Time to Rename British Columbia

image of a raven by Hornby Island artist Glen Rabena

A year ago the Tyee ran a column suggesting that the ghastly name of our province — British Columbia, with the double blemish of (a) smacking of brutal colonialism and (b) association with a genocidal Italian explorer — be scrapped.

At the time, I suggested the name Klahanie, a Chinook term meaning “the Wild Land”, or simply “the outdoors”. My suggestion was one of the most upvoted responses to the column.

Chinook is not an indigenous language, but rather an amalgam and convergence of many local indigenous languages adopted by First Nations in the area as a means to communicate more conveniently with European occupiers and traders. Using a Chinook word is, I suppose, a sneaky way of not showing favouritism to any one of the occupied territory’s many and diverse First Nations.

Now the CBC has taken up the call, with its interviewees suggesting names such as the Chinook Illaheechuk (“where land meets water”) and the Hul’qumi’num language S’ólh Téméxw (“our land”, pronounced soul tow-mock).

The province, as it is currently constituted, makes little sense as a geographic area. Half its population lives in multicultural Metro Vancouver, and another 10% in Metro Victoria. The province includes roughly half of the Rocky Mountains, vast expanses of forest (almost none of it old growth, and most of it severely stressed), and an agricultural centre in the south central part of the province (the Okanagan Valley, including the province’s third largest city, Kelowna). As in most colonized areas, the two big cities (and the coastal communities) mostly support progressive politics, while the rural areas mostly support conservative politics, with those in the largely-remote forested areas vacillating between the two, depending on which party seems most supportive of resource-intensive development.

My preference for the name Klahanie stems from a number of studies of the province’s current culture, which is mostly energetic and nature-loving, despite its demographic skewing older. The city of Nanaimo (the province’s fourth largest city, once predominantly a forest products town, on Vancouver Island) went so far as to define itself by saying simply “Our culture is outdoors“.

So a name for the area that means “outdoors” seems to me most appropriate, as it is a passion that I think most people living in the territory share.

A new name would of course require a new flag to replace the current monstrosity. Given the astonishing artistic skill exemplified by the province’s First Nations, it would make sense that it be designed by them. I’m kind of partial to Glen Rabena’s raven, depicted above, and would prefer it to be a single image rather than some horrible pastiche of different elements.

Given some of the historical genocidal atrocities recently revealed in the province, some may say that a renaming is just a meaningless symbolic gesture which doesn’t come to grips with our brutal colonial past or the ongoing plight of so many of the victims’ descendants. But symbolic or not, I think it’s called for. Not enough by any means to atone for what we have wrought, on this land and its peoples. But a step in the right direction, and perhaps the start of a new trajectory.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 1 Comment

Farewell to Bowen, Part 1


Average home prices in Greater Vancouver. Detached homes now “average” $2M in price. Chart from Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

I wasn’t going to write about this — my departure from Bowen — because I was concerned it would come across as sour grapes. I’m only one of many Bowen Islanders who’ve been forced to leave the island due to a lack of rental accommodations, despite the fact hundreds of ‘vacation homes’ here sit empty much of the year.

I had a good run — nearly 12 years before my luck recently ran out. I’ve been heavily involved in volunteer activities on the island since the very first day I arrived — Chris Corrigan invited me to a “future of Bowen” session he was facilitating that day, where I met Mayor Bob and many of the Bowen peeps who have subsequently become good friends.

I want to stress that what is happening here — haphazard development, housing problems, lack of good local jobs, growing and unmet infrastructure needs, and management by crisis — is happening in the ‘exurbs’ near most of the world’s most desirable cities. And Vancouver is regularly in the top 5 lists of the world’s most desirable cities.

I left Brampton Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, in the 1990s because it had changed in just ten years from a city with 40% of its land in Agricultural Land Reserve (and a mayor and council determined to keep it that way), to a city with no agricultural land at all, an endless, sprawling, ‘discount’ suburban bedroom community with no real industrial/commercial base and hence inadequate budget for sensible urban planning or infrastructure maintenance.

Most of its people were there of necessity — it was the closest place to Toronto, where they worked, that they could afford to live. Many had no real ties to the community, no interest in seeing it flourish, just a determination to keep property taxes as low as possible so they could continue to afford to pay their mortgages and live there. A similar tale has played out closer to home, in the relentless development of urban communities like Richmond, Burnaby and White Rock.


Current “average” detached house price in Greater Vancouver municipalities, in millions of dollars. Purple denotes $3M+, red $1.6-3M, orange $1.3-1.5M, yellow <$1.3M.  Data from from Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. 


Percent increase 2018-2021 in “average” detached home. Purple denotes increase of >20%, red 11-20%, orange 5-10%, yellow <10% increase over the past three years.  Data from from Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

It’s not that bad on Bowen — yet. But look at the map of housing prices and affordability in Metro Vancouver and the signs are not good — prices in the exurban areas like Bowen and the Sunshine Coast are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the city, catching up to the city in sheer unaffordability for most of the people who work here. There are already signs that those Bowen Islanders whose health and work allows them to live farther from the city are moving ever farther afield, to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, and to the more distant Gulf Islands.

Adding to the challenges of living on Bowen is that the list of needed infrastructure projects for our sprawled-out island, with a total cost that can’t be absorbed by our small population’s residential property taxes, is growing to scary levels, making us more and more dependent on federal and provincial government grants to make up the difference, and adding to the island’s precarity. Water is becoming a critical resource, and there is no money for bike lanes on the roads (cycling on the island is downright dangerous), so the island is increasingly dependent on cars, and of course the ferry to the mainland.

Like many exurbs before us, we are becoming a three-tier community: Here, the top tier consists of the ultra-wealthy with their multi-million-dollar (often second-home) mansions. The middle tier are the exhausted commuters preoccupied with preparing for their next ferry trip, and salvaging the rest of their precious time with their often-young families. And the third tier are the largely-subsistence working class and artists, the ones who spend the most time on-island, and who want to support and expand community amenities, but can least afford to do so financially.

A recent study indicated that Bowen Islanders, compared to our North Shore mainland neighbours, suffer from higher levels of anxiety and stress, and are more likely to be dealing with problems of addiction and illegal substance use. They came, many of them, in search of sanctuary, and now so many are forced to leave.

It’s a recipe for failure, but it’s nobody’s fault, and attempts to blame the Muni government for not “fixing” the problem are ill-founded. The problem is worse, for example, in the SF Bay area, as modest exurban homes there are razed to construct monster homes, driving the working population father and farther out. The situation is similar in exurban Toronto, and in many world cities like London and Sydney.

Rents in Metro Vancouver, like housing prices, have doubled over the last ten years, and only an economic collapse will prevent them doubling again in the next ten, further widening the chasm of inequality that has become a hallmark of this century.

