Friday, October 24, 2008

It's cool by the pool - only it isn't

For some today is the last day of school. One matriculant said to me: "Strange - I don't feel excited, or sad or anything..." There is a reason for this. While it may be the last day of school, there are still exams to write, and important dances to go to...and then there is the wait for the all important results of those exams. This is not so different from Lance Armstrong completing his training for the Tour de France. Sure, the training is gruelling - the race itself is what all the training is for. And, in the space of time that it happens - it is intensely stressful and gruelling.

I think this provides good analogy for where we are. I look around at colleagues at work and friends and I don't notice any particular excitement or sadness or any particularly new emotion. Yet, there has been a fundamental shift in the fortunes of the suburbs, of this country, and of the world. People so far seem to be daydreaming through the reality of this. Those numbers in the newspapers, those pixels on the screen, on television - while they didn't mean anything (they have been disconnected from any meaningful reality for some time) - now, they are real.

The stock markets have caught up to reality (not the other way round), and they are all trending downward. The markets are slowing. Business - is contracting. It simply means that we have reached a peak in the ability of the human race to produce anything. We have reached, and moved beyond a peak in everything - production, consumption, entertainment, wealth, choices and so on.

The future is likely to be more gruelling than the present. A lot more. I know it doesn't seem probable now (in the same way, a few years ago when I first wrote about high oil prices, it was highly improbable to most people) - but food is one vital area where our choices will become more limited. This is happening very rapidly at the present moment, in the guise of biofuels (food for cars) competing to some extent for the landmass dedicated to growing conventional food crops for people. Increasingly, we will see a face off between people who own cars and homes and the rest of the world. But the bottom line is that there will be a gradual reduction in available food (as the costs to produce it increase, or the ability to pay decreases, or both (stagflation). There will probably also be sudden convulsions, sudden shortages in the system. More and more we will find areas in supermarket aisles that are empty.

These scarcities are likely to be echoed in other areas. Jobs will become scarcer. Tourism will slow down. Luxury and discretionary spending will decline. Property markets will shrink even further. Banks will shed large numbers of workers. Restaurants will close. Cinemas.

But opportunities may remain. Casinos will probably flourish. So will watering holes, and some news purveyors. People are likely to start choosing between online news and print. Believe it or not, in some countries, print may be cheaper to consume and use. I am certain the Internet has a role to play in maintaining and perhaps guiding us in maintaining efficiencies, but the Internet requires that the electricity remain on. Electricity is something that - like food - is becoming more difficult to deliver and distribute to every single person. The planet is taking strain because of the number of users/consumers. I doubt that this will have any credible impact on the number of users/consumers for some time (meaning, despite initial shortages in food and energy - warning signals - people will continue to procreate, marry, have children regardless).

All of this naturally must come to a head.
At times I have thought we may be better off in Africa than in many other industrialised/overpopulated/resource poor countries. We may be. The civil disorder - when it manifests though - may be of an order of magnitude in Africa far greater than elsewhere. There may be highly racist attacks between the haves and have nots (and we have, and are seeing these already).

I have a feeling the greatest convulsions will be felt in places like the USA and the United Kingdom.
Although we may not know how to feel right now, I can predict how we will feel in the future. Stressed. Strained. We can prepare for those exams; for the endurance event that awaits. There is a voice in the back of your head that knows what you need to do. Start listening to that voice. Start getting excited about that. And yes, you may be a little sad and sentimental to say goodbye to the traffic jams and pollution, the clutter and the consumption that is part of our current lifestyle. But I would rather focus on what we will see in the next world, not what we will miss. That way, we begin to draw to ourselves a world we want, as opposed to a world we fear.

No comments: