The First Days Of Petro Collapse

Published on, by Peter Goodchild, 30 November, 2007.

2 excerpts: … When the hydrocarbons are gone, the problem of global warming will also start to recede. Not that I wish to belittle the importance of the mega-drought that is now spreading over the world.

At the moment it seems likely that oil production peaked about 2006, although production per capita peaked around 1990. (Yes, the politicians had their 100-year forecasts back in the 1950s, bless their little souls, but they never said a word.) The first sign, as Jay Hanson predicted several years ago, is stagflation: a combination of high prices and high unemployment. When the price of oil goes up, so does the price of everything else.

Before 1970, economists claimed that a combination of high prices and high unemployment was impossible. One economic factor was supposed to cancel out the other. But then came the Arab oil embargo, and stagflation was exactly what happened. The same is happening right now. Much of it is hidden, of course. No sane editor is going to allow a journalist to say that the economy is going belly up.

Even the manager of a small business is not going to allow such talk. The average pedestrian on a downtown street will be surrounded by false elegance and hidden poverty. A few hundred thousand dollars will be thrown into new furniture and new paint (I thought paint was made from oil? never mind), and the owner will call it an investment. The consumer (who no longer consumes) will be thinking, “What an improvement in the downtown core! How good it is to see the economy booming again!”
What most people fail to consider is that “spending” is not necessarily the same as “investing.” True investing, Benjamin-Franklin-style, means saving one’s hard-earned pennies and then putting them into a carefully chosen expansion of one’s business, and only at a reasonable ratio to one’s present debts and earnings. “Spending” in the modern sense, on the other hand, means getting a dangerous loan from a dangerous institution, throwing the money away on the latest bubble, and expecting one’s guardian angel to take care of the rest.

Perhaps it would make more sense to retrieve two long-forgotten words: “thrift” and “frugality.” What used to be a virtue has been converted by Madison Avenue into a shame.

The second phase of petrocollapse will be the failure of electricity. The nice thing about lost electrical power is that it can’t be hidden behind a coat of paint …

… We cannot come to terms with the fact that as a species we have gone beyond the ability of the planet to accommodate us. We have bred ourselves beyond the limits. We have consumed, polluted, and expanded beyond our means, and after several thousand years of superficial technological solutions we are now running short of answers. Biologists explain such expansion in terms of “carrying capacity”: lemmings and snowshoe hares – and a great many other species – have the same problem; overpopulation and over-consumption lead to die-off. But humans cannot come to terms with the concept. It goes against the grain of all our religious and philosophical beliefs.

When we were children, nobody told us that any of this would be happening. Nobody told us that the human spirit would have to face limitations. We were taught that there are no necessary boundaries to human achievement. We were taught that optimism, realism, and exuberance are just three names for the same thing. In a philosophical sense, therefore, most humans never become adults: they cannot understand limits.

There is really nothing irredeemable in all this. We live in a “consumer” society, and we are all under the wheels of the juggernaut of capitalism. But if we look beyond civilization, both spatially and temporally, we can find many cultures with an outlook based more on the seasons of the year, rather than on an ever-expanding, ever-devouring “progress.”

Peter Goodchild is the author of “Survival Skills of the North American Indians,” published by Chicago Review Press. He can be reached by mail.
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