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Amador Fernández-Savater, Abril de 2011

Entrevista com Ramón Fernandez Durán

 

 Presentas este libro [La Quiebra del Capitalismo Global: 2000­-2030] como un ejercicio de política-ficción, ¿qué significa eso?

Es un ejercicio de política-ficción, pero eso sí, con grandes dosis de realidad, en un momento en que estamos entrando en una bifurcación histórica total: el principio del fin de la Era de los combustibles fósiles. Lo cual implicará el fin de la energía barata para siempre y el inicio de cambios trascendentales que no hemos visto en casi trescientos años, entre ellos: el fin de la fe en el Progreso continuo. Este punto de inflexión global vendrá determinado por el llamado Pico Mundial del Petróleo, que todo indica que estamos atravesando ya, al que seguirán pronto el pico mundial del gas natural y más tarde del carbón, produciéndose por así decir tres picos en uno. El hecho es que entramos de lleno en la era del declive energético, penetrando en un territorio absolutamente desconocido. Y la razón principal de este libro es ayudar a entender los futuros escenarios posibles, para intentar influir sobre los mismos. Pero eso sí, sabiendo también que a corto plazo, en las próximas dos décadas, vamos a tener todo el viento en contra, como argumentamos en el libro. De hecho, ya lo estamos sufriendo pues, ante toda la que está cayendo, somos incapaces de enfrentar la realidad con vías de salida que no sean las del capital, ni de proponer y que sean aceptadas de forma colectiva otras distintas (anticapitalistas, antipatriarcales, etc.).

¿Y cuál es esa ficción-realidad que describes?

La ficción-realidad que se contempla es que el declive y encarecimiento energético implicará el Fin del Capitalismo Global actualmente existente, que no sobrevivirá más allá de veinte años (de ahí la fecha del 2030 que se baraja en el libro). Será la primera etapa del Largo Colapso de la Civilización Industrial que probablemente durará unos doscientos o trescientos años. El sistema capitalista se ha podido mundializar en estos últimos trescientos años de una forma sin precedentes, y la Civilización Industrial que lo acompaña se ha convertido también en un fenómeno planetario, en especial en estos últimos treinta años: la era de la globalización económica y neoliberal. Y todo ello no hubiera sido factible sin un flujo energético en ascenso, que ha sido sustentado fundamentalmente por combustibles fósiles (que garantizan casi el 85% de la energía primaria mundial) y que ha llegado a ser en esta etapa el más barato de la historia, aunque también se recurra marginalmente a otros tipos de energía (nuclear, gran hidroeléctrica, renovables industrializadas, etc.). Y sin las posibilidades de incorporar a una tremenda fuerza de trabajo asalariada mundial a procesos productivos, que han hecho factible esta enorme capacidad de consumo energético. Por esa razón, el declive energético que se prevé, que se dará por primera vez en trescientos años y que no responde a causas técnicas, sino fundamentalmente geológicas, tendrá un impacto tan determinante como el que apunto.

¿Serán entonces los límites físicos externos (y no ya las contradicciones internas, la lucha de clases, etc.) los que pondrán fin al capitalismo? Siempre se pensó lo contrario.

Pues muy seguramente sí. Serán los límites de recursos y ecológicos (incluyendo la capacidad de absorción de los sumideros planetarios) los que logren frenar finalmente la lógica principal de este sistema de necesidad de crecimiento y acumulación constante, azuzada hasta límites inconcebibles en las últimas décadas por un capitalismo cada vez más financiarizado. Lo cual no quiere decir que los conflictos sociales no vayan a influir en cómo se den estos procesos, y estos procesos a su vez activarán de una u otra forma la lucha de clases, pero la lucha de clases no será el elemento determinante en cómo se desarrollen los conflictos principales. Y de estos límites de recursos y ecológicos será la Crisis Energética mundial la que tenga el principal impacto, en un primer momento, para luego manifestarse cada vez más la Crisis Ecológica y de Recursos en general, que vendrá a su vez condicionada por cómo evolucionen las anteriores, que ya están en marcha aunque su impacto no sea todavía determinante. Y a su vez todas ellas incidirán sobre la intensidad que adquiera la evolución del Cambio Climático en marcha en las próximas décadas. En definitiva, una compleja y creciente Crisis Global y Sistémica, de carácter multidimensional, que se irá profundizando en las próximas décadas activada principalmente por cómo el Capitalismo Global está chocando ya con la lógica del funcionamiento de la Biosfera, hasta provocar el colapso de la Civilización Industrial.

¿Ves posibilidad de autocorrección de esas tendencias en el interior del sistema?

No, la verdad es que no la percibo. Es más, se está respondiendo a las primeras manifestaciones de esta crisis sistémica con más medidas del Business as usual, presionadas las estructuras de poder mundial por los enormes intereses económicos dominantes. Es decir, las distintas sociedades mundiales han sido incapaces de enfrentar la crisis sistémica abiertamente de forma rupturista y coherente con los intereses de las mayorías sociales y el entorno ambiental. Estamos pues en una situación potencialmente revolucionaria, pero sin un sujeto revolucionario que la acompañe, aunque haya rebeliones y levantamientos populares muy considerables, como en casi todo el mundo árabe. En mi modesta opinión, las próximas dos décadas van a ser muy duras a escala planetaria, porque vamos a tener todo el viento en contra. Pero también el cómo actuemos en este periodo va a ser determinante para llegar al final del mismo en las mejores condiciones posibles, y poder influir de manera más decisiva en los escenarios del Largo Declive de la Civilización Industrial con el objetivo de que puedan tener un carácter emancipador, aunque eso implique cambios muy profundos en nuestras sociedades.

¿Crees entonces que el capitalismo no tiene esta vez posibilidad de un Plan B, como tantas otras veces ha encontrado?

No, no tiene Plan B factible ni disponible, pues no existen alternativas energéticas masivas, baratas y concentradas que puedan sustituir a las energías fósiles. Lo cual será un factor más que haga entrar en crisis la Sociedad Hipertecnológica que conocemos. Con una escasez de la energía cada vez mayor, y con una energía cada vez más cara, será imposible de mantener el funcionamiento del Capitalismo Global y la compleja división internacional del trabajo que hace viable esta Sociedad Hipertecnológica. Es más, si se intenta, el actual Capitalismo Global quebrará aún más abrupta y rápidamente, pues es imposible ensanchar los límites ecológicos planetarios con nuevas y cada vez más complejas tecnologías, y al intentar hacerlo inhabilitaremos las opciones de caminar menos traumáticamente hacia escenarios más justos desde el punto de vista social y ambiental.

[…]

A tu juicio, ¿qué papel debería jugar el problema de la crisis energética en la estrategia de los movimientos sociales?

A mi entender la Crisis Energética está totalmente infravalorada por los movimientos sociales, si bien estos han sido bastante proclives a la inclusión retórica de la problemática del Cambio Climático. Una de las razones para escribir este libro es alertar de la enorme importancia que tendrá de cara al futuro el declive energético, pues incidirá en todas las dimensiones de la actual Sociedad Hipertecnológica y en el funcionamiento del actual Capitalismo Global, que no podrá sobrevivir ante la escasez y encarecimiento energético. Es por eso por lo que debemos de colocarla entre los principales retos que tenemos por delante, de ahí la relevancia de este ejercicio de política-ficción. Además, los movimientos sociales siguen pensando en general en que habrá sustitutos energéticos a la energía fósil y sobre todo que las soluciones tecnológicas nos ayudarán a salir de cualquier atolladero que nos encontremos en nuestro camino hacia el Progreso y el Desarrollo.

¿Puede ser la catástrofe una ocasión para la intervención política?

En realidad la mayoría de la Humanidad está instalada ya en la catástrofe. Pero la Catástrofe, como nos dice Jean-Pierre Dupuy, es una gran oportunidad de cambio, un catalizador de los mismos y una ocasión única para desmontar aquello que parecía intocable. El objetivo de este texto es no quedar atrapados por el Presente, pero tampoco por el miedo paralizante hacia el Futuro, sino poder imaginar y soñar otros futuros, otros mundos posibles, generando al mismo tiempo ilusión. Y una cosa es segura, la Catástrofe implicará la caída de los «Dioses» dominantes, antes o después, y abrirá oportunidades de transformación hoy en día inimaginables. Cuando vayamos entrando aún más en la Catástrofe que ha precipitado la Civilización Industrial, un posible aspecto positivo que encontraremos es que las condiciones de creciente crisis y escasez pueden activar cambios culturales, y por ende sociopolíticos, que hoy en día nos parecen imposibles de plantear, pues somos incapaces de imaginar otro tipo de sociedad. Finalmente, la Catástrofe se quiera o no será también partera de tiempos nuevos, para bien y para mal. De nosotros depende en gran medida cómo sea, sobre todo en el medio plazo. Es hora pues de pensar la Catástrofe como nueva oportunidad para intervenir y transformar la realidad. No nos queda más remedio que convivir con ella, aprovechándola si es posible. Pero, eso sí, sabiendo los tiempos duros o muy duros que tenemos por delante, pues no hay que llamarse a engaño.

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na caixa de comentários mais bem povoada que conheço (título que partilha com esta, que é também – aviso aos espíritos fracos – a mais deprimente de todos os tempos)

Lindon says:

Here I go with my first post on this blog and I can only hope that what I write is as thought provoking and sensible and relevant as the many articles presented by Gail, along with the many posts by Don, Scott, reverseengineer and many others whose opinions and insights and knowledge sharing has definitely enlightened me over these last two weeks.

Although I have long envisioned a time when the “world as we know it” will come to an end, I always believed that “the end” would come at some point rather too distant in the future for me to concern myself with.

But that all changed approximately one month ago. I’m a regular and voracious consumer of news articles and political blogs on the internet. I’m not sure what the trigger was – maybe the Snowden revelations — but about one month ago I suddenly felt the hair on my back raising – so to speak – and I fell into a state of near-constant obsession with my sudden instinctive feeling that hey, this world as we know it is on the brink of collapse.

I began seeking answers. My efforts led me to “The Death of Peak Oil” on the Oil Drum. And it was from that blog that I clicked a link and found my way here. In the last two weeks, I have read nearly all of the articles on this blog and the comments, digesting them as fast as possible.

Everything I read confirms my instinctive feeling that we are very, very close to a dramatic turn of events.

For what it is worth, I would like to present a few of my thoughts. I only hope to contribute in some small way to the wealth of information and insight presented on this blog, and to perhaps cause others to consider ideas that might somehow be of benefit.

