Predictions - The Halfway Point

Sharon June 6th, 2008

I’m doing the final proofread on _Depletion and Abundance_ right now, and as I was hunting up some old data I’d linked to, I ran into my New Years predictions. Here they are if you want to see them. 

Now note, these are slightly tongue in cheek. I don’t usually make predictions - frankly, I don’t want to be famous as the woman who said that the economy would collapse on Friday, when it didn’t.  Moreover, I think that kind of fame is sort of silly, anyway.  Making predictions is fun, and it can get you a lot of attention, but when you screw up a few dozen times, even teflon people like Daniel Yergin get in trouble eventually.

 Still, I think there is something revealing about looking at the year’s estimates of events, and noting just how quickly the pace of change is picking up.  With six months yet to go in the year of my predictions, 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 are already done, we’re well on track for 5 and 10 (the book comes out in early August ;-)).  And I wouldn’t have expected 3 to happen yet - figure autumn, although I’m still hoping no.

 Now what I think is perhaps notable about this isn’t that I’m right - I wasn’t really going way out on a limb for most of these.  What’s interesting is that what I thought would probably take a year, has happened in a matter of about 6 months.  And generally speaking, I think that’s one of the more interesting things about what’s going on - the speed of events is accellerating.  Just as it is hard to recognize global warming in any single storm, but comparatively easier to recognize it in the aggregate of the quantity of natural disasters, I think that the accelleration of events does probably matter.  Does that mean that the future will look exactly like this all the time, with everything speeding up further and further?  Almost certainly not.  But does this suggest that things are somewhat more precarious in general, and that the faster the pace of decline, the fewer options we’re going to have for arresting it?  Broadly, I think that’s probably right.

For example, whenever you write a current events book, as I have, you have to accept that at some point, the book is done, and that it will only be so accurate by the time it comes out - and even less, probably by the time most people actually read it.  Still, I want to be as accurate and current as possible.  So when I sent the book out in late November, I put in the outside predictions - as many as a million foreclosures in 2008.  Well, it turns out that 1.1 million foreclosures occurred in just the first quarter of this year, and 1 in every 10 homeowners is showing signs of loan trouble.  Nationally, equity is down to below 50%. 

 When we edited the book back in February, I changed some of the material about high food prices to include a list of 8 countries that had already had food riots.  If I wanted to, I could add 12 more now.  I’m taking out my mention of price inflation, because it is so damned hard to figure out, but it is clearly wildly high, and prices are rising steadily with the price of oil.  So far, we’ve put it on our credit cards, but that can’t last.

I didn’t even bother to mention the price of oil, which is a good thing, since today alone it has popped up by almost $7.  The word “volatility” is the key here.  Nor did I mention any possible warmongering an its effects, even though it is sounding increasingly possible that Israel will attack Iran.

We had our neighbors over for a bit the other day, and they were talking about how the housing bust is almost over, and they feel like “they can spend money again’ and that things are getting better, oil prices will come down again.  When I run into this stuff, I don’t usually argue with people, although I did point out that unemployment was rising, and housing prices still falling, and that that would have repercussions.  They didn’t believe me - or rather, they believed things might not get better for a few months, but that essentially, the good times are coming again soon.

Another friend and I had a friendly argument - I suggested that we were very close to seeing wool prices begin to rise, from a conflation of two things - the desperate need that Americans in cold climates are going to have for insulation, and the rising cost of shipping and manufacturing anything.  I predicted that within a few years, it wouldn’t be at all unlikely to see competetively priced rolled wool insulation for attics, crawlspaces, etc…   She didn’t buy it, although she was too polite to actually roll her eyes at the crazy person she was talking about. 

Neither of my friends are dumb - quite the contrary.  But they cannot get their heads around the truth - that this change is fundamentally different, that a rise in energy prices will reverbate in ways that are unlike our previous recessions.  That’s not to say that history is no guide - in fact there are chunks of history looking increasingly relevant, none of them happy.

