I recently stayed at a high-end Hotel for business and was struck by how empty the place was. No matter where I went I was alone, wandering the halls of a seemingly empty facility. It was unsettling and strange, like a plot out of a B-grade movie where suddenly one person finds that he is all alone in the world.
One evening while eating dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, I mentioned my observation to the waitress. “Your right,” she said. “I think with one exception you are the only person staying here. In fact, we just had to lay off a lot of our employees. Some had been here for years.” I replied that I was sorry to hear that the economic crisis has hit them so hard.
“It’s more than just the economy,” she continued as she stared up at the ceiling; “Something just doesn’t seem right. It’s as if the world is off course or something. Just watch TV, its all doom and gloom. It reminds me of the months just after September 11, when the world went into a holding pattern while everybody waited anxiously for who-knows-what to happen. I’m nervous. All my friends are nervous.” She paused and looked back down at me as she finished her musings, “Anyway, one thing is certain: we live in interesting times…”
I think that short story is the perfect place to begin this article on family readiness and survival in an uncertain world. Why? Because my waitress was right, we do live in interesting times; times that will likely present significant challenges to all of us. Please understand, this is not mere opinion, nor is it gloom-mongering. Scholars from many diverse disciplines agree that we live in an epochal time, an age where trends and events appear to be taking on a life of their own, some good and many bad. Even President Obama in his recent inaugural address prophetically noted that there are ‘gathering clouds and raging storms’ on the horizon.
So what exactly is going on, and what should a reasonable person do about it? Those are the two central questions that I would like to explore in this article. First, I want to examine some significant trends that appear to be shaping our world and our future, and then I will offer some suggestions on what you and your family can do to meet the potential challenges that we may have to face individually and collectively as we live through these interesting times (part two of this article). Let’s start with five trends that will likely raise your eyebrows.
1. Global Population & Resource Scarcity
Are you aware that global population has doubled in the past 40 years, going from 3.3 billion to just under 7 billion today? Think about that for a minute. Forty years is an insignificant number in the global scale of time, and yet, in the past 40 years alone we have doubled the number of people living on this planet. And while much of this growth has occurred in rapidly developing countries such as China and India, it should still concern you. Why? Because, according to the Worldwatch Institute, in the very near future food demand from China and India alone will likely exceed the current global agricultural production capacity, driving global food prices higher as countries compete for ever-dwindling agricultural resources.
In fact, you are likely seeing evidence of this trend in your grocery prices right now. What’s more, water tables on every continent are declining as we pump out water at greater rates than rainwater can replenish it, (and human waste continues to foul what water we have left). Right now, more than 400 million people suffer from water scarcity, and the Population Media Center predicts that number will hit the 2 billion mark soon – 25% of the entire planet’s population. Two commodities that we all take for granted, food and water, will within your lifetime very likely become as precious as gold. And finally, exponential growth in population is mirrored by increases in demand for oil – that precious and incredibly efficient source of energy that our society relies upon.
It may surprise you to learn that the world’s supply of oil is diminishing, and according to most scholars on the subject, we have already ‘peaked’ in oil production at a time when demand is at an all-time high and expected to grow exponentially. Given that most of society relies upon oil for manufacturing, food production, supply and distribution, transportation, construction, etc., etc., what do you think our world will look like when oil prices skyrocket due to shortages. Think about it…
2. Global Warming & Climate Change
Perhaps more than any other trend in recent history, the issue of global warming has spawned tremendous and often contentious debate. This debate has left many observers confused and bewildered, and has regrettably muddied up what is an agreed upon fact. Here is the fact that has been lost: Global warming is real. What is being debated is the causative agent of this warming – is the current level of warming the result of human activity or a natural planetary cycle? And while this debate is interesting, it is a red herring because it distracts attention from what is really happening, which is that the world’s increasing temperatures are causing the weather to act in weird, and frequently hostile ways. So what can you expect from a warming planet? Most scholars agree that warming will generate severe amplifications of normal weather patterns, resulting in significant infrastructure disruptions and power outages, changes to agricultural production, outbreaks of heretofore contained diseases, and the dislocation of entire populations of people as they run from harm’s way.
