A number of folks have linked to a quite memorable set of predictions for the forthcoming year from James Kunstler’s Fustercluck Nation blog. I think that 2008 has demonstrated the fragility of our current economic system. In particular I think that the combination of the credit crunch, fluctuations in energy costs and the Madoff scandal have further eroded whatever confidence folks had in Wall Street. Coming as all this does at the beginning of a new president promising change, that leaves a whole lot of question marks up in the air.
Again, although I think the basic facts underlying Kunstler’s predictions are correct, I’m suspicious of their apocalyptic cloaking. I don’t foresee a collapse of America-as-we-know it in the coming year. I do think things will get worse; I do believe that we will start to see a shift in the MSM from the r-word (recession) to the d-word-that-rhymes that nobody wants to mention yet.
Whenever I reflect on our world situation, my mind keeps getting drawn back to Joseph’s dream of the seven lean years—recognizing here that sven is not intended literally but as a substantial space of time. We’re there.
And, more worrisome than Kunstler’s apocalyptic is this even-toned article from The Oil Drum on Energy Return on Energy Investment. Here’s a quick-n-dirty summary:
- The energy expended to produce oil energy ratio has been steadily becoming less productive
- In the 1930’s the ratio was roughly 1:100 (energy expended [in kilojoules]: energy gained)
- By the 1970’s it was more like 1:30
- The ratio is now somewhere between 1:18 to 1:11
- “In fact, if the rate of decline continues linearly for several decades then it would take the energy in a barrel of oil to get a new barrel of oil. While we do not know whether that extrapolation is accurate, essentially all EROI studies of our principal fossil fuels do indicate that their EROI is declining over time, and that EROI declines especially rapidly with increased exploitation rates (e.g. drilling).”
This tells me that whether everything comes to a head in 2009 or not, the oil economy really is on the way out and we’d best get very busy about preparing for its end.
There’s an old saying about “making a virtue out of necessity” which has floated to mind a couple of times recently. In relation to that I think we’d be wise to start cultivating virtues before they become necessities. I do believe that “sustainable” is going to become one of the coming year’s most over-used words that will cease to have any rhetorical force by its over-exploitation by February so I’ll return to less secular and less comfortable words: “simplicity” and “ascesis”.
M and I know that we have too much stuff and are attached to too much stuff than is good for us. Letting go will be a theme this year. Intentionality and discipline need to occur this year especially as they apply to how we structure our time and how we consume.
In short, it means further consideration of a rule of life in personal terms, in household terms, in traditional terms, and outside-the-box terms. We’ll keep you posted on what develops…