Home-owners who rode the market up, quite a few of whom invested in second and third properties with low-interest mortgages before prices soared, are now mostly renting those extra properties out not as single-family dwellings but as two- or three-family dwellings with newly-constructed separate entrances, to get a decent combined ROI from all their tenants. In the most desirable areas, single-family homes are now mostly rented as “executive homes”, often for $10,000-$50,000/month, to corporations who (unlike us) get to write off the rent as a business expense, and which allows them to provide a perk for their six-to-seven-figure-income visiting execs at the same time. Or rented out as AirBnbs for $350+/night.

This is, of course, an unsustainable situation. Those who have ridden the market up to the point they now own their homes outright will probably be able to stay here, but their new wealth is fragile and only on paper. Their kids won’t be so lucky, unless they move back in with the folks and wait to inherit the family home. But there is a lot of global money looking for beautiful cities to invest in, and that money will continue to push prices up, so that as residents leave or die, there will be only two choices for places like Bowen: Subdivide, turning most of the Cove into multi-family dwellings and possibly Horseshoe Bay-style highrise waterfront condos; or sell out to rich property owners and developers who will tear down the small homes and convert them to luxury accommodations for multi-millionaires.

In my early days on Bowen, I dreamt of a third alternative: The island being declared a model “eco-village”, with severe restrictions on development, the use of conservation development principles, and piloting of projects for local sustainable living that could then be copied by other communities. Or else I thought Bowen might evolve into an artists’ colony of sorts, a creative focal point where artists and crafters of all stripes could meet and collaborate, much as they did in the island’s Lieben days, and where a combination of large-scale public funding for cultural projects, initiatives by studios and arts foundations, philanthropic ventures and new-media arts and cultural institutions would make Bowen a hub for the creative industries, a kind of small-scale Silicon Valley for the right-brained.

But I no longer see these as real alternatives. The fiercely libertarian streak of some of our residents, expressed through their defeating the national park plan in a referendum, their opposition to the “controlled by outsiders” Islands Trust (regional ecological preservation governance body), and their resistance to zoning limitations, suggests we aren’t ready for such a radical vision, or for the sacrifices (both financial, and in the personal ‘freedom’ to do whatever we want with ‘our’ private land) that such a vision would entail.

So we are just kind of flopping up every which way, allowing the market and the zoning variance requests of the moment to dictate much of our dialogue on the future we want. We have a wonderful, aspirational Community Plan, but in the face of development demands it seems to me now a rather toothless document. Chain saws, logging trucks and construction vehicles straining up our hills now often drown out the natural sounds of the island. We can say how many people we’d like to have living on Bowen, the diversity we’d prefer, and the principles by which we’d like them to live, but we really have almost no control over it, and the development pressure will only get worse.

I think we, the citizens of Bowen, really tried to create a better vision, a better model of how to evolve a sustainable, human-scale, somewhat self-sufficient community. But the power ultimately rests with the property-owners and developers, and they have outgunned us at every step. To much of the development industry, ‘underdeveloped’ communities are viewed as just corporate enterprises to be clear-cut, liquidated, squeezed of as much cash as possible, and then, having been sold off to private landowners at the highest possible price, abandoned as attention shifts to the next ‘underdeveloped’ place.

And our backwards provincial government still aspires to log 40% of the island, which only a massive expression of outrage by our community has prevented so far; “we’ll be back in five years” the government timber corporation promised.

The residents of the island have limited power and money to realize any grandiose vision, and therefore I think Bowen will inexorably evolve into some combination of multi-millionaires’ playground, retirement sanctuary (for those pension- and property-rich enough to afford it), and grinding commuter bedroom community. The underclass of workers and artists will be slowly forced out, as mid-six-figure down payments and mid-six-figure qualifying incomes become the only ticket to becoming, and staying, a Bowen Islander. Like so many other exurban communities that are sitting on “the next closest available land for development”, our intentions and dreams will be noble but they are unlikely to be realized. That’s a shame, but no one is to blame — the market forces unwittingly smashing our dreams of exceptionality are relentless, indifferent, agnostic — and global.

What will be a small and bitter consolation for many of us is that, unlike the fools in the Joni Mitchell song, we really do know “what we’ve got”, even before “it’s gone”.

My new home, Coquitlam, has been largely paved already, and developers are now pushing new developments up the mountains and coveting the precious tidal lands to the east — including the world’s largest tidal freshwater lake, home to thousands of wild species. Property-owners in the hills leading up to the area’s gorgeous Crystal Falls have blockaded the trail leading to the falls, on the basis that, as it traverses private property, the public has no right accessing this natural wonder. The government is stymied, apparently hoping the problem will somehow go away.

So it’s the same all over, but at least, for now, there are still places for dreamers like me to rent there.

So I’m off, but I will continue to do volunteer work on Bowen as long as my Bowen peeps will have me. I already sense my continuing presence will be something of a constant nagging reminder of Bowen’s incapacity to hold on to some of its most passionate and diverse residents. But it will unfold as it does. I’m not angry, or surprised, at what has happened.

For nearly 20 years, I’ve been keeping a blog called, with tongue firmly in cheek, How to Save the World. Its subtitle is “chronicling civilization’s collapse”. It doesn’t propose any magical solutions, since I am increasingly convinced there are none. Yet I remain a self-proclaimed joyful pessimist, and I have no regrets. It’s an amazing time to be alive, and all we can do is our best, with what we have to offer, wherever we are.

I will be forever grateful to the people of Bowen Island for making me feel so at home this past twelve years. I salute you, and though I’m leaving, I’m not going away. See you around, my friends.


In Part Two of this “letter”, I want to talk about what it takes to be a real community, in an age when urban areas seem to have only disconnected and anonymous “neighbourhoods” instead. Most of what I’ve learned about community I learned from fellow Bowen Islanders.

Posted in How the World Really Works | 3 Comments

Shouldn’t Matter But It Does


Image from wikimedia by Nick Hobgood, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The title of this post is stolen from a catchy new John Mayer song. His lyrics are OK, if a little self-preoccupied. But the title resonated with me as I contemplate a world in collapse, and deal with the cognitive dissonance of dealing with it while holding a belief that we have no free will, that there is no time, no death, just nothing appearing as everything, appearing as this, for no reason.

So here is a list of the things I think, deep down, shouldn’t matter, as they’re only ephemera, beyond anyone’s control, just the apparent acting out of our universe’s unfolding and our conditioning — but which I feel, perhaps because of that conditioning, do matter. I will try my best not to impute intent or other cause or motivation to the things on this list, since what really matters, I think, is the harm they produce.

EIGHT THINGS THAT MATTER

  1. Dishonesty, manipulation, exploitation, propaganda, brainwashing and disinformation
  2. Inequality of power, wealth, influence and opportunity
  3. Acts of violence, threatened violence, intimidation, harassment, bullying, humiliation, cruelty, spite and hatred, at all scales
  4. Waste, in all its forms, from pollution and excessive consumption to packaging, plastics and poorly-made products
  5. Poisons of all kinds — anything that disturbs the natural balance of the planet
  6. Imprisonment and confinement of any creature, including forced work (‘wage slavery’), forced military service, and forced schooling, and other controlling behaviours at the collective or individual level
  7. Expectations and judgements, of oneself and of others
  8. Deprivation of the essential qualities needed to be an effective and functional human, including attachment at a young age, personal autonomy, connection with others and with the natural world, the capacity to be one’s authentic self, basic dignity, healthy food, water and environment, and control over one’s own body

(You’ll note that things like selfishness, insensitivity, ignorance and stupidity are not on this list; I think of them, as I think of collapse, caste-ism, overpopulation, and genocide, as being likely inevitable consequences of the above.)

