The goal of my work is to encourage learning, thinking, and discussion about how humankind has created a catastrophically unsustainable way of life, why the process of collapse cannot be prevented, and how collapse survivors, if any, might learn from our many mistakes and mindfully pursue a sane way of life.
Seven-point-something billion people are sleepwalking into a dark and furious storm because of a sequence of innovative experiments called progress. Progress is an obsession that continuously provides us with new tools for destroying the health of the ecosystem more rapidly. Unintended drawbacks routinely outweigh the benefits — one step forward, two steps back. We celebrate the amazing benefits and… what costs? Our loony culture programs us to hunger for what destroys us, like the junkies of Funkytown. This is a short path.
The safe and effective antidote is, of course, clear thinking — letting our imaginations soar away from their cages to explore new realms, questioning every truth, swerving around the tar babies of the blind faith mobs. When clear thinking plunges into a steamy relationship with ecological history, a new and healthy mode of perception can be born. The offspring of this romance will have an irresistible urge to push aside entertainments and distractions, race out the door, and develop a reverent and respectful relationship with the family of life that exists outside the concentration camp.
When your body becomes infected, it dispatches a SWAT team to exterminate the pathogens. If this fails, Plan B is a fever, which raises your body temperature in an effort to fry the malicious intruders. Fevers are never enjoyable, but they might save your life, and extend your existence by decades. Fever seems like an apt metaphor for the collapse of the global civilization — a turbulent experience that, on the plus side, has the possibility of preserving some of the ecosystem in the end.
So, we tried. Perceptive people sounded the alarm, “The ecosystem is in great danger!” A SWAT team was dispatched, but they were easily blown away by the pathogens — clear thinking was decisively overwhelmed by ignorance, hysteria, and deep-rooted habits. Thus, Plan B is now underway, fever. Growing winds announce the approach of furious storms. No place is safe. It’s time to stand before the court of the family of life and submit to rough justice. We’ve broken all of nature’s laws.
There is no consensus among the prophets as to when the misery of collapse will intensify, how long it will last, what form it will take, or what will survive. I have no clear vision of the future, but it’s easy to identify a number of factors that will play a powerful role in fueling the fever.
Non-renewable resources are finite, and many are becoming scarce and expensive. The global economy is totally dependent on them, and the supply is shrinking every minute, rapidly. Is it possible to feed even one billion once petroleum becomes unavailable or unaffordable? We’re completely unprepared, in every way, for a global transition to muscle-powered agriculture — and we’ve forgotten that primitive agriculture wasn’t sustainable either.
The climate is becoming unstable, and there are countless scientific predictions that this will worsen, and could persist for thousands of years. Agriculture, as we know it, is only possible in the stable climate patterns that began in 9600 B.C. Our major food crops will not maintain their current productivity in an unstable climate, if they survive at all. The same is true for nut trees, fruit orchards, forests, wildlife, marine life, livestock, and humans. Climate change seems likely to pull the carpet out from under our traditional strategies for basic survival.
We’re approaching the end of the antibiotic era. Pathogens always develop resistance to these wonder drugs eventually, and the pharmaceutical industry is running out of tricks. Humankind got a temporary reduction in the toll from infectious diseases, which contributed to several decades of skyrocketing population growth, but the bubble will not last much longer. Crowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and high mobility ensure a golden age recovery for all persecuted pathogens. Modern medicine, as we know it, does not have a long future, no matter how hard we wish.
Crowding and scarcity are the parents of conflict, and in a world with seven-point-something billion people, growing levels of intense conflict are inevitable. There are many nuclear weapons ready for use, and each of them is vastly more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. There are also chemical weapons, biological weapons, cyber weapons, explosives, old-fashioned skull openers, and secret weapons we’ve never heard of.
There are 400+ nuclear power plants in the world, and the worst-case scenario for even one of them could make vast regions uninhabitable for many thousands of years. We have yet to experience a worst-case event, but they seem certain. If reactors are not carefully decommissioned prior to problems, worst-case events are almost guaranteed. Decommissioning is an extremely expensive process that takes years — but instead of an aggressive global campaign to do this as soon as possible, they’re contemplating building even more nuke plants!
There are surely a number of other loose cannons that will be smashing into the crowd, but let’s not get gloomy here. Clearly, there is no brighter future ahead for civilization, which is good, because it’s the opposite of sustainable. It’s terminally and incurably ill. What then?
History informs us that all civilizations die, and that their survivors typically regroup and repeat the same mistakes, using the same skills and tools. Today’s global civilization is fossil-powered, and its collapse can only be replaced by societies that are primarily muscle-powered. Climate change seems likely to radically redesign the planet’s ecosystems. It might be impossible to repeat the same mistakes, because they’ll no longer work.
And now, at long last, I shall get to my point. Anyone who explores an assortment of books that discuss aspects of ecological history will soon perceive civilization as bloody screaming insanity, because it has zero regard for ecosystem health and stability, or for the future. It’s pure madness.
In 1975, at the conclusion of 17 years of education, I was absolutely clueless about the extraordinary costs of industrial civilization, and knew nothing about lower-impact alternatives. I had never heard the words “ecology” or “sustainable.” My brain was swollen with enormous quantities of information that was useless for living in balance with the family of life. It took many years to shovel all that crap out, and acquire knowledge and understanding useful for recognizing good paths.
So many of the huge problems we’ve created are the direct result of our culture, which trained us to be world champion consumers, to furiously destroy the planet to the best of our ability, so help us God — and we did just that. Countless millions have devoted much of their lives to acquiring and discarding enormous quantities of stuff they had no need for.
It’s painful to contemplate what a beautiful world this could be if we had been provided with a thorough education in ecological history — if we had a vivid understanding of the centuries-long pileup of shortsighted blunders that have led us to the brink of catastrophe. If we had clearly comprehended the big picture, many, many super-nutjob schemes would have been completely unimaginable.
If the entire global economy suddenly died today, all the lights went out, and all money became worthless, the future would be in the hands the survivors, most of whom are clueless about genuine sustainability. They would likely regroup and attempt to resume the same fatal mistakes that we excel at today.
Nothing can change until ideas change. At the moment, we have access to an amazing global communication system, a powerful tool for sharing ideas. It’s actually useful for things beyond bombarding us with cat videos, tweets, and pornography. How long will this system continue to operate, as Peak Everything keeps pressing harder on the brakes? It would be wise to make good use of it, before it slips beneath the waves forever.
It’s never too late to rip off our blinders and learn. My mission is to encourage this learning. Let’s think about it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s write about it, film it, paint it, sing it. Let’s use our legendary intelligence for truly intelligent purposes. Let’s envision futures in which our fundamental boo-boos have been tossed overboard, and our descendants are once again wild, free, and happy. Let’s do all we can before the lights go out.
With lots and lots of luck, and lots and lots of clear thinking, our species might still be around in 500 years, in a radically different reality, fully obedient to the laws of life. History bets against this, but the dreamers are giddy with hope.