Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Five Themes of the 21st Century

I am working to simplify my life and make it more sustainable for many reasons. Foremost among these is that I believe it is the right thing to do. I feel that the lifestyle most of us in the west lead today is not only unsustainable but immoral. There are also many reasons for the latter: inequitable distribution of resources, outright oppression of others to get what we want, and the wanton destruction of our environment. These things are anathema to me not only on the grounds of basic decency and morality but also religiously. My religion treats the Earth and all of its creatures as sacred.

There is also another reason for my attempts at simplification and sustainability and if you have read many of my posts and essays you will all ready know what it is: namely, that we have no choice. Peak oil and climate change, together with population overshoot and environmental degradation are going to force it on us. This will not be an apocalypse, though it may feel that way to those caught up in it and I will be the first to admit that the death of family or oneself is certainly a personal apocalypse, but I am referring to the overarching society and all of humanity. Everything is connected and everything runs in cycles. Societies, peoples, and individuals all have seasons. Summer follows spring, then comes fall, then winter and finally spring arrives again. What we are witnessing now is the autumn of a society, a way of life, an era in history. Not the end of history or the human race, merely an autumn. Winter is coming and it will be harsh and cold, but at the end, spring will come once again.

When trying to decipher an uncertain future or to make personal decisions it always helps to step back and take a look at the big picture. I have always been a bit of a big picture person –not surprising that, since I have a talent for organizing and coordinating. Now I am going to take a look at the really big picture, the themes that will almost certainly shape the twenty-first century as we head into autumn. These will affect different people at different times and in different locations, as well as to varying degrees, but I think that, looking back from the year 2100 these will seem to be the overriding themes of the whole century. Not that I expect to be around in the year 2100 –though I hope to be; that would be pretty cool, after all –but I expect some of my children and grandchildren to be. That this century will be different than the last goes without saying –the 20th century was the height of industrial society, the summer if you will, and now comes the long slow fall into autumn and winter. I can’t say if spring will have come by the year 2100, but I certainly hope it will be on the way.

1.) Peak Energy. I expect energy per capita to peak at some point early in this century and then begin to decline as depletion takes its inevitable toll on fossil fuels. How fast this will happen is up in the air and no, I don’t expect that the entire world will be dark by the year 2100 –I expect some areas, particularly those with hydro power or solar power, will still have power. But starting soon we will no longer have the equivalent of hundreds of slaves at our disposal, energy-wise. Sooner or later this century a mile will again be a long way away.

2.) Depopulation. Notice I didn’t say ‘die-off’; the concepts are different. The latter generally means a sudden, catastrophic collapse of the population over a very short period of time. The former means a slower, gradual process of attrition. This will happen by a combination of factors that will vary from place to place: old age, malnutrition, disease, war, environmental degradation. I sincerely hope the majority of the attrition will be due to old age but I am not certain. We have seriously overshot our carrying capacity on this planet and our numbers are going to go down one way or another. Nature bats last –and the grim reaper runs the bases.

3.) Migration. There is going to be an awful lot of migration during this century. Entire populations will be on the move. People will move from arid regions to wetter regions, from very cold regions to warmer ones, from really hot regions to cooler ones, from areas torn by strife and natural disaster to those at peace. This will create a lot of problems and no doubt governments will try to maintain their ‘border security’ but I expect these measures will be in vain. Desperate people are not easily stopped. Particularly when there are large numbers of them.

4.) Climate change impacts. Climate changes are all ready happening. The arctic sea ice has reached a new record low again this year –and it will only get worse; soon, the entire arctic will be ice free in the summer. Hurricanes are intensifying and getting larger (Ike anyone? It was the size of Texas!). Droughts, wildfires, and other natural disasters are happening all over and more often. These things will only happen more often and get worse as this century wears on –lending to the migration mentioned above and to war.

5.) War. Iraq may be the first resource war, but it won’t be the last. As resources get scarcer, climate change hits hard, and more people migrate I expect there will be more wars fought across the world. I hope these don’t become too bad or there aren’t too many of them, but I don’t see them not happening.

Winter may be coming, but so is spring. Remember that when times get tough.


Blogger Jacques de Beaufort said...

I like your blog...

what are your religious beliefs ?

I'm interested in the entheogenic experience and neo-pagan shamanism,

Anything cthonic and earth-based is cool by me.

I feel like Christianity is really death-loving and largely responsible for or patriarchal dominator civilization.

I hope someway, somehow a cultural shift can occur that allow more people to abandon these blindered and absolutists ideologies and cartoonish epistemologies.

Hopefully in the chaos of a post-oil society people will begin to doubt the christian god, much like they did after the Black Death, and the world will be open to a more ecological vision.

What do reckon the chances of this happening are ?

9/16/2008 5:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home