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I live in a walkable village, but I rarely walk anywhere. I'm usually picking up or dropping off cameras and recording equipment when I leave the house, or I'm going to the grocery store, so I need to drive, even though the distances involved are ones that I could easily cover on foot. Easy in the summer time that is. I was filming a selectboard meeting tonight in which the town manager was asking the board for authorization to order more sand. At the beginning of the winter we supposedly had plenty of sand to put down on the roads, but we've had a lot more snow this year than last year, and we're running low.

I spoke to Liam Scheff last week, and his advice to anyone he talks to is, "Move to where water falls from the sky and where there is viable soil under foot and start growing food." Or words to that effect.

Well, boy howdy. Water sure does fall from the sky around here. I told him that I live in a village that is right on the Connecticut river, that we have a dam and a hydroelectric power plant here (though it is owned by distant masters). We have two fairly large farms right outside of the village, and the place is totally walkable. Sounds like a post-petro-collapse paradise, right?

Liam said that life here will be hard. It gets very cold in the winter, and we have a short growing season. Yeah, but there were people living here 300 years ago. I'm pretty sure there will be people living here 300 years from now. We're on a mostly navigable river, though, because of the dam and the falls, would-be river travelers can't just float right past us with thier cargo. They'd need to unload and then reload on a different vessel on the other side of the falls. That gives this village a purpose and an economic reason to exist all by itself. This town is full of formerly single family homes that have been broken up into apartment buildings. That's because this place used to be a center of timber-generated prosperity, and everybody and his brother built himself a mansion. Now, it's fallen on relatively hard times, and times are likely to get worse, but this place has a future in a way that Pheonix, Arizona does not.

Every time I hear someone predict the near-term collapse of techno-industrial civilization, I think of Rome's Third Century Crisis. In the Third Century AD, Rome was screwed. Barbarian invasions, internal conflict, plague, and a perpetual scramble for power by various factions within the military made it seem like the fat lady was warming up for her solo, and then along comes Emperor Diocletian. He instituted some reforms, persecuted Christians like it was going out of style (which, in fact, it was. His successor, Constantine, would convert to Christianity), and stabilized the empire enough to endure another 200 years. And he wasn't living in an age of rapidly evolving technology. I expect that our expert jugglers will keep the plates spinning a lot longer than the prophets of doom predict.

This could be normality bias talking, but I no longer expect a precipitous collapse. Nor do I expect a Star Trek future. I don't know what the future holds, but I expect that it will occasionally seem marvelous and "historic," but most of the time it will feel excruciatingly normal.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2017 06:21 pm (UTC)
I was going to say I disagree with you about precipitous collapse, but I actually don't think I do. You're at least as familiar as I am with the ins and outs of imperial decline, peak oil and climate change. I stand by my assertion that those forces are going to work on American industrial civilization until it's reduced in size and barely recognizable, but I don't have a firm prediction for how long that's going to take. Decades certainly, if not centuries. I do note that the oil majors, along with several important oil producing countries, are facing serious financial trouble in the near term future. I don't see much way for them to wiggle out, but I could definitely be wrong.

In any event, picturing your area in 300 years is a good mental exercise. A lot will depend on the climate conditions then, as well as the political ones. I think there will still be people in my area (Houston TX) in 300 years, largely for the same reasons you give. Water falls from the sky, the soils are decent, and we have navigable waterways. From the NOAA interactive map, we can survive 6 ft sea level rise basically intact.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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