Some doors are closed. We will no longer observe long-term growth of the industrial economy. In fact, any growth reported by the government or media is suspect at this point, and probably a result of the age-old fudging-the-numbers trick. We have entered the age of contraction. The days of access to the inexpensive fossil fuels …
The many miles and frequent pauses reveal to any sentient animal the sheer lunacy of the living arrangements we’ve built for ourselves. Within the span of a couple generations, we abandoned a durable, finely textured, life-affirming set of living arrangements characterized by self-sufficient family farms intermixed with small towns that provided commerce, services, and culture. Worse yet, we traded that model for a coarse-scaled arrangement wholly dependent on ready access to cheap fossil fuels. Then we ratcheted up the madness to rely on businesses that use, almost exclusively, a warehouse-on-wheels approach to just-in-time delivery of unnecessary devices designed for rapid obsolescence and disposal.
The next case of $120 oil, assuming we get there before the industrial economy falls into the abyss, will be brutal for an already over-stretched American consumer. Banks are falling like dominoes on a mule cart over the bumpy terrain of declining energy supplies. When will the lights go out?
Occasionally when people talk to me about my new life in and around the mud hut, their conclusions include one of the following statements: (1) You’re selfishly wasting your talent as an excellent and inspiring teacher. You should be teaching at the university, saving students, instead of preparing for economic collapse. (2) Don’t be silly. The United States cannot suffer economic collapse.
My responses go something like this:
The industrial economy is slipping through our fingers like mercury from a broken thermometer. Facing a rapid terminal decline in crude oil — the lifeblood of western civilization — there is nothing you, me, or President Obama can do to save the industrial economy. But as we near the end of the industrial economy, complete with the collapse of our fuel-, food- and water-delivery systems, individuals can make arrangements to thrive in the post-carbon era.
As we pass from the industrial age to the post-carbon era, the mantra of real-estate agents comes to mind. But the important factor less “location, location, location” than “community, community, community.” The latter can be created in any location. Well, except for those locations the United States bombs into the stone age. It’s tough to build community when the U.S. military is carpet-bombing the ‘hood.
Will we transform immediately and totally into ill-behaved rats, clustered in a cage without food? Perhaps, at least in the cages known as cities, particularly when the food runs out, along with the water. But people in the “tribes” known as neighborhoods and communities will try to get along, at least for a while, at least while we’re all suffering more-or-less equally. Small communities will be particularly well-suited for the hard times ahead. The neighborhoods of suburbia, on the other hand, are particularly poorly suited for neighborly behavior of the Mr. Rogers kind. Indeed, sprawling American suburbs seem to have been designed specifically for anonymity and therefore uncaring, unfriendly neighbors.