Thursday, July 21, 2011

Civilization's collapse: Like a grenade in a glass house -- Environmental and financial dead ends

It’s going to hit hard and it’s going to hurt – made worse because most aren’t expecting it. They think the world is slowly returning to our modern “normal” – steadily increasing growth, with occasional annoying but manageable interruptions. After all, the global recession wasn’t so bad was it? Sure there was pain and things got shaky but Governments responded, bailed out companies, stimulated economies, got things back on track. While it’s still a bit bumpy, Greek wobbles, US debt, extreme weather, high oil and food prices etc, it’ll work out. It always does….

If only it were so. In fact we are blindly walking towards the next in a series of inevitable system shaking and confidence sapping crises, deluded in the belief that the worst is behind us.

Each crisis will be a little worse than the last. Each one will shake our denial a little more. This is what happens when systems hit their limits. They don’t do so smoothly, but bump up against the wall, hitting hard, then bouncing off equally hard. It is the behaviour of a system trying to break through. But if the limits are solid, as is the case with our economic system hitting the limits of the planet – defined by unchangeable physical capacity and the laws of physics, chemistry and biology – then it can’t find its way through. So eventually, when the pain of hitting the wall gets too much, it stops.

Then it will hit. Like a grenade in a glasshouse, shattering denial and delusion and leaving it like a pile of broken glass on the floor of the old economic model. Then we’ll be ready for change.

I’ve been arguing the inevitability of this moment since 2005, mostly inside the business community. Before the 2008 financial crisis hit, the idea was almost universally rejected, with a belief in the indomitable power of globalised markets to overcome all challenges and keep growth on track. Most audiences believed that while markets always wobbled, they also always recovered. My suggestion, that this level of arrogance was the hallmark of empires before they fell, landed on deaf ears. They were the masters of the universe and markets and growth would always reign supreme. (more)