I’d like to make ‘mention’ of something that has been nagging at me in the back of my mind for a while. This issue is overpopulation and the problem is directly related to the ‘community solution’ that I believe is going to be necessary to survive the coming collapse and resource depletion.
When I see those birds eye views of gigantic cities, I wonder how in hell are all these people going to survive when energy, goods and resources skyrocket in price? They’re going to have to ‘re-localize’, a community solution that envisions a return to the local community for commerce, transportation, manufacturing, food production and basically, everything else.
Where are these teeming millions (and millions and millions) going to go? The idea of a million people, or a hundred million people relocating to a ‘community’ is a rather staggering idea. Can it really happen?
I doubt it very much. Whatever resources that are in place in the localized community will be quickly overwhelmed by a gigantic influx of ‘immigrants’. The community would simply collapse.
Of course, this is a theoretical discussion, but I can’t see how this could actually work in real life. Perhaps some sort of quota system would be in place to give permits and permissions to those who wanted to relocate (or were forced to). I don’t know. But what I can’t see is America’s small communities absorbing hundreds of millions of city dwellers. I doubt very much that they have the capacity to do so.
On the other hand, I doubt that the cities will remain viable places to live as energy costs get worse and worse. Everything from food, clothing, building supplies, consumable goods will skyrocket in price. Competition in the cities will help keep prices down, but the sheer transportation (cost) of these goods from distances of thousands of miles away will start to squeeze the availability of goods. In essence, I suspect that cities will become prohibitely expensive as the increased demand and growing shortages (irregardless of the competition) will force people to live with less and less.
The bare necessities of life will become increasingly expensive (water, food, clothing, shelter) for the city dweller, who will (likely) ‘demand’ something be done about their situation. The solution for many will be to return to the ‘community’ concept, the relocalization of commerce, production, transportation, food and even entertainment.
But can they? Those birds eye views you get to see on television or in magazine photos show just have vast our cities have become. They’re incredibly HUGE by all accounts. How can the communities absorb such numbers, let alone even hope to meet their actual needs?
Isn’t this a sure fire recipe for total disaster, for city and community alike? Or am I missing something here? Perhaps I am.
I’m playing the devils advocate – a useful and often needed exercise, because the community solution is not without it’s own set of problems. I think it’s a much better idea then the ecovillage for a number of reasons, but I’m not at all sure that it’s actually going to work. Something else is probably going to be needed (or necessary).
Population reduction. Now that is probably already in the works. Existing populations exist soley because of the abundance of cheap energy and easily exploitable resources. When that gravy train stops, then populations (historically) have dwindled, sometimes dramatically. It’s sad to state that humankind has undergone these expansions and collapses many times before, usually because they’ve managed to denude the landscape of every living thing and then, predicatably, starvation sets in and the survivors are few, or they simply move on to someplace else and start the entire process all over again.
I suspect that this is exactly what will happen despite our best technological efforts. It’s long been recognized that we are in population overshoot and it’s simply been allowed to continue due to gross mismanagement and oversight (and unrealistic expectations). Just because this is 2006 and not 1006 doesn’t mean that we will be immune from this problem. In fact, our combined problems historically speaking, are much worse then all the civilizations that have gone on before us. We’re so far over the sustainable line now that talk of sustaining nearly 7 billion people borders on sheer insanity.
So quite probably, the talk of communities having to absorb the teeming millions is a moot point. What we should be discussing (besides community survival) is how to deal with starving millions, the plague of death that will follow, rotting corpses, disease, plague and pestilence that is sure to come and the widespread disruption and havoc that this will all cause. Hard to believe that a little drop of oil could be the source of all of these problems, but our dependency upon that stored energy should not be underestimated. Our cities were built by oil, sustained by oil and can only exist by the availability of (cheap) oil. When that stops, they stop.
Some areas have managed to ween themselves off of such dependency, notably, Cuba, our nearest ‘foreign’ neighbor. But Cuba has several things that large segments of the United States doesn’t have that makes this possible (climate, water, land, good soils, low population and land based people).
There are rather large swaths of land in America that are not at all sustainable for large numbers of people (small groups could pull it off, probably), from the cold northern regions to the arid deserts. And this is exactly where a lot of our unsustainable (unsuitable) cities are built.
Without good climate, plentiful water, usuable soil and available space (a combination not found everywhere), communities, let alone cities, will be hard pressed to meet their own needs, let alone an influx of a million (or more) immigrants. Climate change is also a factor that cannot be overlooked. What works today may not be workable in just a few short years. The massive agribusinesses in America are only ‘working’ right now because of massive energy inputs (fossil fuel fertilizers and transportation, heavy equipment). This will come to a grinding halt (or at the very least, become much more limited) when energy costs are ballooning beyond all expectations.
I see no way to forstall ‘crunch time’ for mankind (and I’m only speaking in context of the United States, these scenarios are much more severe in other parts of the world). Without massive population reductions (somehow), the community solution is also severely imperiled.
I’m not advocating anything – other then that survival through collapse is going to be far more disruptive and difficult then most people can probably imagine. Whatever plans you might make, personally, you’re going to need to consider the ‘teeming millions’ that are going to quite literally, have no place to go. To say that we are eating our way down the food chain (previously blogged) is an understatement. We might soon be eating each other as we desperately try to claw our way to survival after the age of oil.