The Upside of Down
Around the world there still exist in many places societies which are not tied to the global economic system. These societies can produce what they need to survive. They are not forced to prostitute themselves to the world market for the right to live or eat. Where these cultures have not been systematically destroyed and forced off their land and in many cases in spite of attempts to destroy them they are able to live far more sane and far more meaningful lives than our own. I think that gradually in western countries autonomous zones increasingly detached from global trade systems will soon be able to arise.
As sources of cheap energy begin to run out our current system will be unable to provide food cheaply and easily across the globe. Global trade links will gradually disintegrate and the worlds economy will be unable to deal with permanent recession. This will force people to once again produce their own food. As the current agricultural system uses ten times more energy than it produces a lot of people will have to get involved in food production. Energy decline and associated recession would also hit our institutions and industry hard.
As communities are forced to deal with the problems and opportunities posed by peak oil and peak food production the world’s militaries will probably be occupied fighting over the worlds oil fields. Police forces will probably become understaffed and under funded in any long term recession. This means that a bunch of hippies or anarchists ripping up the carpark of a long abandoned mall some frustrated neighbors digging up the local park to grow food on they will probably go unnoticed. And when weekly meetings in the school hall come to be the body where decisions are made the local council will have little power left to overrule these groups of neighbors.
I think the changes required by an energy descent are incredibly positive and I believe that organically new social systems will arise to replace our current system as communities and neighborhoods are forced to recognize their interdependence. Communities will be forced to band together to solve problems of food, unemployment and production of clothes, machinery tools etc.
All of this will necessitate a lot people learning new skills and a lot of changes in the way people get what they need to survive. I don’t think any such transition will be planned on a large scale and after a while there won’t be any way for the transition to be controlled. Instead of a government mandated program I think change will look like an unemployed husband working in the garden. Instead of green consumers I think it will look like people repairing their clothes because they cannot afford to buy more. Because these changes will be driven by need I think these changes will be far more meaningful and real than any vision put forward by radicals or governments.
Once links to the global economic system begin to disintegrate people will adapt and make whatever changes are necessary to feed themselves and their families. Many practical skills are no longer commonplace but with motivation people will find and create alternatives that work for them. People working on a small scale in local communities probably won’t manufacture toxic chemicals, and if the global system were to run out of any key component then it would be impossible to continue the current scale of destruction for long.
No matter what happens people will want to heat their homes and will want to keep many of the comforts provided by our society. People will still want electricity and if coal is the easiest way to get it I’m sure they will burn it. But I think destruction will be on a smaller, more localized scale. People will want jobs and will want money and if they can keep the local factory running they will. This is natural and I think that the return to a completely agrarian society is likely to take at least one hundred years.
I think that large scale change will occur within the next 5 – 25 years and that one of the most important things we can do is prepare and educate for these changes. I think that there is a huge upside to the decline of the current global capitalist system and I believe we will soon see evidence that the current system is fighting for its very survival. I think energy decline no matter when it occurs will pose our best opportunity to get rid of governments and promote community control.