Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I remember the first things I ever read about Peak Oil.

I forget who those early writers were other than the obvious ones but one thing I got from it all was the need to study economics.

So I did - for about 10 years - until I came to understand what economics actually is - it's akin to John Michael Greer's idea about magic.

Economics, as much as any economist might claim otherwise, is about spells and incantations that lead people to believe one form of magic or another is the most powerful and the most relevant.

The battle then becomes between "schools of magic".

Those who profit most from one school will back that school.

So, for example, those that saw profit in backing the Jeffrey Sachs lines of thinking would employ him and his students and sing their praises.

The process is of course rather incestuous because a clever "economist" would look to where the power was and seek to weave incantations that he'd know that power would be inclined to utilise.

To my mind, as the ratio of humans to available natural resources grew (in any defined geographic or socio/political region), we moved from profiting from the exploitation of those resources to where we seem to be increasingly going - the exploitation of ourselves.

As such, for example, I see the GFC and any other crash, as a mechanism whereby one group identifies "fat" and seeks to channel it to their own use - the most obvious huge target being of course the accrued retirement savings of the largest (well off) demographic group of the last century - the baby-boomers.

We have come to times when the only place we can look for easily plundered resources is the saved resources of others.

We are going through this stage right now - think about how much pain those retired middle classes types have suffered over the last decade or two as their investments have been decimated - and realise that a lot of what is going on at the moment in Europe is about default on debts and investor haircuts - the very same investors - the more well-off middle class baby boomer retirement investments.

Economists who's spells encourage and support those who recognise these plunderables are the ones who will be sung as heroes (consider last year's Nobel economist who proved mathematically that the (economic) universe is infinite and so there's no need to worry about your savings as there will always be enough for everyone).

Now, as the resource base, whether it be plunderable accrued wealth or remaining natural resources shrinks and there becomes less and less to go around the most obvious natural consequence will be more visible competition - there will be more and more people crying for their fair share.

When there was enough to go around such that (normal everyday working class) people could make a living, though we might have grumbled about how much the rich made, we had our roof, our dinner and our football so we were happy to let things be as they were - and the voices of those magicians who backed arcane forms of magic like "socialism" and "Sharia Law" were relegated to the shadows.

But now we are starting to see more and more people worried about their survival.

And those magicians who were in the dark are now becoming more and more vocal and people are starting to listen to them.

And what is their form of magic?

It is that which leads to taking from the rich and giving to the poor - about "equality".

Going back to my first readings about Peak Oil i remember well that this is what many writers foretold.

That, as world economic growth was constrained by the peaking inelastic energy supplies, there would be a shift in economic thinking as the masses sought survival wherever it might be found.

And that eventually it would reduce to dog-eat-dog across all spectrums of the economy.

And only the very strongest would survive - maybe by living within walled cities and extracting their survival by any means necessary out of whatever was left of the world's productive capacity.
Looking around i see all these new voices emerging more and more.

The new "magicians" - the "new economics" based on "fairness" and the needs of “the people”.

Standing back and looking at it with cold reasoning i see that the final consequences of the turmoil that we might spend the next century going through will be population collapse.

And all the way down there will be those who are crying for "fairness" - and who's militancy will grow.

Tim Flannery wrote an inspired book "the Future Eaters" in which he described the effects of population crash on the Maori people of New Zealand.

The first people to arrive in New Zealand found a land where every ecological niche was filled with birds - there were gazillions of them. Having brought chickens with them i can well imagine the reaction of the first to see the giant Moa (the Polynesian word for "chicken") – looking at the skinny little thing in his hands and casting it aside with something like ‘call this a “chicken”? Now THAT’S a “Chicken”’.

There was so much food that their population rapidly grew and their exploitation of the finite resource base grew with it until one day there was less food than was needed to feed the population. At that point they entered a centuries long period of population decline that led to what Cook called “the language with the most words of warfare on the planet”. Cannibalism and tribal warfare that left scars that last to this day.

This is the reality of a peaking resource base that has until recently permitted the explosive growth of world population. This is our future.

I can just imagine the “socialists” (by whatever name you like to think of them) in those days of Maori cannibalism: “you should give us more of your…BONK!”

Tasman hit the shores of NZ while this was still going on – “come here we want to eat you” were the first words in Maori ever written down by a European – shortly before the first of them were killed and eaten.

As I watch more and more people across the world rising up and calling for fairness I wonder just how many of them realise what true “fairness” is.

True fairness is what happens when nature deals with something that is out of balance.

Cry as you might about who is bad or who is good, who should have more or who should have less, which system should dominate, how the decline should be “managed”, the reality is that at some point, unless something truly incredible happens (like we finally crack fusion power or we discover a vast reserve of oil or someone figures out how to cheaply mine the clathrates) – the majority of us and/or our children are going to die in a population crash so totally mind boggling in extent that the only colourful aspect will be the numerous ways we find to try and kill off our competitors.

The noise that I hear from all quarters of economics and politics are just the harbingers of this reality. People are fighting for their bread NOW. But these are baby fights and nothing compared to what will come.

I have often pondered that if I am lucky enough to see truth, and that all of this is not just the culmination of years of reading the warnings of doomers and whackos, what might I do to save myself and my children from the worst of this?

The answer I have come to accept is that there is nothing at all. They are, or will be, strong enough to survive or they will not. They will survive or not based almost entirely on the selective quality of their genes – because there’s nothing I can pass to them, not wealth, not weapons, not learning, nothing – that will be guaranteed to be in their possession when the time comes.

Accepting this I have come to feel more relaxed. I see that there is no political or economic group of magicians to side with who will guarantee the survival of my decedents (or theirs). There is no need to salt away long life seeds or hoard gold or stock up on weapons.

There is only to accept that what will be - will be.


if you liked this you might like the poem "for our sons and daughters too"

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