Fast Train Revisited: What's a Doomer Chick to Do?

Sharon February 4th, 2009

Oh you’ve been on a fast train

And its going off the rails.

And you can’t come back, can’t come back again.

And you start breaking down, in the pouring rain

Oh, you’ve been on a fast train. 

….Got to go on the land.

Stuck in no-man’s land.

Ain’t nobody on your way back.

Ain’t nobody going to lend you a helping hand.

And you start breaking down

And you falling to the sound

You are hearing a fast train. - Van Morrison, sung by the incomparable Solomon Burke 

Despite the fact that there are plenty of people out there who view me as wildly apocalyptic, I don’t actually consider myself a doomer. My own feeling is that while radical restructuring awaits us, our future probably won’t look much like _The Road_.  I have argued that what we face due to peak energy, climate change and our financial crisis can best be described as “ordinary human poverty” - and we can do much to mediate our experience, that we can experience either an ordinary, survivable poverty or one that becomes pathological, based on our own choices.

On the other hand, compared to the mainstream culture,  which tells us endlessly that things will stay the same or get better always, I am, of course, your friendly neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix of Doom.  That’s me,  cracking the whip over my readers to get their gardens going, food storage in order, learn to darn socks and fix their own roofs, etc…  Carolyn Baker was kind enough to mention me as a notable Dystopian chick in her well deserved rebuke to the New Yorker.  So even though I often spend time observing “well, I don’t really think that we’re literally going to see TEOTWAWKI” I suppose I qualify as one of Cassandra’s descendents.

A while back, I wrote my doomiest post to date, when I sat down to compose a section of _A Nation of Farmers_ that described the changes in food and energy issues as of last April.  I was so shocked at what the aggregate shift in our reality looked like put down on paper that I posted it as “We regret to inform you…”and I argued that we are, in fact, in the midst of a fast crash of our society.  I wrote then,

When climate change and peak oil thinkers run out of other things to worry about, there’s always the endless, inevitable debates about whether we are facing a “fast crash” or a “slow grind.”  And I admit, I’m worried about my fellow environmentalists – because I think they are about to lose their favorite distraction.  When no one was looking, we got an answer.  Fast crash wins.  And we’re in it now.

Wait a minute, you argue – that’s not right.  If we were in a fast crash we’d be well on our way to living in a Kunstler novel.  But we’ve still got cars, we’ve got food, things are slowing down, but at worst this looks like a slow grind – but the crazy lady at the blog is saying fast crash?!?!?

Before you argue with me (and you are both welcome and encouraged to), I’d like to post something a bit out of my usual style – it is simply a description of what has happened with food and energy in the last year – that’s all it is.  Then tell me what you think – because it wasn’t until I began to write this introduction to the present food situation that I suddenly was struck by the fact that even a fast crash doesn’t always look fast when you live it – new normals arise and it turns out we assimilate faster than we panic.

So here we are – the “We regret to inform you that what you have imagined to be “civilization” is now falling apart” post.  See if it strikes you the way it struck me.”  

Although the major issues have changed somewhat - the collapse in energy prices has meant that now people can’t pay for heat because they don’t have a job, rather than because of the high price of energy, and the economic crisis has mostly numbed us to the growth of hunger in the poor world - I don’t see anything to suggest that we are not still in a rapidly accellerating crisis.  The only thing is that even at my most apocalyptic, I would never have guessed how fast – and I think that that’s probably true of most “doomers.” 

But I’m starting to feel like I ought to give back the quirt, the cat o’nine tails and that funky leather corset personally bestowed upon me by Richard Heinberg and Pat Murphy when I was inducted into the Ancient Order of Apocalyptic Prophets (you should have seen what they were wearing – I’m sworn to secrecy, but it was very fetching!)  You see, I’m starting to feel I can’t compete with reality – any actual attention to events as they unfold points up the fact that my own doomiest imaginings are being wildly exceeded.

