Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eggs, And the Baskets that Hold 'em

We are, today, faced with an unprecedented smorgasboard of global problems and crises, the majority of which are either man-made or exacerbated and pushed toward criticality by human activity. Any one of these problems by itself, in the worst case, without concerted and coordinated international effort to head it off, could become a global disaster that could ultimately result in the near-complete breakdown of global human society with the potential loss of literally millions of lives.

Which of these problems do we address? Peak oil? Global warming? Atmospheric, water and soil pollution? Depletion of millenia-old underground aquifers? Topsoil erosion and depletion? Destruction of soil fertility? Unleashing of severe killer diseases? Human overpopulation? Food security? Species extinction? Habitat and rainforest destruction? Chemical saturation? War?
Few would today persist in a belief that all is well. Most people today recognize that there are multiple serious global problems that must be addressed. The problem is where to begin. Which one do we tackle first? Can we tackle them independently? Which one is the more imminent problem and which one do you prepare for? How many baskets are there to hold all these eggs or is everyone faced with having to put all their eggs in one basket? If they can only prepare for one global disaster, which one do they prepare for?

But how can any one person prepare for the anticipated impact of one of these future disasters when the society around them appears to be intent on ignoring them and carrying on business as usual? That's the rub, isn't it? Not many people could enjoy the stigma of being a Noah building an ark in the backyard, absorb the laughter and the ridicule of everybody perceiving them as some sort of cassandra, the boy who cried wolf, chicken little.

Pat Meadows, one of the regular contributors to various peak oil Yahoo groups in which I participate, consistently espouses her "theory of Anyway". Her preparations for peak oil are those changes that she considers right and that feel right regardless of when peak oil occurs or any of the other potential global catastrophes should become more imminent. All of those preparations are geared to continuing self-sufficiency and sustainability.

That may be all the preparation anyone can realistically hope to accomplish. There is such a huge wall of legislation and rules and laws standing in the way of effective personal preparation that one cannot really ignore the business-as-usual mindset of the society around them. There is likely not a jurisdiction in North america that would permit the construction of an outhouse in the backyard and the use of humanure on the garden, for example. Yet ultimately sustainability is not achievable unless all possible nutrients removed from the soil are returned to it.

I tend to strongly feel that peak oil is the most imminent and destructive of the large group of global crises ahead of us. But what if I am wrong? How can one take the chance of putting all their eggs in that one basket when there is a reasonable risk that one of the other global crises will be upon us sooner? I don't have an answer for that. But to use that as an excuse for doing nothing ensures that one will have to deal with the worst effects of whichever crisis hits us first.

Whatever preparations one makes must be flexible and adaptable to whichever crisis first demands our attention, especially when our governments appear to be paralyzed into inaction by the multitude of possible crises. The degree of certainty that governments demand before they take action will, in most cases, mean that whatever action they do take will be too little and too late. A politicians first priority is to get elected. The second priority is to get re-elected.
Picking an uncertain future catastrophe to head off, with the risk that it is the wrong crisis, does not allow a politician to atend to either of those priorities. Telling the voters that there is disaster ahead will guarantee any would-be politician that he will be watching from the sidelines. Any preparation for the crises ahead of us is going to have to be at the personal and grassroots level. Government leadership will never emerge in time.

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