Friday, March 25, 2011

When the economy crashes, we run out of oil and nature disasters hit: we survive

While many of my post sound a bit pessimistic and critical, deep inside I am actually quite positive to the chances of humanity to survive. In the end I don't think a collapse of the economy or that we run out of oil will be such a disaster. I believe that how such a decent will go is largely determined of the social conditions. With a social cohesive environment, what often is called "social capital" we humans can manage the most difficult situation. That means a lot more than technology or economy for our resilience and our ability to cope with new situation.

One example is how Cuba managed the "special period" which happened when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba suddenly lost favourable trade conditions and access to cheap oil and things associated to that (like chemical fertilizers). They managed that remarkably well. They also manage hurricanes very well - Cuba is in the middle of the hurricane trail and still very few people ever die in hurricanes there. Compare that to Haiti, or even the USA (Having said this I am no great Cuba fan, it is an oppresive regime, and I am not that impressed by the organic farming, or the urban farms which many people point to as so great. But it is a function society, or at least has been) Regardless of how messy the situation in Japan looks today I am quite convinced that they will manage to survive the tsunami and that in a few months time things will work again - of course there is awful human suffering that will take very long to heal.

From Argentina you saw a lot of examples of what happened when their economy was in free fall some ten years ago.
Rosario, Argentina, embraced vegetable gardens as a way to pull through an economic crisis. It now leads the way among cities in the promotion of urban agriculture.
Providing the necessities for her family has always been a challenge for Vilma Cala, a single parent of four children in Rosario, Argentina. Her income from work as a domestic and the produce from a vegetable garden allowed her to put enough food on the table, but that was before the economic crisis that rocked the country in late 2001. The January 2002 devaluation drove the peso down to one-third of its value, and Cala, to a critical point. “I had to go to a soup kitchen and ask for food. It was terrible, having to depend on others. It really hurt, but I did it,” she says. “If you don’t have food to eat, you don’t have anything at all.” Now Cala tends a large garden in a field criss-crossed by inactive power lines. The garden produces enough for Cala to sell at a market that the municipality of Rosario created especially for urban farmers. She also belongs to a group of women that makes cosmetic products from natural ingredients such as nettle, aloe, and burdock, grown in their gardens. Cala’s earnings from these activities, combined with additional income earned by cleaning houses and gardening, has enabled her to regain some ground in providing for her family.
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Also in Argentina, not only food production was reorganized, but also industrial production:
After the late 2001 financial and political meltdown in Argentina, thousands of companies were abandoned by their owners in a sea of debt. But some of them were taken over and reopened by their employees. Today, as the economy continues to grow, these worker-run factories are still going strong. There are now 205 "recovered" companies, with a total of 9,362 workers -- up from 161 companies with 6,900 workers in 2004, according to a study published in October.
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What is most important for us to prepare is to build strong social networks and support civil society and local governments. Those are the institutions that can bring us safely accross peak oil and financial melt-downs as well as tsunamies and earthquakes.

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