Thomas Friedman, in his seminal work ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’, coined the term “Global Weirding” for the effects of our warming planet. Bottom line: expect to see weird and wild things from Mother Nature as our planet continues to warm up. (In fact, the Hazards Research Center in Boulder Colorado recently reported that 2008 disaster related deaths were three times the yearly average!)
3. Predictions, Prophecies, & Portents
Every generation has its doom’s day scenario. Human history is replete with end-of-the-world predictions; whether religious or secular in motivation, we humans seem to be fascinated with our doom, and this current age is no different. However, what does appear to be different is that today there exists a strange and sobering confluence of multiple and varied predictions about the end of the world as we know it, all converging on or around the year 2012, (in fact, even Hollywood is jumping on the band wagon with a Summer 2009 blockbuster release titled “2012!”). Apparently, the year 2012 is when the ancient Mayans predicted the end of their ‘Long Count’, a calendar period of 5200 years, each of which was supposed to have ended in cataclysm. Interestingly, the current Long Count is considered to be the 5th and final ‘Great Year’, as the Mayans called it.
Five Great Years equal 26,000 years, almost exactly the amount of time it takes the earth to complete one precessional revolution, which in astronomy is referred to as the “Precession of the Equinoxes”. That numerical coincidence is just one of the many strange synchronicities that seem to link mythology with science as it relates to the year 2012, and why this date has so many people of various traditions alarmed and excited. But here is the real point of this short 2012 narrative: millions of people truly believe that 2012 will reveal some grand, global-scale event – either religious or worldly – that will change the world. In fact, many of them want it to. This should concern you because millions of people that want something to happen can actually make that thing happen if they want it badly enough.
4. Technology & Interdependence
Like population, technology grows exponentially, with each new generation building upon the one that came before it. Look around you right now; it is likely that you are looking at technologies that are fundamental to your current lifestyle (perhaps even your ability to make a living), that just 30 years ago didn’t even exist. Society’s technological advancements are truly mind-boggling, and they have made our lives easier and arguably more interesting. But there is a catch. As our technologies become more advanced and pervasive, so does our dependence upon them both individually and collectively.
Now more than ever before we are dependent upon a webbed network of technologies, institutions and infrastructures that provide for us those things that just 100 years ago we had to provide for ourselves, such as heat, water, light, transportation, food and more. We have become an interdependent and dependent society, increasingly relying on outside technologies and institutions to survive. This is potentially dangerous because our technological dependence has created a form of collective complacency that has robbed us of vital coping and survival skills that used to be commonplace. Imagine a major urban center of 5 million people suddenly robbed of their technologies, having to live off the grid for 30 days or more; what do you think that picture would look like?
5. Economic Crisis
There is an old saying: anybody that tries to tell you what the financial markets are going to do is lying or trying to sell you something. Nobody knows for certain when the current financial crises will end, nor what our lives will look like just 12 months from now, much less five years from now. But one message does seem to thread throughout all of the predictions about the economy: it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. In fact, Gerald Celente, founder of the Trends Research Institute and a highly respected futurist with an impressive track record for forecasting global trends, predicts that unemployment will skyrocket between now and 2012, and even goes so far as to suggest that people will be living in tent cities all across America.
He refers to our upcoming economic challenge as the Greatest Depression, and expects a near-total collapse of the banking industry and financial markets, with ripple effects felt around the world. This argument is strengthened by the incredibly sobering and informative research presented by Chris Martenson in ‘The Crash Course’ — an on-line documentary which explores some brutal facts about the clash between the Economy, the Environment, and Energy. You should watch it.
A Recipe for Disaster?
So, here is the question that I would like you to consider: What will be the synergistic effect of these five trends as they begin to collide? Imagine an overpopulated planet suffering from dramatic and unpredictable weather, fighting for scarce resources in what is likely to be the worst economic crisis in history, with millions of people looking around the corner expectantly for the apocalypse, all the while depending on outside technologies and institutions for personal survival… Sound like a crisis in the making?
Perhaps, or it could be an opportunity… It’s up to you.
Join me in Part Two of this article: ‘Readiness & Survival in an Uncertain World; Three Things You Can Do to Prepare.’