Hello again Louis,
Gary Kent

Hello Gary,

I understand the depth of your feelings about what you call “cultural crisis” and I see that you find it hard to understand why I stress timeframes and the relative slowess of cultural change versus the speed of OFDK impacts. Here are a few further comments and clarifications.

You focus on what you consider rapid cultural and social change. This is a domain of research that I am familiar with as a social scientist as well as an engineer. Yes, sometimes change can happen fairly rapidly. However, this calls for a careful examination of what one calls “change”. For example, in the night of the 4th August 1789 a bunch of people who were in the process of creating the Constitution of the French Republic did away with all the privileges of the Old Regime, that of aristocracy and clergy. De facto, the next day France woke up to the beginning of a new mode of social organisation. However, this very rapid process was preceded with decades of low changes in the way many people thought and it was followed with centuries of struggles that in a number of respects are still with French people today — in my analyses France never fully completed its revolution and the conequences still haunts it today.

So, what I am saying is whatever the large range of speeds social change can take place, even the shorter processes one can think of are still too slow in the face of OFDK challenges. There are terabytes of data and entire libraries of research work supporting this.

I also note that you consider that “all energy reserves will not collapse by 2030” and you mention alternative avenues like “sustainable local food production systems using systems thinking approaches like permaculture”. In doing so there are important matters that you overlook. Many people do so as well.

Let’s consider first energy reserves and more broadly resources. A lump of coal, some oil or gas or even a tree are not in themselves reserves or resources. They are just some minerals or biomass. To bring them to the status of resources and even more so reserves two matters have to be brought into play:

First, it is necessary to have know how, in the form of science, technology, engineering, concerning how to find, extract, transport, process and deliver products derived from minerals or biomass in such a way as to be able to derive work — no know how no resource or reserve. Presently the prevailing know how achieves only about 12% energy efficiency for the whole globalised industrial world (GIW). Given the current state of depletion, this is no longer viable and by a very wide margin, and it’s getting worse — the GIW is in the process of losing access to all sources.

Second, it takes energy to get energy. For example, in the early years of the industrial revolution available biomass was used to access coal (food for workers, feed for work animals, charcoal to make steel, etc.). It took a long time to reach a stage where coal was used to get more coal. Presently the GIW is a long way from being able to use solar derived energy to get more solar derived energy — the timeframe to achieve self-powering with the present solar technology mix is far longer than the OFDK timeframe. There is a major gap.

Throughout my Looking down the barrel posts I have stressed loss of access. The above two points further clarify the matter. In short, humankind is loosing its resources, fundamentally due to appalingly inefficient know how. This brings me to the matter of “alternatives”. Technologies like permaculture are great. However, the challenges remain the same. It takes energy to get energy. Presently except very limited subsistence farming by very small populations, even permaculture remains dependent on oil-derived fuels when it comes to produce food on a scale big enough to feed even a village of a few thousand people. The matter is understood very rapidly when one finds oneself at the corner of a 10ha paddock with a mere spade to cultivate it (as I have once). The size of populations follows the installed power that can be achieved via know how — installed power (watts) meaning the ability to achieve a flow of energy (Joules) per unit of time (e.g. per year). Humankind is in the process of down powering.

So when you state that “the collapse of fossil fuels is not the only existential threat converging around 2030”, this is not quite correct. Fossil fuels are not “collapsing”. There is plenty around. Instead the GIW is losing access. Of course, there are plenty of other threats. I have been stressing this through out Looking down the barrel. The point is that the loss of access, more particularly the fizzling out of net energy from oil, is transforming all the other threats and integrating them into an avalanche, what is called a self-organising criticality. This is what is changing the “game” and that calls for a radical re-thinking of all matters within the GIW, including yours if I may say.

In your comments, you say “we”, “us”. Globally, there is no such social collective. Instead there are some 7.4 billion people structured in various groupings mostly struggling with each other, often exploiting, violating, and murdering each other; all on the basis of an amazing array of beliefs that they hold onto for dear life and consider superior to that of others… as you in some ways recognise in your comments. So yes, as you advocate, fostering dialogue is very important. This is what Looking down the barrel is about and this is what we are presently doing. In this respect, I see two critical points to stress.

First, the importance of taking the time to understand in depth a matter before venturing into conclusions. Physiscist David Bohm has expressed this sharply and concisely. I quote him again:

“In scientific enquiries a crucial step is to ask the right question. Indeed each question contains presuppositions, largely implicit. If these presuppositions are wrong or confused, the question itself is wrong, in the sense that to try to answer it has no meaning. One has thus to inquire into the appropriateness of the question.[1] (Bohm, 1980, Bohm’s own emphasis)

Personally I have spent over 47 years so far “enquiring into the question” re energy and social matters. It is only now, that I have been able to (very provisionally) put forward the Looking down the barrel posts. In doing so I benefit from the arduous work of thousands of other researchers who also have spent lifetimes enquiring into the questions… With these post I am not saying “what is” in anyway. “Saying what is” is a matter of beliefs. This is what religions do. Instead, to progress, science focuses on what is not, what is false, incorrect, erroneous, or aberrant. This is what I focus on with the Looking down the barrel posts and in the present comments. In doing so I am not attempting to convince or change anyone. Instead I point at some provisional insights. The matter is not to look at my finger and even less to bite it. It is rather to look carefully at what I am pointing at and let it challenge you and everyone else, as an opportunity for a possible change of mind, or not as the case may be.

As for alternative suggestions concerning how to address OFDK, this is for the next series of post, once I have completed the last post in the Looking down the barrel series.



[1] Bohm, David, 1981, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London – p. 28.

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