Pre- (Marginally) Apocalyptic Reality Discussion

Sharon September 15th, 2008

I promise we will get to talking more about _Dies the Fire_ today – how could we not, with SM Stirling himself joining in the conversation? If you want to see what he has to say, check out the comments section of the last PA discussion if you haven’t already! But despite the slight overstatement of the above title (Y’all know I don’t think that this is an actual apocalypse, right?  At least not quite yet ;-) .), events of the last 10 days suggest that we’re on the cusp of a shift down to a much lower economic and perhaps energy state.  It might be worth talking about the disastrous reality before we switch to the novel.

 Think about it – a week since we nationalized Fannie and Freddie and all their bad paper.  It took months from the collapse of Bear Stearns to take down another major institution – a week later and Merrill Lynch and Lehman Bros are toast and Washington Mutual and AIG are hanging by threads.  Empty pumps in much of the South.  Oil prices dropping like a stone on the markets, while we’ve still got four or five buck a gallon prices due to Ike and Gustav and potential supply shortages running into next month.  Food prices up further, and a weak harvest in many locations. Oh, and hurricane season is only half over.

A while back I wrote a post called “The Juggler’s Lament” about the scenario runs in the latest, World3 version of The Limits to Growth:The 30 Year Update.  In it, I discussed what I think is the most disturbing conclusion of the scenario runs, and something that shows up through all the computer models The Club of Rome has been running for the last 3+ decades – that what happens in most models isn’t that one factor overwhelmingly brings about a collapse.  It is that so many factors begin to affect things that ultimately, the system collapses because it can’t cope anymore.  Our society is a very deft and talented juggler – it can handle a lot of balls, with only the occasional dropped ball. But add more and more and the drops get more frequent.  And there comes a point at which either the juggler has to accept he can’t take on any more balls, and just let them fall, or keep trying to keep things in the air, until they all fall down together.

Where are we headed?  I don’t claim to know.  But I think it is safe to say that right now our juggler is sweating and balls are falling.  And I think it is safe to say that we are headed towards an economic crisis that until recently, people haven’t much wanted to think about it.   And that’s on top of the ecological crisis.  My best advice is this – remember how I suggested everyone do a trial run of their preparations – well, maybe get ready for a trial run on the sooner side of things, and hope that it really is just a trial.

 Meanwhile, I encourage you to follow along with this at www.theoildrum.com and www.theautomaticearth.blogspot.com.  Don’t panic, though.  Remember, I’m sticking to my usual answer to the “when, (if at all) will things fall apart” question – you have at least until the weekend before the Zombies come.  Although I admit, this week that seems like maybe I’m pushing the optimism envelope a bit ;-) .

Oh, and tying this back to the Post-Apocalyptic novel book club, I think I owe SM Stirling an apology – I made a bit of fun of his cartoon villains, saying that I thought the apocalypse was enough of a story.  But I have to say, watching the suits divide up our future and shift the burden of rich people’s stock investment to tax payers makes me think we’ve got more than a few cartoon villains of our own – so maybe that’s a necessary feature after all.  Best hopes for good guys with swords and hang gliders to take them out before they sell off what remains of our future ;-) .

 Sharon

24 Responses to “Pre- (Marginally) Apocalyptic Reality Discussion”

  1. Meadowlark says:

    Your link to the automatic earth is broken. Or at least for me.

  2. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Pre- (Marginally) Apocalyptic Reality Discussion I promise we will get to talking more about _Dies the Fire_ today – how could we not, with SM Stirling himself joining in the conversation? If you want to see what he has to say, check out the comments section of the last PA discussion if you haven’t already! But despite the slight overstatement of the above title (Y’all know I don’t think that this is an actual apocalypse, right? At least not quite yet ;-) .), events of the last 10 days suggest that we’re on the cusp of a shift down to a much lower economic and perhaps energy state. [...]

  3. Devin Quince says:

    We are doing the prep this Winter. We have been canning, preserving, etc. all Summer and are starting to figure out how we can last through the Winter based on those stores.

