The first question that comes to mind is “When is this going to happen?".
I am no clairvoyant, so I obviously can’t answer that question. According to the "Per capita resources" curve, we should have about the same quantities of natural resources to exploit in 2050 as in 1950. The difference is that back then, we were relatively few sharing those resources. In the future, the waiting line will be long, and we may not be the beneficiaries.p>
What we can predict over the next two decades is:
After that, we will revert rapidly to the level of the Middle Ages, and then back to Gaulish-type villages. It will probably take less time for that to happen than it did to go from Vercingetorix’s time to De Gaule’s.
These days, GDP calculations are used to assess the production of wealth, based only on purely economic criteria. While this type of assessment is only very rough, it at least exists. Growth is the measure of the evolution of wealth production over time. We always hope that growth will be positive, and when it is negative, we use the word “recession” but never the word “decline”. No doubt this is because “recession” seems less irrevocable than “decline”.
To avoid a decline, the current trend is to promote a new method of calculation – a bit like changing the rules in the middle of a game.
The new criteria for assessing a nation’s wealth attempt to take services into account, ignoring the fact that services exist only because there is a surplus in the primary and secondary sectors, (see the the sector pyramid).
An important aspect of future life will be that machines will first become manual, then disappear to be replaced by tools. Such tools could still be sophisticated in the beginning, but would inevitably become cruder – and therefore simpler – over time, since the steel available to make them would come from rubbish bins.
We owe everything we know today, everything we possess, to metallurgy. Every piece of wood that has been ever shaped by humans was carved with a metallic cutting tool of some kind. Steel is the material that has made it possible to make tools – tools to make other tools and machines, machines to make other machines, up to the current level of sophistication.
In a way, it will be the heart of the system that stops. Industrial metallurgy, starting with steelmaking based on coke as a reducing agent will be definitively over. Producing steel using wood charcoal requires know-how that has more or less disappeared and which is capable only of producing limited quantities of small parts of mediocre quality. All the easily mined ore is already exhausted, anyway.
Once all the scrap metal from the industrial era is used up in a few hundred or thousand years, the only thing left to make tools out of will be stone. Stonecutting should become a required subject in school.
The sector pyramid, which now stands on its point due to metallurgical and oil efficiency, will be tipped back onto its base, the primary sector. Too bad for those (i.e. most of the population) who make their living in or who depend on the service sector, whether they be civil servants, welfare or humanitarian aid recipients, artists, athletes, etc. Their activity and/or income will melt like snow in the sun. That will be convenient, because we are going to have to produce food, and we’ll need workers in the fields.
Let’s remember again that services can only exist if the primary and secondary sectors are producing a surplus, and so when the surplus dwindles, services also decline.
Some of these services are required if society is to operate as it currently does (safety, justice, health and education), some are required in the name of solidarity (social services), and some are superfluous (sports, the arts, tourism).
Services as a whole will gradually deteriorate, but it is likely that social and superfluous services will decline even faster. We will take shorter vacations, patronize the performing arts less, and little by little leave behind those who can’t keep up.
The rest of the service industry should entertain no illusions – they will be next. In particular the state education system, the purpose of which will be called into question when the main concern becomes to find food. The health system will also suffer, rapidly reverting to its early twentieth-century level. Pharmaceutical factories will cease output, and all we will have left will be our grannies’ remedies.
The primary purpose of creating wealth is to meet basic food needs. As less wealth is being produced, intensive agricultural practices will gradually disappear to be replaced by traditional manual agriculture using manure as fertilizer. Output will collapse, and the uppermost concern will be how to feed seven billion people.
If you compare the agricultural production for the Sahel and for France’s fertile Beauce region, you see that:
So production capacity in the Beauce region compared to the Sahel region is:
With less farm machinery and fertilizer, production in terms of weight per year and per human will decline. There will be a need for more labour in the fields, so the urban unemployed will move to the rural areas.
A large part of today’s arable land is deficient in microbial organisms, due to the excessive use of phytosanitary products. Only when the level of microbial diversity in the soil has been restored will we be able to return to biological farming. This means that a large part of the arable land will not be operational in the immediate future, which will reduce the capacity to produce natural food resources.
Let’s remember once again that population size and composition depends on the capacity of a population to produce its own food. in other words, the number of humans on Earth will decrease deeply.
For those who are able to live close to Nature, there will still be the soil, the stones, the forest, unsophisticated farming, fishing and animal husbandry – in a word, enough to live on. What more could one want?
This is a radiant future! Let’s not forget that all activity pollutes. If there were inexhaustible reserves of oil and minerals, we would perish under all the pollution. Since happiness and intelligence have not evolved along with the comfort we have gained from the industrial world, we must relinquish that comfort without regret.
We will then be able to devote ourselves to what is essential: LIVING.