After contemplating the unique, yet predictable nature of our civilization, let’s see what we can expect in 2023 (be sure to read the previous post to get the big picture). While it is relatively easy to predict the long demise of human civilization based on the fact that it’s wholly unsustainable no matter how we look at it, it is much harder to give precise predictions for the near future. This is especially true in times of great flux, when the decline of empire coincides with looming resource shortages, making things especially complicated. Yet, I have an irresistible inclination to give it a try.
So treat the following post lightly. Think of it as a thought experiment, or fiction if you will, based on the very limited knowledge I have on current world events, the state of resources and the lifecycle of empires. Regardless how world events unfold, one thing seems to be sure though: 2023 will keep our increasingly desperate leadership class busy spinning the narrative machine well beyond its design limitations. It will be a hell of a year to watch as it unfolds for sure.
Resources, energy and the economy
We have spent the preceding years and decades in massive denial: touting how clean technologies will save us from climate change, never realizing that they are as much part of the problem, as the old polluting technologies they aimed to replace were, and still are. Degrowth, regenerative farming or giving up technological progress willingly to devise a way back to a somewhat more sustainable path as a result will remain unthinkable in mainstream politics — even though it will be imposed on the people by sheer necessity.
Many will keep sincerely believing — because they want to believe — that ‘renewables’ and a circular economy is a way out of this mess, never realizing that these measures are nothing more than futile attempts made at ‘Electrifying the Titanic’… More and more wind turbines and solar panels will be built as a result, but the grid will keep becoming ever more fragile and prone to blackouts due to their inherent intermittency. By the end of the year renewables will have passed their point of diminishing returns in many places.
Despite our leaders’ strong desire to increase material throughput in order to return to an era of economic growth, oil production will essentially flatline during 2023. It will fail to reach it’s peak again — the level of extraction achieved in November, 2018, exactly five years ago by then. The onset of oil’s long decline is clearly around the corner.
Geopolitical turmoil and embargoes will certainly effect output negatively, all but guaranteeing that we will never surpass 2018 in oil production sustainably. Peak oil supply will be tacitly admitted by some media organs, only to be buried under a pile of happy talk how we don’t need fossil fuels anyway.
The glaring parallel with Aesop’s The Fox and the Grapes will be hard to miss though, at least to those who pay attention.
LNG supplies to Europe will remain unpredictable, as ever, but will reliably fall short of filling the gap left behind by lost pipeline supplies. The hysteria around gas storage levels and prices we have seen in 2022 will never return though. The topic will be buried under news of all sorts: it will be too embarrassing, and frankly too disturbing to discuss for the political class.
Meanwhile more and more people and businesses will be unable to afford natural gas and electricity in Europe, and will turn off their taps and power themselves. This will of course create a considerable recession in the EU, one which will be labelled ‘mild and temporary’. It will be duly masked by heavily massaged GDP figures showing a mere -2% ‘contraction’ despite energy consumption falling by 20%. For those who understand that energy is the economy, this will be a clear sign of a massive, if not the biggest economic downturn the region has ever seen. For the masses, it will look like stubborn inflation and ever increasing hardship, all of which will be blamed on — of course — sick and evil dictators.
The financial ripple effects will be harder to conceal though, and will eventually reach the other side of the pond as well. Economists in the the Western hemisphere will learn the hard way in 2023 what a real economy is, and how much paper wealth and GDP figures actally worth.
Geopolitics: decline of an empire
The West — together with the oil age which gave rise to it — has hit hard limits to growth. NATO’s failed expansion eastwards has smashed into a brick wall in 2022, despite the countless warnings given both from the inside and the outside. The resulting war has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands and obliterated an entire country. By the time the inevitable (but entirely predictable) military debacle arrives for the West sometime during 2023 though, the failed ‘expansion attempt which never was’ will be rebranded as a ‘peace keeping mission’. Poland will effectively occupy Galicia (the westernmost part of Ukraine) and establish a EU protectorate there.
The lands in-between the yet to be seen new borders of Russia and NATO will be turned into a hundred mile wide ‘demilitarized zone’ with no electricity and infrastructure, but plenty of mines and surveillance sensors. A new Cold War will have been declared, but direct military confrontation (and thus nuclear annihilation) will be keenly avoided. (Fingers crossed. Strongly.)
If history is any guide to these matters, once the age of republics and quasi democracy ends in a dying empire (the West being a prime example of such an entity), an emperor (or empress) would be ‘elected’ to rule with an iron fist over the empire’s vassals and the masses they contain — if it hasn’t already happened yet. Military presence and defense spending in Europe will be duly justified with an ‘imminent and stronger than ever’ Russian threat, placing an additional non-productive burden on the economy. Sanctions too will stay in place beyond the war’s end: the de-industrialization of Europe must continue.
The imminent military threat will never materialize though, at least not in 2023. The now united Eurasian powers will turn their backs on Europe instead, offering whatever meager amounts of fossil fuels Europeans are willing to buy at the highest prices possible. Meanwhile new trade routes, pipelines, harbors and railways will be built, criss-crossing the Asian continent, ensuring that the last bout of economic growth happens on the Eastern hemisphere, not on the Western dominated half of the world. And while Eurasia will be clearly not interested in an outright war with the West, they will be ready for a fight should push come to shove... And ‘push’ we will see a lot in 2023.
Will we end up in a strongly bipolar world then? Only for a relatively short period of time. As the West keeps descending, Eurasia will keep rising for a couple of decades more, but its internal conflicts and contradictions will take precedence once its resources too start to run low and climate change will force millions to migrate.
It looks increasingly like that the end of our one and only global industrial civilization will be an uneven process, just like the end of the Roman Empire was. Analogous to the fall of Rome, the western half of our global civilization will be giving in to the many pressures somewhat sooner than its better shielded Eastern part. This time though, we won’t have to wait a millennia between the fall of the two halves. From an individual human’s perspective this is still going to be a slow grind, one which will take decades to unfold — hopefully not something ending in a loud and rather radioactive crash.
Be grateful for the good times, and whatever you have today. On the other hand always keep an eye open for challenges you’ve never seen in your lifetime. It’s beggining to look a lot like 2023 and the years and decades following it will be one hell of a ride.
Until next time,