My forthcoming book, Reinventing Collapse, has just gone to print, and it is time to publish some excerpts. This being an election year in the US, I thought it fitting to circulate my little wish list of items that the US government could try to accomplish if it suddenly decided to make itself useful.
If the entire country were to embrace the notion that collapse is inevitable and that it must prepare for it, a new political party might be formed: the Collapse Party. If this party were to succeed in upending the two-party monopoly and forming a majority government, this government would then want to implement a crash program to dismantle institutions that have no future, create new ones that are designed to survive collapse and save whatever can be saved. If, further, this crash program somehow succeeded, in spite of constitutional limitations on government action, and in spite of the inevitable lack of financial resources for such an ambitious undertaking, and in spite of the insurmountable bureaucratic complexity, then I for one would be really surprised!
Barring such surprises, sometimes it is possible for small groups of capable and motivated individuals to succeed where governments fear to tread. And so here are some things that I would like to see taken care of, in preparation for collapse.
I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to be able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. There are abandoned mine sites at which, soon after the bulldozers and the excavators stop running, toxic tailings and the contents of settling ponds will flow into and poison the waters of major rivers, making their flood plains and estuaries uninhabitable for many centuries. Many nuclear power plants have been built near coastlines, for access to ocean water for cooling. These will be at risk of inundation due to extreme weather events and rising sea levels caused by global warming. At many nuclear power stations, spent fuel rods are stored in a pool right at the reactor site, because the search for a more permanent storage place has been mired in politics. There are surely better places to store them than next to population centers and bodies of water. Nuclear reservations — sites that have been permanently contaminated in the process of manufacturing nuclear weapons — should be marked with sufficiently large, durable and frightening obelisks to warn off travelers long after all memory of their builders has faded away.
I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas — abandoning its soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Not only is it an indelible stain on the country’s honor, it is an effective way to create a large underclass of desperate armed men who do not answer to any authority, creating a society where the price of a contract killing is only slightly higher than the price of the ammunition. The United States maintains over a thousand overseas military bases, most of which serve no purpose other than maintaining a megalomaniac fiction of American military superiority. They are often resupplied by private contractors, whose procurement operations rely on the domestic civilian economy. As long as the economy is intact, they can bring three flavors of ice cream to an air-conditioned tent in the middle of a desert, but once the economy collapses, they will collapse with it, and the military may turn out to lack even the resources to truck in water. Overseas military bases should be dismantled and the troops repatriated.
I would like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Such an amnesty will have to happen as a matter of course, once the resources that sustain the prison system stop flowing. The scenario to avoid is one in which, in the midst of general chaos, the entire population of prisoners is released en masse and, with no other resources available to them, they start plying their various criminal trades. Paroling the non-violent, shortening sentences, decriminalizing drugs, and providing room and board to former inmates, are all reasonable steps to take to prevent a crime wave of staggering proportions once the criminal justice system finally shuts down.
Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid has gone on long enough. Collateralized debt will evaporate once the value of the collateral is too low to secure the debt: if the house has no water, cannot be lit, heated or reached by transportation, its value is effectively zero, and so is the value of the mortgage. Non-collateralized debt, such as credit card debt in the post-bankruptcy-reform era, is secured by the threat of force — be it breaking legs or garnering wages — and even such measures bring diminishing returns in a collapsing economy. Wiping the slate clean ahead of time will give society some time to readjust to the new reality. Perhaps most importantly, by canceling debts before they become unrepayable, it may be possible to prevent the current system — one of indentured servitude based on debt — from evolving into a system of permanent servitude based on force: a new American slavery. I remain optimistic that the forces of chaos will prevent such a system from becoming entrenched; nevertheless, it might be prudent to take some measures to make such an outcome even less likely.
[Reinventing Collapse, p. 110-113]
Dmitry Orlov was born in Leningrad and immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. He was an eyewitness to the Soviet collapse over several extended visits to his Russian homeland between the late eighties and mid-nineties. He is an engineer who has contributed to fields as diverse as high-energy Physics and Internet security, as well as a leading Peak Oil theorist whose writing is featured on such sites as www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net and www.powerswitch.org.uk.