It’s Hitting the Fan… now what?

I have said repeatedly in this space that our generation will live through historic times, and it appears those times are here.  Those of us that are sustainability minded often decry the ecological and sociological destruction of over-consumption.  But as the summer has unfolded, it is undeniable that we should be more specifically focused on the third leg of the proverbial “Sustainability Stool” -economic aspects of our society.  Unlike virtually every economy before us, the American Economy post Regan was founded on consumption and greed rather than manufacturing and the creation of goods and services.  Even in today’s global economy we are rather unique -Europe still makes things to a large extent, basing their economy on exports of everything from fine cheese and wines, to automobiles and wind turbines. Certainly the Pacific Rim economies are export orientated in everything from high tech electronics to tech support knowledge, to cheap plastic crap. 

For years we have been reading that Cheap Oil, that universal whipping horse, was to blame. And it is -shipping raw materials from Africa to Europe or China to be turned into goods to be shipped to America to be sold is insanely wasteful and only possible when the true costs of the practice are not accounted for. But what the majority of people have missed is that this was still only possible if America had ludicrous amounts of purchasing power.  We all know about economic “bubbles” – tech stocks, real estate, etc.  But what we are now living through is the burst of the “American Finance” bubble.  And its a flippin doozy.  

The rampant consumerism that fueled the global economy aided and abbetted by cheap oil, was funded by incredibly cheap credit for everyone from consumers to major corporations and banks.  We, the consumer, funded this incredible growth through credit cards and home equity borrowing to the extent that our interest payments were hundreds of percent greater than our principle payments, and even our homes, the traditional safe haven of American Saving, were a liability as we owed more than they were worth.  To encourage us to dig ever deeper the Financiers, helped by a deregulation crazy Republican Congress allowed unheard of liberties like zero down mortgages, 120% home equity loans, and  credit card limits to the tune that the typical American consumer now had rotating credit in excess of $75,000.  Thanks to the lobbyists and the ready ear of the Republicans (and many Dems too) the American Economy now had over $15,000,000,000,000 in “money” to spend just on the consumer side.  And due to this we called ourselves the strongest economy in the world.  

Of course it was a house of cards – the truth of this was what made Bush encourage us all to “go shopping” after 9/11 to save the country, and that was why we all got $600 this past Spring to “help the economy”.  Now that house is falling.  

I had not imagined that the Economy would be the first leg to cause the stool to really start rockin’.  So much of the literature I read is spent on the ecologic destruction and the sheer number of resources coming to Peak (oil, water, soil, species diversity) that I have focused on that aspect and figured that the food riots of last year were the coming of the second leg, the social aspects, starting to rock too.  And I think that was true.  But neither of these has yet to have the impacts that the failure of the finance markets will have.  Those failures might be felt immediately by you and me, but it will certainly be felt by us in the recent future when the money need to prop up the other two legs is simply gone.  We need massive funding to get us off of oil and into the grail-like Green Economy,  and social programs like the New Deal will be needed to offset the price shocks in food production that are coming.  My fear is that we have blown our chance by dumping our wad into Wall Street.  Its hitting the fan.

So now what?  Luckily, those of us that have been working to offset the first two legs (resource/ecology and social) may lend us some aid as this leg wobbles wildly.  The Global Economy only matters to the degree that you are plugged into it.  If you are living on a 100 Mile Diet, growing more of your food, living within your means, and making some of your own fuel you are far less exposed than those that aren’t.  Long term thinking: building fertility (even if its on your balcony), cutting consumption, and building relationships with your community will be critical to staying afloat regardless of which leg tilts us off kilter.

These times are scary – especially to those who believe they can see down the pike that the other legs are teetering too.   The receipe for weathering the storm as still the same: 

  • Build Skills -agriculture, welding, energy production, carpentry, car repair, network building
  • Gather Knowledge -Permaculture, Community Building, Psychology, History
  • Cut Resource Use – “Do we really NEED this?”
  • Develop more Community/Self Reliance – “Lean on me, when your not strong…”
  • Recognize Beauty -Play music, write poetry/journal/blog, create art -we need to relearn to laugh and sing!
Am I concerned, scared even?  Hell yes.  We are waaaaay to exposed for my liking.  But compared to where we were three years ago we have cut our debt in half, but more importantly we can now grow much of our food, we have built incredible community (both locally and through the web) with others on this path, and soon will be producing much of our own fuel and energy through biodiesel and wood chip gasification.  As/if it gets ugly, our skills will be in demand – “with great knowledge comes great responsibility”  Permaculture’s goal is to create a surplus -the goal is not to just protect your family, but to protect your community too.  Without them you can’t stand.
Be The Change.

4 Responses

  1. Our economy is consuming the biosphere that we depend on for life. It is also clear that an economy of consumption hasn’t brought happiness or health to the consumers. The economic troubles are medicine for so many of our underlying problems.

    Of course I’m worried for myself and my nation, but when we fail to learn the easy way we have to learn the hard way.

  2. I agree. It looks like the green tech we’ve been hoping for is mostly out of reach. Thank you for the clear voice in the storm and the reminder of what we need to do to weather it.

  3. The peak oil films and info I have read also didn’t talk about the financial crisis as a problem, they focused on energy mostly and some environment. So now, maybe oil prices will remain steady because the global economy simply will not have the ability to pay and demand will drop because people will start to live more locally…

    times are changing and we must learn to go with the flow, not to plan too much about how the future will turn out because it is changing so fast

    regarding this financial crisis, it was predicted by the mayan calendar to happen between last november and this november during the “5th night” . pretty interesting stuff with that calendar and those who are researching its effects on the evolution of consciousness. I have a great video posted about it on my blog under important links.

    much respect to this blog, I am learning a lot from your experience and spreading it as far as I can. I am building green houses and saving seeds and plan on having an urban food forest in my small town (40k people). public and private places… abundance everywhere

    If we create enough abundance and it is sustainable, would we really need money? If there is so much surplus why would we need a tool to regulate scarcity? I’d like to see that happen some day 🙂

  4. Rob,

    Thanks for your inspiring blog. It’s difficult to not get screaming mad at our government and all the greedy over consumers that make up the majority of our society. Being financially responsible pretty much my whole life it’s really hard not to feel totally screwed these days. Sorry to vent. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your blog and all that your doing. Thanks for you and your wife being a positive in some really scary times.


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