The economy isn’t coming back

recession space

Photo: Damian Gadal/Flickr.

Presently Americans wait with bated breath, watching sales numbers and unemployment statistics, grasping for signs that an economic recovery is underway. We search for signals that indicate we’re growing, that there will be a job for everyone who wants one, and that the United States will resume the prosperity and standing in the world it once had.

We wait in vain.

extranormal video

Quantitative Easing Explained. Sometimes it takes a cartoon character to show the absurdity of our global economic system
(click to play video).

The economy isn’t coming back. On the contrary, it’s a patched-together mess on its way to the crapper. Though the Obama administration might crow about a tepid recovery, even today’s insufficient economy is itself a lie, propped up by governments printing money to buy their own bonds and simulate growth. The Dow ascends to ever more lofty heights, and yet few believe it’s tied to improving conditions for regular people. China, the economic engine of the world, is now slowing precipitously, and experiencing serious market declines and confidence problems. Europe is an economic mess, and when the EU eventually implodes (it really is a when and not an if), it will send shocks through the rest of our globalized world.

To try and remedy our situation, every government is of course promoting growth. We continue to push the lie that we’ve all internalized but have never spoken: that we could have infinite growth on a finite planet. Expecting infinite from the finite is an absurdist proposition, one that falls apart for the same reason the world economy has stalled: resource constraints. It might seem preposterous to talk about resource constraints, when we in the Western world are surrounded by endless abundance. After all, don’t we have the choice of ten different kinds of kitchen sponges, and 20 types of diet soda?

Yet if you can look past the bounty of the supermarket shelf, there are really dire resource shortages advancing from all sides. For example:

oil

Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization…and it’s running out. The world’s biggest fields are running dry, leaving humanity to scrape the bottom of the barrel with high effort-low reward energy options like Tar Sands and fracking. Peak Oil is and always has been a real thing, so if you’re unfamiliar with the concept I’d recommend a quick introduction.

water

Water

Oil may be civilization’s lifeblood, but water is life itself — and it too is becoming scarce as sources are ravaged by climate change and rampant overuse. Water will be more valuable than oil in the future, and already conflicts over water rights are common. You might shrug and assume I’m talking only of sources in arid regions like the Middle East and North Africa, but even within the United States the water wars have begun.

09farmland

Land

Right now rich countries are buying up huge tracts of land in poorer countries, primarily to grow food and ship it back home. These countries, of which China is the most prolific, need this extra production because as their population and consumption levels skyrocket, they are increasingly unable to feed their people. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that  humanity is pissing away its topsoil, making much of Earth’s arable land worthless.

Oil, water, land…these are the basic building blocks of modern civilization, and all three are in serious jeopardy. Everyone knows the economy is terrible right now, yet for each person you’d no doubt get a different opinion about the cause — lazy people, corporate abuses, excess regulation, automation, corruption, partisanship in Washington, the list goes on and on. But step back for a moment and consider the fact that what’s unfolding is much more fundamental: our output is so low because our inputs are dwindling. Beyond even the fundamental inputs outlined above, there are dozens of other key shortages contributing to our economic woes like phosphorus (fertilizer), rare earth metals (electronics), fish, and copper. All of those are legitimate crises in their own right; taken together, it’s the death knell for a growth-based economy.

Richard Heinberg

A brief interview with author Richard Heinberg, who explains this stuff much better than I do
(click to play 7:20 video).

So I put to you again: the economy we knew isn’t coming back. As our resources run out, prices will skyrocket and we will no longer be able to afford those that come from far-flung places after winding their way through an energy-intensive distribution system. In a world where every calorie of food you consume requires 10 calories of energy to produce, package, and transport, your Chilean Sea Bass and your Saudi Arabian oil will share the same fate.

But though our growth economy cannot survive, if we are diligent and inventive a new economy may bloom in its stead. The future of the world is local: economic inputs like food and energy will be produced in your local community. Prosperity will be found within worker cooperatives, which often perform much better than traditional businesses in times of economic turmoil. Things will not be easy, and there are no silver bullets here. Saying goodbye to the growth paradigm will be scary and strange, because it’s really all we’ve ever known. But I feel confident that with grit, determination and a bit of luck we’ll find our way through to something better on the other side.

