* * * America’s “empire of time,” its once-immense energy resource base, has been drawn down at breakneck rates for more than a century and a half. Recent handwaving around shale gas reserves has served mostly to pump up the price of drilling company stocks, and enabled a certain number of rich men in influential positions to get away with another round of looting; we’ve all heard the strident claims that the United States will become an energy exporter sometime very soon, but the numbers don’t even begin to add up, and it’s a safe bet that a few years down the road shale gas will have gone the way of ethanol and all the other energy sources that were allegedly going to replace petroleum and keep the industrial age running smoothly ahead. The American economy is utterly dependent on very large quantities of petroleum; so is the American military; drastic changes, going far beyond the baby steps involved in manufacturing a few electric cars or running a naval vessel or two on biodiesel, would have to get started well in advance to cushion the end of either dependency, and those changes are not taking place.
The consequences of the end of these two empires can’t be dealt with on the battlefield, as the long debate over the shape of America’s human ecology was, and it can’t be dealt with by jerry-rigging a set of temporary expedients to overcome the mismatch between real wealth and a dysfunctional financial system, as the crisis of the Great Depression was. It will require massive changes in every aspect of American life, starting with a steep decline in standards of living and the forced abandonment of privileges most Americans think of as theirs by right. That would be an immense crisis at the best of times, and these are not the best of times; our political system has spent the last thirty years trying to evade exactly these issues, while sinking further and further into stasis, and it’s our luck that the crisis seems to be arriving just as American politics freeze up completely.
That might result in the kind of systemic shock that brings another long-shot candidate with a radical following into the White House, and catalyzes immense natonal changes. It might also result in the more extreme form of systemic shock that shatters a nation into fragments. In the weeks to come we’ll be discussing both those possibilities, and others.
My apologies to John Michael Greer for offering only a snippet of his wisdom.