The first concept is this: The vast majority of people on this planet are living either in a state of absolute denial about the impending collapse, or in a state of total ignorance, or both. One of my co-workers is an extremely bright guy about 30 years old. I have shared articles and YouTube videos with him that clearly explain the coming crisis – rather, the crisis that is developing even now. His reaction is to smile slightly, turn away and resume his normal routine. He doesn’t “get” it, and in fact I can tell by his reactions that he’s thinking I might be a little loopy on this one topic, despite the fact that he and others in this company depend on me daily to make logical and insightful decisions that determine all of our daily schedules to a certain extent. Even my partner of almost ten years just kind of shakes her head and smiles politely when I try to explain these things to here in any detail. She patiently tolerates my sudden rush to accumulate items that I believe will be necessary for survival in the future – things like grain mills, food storage containers, seed, etc… The point is, unless Obama himself were to stand up in an official capacity and announce dramatically that the world we all know is about to crash down upon us, something like 99 percent of the people on this plant just won’t ever see the light.

Some, including on this blog, assert that the mainstream media is doing a very poor job of alerting the population to the impending upheavals. I’m going to disagree with that point, and here is why. Sure, the MSM is not stating point-blank that the world as we know it is about to end – that, as we know, would result in chaos, total destruction of consumer confidence, riots and mass hysteria that would effectively shut the economy down in a matter of days. Instead, what the MSM does is continually publish articles interspersed with news about the Royal Baby and other “news” which alerts those of us who “get it”, and gives us insight and facts that help us to make our preparations.

I hope we can all agree that there is a “ruling elite” in this world – the “corporatocracy” is a good enough term – which is well aware of the impending upheavals and are making plans to not only survive the collapse, but to remain in power and to remain in control of the bare-bones military and communications structures needed to maintain their supremacy. I don’t blame them for this, and indeed, I suspect that they are motivated in great part by an ideology that is humanistic and realistic at the same time. Our planet is being destroyed by over-population. Do we stretch out whatever remaining resources (oil, coal, gas, rare earth minerals, etc…) to maintain the 7 billion lives for as long as possible until finally there is no more left? Or, knowing that it is impossible to maintain 7 billion lives for any significant length of time without destroying their own ability to wield power and law and order along with everything else, do they determine that at a certain strategic point they will simply “flip the switch” – halt deliveries of oil and gas, bring industry and international trade to a grinding halt – in effect, bring on the collapse in a single day or two and let the chips fall where they may?

I believe that the powers that be in the world are colluding, planning and preparing. I believe that they are consolidating industrial capability, top scientists and engineers, developing plans to carry our scientific capabilities and industrial capabilities into the “new age” – but on a much smaller and more efficient scale. I even believe that they are maintaining plans to further develop our space program with the goals being to protect the world from destruction by asteroids/comets, and to ultimately reach a point where we can send humans to live on another planet. If I were one of the elites, that’s what I would be doing.

But they are going to need a lot of gas and oil to continue that research/development, and to maintain military and law and order. Letting BAU continue until we eventually run out of resources is not an option.

I believe that the elite powers that be will keep the economy propped up and maintain BAU up until the point that they are ready to “flick the switch” – or perhaps more aptly – “pull the plug”. That could be tomorrow, next month or any time. But I suspect that the timing will closely coincide with the return of our troops from Afghanistan.

Pure speculation on my part, of course. But when you know that your government and elites are purposely keeping information from you, speculation is a natural and worthwhile response.

PatrickCN says:

Lindon,

I am now going with the working assumption that when someone has that Eureka moment with regard to our energy, resources and overpopulation quandary, that he/she will likely exhibit many symptoms of a clinically depressed person, if not undergoing a full blown one. Otherwise, even the brightest person will not get “it”. Tbh, I got quite depressed when I reached that moment, realizing that there is very little I/we can do to prevent it from happening.

The ability to follow this particular reasoning to its logical endpoint is, perhaps, possible for a lot of people. Accepting its consequences, however, is something else entirely. The combined pressures of hope and cultural beliefs bar many people from accepting that the way they live is not sustainable.

If people are sufficiently healthy and happy, they may grasp the implications for a couple of moments to then retreat in that cloud of blissful denial. Even on this site, despite many of Gail’s posts indicating otherwise, Leo Smith offers the opinion that we still have decades to invest in the building of a sufficient amount of nuclear power plants to save fundamental aspects of our current society. I am not even going to discuss whether a financial system based on interest and compound interest is conducive to anything else other than condemning us to repeat the cycle of boom, bust and collapse until kingdom come.

While I do believe that current western governments are preparing for riots, upheavals and, possibly, hunger, I am not convinced that they are willingly and forcefully pushing us over the edge. First, because there is no need as we are teetering already and second, because they enjoy that lifestyle just as much as we do. What is life worth living if you can’t drive your Ferrari/Range Rover in Monaco, to then have your apres-ski in Gstaad?

Personally, I think that current corporatist elites have just as much a stake in keeping the system going as long as possible to enjoy it as long as they can. This is also due to the fact that all bets are off the further our collapse progresses, whether it is of the slow type (John Michael Greer) or the fast one (Korowicz). There is simply no guarantee that you and your family might not be affected by that very likely epidemic/pandemic due to deteriorating sanitary standards, or that a very desperate country goes “all in” to grab the dwindling resources of their neighbors, and your country is being sucked in. I think that we all have far too much to lose to not let this world fall apart if there is any way to prevent that.

