Monday, December 19, 2011

So When Do We Reach an Awareness “Tipping Point?”

It is a constant frustration among those who are peak oil aware and anticipating the eventual collapse of our modern industrial civilization. When do we reach the so-called “tipping point” when awareness of what is coming spreads from a very small cadre of the informed to a substantial portion of the population at large? I would argue that it partly depends on what your definition of “awareness” is. It’s pretty clear from recent public opinion polls showing overwhelming disapproval of Congress and stating that the country is on the “wrong track,” plus the number of dour, gloom and doom economic articles that frequently appear in even mainstream publications, and the rapid brushfire manner in which the Occupy protests broke out all over the country nearly simultaneously that many people are at least dimly aware that something is very wrong in the “shining city on the hill,” as Ronald Reagan so laughably described America on one of those occasions in which he was blowing sunshine up the voters’ asses.

Nevertheless, there is still a huge gulf separating being a discontented citizen of the empire after four years in the economic doldrums and recognition that there has been a fundamental change in which the era of economic growth has switched over to an era of permanent economic contraction. The attempts by governments and central banks across the globe to prop up the façade of our zombie globalized economic model, combined with the relentless cheerleading of the politicos and mainstream media has so far concealed the ugly truth about our predicament from most people. The efforts of blogs like this one to put out the truth pale in comparison to the mind control power of even one relatively low rated cable teevee channel like CNBC.

The evidence of this is very easy to see. However much angst and anger may be being detected in those public opinion polls, many millions of people who are still employed have not changed their behavior one iota. They are still engaging in long-term destructive behavior like whipping out the plastic at the mall and going into hock to buy stuff they don’t need, socking their money into a 401(k) or IRA account they cannot access for many years, encouraging their college bound children to take out gigantic student loans to pay for what will likely turn out to be an utterly worthless education, and buying houses in the far flung suburbs “at the bottom” while ignoring the fact that with few good jobs being created and the Baby Boomers getting ready to retire and sell their houses in massive numbers there is no chance that prices are going to recover.

I posted a story recently about how Republican primary voters in the state of Florida overwhelmingly told a pollster that they favored ending our overseas military entanglements over slashing Social Security as a way to bring down the federal budget deficit, and yet were still least likely to vote for one of the two candidates who might actually ramp down military spending: Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. This reminds me of those upper middle class “greenies” who nevertheless live in a suburban McMansion and drive a large SUV to keep their precious little snowflakes “safe.” It’s like the old saying goes, “put your money where your mouth is.” People may profess to believe all kinds of stupid shit, but it is their actions, particularly in regards to how they vote and spend their money, that belie the real truth about their value systems.

All of which brings me back to the main question in this essay: when do we reach the “tipping point” of real awareness of what the future holds from a peak oil and resource depletion standpoint? Quite obviously, we are nowhere near that point yet. Looking around at the people who populate my own life, other than my father and my brother I do not know a single other person who holds such true awareness. Some have an understanding of part of the picture to varying degrees, and a few have even taken affirmative steps like paying down debt to allow them to better weather the coming storm. But true awareness that we will soon be passing through the “eye of the needle” in which not just a sizeable minority but a vast majority of the population will find themselves utterly destitute and struggling just to survive is lacking even for them.

Perhaps that is for the best. Given how unprepared all but a very tiny segment of the population is to survive without a functioning modern infrastructure to support them, I cannot envision that our society would hold together for very long if the truth were to suddenly become widely known. Instead, there would likely be a mass panic and scramble to secure food and other resources that would quickly bring down the entire system, like a rush for the exits after someone screams “fire!” in a crowded theater. In essence, that is what those who believe there will be a “fast” collapse need in order to be proven correct. I’ve said before that I don’t think such a scenario is in the cards, at least not as long as there remains sufficient resources to keep the basics of the system operating even as it slowly devolves and millions of individuals fall through the ever widening cracks. Whatever else they may do, the elites will do everything in their power to keep the game going for as long as possible and manage the descent as much as they are able.

Even having said all of that, 2012 is shaping up to be a key year in the Long Emergency, just like 1968 was for the counterculture movement of the sixties. I look at what is going on right now, Europe teetering on the financial brink, the Occupy movement bubbling at a low boil, the promises that a real “recovery” is just around the corner sounding increasingly threadbare and a presidential campaign that no matter whom the Republicans ultimately nominate (it won’t be Ron Paul) will pit two arrogant, out-of-touch oligarchs against each other and I see the possibility for massive instability and unrest that might even put the late-1960s to shame. On the flip side are the proto-fascists among our elected officials, just waiting for the right moment to spring the next major curtailment of individual civil liberties upon the citizenry. Unfortunately, there is a decent chance that as anger and frustration with our broken political system mounts they will get what they desire sometime during the coming year.

By this time next year, I suspect the landscape will have been altered dramatically. Whether that will also shock enough people into awareness along the way so that we finally reach that “tipping point” of awareness remains to be seen, but I tend to doubt it. In the meantime, I’ll be here, reporting the truth as I see it, hoping to reach the very few souls out there who are receptive to hearing the message while there is still time enough for them to act upon it.


  1. The greatest folly that humans continue to engage in is producing more humans. I have three daughters of child-bearing age and just cross my fingers they don't get pregnant and live to regret watching their child die prematurely of hunger, a pandemic, or violence.

