Thursday, February 21, 2008


So, we're all talking about the end of the world, especially those of us who make our living by keeping track. What are we looking at exactly?

Various theories, myths, fears, apparitions, visions and prophecies, together with certain economic and demographic realities, are pointing to a big showdown.

I've never been much for the whole MarianApparitions/apocalyptic prophecies thing. I remember someone I knew once getting quite het up about a TV programme about space aliens and the end of the Mayan calendar. She asked me what to do. (Why do non-religious people always think the Catholics know stuff that no one else knows?) I told her that you're supposed to keep doing the next right thing; same as always.

But as we have discussed before, there certainly is something in the air and since it is no longer a Big Zero year, I'm thinking it is more than residual millennium fever. The more Gordon Brown's minions tell the public how wonderfully everything is going, the more his audience laughs and the more his polling points go down. It is becoming obvious to everyone, even those who don't quite know how to express it.

I'm finding more non-religious groups and individuals are saying it too. Of course, I don't know him personally, but it seems from his writing that Mark Steyn (may he live forever) isn't particularly religious, or at least, isn't writing from a religious viewpoint. He has just looked at the math. I'm afraid it gives me a laugh (a hollow, dark sort of laugh) when the press calls him "alarmist". Yeah, it's pretty alarming, that math. Alarming it is...too bad no one's waking up.

Here's something else for y'all to chew on.

You know that our entire global economy is based on oil production. No oil, no transport; no transport, no goods or people getting moved around the planet; no goods, no economy. It's back to tallow candles and horses.

The other thing our economies are based on, as far as my limited understanding of economics goes, is growth. If an economy isn't growing, it's going back. There's no steady state in our system.

Two things spring to mind about these two realities.

One is that economic growth can't be infinite. There isn't enough room in everyone's houses for all that stuff. Hell, there isn't enough room in our houses for the stuff we're churning out now. When I moved into this little house, I bought almost nothing new. Looking around the room now, I'm seeing the mattress on the bed, and a lamp. Everything else was donate from relations and bought second hand. And there's nothing here that could be considered shabby or run down. Everything is as functional as it was when it came off the assembly line. Our economic growth for some time has rested on the idea of selling goods to people who already have enough stuff. More and more of it has to be devoted to convincing people to spend their money on things that have no tangible object. People are being encouraged, now that they have enough stuff, to go on trips, to keep up with the fashions, to buy electronic equipment that has an extremely short sell-by date and is very expensive to replace.

We're pretty much done, in other words, with buying things.

The other thing is oil.

The truth is, there's only so much of it.

I remember when I was a kid, being raised by hippies on the west coast, a big issue was the ecology (that's old person talk for "the environment") and oil reserves were a big part of the discussion. I went to visit the relatives in Maryland when I was ten and it was in the middle of Jimmy Carter's OPEC oil crisis. We had to line up on alternate days to get gas for the car. The hippies were big into alternate fuel, "powering down", living off the land, turning off lights. It was the new morality.

But now, the oil reserves are back in among the environmental fashionistas.

They've even got clocks:

Learn more about Peak Oil at Energy and Capital.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I think it will be a blessing when the filthy stuff is gone. I suspect most of the modern world’s problems can be directly linked to oil. This includes not just the pollution that environmentalists like to sqwack about but also the breakdown of society in its moral and social aspects. A world without plastic, cars or airplanes would be more difficult, but I suspect it would also be much less selfish and more stable, at least at the town and family level.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I would tend to agree except for the possible decades of violence, famine, plague and horror that will ensue before things settle down into our fondly imagined neo-agrarian utopia.

Anonymous said...

We'll just switch to nuclear. No Luddite utopia for you! - Karen

Zach said...


Yes, there is that little fly in the ointment.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

tough to get a nuclear reactor into the bonnet of car, or a freight train, or lorry, or freight ship though hey?

The problem is not lighting streets or heating houses. That's not where the majority of the black juice goes. it goes into the gas tanks of all the vehicles we use to transport our goods from place to place.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did think about the violence, famine etc. but since this is a fantasy, I decided the scientists will find some alternative just good enough to keep things from deteriorating to quite that level but not be financially viable to the man on the street. This would happen over an extended period of time so people could become resigned to the idea and so less likely to riot. Oh yes, and I will win the lottery.

Anonymous said...

No, no, it's not tough at all. It's much less tough than divesting oneself of the fruits of industry if that is what one truly wishes to do. - Karen

ps: today's word verification code when read aloud comes out "I'm a bunny"

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

There's an old chap who comes into the village twice a week or so on his pony cart. He hitches the horse up at the hitching post outside the post office next to the still-functional mounting block. He goes to the post office, the green grocer, the butcher and the pub, in that order, then he gets on his little cart and goes home, the Subarus zooming past him on the little country lanes.

I think if we are looking at a real oil crisis, I'm living in the right neighbourhood.

I've got to catch the cart some day when I've got my camera with me. I'm not making it up.

Anonymous said...

I believe you! And that sounds lovely. But it's desirable for a much higher purpose than a utilitarian one. - Karen

now the word verification code comes out "I owed odd gam."

Anonymous said...

worth watching: money as debt

Anonymous said...

I often think that if one is looking for an inventive source of made-up names for one's science fiction novel, the word verification words would be very helpful.

I've got


I'd say it's a pretty good orc name.

Steve said...

Local economies are of paramount importance. Right now, movements toward organic foods and even some semblance of keeping money in your community are fueling things like the friendly neighborhood farmer's market here in the U.S.

But there's not enough. If oil goes away before alternatives are fully developed, we're in big trouble for one big, huge, primary reason: food. Our food travels so far to get to our plate, and there aren't enough farms in metropolitan areas to possibly support the populace.

I'm glad that I now live next to a lake. At least there will be some fish to be be had for a while.