Is Austerity Rational? I Think So

There is no painless solution to our overshoot. Our only choices are do we want to fall from a higher elevation later, or climb down from a lower elevation sooner?

I advocate for conservation and population reduction, despite knowing that these policies would result in an economic depression, at best, and much hardship.

Am I being rational? I think so.

Imagine being in a plane at 30,000 feet that is running low on fuel with no runways in range. The pilot has two options.

The first option is to not inform the passengers and do nothing. Everyone will remain calm enjoying their meals and in-flight entertainment until the plane falls out of the sky and everyone dies. Except perhaps a few crazy doomers that were wearing parachutes :).

The second option is for the pilot to explain what is going on, ask everyone to buckle up tight, save their meals because they will be hungry while waiting for help to arrive, and brace for impact, while he drops to a low elevation and makes a best effort to crash-land in a clearing. Many people will probably be hurt or killed, but many may survive.

The correct choice seems obvious.

Now consider a second scenario.

You and your tribe are climbing a steep mountain because you believe there are gold and jewels at the peak. Part way up you feel a tremor which you know from experience in this region presages a large earthquake.

If you stay where you are and get thrown off the mountain by the earthquake some people will be injured and die.

If you continue to climb higher, more people will be injured and die.

If you start to climb down, fewer people will be injured and die.

The correct choice seems obvious.

The equivalent of elevation for our civilization is debt and the overshoot it is temporarily enabling.

What I find really interesting is that I am the only person I know of that is overshoot aware and that thinks we should raise awareness of the problem and try to encourage a voluntarily elevation reduction.

I know and respect a lot of smart and aware people who think we should simply enjoy life and wait for the system to collapse. I’ve been trying to understand why these people think we should do nothing. Possible explanations might include:

  1. They think our current elevation is so high that no one will survive even if we start to climb down.
  2. They think inherited human behavior will prevent most from voluntarily climbing down and they do not want to sacrifice while most people are enjoying drinks in the Titanic’s bar.
  3. They are hoping for some divine or technological intervention.

These possible explanations imply that they are willing to give up on something rare and precious without even trying, or that they are in denial.

I would love to hear from readers who disagree with my logic and think we should continue to increase our elevation.

I wrote more on this issue here.

3 thoughts on “Is Austerity Rational? I Think So”

  1. I’m not sure how you can be the only person, amidst the degrowth movement etc? I know this was 2015, but degrowth has been a thing at least since Limits to Growth. Possibly since Malthus, or earlier?

    As someone who is leaning towards ‘throw my hands up and forget about it’;

    Because I have no faith that there is a ‘we’ that is capable of making the decisions and actions you talk about. EVEN IF there were countries, whose elected leaders would seriously entertain an appropriate level of degrowth, what about the other countries? (And of course, the fact that they don’t even need to be in a democracy to be overthrown by the populace.) In the absence of a global authoritarian dictatorship, I can’t imagine how it would happen. It doesn’t seem like plausible politics, nor does it seems plausible in the context of history/sociology/thermodynamics (of the Garrett type).

    So why bother trying to redirect a doomed, driverless titanic? (I assume that’s what you’re advocating for – vs prepping, which is a whole different kettle of fish…)

    Personally, I feel like it is worth doing whatever presents itself as worth doing, regardless of improbabilities (or impossibilities), as a (futile) protest, a middle finger to the ship. Which is why I’m reading (and writing, and thinking.. and all the rest).

    My like-minded mate, on the other hand, doesn’t think it’s worth his while putting in his own time and effort for the (impossible) benefit of the very people who are causing (and profiting from) the destruction.


  2. You’re kind of pitching it as a black/white ‘try save the day’ vs ‘do nothing’ option. I don’t think that’s fair.

    To me the interesting question is not ‘should we try save the doomed ship’,
    it is ‘knowing we’re on a doomed ship… what is worth doing?’

    Should we be pursuing our romantic interest with the beautiful hero(in)? Spraychalking the decks? Uploading the footage to Instagram?

    Which I personally think is a bit clearer, in that it is a personal question, not a collective one.
    We are not the collective, we are just you and I and whoever else is reading. It’s about what I should do, or you.

    What ‘we’ collectively c/should do is an interesting intellectual exercise, but it’s not clear how that then translates into the sort of personal responsibility you’re talking about.


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