Thursday, June 13, 2013

Living with Global Collapse: Principles for Turbulent Times

1. The present issues can be summarized by saying that oil, electricity, and metals are going into decline, and that as a result all other goods and services are also in decline. In terms of money, the general effect is "stagflation": stagnant incomes combined with increasing prices. The ultimate cause of all these issues is overpopulation.

2. Dealing with the near future requires two approaches: financial and non-financial.

3. The first approach is to accumulate as much money as possible in the next few years and live on those savings. Of course, there is not so much "easy money" these days. One trick is to find a high-paying job that most people do not have the fortitude to accept.

4. This financial approach means one must stop living in denial. In the first place, many people deny that they are short of money, while in reality their debt-to-asset ratio is atrocious: they are burdened with credit cards, mortgages, car payments, student loans, and so on. Secondly, many people are ashamed of their financial state and therefore keep it a secret; the same thing happened during the Great Depression. But this is absurd: If every family is poor, how can poverty be shameful?

5. The non-financial approach is a low-key version of what the glossy magazines call "country living": learning how to provide oneself with food, clothing, and shelter in ways that do not involve being so connected to the global economy. These skills can vary greatly in the degree to which they are "pre-industrial" ("primitive"). The extreme approach would constitute going off into the bush with only a gun and an ax; less off-beat would be learning not to pick up a telephone and call for outside assistance every time something around the house needs a minor repair.

6. The catch to the financial approach is that money is ephemeral, perhaps more so now than at any time in the past. To use a common expression, money nowadays is just dots on a screen; what do we do when we cannot see the dots? It can be rather frightening to consider that one's hard-earned life-savings are nothing but electronic impulses in a vast and complex network that nobody really understands.

7. In general the word "electronic" should be a danger signal. Although modern industrial society is based on fossil fuels, it is not these but electricity that is the most fragile part of our way of life. Of all the really distinct stages of systemic collapse, the failure of electricity will be the first to arrive. The great blackout of northeastern North America in August 2003, among others, was a warning of things to come. Also, most people have forgotten that in the 1960s the extreme sensitivity of computers to electronic impulses (EMP) from nuclear weapons was recognized as a serious weakness. Our dependence on electronics becomes greater with each passing year: anyone without a mobile phone and a laptop computer is ostracized, alienated from middle-class society.

8. Acquiring independence from the industrial leviathan takes many forms. One good rule of thumb is that every time one learns to do something without spending money, one has acquired a new "survival skill." A related principle is, "Don't own anything you can't fix." Obviously the use of a mobile phone does not follow those two rules of thumb.

9. We should keep in mind the old lie perpetuated by Marshall McLuhan: that the medium is the message. The Internet probably uses about 5 percent of the global electricity supply, and about 10 percent of the US supply, although nobody knows for sure. Yet there is an important distinction between data and information. Most of the data carried by the Internet could be deleted with no loss to our species. We can no longer distinguish between quantity and quality. In reality, "more, bigger, faster" just means "dumber, dumber, dumber." One should get rid of the TV set and try having a conversation.

10. There are not many problems that cannot be solved with a good knapsack and a few mountains. A look down any city sidewalk will reveal another form of denial: that most human beings in modern society are fat, pale, and pimply. The future will belong to those who are both mentally and physically fit.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your article and want to comment on item 10. Your many writings emphasize the exponential growth of world population as a direct result of man kinds use of the Fossil energy stored in the ground. For the past 150 years or so, Natural Selection has ceased to function amongst human populations. Pretty much everyone gets to live long enough to reproduce. For the most part, the weak, the slow, the not very smart or clever, and even the sick and crippled get to reproduce today. Being stronger, smarter, quicker and healthier is no longer a factor in survival for most of humanity. Natural selection has been temporarily turned off. Humans are in fact devolving. That explains some of the "dumbing down" of society and the world in general. Once the full affect of the great decline in underground Fossil fuels takes affect, Natural Selection will once again reign supreme for the humans that survive the die-off. I am "Phil in Southern Oregon".