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2011 predictions: a savage place

This year I have a jump on my predictions - as part of my comparatively new role as Editor of the Peak Oil Review Commentary section, I had the fun of asking a whole lot of smart people what they think is going to happen, and thinking about their predictions first.

If you haven't seen them already, you should definitely check them out! Everyone from Ilargi to Jeff Rubin, The Peak Oil Hausfrau to Richard Heinberg to Tad Patzek kicked in, and realistically, you'll probably get a lot clearer view of the future through a lot of eyes than just one.

Which leads me to my annual official caveat, which I repeat every year: "I don't think everything that comes out of my ass is the high truth, and neither should you. Remember what you are paying for this wisdom, and value it accordingly."

So how did I do with my predictions last year? In 2007 and 2008 I had an extraordinarily good record of predictions, a winning streak broken last year when I jumped the gun. So how were the 2010 predictions? Let's take a look:

2010 will mark a (probably dramatic) resumption of the economic crisis, which will not be short or pleasant. I keep pointing out that the two most recent deep economic downturns (1971-1982, 1929-1941) both lasted more than a decade, and I think this is most likely a fair translation of the current hype of "jobless recovery" and "low growth rates." The reality is that we're not going to experience a major economic recovery anytime soon, and I'd be somewhat surprised if we didn't see a substantial further downturn.

Called it, although it wasn't quite as dramatic as all that - the stock markets remain fairly high and there are still some people saying it is over, but the general emerging consensus is that it isn't over. The fact that it never was doesn't keep people from talking about W shaped recessions, but that's not what happened - there are blips in any downturn.

.We will face deflation, probably simultaneously with fluctuating and sometimes extremely high (at least in relationship to people's ability to pay) prices for food and energy, which will confuse people who think that "inflation" means "higher prices." This will not change the fact that we are having deflation.

Called it. Oil prices rose to $90 barrel and remained high throughout the year, and food prices began to spike again. At the same time, the general economic trend was solidly deflationary.

The trend towards growing your own, small home livestock, and home food preservation will continue to grow and expand - people who never thought they would know the word "compost" or touch a chicken will do so - and love it. Local food producers, on the other hand, may find that people are starting to cut back on organic, more sustainable food due to budgetary cconstraints as the "jobless recovery" turns out to be "long term joblessness."

I'm giving myself 50% on this one, although I may well have gotten it right, but the data simply isn't in yet. I don't think anyone can deny that the local food movement is still expanding fast and furiously, but there are also some indications that local markets that serve low income people may be seeing a decline. Among the jobless middle class, however, it seems that you cut a lot of things before you cut your child's organic milk. I'm just not sure how I did on this one yet, and I probably won't be until spring when the numbers come out. I do think pretty strongly that there's going to be a lot of pressure on small local producers that offer high cost value-added products as the recession goes on.

A basic conflict between generations will begin to emerge and simmer as younger people realize that the concentration of wealth in the baby boomer generation isn't going anytime soon, and youth joblessness rises, and people realize that their expectations are less than their parents'. I doubt that this conflict will emerge in any dramatic way in 2010, but I think its groundwork is being sown right now and this will shape the politics of the next decade.

Again, this is a tough one to evaluate, but I think there's increasing evidence in its favor. Two places to look at the fault lines would be on the far right and left - to the right, the age demographics of the Tea Party movement, often commented upon underscore a narrative that essentially runs "we don't want anyone else to get the kind of benefits we had, because we are pretty sure we can't afford them. On the left, Susan Faludi wrote an interesting article this fall in Harpers about why the generational division between younger and older feminists was so vast - and so vicious. In both cases, the explanation is held to be something other than a pie that isn't big enough and an emerging battle between age groups, but i think that is emerging. Time will tell whether this was a critical year or not, but I'm taking this one.

There will be a fragmentation of mostly fairly unified fronts among climate change activists and scientists as we are forced to deal with the revelations of last year - that we're not going to stay below 2 degrees. It will become increasingly uncertain how to respond and what to advocate for, and people will begin dividing up into camps much more dramatically than in the past.

I think this is definitely happening - consider the degree of upset that Judith Curry's rather weird dissent generated, and the degree to which demoralized climate activists seem uncertain about how to respond given the unlikelihood of any success emergent from Mexico.

Either the economic crisis or some other crisis (swine flu mutates, new climate change related disaster, military conflict somewhere that most Americans can't find on a map whatever) will give the US an excuse to take climate change mostly off the table as a subject. We're too busy! This is too important! Monies promised to poor nations will not be delivered.

Ummm....yeah.

Surging in Afghanistan won't help. (Ok, I needed one gimmee ;-)).

And again.

As I've been predicting for years, most of our energy and ecological crisis will show up as further economic blows. That is, it won't be a question of whether the grid fails or we run out of gas, but whether you can buy gas. The most likely reason you will lose power is because your utility company disconnects you. The need to respond to and clean up the next natural disaster will push everyone's resources just that much further. Peak oil and climate change will hit us hard in the next year and the coming year, but they will look like money worries and tight budgets and cut services and growing poverty, not like being underwater - at least mostly.

