Overshoot: Where We Stand Now (Guest Post by Michael Dowd)

My friend Michael Dowd has been researching and writing about economic, ecological and civilizational collapse as long as I have, and he’s interviewed many of the world’s leading thinkers on the subject. In my latest links I mentioned the article in the Salt Lake City weekly where he was interviewed with some of them (Time’s Up: It’s the End of the World, and We Know It). Here’s his “state of the world 2021” summary — a synopsis of where we stand now, and what lies ahead:

Overshoot: Where We Stand Now (Guest Post by Michael Dowd)


The Club of Rome model, developed in the 1970s, and vindicated as still being accurate in 2000, and again this year by a KPMG study, predicts, with its “most likely” updated-business-as-usual scenario, that human population will peak at about 8.5B people and then drop precipitously to about 2.5B by 2100, based on the planet’s carrying capacity. (NOTE: The LtG authors did not factor in abrupt, runaway climate mayhem and cascading tipping points.)

The single most important book I’ve ever read, by far, is William R. Catton, Jr.’s masterful, paradigm shattering book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, published in 1980. I even audio recorded the entire book with permission from his publisher, University of Illinois Press.

Many of us, including Derrick Jensen and Paul Ehrlich, consider Overshoot to be the most important book of the 20th century. Stewart Udall, former Secretary of Interior under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, writes in the book’s Foreword a scathing critique of techno-optimism and (what would be called today) eco-modernism. One of the reasons Catton’s book was so transformative for me is because it provides the foundational ecological paradigm for understanding how we got in this mess, the fundamental differences between problems and predicaments, and why, in the words of Richard Heinberg, “Climate change is not our biggest problem; overshoot is. Global warming is but a symptom of ecological overshoot.”

And perhaps no where is this more evident than when pondering the idea (indeed, the empirical reality) of self-reinforcing and cascading thresholds, or tipping points that we have already passed. What follows are some of the main points I make, and text and video resources I recommend, when discussing this sobering realization.

I am painfully aware of how emotionally challenging and potentially depressing is the idea of tipping points that are already in the rear-view mirror! Still, I am convinced after several years of study that what follows is factually and inescapably true. Moreover, I suggest that the sooner we accept this, the more likely we will have peace of mind even in the midst of TEOTWAWKI collapse and the less likely we are to collectively commit geological-scale evil, as I discuss at length in my hour-long video: “Unstoppable Collapse: How to Avoid the Worst”

I especially recommend my 25-minute video, “New Serenity Prayer: Emotional Support for Climate Anxiety and Environmental Dread”. This short video was created to help people experience as little suffering as possible, now and in the near-term future, by providing a clear and compelling guide for “accepting what we cannot change, changing the things we can, and having the wisdom to know the difference.” This short video is a basic primer on how to stay sane, sober, heartful, and on-purpose in contracting and crazy-making times. It is also now the main introduction to my “post-doom” website and resources related to climate change, ecological overshoot, true vs. faux sustainability, and how to discern what to accept and what to passionately engage in.

A very powerful short (8-min) video clip of HBO’s “The Newsroom” (2014 EPA Segments), is widely considered to be the most scientifically accurate reporting on climate ever done on American TV, and it’s “fake news” – i.e., a fictional TV show. :-) Mother Jones magazine did a fact check after the airing of the above.

It’s now obvious that we’ve already crossed a number of planetary thresholds, or tipping points and that the planet is barreling toward a hothouse Earth.

(A) Crossing the Boundaries of Sustainability
(B) We’ve Crossed the Planetary Threshold
(C) (12-min video) “This is Code Red for the Planet

Despite the way the IPCC, governments, economists, and the mainstream media speak of them, the following tipping points (self-reinforcing and cascading thresholds) are not merely “possible” or “at risk” or “in danger of exceeding” — they’ve been passed. As Toby, the EPA scientist in the above HBO Newsroom clip states:

Will McAvoy (News Anchor): “So it sounds like you’re saying the situation is dire?”
Toby (EPA Deputy Administrator): “Not exactly. Your house is burning to the ground, the situation is dire. Your house has already burned to the ground, the situation is over.”

