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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One minute from disaster, 25 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment (Hardcover)
This is an excellent book. For a clear explanation of the utter impossibility of maintaining business-as-usual exponential growth/consumption curves on a finite planet, the reader need look no further.

Although the author has been accused elsewhere of 'stating the obvious', the sad reality is that had the obvious been heeded, there would be no need for a book like this. Instead, the fairy story of endless/perpetual growth in consumption - as measured by gross economic activity - has been somehow equated, in the minds of politicians and economists alike, as something essential rather than a dangerous addiction. And now it's coming to an end, as limits imposed by finite resources are reached.

Martinson uses many methods to describe the exponential curve, how the same percentage rate of increase, in consumption, in debt, in anything leads to an ever-increasing rate of actual real-world increase but his best analogy is the filling of the world's largest stadium with water, while the innocent reader is imagined to be chained to a railing high up in the structure.

He describes the doubling process, whereby a given rate of increase (x) per unit of time results in a doubling of the total amount (of whatever is being increased) in a period approximately equivalent to 70 units of time divided by x. This is just maths 101. It can be quickly verified on a cheap calculator. Or an expensive one. Whatever.

Hence a 5 percent annual increase - the sort of economic target deemed desirable in business-as-usual circles - leads to a doubling in 14 years (70 divided by 5). But even at lower rates, the doubling still occurs, it just takes a bit longer.

In the case of the stadium, Martenson starts off with a single drop of water, and a doubling period of one minute. So one drop becomes two, becomes four, eight, sixteen, thirty two, sixty four. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it seems that outside in the world, few people actually get it.

After only 45 minutes, the stadium is three percent full of water. That's a lot of water, but it's only starting to get interesting. In the next minute that three percent becomes six percent, and so it goes on. At 49 minutes we're up to 48 percent full. In one more minute, the helpless reader will drown. Even if the stadium were twice as big again, it would only provide a breathing space of one more minute.

Martenson describes these exponential process, which are hard-wired in almost all current human activities, in great detail. Essentially, we're less than one minute away from disaster. The world has no more doubling capacity. The global economy is no more than an immense ponzi scheme, predicated on selling the same con to the next generation of suckers. But now, we've run out of road. We're the ones left holding the bag.

I do have a couple of criticisms, which is why I gave only four stars.

In the section at the end, Martenson talks about strategies for dealing with the end of growth. For end of growth, read 'collapse'. He discusses relocating to somewhere that might have a future, developing community, learning food-growing skills. All good stuff. But some of his investment ideas, I believe, will prove bad advice.

Investing in gold and silver, for example, makes no sense at all for the average person. For such investments to be viable, easy access is required, so that the gold or silver can be quickly exchanged for useful goods like food should the need arise. If you store bullion in your own home, that represents a big risk, and in any case, it's not actually possible to buy small quantities of precious metals, at least not legally, in many countries.

The second option is to store it in the local equivalent of Fort Knox, except wait a minute, there is no local equivalent. So scrub that idea. In any case, in times of real hardship, when people don't have enough to eat, even the value of precious metals will fall.

Likewise, investing is anything that requires digital communications is a fundamentally bad idea. Why? Simply because the many resource constraints outlined by Martenson in the book will almost certainly impact on global communications systems. They will go down. If anything, they will be like the canary in the mine shaft, they'll go down first. Digital investments will be gone, or just inaccessible.

The final investment area to be wary of is renewable energy. Very wary in fact. Although it might seem prudent to invest in, for example, wind energy or solar PV energy, the unfortunate reality is these sectors now represent unstable ponzi schemes very similar in composition to the recent mad max creations of the financial and housing sectors.

Investors are lured with promises of massive profit. The profit is contingent on the sale of energy. The sale of energy requires that energy demand grows. This requires that the economy grows, which in turn requires that the level of debt grows. And as renewable energy, when provided on an intermittent and unpredictable basis (as is ALWAYS the case with solar PV and wind energy) requires a back up form of energy that is available upon demand, we have this ludicrous situation where beyond a definite point, more renewable energy requires more fossil fuel energy. At that point the whole house of cards collapses. Good night and goodbye.

So the wise advice to investors is DO NOT invest in renewable energy unless it has firstly, no dependency on cheap, easily available fossil fuels (as these won't be around much longer), secondly it can be kept going when no imported materials or goods (like spare parts) are available, and thirdly, you or your community actually have a use for it (as opposed to it being a cute status symbol).

But none of that should detract from the book. I just think the world has gone much further over the edge since Martenson began writing, which was around 2004.
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