I think this is most evident at the state level - 2010 turned out to be the year that state budgets couldn't fake it anymore. The stimulus money is over and gone, the states can't carry deficits and the crisis is becoming daily more acute. Services for the poor and low income are where this is playing out, unsurprisingly. At the moment this is true mostly of the poor, but more of us are joining that club every day. At the same time, it wasn't as dramatic as I predicted for most people, so I'll call it 50%.

At least one very dramatic, totally unexpected game changer will come up, and change the terms of the discussion entirely. (Hey, I needed one risky one that makes me look good if it comes true ;-))

I'd say that the Gulf Oil Spill really did change the game - and probably for years to come. The biggest impact will arise from the drilling moratorium, which will take some years to shake off and further depress production, but the economic impact on the Gulf area, following Katrina by only 5 years I think puts another nail in the coffin of one region of the US economically, and there's a psychological consequence as well of disaster after disaster hitting the same general region.

Most people won't look at 2010 as the year it all went to hell. But looking back from 2015 to 2005, they will know that somewhere in there, it all went to hell, and well, this was right there in the middle.

I can't tell you if this one was right or not, yet - give me five years.

We'll call it an 8, then - seems like I may have gotten my doomer gal mojo back, which is a mixed blessing at best, I fear. Ok, on to 2011. 2010 I called "the Year of Losing Faster" from Elizabeth Bishop's poem. This year, I'm stealing from Coleridge, whose vision of the magical (and wholly imaginary) Kubla Khan is disrupted by the emergence from a savage space, a chasm beneath the paradise, "ancestral voices prophesying war." I'm not precisely prophesying war myself at the moment, but I do think that 2011 lays the ground for potential conflicts and battles that will be played out unless we get much wiser much faster.

1. First and foremost, I'm going to repeat my prediction in Peak Oil Review - I think 2011 is the year the food crisis comes back. We're already seeing signs of it, and I think that the number of world hungry will spike again to over a billion. Energy and food prices will remain tightly intertwined, and whether we see major price spikes, demand destruction and a collapse of energy prices, or whatever else, food and energy will be increasingly hard to afford for a large portion of the world population, from the very poorest to the American and European middle class. Food will be an important site of the emergence of our energy and ecological crisis.

2. 2011 will also be the year in which some mainstream segment of the US public or government starts taking peak oil seriously. This seems like it could be a good thing, but that depends heavily on *what* subset of the public or branches of government take it seriously and for what political purpose. I make no promises that peak oil activists won't go back to wishing they were being ignored.

3. Russia's wheat export restrictions and China's muscle flexing over rare earth minerals, along with the international landgrab going on for farmland are all part of an overall trend towards the recognition of limited world resources and the awareness that ensuring that there's something for your kids probably involves screwing someone else. The screwings will accellerate until morale improves - that being unlikely, I predict more and more international conflict over the limited store of goodies, and that some of that will become more acute and evident in 2011.

4. The emergence of a new "khaki market" (Khaki's the color you get when you combine green markets and black or grey markets ;-)) economy for food, used goods and other materials will accelerate. These markets will respond to the increasing legislation of small scale production by ignoring it entirely. Small food producers will decline to be legislated out of existence and simply violate existing laws. Informal economies will develop and expand, either around or sometimes in opposition to regulation designed to discourage them. Crackdowns will ensue, but overwhelmingly be unsuccessful at either containing the growth of informal markets or approval of them in the general public. The battles will get nastier as more people depend for their basic needs on these informal khaki markets.

5. The ongoing trend towards housing consolidation among family and friends, sparked by a combination of populations aging, rising unemployment especially among the young and a destigmatization of extended family life will continue and expand. More of us will be moving in with other people in 2011. This will be good for a host of personal economies, but only make the housing market worse.

6. In the interest of having one wholly self-interested prediction, chickens, the gateway drug to goats, will open the gateway and little cute milk and dairy-fiber goats will be the new backyard trend, making chickens look old fashioned and uncool. ;-)

7. The reports of the death of climate change as an issue at the national and international level will turn out to have been at least slightly exaggerated, but the terms of the debate will change to what we are going to do about how we're going to mitigate, rather than hold off emissions. Our new awareness of resource limits will also change the terms of the debate, as the peak oil and climate change communities finally really get to know one another.

8. Someone from the peak oil community (almost certainly not me) will go mainstream in a way they have not so far. Generally speaking, movements tend to get one major public figure that catches the general imagination over everyone else - consider Michael Pollan for the food movement, for example. I'm going to take a wild risk and argue that our Michael Pollan will emerge in 2011.

9. Something will blow up big, much as the Gulf Oil rig did, revealing just how vulnerable we are in a complex society so heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The general public will be shocked and horrified to learn how contingent their lives and situations are. They won't, however, learn anything lasting from it.

10. The emerging attention to our collective crisis will give some of the movement a jolt of new energy, time and investment in 2011. This will be the positive consequence of all the tough stuff we're facing.

Happy New Year anyway, folks!

Sharon

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