Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Hubris in chess leads to overly aggressive moves that expose pieces to insufficiently protected positions. The result is regularly a fatal counter-attack after the foray fails [p80, Depth of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film, and the Uses of History]

Overreach occurs when a person becomes overextended and often ends up forfeiting position. It is possible that, had Napoleon not invaded Russia he could have consolidated Europe into a French empire. Instead, the French army could not maintain its supply lines and was defeated. This lead to the conquest of France and Napoleon's exile.

This is a general concept, and is not limited to chess or war. Consider the global financial crisis (2008). There were many anecdotes about people who had overextended themselves financially and lost their homes when they could no longer earn the money they had previously. It is sobering to think that in some cases, after 20 years of earning good money, and person could lose their home because of relatively-short-term unemployment.

To my mind, this relates to sustainability. It shows us how difficult it is to be sustainable, and how easy to overreach and expose ourselves.

This can, of course, occur at every level:
  • the individual living beyond their means (even if it requires a sudden illness or job loss to become apparent)
  • A wealthy family whose margin loan is called because of declining stock values
  • A company that hires staff anticipating growth, but hires more staff than it can maintain
  • Suburban sprawl in a city necessitating roads and other infrastructure that the city can't afford to maintain
  • A country arranging its economy around increasing levels of service-based jobs, whilst outsourcing all manufacturing, requiring the importation of all manufactured goods.
Along these lines, it is my opinion that we, as a civilisation, are overreaching ourselves in the services that we think we can provide. As an example, it is considered normal for people to drive their private cars where they want, when they want -- spending a quite small proportion of their income to do so. The problem is, that the technology we have to make private motorised transport "happen" are unsustainable. It's abundantly clear that the internal combustion engine is unsustainable: it burns petrol, which will run out. Electric cars, powered by solar photovoltaics are a technically-sustainable means to provide motorised transport. The problem is that they are also unsustainable -- or at least, we can not sustainably produce them, in sufficient numbers, to replace our current vehicle fleet at a reasonable economic cost.

In other words: we do not have the technology to sustainably provide people with private motorised transport (whether such technology is feasible, even in theory, is to me an open question)

So here is an example of overshoot in our society: we have come to expect a service that we can not sustainably deliver ourselves. Not only do we expect it -- the functioning of our entire society is predicated on it! This is a problem -- the disruption caused when we lose our ability to afford cars will be significant. As things tighten, the resources we waste on unsustainable transport are resources we won't have to build sustainable transport -- the end result being we end up with a much lower standard of transport than if we had accepted compromises earlier.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Angus,
    Excellent post. The whole thing is a bit self defeating isn't it and this whole process was outlined in the Limits to Growth study way back in the 1970's and it is still tracking pretty closely today. Pity, most people turned their backs on that study.
    PS: Lots of exciting chook enclosure activities went on today and continue tomorrow. I'm trying to out smart the rats through clever design, but they're very clever and have 24/7 to think about the weak points in the design.
    Cheers. Chris


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