Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rapid Collapse

Are we headed for collapse? A study partly funded by NASA says a combination of crisis could bring down the global system we count on. It's not guaranteed to happen, and we can't know when. But the world supply chains, just-in-time, makes the possibility of a sudden unravelling more possible. Would you believe everything from food to power to gasoline could disappear in just a matter of weeks? From Ireland, David Korowicz explains how. Radio Ecoshock 140402.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


There is a small industry of pundits warning something is about to collapse. A large and growing public who suspect they are right. It's hard to pin down what sets analyst David Korowicz apart from the pack. Maybe it's his detailed big picture outlines that just make sense. Is that why he's in demand across the world, advising governments, business, and non-profits alike? Strangely, most of those organizations could become dis-functional very quickly, if David Korowicz is right.

It doesn't hurt that David is based in Dublin. Ireland just went through an economic beating ahead of us all. He's part of an organization named Feasta, advises government there, and runs his own business called "Human Systems Consulting". We're going to talk about two of his papers that explain why fragile systems, from the economy to the environment, could fall apart much faster than we think.

Here are the two papers we discuss:

1. "Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse"

This paper is available free from here.

2. The second is: "Catastrophic Shocks Through Complex Socio-Economic Systems: A Pandemic Perspective"

Download that paper as a free .pdf file here.

First, we note Ireland didn't go into the Dark Ages when it hit a financial brick wall a couple of years ago. Public services still work, the roads are open, the supermarkets well-stocked. Why did Irish society surive its flirtation with utter bankruptcy? David explains.

On You tube, I watched one of David's lectures. It was titled "The Modern Economy, Civilization, Complexity, and Collapse". He began with a picture of life in Kyrgyzstan, and how that local and resilient economy will be sucked into our globalized scheme, like everybody else. Won't they be better off? Yes probably, but they will be dependent on a super-system which is in itself very fragile, and open to rapid collapse.

History shows that once a country decides to join the global economy, its difficult if not impossible to go back to self-sufficiency.

We all like to blame the bankers or Wall Street manipulators for the current economic woes, David disappoints many a conspiracy theorist by saying there is no real organizing power behind the global economy. It works the way a forest does, he says. Things work together, but there is no one in charge. That's difficult for us to accept, so this was a good talk.

We also look into how a shut-down of relatively small commodities could ripple into really big events. We discovered that when just one or two factories in Japan shut down after the Tsunami of 2011, much larger car plants in the US and Europe had to close temporarily.

Some system losses are more critical than others. A failure in the perfume supply chain is survivable. A failure in our electrical, food, or sewage systems may not be. Even a small or publicly unknown component, such a rare earths, could trigger a much larger event.

One of the cases we examine in detail is the fuel truck protest on the United Kingdom in September 2000. Refineries were blockaded, and local gas/petrol stations ran out. All sorts of business and government offices had to close or go to a skeleton staff. Supermarket shelves were about to become empty, when leaders in the food industry warned the government to take action. It was a valuable lesson.

So what could happen. Korowicz looked at the case of a failure in the European banking system. We all know Spain, Italy, and Greece banks are close to bankruptcy, requiring aid. If there is a major failure, that will not stay in Europe, Korowicz says, but echo all over the world. In just a few weeks, masses of people could lose their jobs, and maybe their food supply. It's amazing how fast those coupled system breakdowns can happen in these modern times.

It is frightening to realize that most of our goods are no longer in warehouses. The rolling trucks are the only storage for outfits like Walmart or Tesco. If the trucks stop, for any reason, supplies end, with no backup. We see this in miniature when severe weather closes roads. How many days food supply does the average city have now? Maybe 3 to 5 days worth?

The second of his papers considers what could happen if a virulent disease erupts somewhere. It could be a new strain of Bird Flu in Asia, or SAARS or something we haven't seen before. With international air travel, it could spread widely in the world in just days. Our health systems might be overwhelmed. People would be afraid to go to work.

What if 50 million people died, as happened in the 1918/1919 outbreak of Spanish influenza? David tells us when at least one third of Europeans died during the Black Plague, around 1348-50, society was far less specialized. No technology was lost. But today, if we lose just a small number of key scientists, experts, or highly specialized workers, others cannot simply fill in those gaps. Systems begin to collapse.

I won't go on about solar storms - other than to say even the U.S. Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission, FERC, quietly admitted that if just 9 key electric substations went down, the whole of the United States could be without power for weeks, or maybe even months. Don't believe me? Check it out here, here, and here (last one is a paywall Wall St Journal).

These substations could be attacked by terrorists, as we now discover happened last year when a unit was shot up by snipers. A single solar storm could do it. Or they may just fail because the U.S. hasn't invested in it's electricity system in decades.

Picture a modern country without electricity. No gas pumps, no supermarket checkouts, no heating or cooling. Municipal water systems would fail. You wouldn't have a TV or the Internet to hear about it. Social chaos is guaranteed.

That's just one scenario among many. We return to David Korowicz, who studied the possibilities due to an infectious disease, like Bird Flu, SAARS or even Ebola getting loose. Are you ready? Nobody is.

Don't miss this in-depth interview. Find out more about David at his web site or on Facebook.

Still hungry? Try this History Channel special, packed with experts, on what happens with a global pandemic, on You tube. THANKS FOR SUPPORTING RADIO ECOSHOCK!

Radio Ecoshock is listener-supported radio. My thanks to those who keep it going. Download this program, and all our past programs as free mp3s from our web site at

As we close up shop for today, I've got one last musical comment on the push to distract everyone with a new version of the old Cold War. The TV talking heads and right-wing politicians want you to get pumped up for a new enemy, 1984 style. Never mind the weather has gone strange. A nice little war, and some fat military spending, might cover up the holes in our economy, the shady banks, and all the coal and oil we burn every day.

Feel free to use my new song in any way you like, except selling it. I'm Alex Smith. Thanks so much for listening to Radio Ecoshock, and caring about your world.

Listen to this song, "Let's Have A War" or download it, here.

It was all written using my beloved DAW program Ableton Live 9 and the Massive Synthesizer from Native Instruments. My thanks to the Ableton crew in Germany for getting me this software at a big discount to help Radio Ecoshock's non-profit effort.

No comments: