[ Richard Heinberg’s article comes after my comments below:
It really matters who is in power when the energy crisis hits, because some leaders will soften collapse more than others. Surely right-wing / libertarian “everyone for themselves” leaders will have the most unfair rationing plans, and allocate more of the remaining oil to themselves (as has happened in North Korea). In 1980 the Department of Energy gave agriculture the top priority. But under libertarian Koch-brothers creature VP Mike Pence (their 3rd choice for president in 2012) or other right-wing leaders, will the military go to the top of the priority list so they can invade oil producing countries?
And of course it will be “Drill Baby Drill!” offshore California and Florida, on federal land, national parks, perhaps a a Manhattan project to drill in the Arctic and build nuclear reactors in the tar sands, since only 29% of them can be obtained with declining natural gas and water.
More benevolent, cooperative leaders who see the role of government as distributing resources fairly to everyone, as in Scandinavian countries (also the happiest nations on earth), are more likely to give agriculture top priority, distribute food more widely and fairly, build refugee camps in cities, teach people new skills, resettle some of them, and build infrastructure for a muscle/biomass powered civilization that existed for most of human history until fossil fuels arrived and we mushroomed from 1 to 7 billion people (though meanwhile wasting energy/money on useless electricity generation contraptions).
Is there seriously anyone think Trump and VP Mike Pence would be more fair and do as much as possible to lessen suffering as Clinton? And there are many reasons to think Republicans are more likely to start WW III than Clinton as well.
I’ve read hundreds of muckraking books about the financial and political system the past 40 years. The most important book of the past 10 years is Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money”, and “White Trash” and “The making of Donald Trump” are interesting as well.
After reading “Dark Money” it’s hard not to conclude there has already been a sneaky right-wing coup in many states (and now at the Federal level as well with VP Pence and at least 2 supreme court appointments), largely due to billions spent by the Koch brothers and their wealthy right-wing partners and tax-deductible “charities” to create gerrymandered districts, win state level races for the house, senate, governors, judges, and other races, defeat state initiatives and promote their own initiatives that benefit their corporations, not to mention infiltrating 100 universities, including the Ivy leagues with donations that support economic and legal professors teaching their free market, no taxes, no regulations, get rid of government ideologies. Well, there would still be a government, but its only duty would be to protect their businesses and private property.
This hidden right-wing influence via dark money (thanks Citizens United!) is how the Tea Party began. It was not a popular uprising at all.
The un-elected rich also spent a great deal of money on propaganda to convince Republicans that Obamacare was a bad thing (initially they liked it). They also brought government to a stand-still, have prevented Obama from appointing a Supreme court judge, and promise to do the same if Clinton is elected, hope to send women back to the dark ages by not allowing them to have control over their own bodies and futures by undoing Roe vs Wade, prevented blacks and other voters likely to vote democratic from doing so…and too many other things to list. All of it so they can grow even richer.
This matters a great deal because no matter who is elected, we are going to enter hard times as energy and natural resources decline at the same time as population is still growing. If the carrying capacity of the U.S. is about 100 million people without fossil fuels according to several scientists, and half of Americans own guns, millions have military training, 80% of people live within 200 miles of the coasts but 80% of calories come from the corn and wheat belts of the interior: that doesn’t bode well. And Republicans brains are wired to deny science and reality.
In a collapse, just about everyone will wish their leaders and culture were more like Fidel Castro and Cuba, because in a collapse, only the most brutal and the most cooperative survive.
There are already three examples of what happens when oil is suddenly cut off:
- Japan (brutal). This is why they started started WW II
- North Korea (brutal)
- Cuba (cooperative). Castro helped in many ways, such as preventing middle-men from profiting off of the disaster (i.e. truckers who tried to sell produce in Havana at 10 times what they paid farmers had their trucks confiscated). Oxen were quickly bred to replace tractors, organic farming instigated on a massive basis not only in the country but in cities too, and so on. Yes there was suffering, but not the millions of deaths as happened in North Korea.
Venezuela now seems to be in collapse with their own unique descent from a mix of bad leadership and culture.
Russia also had a downturn, and an article by Dmitry Orlov called “How Russians survived the collapse of the Soviet Union” explains why the Soviet culture was far better prepared than American culture to cope in a collapse.
If your local and state leaders have been bought and paid for by the right-wing, they are enabling their selfish psychopathic libertarian owners achieve their goal of no taxes and no regulations to grow richer. How do you think that will end up? Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot come to mind.
After reading “White Trash” I learned that many of the rich see most of us as disposable white trash (and have since America was founded and on back to Europe). And that very few of us have ever had a chance of getting rich, not even the first settlers who came to America. This is because early on, wealthy Americans already owned most of the land and had economies of scale that soon put middle-class and poor farmers out of business, especially if they had free slave labor, and so their property continued to grow. Now just 3% of Americans own 85% of non-government land. Seven million farms existed in 1920, now there are million farms, with just a few percent of them that own thousands of acres producing more than half of the food using economies of scale industrial techniques and equipment dependent on fossil fuels, and continue to drive smaller farms bankrupt. Care for a feudal society anyone?
