The Money Culture, Part 3

“We are at the point in history where the infinite growth paradigm collides with something that is more powerful than money is…”  – Michael Ruppert, Collapse (2009 movie)

The more-powerful something Michael Ruppert was referring to is the finite limit to energy available for our civilization under the current paradigm – more specifically, the coming of Peak Oil.  In the 1950s, M.K. Hubbert predicted that US oil production would peak by about 1970 and then taper off, which – of course – it did.  Hubbert’s peak for world oil production was a little fuzzier, but there are many indications that it will happen is happening… right about now.   Globally, as a species, we are consuming known oil reservoirs at a faster rate than we are discovering new ones.  The expectation is that demand will continue to rise (due to both population growth and the expansion of economic growth/energy consumption in places like China).

In Collapse, Zeitgeist I and II and Money as Debt, the claim is made that the current monetary system – with fiat currency, fractional reserve banking and compound interest – is a kind of pyramid scheme that requires continual growth to prevent failure.  But continual growth is rarely seen in nature, and the places where it does occur (cancers, black holes) aren’t generally considered hospitable.  While I’m not sure about the demise of black holes, cancers are eventually limited by the death of the host.  So the argument has been made that the economy will die when it kills its host.   I for one don’t think the economy is resilient and voracious enough to live until the biosphere itself dies – it won’t kill the planet.  It might, however, kill the civilization, if it consumes vital resources faster than they can be replenished.

So, if money is power, and power is energy, energy is the real money.  And, big-picture-wise, there’s plenty of energy available to us Earthlings.  It’s radiating down on us, it’s captured by green things that grow in the fields and forests (using photosynthesis to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics).  So in that sense, it’s not really limiting or limited in a way that humans are likely to need to worry about (in the next few centuries, anyway).  But in the money culture that we currently inhabit, everything depends on continual growth, and the basis for growth in the last century has been petroleum, and our use of that is not going to keep growing much longer.

The good news is, there’s actually plenty of solar energy available (including the energy that causes wind), if we can figure out how to harness and utilize it.  What’s holding us back?  Right now, it’s cheaper to just keep using oil. The reluctance to change has everything to do with money.  But if the economy isn’t weaned off oil very quickly, it might kill civilization before we can make the switch.

Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.  ~Cree Proverb

So crisis is coming, that dance of danger and opportunity.  In the terminology of resilience thinking (a.k.a. panarchy), we at the point where the K-phase of conservation and ordered efficiency ends, and the Ω-phase of release and creative destruction begins.  Our challenge is to nurture the seeds of what comes next, so that when all of the resources and constraints are released, the new stuff that begins to grow is what we want to grow.

…Part 3 in a series of indeterminate length…

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