Ever since I read “The Long Emergency: Confronting the Converging Crisis of the 21st century’ I’ve been a fan of Jim Kunstler. When I was a city councillor, I brought him to Ottawa to speak and it was a very successful event. The hall was packed to hear America’s Jeremiah preach the coming economic and political meltdown and I continue the connection to this day. Reading his weekly blog ‘Clusterfuck Nation’ is like a taking an intellectual emetic. One read is enough to flush the dyspepsia of the previous week’s repetitive news cycles which trumpet more events but never new directions.
The only problem with Jim’s Clusterfuck Nation rants is the same one as the original Jeremiah had. It’s a long, long drop from our current state of petroleum based bliss to the one where people will abandon just-in-time global production, cheap franchise distribution and the world re-localizes. I have no doubt Jim is right and it will happen, but unlike Mr. Kunstler I don’t believe there is any collective cliff face waiting for us to drive over.
Rather it is going to be a city by city grand and slow progression as cities change from refuge areas to refugee. It’s going to be more like a moth eating away at a wool blanket. At first the holes are scarcely noticed. There is simply too much systemic inertia, supported by too much global investment in more cars, trucks, oil, bigger boats and jumbo jets. Watersheds and wilderness will continue to be sacrificed to keep the black gold flowing and the status quo intact.
The most successful economies will continue to be the ones that find a multitude of ways of slowing and managing the steps down as the European Nordic nations are doing today. It’s not especially complicated. Look at the city of Detriot or Cyprus and you can get clear images of how deep the voyage down can be, but that doesn’t mean it’s coming to New York or Toronto anytime soon. As frustrating as it is for Jim Kunstler, there’s simply too much money to be made out of supporting the status quo, but in a more perfect world this is how the steps down would be delayed and reduced.
1) The financial meltdown. Solution: Return progressive taxation to all sectors of society including the banks. Get rid of derivative and currency speculation entirely. Societies can’t succeed with fewer and fewer people bearing the costs. It didn’t work in the 18th century and it’s not going to work in the 21st. In the long term, it creates a revolutionary scenario and in the short term starves both the public and individual capacity. But progressive taxation won’t work by retaining today’s expenditure patterns. There’s no point in improving public revenue generation if it just means there’s more money for wars in Africans deserts and Asian mountains.
2) The governance meltdown. Solution. Share the taxes more fairly. Cities get 8 cents of every tax dollar; the federal government gets 50 per cent but provides fewer services. This isn’t sustainable. Can you imagine the Mayor of Toronto flying in his armoured car to Calgary for a meeting? Even if he wanted to, he doesn’t have the cash.
3) The environmental meltdown. Solution. Stop subsidizing the oil and car industries. One underground parking space costs 15 to 25,000 dollars depending on where it is. Surface storage costs 5 to 10,000 per slot. Each private vehicle requires 8 storage spaces. No society can continue successfully when it costs more to store machines that it does to house people.
4) Urban Meltdown: Get off the global umbilical cord. Local rail. Local energy. Local food.
These are some of the ways we start to walk down the stairs instead of driving happily forward until arriving at the cliff face. Will it happen? It has already begun in some countries, but not in Canada. Our current crop of federal leaders have made it clear, they are followers and to give them credit, they have been clear about this. When every other nation get their tax, environmental, tax and public investment acts together, including developing nations then Canada will consider following. In the meantime, it’s business and politics as usual.
Needless to say, followers don’t have much street cred. No one cares anymore if Canada has ‘the bomb’ or not, or is more interesting in armed intervention than ‘keeping the peace’, or vice versa. Canada has become a ‘you-lead, we’ll follow country’ while managing to retain it’s unpleasant hectoring qualities as in ‘our banks are better than your banks’. Not a way to win friends and influence people.
Reading Jim Kunstler’s ‘Clusterfuck Nation’ blog is a pleasant diversion, but it’s very existence in the blog world and not as a syndicated column in the mainstream print media is proof enough that it is the sound of Jeremiah howling and not North America changing. -30-
Clive Doucet is a writer and former Ottawa City Councillor. He is a retired Jeremiah. His latest book is “Shooting The Bruce”. It can be purchased electronically in electronic or print versions. It has no redeeming social importance.