I’m hot. I’m cranky. The direct impact of climate collapse is heat, and the indirect impact is misery. But am I experiencing climate collapse or political collapse? Is it local or global in scale? My point is, in this day and age, what’s the difference?
Like a glass shattering, every shard of this fractured planet falls its own particular way. If you pick up any piece of glass it has its own shape and its own story of how it got there but the results are the same. That’s what’s happening today.
I live in Sri Lanka—which is one of the most absolutely shattered places in the world right now. Sri Lanka’s misery is unique, but the conditions for immiseration are everywhere. How each nation falls is idiosyncratic, but we’re all part of the same idiocy.
For example, both Sri Lanka and Europe have energy shortages, for completely different reasons. Sri Lanka’s problem is foreign currency and Europe’s is foreign policy. We’ve have taken very different roads, and yet both run out of gas.
In the same way, rice harvests are collapsing both here and in America. Sri Lanka’s rice harvest has dropped by 40% because of an overnight switch to organic farming. California’s rice yield has dropped 20% because of a drought which may last for decades. Sri Lanka snapped, America crackled, and the whole world is going pop.
My point here is that everyone is fucked. It’s largely a timing difference, like COVID-19. COVID is just a symptom of this larger contagion, not the disease. Chaos is the condition, though it presents differently across the world. Only China is navigating this crash with some competence, which is great for at a billion people at least. But for everyone else, whatever we do, chaos intervenes.
If you think about it, when a glass shatters, the glass on top is like “the fuck did I do? I didn’t hit anything!” And yet the shock from the bottom of the glass crashing sends everyone else flying. That is the level of violent shocks the world is going through.
War in Ukraine effects grain prices in the Middle East, which causes social unrest, which destabilizes oil supplies, which leads to rising commodity prices, which leads to social unrest somewhere else, which leads to war, which leads to other shortages, like a shock wave spreading through brittle glass, going round and round.
And the truth is we have just begun to crack. When continents of ice melt and the Amazon gives up and a critical mass of climate collapse is reached, chaos will not be chipping away at the edges. Chaos will reign.
As a poor island already broken off the Indian subcontinent, it didn’t take much to crack Sri Lanka’s illusion of prosperity. Make no mistake, our government fucked this up, but they’ve been fucking around for decades. It’s only in these conditions that it became an immediate liability.
As that dickweed Warren Buffet said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” Well we, the poor countries of the dirty south, are certainly naked, stripped bare by decades of neoliberalism. Now foreign capital flows have dried up and we’re left clutching our junk and shivering.
But don’t get too comfortable. This ain’t no tide. It’s the water being pulled back, before hammering everyone with a tsunami. The economic fundamentals of countries like America are also shit, they just keep bailing themselves out because they have a reserve currency. But those weaponized reserves will eventually run dry, and soon it’ll be revealed that they’ll be swimming naked too. And then global markets will crash, hard.
There is a global crash on the scale of the Great Depression coming. I’d be a fool to say when, but you’d be a fool to say never. Periodic crashes are so regular they’re called the business cycle, and this one will be a tsunami.
All of the tension of a pandemic, war, the de-industrialization of the ‘developed’ world, it’s all building and building. Markets don’t reflect it now, but at some point all this pressure is going to be released. And then it’ll be earth-shattering. Then you buggers will end up like me, sweating (or freezing), miserable, and grumpy.
As Mase, Diddy, et al said in 1997:
Don’t push us, ’cause we’re close to the, edge
We’re tryin’, not to lose our heads, a-hah hah hah hah
Broken glass everywhere
If it ain’t about the money, Puff, I just don’t care (that’s right)
And even then, that financial crash will not be our biggest problem. Now will it be the political turmoil it unleashes. While we can recover money, we cannot recover the livable Earth. The most earth-shattering impact will be the Earth literally shattering.
Entire Antarctic ice sheets are cracking and disappearing right now. Once-in-a-thousand year weather events every year. At some point climate collapse stops being something that’s coming, and becomes something that’s here. Indeed, it already is.
As William Gibson said, “The future is already here — It’s just not very evenly distributed.” He was referring more to future advances but the same is true for future decline. The truth is that food, energy, and basic security shortages are in everyone’s future. For most people, it’s just a timing difference.
Like shards of broken glass, we will all crack in different ways, for seemingly different reasons, but we’re all cracking under pressure. And that pressure is global in scale. Global capitalism had one idea of happiness—a car, a hamburger, and a credit card on every continent—but its global collapse will look different everywhere. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
If you look at a world map now, everybody is fucked up in some way, which usually seems like their fault. But this is the wrong way to look at it. A political map is just a broken world. That’s all it is. Jagged, violent borders cut across continuous land and space. And this broken world is the problem.
We look at problems on a national level, forgetting that these are just made-up lines drawn across an interconnected human race. Our problems are planetary in scale, that is the fragile glass in which all of our hopes and dreams are contained. Now the glass has fallen and the cracks are spreading, in the weak parts first, but eventually everywhere.
If you look at a pile of broken glass on the floor, you could do complicated analysis on how each shard got that way. Every fragment has a unique shape and its own unique trajectory to the ground. But it’s ultimately irrelevant. The whole thing just fell, setting off a chain reaction of pressure that sheared every fragment away. That’s the state of our glassy blue planet today.
Perhaps you have a glass of water in the room with you. I invite you to look at it and reflect. While that glass has one stable form in your hand, there are a billion ways it can shatter into instability. As Jesus said: “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction… strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.”
Our world is just a fragile cup of water, and we have idly tipped it over the edge. I’m not telling you the glass is half empty. I’m telling you it’s already hit the ground.