If I were making predictions today (and June 6 is not a classic date for predicting things) it would be this.  The pace of events will, with peaks and valleys, continue to increase.  And at the same time, things will feel, to some of us who have a wider sense of what’s happening, like everything is in slow motion.  Meanwhile, what we are being told and what we experience will become increasingly disconnected from one another, until the truth, to the extent we can ever find it, will come out of the aggregate accounts of ordinary people, not those who are charged with the job of keeping everyone calm.  

The good thing about this is that people are smarter than their media masters and their government - despite the fact that they are being told that these prices are temporary, people aren’t buying SUVs, they are walking away from overpriced homes, they are saying no to consumer spending.  That’s not to say we’re all getting it - but at least most Americans aren’t buying the hype.

A little while ago I wrote that we were in a fast crash, and I haven’t changed my mind.  A few people didn’t quite get what I was saying - my claim was not that we were weeks away from some grand apocalypse.  In fact, it was the opposite - that we are in the midst of billions of aggregate small collapses, an intensification of events (because there are always people and things collapsing around us), that is forcing more and more of us into deep change - some voluntarily, as we come to an understand of events, but most by collapsing their personal worlds, their personal economies, and most of all, their ability to understand and predict what will come next.

 Sharon

29 Responses to “Predictions - The Halfway Point”

  1. AnnaMarieon 06 Jun 2008 at 12:34 pm

    As usual, spot on with very concise arguments. Now the difficulty is how to figure out a way to get folks moving on things that will save them like gardening, decreasing consumption of *everything* and learning something that I have only come to learn in the past year. Want Less.

  2. Ginaon 06 Jun 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Excellent summary of the year to date.

    A snapshot of what I am seeing in our life this week:

    I have made a commitment to buy only local produce from now on. Cherries are in season here so I contacted a local organic orchard this week to set up a time to come pick a massive amount cherries so that I can preserve some for the remainder of the year. I invited our friends and families to come along. I thought that, at most, I would get three other families that would want to go with us. Much to my surprise, we now have at least six families (a group of 25+) going with us. At least three families (typical double-income working families) have expressed interest in learning how to can/preserve as well. I am thrilled at the interest in local food and in preserving and also at the opportunity that this gives us to spend time building community.

  3. Lisa Zon 06 Jun 2008 at 1:17 pm

    It’s interesting what you say about time/events accelerating. Some New Agers/Spiritualists have been saying that time will accelerate from about 2001 to 2012, when the ancient Mayan Calender ends and a New Age begins. I still don’t get all the spiritual stuff, but it’s possible that this all goes together.

    Lisa in MN

  4. Nitaon 06 Jun 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Our non gardening neighbors are now calling us for seeds, they have tried planting warm weather crops too early for our area, the seeds have rotted, and now they can’t find the varieties they want. They have quite a learning curve ahead of them. We can’t share our saved seeds with them, we can only suggest mail-order and fast, before that gets cost prohibitive. But, they are still nonplussed to find out that we haven’t planted our warm weather crops yet - because their seed package told them to?? I feel bad, they think they will have bell peppers in 60 days from seed. Several of these neighbors, live on acreage, board their horses miles away, and want compost from us.

    I’m sure as times get harder, the requests will become more demanding.

    Great post. Thank you.

  5. Greenpaon 06 Jun 2008 at 3:10 pm

    So YOU’RE the reason oil is up $11 bucks today, and the DJ Industrials are down over 400!! aha! :-)

  6. Rebeccaon 06 Jun 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Signs of the times: I’ve only been canning a year and I’m having people ask me to teach them to do it. Gas here ranges from $3.75 to $3.99 a gallon and at the cheaper stations you may have to wait in line as long as 20 minutes to get it. The local food pantry is just about empty. More people around here are gardening than anytime since the 1950s.

