What follows is my report on the workshop Evolution of Social Complexity that I organized at Complexity Science Hub-Vienna, October 2–3, 2017.
An Agenda for Research on the Evolution (and Devolution) of Social Complexity
Over the past 10,000 years human societies evolved from “simple” – small egalitarian groups, integrated by face-to-face interactions – to “complex” – huge anonymous societies of millions, characterized by great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, elaborate governance structures, and sophisticated information systems. What were the evolutionary processes that brought about such an enormous increase in social scale and complexity?
We also need to understand why social forces that hold huge human societies together sometimes fail to do so. Complex societies collapsed on numerous occasions in the past, and may be at risk today. There are clear signs that even industrialized, wealthy, and democratic Western societies, that seemed to be immune to collapse until recently, are becoming less stable. Research on social complexity will bring understanding that is of direct value to our societies and human well-being.
On October 2-3, 2017, Complexity Science Hub (CSH) in Vienna conducted a workshop on the evolution of social complexity organized by the CSH external faculty Peter Turchin. A diverse group of scholars, which included historians, archaeologists, evolutionary and computer scientists, and physicists, who considered the following questions: Can we measure Social Complexity? How many dimensions does it have? What were the evolutionary forces that explain the dramatic increase in Social Complexity over the past 10,000 years? And why do complex societies sometimes become unstable, and even collapse?
One important point that several participants stressed is the need to study the deep human past. Social forces that bring about societal disintegration build up slowly, over many decades. A short-term view that focuses on only where we currently are, rather than on also where we came from, will not yield effective policies that will allow us to avoid the looming crisis. Furthermore, the tension between collective, more cooperative forms of governance, on one hand, and more autocratic, even despotic forms, on the other, is not new—it has been with us ever since the first centralized societies arose some 7.5 thousand years ago. We need to learn these lessons from the past. Similarly, evidence is accumulating that increasing inequality undermines social cooperation and societal stability, both in the past and today.
More generally, much research is currently addressing questions of environmental sustainability and of sustainable economic growth. But what about social sustainability? Social instability has a direct impact on human well-being, and collapse of complex societies can be catastrophic. In Europe, specifically, we see a number of worrying trends—the rise of populism, authoritarianism, and separatism—all suggesting that social cooperation is gradually unraveling and a disintegrative trend is setting in. The participants of the workshop think that a research program combining the quantitative methods of complexity science (including computational social science, nonlinear dynamical systems, and social network analysis) with “Big Data” methodologies that probe deep human past will generate new and exciting insights that will allow us to understand how these negative trends can be reversed.
There are two particular challenges to social sustainability that have become very important recently. One is the communication revolution that has dramatically changed how information is processed and disseminated. On one hand, this revolution has had many positive effects. For example, it has democratized social influence, since any individual or group can now reach large numbers of other individuals online. On the other hand, it enabled malevolent actors, including individuals, organizations, and states, to conduct “informational warfare” to nefarious ends.
The second challenge is also driven by technological evolution. As automation and robotization of production expand, the demand for human labor will begin falling below its supply (in fact, this may already be happening). This technological transition is not necessarily bad, unless it is mismanaged. Unfortunately, the triumph of neoliberal ideology in the United States, and deep inroads this ideology recently made into European elites, means that the chance this transition will be mismanaged is quite high. If it is left to free markets, then businesses are likely to continue replacing workers with machines, unemployment will grow, collective demand that drives economic growth will decline, and inequality will spike, followed by social instability and growing political violence.
These (and other trends that we did not mention here) are serious challenges to the sustainability of complex societies. As history shows, drastic social simplification nearly always imposes huge costs on societies in terms of human well-being. Research into the mechanisms and causes of evolution—and devolution—of complex societies is not only intellectually exciting, but also has direct benefits for our societies and human well-being.
//There are clear signs that even industrialized, wealthy, and democratic Western societies, that seemed to be immune to collapse until recently, are becoming less stable.//
Why are East Asian ‘western societies’ like Japan, South Korea and China not representative of this trend. Japan in particular is very stable, except geologically.
