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Romanticism and fossil-fuel societies

"Michael Crichton spoke of environmentalists requiring a belief in an unspoiled 'Eden' that existed before we corrupted it and will again exist once we have had our comeuppance. My thought is that the belief that Aboriginals were noble eco-savages falls into this same category. The Platonic need to believe in perfection." Tim Murray

Whilst I am a great fan of Tim Murray's, I feel the topic and the opinions expressed need further investigation.

Tim Murray's article, The Record of Indigenous North Americans raises the issue of whether non-capitalistic or less complex cultures were as unethical or worse than modern industrial societies. Since the initiator of the debate, Tim Murray, hails from Anglo-Canada and talks about North American Indians, I will proceed as if we are mainly talking here about Anglo-capitalism. I don't want to be accused of cultural-cringing because of my own precision of 'Anglo' capitalism, so I will precise here that the system of capitalism and industrial society originated in England and colonised itself most typically in the English-speaking settler societies like the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and, I think, South Africa. Other capitalisms have different relationships with fossil fuels, democracy, and land-inheritance systems. They incorporate other organisational, economic, social and political blends, although industrialisation is heavily affected everywhere by Anglo-capitalism.

I think that the imbalance of romanticism almost entirely favours fossil-fuel based Anglo-capitalism. I agree with Michael Creighton about environmentalism as a religion in that, clearly, some environmentalism is religious. Corporations, spin-doctors, the mainstream media and advertising (the latter three being parts of the same thing) rely on this uncritical faith by the public in symbols and banners. Religious environmentalism ritualises and promotes 'environmental values' in the same way religions push various other ethical values, without the rituals having much if any practical application to Energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) and preserving biodiversity, any more than a politician's or Corporate CEO's swallowing wine-soaked bread from a priest (taking of the Eucharist) necessarily affects their real-life conduct of business.

The same religious approach is often present in defenses of the superiority of industrial society and of what passes for democracy in Anglo-capitalist societies. I would also say that people believe naively in the value of their governments in the way that children believe that their parents are essentially good and loving even when they are cruel, dishonest, niggardly and abusive. To seriously challenge the idea that your country's leader ultimately has your country's welfare at heart, upon which your welfare utterly depends, is in practice as unlikely as a pre-schooler losing faith in his mother or a priest losing faith in the God the Father. Although it does happen, populations have to be pushed to the limit and to have little left to lose before they seriously challenge outrageous governments. The tendency is for the worshipper to seek in themselves the explanation for bad behaviour in a leader, a parent, or a deity. The first person the doubter approaches is the parent or the priest, who reinforce the dogma of course. In Australia the tendency is to write to one's member of parliament or to the editor of a mainstream newspaper - with predictable results. The last person we tend to rely on for verification is ourself.

Anglo-capitalism is a system born of dispossession and one which has industrialised cruelty to humans and animals on a massive, constantly worsening scale. (See Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism, a longer view, Verso, London and New York, 2002 and Christopher D. Cook, Diet for a dead planet

There is abundant evidence of steady-state hunter gatherer and herding cultures lasting many hundred and even thousands of years. They had to get along with the other species in their environment because they depended upon them for survival; they could not afford to to damage or scare them all away. Those cultures which did break their environments also broke, died back, and often did not survive. The societies which survived for long periods got it right.

A recent book which tests theory on the durability of such cultures is Fikret Berkes & Carl Folke (Eds.), Linking Social and Ecological Systems, Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience, Cambridge Univ Press, 2000.

Only if we equate material abundance - an accident of fossil-fuels permitting complex technology, starting in England and producing ghastly inequities and sufferings there which then were globalised and continue to burgeon - with some kind of evolutionary progress of the species (which I find an absurdity) - could we pretend that the amount of waste and destruction in our culture was justified. That is, however, a widely held belief, marketed as an excuse for grossly interfering with peoples' rights in non-industrialised countries.

My view is by no means some kind of cultural cringe about what was imposed on my ancestors; it is a political view I have formed through the experience of testing Anglo-capitalist associated democracy and trying to make the system live up to the values that Tim believes it embodies. The capitalist Western Culture simply doesn't actually follow through on the democratic and kindness values that it markets itself under. The only reason a shrinking proportion of those under its sway still believe that it does is because they have not tested those values and because they happen to remain a part of the shrinking circle of beneficiaries. There are many countries out there which are actively revolting at the cost they bear for provisioning Western capitalist culture Inc.

