A Requiem to an old world

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I was brought up as a child of the 1990s and I can just about remember the Berlin Wall coming down in 1990 (my parents told me history was happening. The 5-year-old version of me barely registered it at the time).

The collapse of Communism heralded a new, post-Cold War era where the West was dominant, liberal and democratic values spread around the world and in the industrialised world at least, we lived in a largely peaceful and prosperous time.

Of course, there were wars and as discussed on my blog before, the living standards for the majority in the industrialised world were slowly declining, leading to the political revolts of the 2010’s. But, in historical terms and compared to the situation in the majority of the world where famine, civil war, revolutions and dictatorships are more common, it was a golden age to be growing up.

I first became aware of the wider issue of peak oil, resource scarcity and Limits to Growth in the early 2000s, around the time of the Iraq War. I came to a realisation that this strange, rather ahistorical moment of peace and abundance was not going to last forever. Indeed, the LTG BAU model suggested that after 2020, it would start to fall apart as resources declined, food costs soared and economies crumbled under the pressure of worsening fossil fuel scarcity.  

FI

We also know, from history, that as critical and strategic resources get scarcer, the risks of wars increase. Therefore, you don’t need to be a genius to work out, looking at the LTG graph, that the probability of conflicts, whether internal (different factions of a population or elites fighting over a stagnant or shrinking economic pie) or external (countries fighting over water, fossil fuels or arable land) was always going to increase.

On a personal note, I loath war and as a child of the post-Cold War era, find it personally hard to imagine a world of endless bloodshed and wars in the future. I certainly hope we can avoid such an outcome, even if it is the historical norm.

On an intellectual level though, the recent invasion by Russia of Ukraine hasn’t come as a huge shock to me. The Russians have certain strategic objectives and President Putin has decided, that invading Ukraine is the only way to achieve these strategic goals.

Peter Zeihan, a top geopolitical writer, has published before why successive Russian Tsars and Soviet era dictators have pursued the same geopolitical goals. In the map below, he explains why Russia will always seek to reach defensible borders and control the gaps between these to ensure the internal security of the Russian heartland.

Zeihan on Geopolitics

Now, there is a legitimate debate, within Russian circles, on the best tactics to achieve these goals, and clearly there are some factions within the Russian elite who think Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine is reckless. But the overall concept that Russia secures its borders from any current and future invasion threat would be a core of any Russian foreign policy, irrespective of whether President Putin was leader or not.

Not only that, Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and fertiliser, strategic commodities that literally feed the world population. A neo-Russian Empire that controls a quarter of the world’s wheat production would be a serious global player in a world of rising food scarcity.

In terms of the actual conflict, I broadly agree with this analysis, click here and here, on the conflict. My view is that Russia made some tactical mistakes at the beginning of the war, underestimating the Ukrainian resistance, but they are now regrouping, and will use to the maximize their military capability to seize key areas of Ukraine, encircle the major cities and force the Ukrainian political leadership to surrender.

In other words, Russia will win the war (albeit at high cost both reputationally and in terms of casualties). In terms of sanctions, clearly, they will have a negative impact on the Russian economy but I don’t think it will “move the dial” fundamentally. You won’t hear it much from the Western media, but the majority of the world has not imposed economic sanctions on Russia.

Daily Mail

US allies, including India, UAE, Saudi Arabia and even Israel have refused to impose crippling sanctions on Russia. These countries have their different reasons to continue to engage with Russia and do not want to be dragged into what some view as an intra-European war.

This is just one example of how Western influence and ability to impose their will on the rest of the world is shrinking fast. Something that John Greer comments in his latest blog post.

What I want to focus on today, is not so much the war itself, which I have outlined above my view on the outcome (a Russian victory with the majority of Ukraine neutralised over the coming weeks and months) but the wider impact.

