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Warning Shots

By Guy R. McPherson

30 April, 2010

How many do you need?

I still keep hearing, “If things get bad, I’ll move to ….” And then fill in the blank with your favorite fantasy or nightmare, including these and many more:

“my sister-in-law’s property in Kansas”


“the wilderness”

“a central America country”

“southern Europe”

“the coast”

First, let’s consider how “bad” things have to get. The first significant warning shot came in the 1970s, when people in the industrialized world felt the impacts of the U.S. losing its status as the world’s swing producer of crude oil. We were visited by expensive gasoline and long lines at the pumps, simultaneous inflation and economic contraction, a president who encouraged conservation, and many other consequences of relying heavily on crude oil for economic growth. More recently, we’ve witnessed a housing crash, bank failures, oil priced at nearly $150/bbl, near-collapse of the industrial economy, sovereign debt crises throughout the industrialized world, and hundreds of other symptoms of passing the world oil peak.

If you keep your eyes closed, you’re going to run off the road. This society has already driven into a ditch, but you are not required to join the crash. Again, then: How many warning shots do you need?

We could spend a lot of time pointing out the lunacy of all the safe havens listed above. Moving in with the in-laws? Have you even asked? Isn’t there a reason you don’t live with them already? Have you discussed economic collapse with them, or do you continue to ignore the most important topic in the history of western civilization, opting instead for polite conversation?

How ’bout them Red Sox? Nice weather we’ve been having, doncha think?

Stop me if I’ve mentioned this one before: If you keep your eyes closed, you’re going to run off the road.

And Mexico? Do you speak Spanish? Fluently? Do you think you’ll be welcome there, gringo? Do you think continuing our history of occupation is a good idea, even at the personal level? Again, as before, why don’t you live there already, if it’s such a great place to be?

The wilderness? Really? Without a grocery store?

And so on, down the list of ludicrous options.

Here’s a thought: How about starting to prepare for a world without ready access to cheap fossil fuels? That would entail securing a personal supply of water and food for you and your family. For the rest of your life, and theirs. If that’s simply too daunting a task for your lizard-like brain, you can take the route pursued by about half the people to whom I speak: “I’ll save a bullet for myself.”

Really? Evolution suggests otherwise. I foresee a lot of my “friends” showing up at the mud hut, unprepared and unrepentant, but too consumed with personal survival to take the promised Hemingway out. A friend in need, ….

Better days lie ahead for those of us who desire to see the living planet make a comeback. But if you believe life is not worth living in the absence of empire — in the absence of our unrelenting intent and ability to destroy every non-industrial culture and non-human species — why wait? Why not take the Hemingway out now, while you still can get a decent imperial funeral?

Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory, primarily with an eye toward conservation of biological diversity. Currently, his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more than 100 scholarly papers and nine books.

contact information:

Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona 85721

email: grm@ag.arizona.edu