Abandoning a dream

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.

Comments 28

  • There is a little hole-in-the-wall Indian Restaurant in nearby Rohnert Park, CA where I go for the lunch buffet and sometimes for dinner. I can get chicken, which is on my diet plan, plus vegetable dishes with cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, spinach and other goodies. And the staff often consists of pretty, young girls who appear to be junior college age — fresh, innocent, pretty.
    And when I see these pretty young girls I feel badly for them that their future prospects as adults of childbearing age are bleak. They probably do not even know it. They have their hopes and aspirations and dreams. They were born into an age of high technology and take for granted easy communications, a comfortable lifestyle, and an assumed prospect of indefinite “progress”.
    Our generation has screwed future generations. I was born in 1956. I have enjoyed good things in life that future generations will not get to enjoy. Even the biodiversity that I grew to love as a child, the tigers and polar bears have very uncertain futures. My generation squandered our inheritance, and in so doing, learned that money cannot buy happines, but it can pay for a lot of misery.
    Reality is slowly intervening here in prosperous Northern California, where closed storefronts are becoming more and more common. But in Flint MIchigan and other parts of the industrial wasteland, there is little hope for a “recovery”. But we are better off than the young people of the Maldives Island, or even Iceland, where immigration by young people resembles Ireland after the potato famine.
    Kunstler sees violence on the horizon. Po’ Folks are bound to take notice at the obscenity of the rich, pilfered from themselves by means legal, but not moral. Unfortunately, the rich can hire the Blackwater mercenaries and all their firepower to guard their estates, and so any bloodshed that occurs will likely have a high proportion of the innocents.
    Soon the day will come when we will be trying to survive one day at a time. Survival brings clarity of focus, and may offer opportunities for some of us to help others in small, but very critical doses. We will learn what kind of people we really are.
    Stan Moore

  • Guy,
    Again I feel you’ve jabbed your finger in my eye with the idea that is so well reflected in the name “Nature Bats Last.” As you point out over and over, people will not suddenly decide to change and to begin taking care of the planet. We seem unable to help ourselves. It will be nature that forces the change on us.
    So, yes, there is a change coming and civilization as we know it, or civilization all together, will be destroyed. But how many of our fellow travelers will survive the death throes of our industrial civilization? How many non-industrial cultures will survive? How many other species will we take down with us? Every step we take down the slope from “peak everything” brings us one step closer to resource wars that end in nuclear winter.
    I get that feeling of sadness most often when I think of my grandchildren’s future. I hope you are right and that survival will lead to good works. I am not seeing much of that right now. Most of us are unwilling to give up much of anything to make a future possible.
    Michael Irving

  • Michael —
    I think the best opportunity for long-term survival is in colloboration, community, and cooperation rather than by confrontation. Tribe, community, commune, collective, etc. People who care and share are those I believe who will be able to sustain themselves. There probably will be a role for self-defense or community defense at some level, but ultimately, no one will be able to make it alone for any length of time.
    I also think and hope that the crucible to come will bring out the best in some people and that fitness for survival will be measured in the strength of goodness rather than the power of badness.

  • In order to create a strong community, one needs to find likeminded people with similar philosophies and beliefs. Without this you will ultimately end up with conflict within the community resuting in self destruction. To find this in our modern, industrial, multicultural society is nigh impossible. One of the reasons of the success of early tribal systems was their solidarity regarding their beliefs. Anyway i’m tired of delving in negative rhetoric with people who don’t share a similar ideaology to mine. Therefore I intend to spend as much time that is left studying,interacting and enjoying what is left of our natural world, before it, us or both are ultimately destroyed. You would do well to do the same!

  • Memo to Our Stan:
    Stan,you mentioned a California shopping mall that was ominously
    bereft of customers,sometime back.Is the same thing occuring in others?Do you see less auto traffic? Are there fewer cars in parking lots?Do restaurants have fewer customers?
    The phoenix area where I live is differnt than northern California.
    Here we are generally lower class,not Yuppie Scum where you are,so
    I’m interested in the difference.
    Here a huge building boom in commercial real estate has occured in the last few years.Now entire ,large, office,retail and warehouse centers
    are completely empty,save a very few brave survivors.Fresh and Easy,
    the US operation of the large international British Tesco grocer,recently built a huge retail,and office,shopping center near me,which has never opened.It is a brand new ghost center.There are many like it here.Many thousands of commercial spaces have never been occupied,in countless new,large commercial centers,never opened,ghost centers.
    Please give us more of your California perspective.
    Thank you.

