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The world is getting better in so many ways that it is hard to consider the possibility that it will some day come to an end.

The former head of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan said, “That is the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue and they begin to take speculative excesses with the consequences that have dotted the history of the globe basically since the beginning of the 18 and 19th century. Go back to the South Sea Bubble, go back to the Tulip Bubble even before. It’s human nature. Unless somebody can find a way to change human nature we will have more crises and none of them will look like this because no two crises have anything in common, except human nature.”

Greenspan was talking about money but the same processes are at play relative to modern global society. The general condition of humans has been getting consistently better for at least 500 years. A good proof of that assertion is that human population has grown steadily and that couldn’t happen if there wasn’t plenty of food for these people to eat. The pace of the improvement as measured by population trend is accelerating. In 1625 there were approximately 0.5 billion people and 200 years later the population had doubled and in 1825 there were 1 billion people. Then in only 100 years the population doubled again and in 1925 there were 2 billion people. It doubled again in only 50 years and in 1975 there were 4 billion people. It is projected by the US Census Bureau to be 8 billion in 2025 for a another doubling in only 50 years.

The doubling rate is slowing down, sort of, but it is still much faster than it ever was before in the history of humans and now it is with an absolutely enormous population base. For humans currently living it has been a paradise of easy living. In the US less than 5% of people are farmers and yet those few are able to feed all our local people and still remain the greatest exporter of food in the world. At the founding of this country only 200+ years ago only 5% of the people were not farmers. Individuals today probably think their lives are difficult but they spend a tiny part of their time working to find enough to eat and almost all of their time at what the founding fathers would call leisure activities.

It is important to recognize what the precursors of the collapse of the food supply will be so that people with some foresight and some money can prepare. One thing that Greenspan made clear is that even people in the nerve center of the World economy were unprepared for the current financial crisis. That most financial experts were caught unprepared but not all. The author of the book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, didn’t try to time the financial meltdown but rather prepare for the obvious problems beforehand. He was on Charlie Rose last month and although sad about the tragedy of the crisis had himself made a bundle of money for his clients … and himself.

I had already discussed this issue at some length as:

Doomsday dawns when a nuclear state has a famine.

These are probable precursors to the Doomsday event:

  1. The possession of an arsenal of A-bombs by one of the victim countries of famine.
  2. A leadership that believes it has the right to use atomic weapons to obtain food.
  3. A supporting population of people who feel dispossessed of a necessity like food.
  4. An essential item, probably food, water or energy, becoming difficult to acquire.
  5. A dearth of an essential like water for crops and even for personal use because of another country’s actions.
  6. The price of food exceeding 80% of the income of most of a country’s people with associated thefts becoming commonplace.
  7. A religious belief in the righteousness of killing other people to save one’s friends.
  8. A 50% worldwide shortfall of a major food crop — wheat, rice, corn, soybeans.
  9. Major theft of food supplies at sea or on highways by organized groups.
  10. State sponsored theft of another country’s water or food.

At the moment I am thinking that even with these generalizations it would only, in retrospect, seem to have predicted some of the following historical events. Things may happen very quickly but in a seemingly soft sort of way. The events are there and seen by everyone but they are ignored by the media and avoided in private conversation. An example of this mass avoidance of fact happened after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. In that case there was, after a couple of days of worry about it in the Paris newspapers, a near total return to the usual local gossip. It was a whole month before the worst war in history descended upon those people and yet in retrospect it seemed inevitable. It is like my image of the human race having jumped out of an airplane without a parachute and enjoying the exhilarating fall through the air seeming unconcerned about the splat at the bottom.

There is a good chance that a food crisis will precipitate the eventual population collapse and most humans will die but there is a good chance that even when it comes people will ignore it until their cupboards are bare.