Where we’re going from here

(Yes, I pulled the trigger on this week’s post a little earlier than normal; my schedule for the week is a little odd, and I wanted to make sure I got to the discussion.  Things should be back to “normal,” or whatever passes for it, next week…)

Responding to last week’s post, DemLib asked my opinion of the most likely scenario for collapse, as well as its nature, signs, and extent.  I thought I’d take a little time and expand upon my answer.

As I replied before, I think the winds are blowing in the direction of what John Michael Greer calls “catabolic collapse;” I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the “Long Descent” (as in Greer’s book of the same name).  My personal favorite term for it is “the Slow Collapse.”  The theory itself is complex-ish, but in a nutshell is this: Our resources (in terms of raw materials, or manpower, or energy, or whatever else) are finite; when we brush up against the end of one of those resources, we’ve got to cut back somewhere, so as to get around needing that resource.  Sometimes, we can re-tool in such a way as to make things seem “easier” than before, but this is a temporary condition–most often, we end up utilizing another (more available) resource at a faster rate.  (Or, we take steps that previously would have been unsupportable–drilling in Alaska, anyone?)   The end result of the various contractions is a “stair-step” downwards in complexity (using the scientific/”systems” sense, not the “ease-of-use” sense).

If I’ve made a hash of that, I apologize; really, to get a more cogent, coherent grasp of it, I recommend reading the book and/or Greer’s blog.

Greer puts the start of the collapse at 1974, which is when the bulk of America’s heavy manufacturing industry swiftly became the “Rust Belt.”  At the risk of dating myself, I wasn’t old enough at the time to form any real memories, but from what I’ve read/seen, that looks like a logical enough place to put the start.  We had just emerged from the first real oil crisis (the end of a resource–albeit an artificial end), and many industries discovered that labor was cheaper outside the manufacturing centers of the states along the Great Lakes.  A myriad of other things happened, as well–too many to list, really; I’m told there are some good studies of the time, mostly in economics texts.  Long story short, our way of doing business changed.  (And as a prime display of how collapse can be localized, we have Detroit–many parts of which almost define “Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland.”)

Now, that may not look like much of a step down–and, to be fair, it wasn’t a big one, as far as I can tell.  But there were a few mitigating factors: the oil crisis was artificial (due to an embargo), and much of the manufacturing headed to the South, but stayed within the U.S.  By most counts, Peak Oil occurred in 2007 (or 2005, or maybe next year sometime…); that’s not an artificial crisis.  Heavy manufacturing has largely left the country–one of the unpleasant side-effects of the “Global Economy.”  Personally, I believe the 2008 financial crisis overshadowed the beginning of the next “step,” which is an inexorable climb in fuel prices.  Here again, we’re likely to make some choices that we wouldn’t necessarily have made–increased offshore drilling, for example, or opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge–in order to “ease” things.  If we’re lucky, we can ramp up renewables (wind and solar) to help cover some of our energy needs, but I’m not sure it’ll last, or that we’re that lucky.

What will the next big step be?  Really, it’s anybody’s guess.  Retracting a bit from our global reach would be a good one, I think, but it isn’t likely for a host of reasons.  We’ve currently got troops on the ground in over 120 different countries, and they’re expensive to maintain over there.  I’m all for supporting the troops–I was one of them, until fairly recently–but some consolidation is probably in order.   Figuring out a way to bring jobs back from overseas would be handy, too.  But at present, I don’t know what the trigger for the next contraction will be.  (It may have already happened–it’s strikingly difficult to see these things as they’re occurring; they become much clearer in retrospect.)

What will the extent of it be?  That’s another tough call.  I agree with another of my readers, TheAuthor, when he suggested that things will likely start to look much more like then 1920’s.  (I might go a step further, and suggest 1920’s Britain, for some aspects of life.)  On the personal level, economies were much more local–a given family would support themselves from a garden, with occasional trips to the store.  The things purchased from the store would very often be locally-produced.  The things that weren’t local were more expensive.  I don’t believe we’ll get all the way back to the Dark Ages, but the “House of the Future” as pictured in the 1950’s is probably a pipe dream, too.

Next week, I’d like to address TheAuthor’s other comment/request:  How I’m implementing my “third point,” on community.  In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think the next “turning point” will be in our slow collapse.

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About leftwingsurvivalist

I'm a survivalist and prepper with a difference!
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5 Responses to Where we’re going from here

  1. Don Bowen says:

    I agree, the collapse will not be a sudden fall into a stone age existence. For one thing there is what I call institutional memory. We know about bacteria and how to keep our sewer systems and water supply separate. We know a lot of things about the world that will not be lost.

    As for a time to return to, I think maybe the 20s when we knew about how to build machines to do some of the work for us. A horse drawn binder could still be manufactured and used in a world short of oil.

    We are going forward into a world that will be vastly different that the one we live in now. That we are running out of oil is a given. No amount of “Drill, baby, drill” will will change that. Prices will continue to escalate and the remaining oil will be rationed by price. Much of the untapped oil is in expensive places, imaging drilling for oil in 7000 feet of hurricane prone waters, How much will a 10,000 foot deep well cost? That oil that spilled all over the gulf was $100 oil from a well that was being capped to await better prices.

    Now what if there was a huge amount of easily recovered oil say off the coast of California or ANWR, oil that would be profitable at $30? Why would a company that is extracting oil in North Dakota that has to sell for $80 just to break even want to drill for $30 oil? When that $80 oil is gone then maybe but for now they want to explore.

    How about nuclear or solar or wind? Those may keep the lights on but they will not power that 4 hour flight to see your grandchildren nor will they power the warehouse on wheels that keeps Walmart supplied with cheap Chinese goods. Electricity will power the electric motors of a train but we are not building many of those. Currently Diesel fuel powers the trains bringing coal to your electric power plant.

    Biofuels cannot fill the gap unless we want to starve more people and cut down more rainforests.

    The world will be changing into something we will not recognize and no one is preparing us for it. The religion of “Grow baby grow” is driving off a cliff.

    • Agreed, on all counts. I think the renewables (solar/wind/bio) can keep things floating for a little while, but there’s a limit to what they can do.
      For a look at what I think a “collapsed” society might look like, perhaps one or two “steps” down from our current position in the collapse slope, I can only recommend Kunstler’s books
      World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron. Strip out the “magic” (of which there’s only just a little) and the “nuclear apocalypse” (a little more prevalent), and just look at the societal makeup, and how they’re “muddling by”. That’s a bit closer to where we’re headed, I think.

  2. DemLib in AZ says:

    Thanks for posting that blog link (catabolic collapse). Yes, I agree that’s pretty close to my most likely scenario. We are collapsing in fits and starts, two steps down & maybe one step back up each time. I see perhaps the return to more local economies and the end of much of the world economy. But to what extent I don’t know yet, or how soon. For now, I see us hobbling along in the status quo for quite some time to come, without much improvement. PS – for another interesting sci fi scenario, see the books of Paolo Bacigalupi, such as “Ship Breaker” and “The Drowned Cities”, which take place far past Peak Oil.

    • I’ll look them up! Thanks!
      That’s one of the things about the Slow Collapse/catabolic collapse scenario–it’s slow-going. Again, each time we “tighten our belts,” things can appear to actually *improve* for a little while. How long we muddle along on the current “step” is, right now, anybody’s guess. It’s possible that the next “crunch” won’t be until the end of our lifetimes–but it’s also possible that it could be next year, or next month, or next week…

  3. DemLib in AZ says:

    I can’t remember if I found this on your blog or possibly on The Archdruid Report, but I thought folks might find it interesting reading: http://ranprieur.com/essays/slowcrash.html

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