After What Seemed Like an Age …

Shortly after presenting at the 2014 Age of Limits, Dmitry Orlov, Albert Bates and Gail Tverberg each posted articles to address the issues they raised (and encountered) in the conference. PeakOil.com and PeakOil.Org reblogged all three, engendering some debate. Despite, or maybe because of, Orren Whiddon’s complaints that Resilience ignores AoL, the former Energy Bulletin carried Gail’s and Albert’s articles. On C-Realm, KMO just podcast Conversations in the Round with some AoL attendees. I presume John Michael Greer will weigh in when he returns from England, but I have no idea whether Dr Mark Cochrane or Dr Dennis Meadows will blog about it.

At Saturday evening’s roundtable, Whiddon asked us for collapse timelines before we had heard from Greer, Tverberg or Cochrane. Ideally (and I know how hard it is to schedule events), I would have followed Whiddon’s opening session with Dr Meadows and Dr Cochrane to define the situation. I would then have followed with Tverberg and Greer to make their cases about whether collapse may unfold quickly or slowly, then I might have finished with Orlov and Bates to propose and describe preparations.

Despite the spiking asymptotic trajectories on the Limits to Growth chart posted on the Age of Limits home page, Dr Meadows said that the World3 model is not all that predictive after collapse. I believe he said that there simply is no reliable data for what happens next. Cochrane described climate change that was both more complex and frightening than what I had heard before.

The extremes of collapse – Near Term Extinction and Business As Usual – were not represented in the schedule. Tverberg’s complex scenario of eight crashing vectors leading to a steep decline (Seneca’s Cliff) contrasts with Greer’s feeling that governments can take action to maintain some semblance of normality during a long, catabolic collapse (Meriga). As I said at the conference, I think the collapse is being carefully managed – but not to the benefit of the poor or middle classes. The stock market surges until the well-connected take profits, then it falls back so the media screamers can tout the bargains. We hardly realize that we have gone from being pets to being meat.

Some collapsniks have made the point that some populations are already in collapse, such as the millions of unemployed and incarcerated Americans. Some collapsniks make the point that collapse may well manifest differently around the world. Given both of those points, it seems clear to me that Tverberg and Greer may both be right, but in different places. Africa, North America, Europe and parts of Asia may collapse hard while South America, Australia and other parts of Asia follow a slower collapse. It may vary on a more local level, but I think only the oceans may contain some effects of collapse.

Greer dismissed the possibility of a pandemic as an asteroid-like event that can’t be predicted. I think the effects of failing antibiotics and poor sanitation in industrial cities with decaying infrastructure should be anticipated and may be as severe as any pandemic.

How then to prepare? One attendee suggested – in absolute sincerity – that the seven billion inhabitants of Earth be winnowed down by lottery to 85 million souls, who could then live off hydroelectric power and maintain the current European standard of living. Given a one in eighty chance of surviving the lottery, I have no idea whether he planned to let parents pass their places to children, etc. Nor was he clear about who would administer such a lottery and enforce the results. I recommend he read Gore Vidal’s novel, Kalki. Another attendee insisted, repeatedly, that we should have a talk with God, and not in the key of life. He was not received well.

Bates presented the solution of the ecovillage, which was also before us with the example of Four Quarters. Orlov presented resilient communities like the Roma or Amish as opposed to failed utopian societies. While I suppose that one could carve out a very fulfilling and successful life in an ecovillage, Americans have a history of leaving tightly knit villages to go it alone. Responsibility to the group, perhaps even fealty to a leader, would have to replace the modern concept of personal freedom. I also wonder if such places will A: be the first target of local oligarch/warlords, or B: become the operating bases of local oligarch/warlords.

While Orlov was talking my mind drifted to the novel Galapagos, in which Kurt Vonnegut describes an ideal resilient community as nuclear radiation spurs mankind to evolve into peaceful aquatic creatures much like seals or furry dolphins. While Orlov’s subject resilient communities have abided, the groups described have also been persecuted, driven out, and slaughtered throughout history. I haven’t read my copy of Communities That Abide yet but I’ll be looking for some discussion of how an already-persecuted group might survive collapse better than a well-connected group.

More than a few people noticed that while the sort of person attending Age of Limits might do fine in an ecovillage, we did not bear much resemblance to the average Roma or Amish member. Someone challenged the idea of home-schooling, but I think they were really challenging the idea of limited education. A plaintive questioner wondered if there was any place for gay couples in an abiding community that needed a steady birthrate. Orlov (diplomatically, I thought) allowed that there might be, but there is a strong fear – as evidenced by last year’s AoL feminism broughaha – that leaving the industrial model behind also means leaving behind all the social gains made by people that are physically weaker (women, children, the disabled) and very recent gains made by people that are different colors and sexual orientations than the majority. Can we create resilient communities that will still support modern values when the going gets rough, or will we simply have to make choices from what evolves?

I listened to KMO’s podcast while writing this, and I appreciated the commenter who brought up good and bad luck. He predicted that many of us will do the right things, and make the right preparations, but will be swept away by situations and forces beyond our control. That lottery will be administered by nature and by each other.

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