Let’s see – California is broke, functionally insolvent, and has stopped paying for just about everything, including its state police.  Remember how often they trumpted that they were the 6th largest economy in the world – well, that’s kinda like saying the UK is insolvent…oh, and that actually might be not so far from the truth too, since they just had to nationalize their banking system.  We’ve lost at least 300,000 jobs in two weeks.  The New York Times may be out of business by spring.  While neither rain nor sleet nor hail will keep the postal service from its appointed rounds, money probably will, and they are talking about cutting out Saturday deliveries.  Homelessness and hunger are rapidly on the rise, as are suicide and murder suicide.

There’s rioting in Russia, China, Greece, and massive worker demonstrations in France and Britain.  Australia is seeing record high temperatures, while many of the rest of us struggle with record lows.  California’s drought may be the worst in a century.  And the already hungry are among the deepest sufferers of the food crisis.  The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Bloomberg – they are all starting to use words like “Biblical proportions” “Deep Depression” “Apocalypse.”  It is getting hard to compete with the mainstream doomers.

We’ve been “fixing” the problem – which is a big part of the problem – think of the word “fix” here as in “the fix is in.”  We’ve just spent 8 trillion dollars bailing out the banks – more than all the wars in US history, the Louisiana purchase and the space program combined.  And what did we get for it?  Bank of America and Citi are still teetering, the jobs are still being flushed daily.  The estimate is half a million a month – every month.

And people aren’t really very angry yet.  They should be – think about what 8 trilliion dollars could actually have bought us, had anyone cared as much about the people as they do about the banks, and about the wealth of the fortunate.  At some point people will realize that it isn’t going to work – and their anger will be frightening – and just.  The New Hampshire state legislature is currently debating legislation that would assert that if the US implements martial law or abrogates the Constitution, it will effectively dissolve the Union.  While one wonders where they were the last eight years, this is being taken quite seriously, and it would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Eight trillion could have paid for free health care for every American, cradle to grave for a century.  Eight trillion was sufficient to cover the cost of almost all the mortgage debt - every American could have been given their house and the “foreclosure crisis” ended instantly.  Eight trillion was enough to build renewable energy infrastructure that could have softened the crisis, to reinsulate our houses, to provide basic food and health care to the world’s poor.  The same eight trillion we were told we didn’t have when it was needed by those who wanted educations, basic medical care, decent shelter, a home, hope, a decent life, we had a plenty for the banks and the wealthiest people in the world.

A number of energy and environmental advocates don’t seem to grasp that the 8 trillion figure – and the monies spent by other nations – aren’t proof that we can build a renewable infrastructure or address peak oil if we really want to – instead, they are what we are doing *instead.*  Yes, nations can print money, but in order to inflate our currency, we’d have to disentangle ourselves quite violently from the other nations with which we are economically intertwined, and that would have its price too.  That is, our ability to keep bailing is limited – and the 8 trillion now buried in bank vaults and flushed down the toilet is money we don’t have for future adaptations.  Think about it – we’re debating 3/4 of a trillion dollars for all the American people combined (and some of that will also make its ways into the coffers of the bank) – while we’ve already spent almost 9 times that much on the banks.  300 million Americans get 1/8 or less what the banks get.  What does that say about us?  And what does it say about the ability and willingness to mobilize funds for things that actually protect human lives?

So what’s a doomer chick to do but throw in the towel and her spiked mitts and admit she’s beat?  I can’t out-doom the Wall Street Journal – Wall Street invented our doom, and who better to describe it.  The old button ”I eat stranger things than this with my breakfast cereal” is increasingly true – me and my gardens and my ordinary human poverty are just plain dull. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop writing.  But like Dmitry Orlov (who did threaten to stop writing, which would have been a tragedy), I’m getting out of the apocalyptic prophetess of doom job.  Like Orlov, I’m now an observer – hardly impartial, but there’s no point predicting the future when we’re living it, and when the song of the apocalypse becomes the universal chorus.