Either way, individual freedoms will get curtailed (PRISM, habeas corpus, etc.) and are going to be curtailed even more in the future. Many state actors will probably try everything they can to increase control, becoming effectively dictatorial or oligarchic in nature. This is what I see for us.

Unless we find a new source of cheap, accessible and abundant energy we can tap into immediately. That would allow us to kick the can down the road for another 50 to 100 years or so.

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by

A los analistas políticos les encanta buscar causas dentro de su disciplina que expliquen todo lo que ven, y es normal, porque todo el mundo se siente más cómo moviéndose dentro del campo que conoce. Por esa misma razón, seguramente, los psicólogos están en contra de un cachete a tiempo y los cirujanos creen que es mejor operar que intoxicar el organismo con medicamentos raros.

En el caso de Egipto tenemos, en pocos años, a un dictador derrocado por una revolución callejera (entre otras cosas) el triunfo electoral de un partido islamista, una reforma constitucional que cercenaba derechos y acercaba el país al modelo teocrático y un nuevo golpe de estado, esta vez con el apoyo de grupos variopintos, desde los laicos a los salafistas (radicales islámicos aún más duros que los Hermanos musulmanes).

Así las cosas, es bastante fácil pensar que los egipcios se debaten en un enfrentamiento político que amenaza con fracturar la sociedad y bla, bla, bla. Es cierto, no me cabe duda, pero si analizamos lo que sucede realmente en el país comprobamos que hay otras cosas que seguramente han sido mucho más importantes en la repentina pérdida de estabilidad de un país que llevaba décadas de dictadura sin que a nadie pareciera importarle demasiado.

¿Facebook, Tweeter, redes sociales? Esta sería, por supuesto, la explicación de los que creen que el mundo se mueve a base de apretar botoncitos y que las revoluciones se hacen declarando que algo te gusta.

Para mí, como economista, la explicación está en los precios de los alimentos y, más precisamente, en el precio de los combustibles, subvencionados por el Gobierno.

Egipto se gasta el 22% de sus Presupuestos generales del Estado en subvencionar los combustibles. ¡el 22%! Eso, en España, equivaldría a todo lo que nos cuesta la sanidad y la educación juntas, y todavía sobraría dinero.

En Egipto, el precio de la gasolina es de 20 céntimos de euro el litro, y cualquier subida en este apartado provoca grandes reacciones de descontento, pero el caso es que en 2007 el barril de petróleo estaba por debajo de los 30 $ y hoy está por encima de 100 $, con lo que el esfuerzo presupuestario egipcio para mantener estas subvenciones se ha multiplicado por cuatro. Ningún país puede aguantar esta carga, y menos si su economía se basa en cosas como la agricultura o el turismo.

Tras la construcción de la presa de Assuan, se incrementó la producción de energía eléctrica, pero el país, tradicionalmente fertilizado por el Nilo, pasó a ser dependiente de los fertilizantes sintéticos. Y estos han multiplicado su precio por cuatro, debido al alza del precio del crudo.

En cuanto al turismo, el batacazo tiene una doble vertiente. O triple. Por un lado, desde los atentados de las Torres Gemelas se ha criminalizado al mundo árabe, reduciendo el atractivo de países como Egiptpo para los turistas occidentales. En segundo lugar, la crisis en los países europeos tampoco ha ayudado. Y finalmente, las revueltas de los últimos años, han acabado de rematar el asunto.

Si a esto añadimos la evolución demográfica y el aumento del precio de los alimentos, podemos comprobar que las causas políticas no son menores, pero se convierten en sólo un pretexto, mientras que la necesidad real, la carestía, aparece como la causa principal de las protestas.

¿Demografía?

Población de Egipto (estimación referida a 1 de julio de los respectivos años. Fuente: ONU):

Egypt demography.png
  • Año 1950= 20.400.000
  • Año 1960= 26.100.000
  • Año 1970= 33.300.000
  • Año 1980= 43.500.000
  • Año 1990= 52.700.000
  • Año 2000= 66.200.000
  • Año 2010= 80.000.000
¿Precio de los alimentos?
La verdadera utilidad de estos datos, creo yo, estriba en prever que ningún gobierno, del partido que sea, conseguirá mantener las subvenciones al combustible ni logrará que bajen los alimentos. Y así las cosas, ninguno tendrá paz.
Lo demás cuenta, pero menos.

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Communities that Abide—Part III

 

DMITRY  ORLOV

There are two organizing principles that self-sufficient communities can rely on in order to succeed: communist organization of production and communist organization of consumption. Both of these produce much better results for the same amount of effort, and neither is generally available to the larger society, which has to rely on the far more wasteful market-based or central planning-based mechanisms, both of which incur vast amounts of unproductive overhead—bankers, traders and regulators in the case of market-based approaches, and government bureaucrats and administrators in the case of centrally planned approaches. History has shown that market-based approaches are marginally more efficient than centrally planned ones, but neither one comes anywhere near the effectiveness of communist approaches practiced on the small scale of a commune.

