Home | About | Donate

Exploring the Gap Between Business-as-Usual and Utter Doom


Exploring the Gap Between Business-as-Usual and Utter Doom

Richard Heinberg

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, but everybody does it. As long as we’ve had language—for tens of thousands of years, at last estimate—we’ve been able to formulate the question, “What will tomorrow bring?” The answers have ranged from idyllic to hellish, though the reality has been, more often than not, “a lot like today.”


The petrodollar-based economy (Rockefeller's wet dream) is based upon the maximum use (or misuse) of petroleum. In other words, it is based upon the inefficient use of petroleum. (Think establishment of CAFE standards in the seventies and relaxing of them in the eighties >> please do the political math.) No progress can be truly effected absent a rewrite of the economic principles applied to society. Real economic principles (look this up in the dictionary) would involve the wise use of natural and other resources. It is time to dig up Rockefeller and pour him into the deepest well ever drilled!

(This principle applies to other forms of nonrenewable energy.)


"The gap is where the action is. All else—whether fantasy or nightmare—is a distraction"

Hegelian in its scope, eh?
From the dialectic of "thesis–antithesis–synthesis" might be derived the stuff of some hope---synthesis, where the action is!


Almost no one in industrialized society seems able or willing to grasp what Heinberg is writing.

Not only industrialists, but also consumers, academics, administrators, all kind of professionals and laborers, even most scientists, live and think and speak as though making basic changes in society and economy to promote rapid transition from intensive fossil-fueled "endless growth," were simply bizarre, madness, unthinkable.

And yet it is precisely the opposite. Bizarre, unthinkable madness is "normal life," as we move swiftly toward utter collapse.

How is your house built? How should your house be built? Who can even think about such truly basic things?


Great article. I recently wrote something similar: Part of what I wrote --

The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the growing climate disaster but only a part of it. Our cultural view of the world around us as an accumulation of useful commodities to be exploited without a larger understanding of the connections and implications is the larger issue. This view has dominated our thinking since the 17th century. It has lead to slavery and brutal conquest, to colonialism, massive deforestation and the geological degradations of mining, massive monoculture farming, and toxic industrial sacrifice zones. Our material way of living, our expectations, and our economies continue to depend on this model. It is a model of unending growth in a finite reality. It is a model that equates happiness with material accumulation. It is a model of destruction for the elusive fantasy of wealth very few of us will achieve.

The corrupted politics of corporate and fossil fuel influence on both official parties is reflected in the election options we have from the state to the national level. Republicans deny the science and reality of the climate crisis and openly support fossil fuel use, drilling, mining, pipelines and fracking. They loudly condemn any efforts to address, much less mention the issue and even oppose the existence of the EPA. Democrats acknowledge the issue but generally support drilling, fracking, pipeline projects and fossil fuel use, though with some environmental protections. Clinton's history of promoting fracking and her choice of former Interior Secretary and supporter of fracking and piplines Ken Salazar for her transition team speaks volumes. What is obvious is that we cannot entrust our health, our safety or the protection of our environment to politicians supported by fossil fuel interests. We as citizens must be actively involved in protecting ourselves and our future.

Though we are seeing some progress, it isn't nearly enough. Time is not on our side. It is vital that we have leadership that puts public safety before corporate agendas and which has the ability to effectively protect us and to address the climate crisis. Politics and needed electoral reform aside, WE must be that leadership. Citizen action is effective and crucial but it takes a lot of us to be heard. We must all be involved directly or in support of those who are.

What is most needed is a paradigm shift in our thinking, our cultural perspective and our way of living in this world, realizing that we are in fact the planet, you and I, the animals, plants and bacteria around us and within us -- inseparable and interdependent. That consciousness must be reflected in our moving away from thing-centric materialism, and species-centric thinking. It must shape how we act and what we eat. This change does not happen magically or in a vacuum. It happens by working with others for our common good. I see this conscious change happening, especially generationally. Beyond the construct of nation-states and tribal identities, the fate of our biosphere – of all living things that make up our small
interdependent world depends on us.


The path to hell is paved with good intentions. The density and entrenchment of current systems cannot be simply undone, there will have to be some sort of reasonable transition condition created lest there be total societal collapse from the supposed 'remedies'
You seem to fail to grasp that.


What on earth are you saying? And how do you derive it from what i wrote?


Ponder upon it a while, reflect upon your myriad posts.
I believe many people grasp the point. The issues are trying to find appropriate means to achieve results---the solutions are not simple, and the appearance of a lack of any forthcoming does not necessarily mean folks do not 'grasp' the situation.


The hellish reality is that we are heading for another massive World WAR. I'm afraid one where most of humanity and a very large fraction of all the life on the planet is going to vanish in radioactive clouds and biologic and chemical mists. Greed and hatred will as always bring this War on. So don't worry too much about the climate once were gone in a few hundred thousand yrs. or if necessary a few million yrs. nature would have radically redesigned the planet again and stocked it with plenty of newly adapted life forms. We won't be missed, we'll just be another part of the fossil record.




Keep writing like that and you'll have to jettison the first part of your screen-name!


My observation is that most people are very willing to accept renewable and alternative technologies as long as their current lifestyle doesn't have to change very much. They are willing to make changes if they are small and don't impact said lifestyle all that much: ride bicycle more, recycle plastic, put solar on roof, grow vegetables. But wholesale changes to the way we conduct our lives: recycling human wastes, elimination of personal automobile, elimination of plastics, detachment from mainstream media, living locally, seem draconian and unnecessary. Personally, I'm not such a big fan of our current consumptive lifestyle. A local, resilient, conserving lifestyle based on community and the natural world sounds pretty good to me.


Oh bull. Most people are quite clueless about what is coming, and what could be done.


You will provide some argument that demonstrates that people grasp the unraveling of ecology and society that are underway?

You're the pompous here.


i'll just say, you really don't know what my assessments and arguments are, but your knee is jerking in reaction to my brief statements, in line with constructs that you have at the ready in your head. Good day.


An excellent article and perspective.

I'm curious to read some of this author's books, and will be interested to see if he mentions one of the most gigantic contributors to the many facets of planetary destruction--the unbridled consumption and plunder of the Military Industrial Complex and U.S.-led endless global war machine. It's pretty hard to have a serious conversation about making fundamental shifts toward planetary survival and not talk about that elephant in the room.


I know this is blasphemy around here, but did Mr. Heinberg consider the role of Gen III nuclear power in the short term and advanced integral and thorium and existing-waste-burning Gen IV reactors - and eventually fusion in the long term. These can not only replace fossil fuels, but produce emission and near-waste-free energy from fuel sources that are virtually limitless, in far greater quantity than fossil fuels ever could.

But certainly, we do need to change many aspects of cities' infrastructure for other sociological and quality-of-life reasons. In particular, the car - self-driving or not - has got to go.


Heinberg talks about the fact that in nearly all places except China nuclear is in decline, mostly I gather out of expense. I'm not sure what types of nuclear plants the Chinese are building - don't know if there are these Gen III or Gen IV plants you mention.

I keep hearing from some quarters about the fabulous nuclear energy advances like thorium and existing-waste-burning reactors. This has been going on for years. So where the hell are they? Who is using them? Why are they not more prevalant if they are so great To me, this is an example of those who are looking for the technology savior from climate change. Let's get real.


Great article. A more realistic and sobering assessment of the transformation necessary, starting with energy and interconnecting it with economic and social change.


The Chinese are mostly using Westinghouse APR 1000's which are Gen III. GEN IV's are still in development. As far as why the technology is not getting rolled out, it is because until only the last couple years, every utility was choosing coal power plants instead. Now its natural gas.

The electric transmission methods (continental smart grids and HV DC power lines) and storage methods needed to actually completely replace fossil power with renewables is mostly still in the conceptual stage too.