Monday, May 4, 2009

Brave New World

Well I am wrapping up preparations for a long ocean voyage across and around the Pacific Ocean. The old suburban keeps swallowing more food and gear. The drive down to the port in Mexico will total 1600 miles and the ocean distance traversed may approach 7000 miles broken into two long legs. If the weather gods smile upon us and our old fiberglass cockleshell holds together we may fetch up on the coast of Alaska before Independence Day. Cousin Hal and daughter Heidi are the intrepid crew. I have started to view the trip in metaphorical terms, as perhaps grist for my novel ideas and as an opportunity to reflect upon the changes sure to come this century as our world moves from an industrial economy to a deindustrial future. I will certainly use this time to enjoy a break from the brouhaha of the clanging culture and the madding crowd as we bid adieu to television, mass culture and the internet. There are so very few people who appreciate the consequences of these wrenching changes to come and the preparations that we as individuals must make to deal with an economy on the downside of the Hubbert Oil Peak which appears to have occurred last year. From here on out the world will start to have less oil and within a decade or so less cheap energy of all types. Very few people understand that the past few centuries of exponential population growth, industrial and technological expansion was caused by free and seemingly inexhaustible fossil energy and now that cheap energy availability is ending, so will this growth. But almost no one sees this Big Picture except for a few thoughtful observers. And it is just our rotten luck to be en mired in a severe recession or depression caused by the last gasp greed of corporate financial and government figures who have destroyed a world economy based increasingly on growth and unregulated capitalism and consumption of resources of all types. The devils who caused this recent collapse are fighting to revive their failed juggernaut by seeking a transfusion from the futures of our children saddling and layering on more and more debt on to a population increasingly unemployed and poor. It is always this way. The nobles maintain their wealth by exploiting the serfs. For a while in the post war period America enjoyed an explosion of wealth and an expansion of its middle class. By working at a job making things and providing services, an American citizen could provide shelter and sustenance for himself and his family on just his income and dream of a brighter economic future for his children.This was possible in 1970 and has become less possible with each passing decade and is now only possible if you are a noble. It is no coincidence that it was about 1970 when American reached peak oil production, the Hubbert Peak. This prosperity was made possible and was in fact facilitated by this nearly free fossil energy. This same peak has now been reached on a global basis and the energy that fueled this industrial expansion is starting to run out but the consequences are still invisible to the bulk of the population. The great automobile dependent suburban expansion with its malls and industrial parks and cloverleafs much of it built in inhospitable regions is long in the tooth and starting to decay. Metatastatic sunbelt cities dependent upon cheap energy such as Phoenix have no future and will almost certainly depopulate in coming decades as the invisible economic energy umbilical is cut in a scenario laid out in exquisite elegant detail by James Michael Greer in his Theory of Catabolic Collapse. And today our politicians, our media, and our people are obsessed with a collapsing economy. They think that someday they will be able to return to an economy they experienced for the past 30 or 40 years. The investment community dreams of a return to historical returns of 11% in their stock markets. They do not see that all this growth and wealth expansion occurred because of cheap available oil and cheap energy. I think that some regions will experience true social collapse with dangerous disorder while other regions with local production of food and goods will survive and even thrive. Countries who have evolved into highly complex networked economies dependent upon cheap energy will suffer a stair step decline in their standard of living. There have been periods in this nation's history when we had a dynamic social order, when we built buildings and cities of great beauty and created enduring art. I'm thinking for example, of the Craftsman Period from 1890 to about 1920. We can return to an economy based upon local production and livable walkable communities in habitable climates but until we wake up as a nation to the futility of trying to reflate an utterly doomed model, we will not be able to approach even the possibility of building a new sustainable and nurturing society. I am reminded of the lines of Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach:
"And we are here as on a darling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

2 comments:

endofcapitalism.com said...

Nice blog! Beautiful pictures. I envy your boating, sounds peaceful. Wyoming also sounds wonderful.

I just wanted to respond and say hi. My name's Alex from Philadelphia, I maintain the blog The End of Capitalism: http://endofcapitalism.com. I'm hopefully one of the "few thoughtful people" you mentioned, although I think we're not as few as you suggest. I'm constantly finding more energy-aware folks, like yourself!

I like what you said here:

"We can return to an economy based upon local production and livable walkable communities in habitable climates but until we wake up as a nation to the futility of trying to reflate an utterly doomed model, we will not be able to approach even the possibility of building a new sustainable and nurturing society."

I'm convinced the "doomed model" is capitalism itself, and so I'm building an anti-capitalist perspective around awareness of energy descent and environmental crisis, as well as social justice.

The end of capitalism comes when a system built and dependent on Growth bumps against the limits of reality, at which point it's likely to spin out of control and fall apart, which i think is what's beginning to happen now.

The only way out of this mess is to increase democracy, meaning giving people more say over what happens to them and their money and resources, and taking this power out of the corporate and government elites. So with that opinion, i see myself as an organizer, bringing people together in democratic groups to build people power and impede the troublemakers.

How do you see yourself bringing about change? Do you have organizations in Wyoming?

Anyway I just wanted to introduce myself. Feel free to respond by email at activistalex@gmail.com, or come post on my blog!

alex
philadelphia
endofcapitalism.com

Mark said...

Hi Hugh
I am glad that you are still sailing the Cal 48 and getting some cruising miles under her keel. I have done some races with mine and are either winning or coming close. These old boats are quite fast in all conditions and definatly on a reach. I hope to get away down to Mexico and then back to NZ on her.
Have fun
Mark
Cal 48 Wainui
wainui.coleman@gmail.com