This comment is also not some kind of defense of communism or socialism, which, as far as I can see, had their roots in an opposition to capitalism and classically attempt to operate on the same dehumanising scale. It looks as if Western capitalism is now going the same way as Soviet communism, but now Russian capitalism is on the rise - and for one reason only - fossil fuel possessions. As Western fossil-fuel sources deplete, Russian and ex-Soviet sources are still comparatively well stocked.

I think there is a conflict in the anti-population movement between those who have not sufficiently explored the fossil-fuel connection between wealth, technology and mass propaganda and those who look at thermodynamic underpinnings of culture and social systems.

With regard to Michael Creighton (a favourite author of mine) and his comments about the Eden myth and popular romanticism of less complex cultures, my own opinion is that Creighton romanticises his own complex culture. I think he has bought the commercial myth that all our ancestors laboured in misery and cruelty until the industrial revolution brought them out of their torment. That's the myth of Industrial Eden. I look forward to Creighton writing a new science-based novel on the role of fossil-fuel reserves on capitalism and the relationship or non-relationship of capitalism with democracy.

By the way, Creighton's ideas for strengthening and depoliticising the funding of scientific research are very interesting. Take a look here.

I would be interested to see Tim Murray look into his Icelandic origins to find out more about the traditions of kindness, responsibility, altruism and friendships with animals there. As I have probably made clear, I think that capitalism simply stole kindly ethics from herding and other cultures and now wears those ethics like a false badge.



You have said in your 'Romanticism and fossil-fuel societies' piece, posted posted June 24th, 2008 that:

"I think there is a conflict in the anti-population movement between those who have not sufficiently explored the fossil-fuel connection between wealth, technology and mass propaganda and those who look at thermodynamic underpinnings of culture and social systems."

Well I think there is a problem in realistically assessing the human condition for "those who have not sufficiently explored" .... the connection between wealth, technology, overshot ecosystems, excessive human numbers and the excess food production that has been carried out by the soil degrading practice of cultivation agricultue for the last 10,000 yeras --- read on through this LONG serial email and its various attachments:

Peter Salonius
Research Scientist
Natural Resources Canada



-----Original Message-----
From: Salonius, Peter
Sent: Sat 6/21/2008 6:00 AM
Subject: 10,000 YEAR MISUNDERSTANDING /soil fertility, energy and population

I have just read the article entitled 'Can the World Afford a Middle Class' by Moises Naim in the March/April issue of Foreign Policy, wherein he writes:

"The debate about the Earth's limits to growth is as old as Thomas Malthus's alarm about a world where the population outstrips its ability to feed itself. In the past, pessimists have been proven wrong. Higher prices and new technologies, like the green revolution, always came to the rescue, boosting supplies and allowing the world to continue to grow. That may happen again."

I hope Moises Naim will have time to read my LONG serial message (below) and having read it, perhaps respond by return email as to whether he still believes that there is any chance that "new technologies, like the green revolution" will come "to the rescue" in the 21st century.


-----Original Message-----
From: Salonius, Peter
Sent: Wed 6/18/2008 10:13 AM
Subject: 10,000 YEAR MISUNDERSTANDING /soil fertility, energy and population


The Commissioners of the World Bank's Commission on Growth and Development.

I have just read the recent Overview report from the Commission at:

-that ends with these words:

"We do not know if limits to growth exist, or how generous those limits
will be. The answer will depend on our ingenuity and technology, on finding
new ways to create goods and services that people value on a finite
foundation of natural resources. This is likely to be the ultimate challenge
of the coming century. Growth and poverty reduction in the future will
depend on our ability to meet it."

As I read the report's concluding statement (above), I must conclude that the Commission has not been introduced to the increasingly accepted thesis
that the lack of sustainability of the 'cultivation agriculture', that sustains most of the people on the planet, has been sidestepped and not evident for millennia.

I have been a research scientist for 42 years and I thought the commissioners may be interested to read my essay/rant positing
that soil resources have been used so unsustainably since the
advent of cultivation agriculture as to have been as non renewable
as fossil fuels, and as it is the unsustainable mining of soil mass
(erosion) and soil nutrients (by leaching and export in harvested crops)
by cultivation agriculture that has allowed human numbers to
reach the current 6.7 billion ---


I have left several introductory notes to people to whom I have sent this
material that includes:

- videos from Albert Bartlett
- a slide show from Russ Hopfenberg
- a couple of web sites featuring my ideas AND
- a journal paper and 3 relevant book reviews attached to the RELOCALIZATION one from the Post Carbon Institute.