    I tend to be of the school that things there will be an abrupt shock, probably over a lack of food, that will lead to riots in the streets, looting, and as you said Bill, a fascist crackdown on civil liberties. But it is of course unpredictable. Sometimes I wonder why any of us doomers bother to try to inform and warn the Ignorers, since once they figure things out, it's unlikely to lead to greater social harmony.

    I suppose if I had enough money I'd pack up and move to a doomstead in New Zealand or Canada, but I haven't. So I'll just keep my spectator seat and watch the civilization collapse unfold in a race to the bottom however it will.

  2. @Gail - a few years under Harper, the Keystone pipeline debacle and pulling out of the Kyoto agreement has soured me on relocating to Canada. I visited New Zealand once and loved it, but it's a hard place to relocate to.

    Nope, I'll likely be going down with the ship.

  3. There's nowhere to "hide," and there are too many moving parts for what's coming, so the "what" isn't clear at all. There's no way to predict with the amount of specificity needed to truly prepare. So try to do the best you can, and have a Plan B.

    Just being in a mindful position and thereby avoiding a big surprise is pretty important. "Ninety percent of the game is half mental." - Yogi Berra. (My daughter insists this can be interpreted as a logical statement.)

    Good post, Bill.

  4. Yeah, there was a doomer dinner in Seattle. It was fun! We took a poll around the table, as to when we thought the S would HTF. The timeline varied, but the end result didn't. There is no safe, secure place, no matter how insulated you think you are, and one of my favorite doomers pronounced that he and his wife plan to starve quietly to death in their home.

    I just read today though, that dogs will wait almost a week to start chewing on their owners if they die and are left undiscovered without food.

    Cats, a day or two...I have cats!!!

  5. @Gail - Yikes! We've got FOUR cats. Just call us dinner, I guess. :)

  6. I tend to agree with Bill and John Michael Greer on this one that the crash is likely to prove slow. Greer also argues that there is a great deal we can do to mitigate the dangers if we begin now to apply our capital in a realistic way.

    One thing that makes me despair talking to the unconverted about peak oil and the long emergency, is that such people refuse to think about any other way of living but the modern way. It’s like we either have automatic washing machines or we have to beat our clothes on rocks down by the river, but I was looking at the James Washer recently a very simple well made manual washing machine that would take the drugery out of clothes washing.

    The biggest problem is getting people to think about other ways we could live. We waste enormous amounts of resources in madcap ways. People use two tons cars to transport themselves a mile or two, when they could easily use a bike or walk. Look at the Dutch 25% of all journeys on bikes. Dutch bikes last 100 years. Look at the Swedes who build houses that can be heated through artic winters with little more than the body heat of the inhabitants.

    We piss away huge amounts of resources making short lived, useless crap, when we could make things like James Washers, and bikes, and pedal powered power tools, and solar buildings etc, etc. The real necessities of human life are actually quite modest and can be met without the huge waste that we have right now.

    The things that make life really worthwhile are not shit you can buy in a Mall, it’s things like a happy family, good neighbours and good health. Before we got rich in Ireland in the 1990s there was a great old tradition of a ceile house, a house in the neighbourhood where musicians were always welcome and a music session might start any time of the day or night. A few musicans and dancers and a few bottles of whiskey and everyone would have a great party and forget their troubles. It got us through some very bad times and put a smile on our collective faces.

    We are all doomed in the long run, the sun will eventually fry the earth, but the idea that there is no use in trying right now is one I reject. Who knows how it will play out, but when I hear people who are peak oil aware saying there is no use in trying because we are all doomed, it reminds me of people who are in denial of peak oil. When I try to discuss it with the deniers they parody what I am saying, by proclaiming “We are all doomed”. In both cases the reasoning leads to the same result, paralysis.

  7. I like your thinking irishwildeye. Even those who think they are open-minded have been blinded to how we could be living by dogma.
    Eventually we'll have to insulate properly and build manually-powered tools, etc.
    I welcome these times and cannot wait for the return of community. It's still here, just, in the hills and valleys of south Wales. Just!

  8. I have to confess this. A few weeks ago we had a power failure- no TV, no lights, trying to keep warm. Power came on after about 4 hours. During that time I realized how much the future could suck. My long term goal has been to pay off my debts, buy some land and work on survival, but it doesn't appear that pleasant a thought to look forward to.

  9. The last time we had a power cut it lasted about 3 hours. We got the wind-up lanterns going, threw more logs on the stove, cracked open a bottle of whiskey, got the guitars out and ended up telling the kids stories about their great grand parents. Good night I still remember it fondly, in fact I was sorry when the power came back on and the kids went back to their xboxs and TVs. There is a kind of magic telling stories in a dimly lit room.

    It's no fun to sit in the dark, without any entertainment, trying to stay warm and thinking about how the future will suck. But if you are prepared for a power cut, it can be fine, hell it can even be fun. If you can get a solid fuel stove and buy some wind-up lanterns. Learn to play a musical instrument and always keep some whiskey (or whatever your favorite chemical stimulant is) in stock. It's amazing the way a good source of heat, good company, a few shots of whiskey and a few songs can lift morale. If you are ready for a power cut it need not be a miserable or daunting experience.

  10. @iwe - and books. Don't forget the books, and a candle to read by. :)

  11. Yep, that last bit about books makes me think of the stupid trend of kindle etal. Useless waste of fuel.