Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CXXX

Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)
7 min readMay 20, 2023
Mexico (1988). Photo by author.

Only Local Leadership Can Help Communities Now

Today I am sharing a comment by Brian R. Smith who posted it on a FB Degrowth group I am a member of and my response to it. Brian’s comment looks at the false promise of the ‘green’ energy transition and suggests that local communities should be preparing as best they can for the worst-case scenario of quickly diminishing/faltering/failing systems that humans, especially in so-called advanced economies, have come to rely upon.

Brian’s comment:

Thanks to Simon Michaux, Alice Friedemann, Derrick Jensen and others, we know in detail the reasons that a “green” energy is a false promise and that there will be no emissions reductions, making collapse inevitable. What we don’t know is which of many triggers will set off the cascade of falling economic dominoes and what the social responses will boil down to when it happens.

As Steve Bull points out, protection of revenue streams is key for everyone. …Making it certain that the doubling down on the grand transition to renewables will continue from industrial & political elites — but also from our climate/enviro NGO elites and ad revenue-captured media elites. What would happen to 350.org and NRDC or Greenpeace funding if they admitted that there really are no solutions for the predicament?

So, what I suggest is that analysis has reached a sufficient completion point that makes further delving into causes and outcomes almost pointless. Instead of the doomed project of activists to influence national policy makers to do better in accord with the science, I think shifting attention to worst-case-scenario preparations at every level of local community is the job now. What happens when the supply chains for energy, food, communications and medical care are severely diminished for cities and small towns everywhere? Unfortunately, the imminent future of necessary triage and allocation amid coming chaos & scarcity is not top of mind for local governments. Nobody is up to speed in that department. Except maybe the community garden movement.

My response:

While there appears to be good evidence/data to support the argument that ecological overshoot (and its variety of symptoms such as sink overloading, resource decline, biodiversity loss) is a predicament with only outcomes ahead of us that might at best be mitigated locally, and that the ‘solutions’ being pursued/proposed are actually serving to exacerbate this overshoot, I would contend that the vast majority of people are unaware of this perspective.

We not only have very, very powerful misleading social narratives that have been readily accepted/reinforced due to psychological mechanisms that have led to this — especially those that serve to deny/ignore/rationalise away anxiety-provoking thoughts — but we have a host of supposed well-intentioned and respected others helping to lead this charge over the cliff. People, who, despite the glaring contradictions in/impediments to what they support, are fervently arguing for complex technological ‘fixes’.

The vast majority of people are not even aware of the issues being discussed/debated by those who engage in these. The overriding social stories do not delve into the intricacies nor the risks of our energy conundrum, except to assure the public that all is good and taken care of — just ignore those doomsters over there who are intent on holding back our human potential — and any blips along the road are primarily the cause of some evil ‘other’, be they domestic or foreign.

Further, I would suggest that most governments are perhaps as trapped as the rest of us — small, local ones possibly being the exception — in this increasingly dire situation. The past couple of centuries (since we first began leveraging hydrocarbon-based energy production) has seen wondrous technologies that have opened up to the masses opportunities and conveniences (thanks surplus net energy!) that were previously only available to the elite of the elite.

Emboldened and reinforced by our ‘successes’ of the past couple of centuries (again, thanks surplus net energy!) we have created a mythos that not only is perpetual growth possible due to human ingenuity and our technological prowess, but is practically a birthright of our species.

And, of course, humans seek certainty, especially in the face of uncertainty so we gravitate towards narratives that provide it — even if we know deep down that it is a false sense of it. We ignore the evidence that the stories we are told or telling ourselves are faulty and cling desperately to the illusion of certainty to increase our feeling of security.

Governments have used this set of circumstances to create sociopolitical systems that have increasingly taken on roles/responsibilities that have not only allowed them to balloon in size but also in scope and reach. Accompanying this has been a growing tendency for our political elite to promise more, more, more to the electorate (mostly to keep the hoi polloi mollified — bread and circuses anyone — since control of one’s population is of significant concern to those holding the reins of power; but also to increase their skimming/scamming operations). More security. More prosperity. More conveniences. More of the status quo systems (or maybe just some minor tweaks to improve these since the previous set of politicians made the system worse).

