Jacks Random Reflections
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The fragile system

Permanent Linkby Jack on Sun Oct 04, 2009 10:03 pm

Is our civilization fragile or robust? Within this question lies the central problem of peak oil as well as other challenges. If robust, then damage and problems are unlikely to create systemic collapse. If fragile, then a single breakdown could propagate like the break lines in a pane of glass.

In the past, we've seen evidence of remarkable endurance. The various European countries faced enormous hardships during the wars, and yet continued as functional societies. Likewise, Japanese society did not fail despite a pair of nuclear strikes. And we can observe other societies that endure a variety of privations.

On the other side, we might note the systemic breakdown in New Orleans post Katrina. Likewise, a decline in housing prices seems to have cascaded into a global economic crisis - one which may not yet be fully resolved. These may suggest that American society, at least, has some vulnerability.

Perhaps long-term abundance and national affluence leads to weakness among part of the population. Perhaps our widely noted successes have reduced our ability to withstand and overcome adversity. If so, the rate and magnitude of peak oil onset become critical questions. Because a slow rate implies some time to adapt to changed circumstances, whereas a fast collapse will allow the society no time to regain its strength.

My personal suspicion is that onset will take relatively little time - perhaps just a few years. If that's true, then it seems unlikely that the underpinnings of American society will have the resilience to survive untouched. Therefore, in addition to peak oil, we may face a broad reformation of society along lines we cannot presently discern.

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