• Ian Sutton

Necessary Simplification

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Simplification is a response to climate change

In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies Joseph Tainter states that growth comes from increased complexity because it is useful in solving problems. He also says,

  1. Increased growth and increased energy use go hand in hand — they cannot be separated;

  2. Complexity is not free — there is always a cost;

  3. When the cost/benefit crosses a threshold decline starts; and

  4. Decline is associated with increased simplification (which is generally involuntary).

Although most of the posts and pages at this site are to do with climate change, we stress that we in an Age of Limits that incorporates many factors, as shown in the following sketch.

Elements of the Age of Limits

We are entering an Age of Limits, whether we like it or not. There will be less energy available to us, regardless of whether that energy comes from fossil fuels, solar panels or wind turbines. Therefore, according to Tainter’s analysis, our society is going to become less complex than it is now, whether we like it or not.

Assuming that this insight is correct, then the “more regulations” approach to the predicaments that we face is not going to work. Many of the responses that we see call for more rules, adjustments to the tax code, and a general increase in government spending. In fact, we should be looking for responses that simplify life at all levels.

Once we realize that our problems are caused by resource and environmental limits that prevent the creation of additional complexity then we may be able to work toward solutions, even though those solutions could well result in a conscious decision to simplify and therefore shrink our industrial systems.