Dennis Meadows: The Limits To Growth

Amelia county VA just voted unanimous for 2A sanctuary status. I was expecting 4/1. Boots on the ground were 750 attending.

I really enjoyed this interview. In the beginning I listened to every podcast but now I pick and choose. This was well worth while. My main point of disagreement with Dennis is around his expectations of a managed decline. I’m not so optimistic.
If we go back to basic principles - Crash Course 101 - we know our economy must keep growing for stability. And therefore our civilization is patterned and structured on growth. It’s woven into the fabric of society like wool is woven into a carpet. When the end of growth is finally recognized by the masses there will be a tipping point. The global system is hyper complex and, as such, there is a degree of resilience to individual failure. But beyond a certain point failures will cascade. Financial / business failures could easily lead to critical infrastructure failures like communications or electricity supply breakdowns. And so the dominoes fall.
A major influence on my thinking back at the beginning of this decade was David Korowicz. I sometimes think he would make an excellent guest here. Korowicz is a systems theorist and free articles available here

Quercus bicolor wrote: My daughter is studying ancient world history as part of the 9th grade curriculum at the local public school. Recently the class focused on the Han (China), Gupta (India), Greek and Roman empires. They spent some time examining the common threads in the collapse of these empires and even looked for commonalities with the United States right now as a way of making it real. The conclusion is that we are heading for collapse. Quite daring for a 9th grade history teacher.
Qb, A friend of mine sent me a link to an article a few years back. It is a 24 page PDF concerning the "Fate of Empires." I have been thinking about it lately and just reread it earlier this month. Here's a link: Sir Glubb characterized empires as being culturally and economically significant. That allowed him to include "non-traditional" powerful empires in his analysis. Is an empire only defined by its outright military rule of a subjugated country ... or is a mutually advantageous economical subjugation sufficient to consider the vassal as part of the empire? I read this distinction between a nation-state and an empire that fits with all of Glubb's empires: "A nation-state taxes their own citizens for works that benefit the citizens of the nation-state. An empire taxes the citizens of other nation-states for the benefit of the citizens of the host empire." As an example, is the United States an empire under this definition? Even though we don't militarily rule other countries, our military might forces them to use the US Dollar for trade. How much does it cost for the US to produce a dollar bill (or its electronic equivalent)? - A few cents at most. How much does a foreign nation need to produce in order to get a dollar bill or its electronic equivalent? - exactly $1 and that's at the wholesale price of their products. Seigniorage is the difference between what it costs to produce the currency and what it is worth. The US government benefits immensely from our unwritten relationships. That is the way we tax other nation-states. What happens if a country decides to invoke their sovereignty and use their own (or another) currency for trade? Look at those recent countries unfortunate enough to think they were sovereign. Iraq's Hussein wanted to sell his oil to Europeans denominated in Euros. He's gone. Qaddafi wanted to establish a gold based African Dinar. He's gone (and so is his gold.) Syria's Assad didn't allow a Qatari natural gas pipeline through his country so we could directly compete with the "evil Russian's" natural gas. If it weren't for Putin backing Assad, they would have been destroyed. (Is that why we're so against Putin? He's a thorn in the side of the NWO globalists.) Frankly, the US fits Glubb's criteria very well. Here are the empires Glubb noted in his paper, dates of existence, and duration in years.
The nation Dates of rise and fall Duration in years
Assyria 859-612B.C. 247
Persia 538-330B.C. 208
(Cyrus and his descendants) Greece 331-100B.C. 231
(Alexander and his successors) Roman Republic 260-27B.C. 233
Roman Empire 27B.C.-A.D.180 207
Arab Empire A.D.634-880 246
Mameluke Empire 1250-1517 267
Ottoman Empire 1320-1570 250
Spain 1500-1750 250
Romanov Russia 1682-1916 234
Britain 1700-1950 250
You'll note some overlap in years of existence and a terminal age of about 250 years. Glubb wrote this article in the mid '70s and didn't include the US empire. I question when the US changed from a nation-state to an empire. If we use 1776 as the beginning of the empire, we've existed for 244 years. In 2026, when our country will have reached its 250th birthday, transfer payments like social security and medicare are expected to consume 100% of federal tax receipts. Unless we are able to ramp up borrowing or taxing, there won't be anything left over for any of the other critical government expenditures like defense, environment, education, transportation, etc. Hmmm! Glubb also noted that empires go through different ages. They are: Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, Decadence. The Age of Decadence he portrays as "marked by: Defensiveness, Pessimism, Materialism, Frivolity, An Influx of Foreigners, The Welfare State and Weakening of Religion. Based on Glubb's repeated sequence and the US's position in that sequence, I'd say that your daughter's history teacher's conclusion is spot on. I wish it were different. Grover

