Uncharted Future

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Fri, Jul 04, 2008, 1:21 am  //  Myron Wlaznak

Over the past few years, I’ve written in other venues about profound impacts we can expect to our daily lives from fundamental changes in a rapidly evolving world. Some of the changes are subtle – like ingredient changes in our laundry soap. Other changes – like $5 a gallon and up for gasoline are in your face, high profile, eruptions.

I’ve asked a number of folks in various professions, of varying ages, of various political persuasions, various financial situations to collect their thoughts, write them down so that the rest of use might benefit from their perspective. This is the first installment of what I hope will be many insights into our uncharted future.

As we slide into a slow starting summer punctuated by last night’s thunderstorm, I am struck not only by the shear number of these fundamental changes but also by their taking root, even thriving so far, without the mass hysteria, riots, violence and utter dismay of previous occurrences in our relatively short history.

For example an analysis of my June budget showed that what we paid for gasoline exceeded what we paid for food! What is more remarkable, is that we have cut back on driving a great deal over the past several years, reaching a point where we felt justified in burning our small portion of fossil fuel. Evidently it is time to rethink our position. But what is the larger economic impact for me and our economy?

It is impossible to justify buying a new, better mileage car given the volatility of gasoline prices. Buying a car that gets double the mileage is a bust when the price of gasoline also doubles. What fundamentally has to happen to justify this expense is either for gasoline prices to precipitously fall or mileage to substantially increase, say to over 100 plus miles per gallon. Are either of these solutions in the offing near term? (By the way electric cars still burn fuel(s) when the batteries are recharged and the price of all energy sources has and is rising alongside the price of gasoline).

American car manufacturers were still pushing gas guzzling SUVs when the latest warning signs begin appearing despite what many learned folks had predicted decades ago, well before the price of gasoline started its relentless march into the stratosphere. What is the impact of this state of denial, this lack of foresight, -- hundreds of thousands will lose their jobs, profits to shareholders (including 401k retirement accounts) will plummet and the very existence of these companies is questionable. If the saying “As goes GM, so goes the country” still holds – God help us.

What will be some of the trickle down impacts of losing General Motors or Ford or Chrysler? On the one hand the ripple effect will be immediately felt by parts suppliers, raw material fabricators, mining companies. Demand will simply dry up as production falls. On the other side, gasoline stations, repair shops, accessory stores, insurance companies, financing institutions, will likewise see their business start to tamper off and they will slowly begin to fail. Only the financially strong and the innovative will survive. With fewer choices, consumer prices will surely rise. American automotive companies and those closely tied to them will simply go the way of the horse and buggy, the bridle shop and the livery stable.

What will take their place? Futuristic minds not stuck in the GM mold will have to lead the way. It will be interesting to watch, painful and not without substantial risk.

In the meantime, use of mass transit in all of its current forms will increase, maybe even become fashionable again as we ride together to work, grocery shopping, and to the mall. Perhaps we will actually get out and walk, bike, skateboard, lose that bulge, slim that plump derriere, improve our circulation and blood pressure. Perhaps we will just stay home and live our lives through our electronic gadgets.

For some these may be subtle changes. To those losing their livelihood, their means to support a family, own a home, live the great American dream it is an upheaval of monumental proportions. But life will go on, just not life as we now know it.

John Watts  //  Fri, Jul 04, 2008, 6:19 pm

I suspect our ‘future’ has always been uncharted, but this was masked by a tolerable rate of change and a level of satisfaction with life that equated to perceived happiness.
Those were days when most people took their freedom and well-being to be more or less guaranteed, and their pursuit of happiness to be more fun.

As someone who has been fortunate throughout my life with a caring family, good health and ample opportunities to learn and better my circumstances, my perspective has been mostly positive. Even the world conflicts that have happened up to say a generation ago seemed clear-cut, winnable and worthy of our active involvement.

Now, I don’t feel as good about either our national situation or our prospects to remain a progressive leader in the world, and that feeling also trickles down to regional, local and personal matters as well. A kind of general malaise seems to hang over us these days, that we have willingly -or unwillingly- allowed to happen over time.

