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It's later than you think


{Nature_and_Environment.114.31}: Jay Hoffman {resist} Fri, 13 Mar 2020 14:14:03 CDT (128 lines)

Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse

The progress of the past was built by sacrificing the future—and the
future is upon us.  All the happy facts …. about living standards,
life expectancy, and economic growth are the product of an industrial
civilization that has pillaged and polluted the planet to produce
temporary progress for a growing middle class—and enormous profits and
power for a tiny elite.

Not everyone who understands that progress has been purchased at the
expense of the future thinks that civilization’s collapse will be
abrupt and bitter. In The Long Descent, Greer assures his readers
that, “The same pattern repeats over and over again in history. 
Gradual disintegration, not sudden catastrophic collapse, is the way
civilizations end.”

But Greer’s assumption is built on shaky ground because industrial
civilization differs from all past civilizations in four crucial ways.
And every one of them may accelerate and intensify the coming collapse
while increasing the difficulty of recovery.

Difference #1:  Unlike all previous civilizations, modern industrial
civilization is powered by an exceptionally rich, NON-renewable, and
irreplaceable energy source—fossil fuels.  This unique energy base
predisposes industrial civilization to a short, meteoric lifespan of
unprecedented boom and drastic bust.  Megacities, globalized
production, industrial agriculture, and a human population approaching
8 billion are all historically exceptional—and unsustainable—without
fossil fuels.  Today, the rich easily exploited oilfields and
coalmines of the past are mostly depleted.  And, while there are
energy alternatives, there are no realistic replacements that can
deliver the abundant net energy fossil fuels once provided. Our
complex, expansive, high-speed civilization owes its brief lifespan to
this one-time, rapidly dwindling energy bonanza.

Difference #2:  Unlike past civilizations, the economy of industrial
society is capitalist.  Production for profit is its prime directive
and driving force.  The unprecedented surplus energy supplied by
fossil fuels has generated exceptional growth and enormous profits
over the past two centuries.  But in the coming decades, these
historic windfalls of abundant energy, constant growth, and rising
profits will vanish.

However, unless it is abolished, capitalism will not disappear when
boom turns to bust.  Instead, energy-starved, growth-less capitalism
will turn catabolic.  Catabolismrefers to the condition whereby a
living thing devours itself.  As profitable sources of production dry
up, capitalism will be compelled to turn a profit by consuming the
social assets it once created.  By cannibalizing itself, the profit
motive will exacerbate industrial society’s dramatic decline.

Catabolic capitalism will profit from scarcity, crisis, disaster, and
conflict.  Warfare, resource hoarding, ecological disaster, and
pandemic diseases will become the big profit makers.  Capital will
flow toward lucrative ventures like cybercrime, predatory lending, and
financial fraud; bribery, corruption, and racketeering; weapons,
drugs, and human trafficking.  Once disintegration and destruction
become the primary source of profit, catabolic capitalism will rampage
down the road to ruin, gorging itself on one self-inflicted disaster
after another.

Difference #3:  Unlike past societies, industrial civilization isn’t
Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, Aztec, or Mayan.  Modern civilization is
HUMAN, PLANETARY, and ECOCIDAL.  Pre-industrial civilizations depleted
their topsoil, felled their forests, and polluted their rivers.  But
the harm was far more temporary and geographically limited. Once
market incentives harnessed the colossal power of fossil fuels to
exploit nature, the dire results were planetary.  Two centuries of
fossil fuel combustion have saturated the biosphere with climate-
altering carbon that will continue wreaking havoc for generations to
come.  The damage to Earth’s living systems—the circulation and
chemical composition of the atmosphere and the ocean; the stability of
the hydrological and biogeochemical cycles; and the biodiversity of
the entire planet—is essentially permanent.

Humans have become the most invasive species ever known.  Although we
are a mere .01 percent of the planet’s biomass, our domesticated crops
and livestock dominate life on Earth.  In terms of total biomass, 96
percent of all the mammals on Earth are livestock; only 4 percent are
wild mammals.  Seventy percent of all birds are domesticated poultry,
only 30 percent are wild.  About half the Earth’s wild animals are
thought to have been lost in just the last 50 years. Scientists
estimate that half of all remaining species will be extinct by the end
of the century. There are no more unspoiled ecosystems or new
frontiers where people can escape the damage they’ve caused and
recover from collapse.

Difference #4:  Human civilization’s collective capacity to confront
its mounting crises is crippled by a fragmented political system of
antagonistic nations ruled by corrupt elites who care more about power
and wealth than people and the planet.  Humanity faces a perfect storm
of converging global calamities.  Intersecting tribulations like
climate chaos, rampant extinction, food and freshwater scarcity,
poverty, extreme inequality, and the rise of global pandemics are
rapidly eroding the foundations of modern life.

Yet, this fractious and fractured political system makes organizing
and mounting a cooperative response nearly impossible.  And, the more
catabolic industrial capitalism becomes, the greater the danger that
hostile rulers will fan the flames of nationalism and go to war over
scarce resources.  Of course, warfare is not new.  But modern warfare
is so devastating, destructive, and toxic that little would remain in
its aftermath.  This would be the final nail in civilization’s coffin.

Rising From the Ruins?

How people respond to the collapse of industrial civilization will
determine how bad things get and what will replace it. The challenges
are monumental.  They will force us to question our identities, our
values, and our loyalties like no other experience in our history.
Who are we?  Are we, first and foremost, human beings struggling to
raise our families, strengthen our communities, and coexist with the
other inhabitants of Earth?  Or do our primary loyalties belong to our
nation, our culture, our race, our ideology, or our religion?  Can we
put the survival of our species and our planet first, or will we allow
ourselves to become hopelessly divided along national, cultural,
racial, religious, or party lines?

The eventual outcome of this great implosion is up for grabs.  Will we
overcome denial and despair; kick our addiction to petroleum; and pull
together to break the grip of corporate power over our lives?  Can we
foster genuine democracy, harness renewable energy, reweave our
communities, re-learn forgotten skills, and heal the wounds we’ve
inflicted on the Earth?  Or will fear and prejudice drive us into
hostile camps, fighting over the dwindling resources of a degraded
planet?  The stakes could not be higher.

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