There are many of us history teachers out there who make those links to ancient Empires, Republics, and civilizations in general. I explicitly link the fall of the Roman Republic lesson to have them clearly see the possible failings of any republic, and when we speak of the fall of the Roman Empire, I actually have them read a fake chapter from a future history book describing, in gory detail, the fall of American and global civilization, so that they can clearly empathize with what Romans might have felt when their Empire fell into ruin. When teaching about the causes of the French Revolution and spread of Enlightenment ideals, I make the parallels with today very, very clear; I even show them videos of some of the modern protests going on around the world. Trust that my students know the Yellow Vests and others are doing their thing. In my econ class, I use the Crash Course regularly, as well as charts and writings by Sven Heinrich, Wolf Richter, Charles Hugh Smith among others. My students are being exposed to these concepts because I’m trying to get them to question the paradigm of the world they’ve been brought up in. Am I successful? Who knows, but I’m going down swinging to the end.
We’re out there, though.

Happy (mostly!) along with the others to get the reminder from the horse’s mouth. Executive summary: sustainability isn’t possible, although resilience is.
There is one thing I’ve been struggling with: I can totally appreciate the need for farmland, but my desire to actually be a farmer? Well, it approaches zero! (Eat: yes. Farm: no.).
Is there a place for me in the brave new world other than as a farmer? I hope so. I know things will become “less complicated”, but…boy. A farmer? One hopes there are other slots available as we move slowly downhill.
Individually, I think my only option is to follow where my intuition leads me. So far at least it hasn’t led me astray. So far anyway… :slight_smile:

I’ll put that paper on my reading list.
Her teacher gives extraordinarily difficult tests along with creative extra credit assignments to prevent too much of a ding to their grades. The last extra credit was a cartoon relevant to the empires recently studied. Hers is with the teacher right now. With her permission, I’ll scan it and post it in a comment when it comes back. It fits right into the decadence phase as it’s written as a advertisement to buy a kit to collapse your society as a way to assuage boredom and provide entertainment. The two points it makes: 1) Hire mercenaries (Rome) or military “contractors” (USA), 2) ensure a flamboyant, crass and possibly ineffective leader is in power (for Rome, Commodus who fancied himself as Hercules, and you-know-who for the USA). These are probably signs of collapse and not necessarily the most significant ones, but it’s still a neat concept. I wonder if she’ll get the entire 5 points of credit.

I agree David, collapse seems to be a better term IMO.

