Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Apocalypse-o-rama #5...

I think I'll terminate this series with perhaps the most extreme example I've found.  If nothing else, reading through these scenarios reinforces my conviction a significant number of people are deeply unhappy with our culture and see the current economic crisis as a way to force others to their belief system.  More than a little note revenge seems to be on their minds as well, prompted perhaps by unrelated grievances.

Most fail the test of simple mathematics, most underestimate the power of technology to produce answers now unimagined, and almost all take a dim view on humanity in its present state, finding little to admire in our collective lives.

Anyhoo, one last look into a dark chasm of the future:

What then must things be like when we have used up all or almost all of the underground resources? Cars are out since steel and other metals are out. Planes and rockets and even trains are out. Motors as we know them are out. Concrete is out. In a word, the fundamentals of our current way of life are out.
Agriculture, of course, must be in. It will have to be diversified and local. Everything will have to be recycled, and that taken from the soil returned to it. Draft animals will replace tractors. Human labor will sometimes replace tractors. Because motors are out, manual labor is back in (not that it ever completely left, as any gardener knows). Other farm animals are in. Trees are in, and forests will be allowed to grow and be replanted.
Will farms be (primarily) individual plots? It doesn't seem likely. It seems far more likely that agriculture will operate directly out of dense small towns. Dense because motorized transportation may be lacking. The bulk of the food for these towns will be grown directly in the surrounding areas. Dense because amenities can be shared, such as libraries, schools, a doctor, etc. Dense because a greater division of labor can be supported, but nothing, of course, remotely approaching what we have in metropolitan areas today.
How will such towns be interconnected? Roads can be built. Canals can be dug. Land and water vehicles can be built. What will power them? Horses or oxen certainly. Motors? One doesn't know. How much metal will still be accessible or left over from the industrial era? More interesting still, to what extent can we find biological replacements for metals? It seems extremely unlikely that we'll ever be able to build rockets out of biological materials. Or even motors.
Energy? Clearly a certain amount can be extracted sustainably - e.g. wood and other biomass. Solar, wind and hydro were around long before the machine age. How much they were independent of metals I do not know. There's no fundamental reason wind and water mills cannot be constructed out of purely biological and aboveground materials (e.g. rocks). And there were draft animals of course.
Communication? This is crucial, because without it, global interchange, culture and science are impossible - another, this time permanent, dark age supervenes. Snail mail has been around a long time, and represents a worst-case scenario. Were it to be the best case, that would represent a considerable regression in tempo, if nothing else. (Not that there is something holy about our current frenzied pace.) Copper? Fiber optics? Satellites? It's hard to see that these, in ascending order of unlikelihood, will continue being available longer term. Of course there are reflecting mirrors and other such possibilities when and where conditions are appropriate. But the fun of solving such problems as these will belong to later generations.
All in all, the three key items are: 1) a local near self-sufficiency in food staples, and a regional self-sufficiency in a broader range of items; 2) small town density in order to retain a minimal level of specialization and cultural level; 3) communication with the outside world and the global community as best as can be done. [More]

I've also noticed an understated theme that since people are the problem, any cultural change that diminishes population is not to be despised. Another key is a return to non-technical work - i.e. working horses. For those who feel left behind because of lack of aptitude or training in computers for example, a career requiring simply showing up and brief muscle-skill lessons can look ideal.

I have come to respect the power of these ideas to exploit such emotions in a large number of people, even as I refute the shaky logic and the values proponents attribute to culture rather than persons.

My guess is when we pull out of this recession and renew economic progress (about which I have no doubt) the disappointment in the cultural regression movement will be painful, even as the rest of us find ways to adapt to the problems they outline without marching backwards.


Anonymous said...

Henry Ford in 1941 had an understanding as to how to grow(literally) a means of transport-
then consider its oil seed potential both as food and fuel.
Hemp was a crop grown in the past in the US.
Hemp railway is really thinking outside the box;-)
Hemp boats? that's easy- like the bodywork Henry made in 1941.

Anonymous said...

While I understand the feelings of these individuals they really do not understand what they wish for! Simple questions show the impratical side of this wish--Just what are the business end of dirt working tools made of? Metal of course and without metal working the dirt will be done with wooden tools. Second, the country is more wooded today then in 1800; why? We don't burn wood for heat and energy.

John Phipps said...


Like I said, detail and math work has never been a strong part of agrarian arguments.

Anonymous said...

Reading a diary of one of the founders of the New Buffalo commune in Taos, I was struck by the combination of idealistic and inspirational entries of learning how to raise goats, potatoes, live close to the land, etc. along with dire predictions of how California was going to slip into the ocean and the like. I think young urban guys in particular who are rejecting the standard path of businessman, doctor, lawyer, banker, etc. need to justify that choice to themselves and their potential mates by convincing others the world is collapsing around them and that they will lead the world in the true path.