    Things are getting worse and fast -I can almost sit back and watch it on CNN during a day. (Not that I sit around watching CNN -I don’t even have cable, but I keep it on at work.)

  7. Daharjaon 06 Jun 2008 at 4:22 pm

    It’s good to see your up to your old cheery predictions again, Sharon ;-)

    The truth is, people don’t want to hear the truth. Reminds me of Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!”

    You’ll be right again and again. And again and again they’ll pretend that it’s all not happening, and good things are just about to happen any time, real soon. Get used to it.

    In the meanwhile, buckle down for a wild ride.

    Of course, when everything does go belly up, be prepared for the angry neighbours to grumble and say: “Why didn’t you tell us?” *sigh*

  8. Shambaon 06 Jun 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Well, gas a the stations I live nearest–southern arizona metro area–have gone over $4 finally. I expected it by the end of the summer or end of year but this came faster as I’ve watched the price of crude go up so much the past month or so.

    I’ve been telling people I know who would at least “listen” to me about all this End of the World stuff coming the past 2-3 years. It was mostly stuff like climate change and coming resource depletion, oil and water depletion actually. Theyh didn’t think I was crazy but maybe a little too focussed and obsessed with following my “readings in doom.” I feel like I kept looking at the horizon for it but the End wasn’t showing up much. Now the leading edges of all of the issues involved are visible to everyone, even if everyone doesn’t understand what they are. The past 3-4 months I feel like it’s here and we’re pretty well surrounded!

    cheers,
    shamba

  9. Adrienneon 06 Jun 2008 at 5:05 pm

    I wish I had heard the words “peak oil” sooner… once I did, it didn’t take me long to figure it out. But figuring it out and learning what I need to do are not the same thing… I’m terrified that I don’t have nearly enough time to learn what I need to learn. And still when I tell many of my friends, they say “You’re scaring me” and do *nothing*. That scares me even more b/c although i don’t think we can stop this, I think we can slow it down if enough people take action.

  10. Beckyon 06 Jun 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Enjoy reading your blog.

    You suppose Ball is already gearing up for increased production on canning jars? Hope so.

  11. lissaon 06 Jun 2008 at 6:36 pm

    canning supplies have jumped in price, recently, at the stores where i shop. cases of jars (all the sizes they carry) have gone up about a dollar per case. lids have gone up noticeably as well. i started buying a couple of boxes of lids every week months ago, so that i have what i need in case they become difficult to get. i’m worried that there will be shortages, with all the new folks wanting to learn to can.

    i’m watching yard sales and estate sales for jars. ;-)

  12. Brad K.on 06 Jun 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Sharon, what are the resources for those new to canning? I remember my mother canning, and I know there are times that a particular jar or batch doesn’t seal right. Do all these people getting into preserving know what to watch for, how to spot a leaker, how to minimize breakage and spoilage, how to handle and prepare home-canned foods - and how to avoid spoiled food?

    I worry, too, about people planning on freezing to preserve food. During past electricity shortages, brown-outs happened occasionally. That was, the electricity company could not generate enough power to keep the voltage at working levels. Motors, especially on pumps and freezers/refrigerators and air conditioners fried as a result. Waiting two or three days to get the refrigerator fixed, when the problem is widespread and parts and service people in great demand, will waste a lot of food and effort as the freezer thaws.

    We are used to having highly sanitary, good quality food. From watching my mother and grandmother years ago, I believe it takes skill and experience to make the most of food without causing food poisoning. Many of us are unused to the occasional bad food. My last food poisoning was in 1989, from a favorite Chinese restaurant that I ate at regularly. I was unfit for three days, and weak for another four or five. Without due care and awareness, food poisoning will be returning.

    I notice you mention Victory Gardens. What about guarding your garden, when friends, relatives, and local thugs decide they are hungry and want your produce? I imagine the best answer is to organize locally, first. Establish a mutual protection organization to guard shelter, food, personal safety, and other resources. We have not heard about this in years, but I recall my uncle talking about getting shot with rock salt while stealing watermelons. That would likely have been late 1940’s, long after the Great Depression and war years rationing. I wonder if the load would have been salt, in leaner times.

