Some Convenient Bullshit: they blinded me with science

  Okay, lets go back and talk about this consensus of scientists for a minute.

So far I’ve mostly confined myself to a critique of the public image side of this whole thing, and poking some holes in the bubble of fake certitude that our erstwhile green priesthood are riding on.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t some grave and compelling flaws in the basic science, because there are. Try and follow along an understand that any errors are my misreading, and not errors in conclusions, which are not mine to begin with.

For starters, I’d be curious to know, of the ‘consensus’ of scientists that put their weight behind something like the IPCC, how exactly does that break down by field? How many chemists? How many computer modelers? How many biologists? How many oceanographers? How many climatologists?

But most of all… how many physicists? How many people trained in elementary physics are there who take this raving apocalyptic scenario seriously?

I’m wondering, because when you google ‘global warming physics’, much of what you get is middling credulity, bordering on outright scorn, for the whole thing. I have yet to see or hear of a climate catastrophist who had any real grounding in basic physcial principles.

One possible exception I know of, who is a vocal AGW agitator is Noam Mohr, who appears to confine himself mainly to the implications of vegitarianism/veganism on the climate. I saw one youtube video of him with a notable skeptic of global warming, and he was unable, or unwilling, to answer any of the raised points. At all. He seemed satisfied to trust that his colleagues had done their work properly, and that if you had a problem with it, you should ask them, or trust peer review to sort it out.

So I’m willing to bet that Mr Mohr’s attitude is typical of some segment of the scientific consensus. Which is too bad, because most physicists that I’m aware of have some pretty interesting things to say about the greenhouse effect.

In essence the global warming effect, when you get down to basic physical principles is about absorption and radiation.

The earth absorbs the sun’s radiation and re-radiates it back into space. The atmosphere stops a lot of this energy from striking the earth at all, including pretty much all the infra red ( heat) radiation. The outer layers absorb it completely and gradualy re-radiate it back into space.

The heat we experience down here comes from the more intense blue part of the spectrum that strikes the earth, and that the earth, once again, re-radiates as longer wave ‘black body’ heat. Greenhouse gasses like co2, water vapor and methane absorb that heat again and re-radiate at longer wavelengths yet, keeping it from going back into space. If it were not for this layer of insulation, earth would be about 33 degrees colder than it is now. The amount of co2 we happen to have now is responsible for about 3 degrees of this warming.

Which is all fine you might say, but what’s the point?

The point, as they say, is this: when you’re dealing with the physics of absorbing and trapping heat, changes in the balance of gasses do not have a linear effect. It’s logarithmic

What does that mean? It means that doubling (for instance) the co2 does not double the amount of heat the co2 is trapping.  Our atmosphere is already saturated enough to essentially trap nearly all the IR that can be trapped, in the spectra that co2 can affect. This is important to remember: co2 does not, indeed can not, trap all the heat radiated by the earth, no matter how much of it there is. As it is, much of the heat radiation passes through layers of co2 as if it isn’t even there. The interference spectra simply do not line up, any more than most minerals or gasses affect cosmic rays. All we might do is slow down the process of re-emmitting some of that heat into space, which would, in effect, bring the layers of heat slightly closer to the surface.

I invite you to investigate this and understand it better, but essentially, every time you add co2, the net increase in temperature is less than before. Eventually there is no more heat to absorb, regardless of how much co2 you add. If we were to actually double our atmospheric co2 the increase in temperature would be an estimated 1.5 to 2.5 degrees, proceeding from the baseline mathematics of the warming our atmosphere already does.

Depending on whom you talk to, that 3 degrees equals either something in line with the balmy medieval optimum, or,  according to James Hansen in vanity fair,  sea levels high enough to drown skyscrapers. History would seem to predispose us to the former. 

 Keep in mind that in the last 170 years humans accounted for ( at the most) about a 30% increase of atmospheric co2, by my glance at the numbers, and that increase seems to have been less than catastrophic, even assuming we caused all of it:

The twenty year smoothed Law Dome DE02 and DE02-2 ice cores show the levels of CO2 to have been 284 ppm in 1832.[10] As of January 2007, the measured atmospheric CO2 concentration at theMauna Loa observatory was about 383 ppm.[11] Of this 99 ppm rise in 175 years, 70 ppm of it has been in the last 47 years. (wikipedia)

Considering what we’ve already done, and our predicted peak in oil and coal use in the early to middle part of this century, our chances of actually doubling the content that exists is basically nil. About the only thing that might do that is a massive warming of the oceans, catastrophic volcanism, or the mass extinction of all organic life, and subsequent decay of carbon based life systems. The main reservior of co2 is the oceans, and they operate on a centuries long timetable so far as warming and cooling, and no climate theorist in his right mind thinks we can warm the oceans with the greenhouse effect (the reason is that IR only penetrates the top few microns of the ocean surface ) .