  4. Ani says:

    I’ve been watching as our economy implodes- sort of like watching the new energy infrastructure we need evaporate along with it, along with new mass transit, etc. We’re abosrbing/taking on massive debt for what?? Nothing to show for it but some people got filthy rich and left the mess for the rest of us to clean up. Somehow I know that the CEO’s of Fannie and Freddie and Lehman’s and all the rest will still walk away with their pockets loaded while we’ll be left picking up the pieces. I guess I want to know why this has been allowed. Why have the regulators been snoozing? And the general public? But hey- another OJ trial is starting so the public can concentrate on that instead of economics of which they know nothing and find boring…

    I guess I don’t have a good feeling about all of this- feel like it’s just the beginning of a long slide down the economic slope. I’ve been watching it happen though and wondering why everyone seemed ok with it when clearly things were pretty weird. Never understood how home prices could climb to those heights and how people were spending the way they were- but as someone who has the horribly old-fashioned notion of living within one’s means, I guess I just didn’t get it…

    Now we get to see where this takes us.
    What I’m trying to figure out now Sharon, is if/when our US currency is going to be so horribly devalued it will be worth little. So would it pay to put any available funds into some other items- not gold and silver- I know some think that wise but I can’t wrap my mind around that- I’m talking more tangible items- useful for trade or whatever. Ideas? I don’t want to be hoarding either- just figure maybe I should put some $$ into something of real value, and not greenbacks….

    And yes- would love to continue to discuss Dies the Fire some more…

  5. Shamba says:

    Everthing I look at in stores, markets, flea markets, Goodwill, Thrift shops, etc., I wonder if I should buy it for a time when we can’t get it at all. I’m not thinking ordinary clothes, things like cast iron pots, special kitchen tools, sewing fabric for clothes,thread, scissors, nail, screws, hammers, patio furniture the list goes on and on and on for just about anything I see that’s retailly available these days!

    Of and, of course, books of any and all kinds. Or maybe just more cornmeal ….

    I’m not buying all this stuff but it sure makes me think.

    cheers,
    shamba

  6. Rebecca says:

    Here we go again. It sure seems like the proverbial excrement is hitting the fan now, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the financial system falls off a cliff soon. An older woman I housesit for at times has accounts with Lehman Brothers and I warned her they weren’t doing well and she should pull her money out before it was too late. She said they were too big to fail and today has lost everything.

    There is almost no gas where I am at. What stations have it are charging outrageous prices. I have a full tank, so I’ve been tempted to drive to the Wal-mart up the road and see how their supplies are doing. A waste of time I know but I’m curious as a cat.

    Galveston looks worse than NO after Katrina. I wonder how much of it will get rebuilt this time?

  7. Fern says:

    My government bailed out banks, and all I got was this lousy tag line … and the bill for the bail out.

  8. Kati says:

    We got our dividend checks on Friday, and though much of the Fairbanks area was out splurging on big-screen TV’s, multi-hundred-dollar-mountain bikes for 7 and 8 year olds, and video-game-set-ups, I spent less than $50 on yarn and some knitting needles, a couple hundred at the grocery store, and bought myself a few household “goodies” from Lehman’s (the old-fashioned goods “Lehman’s”, not the financial “Lehman’s”) and a bit of candy (hey, gotta splurge a BIT!) from Vermont Country store. The next big “purchase” is going to be paying off doctor bills I’ve accumulated this year, a fill-up for our 500 gal. home-heating-fuel tank (our YEARLY supply), new shocks & struts and brakes for my hubby’s truck, new wood flooring in the house, instead of the high-maintenance carpeting we’ve currently got, some storage pieces for the bathrooms and a new bed for the kiddo’s room….. That’s IF the money holds out that long. Highly doubtful we’ll make it much further down the list than the shocks & struts. VERY unlikely we’ll make it far enough down to buy my hubby the large-LCD screen Tv he wants, or the Ipod I’m starting to think I’d prefer to my “books” of cd’s. Oh, and we’ve got the kiddo’s birthday “party” coming up at the end of the month. (Involves 3 friends and Herself and the hubby and I going to race go-carts for an hour, then Pizza, and a sleep-over for the 2 girls invited while the little boy goes home.)