I am both subject and object of all of the above ‘things that matter’; I am both their perpetrator and their victim. We are not well, and the eight ‘atrocities’ above are manifestations of our disease. (The word ‘atrocity’ etymologically means ‘seeing the fearsome fire’ and I use the word in quotes in this sense, not in a judgemental sense.)

So these eight things, and their consequences, matter to me. They shouldn’t matter — we have no control over what we do or how we have evolved. These are, with rare exceptions, uniquely human actions and attitudes, and may have not been part of pre-civilization human behaviour either.

But here we are. These eight things and their terrible consequences are endemic in our culture, and they will almost assuredly end once that culture has fully collapsed, which is what is happening quickly now. In the meantime, we can only reassure ourselves that it won’t be long now before they will no longer define the human experiment.

In the meantime, it shouldn’t matter. But it does.

Posted in Creative Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Are Humans Inherently Violent?

injured
image: creative commons CC0 license from pixabay

Ask scientists the question about our inherent nature, and you will unearth a spectrum of answers, with most clustered at two poles: That we are inherently a violent, covetous, acquisitive and war-prone species, or that we have naturally evolved to coexist and collaborate with each other and with other creatures, and only engage in sustained acts of aggression in times of stress, crowding and scarcity.

We can never know, but you’ll probably not be surprised to hear that my research inclines me towards the second viewpoint.

Why then is history replete with endless stories of conquest and war? Partly this can be explained by the “headline news” phenomenon: That wars, bloody rituals and genocides are attention-grabbers, being sensational, and large in both scale and impact, so the history books dwell almost exclusively on them, and on the conquerors’ and defenders’ (usually inflated) hero-stories.

And partly it can be explained by the relative paucity of evidence of how humans actually lived for our first million years on earth, so all the evidence and conjecture is focused on what’s been unearthed about how we supposedly lived (and fought) during the last 10-30 millennia, just 1-3% of our species’ total history, a period which for many reasons may be completely unrepresentative of our behaviour for almost all of our “pre-civilized” history.

Scientists tend to presume, in the absence of anthropological evidence, that our apparent behaviour over the past 10 millennia must be our behaviour for 1000 millennia that preceded them, even though skeletal remains suggest that the further back we go in time the less indication there is of human-inflicted trauma.

There is abundant evidence that we were, for most of our history, vegans, consistent with our physiological lack of fangs, sharp claws, and speed, and that only after we invented killing technologies like arrowheads and spears, did we, probably of necessity as we expanded to areas where our natural diet was no longer available, begin to capture and kill other animals. Prior to that we simply did not have the means to injure and kill other humans at any scale, and, with low population density relative to resources, we didn’t have the motivation to do so, either.

It’s been suggested that our propensity for violence emerged at the time we began to domesticate ourselves ie to breed and train our children and communities to believe and obey what they are told. As I wrote about this a couple of years ago:

In his remarkable 1994 book Rogue Primate, the late Canadian naturalist John Livingston argued that humans have domesticated ourselves, possibly because our species appears to have all the qualities needed for easy domestication: docility and tractability, a pliable or weak will, susceptibility to dependence, insecurity, adaptability to different habitats, inclination to herd behaviour, tolerance of physical and psychological maltreatment, acceptance of habitat homogeneity, high fecundity, social immaturity, rapid physical growth, sexual precociousness, and poor natural attributes (lack of speed, strength, and sensory acuity). We share these qualities, he argued, with most of the creatures (and many plants) we have domesticated. The only difference is, we domesticated ourselves.

Domesticated creatures, he said, are by definition totally dependent on a prosthetic, disconnected, surrogate mode of approaching and apprehending the world, to stand in the place of natural, biological, inherent ways of being. Such creatures see the world through this artificial prosthesis, instead of how it really is, and this self-domestication is what we call civilization.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that self-domestication is both a precondition and a motivator for organized violence. Once we’re docile, dependent, and disconnected from our true, wild nature, we become far more easily conditioned and malleable by the mostly-psychopathic “leaders” who have directed most of the conquests, wars, genocides, crusades and other large-scale violence that has characterized our species since settlement and civilization became our predominant culture.

Rutgers’ anthropologist R Brian Ferguson, who’s spent his career trying to uncover what’s behind our propensity for war, writes:

The preconditions that make war more likely include a shift to a more sedentary existence, a growing regional population, a concentration of valuable resources such as livestock, increasing social complexity and hierarchy, trade in high-value goods, and the establishment of group boundaries and collective identities. These conditions are sometimes combined with severe environmental changes. War at Jebel Sahaba, for one, may have been a response to an ecological crisis, as the Nile cut a gorge that eliminated productive marshlands, eventually leading to human abandonment of the area. Later, centuries after agriculture began, Neolithic Europe—to take one example—demonstrated that when people have more to fight over, their societies start to organize themselves in a manner that makes them more prepared to go ahead and embrace war…

Simple hunting and gathering characterized human societies during most of humanity’s existence… Broadly, these groups cooperate with one another and live in small, mobile, [peaceful] egalitarian bands, exploiting large areas with low population density and few possessions…

Warlike cultures… became common only over the past 10,000 years—and, in most places, much more recently than that. The high level of killing often reported in history, ethnography or later archaeology is contradicted in the earliest archaeological findings around the globe.

He concludes, based on decades of studying chimpanzees, which are often described as sharing our warlike proclivities:

I conclude that “war” among chimpanzees is not an evolved evolutionary strategy but an induced response to human disturbance. Case-by-case analyses shows that chimps, as a species, are not “killer apes.” This research calls into question as well the idea that any human tendency toward bellicosity might be driven by an ancient genetic legacy from a distant ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.

Of course, we cannot know. Without substantive evidence, we will be inclined to believe what we want to believe about inherent human nature, wherever that falls on the homo rapiens / peaceful-species spectrum.

So I am inclined to believe that it is recent self-domestication, and the commensurate disconnection from the rest of life on earth, that enabled the emergence of abstract language and other essential attributes of human “civilizations”, and hence the possibility of organized human violence, and that the subsequent explosion of population and exhaustion of resources has moved that possibility into a chronic certainty over the past 10-30 millennia.

And, of course, that at a personal level we have absolutely no choice about where our beliefs fall on this spectrum, or about how we feel or what we do about the predicament our species now finds itself in. As pacifists, warriors, soldiers, enablers and sympathizers, we’re all just doing our best, the only thing we can do.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 7 Comments

CoVid-19: Still Making the Same Mistakes

Take a look at these four charts. They pretty much speak for themselves.


