Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Collapse and survival

Last week, futurist Gerald Celente - a man with a stellar reputation for getting his economic forecasts right - told Fox News that by 2012, the US will be wracked by tax revolts, unemployment, homelessness, and food riots; that at Christmas, we'll be more concerned with putting food on the table than buying gifts; in short, that the United States will become the world's first "undeveloped country" in an economic crisis that will far exceed anything that happened in the Great Depression. (Fox, in typical fashion, spins this as the upshot of an Obama presidency - just as Rush Limbaugh blames the current economic crisis on the man who won't become president for two months yet - but Celente blames it on "the takeover of Washington, D. C., in broad daylight by Wall Street.")

Others have predicted devastating economic (and other) consequences of global water shortage, peak oil, and the race to the bottom of the world labor market.

Oil wars. Water wars. Riots and revolts. Economic catastrophe.

As bleak as these predictions sound, a worldwide economic collapse may be the only thing that can save humanity from itself. The modern American economy is built on consumption at a level that is unsustainable in the long run, is contributing immensely to global warming, and left unchecked, could render the planet incapable of supporting life as we know it. And as China and India adopt the same economic model, the situation only threatens to get worse. A global economic collapse on the scale envisioned by Celente would force us back to simpler times, when business was conducted on a personal level, goods and services were produced and used locally, and simply getting by was a more realistic goal than the perpetual growth that modern capitalism requires. It may be the only thing that could bring about the drastic reductions in consumption and fossil fuel usage needed to forestall the impending climate crisis.

It's been argued that the Black Plague that swept the world in the 14th century, and the attendant death of somewhere between a quarter and half of the population, led to times of relative plenty and ultimately to the Renaissance. Could the fall of modern civilization, and another massive die-off, turn out to be the key to survival of the species?