Is a global economic, social, and political collapse imminent?
This is the ‘byline’ on the cover of book one in my fictional novel trilogy, Olduvai. How did the idea for this series of books (currently working, very slowly, on book four) come into being? Well, as I stated in 2013 on my website (https://olduvai.ca):
“Sometime in late 2010 I rented the documentary Collapse and my view of the world changed almost overnight. I began researching the claims made by Michael Ruppert and found that the arguments he made to be sound and extremely disconcerting. As I delved deeper and deeper into the rabbit’s hole I discovered, I found myself becoming more and more concerned about numerous issues. One of the root concerns was regarding the mathematics of exponential growth and our lack of understanding about how this growth pattern was leading us to eventual collapse on numerous fronts: population, economics, and resource depletion (see this by University of Colorado’s Albert Bartlett). I continued exploring ideas and concepts, introducing myself to economics and systems thinking, then suddenly found myself back in my graduate studies of anthropology and archaeology. Reading Jarid Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies it became more and more obvious that we, as a species, were on a slow-moving train wreck towards eventual social, political, and economic collapse on a global scale. Two other books that have shaped my thoughts are Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth and Chris Martenson’s The Crash Course.
As an educator (ten years as a classroom teacher and thirteen so far as a vice principal in kindergarten to grade eight schools), I felt the need to share and educate my family and friends about my ‘discoveries’. I initially encountered a lot of resistance and denial, being told I was overreacting and focusing on the negative. This may have been due to an initial overzealousness on my part, but I also believe it was a ‘normal’ reaction by people whose fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the world were being challenged; they needed to reduce the cognitive dissonance that was created by the narrative I was suggesting. (I think it’s important to note here that our understanding of the world is based on many things, not least of which are the stories we tell ourselves about how and why world events are occurring. It is formed through personal experiences but also through the tales weaved through our education system, and by our leaders and media who may not always have our best interests in mind.)
In the summer of 2011, as I relaxed with my family and friends at a rented cottage just outside Haliburton, Ontario, I began forming the idea of writing a fictional story about a group of Ontarians experiencing the collapse of their world. As I sat on the deck in that beautiful summer sunshine and watched our four teenage daughters (two from each family) enjoying their time away from school, I wrote the draft of a chapter in which a young man was hiking through an abandoned countryside on his way to his brother’s, who had been predicting such an event for some time. My goal, at that point, was simply to get some thoughts on paper. Before I knew it the summer was over and I was back at work, too busy to put a lot of time into the story. I continued reading voraciously and would occasionally put ‘pen to paper’ but the story was not evolving quickly.
Suddenly, I found myself on medical leave for a few months and the opportunity to write more was presented. I shared several chapters with my wife one weekend and her positive response prompted me to explore the possibility of publishing a book, something I have wanted to do for years (ever since I shifted my university studies from biology/physiology (disliked organic chemistry) to biological psychology (where I was exposed to Stephen Jay Gould’s Ever Since Darwin), and then to anthropology/archaeology (keen interest in hominid evolution), I have loved doing research and writing; in fact, I shared with my wife early in our relationship and before I entered education that I would love to write for a living.
The result is Olduvai. I have no delusions about this ever being a ‘bestseller,’ my tongue-in-cheek goal is to sell 423 copies! Why? For those that have seen the apocalyptic, John Cusack movie, 2012, you may recall that Cusack’s character, Jackson Curtis, is a writer who sells 422 copies of his book, Farewell Atlantis. As his novel managed to become a part of humanity’s decimated cultural heritage (the world’s tectonic plates shift due to neutrinos from a solar flare boiling the earth’s interior and he and his book escape in one of a handful of ‘arks’), I thought if I sold one additional copy, I had a higher probability than him-theoretically.
It's now been over seven years since I took that red pill and opened my eyes to a new ‘reality’. I view and interpret the world very differently now, questioning almost everything but especially mainstream narratives. Up to this time I had, for the most part, accepted the world as I was conditioned to do. In fact, looking back I was, as James Howard Kunstler has suggested in explaining why so many of the world’s citizens are unaware of the various dilemmas we face and unquestionably accept the propaganda we are exposed to, “caught up in the thrum of daily life”. School. Marriage. Career. Family.
Life is different now. Do I truly believe ‘collapse’ is imminent as my novel suggests? I'm not so sure about ‘imminent’ but I continue to believe our current technologically-charged and industrial, global civilisation is on the cusp of significant change (Caveat: I do not hold the belief that we may experience a kind of technological revolution that will ‘solve’ our seemingly intractable problems. That is not the type of change I think will occur). Whether the inevitable ‘change’ will be positive or negative in its impact is a totally-subjective opinion. I believe with most things in life there are both pros and cons, and a shift in how our world is ‘organised’ (politically, economically, socially) will bring both. Lots of ‘pain’ but also plenty of opportunities. Whether the survivors of any transition take advantage of the change to ‘improve’ human systems is a whole other question for another day.
I also am unsure as to whether the ‘collapse’ will appear as a ‘sudden’ event as some have claimed or more of a slow decline as others have suggested. How one views this will depend on the temporal perspective taken for even a relatively gradual shift can be interpreted as ‘sudden’ on a longer timeline but because of normalcy bias remain unseen by human participants caught up in the change. I also believe there may be certain events that do create situations that could be seen as ‘sudden collapse’, such as an extended or irreversible power grid collapse. Many of the globe’s citizens are very seriously ill-equipped for such an event, especially in ‘advanced’ economies. Just as most people are not prepared for a loss of global transportation and the movement of goods, especially agricultural products.
The vast majority of the world's population have lost the skills and knowledge to be self-sufficient. We have come to depend almost entirely upon various complex systems over which we have little to no control. And, we are adding to their complexity every day creating more uncertainty as systems tend to become more fragile and susceptible to sudden shifts or collapse as they become more complex. Even after a half dozen years of educating myself and working to create a self-sustaining fruit and vegetable garden to supplement our household food consumption, I’d be lucky to feed my family for a couple of weeks at the end of our growing season. And without a wood-burning stove in our home, we would never survive a Canadian winter should our natural gas supply suddenly encounter disruptions.
The future is unknowable. I don't care how much data one has or how great the model being used to make predictions may be--to say little about the impact of a Black Swan event or two. But if the past is an indication of how this most recent experiment of human growth and ‘progress’ may proceed, we can expect some pretty significant disruptions just ahead. And having an educational background in archaeology, it has been the past more than anything else that I have looked to for some type of indication as to what the future may hold. I believe all our imagined futures of endless possibilities built upon technological innovation are just wishes and hopes, they are wonderful for creating fictional narratives but not sound evidence for what will likely happen down the road as we encounter the biophysical limits to the growth culture we have come to depend upon. And although the past doesn't repeat itself exactly, it does rhyme and the cycle of growth and decline has been replicated again and again through the 6000+ years of complex human social systems. I tend to think the belief that 'this time is different' and we will not repeat the mistakes of past complex societies is more hubris and wishful thinking than anything else. But, of course, only time will tell...
For anyone interested in a free PDF version of book one, Olduvai, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also view news and commentary regarding topics that relate to ‘collapse’ at my website: https://olduvai.ca (updated almost every day)
NOTE: I am working on Part 2 of Is Growth a Positive Force? It’s simply taking time as I am rereading some texts and busy with life...