Posts Tagged ‘heinberg’
by stuartbramhall in The Global Economic Crisis
John Williams, founder of Shadowstats.com, predicts the US dollar will collapse by May 2013 from a massive self-off (i.e. the value of the dollar will crash because other countries will dump dollars in favor of other currencies) by May 2013. ShadowStats.com is dedicated to correcting the deliberate distortions the federal government, builds into their unemployment figures and other economic data. Sustainability activist Richard Heinberg first popularized the site in his 2012 The End of Growth. According to Williams, Obama has until May to get our fiscal house in order. If he fails to do so, global financial markets are going to dump all their dollars, their Treasury Bills and their dollar-denominated stocks in favor of stronger currencies.
Employing Treasury data and General Accounting Principles (GAP), Williams calculates the true federal deficit for 2012 was $6.9 trillion. This means the US government, in 2012 alone, spent $6.9 trillion more than it collected in taxes. In other words, as Williams asserts in the following USA Watch Dog video, the US is bankrupt:
In the absence of real growth, which according to Williams hasn’t occurred since 2007, the country has no hope of ever recouping this shortfall by raising taxes. Williams reminds us that the US government relies on consumer spending for 70% of GDP. Household incomes were already significantly declining before Obama reduced them an additional 2% with a higher payroll tax. Prior to the 2008 financial crash, consumers made up for declining incomes by incurring debt, via credit cards and home equity and personal loans. With banks freezing credit and house values collapsing, this avenue is closed for the vast majority of Americans.
Given the heavy reliance of all the major world economies on the US economy, it looks like a no-win solution – except, apparently, for two forward-thinking economists at the IMF. After coming to similar conclusions as Williams, they are promoting a plan in which government, rather than private banks, would assume responsibility for issuing and controlling the money supply. To read the IMF working paper, entitled The Chicago Plan Revisited, click here
Crossposted at Daily Censored
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
If video won’t play go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amRrz2jog_U
Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute visited New Zealand, where he has a large following, at the beginning of October. Two hundred fifty people attended his presentation at the Tauranga (pop 121,500) Environment Centre on October 1st.
The main focus of Heinberg’s talk was his recent book, The End of Growth. In it he challenges the mythology surrounding economic growth – specifically assertions that growth is a longstanding and essential cornerstone of human economic activity that needs to continue indefinitely into the future.
His talk starts with some really interesting graphs revealing that global GDP (gross domestic output) was virtually static prior to 1871, when the harnessing of fossil fuels made the industrial revolution possible. Even then, global GDP increased at a minuscule pace until 1980, when it suddenly rocketed upward. Heinberg shows other graphs linking this sudden uptick with a spike in both world population and energy consumption.
He goes on to praise the Club of Rome’s controversial 1972 Limits to Growth, which he describes as the best selling environmental book of all times. The book makes predictions, confirmed by more recent studies, that world industrial and economic output will begin to decline during the first half of the 21st century. Heinberg himself sees major economic disruption occurring before the end of the decade for three main reasons: energy scarcity, debt and an epidemic of extreme weather events (like the Midwest drought and now Hurricane Sandy).
He follows a lucid and compelling explanation of why high oil prices always suppress economic activity with data linking the high price per barrel with stagnant production (since 2005) in the face of increasing global demand.
However his discussion of the origins of the debt crisis, which he separates into household and government debt, is the most interesting part of the talk. It’s Heinberg’s belief that consumer credit was almost as important as cheap fossil fuels in enabling the 20th century economic boom.
I highly recommend that people watch the entire video. Heinberg has a gift for presenting complex technical concepts in ordinary language, and has some excellent suggestions for how communities can prepare for the bumpy economic road ahead. Be sure to watch the question period, where he describes humankind’s 24 civilizations. All but the current one have collapsed, owing to depletion of water and topsoil. He stresses that the current rapid depletion of these resources is far more ominous than fossil fuel depletion.