The communication revolution has broken the monopoly the elites had on truth. Before they could tell lies and thereby manipulate the masses. When they try to do so now it doesn’t work so well, if at all. The election of Donald Trump may be turning point when it stopped working completely. The future is a more honest elite class who are more open to scrutiny.
Technological revolution also works both ways. 3-D printing technology will reinvent the cottage industry and undermine huge corporations with large-economies of scale automated production lines. Why get something standard when you can get something for the same price or cheaper that, downloaded from a template or designed yourself, is precisely tailored to your needs?
Complex societies are certainly undergoing a process of reforming and it does look like that involves significant devolution to core units that have the ability to cooperate under these new conditions.
Japan and South Korea are both ethnically homogeneous societies. Many other economically successful nations are as well: Sweden and Germany come to mind. China is mostly ethnically Han which gives it the appearance of stability, but more diverse areas (Xinjiang and Tibet) are far less table. Anecdotally, the Scandinavian social compacts have deteriorated with the influx of Middle Eastern refugees in recent years as well.
Before all else, Humans are tribal. Cain slew Abel in part over what agricultural practices would characterize their tribe. We’ve been waging war over tribal practices ever since. It is likely that social disintegration is likely correlated with tribal diversity.
I’d agree with that, and I suspect the willingness of immigrants to assimilate matters most of all. Not all immigrant groups have the same willingness to assimilate.
Other than a minority, Islamic immigrants are generally the worst at assimilating to the extent needed by the west.
The democratic political party that seeks their vote will undermine the established cultural institutions and values in order to (selfishly) retain their power and status privileges.
Islam is not a race, it is religion and theory of government. The requirement that apostates be killed, which had been mostly ignored until the rise of Salafism, is totally alien to non-Islamic cultures. The belief that the only sure way to paradise is to die as a martyr is an appealing way out of a unhappy human situation and is also emphasized in Salafism. It will be a problem for many generations.
The Chinese appear to be handling the problem in a way not available to western societies: “Chinese police order Muslims to hand in all copies of the Koran and prayer mats or face ‘harsh punishment” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/china/article-4929064/Chinese-police-ask-Muslims-hand-copies-Koran.html
The role of crony capitalism in importing cheap labor, and the amazingly high salaries paid to workers in the immigrant resettlement industry is driving most Muslim immigration in the US.
People who would normally be receiving salaries in the $50k range are routinely being paid in the $150k plus range, employed by organizations using names with “Charity” in them but totally supported by government funding. This has created a very bad but politically untouchable situation, as illustrated by posts using names like Zaphod Beeblebrox claiming racism..
We’re living at a time when some people can, without any shame in front of people with above average intellects, make statements that only a complete idiot could make but even then only they had studied nothing for their entire life. Not even a below average intellect could confuse a religion with a race.
Equivalent would be asking whether the Ancient Romans flew about in planes. You can only marvel at the conditions and events that caused the reality-juddering statement to be made at all.
In this case the statement was a desperate lie in to shut down or discourage discussion the conclusions of which, if packaged and acted on, would result in certain useless liberal elites, who take from the pie without giving anything back, losing their non-productive, virtue-signalling, commoner selling-out, ‘jobs’.
Islamic migration to the west on its own causes a de facto devolution when Islamic laws are kept, and it should be no surprise this happens since Judaism in European countries and Coptic Christianity in Egypt result in essentially unavoidable de facto devolutions.
On the ideas of assimilation of immigrants, Nassim Taleb has an interesting perspective, which he terms “intransigent minority”. He explains more in this Medium article:
I found this a very useful lens for considering social and cultural change.
I agree. Technology is like fire — it can both burn you and cook your dinner. My point is that a neoliberal approach that relies entirely on markets to manage technological change will fail. I am not arguing for a command economy, but for a a mixed strategy that combines free markets with government action.
And let’s not forget that with communications we don’t have a free market, but rather an oligopoly, controlled by Google, Facebook, and other giant companies.
3-D printers are THE revolutionary decentralizing technology, not least because they can replicate themselves, but because they actually empower the poorest at the expense of the richest.
A strategy open to the poorest 10% will be to form a collective to buy a 3-D printing workshop to create all things suitable for their local needs, including more 3-D printers. Local democracy could decide relative proportions of things produced.
