Posted by Michael Kubler on March 4, 2013
I don’t think Civilisation will collapse as everyone keeps being worried it will, it is more likely to either break down or undergo multiple major paradigm changes at once.
Henceforth I will try and use the term ‘Civilisation breakdown‘, instead of ’Civilisation collapse‘. It gives me more leeway in being able to say “I told you so!” later on… Not that such bragging rights will matter without the Internet to brag on.
Just like entropy will eventually dissipate all the energy in the universe to the point that the Earth (especially without a burning sun) will be a floating cold, lifeless rock. However well before that, in fact in 2006 the world as a whole hit the peak of oil production. It flat lined at the plateau and whilst not talked about much is considered by many experts as the initiator of the Global Financial Crisis. Think about it, why couldn’t all those people not afford to pay the loan on their house anymore? Because oil prices caused price rises in food, transport, electricity and nearly everything else. They were those most on the edge and the first to feel it, of course we’ve all felt it since. Some (like Greece) more than others (like Australia).
The idea of collapse comes from the fact that the existing systems are brittle. Systems like centralised energy grids, oil powered transport networks and reactionary markets. The fear is that if you can’t grow then the ponzi scheme of economics will collapse. But one thing that neuroscience has shown is just how easy adaptable humans are when needed. When the unconventional reserves like coal seam gas (fracking) can’t make up the difference and there are energy shortages they aren’t going to hit everywhere at once. Just like Cuba has already lived through the end of oil so adapted and survived so too will most countries, on an individual basis. Some won’t adapt well enough and won’t survive as well. USA may well be one of these countries, having fracked much of the country they may find major contamination problems in their ground water within a generation or 2. Or maybe they’ll be mostly fine. Except of course that existing Capitalist economics won’t work anymore and we’ll have to go to one of the alternatives. Steady State, True Cost, Participatory, or Resource Based Economics. These are the alternatives which don’t expect growth. Then, like a stepping stone we will either slowly peter out, without enough energy to repair the big wind or solar that powers the remains. Or hopefully our progress will be above a tipping point and we’ll be able to use the excess resources to build more renewables and not just survive but thrive. There’s also that edge between the two where we don’t quite die out but also don’t thrive, we end up just managing to survive, but that is unlikely, especially given entropy. But who knows, maybe we are not in a Big Bang universe which expands forever but in a Big Boom one which will eventually collapse in on itself and back into a singularity.
If you’d like to know more some of this rant was a reaction to Nicole Foss’s video on decoupling the economy from economics.
You might also like to see what she says in a bit more detail on her tour (I’ve seen her talk when she was last in Adelaide).