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As the United States of America reached its 235th birthday, I find myself wondering, what do we really have to celebrate, as a nation? What recent achievements can we be proud of? What positive momentum do we have which gives us something to look forward to?
Honestly, it’s hard for me to feel “proud to be an American” these days. It seems like our nation has degenerated into a polarized dysfunctional political culture of idiocy which is exaggerated by our global military quagmires and an economy that is collapsing. Not to mention all hell breaking loose with environmental catastrophes one after another. But I remain an optimist in the sense that our only choice is to optimize our situation and I believe that the United States is still full of innovative, creative and productive mojo. Necessity is the mother of innovation, and our creative spirit is why the United States is still the most important nation on spaceship Earth. This is worth celebrating.
The “new economy” of sustainability-focused enterprise is blossoming even as conventional systems collapse around us. For example, Vermont is moving quickly to re-localize our food production with sustainable agricultural practices.
And it’s no longer easy for people to remain in denial, since the economic and environmental pressure on our civilization has become so extreme, so I believe lots of people are waking up. This is a good thing. Celebrate awakening!
However, while the artificial left versus right political debate rages on in endless pro-wrestling drama, the elephant in the room is largely ignored. So I’ll just say it. There is not going to be an economic “recovery” to pre-2008 consumption and spending levels. The age of endless growth is over. Permanently. This is the inconvenient truth that you won’t hear from Al Gore, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
From now on, the global economy, and population, will need to shrink because we have exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity given our current energy and food systems. Peak oil production was in 2005, according to the International Energy Agency and the U.S. military. That means there is less and less oil available, even as demand explodes with the rapid development of Asia and S. America. What goes up must come down, and we’re beyond the tipping point.
Something has got to give. The economy can only grow if the available energy supply can grow and that’s just physically not possible with conventionally available infrastructure. Add to this the fact that every nation, and most households, are buried in debt that is too large to ever be repaid, and you realize that there’s not enough investment capital available to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy systems. Something has got to give.
The global economy is not sustainable. You already know that, but you’ve been keeping your fingers crossed hoping that some magic bullet would solve this before you were inconvenienced. Well, you’re out of luck. Resource depletion (minerals, water, wood, soil, oil) is already taking its toll. Just look at commodity prices that have all doubled in the past two years. Look at energy prices. Look at the European Union which is collapsing. Russia is no longer exporting any oil. China is trying to import as much coal from the U.S. as possible, even while the U.S. is importing 30 percent of our fossil fuels. Revolutions in the Mideast are the sign of things to come regarding “resource nationalism” where people realize they need to stop exporting their valuable and limited natural resources. While the military industrial complex fights oil, water and mineral wars across the globe to control the last remaining reserves, you and I will suffer constant inconvenience and an economy that resembles third-world realities.
Embrace this reality and prepare for it, or fall into suicidal despair. These are your only two options.
The only hope for any of us, and for humanity in general, is to re-localize our economies to produce our own food, energy and goods based on local demand and local supply. We need to become productive again. That’s the bottom line. That means doing real work! Sorry, video-game gurus and blog-pundits, your skills are irrelevant, time to learn a real skill. The age of transporting raw materials to the other side of the world, making cheap junk with slave labor, and then transporting this junk back to the EU and U.S. markets is about to be over. And we’ll continue to see global disruptions in supply chains that are exaggerated by the environmental catastrophes that are only going to intensify with climate change and resource depletion (Gulf oil, Fukashima, Midwest floods, Southeast wildfires, etc.).
But Vermont is actually well-positioned to survive and even thrive in the age of energy descent and global economic collapse. We have 18 acres of forest per household and 6 acres of farmland per household, which is twice the amount of land we need to feed ourselves and heat our buildings sustainably. We are blessed with extreme weather, which has prevented Vermont from becoming over-populated. And our citizenry can still remember when Vermont was known for its Yankee ingenuity and rugged economic independence. We can and must bring this identity back to life.
So, my fellow Vermonters, what are we doing to prepare for a future of reduced energy supply, civil unrest and dysfunctional global markets? Have you spent any time living in third-world countries, which will prepare you for what is coming to Vermont? Do you have a plan to produce your own food and energy from the local landscape? Do you know your neighbors? Can you hunt and process your own venison? Can you fix your own washing machine when it breaks? Can you cut your own firewood and grow your own carrots?
As people waved their Old Glory flag made in China, drank “American” beer from a factory owned by a Belgian company, and grilled factory-farmed hot dogs made 2,000 miles away from your home. I hope people celebrated and lived it up now while they can because those days of convenience and leisure are soon to be over.
And good riddance.
Brown lives in Fayston.