 

Here is an extended passage from Peter Kropotkin’s Anarchy in which he explains the benefits of communist production and consumption:

 

Leaving aside the question of religion and its role in organizing communist societies, it should be sufficient to point to the example of the Dukhobors in Canada to demonstrate the economic superiority of communist labor over individual labor. Having arrived in Canada penniless, they were forced to settle in an as yet unoccupied, cold part of Alberta. Due to their lack of horses, their women would hitch up to the plough 20 or 30 at a time, while the middle-aged men worked on the railroad, giving up their earnings to the commune. However, after seven or eight years all 6000 or 7000 Dukhobors achieved a level of well-being, having organized their agriculture and their life with the help of all sorts of modern agricultural equipment—American mowers and bailers, threshers, steam-powered mills—all on communal principles.
Moreover, they were able to buy land on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, in British Columbia, where they founded a colony devoted to growing fruit, which these vegetarians sorely lacked in Alberta, where apples, pears and plums do not bear fruit because their blossoms are killed off by May frosts.
And so here we have a union of 20 communist settlements, where each family lives in its own house, but all field work is done together, and each family takes from the communal stores what it needs to live. This organization, which for several years was supported by their religious idea, does not correspond to our ideals; but we must recognize that, from the point of view of economic life, it has conclusively demonstrated the superiority of communal labor over individual labor, as well as the ability to adapt this labor to the needs of modern mechanized agriculture.

 

 

A similar, contemporary example is provided by the Hutterites, who tend to be up on all the latest trends and techniques in agriculture and make productive use of industrial resources.

 

 

It stands to reason that communist production methods would outperform capitalist ones. On the one hand, you have a group of people driven to work together out of a sense of solidarity and mutual obligation, cooperating of their own free will, free to switch tasks to keep life from becoming monotonous, free to do what they believe would work best, using work as a way to earn respect and improve their social standing, knowing full well that their fellows will take care of them and their families should they ever become unable to work. On the other hand, you have commoditized human beings pigeon-holed by a standardized skill set and a job description, playing the odds in an arbitrary and precarious job market, blindly following orders for fear of ending up unemployed, relying on work to keep them and their immediate family from homelessness and starvation, and discarded once “burned out” on the set of tasks for which they are considered “qualified.” The result of all this is that 70% of the workers in the US say that they hate their job, putting a gigantic drag on the capitalist economy:

 

 

Just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012. That’s up from 28 percent in 2010. The rest … not so much. A little more than half of workers (52 percent) have a perpetual case of the Mondays—they’re present, but not particularly excited about their job. The remaining 18 percent are actively disengaged or, as Gallup CEO Jim Clifton put it in the report, “roam the halls spreading discontent.” Worse, Gallup reports, those actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. (link)

 

 

* * *

 

 

Having shown the superiority of communist production methods, let us turn to communist consumption. Kropotkin again:

 

 

In addition to these successful attempts at communism in agriculture, we can also point to numerous examples of partial communism having as its goal pure consumption, and which takes place in the many attempts at socialization taking place in the midst of bourgeois society—among private persons as well as entire cities (so-called municipal or city socialism).
What is a hotel, a cruise-ship, a boarding house, if not an attempt in this direction being made within a bourgeois society? In exchange for a certain payments—so many rubles per day—you are allowed to choose what you like from ten or more dishes, which are offered to you on board a ship or a hotel buffet, and it does not occur to anyone to account for how much you eat…
The bourgeois have understood perfectly well what a huge advantage they gain from this sort of limited communism in consumption, combined with full independence of the individual. And so they have arranged things so that, in exchange for a certain payment—so much per day or per month—all of their needs for food and shelter are satisfied without any additional worry. Luxury items, such as richly appointed rooms or fine wines, have to be paid for separately, of course, but for a payment which is the same for all, all the basic needs are satisfied, not caring how much or how little each person will consume at the common table.

 

 

Putting both production and consumption together, let us consider the case of a small farming community that grows, among other things, corn. If it were organized along communist lines, it would grow the corn, and then distribute that same corn, cook it, and eat it. If it were organized along capitalist lines, it would grow the corn, then sell it to a processor at $5 a bushel and then buy it back from a supermarket at $1.69 for a 15-ounce can (of mostly water). Disregarding the weight of the water, what they get back is around 80 times less corn. By participating in the market economy, they would effectively be allowing their corn to be taxed at a 98.75% rate.

 

 

What all of this adds up to is that communities organized along communist lines can become self-sufficient in a handful of years and quite affluent shortly thereafter. And it is affluence (along with lack of persecution from the outside) that is often at the root of their undoing. Affluence creates too many temptations, makes it difficult to distinguish needs from wants, and allows systems of mutual self-help to atrophy from disuse. But there are many ways to avoid the trap of affluence, provided its dangers are recognized early enough. One is to work less, by coming up with a long list of days during which one is not allowed to work, starting with Sunday and/or Sabbath and expanding the list from there. With a bit of effort the work schedule can be brought down to around 100 days a year. Another is to eat up the surplus by upholding certain unproductive but satisfying community standards, such as requiring fresh cut flowers on the table at every meal, high quality of polish and varnish on exterior woodwork, and intricate hand-woven banners flying at festive occasions. Yet another (popular with the Mormons) is to proselytize, recruit and spread the revolution. Yet another, popular with the Hutterites, is to have lots of children and spread out over the landscape, gobbling up and reclaiming farmland, splitting whenever a colony outgrows Dunbar’s number of 150 in order to remain anarchic and to continue to self-govern by consensus. One more example: the Roma like to burn through fantastic sums of money by throwing lavish wedding feasts that last three days. The ways of burning off excess wealth can range from music festivals to theatrical productions to historical reenactments complete with authentic-looking props. The threat of affluence is a nice problem to have, and provided that money isn’t allowed to pile up, creating a big temptation to re-privatize, it does not have to be damaging.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Those who chafe at the use of the word “communist” should feel reassured that no military or political “communist menace” is ever likely to reassert itself: state communism is as dead as a burned piece of wood. The one remaining, ongoing attempt at unreformed state communism is North Korea, and it is the exception that proves the rule. On the other hand, regardless of your opinions, you too are a communist. First, you are human, and over 99% of their existence as a species humans have lived in small tribes organized on communist principles, with no individual land ownership, no wage labor, no government, and no private property beyond a few personal effects. If it weren’t for communism, you wouldn’t be here. Second, if you have a family, it is likely to be run on communist principles: it is unlikely that you invoice your children for the candy they eat, or negotiate with your spouse over who gets to feed them. The communist organizing principle “From each according to abilities, to each according to needs” is what seems to prevail in most families, and the case where it doesn’t we tend to regard as degenerate. From this it seems safe to assume that if you are human and draw oxygen, then you must be, in some sense, a communist.

