Total Collapse into Utter Darkness

Civilizations collapse dramatically but not instantly or completely. The “Romans” of Constantinople prospered for a thousand years after the sack of Rome. The Mayans of Lamanai held their city together for half a millennium after Tikal and Copan surrendered to the jungle. The Egyptians of Heracleopolis rebounded quickly to prosperity and strength after the Old Kingdom disintegrated into widespread famine and civil war. Other examples abound from Naachtun and Pinnacle Ruin to Tayinat and Guzana.

The Collapse of Complex Societies

An Archaeological Theory of Collapse

A comparative archaeologist could enhance the Perenno mission by explaining where, when, why, and how pockets of urban vitality survive the death of a parent civilization. A general theory of endurance and revival could guide us in choosing a site for construction and a plan for reconstruction. Scholars have devoted much effort to systematically understanding the causes of collapse. I have found only wisps of speculation about why some cities refuse to fall when the world around them descends into ruin. A city’s capacity to resist doom seems to improve when it lies far from the primary center of power, maintains a diverse economy, lacks a “barbarian” frontier (militaristic neighbors at a much lower level of institutional complexity), avoids pushing the regional ecology close to its limits, and prevents local taxes and inequality from getting out of hand. If anyone reading this entry knows about research that systematically tests these ideas or their alternatives, please post a reference to it in the comments or in the forum. Continue reading

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Seeds of Renewal

IBM began its discussion of long-term digital preservation with this claim: “Today’s society is facing the Digital Dark Age.” They chose a strong metaphor to exaggerate their battle against data rot in times of relative prosperity. You can imagine what will happen to our data if the lights go out for a few years.

Data Longevity Chart
Analog versus Digital Data Longevity (IBM Chart)

Nobody is currently preparing to save the core of our digital heritage beyond a global collapse of industrial infrastructure. That includes Perenno, which in early 2011 is just starting to seek contributions toward a serious plan for preparation. Many organizations are committing their resources toward sustainable preservation of digital and other archives in a world that they assume will not experience widespread catastrophe. Perenno might use standards and techniques developed by organizations such as IBM, Library of Congress, National Archives, Planets, and Sun. None of these approaches would work after an apocalypse without an oasis of 21st century technology. Governments are making no serious preparations to create such an oasis. They have no plan to rebuild the global economy after a war or natural disaster that would otherwise destroy tens of trillions of dollars worth of information. The gold at Fort Knox is a pile of trinkets compared to our intellectual heritage. Continue reading

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Logistics and Practical Morality as the Curtain Falls

If civilization starts to collapse, people outside a Perenno facility will try to get in. Some may travel a considerable distance to make the attempt.

Mushroom Cloud

A certain style of leader will slam the iron doors and ignore the screams of people dying beyond the gates. He will threaten subordinates who plead to bring loved ones inside. This leader understands a logic of survival that guarantees death when the number of mouths exceeds the amount of food. The steel of his resolve, the obedience and firepower of his deputies, and the strength of his walls are all that can hold back the armed and desperate hordes. He cannot afford pity for the unbidden friends, neighbors and family of those under his protection. This style of leadership is part of a plan doomed to fail. Continue reading

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Rational Budget for Apocalypse Insurance

When you make a choice in the face of unknown probabilities, you must guess. The graph above contains reasonable assumptions. A global catastrophe at year zero has reduced world gross domestic product (WGDP) to 189 billion 1990 dollars, roughly equal to global GDP in the year 1800. The reddish brown curve assumes that economic growth over the next 150 years without Perenno would proceed at roughly the same pace as it did between 1800 and 1950. Continue reading

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Durability of a Nuclear Power Plant

World Nuclear Association

I contacted the World Nuclear Association in London, explained the Perenno mission, and posed this question:

Is it feasible to consider construction of a nuclear power plant that could operate over a period of centuries?  Please assume the following:

1) There will be a sufficient supply of spare parts and supplies.

2) Knowledgeable engineers will be available to maintain, troubleshoot and repair the system.

3) Power requirements will be for a community of 300 to 1,500 people.

Their Director of Public Communications, Ian Hore-Lacy, replied, Continue reading

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Location, Location, Location

Three factors should guide our choice of location for a Perenno facility: survival, cost, and re-industrialization.

SURVIVAL: No place is safe while civilization is collapsing. Still, we must avoid the most dangerous places and avoid getting wiped out by a subsequent disaster. We will rule out any site with a high threat level for category-five hurricanes, earthquakes, enemy attacks, floods,  landslides, pandemic “quick-and-early-spread” zones, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions or wildfires. Avoiding the primary historical target regions for Continue reading

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Cast Your Vote

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Taking Collapse Seriously

Collapse by Jared DiamondImagine a deranged and unkempt man in the middle of the street with a hand-painted sign reading, “The End is Near!”  That is the sort of impression I hope for Perenno to avoid.

I will be disappointed if too few qualified people volunteer for the think tank.  A worse fate would be for an alarmist to use it as a platform to preach doom. That is why one of the conditions for joining is to stick to the mission.  That means a focus on sensible preparation for an unlikely event, not prediction or prevention.  Especially not prediction that blames Continue reading

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Isaac Asimov's FoundationIsaac Asimov spun an epic tale about scholars who braced for a collapse of their galactic empire.  They resolved to shorten the ensuing dark age.  Fans loved Asimov’s Astounding magazine stories in the 1940s.  The stories grew into the Foundation Trilogy, and the love grew into a Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series.

Great writers of science fiction have an uncanny gift for shaping the future. They set sparks in young minds that grow into flames of creative passion. In 1914, H. G. Wells warned that an atomic bomb based on accelerated radioactive decay could loom over humanity as Continue reading

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