25 January 2008

Life after collapse

Do recent events in worldwide financial markets herald a societal collapse? Is this the trigger that brings the whole sham down? What will life be like after a collapse?

Certainly, the economic foundations of the world have been shaken. The panic response of the US Federal Reserve has certainly cauterized the wound for now. Unfortunately, economics and the environment are intertwined and poor economic conditions make environmental degradation more likely. Poverty often results in the rationalization of environmentally destructive behaviour, speeding up the deterioration of the planetary ecosystem. It won't just happen because of a financial meltdown; a more thorough razzing of society is needed. So these events are but one part of the long fall. Contrary to popular belief, collapse doesn't (necessarily) mean that all the humans on the planet are going to die off on some short time scale, although that is certainly one possible outcome.

Sadly, a picture of what life after collapse looks like already exists today. Africa is such a model. Technically, it is not really 'post-collapse' as there has never really been a widespread 'peak' in Africa. Rather, those in the so-called 'developed world' have long ridden the back of poorer nations, exploiting them for our prosperity while leaving only crumbs and empty promises. Our desire for 'stuff' has a huge environmental cost, while by and large we have transferred it to the global 'South', creating 'externalities' to our economic system. This creates tensions and shortages will spill over into broader African society.

Warfare and political strife are endemic in Africa -- largely battles over resources and power. Most of these wars are barely noted in the West, although they are often fueled by the greed of multinational corporations, who manipulate the local populace for their own profit and gain. The Congo War -- off and on since 1996 – is an excellent example. The recent post-election violence in Kenya is another.

War, along with the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, creates refugees. Human nature is that people will do whatever it takes to survive. Regardless of cost or consequences. This is illustrated by case studies in Tanzania, host to the largest concentrations of refugees in Africa. There, the wholesale slaughter of native wild animals is creating an environmental crisis, bound to lead to a loss of biodiversity and damaging future prospects for recovery, economic or otherwise.

Despite the ravages of war, AIDS, malaria, climate change and other woes, overpopulation remains a growing problem, only expected to get worse in coming years. But, like everywhere, if you are rich (or have a lot of guns) you can avoid many of these problems. For example in Ghana, rapid economic development has brought beautiful homes with toilets and running water to the rich, while the poor are now required to use the beaches for 'the facilities', with untreated human waste simply washed into the sea.

To top it off, periodic natural disasters (exacerbated by climate change) arise, destroying crops, threatening livelihoods and continuing the vicious cycle. Plagues of locusts, floods, wildfires and desertification are but some of the issues threatening food security here.

This is a a foretaste of what a societal collapse may look like. Indeed, if you look the signs are already there in many Western countries, including the US. Multinational corporations already control the elections in most countries. The US military is already fighting a resource war on behalf of Haliburton and other corporations. The rich/poor divide in western nations grows every day. If and when people start getting thrown out of their homes, unable to pay the mortgage, there will be a lot of anger. Climate refugees are also a reality in the US, and food security is increasingly becoming an issue. Despite the denial of some, post-peak oil will be an issue, as the demands of the world outweigh the supply, even in an economically depressed environment.

Sadly, some seem to relish collapse. It's not going to be a big adventure. It will create a lot of hardship, a lot of turmoil and a lot of grief. It is a horrible legacy to leave our children. Yes, there are a lot of things wrong with our society as it is currently constructed, as the previous discussion illustrates. But a collapse --catastrophic or otherwise -- would not be a good thing. Maybe something good would come out in the end as a result, but it's a big maybe and trying to achieve the same result without the collapse has more appeal. After all, in the last mass extinction on Earth it took 30 million years for recovery. The die may be cast and it may be too late. But it may not. We simply don't know and it would be incredibly short-sided to simply give up at this point.


Image: Guernica by Pablo Picasso

1 comment:

Jay Pierce said...

I agree totally with this post and the general theme of your blog. I firmly believe that we are heading for global collapse and in a few short years, how it will occur is open to hot debate.

On my blog www.preparingfor2012.info I have been collecting information that I personally use as part of my wider preparations for these coming times.

Keep up the great work on your blog.