everywhere will be too near the reactor cores. The generations of mutants are still ahead. There is no future for the compromised….Beautifully written fantasy, though.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Agreed on the importance of books. Recommended for the library: The Knowledge, how to rebuild our world from scratch by Lewis Dartnell. I am too old and soft to be much concerned with personal survival at all costs, but I am gathering resources for whoever stumbles upon them.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Extreme heat does have its advantages, not least the money saved on heating fuel and … well, fewer clothes required. There is a greater requirement for water, but the people in my town solve that problem with multiple enormous rain tanks. Since few houses have airconditioning, our homes are designed to sstay cool, no matter the weather. We've learned to tolerate the heat and in mid-summer the sun only sets after 8pm, so this is the ideal time to do the gardening. I would be far more comfortable in extreme heat than bitter cold.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, great set of posts, Dmitry! My wife and I actually envisioned a life like that many years ago and now live full-time at our homestead in a remote part of Alaska. We describe our off-grid, off-road lifestyle at Thanks for all that you do to describe our world's current predicament and help us achieve a better future.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    OffTopic: To a seaman and storyteller such as yourself, I think the story of the SS United States and the current efforts to save it from the scrapyards can be a source of some interesting similes in conveying your message of the current state we're in.If nothing else, the comments to the FoxNews story are a sad reflection of USSAn mentality on things in general. Even there –when reminiscing times when USSA was \”great\”, ie pre-Civil-Rights-Movement, and hating on immigrants– some clearly see the ominous similarities.My condolences, Dmitry, on the turk provocation that resulted in the death of the Su-24 crewman. 'Woe the tangled webs we weave'.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    dmitri, worked in a minor way on the analysis of the last pure river systen on earth,the mckenzie in the late sixties.the results are probably locked up in the research council of alberta gathering dust if it hasn't been knocked down and converted into some edmonton this time the athabasca tar sands project had started to be built but as yet had not begun to pollute and destroy the mckenzie system. the vast quanties of water used in the extraction process,billions of gallons,have been stored in a series enormous lakes from which the water and its contaminants eventually find their way into the underground rivers and begin the long journey north to the arcticcoming occasionally to the surface in the abundant lakes where indians fish.these indians are dying of some bizarre cancers.needless to say the oil industry denies any culpability in their deaths. so the selection of sites hundreds of miles from visibly destroyed industrial wastelands will be difficult with a lack of analytical tools to test the land and water.a similar problem will exist as mentioned above with radioactivity.any suggestions?thanks pm

  16. Anonymous Says:

    \”A favorite for killing off viruses is a trip to the sauna followed by a roll in a snowbank or a dip in an ice hole.\”Yes. In order to keep foods from spoiling, they need to be kept either above 160F (70C) or below 40F (4C.) And we humans today do everything in our power to keep our environments between 60-80F (15-25C.) Does that mean we're making ourselves spoil?

  17. Anonymous Says:

    16 C; whew. The temperature rise anywhere from 2C to 16 C has been bandied about quite a bit, and looking at stuff from NBL (Guy McPherson) and Wasdell, it looks more likely that the upper range is where we are headed, but lots of folks scoff at this. The back-and-forth between folks like Guy McPherson and Scott Johnson drives me crazy sometimes. What do you think is going on there? Who are the scientists you look to for those numbers? What might be the best criteria to judge such folks? From Wasdell's commentary on Radio Ecoshock (I just listened to it today), it seems that a lot of the stuff that has been in some of the \”scientific consensus\” reports has already had \”political realities\” baked in, meaning that they are questionable off the bat. You have a level headed, engineering approach to this stuff; I always look forward to your always excellent analysis and commentary.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent and compelling. Looking for a stone axe now. Thanx.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Mr. Orlov, after studying some sea level rise forecasts, one can see that Russia will be severly flooded. At some point both sides of the Urals will be under water. As you mentioned, the wet bulb temperatures will spread from the equator north and south, also making large parts of Asia uninhabitable. Expect some severe competition on the Ob, Yenisei and Lena from the escaping Indian and Chinese populations. If I were a betting man, I would hedge my bets on the Volga.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I think the loss of practical skills could cause a lot of problems particularly related to childbirth. My great-grandmother was an old fashioned midwife. Most of the women she cared for gave birth at home with few complications. Most of the babies born went on to be breastfed long term. These skills have been lost (even though most women in this area want to give birth naturally then breastfeed their babies).

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