If it suddenly ended tomorrow, could you somehow adjust to the fall?

We’ve all played the “what if” game, and specifically the one with a timeline. What if I had six months to live? Would I live differently? Would I see somebody, or some place? How would I “make my peace” with the world and those I love?

Let’s kick it up a notch. It’s not one of us with six months to live, it’s the industrial economy. Now whatcha gonna do?

Kunstler’s been wrong before, particularly with respect to timing. Me, too, for that matter. So we might be wrong again. But in this case Kunstler is synthesizing quite an impressive litany of thinkers with economic tendencies. And there is little doubt that the industrial age is nearing its end. If it’s not six months, it’s not much longer. So what if it’s five years? The same rules apply, as far as this game is concerned.

And even if the financial bandages applied by the world’s life-hating politicians manage to hold together the omnicidal industrial economy for a few more years, this is one of those cases in which it’s better safe than sorry. Getting on board a few minutes before the ship brings up the anchor is so much more comforting that striding onto the dock just in time to see the ship hit the open sea.

So, then, when do you call your children home? Or the ailing parents?

There is plenty to be done. For starters, nobody wants to be the last person into a community in disarray. Nobody wants to come skating in, unknown by the neighbors, when the food and water are running low. Nobody wants to be known at the new kid in town, regardless of her age. So there’s the central issue of building community in the community. As if that’s not difficult enough, in a culture anathema to community, there’s more.

It’s not just the human neighbors you’ll want to know. It’s the other, more indigenous, ones. Can you name ten edible plants native to your neighborhood? Can you grow them, or any others? What are the needs of the local animals? Where does the water come from? Does it require industrial treatment prior to human consumption? Is there an alternative source? Do you know how to treat the water so you, and other members of your community, can survive?

On the other hand, you can always take the Hemingway out. Many of the people I know, enamored with lives of comfort and unwilling to face the reality of the real world, claim to have selected this option. I suspect many of them will change their minds when the issue is forced upon them. Evolution — and its resulting absence of free will — is quirky that way.

One swing through the high price of oil took us directly to the Great Depression 2.0. What will the next swing bring? And when?

Time to start thinking. Time to start planning. The time to dig a well is not when you’re thirsty.


This entry is permalinked at Energy Bulletin, Speaking Truth to Power, Island Breath, Energy News, and Running ‘Cause I Can’t Fly.

Comments 19

  • But what if—-and I dread to bring this up—we have the very worst,
    but not unlikely outcome:a very slow,grinding disintegration.Civilization is the very worst thing for the human psyche,for it runs counter to natural human instincts,and for most humans it brings out the very worst in human hature.

    But we have become used to it(civilization).For most it is the way,the only way.Anything else is unimaginable.For most,the slow destruction of
    this way of life cannot be comprehended.It would lead to slowly,or perhaps not so slowly, growing mass insanity.As ProfEmGuy has pointed out many times it all began when we left our hunter-gatherer existence
    for agriculture.That was the real apple in the Garden of Eden.After that
    there was no turning back.That began the death spiral down.

    The powers that be will do everything to keep it going.That is the very worst thing they could do–but try mightily they will.And how many of us have the free will to understand what is going on.Very few.It would
    be painful to see and to experience.Our barbarian nature will be exposed,and it will not be pretty.

    It would be much better to have some huge natural,or economic catastrophe to get it over with quick.

    So,what shall we do if it is not quick?

  • As always your collective complaints come down to the fact that there are too many people on this planet attempting to live a life better than they had it 100 years ago or for that matter better than a life in Haiti. I detect an almost puritan streak running through these postings that the human race should be punished for its sins and attempts to distance itself from sickness,injury,famine and back breaking labor. Yes we face serious trouble because of the numbers and resource limitations but I expect the survivors will not forget about electricity,the internal combustion engine,the various products that can be made out of oil,medical advancements and fertilizer just to name a few. They will strive to go right back to doing what they were doing before even if the number of humans doing it is far less after a collapse. This idea of a sustainable,small community 18th century agricultural paradise that you guys are in love with will not last long. You will simply be marginalized at best and/or quickly overrun by the desperate hordes at worst. I would also hope that the worlds elite have enough sense to leave the nuclear weapons alone rather fight over dwindling resources. If they play their cards right they will survive anyways without taking everything down with them. If we had kept human numbers on this world to a billion or less we would not be in this mess. I guess we get there the hard way.

  • Not all human societies have become resource-gobbling cretins of the Western World. Even here, there are small, insular (and restrictive) societies that live connected to the land. I’m thinking specificially of the Hutterites and less so of the Mennonites. Will they be overrun and destroyed in the barbaric desperation of Industrial Man? I dunno. All around the globe are working models of social organization that exist in relative balance. They’re a lot closer to subsistence than industrial civilization so are plainly unacceptable for those of use conditioned to abundance and unfettered freedoms. And besides, they can’t accept billions of refugees. Still, I suspect they will fare better than most of us unless they’re overwhelmed by armed-to-the-teeth survivalists or machete-weilding hordes.

