Is a Partial Collapse Possible? — Part 1
Can the East survive the fall (or rather the collective suicide) of the West? Can the center of global power be transferred from the falling Western Empire to its Eastern counterparts? And ultimately: will this shift contribute to or, instead, reverse the end-game of this global civilization…? These are the questions bugging me for weeks now…What follows is an internal dialog, leading to wild guesses and a lot of speculation. Enjoy.
In order to answer the question posed in the title we have to first find an answer for the following: how long will it take for the West to fall? Years? Decades? A century?
Asking such a question presumes, of course, that the West will fall. I have to say, that we must take this as a given — in fact, the West has been falling for quite a while now. Deluded in their powers and by the technologies they wield, ruling elites in these societies did not even notice that they are no longer driving towards a cliff — they have become airborne. While some of them have noticed that we have left the cliff’s edge far behind, they now think and proclaim loudly that we can fly. The inconvenient question, none of them is even willing to ponder, is how much time we have left till we touch the ground, and then how many rollovers will it take till the badly damaged chassis finally stops bouncing and the dust starts to settle on it.
Some of those, who are willing (and capable) to ponder such a question expect a sudden explosion upon touchdown — a nuclear holocaust — as their hopelessly impotent leaders finally hit the red button in their utter frustration felt over the loss of their global hegemony. I personally cannot exclude this outcome, but should this happen it would spell an end to almost all human life — as the resulting nuclear winter would lead to crop failures worldwide for many years to come, scattering remaining tribes of our species across empty wastelands... Then, there would be no need for such fools like myself trying to speculate on how the story of East vs West will end, as this event would put a permanent end to all human ambitions on this planet for quite a long time.
Can the story of the West (Europe and North America) end in years then?
In other words: is it possible for our western standard of living to be reduced — permanently — to a third world level within a couple of years, where lives of average citizens would not be that much different from the everyday life of someone living in Central Africa? Well, apart from a truly unfortunate turn of events, like an extremely severe economic crisis shutting down all the major choke-points of global trade, all at once, or a military attack taking out key power stations and distribution centers with a perfect timing, I see no major chance of the West falling and crumbling in a matter of years.
I’m not saying it cannot happen, but I see it less likely. Western economic system still has ample resources allowing it to break up into manageable pieces and let these new formations cannibalize newly freed up resources — stopping the collapse before it becomes all encompassing. (This what John Micheal Greer refers to as Catabolic Collapse.) With that said we would still have widespread famines, violence, civil wars — not something one wishes for — but after years of severe turmoil we would still end up in a relatively peaceful situation, leading us to the next scenario.
How about a permanent crisis then, taking ever newer forms year after year, decade after decade: steadily eroding the living standards of the average Westerner to current South Asian levels by 2040-ish?
Now this is something, as I see it at the moment, we are headed towards. The current energy crisis, together with an increasing likelihood that we have indeed left the point of peak oil supply behind, is clearly pointing into this direction.
Take Europe for example; having very little fossil fuels left to burn, while its ‘renewables’ are still not able to drive it’s economy for various reasons. There are simply not enough of them to power our economies and they still need balancing from gas and coal to keep the grid from crumbling. Not to mention the fact that a large swathe of our economy still needs coal, oil and gas for technological reasons and as a feedstock to its chemical processes — the wind turbine industry being one of many examples. While electrification based on 100% renewables looks great on paper, too many things would have to change all of a sudden to make it happen.
Nuclear, on the other hand, has its own set of limitations: starting with costs (both in monetary and energetic/resource terms), continuing with timing and dependence on foreign (that is mostly Russian) sources of Uranium. An inconvenient combination of factors to say the least.
This leaves us with bickering nations fighting over the last remaining shipments of fossil fuels from all across the world: hoarding them and watching each other more enviously than ever. Remember, we are fast approaching a seriously supply limited world, where extraction of energy resources cannot be further expanded to meet all needs. This situation could all too easily lead to serious measures needed to be taken during the winter, hitting entire industries hard while leaving many unemployed, hungry and cold — but not all, and certainly not evenly.
The unfolding major economic depression across the entire West (and in many Eastern countries as well) will make matters even worse. The eventual breakdown of entire industries and international trade would destroy enough demand to plunge oil prices way below their production costs (especially for Canada) forcing oil companies to leave even more oil in the ground. Make no mistake: this would be great for the environment and our future in general, reducing pollution and green house gas release. It would be less favorable for Western elites though, who in turn would react by enacting ever more draconian measures to curb consumption (and to keep things comfortably cushioned for themselves).
I expect a permanent state of emergency to be declared as a result, putting an end to the collective illusion of freedom and democracy. Bereft of their wide customer base to keep the ruling classes of technocratic business elites high, oligarchs would start sponsoring the worst despots of all time. Expect the same story to unfold on the other side of the pond as well, probably with a slight delay and maybe with a somewhat softer landing, but still ending up in a similarly bleak state of autocracy nonetheless.
Can the East profit from this rather ignominious fall of the West? We shall see in the second installment (part 2) of this essay.
Until next time,