Quite simply, while we do indeed warm the earth with co2, it is already about as warmed by our activity as it can get, and for us to do much more is probably not in the realm of our abilties and timeframe . The main greenhouse gas is water vapour and we have no control over this whatsoever, and no clear understanding of how to influence it indirectly, or even model it, which is why climate scientists focus mainly on co2 and methane.

This is not some computer model with a bunch of poorly understood variables. This is pretty simple math, actually, and while our understanding of climate is basically nil ( we don’t even know how clouds form, for instance), the electromagnetic spectrum and gaseous radiation is pretty straighforward.

The projections for catastrophic global warming simply do not mesh with physics as we understand it. So do we overturn physics too, in our rush to ‘reduce our footprint’, or do we give our heads a shake and go back to the chalkboard?

where the rubber meets the road

So, I’m sure by now you’re going ‘okay zac..16 possible futures…gee that’s great. Before, I only had to pick between two or three. Thanks asshole. ‘

But fear not. I wouldn’t leave you in such a dismal condition. From this point it’s just matter of which one you think is the most likely, or fits the evidence best, right?

So, I’ll condescend to predict a little more, but I’ll add one more wrinkle of complexity first.

Because, you see, it’s entirely possible and even likely that just one scenario won’t cover it. we could get the best and the worst, and indeed, all I can really do is attempt to draw a line down the middle and speculate on which side of the line we might skew towards.

To add a little more veracity we can introduce time periods into this; short mid and long terms to be precise.

If we deem that things are fluid enough to reverse completely from short to mid terms, and from mid to long terms that means that we have not 16 but rather 16x16x16=4,096 possible through lines for our future, arising from just four main variables. I will spare you all four thousand of them.

Given all that, lets weed it down and pick which we’ll lay our money on.

In the short term:

we’re enjoying the bloom of some real climate hysteria, so even if it turns out that the anthropocentric greenhouse effect was a fat load of horeshit, it won’t matter because we have adopted it as an operating premise. Another katrina-like catastrophe, even if it turns out to be totally natural and unavoidable, will cinch that.

Based on the best scientific studies going, we’re much too late and much too clueless to prevent, at the very least, a major liquid fuels crisis that will mean a major economic crisis that will probably take a decade or two at the very least to mitigate or begin to recover from. This will have reverberations in everything from food distribution to geopolitcs. So that means worst case energy, in short.

Unless someone busts out the bioweapons, or nuclear bunker busters in short order, it looks like we’re still on the good side of the technology equation, for a little while anyway. wireless and peer to peer technologies continue to incubate the promise of a new form of social organization that may well realize itself sooner than later. There’s not much chance we’ll have a real upgrade in transport, manufacturing or medicine, but you never know. In any case something big like that wouldn’t penetrate the mainstream for a few years at least. So it’s a soft best case for technology.

While population continues to grow at a small but potentially disastrous rate, it’s not likely that this will take over as a real issue for anyone right now. The words ‘carrying capacity’ will be met with blank stares for a while yet. So while we’re living in the seeds of a worst case, we’re treating it as non-case, or even a best case. Depends on where you live, mind you.

All that adds up to neonate form of world #12: continued resource war, malthusian/green backlash against ‘business as usual’, and advanced technology mostly channeled into conservation of energy and efficiency measures.

Al Gore or someone like him convinces the great unwashed to tighten their belts and conserve, as we shift phases into a more blatantly energy influenced foreign policy. venzuela, mexico, and iran in the crosshairs. 70’s style oil shocks, leading into major recession. Back to the land hysteria. Futile flailing for stupid alternative energy ‘sources’ like ethanol, or coal-gas. All this is potential set up for some kind of hitler figure, while tough times sweat all the idealism and airy fairy abstractions out of us.