If you go to the Tauranga Environment Centre page, there’s a PDF of the slides he presented.
by stuartbramhall in The Global Economic Crisis
(This is the second of three posts about the new female head of the IMF, which the business press is promoting as a “rock star of the economic world,” and how we are being deceived about the real cause of the debt crisis in Europe)
LaGarde isn’t without her critics. Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson refers to her appointment as “the fox guarding the henhouse.” Johnson, like former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, has been highly critical of the extreme concentration of financial power and it threat it poses to the global economy. This is the subject of Johnson’s recent book, Thirteen Bankers.
His criticism of Lagarde centers mainly around her proposal to solve the Eurozone crisis by issuing additional loans to the debt-ridden “peripheral” countries (Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium). He maintains all these countries are looking at a default scenario, no matter how much money she throws at them. He accuses her of allowing EU leaders to use the IMF to conceal from their voters major flaws in the Eurozone structure. As senior fellow at a Washington DC think tank (Peterson Institute for International Economics), he also complains about the unfairness of expecting US taxpayers to bail out the IMF for the sake of European politicians (and Greeks “who don’t like to pay taxes”). In Johnson’s view instead of spending other peoples’ money on struggling Eurozone economies, the EU leadership needs to make some a hard choice – either to integrate their fiscal systems in a way that allows fiscal transfers to poorer, less competitive countries or to create two tiers of Eurozone participation, in which only tier 1 members can borrow from the European Central Bank (see Fox in the Hen House and The Problem with Christine Lagarde).
Lagarde Gets the Cold Shoulder
Thus far Johnson’s arguments have resonated with most non-European IMF member countries. Despite Lagarde’s aggressive lobbying to add $500 billion to the IMF rescue fund at the recent G20 meeting in Mexico City, she came away empty handed. Most finance ministers agreed with the response U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave her: the European Central Bank must make a much larger financial commitment before asking other G20 countries for money.
Fairy Tale Economics
The problem with mainstream media coverage, which continues to center around Lagarde and her “rock star” persona is that it’s a fairy tale – complete with a fairy princess – that never addresses the fundamental structural problems that caused the world economic collapse. The corporate media never tells the back story – that fossil fuel scarcity has effectively ended global economic growth, rendering our debt-based monetary system totally inoperable. Richard Heinberg convincingly makes the case that Peak Oil is responsible for the global economic collapse in his 2011 The End of Growth, as do Richard Douthwaite David Korowicz, Chris Vernon and Tom Konrad in Fleeing Vesuvius (see Will Peak Oil Spell the End of Capitalism?).
Instead the mainstream media promotes cruel myths about lazy Greek workers and a Greek middle class that refuses to pay taxes, obscuring the reality that much of the Greek debt is likely “odious; and fraudulently incurred.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in China Watch, End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
As a strong sustainability activist, I feel quite embarrassed admitting that I derive nearly all my dietary protein from animal sources (eggs and fish). Explaining why I do so is even more embarrassing – an autoimmune disease that makes it virtually impossible for me to digest plant protein, in the forms of nuts and legumes (peas, dried beans, lentils, etc.). I have spent the last year researching traditional cultures that ferment and/or sprout their nuts and legumes to make them more digestible. I have been experimenting with some of these methods, as well as adding Kombu (a form of seawood), which makes legumes more digestible by removing the phytic acid. None of this works thus far. Whenever I eat nuts and legumes, it’s like taking a double dose of Ex-Lax.
Will Global Population Drop Without Fossil Fuels?
In my last blog I talked about Richard Heinberg’s prediction that without fossil fuels, the Earth could feed at most two billion people. Organic farmers in the Biointensive (an amalgamation of the eighty year old Biodynamic and the French Intensive movements) dispute this figure, pointing to studies showing that Biointensive methods actually increase crop yields by 150-200% (see http://www.theecologist.org/trial_investigations/268287/10_reasons_why_organic_can_feed_the_world.html). Given WHO and World Hunger studies revealing that our current system of industrial agriculture feeds only 84% of the world (the other 16% are continuously on the verge of starvation – see http://www.prb.org/Journalists/PressReleases/2005/MoreThanHalftheWorldLivesonLessThan2aDayAugust2005.aspx), we could estimate that a switch from industrial to Biointensive agriculture could potentially feed a global population of 7.8 billion.
Now here’s the catch: nearly all the research in Biointensive agriculture concerns yields of grains and vegetable crops. Preliminary research applying biointensive methods to the grazing of livestock reveals that an agricultural system providing every global resident a meat-based is only possible for a global population of 2-3 billion.
The average energy input required to produce meat protein is eleven times greater that that required for grain protein production. A meat based diet also requires ten times more land than a plant based diet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_vegetarianism) and 100 times more water (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). In the US alone, the amount of energy, land and water used to raise livestock grains to would be sufficient to feed an additional 840 million people eating a plant-based diet. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long).
The Privilege of Eating Meat
At the moment approximately 1/3 of the planet (those in the privileged industrialized world) consume meat (http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/660S.long). Owing to shortages of cropland, fresh water, and energy resources the other 2/3 (4.7 billion people) of the planet are compelled to survive on a plant-based diet. With rapid industrial development in India and China, these ratios are changing rapidly. A growing middle class in both countries is developing an insatiable demand for meat, dairy and other animal-based products. In New Zealand this is a daily news item, as China and India purchase the bulk of Australia and New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports.
Hard Choices for Activists
What this means, in essence, is that sustainability and social justice activists are faced with some hard choices. It we are genuine in our commitment to replace capitalism with a more egalitarian society, we need to face the hard reality that no society is truly egalitarian if only rich people eat meat. Thus according to my calculations, a truly equal distribution of land and water resources will either require a strong commitment to reduce global population to 2-3 billion – or a commitment by 1/3 of the planet to give up their meat-based diet.
If we fail to make this choice – and do nothing – we will be left with a scenario in which Malthusian forces (war, famine and disease) drastically reduce global population for us.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism
Like many sustainability activists, I strongly believe that with advanced planning and preparation, the demise of capitalism could be an extraordinarily positive change for most of humankind. As I have blogged previously (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/07/18/global-capitalism-a-house-of-cards/), I agree with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute that global resource scarcity, aggravated by catastrophic climate change, will force the break-up of large nation-states into small self-governing regional units. As a strong proponent of participatory democracy, I maintain that it will be up to the inhabitants of each region to determine how they will govern themselves and provide for their basic needs. At the same time, I feel that some features of post-capitalistic society can be predicted – either because they are dictated by resource scarcity or because they are fundamental to true political and economic democracy:
1. The end of capitalism’s insane perpetual growth paradigm – the drive for continual economic expansion (and resource depletion)
If society commits to an equitable distribution of the earth’s remaining resources, work and production will be limited to provision of basic needs and the rearing and education of children.
2. Equal division of labor
Work will be shared equally among everyone, instead of shifting vast amounts of unpaid and low paid work to blue collar workers, women and minorities.
3. Reintegration of fathers into family life and child rearing.
A reduction in work hours will mean an increase in leisure time, freeing up men to involve themselves in family life and child rearing, as they did prior to the industrial revolution.
4. The end of oppression of women and ethnic and sexual minorities.
The oppression of women and minorities plays a distinct economic role under capitalism, owing to the vast amount of unpaid and low paid labor they perform. To a large extent, current population pressure is driven by the elite’s perpetual growth paradigm and the corporate media (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/10/08/addressing-overpopulation-too-important-to-leave-to-government/). With the demise of capitalism and the growth paradigm, the current economic pressure on women and sexual minorities to conform to stereotyped sex roles and produce children will cease. Moreover ethnic minorities will ceased to be exploited as surplus workers to be moved in and out of the labor force to control wages. Indigenous minorities will particularly valued for their knowledge of pre-industrial survival skills.