Problems that used to inspire energy and hope now seem less capable of real solutions. Many people seem more polarized, stressed, worried and intolerant now than in earlier days. Our leaders also seem more interested in blowing smoke and retaining power than in truly trying to resolve anything of importance. And, of course, the ‘haves’ are getting richer and the ‘have-nothings’ are getting poorer, just like it was in medieval times.  It just seems easier to perceive more debilitating doom and gloom now than in any time I can remember.

And, its not so much the fear of some cataclysmic event, as it is the slow creep of insecurity, despair and impotence - like the proverbial frog in a pot of water that is being brought slowly to a boil.

But many of the changes we have seen happen, also carry the promise of helping to rejuvenate our collective -and individual- spirit. Technology for example, including computers, the Internet, medical breakthroughs, alternate energy, among others, have the ability to transform our lives for the better. But, these potential transformations are not automatic! We have to actually work at making these new tools our own in creating new jobs, learning opportunities and ways of connecting with others. 

In the end, it will be our human spirit and creativity that will see us through these uncertain times. Of course, paying attention in electing some better leaders will always help!

Looking back at history, we have always navigated through uncharted waters, which some saw as daunting and others as tremendous opportunities.
But, like Columbus, what we find may not be what we expected!

Now that I’m pushing 3 score and 10 years, I’m closing in on the same ‘uncharted future’ that everyone faces - my own eventual death. No sense worrying about that, because it will most certainly happen, with or without a chart!


David MacLeod  //  Wed, Jul 23, 2008, 1:40 pm

Thanks for being willing to talk about this subject Myron. Sorry for a late response.

A changing world seems to be at our doorstep. Some experts are already talking about reversing globalization:

Will Soaring Transport Costs Reverse Globalization?
by Jeff Rubin and Benjamin Tal, CIBC World Markets Inc.
+ Link
about/pdfs/oil.pdf (links broken up into two lines so it doesn’t mess up the formatting at this site).

A couple of sites/blogs I find fascinating:

Rhizome Theory
By Jeff Vail
“Rhizome takes it name from plants such as bamboo, aspen, or ginger that spread via a connected underground root system. As metaphor, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari used rhizome to refer to a non-hierarchal form of organization. I have extended this metaphor, refering to rhizome as an alternative mode of human organization consisting of a network of minimally self-sufficient nodes that leverage non-hierarchal coordination of economic activity. The two keys concepts in my formulation of rhizome are 1) minimal self-sufficiency, which eliminates the dependencies that accrete hierarchy, and 2) loose and dynamic networking that uses the “small worlds” theory of network information processing to allow rhizome to overcome information processing burdens that normally overburden hierarchies.”
+ Link

Another bit of essential reading:
Future Scenarios
Mapping the Cultural Implications of Peak Oil and Climate Change
By David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept. A long essay that reads like a good abridgement of a book. Can be read in bite-size chunks however, because it’s a well organized set of pages.
+ Link

“An integrated approach to understanding the potential interaction between Climate Change and Peak Oil using a scenario
planning model. Holmgren says his future scenarios will help both policy makers and activists come to terms with the end of the era of growth. While the end of
growth is so unthinkable to many policy makers and economists that they use the term ?negative-growth?, Holmgren says we are already entering a generations-long era of ?energy descent.? We now face less and less available energy each year, coupled with a destabilised climate. ?The simultaneous onset of climate change and the
peaking of global oil supply represent unprecedented challenges for human civilisation. Each limits the effective options for responses to the other,? writes
Holmgren on + Link


Uncharted Future

Fri, Jul 04, 2008, 1:21 am  //  Myron Wlaznak

Over the past few years, I’ve written in other venues about profound impacts we can expect to our daily lives from fundamental changes in a rapidly evolving world.…

2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2008

Trails to Nowhere

Fri, Jun 27, 2008, 11:16 pm  //  Myron Wlaznak

I received a Notice of Complete Application for the construction of an impervious trail through the center of a parcel of forested land acquired with funds collected for…

5 comments; last on Jul 01, 2008

Johns Repair

Specializing in German vehicles...

It’s Enough to Make Anyone Grumpy

Thu, Jun 05, 2008, 6:41 pm  //  Myron Wlaznak

It’s been a pretty sorry spring so far. With the exception of Ski to Sea weekend, our little corner of the globe has been somewhat less than a…

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