    Watching the news these past months, and seeing the pictures of the WallStreet brokers and traders…. I cannot help but think of the stories from the first Great Depression, and seeing the pictures of utter shock and loss on the faces of THOSE wall-street brokers and traders. And the stories of how very many of them took swan-dives off tall buildings. I think the bodies won’t be filling the roads, but will probably include a lot of caskets closed due to gruesome gunshot wounds. The looks of shock and loss on the faces of some of the “smaller” folks on the floor are the same as the looks on the faces of those older counterparts in the beginning days of the first Great Depression. There’s a bit of sorrow in my soul for the loss of human life that is to come, but not so much that it overshadows the realization that a lot of them went into this “game” knowing that folks would get screwed over, and they’d rather be DOING the screwing than GETTING it.

    The greater amount of sorrow is for my daughter, who’s been taught to accept change and hardship VERY poorly by her dad. And the kids like her. I hope that the gardening we’ve been doing the last years, that the fact that I’ve always been busy with my hands (when not typing or working at the library, cooking or crocheting or canning or weeding) may yet rub off on her. We had mixed reactions with our harvest this year. (I pulled 21 turnips out of the ground on Saturday. 2 were too small to keep. 1 was too riddled with worm-holes to keep. 2 were small “beet-sized”, 15 are larger than my fist, 2 are larger than my infant-niece’s head. Slowly but surely slicing and dehydrating it all, though a couple will be passed off on coworkers and my MIL.) We certainly did not get enough veggies, altogether, to last us through a hard winter, much less until next year’s harvesting starts. BUT, 4 years of gardening, and we got a LOT more than other folks managed this year. Most of it’s been pickled, some of it still needs to be picked and canned or pickled, including a few (5) heads of cabbage yet.

    My MIL was ridiculing my FIL yesterday regarding how much stock of canned and dried goods he’s got in the cabinets and pantry at their house. His reply was that if things went south, it’d take a good while before he’d starve. (At the same point, MIL was hauling in bag after bag of high-cost, low quality new clothes, and new shoes for herself and for my infant niece. Who already has more clothes than one infant will ever wear, in every single size imaginable.) I told the MIL that I was stocking up as well, because prices NOW may be as low as we ever see them again, and I can’t be sure that in the near future I won’t be able to afford some of the things I can afford now. She went back to talking about clothes and celebrities and the niece. *shaking head*

    There is still hope, but….. It’s getting harder to hold onto that as the days go by. Too many in our country and our world (both close family and friends, and distant personalities and strangers) are either clueless, or complicit. It stinks.

  9. Pine Ridge says:

    Being ready at all times is the way to go. I bet no one told people in KY or OH to prepare for power outages due to Ike (I’m sure there are other areas the wind hit hard too). And I guess the people I saw on TV leaving Lehman’s with their personal things thought they would be going to work as normal today. You never know when it’s going to hit YOU, just that it will.

    I also don’t see how people keep spending. Where do they get the money? Am I really so “poor” compared to them? Every dime that comes into this house has a place it needs to go, and we have a paid for home, no car payments…. How do people in debt go shopping for fun?

    I just don’t get it.

    Kati- at least you have your FIL who gets it. I feel like the laughing stock of the family.

  10. Meadowlark says:

    This weekend was the first breakthrough at our house – Husband actually said “hmmmm, if we moved the trailer, could that area be used for another garden spot?” A far cry from the beginning of this year when I had to practically kick and scream to get the bit of garden I have.

    Tough times ahead. I can only hope my kids remember what they’ve been taught.

