Functional Triage

If you’re going to read this post, you’ll need to discard some dichotomies:

  • Democrat vs. Republican
  • Left vs. Right
  • Rich vs. Poor

Those are the common divisors used to define political polarization. Let’s get under that, let’s turn the clock back ten years, to when peak oil discussions were themselves peaking. Let’s instead consider some inescapable drivers in the world today:

  • climate change
  • peak oil predicted effects, oil/food bilateral trade
  • financial system breakdown due to conceptual error

One of the key concepts that used to come up was triage. I have argued before that we’re in a massive population overshoot, see Dead Gods Of Atacama. We’ve had two centuries of overshoot, fueled first by fossil nitrates in the Atacama Desert, and then by the Haber-Bosch process. Thanks to our oil economy we can move goods … like food … globally. But what happens where there isn’t enough to go around? Or when there are places that simply aren’t going to be habitable?

2016 Fragile States

2016 Fragile States

If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime. But if you’re in a half loaded lifeboat a thousand yards away from the Titanic, you keep rowing the other way, because there aren’t enough life boats and you’ll be swamped if you try to fill your remaining seats. That might sound cruel, but it’s precisely what happened back in 1912 and I think that maybe we’re doing this to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula now.

I’ve worried over Yemen for a long time, in particular their food/water security issues. Things came to a head in 2016 and the dynamic is very different than Syria. Where are those people going to go? Saudi Arabia’s border isn’t porous like Iraq, Lebanon, or Turkey. They can’t very well motor through the Suez like Syrians crossing the 10km to Lesbos. Yemen is a famine trap today the way Somalia was twenty five years ago, with the added excitement of being a Shia/Sunni conflict.


There were conversations about an end to American democracy, with a development oriented authoritarian government evolving from our current system. I thought this was likely but expected it to be environmental oriented populism, not this race and religion mess that has emerged. Trump is talking about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. That’s silly, based on what we know about our special relationship with Mexico – the unprecedented cyclical migration of labor has few parallels.

But what happens over the long haul? Mexico is agriculturally rich … for the moment. What does another 50ppm of CO2 do?  Will our southern border look like the interface between Syria and Turkey? Perhaps.


We are in a post-factual world with Trump in office, but these underlying forces are inescapable. We might have a superstitious world view – the denial of climate change – but the race based politics are having the same effect as a clear eyed triage would. Don’t imagine for a minute that it pleases me to notice this, or to report that this is the case, it is what it is.


13 thoughts on “Functional Triage

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