Chart 1: New Daily Reported Cases per M people. (Actual daily cases are ~6x these numbers, per IHME)


Chart 2: New Daily Reported Deaths per M people. (Actual daily deaths are ~1.6x these numbers, per IHME)


Chart 3: Percentage of population vaccinated


Chart 4: % of population wearing masks, per IHME

What the data now tells us, in my opinion:

  1. The fourth wave is now upon us. In most parts of the world, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
  2. Thanks to the variants, cases are spiking in precisely those areas that have (a) the lowest rates of vaccination, and (b) low rates of mask use. While Canada, the US and the UK have very similar rates of vaccination (especially if you add in the proportion that have acquired immunity from infection — 11% in Canada and Germany, 21% in the UK, 33% in France, and 39% in the US — there is not a lot of differences between the total percentage of the population in these countries that is, we hope, now immune to infection. But that total varies enormously within countries, from about 50% in conservative, rural and vaccine-and-mask-hesitant areas (far below herd immunity levels), to over 80% in progressive, more urban and highly-vaccinated areas (where herd immunity has probably been reached). The difference in new case loads, hospitalizations and new deaths between 50%-immune areas and 80%-immune areas, even within countries, and even within cities, is enormous.
  3. Because young people have been the least encouraged to get vaccinated and to use masks, the fourth wave is hitting the young especially hard. The new variants are dense (much higher average number of viral particles per infected patient) and highly-transmissible, and even though young people are less likely to be hospitalized or die if they get CoVid-19, they are now making up a much larger percentage of the infected, hospitalized, and dying. And that means that the total number of people who are likely to get permanent or chronic “long-CoVid” syndromes is likely to soar.
  4. Wearing masks still helps dramatically. The decision to eliminate indoor mask mandates was clearly premature. Compare Canada’s case rate (65% wearing masks, leading to 10 new cases/M/day and 0.17 new deaths/M/day) with that of the US (only 20% now wearing masks, leading to 120 new cases/M/day and 0.75 new deaths/M/day). Back in the spring when Americans were nearly as diligent at wearing masks as Canadians, their new case rates and death rates per capita were comparable to Canadians’. Not anymore.
  5. Areas like Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Hawai’i (especially their older citizens) are especially vulnerable to wave four. Their “Go For Zero” strategy has saved countless lives and much “long-CoVid” misery, but their combination of very slow vaccination rates, vaccine hesitancy and in some cases low mask usage rates, means that once their borders are opened even a little, their infection rates could quickly catch up to global averages.
  6. New case rates have not yet dropped nearly low enough to justify reopening restaurants and other often mask-less indoor spaces, or to justify allowing events with lots of crowds and non-local visitors to resume. This is the fourth time now we have been either too slow responding to spikes in new case rates, or too hasty in reopening establishments and activities before the pandemic is under control.

My personal strategy for masks is to keep my mask on in indoor spaces and at crowded events if the local daily new reported cases/M people is above 3. Especially if I’m going to be in that space for more than, say, 15 minutes. That’s the gold standard the Go For Zero strategy recommends and it seems logical to me. Much of Canada was there last summer and we might, if we keep the masks on and the unvaccinated out, get there again (from the current level of 10) in a month or two. Until then, I’d rather be safe than sorry, and considerate of all those who can’t yet get vaccinated.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves | 1 Comment

Dave’s Best Writing


image from pxfuel, cc0

I started this blog in 2003, and since then I’ve written over 3,000 articles, essays and stories, which, if I were to print them out in standard book size, would fill over 9,000 pages. I’m guessing it’s one of the largest one-person blogs still in existence.

Every once in a while I review what I’ve written, and think about whether or not to cull some of the old and embarrassing stuff, and rearrange the rest. But since How to Save the World is a sort of diary, I always end up deciding to leave it as it was written. Some of it is dated. Some of my predictions were colossally bad, while others, like this article I wrote on CoVid-19 almost exactly a year ago, in the lull between the first and second waves, have been quite prescient.

Instead of editing, I try to keep track of what I think is my best writing — no more than one full book’s worth, if I were to publish it. I periodically update the list, sorted by category, and listed (in true blog tradition) from newest to oldest in each category. I’ve just brought it up to date, and below are the 145 articles, essays, stories, poems and miscellaneous other writings I am most proud of. You can always find them on my right sidebar, but since most readers subscribe to my feed and don’t see the sidebars, I thought I would repost the full list for all to see.

Since I’m often asked what are my favourite posts, I guess I’d say that of my newer writings (over the past 18 months), I liked Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I liked All the Things I Was Wrong About. I had great fun with the latest in my “Several Short Sentences” series, this time about Sharks. I loved writing Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark. And researching and writing No Choice But to Misbehave was my biggest learning experience since Straw Dogs.

I really didn’t like writing The Tragic Spread of Misinformation, and I got a lot of hate mail and a couple of threats for my trouble, but I guess that means it hit a nerve. It got the most angry response to any of my writings since I wrote about veganism and CAFO-denialism back in 2009.

But I think my most important writing, the stuff that will hopefully never get stale or terribly annoying, is my creative work. I’ve written less fiction since CoVid-19, and I want to get back to it, because, as hard as it is to do, the work really pays off — the more I write, the better, I think, I get at it. Recently, my favourite piece to write, and occasionally read aloud to groups, is my A Canadian Sorry.

Here’s the whole list of 145, which sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 5% of my total output:

 

Collapse Watch:
2021
Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay

2020
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem

2019
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?

2018
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)

2017
The Mushroom at the End of the World

2016
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Beyond Belief
Complexity and Collapse

2013
Save the World Reading List
Civilization Disease

2012
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story…
Giving Up on Environmentalism

2009
Going Vegan

2006
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World

2005
The End of Philosophy

A Short History of Progress

2004
The Boiling Frog

 

Our Culture / Ourselves:
2021
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die

2020
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
Pollard’s Laws
On Caste
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This

2019
What to Believe Now?
Rogue Primate

2018
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
True Story
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Useless Advice

2015
Several Short Sentences About Learning

2014
Why I Don’t Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories

2013
A Model of Identity & Community

2012
Not Ready to Do What’s Needed

2010
A Culture of Dependence
So What’s Next
Ten Things to Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation
Manifesto

2009
Nobody Knows Anything

2008
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know

2006
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages

2005
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal

 

How the World Really Works:
2021
Extinction Capitalism
Homeless
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About

2020
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What’s the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We’ve Been Around (graphic)

2019
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity

2017
Ten Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier

2016
The Problem With Systems

2015
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance

2014
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish

2008
A Synopsis of ‘Finding the Sweet Spot’

2006
Learning from Indigenous Cultures

2005
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media

2003
The Wal-Mart Dilemma

 

The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
2021
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves

2020
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What’s Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal

2019
Happy Now?
This Creature
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
Glimpses

2018
Fragments
What Happens in Vagus

2017
We Have No Choice

2016
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind

 

Creative Works:
2021
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)

2020
Under No Illusions (Short Story)

2019
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)

2018
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner’s Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Improv (Poem)

2017
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Rune (Poem)
Only This (Poem)

2016
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Invisible (Poem)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)

2015
The Only Way There (Short Story)

2014
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses’ Bodies (Poem)

2013
Enough (Lament)

2012
Distracted (Short Story)

2011
Worse, Still (Poem)
Conjurer (Satire)

2009
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)

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Links of the Month: July 2021


cartoon by Teresa Burns Parkhurst in the New Yorker

One of the things I’ve found amusing in the debates about whether humans have free will or not, is the strange position of some very popular but seemingly not very bright people like Sam Harris, who say, in essence, that it’s probably correct that we have no free will, but we can’t let the great unwashed know that’s true, because they’d go crazy and blow up the world or kill themselves. The logical flaws in this argument are massive enough to drive a truck through, but never mind. So, if we can’t tell the truth, what do we do instead? Apparently we hold entertaining podcasts and get on with our lives as if it were untrue.

