longnowclock.jpg I get emails from several Oxfords, but this week’s best came from the nearest and contained a link to “a lecture you’ll find worth looking at — coffee/keyboard interface warning.” The warning was heeded and needed. The lecture, by Dmitry Orlov, given to the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco on Feb 13 as a part of Long Now’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking, is titled Social Collapse Best Practices [Long Now report here, full text at ClubOrlov]. According to Orlov, who had direct experience of social collapse in Russia after the demise of the communist system (his thesis is that the US is moving rapidly towards closing its “collapse gap” with Russia), four things are important during a collapse — food, shelter, transportation and security. But especially security:

And so we will have former soldiers, former police, and former prisoners: a big happy family, with a few bad apples and some violent tendencies. The end result will be a country awash with various categories of armed men, most of them unemployed, and many of them borderline psychotic. […] All of them will be making good use of their weapons training and other professional skills to acquire whatever they need to survive. And the really important point to remember is that they will do these things whether or not anyone thinks it legal for them to do be doing them.

It’s important to stay on the right side of these people:

Some legal impediments are really small and trivial, but they can be quite annoying nevertheless. A homeowners’ association might, say, want give you a ticket or seek a court order against you for not mowing your lawn, or for keeping livestock in your garage, or for that nice windmill you erected on a hill that you don’t own, without first getting a building permit, or some municipal busy-body might try to get you arrested for demolishing a certain derelict bridge because it was interfering with boat traffic – you know, little things like that. Well, if the association is aware that you have a large number of well armed, mentally unstable friends, some of whom still wear military and police uniforms, for old time’s sake, then they probably won’t give you that ticket or seek that court order.

Orlov’s theme is bleak — especially if you live in the USA — but his presentation is superbly funny: black comedy with a message. I’ve already taken his comments about gardening to heart… Read, inwardly digest, and then ask yourself if perhaps our politicians might spend less time worrying about stimulus packages and more about survival: fitting out the lifeboat, as it were.

The Long Now Foundation are an interesting bunch, formed to build a 10,000 year clock and to encourage long term thinking. Their SALT series of lectures are available free as podcasts and via iTunes (Orlov’s talk should be up soon). The January lecture was Climate Change Recalculated by Saul Griffith, and looks at the relationship between CO2 targets and the amount of renewable energy required to reach them. That’s my weekend listening…

(Thanks, Sonny — welcome to the lifeboat…).


8 thoughts on “Serendipity-doo-dah”

  1. “And so we will have former soldiers, former police, and former prisoners: a big happy family…”
    Odd…why does this remind me of Iraq after Saddam opened the prison gates and then the American Governor (in his infinite wisdom) disbanded the Iraqi army and police force because of their Bath Party memberships?

  2. Well, I just skimmed that, didn’t see anything on climate change.

    Mr Orlov is basically saying the same thing as I’ve been saying for the last 3 or 4 years, what I find worrying is that, like others singing this song, he seems to be almost embracing such a collapse, like Kunstler he imagines that after a bit of a rough time things will settle down so that everyone will be able to live in some sort of idilic back to the earth Good Life (remember the series starring Richard Briers?).

    If we have a collapse it won’t be like that, throughout most of the world there will be mass starvation, far more poverty and conflict, diseases will run rampant, there will be little medical treatment, and life expectancy, even after things have stabilised, will be half what it is now.
    International trade will collapse, and with it the factories that produce all those things we take for granted will close.
    We need to avoid a collapse to keep the technological aspects of this civilisation intact, and the first principle we need to look at when aiming to do that is the precautionary principle, don’t rely on uncertain energy supplies but shoot straight for those that we know do work and return a high energy return on energy invested.

  3. Good Life: I certainly remember Felicity Kendal’s posterior…

    I posted this not because it was specifically about climate change, but because it illustrates one strand of thinking that goes way beyond what climate cranks like to call alarmism. You think energy’s the crunch — I think there’s a triple whammy in the wings: climate, energy and population.

    But I agree entirely about the imperative of avoiding a collapse in the sense Orlov describes. I will enlarge the kitchen garden, though…

  4. We’ve discussed this before, and I included declining supplies of fossil water and the rise of China as a global power in the whammy.

    I focus on energy because that’s the first to hit us and both how we tackle, and how effectively we tackle it will affect the other challenges we face.

    With a cheap reliable carbon free energy supply; food production can be increased (which at least alleviates the population problem), sea water can be desalinised, CO2 emissions reduced, and nations tend to be less belligerent when their people are satisfied.

  5. The nub of any disagreement between us is the question of what hits first — energy or climate? My take is that we’ll be bumping along peak oil for a while yet (lots of price volatility), but climate change is happening faster than expected. It’s not a race I want to call…

  6. I think we have already seen the first big impact of peak oil, in my book the oil price spike triggered the financial crisis by blowing peoples budgets.

    Taking the initiative and aggressively moving away from the present high carbon energy sources to proven lower or zero carbon energy sources addresses both problems.

    The worst scenario is to rely on present energy sources and unproven possibles until it’s too late to develop proven alternatives with the result that, in a serious energy crunch, to keep the economy going and people fed we end up pushing coal use even higher.

  7. I’m sure the spike in oil prices had an impact (affected my choice of car, for instance), but the banking crisis is what’s gumming up the global economy. But I agree entirely with the need to move to low carbon energy, preferably aggressively.

  8. I probably wasn’t clear. The financial crises was a result of the loose lending, this in turn was a result of legislation passed under Clinton that encouraged such high risk practices, the crises was almost inevitable as a result, but why did the chickens come home to roost when they did? Why not 3 years ago or 5 years in the future? It’s because the Trigger was the oil price shock, an economic downturn is all but guarenteed after such an oil shock, and in an economic downturn people quickly discover why high risk loans are high risk.

    I’m still picking that, as long as the oil price remains low, we’ll see a much faster economic recovery than widely expected, though this could be impeded by stimuli packages that create jobs with negative productive value.

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