  13. Aaronon 06 Jun 2008 at 9:29 pm

    The fast crash is happening - human life on this planet will change beyond imagination within a generation. By 2030, nothing will be the same. Three horsemen are already riding - food, fuel, and weather. (Ain’t it funny how those three are so inextricably interlinked?) I don’t know who the fourth horseman is - I suppose he’s saddling up now. But if history is any guide, the fourth horsemen will probably be war.

    A generation is a short, short period of time. The next generation will not have nearly the life expectancy of the generations of the 19th century. Passing on skills cannot wait until some arbitrary age - Native Americans gave their children toy bows to practice archery at age 2 simply because archery skills were high on the priority list of what was needed to survive. Not only is it important to teach children the necessary skills of survival as early as possible, it is important that they in turn pass it on to their own children at a young age. Thinking in terms of sixty or seventy-year-lifespans is outdated at this point - whatever one’s plans are, they should be calibrated for thirty or forty-year-lifespans.

  14. Anion 07 Jun 2008 at 5:13 am

    I’ve been thinking along similar lines recently. Among the thoughts running through my head have been that although I was expecting this to happen, knew it would happen, have been writing and speaking and teaching about it for a number of years, watching it all start to unfold so rapidly has been erie. It DOES seem to be happening so fast- but I guess it’s just like the line-up of dominos that I have always envisioned- one goes and then the next and so on….

    The thing about it of course is that even though in some respects I am more “prepared” than others- knew it was coming, not in debt, grow lots of food, live off-grid, etc- I am still vulnerable to much of what is happening- $4 gas hits me hard even though I drive a 40 plus mpg car and have worked at decreasing how much I drive. Abd then there is everyone else; friends, neighbors, etc…….

    An interesting suggestion- last year at this time the World Without Oil ARG was up and running- I blogged for it as did a whole host of others- the site is archived and all of it is available to read- all 32 “weeks” worth of PO scenarios- is worth having a look at to see what people around the US and some in other countries thought would be happening and developed into their blogs, audio/video etc- it was a fascinating exercise for me- to try to create a realistic scenario of what I thought would be happening in my area when the gas prices spiked. Interestingly enough, the diesel prices in the game never went very high- just gas……. which is obviously not the case now.

  15. Greenpaon 07 Jun 2008 at 7:15 am

    Aaron- I’m pretty sure the 4th horseman is disease- and s/he’s already riding too- in much of Africa the impact of AIDS is horrifying, and population is falling. Bird flu? Quite possible. The decreasing ability of governments to respond to emergencies will bring the old killers back- cholera, malaria, yellow fever. They don’t even have to kill people to cripple societies. Journalists and the general population are already so inured to AIDS stories we no longer hear them, and it’s dropped off the radar.

  16. Albert Bateson 07 Jun 2008 at 7:41 am

    It is okay to gloat.

    The only thing is to remember to also be contrite when the predictions don’t work out.

    In 1989, when Climate in Crisis went to press, I had a “what if?” chapter in there called “Runaway!” It has taken about 20 years to demonstrate how far from fantasy that prediction was. I can pat myself on the back, all the way to extinction.

    But one need only turn to chapter 12 in that book, entitled “21 Things You Can Do”, to bring me back to earth. Number 10 was “Expand Funding For Superconductivity.”

  17. Nitaon 07 Jun 2008 at 10:35 am

    People are trying to learn to can, but like gardening, there is a lot of basic rules to learn first. Ironically, canning supplies are down in price in our area, although I don’t think this will last.
    Victory Garden info. (and common sense) suggest not to can foods that need expensive and hard to get supplies (sugar, for instance). Also one quick look at blogs, will show people canning jam in small jars. Wasting lids on small jars, when a larger jar would do, or using expensive wide mouth jars and lids for liquids, is foolishness. It is showing that people really don’t know what they are doing. Jam with the recommended sugar amount will keep indefinitely, at room temperature.
    Lactofermentation is making a comeback and rightfully so. NOURISHING TRADITIONS by Sally Fallon is a good place to start.

