by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
September 12, 2015
THE END OF NORMAL? LIVING IN THE ERA OF PEAK PLANET
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- With Labor Day behind us, the world is snapping out of its summer slumbers to find we might be looking at another wild autumn for the global economy.
The memory of the autumn of 2008 is still fresh in everyone's mind, is are the collapse of the financial markets that pushed us to the brink of a worldwide depression that year.
Is what we've been seeing in China a reprise of 2008? Sort of. But the reality is that some investors actually expected double-digit economic growth in China would continue indefinitely.
Granted, China slid into the role that the United States had - the buyer of last resort that would sop up the overproduction of the global economy. It was doing this as it also became one of the leading manufacturing countries of the world.
However, it looks like China won't be growing as quickly as before, which also means slower growth for the United States, Japan, and Europe.
Is this just another recession, another blip in the business cycle before the next boom?
Since we are entering the age of Peak Everything - not just Peak Oil, but Peak Food, Peak Water, Peak Soil, Peak Oceans, and Peak Population, to name a few - we may be making the transition into a vastly different world when the normal assumptions of growth and progress unfolding into infinity are no longer valid.
With petroleum, we have skimmed off the easy stuff. Now all that's left is extremely expensive to get, and we're faced with the conundrum that economics and environmental observer James Howard Kunstler has been pointing out for some time now: "Oil above $75-a-barrel crushes economies; under $75-a-barrel, it crushes oil companies/"
Peak Water is upon us, too. Underground aquifers around the world are being drained faster than nature can replenish them, and surface water supplies are drying up due to drought and population growth.
The farming areas of the world are suffering from climate change, and the oceans may be s couple of decades away from being barren of fish, again from a combination of climate change, pollution and overfishing.
And the waves of refugees fleeing the chaos and death in Syria and Iraq that are flooding into Europe may be a preview of coming attractions.
The disruptions to the planet's climate - magnified by the other peaks in soil and water, and the ongoing depletion of the oceans - could lead to new waves of climate refugees looking for food, water, and shelter in more temperate climes.
In short, as Kunstler wrote earlier this year, "the human race has reached the limits of techno-industrialism. There are too many people and not enough basic resources to grow more of them — oil, fishes, soil, ores, fertilizers — and there is no steady-state 'solution' to keep that economy going. In other words, it must either grow or contract, and it can't really grow anymore (despite the exertions of government statisticians), so the authorities are trying to provide a monetary illusion of growth, when instead we're in contraction."
Kunstler has been sounding this theme for the past few years, even before the 2007-08 financial meltdown. And many have pooh-poohed his analysis as being way too pessimistic. But events are starting to overtake traditional assumptions, and so is the feeling that we're heading in a direction that nearly everyone in a position of power is trying to wish away.
If we are indeed heading into a world where "techno-industrialism" is at a dead end, what's the remedy?
Kunstler says the solution is to "do everything possible to quit supporting giant failing systems - and get behind local Main Street integrated economies, walkable towns, regular railroads, smaller and more numerous farms, local medical clinic health care, artistry in public works, and community caretaking of the unfit. All this surely implies a reduced role for the national government, and maybe the states, too. You could call it a lower standard of living, or just a different way to live."
That's the best-case scenario, and it is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of the deep state of denial that many of our political and economic leaders inhabit.
More likely to happen is the disintegration of our current living arrangement, an arrangement built on cheap energy and abundant natural resources. With too many people and not enough resources to go around, something has to give, and it won't be pretty.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist who has worked in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.