This must be a nightmare

by Kevin Moore

Like most people who grew up in Britain in the 1950s or 1960s, I was trained to believe in a “better, brighter future” that could be achieved via continuing advances in technology. Having no reason to doubt what I was told, I did believe in a better, brighter future.

However, throughout the 1970s and 1980s I witnessed the more or less continuous failure of governments everywhere to deal with the crucial long term issues I had become aware of by the early 1970s. As the end of the twentieth century approached it was becoming increasingly clear to me that the serious deficiencies in mainstream thinking, in particular the failure to accept the limited nature of resources and failure to accept the limited capacity of natural systems to deal with waste generated by humans, would result in disaster for humanity and extinction for numerous species in the not-too-distant future.

By the time I wrote Burn baby, burn –The terrifying truth about global warming and the consumer society in 2001 I was fully aware that the age of oil would be coming to an end soon and that if society was not prepared for it there would be much unnecessary suffering. I wrote: “Total global production of oil is likely to diminish after 2010-2015.”

I was fully aware that Earth was warming due to rising carbon dioxide emissions, and that there was a very real prospect of severe climate change and devastating sea level rise, particularly if positive feedbacks amplified the warming. I wrote: ”We could be hit by one of a number of unexpected calamities” (I had not heard of the term “Black Swan” at that time), and wrote that ”my personal projection is for a total collapse of the entire social and economic structure of the western world well before 2050. Indeed, I would suggest that such a collapse is likely to occur before 2015 and could easily happen long before that date.”

I was fully aware that mainstream growth projections for world population were absurd: “Standard projections indicate a continuing trend upward, reaching 9,000 million by 2050; are such projections realistic, given that collapse of the environment has already commenced?”

I was aware that species were being driven to extinction due to loss of habitat, overfishing, poaching, pollution, and other factors: “The seas now contain toxins unknown in Darwin’s time, and many of the fish and sea-going mammals Darwin would have thought of as commonplace are close to extinction.”

I was fully aware that acidification of the oceans had us on a path that could lead to large-scale death of organisms near the base of the ocean food chain, and discussed the need to limit anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in order to preserve the long-term habitability of this planet.

I was fully aware that mainstream culture was trite, destructive, and unsustainable, and that the dominant economic system had no long-term future due to depletion of resources and inherent flaws in the system, especially the false measurement of wealth via GDP.

I was very aware of the need to apply the precautionary principle: “Application of the precautionary principle demands that action be taken now.”

I likened our situation to being concerned passengers aboard the Titanic: “The captain insists there is no need to worry since the ship is unsinkable, and asks us to return to the lounge and enjoy the entertainment.”

A decade later I recognise I was naïve. I had a lot to learn. I thought that all one needed to do was to raise crucial issues in a compassionate and logical manner, and then public debate and implementation of appropriate strategies would follow. I was not aware that corporations funded multi-million-dollar misinformation campaigns to undermine the efforts of those who promoted sustainability. I was not aware of the depth of corruption associated with most political parties and governments. I was not aware that local government was primarily concerned with facilitating the agendas of opportunists. And I was not aware that most people in industrialised societies were unreachable and did not want frank discussion about the future.

It took me several years to learn about the barriers ‘the empire’ has constructed to preserve status quo arrangements, and to discover the truth about the culture of misinformation, fantasy, delusion, and denial that characterises western societies. I discovered much of it the hard way. I still recall a particularly heated argument I had with an engineer who insisted that “debts don’t matter,” “the Earth was warmer in the Middle Ages,” and “there is plenty of oil.” He told me I worried too much.

I will not bore the reader with a list of persons and organisations to which I attempted to raise crucial issues relating to the future: Such a list would extend for many pages. Suffice it to say that it includes numerous ministers of government, members of parliament, heads of national organisations, senior staff at numerous educational institutions, and numerous officials in local government. The response of most was apathy or denial. Some responded with platitudes. Some made no response at all. The response to the extensive submissions I made to Manukau City Council in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 was to thank me for my submission and advise me that “no change to plan was recommended.” The plan [that was not to be amended] was to cover as much of the remaining agricultural land as possible with roads, houses, shopping malls, and car parks, and increase the dependency of the community on resources I knew were about to enter terminal decline. I fled Manukau in 2006.

In a brief window of opportunity before I commenced my own preparations for the “triple tsunami” I foresaw, I wrote The Thinking Person’s NZ Guide to Surviving the Future. And over the period 2007 to 2009 I made numerous extensive presentations to New Plymouth District Council. The response was similar to that of Manukau, what I refer to as “the beached whale syndrome.” That is, upon completion of a submission detailing crucial issues that require urgent action to save the community from future calamity, the majority of councillors sat in a state resembling that of a beached whale in its dying moments. It was through my attempts to deal with my local council that I leaned what constructed ignorance is and learned that public consultation is a charade.

