Twenty years onward: the coming bad years

Sometimes I wish I could live for 20 more years to see what the future brings.  Most of the time I’m glad I’m 82 and almost certainly won’t.

I envision a USA very different from today—one shaped by a catastrophic climate change that can’t be averted, and by an economic collapse that can be averted only by drastic economic and political reforms that seem highly unlikely today.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine New York City during the Great Depression being hit by Superstorm Sandy.

Catastrophic climate change is usually discussed as a doom that will full upon us unless we accomplish X things by the year Y.  In fact, catastrophic climate change is already upon us.

We can by our actions influence how bad things are going to get, but existing greenhouse gasses will produce increasing numbers of floods, droughts, heavy snow storms and power outages.

We the citizens of Rochester N.Y., located as we are on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, are fortunate. Cities such as Miami and New Orleans will meet the fate of Atlantis, but we have a good chance to survive.

We’re not in danger of tidal waves.  We have had relatively few severe storms compared to other regions.  We have access to a relatively abundant supply of fresh water which, however, we are not caring for.

Climate crisis is likely to be combined with financial crisis.  Starting with the Reagan administration and especially since the Clinton administration, the U.S. government has turned over management of the economy to the financial markets.

There have been a series of financial crisis, each one worse than the one before.  The response of the U.S. government has been to rescue failed financial institutions, and allow the cycles to continue.

At some point, there will be a financial crisis too big to resolve.  Instead of financial institutions being “too big to fail,” they will be “too big to bail.”

The final financial collapse will mean the collapse of the U.S. dollar.  This will mean that we Americans will not longer be able to buy cheap imports.  Complicated and fragile global supply chains will cease to function.

It will mean the United States government will not be able to afford to maintain military bases covering the world world.  It will mean American economic sanctions will no longer be effective because foreigners will no longer have to do business in dollars.

I think we Americans are going to be surprised at how much the rest of the world turns against us when U.S. military and economic power fade.

We Americans are going to have to adapt to a world in which we have far fewer options, either individually or as a nation, than we do today.

I myself am poorly adapted for such a world.  I never bothered to learn the homesteading skills that my parents had—gardening, home repair, first aid.  I’ve gone through life with my nose in a book.  My income comes from pensions and investments that are unlikely to endure.  I would be useless in the coming bad times.

Of course I could be wrong about all these things.  I have a bad record as a prophet.  Many things I’ve feared over the course of a long life have not happened.  Maybe these won’t either.  It would be nice to think so.

On the other hand, things could turn out much worse than I predict.  There could be an all-out nuclear war.  At best that would mean the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, including tens of millions of Americans.  At worst, it would mean the virtual extinction of the human race through the nuclear winter phenomenon.

Or something could happen to send global warming out of control, such as the release of methane formerly trapped in the frozen Arctic tundra.

I avoid thinking about these subjects.  But, as someone well said, it is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.


The Age of Collapse by Umair Haque for Eudaimonia.  Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Placing the USA on a collapse continuum with Dmitry Orlov by the Saker.

The Empire: Now and Forever by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

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5 Responses to “Twenty years onward: the coming bad years”

  1. Fred Says:

    Failed financial and corporate entities need to die. Without that, we reach a climax state where new growth is discouraged, if not impossible. It also allows entities to do stupid things with greater confidence because they know that Uncle Sam will bail them out because they are “too big to fail”.

    I’ve been saying for quite a while that mitigation against the inevitable climate changes that will be upon us regardless of what we do regarding CO2 today is important and that we need to do that *in addition* to reigning in greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps walking and chewing gum at the same time is too much to expect. No doubt we’ll need multiple major natural disasters to wake up.

    China and India are big wildcards. China is already well past the US in emissions and India is gaining fast. Their 3 billion-plus combined populations are not going to shrink nor are they going to give up on industrialization soon. Neither is going to give up on nuclear weapons either. I do not see such up and coming superpowers faring well with climate change.

    The US has such wide geographic and climatological diversity that even if things go really bad we’ll be able to feed ourselves. For the near future, we have the resources to build levees and relocate populations if we have to. And if we have to kiss some of our coastal areas goodbye, it would be a hard blow but a reduced standard of living isn’t the same as being dead. It could be a good thing if the future causes us to become less materialistic. You and I both know that it is possible to be quite happy with far less.


  2. Nicky D Says:

    I tend to agree. I think near future generations will look at ours as the generation of idiots who saw climate disaster coming and did nothing to help prevent it. I’m in my 50s and don’t think I’ll live long enough to see the worst of it, although all bets are off should there be a nuclear war or accident. Sadly, I think there is a high probability of this occurring in my lifetime based on how careless we have been and continue to be with our nuclear weapons and materials.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. silverapplequeen Says:

    I’ve been hearing that we, the citizens of the Great Lakes (I live in Buffalo & have family in Rochester, Cleveland & Chicago) are going to be free of the rising oceans … but where do you think that water is going to go? The lakes will rise in accordance to the oceans rising. All these waterways are connected. Don’t think that the cities on the inner seas (that’s what the Great Lakes are) are going to be immune. Anyone who fishes these lakes (& I do) can tell you of the great changes in the waterways in the last twenty years. I’m only 58 … 59 in a two months. I should be alive in twenty years. I’ll be thinking about you if I remember you.


  4. maryplumbago Says:

    Just want you to know I am really enjoying your blog. So thoughtful and interesting. Much to think about.


  5. Jack Clontz Says:

    Phil: Very impressed and very depressed by your analysis. I think you are largely correct, though I wish it were otherwise. Jack Clontz in Bangkok


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