Peter Zeihan has recently posted about the impact on global agriculture from this war. It is worth quoting his words in full; “Keeping the global population alive requires global peace and global supply chains. In the former Soviet world, that peace and those supply chains are gone forever. I’ve long said that we will never reach a global population of 9 billion. That future deglobalization will result in the death of a billion people by starvation. The future is here. The leading edge of the famines of tomorrow begin in 2022.
 
The breaking of trade relationships, spasms in energy pricing, and most certainly the Ukraine War will limit sharply what is possible in the world of agriculture, and do so more quickly than I have ever feared.” 

Zeihan on Geopolitics

And this Bloomberg article on the impact of soaring fertilizers costs of farmers in America. The short version, there will be less food next year. The same dynamics are happening across the world. Costs are soaring and production is going to slump, leading to hundreds of millions dying of starvation this decade.

Already, the UN is warning that millions in Afghanistan are starving and that was before the outbreak of war in the Ukraine and the ending of wheat and fertilizer exports. The most vulnerable countries are in the MENA region, already under growing pressure due to water shortages, loss of arable land and climate change caused extreme weather. Egypt is one to watch.

The last time food price soared was in 2010, which triggered the mass unrest, revolution which the Western media rather naively called the “Arab Spring”. There is a risk that something similar could happen again. Should soaring food prices tip large parts of the developing world into famine, expect to see massive social and political upheaval across the world.

Within a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if new and far bigger waves of migrations start to impact the southern borders of the European Union. This is the nightmare facing the increasingly vulnerable core of European states surrounded by a growing sea of chaos. Europe chose to effectively disarm since the end of the Cold War and is now incredibly vulnerable to military incursions from any serious state actor, whether that is Russia, Turkey or even Egypt. That isn’t a prediction, but a statement of fact. Without American military support, European countries are unable to defend their countries (with the exception of France, Switzerland, UK and probably Poland).

The war in Ukraine is a wake-up call to the Europeans to get serious about their defence. In that sense, the announcement by Germany to spend billions in re-arming is a good thing and we are likely to see similar moves by other European countries. But I fear that it is all too little, too late given the worsening global security situation facing the world.

North America, protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, is in a far more secure place to handle the massive challenges coming down the line. John Greer has warned in previous posts that western and central Europe, will by the end of this century, be a demographic, cultural and military extension of the Maghrib region of North Africa.

The states of Eastern Europe will likely be within the sphere of influence of a revived Russian Empire. In other words, Western Europe is doomed to collapse, fuelled by massive waves of armed invasions from the global south in the coming decades just as the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed.

For those readers of this blog who are based in Europe, we face a terrible choice. Do we stay, hope for the best and go down fighting if the worst happens? Or, do we, like those wealthy elites who fled Europe before Hitler invaded during World War 2, pack our bags and quietly flee before the horror, death and destruction visits our friends, family and neighbours.

It is something that myself and my wife are now talking about. We have provisionally agreed that the United States is the most logical place to prepare our second home, should Europe descend into savage warfare and violence in the decades to come. Other people are certainly thinking along the same lines.

If history is any guide, the signals build up over years – and only a few take the hint and make their plans to escape – until the dam breaks and mass panic occurs. For those interested, I recommend my blog post on how the wealthy survived (or in some cases didn’t) the brutal wars of the World War 2.

A Requiem to an old world

10 thoughts on “A Requiem to an old world

  1. Patient Observer says:

    Much to agree with your posting but additional context would help. In 2014, the US organized a violent coup against the legitimately elected Ukraine government. As amply documented, the US has been running the Ukraine ever since. The Russian government (I refuse to join the childish conflation of Putin with Russia), warned the West since then that it will be unacceptable to have the Ukraine on its borders run by the US which, beyond a doubt, seeks the overthrow of the Russian government and acquire of its vast resources (human and natural). Since 2014, the “democratic” Ukraine has jailed opposition figures, banned the Russian language, allowed Nazis to form violent militias (with torchlight parades and Nazi regalia of every kind), maintain continuous attacks on the rebel regions; all with a nod and a wink.