Here’s the painful truth about our situation being “over”:

No matter…

    • how massive and effective is nonviolent civil disobedience…
    • who, or which party, is voted out or elected into public office…
    • how many people change their habits, become vegan, stop flying…
    • how many miraculous, AI-driven technological advances are made…
    • how successful we are at instituting a GND, or greening capitalism…
    • how rapidly we shift to “renewables” or achieve “net zero” emissions…
    • how much “evolution of consciousness” occurs in the next decade or two…
    • how many accords, what is pledged or agreed to, what laws are enacted…
    • how many people commit to regenerative and restorative soil building practices…

… a dozen or more tipping points are already in the rear-view mirror. For example, each of the following is two or three decades into unstoppable, rapidly increasing and cascading, out-of-control (runaway) mode…

    • Loss of the world’s ice (Arctic, Greenland, W. Antarctica, mountain glaciers)
    • Methane belching: permafrost, hydrates, clathrates, gas & oil wells, wetlands
    • Ocean acidification, deoxygenation, 25+ feet rise in abrupt non-linear ways
    • The great conflagration of the world’s forests — out-of-control CO2 emissions
    • Loss of most animal and plant species on land and in lakes, rivers, and oceans
    • Increasingly severe & deadly weather (storms, floods, droughts) and wildfires

What this means, practically, is that, prior to 2030, I suspect that there is a greater than 50% chance of a global economic meltdown and multi-bread-basket failure (2 or more of the 5 main grain growing regions of the world failing in the same year) resulting in further civilizational collapse and several billion or more human beings dying. This is almost certainly unstoppable, unpreventable. 

No one need take my word on any of this. In addition to what I offered above, I also recommend:

And it is important that we not ignore (as most Green New Deal, techno-optimist, eco-modernist, and “clean green growth” advocates do), the Aerosol Masking (Global Dimming) Effect:

Finally, I would like to offer the following as food for thought…

SIX ECOCIDAL SECULAR IDEAS

  1. Human beings are the pinnacle of evolution and the smartest, most advanced creatures on Earth.
  2. Humans can prosper and progress within an abruptly changing climate and toxic, collapsing biosphere.
  3. We can forestall collapse by reducing emissions, shifting to renewables, and greening the economy.
  4. Industrial civilization has eternal life, therefore there’s no urgency to prevent potentially dozens or hundreds of nuclear meltdowns.
  5. There is still time to avoid catastrophic tipping points and the extinction of Homo colossus (and possible extinction of Homo sapiens).
  6. There’s nothing we can do to avoid worst-case scenarios.

ONE ECOCIDAL RELIGIOUS IDEA

  1. G🌎D is either supernatural or G🌎D doesn’t exist.

(For more on this subject, please see: “Sustainability 101: Indigenuity Is Not Optional”.)

POST-DOOM LIVING AND LOVING

For more along these lines, and especially to experience a wide range of examples of “post-doom” thinking, living, and loving, I invite readers to experience for themselves at least a few of the 80 amazing conversations and wide range of text, audio, and video resources available on my post-doom website.

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21 Responses to Overshoot: Where We Stand Now (Guest Post by Michael Dowd)

  1. Excellent! Can I repost this on my blog?

  2. realist says:

    I deem this VERY optimistic, wokeness will crash industrial output in less than 5 years (“Zimbabweising” is the name :-) ) and side-effects of so-called “vaccines” is expected to cull global population by 2025 so, good news for Nature and ecosystems…

  3. Michael Dowd says:

    I tend to agree. Dave supplied the image to go along with what I wrote (and I agreed) but my post doesn’t reference it at all. Indeed, I supplied the last sentence of the caption beneath the image… :-)

    (NOTE: The LtG authors did not factor in abrupt, runaway climate mayhem and cascading tipping points.)

  4. Ray says:

    I wonder what makes Michael Dowd such an optimist.
    Post-collapse stuff is irrelevant. Why bother?.
    All that happens is that available energy gradients are used to build structures that in turn will dissipate more energy gradients.
    At some stage on this planet “Nature” (whatever that is) discovered that making copies of these structures is a great way for even more energy gradient dissipation.
    Some of these structures are called “humans” (by humans) and they are great at making copies (humans call them “babies”).
    They love all the high EROI energy stashed away in the earth. They have a ball and waste it to their heart’s desire and still find time to make babies (clever “Nature” made it a pleasurable experience, at least for a few seconds. That was apparently all the incentive that was needed). When the “waste project” is done there will be no more energy to make babies.
    Species come, species go, species transform and they all do their best at furthering the only thermodynamical game in town (or the planet). So dissipate and dissipate some more until it’s game over. “Nature” certainly will find a way to dissipate whatever little is left after these “living” structures have done what they were supposed to do.
    No need to elaborate or rationalize about “humans” pre or post collapse.

  5. Paul Reid-Bowen says:

    Indeed, biophysical tipping points can lead to a very rapid regime shift. So, it could be a Seneca Cliff rather than a long descent or emergency (contra Greer, Kunstler, the LtG authors and many others). Not that I think near term human extinction is on the cards, but the population, industrial output and food production declines could certainly be much steeper than the LtG models could take account of in the 70s.

  6. Michael Dowd says:

    Ray, I’ve gotta say that you made me smile by referring to me as “an optimist”. I don’t think anyone has referred to me that way since December 3, 2012. Most people think I’m a “doomer” even though, in actual fact, I pretty solidly reside in the land of post-doom. Big difference. In any event, thanks! :-)

  7. Paul Reid-Bowen says:

    Ray – completely agree with your dissipative structures points. The problem, however, is that humans have become remarkably bad at doing Nature’s dissipative work (the experiment has gone wrong), effectively underming the planet’s long-term dissipative capacity by our very rapidly degrading and wrecking ecosystems now. The best academic work I’ve read this year makes precisely these arguments. See Thomas Nail’s (2021) Theory of the Earth. A couple of cherry-picked and relevant quotes:

    ‘The historical tendency of nature to dissipate motion and energy is valid not for each aspect of nature in isolation, but only together, as entwined regions in a indeterminably changing and open whole. Humans are the cosmos continued by other experimental means to increase the expenditure of the planet and the cosmos, but not alone. There is thus absolutely no reason, other than pure anthropocentrism, for chaos and complexity theorists to treat humans as “successful” expenders of energy independent of their net effect on the planet and cosmos.’ (Nail, 2021: p. 253)

    ‘Planet-wide ecocide is the result not of too much planetary expenditure but of precisely the opposite: not enough! By maximising total energy use for humans, the fossil-fuel-using classes on earth have damaged the planet’s capacity for longer-term optimal kinetic expenditure.’ (p. 255)

    Humans arguably do matter pre and post-collapse precisely in terms of our contribution to dissipative energy structures. We initially showed a lot of potential, but now seem to have blown it by degrading the entire Earth system’s capacity to expend and dissipate energy. This isn’t to say the system won’t recover that capacity, but we are a set back on evolutionary and geological time (and, futurally, assuming we survive/learn, might get better at it (dissipating energy, that is)).

    One more quote, because I like it. ‘The ethical valorization of life above death has wholly misunderstood the much larger cosmic situation in our life occurs. Life is a kinetic by-product of non-living matter’s movement toward increasing expenditure. The material meaning of life is to help improve the expenditure of the universe. The tendency of life is thus to die well together with others.’ (p. 255)

  8. Michael Dowd says:

    btw… post-doom refers ONLY to our mental-emotional-subjective state. It says nothing about the living world, or ecosphere. Personally, I suspect that there will be very few, if any, mammals larger than small burrowing ones within the next 20-30 years. I simply don’t see how Homo sapiens can survive 4+C rise over pre-industrial, and I don’t see any way to prevent that. Moreover, as many readers surely realize, things could easily get much hotter than that.
    So my basic advice is… “Live life fully, love the life you live, and seek to be the biggest blessing possible to your community and the larger body of life while you can!” And embrace your mortality, our mortality, and the fact that you/we are not separate from Gaia and the Universe.

  9. Michael Dowd says:

    Paul, thanks for the great quotes of Thomas Nail!

    For many years Connie and I did programs on a meaningful science-based view of mortality and death.

    See here: “Death as Natural, Generative, and No Less Sacred Than Life”: http://thegreatstory.org/death-programs.html

  10. Jerry McManus says:

    My prediction for the near future:

    – The wealthiest one or two billion people in the world will get just a little bit poorer. Supermarket shelves and gasoline stations won’t be completely full, all the time, everywhere. Rolling blackouts will become the new normal.
    – The five or six billion merely poor people in the world will descend into abject poverty. See Lebanon. Or the ongoing mass migrations around the world.
    – The one or two billion people who are already barely hanging on will drop off the face of the Earth. War. Famine. And yes, epidemic diseases. Mass death made all the worse by the ever more catastrophic fires, floods, and droughts.

    This will go on for years and years, barring a sudden disaster such as a global nuclear war.

  11. Jerry McManus says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not depressed about it or anything. Especially when I’m drinking wine and playing guitar…

    Three Dog Night – Joy to the World (Jeremiah was a bullfrog)

    Jeremiah was a bullfrog
    Was a good friend of mine
    I never understood a single word he said
    But I helped him a-drink his wine
    And he always had some mighty fine wine

    Singin’…
    Joy to the world
    All the boys and girls now
    Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
    Joy to you and me

    If I were the king of the world
    Tell you what I’d do
    I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the war
    Make sweet love to you

    Sing it now
    Joy to the world
    All the boys and girls
    Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
    Joy to you and me

    You know I love the ladies
    Love to have my fun
    I’m a high life flyer and a rainbow rider
    A straight shootin’ son-of-a-gun (Alright)
    I said a straight shootin’ son-of-a-gun

    Joy to the world
    All the boys and girls
    Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
    Joy to you and me

  12. Michael Dowd says:

    Good to see you and read your contributions, Jerry!

  13. Ray says:

    Paul Reid-Bowen
    says that humans have become rather bad at doing Nature’s (dissipation) work. Thomas Nail might have a point.
    Humans only do their best. Given their evolutionary history and make-up there is
    nothing else they can do.
    It is expecting a bit much of humans to do long range calculations, taking into account their embedding in a larger ecosystem, for optimal energy dissipation over the course of their time on earth. Humans are not good at discounting the future. Evolution hasn’t equipped them for that.
    Believe me, they do the best they can while they can. And maybe, just maybe, this enormous fossil fuel dissipation over a short period of time, regardless of ecosystem damage or destruction, doesn’t do such a bad job after all.
    In any case, it’s not important. Whatever energy is still available, after humans have left the scene, will be dissipated by hook or by crook.
    Even if earth’s ecosystems would stay reasonably intact, over many eons, and succeeded in rebuilding a sizable store of fossil energy, if wouldn’t make a difference.
    If a new human-like (or other too-clever-for-their-own-good) species in the far future would discover how much fun one can have in dissipating that stored energy, it will just be a repeat of what’s happening now.
    If that doesn’t happen, the sun eventually will burn all that stored oil and coal in a jiffy. In any case, much faster as what humans, even with super energy burning technology, could accomplish.
    And all this will unfold whether Michael Dowd is an optimist or not!

  14. Jean Arnold says:

    I find that Michael Dowd’s summary of the coming tsunami leaves no room for refutation. In the face of all this, I really resonate with his advice: “Live life fully, love the life you live, and seek to be the biggest blessing possible to your community and the larger body of life while you can! And embrace your mortality, our mortality, and the fact that you/we are not separate from Gaia and the Universe.”

  15. Joe Clarkson says:

    Personally, I suspect that there will be very few, if any, mammals larger than small burrowing ones within the next 20-30 years.

    Michael, this is over-the-top hyperbole. Even if the earth transitions to the “hothouse earth” scenario, with temperatures like those of the Jurassic, it will take many centuries to reach that state due to the cooling effects of melting ice caps and the thermal mass of the oceans.

    And even if the earth ends up many degrees Celsius warmer than now, there will still be places in boreal regions conductive to human life. There may be fatal wet-bulb temperatures in a lot of places, but not everywhere.

    I certainly think it is reasonable to think that human overshoot will result in the collapse of modern civilization (perhaps very rapidly) and result in a great die-off of humans, that climatic tipping points will result in a world far warmer than our comfortable holocene, and that we face great danger from nuclear war and abandoned nuclear power plants, but humans are, as Joseph Tainter noted, “nearly as adaptable as cockroaches” and human extinction in the next two or three decades is very unlikely (much less all mammals larger than a mouse).

    There will certainly be a great acceleration of extinction rates, but I see no reason for the extinction of marine mammals, for example, many of which are far larger than mice or voles. Where there are marine resources, humans can live. Just ask the Inuit.

    I actually do think that there is nothing we can do to avoid worst-case scenarios (you also seem to be firmly in the grip of Ecocidal Secular Idea number 6), I just disagree that near term human extinction is a reasonable worst-case scenario. I put it in the same category as a massive asteroid strike. It can happen, but the odds are very small that it will happen in the next thirty years.

  16. FamousDrScanlon says:

    realist, so what you and your fellow paranoids are saying is the overlords plan is to kill the majority of the population via vaccines? A majority who happen to be the ones enriching, protecting & cooperating with said overlords, all so they can be left all alone with you angry, paranoid, self pitying, scapegoating, conspiracy malcontents, who have made it perfectly clear, you will never cooperate with them, and in fact, want to kill them? Especially the Jewish ones.

    Oh hell Ya, that makes perfect sense, Mr realist.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Dr S: Mr realist is a believer in many conspiracy theories. The site he cites for his “culling of global population” by 2025 claim also asserts that Dr Fauci and the Chinese are working with the New World Order to launch a global biowar using a weaponized MERS virus, that will be smuggled in under cover of illegal immigrants and then launched using drones (no, I’m not making that up: https://stateofthenation.co/?p=85903). I normally don’t pay any attention to such stuff, but this is so preposterous it’s actually funny. Reminds me a bit of the old National Enquirer stories that asserted statues had been found of Elvis on Jupiter. Not sure why he hangs out here.

  18. realist says:

    “Oh hell Ya, that makes perfect sense, Mr realist.”

    Indeed, you nailed it precisely!

  19. FamousDrScanlon says:

    Another overly long video of a guy who knows a guy who said he saw…… Of course not one of you Rhodes scholars has any data, but that just proves “they’re” hiding the body count. Why are conspiracy docs so long? Hell, I have not seen a truther doc that’s less than 4 hrs. You know if you have good data then there’s no need for excruciatingly long videos of guys repeating themselves themselves.

    Un-realist, at the current rate of deaths attributed to vaccines the ‘evil doers’ shall have completed their depopulation plan some time around the year 2678 CE. Too bad you won’t be around then to say “I told ya!”.

    I’ve been hearing cries of de-population schemes from evidence free hysterical fear mongers like you since before the internet. A bunch of them started 5 mins after the “Limits To Growth” was published along with a host of other ridiculous accusations – “It’s a commie plot”.

    The big US conspiracy heroes, like the ‘health ranger’, Alex Jones etc, have depopulation scare articles every other week going back to the day their blogs were born.

    Since the first de-population fear mongering in the 1970’s, the global population has doubled from 4 billion to 8 billion, which makes me wonder what dictionary y’all are working from.

    I know I know – ‘this time it’s different’ & ‘you’ll see’ & bla bla bla. I’ve heard it all 1000 times as well. You got nothing except yet another failed conspiracy prediction.

    The only dead bodies piling up are these ones

    Anti-vax activist dies of COVID-19 amid QAnon demands for ivermectin

    https://globalnews.ca/news/8186493/veronica-wolski-anti-vax-qanon-ivermectin-covid-19/

    Enjoy your Darwin awards anti-vaxx-N-maskers

  20. realist says:

    “Enjoy your Darwin awards…”

    BINGO, that’s exactly the point, WHO will win the Darwin awards?

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