5. The restoration of extended families and communal child rearing
When the corporate propaganda driving mindless reproduction ceases, fewer people will have fewer children. This, along with an increase in leisure time, will create a strong incentive for childless community members to participate in communal child rearing and education.
6. Equal access to education
With fewer children and more community involvement in their education, bright and curious of children of both sexes and all ethnicities will have the potential to become little Einsteins. Unlike capitalism, where quality education is reserved for children (male children, in many cultures) of upper income Caucasian families.
7. Reduced global population
Without access to cheap fossil fuels, industrial agriculture will end. Heinberg predicts that without cheap oil and natural gas (for fertilizer and pesticides and to run farm machinery), the planet can support at most two billion people. Organic farmers in the Biointensive agriculture movement dispute this figure, based on twenty years of research showing that Biointensive methods yields can produce considerably higher yields (150-200%) those of traditional agriculture. However none of these studies take into account the massive land area required to produce meat.
I am extremely optimistic (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/10/08/addressing-overpopulation-too-important-to-leave-to-government/), about humanity’s potential ability to control their own fertility. Fertility levels are already plummeting in both the developing and industrialized world, owing to increased, urbanization and female literacy, as well as women’s large scale entry into the workforce.
8. Drastic dietary changes.
Without the cheap transportation made possible by fossil fuels, we all be forced to adopt the 100 mile diet – limiting ourselves to the locally grown foods that happen to be in season. Moreover based on equitable distribution of food and energy resources, all of us will most likely become vegetarian. At the moment the planet is only capable of providing a meat diet for 1/3 of the global population.
I discuss the controversial meat- population dilemma in more detail in my next blog “Confessions of a Carnivore.”
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
This is the third of a series of posts discussing the likelihood that capitalism is on the verge of collapse and what a post-capitalistic world might look like.
Marx predicts that the collapse of capitalism will be followed by either socialism, characterized by full political and economic equality, or “barbarism,” his term for brutal totalitarian feudalism. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute offers three possible scenarios for post-capitalistic society (see “How Climate Change and Resource Scarcity Threaten Democracy” at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/10/27/how-resource-scarcity-threatens-democracy/). The first is totalitarianism; the second a somewhat more liberal “Green New Deal” that preserves class society; and the third the break-up of large nation states into small, democratically-run regional units. However unlike Marx, Heinberg predicts that any totalitarian governments that form will be short lived. He believes that global resource depletion will make it impossible to maintain the large centralized police and intelligence networks required to maintain totalitarian control over large populations. Thus the collapse of the global capitalist economy will cause large empires and national-states like the US, Russia and China to break up into smaller regional units, as occurred during the Middle Ages following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
As a passionate advocate of participatory democracy, I strongly believe that the people living in post capitalistic communities will determine for themselves how they will operate. Nevertheless I believe we can predict some features of the post-capitalist world – namely the ones forced on us by resource scarcity and catastrophic climate change. As a psychiatrist, what I’ve always hated most about capitalism is the way it destroys human potential. It has always seemed brutally unfair to deny certain population groups access to adequate nutrition, education, and health care and then arbitrarily write them off as inferior human beings. Thus I’m most interested in the ability of these small regional communities to reclaim “the Commons” – an expression referring to communally shared access to the basic necessities of life, as well as more intangible human needs, such as education.
Will Capitalism Degenerate into Feudalism?
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe broke up into small regional units (city-states). These were eventually seized as personal property by aggressive feudal lords, who enslaved the other occupants to work their land for them. Yet history suggests that regional feudalism is a very impermanent social structure. Peasant revolts against feudal lords were incredibly common and could only be suppressed by merging city-states merged into nation-states, run by kings who formed large national armies to enforce stability. As Heinberg suggests, maintaining large nation-states and empires requires guaranteed access to resources (food, energy, metals and other raw materials for weapons and telecommunications systems) that are rapidly being depleted.