  • Frank,
    Hooking on to your question for Stan. Here in northeast Washington we are noticing the same thing. In Spokane we have had a number of what I characterize as mini-malls that have been built and now stand empty. There are any number of older mini-malls that have more than 50% vacancy. At the same time, and this is very confusing to me, there are new buildings going up. Many of them seem to be the national chain outfits like Red Lobster or Ace Hardware. Also there has been continued construction of those 4,000 sq. ft. mac-mansions attached to golf courses, or on a lake, and prominately, and obscenely on the tops of many of the small mountains around here. Big money has to have a view (looking out over us peons). In smaller towns most of the tiny, owner/operator businesses that were doing just fine 3 years ago are going under or on the verge. My neighbor makes snowboard clothing and reports that none of the ski hills are ordering anything for their ski shops. Truck gardeners trying to make some bucks selling in the local farmers’ markets can’t get enough to make it worthwhile. There also seem to be for sale signs everywhere but the price has dropped by a third (not bad compared to some places, but not good). Further, the lumber mills shut down around February and there is still logging equipment just standing in people’s yards everywhere you look. It may be picking up but not much. Note that logging is a mainstay for locals here and of course it trickles down, or doesn’t.
    As far as California is concerned my brother west of Sacramento reports that the value of his house dropped by more than a third last year and there were empty houses throughout the subdivision he lives in. I guess the housing market is finally starting to become a little active again, but it still is a long way from what it was.
    The engineering firm my son works for in northwest Washington has layed of half of its staff, more than 200 people, with further cuts due in December.
    So that’s my observation. Could be worse, but it sure isn’t good.
    Of course, Guy would probably say, “The bad new is that the economy is crashing, but the GOOD news is the economy is crashing.”
    Michael Irving

  • Memo to Michael Irving:
    Thank you for your local imput.It is eerily similiar here.Many strip malls are 2/3rds vacant.Residential real estate was hit the worst in Phoenix metro area of all areas tracked by Case-Shiller.
    We too see new construction—what are those fools thinking of.One new building is a Hospice of the Valley location—now that makes sense,especially with Halloween coming up.
    Musicians are hit hard as most restaurants and bars can no longer afford live entertainment.Many new apartment rental buildings have
    gone up in last few years,all with huge,glaring signs offering lease
    At the very peak of a Depression,greed and insanity drive people to
    insensate extremes.Here,every available piece of desert had to be built on.Now we have thousands upon thousands of vacant apartments,
    retail,office,warehouse,or what have you vacant.We need a new word to describe new ghost buildings.Put your thinking caps on all.
    Please let’s hear from everyone about the conditions you see where you live.

  • hey guys and Double D
    Here, in Melbourne the average price of a home
    has just topped $500,000 (AUD = .93USD) – parity is just a few months away.
    For the record, my home is around $800,000 – insane, cos its made out of mud! I told the wife we should sell up move to country
    and retire, unfortunately she is in love with the home.
    A friend just bought a $650,000 apartment and a $1.3 mill
    shop/dwelling. The GFC never visited these shores, Australia
    is in Asia now. We have 2.5 billion consumers just to our north.
    As I have said before nothing has changed here. Except more boat
    loads of asylum seekers. No one has told them we have no water here.
    All my ‘pessimism’ has added up to nothing. :)
    Meanwhile, I am making preparations…

  • I had a conversation with my daughter last weekend while putting up applesauce and was pleased to learn that she and her husband understand the coming economic collapse and are making preparations. For their sakes I hope the collapse doesn’t come quite as soon as Guy predicts, because they need a couple of years to get their plans in motion.

  • Obama as Bomb Juggler
    I can’t help but believe that Barack Obama knows the score. He has no solutions that will please everyone, and priority goes to those who got him elected through the power of the purse.
    So, from here Obama looks like he thinks he will juggle all the massive problems as long as he can, knowing that all of the balls he is juggling are, in fact, bombs. Eventually, one of them will explode and he will not be able to juggle any more. He might not even survive the metaphorical explosion. Energy, climate, finance, competition from China, Glenn Beck — what a mess of trouble he is juggling! His arms are going to get tired sooner or later, but the bombs can wnd will likely explode based on time detonators even if he does not drop them.
    Yet, Obama clearly relishes the job. He often looks to me like a kid in a candy store, enjoying the adulation and the prestige and the power. Maybe he believes in dying young and leaving a pretty corpse, assuming the detonation leaves one. Every day that passes is one less day available to defuse a bomb, or at least make an attempt to do so.
    It will be interesting to see what happens the remainder of this calendar year, and particularly in the context of the Copenhagen summit on global warming. It is time for Obama to put up or shut up, and no president ever had such a stark reality demanding profound and rapid action. Will it be “Yes we can”? or something different, perhaps an obfuscation?

