Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Poverty an asset; assets a burden

Another guest post from Chris, most recently from the Outback, but now ensconced in a place that seems much more collapse-proof.

Chris writes of a paradox: lack of assets may be the greatest asset of all.
I don't believe that this is a paradox: the higher you climb, the harder you fall. A place that is used to an artificially high standard of living inevitably develops artificially high standards. These standards cannot be undone overnight, as soon as the standard of living collapses, delaying commonsense adaptations until it is too late. Prosperous places have expensive infrastructure, and, once it can no longer be maintained, it becomes much worse than no infrastructure at all. Lastly, poverty takes practice, and a sudden lapse into poverty is far more traumatic than the habit of a stable but constrained existence.

I have recently moved from Australia, where Peak Oil issues are just beginning to gain traction belatedly in the mainstream press, to the Philippines, where seemingly nobody has even heard of peak oil -- yet.

I have read that the USA is leveraged up to a debt ration approaching 15/1 (1 real dollar for each dollar borrowed). I believe Australia's ratio is about 3/4 of that. The Philippines has a debt ratio of approximately 1/1. Hence when the wolf is finally at the door the Philippines may be in a better fiscal position than countries currently far richer.

However, this is all semantics. The real issue is preparedness.

I believe Australia is in a similar position to the USA and Europe in many regards, beyond financial issues.
The looming disaster in these countries is mostly to do with the feckless assumption that the status quo will somehow continue: private car ownership and food being transported over vast distances being prime among many key vulnerabilities in these societies. Other factors include simple laziness, poor health generally, and addictions to substances both legal and illegal.

Very few people in these countries under the age of about 80 remember anything about what it means to have to survive somehow in the environment, from that environment. Look to the evidence online; how many sites are telling people to stock up on guns and ammo or to stockpile massive amounts of food? The guns will attract violence, the ammo will make those using it targets for those who have less ammo; the food will perish, attract rodents and thieves. In comparison, how many are teaching how to build suburban gardens, recycle small power and methane generators, and other practical adaptations?

The Philippines, like a number of other countries, is living in a paradox of different proportions. Outside of the biggest cities here, food is growing everywhere, in the villages themselves, as well as the agricultural lands around them. Most people here can tell you how to grow a list of useful plants and to raise chickens.
They are also very much used to sharing. There is virtually no government safety net here. To become eligible for social welfare payments, one must have held the same job for ten years; this almost never happens. Yet even in the moderate-sized cities, nobody starves. Interdependence is local and regional rather than national and international. Of course, there is a degree of modernization contributing to the welfare of people. Some people work in the cities or overseas and send money home to support the extended family. But even without this money life would go on.

Most people here are very fit compared to developed nation's. I have seen hardly any overweight people, let alone obese. Washing is done by hand in water pumped by hand from the ground. "Sounds horrible," I hear the average reader murmur: but it works and it means the people are physically fit. The main diet is locally grown rice with similarly grown meats and vegetables. Fruit can be expensive because a lot of it is exported, yet whatever is in season is abundant. The fishing trade here is mostly very small boats with small crews using small nets and lines; there are very few industrial scale fishing boats. I live near a fishing village where 95% of the income is derived from fishing in these small boats; the population of over 2,000 people is the healthiest, happiest bunch I have ever met.

Transport here is a world away from that in developed nations, yet there is no problem getting anywhere. Locally, there are tricycles and jeepneys going past all the time in all directions; these and the buses are very affordable for most people. Only about 2% of households have a car, and maybe half have a private 125cc motorcycle or tricycle. These vehicles get about 100 miles to a gallon of fuel.

The paradox is this: the Philippines greatest asset in the future may be its lack of assets now. Less debt, less dependence on expensive gadgets, less laziness and complacency. More communalism, more integration.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Second Radio Ecoshock Interview

I recently recorded my second interview with Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, in which we discuss Bailout 2.0 Beta, how to find food, what to do with repatriated troops, where you can stick your money (should you still have any) to avoid being overcome by its putrid smell, and how having one's predictions come true is not necessarily a happy outcome. My first interview with him was rebroadcast by over 40 radio stations. Now that it's no longer a guessing game as to whether collapse is real, we should be able to do a lot better. Then again, the worse things get, the more of a reason people have to keep on faking it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Five Stages of Collapse - Presentation from Fifth Annual Community Solutions Conference

Last night I got back from the conference in Michigan. My talk was one of the two keynote addresses at the conference (John Michael Greer gave the other one). The slide show and notes can be viewed here.