Over at Endless Emendation, I’ve been debating whether the industrial economy is near its end. Even without seriously raising the issue of the horrors of the industrial economy for the world’s cultures and species, and even for our own species, I’ve met a bit of resistance.
It’s not unlike the resistance I’ve met here. Or, during the last several years, everywhere else in the empire. I’ll avoid the issue of the horrors, just for simplicity. But I’m going to foray into the last of fast collapse. Readers, brace for impact.
I strongly suspect the world’s elite know what I know, and a lot more: Economic growth kills people, cultures, and species. And if that’s what it takes, well that’s the price of empire (paid, of course, by different people than those who reap the rewards of empire).
Is this dire? Yes. Is it horribly Machiavellian? You betcha. Does it surprise me? Not one bit. Consider, for example, the use of biofuels to sustain the unsustainable concept of happy motoring, knowing full well it starves people to death. Think that’ll stop us? Has it ever? The expected response to catastrophic predictions about this year’s food supply: We’ll get ours, by any means necessary.
One of my least-favorite authors writes, in one of my favorite lines, “Living takes life. But it can be thoughtful.” That’s Barbara Kingsolver, and I think she nails it. Jimmy Carter knew the cost of our oil addiction … he called conservation the “moral equivalent of war.”
And on, and on. Until I work myself into a bona fide tizzy, desperately wanting the empire to collapse in a heap of rotten elitists. And yes, I know I’m one of them. Small price to pay, I’d say.
I never cease to be amazed by the number of people, on this blog and elsewhere, who believe the supply of oil is infinite, and the similar number who believe we’ll innovate, conserve, or organize our way out of our oil addiction. I use “believe” intentionally, because there’s no evidence of any thinking going on. If there were is evidence to support the notion we’ll get through the year without capitulation of the Dow, please bring it forward, and soon. This is important, after all. It’s not about something as silly as what happens after we die. It’s about what causes us to die, in extremely large numbers.
I think there’s some pretty compelling evidence in favor of capitulation. For one, there’s history, in the form of the one of the most common expressions on Wall Street: “Sell in May and go away.” Stock markets have declined, historically, between May and December, even as the markets have exploded during the last 80 years. If we see a sell-off as large as the one we’ve seen in the last few months, we’re at Dow Zero by year’s end.
But, you might argue, that’s just history. There’s no mechanism. True enough, though most people use history as the basis for predicting the economy will not collapse (because it never has). If you take this route, you’ll need to blissfully ignore recent history in places such as the Soviet Union, Argentina, and Mexico.
So, then, we can ignore history, if that’s what makes you happy.
It’s difficult, though, to ignore the economic impacts of a 0.5% annual decline in availability of crude oil during the last four years. And, as they say, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We’re facing a 9.1% decline, according to the rose-colored-glasses crowd at IEA, who never admitted energy supplies could decline until they released their World Energy Outlook the day after Thanksgiving last year. Economists have been completely out to lunch on this issue, as have politicians and the mainstream media.
And then there’s the issue of the U.S. deficit, which currently runs at about $10.5 trillion. That’s quite a bit more than all the world’s currency and all the gold ever mined, combined, which leaves us with two choices: (1) Pay off the debt (ha ha, not in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, working 24/7) or (2) default. I’m guessing we’ll take the same path as the former Soviet Union, Argentina, and all the others.
While I’ll be the first to admit peak oilers have been predicting collapse for a while, I will not admit to being one of them. In fact, my own predictions have been quite conservative relative to the rest of the Cassandra crowd. With that in mind, I cannot help pointing out the obvious (the role of any decent social critic): (1) Cassandra need be correct only once, and (2) a life worth living turns on this particular prediction.
So, please blithely ignore the news that carbon emissions have exceeded all predictions since 2000, when the world’s governments started taking the issue seriously. Ditto for the associated meltdown of habitat for humans. Never mind altruism of any kind at the level of society. As President Obama said during his inaugural address: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense.”
Bombing our way to happiness is an American institution.
If you’re interested in another way, you’d better get cracking. You could do worse than checking out Dmitry Orlov’s latest address, which has the advantage of scattering humor along with sage advice. When you’re done there, and you want to get serious about preparing for your post-carbon life, check the resources here, here, here, and — for my personal favorite — here.
Good luck to us all, no matter what we believe.