Crash and Burn

I love people who stick their necks out and propose radical solutions to radical problems. One who is never afraid to do this is George Monbiot. And in a recent article in the Guardian he considers if it is time to welcome global recession as the only way to stop this idiotic juggernaut hilariously known as “progress”.


Look around you, all you people who have the time, the hardware and the inclination to read this blog. We all live comfortably, to a ridiculous extent. Only 10 years ago my father worked 12 hours a day, every day, to keep a family going. The only time he had a day off was when he went to hospital.

And now I work 32 hours a week and get paid much more than my father ever did for simply sitting down, farting about with code and wasting my time on the Internet. I get 5 weeks paid holiday per year; I can go anywhere in the world if the fancy strikes me; and I can buy any food I want, in any season, by simply taking a 50-metre walk and sliding a plastic card through a slot.

Does this seem wrong to anybody else? How can my life be so easy when I actually produce so little? Well, it is because I am one of billions of tiny ticks sucking up the irreplaceable substance of the world. My life is simply a machine for turning fossil fuel into energy and food and waste and emissions.

And lets not kid ourselves that we can ever replace our energy thirst with solar or wind or nuclear when the free energy runs out– because even if we did, how would we grow food when all our fertilizer comes from fossil fuels too? We are as dependent on fossil fuels as our cars and our power stations, and our rate of consumption will just keep on increasing.

This is unsustainable. To paraphrase Michael Pollen (another hero of mine), in his seminal book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”:

People seem to forget what “unsustainable” really means: that one day, with 100% certainty, the system will collapse.

So Monbiot has a solution – we ease down the global economy, remove the idea of consumption as a source of happiness, stop treating the world as a business in liquidation, force ourselves to think about resources and use them wisely, and not live beyond our means.

consume_obal.jpgToday we are virtually forced to live beyond our means, encouraged constantly by our banks, our governments and our noise-making media. We borrow money to fund lifestyles and houses and cars and holidays in the belief that the current system will prevail forever. Well it won’t – infinite growth in a closed system is unsustainable, and one day it will all come crashing down around our ears.

For suggesting recession as a solution in the Guardian, Monbiot received a severe flaming from both the “left” and the “right”. Well I look at this way – when you can get every part of the political spectrum to disagree with you, then you know you are onto something good.

Let’s slow down, stop this cancerous “growth” and start preparing for the hard times ahead. Because, like it or not people, the storm clouds are gathering.

/ paddy (your friendly prophet of doom)

15 thoughts on “Crash and Burn

  1. Well said Paddy!

    George Monbiot is a brave journalist who’s not afraid to promote radical and deeply unpopular measures in the fight against climate change and uncontrolled capitalism.

    If anyone deserves a knighthood it’s him but he’d probably decline it anyway.

  2. I don’t think it’s a treadmill so much as a 200-story cliff… and we all know what stepping off a cliff feels like, don’t we? Ouchy! Of course, as awful as it is, the world is a system that has its own dynamic. Few individuals truly think like individuals and no movement I know of in history has ever changed that disturbing inconvenient truth. Whatever the world is doing is what the individual does. So, this is why I thought the same thing, that a global recession would help curtail our stupidity, but then I think it’s probably more likely to play out like bacteria in a test tube that use up the resources around them blindly until they run out. And then it’s goodbye. Maybe some of us might manage to hold on for a few centuries to come before complete extinction though. Is humanity as a whole really any smarter than bacterial culture? I doubt it.

    But then people call me a “pessimist” so I guess it’s off to the doctor for a bigger bottle of Paxil so that I can continue to be a good little manic consumer.

  3. Last weeks New Scientist had an interesting graph showing some measure of human development (I forget what it was exactly) versus environmental footprint. They said that any country above 0.8 on the development scale was doing well, as was any country whose lifestyle would require any less than all of the worlds resources if everyone lived their lifestyle. The only country that fit in both categories was Cuba. They do have a favourable climate there, and the added benefit of going through peak oil in the 90s, but it does show that sustainable development is at least possible.

    It is going to be tough to meet food needs without petrochemical fertilizers, but there are some efficiencies to be sought after in terms of organic farming and vegetarian diets. In Good News For A Change by David Suzuki, he writes that organic polyculture farming has a up to 300:1 food energy output to energy input ratio, while petrochemical “green revolution”
    style farming is about 1:10. And of course we all know that a meat heavy diet is 7 times as land use intensive as a vegan diet.

  4. Another thinking being, worth reading for much the same reasons as Monbiot, is Richard Heinberg; google his name and “Museletter” and you won’t go wrong.

  5. charlotteotter: I think its 50% our own initiative, and 50% being forced to. Although turning off the TV is a good first step, I found.

    earthpal: Still we should be happy that we live in a part of the world where he can say all that he says without fear of being locked up or killed.

    Glen Gordon: I see what you mean, either way we’re fucked. But I would just like a see a few thousand stock-brokers doing the high-dive before the end. And I think recession is unavoidable, whether we want it or not.

  6. Ben: Organic polyculture is definitely the way to go. Although management-intensive grazing is more interesting. Read the book I mention (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) for a fantastic description of what this kind of farming can achieve. Seriously, read the damned book! It’s a masterpiece.

    Tor: I know Richard Heinberg – reading “Powerdown” was a religious experience for me!

  7. Människans oerhörda fram-marsh på Tellus kommer till vägs ände, vi befinner oss nu i nerförsbackens slut.
    Jag tycker att det är ganska trevligt och tänka på det, framför allt när det hysteriska konsumtions- och kommunikationssamhället stör sömnen och tränger in i hjärnan.
    Jag är säker på att amygdala håller på att ta kontrollen :)

  8. kevin z: Ugh….now I have to start searching, planning stuff, paying attention, working out how to link to videos…and all I really want to do is chase women. But OK, maybe I’ll give it a shot…later…

  9. Det finns ingen rättvisa i världen…
    Men. Å andra sidan. Såg en jätteintressant dokumentär häromdan om en afrikansk bonde som kom och hälsade på sin bror ingenjören som bodde i Sverige, ojojoj, vad olika liv vi lever här och där!
    Och då inser man att man ändå är ganska (sjukt mycket alltså) priviligerad… (men 40h+ jobb/vecka är inget liv. Inte ett sånt liv som jag vill ha i alla fall…).

  10. Karin: Oh, I know I have it really good. But if people were allowed to work less, I think most people could afford to do it – you just have to prioritize and cut down on consumption. But as long as our “leaders” are screaming at us to consume, then it’s never going to happen.

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