Gonna be different this time

Since Age of Limits, I have become more aware of factions within the energy depletion crowd. Most have to do with predicting a timeline for collapse, which makes Hari Seldon references almost irresistible.

Near-Term Extinction (NTE) is just like it sounds – these folk expect things will get so bad that the human species will disappear from the earth, and fairly soon. One of their catchphrases is “Nature Bats Last.” Guy MacPherson and Carolyn Baker spoke at Age of Limits in 2013, but either declined or weren’t invited back for 2014. Two of the attendees told me that the NTE folk were a cult-like presence, but at least one person said she missed having Baker there because she spoke about dealing with loss.

At the other end would be the business as usual (BAU) crowd, pundits like Michael Lynch or Daniel Yergin who insist that peakists are misreading the data, that mankind has always gotten through bad times before and that we will find a way to do so again. None of them attended, though there was that fellow who urged we all turn to God.

John Michael Greer can recite a long history of apocalyptic predictions, and thinks the prospect of extinction makes some people feel special. Greer expects a catabolic collapse – that society will absorb a series of smaller collapses – to a point where humans can live in harmony with the carrying capacity of the planet. He writes about past collapses when some 95% of the population has perished, but the remaining 5% mourned and buried them, continued and rebuilt. In his speculative fiction, Star’s Reach, people in Meriga still speak a version of english and sort of remember the past, but rely on animal and human muscle to accomplish work.

I gather that Gail Tverberg stops short of the NTE crowd but suggests that Greer is too optimistic. She writes about a severe collapse due to, “converging crises.” Her eight horsemen are overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution, intractable debt, failed government, unemployment, loss of the electrical grid and, even though we already see them getting very ugly, geopolitical resource conflicts bringing up the rear.

At Age of Limits, Greer openly poked fun at the phrase, “It’s different this time,” leading the audience in saying it to get it out of our systems. Upon returning from AoL, Tverberg called her next post Converging Energy Crises – And How our Current Situation Differs from the Past and her latest piece, Debt: Eight Reasons This Time is Different. Maybe Gail is a Talking Heads fan.

Such arguments sound academic, and it won’t matter much who is/was right if one’s family is killed in a mudslide or a prison or a resource war. Nor will it matter much if one is lucky enough to be one of the 5% or 1% or even fewer to see one’s children live through the mess.

Dmitry Orlov seems more oriented to exploring survival strategies, and has been posting useful info about post-collapse medicine, healthcare without doctors, etc. I haven’t made it through his book, Communities that Abide, but I’m admittedly dubious about emulating the Roma. I chanced across a New Yorker article the other day by a fellow who joined his friend Leslie Hawke’s NGO, OvidiuRo, which attempts to educate Roma children out of poverty:

The conditions in the Roma settlements to which Leslie took me next made Dorohoi look like East Hampton. Where the peasants of northern Romania ate badly, the Gypsies of Colonia were going hungry; while the peasants lived short lives, the Gypsies showed obvious signs of illness. The peasants may not have had good plumbing, but the Gypsies had none at all; they defecated in the surrounding pasture, and the place stank to high heaven. At this writing, as a result of OvidiuRo’s work, fifteen hundred Roma children are getting the early education that might help them break out of their poverty. I met those children, bright-eyed and full of fun, and hoped they could escape becoming like the morose teen-agers and glassy-eyed adults who sat around Colonia in the squalor.

From what Dmitry tells of the Roma, I am assuming that OvidiuRo is tolerated for the food coupons they give the children – which probably end up handed to the big man for distribution. As Dmitry writes (so far) the Roma strategy is to remain aloof from larger culture and its edumacation, but I don’t see the industriousness that serves the Amish so well. I will be reading to see how the Roma fare without a nearby prosperous civilization to exploit.

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