  • Reply to Greg Breneman:

    “if we had kept human numbers on this world to a billion or less we would not be in this mess”.But apparently you like medical advances and artificial fertilizers–which is why we have more than a billion people
    now.Understand Greg that all technology is self defeating.Your failure to understand that is the reason why you just contradicted yourself.

    Furthur”sickness,injury,famine and back breaking labor” is the way of nature for all living things.That’s the way it is.Saving the human species from those naturally occuring vicissitudes of existence has brought out the worst in human nature,and again given us well more than a billion people.Remember again Greg that all technology is self defeating.You simply cannot have it both ways.

    Your creature comforts mentioned above have given us nearly 7 billion people on this earth.Haiti was doomed anyway,because their gross overpopulation had long ago outstripped the number that could be sustained on their land.Again blame it on technology.

    Civilization like it’s cousin technology is also and always has been self defeating.What you praise is what is destroying us.As soon as we left the hunter-gatherer phase,we embarked on tne necessary path to destruction.

    Do you understand now?

    Frank Mezek

  • Frank I understand that the universe is designed by its very nature to kill off all life. Every time I fly over meteor crater in northern arizona in my plane I am reminded that a nontechnical and nonindustrial life form has no chance to save itself,any other life form or the planet it lives on. The surface of the moon is even better at recording the destruction this planet has endured down through time. It is pointless to live in some primitive society waiting for the the axe to fall.

    There is also no need to abuse technology by using it to over breed. That is a poor choice humanity has made which cannot be sustained on a planet with finite resources.

  • Frank Mezek,
    Note that I replied to your earlier question.

    Michael Irving

  • Guy,

    Good one.
    A billion of our kind on the planet? In geological, evolutionary time frames? – not for very damned long, I’d wager. It doesn’t look like the planet had more than half that many before our forebears began actively mining the topsoil for food. We’ve clapped out so much of the planet now, that it’s hard to imagine Gaeia being able to sustainably withstand a hundred million Homos any time in the next several millennia. But, this is nit-picking, and speculative at that.

    I’m glad to see Angelantoni’s piece getting passed around so widely. Even though he didn’t say much that we haven’t heard before, he laid out the fundamentals in a way that caused the “handwriting on the wall” to suddenly light up like a RED NEON SIGN, for this reader. Like most of us, I’m forever looking for written material to use to inform and enlighten our fellow scale-lidded comrades. Odd occupation… sorta like a Mormon missionary – but without being able to offer the promise of getting to spend eternity running around in Paradise in that peculiar “Joseph Smith” brand underwear.

    With Haiti back in the news, and some sentient commentary on same by some of “us”, I’m reminded of a bit of gratuitous theatre I used to do back twenty years ago.
    I’d announce that I knew “what the future looked like… ( ? )…. HAITI !!” Now that some time has passed, and a possibly-better perspective might be had, I suspect that The Dominican Republic’s future might look like Haiti ( it’s on the same little island ), but that many parts of the rest of the world will tend to look more like Afghanistan, in a century or two, maybe with a few two-leggeds still around at the next millennium ( always – the unknowable timing ). Our Kind has the desertification of Mesopotamia, much of the Mediterranean, North Africa, etc. already to-its-credit. The Garden-of-Eden ain’t what she used to be.

    To take small liberty with a line from “Dilbert” — “It’s a funny universe.” Greg’s right – no nonindustrial, nontechnical life form has any chance to save itself. Same, of course, for any would-be industrial/technical species. We’re ALL in this together. Still, it would be nice to rewind the movie, and take a track that a few more of our offspring could have enjoyed. We’ve hastened the Mars-ification of this one – marvelously.

    “Brutus”, et al – I haven’t read Schmookler’s “Parable of the Tribes”, but know of it, and his game theory-esque assertion that the most warlike tribes will displace the less aggressive ones, as viable habitats become contested. Derrick Jensen likes his own “best line”: “Forests precede us, and deserts dog our heels.” Me likes that line too.

    Greg – again – another prediction from my pew ( don’t we love to make them? ) —
    “What’s going to happen in the next 1000 years? — Damned-near EVERYTHING !”
    ( I’m on a “predictive roll” this morning.) Will the survivors forget about electricity and Briggs & Stratton powered lawn-mowers, etc ? Depends on how fast events turn, don’t it ?

    Charles Hugh Smith’s “SURVIVAL+” arrived in yesterday’s mail. While it suffers from some pimply cosmetic features ( due to a presumptive rush to get it out ) the writing is clear and the explications are comprehensible. I’m very glad, so far, to have it in hand. I expect it will be useful in my own dogged and dog-eared “missionary work”. Anyone else read it yet ? Your thoughts ?