 Sharon

   

78 Responses to “Fast Train Revisited: What's a Doomer Chick to Do?”

  1. Laura says:

    # Green Assassin Brigadeon wrote: “…and telling every one who blows me off that they deserve to freeze in the dark and starve.” “…I told my inlaws I wasn’t letting them in when things go Fubar if they kept dismissing my warnings and refusing to aid in the family preparations.”

    I told my family the same thing and I completely meant it. You should have seen the look of shock come over their faces when they realized I was serious. Now they are preparing… hahaha

    Tough love sometimes works.

  2. Bendito says:

    Even Noah had to shut the door.

  3. Jyotsna says:

    “shiver”

  4. conchscooter says:

    The same rules apply now as before, live well and do the best you can. I’m glad I live below the frost belt! In the hurricane belt!! I’ve learned one thing preparing for hurricane catastrophes over the years; the unexpected always strikes, the unintended consequence takes you by surprise. And sometimes the unprepared, the sheeple, manage to get away with it and suffer the least damage. This mess wouldn’t be near so interesting if it weren’t so unpredictable. I hope someone else keeps some modest sense of humor going, esle my wife and I will be lonely.

  5. Great post. Glad you aren’t leaving us.

    I have a blog post proposal for you…designing the perfect doomstead. My husband and I would like to build our next house (assuming that is even economically possible every again) and I was trying to think what features we would want for a low energy house where the occupants grew most of their food.

    Any ideas? It might be a fun post. Kind of like those lottery money conversations.

    M

  6. Ogg says:

    STIMULUS plan details: Blow jobs and lap dances for EVERYONE! Ho-cuss Poke-us

  7. KatJ says:

    Thank you for deciding not to leave us, Sharon! Yours is a voice of sanity, not doom. Just because you speak the truth, and the truth isn’t the happy, pleasant thing that people want to hear doesn’t mean that you should stop saying it. “Those who have ears to hear…” Anyway, being Jewish, I’m sure you’ve read all those Old Testament prophets – they weren’t exactly popular with either the mainstream Israelite or the government, so you’re in good company! I read your blogs with great gratitude. And although my family has long since tired of me saying, “Sharon says…”, they’re gonna hear it anyway, because it’s so much more sane than what we hear and read in the ‘news’. Speaking of the news, though, I saw last night on public tv (we don’t have cable) that Iceland has completely tanked. Shades of what is to come…?

  8. texicali says:

    Crunchy and Greenpa show up in the NYTimes today:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/garden/05fridge.html?_r=1

  9. pks says:

    Meh, I don’t know that the end of civilization or the economy as we know it is totally inevitable.

    We’ve got technologies that exist, right now, today, that can solve all the big problems (food supply, global warming/climate change, peak oil). There might be some “engineering challenges”, but there’s not any fundamental tech that needs to be invented.

    The problems are all economic and political.

    What Winston Churchill said about Americans is true of humans in general – “We can count on you to do the right thing, but only after trying everything else”.

    So in general, I believe that our high-energy, technological society will _survive_. However, I don’t expect that the transition from our pyramid-scheme civilization to a sustainable one will be painless or smooth, which is why I’m big on stored food and off-grid electricity.

  10. Irv Thomas says:

    pks says…

    “We’ve got technologies that exist, right now, today, that can solve all the big problems (food supply, global warming/climate change, peak oil). There might be some “engineering challenges”, but there’s not any fundamental tech that needs to be invented.”

    Sufficiency is the problem, pks. Nobody ever figured on the population shooting upward like a spacebound rocket, unstoppable as it goes. We already know that our motive fuel is unable to keep up with our expanding ‘need’ for it, globally speaking. I think you’re vesting your confidence in the reality of a pipedream. A vision from some long while ago.

  11. Steve in Colorado says:

    Glad to hear that you will continue writing Sharon.

    Just a brief reply to the comments that the $8T spent so far to “fix” the crisis isn’t real money.

    While it is true that that $8T (or whatever amount it really is) wasn’t printed on 6″ pieces of paper with dead president’s pictures on them, they are very much real money. US Gov’t treasury debt was issued to “get” the money, and somebody bought (or as Wall St likes to say invested in) that debt. Those investors expect to collect the interest on that debt, and someday be repaid by the Gov’t. The Gov’t in this case is you and me and all taxpayers who are now on the hook for interest on the $8T and paying it back someday out in the future.

    I suspect that at some point in the future, we will be slapping our foreheads and wondering why we ever went into more debt to try and fix a system that was broken because it had already gone too far into debt. But I suppose when you are standing at the abyss, any path that promises to get you back to where you were before will be taken. It is only later that it becomes clear that there is no path back.

  12. PetRck235 says:

    Current US healthcare spending average is $6714 per person per year for a total of $2 trillion. Medicare and Medicaid alone account for 28% of it. So $8 trillion would give you 4 years of health care. That’s without the trillions it would take for everyone to have cosmetic surgery.

  13. [...] prophetess do when the stuff she’s been predicting is already happening, asks Sharon Astyk at Casaubon’s Book. Despite the fact that there are plenty of people out there who view me as wildly apocalyptic, I [...]

  14. olive says:

    so remember …

    tuesday is for soylent green .

  15. Lonnie says:

    Aloha JewishFarmer!:

    I am so-o-o-o glad you will continue to grace the the ether with you wisdom and insight.

    Doomer, Umm, not really especially when compared to others out there.

    Realist, yes, most definitely but then reality testing is something I’ve found not many people do well or at all in these times.

    When I recommend written materials to those few who have seemed interested, I recommend Orlov, Greer, and then Depletion and Abundance to tie it all together in a meaningful picture on what to actually do.

    Mahalo for all of your wisdom and especially for your willingness to readily share it.

    Lonnie

  16. Bill in Tennessee says:

    Sharon:

    I have to echo the many that have said they appreciate your writings and advice. Your last book has been sent to all my loved ones in hopes that they’ll absorb the wisdom you offer. So, please do not stop writing! Although, after years in the helping professions (nursing), I do understand that a person , sooner or later, reaches the “burnout” stage. At that point, maybe you need to take a break

    This last post of yours has left me with so many thoughts…I won’t try to address them all here. I just wanted to say that I think your insights are accurate, to the point, and deserving of much wider attention. There’s a blossoming of “doomer” material on the web, but I think and feel that you, more than most, are on the right track. There seems to be many who focus on war, peace, energy, environment and finances individually. I do appreciate your holistic take on all these issues, and how they all integrate into a sustainable way of life.

    Moving the focus from you and your wonderfulness, however…haha…no slur intended….

    On 2/4, Bobbi wrote that “Community is the only answer”. I have to agree, believing as I do that the whole world will be contracting soon, and we’ll all have to rely on our communities, be they families, neighborhoods or towns, churches, lodges, clubs and whatever organizations tend to bring people together over common interests. Localism sems to be gaining currency, and I think it’s the wave to come. I’m old enough to have lived through, and participated eagerly, in the commune era in the 60s and 70s, and I forsee that as a model for the future. Back then, we were idealistic. Today, I hope that idealism will continue, with our naivete replace by experience and wisdom. Compassion in the situations we’ll face is, already, a given.

    One of the tactics used by corporatist and capitalist “masters” over time has been to divide and isolate the idea of “the commons”. That includes the extended family which, for millenia, has been the foundation of societies. As soon as the “masters” discovered there was more profit to be made by dividing and isolating families, the path led to where we are today. We aren’t people any longer…we”re consuming units.

    The fact that you see through so much of this bullshit and are able and willing to discuss it gives many of us hope that we aren’t alone in this current and upcoming struggle.