Happy reading ---- comments are welcome.

Peter Salonius
Research Scientist
NRCan, Fredericton, NB


-----Original Message-----
From: Salonius, Peter
Sent: Wed 5/7/2008 8:07 PM
Cc:; Salonius, Peter
Subject: 10,000 YEAR MISUNDERSTANDING /soil fertility, energy and population

Hello Bruce

I recall writing to you about how thrilled I was some time ago to have discovered your fine synopsis/review entitled:

'Topsoil Loss and Degradation - Causes, Effects and Implications: A Global Perspective'.

I have just had a look at your more recent work entitled:

'Sustainability of the World's Outputs of Food, Wood and Freshwater for Human Consumption' -at:,

--- in which you give some credence to the concept that present food production systems could be modified to render them sustainable and to the thesis that basic carrying capacity as limited by the photosynthesis that can be achieved by CULTIVATION AGRICULTURE.

Since I wrote to you about your 'topsoil loss' work I have arrived at the conclusion that most CULTIVATION AGRICULTURE is unsustainable and I have posited that IF INDEED ------- most CULTIVATION AGRICULTURE is unsustainable, then our goal must be to decrease the global human population (by attrition) to a few hundred million during the next few centuries in order to achieve some semblance of long-term sustainability.

I hope you will have time to read the smattering of recent messages I have sent to various pundits who have pronounced on sustainability issues and to examine the presentation of my thesis that includes videos, web articles, attached book reviews and published papers.

Peter Salonius
-----Original Message-----
From: Salonius, Peter
Sent: Monday, May 05, 2008 21:57
Subject: 10,000 YEAR MISUNDERSTANDING /soil fertility, energy and population


In Lester Brown's April 16,2008 EPI Plan B Update entitled:

'World Facing Huge New Challenge on Food Front: Business-as-Usual Not a Viable Option'

----- he writes about the necessity of "stabilizing population", while "stabilizing population" at presently levels that FAR OUTSTRIP long-term carrying capacity is simply not good enough --read on:

I have believed, for the last 40 or so years, that population pressure cancels almost all conservation/green/recycling activities that we can adopt and that our only salvation will come by intentionally shrinking human numbers before geological depletions force the shrinkage upon us.

As I know you are interested in the global population issue, it occurred to me that you might find some interest in reading my current rant/essay that calls for a program of shrinking the total human enterprise on the planet -- in opposition to the neoclassical economics recommendation for continued GROWTH. It tries to identify the historical antecedents of the present global human dilemma and suggests a long-term path toward the ultimate goal of sustainability.

I am sure you have noticed the news of food price escalation that is bringing the global carrying capacity 'front and center'- with food riots all over the world.

This is being precipitated by food-to-ethanol programs, although with constantly rising populations fed by the increased food produced by various AGRICULTURAL revolutions (the Green Revolution being the latest) -- these riots would have eventually happened, the speed of these developments is awe inspiring.

On Monday, April 14, we had Robert Zoellick, head of the WORLD BANK calling for a crash program of food production increases to stave off the approach of famine //?? I wonder how many times he thinks we can pull new RABBITS OUT OF THE HAT when soil resources of the planet continue to be degraded to produce MORE FOOD FOR THE IRRESPONSIBLY BREEDING HORDE ??

I am leaving, attached, to the LONG essay/rant (below), my note to Branko Milanovic, another officer of the WORLD BANK -- for your interest.

Peter Salonius


-----Original Message-----

From: Salonius, Peter

Sent: Saturday, April 12, 2008 10:55


Cc: Salonius, Peter

Subject: 10,000 YEAR MISUNDERSTANDING /soil fertility, energy and population

To Branko Milanovic and Jeffrey D. Sachs


I have just read Branko Milanovic's review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book entitled:

'COMMON WEALTH: Economics for a Crowded Planet'

in the Saturday, April 5, 2008 issue of the Toronto Globe and Mail's BOOKS.

Milanovic says that "Sachs argues ......... the identification of the problems and the technological solutions for them are already available." / AND that Sachs correctly identifies the key issue as:

"At the core of our problems today has been the collapse of faith in global problem-solving and a widespread cynical disbelief in global co-operation itself."

Meanwhile I have concluded based, on lifetime of studying, that ---

-- At the core of our problems today has been the unwillingness to see the relationship between the unsustainable population numbers, that we have built up since the advent of cultivation agriculture, and the global problematique.

