Thursday, April 1, 2010

Give Me a Good, Old Fashioned Timepiece

I was reading this article. What's interesting about the article is that:

1. Creeping gasoline prices are (finally!) making the news again;

and

2. The article references peak oil production. We hardly ever hear the words "peak" and "oil" in the same sentence in mainstream media, and it's almost surreal every time I do.

As a kind of off the cuff post, I made some 2010 predictions. Most of my predictions were specific to what I believed would happen in my own household over the year, but I did state by the time tourist season comes around ... we'll be wondering when the price per gallon got to $3.

Three months ago, I was watching as the price had been slowly increasing, and no one seemed to be paying attention. After the "astronomically high" prices the previous year, $2.50 per gallon seemed cheap.

How short our memories are!

When Deus Ex Machina and I moved to Maine several years ago, the price per gallon for gasoline and heating oil were both under a dollar. It's triple today what it was back then, and the price per barrel for crude is almost $85, which is a $4 increase over what I've seen in the past few months (it's been bouncing from $79/barrel to $81/barrel for a while), and in some places the price per gallon for gasoline is already over $3.

A couple of days ago, I debated the Fast Crash vs. Slow Descent, stating that I thought a fast crash would be preferrable, because it would just get things over with already so that we could adjust and move on.

The problem is that time has a way of putting things into perspective. We are crashing, and from our perspective, here on the ground, in the moment, it seems to be happening in slow motion. Thirty years from now, when we're looking back, it will seem to have happened all in the blink of an eye.

During the Cold War, I never believed that an all-out nuclear war would happen, despite the plethora of literature (movies, books, magazine articles) on the subject. Likewise, I don't believe there will be any sort of thing like an EMP attack (although I do believe a good, old fashioned invasion is possible). I don't believe there will be one catastrophic event that sends us over the edge and tumbling head over heels into the abyss.

I think what we will, ultimately, experience is what we are experiencing now - a slow impoverishment of most of our population. We'll just all get much poorer, and those things we take for granted now - new clothes whenever the whim strikes us, color televisions and $100 per month cable subscription, cellphones, iPods, Ugg boots, chocolate-dipped strawberries for Valentine's Day (in Maine) - will become the luxuries they are for the rest of the world. Paying for food and shelter will consume most of our incomes ... just as they do in the rest of the world.

It will continue to happen gradually, over the next few months and years. We won't wake up tomorrow and find that we've lost it all - well, most of us won't ;).

Which is actually the good news, because it means that we still have time to put our wealth to good use and purchase quality things that will last, and that will serve us well when we can't just run to the store for another one.

We still have time.

3 comments:

  1. A slow collapse would be less traumatic and avoid a mass die off - I'd sure prefer it, given a choice - but I doubt a slow collapse is possible of playing out as Kunstler envisions; it's bound to trigger a fast collapse instead.

    Our 'system' is really a complicated, interdependent system of systems that have a certain level of robustness, but ultimately is fragile and relies on two fundamentally unreliable actors; cheap energy and the markets.

    When cheap fuel (really) begins to fail us, and our national/consumer debts continue to climb to the point of default, the markets will act in their immediate interest rather than the longer-term interest, as always (sub-prime crisis?).

    Our government - Dem and Rep - have been dumping it on, entitlements, taxes, etc. They don't get it, and won't. It'll snowball. I think it's unavoidable unless there is a discovery of a cheap alternative energy source, soon.

    Out of curiosity, who do you think would invade the U.S.?

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  2. Suburban - I'm not sure I agree that a slow collapse would be less traumatic - I think it would just draw out the hardship over a much longer time. I liken it to a long, terminal illness, and in the case of our economy, that's exactly what it is.

    It's like, if I had cancer, and the doctors kept "trying" one procedure after another in an attempt to save my life, but the cancer just kept coming back and spreading. At what point do I realize that I'm going to die of cancer, and I can either live my life now, or I can continue to look for cures?

    Most of our population is still looking for cures and so rather than taking any steps to make the transition easier for them, they keep trying to avoid the reality of what *is* happening.

    I don't really think any one, particular, country is going to invade the US and try to wage a war on our vast continent (it would be like invading Russia ;), but I think we've made enough enemies that it's possible an alliance countries with strong anti-American sentiments might decide we're a good target. In particular, China might decide that we owe them enough money, and when we can't pay, they'll just come and take our land. And why not? Their population is significantly larger than ours, but our land hasn't been as polluted as theirs (thanks to our industry). Just because, historically, they've never waged a war, yet, doesn't mean they won't. Afterall, they get more and more "Americanized" every day, and what's more American than flexing one's military prowess?

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  3. I agree there would be a lot of pain and aggravation in a slow collapse. An example of less traumatic element of a slow collapse, IMO, would be giving people time (force some of them actually) to migrate out of cities and other densely populated areas as employment and services become unavailable in waves. Perhaps some would try to form communes like hippies did in the 60s, and it might cause the spread of people keeping chickens, rabbits, gardens, and seeking off-grid energy options, etc. that would lessen the impact later. There would be violence and probably some malnutrition, but likely less traumatic than a ~60-80% die off in a year (along with all the typical problems in doomer fiction - cannibalism, etc.) for a true hard collapse. But it's probably all academic.

    While becoming a huge creditor to the U.S., China has an interdependent financial relationship - a U.S. collapse would mean a Chinese collapse. Also, even in 20 years they are unlikely to be able to project sufficient forces and equipment over the Pacific for a conventional conflict (they can't even take Taiwan right now). If they decided to forsake the trade relationship with the U.S. and take land, they might press all merchant fleets into service.

    The problem is that the U.S. has a strategic missile force and it would mean war. Even if China used EMP devices on the U.S. first, missile assets are hardened. For the sake of argument, say all our silos were taken out by saboteurs - we still have a strategic missile force in subs.

    Anyone who wants to play the 'invade the U.S.' game has to be able to get their forces here and avoid nuclear retaliation. Then they have to get through all the homegrown 'Wolverines'!

    But the successful invader would probably have a plan for our strat nuke forces...

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