    An aside to Laura, who wrote on 2/5 at 0015, concerning her lack of empathy for those who haven’t “prepared” or who may be a bit behind the curve, I hope that whatever situation prompted your thoughts, in the desperate future we ALL face, will be tempered. Unless I misread you, you sound like the stereotypical loner who is going to face…and I fear unhappily…this woeful and uncertain future exactly where it sounds as if you’re placing yourself. Alone.

    Thank again Sharon. Keep it up!!!

  17. Barb says:

    In 1998 a flood washed out the bridge on our road, isolating everyone on our side of the creek from the rest of the world. The National Guard was evacuating people, it was all very exciting. But for my daughter and me, life went on pretty much as normal. We had our food in the garden, fresh eggs and meat from the chickens, plenty of firewood, a solar powered pump.

    I don’t feel so confident now that I will be able to cope with whatever may happen. In part, this is due to a lack of imagination. I don’t know what to expect. It will be worse than the depression of the 1930′s, I think. More people knew how to grow food then, for one thing. The world’s food supply was not as dependent on corn and oil as it is now. What will people do when many are unable to afford things we’ve come to think of as basic necessities, maybe they’ll even be going hungry, or even starving. What are they going to do when they look up from their misery and see an elite group living in luxury?

    I’ve ordered some books on the French Revolution.

  18. nedwasright says:

    One of my pet peevs comes up in the midle of this post. When someone points out what wonderful things could be done with the money spent on Iraq or the bailout or whatever. We don’t have the wealth behind this money, it does not exist, the very act of creating this “money” is going to bring us down. Sugesting that we should be doing “good” things like paying for health care rather than not printing the money (at interest) in the first place realy needs to be rethought. Otherwise I’m down with this post and have an elaborate fantasy life involving Sharon.

  19. Alan says:

    Irv: “Nobody ever figured on the population shooting upward like a spacebound rocket, unstoppable as it goes.”

    Well, fortunately it is proving to be stoppable. Fertility
    is falling off a cliff, everywhere (even in the third world)
    except Africa. Population growth is slowing every year,
    and we are heading for max population in 30-40 years,
    to be followed by a long decline. Good thing!

  20. RICHARD RALPH ROEHL says:

    Old Coyote Knose… it’s a lot easier to burn down a house than build one. This is the essence of guerrilla war against the $tatus quo.

    Lost everything? Got nothing to lose? Then you (in lieu of dittoheaded ewes) know what to do!

  21. bryan says:

    just gotta disagree on one fundamental point. the 8 trillion does not exist, and the 60 trillion in future commitments for govt entitlements does not exist, and in fact, the dollars everybody is to wrapped up in don’t mean much. what is important is who ends up with the assets and the serfs. once one stops thinking in terms of nominal value (dollars) and thinks about real value (food, shelter, tools, skills, and the ability to produce these) one can see the game afoot now makes absolute sense. debt is the new slavery, and the PTB running the show will never forgive the obligations incurred that confer control of thing of real value.

  22. Greg in California says:

    Dear Sharon,
    You are a breath of fresh air. The truth has become somewhat of a hiss and a byword these days. Its very mention means that you may be a radical or revolutionary. My own personal opinion is that group think will dominate as people believe that truth is what media and political leaders tell them it is (silly but true) People just do not seem to think for themselves any more.

    It is interesting though how the powers that be can say for months despite obvious facts to the contrary that there is no recession for so long then come back and say that oh by the way its here now and it actually started a year ago…And nobody bats an eyelash. Dead wrong for a year…and oh now we can change our minds…what is that?

    I know for me and me family we continue to quietly prepare the best we can. We take one day at a time and try to help the kids grow up with happiness and a sense of what is right.

    I think the most important thing going forward will be that people will realize that there is more to life than what they are experiencing and they may even start to look upward and if things are tough enough once again get on their knees and ask for help. Maybe if enough people start doing that the right answers will start coming.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoyed your writing.:)

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