Here’s a talk from Tim Crews at the Land Institute you might find useful-

Prairie Festival Remarks—September 27, 2019 Tim Crews A major theme of this year’s Prairie Festival is energy, which was a big reason why we got into agriculture in the first place ---you see, by eliminating wild plants and replacing them with crop plants, we increased the amount of solar energy captured through photosynthesis in the form of food. When we eat and digest this food, the solar energy it contains fuels human activities--- Now, before what I refer to as the fossil fuel bonanza took place, the most universal human activity powered by food from crops, was, in fact, growing next year’s food crops. Larger scale non-agricultural social endeavors like building pyramids, or fighting wars, or composing operas required some social engineering, in which the farmer class of people worked extra hard and extra long hours to produce the food energy that allowed these other non-agricultural classes of people to exist without doing farmwork. In fact, a dark side of pre-fossil fuel agriculture is that many societies coerced through slavery or other forms of subjugation, groups of others— other classes, races, undertake the arduous work of farming so that much smaller groups of non-farmers could eat and do something else. But I would like to take a minute to ask the question... why IS farming such hard work? It seems like a silly question to ask!....because it just inherently is, right?! It’s hard! But why is it hard? what are we doing that makes it so hard. Well, the activity in farming that traditionally required the most work was clearing vegetation--first by clearing the wild perennial vegetation, and then weeding, and weeding and weeding again to give the seeds and seedlings of the
annual crops wheat, barley, corn, chick pea, rice, millet, sorghum, a chance to grow. In nature, pretty much the only time that annual plants dominate ecosystems is after a dramatic disturbance, such as a catastrophic wildfire, or a severe flood, or a landslide. The energy that is released in each of these forms of disturbance is remarkable, and is sufficient to kill the diverse and dominant native perennial vegetation that characterizes forests, grasslands, deserts and savannahs. Humans with our big brains chose that rare ecosystem of a highly disturbed piece of ground, clearcut of vegetation every year, as our food producing ecosystem. So fortified by the energy in the food we grow for ourselves and our work animals, we have from about 10,000 years ago, to about 250 years ago, committed ourselves to a lifestyle of extraordinarily hard work battling ecological succession with the plow, hoe, disc or machete--- and by ecological succession I mean the strong tendency for ecosystems to grow back into a diverse, perennial vegetative community—If I dare anthropomorphize, recently plowed fields really want to be something a prairie or a forest. And nature has honed a heck of a process called succession that will in fact re-create prairies or forests...and it takes a lot of energy to keep that from happening. That is the work—stopping succession in its tracks-- that defined our agricultural existence, indeed arguably ourselves as a species for the last 10,000 years. That is, until about 250 years ago at least for those in industrialized parts of the world. It was at that time that we began to figure out how to stop ecological succession a new way, got it, by employing fossil fuel energy we can clearcut the landscape down to bare soil every year without having to rely on food energy to guide plows and wield machetes day after day-- tractors of all sizes could now do that work. And agriculture’s chapter of the fossil fuel bonanza does not stop there--- we have figured out how to use fossil fuels to address virtually
every other thing that limits crop growth—using fertilizers (organic and inorganic), pesticides (organic and inorgainic), irrigation, season extension, plastic sheets for weed prevention, and so on. Many of these energy expensive inputs are used to shore up a low-functioning plowed field, a field that has no roots for a good part of the year. Even in the Midwest U.S., with some of the best agricultural science in the world, grain agriculture continues to leak 50% of the nitrogen applied to the crop. We went from near 0 % reliance on fossil fuels to grow an acre of grain when the declaration of independence was signed, to 99.96% reliance on fossil fuels to grow an acre of corn in Iowa today. This overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels to produce our food is problematic. If we are serious about de-carbonizing society this century, it seems to me that this degree of dependence must be addressed. And I am cautiously optimistic that the work we are doing here, and our colleagues are doing at over fifty institutions around the world, may help and not just a little. Here’s the deal, if you create an agriculture that does not require huge energy expenditures to battle succession, an agriculture that is much more like the natural system that was in place before, then it will not require nearly as much energy to grow the same amount of food as our current annual systems require. And if you follow some other cues of natural systems, like integrating legumes for biological nitrogen fixation, even less human-sourced energy is required to maintain the agroecosystem. When it comes to the post carbon future, it will be desirable, no matter what, to have an agriculture that does not require nearly as much work....and this is true regardless of whether you are a person who thinks we will come up with a bridge to renewable biofuels or solar
electric, or whether you think the bottom is going to drop out of our technological society leaving us to farm without machines---in either case, agroecosystems that functions more like the rest of the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems will give humanity a little more slack, a little more wiggle room to sort out living within unfamiliar limits. And we may hear from Francesca Cotrufo tomorrow morning, how converting ag land back to something that looks and functions more like the natural system that came before, also means capturing a lot of the soil carbon that was lost when we converted the natural system to agriculture in the first place, thus helping to put the brakes on climate change.
When it comes to the post carbon future, it will be desirable, no matter what, to have an agriculture that does not require nearly as much work
Yes! Yes, and yes. All this and more. So-called "modern" agriculture is just a step on the way to the future. It's obviously not sustainable, and it does measurable and often compounding damage to soil, ecosystems, groundwater supplies, species diversity, and all the rest. Luckily we know how to take the next steps. How to work with nature rather than against it. How to close nutrient loops, plant compatible species (like nitrogen fixers with nitrogen consumers), build soil diversity, use far less water (drip irrigation, hugelkulture, etc), and mimic the herds of old to revitalize pastures with intensive rotational grazing. If you systematize this it's still hard work, but not the ridiculously hard work of old. No old ladies wrestling a plow behind a solitary oxen needed in this new story. No old dudes bending over all day as they hoe endless rows of corn. A lot more thinking up front, and maybe some fossil fuels investments to sculpt the land and build the systems, but fairly minimal human input thereafter. At least compared to yesteryear. But it takes a lot more knowledge and a very open mind to explore these new ways of doing things. It takes a willingness to explore new things. I know it's possible because I've seen it being done. And I hate unnecessary drudgery. I figure that's a winning combination. This essay/speech was very well written, so thanks again.  

