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2012 predictions: the more things change...

First of all, I owe y'all an apology for the radio silence. Somehow this month I've felt a deep need for some quiet, rest and offlineness. It was quite an autumn here - it started with the destruction of Irene and Lee (and dealing with those disasters are still a major part of life in our community although they've faded from public focus), included the usual autumn and holiday rush, our usual sequence of family events and birthday parties (three kids have birthday in six weeks, right after the high holidays wind up), ASPO, my book, two foster placements and the loss of M., and the wind up of Eric's semester left us all just bone tired. I didn't plan to stay offline for two weeks, it just kind of happened while we celebrated Chanukah and Isaiah's 8th birthday, cleaned and organized, caught up on chunks of life that have been left aside and generally took some deep breaths. Several incredibly kind emails in the last week have gently inquired whether I was ok, and I do appreciate it - and I am.

In the last few days, I've found myself able to look ahead again - to think about spring and chickens, about seed catalogs and what to do to make our farm more deluge-proof and a host of other things. I've started turning my head forward, and looking out again - it was restorative to have a period of quiet, and thanks all for bearing with me.

Meanwhile, I'm back just in time to post my annual predictions, something I've been doing since 2006. Let me just preface this with the official annual predictions preface that I've included since I started doing this: "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.

First, let's take a look at how I did last year:

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.

I called this one. World food issues have been growing steadily more acute over the last year, and now we are in many respects back to where we were in 2008. Food price volatility has been dramatic this year, reaching a high back in February, and spiking up and down.

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.

Although there were some positive indications in 2011, I don't think this one came true - peak oil still hasn't hit the mainstream. Although given the noise about the Gulf of Hormuz, that could still change before the year ends - but I think that's unlikely.

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.

This was definitely true - the Rare Earths restrictions were a major issue this year, and the global landgrab continued to expand. Most of this is still happening outside the mainstream news - this implicit recognition of a world constrained my limits still hasn't entered most people's focus - but it is clearly shaping international policy.

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.

This one is a little hard to document in that no one really keeps good stats on whether there were more pop-up dining establishments, unlicensed farmer's markets and small food vendors working under the table, but it seems to be true - more of these things are in the news, there are more crackdowns and an increasing amount of social support for small producers who step outside the lines. My own take on this is that these "khaki markets" will be among the most important food resources we have - and the conflicts over them will only get bigger.

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.

Again, this is one of those things that is hard to really call at the end of the year - the data for the past year simply hasn't come out yet. We do know that the housing market didn't rebound in 2011, but I think we have to let this one go until later this year.

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. ;-)

Now this one may actually be true - two large American cities legalized backyard goats and several major news stories ran on the subject. But who knows where the trend is headed ;-). I'll call it a half.

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.

No, sadly not - for the most part we continued on the path we'd been firmly upon - paying no real attention to the issue of climate change. Nor did the recognition of limits change any discourse. I was way too optimistic here. Folks still often see climate change and peak oil as either/or rather than mutually intersecting issues.

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.

Not that I know of.

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.

I'd say Arab spring and the related issues with Libyan exports do qualify. Fukushima certainly does. It isn't clear to me, though that we didn't learn anything from Arab spring - it seems too great a coincidence to imagine that Occupy has nothing to do with the international recognition of people power. I think it will wait to see what we learned from Fukushima, but probably not much.

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.

I think this was true - there was a sense of renewal among the people I see working on these issues and among ordinary people. Occupy was the most prominent but not the only expression of this, of course,

All in all, it wasn't my best year - about six out of ten, much more in keeping with 2009 than 2010, 2007 or 2008, when I called eight out of ten. Still, since so often my predictions aren't positive, I'm ok with being wrong, except, of course, possibly about that goat thing ;-).

Moving on to this year's predictions, you'd think I'd be inclined to be more conservative, but the fact is, events don't seem to be driving in that direction, so either I'll be spectacularly wrong in the coming year, or I'll be right:

1. While Iran probably won't close the Straits of Hormuz, the vulnerability of US dependency on oil in other nations will continue to be highlighted by world event after world event, and sooner or later, one of them will blow up. I'm going to reach and suggest that we will have some kind of global-affairs related oil shock in 2012. And when that happens we will be confronted with the fact that the language of "energy independence" is false - nothing but dramatic and radical c onservation (of a kind that comes with heavy economic costs) would allow America to survive on its own reserves. Not offshore drilling, not biofuels, not shale - none of these can be brought online rapidly enough nor can they produce enough to quench our incredible appetite for liquid fuels. I'm going out on a limb and saying that 2012 is when we are confronted with this knowledge.

2. The economy will not recover much...yet again. Since early 2007, I've been pointing out that most major economic crises last a decade or more - that there a periods of decline and growth in them, but viewed retroactively, they look like a decade of economic crisis. This year we'll hit the official half-way point of our current economic crisis, and we'll see a lot of cheerleading and a lot of discussion of tiny signifiers, but we will continue also to see little growth, much less than required to keep things going, and frequent setbacks. I would expect to see a lot of uncertainty, not a lot of jobs growth and lots of world crises that shake markets over and over again.

3. Occupy will continue to be a presence and a rhetorical trope (ie, we'll speak about occupying nearly everything), but what will matter most is what Occupy is a preface to. While I doubt this will come to full fruition in 2012, my guess is we'll see the emergence of the next popular movement, inspired by Occupy but perhaps less politically unified and perhaps less gentle. Without diminishing Occupy's present accomplishments, I predict that in the longer term (ie, this won't be settled by the end of 2012 most likely) what Occupy will be historically known for is as the moment Americans became aware of the real power of popular protest and activism again - but the form will probably not remain the same.

4. The tension between local food and the food locals eat will rise as food and energy price volatility press more families economically. Local food activists will have to work harder at bringing their food to the people who most need food security and local access, but are least likely to have it. Food is one of the few places where there's a lot of buy-in on issues of resilience and adaptation, but the struggle of under-paid, low income farmers and small producers to get their food to the underpaid and poor eaters who need it most will be an emerging central issue.

5. The world food crisis will expand and extend into more nations. If 2011 was the year the food crisis "came back," 2012 will be the year it becomes impossible to ignore.

6. In 2012, the "brass ring" will come around for the peak oil issue, and there will be an opportunity, driven by events, to bring it into the mainstream and begin to shape a conversation around material limits. The big question is - will those of us able to do so grab the ring or will it pass around again? I'm not making any predictions on what will happen - just that the opportunity will exist. My hope is we'll all be ready.

7. The presidential election and a host of dramatic celebrity scandals, as well as a hot new diet craze will draw most media attention away from the fact that the world is hotter, we are poorer and we're banging hard against our material limits. All of these things will be attributed by presidential candidates to evil furriners, the failure of the other party to enact X policy and bad luck, rather than the actual facts. (Ok, I always give myself a gimmee ;-)

8. Thrift will be the new cool thing - after five years of getting poorer (actually, 30+ years of falling real wages, but who is counting) and never knowing whether they'll have a job or enough mone to pay the bills, the culture of thrift will hit the mainstream in fun new ways. Repurposing, repairing, mending, do it yourself and best of all, living on little will become emergently enjoyable, even competitive. A youth culture will emerge around cheerful acceptance of their poverty and hot young couples will be featured in magazines not buying stuff and loving each other for their ability to make George Washington scream.

9. I'm going to repeat my prediction that someone in the PO community will vault to prominence in 2012.

10. All of us will keep on keeping on, hopefully filled with the recognition that what we do really, really matters. This will hard to keep up sometimes and downright obvious others. We'll keep doing, even in the tough times because the future matters to us.

Happy New Year all! See you in 2012. Watch on Monday for a link to Peak Oil Review's annual predictions commentary, and check out what else I predicted, along with predictions from Richard Heinberg, Colin Campbell, Aaron Newton, Robert Hirsch and a host of others.



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