Let us be very clear about this matter. The Local Government Act states that the purpose of local government is, among other things, to protect and promote the well-being of the community and the environment in the present and in the future. Bearing in mind that my local council makes no mention of peak oil, climate change, or fiat money in its ten-year plan, and is primarily concerned with growth of suburbia, artworks, and the promotion of tourism, you begin to get my drift, especially when we note that the mayor of the time just happened to be an hotelier. In fact every council in New Zealand blatantly breaches the Local Government Act. However, central government and most of the general populace are quite content with the current state of affairs. After all, it’s all a matter of interpretation. And if you ignore all the elephants in the room and create your own reality you can say anything you like and make it true. Thus, council propaganda continues to be full of buzz words and catchphrases such as “vibrant,” “enhanced,” “sustainable development,” and “prudent management” even as the ship goes down. What I thought a few years ago to be a moral imperative — to prepare the community in which I live for what I know is coming by speaking unspeakable truths — turned into a nightmare.

It is now very clear to me that almost everything officialdom promotes exacerbates the predicaments of peak oil, climate change, acidification of the oceans, community indebtedness, and poverty. Readers familiar with my commentary will understand why I repeatedly describe the world around me as surreal and Orwellian. Perhaps, when I wrote Ten Things Everyone Ought To Know in 2009, I should have given it the title Ten Things Most People Don’t Want To Know. Even as we begin to slip off the ‘bumpy plateau’ and suffer the economic effects of declining EROEI and rising food prices, New Zealand mainstream culture concerns itself with rugby tournaments, motor racing, celebrity gossip, rebuilding a city in a location destined to be under water a few decades from now, and the choice between another bridge and a tunnel across The Waitemata Harbour (in anticipation of substantial growth in vehicle numbers in Auckland). They’ll just keep doing it until they can’t. In that respect New Zealand is little different from any other industrialised nation in which the bulk of the populace is essentially scientifically illiterate and financially illiterate, and is manipulated by big business.

There is nothing special about the warnings I have given over the years, or the fact that they have been ignored. As I point out in my latest book, almost every warning on every major issue that has been given over the past 50 years has been ignored. The only significant exception I can think of has been limiting the production and use of ozone-depleting substances. If industrial humanity had continued to attack the atmosphere at the rate it had been before we dealt with atmospheric ozone depletion, this planet would probably be largely uninhabitable by now.

I could write here about depleted uranium, gyres of plastic waste in the oceans, genetically modified organisms, confined animal factory farming or peak phosphorus, along with a plethora of other matters most people are ignorant about and by and large do not want to discuss. Space precludes such discussion.

Schopenhauer suggested that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. My own experience in attempting to deliver important truths to ordinary people and to organizations leads me to the following general conclusions: There are two kinds of people in the world, those who seek the truth and those who run from it. There are two kinds of organization in the world, those that embrace the truth and those that try to conceal it.

Where does it leave us? Obviously nobody knows exactly what the future will bring. My suggestion a decade ago that total collapse could occur well before 2015 proved wrong. A very significant crisis did occur in 2008, but a bit more fraudulent creation of money by central banks pulled the world out of that particular nosedive; the system has a lot more resilience than I thought. Nevertheless, I have complete confidence in my “before 2050” prediction, and currently tend to think in terms of most of the things we presently take for granted becoming unavailable before 2020.

Many windows of opportunity have already closed (Gold has risen from around $250 an ounce to over $1400 during the past decade), and the last windows of opportunity for physical preparations are closing. I remind those who are at all interested that it normally takes between 3 years and 10 years for fruit trees to mature. Anyone who is not already making preparations for the real future is almost certain to run out of time. Not that preparation is any guarantee of survival — it just improves the odds.

Sadly, it is coming generations, who have no say in the matter, who are going to pay the horrendous price for the ignorance, greed, and collective stupidity that characterise modern industrial societies. That is a message most people still do not want to hear.


Kevin Moore was born in the south of England, where he studied chemistry to BSc Honours level and subsequently studied industrial technology. He migrated to New Zealand in 1974. He has spent much of his life involved in industrial chemistry and education, and has written five books on energy, economics, and the environment. The Easy Way, his most recent book, will be available later this year.

