Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The future after unsustainability collapses

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The problem with an unsustainable lifestyle is, of course, that it cannot be sustained. And as we see the direction the planet is going, in terms of climate change, oil exhaustion, water scarcity, and so on, one wonders what the future will be like. The Archdruid Report has an interesting piece on that, which begins:

I’ve suggested several times in these essays that the broad shape of the most likely future facing industrial society, at the end of the age of cheap abundant energy, can be sorted out very roughly into three phases: the age of scarcity industrialism, the age of salvage societies, and – if we are lucky – the ecotechnic age, when new societies based on sustainable high technology will rise on the ruins of our own unsustainable time. For a variety of reasons, any typology of this sort is easy to misunderstand, and it seems worthwhile just now to clarify what I intend to say, and what I don’t, in proposing this model of the future.

The most important point that needs making, it seems to me, is that these three phases are to some extent ideal types, and the forms they take on the ground of actual history will be far more complex, messy, and idiosyncratic than the simple outline suggests. This isn’t simply a result of the fact that none of these phases have arrived yet. The same thing can be said, after all, of the use of economic phases to talk about history that’s already happened.

When a historian suggests that England embraced a mercantilist economic system in the sixteenth century, for instance, she does not mean that the English economy shifted gears all at once on January 1, 1501. Nor does she mean that the English economy in that century lacked important features of the older feudal-agrarian economy or foreshadowings of the capitalist economy that replaced mercantilism later on, nor that the English mercantilist economy was identical to all others. Rather, she means that the traits implied by the term “mercantilism” – an export-based economy geared toward generating a favorable balance of trade with competing nations, foreign policy initiatives pursuing overseas colonies and the expansion of naval power and a merchant marine, and the like – provide a workable sketch of the shape toward which the English economy moved over the course of the century in question.

The same rule applies to the phases I’ve outlined here. The transition from today’s industrialism of abundance to the scarcity industrialism of the near future, for example, will likely be just as slow and ragged a process as the rise of mercantilism. Some nations …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Daily life

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