  • Stan
    Please allow me to just run off at the mouth for a second. Don’t let any of it stick to you.
    Cooperation is great but difficult. A Pew Poll came out today that says the number of people in the US that believe there is evidence for climate change is down to only 57%, down from 71% just two years ago. Of the roughly half who accept climate change as a problem how many are making any preparations? And, other than the three we know about, how many in the US have actually made the transition to a life style that approximates the level we all need to reach if we are to hold off a catastrophic collapse of civilization. I for one haven’t and I don’t know anyone in my neck of the woods that would care to. In order to make such a transition you have to reinvent some of the answers people came up with 100 years ago. How do you get water when the surface water is polluted and the rest is 250 feet down in the ground? How do you get supplies if the nearest supermarket is a 40 mile round trip and the local (5 miles) store has about 800 square feet of floor space devoted to food (including pop, chips, and beer)? So I think that the idea of cooperation is something that might only be considered out of desperation after a collapse and I am afraid that by then it may be too late.
    I’m going to be cooperating today cutting wood with my neighbor (6 miles round trip). I’ll be driving over in my pickup truck (fossil fuel). I’ll be using my chain saw (fossil fuel). I’ll come home and have a glass of water (pumped by hydroelectric but it might as well be fossil fuel). Meanwhile my wife will be making orange marmalade (oranges transported by fossil fuel). Etc. etc. Almost free energy is so pervasive in this country that the thought of living without it becomes daunting. My brain keeps telling me that making a choice to live without almost free energy is like deciding to chuck everything and live under a bridge. Who do you know that would do that? Who do you know that would cooperate with you in doing that?
    Guy has really got me depressed over the last couple of weeks because, to paraphrase Pogo, every time I look in the mirror I see the enemy.
    Michael Irving

  • Matt
    What kind of preparations?
    Michael Irving

  • Maybe global warming is a hoax? If Al Gore was the real deal then how come he stands to make multi-millions on futures carbon trading on Wall Street. If Al Gore was the real deal then how come he never raised more of a legal issue after the 2000 rigged elections. If Al Gore was the real deal then how come he never intervened during the Clinton Administration against the removal of the Glass Steagall act?

  • craig moodie, I’d love to believe global climate change is a hoax. But I’m a rationalist, so I’ll need to see some evidence countering the mountain of evidence pointing toward runaway greenhouse. There’s no need to drag Al Gore into the issue — he’s a politician, and there is no politically viable solution to either fossil-fuel predicament, global climate change or energy decline. Did you expect him to advocate anarchy?

  • The short answer for Michael Irving —
    Think like you are Amish, but with more colors in your wardrobe.
    Our civilization as we live it today is really very new, abrupt, and temporary in the grand scheme of things. It seems daunting to face major change, but it will not be a massive form of time travel; more like returning to the year 1900 instead of 1400.
    If anyone thinks they are or can be fully prepared, they are likely to be in for ugly surprises. Mental preparation is paramount, and gathering some tools and knowing how to use them seems second to me. It could be that having too advanced an infrastructure for survival could make one a target by violent thugs. The future will play out a million different ways for a million different people (figuratively), but the grand them is change and the end result will be better for the survivors if they are willing to let go of the cancer we call consumerist, capitalist society.

  • Stan,
    “Think like you are Amish.” Good answer. However, all the Amish moved out of here and back to the mid-west three or four years ago. I think it was because of the neighbors, maybe that includes me. I do have a great appreciation for my Mennonite neighbors even if their monthly newsletter tells me I’m going to Hell. They always seem happy and willing to lend a hand.

  • Wendy: Well if the end doesn’t come by 12-31-09,5N will be able to say”I told you so”,although I hope he doesn’t get too snooty about it.
    matt: Double D is pleased to hear from you.The only reason that DD
    refers to himself in the first person singular is I know you find it amusing–I’m much too modest to do it for any other reason.
    Our Stan: Stan why didn’t you return my phone call? Did you get my voice mail message? Please call so you don’t hurt Double D’s feelings.
    Love to all,
    Double D

  • Here’s another attempt to re-imagine a saner society: http://www.spectareveritas.org I have to admit I haven’t read it in light of NNR depletion, but I think the underlying principles are sound, regardless of type of collapse. Would love to hear feedback, which I can feed back to principals involved in its’ creation.

