Do prophets of doom grow tired of warning against a doom that never seems to happen? Of course we do. But what really saps our spirit is not the jeering from the Business-as-Usual advocates, but the inadequacy of their thinking. It’s not the heat, you see, it’s the stupidity. To reason that because a thing has not happened yet, therefore the prospects of its happening are diminished, is not supported by any accepted rules of logic, and is a staggeringly dumb idea to cling to along the San Andreas Fault. (Of course, delay does not make a thing more likely to happen either, except in earthquake country.)
Other evidence must be consulted, and a review of the things that have not happened in 2013 may help us to decide whether they are more or less likely to happen in 2014.
No Food Crisis. The good news: food prices worldwide continued to recede in 2013 from their historic highs of August 2012, according to the World Bank. The bad news: they haven’t receded very far, and nothing has changed the relentless grind of increasing demand and diminished capacity to produce that promises famine for an ever-larger portion of the world’s people. The ugly news: lengthening and deepening drought in the American West and South are taking a significant, and growing, bite out of this country’s food supply, where food prices, unlike the world average, are going up. The only things that could stave off a looming worldwide food emergency, according to the United Nations trade and development agency, would be an immediate end to subsidies and support for industrial agriculture, immediate and prolonged support for small-scale, diverse, sustainable agriculture, and an intense across-the-board response to climate change. Go to your window and listen: that’s the sound of lobbyists and politicians laughing.
No Water Panic. A report by the National Research Council released this month concluded that certain effects of climate change may be abrupt and calamitous, rather than slow and predictable. (Its report was titled Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change but might as well have been called Brace for Impact.) Among the most worrisome of these threats it listed the exhaustion of the aquifers that, in the face of the worsening droughts in the US and around the world temperate regions, are the only hope for maintaining our food supply, by irrigation, not to mention the people who live there. So while predictions of a new Dust Bowl. climate refugees and abandoned cities (Las Vegas first? Or Phoenix?) are not yet true in the United States, no one living with the rising dread of vanishing reservoirs and depleted aquifers that lies like a dust cloud over the American Heartland will argue that these things have become less likely.
No Energy Crunch. “So where’s Peak Oil now?” sneer the denialists, pointing to headlines everywhere that say the US is headed for “energy independence” on the basis of fracking tight oil and gas out of shale formations. Predictions of worsening shortages have been proven false — again — they claim, by the American Oil Renaissance. (Feel free to review the number of times I have debunked this claim here, I counted 13 before I got tired.) Suffice for now to cite just the latest scam alarm to go off: an address this week at a meeting of the Geological Society of America. A top energy analyst from Canada, David Hughes, has concluded that the shale revolution is merely a temporary bump in the precipitous decline of oil and gas production in the US. The reason, as explained here often, is that production from fracking wells declines with roller-coaster rapidity, often at 50% per year. That means you have to drill at least a well a year for every well you have, to keep your production level, let alone increasing it. There is neither money, nor space, in the world to do that. Peak Oil is as close as it ever was, and coming closer. “Energy independence” is as far away as it ever was, and is receding.
There is a massive will to ignore the tilting of the Titanic’s deck. The ignorance is well funded, by people whose accumulation of wealth requires that we not notice the water coming into our staterooms. So the combed and curried politicians dance, and the spit-shined anchor bimbos preen, and the tenured academics hum, all of them singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” They make fun of the hair-shirted, unkempt prophets with the strident signs, because, as you can see, nothing bad has happened yet.
So be happy. Forget what Flaubert said about happiness. “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”