A similar strategy of deliberately encouraging obliviousness seems to be pervading some of the discourse on climate/ecological/economic/civilizational collapse. We’re fucked; it’s too late to prevent collapse, the argument goes, but we don’t dare let this become popular knowledge. Perhaps this employs the same bizarre logic as the admonition about free will. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so don’t tell anyone the truth. Xraymike discusses this a bit in his newest blog post.

Suppose you are an astrophysicist, and you suddenly discover that within 24 hours earth is going to be fried to a crisp by a massive field of cosmic radiation caused by a nearby star going nova, with all life on the planet eviscerated? What do you do? Do you bother telling anyone? What would be the point?


COLLAPSE WATCH

cartoon by Dave Coverly; thanks to John Kellden for the link

The everything death spiral: Tim Watkins explains how when it costs more to produce goods than consumers are able to pay (ie the supply and demand curves no longer intersect) you get a death spiral: New goods, especially at mass-production, low-price levels, are simply no longer produced, because there’s no money in it. Shelves empty, and scarcities become commonplace. Energy costs lie at the heart of this problem.

The oil we eat: Tim also looks at the myth of renewable energy (despite the boom in renewable energy sources, its total capacity is less than just the annual increase in energy demand). He concludes that we simply cannot feed, let alone supply other essentials to, 7.8B people without a continuing increase in petrochemical production every year, at a time when actual production is declining, and at a time when we need to immediately halt all new production to even begin to try to stem runaway climate change.


LIVING BETTER

cartoon in the New Yorker by the late Charles Barsotti

The scientific consensus on a healthy diet: The leading risk factor for death in the United States is the American diet. This is not rocket science, folks. More details, if you’re interested, here, with a full transcript for those who’d rather read than watch. And WaPo reports that the health and climate cost of the poor American diet served up by Big Ag is three times the (heavily subsidized) cost of the food.

Rushkoff on the consumer as product: Interesting interview with Douglas Rushkoff, including this remarkably non-dual remark: “In America, people are willing to sacrifice their well-being, social cohesion, stability and sustainability for the false notion of individual freedom. But the truth is, there is no individual. There’s no such thing. It’s an utter fiction. It was created in order to promote more consumption. The more people spend time with one another, the less stuff they buy. A deep connection to other humans makes you an enemy of the marketplace.” Thanks to PS Pirro for the link.

Coping with loss: A lovely essay by Kenn Orphan on the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Thanks to David Petraitis for the link.

Michael Pollan is taking drugs again: A review of Michael’s second book on the effect of hallucinogens and other “natural medicines”. Excerpt from the book here.

The stargate becomes real: There are now HD video “portals” showing real-time images and sounds from another country, so you can stand in front of the portal and speak to someone on the other “side” thousands of miles away as if they were right there. It’s just Zoom on steroids, but its effect, and its serendipity, are amazing. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

cartoon by Michael Leunig

Corpocracy, Imperialism & Propaganda: Short takes:

CoVid-19: Short takes:

Inequality and Caste-ism: Short takes:


FUN AND INSPIRATION

“Whatever you did to the antenna, dear, the signal’s much better now.” from the Earth Facebook group

When is an E not an E?: Adam Neely’s latest fascinating music theory Q&A reveals the strange fact that, if you play the note “E” on a keyboard, 440 times a second, what you hear is an “A”, and why that’s so.

The Hockey Sister: A stunning, and disturbing, personal memoir by Sarah Miller in the New Yorker about growing up in the shadow of your sibling.

You are not a “visual learner”: Veritasium debunks the entrenched myth that different people have different optimal learning styles.

Birds of a feather: Watch Peter Cavanagh’s stunning slow-motion video of a huge flock of birds taking flight. Thanks to Bob Lambert for the link.


THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH

Extraordinary design by John Randall; it seems the restaurant never opened. Do you see the mallard? thanks to Natasha Chart for the link

From Caitlin Moran, in More Than a Woman (thanks to PS Pirro for the link):

When I think about the most wearying thing about becoming middle-aged, it’s that you are the only one who can fix things – there is no one you can complain to, or seek comfort from; for you are the grown-ups, now, and if you can’t fix it, it will remain broken.

From Caitlin Johnstone, on the US leaving Afghanistan:

Warmongers are saying, “If we leave Afghanistan and it returns to Taliban control it will be like the whole war achieved nothing!” Uh, yeah. Yeah it will be lots like that. How about that, huh?

A joke by J Russom (thanks to Tim Cliss for the link):

Juan comes up to the Mexican border on his bicycle. He has two large bags over his shoulders. The guard stops him and says, “What’s in the bags?”

“Sand,” answered Juan.

The guard says, “We’ll just see about that. Get off the bike.” The guard takes the bags and rips them apart; he empties them out and finds nothing in them but sand. He detains Juan overnight and has the sand analyzed, only to discover that there is nothing but pure sand in the bags The guard releases Juan, puts the sand into new bags, hefts them onto the man’s shoulders, and lets him cross the border.

A week later, the same thing happens. The guard asks, “What have you got?”

“Sand,” says Juan.

The guard does his thorough examination and discovers that the bags contain nothing but sand. He gives the sand back to Juan, and Juan crosses the border on his bicycle.

This sequence of events if repeated every day for three years. Finally, Juan doesn’t show up one day and the guard runs into him in a cantina in Mexico.

“Hey, Buddy,” says the guard, “I know you are smuggling something. It’s driving me crazy. It’s all I think about….. I can’t sleep. Just between you and me, what are you smuggling?”

Juan sips his beer and says, “Bicycles.”

And four lovely quotes from John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed:

These days, when my kids whisper to me, it is usually to share a worry they find embarrassing or frightening. It takes courage even to whisper those fears, and I am so grateful when they trust me with them, even if I don’t quite know how to answer. I want to say “You don’t have any cause for concern”, but they do have cause for concern. I want to say “There’s nothing to be scared about”, but there’s plenty to be scared about. When I was a kid I thought being a parent meant knowing what to say and how to say it. But I have no idea what to say or how to say it. All I can do is shut up and listen. Otherwise, you miss all the good stuff.

