Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sharon Astyk's Prognostications for 2009

Given that she nailed most of her 2008 predictions, Sharon Astyk's 2009 prognostications are worth paying attention to:

"In previous years, I was fairly lighthearted about my predictions - this year, I don’t find it possible to be. I really hope I’m wrong about this. And I hope you will make decisions based on your own judgement, not mine. These are predictions, the results of my analysis and my intuitions, and sometimes I’m good at that. But I do not claim that every word that comes out of my mouth or off my keyboard is the truth, and you should not take it as such. You are getting this free on the internet - consider what you paid for it, and value it accordingly.

1. Some measure of normalcy will hold out until late spring or early summer, mostly based on hopes for the Obama Presidency. But by late summer 2009, the aggregate loss of jobs, credit and wealth will cause an economic crisis that makes our current situation look pretty mild. With predictions of up to a million jobs lost each month, there will simply come a point at which the economy as we understand it now cannot function - we will see the modern equivalents of breadlines and stockbrokers selling apples on the streets.

2. Many plans for infrastructure investments currently being proposed will never be completed, and many may never be started, because the US may be unable to borrow the money to fund them. The price of globalization will be high in terms of reduced availability of funds and resources - despite all the people who think that we’ll keep building things during a collapse, we won’t. We will have some variation on a Green New Deal in the US and some nations will continue to work on renewable infrastructure, but a lot of us are going to be getting along with the fraying infrastructure, designed for a people able to afford a lot of cheap energy, that we have now. The most successful projects will be small, localized programs that distribute resources as widely as possible.

I pray that we will have the brains to ignore most other things and set up some kind of health care system, one that softens the blows here. If not, we’re really fucked - the one thing most of us can’t afford is medical care as it works now in a non-functioning economy. Unfortunately, my bet is that we don’t do something about this, but I hope to God I’m wrong.

3. 2009 will be the year that most of the most passionate climate activists (and I don’t exclude myself) have to admit that there is simply not a snowball’s chance in hell (and hell is getting toastier quickly) that we are going to prevent a 2C+ warming of the planet. We are simply too little, too late. That does not mean we will give up on everything - the difference between unchecked emissions and checked ones is still the difference between life and death for millions - but hideously, regretfully and painfully, the combination of our growing understanding of where the climate is and the economic situation will force us to begin working from the reality that the world we leave our children is simply going to be more damaged, and our legacy smaller and less worthy of us than we’d ever hoped.

4. 2008 will probably be the world’s global oil peak, but we won’t know this for a while. When we do realize it, it will be anticlimactic, because we’ll be mired in the consequences of our economic, energy and climate crisis. Lack of investment in the coming years will mean that in the end, more oil stays in the ground, which is good for the climate, but tough for our ambitions for a renewable energy economy. Over the long term, however, peak oil is very much going to come back and bite us all in the collective ass.

5. Decreased access to goods, services and food will be a reality this year. Some of this will be due to stores going out of business - we may all have to travel further to meet needs. Some will be due to suppliers going under, following the wave of merchant bankruptcies. Some may be due to disruptions in shipping and transport of supplies. Some will be due to increased demand for some items that have, up until now, been niche items, produced in small numbers for the small number of sustainability freaks, but that now seem to have widespread application. And some may be due to deflation - farmers may not be able to harvest crops because they can’t get enough for them to pay for the harvest, and the connections between those who have goods and those who need goods may be thoroughly disrupted. Meanwhile, millions more Americans will be choosing between new shoes and seeing the doctor.

6. Most Americans will see radical cut backs in local services and safety nets. Funding will simply dry up for many state and local programs. Unemployment will be overwhelmed, and the federal government will have to withdraw some of its commitments simply to keep people from starving in the streets. Meanwhile, expect to see the plows stop plowing, the garbage cease to be collected, and classrooms to have 40+ kindergarteners to a class - and potentially a three or four day school week.

7. Nations will overwhelmingly fail to pony up promised commitments to the world’s poor, and worldwide, the people who did the least harm to the environment will die increasingly rapidly of starvation. This will not be inevitable, but people in the rich world will claim it is.

8. We will finally attempt to deal with foreclosures, but the falling value of housing will make it a losing proposition. Every time we bring the housing values down to meet the reality, the reality will shift under our feet. Many of those who are helped will end up foreclosed upon anyway (as is already the case) and others will simply see no point in paying their mortgage when, by defaulting, they could qualify for lowered payments (as is already the case). Ultimately, the issue will probably self resolve in either some kind of redistribution plan that puts people in foreclosed houses with minimal mortgaging, with foreclosures dragging down enough banks that people find it feasible to simply stop paying mortgages that are now unenforceable, or with civil unrest that leads people simply to take back housing for the populace. I don’t have a bet on which one, and I don’t think it will be resolved in 2009.

9. By the end of the year, whether or not we will collapse or have collapsed will continue to be hotly debated by everyone who can still afford their internet service. No one will agree on what the definition of collapse actually is, plenty of people will simply be living their old lives, only with a bit less, while others will be having truly apocalyptic and deeply tragic losses. Some will see the victims as lazy, stupid, alien and worthless, no matter how many there are. Others will look around them and ask “how did I not see that this was inevitable?” Many people will be forced to see that the poor are not a monolith of laziness and selfishness when they become poor. We will know that we are in our situation only in retrospect, only in hindsight - our children will have a better name for the experience than we will, caught up in our varied personal senses of what is happening Meanwhile, each time things get harder most of us will believe they are at the bottom, that things are now “normal” and adapt, until it becomes hard to remember what our old expectations were.

10. Despite how awful this is, the reality is that not everything will fall apart. In the US, we will find life hard and stressful, but we will also go forward. People will suck a lot up and retrench. It will turn out that ordinary people were always better than commentators at figuring out what to do - that’s why they stopped shopping even while people were begging them to keep buying. So they’ll move in with their siblings and grow gardens and walk away from their overpriced houses, or fight to keep them. Some of them will suffer badly for it, but a surprising number of people will simply be ok in situations that until now, they would have imagined were impossible to survive. We will endure, sometimes even find ways of loving our new lives. There will be acts of remarkable courage and heroism, and acts of the most profound evil and selfishness. There will be enormous losses - but we will also discover that most of us are more than we think we are - can tolerate more and have more courage and compassion than we believe of ourselves.

An early Happy New Year, everyone. May you know better than you deserve and see others at their best in these hard times."

1 comment:

  1. A bit much. Possible. I feel people are doing alright.