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The War on Scarcity

Chris Lowry, Wild Culture
Chris Lowry draws on the theories of Ivan Illich, Steven Covey’s Abundance Mentality and the indigenous Canadian concept of miigwetch in order to undertake a major reappraisal in our thinking about the future.

For most economists, scarcity has never been a problem. They prefer it because it drives up the price of things. If we run out of stuff, substitution fuels the dance of supply and demand. But the orthodoxy of classical economics is showing signs of acute stress under the weight of 21st century reality. We’re entering the age when the capitalist’s dream comes true in an unintended way. Scarcity will rule, and it turns out that it’s not really good for business after all. It looks as if the basic necessities of life are actually going to get scarce in our lifetimes. Everything – earth, air, fire and water. Arable land, clean water, clean air, and fossil fuels.

I first heard the idea of ‘peak everything’ from entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken some years ago. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. He spoke in a gentle, almost hypnotic cadence as if, among friends, we all knew very well that “of course it’s not just peak oil, but peak everything… peak fish, peak soil, peak water, and so on.” All limited, depleted, and getting more expensive. Later I found out that Richard Heinberg has written a book about it, called Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines…

One day I was riding the elevator to my office in Toronto. When the elevator door opened, two colleagues were standing there. They reached out toward me, and said quickly, “Oh, it’s you – we’re just waiting for James Lovelock…

Lovelock was long on pessimism but sadly lacking in compassion. He didn’t seem to be very interested in how people might respond collectively to the hard times ahead. I would be lying if I said I got over it. But I needed to meet him, both for his prophetic fire and for his failure to win me over. I’m grateful that he is still in the room with us, speaking his mind…

***

Here is an interesting comment from an oil executive, Oystein Dahle, former Exxon vice president for Norway and the North Sea: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth." The movement for radical transparency could be a way to avoid the collapse of American capitalism – or provide a new model to emerge from the rubble – if it succeeds in moving some part of US business from its pathological focus on maximizing shareholder value (shareholder capitalism) to a full recognition of how business can succeed while serving the wellbeing of all peoples and habitats affected by their activities (stakeholder capitalism)…
(22 May 2013)


The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Authors’ note: Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future. The occasion is the tercentenary of the end of Western culture (1540–2073); the dilemma being addressed is how we–the children of the Enlightenment–failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold. Our historian concludes that a second Dark Age had fallen on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on “free” markets, disabled the world’s powerful nations in the face of tragedy. Moreover, the scientists who best understood the problem were hamstrung by their own cultural practices, which demanded an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind–even those involving imminent threats. Here, our future historian, living in the Second People’s Republic of China, recounts the events of the Period of the Penumbra (1988–2073) that led to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2074).

In the prehistory of “civilization,” many societies rose and fell, but few left as clear and extensive an account of what happened to them and why as the twenty-first-century nation-states that referred to themselves as Western civilization. Even today, two millennia after the collapse of the Roman and Mayan empires and one millennium after the end of the Byzantine and Inca empires, historians, archaeologists, and synthetic-failure paleoanalysts have been unable to agree on the primary causes of those societies’ loss of population, power, stability, and identity. The case of Western civilization is different because the consequences of its actions were not only predictable, but predicted. Moreover, this technologically transitional society left extensive records both in twentieth-century-style paper and in twenty-first-century electronic formats, permitting us to reconstruct what happened in extraordinarily clear detail. While analysts differ on the details, virtually all agree that the people of Western civilization knew what was happening to them but were unable to stop it. Indeed, the most startling aspect of this story is just how much these people knew, yet how little they acted upon what they knew…
(Winter 2013 edition)


Without Water, Revolution

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times
I just spent a day in this northeast Syrian town. It was terrifying — much more so than I anticipated — but not because we were threatened in any way by the Free Syrian Army soldiers who took us around or by the Islamist Jabhet al-Nusra fighters who stayed hidden in the shadows. It was the local school that shook me up.

As we were driving back to the Turkish border, I noticed a school and asked the driver to turn around so I could explore it. It was empty — of students. But war refugees had occupied the classrooms and little kids’ shirts and pants were drying on a line strung across the playground. The basketball backboard was rusted, and a local parent volunteered to give me a tour of the bathrooms, which he described as disgusting. Classes had not been held in two years. And that is what terrified me. Men with guns I’m used to. But kids without books, teachers or classes for a long time — that’s trouble. Big trouble…

THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.

I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts…
(18 May 2013)


Turkish hopes for a new beginning

John McSweeney, Open Democracy
Over the past few days Turkey has been gripped by large-scale social unrest not seen since the disastrous economic crisis of 2000-2001. The protests started on the 28 May in Istanbul when a collection of environmentalists and local activists occupied Gezi Park against the uprooting of one of the few major green parks in the sprawling urban metropolis that is Istanbul – a city of over 13 million people – to make way for a shopping mall.

However, what started out as a protest by a small number of people turned into a nation-wide crisis after images began to circulate on social media sites of the repressive approach the police were taking to the protests. The pictures of fully armoured riot police spraying tear gas and pepper spray onto unarmed and peaceful protestors, many of them women, provoked widespread indignation and disgust that resulted in a cacophony of ‘that’s enough’ across Twitter and elsewhere.

