Gaius Publius: Finding the Greater Fool — The Elite Logic Behind “Going Over the Climate Cliff”

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

The “Seneca Cliff” is the point at which a system that grew large slowly, starts to collapse rapidly. This is the way the 1929 stock market and 2008 banking assets collapsed (image source). Any complex system can go over the Seneca Cliff, says climate scientist Ugo Bardi. (Can you guess why he’s studying it?)

I won’t belabor this here, since I have a longer piece in draft that makes the same point much more directly. But the basic idea is this: Climate people — activists, scientists, concerned citizens, “woke” politicians — think that the elite drive to march human civilization over the climate cliff is, to put it frankly, “nuts.” Irrational. Or “insufficiently self-interested,” to put it much too mildly.

I’ve begun to think differently though. I’ve begun to think that elites who are driving us over the cliff are not at all irrational. Someone who’s had that same thought as well is climate scientist Ugo Bardi, who offers a lay person’s view of much of his current work at The Seneca Effect.

Bardi’s goal is to study, in his words, “why complex systems fail,” and further, why they often fail rapidly. For more about Bardi’s work on rapid system collapse, see “The Seneca Effect: Why decline is faster than growth.” It explains phenomena like those detailed here — as well as what might soon happen to Uber (see “Can Uber Ever Deliver? Part Ten: The Uber Death Watch Begins“). The Seneca Effect is named after the Roman philosopher Seneca, who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

The Maldive Islands and Climate Change

Now to my own point. In a recent post, Dr. Bardi looked at the Maldive Islands, one of the most seriously threatened inhabited places in the world when it comes to climate change. According to the IPCC, 75% of the Maldive Islands could be under water by 2100.

Yet here’s what the rulers of the Maldives plan to do — stimulate development:

Full Guardian article here. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

Actually it doesn’t. Dr. Bardi:

Is this an epidemics of brain disease? Or do the Gods really drive crazy those whom they want to destroy?

Maybe. But there is also a perfectly rational explanation for what’s happening. Imagine that you are part of the elite of the Maldives. And imagine that you are smart enough to understand what’s going on with the Earth’s climate. As things stand today, it is clear that it is too late to stop a burst of global warming that will push temperatures so high that nothing will save the Maldives islands. Maybe not next year but in a few decades, it is nearly certain.

So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain.

In the case of the Maldives, Dr. Bardi concludes (emphasis mine): “What we are seeing, therefore, is a game in which someone will be left holding the short end of the dynamite stick. When the elites of the Maldives will have left for higher grounds, the poor will be stuck there. For them, the Seneca Cliff ends underwater.”

This is a developer’s dream — own something worthless, enhance it enough to sell at a much higher price, then leave. “Then you can say good riddance to those who remain.”

Can you guess where this logic leads us with respect to the planet? Not interstellar travel for the elites, but something else. If you still haven’t figured out what “then leave” means for them, stay tuned.

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      1. ambrit

        Water may not defy the laws of gravity but in the Neo-Liberal world, S— floats to the top.

        1. Deloss Brown

          I wish the readers of Naked Capitalism would stop talking about “neo-liberals.” They are not the problem. You may have noticed that the President of the United States is a perfectly unprincipled, ideally stupid real-estate developer, who was the candidate of the Republican Party, and who is strongly supported by so-called Evangelical Christians. His position is that global warming is a Chinese hoax. His Secretary of the Department of Energy is a man named Rick Perry, who believes that CO2 is not the cause of global warming. When he was Republican Governor of Texas in 2011, and the whole state was on fire, he led a big prayer meeting. These people, and their ilk, are liable to kill us all off. Barack Obama is no longer President, and Hillary Clinton didn’t win the election. Please concentrate your fire.

          1. Dugless

            And who can we thank for this predicament? The neoliberals who have steadily taken control of the Democratic party over the past 30 years.

          2. jsn

            Fish are probably not aware they swim in water, it’s not a concern they can act on without destroying themselves so why worry?

            NeoLiberals cannot see their own assumptions any more clearly than fish see water. Every establishment politician in the United States, to some extent including my favorite Bernie Sanders, is at this point NeoLiberal: are we still talking about the “debt limit”? must adjustments to appropriations “pay for themselves” elsewhere in the budget? have we returned power to the EPA to shut down fracking and other extractive practices that poison our public habitat for private profit? have we taxed carbon at the source to discourage dumping it in the atmosphere? have we provided essential public goods like health care, education, food and shelter for free and of good quality?

