Mapping the Cultural Implications of Peak Oil and Climate Change
Earth Steward: Bottom Up Rebuild
In this scenario the decline in oil production after a peak in total liquids production before 2010 is at the extreme end of authoritative predictions (about 10%)49An increasing number of peak oil experts are suggesting the current peak of crude production in May 2005 may mark the beginning of a plateau that will end about 2010 in an accelerating decline and is followed by an even faster decline in gas production plus a simultaneous peak in coal production.
The shock to the world’s fragile financial systems is overwhelming, resulting in severe economic depression and perhaps some further short, sharp resource wars.
This economic collapse and these political stresses, more than the actual shortage of resources, prevents the development of more expensive and large scale non-renewable resources that characterise the Brown Tech scenario or the renewable resources and infrastructure of the Green Tech. International and national communications networks break down.
Electricity grids become non-functional as cost and availability of fuels and spare parts reduce production and lack of paying businesses and customers reduces revenues. International tensions remain but capacity of stronger countries to use military force is constrained by unreliable energy and parts supplies and the strong evidence that war uses more resources than it captures. Global warming is slowed dramatically and reversed by the collapse of the global consumer economy and absence of large scale investment in new energy infrastructure.
There is a radical reduction in mass mobility of both people and goods. The food supply chain is severely affected both on farms and through the distribution system. Energy intensive large scale farming supplying central marketing chains is the worst affected leading to abandonment of even highly productive land. Shortages lead to rationing, black markets, and riots for food and energy.
Increases in crime, malnutrition and disease lead to a rising death rate accelerated in some countries by epidemics and pandemics that have a major impact on social and economic capacity. The collapse in the tax base available to national and state governments reduces their power and even city level restructuring of infrastructure is difficult, but local government retains some degree of effective services, decision making and possibly democracy.
Collapse of larger businesses and the difficulties in maintaining urban infrastructure leads to a hollowing out of the cities. Loss of jobs and houses leads to migration of people out of cities to smaller towns, villages and farms with more robust local economies able to take advantage of the influx of labour. Impacts and demands on local soil, water and forest resources increases, to severe levels in many poor countries as people move out of the cities to harvest fuel, wildlife and restart food production. In long affluent countries, the underuse of local biological resources in the late 20th century provides some buffer against these impacts.
Large numbers of homeless exurbanites form a new underclass lacking even the skills of poverty.
Large numbers of homeless ex-urbanites form a new underclass lacking even the skills of poverty. They provide basic labour in exchange for food and accommodation on farms needing the labour. Surviving structures of power may adapt to impose a more feudal structure based on concentrated control of productive farms and forests and built assets in large farming estates.
Organic and small farmers, close to markets and able to make use of labour and animal power, thrive (to the extent security allows) in a context of relatively benign and slow climate change. An explosion of home businesses based on building and equipment retrofit, maintenance and salvage starts to build a diversified economy. Further afield biofuels from crop waste allow farmers to continue to use machinery while wood and charcoal gasification based on regrowth forest resources near settlements and towns provide an increasing proportion of limited transport fuel. This small business growth in turn provides a new tax base for some form of effective local government. In some places new bioregional governments institute land reform and debt cancellation following collapse of financial institutions and central banks, allowing people to stay on their properties.
Suburban landscapes around smaller cities and regional towns with greater social capital are transformed with a booming and relatively egalitarian society sustained by bio-intensive/permaculture farming and retrofitting and reuse supported by resources from both the immediate rural hinterland and inner urban salvage.
This ruralisation of suburban landscape to produce food on all available open space, private and public provides most of the fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and small livestock products. Local currencies, food, car and fuel co-ops, community supported agriculture all grow rapidly. Informal and household economies provide an increasing proportion of basic needs as corporate and government systems fail to deliver.
Around the larger cities especially in countries where social capital and community capacity is severely eroded, most of these new developments are in gated communities providing the basic needs and security of their residents with trade outside the community being more difficult or dangerous. Outside the gated communities salvage, fuel harvesting and animal husbandry are the main economic activities with trade controlled by gangs and local warlords.
While the impacts on people and local environments of this scenario are severe there is also a cultural and spiritual revolution as people are released from the rat race of addictive behaviours
While the impacts on people and local environments of this scenario are severe, in previously affluent countries at least, there is also a cultural and spiritual revolution as people are released from the rat race of addictive behaviours and begin to experience the gift of resurgent community and the simple abundance of nature to provide for basic needs.The biggest difference from the Green and Brown Tech scenarios is that the rebuilding and stabilisation is no longer based on dreams of sustainability or restoring the old system. Instead people accept that each generation will have to face the challenges of further ongoing simplification and localisation of society as the fossil resource base continues to decline. This simplification in the material domain is seen as the opportunity for growth in the spiritual domain. There is a resurgence in leadership by women and a celebration of the feminine in nature and people. “Bottom Up Rebuild” summarises this scenario by emphasising the new growth from biological and community foundations. In some ways this scenario might be considered as the archetypal one of the Energy Descent future and the one in which permaculture principles and strategies are most powerfully applied.