Wealthier cities would be able to print their own transport, weapons for police force, drones etc.
Centralized government and elites will be necessary to manage resource distribution – trade of plastics and metals, computer chips, luxury items – would remain a free market.
The centralized government also will need to manage the security challenges created by the destablizing effect of localities with large 3-D printing works that can equip their own armies with light weaponry, missiles and drones at short notice.
3-D printers are also fractal in that, with the addition of extra units, they scale at all levels. You can have one at home. A village can maintain a number of them. A town and city can dedicate a large industrial area. This fractal property is a key hint that it has the capacity to radically restructure society – for the better, but not without challenges that we ought to anticipate.
Really like what you’re doing, Dr. Turchin, and I agree with nearly everything said here.
One point I would like to mention is that, as someone who worked in the semiconductor manufacturing industry, and saw a lot of change in the way of automation, I don’t know that I would say that automation is a threat to the relations between labor and capital. The trend I saw was that the same number of workers could produce more stuff, but the trend of consumption is that more stuff gets produced (and consumed), rather than less need for labor. On the other hand, because labor is not as big a % of the cost (automated equipment is more expensive), the amount you can pay to labor actually goes up because of the fact that the labor cost is spread across more units sold.
However, one trend I did see was that it was harder for labor to get experience with the more expensive equipment, in order to get a job in the first place. You can get experience as a carpenter relatively easily when the cost of tools is a hammer and nails and some spare lumber; when the cost is a computerized milling machine and CAD software and a server to run them both, it is harder to get trained. But, once you get trained, you are less easily replaced.
Lastly, I don’t think that the trend of the last few decades has been towards greater automation in manufacturing, when looked at globally. The manufacturing of U.S. goods didn’t go to Japan, which is the world’s leader in robotics, or Germany, which is also very good. It went to places like Mexico and Bangladesh, which have worse automation than the U.S. If automation were the main threat to labor, we would expect to see the trend be that Third World manufacturers would lose out to their highly automated competitors in the First World.
Ross, thanks for your observations about the semiconductor industry. Very interesting. Still, I would argue that we haven’t yet seen the full impact of the robotization revolution. Economists like McAfee and Autor are worried, and so am I. Just think what will happen to all the driving jobs with self-driving cars.
What I am saying is that we haven’t yet seen this revolution, it’s only starting. But it would be a good idea to think through its implications.
I agree with you in a general sense. There are always variables in human labor that we see, both in history and in the present. Labor may be refined as something else in the future. Like, slavery has been labeled on those precious folks that were brought into a production world not yet fit for human labor. The pompous unexposed and uneducated have totally redefined the labor force presented to the world by a much more superior human race. Looking back, we would say “If they had been paid a productive fair equal wage” it would not have been redefined by some as slavery. If we may take the time to examine our present day social condition in the world. We would see that humans are even more so being used without proper and fair wages all over the world. But, I fail to see very many folks waving flags and actually doing something to change the situation.
Love your workshops. Wish I could attend. To watch diverse experts striving to understand history must be an amazing site… for our intellectual eyes anyway. 🙂
Taking a step back, I think it is interesting in itself that we all feel efforts to understand history must include insights from many many fields of science. Humans definitely have a shared feeling that explanations from any single field, while may be correct in there own right, can not explain in total how social history works.
From the perspective of a “pure” science, physics in my case, I think the opposite is true. When the need for a field other than physics enters into a physics question, we innately feel we are off track. The history of physics science think shows this to be true… for physics.
This mat just be semantics and definitions however. Life could be a totality thing where all is interconnected, but we cant comprehend such a huge understanding. So we divide to conquer.
Anyway, I totally agree that getting many fields together is a must for understanding societal history. It may never boil down a “pure” science. It may be a self re-organizing (evolving) system. Or maybe there will be “laws” of cliodynamics. Still, it’s a lot of fun to me to compare the many approaches to science.
I’ve been wondering, is personal human behavior represented enough in your efforts? “historians, archaeologists, evolutionary and computer scientists, and physicists” Where are the psychologists?