  11. texicali says:

    Pine Ridge, I had a similar experience when I moved to California. It seemed like everyone was driving a new car and lived in a house that cost over 400k. My wife and I both make pretty good money in my opinion, but couldn’t imagine making the payments on a house that cost that much. It didn’t seem possible that everyone else was a doctor or a lawyer so I didnt see how they could either. Now that forclosures are popping up everywhere it is pretty clear that they weren’t doctors and lawyers, and that they couldn’t afford the lifestyle. That is the difference I presume: many of the people don’t know how to spend less than they earn, or don’t earn enough to buy the fundamentals. Some of it is the splurge attitude. I knew a guy when I was working as a groundsman for an arborist service. He lived in a tent, had no car, no bathroom, no money. On pay day he would go get a nice hotel room for a night, which cost him a good chunk of his pay check. His was running in place and even falling behind, but he felt like he deserved the hotel night even though it destroyed his chances of moving into an apartment.

  12. Rosa says:

    I still haven’t laid hands on Dies the Fire – our library claims to have a copy on the shelves but I couldn’t find it Saturday – but I have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson.

    Here’s how Sixty Days & Counting starts:

    “By the time Phil Chase was elected president, the world’s climate was already far along the way to irrevocable change. There were already four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and another hundred parts would be there soon if civilization continued to burn its fossil carbon – and at this point there was no other option.

    Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in the midst of a crisis that in some ways worsened before it got better, they were entangled in a moment of history when climate change, the destruction of the natural world, and widespread human misery were combining in a toxic and combustible mix.

    The new president had to contemplate drastic action while at the same time being constrained by any number of economic and political factors, not least the huge public debt left deliberately by the administrations preceding him.”

    Cheerful, huh? Actually, he’s a techno-optimist. Or he’s pretending to be one.

    The good news: financial ruin is easier to turn around than climactic ruin. Also, in the real world the Gulf Stream hasn’t stalled. The worse the economy gets, the less gas we’ll burn.

    The bad news: we don’t have a presidential candidate openly advocating anything like the scale of change we need to turn things around, and every dollar of debt is a dollar we can’t spend on retooling.

  13. Chile says:

    Ani & Shamba – some time ago, we started spending more money than usual. It wasn’t that we felt suddenly rich but rather that we saw the writing on the wall and decided we’d rather own some tangible useful goods instead of having money in the bank. Such goods do not devalue like the dollar! So, I now cook frequently with my new solar oven, pedal to grind wheat with the grain mill, ride my custombuilt (by my sweetie) Xtracycle bike to the store, and look at my pressure canner on the shelf wondering when I’ll have the guts to try using it a second time (sealing failed the first try). The nice thing is these items not only allow us to live a lower impact life but they save money in the long run….especially as the dollar is worth less and less.

    I’m low on shoes, though, and thinking a trip to the shoe sales would be a really good idea.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I have to confess that I have just taken a giant step backwards. I bought a new car. I mean, new-new car, not just new to me. We had two subarus, which aren’t great on gas, so we kept one for winter driving and bought a 2009 Honda Fit. I’m having a hard time feeling too guilty because the car is so great compared to the 1994 station wagon I gave up, but still, I feel like a sell-out (or a buy-out, I guess).
    I still have my garden! And I mostly cook from scratch! And I don’t buy new clothes! That’s worth something, right? Right?!

  15. Fern says:

    Elizabeth – I’m sure you plan to keep the car for 20 years, so, sure, it’s really … if not quite an investment, it’s at least a REALLY durable good.

    Fern

  16. Joseph says:

    Getting back to you Fern (and i wont always be able to),

    I am not talking about a “bean-counter-in-the-sky” concept of karma, I am talking about the idea that the “we” here on earth in this “ecological crisis” ,the “we” who are co-creating this reality cannot be totally reduced to the outer domesticated primate (human) aspect of ourselves but that “we” are multidimensional “spiritual” beings participating together in a learning experiment/spiritual “school”.

