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Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse

Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse

Photograph Source: Studio Incendo – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As modern civilization’s shelf life expires, more scholars have turned their attention to the decline and fall of civilizations past.  Their studies have generated rival explanations of why societies collapse and civilizations die.  Meanwhile, a lucrative market has emerged for post-apocalyptic novels, movies, TV shows, and video games for those who enjoy the vicarious thrill of dark, futuristic disaster and mayhem from the comfort of their cozy couch.  Of course, surviving the real thing will become a much different story.

The latent fear that civilization is living on borrowed time has also spawned a counter-market of “happily ever after” optimists who desperately cling to their belief in endless progress.  Popular Pollyannas, like cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, provide this anxious crowd with soothing assurances that the titanic ship of progress is unsinkable.  Pinker’s publications have made him the high priest of progress.[1] While civilization circles the drain, his ardent audiences find comfort in lectures and books brimming with cherry-picked evidence to prove that life is better than ever, and will surely keep improving.  Yet, when questioned, Pinker himself admits, “It’s incorrect to extrapolate that the fact that we’ve made progress is a prediction that we’re guaranteed to make progress.”[2]

Pinker’s rosy statistics cleverly disguise the fatal flaw in his argument.  The progress of the past was built by sacrificing the future—and the future is upon us.  All the happy facts he cites about living standards, life expectancy, and economic growth are the product of an industrial civilization that has pillaged and polluted the planet to produce temporary progress for a growing middle class—and enormous profits and power for a tiny elite.

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Villagers & Pillagers: Who Will Survive the Collapse?

Villagers & Pillagers: Who Will Survive the Collapse?

The road to Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Unless you live in a state of denial you’re probably like me, troubled about the future. There’s not much left of mine, but my daughter’s generation and their children will have to survive the aftermath of fossil-fueled civilization on the ravaged, toxic planet we’ve left them. How will that look? Will democratic eco-settlements rise from the ruins, gain a foothold, and begin healing the planet? Or will tribal warlords rule the rubble?

Some folks, with the aid of renewable energy, permaculture, and other adaptive Green technologies, are already preparing for collapse by vastly improving upon the “back to the land” communes the young utopians of the Woodstock generation once created. Back then, dropping out of consumer capitalism and living on the throw-aways of American affluence wasn’t very hard. Here in northern California, the Diggers’ collective and the novice farmers of Morningstar Ranch shared whatever they could score from Goodwill, rescue from dumpsters, harvest with their limited gardening skills, or make with the aid of the Whole Earth Catalog. And, if communal life became too difficult, dropping back in was easy. No one was preparing to survive the collapse of industrial civilization. They believed automation and abundance would soon make workplace drudgery unnecessary.[1]

Today, a new generation of ecovillagers embraces the same anti-consumerist convictions. But the world has changed. Mother Earth is in critical condition. America is no longer awash in cheap energy; economic growth has flat-lined; upward mobility has gone into reverse. For now, most Americans get by with shabbier versions of daily life and cling to the hope that sooner or later progress will resume. But denial won’t stop carbon-addicted civilization from breaking down as it trashes the planet…

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The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

So, was the film “Planet of the Humans” a hit job on the environmental movement disguised by the filmmakers’ phony claim to care about Mother Earth?  Or was it an honest, get real, exposé of its assertion that, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete”?

There are two things to consider when considering this question.  What were the filmmakers’ motivations and intentions?  And what was the film’s actual impact on this movement and the planet the filmmakers claim to care about?

The fact that most large environmental organizations are attacking the new film “Planet of the Humans” as a hit job is understandable.  It has the potential to hit them where it hurts—funding, membership, and public support.  That’s why their conservative enemies are gleefully praising and touting the film.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and the Natural Resources Defense Council depend on wealthy corporate and foundation donors for much of their operating funds.  The rest comes from concerned citizen supporters who really want to believe that they can partake in “green capitalism” and save the planet by sending in their membership dues and buying “sustainable” products, without fundamentally altering their middle class lifestyle.

This leaves these mainstream environmental groups in a double bind.  Neither their members nor their corporate funders want to admit that industrial capitalism is as deadly as a cancerous tumor and many green technologies are little more than deceptive placebos.

The film highlights the way major corporations have passed themselves off as “sustainable” by promoting fake-green technologies like biomass, or by falsely claiming that they run on 100% renewable energy.  Worse yet they have promoted the lie that “renewable” energy technologies, like solar panels and wind farms, are not heavily dependent on fossil fuels and rare minerals. 

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Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future

Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future

Photo Source SPACES Gallery | CC BY 2.0

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

Around the world, social movements believe “Another World Is Possible!” when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.  They assume that any future without globalization is bound to be an improvement. But now it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the dynamic days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

The Return of Scarce Oil and Peak Debt

Today, rising energy prices and ballooning debt are poised to strangle the global economy once again. These suffocating conditions brought the economy to its knees in 2008. Afterward, fracking helped increase the supply and lower the price of oil and gas temporarily. Meanwhile, debt-dependent cash infusions in the form of bailouts, low interest rates, corporate tax cuts and leveraged stock buy-backs were injected into the economy to prop up stock prices and profit margins. [1]

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Petroleum Junkies of the World, Unite!

Petroleum Junkies of the World, Unite!

Photo Source Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

I’m a fossil fuel junkie. I drive a car and use electricity. My computer, TV, telephone, refrigerator, stove, lights, water, and sewage all run on carbon-based energy.[1] All of the materials used to build my house and furniture were made with hydrocarbons. The wood, sheetrock, cement, metals, glass, wiring, pvc pipes, and other plastics were all manufactured with carboniferous energy. My high-energy lifestyle mainlines fossil fuels.

The petroleum coursing through the veins of our global economy allows me to do miraculous things. If I have the money, I can hop on a plane and be scuba diving in the Caribbean in a matter of hours. I can pick up a phone and talk to people anywhere in the world. I can buy coffee shipped from Kenya, tea from India, mangos from Mexico, rice from Thailand, and bananas from Ecuador anytime I want for a few dollars. I never have to do the backbreaking work of growing my own fruits, grains, and vegetables or raising my own livestock. I can light and heat my home, cook my food, do my laundry, and take a hot shower without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, or even start a fire. My family can toss their luggage into the car and journey hundreds of miles in a few hours for the cost of a tank of gas. Even with a host of servants and slaves the great kings of old could not have imagined doing many of the amazing things I can with do with the energy of fossil fuels. Power like this is addicting.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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