Has there been too much excitement about applying evolution to groups. Its certainly fashionable right now to say maybe the individual is not the only entity that can evolve. Maybe groups, although not having a direct mechanism (no genes), are evolving as well. A cool thought for sure, but maybe its time to make an effort to bring psychological factors into the equation.
For example, consider the field of “tribal thinking”. We know we have a huge need for group identification. Studies have shown that group identification easily sacrifices factual reasoning when our group cohesion is at stake. This is surely a big mechanism driving societal cycles, no? At its core, it says we can be relied upon, regularly, to sacrifice reality for the sake of group survival. Do I need to list the ways? Here are three 🙂
1. The Internet’s ability to influence relies on tribalism because the abuse it makes possible is through the manipulation of tribal thinking.
2. The rise of a political elite is enabled by the manipulation of tribal identity.
3. The sacrifice of personal best interest happens because of suspension of reason made possible by manipulating tribal identity.
Tribal Identity is a well researched and extremely pertinent area of social science that needs to be huge part of Cliodynamics. It’s individual to social behavior linkage is so strong it could virtually be called a law of behavior at this point. Find a good proxy for “manipulation of tribal identity” and i bet it you’ll see a strong relation to societal cycles.
Not in this workshop, but I collaborate with social psychologists. In fact, we recently wrote a research grant together, so we’ll see if it is funded.
there are no western democracies, aside from the trivial exception of helvetia. and since the people do not rule, the elite use society for their individual profit and pleasure, without much regard for the future.
the decay of the environment is the result, and looks likely to decimate or destroy humanity.
this is the pressing question for social scientists, one might think, but one would be wrong.
In fact, our historical research shows that the relationship between the elites and the rest of the population is dynamic. At some times elites are generally prosocial and work for the good of the society as a whole. At other times they become selfish. Understanding why is a big interest of mine. Most recently I wrote about it in Ultrasociety.
Peter, First, thank you for spearheading this effort and sharing it. Second, were there any papers at the workshop that are shareable? If so, please do. Third, it would be extraordinary if a reliable way to measure the complexity of a culture can be developed. Fourth, was this question raised? “Is there a limit to the degree of complexity with which a human culture can cope?” Or, was sit assumed that there is no limit as long as the concomitant societal systems are “appropriately” developed? Fifth, are we in the Modern and Modernising world now running a serious risk of developing degrees of complexity with which we cannot cope? Sixth, does a truly sustainable human future hang on our willingness and ability to engage in the development of societal systems that do not merely extend modern liberal democracy, but transform it and its citizens?
In reply to the question on what limits there might be to the amount of complexity a group can bear, here is some anecdotal feedback from the front lines of organizational strategy and structure.
When I first worked as a consultant, one of the leaders in the firm explained some “rules of thumb” about how structures should be set up. Note, these were his experience from years working in the field, helping restructure groups and teams, departments and divisions. Here are two of these “rules” as I remember them:
– a line manager with a supervisory role can effectively manage 3-7 people. The lower end is most applicable if the people being managed are information workers who need guidance and collaboration and the upper end is if the management is task oriented
– in growing a smaller division into a larger one, there are “complexity ceilings” at around 50 people and 200-250 people (and more beyond this). At these points the complexities ramp up in what seems a discontinuous way and the structures in place need to be reconfigured to handle this
While these two are on a very small scale, I am sure that their fundamental drivers could be teased out and perhaps applied to societies and cultures as a whole.
Thank you. I agree that the capacity of whole cultures to understand and cope successfully with increasing complexity could be worked out. My worry is that we are ploughing ahead with a host of investments and innovations that make all cultures more complex and, as of today, we have no good grasp on the fact there even are limits to the degrees and kinds of complexity that a culture can handle, let alone to what those limits are. I fear that in many societies we have already created conditions that are more complex than the average persons can handle. If so, this is a recipe for disaster. We have graphs of the ecological limits of the planet which we must not overshoot. We have no graphs of the limits of cultural complexity that we must not overshoot. And we have almost no sustained thought about what is entailed in the work of developing the personal and whole-of-society capacities required to handle greater complexity. Now our whole focus is on the complexity of data. We appear to care not a whit to even understand, much less develop, the psychological and intellectual capacities we now require. Much of the nuttiness that is now to common in our world may be a sign that we are in what might be called “complexity overshoot.” My point, is that this phenomenon is not on our list of strategic and existential threats.