    The last time such a thing happened (promotion of Nazism by the West) resulted in 27 million murdered Soviet citizens. The Russian government made it clear that the next Western invasion will not be fought on Russian territory. Hence, this is why Russian drew the line at the Ukraine.

    Compared to the US invasion of Iraq (remember shock and awe and close to 1 million innocents killed by military violence and sanctions), the Russians are using kid gloves. The MSM, as always, hypes US foreign policy regardless of how murderous it is. After all, they are part of the same class who profits from war.

    China knows Russia must win and flourish for China to survive as well. Russia would not have taken such a bold step of resistance without prior agreements with China. For us Americans, the US/UK effort to conquer Russia will have a blow-back of enormous proportions.

    One last comment on a different topic – the Western economics are not collapsing because of pollution or diminishing resources. It’s due to exploding debt and limitless greed of the narcissistic ruling class.

    I found your site via Ecosophia. Although I agree with most of what is stated there, my position that Global Warming is not primarily due to CO2 emissions make me unwelcomed (the science is on my side but that is another story).

    Thanks.

    1. Hi,

      The background to the Ukraine/Russian conflict is certainly complex with shades of grey. My own view is that both sides share blame for the disaster. Russia has a tendency to distrust any attempt to embrace more liberal, democratic and European ways within its “near abroad” and America has played a toxic role in encouraging anti-Russian forces since 2014.

      I also am concerned about the turning of a blind eye by the West to outright Nazi forces among the Ukrainian nationalists (even if some of the Russian talk of Nazi run Ukrainian government is a bit extreme given Ukraine is run by a Jewish president).

      As for Western economics, resources are definitely a factor given we are running out of cheap fossil fuels. Yes, debt is a big problem as well but its just money. Energy is more critical and can’t be printed out of air.

  2. Thank you for this analysis. Very interesting as always. Would you be interested in recording a podcast conversation with me? Previous guests have included John Michael Greer and James Howard Kunstler. If you are interested, you can contact me via Twitter (@LukeSDodson) or email lukesdodson (at) protonmail (dot) com.

    Luke

    1. Hi Luke,

      Thanks for the positive comments. I have given this some thought and decided it is for the best that I don’t go public in terms of my FI blog. I have a professional career in financial services and in the unlikely event of me becoming known for what is rather fringe views that would be reputationally damaging.

      What I can do, if you prefer, is answer some Q and A on areas you are interested in exploring further?

  3. Curt says:

    Thank you for your analysis!

    By 1990 I was a little bit too small for such events as the fall of the Berlin Wall.
    I came into contact with the Limits to Growth so to speak in early childhood.
    My father, a biologist, gave me a dark prophecy of pretty much what we are seeing now beginning in 2022, explained in terms a child could understand.
    Since theory also needs practice, I was brought out into nature a lot and was taught in the workings of the eco systems where I live.

    When I entered university to study “evironmental management” by mid 2000s, there were intrinsically engaged professors explaining the LTG and many
    of the implications like EROI. Quite a few colleagues were concerned, though ofc sex, studying and social events were on their minds more often.
    By the early 2010s with a first incoming bumper of crisis, some colleagues and professors were indeed considering the possibility of a great crisis
    such as we have it now.

    Then however, my generation got into orderly tracks of life we were used to after WWII: career, kids, house or apartment, mortgage…
    And by this point, they would not want to consider such implications anymore. The professors on again about endless growth in my master’s classes. Quite a few students from back then were certainly frustrated when they tried to do some back-to-the-roots business like permaculture or anything counter our consumer’s society. They found out it is quite difficult to go upstream.

    Now here we are!

    “For those readers of this blog who are based in Europe, we face a terrible choice. Do we stay, hope for the best and go down fighting if the worst happens?”

    Absolutely!