 

 

None of this has anything to do with the communist style of government or with state communism. That state communism is an oxymoron was recognized from the outset, and it only existed as an aberration of state socialism, which can be made to work—just not very well. Nevertheless, we can learn something by looking at the principles embraced by the great International Worker’s Movement of the 19th century. Here they are, as spelled out by Peter Kropotkin:

 

 

1. The elimination of wage labor, which the capitalist pays to the worker, since it is nothing more than a contemporary form of slavery and serfdom

 

 

2. The elimination of private property for all that which society requires for the organization of socialized production and distribution

 

 

3. The liberation of the individual and of society from that form of political enslavement—government—which serves to support and maintain a system of economic enslavement

 

 

These tenets may seem quaint and idealistic; after all, what has come of the efforts to implement them? A globalized economy of labor arbitrage that sends the work to the lowest-paid sweatshops… a population abjectly dependent on uncertain wage labor and government hand-outs… Thus, it is nothing short of remarkable that the abiding countercultural communities I have looked at all seem to embrace these tenets to a fair extent.

 

 

All of them do their best to not work for wages, refusing to be “proletarianized.” Let us look at some specific examples.

 

 

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La Décroissance Interview

June 2013

 

Is the commencement of “collapse” proceeding as you

imagined it? Do you think that, rather than a short-term

crisis, we are at a breaking point, and that industrial

civilization is ending?

We are almost certainly in the early stages of one of history’s great

turnings. For the European nations, an expansionary phase started

500 years ago, based on extraction of wealth at first from the

Americas and then from the rest of the world. That immense project

might have reached a point of diminishing returns in the 19th

century, as Malthus famously forecast. Instead, history’s biggest prize

happened to pop into view—tens of millions of years’ worth of stored

sunlight, just waiting to be harnessed to do all sorts of economically

useful work, including the work of industrial agriculture and the

transport of goods over long distances. Fossil fuels drove the

following growth surge, which proved to be by far the most potent in

human history, dwarfing what had been accomplished (from

Europeans’ perspective) by colonialism.

Now fuel-fed industrialism is reaching its own point of diminishing

returns. The effort required to extract oil and gas is now soaring.

Meanwhile the side effects from burning fossil fuels are starting to

catch up with us, in the forms of devastating droughts, floods, and

heat waves.

In the face of diminishing returns from fuel-fed manufacturing,

“advanced” societies maintained growth during the last couple of

decades mostly by borrowing and investing. Economies became

“financialized.” Households went into unsustainable debt to pay for

increasing rates of consumption, while governments—with no

apparent recognition of the irony—borrowed more in order to fight

their own burgeoning debt crises. All financial bubbles eventually

burst, and the current one started doing so in 2007, though it has yet

to thoroughly deflate.

As these over-arching trends play out, the next few decades will

inevitably be experienced as a period of economic contraction.

Society will return to a size and level of complexity that can be

sustained with available energy and capital. It is unclear what that

level will ultimately be, but we should assume that the binge is over.

We should prepare for a future in which we are less mobile, one in

which more people engage in basic productive activities like farming,

and one in which far fewer people are employed in secondary or

tertiary activities like advertising, sales, and marketing.

How do you link the economic crisis with the Oil Peak? In

France, most economists don’t speak about declining energy

when they analyze the debt situation. Can you explain how

energy influences economic growth?

All economic activity requires energy. As I’ve already indicated, it was

the cheap, concentrated energy of fossil fuels that enabled the boom

of the 20th century. But oil from the supergiant fields discovered in

the 1950s through the ’70s is dwindling. Unconventional fuels such as

tar sands and shale gas are now coming on line, but at a higher

capital and energy cost. Their production will at best make up for

declining quantities of conventional fuels for a few years; after that,

we will see a decline in total energy as measured in terms of tons of

oil or cubic meters of gas. But, taking energy quality into account,

world energy is already contracting.

Economist James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego,

has shown how energy consumption and economic growth are closely

linked. And ecologist Cutler Cleveland of Boston University has

documented how the “decoupling” of energy consumption from

growth that many economists cite as an encouraging trend is largely

illusory, resulting from outsourcing production (globalization) and fuel

switching.

