2017-03-10

A bus and a truck: The multiple crises of civilization


Last December, I posted a concise explanation on the state of affairs regarding abrupt climate change – Deep into the spiral – and I concluded that the drastic rise in global average temperature might do homo sapiens in from this year on, due to the inability to grow enough food for our overshot world population. Plenty of research supports this statement. First signs of such a food crisis are failed crops in the US, Australia, Western Europe, India, and several African states within recent months. At the same time we see massive die-offs of sea animals big and small in all the oceans. As the perpetually rising temperatures and ever more numerous weird weather events might not allow for a return to normal, the ensuing mass starvation will wreck societies around the planet, thus leading to the collapse of global industrial civilization. With 435 nuclear reactors in operation and 1200 basins for cooling spent fuel rods, the loss of human capacity as well as the disappearence of the fossil-fuel-driven grid energy for maintaining these structures operational for another ten, or even hundreds of years, will result in desastrous nuclear explosions followed by catastrophic decline of all life on Earth.
Some governments might try and capture some vital resources beforehand, staking out their claims with ABC weapons. Needless to say that this would shorten humanity's lifetime even further.

One can regard humanity's multiple crises from many angles, social, environmental, cultural..., all of which point to cataclysmic events in the near future, certainly within my generation's lifetime. Based on a report by HSBC bank, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed wrote on 6 Jan. 2017 that we should Brace for the oil, food and financial crash of 2018 because, “80% of the world’s oil has peaked, and the resulting oil crunch will flatten the economy”. While he might have the date wrong, we should ask in the light of modern research when, almost fifty years after the Club of Rome's analysis, industrial civilization is going to hit the wall that the limits to growth posit. With the converging crises in mind, what is the timeframe we are talking about?

Recently I came across a study that described the thermodynamics of our culture's energy consumption and their interaction with financial and economic mechanisms. You need to know that there are no freebies. It takes a certain amount of energy to do what you do. It takes a certain amount of energy to extract oil from the ground. Conventional petroleum originally came at very low energy investment, and that left the lion's share of energy per barrel for industrial activities. As the world's industrial productivity increased over time, more inconvenient deposits with lesser and lesser energy yield have been drilled into, and we also saw the decline in conventional oil production happen from 2005/2006 on. More expensive unconventional sources with even lesser energy yield became attractive – speaking tar sands and fracking, among others – but since 2015 they seem to be in decline as well.

So a rising demand hits a declining production. With fossil energy getting sparser, prices should rise, yet the declining harvest of net energy per barrel reduces the value for the customer. Once the energy used for extracting, processing, and transporting equals the energy content of the extracted raw material, it will no longer make sense, both energetically and financially, to pump the stuff, no matter how much we would like to have it.

As carbon is an irreplacable raw material that is needed for packaging, insulation, pesticides, jet fuel, powering of mining machinery, lightweight mechanical parts etc etc, the end of affordable oil will bring industrial activities to a sudden halt. Even so-called renewables and alternative energy sources are depending on oil for parts.

Read the details in, End of the “Oilocene”: The Demise of the Global Oil Industry and of the Global Economic System as we know it. 22 Jan. 2017 by FEASTA, the Foundation for Economics of Sustainability.

The bottom line is, energetically, 2021 is very likely the year we hit the wall, and again, political mistakes and military acts of desparation might both shorten the remaining time and worsen the consequences.

See the bus' destination? [cc by Seattle Municipal Archives]
While I can follow the line of argument of the study it is hard for me to check the validity of the math. Whether the authors have nailed the date, or not, isn't so much the point here as the fact that the multitude of crises converging on us are an unmistakable sign that our culture, global industrial civilization, is coming to its end, and soon. It is not like we had an awful lot of time to waste. From my understanding, it is late in life, and regardless of what you are intending to do – starting to push back the power of corporations, enjoying your time, or proceeding on the path to awakening – you need to do it right now. Unless we get run over by a bus and a truck, the collapse of civilization is for us to witness, front row & popcorn.

As mentioned above and in previous blog posts, our species is likely to exit the planet shortly after civilization collapses. This is not a question of which countermeasures we employ, which social systems we adopt, or which side in the eternal battle of Good vs Evil you and me are on. We cannot survive without all those species that create oxygen, purify the water, build up soil, and constitute the food chain we depend upon, yet we are utterly destroying those not only directly but by exposing them to an abrupt climatic change that unfolds tenthousand times faster than biological evolution. This is the singularity the techno freaks and futurologists have been talking about, but it's coming at us from an unexpected angle.

You cannot live in a future that never arrives. Every day, every hour and minute counts. That I personally prepare for collapse before 2020 does not mean I had absolute proof from the data, yet combining all the information I have makes it highly probable to me that impact is imminent. I might be wrong on this account, yet it is an undeniable fact that lifetimes are limited. The recent passing of a beloved one only emphasized the understanding that all we have is just the moment, and that the one thing worth filling it with is love.

So the question remains, what are we going to do with the short time that is left to us? Are we living with urgency? Does it matter to us what we do today – the people we meet, the relationship we have with them, the joy of being alive we feel?
Or are we still working a job we don't care about, meeting people we despise, and worrying about bills we have to pay? If so –Why?

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