I was among the final baby boomers born in the United States. Along with my entire generation, I owe the world an apology. My generation abandoned a worthy dream, and it will cost all of us, but nobody more than civilized members of industrial society.
My generation, which demographers say was born between 1946 and 1962, came together during Woodstock and the Summer of Love. We demanded environmental protection after we saw the Cuyahoga River catch fire and we demanded an end to the Vietnam War after tens of thousands of teenagers died in defense of capitalism. For us, environmental protection and peace were the same battle, and we won those battles, albeit temporarily. We started realizing our dream of living close to each other, and close to the land that sustains us all.
We lost our way during the late 1970s when the last decent president in this country called conservation, “the moral equivalent of war.” But Jimmy Carter also laid claim to oil in the Middle East, claiming it belonged to the U.S. We wanted to agree with him about both issues, as if they are not mutually exclusive. But, even more than we wanted environmental protection and peace, we wanted economic growth. So we threw away our dream, abandoned our principles, and snatched the brass ring. We threw Carter out of office after he asked us to slow down to 55 mph and put on our sweaters during the winter. We let a mediocre Hollywood actor convince us that it was, in his words, “morning in America.” Like anybody who was paying attention during the gloomy days of the 1980s, I thought it was time for “mourning in America,” and throughout the world.
The rest, as they say, is history. My generation consumed planetary resources faster than any generation in the history of this planet. Instead of living in close-knit neighborhoods, we ramped up the suburban nightmare initiated immediately after World War II. Instead of living close to the land that sustains us, we trashed the world in a half-hearted quest for the short-term happiness that comes from accumulating material possessions, and then we traveled the world in a misguided spiritual quest, our lame attempt to “find ourselves.”
But all that consuming and traveling and trashing the planet is about to come to a rather abrupt stop because we’ve reached the point of “peak everything.”
The extraction of finite materials tends to follow a bell-shaped curved, as M. King Hubbert described in 1956. The top of the curve is called “Hubbert’s Peak,” or “Peak Resource.” Beyond the top of the curve, the human population continues to grow, thereby increasing demand, but the supply of the material declines. In this century, we have passed or will pass the peak of everything required to maintain civilization. For example, we passed the world oil peak in 2005. Peak silver is behind us, as is peak gold, peak copper, and peak uranium. Peak natural gas and peak coal lie on the horizon in full view.
If you haven’t reached your 75th birthday, all you’ve ever known is economic growth. But that’s rapidly changing. Passing the world oil peak led to oil priced at $147.27/bbl in July 2008, an event that nearly terminated western civilization. That event also brought Keynesian economics back from the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan used the Keynesian strategy — and abundant, inexpensive oil — to kick-start economic growth. This time’s different, of course: There’s no more cheap oil, and the Keynesian approach is a tiny band-aid on a spurting wound.
The financially wealthy burglar class runs the U.S. economy now, and they don’t give a damn about your dreams. They’re profiting, and profiteering, as the ship of industry goes the way of the Titanic. And, demonstrating as much optimism as the architects of the plagued ship, they’re calling this Greatest Depression “just a downturn.”
For those of you who have never known anything except next year’s I-pod, and have enjoyed the omnicidal industrial culture kick-started by Reagan’s “morning in America,” I have bad news for you: The ongoing collapse of the world’s industrial economy will be complete within a few years. Soon enough, American Idol on the television, high-fructose corn syrup at the grocery store, and water coming out the taps will be distant memories.
On the other hand, for those of us who actually care about non-human species and non-industrial cultures, I have good news: The ongoing collapse of the world’s industrial economy will be complete within a few years. Soon enough, American Idol on television, high-fructose corn syrup at the grocery store, and water coming out the taps will be distant memories. We will stop driving populations to extirpation and species to extinction. We will stop polluting the waters that slake our thirst. We will stop destroying the landbase that feeds us, clothes us, and shelters us. Many industrial humans will die, but the survivors will once again be living the baby boomers’ dream, close to their neighbors and close to the land that sustains them.
It appears the good times won’t last long. Not only did the boomers destroy the living planet for other cultures and species, but we turned the dynamite on ourselves. Soon enough, the jig is up for Homo sapiens.
This post is permalinked at Counter Currents and The SIXTIES.