- Key concepts:
- 2012, futurism, John L. Peterson, Arlington Institute, prognostications
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- Happy new years... these meditations by Washington-based pundit John Peterson seem to reflect the current mood of the times in the Beltway, which are about as dazed and miserablist-apocalyptophile as one can imagine. Looks like the world will be hit on the head with a series of hammers until morale improves. I'm having a lot of black-humored fun at this guy's expense here, but I think he's dealing with the season as best he can. His newsletter FUTUREDITION is consistently amazing.
Global warming affects the very fringes of the atmosphere, so much so that spacecraft can feel it.
Daisies are blooming in a Moscow December. http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/39439/story.htm
http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/39455/story.htm "Regional Nuclear War Could Spark Climate Change." It's our dear old friend, "nuclear winter," now creatable by most anybody. Imagine global warming AND a nuclear winter. "We are at a perilous crossroads," said Owen Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. "The current combination of nuclear proliferation, political instability and urban demographics form perhaps the greatest danger to the stability of society since the dawn of humanity." Hey, Merry Christmas, Doc! How 'bout and oil peak and some bird flu to go with that mistletoe?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6211250.stm Two percent of the planet's richest people now own fifty percent of the world. Hey, rich folks, you bought it, you fix it! If anything remotely practical gets done by the year 2012, it's obviously gonna get done by rich people. They own the works. Any "solution" that they can't buy and install is kinda silly.
http://www.greenbiz.com/news/columns_third.cfm?NewsID=34308&pic=2 Look, (says irate Aggie engineer), knock it off with the bullshit leftist social-engineering! Just suck the damn CO2 out of the sky! Simple! End of problem! "Air-capture" it!... Okay, fine, great; if you can do that, you can scold Greenpeace as much as you want. I won't mind a bit! Honest!
http://wpweb2k.gsia.cmu.edu/ceic/phd.htm I mean, so far you don't seem to have much more than a PhD dissertation versus all those melting icebergs. Where are the giant miracle-solution sodium hydroxide racks and sulfur-cure atmosphere sprays? Get after it, dude! Let Exxon pay!
John Peterson writes:
"This time of the year always generates an unusual amount of deep thinking. People try to stop for a moment and consider what has happened over the last year and attempt to get a handle on the more profound implications of what this thing called life is all about and where we are all going. "And then, here's one from me. It's a chapter for a book which will be published next year."
Getting to 2012: Big Changes Ahead John L. Petersen
Consider this recent BBC headline: "Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned." One that followed was: "Climate change threatens supplies of water for millions of people in poorer countries, warns a new report from the Christian development agency Tearfund" (((Great name for a Christian development agency.)))
About the same time the Washington Post said: "Birds, bees, bats and other species that pollinate North American plant life are losing population, according to a study released yesterday by the National Research Council."
Reuters added: "Failing to fight global warming now will cost trillions of dollars by the end of the century even without counting biodiversity loss or unpredictable events like the Gulf Stream shutting down."
Author James Howard Kunstler chimed in: "The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope -- that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on.” (((You gotta love J. Kunstler. A situation that dire creates "a religion of hope?" The top religious activists in the world already cultivate a religion of holy suicide and blow up their own mosques! Imagine the jolly, affirmative, carry-on mood those jihadis would be in during a Regional Nuclear Winter.)))
"Then, in a landmark report compiled by Sir Nicholas Stern for the UK government, comes the admonition: The world has to act now on climate change or face devastating economic consequences. Sir Nicholas estimated that at most humanity has ten years before the shift is unrecoverable. (((What if it's already ten years too late? Or twenty years? Shouldn't we be giving this prospect a lot more serious thought? We're not averting anything much; there are daisies blooming in Moscow.)))
What's going on here? What does this all mean? (((Settle in, folks; he's about to let fly.)))
These are extraordinary statements about massive earth changes. Are they just random trends that happen to be coincidentally showing up at the same time, or perhaps they reflect some big, historic, underlying dynamic == maybe the world is about to experience a shift unlike anything ever seen before. (((You know what's worse than a futurist who over- promises? A futurist who over-delivers.))) There are reasons to believe the latter could be the case. Many sources, both conventional and unconventional, suggest that we are living in a special time == that between now and 2012 the world will undergo an epochal shift to a new era.
This rapid evolution will produce a world that operates in fundamentally different ways than it has in the past.(((For instance, it might well operate the way a 500-pound gorilla operates when it (a) has Ebola (b) is on fire and (c ) has recently converted to Islam.)))