    We use our freezers for our high value (meat and butter) items. If we were to lose power, for an extended period of time, I plan to can our meat to save it. Until then, I will continue to use my freezer.

  18. Rosaon 07 Jun 2008 at 11:52 am

    I just wanted to pop in and say climate change and the war, and the link between them, made it into the Q&A session at our senatorial nominating convention today, in more than one question.

    I was proud to say both candidates (Jack Nelson Pallmeyer and Al Franken) answered “how do we get India and China to curb greenhouse gases” with “Do it ourselves first.”

  19. Lisa Zon 07 Jun 2008 at 4:50 pm

    I do can jam in 1/2 pint jars because I give a lot of it as gifts, and I guess I’m stingy! I don’t want to give a gift of a pint when a half-pint will do!

    Good news to report: today a neighbor couple in their 60s walked by (the man was very overweight and had a massive heart attack a couple years ago and is lucky to be alive, btw–just to give some background that they are pretty typical Americans). They saw our garden and remarked that they too are growing veggies in with their flowers this year. The woman said, “if I’m watering it, I’m eating it!” And the man said, “it’s time for a Victory Garden again.” I was thrilled to hear this. And they don’t even read my blog!

    Lisa in MN

  20. Lisa Zon 07 Jun 2008 at 4:53 pm

    That’s good news, Rosa. I listened to some of their speeches on MPR, but not very closely I guess, while doing yard work. (I am sad that Franken got the nom. instead of Nelson-Pallmeyer, though.)

    Lisa in MN

    P.S. Did anyone else cry while Hillary spoke today? I was really surprised how emotional I got, especially since I’m not her biggest fan and have been supporting Obama all along. Still, I guess it did mean a lot to me that a woman made it so close to the Presidency.

  21. How are you? « Scintillating Speckon 07 Jun 2008 at 8:31 pm

    […] the accelerating pace of the Great Turning.  Sharon Astyk recently wrote about this acceleration here, where she muses on how her new year’s predictions are coming true more quickly than she […]

  22. Nitaon 07 Jun 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Lisa Z, I can in 1/2 pint jars too, for gifts, but the bulk of what I can is quarts, and some pints. I didn’t mean don’t ever can in small jars - just if you are doing it for yourself, and money is tight, the larger quantities make more sense. I also never give away any low-acid canned goods, just to insure that the recipients of my gifts don’t get sick. Since I have no way of knowing if cooking rules would be followed, after the canned goods leave my house.
    This year I’m struggling with following my self imposed rules regarding the Nourishing Traditions Cookbook, which stresses low amounts of canned food. Some of our garden suplus has to be canned, and I’m trying to wean myself from freezer dependency.

  23. Kimon 08 Jun 2008 at 8:41 am

    Nita,

    We can jam in small jars for our family. It helps us to remember that the jam is a treat food not a staple. We only get one small jar a week.

    I need that reminder. I could eat a whole jar of jam by myself. Of course, I don’t need that much sugar or that many empty calories!

    Kim H

  24. Studenton 08 Jun 2008 at 9:53 am

    Anyone have suggestions for the best books on home-canning and preserving?

  25. lydiaon 08 Jun 2008 at 10:08 am

    Uh, guys I am all for canning, but what happens when there isn’t any power? Kind of hard to use that pressure cooker………….

    The best way to combat this is to grow foods that need no refrigeration or cooking of any sort, and that you can root cellar or just keep in the house. Apples. Nut trees. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, fresh and raw. (Although do not keep) Carrots can be eaten raw and they keep for a while. Lettuces can be eaten raw right from the garden. Etc. Etc.