    The idea is that Gaian-DNA systems are archetypal manifestations of the Anima Mundi or World Soul and are nodes in the universal Life-Light matrix. “We” are multidimensional explorers. L8r

  17. homebrewlibrarian says:

    As Kati mentioned, last Friday Alaskans got a whopping $3269 per family member deposited into bank accounts ($1200 of it was for the “Alaska Resource Rebate” – to help out with winter energy costs…at least that’s what the state says it’s for. The rest was the annual Permanent Fund Dividend). It was by all accounts an orgy of consumer spending all weekend. My brush with it was having to go to an AT&T location to have my cell service converted from Dobson to AT&T (and no, it had to be done in person, the customer service person I called couldn’t do it over the phone for reasons unknown to me) and the place was packed. I did a bit of shopping on Sunday and only one of the places I went to had more than a few folks in them (a local hardware/lumber company, two outlets of a chain thrift store and a fabric store had the usual Sunday clientele but the chain everything store was pretty bustling).

    I’m feeling both nervous and guilty for not having harvested more of the garden yet. There are fava bean pods all over the place plus some shell peas and a few beans plus all the kale, collards and cabbages. All three cauliflower got harvested and consumed as did most of the broccoli and two of the four kohlrabi (which are still sitting in the fridge waiting for something to be done). And potatoes! We haven’t dug any up but some of them are peaking out of the dirt and they’re good sized! Even some rather skwunty, beat up looking plants have some nice sized spuds. Go figure. The three cherry tomato plants have been flowering and fruiting to beat the band – over the last three weeks – so there are dozens of green tomatoes and more flowers. A few are turning yellow (these are Gold Coin yellow cherry tomatoes) and I’m now religiously checking the National Weather Service because we’re in the zone for our first frost. And in a race against hope, I’m watching the one good sized pumpkin on a Sugar Baby (I think) that’s a little bigger than a softball. Even with throwing something over it to protect from frost, I don’t think it will get to maturity. But I need to have a plan for what to do with the stuff I can harvest!

    On the food storage side, I’ve been ordering and receiving bulk beans, rice, pasta and canning jars. Other places might have used canning jars show up at garage sales and thrift stores but not here. Craigslist and freecycle are full of people wanting to buy canning equipment and jars. I’ve dried a bunch of raspberries and some chard, kale and collards but not nearly enough for winter. I’ve canned a couple things but need to do more of that, too. Dang, I need to take a week off from work not just a Friday!

    However, just today, the conversation at lunch with two of my coworkers was all about the collapse of the financial sector and how rising fuel costs are becoming a huge burden particularly on rural Alaskan villages. However for all their musings on what lower income people would do, I got the impression that they thought the two of them would still be able to afford to put gas in their cars because their incomes were good. I don’t know how much they’ve considered how fuel costs will affect everything else in their lives, they only seem to be focussed on gas prices. Neither of them have considered limiting their driving – and one of them commutes almost 30 miles down from a mountain and into town for work five days a week! I try to drop hints or things that I’m doing to cut my resource usage but I get the feeling they think I’m a bit daft. Worries me that no one seems to notice the gathering storm clouds.

    Kerri in AK

  18. jerah says:

    So I’ve been following the hurricane news at Theoildrum, and for the first time in the 3 years I’ve been reading it, they actually sounded the alarm on the gas shortage situation (#node/4526).

    So I sent out an e-mail to everyone in my address book who lives in the northeast and southeast (looks like I should’ve included the midwest too, but there was no way to anticipate that), including my grandparents and whatnot. I tried to keep it light and kind of, hey guys, here’s an article on why there will be gas shortages in your area for a while, might think of keeping the tank topped off and limiting your driving. And maybe make sure that you have a few favorite staple foods at home (like popcorn and chocolate chips :) , and essential medications, since supermarkets and drugstores only have about a 3-day supply of any of their stuff. No panic buying, just, you know, be on the safe side.

    And I’ve gotten exactly three responses back, two were from people here in NYC who were like, yeah, I know, this is getting nuts, and one was just a joke from a good friend.

    Which means either that it got lost in a bunch of spam filters, or that people don’t think it’s a big deal, or that they’re embarrassed that their friend is overreacting and spamming them. Either way, I hope next time they hear some bullshit on the news about price gouging or the next time they drive by an empty filling station, they think, hunh, maybe there’s actually just not enough gas.

