A tiger’s tale

Once upon a time, after the ice receded, human settlements spread across a small island. As a result, wars ensued and the natural world was torn asunder. But the relatively small size of the human population, coupled with limited technology, allowed many species to thrive.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s: Along comes a (Celtic) Tiger to the Emerald Isle. The economic explosion brings with it the usual and expected implosion of cultures and species. The government demonstrates its concern by subsidizing the small pockets Gaelic culture it helped destroy, in the hope that tourists will continue to find these quaint populations interesting enough to visit.
And so I did. Along with my partner, I visited Ireland for ten days, with three goals in mind: (1) There’s no better time than June to avoid the Sonoran Desert; (2) I’m seeing the world while I can, before the Empire dissolves; and (3) I’m facilitating the Fall of Empire, one flight at a time.
The Celtic Tiger is wilting under the pressure of rising energy prices. But in Ireland, as in the United States, it’s politricks as usual: The government is shielding the sheeple from reality, frantically building airport runways and expanding the country’s highway system to maintain the illusion of the status quo.
Soon enough, those problems are going to take care of themselves.
Not so long ago, Irish people harvested peat from bogs to heat their homes — by hand. We saw a couple people carrying on this ancient tradition, but the typical approach to home heating involves rapid consumption of fossil fuels.
Not so long ago, Irish people grew their own vegetables and raised their own livestock. They actually fed themselves. These days, the Republic of Ireland is rapidly following the U.S. lead in becoming the Republic of Fat. The standard meal is comprised of fatty meat and plenty of Guinness, and the days of manual labor are long gone for most citizens.
Consider the typical B&B, where we spent a couple days. The owners are a 20-something couple, she a part-time psych therapist and he a full-time contractor. They have a year-old baby. They built the fossil-fuel-intensive B&B three years ago, when the Tiger was roaring and Americans were dumping money all over the Irish countryside. Now that the dollar’s in the toilet and the Greatest Depression is looming, occupancy has declined precipitously. We were the only occupants one of the two nights. I suspect the owners will lose the B&B — which is their house as well as their business — when the bank realizes they’ll never pay it off.
And it’s not merely the B&B owners who are facing trouble in Ireland. Every aspect of civilized life is threatened. Suburbia has replaced durable homes in wonderful little towns formerly characterized by mixed-use buildings. The slate roofs on rock buildings in the center of town are being replaced by stick houses a few miles away. Type II diabetes is on the rise as obesity reigns. The solution, according to the television, can be found at the nearest pharmacy. Again we see the American approach: replace fitness with a pill, thereby treating the symptom instead of the problem.
Soon enough, that problem’s going to take care of itself.
Halfway into our trip, the bartender at the local pub said it best when he claimed there were no longer any differences between the U.S. and Ireland. His credentials for making this claim: He spent his first 30 years or so in Ireland, moved to New York for the next 20 years, and moved back to Ireland 6 months ago.
And, as nearly as I could tell, he nailed it. They drive on the “wrong” side of the road, they zip their sweaters from the “wrong” side, and they talk funny. They have all those wonderful old castles and monastic sites. But there are very few substantive differences between “us” and “them.” Seems they are all too human, just like the rest of us. They, too, will destroy the planet in the name of economic growth.
But that problem’s about to take care of itself. The tiger is dead. Long live the tiger.

Comments 5

  • But Professor Guy,
    The grass is greener in Ireland.

  • ——and maybe that’s why
    their cows look so healthy.
    I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that we are the last generation, deservedly so. I don’t have the good sense not to turn on the TV,but the boob tube offers ample evidence of why civilization must end.Professor Guy and his cohorts give us the proximate cause.
    But I must say it will be damned inconvenient with no way to keep the beer cold.
    The process will be interesting. The Chinese
    are determined to be the
    last to go, as they have
    spent vast sums overpaying for oil resources, and developing
    relations with anyone who has it. Make no mistake who’s side they’ll be on
    if we decide to get forceful with Iran,Venezuela,Sudan or Libya. The Sino-American War will not be pleasant with their huge military,and a population four times greater than the US.China is determined
    to defend it’s oil sources
    at all costs.Blood and Oil go together.
    But this is another subject,that much has already been written about.
    I encourage everyone to look into this and let us know. It could make the Cold War look like a Sunday School picnic.

  • Guy
    FYI (may be of interest)
    I am travelling to the Netherlands and Denmark in
    July (in a professional capacity) whilst I can to discover their cycling innovations and good urban design. I am hoping to bring back an inventory of cycling infrastructure, policy, promotion and participation documentation. A report will be the result. I am hoping this document may in some way have some influence over the local governmnet I work for and perhaps a cycling strategy
    may be the result of my experiences. The local government I work for is on the urban fringe,
    very car dependent, conservative with a highly dispersed population.
    The urban design study trip
    is self funded, however I was hoping to recieve some support from my workplace.
    I was hoping the following conclusion may have convinced them of the urgency of investing in decent cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
    The study trip proposal had the following concluding blurb –
    ‘Good urban design is vital to promote the future liveability of NSC (my local government). This is particularly prescient now as the twin constraints of climate change and peak oil are likely to create unforeseen demands on the existing infrastructure and level of services expected from the community.
    It took a long time to get a response from my workplace, in the mean time Peak Oil went mainstream. The oil price has gone up about $25 a barrel. The end result,
    they are going to give me 5 days study leave. Perhaps local governments are starting to take the Peak Oil thing seriously, albeit a little too late.
    Not only is Copenhagen 30 years ahead of its time in terms of urban design (europe uses 50% the enery on transport that the US and Oz do.) we are 30 years too late.
    anyway trying to enlighten the locals on the perils of Peak Oil.
    on ya bike
    car free Matt

  • I suppose things have changed (even since McCarthy’s Bar was written–fun book, btw, if you get the chance).
    I have not been fortunate enough to travel much. I always hoped to see Ireland (my folks said it was amazingly green and beautiful there). Sadly, from the sounds of it, the American Way is contagious.
    Why would anyone WANT ugly tract homes and McDonalds, anyway? Proof that the human race has serious psychological problems–if you ask me.

  • Ahh guy I am blogging about the red desert in Wyoming and somehow I got to talking about peak oil. It was becoming a headache and I decided to go read some of your blog entries and it made me laugh much, which is always good. Hey did you let everyone know where our website is in your blog at all?