    I am not saying don’t can, just that if we are going to prepare for the worst case sort of life, we must live as if there is no electricity, because it may come to that. Here in the Pacific Northwest, solar just doesn’t cut it! It’s June 8th and cold as can be. Normally May 15 brings warmer weather and some sun. Not for the last three years has that been. It’s as if the warm of a normal season has been pushed back a month. I am only hoping maybe June 15th. I am still sleeping in my long johns as nite temps are still 42 to 48 degrees, and rain and ick………sigh……….

  26. Kimon 08 Jun 2008 at 10:23 am

    Good question. I am set up to can in a barrel oven that uses scrap wood. It is amazing, it keeps the heat outside. We also dehydrate a lot of food.

    If there is no electricity then we’ll just can whatever can be done in a water bath and dehydrate the rest. Where I live the ground water is too close to the surface for a root cellar or basement.

    Kim

  27. Nitaon 08 Jun 2008 at 10:41 am

    Kim, and Lydia, I don’t actually can that much jam, because we rarely eat bread or grain products, since growing grains is not something I think is feasible in our area. That’s so true about the sweets being a treat, sugar is going to get much more expensive. The thing we meter out here is butter, since I can only make so much of it. Fat and sweets were treats in earlier times, just because of those factors.

    Lydia, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and we have developed a gardening system that works for us, growing crops that are harvestable throughout the year. We eat what is in season at our farm. We harvested our last root crops out of the ground in May, when I had to till in preparation for this years garden. I do can some fruit, and we use freezers because we sell grassfed meat products and need extra storage for those products. For us personally, if the freezers/electricity were gone tomorrow, I would can what we have on hand, on our woodstove, just to keep it from going to waste. Our hot water is heated in our wood furnace, which during the summer months we could easily swap to some sort of solar for summer time.
    I agree, solar here does not work except during the summer. Our neighbors got a huge grant to install a PV system, what a waste - of time and money. It rarely produces much, and guess what, their in Hawaii right now, because it’s too cloudy for them!

    Jeez Sharon - sorry about hijacking your site…

  28. Lisa Zon 08 Jun 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Nita, Lydia, Kim–we should have this discussion on the food storage group! I’m sure the others in the group would love the traffic/topic. But I don’t think Sharon minds(?).

    I agree Nita that you should can in larger jars. But like Kim, I consider jam a treat and like the smaller jars. For my family I will remember to do pint jars more often though and just use *some* 1/2 pints for gifts. Really I didn’t think of it till you said it!

    Also Nita, I am with you on wanting to eat more along the Nourishing Traditions line. I do think it’s the best way for me to eat. But, I often fall back to old temptations. I would love to have a dairy cow, but at our place in the city it just wouldn’t work (yet?)–maybe someday! We do get raw milk sometimes at a farm about 9 miles from our home, but we figured out to go there more than every other week is just too expenisive in gas now, so I do end up buying most of our dairy products at the co-op where I work (we sell grassfed, minimally pastueurized local Cedar Summit dairy products). If we had to, we could bike or walk but I’m really a wimp about that distance yet–not to mention the roads here are terrible for bikers, too many fast and inconsiderate drivers.

    I do plan to can in the *possible* non-electric future. We are working on many alternative cooking options (solar, rocket stove, poss. woodstove) and I figure if I can boil water I can at least water bath can.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking conversation!

    Lisa in MN

  29. cbon 09 Jun 2008 at 9:38 am

    Last year, while cleaning out my freezer I got out all of the small containers of leftover vegetable soup. I combined it all (called it cock and bull since some was chicken and some was beef) and canned it to the max 15#, 90 minutes. Yes, it’s overcooked, but until I need the jars, I still have it. I figure it’s emergency food, and I can puree it and use it in spaghetti sauce. Before it gets too old, I can supplement dog food with it.

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