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2008: Year of Emergence

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The outcome of the 2008 US Presidential election may be far more significant than most people might think. Here’s why:

We are presently facing the immanent onset of a series of inter-related crises of such magnitude as to potentially bring about the rapid collapse of our planetary civilization. These include accelerating global climate change, energy resource depletion (“peak oil”), growing water shortages, food production shortfalls and more. Doing nothing is not an option. Do nothing and worldwide chaos and collapse ensue. I have made the case in my Infinity’s Rainbow book series that such crisis-driven collapse is imminent.

Because the US is currently central to the global political economy, its choices as to how to address these crises will likely determine how effectively the world deals with them. Therefore, the 2008 US Presidential election represents a choice between historical trajectories for humanity and the planet.

The sum of our global civilization’s web of interactions represents a fitness landscape for humanity. Think of it as a landscape with flat plains, rugged mountains, hills, valleys and so on. Think of the valleys as attractors towards which a system is drawn once it rolls over an edge. Depending upon the steepness of the decline, it can be difficult or impossible to climb out of such a depression once one has fallen into it.

The combination of energy, climate, and food crises represents such a peril for our civilization. And we created it ourselves.

We based the energy foundations of civilization on hydrocarbons, and assumed that these would be available indefinitely in limitless supply. We used our environment, our biosphere, as both a limitless source of raw materials and an infinite sink for our waste products (pollution), which has made the problems of global climate change inevitable once hydrocarbon powered industrial civilization became planetary.

Growing human populations, fed by industrial agriculture dependent upon petroleum and upon mining fossil water in underground aquifers, inevitably meant food and water shortages are going to happen. Industrial agriculture requires about 10 calories of hydrocarbons for each calorie of food produced, meaning that famine is inevitable after oil production has peaked.

Industrial agriculture inevitably depletes fertile topsoil far faster than it can replenish itself. Climate change fundamentally alters rainfall patterns, which intensifies the stress on food production and the provisioning of water. Conversion of food to biofuels to deal with oil scarcity just makes the whole thing worse.

Given increasing population growth (to seven billion in the next few years), increasing urbanization (very recently, for the first time ever, the majority of humanity became urban/suburban dwellers), and increasing industrialization (China and India most especially), oil consumption is increasing, while water depletion, soil depletion, and of course the resulting CO2  increase in the planetary atmosphere drives global climate into a very different configuration than the one in which human civilization developed. 

Further, the people do not control their governments any longer. Global multi-national corporations, whose sole goal is profit maximization in the least possible time, effectively rule everywhere in one or another symbiotic arrangement with government.  These entities could not exist without the existing political economy which is the cause of all of the other crises I’ve just described.

I could go on and on and on. However, this is sufficient to sketch out the crises, their magnitude, and their inter-dependent nature.

The onset of these crises represents a precipitous drop, a cliff plunging down into a gaping chasm on our fitness landscape. Simply stated, our existing global political economy is unsustainable. It CANNOT endure.

With such a bleak analysis, it may seem that the choice of Obama or McCain is irrelevant. This is reinforced by the stark reality that neither has espoused a desire for fundamental systemic change—Obama’s vague rhetoric about change notwithstanding. Both are beholden to portions of the existing ruling corporatocracy and so to the maintenance of the overall status quo—which is doomed.

All of this said why would I then propose that the choice of historical trajectories offered by Obama versus McCain is significant?!

My answer to this is based upon close inspection of our looming chasm in the fitness landscape. It initially slopes downwards gradually, perhaps with the appearance of small shortages of oil supply with respect to demand; but lowered demand can accommodate these shortages, and so few will see any need to respond with drastic action. But increasing climatic instability—droughts in some areas, floods in others—will begin to decrease agricultural yields. And so on, with one crisis after another. These issues will stress the existing political economy but do not lead to its collapse—yet. And this is the area of the fitness landscape we have recently entered.

Our civilizational trajectory possesses immense inertia, or resistance to change in its present trajectory. Our civilization is based on hydrocarbon energy, corporate production of wealth, etc., and we can’t just wave a magic wand and fundamentally change these realities overnight. The planet’s billion or so internal combustion engine vehicles can’t be changed into pollution free machines overnight even if such technology were available—which it isn’t. So we must approach our crises-attractor. It’s simply too late to fundamentally alter our trajectory away from it.

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Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including (more...)
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