Thus, as world energy supplies become tighter, growth rates will

stall. And that is exactly what we are seeing: world crude oil

production has stopped increasing and oil prices have risen

dramatically; meanwhile many industrialized nations are at zero or

negative growth, while others are maintaining the appearance of

expansion by borrowing and deficit spending. The main countries that

are still growing rapidly are the energy exporting nations, or nations

that burn enormous amounts of coal—which is, for the time being,

still fairly cheap. But warning signs are flashing even for the

economies of China, India, and the oil exporters.

Are there ways of softening the crash?

Many people assume that there must be a technological fix to our

problems. That seems unlikely to me: we cheated Malthus once, with

fossil fuels, but today there is no miracle energy source on the

horizon. Meanwhile, we have grown human population to perilous

levels and the climate is becoming destabilized, putting agriculture in

peril. Renewable energy will help us adapt, but it won’t be able to

fuel economic growth, or feed population growth, such as we saw

during the 20th century.

Our primary hope lies in changing our behavior and expectations. We

must learn to live with less. Plan for economic stagnation or

contraction. Share more. Create community. Policy makers should

aim to shrink the financial industry, reduce economic inequality,

stabilize and reduce population levels through family planning,

decentralize food and energy systems, and build resilience

throughout society.

Replacing GDP with an economic indicator that measures quality of

life and environmental integrity would also be a very useful tactic, as

it would help policy makers shift their efforts to areas where social

progress is still possible. Consuming more doesn’t necessarily make

people happy, but beautiful neighborhoods where people know and

trust one another, and communities where individuals have greater

control over the circumstances of their lives, foster a sense of

satisfaction that money alone can’t buy.

What do you make of the particularities of Europe and

France?

The global energy crisis will be masked at first by economic turmoil:

it will seem that energy demand is falling, whereas in fact declining

energy quality will be driving continued economic weakness. For

Europe, financial and currency woes will capture everyone’s attention,

making it difficult for governments to address underlying ecological

problems.

The euro experiment was an exercise in centralization that seemed to

make sense for a brief historic moment, but that moment has

passed. The breakup of the eurozone will be messy and most

Europeans will suffer economically in the years ahead while

governments and banks sort out the issues.

By about 2020, energy and climate issues will become so acute that

they can no longer be ignored.

France’s dependence on nuclear power may be problematic over the

long run, because the nation’s ability to maintain the robust, complex

societal infrastructure necessary to support and maintain this

technology cannot be taken for granted. Nuclear power requires oil,

trucks, manufacturing of replacement parts, and water management.

We have seen in Japan what happens to nuclear plants when society

loses elements of complex infrastructure for days or weeks at a time.

France would be wise to invest now in distributed solar power, and to

retire as many nuclear stations as possible. When the grid goes down

or water supplies are interrupted, solar panels pose no threat to

anyone.

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Bana

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MENA – A Model of the Future?

George Mobus

Political Unrest – Why?

It is interesting the way the mainstream media (MSM) characterize the unrest going on in Egypt. The typical perspective is that the people of Egypt are unhappy with the way the Morsi government has turned out to be almost as autocratic as the Mubarak regime had been. Morsi was elected in the first “democratic” election in the country’s history, but he recently declared himself to have powers that were not part of the bargain. He is from the Muslim Brotherhood movement, a supposed Islamic political party-like organization that supports Sharia Law as the foundation of governance. A large majority of Egyptians appear to prefer secular laws and thought originally that Morsi would honor that position.

Thus to the MSM the unrest is political in nature. They focus on the notion that the Egyptians want democracy and that Morsi has failed to deliver. But what this perspective fails to take into account is that politics ultimately come down to who controls the resources. The irony in Egypt is that they really haven’t got much in the way of resources. They cannot sustain a program of development because they have nothing to develop and nothing to drive such development (e.g. net energy). So Morsi is actually incapable of delivering any of the demands that the people are voicing. What is more important to the people of Egypt than whether their governance is based on Islamic doctrine or not, is that they need to eat. They need to have shelter and some income. And there is no regime that can deliver that. Even if Morsi capitulates and a new government is installed, or perhaps more likely, the military takes over again, the needs of the Egyptian people will never be met.

The unrest is not about democracy. We only characterize it that way because we, in the west, think that we have democracy and that it the reason we’ve been so successful economically. If the MENA states could have democracy, the reasoning goes, they too would become economically successful. What remarkably shallow, indeed empty, thinking this is. Democracy did not produce food on the table and shiny new cars. The fact that communism failed to do so is not a proof that it did. Growing net energy per capita did that. It is easy to support something that looks like democracy and free markets when you have oil gushing out of the ground.

We are observing a model for collapse unfolding as country after country depletes whatever resources they had. The entire North African, Middle East, all the way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are facing the exact same forces. Political unrest derives from physical stress. What other part of the world with significant populations better fit this model? I suspect that India, parts of China, and Mongolia are close behind.