There are so many viruses on earth that if you laid them end to end, they would stretch 100 million light years — 500 galaxies wide. Bacteriophages, viruses that parasitize bacteria, cause a trillion, trillion infections per second, destroying half the world’s bacteria every 48 hours. And despite that devastation, bacteria outweigh all animals combined on the planet by a factor of 40.

From Clint Smith “When people say ‘we have made it through worse before’, all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones of those who did not make it.”

As a kid on the early internet, I loved typing because no one could know how small and thin my hands were, how scared I was all the time, how I struggled to talk out loud. Online, back in 1991, I wasn’t made of anxious flesh and brittle bone; I was made out of keystrokes. When I could no longer bear to be myself, I was able to become for a while a series of keys struck in quick succession.


 

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | Leave a comment

Live Free or Die


cartoon by Greg Perry in The Tyee If you’re not Canadian, substitute your national animal for the beaver.

PS Pirro, responding to my latest CoVid-19 post about this becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated“, wondered aloud why, given all the evidence of the crucial importance and effectiveness of the vaccines, so many people continue to act against their own best interests and refuse to be vaccinated, or even to wear a mask. Who benefits from this folly?, she asked.

This was my response:

Hi Peggy. I’m trying to stop judging people’s motivations and just provide facts, but you ask some very important questions. What underlies the “live free or die” mentality of so many, and not just in the US, who would rather die a ghastly death than admit their (obvious) dependence on governments and corporate cartels?

Who benefits? Politicians who know that by humouring the illusion of independence and free choice and a widespread ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude, they will get elected over ‘interventionists’ (socialists, liberals and democrats).

So now the same cohort that is dying in droves from diabetes and autoimmune diseases due to poor eating habits (“don’t tell me what to eat, either, and don’t tell me not to smoke”), will be unnecessarily dying from CoVid-19. This is the same cohort that falls for most of the disinformation and wacko conspiracy theories that have sprung up in the predatory social media. It’s largely the same cohort that is dying from poisoned street drugs in record numbers. It’s the same cohort whose accidental deaths and injuries from personal firearms (“…from my cold, dead hands”) vastly outnumber those committed by criminals. It’s the same cohort that refuses federal government money (“handouts”) for vital health care programs. It’s the same cohort that makes up most of the armed forces fighting and dying (“support our troops!”) in imperialist foreign wars for the military-industrial complex.

And I don’t think this antipathy to any government regulation or restriction is new, or uniquely American. I wonder what lies behind it, and whether distrust of authority, government, regulation and any intervention or public support for anything, is now so deeply entrenched that any sense of trust could ever be re-engendered?

The guy who most helped me understand this mentality of the “permanent white underclass” was the late, brilliant Joe Bageant. I had the privilege of visiting him while he was living in Belize, and hearing him expand on the explanations he provided in his extraordinary and prophetic 2007 book Deer Hunting with Jesus. In her review of the book, Eleanor Cooney writes:

From the church where his brother preaches in tongues to the Rubbermaid plant that employs half his hometown, Bageant uncovers harsh lessons about how liberals failed the people who do society’s grunt work, as well as fight our wars, and wind up with nothing to show for it but a broken-down trailer in foreclosure. They’re bitter as hell, but they “vote Republican because no liberal voice…that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives… So, now, most liberals have come to view working whites as angry, warmongering bigots, happy pawns of the American empire — which begs the question of how they came to be that way, if they truly are.”

Joe described what was then happening as a surreptitious “class war”, and much of his writing resonates with Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book Caste.

We are a gullible lot, we humans. We want to believe that things will inevitably get better for us and our descendants, as long as we defeat our “enemies”, who are simply evil and simply need to be done away with. We want to believe in dreams (American and otherwise) and that nothing prevents them from coming true. We want to believe that we can accomplish anything if only we set our minds to it. We want to believe that climate change is a lie. We want to believe that the pandemic was just an overhyped blip that’s now over. We want to believe that our investments will grow in value forever. We want to believe that growth, “prosperity”, and cheap energy, with a little help from new technology, will continue forever. And so many of us eagerly buy the lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories that reinforce those simplistic beliefs. We have learned to trust no one, and we don’t want to hear the truth.

What we really want to believe is that we’re in control of our own destiny. For revolutionaries and everyday folks everywhere, freedom is about the ability to do what you choose (within reason) and still live a good life. Lack of that ability is tantamount to slavery.

And now, despite the ubiquitous denials and refrains of the American Dream, no one is in control of their own destiny. We are all hapless dependents on systems that we have little or no say about, even the elite castes. While that is of course hardest on the lowest castes, it’s rankling to everyone — no one wants to be dependent on others, especially those they can’t control or even influence, and don’t know or trust, all their lives. Humans were never meant to live this way.

Atul Gawande, documenting the soaring rates of disease and death among what Joe called the permanent white underclass, argues that they are effectively dying of despair. While their lives and jobs are often difficult and precarious, their diets poor, and their understandable predilection for dangerous drugs and other escapes plays a factor, what he says is most remarkable is the gap between their expectations and the reality of their lives, current and projected.

Perhaps, then, what is mostly behind the distrust, anger and fear of most societies’ lower castes today, is their disappointment at the (perhaps well-intentioned) lies they were told about how their lives could be so much better if they gave up a bit of their personal freedom, in order to do what society bids them do.

What happens when this disappointment, anger, fear and despair becomes chronic? Anthropologists tell us people just walk away, from societies that no longer meet their needs, and those civilizations then collapse. That is of course immensely difficult when our civilization has done its best to keep everyone obedient, dependent, hopeful, and in thrall.

But there’s a tipping point, and I think it’s already been passed, and what I believe we’re seeing now are the growing signs of collapse. This rapacious, destructive, monstrously unequal culture has ceased to meet the needs of the vast majority of earth’s humans. The lies that, with work, patience and ingenuity, they one day might those needs, are increasingly ringing hollow.

We are watching the end of a civilization dying of despair. Rebellions against masks and vaccines, protests against racism, caste-ism and inequality, and the growing fragmentation and alienation of progressives and greens as their idealistic hopes are repeatedly dashed, are all just symptoms. The flywheel is coming apart. We can feel it with the calcium in our bones.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Pandemic of the Unvaccinated



The danger now is in areas of vaccine hesitancy (orange in the top chart above), both to their own people and to those they visit in areas with low levels of infection (dark blue in the second chart above). So: Expect high rates and spikes in infections and deaths in central and southern US states, eastern Europe and central Asia. And if you live in Hawai’i, Canada, NW or NE US, W Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia or NZ, make sure you’re vaccinated before the borders are opened to those from the vaccine-hesitant areas, and keep wearing a mask in public indoor spaces and crowds, at least through the next few months. Data from IHME briefings, July 12, 2021.

One of the worst fears of public health officials seems to be coming true: the new CoVid-19 variants are so potent and transmissible that they are now dramatically increasing cases and hospitalizations in many areas where vaccinations have been low.

