User:Jan Steinman/Jan's vision, 50 years later

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See also Jan's vision, for a short-term view.


This essay won First Prize in the Beyond Peak Scenario Contest!

Synopsis

Tonight, I get to feed the animals. I'm hoping for a cougar!

The World

In the fifty years since we joined the land, we've seen much happiness, and much sadness.

Most of the rest of the world has crumbled into insurrection and resource wars. The recessions of 2006, 2011, and 2015 were interspersed by wildly optimistic growth, which only used up the fuel even faster. Then the big one hit in late 2019, when the stock market lost 2/3rds of its value, and fully half of employed people in the US and Canada lost their jobs.

Europe and Japan fared somewhat better, but they and China were dragged down by the huge loss of market in North America. Half the people were no longer able to buy cheap plastic crap from 20,000 kilometers away, and the other half were terrified to let go of their money, too-late saving for a future that had been uncertain for far longer than they had imagined.

Then came the Chinese invasion. Although it was not a "traditional" invasion, in the form of tanks and bombs, it was no less deadly, and did involve an army of sorts. China held countless trillions of dollars of US debt, and simply called in the notes in the form of real estate purchases after the land price collapse that came with the 2019 depression. The Chinese government filled empty cargo ships with their poor, underprivileged, and politically incorrect, and shipped them off to work the huge collective farms that they had purchased in the US, sending the food back to feed an increasingly unhappy and politically unstable middle class. Americans reacted with violence, killing hundreds of thousands of landed Chinese in random acts of violence, and by 2023, the Chinese immigrants had armed themselves, and began retribution.

But people were hungry in America, too. The television networks and news outlets had largely placated the US middle class, through losing an entire generation to resource wars, and losing their personal liberties to "protection from terrorism". But hunger was another matter, and it required a more powerful response from the moneyed classes.

No one can say for sure how it happened, or who was responsible -- all those who might have had a story to tell are either in prison, or have been executed. But the nuclear holocaust at the Super Bowl gave the neo-cons all that they needed to impose totalitarian martial law. The people are still hungry, but at least they're safe from terrorism from abroad -- if no longer safe from terrorism from within.

The historians and economists looked backwards, and noted that it took ten years before there was much recovery from the 1929 Depression, but the waited-for recovery never took place, and by 2039, over 1/3rd of the North American population had succumbed to insurrection, starvation, exposure, or disease. The Chinese Flu pandemic of 2036 was particularly gruesome, taking nearly 80% of those infected -- nearly a quarter billion perishing world-wide -- and making the flu pandemic of 1918 look like a bad case of sniffles in comparison.

The natural gas rationing that had begun a decade before now meant that only the very rich had winter heat in much of North America's urban areas. The cities emptied onto the land like a swarm of locusts, cutting down anything they could burn for heat. It was said that there was not a single tree standing within 50 miles of New York City.

But we'll never really know how many died, nor how many are dying, because during these dark times, the infrastructure of the world began to crumble. Rolling blackouts became a permanent fixture throughout most of the world lucky enough to still have electricity. What was left of the transportation industry crawled to a stop as long-distance highways became impassible. The last commercial airline flight landed in 2032. The telephone system, utterly dependent on reliable electricity, fractured into regional systems. And the Internet, once viewed as the hope for civilization, devolved into regional internets, with some intercontinental email traffic getting through on a sporadic basis.

Large countries, unwillingly led by the US, Russia, and China, began to split into rival regions. Internecine warfare broke out between Southern and Northern Calfornia, New England and the Midwest, and most of all, between the not-quite-poor and the newly poor. This last conflict became especially deadly, and the rich supplied both sides with plenty of handguns and small arms, stoking the fires of class warfare while retreating into increasingly isolated bunkers and fortresses.

By the early '40's, feudalism returned with a vengeance. Anyone who survived the property crash of 2019 could hire armies of starving laborers for a pittance. Anyone who had mortgages in 2019 lost their land in the next few years. The US Supreme Court gave its blessing to indentured servitude way back in 2022, Chief Justice Roberts wryly noting, "at least they're not slaves." (In a lone dissenting opinion, Justice Alieto argued that the court did not go far enough; many of the founding fathers owned slaves, and therefore, slavery actually was constitutional.)

Debtors' prisons, not seen since Dickensonian England, returned for a while, since all the for-profit prisons built between 1992 and 2008 were emptied by disease. The US began forced conscription from the prison population in 2023, and a docile public said, "it's either them, or us" and acquiesced. The best anyone in the habit of maxed-out credit card debt in the early century could hope for by mid-century was three meals and a place to sleep in exchange for work -- they could see those who were unable to work being loaded into trains on the way to the biofuel plants.

But also in the '40's, there was a pause, and the world appeared to try to catch its breath. The growing ecovillage movement meshed nicely with the collapse of large countries into regions. Communities of "freemen" used the laws that kept the rich in power to keep themselves out of bondage -- and supplied with healthy food and natural health care remedies. In 2042, the Free State of Cascadia declared independence from what was left of the US and Canadian governments, and held its first constitutional convention in Vancouver.