Reposted from original article at Science Pope.

– Eric Krasnauskas, Transition Voice

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Comments

  1. says

    We could – and have always been able to – unshackle ourselves from oil for DECADES. Numerous inventors of alternative energy-generating solutions have been bumped-off or disappeared. The Powers That Be simply won’t allow these (cheap/free) alternatives come to market. Google ‘thorium’ for a start.
    As for water, it doesn’t bode well when the CEO of Nestle comes out and says that water is NOT a human right and should be paid for. No surprise there then when his company is responsible for bottling gigalitres of water (controlling 70% of the world’s bottled water market).

    There is SO much water sitting in bottles in warehouses, shops, fridges etc around the world. Is it any wonder so many areas are experiencing drought? We only have a finite amount of water on this planet – who can say that bottling up so much of it would not have an impact?

    • pauline says

      Ummmm, bottling of the world’s water is not why there is a water scarcity.
      Drought, pollution, hydrofracking, tar sands, irrigation for ethanol corn and other unsustainable agricultural products (raising beef, GMO corn and soy), and perhaps other variables I have failed to list, are the cause of water scarcity.
      But you are correct in predicting that once all the water is properly polluted by the crooks who run the show (tar sands oil spills in Ogallala aquifer, hydrofracking poisoning of groundwater wells, etc)
      these same crooks will, as many have already, buy up all the rest of the potable water (it may not even be pristine, but at least it’s somewhat drinkable), bottle it, and thereby creating the world’s most valuable commodity in the history of the human species. This is the corporatized artificial scarcity that makes the corporate engines run, and keeps human beings acting like consumers, not human beings…

      And this article is spot on. The economy is in shambles… Anyone in the job market can see that… Ask a teacher, for centuries the most guaranteed, esteemed and noble job anywhere, now we are a dime a dozen, nay a thousand… perhaps more…

  2. pauline says

    Excellent article and so true. I don’t see anything but collapse around me and I live in a rather wealthy area and I and many others are SOL in finding jobs. Sadly, I don’t know if grit and determination will be enough to get us through the total collapse that is coming.
    Combine the economic collapse with the environmental collapse taking place even now, I just don’t know if my grit will do the job… And I got some serious grit…(some under my nails from weeding)
    As for Luck? Oh yes, we’re all gonna need it, massive, heavy doses of luck…
    Sigh….

    • says

      Chin up, Pauline, we’re still a pretty kickass species underneath all these ugly, destructive systems we’ve built up. :) People aren’t really willing to change right now, but when the old ways break down they’ll start opening up to new ideas. And then the real fun begins, deciding who or what we want 21st humanity to look like.

  3. Rick says

    We must be very close now to a breaking point. As Gerald Celente puts it “when people lose everything, they lose it”. But, as Guy McPherson made so clear in his recent article Disobedience The True Foundation of Liberty posted on this site, our society has nearly completed its transformation into a totalitarian state complete with a zombie consumer citizenry such that our “Arab Spring” is not likely to ever occur and even if it does we will not be able to spread the word of it as it will not be reported via the media, internet or in any of the social media since it has become clear that any form of disobedience will no longer be tolerated. I’m afraid that it is already too late for revolution. Our only option is apparently to starve the beast by disengaging from the economy. Unfortunately, that requires attributes that nearly all of our population no longer have. It’s as if it is all happening by design. I believe that we are racing to the finish line and its nearly within sight now. Mother nature via climate change may be our only hope at breaking the chains. The remaining question is, what will “21st humanity” be left to work with and will it even be workable?

  4. John Andersen says

    Those who can process the inputs and subsequently personally disengage and starve the beast, can also spread memes that a wider swathe of humanity can understand and accept.

    Many humans don’t think in broad terms yet still act in rational ways. We must not forget that.

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