The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

All the Futures that Will Not Happen

I’m often amused and saddened by the techno-optimists among us and their fantasies of great futures. Or even the woke folks who think that color and gender and whatnot are the great political frontier.

Let’s run through this. Water.

Baseline Water Stress

To put some numbers on it:

New modeling of the world’s groundwater levels finds aquifers — the soil or porous rocks that hold groundwater — in the Upper Ganges Basin area of India, southern Spain, and Italy could be depleted between 2040 and 2060.

In the US, aquifers in California’s Central Valley, Tulare Basin, and southern San Joaquin Valley, could be depleted within the 2030s. Aquifers in the southern High Plains, which supply groundwater to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, could reach their limits between the 2050s and 2070s, according to the new research.

The thing to understand about this is that it doesn’t show permanent aquifer damage. If you overdraw aquifers, they lose the ability to hold as much water; that reduction is permanent.

Then there is fracking and other forms of poisoning groundwater, though how much is difficult to determine. (It’s not small.)

Meanwhile, the next thing is that important rivers tend to be driven by snowpack runoff and glaciers, but snowpack is becoming less and less and glaciers are receding. We’re talking about rivers like the GANGES and the Yangtse, not to mention all the European rivers which start in the Alps.

So we have groundwater depletion, some of it permanent. We have poisoned groundwater, and we have a reasonable expectation of reduced water in rivers, which in some cases will dry up entirely.

Let’s move on to more fun stuff: ecosystem collapse.

Wildlife Reduction

This number is from 1970, which was already very reduced. You can read accounts of what the Grand Banks were like originally: They could literally dip a pail into the ocean and come up with fish. We’ve massively reduced wildlife everywhere, insect populations are collapsing, and so on. Recent estimates are that the Amazon is no longer a net producer of oxygen, but now produces Carbon Dioxide.

Phytoplankton produce half the world’s oxygen. From 1950 to 2010, the population of phytoplankton dropped 40 percent. We can safely assume losses were not even, but are accelerating.

The general picture in terms of climate change is all bad:

Climate Dashboard 2018

Note that first graph very carefully. There is NO sign in the actual numbers that we are doing anything of importance to stop this trend. Kyoto and Paris have achieved nothing, which is to be expected, since they were voluntary.

Let’s put this all together: massively rising temperatures; more extreme weather events; changes in climate, including rainfall patterns; massive depletion of aquifers at the same time as we can expect many rivers to lose volume or dry up; no effective political action.

One thing that India’s Covid crisis clarified for me is that India won’t be able to handle climate change, so let’s make some predictions.

India breaks up within 20 to 30 years. It dies amid great famines which kill two hundred million or more people. Bangladesh, of course, will go oven sooner, and unleash a tsunami of over 150 million refugees which India does not want, as they are mostly Muslim.

China breaks up 30 to 45 years from now and descends into warlordism. Prior to the breakup, there is a better-than-even chance of war with Russia for Siberia. Again, hundreds of millions of deaths.

The US is going to hurt worse than is obvious: Core areas will hit depletion, and many rivers will dry up. Large chunks of the Southwest will become completely uninhabitable. California’s population carrying capacity will drop massively, unless it moves to mass de-salinization (a dicey prospect).

We’ve just had ourselves a lesson in what exponential growth looks like. There is every reason to expect that at least some parts of ecosystem collapse and climate change will act that way: When break points are reached, they will accelerate, and nothing we can do will stop them. Worst case scenario is a hothouse Earth in which humanity goes extinct, but entirely plausible scenarios see the Earth losing half or more of its carrying capacity. The process will involve a lot of death, suffering, and war.

There’s a decent chance we get a marine inundation event. Rather than water rising by small amounts every year, at some point it rises very quickly, and large amounts of the coast flood permanently.

Remember that the “moderate” estimates have almost all been wrong. The “worst case” scenarios, for decades now, have been coming in correctly.

All of which is to say, whatever future you think you’re going to have, you need to run it past this lens. Does it survive this? Does society spend resources on whatever it is in the face of hundreds of millions of deaths and billions of refugees?

So, no, your future, whatever it is, unless you can instantiate it in the next two decades, probably isn’t going to happen.