Noble leaders will suffer a sad fate unless they can get their head around the full scope of all the problems and somehow communicate that to the public. In other words, fat fucking chance. Expect a chain of martyrs for, in no particular order: 5$ a gallon gas , losing the war in iraq, lack of air conditioning, empty shelves at the safeway, the stink of manure in your neighborhood, and every other piece of reality that we’re been trained to not want to hear about. Maybe jimmy carter will do us a favor and take another one for the team.

Mid term:

Eventually things will get hard and scary enough it terms of resource shortage that any high minded ideas of reducing our carbon footprint will be quietly dispensed with/ The first genius to realize that because we’ve peaked in fossil fuel use, that we don’t need to take any special measures to steadily reduce our emissions, gets a free term in office. Things warm up to a certain point and no further. Weird climate shit will keep happening, but we will eventually realize that weird climate shit has always been happening, so fuck it. Get a helmet and move on. Meaning, we flip into into a best case climate scenario. The vocal greens will be hiding in their solar mansions and issuing increasingly irrelevant proclamations to the mob, who are preoccupied with something besides melting ice, and couldn’t care less. Turns out co2 is pretty harmless after all. Plants even, like, breathe it, and stuff.

We probably hit rock bottom in energy about now. Rolling blackouts, fuel rationing, growing your own food in the backyard, etc. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Turns out we’re social animals and we actually like having a connection to the real world and each other more than we thought we would. It’s actually a lot nicer to work at home and walk everywhere than the shit we used to do. Your neighbors are a lot less scary then they looked a few years ago. Most services are going for shit, but the reduced stress and slower pace make it quite tolerable. A lot of things can actually be handled by you, believe it or not.

On the other hand, by this point we’re in the awkward infancy of things like advanced bioenegineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. It’s more likely than not someone is gonna get the idea to turn them to destructive uses. We are, after all, at the bottom of a resource war without end, and weapons technology is always the first place new shit gets used. It’s getting a bit hard to find gas for tanks and planes, and stuff, so those targeted bioweapons are starting to look good. There’s not much point worrying about it, because it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to survive. You’re either a target or you’re not. Work on not being a potential target.

The very simplest forms of this are penetrating the mainstream and so you can change your hair and eye color, correct most genetic disorders and disease proclivities, rebuild damaged nerve tissue or bone, play in virtual words, and conduct mostly convincing relationships with simulated persons. Computers are embedded in everything, and privacy is becoming a sort of quaint anachronism.

So, a soft worse case for technology, because dying in a engineered plague sort of outweighs virtual sex, but not by much, I guess. The nerds out there are a lot happier and more productive, if nothing else.

By this point, it’s getting noticeable that we’ve a shit load of people, and not enough food. Partly because of the natural gas crisis that torpedoed fertiliser production a couple decades back, and partly the sheer weight of numbers. Things get a bit too crowded and squalid for anyone’s liking. Some nimrod probably gets the idea to create a virus that sterilises indiscriminately. That’s right, worst case population, too…

So this is equivalent to world#8: resource war without end, minus the green pretensions of a little ways back. Pragmatism will trump aesthetics, and the world takes a gut check. We get a nice close look at the end of everything. When you’re not jacked into virtual moneyshot vol12, or something, that is…

Long term:

By this point we’ve well understood what’s really going on with the climate, and we’ve got enough knowledge of genetics and nanotech to start to fix the shit we broke on this planet. The big issue ends up being toxification of various kinds, and programmes to remediate the soil, water and air go into effect.

Eventually we figure out a way to get plentiful electricity, and leverage that to make liquid fuels again in large quantites. With enough free electricity, say from nano-engineered solar, you could make a limitless amount of hydrogen out of seawater, even if it’s a shitty fuel storage method, we’ll eventually make it usable, or else have some engineered fungus that breaks cellulose into biodiesel with near perfect efficiency.

All the promise of advanced technology begins to pay off, as we get near total ability to manipulate matter from the molecular level up. You can look how you want, feel how you want and go where you want, real or otherwise. You can find out how other people think and feel pretty easily, and swap experiences. Anything you want to know about anything is pretty much available instantly, if you have a connection to the wireless network. Which you pretty much always do.

Lastly, our population probably keeps growing, but we have the means to provide everything except (real)space for free. Conflict is a bit less of an issue, but the narcissism of minor differences will never go away for many people, no matter how many minds you share. Everything comes down to the war of ideas, in the end.

and what happened to the resource war, you say? Pretty simple. Eventually people realize that they don’t have to participate in that shit anymore, and with free energy, free food, and free information, they just don’t. Near perfect telepathy means near perfect democracy. Which, yeah does in fact mean the lowest common denominator, but it’s the lowest common denominator amongst nearly immortal superhuman intellgences.