Canada

With the broad passage of "Single Transferrable Voting" systems in all provinces except Alberta, the Green party began to flourish, and Canadians actually implemented not only the Kyoto Protocol, but the 2016 Hague Protocol that finally did away with fossil fuel subsidies, replacing them with renewable energy credits.

Boosted by energy exports to the south and decreasing national debt, the Canadian and US Dollars reached parity way back in 2006, and never looked back. Canada re-instated the gold standard in 2019, and by 2039, you could buy a truckload of US $100,000 notes for a single Maple Leaf coin -- not that anyone in their right mind would want to.

So used to following the US lead on many fronts, Canadians revolted and began valuing their cultural heritage. You no longer had to "go south" to get respect at home, in fact, those who crossed over to try to make a quick buck were greeted with derision upon return.

Although the Liberals tried to gut the health care system in the first decade of the century, it had been restored by the time the pandemics hit North America, and Canada (second to Norway again, damn it!) had among the world's lowest death rate.

Quebec finally seceded during the 2020 Depression, and the Maritimes and the Prairies followed, forming a loose federation of independent states, still known as "Canada", but no longer sending much money to Ottawa.

The annexation of 2039 was more a joke that anything serious. The US immediately seized the Alberta energy resources, and were able to draft a few thousand young people from Toronto to send off to resource wars in the Middle East. But the reach of the once mighty empire had become limited, following the collapse of communication and transportation infrastructure; they could still wage war across the planet, but the US could no longer count draft-aged men in Moose Jaw -- nor those on Salt Spring Island.

The Village

Through all this, the village... survived. Fifty years ago, I would have been tempted to say "prospered", but life had become brutal and brief for 90% of the world, and it has impacted us, too.

For a while, our compassion nearly killed us -- it can be a fine line between an ecovillage and a refugee camp. But luckily, our situation makes it difficult for refugees to get to us. Locals who are in need are always welcome, but by 2020, 80% of the island's population had left, trying to find work in other places once the tourists stopped coming. Those few kilometers of water means one has to be relatively energy-wealthy to get here. Having an expensive doorway may cut us off from the world, but it also cuts the world off from us.

It was spring 2040 by the time we learned of the 2039 annexation. Some chuckled, others fretted, life went on as usual. 80% of Salt Spring was now one big ecovillage -- the Confederation of Salt Spring -- but the rich still had big houses on the waterfront, and would arrive from Victoria or Vancouver with boatloads of servants. We actually loved it -- they depended on us for food, and we on them for goods from the rest of the world.

Last month's ferry brought crates of pineapples. Most of the children have never seen a pineapple! I'm glad I get to taste one again -- shared with three others! The aroma and flavor bring back such sweet memories!


Myself

The soldiers came in 2041. Their uniforms were ill-fitting and mis-matched, and weren't nearly as nice as the homespun flax/wool I was wearing. "Who is your leader?" the one in front shouted.

"I don't know, let me think, who's supposed to be leader this week?" I asked James, working beside me with a hoe.

"Damn! Why am I such a wise ass? Keep the mouth shut!" I think to myself as the rifle but strikes my temple and I see stars through the blood streaming into my eyes. But it is just a surface wound. An Oregon Grape poultice will keep it from infecting, and I'll be good to go in a few days.

Which is more than can be said for our unexpected guests. All that is really needed is to wait. They are starving. And they probably only have a few rounds between them for their guns. Just wait. In a couple days, they'll be begging for help, and we'll feed them, and recycle the precious metal from their weapons, and politely send them back across the water. Through it all, we've managed to keep our non-violent principles.

As for me, I've had little desire for a "legacy," preferring to live in the moment as much as possible. But all of us harbor some such hopes:

  • I hope I'm remembered for my good ideas -- as well as the willingness to give them up when better ideas are presented.
  • I hope people respected me for actually implementing ideas -- and I hope I've been patient and willing to listen while people talked and fretted instead of just doing something.
  • I hope I've been fun to be around -- and that I've taken the time to be around fun people.
  • I hope I've been helpful and generous with my time -- and that I've conquered my self-sufficiency ethic and sought help from others when needed.
  • I hope I've been tolerant of others' eccentricities -- as I know I've tested their tolerance.

Her

She got to feed the animals last week. We wanted to do it together, but such things are not so easily controlled. She had a sudden opportunity; I was not prepared. I haven't eaten since then, and the fasting has sharpened my clarity of purpose.

I seem to be floating about four or five meters from the forest floor. What is that crumpled, naked form amid the detritus in the Glade of Passage? Cougars are not normally scavengers, and I pray I'm warm and lifelike enough. But humans have decimated the deer population, and the cougars have gotten less picky.

There... eyes glowing in the underbrush. It cautiously sniffs the air, winds up its haunches, and pounces. I watch from my ethereal perch as the teeth and claws painlessly rake my dead flesh.

And now, I'm spinning, spinning, rising, rising, going faster, faster, as I release myself into the void to join her. My work is done.

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