What a great term “complexity overshoot”, I hope you don’t mind if I appropriate it.
I share your concerns about people’s abilities to handle complexity. I fear the current and planned systems and structures do not seem to account for the necessary investment of time and focus on the “softer” psychological and emotional factors at play.
Today I watched a few videos and read a few articles about wicked problems and most of them cited the need for *listening* and *empathy* as requirements for understanding and addressing these wicked problems. As far as I can see, many systems and structures are in fact working (probably unintentionally) to remove the time, space and necessary social incentives for these very human capabilities.
Perhaps we need more psychologists and counsellors involved?
My view is that once ideas are out in the air, they are free goods to be used by anyone who finds them helpful. So go ahead and chew on and use “complexity overshoot.”
Yes, we need more people trained in the “soft, but difficult” humane sciences. As you know, this is a hard sell in a culture that worships STEM as the fastest route to our highest god – money/power. We are closing liberal arts colleges faster than we know. Should you need them, I know a few truly remarkable persons who deeply understand the centrality of human persons, communities and cultures. Some of us have been in an on-going and non-trivial exploration of our times for 30 years now.
An aside Re span of control 3-7, shifts in structure complexity at 50, 250 etc – these are all the Dunbar numbers (5, 15, 50, 150, 500 etc). Robin Dunbar is most famous for 150 – the max number of relationships of any meaningfulness the average human has, and this has held constant from the dawn of humanity (apparently) but his more detailed works show shifts in complexity / abilioty to handle relationships of a certain level of detail at 5, 15, 50 etc. They are not hard and fast, eg vary from 3-7 depending on situation, but of that order f magnitude
Several people in the workshop argued that there can be too much social complexity, and even that it could lead to collapse of complex societies a la Joseph Tainter. As I’ve written elsewhere (in fact, as early as in 2003 in Historical Dynamics), Tainter’s theory is flawed. The real causes of social collapse lie elsewhere (in my view, they are structural demographic).
I really think that complexity is not the real isssue. Structure is the issue. It is very easy to confuse content with form when looking at societies, especially large scale societies. But as for measuring try “Measuring Culture” by Professor Steve Rayner of Oxford’s James Martin Institute for Science and Society. This work is in the very important framework developed by Professor Mary Douglas previously known as Grid/Group Thery and later as Cultural Theory.
This does sound like an interesting project, it would be useful to publish findings. Others you could consider involving: http://www.humanjourney.us/axemaker.html
“More generally, much research is currently addressing questions of environmental sustainability and of sustainable economic growth. But what about social sustainability? Social instability has a direct impact on human well-being, and collapse of complex societies can be catastrophic.”
“new and exciting insights that will allow us to understand how these negative trends can be reversed.”
Of course this gets to the heart of the matter for environmental sustainability. Peter, you indicate elsewhere that the downturn of the secular cycle begins with pressure on carrying capacity which leads to popular immiseration. Most of our current global carrying capacity derives from an industrial system built on a non-renewable resource base.
It’s entirely likely that there is no way that the current negative trends can be reversed, new insights or not. See for example: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267751719_Is_Global_Collapse_Imminent_An_Updated_Comparison_of_The_Limits_to_Growth_with_Historical_Data
Graeme, it’s quite possible that the global change is entering an accelerating phase, that may be very difficult, or even impossible to reverse. I’d still argue that it all depends more on social factors (our capacity for cooperation) than environmental factors.
Korotayev and Khaltourina (2006) suggest that the population of the largest city/settlement within a country is a reliable indicator of its complexity, as demonstrated in cross-cultural anthropological studies of pre-agrarian, agrarian and early-industrial societies. Any thoughts on this simple measure?
yes, this has been proposed by a number of people as a good proxy. and our analysis of the Seshat database (currently in review) supports it. but there is more to the story, that will emerge as we publish our results.
