Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Again I wake up, and again I look at my world, the world
that has nurtured me very nicely thank you since 1946,
and again it seems impossible to think of this society,
this civilization in terms of 'decline' or 'descent.'
Everything seems to be geared to go-forward.
Materialism rules the Earth, and even if we in the West
have lost a little impetus, good old China is taking up the
slack, boasting as proudly as the most diehard capitalist
of its output, its growth, the fact that it's now the world's
biggest exporter, biggest car market (13.6 million sales
last year). Meanwhile, this just in: the number of lions in
the world is estimated to be no more than about 20,000,
compared with 450,000 50 years ago (hat-tip: the latest
National Geographic
). If that raises your eyebrows, try
these stats. Total number of cheetahs: 7500. Total
number of tigers: 4000. In the world. So many; I had not
thought death had undone so many. But what a foolish
romantic I am; next thing, I'll be going all gooey about
human survival. The main thing to remember is that God,
as it says in Genesis, having made man in his own likeness
(nice touch), gave 'us' dominion over the fish of the sea,
and the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and licensed
us to pretty much fuck it over. And look how far we've
come on that licence; only a gloomy old ageing-baby-
boomer-doomster would moan about the damage done.
Life outside our windows and on our TV screens keeps
rolling along like nothing could ever go seriously wrong.
Which is what the Romans thought, too (minus the TV
screens), about 200 AD. Within 200 years they were toast.

For a moment, let's wrench our gaze off the (relatively)
prosperous present and picture a couple of possible
scenarios. One is that oil supplies begin to get so tight that
the price rockets up: either you pay double or triple what
you pay for it now and start going short in other areas of
your life or you use the car less and less and start catching
the bus or the train. What buses? What trains? Oops,
sorry, the governments of the previous 80 years have laid
down miles and miles of road for fast car traffic but
neglected the infrastructure of public transport. What now?

Or: global warming starts wiping out islands, cities, low-
lying nations. Millions of refugees look for somewhere
safer to live. Where do these people go? And what kind
of pressure will they put on the societies where they land
up, welcome or not? As for resource competition (water,
food, oil, minerals etc), if there's any lesson to be drawn
from history, it's that the powerful will go after what they
can get when they haven't got what they think they need.
And they will take it. Already, yet. Korea’s Daewoo
Corporation has leased half the arable land in Madagascar.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Decline and Descent.
Undoubtedtly the most dramatic decline this century will be in the world's population.
The only way BIG AGRI can presently feed the planet is through the totally unsustainable use of - you guessed it- fossil fuel.
The structural adjustment from seven billion people down to about one quarter of that figure is going to be "interesting".
Not necessarily more starvation and famine than usual, just steady descent - the theme of your last three blogs.