Of course, what emerges tends to be greater complexity, fragility, and increasing diminishing returns on the investments made (that have become mostly ‘funded’ by ballooning debt/credit that is basically a potential claim upon future resources, especially energy, that are never going to be met fully so a lot of can-kicking with the hope that things go sideways on someone else’s watch; or will be pinned on some evil ‘other’).

No politician wishing to continue in their role amongst the privileged few or climb the ladder would dare rock the boat. Better to go along with the pursuit of perpetual growth and promise ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’ for the masses. Even if one has some suspicions that the growth narrative is problematic, the self-reinforcing echo chamber that is the sociopolitical realm and the magical thinking encompassed by the soothing social stories soon nullifies this.

Your conclusion, that it is the local community that must take the lead in addressing the predicament and working upon the possible mitigations to it, is, I believe, bang on. It’s one of the reasons I initiated a food gardening guild in my local area. I see it as a road into helping create a sense of community (something mostly lost in our expanding cities/towns) and hopefully building some resilience in terms of failing food supply chains but more immediately, some slight counter to significant food price inflation. It’s a drop in the bucket of where local communities need to be as things go increasingly sideways, but it’s a start. It may even lead to deeper conversations about our predicament and possible mitigation strategies for our small area north of Toronto.

The increasing decline and eventual loss of surplus net energy is going to have tremendous implications for our complex societies. We will witness all sorts of attempts to counter the obvious diminishing returns on our investments that have for some time been supporting our complexities. The control/manipulation of sociocultural stories is one important avenue (which is why we are witnessing a dramatic burgeoning of a ‘censorship industrial complex’ by the elite), but so too is coercion and I suspect to see much more of this latter approach (mostly via legislation and forced conformity — social credit scores anyone?) as things go increasingly sideways.

As for the ongoing appeals to authority/government, while well-intentioned by most, pre/history pretty clearly demonstrates that the ruling caste of any complex society have not, do not, and will not put their self-interests (control/expansion of the wealth-generation/-extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige) aside or below the necessary shift of dramatically reversing our propensity towards growth/expansion. They will continue to support this in any and every way they can — and that includes increasingly the pursuit of non-renewable, renewable energy-harvesting technologies whose production and financing they own/control or whose hopeful social narrative they depend upon for keeping the masses in ignorance.

The time for any type of ‘solution’ to our situation appears well in the past and actions and energies would probably be best served by way of local groups pursing avenues that increase community self-sufficiency as you suggest.

Perhaps what is needed is to take a page from the playbook of the elite in terms of manufacturing consent. Those of us ‘in the know’ and concerned about the shitstorm coming our way need to sell/market the ideas around local mitigation as something other than overshoot mitigation because, frankly, most people are not prepared to jump right to acceptance in their grieving once the reality of biogeophysical limits, overshoot, and the consequences for our complex societies are uncovered. Virtually everyone’s automatic response is denial/bargaining and all the magical thinking/rationalisations that accompany these.

Maybe we need to fashion the thinking along the lines of our effort being about community building…biodiversity enhancement…food supplementation…etc…Only if and/or when someone raises the issues themselves or are curious and appear open to the less-than-optimistic perspective should one delve into the morass and complexity of our dilemma lest others react the way most do: ignore/deny/bargain/rationalise away the situation and crawl back to worship at the feet of the false gods of human ingenuity and technology.

If you’ve made it to the end of this contemplation and have got something out of my writing, please consider ordering the trilogy of my ‘fictional’ novel series, Olduvai (PDF files; only $9.99 Canadian), via my website — the ‘profits’ of which help me to keep my internet presence alive and first book available in print (and is available via various online retailers). Encouraging others to read my work is also much appreciated.

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Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

A guy trying to make sense of a complex and seemingly insane world. Spend my days pondering our various predicaments while practising local food production...