            If the answer to any of these for your preferred politicians is “no”, they’re NeoLiberals. Trump is no outlier. At least the Republicans you mention are being honest about their intentions. The Dems sign on to anything to save the environment so long as it does not require their funders to actually do anything. Like fish and water, NeoLiberals cannot do anything about their assumptions that does not hurt them so why worry?

            1. FWX341844

              Fish are probably not aware they swim in water, it’s not a concern they can act on without destroying themselves . . . NeoLiberals cannot do anything about their assumptions that does not hurt them . . .

              Are we really sure that neoliberals can only do things (about their assumptions) that hurt them? Because self-preservation does not require self-awareness? Only self-destruction requires self-awareness? Or is it self-awareness that requires self-destruction?

              Why bother debating such fishes? Why not just write them off as so many more mere “unexamined lives?” How galling it must be for you to have your fishbowl distressed by such fishes unworthy of swimming.

          3. bdy

            Trump is neoliberal to the core. Just like Clinton. Just like Obama. Just like Bush. Jsn nicely articulates their substantial similarities above.

            Of course there are differences between Trump and Dems. Trump calls people rude names, is arguably looting the state faster, doesn’t pretend to command the armed forces while they run amok over the poorest in the world, and doesn’t lie about his efforts to accelerate the climate emergency. Yes, those are important details. But not so important as the collective mass suicide Dems and Repubs are leading in tandem. I try keep my bitching focused on that (and the crapification of baseball, of course).

            Not gonna concentrate my fire on behalf of the POS blue dogs who kneecapped moderate Bernie Sanders and continue to ignore any candidate that supports single payer.

          4. different clue

            Neo-liberals set the policy table and the action table which put us where we are today. They are the all-surrounding magnetic field which all we iron filings find ourselves trapped in. So they will continue to rate many mentions.

            The Democratic Party is still a Clintonite Party. The “Real Democrats” can’t take their party back to use as a policy-improvement weapon until they can reconquer it from the Clintonite filth which still owns and operates the Democratic Party. Until every last Clintonite Cancer cell has been cut, chemotherapied and radiated from out of the Democratic Party, we will have to keep talking about the Clintonites.

            Asking a clintonitis patient to not talk about clintonitis is like asking a cancer patient to not talk about cancer.

            1. FWX341844

              There are a great many things for which neo-liberals are to blame. But backing out of the Paris Climate Accord is not one of them. Whence your fire is, in fact, scattershot.

              1. different clue

                Neo-liberals have used government to cause so much suffering to so many people that government has now been discredited. The neo-liberals have done that with their Free Trade Treason Agreements and allied anti-workeritic policy programs even more thoroughly than the ThatcherReagan reactionaries could do by staffing government with moles, trolls and saboteurs.

                Donald Trump was able to run amok in the power vacuum of Clinton’s hopeless neo-liberal bullshit. Clinton and the Clintonites got Trump elected beginning with their Pied Piper conspiracy to engineer Trump’s getting the nomination to begin with.

                So putting Trump in a position to back out of Paris was a neo-liberal achievement to begin with. So Trump himself is part of the Feast on the Table which the neo-liberals have set for us.

                So no, not scattershot.

                Neo-liberal Clintonite filth will have to be purged and burned out of every corner of public life. Until they have all been “exterminated” in detail from public “existence”, NOTHing good can happen. NOTHing.

                1. FWX341844

                  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
                  When all you have is a sickle, everything looks a stalk.
                  When all you have is guillotine . . . well, heads must roll. Mustn’t they?

                  Go back and read the post to which you replied. Neoliberals are to blame for many things. But they are not to blame for backing out of The Paris Climate Accord. Your argument to the contrary is strongly analogous to a child who blames Mommy for Daddy beating her up.

                  1. different clue

                    The neo-liberal clintonites brought Trump to power, both by engineering the nomination of the miserable creature Clinton itself, and then by engineering the nomination of their chosen “Pied Piper” designated “weakest candidate” to run against the Clinton.

                    The neo-liberal scum created the vacuum which the Trump was sucked into filling. Sorry not-sorry if you don’t like to see this pointed out.

    1. ambrit

      More habitable ground is most likely. All those “The super rich are buying “bolt holes” in out of the way places” stories are anecdotes supporting the perception that the “Rich” don’t give a d— about anyone else but themselves.
      Eco “terrorists” made a strategic mistake when they eschewed real terrorism.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        A climate scientist friend tells me one of the favoured after-conference conversations among them is ‘where can you move your family where you will be safe?’ He said many favour BC in Canada, as an area likely to develop a more Californian climate. There are actually plenty of places likely (but never certain) to get nicer climates as the world heats up. There is some evidence that the Russian elite think they will be winners as more agricultural land opens up in Siberia (although recent droughts and forest fires around Moscow may have made them realise this is by no means certain).