Unlike the Bolshevik Revolution, which had the immense resources of the Tsarist empire at its disposal, most of the small, regional units that emerge following the collapse of global capitalism will be forced to rebuild themselves from the ground-up. They all have the potential to be built according to democratic and egalitarian principles, though this is by no means guaranteed.
A study of early New England efforts to govern via “town hall” direct democracy reveals that self-governance is always more effective in small groups and communities. Early colonists found that once authority shifted from the town to state and eventually federal government, ordinary people lost the ability to have input into decision making. They could only elect representatives, without any ability to ensure the individuals they chose would actually represent their interests.
Reclaiming the Commons
“The Commons” is a historical concept present in all cultures that views certain property, material goods and intangibles (such as the air people breathe and the public airwaves used to transmit radio and TV) as belonging to the community as a whole to be managed in a way benefiting the public interest, rather than that of a particular individual group. The eighteenth century (British) Enclosure Act is considered the watershed event enabling individual and corporate interests to take precedence over the pubic good. Under the Enclosure Act, the landed gentry banned peasant farmers from raising crops or grazing on the “village commons,” which now became “enclosed” as the gentry’s private property. Subsequent enclosure laws enabled early capitalists to drive even more farmers off communal land to build factories.
Many communities around the world have already made a good start in reclaiming “the Commons” from the corporate elite. In some American towns and cities, this entails taking over functions state and local government have ceased to perform, owing to major budget difficulties. Examples include local citizens groups who have successfully fought corporate infringement on their communities (for example, protecting their water supply against bottled water companies seeking to drain their aquifers or giant agricultural conglomerates who threaten to pollute their ground water by building massive factory farms – see http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/programs_factoryfarms.html and http://www.thealliancefordemocracy.org/water/). Other examples include citizen groups who have opted out of the corporate banking and food production system by taking responsibility for these services themselves – by creating community and state banks, local currencies and bartering systems, as well as community gardens and orchards, farmers markets and community supported agriculture schemes.
Communities that have created these bottom-up community networks via Transition Towns and similar sustainability initiatives already have a well-functioning democratic, egalitarian infrastructure in place when the corporate infrastructure collapses.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
- This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time.
- Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
- In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects: first, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover. (Introduction to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
It’s old news by now. The global climate change conference in Cancun in December was a failure, just like the Copenhagen climate change conference in December 2009. In contrast to Copenhagen, Cancun rated hardly any mention in the mainstream media. As if failure was a foregone conclusion. Sadly, as each successive climate summit ends in disaster, hopes for an international climate treaty diminish substantially.
The governments that attended Cancun all know, by now, that to prevent catastrophic climate change (around 2050) developed countries must cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 – while developing countries limit emissions growth to comparable targets. Achieving these targets will require ending all auto and plane transport, closing all coal-fired power plants and insulating all homes and businesses.
US Responsibility in the Disaster at Cancun
The climate treaty the world hoped for didn’t happen, largely owing to the refusal of the Obama administration to buy into the major cuts he must know are needed. Partly because the US, like all developed and developing countries, is largely controlled by multinational corporations that make immense profits off car and plane travel – and war – one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions. But also because American voters are deeply attached to cars, plane travel, and energy guzzling home and electronic appliances that create demand for coal fired power plants.
My personal view is that our current attachment to cars and air travel is a bad habit bordering on addiction. Even climate change activists who ought to know better have difficulty cutting back their car and plane trips. I’m trying to start a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on. Owing to the absence of affordable, reliable public transport alternatives, people who need cars for work or to access basic services can’t give them up. More importantly, one million individuals giving up their cars isn’t going to prevent catastrophic climate change – given that auto emissions only constitute 1/3 of greenhouse gasses. There has to be a simultaneous agreement to eliminate air travel and coal fired plants, as well as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US nuclear program and closing 1,000 foreign bases. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rate as the second largest producer of carbon emissions (see http://www.iacenter.org/o/world/climatesummit_pentagon121809/).
