Monday, 22 October 2012

Why this focus on globalness ?

There are many levels that responses to overshoot can take place at; global, interstate, national, regional, local and individual levels. While all levels are engaged, in some way, there seems to be gaps in the current responses. After reading quite a few essays and books (like Fleeing Vesuvius), I noticed that after the national level discussion jumps immediately to the global (or sometimes the continental level) and misses an important level: co-operation among a small group of bordering or otherwise related states. After all states are quite powerful and can still take action, even against strong corporate or imperialistic pressures, such as the IMF, UN or other IGGs. At the time of writing Syria is defending itself from the U.S.A‘s imperialism, and their local allies, the Arab Emirates, while foreign fighters are flooding the country. Closer to home, the Australian government passed both the carbon and mining tax against corporate influence (Gina Rinehart, at the time the worlds richest women, was against both of them). Events like these are far from rare, Putin fought against oil magnates backed by the west successfully and in the process countered assertions that corporations would take control of governments. States are still among the strongest actors on the world stage despite the wishes of corporations or activists.

In his essay on sailing (in Fleeing Vesuvius) Dimitri Orlov mentions that in groups above 12, politicking takes place. In any of the global initiative’s, the majority of nations would need to be involved, a number well above 12. If we think of a state as roughly one individual then it makes more sense for states to organise in small units (like ANZUS) rather than a large global unit. There are already movements towards this, such as the possible Nordic Alliance, and if activists/proponents ignore this in favour of only global or local (both end points of a spectrum) solutions, a powerful tool for adaptation is missed. After all, in a deglobalising world your neighbours matter more, this counts for states as much as for people.

Of course, there are large differences between states and individuals and these needs to be taken into account. First, since each nation is in fact a group of people and the negotiations would be done by a select group as opposed to 1 person, the total should be lowered to around 6 and smaller groups of 2-4 should be preferred. Second, since the group, as a whole, co-ordinating can have less complex thoughts overall and interactions than an individual more focus is needed. While on the sailing ship, the 12 people can do all the jobs and co-ordinate everything on a ship needed for survival, since a state is already self-sufficient the pacts needs to be of a more focused area. If these modifications are taken into account, successful state pacts can be made.

How do these relationships work and what goals could they have? The obvious and most common are military alliances and defence pacts, but there are other forms, such as free trade areas. In the future barter relationships between states exporting strategic goods (oil, rare earths, food, etc) and importers of strategic goods will become more common and these could easily mesh with military alliances. On a note closer to a response to overshoot states could form sustainability pacts, renewable science exchanges, shared climate disaster relief programs and various steady state economic pacts.

Heres a couple of ideas for Australia
·         A pact to encourage commercial sailing ships between Australia and/or New Zealand, Indonesia and New Guinea. This would be a regional attempt to change our current maritime system into a more sustainable one and keep oceanic trade going through the collapse. Would involve research, incentives, infrastructure building (docks, ports, knowledge base etc) and policies to encourage private industry to shift to a sail based trading system between the signing nations. This could then spin-off to developing hybrid sailing/biofuel ships for either naval or commercial use.

·         Renewable energy technology/technical skills exchange with an oil-exporting nation. Since oil-exporting nations generally have rising energy use, which lowers oil exports, it makes sense for us to lower their oil use by fostering the use of local renewable energy instead, this would likely be an oil-exporting nation we have a barter relationship with. If it weren’t for current international politics (which can shift rapidly), Iran would be a perfect candidate for this, we exchange uranium (one of their goals in their nuclear projects is to lower oil use) for oil and then use this platform to engage with their renewable programs. This allows us a greater access to oil (nuclear power is a long-term project) and an increased renewables tech base, Iran has some of the best researchers (indicated by their success in reverse-engineering ships and drones) in the world and they have specifically said they would push for renewables to lower internal oil use.

·         A regional defence pact. This could have one of two goals; either deterring the imperial ambitions of whatever state tries to replace the US’s empire in the region or as a stability and anti-piracy action. By pooling the military might of the local region, each nation has to pay less overall to stop piracy or shore raiders wrecking maritime trade and sttlement, an important goal of any coastal/island nation. It can also help to stop the imperialism of superpowers because what matters in the end is local superiority, if the imperial power can’t gain local superiority then they can’t win in that region. Similar to the five power defence arrangement (minus Britain). After all, Napoleon was only stopped from creating a French empire by his enemies continually uniting against him.  

 These sorts of pacts won’t save industrial civilisation, but then nothing can so they shouldn’t be judged by that criteria. What they can instead do is help nations, and thus the individuals inside those nations, adapt to overshoot and get more of our heritage through the coming Dark Age than would otherwise get through. It’s certainly more likely to work than big global attempts which commonly dissolve into infighting or simple finger pointing, such as Copenhagen or the Kyoto Protocol.


  1. Hey guys,

    The sailing based pact sounds like a good idea for all members. Historically, it wasn't that long ago that that was the norm anyway. Reacquiring the technology maybe not as hard as some may think either. Retooling and relocalising manufacturing would be a good outcome for the population here too.

    You are cheeky mentioning Iran!

    Australia has ridden on the coat tails of stronger countries in the past so a pact makes a lot of sense culturally too.

    Have you ever had any experience with community groups? You are on the money when you say that smaller groups are more effective than larger groups.

    A few years back I joined for 3 years the local CFA brigade and the politics for such a small group was mind boggling. Add to this there was a dysfunctional community and after Black Saturday, I was left with the overall impression that: "so many, expect so much, from so few, with so little resources". Most people in the CFA are volunteers and have a life outside of this useful community service.

    I reckon a village maybe the most cohesive small community in a settled area. Could be wrong though. Foundations of mutual obligation are stronger than current society.


  2. @ Cherokee Organic
    I've been involved with scouts and st john, currently stopped because of Year 12, it'll depend on were I go for Uni if i'm to start going again.

    The useful thing for regaining sailing tech is the replicas or examples around. I've been on at least 10 old sailing ships, and while thats not what we'd build (all wooden) as examples they useful and the ideas behind their designs are clear.

    Museums will help a lot in regaining old technology, all the working models, diagrams and such. In New Scientist there was an article on flint napping and its resurgence as a hobby, It was actually more advanced than in the stone age simply because more people were practising it, they could communicate advances quickly and most of the old knowledge was either intact (academic research on it) or could be figured out from surviving examples.

    All we have to do in is bring modern techniques or join technologies that haven't been, standardised parts and consistent measurment (both non-fossil dependent technologies) for wooden ship construction or advanced computer modelling (like evolutionary design) would help immensly.

    Villages are probably the most cohesive groups, but towns and cities can often be cohesive. Old city states could be united in purpose and function as a cohesive group quite well when required, however there was always dissenters and traitors of some kind. A lot of its to do with the identity of the city rather than mutual obligations and relationships.