So, world#3: the transhuman diaspora, as we seek more room to express our minor (and not so minor) differences. Space, the oceans, maybe even time and other dimensions. Different minds, and different bodies. Life is restless, forever and ever. Amen.

Futures on the Pivot


Okay. So these last six are what you get when half the variables are good, and the rest bad, which will make them composites of the characteristics and relationships we’ve seen so far.

World #11 Best case technology and energy, worst case climate and population:

Similar to world #3 but the drive to colonize new territories is enhanced by climate collapse. Things likely take on a more green-tribalist flavor as well, along with the tribalism that evolves out of population conflict.  A great divergence of posthumanity in many directions

World#12 Best case technology and population, worst case energy and climate:

Somewhere between the primitivist jihad of world 7, and the internalized technology  of world #5. Global warming and peak oil catastrophe drive a backlash against ‘civilisation’ but a resource war scenario forces those who remain to merge with low-energy technology. Cyber primitives with a chip on their shoulder.

World#13 Best case technology and climate, worst case energy and population.

Very similar to world#10, with it’s tension between shrinking energy and expanding population, and still mitigated by advanced technology.

A more stable climate makes this outcome less dire, and we can adapt more slowly and the end state is likely to be less radical. Imagine a world where most of us spend most of our time in a kind of hibernation, enjoying an infinite virtual world, where we can rotate into some kind of tour of duty in the ‘real world’ to help maintain the infrastructure that keeps 15 billion of us on sleeping life support. Kind of like the ‘matrix’ but more voluntary.

World #14 Best case energy and population, worst case technology and climate.

Once again, negative technology with no energy constraints sucks ass. And in this case a falling population is probably more of a mass die off.

Suppose in the face of climate catastrophe, we get an engineered plague that knocks us back down to a billion people, with ferocious genetically engineered predators to keep mankind in line, orchestrated by the environmental priesthood.  12 monkeys meets jurrassic park.

World #15 Best case energy and climate, worst case technology and population.

As in world#9 where we mutate into viral space locusts,  but as the earth remains more stable, it’s likely we’ll see more a split between those who remain on earth, and the faction who exile themselves, or are forced, into the solar system. We eventually become several subspecies, continuously at war with each other with horrific technology, over building materials and living space, and the earth itself remaining the big prize.

World#16 Best case climate and population, worst case energy and technology.

After a long resource war and plunge into energy scarcity we embrace a renunciation of technology and probably put taboos on the horrors of fossil fuels, agriculture, and metallurgy. Every so often a genetic boogeyman or AI shows up to remind everyone how scared they are. Welcome to planet amish.

Not quite dystopia

So moving along, we shift to the bad side, and add a positive variable into our World #2 hell hole, one at a time, in turn.

World#7 All worst cases, except best case population:

This world, more than any other, bears the fingerprint of some kind of radical anti-technology, eco-primitivist style backlash. In a situation of declining energy, negative technology, climate collapse and falling population, you’ve got all the makings of a luddite green-meme jihad.

As in world 2, the steamroller of negative singularity effects unwinds itself as energy runs out, and even more so here as a scattered population provides fewer targets/hosts.

It eventually becomes a ‘race to the bottom’ of the olduvai gorge, as we sprint to become fully paleolithic humans to some extent. When terrifying technology isn’t the target, the jihad will turn on itself to root out technological sympathizers, and drag everything farther down the thermodynamic cliff, until we are at a carrying capacity of 1 billion or less, in a dark ages condition or worse.

And so it will go for a few centuries at least, until we forget what it was that actually happened, and we start to build up again from a degraded resource base.

World #8 All worst cases except best case climate:

As the above, but without the eco-primitivist undercurrents, and a more crowded, urban desperation instead.

In this world, the earth can’t be bothered to shrug us off, except by starving us of energy, and we go into a self destructive orgy fueled by the most advanced technology we can find.

In short, this world screams “resource war without end”, eventually fought by AI’s, genetic chimeras, killer nanoswarms, and targeted bioweapons.