The clock is ticking, we are running out of time to do whatever it is we want to do, and it is very likely that we are past the point of no return; that even if we were to go all-out to stop climate change and environmental collapse (we won’t), we could — at best — limit it to “losing half the population.”

lf you’re old enough, none of this matters, of course. But we are now at the point where, if you aren’t 60 and in poor health, or 70 and in good health, you’re probably going to get see at least the start of the really bad times.

We’ll come back to what this means in more depth later, but for now, just make your plans based on this understanding of what the future holds.

(Writers eat and pay rent, so subscriptions and donations help.)


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 25, 2021


Why Progress Always Required Space Travel


  1. mago

    “Whiskey’s for drinkin, water’s for fightin.” Old West saying.
    Oh my we ain’t seen nothing yet. The politics, the power and land grabs, the death and murder. The power players have known this for like forever. PepsiCo and kin have plans to control the global supply and spoke openly about it a their Brazil conference a few years back. Desertification has accelerated for at least four decades, but nobody talks about it and how it’s affected Middle East politics and movements of people and resources. China claimed Tibet for its resources—water foremost. I don’t know why it remains unspoken, but there’s a quiet competition between the US and China over water (and other things) in say Nicaragua and Costa Rica. (CR is drought bound by the way.) Anyway, it goes on and on.
    I live atop an aquifer that has seen attempted plunder so that distant gated communities could water their lawns and golf courses. I joined the fight against that, and we won, but it keeps recurring.
    Yes, now there’s a brilliant idea: steal water from agriculture and build more golf courses in
    the desert. What could go wrong?
    Anyway, I’m of an age where I’ll see it happening, but probably not the worst.

  2. So let’s say you’re a wealthy, connected individual, or a group of them. You’ve got the power to control governments, industries, and populations. You control most media. You’re well educated on the subject, understand the science, and realize that you’re really the only people who run a chance of fixing the problems noted here. It’s been obvious for decades that they won’t be solved voluntarily.

    What sort of plan would you come up with? How would you dramatically reduce the population without creating a massive backlash and thus destroying your chances for saving the world and the human race?

    Seems to me that an engineered virus — relatively benign at first, but which readily spreads and mutates into something much more deadly — could achieve this, and leave you with plausible deniability. Even better if the virus attacks reproductive capacity ( .

    Perhaps you ensure that the response creates the conditions for such mutations (

    If someone caught on to your scheme, would they blow the whistle? Should they, considering where the status quo leads?

  3. tatere

    I hadn’t realized that the USA is going to see deathly humidity in the interior, up the Mississippi from the Gulf (I think that’s the anchor)

  4. No One

    Some additional recent water / drought information:




    (These last two via University of Utrecht, which performed the 2016 study noted in your links.)

  5. Hugh

    I would add in population. In 1950, the US population was 152 million. Today it is 331 million.

    In 1950, world population was 2.556 billion. Today it is 7.758 billion.

    We in the US need to work our population back closer to the 1950 level. If we did, we would be putting a lot less stress on our climate, water, and environment. Although politically it is a third rail, most of the reduction in US population could be accomplished by essentially eliminating immigration. And if you think that is hard to sell, consider how unlikely it would be in most of the developing world to sell and implement active population reduction measures like birth control.

    Because we won’t act or won’t act enough, billions are likely to die from disease, starvation, and war.

  6. Astrid

    We will see about warlordism in China in that timeframe. The elites are extremely aware and fearful of that scenario, which should mean that they will put great efforts to prevent it. Culturally, the Chinese have a very strong emotional adversion to splintering because they’re associated with terrible times.

    Doesn’t mean they will succeed, but they will try very hard. Of course, the chaos of pre-1949 is fading from living memory and the elite may become complacent, but the cultural normative desire for unity is very great. It’s one thing to lose Taiwan (which really a matter of security and prestige, I think the Chinese would be fine with an independent but China-allied Taiwan), Tibet (except for the water and possibly the security situation), and Xinjiang (except for the natural resources and security situation), but fracturing of the Han heartland would be a major blow to the Chinese psyche.

    I would be more concerned about inundation of the Yellow River, Yangtze River, and Pearl River deltas. These are the richest and most densely populated parts of the country. Global warming is also increasing typhoon risks along the entire Chinese Coast It’s possible that the push to develop the poorer inland areas is intended to mitigate this inevitability.

    I think in the next few decades, Chinese water wars with SE Asia and South Asia are more likely than wae with Russia. China is damming rivers in its mountainous south and west, and bringing the water north to its parched heartland. This directly impacts survival of its densely populated neighbors to the South. That’s going to cause more existential conflict than figuring out a workable solution with Russia in the sparsely populated eastern Siberia.

  7. Astrid

    David Veale,

    I did wonder why Bill Gates make sure to lock up the IP for the Oxford vaccine, when doing so appear so contradictory to his desire to appear as some sort of above it all humanitarian. Or why the Western governments and health officials were quite so incompetent and complacent, when the solutions were quite obvious and easily followed through by East and SE Asians, and ANZ.

    Of course. Even if they”fail” at their primary objective, they have dramatically increased their wealthy and power, giving them more leverage for the next round of liquidations.

    I have a friend who is convinced that Covid is fake and it is cover for a Rothschilds led great reset that neither of us will survived. So he’s thinking of buying a condo in SF.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  8. Mark Pontin

    Astrid: ‘I think in the next few decades, Chinese water wars with SE Asia and South Asia are more likely than war with Russia.’


    China, Pakistan, and India are the likeliest candidates to inadvertently get into nuclear war under today’s geopolitical frame of things.

    Tomorrow? If the U.S. and Israel keep on at Iran till it builds its own nuclear deterrent, at that point both Egypt and the Saudis have promised to do the same. Most of Earth’s land surface will then become one continuous zone of nuclear states – all neighbors with histories of mutual hostility – extending from Israel and Egypt in the west, through Pakistan, and India, on to China, Russia and North Korea, in the east.

    Good times.

  9. Gaianne

    Nice summary, Ian.

    As I see it at this point, all great plans are doomed, most choices made will be wrong choices, but small ameliorative actions are possible and really are everywhere.

    Most people will refuse to take them.

    There is absolutely no reason to be like most people.

    Mago—Congratulations on your aquifer success! May it persist!


  10. Joseph E. Kelleam

    It’s great to be 78.

  11. Daniel Bickel

    I remember back when I was in my teens, there was a plan to divert the Mackenzie and reroute the water south along the Rocky Mountain Front to the southwestern USA. One of these great geo-engineering schemes, and the Russians were thinking of diverting some of their large northward flowing rivers as well. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:


    In the 1950s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA), a vast series of dams, tunnels and reservoirs designed to move 150 km3 (120,000,000 acre⋅ft) of water from northern Canada to southern Canada, the western United States and Mexico. The system would involve building massive dams on the Liard, Mackenzie, Peace, Columbia, and Fraser river systems and pumping water into a 650 km (400 mi) long reservoir in the Rocky Mountain Trench. The water would then flow by gravity to irrigate more than 220,000 km2 (85,000 sq mi) in the three countries and generate more than 50,000 MW of surplus energy. The projects were never built due to the massive cost and environmental impact.[51][52]


    It may pop up again.

    Since I remember this from my youth, you know I have grey hairs, and as I always say to my cohort, “Be glad you lived when you did!”

    All the best,


  12. Some Guy

    I’m not too worried about water. Generally speaking, capitalism for all of its faults, generally does well with resource shortages. Desalination works and can be scaled up reasonably well. Not to say there won’t be any problems, of course, but I don’t expect anything world-destabilizing.

    As for population, on a consumption-weighted (based on age and country of residence) basis, the population of the earth is likely already falling, although of course it is still awfully high by historical standards or by comparison to the size of the earth’s ecosystems. Still, the fact that that headwind has turned into a tailwind may help us a little. I recommend the ‘Economica’ blog on this topic.

    I would put social media, pandemics and microplastics, and surveillance corporatism up near the top of the list along with climate change. Generally, I worry (a bit less) about the technical challenges (water shortage, disease fighting) then I do about the human decay, the decadence, corruption and incompetence of our politics, the utter fecklessness of our ‘elites’, the general loss of any sense of higher purpose or principle in society and so on.

    In terms of specific countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel strike me as both being vulnerable. The Saudis because of oil dependence, corruption and incompetence, Israel because the country is sliding into a right wing, fundamentalist abyss that it can’t afford. Russia seems to depend a lot on Putin, raising the question of what will happen when he goes. China is losing the plot it had followed successfully for decades, and how will it react to slamming into a demographic wall faster than any country ever did before? Japan handled it OK, but China and Japan are very different.

    The U.S. is further down the path of western corruption, inequality, decadence and techno-utopian collapse than anyone (but we’re all not far behind, and the U.K. is making its own special push as well), but seems to be heading to just on a path to becoming Brazil rather than having any more spectacular collapse, but who really knows, they are in uncharted territory.

    Capitalism and western decay is everywhere, just at different stages, so nobody will come along telling us to repent, but if they did, we would certainly wonder what they meant, and it would be too late regardless.


  13. Joan

    My country has a birth rate barely above 1, but we are positioned to face incredible immigration pressure. That leads to decisions that will be viewed as cruel but necessary: denying entry to high birth rate populations.

    I don’t think any woman should be told she can’t have children if she really wants them, but there’s a difference between one handful and two, even three handfuls of kids. The women who are pumping out 10+ kids right now are birthing them into a world of harsh limits.

  14. Stormcrow

    This is nice.
    Just two comments into this batch, I run into a Covid
    conspiracy theory. Based on “plausibility”, as is usual for conspiracy
    theories in their infancy.
    I’m not going to spend electrons and skull sweat debunking
    this. That’s a total waste of time, effort, and frustration. I might as
    well try convincing a Qanon cultist to return from Cloud Cuckoo Land.
    I respect Ian. That’s why I keep coming back here. But I wish he would give some thought to what
    he hopes to achieve with this blog, when anyone actually looking for
    useful insight must match the comments section against a shitlist of
    known bad actors before he can take a single sentence of what’s written
    in it seriously. But that’s not going to happen either.

  15. Plague Species

    Russia will have no choice but to nuke China when the fight over Siberia commences. Then comes the nuclear winter. That will cool things down real quick like. For all of us and for everything. Or, China can just euthanize its rapidly aging population en masse. In the next twenty years a substantial percentage of China’s population is going to be elderly and a drag and burden. They’ll have to be jettisoned and China has proven that it will do quite literally anything for the sake of expediency and euthanizing old folks won’t be any different when that time comes and it’s coming soon.

  16. Plague Species

    What sort of plan would you come up with? How would you dramatically reduce the population without creating a massive backlash and thus destroying your chances for saving the world and the human race?

    I’d push plastics to reduce male sperm counts and render them effectively sterile and I would make a mint doing it. I would support McDonald Trump as POTUS so he would eliminate any regulation of the plastics industry so males could be effectively neutered.

  17. Synoptocon

    The world would be a better place if everyone’s bold forecasts weren’t always sweeping, generic, and safely 30 to 40 years out. Detailed and five years out is a good deal more useful.

    Stormcrow: natural consequence of dumbing stuff down so it’s easy to write. I actually come for the comment section – it’s professionally useful to know what the pissed off geriatric set thinks. Meta-story (made the bed, pissed off about it, won’t do anything) is consistently boring, but the specifics of today’s expressed crankitude can be useful.

  18. someofparts

    So Synoptocon, you want to be precise in your forecasts but broad and indiscriminating in your biases.

    Don’t worry, Ian has the place dumbed down for you.

  19. Astrid


    Hmmm, MSM have promoted RussiaRussiaRussia for 4+ years on one end, promoted/hidden election fraud stories to no end, the OPCW lies against Syria and WMD lies against Iraq have destroy whole countries. Antisemite smears against Corbyn has been effectively applied to destroy a decent and honorable man’s career. I can go on…

    And you decide to jump on David Veale for what’s clearly just a harmless bit of cui bono speculation? If what he said was fact, is it that much more monstrous than what is already known about our pathological elite? Or truths and lies repeated in all sorts of “respectable” websites? There is a very good question of why the West didn’t even try to contain a pandemic that multiple East Asian countries kept under control, using old fashion quarantine and public health measures. An even better question of how the billionaire class just became massively wealthier in a year when GDP absolutely cratered everywhere except perhaps China and Vietnam.

    Or just is it just a case of concern troll must concern troll?

  20. Eric Anderson

    Some guy:

    “although of course it is still awfully high by historical standards or by comparison to the size of the earth’s ecosystems.”

    The stoopid! It’s stinging my eyeballs!

  21. Hugh

    Summing the 228 entries/countries of the International Data Base (IDB) at the US Census, current world population is around 7.7 billion and is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050. The sustainable human carrying capacity of the planet is probably no more than 3 billion at most.

  22. It’s not clear to me that overly optimistic is worse than overly pessimistic.

    E.g., while I don’t know much about it, the phytoplankton claim sounds plausible, and points to catastrophe. It seems quite compatible with pictures we’ve seen of dead zones centered at the mouths of rivers, ultimately due to agricultural runoff, which is a fossil fuel driven industry.

    A direct fix would involve regenerative and organic agriculture. Less fossil fuel use would be a result, not a cause, of the fix. But if you focus on windmills and electric cars, and do nothing about agriculture, will you feel better about your hypoxia?

    Water stress is also a real problem. Don’t know much about it, but politicians who refuse to deal with it, while wasting gazillions of dollars on “defense” (which has led to formidable responses by both Russia and China, making those gazillions of dollars even less effective towards their supposed purpose), would do well to be more pessimistic, without becoming irrational.

    OTOH, do-gooders who are feel-badders (pessimists) might well glom on to a graph of CO2, and somehow not be aware that 1st order greenhouse gas effects of CO2 obey a logarithmic curve, and that curve is already mostly saturated. It will take a more and more CO2 to create the same temperature increase – a lot more. As for the fancy shmancy climate models, the most historically accurate ones show the LEAST warming. (And only 1 either pre or post dicted “the pause”, so IMO they’ve all been invalidated. Even the Russian one that post-dicts the pause is a next generation model of a previous one, that did not.)

    The climate modelers and their pessimist-propagandists are being given a run for their money by the covid pessimist-propagandists. See Ivor Cummins’ latest “Short Video on India Situation: What does the Current Data Say?”. Cummins’ doesn’t address the threat of covid variants, which is a serious defect in his presentation. Even so, the perspective he provides is invaluable.

    Of course, both climate fear porn and covid fear porn are useful to the ruling elites, to suck more money out of the system, and increase their control over the hoi polloi. The virtue signaling amen corner may be annoying, but it’s the elite herd management, driving and funding the hysteria, that I fear.


  23. Some Guy

    “The stoopid! It’s stinging my eyeballs!”

    Thanks for that insightful contribution. It’s not even clear what your objection is – that high population really isn’t a big deal (the more likely view in most places on the web) or that the risk due to high population is being downplayed (more likely in this particular corner of the web).

    Either way, it is important to distinguish the magnitude of a problem currently vs. whether it is getting better or worse over time. Hugh mentions that the population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, I’d say that’s probably on the high side, but more importantly, if all that growth happens in Africa, while population ages and falls in East Asia and Western Europe, that means that consumption pressure is likely to fall as well.

  24. js

    Synoptocon in 2006: so you say it’s a housing bubble, but tell me exactly when it’s going to crash so I can short it or I don’t believe you. Oh you can’t do that, can you? Then why should I believe there is a housing bubble at all, much less that it will crash? You speak nonsense. Go long CDOs!

    P.S. if you remember the crash if 2008 it probably means you are geriatric anyway, by some definition of geriatric. Don’t trust anyone over 30!

  25. Mary Bennett

    Some Guy, capitalism used to do well with resource shortages. I can’t offhand think of any examples, but I will take your word for it. That was capitalism which built things. Financialized capitalism has forgotten how, and cares only about wealth and refuges for it’s elites.

    Hugh and Joan, national sovereignty either means something or it doesn’t. Part of what it means that a country gets to decide how many of what people are allowed to cross its’ borders. People who can bring useful skills you might want to allow. People who get off the airplane with the attitude that they are important professionals who can’t possibly be expected to get their hands dirty should be put on a plane back home, IMHO.

    The Chinese plan is right there in front of our faces. I think they plan to spread out along their new roads, being smart enough to realize they can’t go on gaming Western countries’ immigration laws forever. Isn’t there something from Taoism about spreading like water.

  26. Joan

    @Hugh, thanks for those numbers. It’s not the current stated trend, but I personally think population growth will plateau more quickly. I will be very surprised if we ever reach ten billion. I think things will peak, stagnate and fall before that, but this is all within my lifetime, so I guess I’ll find out.

    In terms of American population growth, I will also be surprised if the Millennial generation births another boom. Maybe it’s just my social circle, but it’s universally filled with people choosing to have fewer children than they had originally planned. The people who were on the fence chose against it, and the people who wanted a house full of kids are stopping at just two.

    (This population decrease will not happen fast enough to prevent things from getting very tumultuous, of course.)

    What I’m concerned about is a lot of the regions with a looming water crisis are also religiously conservative ones where birth control is taboo. This means the future migrant crises are going to happen to millions of children, but I don’t see what an outsider like myself could possibly do about it.

    @Some Guy, that’s a good point, that population decrease in first world countries could mean consumption pressure goes down. It’s hard to say though, since rich people have such astronomical resource footprints. Just one more baby raised by Bill Gates et al to fly in private jets is catastrophic.

    @js, are you GenZ? Hate to say this, but Millennials are the boom generation that will hang over you for your entire life.

  27. Ché Pasa

    Ah, Doomblogging!

    We seem to be entering the latest phase of Our Collective Doom, and as we know, there’s no going back. I don’t know why, but Doomblogging seems to be connected with the (apparent) rise of progressives in politics, and it usually goes underground when the reactionaries have the helm.

    I guess the idea is that we shouldn’t get too hopeful that things will get better, ever, because they won’t. Not for most of us. It’s downhill till the bitter end, which of course will come soon. Sooner.

    It wouldn’t surprise me to see the kinds of breakup/breakdown scenarios Ian proposes. We’ve been on the edge for a long time. As it is, many nations have already fallen to pieces, and warlordism doesn’t seem very far away at all for much of what remains.

    Nevertheless, people and animals and plants and such can be amazingly adaptable no matter how bad things get.

    We can’t restore what used to be, but maybe we shouldn’t. Those former halcyon times were never real in the first place, were they?

  28. Hugh

    Falling consumption pressure sounds like a euphemism for more poor people. But I’m not sure what the beneficial impacts of more poor people are supposed to be if they are burning up more of the Amazon rainforest, desertifying the Sahel, or watching the Mekong dry up. And what happens, as Ian asks, when hundreds of millions of these “expendable” human beings try to migrate out of whatever disaster they find themselves in?

  29. DMC

    Much if not all of the water issues could be dealt by a massive level of desalinization plant construction. Such plants do not have to be in fact massive energy sinks. The use of passive solar plus solar thermal could create plants with very little exterior energy inputs. A properly malthusian response to the ongoing immigration crisis could be settled simply by requiring any new immigrants be sterilized as the cost of admission. This is of course an extreme measure, but it beats putting up minefields and machine gun towers at the borders. How many people would make that trade off? The time to get serious about these issues has basically been the last 50 years. Now our backs are against the wall and yet still major national governments continue to fiddle fart around with tepid half measures and public relations blither. We are all in the same boat, yet we keep trying to kick holes in the bottom of the boat merely to inconvenience other parties in the boat that we don’t like for one reason or another. This has to stop before we can make any reasonable progress towards a steady state existence

  30. Trinity

    Joan, continuing our conversation from the previous thread and to answer your question: the majority of people cannot imagine a future that isn’t very similar to now. And that is probably the biggest problem of all. And this despite the fact that “now” is deadly for most children, excruciating and deadly for most adults, and has led to sharp reductions in needed biodiversity, dismantling of crucial protective ecosystems, death to almost all large animals, and the catastrophic destruction of marine life. Outsiders would never consider the American “way of life” to be a life worth living, let alone strive for. It’s an effing insane asylum, once you step back even just a little.

    (Is this high enough on the crankitude meter, Synopticon? I like “crankitude”, it’s way better than “curmudgeon” because it’s got ‘tude.)

    “The “worst case” scenarios, for decades now, have been coming in correctly.”

    And earlier than originally expected, it should be noted.

  31. Synoptocon

    someofparts: Broad and indiscriminating in its biases is this place’s stock in trade. When in Rome….

    As a technical point, in the forecasting business, detailed is different than precise. Detailed is more about the moving parts and the dynamics – their visibility, transparency and addressability / testability. Given that most forecasts suck (the fraction wrong even in coarse measures like directionality is large), how a model gets to its conclusions is usually the most useful bit. Even a terribly imprecise (or even inaccurate) model can be a useful construct.

    js: No, it wouldn’t be tell me when or I won’t believe you, it’s show me why or I won’t believe you. The why part of it was compelling, the when part they were much less sure of. The “forecasting” above is multiple orders of magnitude less rigorous than what those guys did – it’s sketching straight lines for entertainment purposes.

  32. Joan

    @Trinity, I definitely agree with you that the American way of life is not to be envied. Some outsiders still aspire to it, but I think that is more “America” rather than what is actually happening in the US.

    I can’t remember where, but I once read that the resource footprint of an American is roughly three times that of an average European, class for class. So a working class American is 3x a working class European, a middle class American is 3x a middle class European, etc. All those resources used up, and for what? Americans seem stressed out and unhappy.

  33. Astrid


    If you have actual professional interest in the opinions of geriatric cranks on this obscure corner of the internet, then you must be in a *very special* career path. It’s a very small number of people who have both the ability and time to articulate systems level concerns, so of course pensioners would be highly represented.

    It’s not possible to predict the exact factor that cause a break to complex systems. (Tax collection seems to be highly popular for starting revolutions, so Biden better be careful!). It’s the cumulative number and magnitude of stresses that increases the risk of a break. Those stresses have been well covered by Ian and include: a predatory elite that’s indifferent to the conditions ensured by those beneath them, increased precarious, low trust society, alienation of groups within society, untrustworthy social institutions, resource depletion, and AGC. Complex systems do resist break, either through self correction or by kicking the can down the road. The last 12 years have been a spectacular run of can kicking.

  34. Plague Species

    Once again, there are no “Americans.” There is no one size fits all. Not by a stretch. A large percentage of American citizens are oblivious, but I wouldn’t say stressed out and unhappy. Some are, certainly, but not all and not even the majority. If they weren’t so oblivious, perhaps they would be stressed out and unhappy. Joan is forming “her” opinion based on the cable news. The cable news is hardly adequate in qualifying what “Americans” are and aren’t. Not for lack of trying on their manipulative part, but it’s a foolish exercise the media administers in order to manage perceptions.

    Was listening to an interview with McCain’s wife on NPR yesterday when I was out and about. She’s a real hoot. She had to brag about how tough the McCains are as a family and that McDonald’s harassment didn’t bother them all that much nor did McCain’s lost bid for president. The host then brings up her addiction to opioids so she had to discuss it. She blamed it on her physicians. They were handing it out like candy. Tough, my a**. So tough she let her pain get the best of her and hit the pills. That’s not tough and you’re not tough, Cindy, I promise you. Anything but. The only reason Cindy’s not living out of a cardboard box on Skid Row is because she’s a filthy rich privileged pig.

  35. Joan

    @Plague Species, I don’t watch American TV. I don’t live in the US and I don’t even own a TV. If “Americans” are aloof and more comfortably secure than my impressions then yes, that explains a lot in terms of their aggressive resource depletion.

  36. Plague Species

    I don’t watch American TV. I don’t live in the US and I don’t even own a TV.

    In the post about the Biden address you mention you receive health insurance through the ACA marketplace and your state helps to defray the cost. You have to lie an America citizen to get this. Even if you’re living overseas and yet you’re still an American citizen, what’s the point of having insurance through the ACA if you are overseas and can’t use it? Which is it?

  37. Astrid

    Or…if you’d paid attention rather than get wrapped up in your self righteousness, you might have noticed that she repeatedly said that she’s an American citizen who made a concerted effort to move outside of the US.

  38. different clue


    As long as all we commenters keep the names we have, and keep the names consistent, and don’t start playing musical blognames, you should be able to determine which names deliver the type of comment you find useful. You should be able to scroll past the other names very fast without even having to read their comments at all, and just spend your time on the comments from commenters whose quality you know and respect.

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