Thanks for posting that article, it was a good read. I find the definition of empire you extracted to be very useful, as well as the life stages of empires.
The only issue I had was his focus on the 250 year lifespan. I didn’t get a sufficient justification from the paper for “ending” the Roman Empire in 180, instead of at the sack of Rome in 410, or the schism of the eastern empire, etc. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire continued far past 1520, why not end it with the establishment of the nation-state of turkey in 1922? Or the formal abolishment of the caliphate in 1924?
I’d like to hear your perspective on this aspect of the paper if I missed something. Again, I think his logical framework of what an empire is and the common stages they go through is solid, but I can’t quite get behind the 250 year timeline.

in the comment above. I tried to respond via private PP email, but was unable to do so… I’ve put a link to the pdf here:
For the individual that just sent me a private message, I have been unable to reply to messages. [Perhaps I need a tutorial. I repeatedly get a message after pressing the Reply button: “Refresh this page and try again.”] I’ll send you a hard copy that I have on hand if you provide your snail mail address. My email is “theinnclub” at

I concur. Roman Empire lasted much longer than 240 years. At least, according to my understanding. If we count from ascension of Gaius Julius Caesar through the sack of Rome in 410, that’s, what, 54 BC -> 410 AD = 464 years?
[This doesn’t even take into account the eastern empire, which lasted until 1453. Even if we date the Eastern Empire from the fall of Rome in 410, that’s still substantially longer than 240 years.]
And - if we use the same meter stick, at what point did the US turn from Republic to Empire? Certainly not in 1776. We were way too puny back then. Arguably, earliest that might have happened was the “Monroe Doctrine” (1823), but we were pretty pathetic then too. Possibly: war with Mexico (1846-1848)? That’s best (worst) case. 1848 + 240 = 2088.
Whew. Safe for another 69 years. Such a relief. :slight_smile:
My work here is done.

Dave, from what I know of you you’re a well-rounded guy. I’m sure your skills will be relevant in the future.

Ejohnson wrote: The only issue I had was his focus on the 250 year lifespan. I didn’t get a sufficient justification from the paper for “ending” the Roman Empire in 180, instead of at the sack of Rome in 410, or the schism of the eastern empire, etc. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire continued far past 1520, why not end it with the establishment of the nation-state of turkey in 1922? Or the formal abolishment of the caliphate in 1924? I’d like to hear your perspective on this aspect of the paper if I missed something. Again, I think his logical framework of what an empire is and the common stages they go through is solid, but I can’t quite get behind the 250 year timeline.
Ejohnson, I'd really like to be able to explain the 250 year timeline. It looks to me that Glubb picked some fairly arbitrary dates to begin and end his empires (as you and davefairtex pointed out.) Was Glubb cherry picking to support his preconceived conclusion? I don't know. He may have discovered the 250 year timeline in some empires and just assumed it was a universal characteristic. I haven't read any of his other writings to provide any insight. I found his characterization of empire stages to be the most interesting aspect. It was easy for me to imagine an empire using a human analogy. Young adults are full of energy and hubristic enough to take on high risk ventures. As we age, physical prowess diminishes and we become more risk averse. Since we can't just muscle our way to success, we need to develop intellect to maintain our position. Later, we start harvesting the rewards of all the hard work - fine food, arts, and games. We rest on our laurels in senescence until some young upstart realizes we're just a toothless tiger ... and another empire is born. Granted, that is a really simplistic analogy; however, it gave me a framework to relate to the various stages of empire. Furthermore, we really shouldn't expect the sequence of events to deviate much from what Glubb laid out. An empire doesn't start in decay and end up conquering more lands. It doesn't work that way in human or empire life spans. Since the stages occur more or less paternoster in all these other empires, it makes sense (to me) to try to identify what stage the US empire is in. That way, prediction of near term future events can be made more accurately. Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, Decadence. The Age of Decadence he portrays as “marked by: Defensiveness, Pessimism, Materialism, Frivolity, An Influx of Foreigners, The Welfare State and Weakening of Religion. <snip> Glubb's essay is pertinent because the Age of Decadence is upon us. Glubb makes the case that empires run out of gas because of internal decline and decadence. The typical life expectancy of empires, according to Glubb, is 250 years — about ten generations. Without a change in direction, America will become another casualty to the process — a lesser player, suffering the "used to be" syndrome.
We're definitely in the "age of decadence" in America. It really doesn't matter how long our empire has existed. Without a change of direction, we've nearly arrived at the end of the ride. There are still enterprising individuals willing to conquer new realms, but as a culture, we're just resting on our laurels - waiting for something new to flash across our glowing rectangular devices. The Fourth Turning predicts some climax in the mid 2020s. Martin Armstrong predicts that the empire reins will be taken by China before 2033. Most American government finances are horrendously bad. As I noted earlier, all expected federal government receipts will be earmarked for transfer benefits by 2025. All the signs (I see) suggest that we'll have to adjust to a much different way of life within the next dozen or so years - possibly much sooner. Grover

First: yes, I also found the interview very worthwhile. Glad I listened.
On the book: I can recall when it was first published (that tells all about my age) and the way it was slammed (in Australia) as being Communist. And, I’ve always been puzzled by the ferocity of this accusation. Until this interview.
Given the politics of the early 1970s, I’m astounded at their stupidity of (jointly) launching the book in, of all places, Moscow!
No wonder it was branded as Communist.
A mistake that probably limited its impact.

My daughter’s teacher’s powerpoint lists 27 BC - 180 AD as the golden age of the Roman Empire. While the empire remained for another 250 years or so (and another 1300 in the east), decline was noticeable and significant starting in 180. The 10 or so slides in the linked document starting at 39 discuss this. I think this time frame is generally accepted as Rome’s golden age.

Most people on this site aren’t. That’s why we read this.

I like Dimitri Orlov’s, “Reinventing Collapse” and “The Five Stages of Collapse.” He’s astute with a unique perspective, and is a master of sardonic humor. Also Albert Bates, “The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide.” Albert was one of the original back-to-the-landers with The Farm in Tennessee and is a master permaculturist and commentator on our predicament at The Great Change blog. Also for a brilliantly naive young person’s take on how to organize around climate change.

I never liked the reasoning that “the planet” doesn’t need saving because whatever we dish it, it will recover in time; instead, it’s humanity that needs saving. I understand where this argument comes from and that it’s trying to put us into perspective and bring down our grandiose self image as somehow necessary for this world to keep moving. And that the world has been through worse crises than the current one. And it internalises the environmental crisis to be a direct threat to ourselves more than to the planet, which will hopefully motivate a shift in perspective towards our stewardship of the environment.
I get all that but the problem with it is it trivialises all the other species out there. I’m sure giraffes feel left out of this argument. They will certainly go extinct when humanity fails, and they won’t be part of the future biosphere when it recovers after humanity disappears.
I kind of like blue whales and giraffes and rainforests and all the amazing life around us. I get upset when I see dolphins caught in fishing nets. Life is worth protecting in its own right. The environmental crisis isn’t just about humanity versus humanity’s own survival. It’s humanity versus every other existing life form.

In geological time giraffes don’t matter. Homo Sapiens don’t matter. After all there has been 5 mass extinctions in Earth’s history so one more won’t stop evolution of life. Plus the Earth is nothing special which must mean there are Trillions of Earth-like planets supporting life in the Universe.