A quick scan of my Facebook page shows that I have friends from all walks of life — weed-smoking hippies, gun-toting survivalists, foodie and wine snobs, rednecks with a penchant for fried okra, far right fundamentalist Christians, far left paganist Hindus, Orange County Republicans (hi dad!), the 1%, the 99% — you name it, I have a Facebook friend from that group. So, I find it surprising that at one time or another people from each one of these groups has posted something about how in the near future (defined loosely as 1-20 years), life as we know it in the United States will fundamentally change due to economic collapse/war/natural disaster or a combination of all three.
The posts pretty much have the same theme -> our current way of life is unsustainable (due to debt, corruption, diminishing fossil fuels, climate change, bad government, Bush, Obama) and the predominant American mindset of the bigger the better/the more the better (consumerism/materialism) and the (at least subconscious) belief that cheap gas/oil will last forever, will (suddenly, drastically) end, resulting in the necessity to band together into a community where we all become more cooperative and self-sufficient in terms of food, clothes, energy and health needs.
Despite a planetary mood of nervousness and apprehension, it seems that most people don’t believe that a collapse or disaster will happen ‘this’ year, but that it definitely will happen sometime in the future.
Given this future orientation, that something bad won’t happen today but may tomorrow, I found it interesting that in at least two countries the worst has happened (i.e., economic collapse leading to hunger, riots, disease) and the above-mentioned transition from consumerism to cooperation has already taken place!
In the 1990s Cuba suddenly found themselves without food and oil due to the fall of the Soviet Union. As described by the director of the documentaryThe Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, when the energy crisis occurred in Cuba:
Watch this film (pasted below) to see how the responses of both Cuban individuals and the government led to self-sustainability, where:
“Cuba adapted, survived, and thrived because they mobilized their entire culture. They made changes requiring cooperation, adaptability, and openness to alternatives. As one Cuban in the film remarks, ‘When told they needed to reduce energy use, everybody did it.’”
What I found interesting in the film above is that the key changes made by individuals and the government were a return to local economy, a focus on local community and ownership, deregulation by the government (e.g., Cuba used to have three universities and now there are 50, many with medical education providing health care in local clinics), and less state regulation all around (returning regulation to the local community). An unanticipated byproduct of the energy crisis was better health for the average Cuban. Rates of diabetes and instances of heart attacks reduced significantly, most likely due to increased physical activity (no cars = more walking, bicycling) and dietary changes (unable to buy pre-made store-bought food or fast-food, people turned to gardening, which resulted in a significant increase in consumption of vegetables, as well as consumption of a wider variety of vegetables).
The second instance of where a transition occurred is Argentina. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, their economy collapsed, leading to many of the dire consequences feared by nervous Americans today (riots, food shortages, vigilantism, bank runs, etc.). The following documentary shows one response to the crisis, where suddenly most were without money. The creation of a barter system based on credits (that could not be loaned and could not be saved beyond one month) enabled many people to survive.
The reason I posted these films is that I always thought an economic collapse or some other disaster might happen, but in the distant future and maybe not even in my lifetime. It didn’t seem probable or likely that such a thing could really occur in the ‘modern’ world. But, when I saw these two videos, I realized, the future is now. These films gave me hope – if something does happen, we will survive and thrive.
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Will Bason for posting both of these films on Facebook!