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Surviving in the Tough Times Ahead

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Ian Sample's "Billions face food shortages, study warns" [1], based on findings by researchers at Washington and Stanford Universities, points out some of the progressively difficult conditions that will likely lead to widespread starvation in times ahead. Its conclusions fit well with ones posed in Paul Chefurka's "World Energy and Population Trends to 2100" and "Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room" [2].

Such reports, certainly, are cause for alarm and dismay. This is because, with increasing credibility, they warn that humankind is quickly approaching critical choices in terms of whether we, collectively, want to undertake the necessary modification to shape the world to reasonably serve life in the future or plan to bequeath a hell onto the generations of people and other life forms that come after ours.

Obviously, ethically prone people--ones strongly oriented towards cooperation, support of justice and altruism, as well as ones at the opposite end of the spectrum--extremely self-centered, greedy, ruthless brutes, can make out in good times, the moments of abundance and plenty. However, the lean periods, ones in which there is competition over dwindling resources (i.e., contention over a finite supply of food, territory, water, oil, etc.), all but guarantee that the individuals and groups with the most power will prevail over their weaker counterparts and there are only two main routes to escape the pending conflict.

One path is for groups to hide (like Anna Frank's family) and hope not to be found or, alternately, they can flee adversity (regardless of the form that it has, such as religious persecution or lack of jobs) into a new location and hope to not be deported. In other words, they can try to stay alive by concealment in the difficult region assuming that sufficient provisions are available to support them there or reside in some other place with circumstances more auspicious to maintaining an enduring, less guarded existence.

Primarily, it seems that two types of assemblages will prevail in the times of paucity that loom ahead. One will include persons, such as members of farming cooperatives, who are pretty much self-reliant while in natural environments containing most of the indispensable materials needed to foster their long term furtherance. The other kind will consist of nearly all persons in the ultra-wealthy class in that they possess enough money and command to get whatever is wanted when wanted even if only on the black market or through legal and illegal forms of theft, such as occurs through some eminent domain rulings, certain Machiavellian Wall Street behaviors, usury related loan practices and other deals for which the gain often winds up in offshore bank accounts.

Meanwhile, the countermoves against the pilfering that occurs with eminent domain procedures (i.e., for water or land rights) or in outright wars--especially in regions that have ample supplies of uranium, gas, oil, agriculturally rich soil, gems and other coveted resources--will probably take place with greater frequency and fervor in the years ahead. Invaded populations have learned that they can successfully fight back. Recent evidence in the Middle East makes this fact a reasonably correct supposition to entertain.

Similarly, there will likely exist increasing attempts by authorities to control distressed populations in resource depleted lands, as well as in ones rich in material abundance into which the desperate masses could try to flee in huge numbers, which would obviously inundate the reserves at the latter sites if they were allowed to come in full measure. (The population is expected to hover somewhere around ten billion in less than fifty years from now. At the same time, the most highly populated areas, in many instances, are the ones most at risk for crop failures, severe water scarcity and other shortfalls.)

In tandem, it seem reasonable to assume that prospective immigrants and the inhabitants already settled in such favorable locales could both be tightly controlled by military force to prevent riots and other major social disruptions from taking place due to the enormous disparities in assets held by the haves and the have-nots. As such, the rules concerning allocation of needed supplies and the conditions under which they are apportioned would probably be tightly proscribed.

In fact, rationing nearly always takes place when pervasive shortages prevail, i.e., during and immediately following W. W. II and, to a lesser extent, the Great Depression. All the same, some people in most societies always seem to get shorted, anyway, such that they have resort to garbage dump hunts, mud cookies, soup kitchens and tent parks with Hooverville-like conditions as a last bulwark against death.

Additionally, both the individuals with might, military based or otherwise, to back their claims to greatest goods access and persons tucked away in safe, resource abounding enclaves (i.e., the self-sufficient few who happen to be in out of the way spots) will, in all likelihood, make out just fine no matter what. Their needs will be met even when others in their countries face glaring deprivation. For the most part, this sort of result has always been the case throughout history in the sense that whomever has adequate necessary stores, regardless of the ways that they are garnered, generally does well regardless of the prevailing surrounding conditions.

