Powerdown revisited/As the world burns
Museletter #186 has been completed in two parts - both of which are now available in full at Global Public Media. Excerpts are posted here.
In my book Powerdown: Options and actions for a Post Carbon World, I outlined four scenarios for the oil-constrained future: Last One Standing (a fascistic battle for the world’s remaining resources), Powerdown (government-led radical proactive conversion to energy frugality), Waiting for the Magic Elixir (denial of the problem until it’s too late for proactive responses), and Building Lifeboats (small communities coming together to build a survivable, sustainable future for themselves and, ultimately, for the rest of humanity). I closed the book by suggesting that, while the current trajectory is toward the first and third options, we should work on the second and fourth because these offer the greatest hope.
After a few years of further thought, it seems to me that my description of these options could stand some modification. I would now say that our future options consist of three broad scenarios.
...Here are the three scenarios that I see as most likely.
1. Feudal fascism. This is basically similar to the Last One Standing option in Powerdown, though now I would frame it somewhat differently. A strong central government will organize work - though not in a way that many people will enjoy. Think agricultural work camps and slave-labor factories. The main selling point for the Fascist option (sorry for the word fascism, but while it’s loaded with historical baggage it’s also handy, familiar, and probably fairly accurate) would be the maintenance of order in a time of increasing social disintegration. ...
2. The Eco Deal. Economist Susan George calls this option “Environmental Keynesianism” (see her essay at www.globalnetwork4justice.org/story.php?c_id=313). For a snapshot image, think of the 1930s New Deal revisited in the context of global ecological crisis.
Like Feudal Fascism, this scenario assumes a strong central government. But in this case, government applies itself to the transformation of societal infrastructure using an inclusive strategy that entails economic re-distribution and the fostering of a culture of democracy. ...
3. Bottoms Up. There is a strong likelihood that, at least in some nations or regions, strong central government will not survive the end of cheap energy - especially if electrical grids fail. In that case, neither the Feudal Fascist nor the Eco-Deal strategy would play out; instead, localities would be on their own. Local governments and citizen groups would have the task of maintaining order and flows of basic necessities. ...
In any case, two things are absolutely clear: business as usual is not one of the options; and the more we do now to prepare at every level, the better off we all will be.
As the World Burns
...Altogether, it was an extraordinary 30 days. Yet so far there's been no instantaneous economic implosion, and there's not much blood in the streets (except perhaps in Myanmar), and so the mainstream media can safely focus on the truly vital issues like O.J. Simpson's current legal scrapes and Britney Spears's performance at the MTV awards.
Many writers who discuss the sort of stuff that interests me ("reality" I think it's called) wrap the unutterable sadness of it all in a crisp cellophane of cynicism. I'm guilty of that, too, from time to time - certainly in this little monthly summary. How else to make it somehow bearable?
Addendum: The latter brief essay is gloomier than my usual writing, and one early reader inquired whether I am personally okay. I suspect that the tone of the piece results partly from the stresses of recent travels and from an intense period spent caring for a declining parent. While clearly I was in a venting mood when I wrote these words, it was not my intention to communicate hopelessness. On the other hand, I refuse to be required always to play the role of cheerleader: it is important to identify solutions, but it is also occasionally essential to point out where we are collectively in our species journey, even when the facts call forth uncomfortable emotions.