Returning to Normal
"Recently a lot of Americans have been making plaintive comments, hoping that things will get back to normal someday. I have bad news for them. The astounding prosperity and sheer extravagance that people in the United States got used to during the second half of the twentieth century, which was the zenith of the industrial age and the heyday of American empire: those were never normal, though there was never a shortage of politicians or marketing flacks loudly insisting otherwise. We are returning to normal at this point—“normal” being defined as the kind of world where most people make their living by working with their hands, where the basic necessities of life cost most of what you can expect to earn, and the kind of lifestyles currently available to the middle classes aren’t reliably available even to the very rich." John Michael Greer
What Do We Have To Show For It?
Consumption, not to be confused with the old malady of the wasting disease, appears to be the final nail in the coffin of our current society. Like rats eating all the available resources on a remote island, we are in the final stages of the process of consuming ourselves to death.
How do we know the United States and other countries are overconsuming their fair share of natural resources? For that answer, all we have to do is look at the numbers.
The above chart was created by looking at the 20 top oil-consuming countries by percentage of total oil consumed per day and comparing the countries by population as a percentage of the entire world population. Our findings are not revolutionary, but they show the brazen and arrogant overconsumption by the United States. The U.S. represents 4.6% of the world's population, yet the country consumes a staggering 20.3% of global oil daily. The numbers don't lie—so something is incredibly wrong. There is an unbalance in the ether, which is beginning to correct course. This is what is known as collapse.
This is a basic overview of what life looks like for a nation with the closest population size to the U.S., with an energy consumption of roughly 1%. We wanted to explore what were some things to consider when envisioning the not-too-distant future of American life that consumes way less energy than current rates.
"Even if we hadn’t cannibalized the productive sectors of our economy in the rush to build an imperial economy of metastatic bureaucracy and freewheeling grift, we are going to have to get by on much, much less wealth than most Americans are used to. Once we can no longer extract wealth from the rest of the planet, after all, we won’t be using a quarter of the world’s energy and raw materials or importing a third of its manufactured goods; the 5% of us who live here in the US will have to get by on 5% of the world’s wealth…if we’re lucky. The resulting 80% pay cut is going to be a rough road for most of us to walk." John M. Greer
Unfortunately, there are no exact apples-to-apples comparisons, so the best we can do is find a nation as close to our population size and work from there. The country closest to our population size is the southeast Asian country of Indonesia, but this country consumes roughly 1% of the world's oil. Using the CIA's World Factbook, we went through the various topics to better understand this island nation.
Current issues include: alleviating poverty, improving education, preventing terrorism, consolidating democracy after four decades of authoritarianism, implementing economic and financial reforms, stemming corruption, reforming the criminal justice system, addressing climate change, and controlling infectious diseases, particularly those of global and regional importance.
petroleum, tin, natural gas, nickel, timber, bauxite, copper, fertile soils, coal, gold, silver
Life Expectancy: (US is 80 yrs):
total population: 73.08 years male: 70.86 years female: 75.4 years (2022 est.)
Poverty and unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, a complex regulatory environment, and unequal resource distribution among its regions are still part of Indonesia’s economic landscape.
129.366 million (2019 est.)
Labor Force by Occupation:
agriculture: 32% industry: 21% services: 47% (2016 est.)
Fossil fuels: 82.3% of total installed capacity (2020 est.) Nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.) Wind: 0.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.) Hydroelectricity: 6.8% of total installed capacity (2020 est.) Geothermal: 5.7% of total installed capacity (2020 est.) Biomass and waste: 5% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)
Oil Production and Consumption:
Total petroleum production: 842,300 bbl/day (2021 est.) Refined petroleum consumption:
1.649 million bbl/day (2019 est.)
Energy Consumption Per Capita:
29.68 million Btu/person (2019 est.)
Military Work at Home:
As of 2022, the Indonesian military and police forces were engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Papua against the West Papua Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Organization, which has been fighting a low-level insurgency since the 1960s when Indonesia annexed the former Dutch colony; since 2019, there has been an increase in militant activity in Papua and a larger Indonesian military presence; Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969; in addition, the Indonesian military has been assisting police in Sulawesi in countering the Mujahideen Indonesia Timur (MIT; aka East Indonesia Mujahideen), a local Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated terrorist group.
A transit and destination point for illicit narcotics; consumer of crystal methamphetamine trafficked in Burma and Pakistan and also transit to Australia and New Zealand; significant consumer of ecstasy from China and the Netherlands and domestically grown cannabis
It’s important to note that our data is at the current standards of living for both countries. It is, therefore, logical to note that Americans, the world’s largest energy consumer, will fall the furthest in standards of living. Look out below!
Although these are our best-educated guesses, they are, in fact, just guesses as no one can predict the exact trajectory the US will take as we progress into the Long Emergency. I also wanted to note that the distribution of remaining fossil fuels, food, and other necessities will not be equally distributed across the population. There will be places in the US where life will maintain some semblance of normalcy while other areas will crash and burn rather quickly. So many factors are constantly evolving that, once again, it’s challenging to predict exactly what will happen. Still, it's interesting to use today's available data to prepare for a future of less for tomorrow.