    Thanks, Guy, for keeping the worm can stirred up. And thanks to all the Good Powers that keep this site from being too-much the food fight that Kunstler’s page devolves into.


  • My! Are’nt you all so self-absorbed, filled with a sense of such self-importance. All this talk of how we got into this mess and how we can reverse the situation i.e save the planet, is just a pathetic idea. It also shows how arrogant we are, to think that we actually matter in the bigger scheme of things. This wonderful planet if scientists are to be beleived will be around for few billion more years and is a self-healing organism. So, after we kiss our little behinds goodbye it may take a little while, but this little blue ball will have removed all evidence of human existence. Except, maybe plastic. So, once and for all, get off your pedestals and if you truly love the natural world as I do, stop whinging and enjoy it while it still lasts.

  • Craig Moodle,

    Well, I’m really clear on where you stand. In your vision we should enjoy the natural world while it lasts and not extend one once of energy toward taking any action that might remotely, possibly, make things even a tiny bit better. I’m guessing that you are looking down your nose right now at those self-absorbed members of “Doctors Without Borders” and the like who are struggling in Haiti as we speak. I get it; it’s such a pathetic idea for us to do anything other than contemplating our navels. I understand why you posit yourself as an expert on the self-absorbed. Well I for one am calling bull shit on your ideas Craig. Either get off your ass and try to help or, if you really think the human species is the sum of all evil, volunteer to join the extinction parade today. At very least crawl back in your hole and keep your crap to yourself.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael Irving, Well, it seems like I pinched a nerve. Mission accomplished! You see I am fed up with bleeding heart anthropocentric “Amy Goodman” type liberals and your social ideologies. You were quick to judge me, so allow me the same luxury. Judging by your comments I can only assume you consider things like over-population as being a taboo subject and that your concern for the environment is only to prevent humans from experiencing any future discomfort. You fail to see that it is over-socialisation that is the root cause of the world problems. The power hungry elites know it and they exploit it to suit their agenga. For the record, I have been involed in numerous conservation projects in South Africa and have donated generously to various animal charities (note:animal not human. Goodness knows how many bleeding heart human rights orginisations there are). I am also involved presently in purchasing a game farm in Southern Africa so I am able to start a wild life rehabilitation centre. So you were wrong in accusing me of sitting on my behind. By the way, please give me an example of what good humanity has done except being compulsive consumers, and they always want a little more. In reply to your request that I join the extinction parade, don’t hold your breath I’m too much of a Social Darwinist to do that. In nature only the strong survive, however, it did not take long for humans to change the laws of nature and start protecting the weak. Finally, please don’t label me as a conservative. I am a apolitical, athiestic,non-anthropocentric naturalist and please don’t think my misanthropy covers all humanity. I enjoy people as i meet them,I have a wonderful family and treat people that I encounter daily with dignity and respect.

  • Greg wrote
    “There is also no need to abuse technology by using it to over breed. That is a poor choice humanity has made which cannot be sustained on a planet with finite resources.”

    Most technological/medical advances have not been used to over breed, they have been used to save/help/extend lives of people that nature would have thrown away. The more developed an area is the less the human population reproduces.

    To Craig
    While I agree with much of what you wrote. The idea of Earth just washing its hands of humankind is no different than the idea of humans destroying the planet. You are just shifting the mechanism from humans to earth, which IMO is a logical error that functions in the exact way as the opposing argument (easing of stress on our conscience). Just my 2cents.


  • its all been said before…

    ‘economic growth or a habitable planet’

    choose one, you cannot have both

    on ya bike!

  • Craig Moodie,

    Thanks for clarifying your position. I thought for a moment you were serious and I reacted to it. Now I see that you were just having fun at our expense. Yup, you pulled my chain.

    I liked your presentation. It was well done, especially how you pretend not to be, what did you call it, a bleeding heart anthropocentric “Amy Goodman” type liberal. And the challenge to give you an example of one thing humanity has done other than be consumers was great. I’ll rise to that bait. There is a guy I’ve heard of who has been involved in numerous conservation projects in South Africa, donates generously to various animal charities and is rumored to be purchasing a game farm in Southern Africa with a goal of wildlife rehabilitation. I think the guy is a genial person too, happy to meet people on the street where he treats them with dignity and respect. I’ve heard he’s a loving family man, too. I personally think he works way too hard denying his bleeding heart liberal tendencies. I think that’s six things and some of them are multiples. And that’s only one person.

    As for my extinction parade comment, I apologize for that. It was way over the top. Remember though, it was your game to try to crank somebody up, and you did.