It was always a race against time, and it seems the forces of vaccine hesitancy and disinformation are winning the day. The fourth wave is turning into a pandemic of the unvaccinated and the vaccine-hesitant.

In the US, estimated actual deaths, which dropped to as low as 300/day at the start of this month, are now expected to soar back above 1000/day this fall and stay at that level for an extended period. This will increase the total US death toll to 1,025,000 by October 31, a full 80,000 more than the current death toll. Almost all the projected deaths will be among the unvaccinated, and over 90% of them will be in the 28 vaccine-hesitant states where levels of vaccination continue to lag as low as 35%. The 28 vaccine-hesitant states include all but the northeast (from VA north), and west coast states, Hawai’i, Colorado, Illinois and Minnesota.

New infections in the US, which dropped to as low as 78,000/day in June, are expected to soar to over 250,000/day in the fall and will stay at that level for an extended period, perhaps throughout the winter until either vaccine hesitancy abates or the % infected in vaccine hesitancy states (currently 40-50%) reaches herd immunity level — the hard way.

(Note that all numbers in this article are from IHME, which estimates actual deaths, often 1.5 to 2x the official reported numbers, and actual infections, often 3-8x the official reported numbers.)

As masks in the US come off (use nation-wide has plummeted from 70% to 25%), this poses a danger not only to the unvaccinated in vaccine-hesitant states, but also to those in states that receive a lot of tourists or business visitors and have low overall infection levels.

In Hawai’i for example, while 90% intend to be vaccinated and 62% already have been, only 7% have been infected, leaving 31% still vulnerable to infection from outsiders. As a result IHME predicts that by the time of full vaccination, daily infections will increase by a factor of 12, from the current 300/day to 4000/day, and the total Hawai’i death toll will soar from the current 500 to over 1100 by October 31. Hospitals there are expected to be overwhelmed in September through November. So the race is on to get the rest of Hawai’ians vaccinated before the unvaccinated tourist hordes arrive. For those familiar with indigenous history, there is a grim irony in this.

You might want to put off that ‘snowbird’ vacation at least until the new year.

The situation is less severe but still of concern in other states with to-date infection rates less than 20%: Washington, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Virginia, and all Canadian provinces. These areas likewise will likely face spikes in cases and hospitalizations as unvaccinated visitors come in before local vaccination is complete, though the impact should not be as severe as in Hawai’i, and the death toll in these locations is not expected to rise dramatically.

A similar situation is playing out in much of the rest of the world, with the additional complication that in many countries even those wanting vaccines can’t get them. For reasons that haven’t been fully understood, infection fatality rates seem much lower in most of Africa and south and southeast Asia, perhaps due to residents’ stronger immune systems due to prior exposure to coronaviruses. But for others: The unvaccinated in W Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia and NZ are at risk of infection from their own, and, as borders reopen, from the vaccine-hesitant in central and southern US states, eastern Europe and central Asia, and as well from many areas in Latin America, South Africa and south and southeast Asia where vaccines have been hard to come by.

Bottom line: The “fourth wave” of the pandemic is starting, and it will be focused largely in vaccine-hesitant areas of the world, and in areas that have low infection rates to date that are visited by the vaccine-hesitant. The US death toll will rise another 8% as a result, and the global death toll will rise another 20%, from 8.8M to 10.5M.

Stay safe out there.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | Leave a comment

Extinction Capitalism Part Two: The Next Ten Years


actual vs official rate of inflation (CPI), per ShadowStats

In the first part of this article I attempted to explain how and why what I call Extinction Capitalism arose, and why it will inevitably lead to global economic collapse. In this second part, I take as stab at guessing what will happen in the next decade.

Forecasting is inherently precarious, and like many forecasters I have a very human tendency to overestimate how quickly things will change, even though my predictions of the end result have been accurate.

I’m going to frame this in the context of my personal situation, just to make it a little less dry. My situation is that I am somewhat comfortably retired on a defined-benefit pension, but I live on a fixed income, and I’m a tenant — I deliberately decided a decade ago to get off the real estate merry-go-round, so I own very little. My net worth is about 18 months’ pension. I’m 70.

When people have to face a whole series of crises one after another, the effect is to keep everyone off-kilter. If we had time to think and organize to respond to dysfunction, we might (it’s debatable) be able to rise up and make significant changes to our political and economic systems to reduce that dysfunction, at least making the crises a bit easier to bear.

But, like in the 1930s, we seem to be entering a time when there is no time to think and organize and change things before the next crisis is upon us. The pandemic, and weather-related emergencies (forest fires, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events) keep pushing more existential crises like ecological and climate collapse onto the back burner. Chronically poor education and information systems, and large-scale misinformation and disinformation by vested political and economic interests, seriously aggravate our capacity to respond to such challenges. In many places, inadequate, thinly-stretched health care systems, combined with an epidemic of “lifestyle” chronic diseases, exacerbated by the dismal state of public health and nutrition in much of the world, rich and poor, are also taxing and threatening to break these systems.

So our resilience is low — perhaps, due to our utter, global dependence on centralized systems, it’s as low as it’s ever been in history.

Against this backdrop, here is what I think we will have to face in the coming decade:

  1. Continuing acceleration of inequality of wealth and income, to historic highs. The already thinned-out middle class will more or less disappear as the line of affordable living moves ever northward and the median income relative to cost of living moves inexorably southward.
  2. Inflation, which is already at about 10% (ie doubling living costs every seven years, as housing and health care costs have done) will increase to over 15% as the demand for ever scarcer and more precarious resources increases with population and growing needs. Governments have consistently lied about inflation (see chart above) since the Reagan years “recalculated” it, so even the “official” inflation numbers, currently pronounced as about 5%, will at least double to the point the government can’t completely ignore them.
  3. The doubling or more of consumer costs over the next decade will increase, by a factor of at least five, the number of people on fixed incomes at or below the poverty level. Many of these will be seniors, and many will be young people who never “got into” the markets and whose wages from their low-paying, ever-precarious jobs will increase much more slowly than actual inflation.
  4. At least in cities, the proportion of “single-family” dwellings will plunge, as most such homes (except those of the 1%) are converted into two-family and three-family dwellings, often with second “accessory dwelling units” or “carriage houses” added on the same property.
  5. Our economy depends utterly on the extraction and use of ever accelerating amounts of hydrocarbons. Governments and corporations will keep lying about the potential of renewables, which, even with vastly improved (as yet non-existent) technology, will never meet more than 15% of our energy needs, and developing them will also require hydrocarbon energy. But although peak affordable oil has already passed, governments, corporations and OPEC will keep increasing the available supply even as affordably-extractable reserves collapse over the next decade. We are going to see a ghastly oil crash, but it may be pushed back to the next decade, when the current crop of politicians and executives will have retired to their mansions in Hawai’i and New Zealand.
  6. You know what comes with this, of course — as we keep drilling, fracking and pumping, atmospheric carbon levels will continue their ascent, easily surpassing 450 ppm CO2 by 2031. The CO2e numbers, as other greenhouse gases like methane begin to kick in in larger proportions, will be even worse. This means a locked-in 4-6ºC rise in global mean temperature perhaps as soon as mid-century, and runaway climate change for millennia thereafter. The door to action has closed, and it is possible that ten years from now it will dawn on a significant proportion of the population that endgame is in sight, and that our whole way of life will soon drastically and permanently change.
  7. Everything, in terms of economic collapse, depends on when this realization enters public consciousness. My guess is that this is less than 50% likely to happen in the next decade. We don’t want to hear it, or believe it, and we lap up denier proclamations and assurances that there is or will soon be a techno-fix, or a coordinated global humanist fix, if only we
  8. What do you do once you realize that your real estate, your home, your pension, and your stocks and bonds will lose much or most of their value by mid-century, and perhaps much sooner? If you have any debts securing them, you’ll likely liquidate the assets to get rid of the debt, and then sit tight as your net worth collapses but your now debt-free remaining property is still yours. And you’ll probably liquidate all your stocks and other investments that are dependent on “growth” for their value. I thought that would have happened by now, but my best guess now is around 2029-2032. The coincidence of those dates is not lost on me. In 1921 no one thought 1929-32 would happen. No one.
  9. More than half of the people in most countries have a zero or negative net worth, and that proportion will jump over the next decade. As interest rates rise with inflation, many of these people will be forced into bankruptcy. The first to go will be foreclosed on, and many of them will end up on the streets, unhoused. Most of the rest will probably hang on for this decade, and by the time they go under, banks will be suspending payments on mortgages because they won’t be able to sell the properties anyway. Just like a century ago. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s the next decade.
  10. Unemployment is hard to measure, not only because the government lies about these numbers as well, but because people tend to do whatever they have to, including working multiple jobs, to keep the wolves from the gate. What is almost certain, though, is that (1) a large percentage of people will be working two or three jobs, and working 60-80 hours a week, as is already the case in struggling nations and in many tourist and service-economy areas; and (2) a large percentage of the population will be unemployed, unemployable, and become part of the unnecessariat, as more and more economic activity becomes self-serve and automated. That proportion is already 25-35%, as ShadowStats suggests, and will inexorably grow as the DIY economy grows, and as the rest of the economy slumps.
  11. There will be more pandemics, and not only human ones, but pandemics affecting CAFO factory farms (especially poultry), and monoculture crops. Current trends suggest another major one, and one or two lesser ones, in the decade to come.

So those are my predictions. What is probably more important is how we will respond to these changes. Will we be like the boiling frogs, not noticing things getting slowly worse until it’s too late, or will we react, and force governments and corporations to respond?

I don’t think we, or governments or corporations, will do anything significantly different until/unless there is no alternative. But these intriguing actions are possible, maybe even likely, in the next decade:

  1. Slow phase-in of a guaranteed annual income (GAI). This was unthinkable before the current pandemic, but I think it’s an idea with legs. For a start, corporations don’t want massive bankruptcies — broke people don’t buy stuff. With less and less of the population physically and emotionally able to work, and fewer and fewer real jobs, most requiring advanced skills few people have, the only way to keep the whole population engaged contributing to the consumer economy is to give them money to buy stuff. Expect trials first, then states taking the lead, and then gradually it being integrated into the tax system.
  2. A real minimum wage. This will have to be significantly higher than the GAI. I think it will come, as inflation grows and more and more get fed up with 80-hour weeks. It will force corporations to the next stage of automation — getting rid of a lot of middle-management pencil-pushers and other Bullshit Jobs, so they can afford the new minimum wage for people who actually do something.
  3. Actual tax increases on the rich. The naked emperor can only fool the citizens so long. They’ll try to make it a global tax schema, and about “fairness”, but eventually many countries will go it alone anyway. It’ll be gradual, but once it’s become legit and no longer political suicide, it will gain momentum.
  4. Slashes to military spending. The bloated, unaccountable spending for war by governments has passed the breaking point. Everyone knows it. The British, in the same situation a century ago, had to slash war spending because their empire was just too expensive to maintain. Like tax increases on the rich, this will be tough at first, and violently opposed, but will gradually become common wisdom as a necessary move.
  5. A health care nightmare, and not just in the US. As the population everywhere ages and sickens, all of the current systems are unsustainable. There are no obvious answers. Simple implosion of the system in some countries is possible. If not, there will have to be limits on the rights, even of the rich, to unlimited health care. It’s probably going to be nastier than anything else we see in the next decade.
  6. Price controls on selected essentials. By which I mean essential to short-term economic stability, not essential to public health and well-being. Petrochemicals (with offsetting subsidies to producers so they keep producing), electricity, pharmaceuticals, rents, maybe even internet prices. Every commodity has a supply/demand curve, and when they no longer intersect, which will be the case for more and more things, controls will need to be imposed.
  7. A partial debt jubilee: There is a long and glorious tradition of such jubilees (blanket forgiveness and erasure of debts), but recent, fierce new restrictions on the capacity to declare personal bankruptcy in some countries has shown an inclination for the opposite. It can’t continue; you can’t get blood out of a stone. Governments will have to step in, take over and write off several types of egregious debts, starting with student loans and then “underwater” mortgages (of which there will be many more when the real estate bubble bursts, which will likely happen several times over the next decade). As usual, the banks will remain unpunished for their risky lending practices. The taxpayers will pay for the bailouts.
  8. No ban on evictions. While underwater homeowners will get some debt relief, renters will be largely left to their own resources. The rental market will play out accordingly. Expect the cities to continue to hollow out of workers, and stores and restaurants especially in major city centres to get more expensive to pay minimum wages; they will accordingly aim for a more upscale market. This is already happening in some places.
  9. No better preparedness for pandemics. We seem to have learned nothing from the current one, so expect the next one to be equally mismanaged. We just aren’t cut out for dealing with this type of crisis.
  10. No revolution. During the Great Depression, the top 5% did fine despite tax rates as high as 90% and plummeting stock and real estate values. Debt-free, they just sat on their assets until it was over. But the next 20% were hit as hard as everyone else, and it was a long and hard fall for them. There were protests, but most people just struggled, took their licks, and soldiered on, convinced their woes weren’t special and everyone was in the same boat. My guess is that’ll be the case as things get more dicey this decade — much noise and complaint and blame, but not much direct action. Most of the actions above will be taken by governments who are forced to the wall by harsh economic realities, rather than being pressured by citizen unrest. Things have to get really bad before humans tend to take to the streets and the barricades.

I will probably be proved wildly wrong in these predictions, but it will be interesting to see. It’s going to be an eye-opening decade, but denial will prevail for this decade at least. It was 1933 before it was officially labelled The Great Depression, and it might be 2033 before it dawns on most of us that the great experiment with Extinction Capitalism was a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous experiment, and that economic collapse will be but the first phase of a more complete, and permanent, civilizational collapse, over several more decades. No predicting what will happen then.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments