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Bad Timing

By Guy R. McPherson

09 December, 2009
Guy Mcpherson Blog

It seems the evil empire will keep chugging along, despite my wishes to the contrary. How long is anybody’s guess. And, despite my record of bad guessing, I’ll toss out some more guesses here.

When forecasting light’s out in the empire by the end of this year, I clearly put too much stock in the International Energy Agency’s forecast of a 9.1% annual decline in crude oil availability. The IEA is notorious for lying, but they’ve always lied in the other direction. Under pressure from imperialists such as Barack Obomber, they routinely claim there’s plenty of oil available. So when they forecast a 9.1% annual decline, beginning in 2009, they suckered me. As most energy-literate folks are aware, there is no way demand could fall at a pace approaching 9% without a complete collapse of the industrial economy. So far, year-over-year decline has been about 3%, and the Great Depression 2.0 is destroying demand even faster than world supply is falling. If we believed in the “laws” of supply and demand, oil should be priced at about ten bucks a barrel. If, on the other hand, we believed in pricing oil at what it does for us, oil should be priced at about a thousand bucks a barrel.

So, despite the howls of indignation every time I generate a forecast, I’ll keep trotting them out, gladly risking my so-called credibility in the name of sounding the alarm for the few people willing to take out the earplugs and listen. If I were a conservative, self-respecting mainstream scientist — as I was for nearly three decades — I would forgo such risky endeavors, staying mute while we kill the living planet and therefore destroy any hope of salvaging our species. But behind me are the days of eating popcorn and calmly reciting the harmful effects of inhaling smoke while the theater is going up in flames.

I have plenty of company, with whom few seem to take issue. Las Vegas and Atlantic City survive on the basis of daily forecasts. There’s an entire website dedicated to assessing the accuracy of predictions. The consummate one-trick pony James Howard Kunstler isn’t losing any fans, despite his nearly annual forecast of Dow 4000 to go along with his claim that the ongoing economic collapse proves he was right about Y2K (thus giving unintended meaning to the term, “long emergency”). Here’s my first prediction for next year: Kunstler will forecast Dow 4000 again this year. I hope he’s right, because Dow 4000 almost certainly spells the end of the industrial age.

There is no denying that casinos and Kunstler are great entertainment. Casinos in particular are based on fantasy (the fantasy we can get something for nothing). So what’s the difference between these forecasts and mine? For starters, unlike the entertainment industries of gambling and doomer porn, my forecasts are a matter of life and death. As such, they resemble roulette of the Russian kind, not the casino kind. If you bought what I was selling earlier this year, you’d be settling into your new ’hood, learning a new set of skills and getting to know a new set of neighbors while developing infrastructure for the coming post-carbon era. In other words, you’d be extending your life by a few years (maybe more) in the dark years ahead.

I’m not afraid to wade into reality, writing what I actually believe, stark though the prospects may be for industrial humans. No spoons full of sugar to make the medicine go down, bitter though it may be for this nation of hyper-indulgent, channel-surfing, overfed, undernourished fools. And I believe a new day will dawn for all species on the planet, including our own, when Americans regain their dignity and self-respect as they overcome daunting physical and intellectual challenges.

Had I been right about the lights going out in the Empire by the end of 2009, we would have stood a chance to save a few remnants of the living planet, along with our humanity. I was wrong, so we probably lose both. So much for wishful thinking. Looks like Barack Obomber and crew saved the industrial economy. They won the battle. We all lost the war.

For this year, I suspect the price of oil will top triple digits again, thus sustaining the ongoing recession. (I know, I know: the federal government says we’ve recovered. Try telling that to the 20% or so unemployed, or the many people who’ve lost their houses, or the people working minimum-wage jobs to put food on the table.) But I doubt we’ll see oil priced high enough to bring down the empire for a few more years, although some are predicting chaos in the stock markets and beyond, up to and including a default by the U.S. Rather, 2012 looks like the year high oil prices will bring the industrial economy to its knees, consistent with my original forecasts. Until then, the industrial economy will muddle along, losing jobs and deleveraging a while longer. This will allow us to keep pulverizing the living planet while politicians wring their hands about economic contraction. It will allow the increasingly unpopular Barack Obama/Goldman Sachs administration to keep transferring money from the impoverished to the financially wealthy with increasingly absurd strategies that will go unchallenged and either unnoticed or cheered by mainstream Americans. It will allow the façade of a green economy, powered by solar panels and wind turbines, to act as yet another distraction for a group of consumers (cf. citizens) too consumed with celebrity to give a damn about the real world. It will allow us to spend yet another year in ecological overshoot, thus damning our species and the living planet to more suffering and death.

Despite the bad news, some of us will forge on, undaunted by the culture of make believe (i.e., culture of death). We’ll keep acting as if the world matters, including its human occupants. And because we are willing to laugh at ourselves, and laugh at the apocalypse, we’ll never run out of material.


Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory, primarily with an eye toward conservation of biological diversity. Currently, his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more than 100 scholarly papers and nine books.



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