Interesting questions. Of course this evolution is caused by economy of scale and growing numbers of population, evolving more and more into a whole of everything being connected to everything (actually everybody connected to everybody, would be a better description now)/ while at the same time imbedded asynchronicities therefore more and more draw the attention.
This can be called complexity/ at the same time it is the result of simple processes. Perhaps complexity is the result of not understanding, as such.
Compared to natural physics, molecules and atoms still function in exact the same way they always did. Give it a number, the number is irrelevant. Human biology is the same it was a milion years ago. What evolves is its behavior; group behavior; and knowledge of the world it also created himself.
Compared to animals, humans strive for material posession/ in stead of just an energy (food) singularity. This is in the core not a complex logic, but
a simple one/ although in the end it also involves complex collaborations.
Human evolution however is not just a single one, but overlapping several. This fi means material posession at the same time does not involve the social cultural level of human existence/ but it is generally seen as a preceding one, as in a basic need for existence. This also creates a chronology of function, that on its turn means an economy and politics.
Social society is considered to be self organizing, like a market and policy has created democracy as its operational system/ which is however at the same time interlinked with economy: its proceeds and therefore not an independend system, as it might suggest and as politicians might like to believe.
The current problem of human culture is that its economy; paradoxly because it has become too efficient; has become inefficient as well as democracy. Because civilians are just back reacting/ and elite politicians don’t understand the problem.
Which has greater risks now than before because the global society has become one/ in stead of being different cultures seperated by time and space. Hence the strive for seperation. Deevolution.
So, you see the contemporary evolution has different qualities than its past had. Therefore studying the past is not the most efficient policy. In a practicle sense this means by the time you might have reached conclusive understanding/ it is too late in time to prevent social collapses, although this at the same time is relative, since human evolution has never stopped before and most likely will not, because sciences have their own evolution. Funded or not.
Excellent summary of the key problems we face.
When Samuel Huntington wrote Clash of Civilizations in 1996 I read reviews and not the book. I recently read it and found it amazingly prophetic. I think we are in a period of great uncertainty, and a natural reaction is to try to find certainty in a previous culture which seemed stable, understandable, and predictable. The interest in American History today compared to twenty years ago is several orders of magnitude greater.
Globalism as it is now understood has peaked. The cultural elites and crony capitalists are clueless.
Huntington predicted what is happening in Turkey almost as if he were writing today’s news. Turkey is going Islamist about as fast as it is possible to dump the western veneer imposed by Ataturk.
Although Saudi money has had a big role in spreading Salafism, the overall sense of uncertainty in the Islamic world has created a fertile environment for a more certain and predictable world that was believed to exist in the past..
As someone who has spent his life as an electronic designer and sees the exponential growth of technology, I believe the changes facing humans in the next two decades is like nothing ever imagined. I also think Trump will have two terms. I think a guaranteed basic income will be affordable, and keep looking for a discussion of what an ideal human society should look like.
IMHO the endless identity politics fixation with finding victims to fight for is almost insane, but daily reading of the Chronicle of Higher Ed shows it to be the only thing talked about. Something will replace the Democratic Party, but it isn’t visible at this point.
Ray Kurzweil explains exponential technology growth
You can jump ahead to 6:00 and skip the introductions. He is the head scientist at Google.
Doesn’t half drone on. If Ray Kurzweil wasn’t allowed to use the word ‘exponential’ he wouldn’t have anything to say.
Exponential growth doesn’t continue forever and this applies to information technology as it does anything else. It is a religious, and intellectually self-serving, belief that information technology is special and ends in thinking machines.
I gave it 10 minutes and he still hadn’t said anything.
I was somewhat stunned to not see energy supply listed as a challenge to social sustainability. Population increases (currently two California’s per year) and technological evolution, including robotization and the internet, are both utterly dependent on an increasing energy supply.
For example, food production and distribution is currently depends mostly on our currently flattening fossil fuel energy supply. For example: (1) making nitrogen fertilizer from methane, (2) pumping water, (3) making steel for farm implements, (4) tillage, (5) seed production and planting, (6) harvesting, (7) distribution and refrigeration, (8) road construction from concrete (limestone cooked in a coal furnace) or asphalt (from crude oil) (9) road maintenence, (10) food-store construction and maintenance, (11) marketing and internet, (12) car transport to food store or truck transport to doorstep.
