First published on the Radix Think Tank
For the past five years, I have been writing on Radix about the future: 60 pieces so far.
I have also been putting together Orcop.com – a blog subtitled “The best place to find out what is being said about the future. Not what the Establishment is saying. What those without a vested interest in business-as-usual are saying.”
I have written this piece because I sense that most of us are stuck in a mindset which is obstructing our ability to think outside our box..
The box which is based on a mindset which belongs to the past. We now must get used to a mindset which is more relevant to the emerging future. Not a new mindset, but one which discards out-of-date elements of our old thinking. One which shifts our thinking away from how we thought in the past – onto a new direction of travel.
Some elements of the new mindset are quite easy to accept. Others are not because they imply huge changes in our lifestyle.
The most important change – the key to everything else – is that transition to the new ways is already occurring. That change is afoot. We just need to open our minds to what is happening.
The muddle which exists now, of wage claims which can only be paid out of the depletion of other mostly hidden pots of money, is a reflection of our inability to recognise the change.
The future will be fundamentally different from the past.
In the past, we did what we could afford financially. Money led us by the nose, along the path of consumerism.
We did not realise that everything we do involves the use of energy, which was based on the use of fossil fuels. Which were formed over millions of years, from the remains of dead organisms. And cannot be replenished. Fossil fuels are finite. Their use is depleting them.
Alternative energy sources are being developed – the most important being wind and solar. But these are adding to the total energy resource, not replacing fossil fuels. Moreover, fossil fuels are required to develop and maintain these alternatives.
As a result of more expensive electricity, non-essential activities will become discretionary and will increasingly be abandoned.
About 50 per cent of UK economic activity is discretionary. As it becomes more expensive, because of the increasing cost of fossil fuels, discretionary activities are becoming unaffordable and, before long, will cease to exist.
I remember when discretionary spending first became affordable, in the 1950s. The opposite is now imminent and before long most of us will only be able to afford essentials. As was the case in my early years. Even, then not all essentials will be affordable. As is happening today with whole-house heating becoming unaffordable.
Tim Morgan has pointed it out.
“1. Imagine someone adrift in a lifeboat, with a million dollars or its equivalent in anything you like – cryptos, gold, whatever. To that person, this money has no value, as there is nothing for which it can be exchanged. This brings me to the point about money having no function without the capability of exchange, making money a ‘claim’ on the output of the material economy. The latter, we know, is an energy system. We cannot lend energy into existence, and neither can central banks conjure it out of the ether.
2. These are the ‘two economies’ fundamentals. But they are not recognised, either by the authorities or the public, to whom it seems that the money can drive the material.
3. With energy-based prosperity deteriorating, there will be extensive hardship, with whole sectors contracting towards collapse, asset values tumbling and credit defaults looming.
4. Given (2), the stresses of (3) will put extreme pressure on the authorities to “help”. This suggests desperate acts of money creation, pointing towards runaway inflation.”
Our food supplies are in trouble. Another aspect of our inability to recognise that change is afoot. And is not being planned for.
The BBC reports that “Vegetable shortages could last for up to a month
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Coffey told MPs she anticipated “the situation will last about another two to four weeks”.
Unemployed people previously in discretionary work could be employed in essential food growing, processing and distribution. Not just in their gardens, if they have them. Starting up smallholdings and picking vegetables and fruit.
A national policy to grow our food makes more sense to me than subsiding wind power. A shift from industrial agriculture, dependent on fossil fuels, to small farming, using people-power, could be adopted now.
Why not spend agricultural subsidies on purchasing land from farmers, for temporary nationalisation and use by a new generation of farming families? Until they learn how to do it themselves.
Electric cars are seen to be good for the environment. But how many will be affordable in the future of declining prosperity? The cost of electricity to power them is as much as the cost of running your home. As purchase and electricity costs increase, discretionary travel will cease.
Public spending on roads and diesel-powered buses and trains could be switched to public transport powered by electricity they generate themselves. Trams and light railways conveying passengers and goods must be planned now for when travel by car becomes unaffordable.
During World War II, the City Engineers’ department in Birmingham had a section of civil engineers, too old to fight, drawing plans for the Inner Ring Road. Ready to start building in 1956. The City Engineer, Sir Herbert Manzoni (my boss), believed in a future dominated by cars. There should now be departments of public transport engineers designing tram systems and their power stations. Ready to build when a future government, or autonomous local tramway companies, can see they will be visible. An essential investment.
The NHS as we knew it is irretrievable. Food poverty is increasing. National economic statistics are at odds with how most of us see things. Poverty is increasing, whilst the top echelons of our country have unimaginable wealth. Social unrest is developing.
We feel unsafe. The things we want seem to becoming out of reach.
All of which are undermining our old mindset. Which was based on hierarchies, big is better, wealth creation, formal education, top-down thinking, individuality, and so on.
All were dependent on economic growth.
The facts of the matter are simply stated. The harnessing of abundant, low-cost energy from coal, oil and natural gas triggered two centuries of remarkable economic growth. Now, though, fossil fuel energy has ceased to be low-cost and can be expected, in consequence, to become a lot less abundant as well. With no complete replacement available for the energy value hitherto sourced from fossil fuels, the economy can only contract.
The UK economy is on the cusp of fundamental change. It is at a cliff edge. The government can’t decide what to do. Perhaps too frightened to contemplate the consequences of admitting that growth has ended.