Friday, December 10, 2010


Imagine the world a thousand years from now. Go ahead, I'll wait. What did you come up with? A Jetsons' world with flying cars and moon colonies or a Mad Max post-apocalyptic world of violent gangs looting what's left of civilization? Those are the two most common visions.

After the jump, the outlook by Michael Ruppert, former cop and now an independent writer and the subject of a 2009 documentary titled "Collapse." Hint: the title gives away which vision of the future Ruppert holds. ;-)

Conspiracy theories. Peak oil. Economic bubbles. Overpopulation. Michael Ruppert has something to say about all of them. The documentary "Collapse," which is largely a matter of sitting him in a chair and turning on the camera and microphone, amounts to a jeremiad by a modern-day prophet of doom. He says he isn't predicting anything, it's already here. In his mind, the current banking crisis, the Great Recession, the drug war in Mexico, the oil wars in the Middle East, all are examples of the breakdown of civilization that Ruppert says is already upon us.

It's easy to dismiss Ruppert as paranoid or even delusional (he does sometimes venture a little into black-helicopter land), but the thing is, you can't dismiss his concerns as easily. The issues facing the planet are real.

Let's start with a crisis that Ruppert doesn't even discuss -- global warming. Global warming is real. It's caused by human activity. Its impact on the environment, on the whole, is bad. That much the world largely agrees on. Where we don't yet agree is on what to do about it, if anything.

Ironically, the crisis Ruppert spends the most time on, the downside of peak oil, contains within it the solution to global warming. That is, because global warming is largely caused by burning fossil fuels, as the world runs out of fossil fuels, the world will inevitably burn less of them. Oil will go first, then natural gas. Coal could last much longer, but try running your car on coal. Unfortunately, significant damage will have been done long before they are all gone.

Another crisis facing the planet is overpopulation. It, too, has a connection to oil. Overpopulation was enabled in the first place by the era of cheap energy. The industrial revolution was powered by cheap coal. Much of the so-called green revolution in agriculture was made possible by fertilizers and pesticides and farm equipment that are either made from or run on petroleum. Take away cheap energy and the population bubble will burst. The question is how much pain and suffering must be endured as it does.

So, what will the world be like in a thousand years? This much is sure. It won't run on oil and probably not on any fossil fuel. It will have a different climate, one that's maybe stable again but hotter and not as bountiful. It will have a lot fewer people. Those people will be poorer. History doesn't repeat, but think of Europe's Dark Ages a thousand years after the glories of Rome. Not Mad Max, but not the Jetsons either. Not as pessimistic as Michael Ruppert's vision, but not paradise, either.

What can be done to tilt the playing field in our favor? All these crises have a common thread - energy. Today, that means oil. One way or another, the world is going to move to another source of energy. If not this decade or next, certainly within a century or two. The sooner we have a proven, plentiful, affordable, alternative source of energy available to us, the less disruption we'll suffer in the transition. The usual objections to development of alternative energy is that we can't afford it or it'll hurt the economy. But if we can't afford it today, at the peak of cheap oil, how will we ever be able to afford it in the future, on the downward slope of inevitable oil depletion? Collapse itself is not inevitable, but it does require action to prevent it, sooner rather than later.

What does this have to do with Richardson? Nothing, at least not directly. But all this doomsday talk kind of makes our daily concerns about trash trucks and secret meetings and zoning regulations seem kind of petty, don't you think?

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