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.