Comments 110

  • a little more re emotions, as it is an arena i have worked, & written about…i believe dr. h/kathy/kevin/etc…. all of us use similar, & overlapping terms/ideas, of what i’m attempting to point out.

    i use the three categories… instinct, emotion, thinking; attempting to tease them out when life seems to not be going how i want it to; that is w/o the conscious work of thinking much…as these are in reality melded together along w/ actions/behaviors.

    another tool i have used a lot is the idea of when i am focused on feelings’ i attempt to use the ‘simplest’ most basic words possible. this is not unlike robin’s bullshit detector. so if i think apprehension i focus on fear, etc. noting my own probable pushing away my feeling[intellectually]. of course 2 basic feelings might be contradicting each other…sad ‘he’s dead’; glad ‘he’s dead’…happening at the same moment. one feeling[i sometime substitute the term ‘need’ for feeling] focused on at a time…then exploring my thoughts, recognizing my instinctual impulses too.

    as kevin’s long impressive track record points out inaction by others, & has been noted by many comments; i think often we are dealing with instincts[as dr. h points out]; even more primary than feelings. i believe kathy’s eloquent points about feelings of course include instincts, i’m just suggesting a further categorizing can be helpful…especially for our own personal growth.


    a good read; especially the last sentence!

    by Peter Goodchild

    Systemic collapse, the coming dark age, the coming crash, overshoot, the die-off, the tribulation, the coming anarchy, resource wars — there are many names…

    The need for a successful community to be far removed from urban areas is also a matter of access to the remaining natural resources. With primitive technology, it takes a great deal of land to support human life. What may look like a long stretch of empty wilderness is certainly not empty to the people who are out there picking blueberries or catching fish. That emptiness is not a prerogative or luxury of the summer vacationer. It is an essential ratio of the human world to the non-human.

  • instinct, emotion, thinking
    Instinct refers to “hardwired” patterns of behavior related to physiologic needs, with a biological mechanism in the wiring of the nervous system, development of muscle and other structures, and is not “learned”, such as bevy turtles heading for the sea after hatching, animals species (in which there is no parental care) eating the right foods and fending for themselves, etc.

    But all three are melded together, and hence the extensive and intricate intellectual responses in defence of denial.

  • Sam [ i attempt to use the ‘simplest’ most basic words possible.] Have you noticed that the simplest words can be the hardest to define and the ones that have the most variance in meaning to people. Especially those that connote an emotion. Love for instance has multitudes of definitions and in fact even partner love and parental love mean different things to different people.

    Funny story. My mother was an emotionally stunted person. One time she was telling me about mother love. She said a mother would do anything for her child. She started to tell a story of how one time I pulled my hand away from hers and darted towards the road – ok now here is the point where you expect to hear that she threw herself in front of an oncoming car to save me – but what she then said was “I hollered stop at the top of my voice”. Ah so her mother love extended to stressing her vocal chords :)

    But beyond that I think both our instincts and our inner decider respond to inputs from the world. These can be sight sound and touch. I think the function of our conscious rational (?) brain is to be another sense organ. It processes the other senses and attempts to make sense of the sensory input. It then feeds that processed sensory input to the decider giving humans a richer set of data for the decider to act on. When speed is needed it is bypassed. Child runs in front of car, driver slams on breaks before he even thinks about what to do (perhaps hurting his foot which is more than my mother was willing to do). But when speed is not a factor, the conscious brain can ferret out information that is more detailed and organized than what the senses of sight sound and touch can provide.

    But the unconscious decider decides. As in I don’t want to eat another cookie. I know it is bad for my health, will increase my weight, useless calories, as the hand puts cookie in mouth. Or in the words of Paul of Tarsus “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

    In fact one trick to access that unconscious decider (and the emotions that it uses to make choices) is to toss a coin to decide something and then see how you feel about the toss. If you are happy with the results go with it, if you are unhappy, take the other action. :)

  • Russia Running on Empty
    Russia may be the world’s number one oil producer, but it is running out of gasoline. The domestic petrol shortage in several regions prompted the government of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ban exports of refined petroleum products late last month, especially as the country gears up for State Duma elections in December and Presidential elections in the spring of 2011. This is a political issue for Russia. “People can’t understand simple logic. If oil prices are going up, gasoline must also be more expensive – even in Russia,” Konstantin Simonov, Director of the National Energy Security Fund in Moscow, told New Europe by phone on 5 May. A few hours earlier at a government presidium, the premier ordered his Deputy, Igor Sechin, and the anti-monopoly service to look into the possibility of price-fixing among oil majors.

  • oil at $101.42 – looks like someone is going to make some money….

  • Dated Brent Spot, $115+. This is the one that counts.

  • We are witnessing a slow collapse; a fast collapse would not suit TPTB. Therefore the nightmare will continue for quite a while longer.

  • Just wanted to pop in and share a noteworthy article on Industrial Capitalism and Consumption: Humanity Hitting the Resource Ceiling