Sunday, 26 June 2016

Business as Usual, Crunchiness and Woo, Part 4: A Reality Based Approach

In this series of posts about BAU (Business as Usual), Crunchiness (those who oppose BAU) and Woo (pseudoscience and magical thinking) I've been promising that I am going somewhere with all this and that I would finally get there. Well, here we are.

The tagline for this blog is, "A reality based approach to life in the age of scarcity." And that is where I've been headed. There's a lot more meat in that one phrase than you might think. I'll break it into three parts and explain what I mean by each, starting with the tail, then the head and finally (in my next post) the middle, which is really the heart of the thing.

"In The Age of Scarcity"

So first, "the age of scarcity", a term that I am borrowing from John Michael Greer. It refers to where we now find ourselves, trying to sustain a growth economy as the resources it relies on become ever more depleted. Thus the term scarcity. The mouthpieces of BAU would object to this, claiming that things are now better than they ever have been and that technology can bail us out of any problems we may run into. I find that amusing--BAU caused the situation that it refuses to acknowledge and continues to make it worse.

I talked about this in the second and third posts in this series, but I'll recap briefly.

Progress is a religion for BAU, its raison d'etre. It defines progress as increasing material prosperity, physical comfort and convenience for an ever growing human population. The economies within BAU are set up to work well only when growing. Even with the improved efficiency provided by technology, ever increasing amounts of natural resources are being consumed, to the point where the resources that are left are of lower quantity and less concentrated, making whatever is made from them more costly. At the same time, more and more pollution is being created.

All this results in situations like Peak Oil, Climate change and Economic Contraction, of which I've spoken at some length. Since I started writing here four years ago, it has become clear that a shortage of fresh water (Peak water?)should be added to the list. And in an effort to keep business profitable under these conditions, people are being replaced with technological wherever possible, resulting in growing "technological" unemployment. To top it off, the relentless growth of our human population makes all these things worse.

I am convinced that if BAU continues "as usual", over the next few decades we will see a gradual and bumpy collapse of BAU's ability to provide us with the necessities of life. Modern agriculture and industry are unsustainable, and environmental degradation (including climate change, but not limited to it) will place both under ever worsening stress. We can expect a significant reduction in their outputs, leading to a reduction in human population.

In addition to happening unevenly over time, this collapse will be varied in how it is felt across the world's regions, with the result that migrations of refugees will become the defining events of this century. The collapse will also be felt differently across the strata of society. It has already arrived today for those who are homeless and begging for food, with no reasonable hope for improvement in their lot. At the same time the upper crust are enjoying the fruits of progress and living better than they ever have before. Not only can we expect this gap to widen, but the numbers of the unemployed and homeless will grow while that upper crust gets thinner.

As I pointed out in my "Political Fantasy" series of posts, there is much that could be done to fix things within BAU and in the process change BAU into something less destructive. This might have worked 40, 30, perhaps even 20 years ago. But today? It seems unlikely and gets more so as time passes.

When I vote in elections (mainly to preserve my complaining rights) I try to support whichever party looks to be the most aware of this situation and likely to do something about it. But I don't for a moment believe that much will actually be done to change BAU or fix any of the problems it is causing. I prefer to spend the majority of my time and energy getting ready for the more likely (though less pleasant) future.

We're stuck in the age of scarcity and we must learn to adapt. In my case this falls within the realm of crunchiness, not survivalism. And, while you may not like the term "crunchiness", it is the one I have chosen to use here to describe those who would withdraw their support from BAU and try to build something different and better. In fact, of course, people are all mixtures of crunchy and BAU attitudes, and act differently in different circumstances.

A Reality Based Approach

That brings us to "a reality based approach". Which is simply accepting things as they actually are and acting accordingly. The alternative being denial and believing in whatever sort of "woo" it takes to support your favourite ideological position. This applies to both BAU and Crunchiness.

BAU style woo allows people to believe in progress and growth continuing forever on a finite planet. And it convinces them that there is no acceptable alternative.