At the same time, it somewhat exemplifies the way that evolution, itself, has always operated in the sense that survivors, during periods of privation, are those with the greatest advantages when compared to less fortunate peers. Therefore, people will have to be increasingly resourceful to endure in the worsening hard times on the way. As David Smalley said, "Survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing and changing conditions."

Moreover, it is unambiguously clear that humankind cannot go on as is with always an ever greater population, ever ramped up resource ravage to maximize utmost personal profit, ever more severe climate change difficulties and so on. The combined damage of these processes will not stand and, so, a large number of people will either have to accept drastically altered lifestyles and assorted types of curtailment (i.e., pertaining to family size, consumer activities, travel and energy consumption to name a few) or many of them will face the most tragic sorts of failure on a scale barely imaginable.

In spite of many of our government and business leaders seemingly understanding that deep changes are necessary to be carried out, they are not willing to avert even half of the funds used for current war activities, amounting to trillions of dollars lavishly spent each decade, towards support of a sufficient supply of energy generated from benign sources like wind, solar and geothermal activities delivered with opportune timeliness. In other words, global warming will possibly not be adequately addressed fast enough to offset some truly terrible effects like a significantly raised ocean level and crippling heat waves. Most of all, they will not be prone to limit ecologically unsound economic activities, nor publicly push for the deep cuts associated with energy conservation that are desperately needed.

In a similar vein, it does not seem likely that food and other material aid will ever be tied to birth control education and provision. On account of this contribution lacking, each generation of recipients saved from untimely demise will produce many more additional people so that the overpopulation problem in localities that, from an environmental standpoint, cannot support them with which to begin will only become more exacerbated over time, especially so in light of imminent sweeping scarcities.

At the same time, one can assume that, with major food deficits on the way, the majority of the produce derived from huge factory farms owned by multinational corporations will go to the highest bidders on the global markets. Simultaneously, there could exist problems with transporting sufficient supplies of it into urban areas or far off regions due to lessening availability of oil needed for the shipments. This occurrence, in turn, could intensify the overt and covert resource struggles currently taking place in areas of the world possessing fossil fuels.

All of these factors in consideration, one has to, first, ask himself whether he is doing everything that can be envisioned to ensure his own and his family's continued existence for a long duration. In other words, is he setting up circumstances that can be fairly certain to promote survival in the rough times ahead?

Secondarily, is he undertaking all that he can to try to soften the blow for others? In short, is he maximizing their chances to carry on during the increasingly hard times? Indeed, they could become so precarious that the present number of people, approximately 35,000, dead each day from malnourishment, actually, seems a modest quantity.

Furthermore, anyone who entertains the illusion that we can "save" all life everywhere or, at last moment, humanity will turn everything around relative to dire global warming impacts, overpopulation, equitable sharing of income and requisite resources, protection against environmentally devastating opportunism, etc., needs simply to look at the overall history of our species thus far on the planet. As an alternative, he can, instead, consider events pertaining to the final settlement at Easter Island, deer on St. Matthew's island, our world wars, our current battles in the Middle East and Africa, the ongoing shaky state of the world's financial markets; the staggeringly high extinction rates for other species, such that almost one third have vanished from 1970 to 2005, which correlates with human commercial advancement and the swift rise in our population; the quickening pace of deforestation and accompanying large-scale desertification, the accelerating methane release from permafrost and other formerly sequestering sites, the rapidly transpiring deglacialization across the entire globe with its impending impact on delta zones and rivers, the spreading ocean dead zones or any number of other deeply ruinous occurrences in progress to envision the difference between reasonable and outlandish expectations relative to events that will take place in the future.

In the end, individuals and groups will have to energetically and conscientiously look out for their own best interests. However, this does not mean that they will need to hoard or should forego cooperating with others. Indeed, they can enhance the chance for surviving and surviving well if they plan and work together to build the community bonds that foster mutual aid and uplift. As the Dali Lama suggests, "If any individual is compassionate and altruistic, wherever that person moves, he or she will immediately make friends. And when that person faces tragedy, there will be plenty of people who will come to help."

[1] The report "Billions face food shortages, study warns" is located at click here
[2] "World Energy and Population Trends to 2100" can be obtained at http://www.paulchefurka.ca/WEAP/WEAP.html and "Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room" is available at click here

Emily Spence is a progressive living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.
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Emily Spence is a progressive living in MA. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.

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