|Salvador Dali's 1957 'Dance'
There’s always a lot of discussion on peak oil forums about whether the decline of industrial civilzation will take the form of a vertiginous descent, or whether it will be something long and grinding that will be measured in decades and centuries rather than years or months. In the fast-collapse camp are the likes of Dmitry Orlov (who bases his assessment on his experience of seeing the USSR implode) and Ugo Bardi, who expects a ‘Seneca’s Cliff’ dropoff. James Kunstler, Michael Ruppert and any number of others can probably also be added to the fast-collapse camp.
In addition to these criticisms, some would point out that today’s global economy, aided and abetted by instant communications, is far more prone to cascading collapses, in which one strand in the web breaking leads to the whole web being destroyed. A bank collapse in China, for example, could lead to other banks seizing up and cause commerce to freeze as notes of credit go unwritten. By comparison, a mercantile trader in 15th century Venice would not have known that the bond guaranteeing his cargo was worthless for up to several months following the bankruptcy of a creditor, and trade would have carried on as normal in the interim. Inefficient communications, in this case, meant resilience.
Anyway, all the talk about fast collapse/slow collapse can seem a bit like fiddling while Rome burns. The simple facts of the matter are that we have exhausted all of the cheap energy options available to us, which is causing the global financial system - an entirely fabricated construct that can only run on blind optimism, greed and political largesse - to exist in a state of total crisis. Virtually every large economy in the world is facing up to its own pet crisis, although the scope and nature of each one is quite different. Europe is mired in unpayable debt, the US is addicted to pumping illusory ‘money’ via the Print button on the Fed’s keyboard and is just starting to realise there is no way back down the ladder, China’s gargantuan credit bubble is deflating, Japan is playing Russian roulette, and commodity producing countries such as Brazil and Australia are reeling from lowering demand from formerly insatiable importers. This is not just part of the business cycle as most talking heads assert.
It does seem quite likely that we are facing an uber Minsky Moment - that moment where investors realise their assets are vastly over-valued and stampede for the door. But where will they stampede to? The US dollar and world stock markets look like safeish havens for the time being to many, which would explain the Dow Jones’ and FTSE’s phenomenal head-scratching rises in recent weeks. Precious metals and land are being snapped up, especially by China which wants to simultaneously dump risky American assets and build a global network of agricultural land to feed its too-late-to-the-game middle class consumers (leaving ravaged ecosystems and raging mobs of dispossessed people in their wake). It’s a game where the stakes keep getting higher and higher with every passing week.
But the planet, of which our human economy is simply one small subset of, is a complex system to say the least, and complex systems are difficult to break all in one go. That’s why in my opinion collapse will not come about in a neatly linear fashion, but will be of a stop-start nature, like a badly-maintained fairground ride with a sadistic teenage operator. Of course, when I say the word ‘collapse’ I am mostly talking about the impacts it will have on the lives of we who live in the ‘West’ - most countries and people in the world have been living with collapse for centuries. Try telling a Malawian subsistence farmer that we may be in for a bumpy ride and see how he responds.
As has been noted before, global financial collapse is likely to be the first step, and that could happen overnight. Hot on its heels will be commercial collapse and a very sustained period of, shall we say, discomfort. Political collapse, as well as the rule of law, are next up on the Magical Mystery Collapse Tour, and we can only pray that we don’t get to social collapse too soon.
Some stages are likely to be faster than others. The collapse of credit availability, insurance and investor confidence will be more or less instanteous once the first big domino falls, but national currencies, cooperative arrangements and various forms of trade will no doubt linger on for some time. Commerce is complex, with some supply chains being more fragile than others, so we’re likely to see the availability of most high tech items severely curtailed, while more basic items that don’t have to be shipped halfway across the globe and rely on several hundred individual suppliers, will be available for longer. Rationing will prolong the agony and the black market will step in as people get used to the idea that things are not as they used to be.
So, for most of us I expect to see collapse happening at different rates. Sometimes they will be fast and brutal, and other times they will be slow and unnoticeable to those concerned until viewed in the rear view mirror of history. It’ll be a case of slow-slow-quick-quick-slow - which we might as well call a foxtrot collapse, after the ballroom dance with the same moves.
Becoming aware of the proximity of the stages of collapse should be a priority for individuals and governments alike, but for a multitude of human reasons this is not the case. Nevertheless, if you’re reading this then you’re probably also one of ‘the choir’ and are acutely aware of all the mounting problems that we face. It’s a catch 22 situation, aided and abetted by most media, which are desperately blinkered when it comes to nebulous predicamants, and keen to focus on blaming individual people for their follies. Oh, and it doesn't help shift advertising space.
So for the time being we have blogs to use as communication tools, although when they are gone one day we might be back to the days of printed mailing lists and subscriber magazines and journals. In fact, I think I’ve already come up with one ...The Entropy Times - your daily dose of doom.
You heard about it here first.
You heard about it here first.
***By the way - this is my 100th post. I can't believe I have actually got this far with this blog, and further can't believe that there are some 10,000 page views a month (although probably at least half are robots/government spies/friends checking that I am still batty). I'm thinking about actually trying to earn a few pennies from my endeavours and writing a book, making it available to buy from this site. It already has a working title - Mind the Vortex - How to Survive the 21st Century - but I'd be interested to hear if anyone thinks this is a good idea or a bad one. With all the work I am doing over at Fox Wood (this week I dug a humungous hole by hand and cleared half an acre of brambles with a sickle) I could do with a project that doesn't involve getting covered in mud and coming home with bleeding forearms and blistered hands.
Thanks for reading 22 Billion Energy Slaves!