    I’m pretty outspoken on this issue, but the number of really, really bad reactions I’ve gotten has made me a little gun shy. See, I’ve got this little problem with wanting people to respect me? I don’t even really care if they love me or think I’m cute (I’m not the most cuddly female out there), but I really like it when I get respect. And bringing this stuff up makes me instantly look like a loon.

    It’s been interesting, exploring how resistant people are to the mere idea that things could get worse in the future. I’ve found that the most receptive people are women (sorry guys, just a personal observation, very small sample size) who grew up somewhat poor. People who have watched their parents deal with poverty or near-poverty are much, much more accepting of the idea that the state of the world is not “good and getting better”.

    Best hopes for a sea-change in public opinion :)

  19. Fern says:

    Hi Joseph,

    I TOTALLY understand having fluctuations on available time for conversations here.

    To get back to a previous part of our thread, more on topic here than the metaphysical focus that I adore discussing … If I understand you correctly, you see the group you were a part of having failed because the leader wasn’t spiritually-evolved enough. So do you have any ideas on how to work it so such a group has a more evolved leader?

    I remember watching a series on a group that was re-creating an iron age village in England (a BBC reality show), and the problems they had with their leader’s abilities to lead. Soon after that I was homeschooling about the Westward Expansion of the US, and wagon trains along the Oregon Trail. Those wagon trains started off with one leader, but after crossing the first river they would have an election for the leader who would lead them the rest of the way. That may or may not work in a spiritually based society. I’m interested in your thoughts on that.

    Fern

  20. It’s the domino theory applied to debt economics. And the dominos are falling at accelerated rates. It is happening to more than just these big players.

  21. Yael says:

    Hello from Knoxville, TN home of the highest gas prices in the US (according to local news). Last Friday I paid 3.99 for the lowest grade while the clerk of the gas station was changing prices on the sign. 5.09 (lowest grade) was the highest I saw. I think that it is averaging about 4.75.

    Last night was the first news story about it. Basicly saying it was our own fault for “panic” buying but not a word as to why it would take 3 weeks for this panic to correct itself and prices to come down. I even heard one guy (some “expert” from UT) saying that there would be shortage due to to Ike but that prices wouldn’t have gone up ??? I am no expert but I was sure I knew something about that supply and demand law. But what do I know from gas prices?

    We are planning to batten down the hatches for the winter. I seriously doubt that we will be able to afford much heat this winter so the money goes to buying fabric/yarn for blankets and warm clothing. No hording of food but stocking up on favs. popcorn/pasta. Canning salsa and pasta sauce. Barukh Hashem for the Home Ec. degree that everyone mocked

  22. Shira says:

    Yael, I hear you. My degree is in engineering, and I’m old enough to have gotten full bore all the flak about being a woman in a typical guy field. All the home ec. skills are self taught but the curious thing is that these days the flak is for canning, bread baking and gardening in what used to be the front lawn.

    I’m seeing wispy smoke signals from economic reorganization in process. Goats are suddenly all the thing on craigslist here, goats for sale, goats for stud. Gardens are sprouting on lawns on the north side of town. Canning jars are no longer given away free.

    It will be interesting to see what regional gas shortages do here. Our gas comes from a local refinery which is on the receiving end of the Alaska pipeline, after some messing around in Canada. So the most likely effect is some shortages of things which come from or through the affected regions. It will be interesting to see what goes missing.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  23. Meadowlark says:

    Jerah,
    Just last night I sent my semi-regular “doom and gloom” ramble to Husband’s family. While I’m sure they think I’m nuts, and the resident hippie-whacko, one of them actually replied with a “BRAVO” and two others said they did think money was getting tight. I figure it’s a START.

    Actually, I was going to ask what people think would be a good place to send them just to get their feet wet. Sharon has some specific posts (some of these are scary if you haven’t thought about it) and where else? Any suggestions?

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