Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XLVI

Monte Alban, Mexico (1988) Photo by author

A contemplation prompted by a couple of posts I read early this morning. One was a list of actionable ideas for preparing for Peak Oil and the other an article on the mainstreaming of ‘Doomsday Prepping’.

I’ve written several times about the importance of energy. Of paramount importance to our complex, global and industrialised societies is the finite energy resource of fossil fuels, particularly oil[1]. Fossil fuels underpin almost everything we depend upon[2] and there is no adequate replacement. None. In fact, all those marketed as ‘renewable’ substitutes and promising a seamless transition away from fossil fuels leave out the very important and inconvenient fact that they rely quite substantially upon fossil fuels from the mining and refinement of the resources needed to produce them to their after-life reclamation or disposal — they are non-renewable energy-harvesting technologies that cannot exist without fossil fuels, and are only truly ‘renewable’ in the sense of the energy source they attempt to harness[3].

Unfortunately for our energy-intensive and -dependent complex societies, fossil fuel extraction has encountered significant diminishing returns and will eventually cease to be available; not because we’ve run out of them but because it will require increasing amounts of energy to retrieve and transport them than we get back in return. And despite all the narratives surrounding a ‘voluntary’ cessation of fossil fuel extraction in order to address anthropogenic climate change[4], this will not happen by our conscious endeavours for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the thermodynamic, biophysical, and economic properties inherent in our exploitation of a finite resource.

The tremendous surplus of energy we’ve been leveraging to sustain our phenomenal growth and technological wonders over the past century or more has disappeared. We’ve been able to avoid the negative consequences of this physical reality for the last few decades mostly through some technological tweaks and monetary/financial manipulations[5]. However, it is increasingly looking like our attempts to kick-the-can-down-the-road have reached a tipping point — there’s no more hiding the fact that infinite growth on a finite planet was never a sustainable thing. Ever. It’s only been possible in our imaginations and we’ve crafted some fairly comforting narratives to help us believe it was an entirely plausible scenario, particularly because of our ingenuity and technology; and we have some very strong psychological mechanisms in play to help us deny the anxiety-producing reality that this would all end someday.

It seems that the narratives that we can continue to chase the infinite growth chalice and that we can easily transition to some alternative energy source (that is miraculously ‘clean/green’) are appearing to be coming under significant pressure. Reliance upon finite resources in somebody else’s backyard is being exposed as problematic for self-sufficiency[6]. Supply chains and the just-in-time delivery systems are increasingly showing their fragility[7]. Price inflation (as a result of money/credit expansion) in almost everything is placing more and more people in precarious economic straits, while those at the top of our power and wealth structures are accumulating more and more. The ruling class is beginning to voice the idea that global ‘austerity’ may be more than just a ‘transitory’ phenomenon — naturally they’re blaming this on everything but finite resources, and their chasing perpetual growth and other related economic/geopolitical ambitions.

The jig is up. The scams are being exposed. Increasing numbers of people are catching on to the various frauds and propaganda. The faulty and purposely fanciful stories are being interpreted for what they are: attempts to keep the unsustainable sustained just a bit longer[8].

Degrowth or ‘collapse’ is coming whether we wish it or not.

While I often refer to ‘collapse’ of our complex societies, I tend to do this in the context of archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s definition of it[9]. As he argues, collapse manifests itself as: less stratification and social differentiation; less economic and occupational specialisation; less centralised control (i.e., less regulation by elites); less behavioural control and regimentation; less investment in the epiphenomena of complexity (e.g., monumental architecture); less flow of information between a central authority and its periphery; less trading (i.e., more localisation); less coordination of groups; a smaller territory.

Most of that, quite frankly, doesn’t sound too bad.

So, what to do about all this?

I believe it would be in people’s best interest to recognise this and prepare for it .

I would argue there are at minimum three things we as individuals/local communities need to be ensuring: procurement of potable water, local food production, regional/climate-based shelter needs. Everything else is ‘gravy’ and can be considered after the aforementioned are procured. Do not put your faith in our sociopolitical systems or the complex technologies they cheerlead. Both of these are unsustainable and actually work against one’s preparatory interests. No matter how much propaganda there exists about having choice and ‘control’ in a democratic society, there is actually very little if any with respect to the large societal trends. I, personally, lost the belief that voters have any real agency via a ballot box decades ago. As I’ve written previously, the ruling class’s primary motivation is the control and/or expansion of the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams; it is not you or I except in terms of labour and tax generation.

More and more I personally am focusing upon the ‘actionable’ part of preparing rather than the ‘cerebral/academic/economic/political’ aspects of what’s happening. I can’t control what happens much outside of my own little ‘world’ so why worry about it and/or the reasons for what is happening.

And when push comes to shove it doesn’t matter the reason for our ‘collapse’, what matters is the re-learning of ‘lost’ skills/knowledge for self-sufficiency (especially for those of us enculturated in the ‘modern’ complex societies that have oriented towards a future of techno-cornucopianism that always had a relatively short lifespan on a finite planet). The last three books I have read are about composting, seed saving, and first aid/CPR. The one I just started is about mini-farming. You can find my personal summary notes of these books here (along with a couple of others, including Tainter’s).

And while my aging body may not be quite ready for the continuing work I have planned in our ever-increasing home food-production gardens, I am looking forward immensely to the coming transition to warmer weather for my northern climate and the time away from the distractions of the internet. My days will be spent outside with nature working on some specific projects requiring lots of physical labour and problem solving while I listen to some of my favourite music and get the exercise I need to be able to continue doing this work for as long as I’m physically capable.

Please consider visiting my website and purchasing my fictional novel trilogy, Olduvai, to help support my continuing online work. Less than $10 Canadian gets you the entire trilogy in PDF format.

[1] Virtually all of our other important energy sources are derived from and/or dependent upon fossil fuels in one way or another; especially the mining, refining, and transporting of minerals for nuclear plants, dams, solar panels, wind turbines, etc.. Steel and concrete production in particular cannot be done without fossil fuels.

[2] Of particular importance are resource extraction and refining, transportation, modern agriculture, long-distance supply chains, and ‘money’ (that is basically a potential claim on future energy).

[3] The narrative around ‘renewable energy’ being a solution to our fossil fuel use is a huge distraction from our underlying predicament of ecological overshoot. All the ‘clean/green’ energy in the world can’t save us from the ‘collapse’ that always accompanies a species overshooting its environmental carrying capacity and, in fact, the production and use of such energy-harvesting technologies will simply serve to put us further into overshoot.

[4] I am constantly confounded by the number of people/institutions that demand we cease our extraction of fossil fuels immediately without the slightest foresight as to what this would entail for our world, especially considering their associated call for a wholesale transition to ‘renewable’ energy. Their thinking is entirely magical in nature because it discounts entirely the reality of how non-renewable renewables are produced.

[5] Money/credit expansion and fraudulent accounting have been the primary avenues pursued.

[6] The current explanations for this are being warped by politics and economics that tends to take precedent over the biological and physical ones. But biology and physics always trumps human constructs in the end.

[7] I’ve long argued with my local politicians that dependence upon long-distance supply chains over which we have zero control is a recipe for disaster as they cheerlead the ever-increasing paving over of our limited arable lands to expand housing/industry. My Canadian province of Ontario depends upon these supply chains for 80+% of its food to feed its almost 15 million inhabitants.

[8] To consolidate more wealth at the top of the power/wealth structures in my opinion.

[9] See The Collapse of Complex Societies.

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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...

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Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

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...

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