The protestors were joined by many well-known journalists, famous actresses, actors, and singers whose popularity helped publicize the police brutality. Being a well known public figure however offers no protection from police brutality in Turkey. The police attacked them with equal vigour and so twitter accounts across the country saw images of well known journalist, Ahmet Şık with his face covered in blood from the police repression…
(3 June 2013)


The Stockholm Uprising and the Myth of Swedish Social Democracy

Catharina Thörn, New Left Project
Even in Sweden. The title of geographer Allan Pred’s book, published in 2000, pops up in my head while reading international reports on the uprisings in Stockholm. In a Europe in the midst of economic, social and democratic crisis, urban uprisings were likely to erupt again (following disturbances in urban France, Greece, England, and Spain) sooner or later. The question was when and where next? When the poor suburb of Husby lit up, the surprise in the newspapers was palpable: even in Stockholm!

“Who are they?”, the reporter from Sky News asks. The New York Times writes: “In Sweden, Riots Put an Identity in Question”.

In his wide ranging historical-materialist analysis, Allan Pred challenged the dominant image of Sweden as a country of tolerance and equality and showed how the country is imbued with racism and discrimination. He wrote about the “dirty metonymical tricks” whereby isolated incidents involving individuals are taken as evidence of the behavior of entire groups or neighborhoods, which in turn rationalizes the racist structures that characterize much of Sweden today—discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.

International media surprise that revolts can emerge in Stockholm, the supposedly prosperous “capital of Scandinavia”, stems from near-total ignorance of what has happened here over the last 30 years. Behind the urban revolts that set Stockholm on fire lies another, less visible revolution: the slow, deliberate, devastating assault on the Swedish welfare state…
(30 May 2013)


The Natural Limits Of Confronting Our Limits

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
It’s Memorial Day, 2013, and I’m awaiting my flight to Denver from Baltimore. This year, re-entry from the Age of Limits Conference into the unreal world of industrial civilization has been particularly challenging. After being safely ensconsed in the forest for four days with fellow-doomers, a return to empire is even more jarring for me than it was last year. Was it the fact that yet another year has passed and life on this planet has gotten so much worse? Was it the dire realities of climate change with which we are now confronted that seem certain to shorten our time on earth? Or was it the likelihood that we have crossed some vague threshold of which we are all aware in our bones but have been really been afraid to name? We feel it, but it’s easier to use words like “400 parts per million,” “Fukushima,” “a recession that never ends,” and “endless war” than to actually articulate the reality of a point of no return.

At the conference, the food was delicious, and the conversation even richer, but this doom girl can only hold so much distressing information in her body for so long before she numbs out, feel pissed off, or start dissing the people who are communicating it. Like the other attendees of this conference, I need a place to talk about these formidable feelings and share them with others who feel as overwhelmed as I do. I need to touch and be touched. I need to sing, hear some poetry, and possibly tell a story with my drum…oh, and please pass the Kleenex when you get done grabbing a handful for your own use.

The Age of Limits Conference is a microcosm of the collapse-aware community worldwide. Myriad variables apply, but one constant remains: People are hungry for something more than cognitive presentations and Power Points…

In venues where collapse and collapse issues are discussed, a palpable cloud of grief permeates the atmosphere, and try as they may, people cannot remain in their heads indefinitely in their attempt to evade it. Eventually, a diet of pure information becomes overload which becomes revulsion which then leads to avoidance. Why else do the masses refuse to recognize collapse for what it is? Most inhabitants of industrial civilization have erected massive walls of denial precisely because of the seething sea of emotion and meaninglessness that lie just beneath the surface and that are eerily stirred by any consideration of losing their preferred set of living arrangements. This is why, as my friend Mark Rabinowitz says, “Denial is an infinitely renewable resource.”

Our anger and fear in relation to collapse may come and go, but grief seems to be a bottomless pit that the human condition does not allow us to “finish.” In fact, if we were to ask some indigenous individuals to “finish their grief,” they would simply smile and affirm that they cannot and will not because although they may have never heard of William Blake, they know in the cells of their bodies that “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy.” People who allow themselves to grieve deeply, invariably report this exact paradoxical experience…
(29 May 2013)


Days of Destruction

Justin Ritchie & Seth Moser-Katz, The Extraenvironmentalist
While the cultural foundations of the United States are unraveling the unconscious programs of American society lay outside of public dialogue. Where there was once an American Dream, a spiritual void remains. As the framework of consumer society breaks down, will an economic system of inverted totalitarianism reverse become explicit? Why do our elites seem incapable of formulating a rational response to this crisis of civilization?

In Extraenvironmentalist #60 we discuss the current condition of American culture with Chris Hedges and Morris Berman. Chris describes the process of breakdown he’s witnessed in other countries as elites withdraw when they feel their system of control crumbling. Morris reflects the current crisis of capitalism against the breakdown of the feudal system hundreds of years ago to describe a broader historical process. Then, we speak with Dmitry Orlov about his new book: The Five Stages of Collapse. Dmitry talks about the psychological damage created by access to large amounts of money and explains how to think practically about a failing global economic system.

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(20 May 2013)

Magic book image via shutterstock.Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.