Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Political Indigestability Of Peak Everything

Peak Everything is a unique problem, in that it doesn't have a solution, it's not something we can resolve through this or that course of action. It is, as has been pointed out by John Michael Greer, a predicament, something that must be adapted to.

It therefore stands to reason that whenever we're engaged in debate over responses to Peak Everything we will only ever be discussing politically unpalatable "solutions". Politicians like to have clean cut problems that can be addressed by throwing money (variously transformed into resources) at them. The whole notion of palatability resides in how the voters will perceive the response and what impact that will have on said politician's chances of being re-elected.

Peak Everything has only unpalatable responses, which is one of the primary reasons it is not brought to the attention of the public. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, crises to face humankind is swept under the rug as it is not an issue that a politician can address. It's not something they can come riding to the rescue over, they can obtain no glory from it, so they find themselves in a situation where they are better off ignoring it totally, or lying outright about it.

The nuts and bolts and tiny grinding gears of any society are rarely brought to the attention of the masses when a politician is standing before the crowd. They're only interested in addressing the big ticket, high value items that have a lot of political gravity associated with them. Whilst it would be in the best interests of the working person to be familiar with the drudgery and dull numbers of running a society, it is rarely brought to our attention primarily because a politician's job is not to inform about the state of things, but to offer dreams and visions of what could be. It's only via promises of a different, inevitably better, future that a politician can keep themselves in a job.

Therefore humanity is now faced with a crisis that the politicians will never address in a wholistic sense. They're never going to consider the broad scope of the predicament and come up with responses to address it. What they will do is address individual crises, one at a time, in isolation, and in proportion to the number of voters affected.

Addressing crises on such an ad hoc basis is invariably going to be counter-productive. A program that spends resource A solving problem X is fair enough in a world without the resource constraints of Peak Everything. In a world of Peak Everything, such a program is going to cause knock on effects, where solving X leads to shortages in resource A that cause problems Y and Z. If Y and Z are problems with little political visibility then they can safely be ignored until such time as they cause further problems that are politically visible. If, on the other hand, Y and/or Z are already politically visible then the politicians are immediately going to find themselves scrambling to solve the next round of problems, and so on down the line.

That in itself is a valuable indicator of the state of world affairs. Admittedly politicians always seem to be running from one crisis to the next, which is how politics (or at least the media circus that surrounds politics) works. An invisible politician is good to no-one, so it makes sense to have them always running around solving problems. The true indicator will be when every solution they propose and implement immediately leads to a slew of greater problems, and they seem ever more frantic due to their inability to do anything about the majority of them.

Waiting for a politician to do something about Peak Everything is a fool's game.

Take the simple scenario of food supply. In order to preserve votes politicians are inevitably going to provide emergency food relief, but only to larger population centres, in times of food crisis. It's extremely doubtful that they would go door to door delivering such food, and more likely that they would set up distribution centres in central locations. This would, in the event of a long terms crisis, cause the population to crowd about these centres, shifting population densities from locations that could conceivably be turned over to provide basic levels of food subsistence style, into shanty towns that have little hope of looking after themselves. How would they then deal with the myriad problems of shanty towns? Or the influx of refugees from those unprepared regions that aren't receiving food aid?

Whilst population centres do offer a number of advantages, it must always be kept in mind that those advantages come with a price and a risk.

The price is lower autonomy and the prospect of not being able to look after yourself to the best of your ability. For example, even though you might be an excellent vegetable gardener, you may forced to work on a farm for ten hours a day growing broad beans and only get minimal rations in return, in contrast to being more isolated and voluntarily working on your own farm and receiving a hearty meal containing a variety of foods.

The risk? Simply that everything is dependent on the sense, fortitude and goodwill of others, most importantly politicians. Solving X that doesn't really affect you might lead to Y and Z, which both do affect you, but not the majority of voters. You've then got twice as many problems, and you're largely reliant on others to solve them for you. If they decide they cannot run the pumps to get water to your part of the city because they need that water to irrigate the fields in another part of the city you've now got to make alternative arrangements, most likely packing up and moving to where the water is.

Life is going to be uncertain as we head into the age of Peak Everything, the trick is determining where the risks are going to be minimised. Making that analysis depends on examining as many scenarios as possible, covering as many factors as possible.

1 comment:

The Duck Herder said...

Hey there Geoff Thanks for the nice comments you left on my blog....cheered me up no end. Sometimes I get surprised when I blah onto the blogophere and the universe (my bloggy friends) responds with warmth and kindness. Many thanks.

Re this happy post of your own.....! I have an argument with people about ETS and carbon trading ALL THE TIME.... I remind them FIRMLY that the guvmint does not lead....ever. That is not its role. It FOLLOWS. It only backs winners. The solutions to peak everything are not in is in us, people, communities, scientist folks, bloggers, thinkers, speakers but most importantly ACTORS who just get on with it and start creating the future that they see/want/believe in. Its people like you Geoff who just get on with living the change they want to see that will make the difference. The guvmint will follow. It doesnt mean we take the pressure off, it just means we don't wait around doing nothing while we are waiting for policy to catch up - we just get on with it!

there. rant over. hope you have a lovely day!