Monday, 19 November 2012

Time Scale of Collapse

In discussions of collapse, specifically if it will be a fast collapse or a slow decline of our current civilisation, what can be forgotten is that slow or fast are relative terms and change from varying viewpoints.

Heres a Terry Pratchett extract (Reaper Man) to illustrate

              ‘A city is alive. Supposing you were, a great slow giant, like a counting pine, and looked down at a city? You’d see buildings grow; you’d see attackers driven off; you’d see fires put out. You’d see the city was alive but you wouldn’t see people, because they’d move to fast.’

What looks fast to the counting pine above looks slow to us and what looks slow to it is a lifetime for us. Civilisations operate on such a timescale. If the collapse takes 3/5 the time it took for industrial civilisation to rise (300 years) then collapse would be 180 years – several lifetimes. What’s fast for a civilisation is still a slow process for us humans.

Then there’s all the other processes, trends and civilisations happening at the same time. After all Industrial civilisation was born within previous civilisations and people can live partly in multiple civilisations. The figure above for the life of Industrial civilisation (300 years) is wrong in an important sense; according to Lewis Munford’s Technics and Civilisation it was actually born in the early middle ages, which puts it at about 1000 years old. The last 300 years marks the time when it became the dominate part of civilisation and began impacting larger and larger segments of society. From this we can confidently say that an ecotechnic civilisation has already been born, possibly from the time of Augustine Mouchot (French pioneer of solar cooking and engines)  possibly earlier, and is slowly gaining the strength and pieces it needs. same with all the other civilisations that are forming in the twilight of Industrial civilisation.

As people and societies, slowly or quickly, drop out of Industrial civilisation they will enter into another; salvage, ecotechnic, herder, agrarian, nomadic, sailing or one of the many possible cultural civilisations around. This can be in steps or piece by piece e.g. A craftsmen who works salvage using charcoal to trade for industrial goods, the urban organic farmer living in an industrial city and other such halfway points.

This could easily mask the broad decline of Industrial civilisation and hide its eventual death. The driver for all these changes is overshoot as it weakens the dominate civilisation and allows new ones to compete in what has become an intensely Darwinian environment.


  1. Hey Leo,

    Probably a fair call regarding the timing. I look forward to reading your post about the travel from Indonesia. Did you know that the Aboriginals in Northern Australia, were far less impacted by European diseases than those of the Southern area. Trade and exposure is probably the most likely answer.

    There are also some plants such as strangler figs in Northern Australia which are thought to have been planted by Chinese mariners too.

    The solar cooker is an awesome bit of kit.



  2. I'm still on the buffer I made for exams, which is why this is a short post (about 3 more weeks). I've drafted the first post on Indonesia.

    Ther genetic heritage of the Southern Aboriginess was limited by the bottleneck affect, while the Northern Aborigines weren't and had most likely interbreed with the Indonesians. It comes about because the Indonesians lived in high enough densities to have the communal disease (plagues and such), so they passed it on to the Northern Aborigines.

  3. Good luck with your exams. Interesting stuff. Chris

  4. Finished them last week (finally, and i hope i did well).
    I just made a lot of buffer posts to be sure i'd have enough in case an after school crash.