Without global warming hysteria to dampen fossil fuel use, or any particular anti technology sentiment, and a huge throng of ‘consumers’ eager to maintain their lifestyle, this is petro-apocalypse, ne plus ultra. Right until the near-end, the relatively rich ( as in you) will be able to pretend that the rest of the world isn’t living like the future humans in ‘the terminator’, but that’s pretty much what you’re doing now, so no sweat.

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the last secure enclaves, it’ll be virtual porn and good drugs right up until that nanoswarm turns you into biodiesel. Eventually the people left alive will be living in pre-industrial squalor, wondering what the fuck just happened.

World #9 All worst cases, except best case energy:

Similar to world 6, in that a negative technological singularity plus unlimited energy is pretty dire, but made worse in that there is great added pressure on us from our numbers and from the collapsing climate.

This world more than others, spells ‘space-travelling locust swarm’. We would eventually migrate out to find more materials to chew up, and to get away from each other. We would turn the solar system into a kill zone first, then who knows what. This also spells some pretty radical mutation, as we adapt to our new condition as ravenous interplanetary predators. We merge with the worst aspects of our technology and the ‘old moon’ psychology that rudolph steiner speaks of. In so doing we probably do a pretty good job of killing the earth, making our lifestyle change inevitable.

We don’t do it because we’re starving… we do it because faced with infinite energy, we realize that even that still won’t make us feel any more satisfied, and less empty.

World #10 all worst cases, except best case technology:

Interesting paradox. Normally, an expanding population with decreasing energy means something has to give, but with beneficial technology it doesn’t have to.

It does get very weird, though. First we’re using technology to replace food, then we’re using it to take food from others, then when resource war peters out, and we’re still growing in numbers, we have to change our fundamental nature as energy consuming beings.

The trend is for us to become smaller, slower, colder, less physically vital, at the same time as our minds can move faster than ever and project into virtual spaces.

The end result of this trend is much like world#5 but more extreme yet, as we multiply endlessly, but in the form of fully disembodied intelligences, embedded in a material  substratum that is itself mostly immobile and seemingly inert.

Not quite utopia…

Alright, so our first adjustment will be to leaven the best and worst cases, with a little more reality. So we’ll take worlds 1, and 2, and change each variable, one at a time, and see what we come up with.

Well start with world #1, our utopian transhumanist paradise, and introduce one worst case variable each time until we’ve done them all.

World #3: All best cases except worst case population.

Well, in a world where population hasn’t come under control this probably means that, in spite of free energy, and advanced genetics, supercomputing and whatnot, we still haven’t really achieved much penetration in terms of economic growth, or education. This is probably down to some kind of religious backlash against advanced technology and free information, as blue meme tribes always want to increase their numbers to overwhelm the opposition. This creates pressure for living space, and tension between regions that want to control population density to maintain their standard of living, in the face of mass immigration.

Although most of the resource-based reasons for war are going away, ideological conflict and terrorist excursions are still prevalent. This is a variation on the mark pesce ‘terror and transhumanism’ scenario, where we have so much power it’s ridiculous, but still can’t quite get along. Any one misanthrope or psychopath can make a big noise in a crowded world.

As this continues, the drive to colonize the oceans, virtual reality, and/or space have a large impetus to ramp up, as opposed to other situations where we have the technology and resources but no particular urgency. The diaspora of a retribalising world to the four corners of reality begins as each faction adopts just enough technology to liberate themselves and declare difference but shuns the rest, or it’s full implications. Think the space station full of Rastafarians in ‘neuromancer’. Another example would be primitivists, some of whom will use genetics to turn themselves into apes, or dolphins, but not explore the full ramifications of pervasive biotech.

There may end up being a global cyborg hive mind, and the ability to do that exists, but this situation mitigates against it.

World#4 All best cases except worst case climate:

A future where we have climate catastrophe, falling population, and advanced technology is probably one where you’ve had some kind of primitivist or malthusian programme take effect. When you look at how katrina was used to ramrod global warming hysteria into the public discourse, and multiply that by a thousand, you have that here.

Population ‘control’ here is exactly that, as our ‘best case’ is really a combination of austerity and genocide, as vicious constraints apply to anything that might smack of straining our carrying capacity or ecological footprint.

As a result technology stays in the hands of the elite, and is subject to the approval of an increasing politicised and ideological scientistic priesthood. There’s lots that we could do, but like now, a lot that we don’t.

