Thursday, February 14, 2013

What collapse looks like: signs from Europe and Central America

What does a social collapse look like?  Ceredwyn and I wonder about this as we scan the news, plan for our future, and work on the homestead.  If America is heading into a decline, can we better endure it if we learn from other cultural catastrophes?

Greece offers a useful example, as that nation's economy staggers around a financial drain.  Today come stories of Greeks stripping the country of metals.
The thieves are accused of stealing industrial cable, power-line transformers and other metal objects – triggering blackouts and massive train delays. The profile of the metal thief is also changing, authorities say, from gypsies and immigrants living on the margins of society to mainstream Greeks who have fallen on hard times. A group of men were caught trying to take apart an entire bridge and droves of immigrants can be seen pushing shopping carts around Greek neighborhoods looking in recycling bins.
Economic misery driving people to socially destructive acts: this isn't a new thought, but it's useful (and sobering) to see specific instances occur in realtime.

Also in Greece, lack of income causes people to burn stuff other than oil and gas.
The Greek environmental ministry has warned families to not use their fireplaces as furnaces, but "families have lost workers and can barely make ends meet," said Tsaroucha, who has lived in Athens since she was born. "The increase in the price of heating oil ... and the increased amount of taxes that each household has to pay" have contributed to families' decision to heat their homes with old-fashioned fire from practically anything that will burn -- not only wood, but also lacquered furniture and old doors.
Call it austerity smog.

Across the Atlantic another country is experiencing a different crisis.  The Honduran government has plunged off its own fiscal cliff, meaning it can't pay for a variety of public goods and services: teachers, surveillance cameras, some medical supplies, road repairs, various government offices.

Taken together, the Honduran and Greek crises offer a palette of catastrophic forms, a menu of collapse items.  We've seen these elsewhere, even in the US - Detroit and Flint have enjoyed service declines, metal theft, and despair fires for some time.  And more to come.  As one friend observed, "I think there will be plenty of ash in our future."

Do these signs of collapse ring true to you?  What other ones should we watch for?


Iggy O said...

I love cars, but they are such markers of distinction between haves and have-nots.

When I lived in Spain in the mid-80s, one of my wealthy students had a very nice car but kept it locked up for weekends. He drove an old beater around Madrid, because the nice car "was getting vandalized by the poor once a week."

Look for desperate Americans to begin to strip cars they cannot steal for scrap metal. Look for them to begin vandalizing the property of the rich. How it plays out in suburbia, where more folks have nice cars, I don't know.

But cars and homes are such visible signs of affluence. Collapse will be well underway when people of means begin, like my Spanish student, to cloak their wealth to avoid the desperate and angry.

Bryan Alexander said...

That would be a huge telltale, Iggy, given how crazy we are for cars.
Where would it appear first, desperate Detroit, or someplace with a greater automobile density?