        What is certain is that many of the richest are preparing Plan B’s and Plan C’s. NZ seems a favoured destination, as does Canada.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, PK.

          One of the Murdoch sons has bought a big hide away in BC.

          Peter Thiel has opted for NZ.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            I forgot to add the growth in acreage of vineyards in the UK. Taittinger is planting in Kent.

        2. Anon

          Simply moving to “higher ground” (more favorable climate) is not likely to provide the safety and security one might expect. Climate change is not just about ocean rise and warmer temps. It’s about upending the planets ecosystem(s). What good is a “bolt hole” if you can’t get sufficient food transported in, or understand how to grow it yourself. Climate change is likely to induce disease pandemics; where do you get your antibiotics and medical care? The societal collapse is likely to be so widespread that there won’t be enough bullets to defend the bolt-hole.

          1. jsn

            Good point! Survival will become an exercise in cooperation, whether coerced, as has become the case in Putin’s post Yeltsen Russia 2.0 where a population collapse was reversed, or freely in the prototype we have yet to see. Rugged individuals will die ruggedly.

            Resources and know how exist to preserve substantially our present population if organized to that purpose. The top 10% of energy and other resource consumers probably consume something like 90% of resources, just a guess but based on wealth distribution it can’t be too far off.

            This is a problem of distribution, which is to say politics. With each passing day however the ultimate sustainable population shrinks as more and more bio-diversity, and thus life opportunity, dies.

            1. FWX341844

              An injury to one is an injury to all.

              Politics remains the struggle for control over the distribution of the decision-making authority to distribute the wealth accumulated from the exploitation of land, water, plants, animals, minerals and other commodities, as well as the labor and technology, necessary to exploit said resources for the social redemption of the greatest possible number of human animals and however many non-human animals and other living organisms might be needed to sustain our fellow workers.

              Time to shake off the burdens. One Big Union, Now!

        3. HotFlash


          He said many favour BC in Canada, as an area likely to develop a more Californian climate.

          Should work fine, as BC has nice mountains as well. Keep those feets dry!


          Russian elite think they will be winners as more agricultural land opens up in Siberia (although recent droughts and forest fires around Moscow may have made them realise this is by no means certain)

          Well, and there’s that little sinkhole problem.

          1. different clue

            I read that at least a million square miles of Siberia is deep permafrost. I read further that much of that permafrost is 50% water by volume. So if it all warms up enough to thaw, it will shrink by 50% Since a lot of it is supposed to be 200 feet deep or so, that would mean it will end up a hundred feet “lower down” then it now is . . . after all the water is melted out of it.

            So the permafrost elevation will be lowering as the sea level will be rising. How much of that current permafrost will be a very shallow sea under water after the Big Thaw has run its course?

            Russia could find itself a million square miles smaller than it is today. Of course its own national territorial marine waters would be a million square miles bigger due to the same process.

        4. different clue

          Hopefully a lot of vengeance-seeking normals can also pre-position themselves in all these places . . . ready and waiting to greet the Global Arsonists when they arrive.

          Climate scientists have tried their best to get society to de-warm the global. If anyone deserves to survive, they deserve to survive.

      1. jrs

        yes they are buying temporary escape at best, as is Russia thinking it will escape the worst of climate change as well. Maybe they’ve learned super short term thinking from the corporations (but this quarter was profitable!). So in the short term, Alaska, Canada (you can buy your way in if you are rich, but woah be to you if you are just an American pauper wanting healthcare), Russia etc.. But not many years later even those escapes won’t be. IBGYBG and F one’s own children and grandchildren even! I mean the 1% are still stupid enough to spawn afterall, but somehow think they will will be able to live on an inhospitable planet.

        1. HotFlash

          ‘Scuse me, but you are speaking of one-tenth or even one-hundredth of 1% of the earth’s current population. If only 1% (or less) of the planet is habitable, who do you think thinks they will get it? And would they be wrong? If so, why?

          1. jrs

            I really don’t think anyone gets it if Earth is the new Venus, and I think that’s actually a pretty likely scenario. Basically humanity becomes extinct and takes most of the other species down with it.

  1. Dead Dog

    Thank you Gaius, not sure our planet will be survivable (even for the elites) once we turn the corner (some say has happened already). Yet, they think they’ll be okay and once we’ve all died, they can start again, with a fresh slate. The stickler here is that food and water will be a huge problem for everyone (you can only stockpile so much) and when that goes in short supply, things get violent, quickly.

    Between now and then, we will continue to observe that the elites like living together and favor high priced real estate (think London, NYC, Hong Kong and Eastern Suburbs of Sydney), particularly if they can have private security.

    Gentrification and class war has been eliminating poorer residents from these suburbs and, at some point, they will barricade themselves off from non-residents, who will be barred from entry (delivery drivers, slaves notwithstanding).

    They will have the money and the ability to employ force to keep us out, hoping that we will die off. But this will not be sustainable; they and their armies need food and water just like the rest of us.

    How many of us would still be alive a few weeks after the power and the food deliveries just vanish? I’d have a bit of head start, but I wouldn’t fancy my long term chances…

    These people are going to kill us all, fool or not

    1. The Rev Kev

      That may be true but just remember what the economist Mark Blyth once said to his American hedge funds friends: “The Hamptons are not a defensible position…Eventually people will come for you!”

        1. Dead Dog

          thank you Tyronius (who was he, if you can be bothered, and thanks again?) and Kev, it seems you agree.

          Aspen, without the snow, not much of a sanctuary or defensible position?

        2. Arizona Slim

          Which is surrounded by mountains. Lots of places for The Rabble to hide before they attack the city.

      1. different clue

        How would the World Arsonists get the plebes to do their fighting for them if the plebes didn’t feel like it?

    2. Art Eclectic

      These people are going to kill us all, fool or not

      We, the peons of the world, are expendable. There are too many of us in the middle income bracket that require support (pensions, health care) that erodes profits. The poor can be bred like rabbits to keep that much desired pool of low-cost labor topped off. Plus, they’re easy to cut benefits for (see every Republican plan) since they are politically detached and easy to suppress the votes of.

      1. Kris

        But remember that we “in the middle income bracket” in the west are actually among the top 10%, if not 5%, globally.

    3. Crazy Horse

      Elon Musk hopes that he and his colony of 20 breeding females on Mars will be the salvation of the human race. But wait— it will be much easier to program silicon based life forms to reproduce and carry out the conquest of the Red Planet than to terraform it so it becomes suitable for the humanoid Muskmellons.

      The God business is much more difficult than the stock market shell game—.

    4. animalogic

      Not to deny the seriousness of climate change but we maybe lucky if we even manage to experience it in all its horror. After all, we in “the West” are ruled by elites whose short-sighed, juvenile, greedy, megalomania amounts to something like criminal insanity.
      How else to describe our escalating provocations against Russia– in Syria especially, but also in the Ukraine & eastern Europe ? How far will Russia allow herself to be pushed into a corner before she has no choice</strong> but to respond aggressively ? Some, like Paul Craig Roberts, argue – (quite credibly) that Russia has been insufficiently assertive with the West — which the West (like the mafioso they are) interpret as weakness.
      The nuclear clock really is ticking towards midnight….

  2. Skip Intro

    So what they are saying, completely without metaphor is: Après moi, le déluge.

    Makes sense

  3. FWX341844

    If I’m not entirely mistaken, Gaius Publius may be alluding to fairly large floating cities with airports, swank hotels, hospitals, shipboard stock exchanges as well as nuclear reactors to flash-distill seawater for drinking and seawater greenhouses to grow fresh vegetables and the like. Don’t sweat the seafood. Of course, they’ll need to figure out how to keep such floating cities from breaking up in the giant hurricanes and typhoons of the future. Or . . . They could build them in The Arctic Ocean. Or . . . The Antarctic Ocean? They should also carefully chart all the small island chains and atolls atop which their fair cities might someday run aground.

    I wonder exactly how much money this Project Noah’s Ark is going to take? Less than Martian Colonization one presumes. But far more than simply colonizing Greenland. Oops. As it turns out, I was entirely mistaken. Never mind.

  4. Praedor

    I watch HGTV and Beachfront Bargain Hunt and similar and just keep thinking… You will buy that place and within 15-20 yrs it will be unliveable due to sea level rise. All that money spent for a one-off.

    1. jrs

      Yes it makes no sense for the rich, but it starts to make sense in an odd perverse way for the middle class.

      People might buy because they are SCARED, they are scared that rising rents will eventually drive them out of town etc. Billionaires don’t have to worry about paying the rent even if they choose to rent and no matter how much the rent goes up. But a wage slave does. So you price in what is just as much of a trend at this point some places as climate change is, ever rising rents threatening small personal catastrophe (it’s not of course a climate change level problem). And you know if you can buy a home you might be able to keep your head above water, that is if you can keep your house above water literally!

      Are people buying property a mile from the beach foolish? It would seem so to take a long run perspective, but at this point they can already rent it for more than the mortgage. Whereas renters lose sleep over the prospect of rent increases.

  5. Bill Smith

    Given the constraints faced by the Maldives what is a better solution for their people at this point? After all, buying a new place to live doesn’t seem like it worked out. There is a bit of Islamic fundamentalism there and development and the jobs it is supposed bring may be the only way to keep it from getting out of hand in the view of the government.

    1. jrs

      it’s possibly ecotourism of a sort could convince the elite to try to save places like the Maldives (not that it is possible necessarily). So changing the minds and hearts of the elite IS a possible route to change (an inside game). But it’s definitely a swallow your pride and brown nose approach. And unfortunately at this point it doesn’t seem particularly likely either.

      1. HotFlash

        a swallow your pride and brown nose approach

        Allow me to insert this metaphor from my own experience here in Toronto. A bike lane is a bike lane as long as car (ie, someone ‘higher’ on the socio-economic ladder) doesn’t want it. Oh, and if the Maldives do go underwater (likely, they are only 1 meter above sea level), the local elites will try to take as much money as they can, and run, or swim.

        Looks like that *exactly* is what is happening here.

  6. jsn

    “Then leave” for the elite is just a different way of stating rule 2 of NeoLiberalism for the rest of us.

    It’s planning Gibson’s “Jackpot”, or what Woody Allen said, “I don’t have a problem with death, I just don’t like to be there when it happens.”

  7. cnchal

    It doesn’t seem logical to me to characterize the elite leading society over a climate cliff as logic.

    It’s the system itself, called capitalism, but the word’s meaning has been so perverted over time that about the only thing that can be agreed to is that “capitalism” requires groaf, otherwise the nearly $200 trillion debt berg issued by the banksters will not collect the interest payments needed for debt service.

    The elite benefit the most from this perverted system, and they have no interest in suffering even a paper cut. Suffering is for the peasants.

    When you get robbed in the street, the robber sometimes says “your money or your life” implying some kind of choice. When a bankster issues you a loan there is no choice. It’s “your money and your life”. And of course those carrying the most debt have to keep running harder and harder to stay in place or fall behind slower than their neighbor, which implies working 22 hour a day at three or four crappy McJawbs. All the while burning moar and moar energy to get to those McJawbs.

    So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain.

    This is Wall Street logic writ large. It’s always about misrepresentation or finding a chump. This is what “capitalism” has devolved to.

    The debt berg is choking the planet.

  8. oho

    exactly, sacrifice is for the little people (unless your 1942 George HW Bush or Ed Begley).

    I don’t expect Al Gore or Leonardo to turn Ralph Waldo Emerson and live in a shack—-but if they’re not willing to forgoe private jets and ditching the sprawling estate—-obviously they aren’t willing to lead by example.

  9. Eleanor

    I have figured for years that the rich will built armored enclaves, protected by private armies, in whatever places are safest: Canada seems a good choice. They will probably include a number of servants, including members of the professional middle class. (They will still need doctors and IT.) Will this work? Maybe short term. But I’m not sure you can maintain the upper layer of a complex civilization, if the civilization itself collapses. And what would keep the private army from grabbing all the goodies in the enclave, once civilization is gone? Habit, for a while. Habit forever? Maybe the answer is robots. But who will build and maintain the robots, once civilization is gone?

    1. ambrit

      The robots can be part of a Von Neumann “machine,” where lesser robots build their more complex cousins, ad infinitum. Add this capability to any nearly functional AI and we have…. What could go wrong?

    2. a different chris

      Civilization has always failed, plenty of nice Roman villas regularly being dug up in England. Everything has always eventually failed, after it has succeeded, that’s pretty much the nature of time. Ozymandas and all that.

      Still ruining the planet does seem an exceptional stroke of stupidity.

    3. Crazy Horse

      It’s instructive to look at a real life contemporary example of an attempt to build an armored enclave for the super rich. The Yellowstone Club was founded upon just such a premise. 13,000 acres nestled in the foothills next to a tall mountain. The nearest small city 1 1/2 hours away. Only one road entering it. The only access by air through a helioport. Its own golf course, ski area, and lodge where the select few can meet and their children play with only properly vetted playmates.

      What sets the Yellowstone Club apart from other super elite mountain areas like Aspen and Jackson Hole is the fact that the security system is designed and managed by veterans of the Presidential Secret Service. In order to be considered for Membership and cleared to buy property, applicants must pay a entry fee of $385,000 and subsequently be vetted by the Secret Service. Even lowly construction workers must have security clearance before they can enter through the check gates.

      So just how effective will this enclave be as a refuge in time of stress? Let’s just consider a scenario that is not improbable considering the current direction of international events:
      —The US continues along the path of trying to encircle and provoke Russia with the intent of overthrowing the current government.
      — The proxy war in Syria intensifies into an air war between Russian and American air forces.
      — The US (NATO) tries to overcome its conventional armament inferiority by using tactical nuclear weapons against Russia.
      — As promised by Putin, his response is asymmetrical and takes the form of a EMP attack that disables all electronic and electrical systems in the US..

      Rather than being a safe enclave the Yellowstone Club would prove to be a death trap for its inhabitants.
      — no way to escape because all helicopters would be grounded and every new SUV rendered immobile.
      — Complex heating systems all disabled. Those with fireplaces would be burning the furniture within two days in mid-winter.
      — Food supplies would be exhausted within a week. How long until they would be reduced to eating the neighbor’s children?
      — The entire population of the state is heavily armed with hunting rifles and know how to use them. Being poor, many of them have old fashioned trucks that will not be disabled by the EMP pulse. The perimeter of the resort is indefensible, and even the main road cannot be defended by a few SS agents who will be more concerned with finding food and shelter rather than protecting their rich people. By the time the Montana cowboys get around to raiding the Yellowstone Club they probably would only find some vintage scotch and well stocked wine cellars along with some frozen cadavers.

        1. ambrit

          Yep. Even Katrina had a silver lining in the form of literally gallons and gallons of booze that washed up in a wrack line that “graced” our back yard in Pearlington. It lasted over a year, even after being used for barter in the “primitive” economy that most disasters create in the afterward phase.

      1. animalogic

        Quite plausible, C Horse.
        I guess it all depends on the speed & severity of any social breakdown. Will elites have preparation time ? How much functional State will remain (& by extension, how many resources will be available & transferable ?)
        I imagine there are a number of possible scenarios in which elites may survive quite well indeed.

  10. RWood

    Another prophecy/projection:

    Mike Vlahos (Professor at the US Naval War college and John Hopkins) tells us that, as a military historian and global strategist, he became curious to know just why it is that ‘world systems’ do ‘come apart’. His first, intuitive sense was that their collapse generally was brought about by some massive external force such as war, pestilence or famine, and by the concomitant mass migrations of peoples.

    But when he and his students completed their research, he concluded that though these factors had often played an important part, they were not the prime cause of the system coming apart. Rather, he identified a number of key triggers:

    · The élites became stratified, and politics frozen
    · The peoples’ allegiance became taken for granted, at the same time that the élites chose to ignore threats to the peoples’ way of life
    · Social mobility declined, and change is fiercely resisted
    · Rather, élites work to maximize their wealth and status.
    · Elite authority becomes excessively militarized – and justified as ‘saving civilization’.

    He concludes from this study, “the situation that we inhabit today […] here in the imperial city in Washington DC, is that it is absolutely hollowed out … it is incapable of offering anything to its own people, the American people … I think we have reached a point where there is no possibility of revival within the current system that exists. The current system is set upon … is determined to eat itself out in a kind of civil war that is coming, and at the end of that, it will be done, will be finished”.

    1. a different chris


      But he should have noticed that it is human “nature” right off the bat. “…by some massive external force such as war, pestilence or famine” – the Earth being a little round ball floating in space means no forces except for asteroid strikes are “external”. Well the sun will cool or supernova or something eventually but we can wave that away.

      Anyway, my last couple replies make me sound like the rich Maldivians, but I am actually an eco-nazi at heart so I really, really do not want this to happen, despite my tone. Just tired.

  11. FWX341844

    Oops, again. The elites enhance worthless places bought at low prices just enough to sell those developed places at higher prices and then the elites leave . . . for greener pastures? What does that mean–for them? Global gentrification at successively higher elevations above the rising sea-level? A great game of musical cities until the final shore is met? Exactly where should we all be buying property? Or have the elites already snatched it all up at bargain basement prices? Cazart! This is beginning to look like a testable hypothesis.

  12. samhill

    This would certainly explain the concerted (demented) effort of climate change denial, it’s really about keeping already deemed worthless assets valued for sale to suckers for as long as possible, with a fair bit of mad surreal dancing at the end of the world frothy arbitrage and bubble thrown in. Funny that most of the suckers are others in the 1% who can afford beachfront or costal properties.

    I’ve thought, in my darkest Margaret Atwood moods, that the easiest solution to climate change and resource depletion, easiest meaning you get to keep your elite mass materialism, is to eliminate 2/3s of the population. Especially seeing how what was once a source of all wealth, a mass of peasants, proletariat, consumers, have for the first time in 10,000 years become superfluous and an existential threat to wealth.

    Of course the narrow minded fatal flaw is that in liquidating the planet and the people you destroy the assets you believe you are setting apart, as the value of everything comes only from their relation to the people and the planet and the complex system that created it. The planet is just a big fish tank floating in space, we are all in this one together, every man for himself is not going to work on the upcoming Anthropocene crash. But, yeah, try to tell that to that mad rich self involved high-functioning Asperger’s deluded overlords…

    1. animalogic

      “the easiest solution to climate change and resource depletion, easiest meaning you get to keep your elite mass materialism, is to eliminate 2/3s of the population. Especially seeing how what was once a source of all wealth, a mass of peasants, proletariat, consumers, have for the first time in 10,000 years become superfluous and an existential threat to wealth.”
      I am sure that Elites often consider the 2/3’s option, you mention.
      I find it perfectly logical — for them.
      The systematic use of neutron bombs on concentrations of “useless eaters” could work. Perhaps a carefully designed pathogen targeting, say, people of a darkish skin hue ?
      2/3’s of the population “eliminated” would leave something over 2 billion people: that might slow down climate change, AND leave sufficient people to sustain a functional market Oligarchy….Ah, happy days ahead….

      1. FWX341844

        When the death rate increases, the birth rate increases and then some. Engineering the untimely deaths of roughly five out of every eight humans currently living on planet earth would . . . hey, wait a second.

        Is that even possible? How long would that take? Where do all the rotting corpses go? And how many years would it take for the dead to transform into crude oil?

        That cannot be peak economic efficiency. You can’t steal wealth from people who never produced it, because they were dead already. Can you?

  13. justanotherprogressive

    Ah, the short-sighted thinking of the elite……
    I’m sure they will make beaucoup bucks in the short term, but have the considered what will happen next? Because when the shortages start (like with food or water) war won’t be far behind. Or do they all plan to die within the next few years and think they can take their money with them? Screw the grandchildren, huh?
    Perhaps they should read “On the Beach”……..

  14. David

    I’ve always assumed that the explanation in the OP is basically true. It’s “logical” if you take neoliberal thinking to its natural conclusion. Why should I worry about things that will happen after I die? Even families, for example, are increasingly seen as a cost, so my descendants can cope with climate change, just like they can sort out my debts. All that matters is how much I can loot from the world while there’s still something left.

  15. Jef

    Thing is its not just climate change. Its pollution on every level, its resource depletion, its economic collapse, its geopolitical conflict.

    I do believe that the “elite” have an understanding of all of this and also know that there is little or nothing that they can do to stop it. What they can do is foment enough semi-controlled conflict/chaos to allow them to fully implement martial law so we the people get use to having military everywhere and draconian rules.

    I believe it is fairly obvious to see that this is what is happening.

  16. Bryan Alexander

    I’m reminded of a recent movie’s title, which the future uses to describe our epoch:
    The Age of Stupid.

    1. FWX341844

      I’m reminded of a recent movie’s title, which the future uses to describe our epoch:
      The Age of Stupid.

      Alright. I confess, already. Stupid as charged. So you can put away your rubber hoses, now. But so soon as you do, please let me know whether there are not any longer any other ways for economic agents to acquire more wealth besides stealing the same from other economic agents.

  17. Susan the other

    I think we fell off Seneca’s cliff 10 years ago. The world did not fall apart, I think, because after a century of “capitalism” we have learned to distribute food, water, anything necessary for life. The distribution know-how is there to stay; free-market capitalism not so much. I honestly do not think there are any “greater fools” left – obviously not enough to make the economy purr. But the science is inconclusive so we don’t know which thing to do first to repair the planet – or if that is even possible. The elites going off to live on their islands and deep in their bunkers is as amusing to think about as all those nutty peppers turning into rag-tag mountain men. We’ve got lots of resilience in the system. Basically, the system is us. Capitalism will have to be turned into martial capitalism if tshtf … that won’t be much of a shock since it’s half-way there already.

  18. RUKidding

    Seriously, at this point, I’m just hoping they up the game on the provision of suicide drugs (or end of life drugs, if you want to put it in a “kinder” way) as things get worse. I really don’t want to be around for what comes next because I’ve read enough speculative fiction to get the drift. These days, I’m glad That I’m what the kids over at Wonkette call “A Old.”

    I know that I’ve failed and failed badly at doing “something” to make improvements, but I can say: I did try.

    These fools. I have no clue how they think, and furthermore, I’m at the end of even wanting to speculate. They are jerks of the highest order. I think our ship has sailed, and we’re facing a very bad future, no matter how many “feel good” articles/movies/shows are produced to somehow con us into believing that humans can somehow adapt to what’s coming. Maybe for a while but not forever at the rate we’re going.

    Good luck to us all because rich or poor, we’re going to need it.

  19. Sluggeaux

    Remember “Party Like it’s 1999“? Elite hoarding is the “tell” that they know that we’ve already gone over Seneca’s Cliff in terms of planetary carrying capacity. This is why the selfish are doubling-down on extractive activities of all kinds.

    But I believe that most of the capitalist elites are looking for a suite in the Füherbunker, not some sort of Silent Running Adam and Eve fantasy. I’ve recently spent time in NZ and BC and they lack reliable access to fossil fuels and will be among the first places to be cut-off. There are simply fewer people there to bother you while you’re waiting for the inevitable Götterdammerung.

  20. JEHR

    What a downer! Years ago I read a short story about how god one day decided to create earth and put certain life forms on it. It was an experiment to see how human beings would eventually treat the earth. Perhaps all those other earth-like planets that have been found in the universe will become experiment 2, …3, …4, …5 and so on. We will never know.

  21. CraaaaaaaaaaaazyChris

    I’ve long had a pet conspiracy theory on the elite logic of climate change, similar to this but perhaps even more cynical: In the eyes of ‘Davos man’, I believe global warming must be seen as a goal, not something to be avoided. Why? Because there are still huge ice cubes covering the untapped land masses of Greenland and Antarctica! That ice needs to be melted off to get all the gold and other rare earth elements. And once it is, those new lands can be developed with condos to sell to the people treading water in places like Miami.

  22. TheCatSaid

    Regarding causes & solutions to islands, I learned a lot from this article, “Assigning blame for the flooding of Pacific atolls” by Judith Curry, Professor of Atmospheric Science, GA Institute of Technology. What she found was different from what she expected, regarding causes, effects and remedies.

  23. Sue

    “The Seneca Effect is named after the Roman philosopher Seneca, who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.””

    Rises what is rising to the cease of the rise plunging

    1. FWX341844

      “Rises what is rising to the cease of the rise plunging(?)”

      Cloud cover. More cloud cover. Longer-lasting cloud cover. More reflection and refraction of incoming solar radiation. More trapping of outgoing infra-red heat-energy. Less evaporation. Less evapo-transpiration. Less melting and refreezing of glacial ice. Less cloud cover. Shorter-lasting cloud cover. Less reflection and refraction of incoming solar radiation. Less trapping of outgoing infra-red heat-energy. More evaporation. More evapo-transpiration. More melting and refreezing of glacial ice.

      Irrational systems remain clearly and distinctly preferable to rational ones. Without greener pastures to graze, the logic of finding the greater fool has no cud to chew.

  24. Jeremy Grimm

    After reading all the comments I most agree with these as representing the thinking of our Elites:

    Skip Intro June 21, 2017 at 2:56 am
    Après moi, le déluge.

    Sluggeaux June 21, 2017 at 11:45 am
    “Party Like it’s 1999“

    … and add my own, which I spotted in the Roman display at the Corning Museum of Glass, written in gold-leaf lettering on a Roman drinking glass from around the Late 3rd Century/early 4th Century A.D.:
    “VITA BONA FRVARVR FELICES” [Translated in the display as: “Let us fortunate ones enjoy a good life.”]

    This is also how I understand the meaning of this post.

    1. FWX341844

      “Let us fortunate ones enjoy a good life”

      You’re on to something, there. The Epicureans and The Stoics lived at a time when the world as they knew it was falling apart. Moreover, their world was falling apart for much the same unreasoning that threatens our world. They preferred to acquire wealth through theft rather than labor. There’s no shortage of ways to make money besides stealing it. But you can still make more money through theft than by work.

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