I hope you both have time to skim the material I have pasted below. Since 1969 my approach - to the problems faced by the global human experiment - has concentrated on the way population growth has continually made them worse. I now have developed a long-term (several centuries) plan to begin to move the global human family back toward a sustainable relationship with its supporting ecosystems.

I have recently been moving away from the reductionist research that I have carried on in soil science for over 40 years and I have finally started to marry my soil dynamics knowledge with my interest in the cultural history of the human race -AND- I have reached some startling conclusions concerning the human overshoot dilemma, and its depletion of essential resources that began long before we started using fossil fuels in the last few centuries ---- read on:


Many keen thinkers have understood that the driver that has enabled our numbers to shoot so far over long-term carrying capacity is the planet's one-time gift of fossil fuels and this overshoot has resulted in our rampant destruction of the biosphere. The global human population before the start of the Fossil-Fuel Revolution was about 1-billion, while it is now about 6.6 billion and rising. These holistic thinkers suggest that without oil, the earth will only support about 2-3 billion.

Their forward thinking has not yet included an understanding of the thesis that:


I suggest that without petroleum, AND AFTER WE STOP MINING THE PLANET'S SOILS, the Earth will only support about 100-300 million.

The global imbalance between humans and their supporting environments is much more serious than most people on Earth realize.

Recent prognostications about the possibility of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT in the context of further population and economic growth, are in direct opposition to a growing understanding among ecological economists that all economic and population growth, since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, has effectively lowered the basic long-term carrying capacity (food productivity potential) of the Earth's soil resources.

William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel have developed the ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT ANALYSIS and they appear (many publications) to believe that humanity overshot global carrying capacity sometime in the 20th century, while I have been circulating the thesis that the human family has been in overshoot for the last 10,000 years // Rees agrees that I am on the right track.

I hope the material presented below in a series of video clips, a slide show and a couple of essays will help you in the presentation of your ideas ---------- or at least help you to consider giving those ideas a very long historical perspective.

Peter Salonius

Research Scientist

Canadian Wood Fibre Centre

Natural Resources Canada

Canadian Forest Service

P. O. Box 4000, 1350 Regent Street South Fredericton, New Brunswick, E3B 5P7, Canada

Tel.:(506) 452-3548, Fax: (506) 452-3525


Chercheur scientifique

Centre canadien sur la fibre de bois

Ressources naturelles Canada

Service canadien des forêts

C. P. 4000, 1350, rue Regent sud

Fredericton (Nouveau-Brunswick) E3B 5P7, Canada Tél. :(506) 452-3548, Téléc. : (506) 452-3525 Courriel :

============================================================================-----Original Message-----

From: Salonius, Peter

Sent: Sat 2/23/2008 8:49 AM


Cc: Salonius, Peter

Subject: Population, Environment & the Future of Human Society

Good Morning Dr. Hopfenberg

I am ecstatic: I have been looking for a VISUAL presentation on the relationship between food availability and population to growth go along with a 20 minute video by Albert Bartlett on the subject of THE EXPONENTIAL FUNCTION that I found at:


I have just watched your excellent slide show entitled:


I will circulate this slide show to the widest audience possible.

I hope you will find some interest in the two URL web sites that I have been circulating for the last couple of weeks. I will paste (below) the MESSAGE I have been circulating to various recipients.

Comments, suggestions and/or criticisms of my ideas are most welcome.



Please forward this message and its attached PDF to the electronic mail boxes of members of your organization who may be interested in dealing with the basic cause of the imbalance between humans and their supporting ecosystems -- as opposed to concentrating on the symptoms of this imbalance.


I encourage you to read the material below - including the two (2) URL web sites provided, and I encourage you to make use of the ideas present as you see fit. Please contact me by return email if you are confused by anything I have written and/or if you wish to have further clarification of the ideas presented.

NOTE that the CULTURE CHANGE web site leads to a second essay based on a peer reviewed journal paper -

AND NOTE ALSO that the 'Relocalize' web site, operated by the POST CARBON INSTITUTE has the original journal paper and three (3) relevant book reviews attached to it.

The material presented deals with the novel thesis that most cultivation AGRICULTURE, not just modern industrial fossil-fuelled agriculture, has been unsustainable since its adoption 10,000 years ago --- and that it follows that:

IF "AGRICULTURE, not just modern industrial fossil fuelled agriculture, has been unsustainable since its adoption 10,000 years ago" then the global human population has been in overshoot of the carrying capacity of its supporting ecosystems since the abandonment of hunter gathering and the adoption of farming.

