Friday, March 14, 2008

The Long Absence and Dying in Place

It's been well over a year since I checked in here and posted. The purpose of this blog was to help me come to terms with the ramifications of Peak Energy. It worked. I was able to shape a coherent statement over the course of what turned into a handful of articles. My only sibling called soon afterward to announce that she was going to have a baby. The birth of a near-descendant (a tangential descendant if you will) upset the equilibrium I had achieved. My nearest relations plus one unbearably cute new addition are now all hurtling to their doom in an area of the country that will be one of the hardest hit by Peak.

My familiarity with what's coming doesn't mean I can do much to prepare for it or to ease my discomfort or avoid what will likely be a much earlier death than I might have expected for myself just a few years ago. We're looking at a die back to less than half a billion humans (a mark we'll likely overshoot). 90% rapid depopulation. War, starvation and disease of biblical proportion. These are truly the End Times minus the triumphant returning Jesus. No one should think that he or she is smart enough or prepared enough for any of this. Most of you reading this will either a) die by violent means in a fight over oil, water or food, b) die because you don't have anything left to eat (though you'll probably resort to violence before starvation and end up at (a)), or c) die from one of the monstrous plagues that are currently building up strength and just itching to sweep across entire land masses. Survival for all of us will come down to a matter of luck, being in the right place really.

Before all of this, however, comes a crippling economic Depression that will be a worthy harbinger of the end of the Industrial Saga. The last depression was only economic, i.e. an inability to organize the exchange of goods which were in abundance. This was due to a loss of faith in a debased currency brought on by credit expansion, rampant speculation and inevitable collapse. There was plenty of "stuff" but no means of organizing trade of the stuff. This time there'll be plenty economic woe to go around, but it will be in the midst of actual resource depletion as well. We destroyed our currency this time by expanding credit to keep paying for an infrastructure and a way of life without a future. We borrowed more and more and used all the energy that came our way to build more highways, more suburbia, more parking lots, more imported crapola to fill our ARM-financed box in the latest ring of development 60 miles from work. We didn't reorganize food production to be closer to where we lived, nor our living arrangement to something less reliant on getting around in vehicles.

Now the first signs of the Great Reversal are starting to appear. The jobs are disappearing, the homes in the middle of nowhere are being abandoned. Entire subdivisions have become virtual ghost towns. Middle-aged people are moving back in with elderly parents. We're looking for ways to avoid using gas at all because we can't afford to replace it once it's gone. This is only a start. The multi-generational home will become the norm again. The outskirts of the megalopolitan monster will depopulate and the city centers and main streets will experience a vibrancy unseen since before the First World War. This is just a stopgap on the way down to dissolution, however. Megalopolis will spontaneously reorganize itself as its existence becomes untenable, but it cannot revert to small cities, hamlets and farms. And it won't. As Matt Savinar has so succinctly put it, we won't go gently back to 1775. Rather we will painfully downscale our collective way of life, then it will all chaotically fracture into something unrecognizable and bleak.

What to do in the meantime? Nothing much. I honestly don't believe any place will be better off than another for long. There are maybe a few dozen traditional towns left in this country with arable hinterlands that could make it in a post-industrial world... and they may have had a chance, too, if it weren't for the 250 million industrial zombies that will be decamping from the cities and their suburbs. Survival will mean being lucky enough to use sustainable places after your friends and neighbors have died. There will be no meaningful retrofitting of our unsustainable cities and suburbs, yet I don't advocate preemptive moves to more sustainable places because these are just as likely to be overrun. Maybe the best one can do is understand what's in store and make arrangements to die in place. We should think of ourselves as being hopelessly outnumbered by the enemy and just about to be overrun, captured, tortured and put to death. Come to terms with it, make peace with your deity and be prepared for the unpleasantness that will end in an early death.