Speaking About Collapse

If you are interested, check out my peak oil review commentary for this week, which explores what collapse really is - and what we might do about it. The main issue is that it is a heck of a lot more normal than most folks imagine. The piece is a shortened excerpt taken from my forthcoming book _Making Home_. Looking at the history of collapse is really important for us to gauge from history how likely it is - and what we find is that collapse - in the sense of a radical, long term and consequential step down in complexity and comfort - is part of the background of a lot of human lives.

I don't think I need to explain why I think an economic collapse could happen - we know that they occur all the time, and we know by most assessments that one nearly occurred in fall 2008. That is, we've already seen a stair-step down to a lower level of economic security in the US.

We also know energy supply collapses happen - often along with economic collapses. For example, former Soviet Prime Minister Yegor Gaider wrote a book arguing that the Soviet Union collapsed (under his watch, actually) due to its dependency on foreign energy exports and the shift of its population out of the countryside and into cities. For a long time, the Soviet Union was able to rely on energy exports to allow it to pay for food on foreign markets, but when energy prices collapsed, there were not enough farmers left to grow food for the population and the government could not hold.
We know that this caused some subsidiary collapses - Cuba collapsed, for instance, because the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped sending it oil. The country lost one-fifth of its energy imports and societal structures largely fell apart because of lack of
energy to run their highly technological agricultural system.

What's interesting about the examples of Cuba is that it is further evidence to suggest that fairly small energy resource shocks can cause fairly serious consequences - one-fifth of all oil shouldn't have led to serious hunger. Most people would reasonably argue that waste in the system and proper allocation of resources should have been able to absorb this - or will argue that the fault was the Cuban government's. To some extent that last point is probably true, but we should remember that we have examples from the US that show that small energy supply disruptions can be extremely destructive - the oil shocks of the 1970s and the major recession that followed resulted from a reduction in imports of just over 5 percent.

So yes, I think we're on a path toward some kind of collapse, without necessarily assuming cannibalism or even roving gangs of white-supremacist kale-stealers. I would like such a collapse to be averted very much, but it seems less and less likely that we will do so.



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The tired habit of using history as a lesson or a precedence for prognosticating the future is simply not up to the task of coming to any understanding of what the human race faces in the all too imminent future. These times, in regard to virtually every one of a multitude of conditions, are unprecedented. One point alone: never before has the human race experienced a dieoff of over 6 billion individuals or probably even a less devastating dieoff of 90+% of a much smaller population.

Make your buck$ off teotwawki, Sharon, but like any good artist [not intellect], your stuff is 90% crap and 10% keeper. I do love your gift of gab.


One point alone: never before has the human race experienced a dieoff of over 6 billion individuals or probably even a less devastating dieoff of 90+% of a much smaller population.

And still hasn't. And may or may not. A tired habit of prognosticating the future by implying a pet apocalyptic theory is inherently inevitable rather than one unlikely possibility among many scenarios is simply not up to the task of adding to the conversation.


By herper derper (not verified) on 21 Mar 2012 #permalink

How likely is the "Balkanization" of America?

If there aren't resources to hold us together comfortably, I fear that splitting along geographic, ethnic and class boundaries will occur - to the harm of all of us. I think that the cries of "leave me alone" will drown out the calls for shared sacrifice until it's too late for shared sacrifice to work - and all we have left are hard lines that can't be reconciled.


I do enjoy watching the fear/smear campaigns come around. People who are afraid can be controlled. People who are not afraid and are thinking about what they can do for friends, family and neighbors take action, have the difficult conversations as Sharon does.

Kudos to you Sharon and keep up the good work.

A reluctance to not seriously consider worst case scenarios...yeah, thats what I come here for.