I read an article a week ago which argued that this – here, now – is what peak oil looks like
A decade ago, those few of us who were paying attention to peak oil were pointing out that if the peak of global conventional petroleum production arrived before any meaningful steps were taken, the price of oil would rise to previously unimagined heights, crippling the global economy and pushing political systems across the industrial world into a rising spiral of dysfunction and internal conflict.
With most grades of oil above $100 a barrel, economies around the world mired in a paper “recovery” worse than most recessions, and the United States and European Union both frozen in political stalemates between regional and cultural blocs with radically irreconcilable agendas, that prophecy has turned out to be pretty much square on the money, but you won’t hear many people mention that these days.
The point that has to be grasped just now, it seems to me, is that this is what peak oil looks like. Get past the fantasies of sudden collapse on the one hand, and the fantasies of limitless progress on the other, and what you get is what we’re getting—a long ragged slope of rising energy prices, economic contraction, and political failure, punctuated with a crisis here, a local or regional catastrophe there, a war somewhere else—all against a backdrop of disintegrating infrastructure, declining living standards, decreasing access to health care and similar services, and the like, which of course has been happening here in the United States for some years already.
[John Michael Greer, What Peak Oil Looks Like, 7 December 2011]
What if we have also reached ‘peak freedom’ – the maximum extent of individual freedoms and civil liberties?
Europe and America became considerably more free through the 19th and 20th centuries. Slavery was abolished; women gained the vote; homosexuality decriminalised and employment and welfare reforms provided a baseline of freedom from exploitation and freedom for all to have a chance at a decent living. We gained the right to unionise; to (all) own private property; that everyone could access legal representation through legal aid if they couldn’t afford their own defence. From the Chatterley trial, to journalist’s privilege not to name sources, to the rise of internet we have gained increasing freedoms of thought and expression.
Wednesday I met up with an old, old friend by name of @metaleptic. We talked about 2011 and the coming end of the world – and what felt significant about our conversation is that perhaps for the first time I was as pessimistic as him.
What happened in 2011?
- The Met Police, Tory government and supposedly independent judiciary seeking to criminalise all forms of protest that aren’t walking along a pre-determined march route (and how long will they keep authorising big protest marches, you wonder?)
- Kettling, mass arrests, police infiltrators, 944 deaths in police custody since 1990. Et cetera
- The US Senate overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which gives the military (not the police) authority over domestic terror investigations and interrogations…
- …allows for indefinite detention without trial of absolutely anyone suspected of being a terrorist…
- …and defines the whole of the United States as a “battlefield”.
- The normalisation of drone warfare and extra-judicial killings of British citizens in Pakistan, a country we are not at war with
- SOPA and the Digital Economy Act threatening basic internet freedoms
What’s coming in the rest of my lifetime?
- The start of a four-degree or more rise in global temperatures, leading to extreme weather events and potentially the total loss of climate equilibrium (then god knows what)
- The oil runs out, as does rather a lot of minerals we use to make rather a lot of things
- The water runs out and large parts of the globe become uninhabitable
- Starving and/or displaced people in the billions
- Fortress Europe to (try to) keep them out of our (collapsing) economies and welfare states
- A geriatric population in the West no longer producing wealth but functioning as a massive voting block to stymie any change. (Actually Hugo and I did disagree here – he’s more cynical and doubts even the veneer of democracy, voting etc will survive. I predict a mere move through simulacra into simulation.)
Given that, then – Year of Protest or not – how is there any likelihood that the world will get more free?
The question becomes simply when we passed the peak – before or after 9/11?