You’ll probably see a reign of terror- style purge of ‘climate criminals’ of various stripes, as green lefties celebrate their long awaited vengeance.

The destruction of energy infrastructure by climate disasters and backlash against fossil fuels mitigate against anything like a globalised world, so we have another kind of retribalisation, in a more literal sense, as everyone re-localizes into some kind of bucolic peasant existence, which is shot through with advanced technology. Whole earth cataloge-hippie world, basically, for those who get with the programme. Those on the wrong side of the jihad, or who want to go big and weird with the new tech, are in for a tough time. You probably have an international malthusian bureaucracy, which legislates the development of poorer countries ruthlessly.

World#5 All best cases except worst case energy:

It turns out nature played a joke on us, and petroleum was as good as it gets for surplus energy.

As we cascade down the olduvai cliff, we have the means to adapt though, as our technology evolves to become not only more powerful, but more energy efficient. Everything gets smaller, cooler, and harder to see. Hard mineral-based stuff is set to one side in favor self assembling large scale biotech, which feeds off the sun. Buildings that grow like plants, photosynthetic skin grafts for humans, computers the size of grains of dust.

We internalize most of our technology, and rebuild our ecosystem. We’ve gotten our psychological and educational issues under control, and the earth is cooperating with our efforts to live smaller and quieter. Our big dreams go into the virtual world, and to outside observers we eventually look like completely primitive people living in a highly organic world. But behind our eyes, all bets are off.

World#6 All best cases except worst case technology:

A negative singularity in a world without energy constraints is really, really bad. There will always be harmful uses of advanced technology, but a worst case is something really off -the- hook.

Most of the reasons for war don’t exist, so WW3 fought by AI’s is not likely. A small dispersed population wouldn’t suffer greatly from an engineered plague. Grey goo could always happen, but it’s pretty likely it could be contained in a stable world with a working infrastructure.

One possibility is that some psychopath makes it through the door into a post human super being condition, and goes on a tear. One is probably not enough to constitute a worst case, though, depends on how smart he/she is though.

If however, you had a cheap enhancement technology that produced violent or aggressive behavior in whoever installed it, and the uses of it went massively viral over the world, via the wireless computer network, you’d be in for a bad time, especially if they started working together.

Suppose you could install a combination nanotech/genetics package that made you super-humanly smart, with diamond hard bones, carbon nontube flesh, redundant organs, and factories in your skin that made infectious copies of the same package… and the whole thing also turned you into a hardwired psychopath with out of control aggressive instincts…

Once it was out there, you’d eventually have too many to control, especially if they started working together, and with new variations all the time.
Silence of the Lambs meets 28 days later. Eventually there would be no normal humans left, as they would have to be enhanced themselves, just to survive.

Any strange and dangerous self replicating creation would have similar effect. This scenario presupposes that it outruns our attempts to control it, which implies that it either catches us totally off guard, or that it’s smarter than we are.

In a world called extremity

Now, when we’re exploring these possible futures, we will be proceeding dialectically. Going from one end of the spectrum to the other, and attempting to sift the truth from each shift.

So, for starters lets examine the two polar opposites of possibility: all bad, and all good.

And so…

World 1: All best cases. This is essentially the vision of the future put forth by transhumanists and extropians like ray kurzweil, hans moravec, etc. Not because they actively concern themselves with population, climate, and energy, but rather that their vision of technological determinism assumes that all these things go well, without really speaking of it, or they inflate the power of technology to the point where it trumps everything else, which, historically has tended to be true, so it’s a fair assumption to at least argue from.

Technology makes unlimited energy possible, and the associated economic progress causes population growth to subside. If carbon dioxide or methane are an issue, genetically engineered biorgs, or nano-factured carbon sinks offset the problem. Everything eventually becomes so efficient and powerful, we need not burn fossil fuels or toxify the environment any further. The only limitation left for us is our own psychology.

Cue the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey…

World 2: All worst case. This is the brainchild of the most wildly paranoid primitivists and even they don’t really take it seriously.

The world sails off a thermodynamic cliff, but technology manufactures just enough low grade foodstuff to keep an ever increasing population alive at an extremely meager subsistence level, and little else besides. Some sort of cheap engineered seed of an extremely resilient type, or a nanotech device for creating lots of nitrogen phosphate makes this possible. Either that or soylent green.
Quality and expectancy of life plummet. These pressures are compounded by climate collapse, as a diaspora onto the open oceans or inland begins, and hurricanes wreck what’s left of the energy infrastructure.  The rolling blackouts apply pretty much everywhere except the pockets of technology that are developing targeted bioweapons, swarming killer drones, and tactical AI’s to fight resource wars.