    I concur the US is best at this point – some parts of it anyways. I looked with interest at Cumberland, Maryland John Michael Greer told us about via Maps and pictures.
    It’s close to pennsylvania the core area of the Amish with plenty of forests, it’s in a low mountain range by the river, and as JMG said the city is apparently well walkable without
    a car.

    I wonder about the role the Amish might play in the next decade..? On the one hand, state coercion or banditry might make it hard for them, on the other hand who’s more resilient in the North than they? Might even be true they could live with let’s say, wood and the iron they get traded that’s salvaged from our urban remnants as the only needed resources after land?

    Meanwhile here in Europe..:
    It sure feels like a time window is closing! People still speak about their leisurely aviation plans this summer here in Vienna. For how long will it be affordable for at middle class salary to do that from now on? My bets are on autumn as already a bad time for that.

    For me, such a decision is also hard to impossible. I have an old grandma way beyond 90 in the last of here years, relatives, friends…a job that sure was a lucky hit, granting me 30 hours a week in a friendly social atmosphere and a short commute. At this time though I often wonder would it be better to just scrap that job and take care of my grandma, now that she starts getting lonely and demented in consequence after a life of relentless work and care. I also absolutely hope she will get to see zero of whats coming.

    My social environment would be unbelieving and shocked would I scrap my job. Also ethically I cannot get out of this project that’ll last until June at least, though my company may go bust at some time too, even if administrating core functionalities of our national banking system and into Germany.

    I’ll try to watch out for the hints, maybe buy some gold, and proceed to read your post about these hints. As you said in JMGs forum, you feel like a historian, embedded in its real time. I feel like in an action movie where my life up to here was a prelude, where a little action already happened but now comes the serious part. Looking at civic life these days is like those moviescenes where those dark violins are still low key but already starting to fiddle menacingly.

    In that sense thank you again for your published contributions, I wish you a productive and calm time!

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for responding.

      We are a rare breed in that we know about LTG and take it seriously!

      Agree with you that certain parts of America are best. John has recommended that European would-be migrants consider the New England states as this is the most European of the American states. I concur, and having visited New England in 2001, I liked it a lot.

      Other parts are also worth exploring as well but best that you travel and see what suits you best, if that is something that you are interested in exploring. I have family in New Jersey/New York so New England makes perfect sense to us.

      I’m afraid Europe is doomed, either long term or possibly even sooner, depending on the long-term health consequences of the genetic vaccines.
      If we see large scale death or illness among highly vaccinate populations e.g., western and central Europe this decade, the European implosion into chaos will be massively accelerated.

      If the vaccinated are ok, long-term, then Europe’s decline will be slower and we, Europeans, have a little longer to ponder and plan our future in the Long Descent. My thinking was we have roughly 15 to 20 years before core Europe geopolitically implodes but that might be a tad optimistic given what is happening as we speak!

      Good luck with your new job. I am sticking to what I do, for now, its stable and high earning and I plan to cling on as long as I can until it ends.
      We live in interesting times. Maintain your physical and mental health, that is the most important thing. After that, try and get a degree of financial security so you have options should things fall apart in Europe.

      Keep up the comments, always enjoy the commentary!

  4. Curt says:

    Thank you for you reply!
    “we have roughly 15 to 20 years before core Europe geopolitically implodes but that might be a tad optimistic given what is happening as we speak!” Yes I think the current war in Europe has changed many assessments about our future, this event seems to accelerate the game enourmously!

    Art Berman had already predicted an oil supply problem for the end of 2022, before the war has started. If you read the collected links from Bloomberg and other economic papers, posted on sites like Gail Tverberg’s blog or bachheimer.com, which you probably do anyways, the European Industry seems to collapse at a fast pace. Problems have been there since 2020 and before ofc, already a loss of production due to spiking energy and resource prices. This pace of cascading failure we see now however may kill all production quickly I assume, to a point of emergency and economic inertia across Europe.