Our current world energy mix is oil, coal, methane, biofuels/waste, hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar in that order. The wind and solar components are growing. But their growth is not even keeping pace with our increasing energy usage. Wind and solar growth are not actually causing a reduction if fossil fuel usage, which is still nominally slowly growing (though we may be near flattening of net energy increases from fossil fuels).
We still burn a full cubic mile of oil per year (1000 barrels a second). Currently wind and solar worldwide only account for a few percent (roughly 1% wind and 0.5% solar) of total energy usage (not ‘capacity’, which isn’t actual usable energy). Making wind- and solar-energy-producing devices is currently utterly dependent on fossil fuel. For example: (1) making concrete by cooking limestone, (2) making steel for turbine blades, (3) mining and transporting iron ore, copper, silver (solar cells), neodymium (magnets), and many other elements, (4) installation and service cranes and vehicles, (5) silicon wafer production, (6) float glass (melting silica over a bed of molten tin to make both sides of the glass pane very flat), (7) regularly washing dust off arrays of solar cells, (8) making batteries by mining lithium, cobalt, nickel, (9) chip fabs to make all the computer tech.
Currently, adding solar and wind is not resulting in any *capacity reduction* in fossil fuel plants since the entire grid has to be supported by dispatchable fossil fuel plants when solar and wind basically go off at night, and sometimes, during the day.
We are currently growing (population, energy usage) with no obvious way to replace the current flattening in net energy from fossil fuels. This is about to turn into a permanent net energy reduction from fossil fuels over the next decade. Last year, we discovered 1 unit of oil (top world energy usage) for every 6 units we used. Obviously, that can’t/won’t go on for very long.
You might say, ‘good riddance to dirty fossil fuels’. Unfortunately, those would be the fossil fuels that kept up the internet, delivered all your tech doodads via bunker fuel on container ships, then diesel or coal-electric trains, then diesel trucks. It would also include the fossil fuels that kept you fed, kept the lights and refrigerator on, kept you supplied with water. And of course, I’m sure that you plan to never fly anywhere using kerosine jet fuel.
It would seem that by far the largest open question is whether industrial civilization can in fact be constructed, powered, and maintained solely on ‘renewable’ energy. It’s an empirical question, perhaps best answered by trying to construct an ‘Industrial Sphere’ version of the hated Steve Bannon’s BioSphere — to see, emprically, whether it is actually possible to make everything you need for industrial civilization (steel, concrete, roads/trains, computer chips, solar cells, food, water, waste disposal) using entirely renewable energy. It might be possible. Or not.
Yes you are right. But the contemporary issue was what is happening in cultures themselves concerning economical changes reflected in behavior and politics resulting in revolts, seperation and also more social unequality.
The energy issue; apart from global warming; is looming in the background.
In general people are not experiencing any major energy problems, apart from raises in petrol costs, which by the way contain about 75% taxes, so are in cost terms not directly related to supply itself.
There are some relatives at play. One for instance is the automobile usige and ownership; which represents most fuels costs I presume; is totally inefficient. I expect a reaction to that resulting in car sharing and more alternative use of other means, like fi the bicycle. This reduces supply issues.
A major issue is the fact that economic behaviour is not reacting to demand. This is partly caused by economic dependence on fossil fuels for livelihood, which also includes states for fiscal reasons, so the evolution is blocked for renewable.energy not demanding human labor on a day to day basis. This is one of the major problems our financial system causes, apart from the fact investing in renewable energy is less profitable, for this reason. So it is stalling/ although the necessity is high. This cannot be solved without a total restructaring into a new financial/ fiscal system, which paradoxly have not understood their own energy equation and are using it inefficiently. Inverted, if you like.
Fortunately there still are several decades left to solve these problems and I am sure there are even much better energy solutions by using magnetic force fi not discovered yet/ but it is still very good you keep on adressing the issue.
To really understand the impact of energy, I highly recommend Gail Tverberg’s long running blog, “Our Finite Workd.” https://ourfiniteworld.com/2017/10/18/the-approaching-us-energy-economic-crisis/#more-42293