You can see quite quickly in the intro that crime is a massive problem in Indonesia. This includes government both local and national. Similar to the proliferation of crystal meth in Indonesia, I believe we will see a considerable surge in drug use in the states. Many people will be unable to cope with the culture shock of living with less and not being able to buy everything they want. Asking a middle-class family to forgo their annual vacations, weekly Cracker Barrel breakfasts, or to go without air conditioning for the summer—you can be sure many will turn to drugs to escape their new “hells.” Drug lords will be emboldened with a new surge of clientele and may prove quite problematic for those living in rural areas as well as in cities. Drug addicts are chaotic, unpredictable, unstable, and simply horrible people to be around. Implementing security measures to front run this growing threat is a good idea. You can check out the article by Christopher Michael called "Homestead Security Basics" where he details how to prepare your property to keep you and your family safe. Please keep in mind that despite the demonization of cannabis use by the criminal “justice” system, the real problem is coming from meth, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and similar hard drugs. I highly recommend reducing these addicts' access to your property and implementing ways to expel them if they do show up.
Domestic insurgencies will keep any form of our military quite busy. We do not recommend getting into positions of power (in local, state, or federal), obtaining celebrity status, enlisting in the military, becoming a police officer, or any useless political vocation as it will be very vogue for everyone else to put a bomb under your car. Police will no longer be viewed as beneficial to society but instead as corrupt hands of the government. This means it could be popular to shoot them when they stop someone for speeding or are seen on patrol—not a fun job to have. Terror attacks (either from government-sponsored or random crazy people) will cause chaos on various levels.
Contrary to our culture’s current obsession with advertising wealth, it will be seen as offensive to flaunt your money. Expensive clothes, cars, houses, or other forms of status will attract a lot of animosity toward you. Live simply and maintain modesty. Expect to see states, regions, or communities attempt to break away and form their own governing bodies. The Federal government will expend all remaining resources to hold the status quo together, but time is not on their side. However, this is a natural process and will take on many forms as the standard of living tanks. Through all of this, it’s almost a given that the impotent government will continue to make lame-duck laws, regulations, and dictates’ that few people follow. Perhaps major cities will have stronger government policies from tyrannical “leaders” as they cling to the last vestiges of modernity. Rural areas will have much more freedom to do as they please and organize into (hopefully) productive communities.
For employment, agriculture will be a big business, just as JHK predicted. Much of American life will be about producing food for oneself, and anything more will be bartered or sold for additional income. Small-scale farming will take precedent as there will not be enough fuel for farmers to cultivate hundreds of thousands of acres as they currently do. Currently, 1% of Americans produce the food that feeds 99% of the population. This stunning imbalance shows the immense embodied energy fossil fuels contain. As these resources become more scarce, an alternative energy source will have to replace them. Human labor will again be the driving force behind food production, much to Americans' disgust.
32% of Indonesia's population is employed in some form of agriculture, during our current “good” times. America will easily see upwards of 70-90% of people doing some form of agriculture to sustain themselves. For younger folks, I would suggest planning accordingly. For older folks, use your time and resources now to remove your lawn and useless landscape and plant edibles. You’re only getting older, so invest in your life, not a big bank's portfolio.
The problem I see when comparing Indonesia to the US is that the US is so overburdened by regulations that it will be impossible for anyone who has lost their job to start something on their own. Street vendors in Indonesia offer opportunities for entrepreneurs that are downright illegal to do here. This form of authoritarianism will be a massive liability for Americans to adapt to a collapsing society. In our opinion, those that adapt, go under the radar, and create parallel systems will succeed the most. Waiting around for some washed-up old bag in an office to tell you what you can or cannot do will be a waste of time.
Going forward, poverty will be on a level that would horrify survivors of the Great Depression. Most Americans (upwards of 90% or more) will be considered, in today's terms living in poverty. Americans enjoy so much privilege by consuming 20% of the world's fossil fuels that it's hard to think just how utterly poor most will be in the coming years. This will cause all sorts of crises simply from people not taking the necessary steps to simplify their lives. The entrenchment of entitlement is so strong it is followed with religious-like fanaticism. When this illusion pops, watch these people lose their shit. We believe it will be a common sight to see dilapidated homes with multiple families living in them. Many will go to bed without food in their stomachs, and clothes will be dirty or worn out if any can be found. Shoes will be a hot commodity as the quality of these necessities is diminishing so fast that people will need replacements regularly.
You will see people of all ages much thinner. American children will take on similar characteristics as starving African kids. Bloated bellies, frail frames, and sunken eyes all indicate the torturous process of starvation has begun. An average household will once again include aunts, uncles, cousins, and whoever else can pitch in and help keep the unit afloat. Small rooms with a mattress (if they are lucky) on the floor will be typical. Staying warm in winter will be just as crucial as finding enough food and clean water to drink. Wood will be the primary fuel to cook and keep you warm. This will lead to flooding once again, massive erosion, and deforestation. Could all of this be done sustainably? Of course, but expecting Americans to do the right thing will not happen.
Diseases will come back with a vengeance. Most of these once common scourges to human life have been largely forgotten by our spoiled society—so it is quite something to think about people struggling with cholera, tuberculosis, or lice. Misery will be a constant companion for those not smart enough to learn how to deal with human waste sanitarily and maintain basic hygiene regularly.
What Do You Have To Show For It?
Now keep in mind, that a massive amount of these unpleasant topics could be mitigated on a local and individual level. But, sadly, American entitlement has such a stranglehold on everyone, so expect life to be exceptionally unpleasant for anyone desperately trying to cling to their privileges.
This is all hypothetical, but it gives you a small glimpse at what could be expected in your neck of the woods. Whether you're new to simplifying or you're a seasoned vet—now is the time to separate yourself from the overconsumption of living above our means.