Many of us have finally understood the dilemma faced by humanity in the context of the depletion of the fossil fuel energy subsidies upon which modern complex societies are dependent, however I have finally come to understand a more serious and basic resource depletion that has been looming over us during most of the run up to the present global human population of 6.7 billion ---- please see the development of this thesis in the two essays that have been posted on the CULTURE CHANGE web site at:

Also you may find some interest in the following email message I been sending to various creative colleagues.

The message entitled 'SCIENCE AND MEDIA AVOID THE MAIN ISSUE'(below) features another version of the same ideas at another URL web site operated by the POST CARBON INSTITUTE.

Peter Salonius

Research Scientist

Natural Resources Canada

Fredericton, New Brunswick

Day time (WORK) Phone (506) 452-3548

Home phone (506) 459-6663



My reason for sending this email has to do with your authorship on articles/papers/films/letters to editors concerning (usually unsustainable) aspects of interactions between our species and the ecosystems upon which we rely for life support. In most of the items I have read/seen the issue of remedial measures, to relieve the environmental pressure/damage caused by human numbers, is given short shrift --- and in some cases we see writers and thinkers actually interested in further demographic and economic expansion, in apparent denial of the finite nature of the planet Earth and its resources.

We have generally concerned ourselves with individual aspects/areas of the imbalance between humans and their supporting ecosystems -

- however we very seldom stand back and assess the major drivers of this imbalance // and in the few instances that we do stand back to assess these drivers, we resist the temptation to suggest remedies to policy makers that involve reshaping the direction of human society -or- we are told by peers, employers, reviewers or editors to stick to individual issues and leave social organization to policy makers and politicians. The enormity of required solutions usually makes it less stressful to get back to picking away at the easier digested symptoms of the global human dilemma that can be addressed by reductionism.

In 1999 I published an appeal (CONSERVATION BIOLOGY 13(6): 1518-1519)that scientists consider spending a considerable portion of their efforts to educate policy makers "about the diminishing ability of the biosphere to withstand the onslaught of exponential human population and economic growth."

In 1999 I thought that measures "to stabilize or slowly reduce population numbers" would suffice. I am now convinced that we will have to orchestrate Rapid Population Decline -or- have such a decline imposed upon us by resource depletion realities.

Most of us agree that the human experiment, which is now the size of the Earth, has gone terribly wrong. At issue is the point at which humanity took the unsustainable fork in the road -and- what we must do to get back on track. There is a growing realization that human numbers will decrease, either by planned contraction or by the development of various scarcities.

My recommendation for the necessary decrease of the global human footprint includes allowing the functional integrity of terrestrial (and aquatic) communities to begin to re-establish by ceasing to stage manage ecosystems. A reliance on self-organizing/self managing systems, that evolution has already created, would feed a very small number of humans sustainably - if they regulated their exploitation/harvesting activities to fall within the (now better understood) capacity of their supporting ecosystems to maintain critical breeding populations, species and structural diversity, to replace soil lost by erosion and to replace soluble plant nutrients lost by harvest export or leaching.

In fisheries, because they represent such as small fraction of the global human diet, a return to sustainably harvesting wild populations would not cause widespread starvation.

In forestry a shift, to alternate harvesting systems that accommodate the time requirement for full species and structural restoration, and that approximate natural disturbance dynamics - as opposed to creating ecosystem-simplifying, product- driven species assemblages - could be initiated very quickly.

The abandonment of agriculture in favour of the re-establishment of self-managing, native, nutrient conservative forest and grassland/prairie ecosystems would require much more time because these unmanaged systems can not produce enough food for humans -- until population numbers have fallen to a fraction of present levels.

I have said, in the recommendation I have for the sustainable future of the global human experiment, that agriculture must be relied upon to feed us until we have reduced our numbers to a level that can be supported by regulated exploitation/harvesting activities that fall within the (now better understood) capacity of supporting ecosystems to maintain diversity, to restore soil mass lost by erosion and to replace soluble plant nutrients lost by harvest export or leaching.

This recommendation is outlined in an essay entitled:


------ to which is attached one journal paper and 3 book reviews.

The attractive aspect of moving toward sustainable co-existence with self-managing ecosystems is that the hit-and-miss process of evolution has our numbers have fallen to sustainable levels) will be to learn to live within the regeneration capacity of restored self-managing natural ecosystems. The penalty for exceeding their regeneration capacity will be hunger and privation, as it was for our hunter gatherer ancestors.

Please forward this email to your colleagues if you think its message may be of interest to them.

Peter Salonius