    Tomorrow you can go back to donating to animal causes and so will I. You can go back to enjoying the people you meet and so will I. You’ll probably have a conservation project to work on like the forest and wilderness protection issues I’m involved in. You can go back to working to buy a place for protecting animals and I’ll keep doing that here on my place.

    One thing you probably won’t have to do tomorrow is wake up in a country where the Supreme Court just made corporations citizens and gave them more rights than us humans, which is part of the reason I was so freaking angry this morning. It is not the liberals you should be afraid of. They are not the power hungry elites.

    Also, because I am a bleeding heart liberal I’ll keep trying to get food to hungry people. It is not because I don’t think we should be talking about over population, in fact I think it is the root issue of the earth’s problems. I think hungry people should be feed because it is not their fault. Nobody chooses to be hungry. To refuse them food, or just turn away, is to refuse them dignity and respect.

    You have to refuse to accept the false dogma. It is not true that because some humans are evil then all humans are evil.

    Michael Irving

  • Michael, Thanks for your response, will comment in due course. One issue you could help clarify for me regarding the supreme court ruling. The outrage expressed by liberals like Thom Hartman, Ralph Nader, Greg Palast is all a bit confusing to me, being non American. You see, I have always been under the impression that lobbying by special interests has been about the exact thing everyone is now up in arms about, only the new ruling is just stepping up the ante. I have always viewed lobbying as a legal form of bribery and corruption. Where has the outrage been against lobbying for how ever long it has been legal.

  • Reply to Andrew:

    Sex is fun—that is the reason for human overpopulation.This is just one more example of the rule that all technology is self defeating.

    In this case technology is used to keep all the fun sex babies alive,
    who were born by accident.

    That’s all there is to it.Remember that the simplest explanation is usually
    the correct one.

    Frank Mezek

  • Craig Moodie,

    Thanks for your response. I have only time for a quick note. I’ll try to do better later.
    You are right to point out that the volume is so high for rhetorical purposes. You are also correct about lobbies because through them corporations are already exerting overwhelming power. All that aside, however, this ruling (and this is only my understanding of it, could be wrong) does several things. First it grants the same free speech rights to corporations that are afforded the citizens in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Second, in granting those rights it essential grants them also citizenship equal to that of any human citizen and a citizen cannot be barred from saying anything (short of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater) and money talks. Therefore, corporations cannot be prevented from spending as much money as they wish on any political campaign. Over here elections, at every level, are more and more controlled by how much money is dumped into television adds. This ruling allows for corporations to dump huge sums of money in order to control the debate. It also allows them to threaten to withhold campaign money from candidates or sitting elected officials if they do not toe the corporate line. In other words the Court may have just given the country to the corporations like 1930’s Italy. Finally, since many corporations that operate in the US are foreign owned, it allows (for example China) unfriendly governments to control the government of the US.

    I hope this does it justice.

    Michael Irving

  • Not bad, Micheal. They also, I believe, don’t have to disclose how much they spend.

    Of course this plays into the whole “may as well buy a Hummer and burn that petrol to bring the collapse faster” meme flogged here. If we let the corporations have their way we’ll be building naval bases in the Arctic, just in time to have to move them uphill. Too bad the natives will all be living in inland cinderblock ‘homes’ already, and we’ll just have to steal their new homes as well.

    Saw ‘Avatar’ two hours ago, and still looking for my bow and arrows. How can I survive The Correction if I have no weapons?

  • Vertalio,

    Thanks for your confirmation. By the way, I saw ‘Avatar’ today too. My mouth is still hanging open. It blew my doors off.

    Michael Irving

  • Thnaks for the article Guy, nothing like a bit more magical thinking to keep culture-as-usual going…good to see you ripping rose tinted glasses off again!

    To Frank, your comment “sex is fun = overpopulation” is IMO rubbish.
    Many indigenous cultures have very long histories of steady state ecologically balanced populations, using lots of specific herbs as contraceptives and abortofactants. Sex was still a lot of fun, but babies weren’t popping out like we “civilised” tend to do.

    Also we have a history of elites and religious leaders encouraging population growth for the sake of their power&control games, especially the growth of industrialism and consumerism. Of course, the GDP (general dumb puplic) are either ignorant and/or in denial about this, locked down behind the golden curtain of consumerism and high energy through put. Tell them constantly through the education and media that this is the way humans are supposed to live, and like fish in water that are last to see the water, the GDP will be the last to recognise that the dominant culture we’re force fed 24/7 is pathologically, suicidally insane.

    I believe “Overshoot” by William Catton should be required reading in every high school and university. It could be intergrated into all education via Permaculture training.

    At the least read through and understand the definitions page at http://www.greatchange.org/footnotes-overshoot.html

    Sure is an “exciting time” to be alive, eh?

    Ted Howard
    Nelson, NZ