The indicators are there. Take a closer look at what is already happening.
Nearly a half of all people on the planet are under the age of 25[i]. That's the largest youth generation in history. The overwhelming majority of these young people live in the developing world and almost a quarter are surviving on less than $1 a day[ii] Most of them know about the quality of life in the West. Many have seen and used a computer or a mobile phone. (((Bring it on, kids! Got all the pirate MP3s and YouTube you can eat!)))
Peaking of the Global Oil Supply:
Regardless of the increased awareness that our oil resources are finite, demand for oil is growing. In the last years it grew from 79.8 (2003) to 84.3 (2005) million bpd[iii]. Even if the Chinese economy were to slow down, the growth is still likely to continue with a pressure from India.
Supply, on the other hand, appears to have peaked. We now have nine and a half months of "rearview mirror" action to look back and see that world oil production has retreated from its all-time high of just over 85 million barrels a day (m/b/d) achieved in December 2005 (just as geologist Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton had predicted). For 2006, production has remained in the 84 m/b/d range every month reported so far, while demand has exceeded that.[iv]
Oil curse is a term coined to reflect the desperate situation of many oil rich but otherwise underdeveloped countries. The Chinese are now involved in a comprehensive international outreach to African countries, buying up resources (not just oil) in Nigeria, Angola, Congo, Sudan. So far oil importers used mostly economic and political means to compete for oil but will inevitably resort to military strategies as soon as they realize that they have probably passed peak oil threshold. ((("Inevitably?" It's a done deal; the Iraq War's been going on for years now and producing LESS oil, not more.)))
The report "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management” prepared by SAIC for the Department of Energy concludes that humanity is facing asymmetric risks associated with the peaking of oil. Although mitigation actions initiated prematurely may result in a poor use of resources, late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences. Early mitigation measures are necessary to install production capacities for alternative energy in time for the peaking of oil. (((Why do weird spook-boffin outfits like SAIC use such bland and anonymous bureaucrat-speak?)))
Despite an avowed reverence for life, human beings continue to destroy other species at an alarming rate, rivaling the great extinctions of the geologic past. In the process, we are foreclosing the possibility of discovering the secrets they contain for the development of new life-saving medicines and of invaluable models for medical research, and we are beginning to disrupt the vital functioning of ecosystems on which all life depends. We may also be losing some species so uniquely sensitive to environmental degradation that they may serve as our "canaries," warning us of future threats to human health.[v] (((Not to mention that they make all the oxygen.)))
The speed of species extinction has forced scientists to refer to the current era as the sixth extinction event comparable to only five other events in the known history of biosphere (that's a few billion of years!) (((Yeah, and imagine how the scientists will direly refer to these things when the scientists themselves are extinct.)))
A good example is a new study that shows that the oceans' fish are being depleted so fast that eating seafood might be just a memory in 40 years. The researchers say more is at stake than our diet, for they find the dwindling of fish stocks hurts the world economically and the ocean environmentally. Researchers say it is not too late to reverse the trend.[vi] (((What if it WAS too late? "Welp, the ocean's turned to carbonic seltzer-water and all the fish just died." I wonder who would be hired to spin that.)))
According to Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services could be partially met under some scenarios that they have considered but these involve significant changes in policies, institutions and practices, that are not currently under way. (((Unless you count nuclear proliferation, which could create some big flaming changes in institutions and practices as quick as you can say "Jack Robinson.")))
Climate Change: (((Let's settle on down and throw another shrimp on the barbie... wait, the shrimp all died and Australia's consumed with brushfires.))))
Earth is already as warm as at any time in the last 10,000 years, and is within 1°C of being its hottest for a million years. Another decade of business-as-usual carbon emissions will probably make it too late to prevent the ecosystems of the north from triggering runaway climate change[vii]. (((Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen; an outright futurist prophecy of doom.)))
Feedback loops (the self-reinforcing relationships between the change in CO2, global warming and other factors) are driving the dynamics of climate change. In fact, they are the source of exponential rates of growth. We may be entering a phase in which global warming becomes a runaway train. (((Good thing the train ran out of oil, then.)))
Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and if the present rate of retreat continues, they may be gone by 2035. More than 2 billion people == a third of the world's population, rely on the Himalayas for their water[viii] (((Definitely dents our prospects for Szechuan chow and Bollywood movies.)))
An increase in global temperatures can interfere with the workings of the ocean conveyor belt and bring another ice age to Europe. The earth's ocean system is characterized by thermal inertia. This means that it adapts slowly to global cooling and warming but once it starts to warm up or cool down, the process will extend for a long period of time. For us, it means that even if all human emissions were to stop now, thermal inertia of the ocean could sustain an increase in global temperatures.
According to conclusions of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) (((These IPCC guys need a much snappier name == I suggest "Giant Planetary Flaming Doom Patrol"))) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.
Major Economic Disruption (((Show me the money!)))
During 2003-4, in a concern about possible "deflation", the Federal Reserve ran the interest rates that they charged banks down so low (1%), that mortgage lenders began offering below-prime mortgages with little or no money down. Refinancing of existing mortgages was at an all-time high. Huge increases in mortgages resulted (more than five times the amount between 2002 and 2006 than in the preceding five-year period).
Many if not most of those loans (whose real interest rate was higher than "prime" mortgages secured in historical ways) had extra-low payments in the loan's early years with a substantial increase in payments after the "balloon" period. People were buying homes whose income would never have allowed them to own a home previous to that time . . . and those least able to pay their loans began using credit card credit to make up for the shortfall in income.
In 2005 for the first time since 1933, the savings rate in America became negative.(((Could this possibly make any difference at all if the Chinese and the Indians have no water to drink and America's pollination species have died off? This is like a banker in a collapsing World Trade Center tower trying to re-schedule lunch with his broker.)))
This happened about the same time that personal credit card debt reached its highest level ever (number of U.S. credit cards grew 75% from 1990 to 2003 while the amount that was charged increased 350%). Consumer credit as a percentage of personal income has never been so high (30 % increase since 2000 alone) and household debt as a percentage of house assets is at a record. (((So what? They're supposed to scrimp and save so their kids can enjoy the Sixth Great Extinction? Obviously the only course for a rational economic actor under these conditions is to eat drink & be merry. Max out the plastic! Hey, it works for the government.)))
Independent analysis shows that credit card defaults begin about 24 months after a borrower has fundamentally overextended him or herself and therefore history suggests that we should see a dramatic increase in mortgage defaults starting in 2006. In fact, the percentage of U.S. subprime loans that were made in 2006 and delinquent in payments by 60 or more days by August of the year rose 100% over similar loans made in 2005.[ix] (((Okay, I'm getting a little confused here... we get a Great Depression first, then the oil peak, the oil warand the self-reinforcing climate juggernaut that freezes Europe and also parches the Himalayas? Can we have one from Column A and two from Column B?)))
All banks have a great percentage of their assets tied up in mortgage-based securities. If the default rate on mortgages increases significantly it could well translate into a major threat to the solvency of many banks. (((Why would we even NEED banks? I don't remember many ATMs on the set of "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.)))
The debt situation will be exacerbated by the retirement of the baby boomers (((The "flood of gray hippies threat," oh Lordy))) and implementation of the new banking regulations under the auspices of the Basel II Accords that demand the revamping of the global banking system, for which no banks are likely to be ready. (((If nobody's bothering with Kyoto or the Geneva Convention, why would they care about the "Basel II Accords"?)))
According to Warren Buffet, the current financial system is highly unstable. Highly complex financial instruments == derivatives == are time bombs and "financial weapons of mass destruction". "Derivatives generate reported earnings that are often wildly overstated and based on estimates whose inaccuracy may not be exposed for many years". (((Or, in fact, ever. You think we'd be worried about Enron's books if Katrina had wiped out Houston?)))
"Large amounts of risk have become concentrated in the hands of relatively few derivatives dealers . . . which can trigger serious systemic problems" Derivatives can push companies onto a "spiral that can lead to a corporate meltdown". (((Given that 2 percent of the planet owns fifty percent of everything, why don't they just buy themselves some fresh governments and re-invent all the paper?)))
Investor George Soros pronounced the same criticisms regarding the global financial system. He believes that unless fundamental reforms are implemented, the current system will continue on a spiral of crises[x].
Is the nexus of these forces a unique watershed time that will usher in a new era on this planet? Will the structures and institutions that we are all familiar with and depend upon struggle and even fail in the near future under the stress produced by breakdowns in multiple sectors? (((Those words sound so amazingly dull compared to what that would "breakdowns in multiple sectors" would actually feel like. Oh well, at least, unlike most Oil Peakists, he's not rubbing his hands in glee about it.)))
Add to the litany above (((oh goody))) increasingly sophisticated terrorism, serious global shortages of drinking water, growing population pressures, and the possibility of other shocks like a global pandemic (((bird flu, you return at last, we scarcely knew ye))) and you've got the line up for the potential for a major directional shift. The convergence of climate, oil and financial trends alone could produce a "perfect storm" that reorders the future of humanity on this planet. (((Really, pretty much any one of those factors would pop the World As We Know It like a boot on a Christmas ornament... "re-ordering?" Is that quite the proper word?)))
A New Paradigm
If failure of the present system is what we're looking at, it would certainly be followed by a new paradigm. If the old system came down, a new one would evolve that attempted to bypass the systemic frailties of the previous world. (((Kind of like Soviet Communism being replaced by a sunny new realm of Mafia Petrocracy.))) It would necessarily be a fundamentally different way of understanding reality, attended by new perspectives of science, ecology, economy, cosmology, governing, agriculture, and education, among the other basic intellectual structures which support human activity. (((You know, that sounds pretty radical, but I'm so fed up by this time that I think I might be willing to go for that. Sure, man, junk the works! The rotten Roman Empire has gotta go! Just as long as I don't get vandalized, become feudal slave labor or undergo a religious conversion.)))
The new world, as in all paradigm shifts, would not make much sense from our present perspective. Never having seen group larger than a clan, a hunter-gatherer contemplating the future would have been hard-pressed to envision a world that included people living in towns and villages. Similarly, the future that may arrive with 2012 would necessarily seem strange in the context of most of our upbringing.(((That's five years away, folks. I hope they're still reading sci-fi novels in Wonderland.)))
But as we get closer to the time of this epic shift the early outlines of a new future appear to be emerging. First of all, the new world is a highly interdependent and connected one. The complexity of our present communications systems link individual humans in ways that would have seemed impossible just two decades ago (the World Wide Web had not yet been invented only fifteen years ago!) As the ability to interact in increasingly more sophisticated ways develops, a point will be passed when humanity begins to act like an organism, rather than unrelated individuals and small groups. (((What KIND of "organism"? Hope it has a backbone.)))
Ideas will transit the world like rumors in a small town. Concepts and perspectives will infect the global brain and produce behavior never before seen. We will see our future tied to others many thousands of miles away from us in ways that would have made no sense five years ago. We will rapidly become planetary citizens. (((Hey, it's working for me here in Serbia.)))
Similarly, ecological interconnectedness is also rapidly becoming obvious. For many of us, we now know that we are all related to the larger environmental system in which we live in ways that we never previously understood. The death of a third of the coral reefs in the world and ten-thousand other species a year will surely affect the system that supports human life . . . and certainly not beneficially.(((Yeah, and while you can always start a new bank, good luck re-inventing the coral reef.)))
All of this new knowledge will of necessity change our behavior in the future. We will see ourselves as an integral part of the whole system in which we live. We will know that we are all in the same life boat and each of our futures is a function of the future of all of us. Self-interest and security, whether characterized in personal or national terms, will very quickly encompass far more space and people than it has in the past.
In the face of rapid climate change, for example, national security would approach becoming synonymous with global security. ((("Khaki Green." I'd be happier about this prospect if I'd seen any national army win a war lately.)))
We'll also see ourselves connected in spiritual terms. Perhaps this is where the real paradigm shift will take place.(((No it isn't. At least, I sure hope not.)))
More and more individuals are beginning to experience and internalize the fact that we are connected to each other and with animals, plants and even the earth in ways that even though inexplicable are nevertheless demonstrable. Serious new scientifically based books are now being written about how human behavior is connected to the larger cosmos and how that throughout history it has predictably reflected in how we behave. Agricultural systems are in place that claim to tap into elemental spiritual forces in order to grow crops better. Many studies now show that the intentionality of prayer significantly affects single-cellular life as well as humans . . . and it doesn't make any difference whether either party knows the other one (or that they're praying) or not.(((It's kind of pitiful to see the guy reduced to this kind of knee-wobbling guff. It's like the last reel of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the one with my personal favorite, the utterly terrifying Ghost of Christmas Future. He must be really, seriously scared to offer prayer to bacteria as the sign of way forward.)))
(((Here are some interesting bacteria that
probably aren't much affected by prayer because
they apparently CAME FROM MARS. "What, you're
kidding, right?" Uh... maybe.)))
"There is evidence now that somehow humans anticipate big disruptions to the system (like 9/11 and the Indonesian tsunami) and begin to have extraordinary precognitive dreams before these major events. (((If that's somehow so, I really, really hope that I'm spared those. Imagine DREAMING about total ecological collapse before it happened. It'd be like something out of Stephen King.)))
This spiritual awareness seems on a trajectory that will expand to include the ability to tap into the global collective unconscious and may even become somewhat predictive == marrying advanced knowledge technology with dreaming and other intuitive processes.(((If you can't think of a way out of this mess, maybe you'd better sleep on it.)))
Growing numbers of thoughtful people are coming to the conclusion that intentionality directly shapes reality. How our thoughts translate into the reconfiguration of matter and different behavior in others is not clear, but for many, life-long experiences tell them that that is how it works.
In all of this there appears to be an alternative dimension(s) for communication that facilitates this interconnectivity. Who knows, perhaps human telepathy may be emergent as we see ourselves more tightly committed to each other in the future. (((I'd be tempted to read the mind of a climate skeptic and see if there's anything actually in there.)))
In any case, there are a great number of indicators, both historical and contemporary, that suggest that we are approaching a time of extraordinary change. Although no one now alive has ever lived through a similar shift, the history of the planet, as we know it, suggests that these kinds of major upheavals have happened many times in the past == in fact, they are the fundamental evolutionary mechanism for the planet. Biological life moved abruptly from single-cellular life to multiple-cellular life after a very long period of equilibrium. Then multiple- cellular life was punctuated by a radical transformation that yielded vertebrates . . . which were followed by rapid shifts to mammals, early humans, and then homo sapiens.(((Which then briskly killed themselves off and left the world to its next possessors, the telepathic Martian microbes. Hey, it could happen!)))
Social evolutionary punctuations continued moving hunter-gathers into villages and towns, finally resulting in the printing press which enabled the industrial age. Perhaps the Internet represents the new communications infrastructure upon which the radically new paradigm will be built.(((Or, if there's no fuel whatsoever and complete economic collapse, a printing press in a village would be lookin' pretty good.)))
Perhaps we are about to experience another punctuation in the equilibrium of human evolution. Patterns from the past suggest that the time is right for another one. The question is, are we ready? (((For THAT!? By 2012? Gimme a break!)))
If the change that seems to be forming on the horizon is anything like it appears it might be, then all humans will need to move into a new mode of living and thinking in order to survive the transition.(((Aw come on, we can't ALL survive... is it too much to ask that the living won't envy the dead in five years? I like to think that my demands on futurity are pretty modest, but, well. . . .)))
There will need to be a constant orientation of openness == having a wide aperture for sensing subtle indicators that point toward coming change and being receptive to newly emerging approaches to dealing with the rapidly changing environment. If one is not open to the suggestions and ideas of others, they will necessarily falter, as no one individual will have the capability to deal with this change by themselves. New ideas and explanations about how reality works will begin to bubble-up in many places; they must be openly considered and honestly evaluated. (((And, if the ideas turn out to be moronic, the guys who hold them need to be kicked out of power.)))
There must also be an openness to adapt == to rapidly change when it is required. The survivors of this epochal shift will necessarily live closer to the earth. They will know that their food does not come from the supermarket . . . in fact, they may well know the farmer who grows it. They will be sensitive to the earth in ways that they perhaps previously reserved only for humans. The current movement toward "relocalization" == shifting one's life and relationships closer to a sustaining support system == will probably be rather mature.(((Well, none of that is sending my morale soaring, just yet... You know what would be really great right now? A twelve-year-old single-malt Scotch and a big chocolate ice-cream sundae.)))
Effectively transitioning to this new world will require envisioning it into reality. We will all need to develop a basic, but coherent idea of what the new world might look like == the principles, values, structures, behavior, etc. == and begin to carry that common picture in our minds. (((Kinda like the concepts of cyberpunk in the early 1980s == "Hey wow, someday there will be a world rather like the late 1990s.")))
We need to "get together" at regular times with as many others as possible to project the new images into the space from which everything comes. (((I hope there's catering.)))
We should do it as though our life depends on it, as it probably does. (((Well, that's a nicer sentiment than packing up some survivalist ammo and heading for the hills.)))
We are all blessed to live at this time of extraordinary transformation. Each in his or her own way has a special role to play in contributing to the ultimate shape and function of this new world. That's probably why we are here at this time. We should not hesitate to vigorously play our part. Time is short.
(((Well, it may be that we're damned to live in this time of sinister and extraordinary collapse. But even if so, he's right: we need to vigorously play. Just look tomorrow right in the eye and go for it. The silliest suggestion in here is a thousand times better than sticking your fingers in your ears. We're gonna catch-it big time, so we might as well put our hands out.)))