Crunchy style of woo provides a simplistic route to rejecting BAU for those who are convinced by much of BAU's propaganda, even though they don't like the direction it is taking us. Just reject anything that comes from big business or government, even if it is clearly supported by science. And uncritically accept anything that seems to oppose BAU.

In my last post I talked about the pseudoscience and magical thinking (woo) that is in vogue among Crunchies. I included a bunch of links that where intended to show that in their rejection of science, Crunchies persist in believing things that science has already proven wrong, and refuse to believe in much of what science has proven right. Not stuff that is out at the frontiers of science where there might be some wiggle room, but stuff about which there is a solid scientific consensus, which will no doubt be refined as time passes, but is unlikely to undergo major change.

Crunchies tend to reject the positive achievements of BAU along with its downsides, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I would say the biggest challenge facing the Crunchy movement is to succeed in rejecting the woo which is the essence of BAU without rejecting the scientific method and the valid scientific consensus that has come out of BAU. This is tricky since much of the woo in BAU is part of our common culture and it is difficult to question or even recognize for what it is.

In their rejection of BAU and their intention to turn away from it and do less harm to the planet and their fellow man, Crunchies are definitely on the right track. There is no need to glom onto a bunch of woo in order to differentiate themselves from BAU.

Back in the first post of this series, I spoke briefly about the pitfalls of binary thinking and how much of the woo that both BAU and Crunchy people subscribe to exists to maintain their separate positions and convince themselves that the other side is wrong. I'd like to see both of those positions abandoned and a reality based approach adopted by everyone involved. Of course I know that there is little hope of changing minds that are firmly made up, but I hope there are a few minds out there that aren't made up--or at least not too firmly. I've engaged in enough social media link wars to know that there's no winning them--everything seems black and white to both sides, and they both have lots of so called "evidence" to support their positions. But in reality, away from the keyboard and screen, things are not so--there are many shades of gray, and alternatives that neither side is willing to consider.

To take a more balanced and nuanced approach is challenging, but well worth the effort. First, look at the current scientific consensus and use that information to evaluate the position in which we find ourselves. And then look at what we can realistically do about it, since we are constrained not just by what is scientifically possible but also by the practicalities of the actual situation.

If we do nothing, we may be "lucky" enough to survive and find ourselves coping with the devastating effects of randomly eliminating half or more of the population. That's certainly where BAU is heading and I would like to avoid having to picking up the pieces as part of the shell shocked remainder still alive after collapse is well under way.

In my next post, I'll tackle the third part of my tagline, "to life" and talk about how we might approach the challenge of actually living in the age of scarcity.


Michael Smith said...

Right now our Global Population requires the resources of 1 and 1/2 Earth planets each year, so our population growth is on a collision course with Nature. We must find a way to stop population growth or even curtail it if we hope to survive as a human race.

But it gets worse. Even if we could stop population growth today, our carbon emissions are such that Global Warming will become irreversible leading to more extreme weather and sea level rise and huge loses of life.

I am not concerned about the loss of fossil fuel. Enough sun shine hits the Earth in a day to power it for a year. We just have to learn how to tap into it.

Also we must learn to live without growth. The housing bubble that as never broken in Canada is entirely due to immigration and growth. Without that Canada would go into a serious recession.

Mike Smith

Irv Mills said...

Mike, you are absolutely right that there are going to be huge loses of life. Climate change is part of it, but even more so the fact that modern agriculture is not sustainable. It relies on non-renewable fertilizers and huge amounts of energy. Population tracks food supply and when the food supply goes down, so will the population.
Death is something we don't like to talk about in modern society, but the death rate is the same everywhere--one person, one death. Some of those deaths are going to happen a little sooner that they otherwise would have. And for those of us who are aware of what's coming there is a (somewhat) improved chance of living through this. My next blog post (already out) covers that topic.
It isn't possible to tap solar power in the way you suggest--it is just way too diffuse. The EROEI of solar cells is around 3, which is too low to do us any good. You're letting your ideological woo show thorough...
By the way, I did go through your plots at the community garden with a hoe. Got rid of a bunch of weeds and (I hope) didn't do too much damage.