Sharon Astyk on stages of Collapse

Astyk, Sharon. 19 Mar 2012. Commentary: Collapse? Really? ASPO Peak Oil Review.

1. People get really mad at their government.

This usually leads to some measure of civil unrest, and often changes of government, some of which are meaningful and some of which are not. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad — it also, as we know, can lead to the government or others scapegoating someone or other, which is really bad. Generally the better outcomes occur when the government seems to respond to the people, and also, when the government gets out of the people’s way and also lets them respond to events.

2. Crime rates go up and services like police protection are less available or privatized

One universal feature of collapsed societies is that they are more violent. But that doesn’t tend to mean warlords killing everyone in their path — it tends to mean more street violence, robbery, rape and murder, sometimes along with for-profit kidnapping. It tends to mean that people are vulnerable, and afraid, and often can’t trust the authorities — it could be rather like being African-American in many poor urban neighborhoods, or it could be like living in Baghdad. Generally speaking, you don’t want your kids to go out very much, you tend to avoid going out yourself and safety becomes a serious issue.

3. Everyone gets poorer fast.

When societies collapse, the percentage of people who are poor goes way up — in Argentina, for example, the 2001 collapse virtually wiped out the middle class and pushed poverty levels up from lows around 20% to nearly 57%. This, I think, is the one universal likely outcome, and of course, one that is happening now.

4. The cost and attainability of food becomes an issue.

Accounts from Argentina, which was previously both stable and affluent, suggest that many desired foods, particularly imports, are often unavailable, and more importantly, widespread economic impacts make it harder to buy food. This, and a lack of medical care, impacts people’s health, and depression and drug and alcohol use begin to rise.

5. Services and utilities are widely disrupted.

Sometimes the disruption comes, as is common among the US poor, because people can’t afford to pay the bill — thousands of US households, for example, will have their utilities cut off on April 1, just as soon as it is legal (most utilities can’t cut off a household in the winter). But people also endure service interruptions because of aging infrastructure and social disruption. You are much more likely to spend time with no power, have no trash pickup, run out of gas and have the delivery trucks not come through….

6. People are pushed together

Whether they are herded into ghettos or lose their housing, extended families, biological and otherwise, come to rely on each other. So do communities and neighbors — when someone has food, you share; when someone needs a place to stay, you let them in. A culture of sharing emerges, and it is extremely useful to have stuff to share.

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