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Facing up to the Global Crunch

For Millennia, doomsayers have been predicting then end of the world, the annihilation of their people, collapse of empires and other outcomes which were so pessimistic as not to provoke successful evasive action. And sometimes these things have happened. War, resource depletion and natural disasters have all brought about swift ends to human social structures which must have seemed permanent and stable at the time. Today there is no shortage of threats to our way of life coming from our over-exploitation of nature as a resource:
  • oil shortages
  • food shortages
  • rising sea levels
  • global recession
  • phytoplankton depletion
  • colony collapse disorder
  • to name but a few
This page focuses on arguably the two broadest threats, peak oil and global warming, and argues that prevention of catastrophe is possibly decades too late, that a painful transition is beginning, and that the clever people are shaping their lives and lifestyles for a very different world.

Why it can't go on

The developed world is predicated on cheap oil. Oil is finite, and becomes progressively harder to extract. This has been known since the 60s Oil extraction rates have not increased since 2005, despite increased demand. We could switch to coal or nuclear, for a while, if it wasn't for global warming, (also known about since the 60s, as the 1972 Charlton Heston Movie, Soylent Green illustrates.) The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts widespread desertification, increased floods and other weather related events, rising sea levels taking up the land and a host of other major side effects. Combined with an end to vast quantities of cheap energy (a barrel of oil can do the work of one man for three years) we can expect some drastic consequences.
  • Humanitarian mega-disasters as crops fail
  • Shortages of food and water, and usable land
  • Resource wars over oil, food, rivers and arable land
  • Less heating fuel, cooking fuel, transport fuel, plastics, fertilisers.
  • Mass migration of people, but without ships or planes.
  • All of these indicators are clearly visible in the global headlines every week.

How can this be prevented

We've known about this for 40 years. Action at the political level is still unconvincing, despite increasingly frightening and concurring predictions made by scientists. There are many grass roots movements, people understand about changing their lightbulbs, but often don't. We are still building more planes, more airports, more power stations, more roads. Uk managed not to increase its carbon emissions last year, but it wasn't counting aviation and shipping. Interesting technologies are being developed, Industry is cleaning up, but the emphasis is all on efficiency and not on rebuilding our societies.

Already too late

A useful notion to describe the lessons of climate modelling is the tipping point. It is predicted that if CO2 levels rise beyond 350ppm, then climate change would spiral out of control perhaps taking centuries to find a new stable state. Many recent studies show that, with the ocean acting as a massive heat sink, there may be a 40 year temperature lag. The current political targets are increasingly shown to be totally inadequate. It is time to stop talking about the tipping point. Even with all the brakes on, we will pass tipping point.

What are the consequences to me?

What will happen really cannot be predicted. Rich people have a way of surviving off the backs of the poor when times get lean. A major recession seems certain. It could be that apart from high prices, all that will happen is the developing world will implode, and bananas will disappear off the shelves. But equally I expect major economic upheavals in overpopulated, developed societies which depend very heavily on imports. An Appropriate response to global warming: The combined crisis will be like a Mega-humanitarian disaster. This is not reflected in media coverage. It will cause more suffering than AIDS, bird flu, Iraq, Tsunami, Guantanamo, surveillance society, gay marriages and Britney Spears put together!

How will I know when all this starts

It has started already. The next question is how violent the transition will be; how much time will we have to adapt, re-tool, stock-up? How can I prepare for the unknown? Here we are touching on a field called survivalism, which is full of eccentrics and pessimists.

So what can I do?

Don't hold cash, because its value depends on politicians. Stay out of debt because that gives banks have power over you. Gold, land and other commodities are more likely to hold their value. Try to become food and energy independent. Invest locally, invest in trusting people because contracts depend on politicians and money. Get into Permaculture. Start using local currencies.
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It is good practice to keep the distinction between (man-made) climate change and (man-made) global warming.
I've seen no scientist doubt that man is triggering a great climate change, but some scientists are not so sure about global warming, and a few think it may not be happening (and I talk about honest, good scientists that sincerely believe that).
But climate change is bad enough: where we used to plant crops, the wheather might not allow it in a few years; in return, where it used to be a desert, we might be able to plant crops in a couple of centuries. Climate change means we have to readapt the world so that it produces the clean water and crops to feed us, once again, only by doing that, we accelerate climate change.
Global Warming concentrates on just one measure of climate change: the average of surface temperatures in the planet. It hides that as climate changes, some places will get colder, some will get hotter, some will get drier, and cities will become inhabitable (some cities are already inhabitable, without massive energy input).
BTW, Matt, how can we offer our hospitality to you, in case you come near Madrid in the future?

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