Such large scale changes require buy-in from the federal government. And despite all his campaign rhetoric, the best Obama can commit to is a 20% cut by 2020.
Are We Focused on the Wrong Crisis?
Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins (founder of the Transition Towns movement) and others believe we should be much more worried about resource scarcity (oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, water, top soil) than climate change – that this will cause an end to the world as we know it long before catastrophic climate change does. Because our modern system of industrial agriculture is only possible with plentiful, cheap oil (for farm machinery, transportation and shipping) and cheap natural gas (used to manufacture synthetic fertilizers), the end of cheap fossils fuels translates into a big increase into the cost off food production and a reduction in the amount of food produced. In fact, this is already starting to play out with the UN and relief agencies describing December 2010 as the worst month on record for global food insecurity (a record number of people unable to afford food). This was in part due to extreme weather events in Russia, Pakistan, Australia, China and elsewhere that drastically reduced grain production.
Eventually, Heinberg predicts, fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers will become so expensive, world food production will decline to pre-industrial levels long before catastrophic climate change kicks in. Pre-industrial agricultural methods can only support a world population of 2 billion people. According to my math, this means we are looking at a potential die-off (famine, war, disease) of 5 billion (with current global population of 7 billion), unless we think of something fast.
To be continued, with a discussion of how sustainability activists are attempting to confront this dilemma. Remember, DON’T PANIC.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
In my last (Oct 27) blog, I discussed a YouTube presentation by Richard Heinberg, based on his book Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post Carbon World, about the way the ruling elite is likely to manage the inevitable social upheaval stemming from severe resource scarcity. Option I, which I discussed previously, is a type of feudal fascism involving a strong central government and the forced removal of large numbers of people to prisons and work camps. Heinberg admits that Option I may provoke strong popular opposition, which may make full, long term implementation of Option I impossible (see http://archive.richardheinberg.com/museletter/186).
Option 2 Ecological Keynesianism
As Option 2, Heinberg offers Susan George’s vision of Ecological Keynesianism. (George is an American expatriate, economist and anti-globalization activist living in Paris since 1956). (see http://tinyurl.com/2fbulrr and http://loyno.edu/twomey/bread-world-and-global-network-justice?c_id=313).
Like Option 1, this scenario also envisions a strong central government, but operates more like the New Deal in creating work programs and rebuilding infrastructure. Heinberg gives the example of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a vast New Deal social experiment accompanying the damming of the Tennessee River, in which thousands of Americans were moved into new experimental communities. I think the example is a good one, as this model sounds a lot like what Obama’s good buddy Zbigniew Brzezinski is proposing in terms of benevolent government that improves efficiency by foregoing democratic processes.
People often forget the downside of the TVA – namely that thousands of people were forced to participate in this experiment against their will. And that the creation of a large, somewhat brutal security network was necessary to police it – a network run between 1950-58 by former Nazi war criminal Werner von Braun.
Under this Green New Deal, a strong central government would provide the finance capital to build public transport systems, super-insulate millions of homes and commercial buildings; develop distributed renewable energy systems; and reorganize agriculture on biointensive, organic model – creating millions of jobs along the way.
George proposes to finance this massive capitalization by taxing speculative currency exchange transactions and eliminating tax havens in the Caribbean and elsewhere. She points out that half of all world trade passes through off-shore tax havens – and that their elimination would automatically increase tax revenues by $250 billion dollars.
George states that the only way to bring about a Green New Deal government is to build a very powerful populist movement demanding it – as no western democracy will agree to it voluntarily, so long as they are under the thumb of multinational corporations.
Option 3 Bottoms Up
Option 3, according to Heinberg is a vast expansion of existing grassroots and local government activity to revamp local infrastructure to become more self sufficient in providing for basic food and energy needs. Heinberg believes that some areas of the world will be forced to go for Option 3, as more and more countries become failed states with the deepening economic and resource crisis (maintaining a strong central state requires energy for transportation and communication).