    In 2017 I heard of a tacit reduction of output in the German auto industry informally. Turned out to be true. The chip shortage has been around since 2016 already…Given we saw disruptions in supply of raw materials in 2014 already, but th economic problem was temporarily “patched”. But will it be possible this time around? If Europe’s production fails, what reason will all the suppliers of oil, coal and gas have at all to deliver to the EU? Or China delivering industrial goods? What can Europe give in exchange..?

    The vaccines against corona are a topic for themselves, here I have to pass at any judgement.

    It’s hard to tell what kind of plan the Western elites have. The german foreign minister Habeck was in Qatar to request deliveries of gas to Germany, but the Sheikh said Germany lacks the infrastructure and anyways, their contracts bind them to other customers until 2026.
    Algeria puts pressure on Spain, as it is a supplier of gas as well. How long until Algeria becomes a net importer like so many countries? Here is a rather good and probably correct visualization of Europe’s energy dependency. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-the-eus-energy-dependency/
    That map of food security you posted here with North Africa in the red zone – this does not bode well for us at all in this year!

    My bottom line is:

    I cannot help but to feel that serious fallout awaits us all by this autumn. Yes I was often off the mark just like Gail Tverberg, too apocalyptic, as JMG also pointed out. However this may turn into a the Boy who cried Wolf situation, when problems come much quicker than expected, it is not impossible. Can we assume that an airplane flight to the US will still be affordable for a middle class income say in spring 2023? I thought about leaving the EU this October already, but this would be an absolute leap of faith, not well thought out at all, it might destroy all favourable arrangements I have here prematurely.

    Taking care of mental and physical health – certainly a top priority in these times.

    So continuing the current arrangements until the signs on the wall say that time is running out to move ot another place it is, then.

    1. Hi Curt,

      I don’t read Gail any longer, her forecasts are consistently wrong.

      I very much doubt Europe will fall apart this Autumn, that type of thinking sounds doomerish and not plausible given any historical understanding of collapse.

      What is clearly happening is a downward lurch in the long process of decline which we have embarked. As for airline travel, my expectation is that prices will soar this year and next, pricing out the lower classes from travel but prices will probably be affordable to the middle classes, assuming they have stable jobs and savings.

      I expect global airline travel and the wider tourism industry to stabilise at a lower level (compared to 2019) until around 2030 or so, after which it will collapse when the global economy has imploded.

  5. Curt says:

    Thanks once again for your reply!

    Yes I believe I’ve been caught up in too much apocalyptic news feeds and you’re right, according to Gail Tverberg we’re all dead already since 2018. I have to still give her credit for providing a good overview of EIA data.
    Too much one sided virtual information distorts the human perception.
    There’s no shame in re-evaluating one’s course and assumptions from time to time.

    I have tried to find out where the data for the LTG model came from originately, but couldn’t invest too much time into the request. Some aggregates such as “pollution” are certainly useful for the model, but their origin is unclear to me. Industrial output was, afaik, measured as the output of goods in metric tons (by their weight, anyways). That makes sense in physical terms – more tons, more energy needed.

    By the way, even at University I learned that the more general a model is in its assumption, the better it proves to be in its description of reality. Other models, such as a model of an individual factory to identify say bottlenecks in the production, really are more a product of the combined experience of the workers and managers working together with the simulation engineers than a general mathematical premise.
    Other than that trying to make all too detailed forecasts speculating with very incomplete information, based on selected headlines posted in a forum, is most prob a waste of time.

    LTG has proven a very good guide these past decades and the BAU run showing a plateau of growth and production by 2020 seems quite plausible now. According to these assumptions, 2030 will be a time when global markets collapse, as you say.

    Lastly also my idea to go to a place like Cumberland isn’t solely because I expect bad times – a small town embedded in low mountains with great forests around it, and walkable, is certainly very appealing on its own. But off limits for now.

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