  • Guy,
    Don’t be too hard on yourself and your generation. Woodstock and The summer of love were epiphenomena that were enabled by the nature of American society at that time. Imagine an alternative scenario of 500,000 anti-establishment revelers that gathered together in the name of peace and love only to be butchered – every man woman and child – when the music started to play.
    I think too often we anti-empire, anti-capitalism, anti-industrialism types ignore the many motivations for empire beyond the easy label of greed. And when we acknowledge the motivation of power, we often think of it generically instead of trying to fathom what kind of power it is that the empire is trying to project.
    I would argue that the most empires form, expand, and eventually pass away, whatever their ideological or religious base, in an attempt to create a homogeneous culture large enough to sustain itself through time. Violence is primarily use to remove diversity within an empire’s borders, to expand those borders, and to repel invasions from without. Ironically, it is the brutality of empire that generally enables peace to break out within. That is the motivation.
    Civilization is adored primarily because of civility. The proponents of globalization adore the concept because of their pipedream of global civility. The politics of scarcity, limits to growth, etc.. cannot be acknowledged by the proponents of globalization because it throws humanity right back into the bloodbath of its past.
    It gets even worse with overshoot. Imagine the border disputes to come. The Roman Empire was horrifically bloody, without the benefit of fossil fuels. The end of empire will be no baby-boomer’s dream. For humanity, it will be hell on earth. Monbiot is right in that regard. That is why he and Heinberg and Greer, and their ilk are so conflicted. They want to kill the empire and save civilization. Not going to happen. It’s a classic case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, or as J.R.R. Tolkien so nicely put it: “Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves”.
    Indeed, Nature is the only winner here.
    That’s good enough for me.

  • Ironically, even the Amish don’t think like the Amish any more. They’ve got generators and telephones in their barns (just not in the house), and sell their merchandise online. And their economy relies on the rest of us to buy their nifty stuff.
    As I see it, water is the biggest problem. A certain amount of energy can be generated by wind or solar power (using technology created by the empire) but I cannot see being able to generate enough to provide all the water I’ll need to keep my garden and orchard producing.

  • Wendy,
    Water is a problem. We irrigate out of a springbox, however we still use electricity to pump it up 25 feet to the garden. Figuring out a way to do that without electricity is not too daunting. As far a drinking water we are using a well 500+ feet deep. I have no idea how to do that without electricity. Even off the grid it would require a gas generator to make electricity or solar panels and a DC pump that would be manufactured using high inputs of fossil fuels. Of course we could go back to drinking out of the creek but then we would need to filter it and who knows how to make a 19th century water filter (charcoal I guess???). All of that begs the question, what do people without access to clean surface water do?
    Yes, I agree, water is a problem, and all the more so when supplies start to dry up from climate change.
    Michael Irving

  • reference link = http://www.warsocialism.com/ContinuouslyLessandLess.pdf
    Here is a new 50+page analysis of America’s natural resources predicament, which supports Richard Heinberg’s theory of “Peak Everything”.
    In other words, from the peak, the slope is down, down down…

  • A friend of mine who is peak oil aware and a big Kunstler fan recently returned from Cuba. I asked him whether he had seen any of the urban agriculture touted/documented in the film ‘The Power of Community’. He said its all bullshit, he travelled all around Havana and he did not see any of it, all he saw was a lot of hungry people.

  • Jh Kunstler comes up with his version of my “Obama as Bomb Juggler”
    see: http://kunstler.com/blog/2009/10/self-jiving-nation.html#more

  • new capitalism collapse essay —
    Folks —
    I drive down the road and try to listen to KCBS news or National Public Radio and it is almost impossible to bear the deafness, dumbness and blindness of the financial and market analysts and money news shows. Ostriches would be ashamed.
    On the other hand, I trapped a 1535 gram adult redtailed hawk today and two adult red-shoulders. The big hen was in the upper 5% of body mass of many hundreds of redtails I have banded and a splendid bird. I think she’ll do fine even in the “down” economy. And her husband remains a candidate for future entry into the Federal bird banding program. He saw her get captured, but his time will come, and I will be happy to meet him up close and personal.
    Stan Moore

  • after 17 years of studying the subject of the end of civilization,I made a blog about it:
    please have a look.