Heinberg’s main argument against adopting Option 3 in large industrialized countries is that in most communities in North America and Europe are ill equipped to provide even the most basic services (food, water, power, security) without the support of complex regional and national systems. A breakdown in these services would likely lead to social unrest, leading whatever central government that remains to implement Option 1.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis, Things That Aren't What They Seem
If I should suddenly develop a fatal cancer, Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything, is definitely the person I would want to break the news. Heinberg is a soft spoken, gentle, Mahatma Gandhi kind of guy who blows you away by telling you the party is over and there is no soft landing. But in such a nice way.
There is a great YouTube video (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybRz91eimTg&feature=related) of a talk he gave a few years ago in New Zealand about what western society will look like mid-century. Heinberg admits that it’s not politically correct to tell the truth about how bleak things are. Besides having a remarkable low-keyed style that really twists the knife in, Heinberg also seems to have a clearer vision than anyone else of what the ruling elite – who have known about impending resource scarcity since the 1970s – are likely to do as things continued to deteriorate.
We’re Out of Everything
Heinberg is more about resource scarcity than climate change. He says it’s obvious that people aren’t scared enough of climate change to do anything about it. And it’s not just oil and natural gas we’re running out of. In the next 15-20 years, we will also be out of coal, uranium (there will still be coal and uranium in the ground – but extracting it will be incredibly expensive), rock phosphate (needed for industrial agriculture), fresh water, topsoil, grain, fish, arable land, minerals and precious metals (including Indium and Gallium, which are needed to make solar panels).
The hard truth is that human beings have been living for decades beyond the limits of the natural world can provide. Unfortunately people have a hard time getting their heads around this when the media continually bombards them with the message that sacrifice is bad and they have a right to expect something for nothing.
Goodbye Southern California
Heinberg makes it clear that vast urban centers like southern California will simply not exist two decades from now. For two reasons. Owing to dwindling fresh water supplies – everywhere – there will be no way to supply drinking water to millions of people between Los Angeles and the Mexican border. And because of skyrocketing fuel costs, no one is going to transport food 5,000 miles (as they do now) to feed them.
Major Social Upheaval is Inevitable
He also makes the strong point that public dialogue needs to move beyond changing lightbulbs and carbon taxes – to the major social upheaval that no longer be avoided – as well as options for managing it. We all know damn well the ruling elite has been discussing it – at least since 2000. That’s one good thing about Republicans. They find it much harder to conceal what they’re really up to.
Heinberg lays out three broad societal changes that need to occur as fossil fuels become prohibitively expensive: de-mechanization (replacing fossil fuel driven machines with human and animal labor), de-urbanization (moving people closer to their resource based) and a total infrastructure revamp - as existing infrastructure is totally dependent on machines and fossil fuels.
The Role of Government in Managing Societal Change
The most interesting part of the talk was an exploration of the three possible routes government will take in managing this massive societal change. Because it suddenly becomes clear to me why civil liberties are under such concerted attack in the US (by both Republicans and Democrats) and why the US, China and Russia continue to incarcerate minorities, dissidents and now debtors at break neck speed, putting them to work in our prison industrial complex (see http://www.opendemocracy.net/charles-shaw/essential-reading-on-us-prison-industrial-complex).
Option 1: A kind of feudal fascism, involving forced movement of people away from cities into prisons and work camps (and slavery), which will involve continual surveillance of the rest of the population. It will be instituted by whipping up popular support for strong law enforcement and military intervention during a period of massive unemployment, homelessness, food shortages and resulting instability and chaos.
Heinberg already sees evidence the world’s most powerful countries (the US, China and Russia) have selected Option 1 and are already moving in this direction. Come to think of it, so do I.
To be continued with Option 2 and 3 – don’t hold your breath – they are a little better than Option 1, but not much.