Unrest Moving West, North and South

The US’s and Europe’s problems appear to be financial because these countries were part of the industrialization growth of the 19th and 20th centuries where rapid developments of fossil fuels mirrored that going on in the US. Indeed England led the pack with the use of coal even earlier. But as the net energy per capita available from fossil fuels started first to decelerate in growth and then, around the 1970s peak, the reliance on debt to finance production took over. During the period of rapid growth in industrialization we observed that wherever one was in time one could reasonably expect that even more wealth would be produced in the future, enough extra to pay back the principal along with interest (rents paid for using the capital). So borrowing against the future made sense. What nobody paid attention to is the fact that this experience of growth was based on increasing net energy flows and that the majority of that net energy came from fossil fuels, particularly oil. Also what everybody lacked was an understanding of the fact that the extraction and processing of fossil fuels would become increasingly expensive (in terms of usable energy required). Nor did most pay attention to the well understood and predicted peaking in gross production due to depletion of finite resources. The latter has accentuated the problem with declining net energy per capita.

The western nations are stagnant or in deep recession with unacceptable (by earlier standards) unemployment rates. The blame is being put on financial institutions, corporations, governing bodies, all of the usual suspects have been lined up. I suppose this is a failure of imagination to think there might actually be a deeper and more dangerous cause. Ignorance must play a major role as well.

Unrest is popping up in the Southern European region. Whereas in MENA states the blame is supposed to go to non-democratic governance, in the west it goes to finance and political battles between conservatism (austerity required) and liberalism (Keynesianism required). The US Federal Reserve Bank has been trying to put a band aid on the financial system by buying bad paper (quantitative easing) and thus creating money, essentially. But this is only going to cause the crash to be more severe when it comes. The underlying cause in the west as well in MENA states is fundamentally the same. We are running out of net energy per capita at an alarming rate. The MENA states had a slight advantage over the west in that their populations had very low net energy per capita needs (same story for China and India where jobs were shipped from the US to save labor costs). They were more in touch, as it were, with the physical realities and did not have this veil of financialization to confound their thinking. Right now they very much realize that they are at the precipice and being pushed off.

States to the further east are soon to follow. China, using their low energy requiring citizens as enticements and some healthy savings, has succeeded in convincing their population that they SHOULD want to consume more energy! And now that work force is starting to demand more in wages so they can do so. Unfortunately China’s leaders did not really understand the net energy per capita source problem. When they became vaguely aware of it they started scrambling to import oil and coal from other regions. Instead of realizing that depletion would soon render that strategy moot, they blindly go ahead with their ambitions because they are trying to avoid the political unrest that will ensue when their people, promised the “good life,” realize they not only won’t achieve that but that life will get worse (especially for the many who gave up farming for the cities).

Russia has never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin probably has dreams of glory but he has no investment stream to put into developing what resources they have. Russia does have richer biological and mineral resources but in climate and terrain-challenged areas that would require substantial capital for development. Their oil exporting appears to have peaked and if they allow foreign oil companies to participate in further development they have to realize their revenues from export will drop. They are between a rock and a hard place. Their only possible advantage is that the people have already been through a collapse/contraction and probably don’t have the same kinds of expectations that the Chinese and Indian people have for the future. They may simply resign themselves to a worse future.

Will the Earlier Collapse of MENA Trigger the Rest?

Since ME states like Saudi Arabia are still supplying oil to the west it is very possible that major troubles in that region could disrupt the flow of an already declining one. Any sudden shutting off of the spigot is likely to have devastating effects on the western nations.

A lot of people in the US think they are buffered from such a catastrophe. There is a meme floating around the MSM about how the US (with Canada’s help, of course) will achieve energy independence. The tight oil and gas reserves along with the tar sands in Alberta are touted as providing us with huge energy sources into the future. President Obama is making noises about investing in alternative energies, especially to reduce coal-fired power plants to reduce CO2 emissions. It is all wishful thinking. The production profile on tight oil and gas wells suggests (strongly) that they will never produce the abundance being promised. Moreover all of these non-conventional sources have terrible EROIs that cannot be sustained long. Already the companies exploiting these resources are running into financial problems. They cannot fund further development out of profits because their profits are being squeezed tightly. Costs of development are too high — a reflection of the low EROIs. As long as they can hype the investment community they might eke out a little more working capital, but that will not last very much longer.

There is nothing supporting our huge bubble. All it will take is a trigger event, either like the collapse of MENA states, dragging Europe along, or an internal event in the financial markets. My favorite scenario is that graduates who cannot find meaningful employment will simply stop paying back their education debt. That will burst a 1.2 trillion dollar bubble and could take the rest of the financial system down with it.

It is somewhat ironic that Greece was one of the first EU countries to experience severe hardships and the start of collapse. It gives new meaning to the phrase “Greek Tragedy” that the whole world is now embroiled in a demise crafted by our own flaw in character. We are not bad as a species. But we are clearly merely biological when it comes to trying to obtain more resources and grow. We evolved great clever brains that enabled us to do so with abandon. We did not evolve adequate sapience to moderate that cleverness and dampen the biological mandate. That is the flaw — lack of wisdom in pursuing our future. Now we have none, for the most part.

I still won’t make any predictions as to timing of, say, major events that would be clearly signs of collapse well under way. I think collapse is starting and is gaining momentum as we witness unrest spreading around the globe. Some regions, like MENA, will likely collapse very rapidly, possibly taking others with them in a domino effect. Other regions may drag it out a bit as oh-so-clever masters of the universe try more tricks to keep the dream alive. But they can’t do it forever.

All I will say is that if you want to see what collapse looks like on the ground (and this is for every region eventually) watch what happens in Egypt. And for you American readers, enjoy your celebration of the Fourth of July commemorating winning your democracy!

(sublinhados meus)

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