Eventually the earth turns into an apocalyptic wargame for posthuman intelligences who devastate the earth in attempts to eliminate each other. This lasts until energy constraints bring the thing to a standstill, and the biosphere devolves into a hellworld of killer transgenic monstrosities, wretched starving people and permanent darkness in a frothing ecological super-storm. There’s no way for anyone to get to safety because with the vast throng of people and shrinking landmass, there’s no where left to go. Eventually the cascading combination ( an engineered pandemic amongst a tightly packed global population of 12 billion or so, and no particular medical infrastructure or pharmaceutical industry left, is  a likely candidate) wipes us out below replacement level and we go extinct. The AI’s eventually break down and undergo their own entropic collapse, and fail to outlive us by long. Some exceptionally virulent engineered killer takes our place at the top of the food chain, and begins their slow trek towards intelligent folly. The End.

The Four Obstructions

(the title is an obscure reference to the lars van trier film, which I liked, but you may ignore otherwise…)

okay, so moving along with our fractal future meanderings:

Since we haven’t really altered our four first premises, we’ll proceed with them. Once again, in each instance, we will briefly articulate a clear best case/worst case, so as to combine them iteratively farther along. The hows and whys change from scenario to scenario, so we won’t go into that too much here.

First variable: Population

Best case- the slow increase of education and economic opportunities for the poor, along with rising living standards and medicine, continue to contribute to an overall negative trend in birthrate. Population tops out around 10 billion in the middle of the century and starts to decline gradually as we reel in our reproductive habits. By 2100 we’re back down to 8 billion and on our way to 6 or lower in the next century.

Worst case- global anxiety and uncertainty continues to undermine living standards to the point where people do not reign in reproduction, and in fact speed it up. Population continues to grow exponentially, until we hit 12 billion by mid century, putting outrageous pressure on our resource base. By 2100 the global standard of living per person is somewhere around that of a present day Chinese peasant farmer, and there aint much room left.

Second variable: Climate

Best case- things stay pretty stable overall. We in fact are overdue for a cooling period and our current hot spell is a blip. Global warming hysteria is replaced by global cooling hysteria ( as it was in the 70’s ), and we start expelling co2 flagrantly all over again, in hopes of stopping us all from freezing to death, supposedly.

Worst case- ‘the day after tomorrow’ scenario. Turns out it’s not co2 that’s the problem, it’s methane, which is a lot harder to track and control than co2, and has a much greater impact on global warming. The temperature shift tips the balance of fresh water in the oceans, and causes a global catastrophe as the atlantic conveyor stops bringing warm air to northern europe, plunging it into an ice age. Super-storms proliferate wildly, and the gulf of mexico turns into a permanent hurricane disaster area, fit only for refugees and madmen. All coastal areas go swimming.

Third variable: Energy

Best case- Whether by zero-point, nuclear fusion, steorn perpetual motion machines, or nano engineered solar, energy becomes so cheap that charging for it makes no sense. Everyone has all the electricity they need, and most other resource related problems fall into line behind this. Standards of living rise astronomically, and the world buys a coke.

Worst case- the olduvai cliff. through a combination of peak oil and gas, diminishing returns on technology and thermodynamic constraints, per-capita energy use continues to decline, until rolling blackouts become the norm, leading to permanent blackouts by the late 21st century. Some pockets of energy use remain, but they too are subject to the same diminishing returns on a fractal scale. Shit happens, grow some soybeans.

Fourth variable: Technology

Best case- A positive singularity. Explosive growth in computing power, biotech and nanotech render us superintelligent, telepathic and functionally immortal. We restore the earth to an edenic state, (because we can) and spend our time either exploring virtual words, or venturing into the universe at large.

Worst case- A negative singularity. Same as above, just minus any compassion, love, or human values. A planet full of godlike immortal psychopaths, and genocidal AI’s who want to turn baseline humans into fertiliser. Alternately, a bioengineered global pandemic kills everyone, or the grey goo scenario converts the earth into food for rogue nanomachines. A scenario where technology simply sputters out falls under the olduvai cliff, above.

…so in our next installment, we start to spin these together and see what comes out.