It really will matter who is in power as collapse accelerates. It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal of the right-wing rich is to continue to live their lives as before by keeping the lion’s share of energy and natural resources that’s still left, just as North Korean leaders have done. And like Japan, start WW III byinvading the Middle East and Central/South America, where three-fourths of the remaining oil reserves are.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
Richard Heinberg. November 4, 2016. An Order of Chaos Please. resilience.org
George Packer explains why our current scorched-earth politics have historical roots, some of which have to do with economic and demographic trends, some with the personalities and tactics of significant players, of whom Packer singles out three sowers of discord on the political right: Newt Gingrich, Andrew Breitbart, and Donald Trump, in an article in the current New Yorker, “Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt”. Terry Gross interviewed Packer on the November 3 edition of “Fresh Air,” and the podcast is worth listening to. To summarize just a little of Packer’s article and interview:
Gingrich, who will forever be remembered as having led the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton for lying about an extramarital affair, while he himself was having an affair about which he lied repeatedly, introduced take-no-prisoners tactics to Congress, twice shutting down the government and raising partisan demonization to a dark art form. Breitbart upended traditional journalism with his eponymous alt-right website, helping create a political discourse in which facts and arguments no longer matter. Trump has more recently built on these dubious achievements, capitalizing on the disappointments and resentments of white wage-class Americans who were on the losing end of Washington’s and Wall Street’s giddy flings with globalization and financialization. Gingrich and Breitbart birthed a politics of destruction; now Trump stands Samson-like between the pillars of the temple.
The Trump phenomenon couldn’t have taken off if it weren’t for the fact that millions of Americans are already living a nightmare—at least, compared to how life was for them and their parents a few decades ago. Packer wrote revealingly of the declining prospects of wage-class Americans in his 2013 book The Unwinding, describing through observation, interview, and analysis the experiences of people caught up in cultural and economic decay. Starting in the 1980s, the Democratic Party—which previously represented the interests of labor unions and the wage-earning class—deserted that constituency in favor of urban professionals and various identity groups (African Americans, Latinos, liberated women, and gays). Meanwhile the Republican Party adopted a southern strategy, playing on white resentments lingering since the Civil War, cultivating the support of evangelical Christians, and making inroads among the languishing working class.
Packer doesn’t mention that American civilization was destined to unravel anyway. To understand why, we need an education in history and archaeology (read Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies), an understanding of the implications of fossil fuel depletion (my own book The Party’s Over is not a bad place to start), and a little background in boom-bust economic cycles (try Turchin and Nefedov’s Secular Cycles, or David Graeber’s Debt). A small library of books has been written since the turn of the millennium describing the inevitability of civilizational decline or collapse due both to social pressures from unsustainable debt levels, increasing inequality, and rampant corruption; and to deeper infrastructural issues having to do with resource depletion, pollution (in the form of climate change), and the essential unsustainability of economic growth. Several authors, myself among them, have been warning that America risks coming apart. The current election cycle enables, or forces, us to watch the spectacle as it unfolds.
Of course, events will transpire differently depending on who wins. If Hillary Clinton is the victor, then we can anticipate a crisis of legitimacy, along with various manifestations of simmering rebellion. If Democrats fail to take the Senate, Washington will enter a (probably short) era of continual and complete gridlock, with full-time hearings and investigations. Republicans have already promised to block Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees, and Trump has warned of a constitutional crisis if Clinton is elected. In the best-case scenario (from the standpoint of maintaining the status quo), the Democrats do take the Senate, in which case there is at least the possibility of two more years of some increasingly bizarre and dysfunctional version of business-as-usual, until the mid-term election—when the Senate could very well flip back to Republican hands, particularly if there’s an economic recession (there will be an unusually large number of Democratic senate seats up for grabs then). If that happens, gridlock and witch-hunting would begin in earnest.
If Donald Trump wins, America won’t be great again—not by a long shot. Instead we will be treated to a different crisis of legitimacy: over half the country (including powerful members of the Republican party) will continue to regard the new leader with utter contempt, as they already do, and he will be nagged and hobbled by the Trump University fraud lawsuit and possibly other, more devastating legal challenges. It would be a non-stop train wreck with horrifying casualties, but the TV ratings would be fabulous. Trump has demonstrated a tendency to mow his critics aside and grab attention and power in any way possible; if he becomes president we’ll see how those tendencies play out on the world stage.
The government of the United States of America has developed increasing numbers of tics, limps, and embarrassing cognitive lapses during the past ten or 15 years, but it has managed to go on with the show. Yet as dysfunction snowballs, a maintenance crisis becomes inevitable at some point. When the crunch comes (most likely as a result of the next cyclical economic downturn, which is already overdue and could be much worse than that of 2008), we will reap the fruits of a system that is simply no longer capable of acting cooperatively to solve problems. The trials of legitimacy that both Clinton and Trump face mean that—regardless which is elected—the country will be less able to address existing threats (e.g., climate change) let alone new ones that may arise, such as a serious recession or a major natural disaster. Crisis will demand action, but how can action be mobilized with the country so politically polarized and the government itself in paralysis? The details of what emerges from here on will depend on all sorts of current unknowables. But those who think life in America can’t get any worse may have a few surprises in store. And we probably won’t have long to wait before that chain of surprises begins unreeling.
The nightmare of the election itself will end soon. But we may not like what we wake up to. Increasingly, it’s up to communities to build resilience—not just to climate change, but to the whole cascading chain of social, economic, and political impacts from the bursting of the fossil-fueled growth bubble.