The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Looking Back at the Year That Was, and Looking Forward to Hell

Globe on FireSo, it wasn’t the greatest year for me, personally, though it certainly wasn’t the worst.

It was the second year where the heavy hand of climate change was obvious for all to see, with the endless West coast fires leaving cities wreathed in smoke for weeks at a time. Climate change is now reshaping the environment.

Trump was a nasty piece of work domestically. In foreign affairs, his legacy remains to be seen: If the Syrian and Afghan withdrawals actually occur, if the North Korean peace winds up being worked out, and if he avoids war elsewhere, notably with Iran, he will go down as a great peacemaker–whether those who hate him or not like it.

The economy is about due for another crisis and recession, but I don’t follow economic matters as closely as I did back in 2007/8, so I can’t call it exactly. Still, be wary, and store away fat in the larder when (or if), you can.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the so-called populist right continues to rise, Macron (a heartless, neoliberal technocrat), is running scared of his own protests, and in Britain, despite the Tories being demonstrably incompetent monsters, the Labour and the Conservative parties are running even in polls (which means Labour is almost certainly slightly ahead.) A recent study showed that 75 percent of all news articles about Labour leader Corbyn lie about him, so that explains rather a lot. Much of the rest is explained by the fact that Remain spends most of its time attacking Corbyn and by the fact that a lot of Brits are heartless scum. (There is a reason why neoliberalism started in Britain with Margaret Thatcher.)

Nonetheless, the simple fact is that there obviously has not yet been enough suffering among the comfortable classes, because they still seem to think the status quo is acceptable. They need more people they actually care about to suffer and die as they watch, I guess. That’s unfortunate and not a prescription; it’s just an observation.

The US 2018 mid-term elections mean much less than people make them out to. Nancy Pelosi, hamstrung by an ideology which insists on PayGo and attempts at comity, will do nothing significant. Even if Democrats lurch back into power in 2020 in the face of Trump’s unpopularity (as opposed to their own popularity), it will mean nothing if they continue to run “slightly less nasty policies than the Republicans.”

This is not to say there is no possibility of hope. Despite Democrats deciding to be the war scum party, objecting to Trump actually trying to end wars, it is true that Medicare For All is becoming party orthodoxy. Perhaps we can hope that Americans will be slightly kinder to each other even as they kill foreigners in large numbers.

And perhaps someone like Sanders will win the Presidency.

Still, the Democratic party remains firmly neoliberal and hates people like Sanders.

Despite all the squealing, 2018 wasn’t the worst year ever or anything. There wasn’t a World War, we weren’t in a worldwide depression, and the worst of climate change and environmental collapse has yet to happen. Certainly, for some people, it was the worst year ever, but that’s true of every year.

No matter who wins what, politically, the trend is decidedly to the worse. The Paris accords on the environment will not be met, and if even they were met, they would be insufficient. It is already too late to stop the worst of climate change. Meanwhile, the old political order is staggering, and what will replace it is by no means guaranteed to be better.

Even if it is better, it will come to the scene too late to stop us from hitting a wall. We are, for example, just going to lose a few hundred million in India. Unstoppable. The SouthWest of America is going to run out of water. Unstoppable. And so on.

This is now triage time; if you are wise, you will put less of your effort into “saving the world” (now impossible, by any reasonable definition) and more into choosing who is going to survive. The survivors will determine what the post-catastrophe world is like, so who survives matter.

Grim? Yeah. But this is what is, and denial will just get more people killed.

Meanwhile, there is still beauty in the world, real maple syrup is still sweet, and love still warms. There is plenty of good in the world to celebrate, enjoy, and live in. I suggest doing so; your misery serves only your enemies, not you.

Be well in this New Year to come. Survive your enemies, spit on their mass graves, and write the histories.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Merry Chistmas


And the Seas Turned to Blood: 20 Years to Biblical Apocalypse?


  1. Marcus

    Ian, what do you mean by “deciding who will survive?” Do you mean like equipping people with concrete and mental/emotional/social skills?

  2. Ian Welsh

    Start taking steps to survive and choose who you want to survive with you. Survival will be a group matter.

  3. different clue

    If nice people can survive nicely, then niceness will be seen to have survival value.

    Or at least if semi-nice people can survive semi-nicely, then at least semi-niceness will be seen to have survival value.

    So . . . what is viable nice survivalism?
    What is viable semi-nice survivalism?
    What would be some non-nasty survivalist skills which don’t depend on preventing
    someone else’s survival in order to raise the chances of one’s own?

    This might well be a thread for people to bring specific ideas or knowledge or information sources to on the subject of non-destructive survivaling.

  4. different clue

    For example, here is a 3 minute video by farmer Gabe Brown explaining how he restored a zone of compacted non-viable land to eco-bio-healthy gardenability. It uses and hints at some particular skills and bases of knowledge. And it does not preVENT anyone else from doing the same elsewhere. Meaning it does not preCLUDE anyone ELSes survival.

  5. Herman

    Regarding suffering among the comfortable classes, I pretty much agree with you Ian, although I would extend the analysis to a lot of poor and working-class people too. A lot of poor and working-class people are completely demoralized. Why bother with depressing things like war, climate change and neoliberalism when you know that you probably cannot change anything? Better to do something fun like play a video game or follow sports instead of hard news.

    I used to call people who thought like this “sheeple” but now I understand why people have the above attitude. I think it is different from the “I’ve got mine, Jack” attitude that you are probably referencing with regard to the comfortable classes but in its own way demoralization and escapism among the non-comfortable also helps to maintain the system. That is one of the reasons why I suspect that we will continue to see a slow decline instead of total systemic collapse although some major event like a huge economic or environmental meltdown or major war could intervene to change things in a significant way.

  6. Ven


    I agree with your prognosis, but I have to say you are utterly mistaken in your survivalist mentality and “who survives matters” perspective. You seem to have a cognitive dissonance in at one point articulating the compassionate tenets of buddhism and here, not being able to see that this “survival of the fittest” mentality is what has got us to this mess in the first place.

    And let’s face it, the ones who will hold out the longest are the elites who have stolen the most.

    So who survives does not matter at all. In any event we are all going to die – do you really want to be one of the last to hang on in a dystopian, apocalyptic future, as nuclear reactors go into meltdown?

    Hopefully the earth will make a clean sweep of humanity – since we don’t deserve the meaning imbued in the name.

  7. S Brennan

    Hey Ian best wishes for the new year but…

    I gotta take issue with “(There is a reason why neoliberalism started in Britain with Margaret Thatcher.)”

    Let’s set the WAYBAC machine to 1972-McGovern, with some brief excursions to 1962-Goldwater/Milton Friedman et all. What follows is a pretty good set of Cliff-Notes that brought the USA/Western World to it’s present state.

    “What Democrats Still Don’t Get About George McGovern”
    By Joshua Mound – February 29, 2016

  8. S Brennan

    Should have been, “with some brief excursions to 1964-Goldwater/Milton Friedman et all.”, my bad.

  9. jsn

    S Brennan,
    Thanks for the link! However, it makes no mention of the US Chamber of Commerce effort, embodied in the Powell Memo, to coordinate the interests of the business elite.

    Most of the linked items in the article are issues specifically planned for in that Memo.

    The drift right of the Democrat party tracks the bread crumbs (cash) laid out for Dem leaders by that plan. To date there is no countervailing incentive structure leading left.

  10. capelin

    “survive your enemies”. i like it. in the vein of “the best revenge is living well”.

    thank you ian welsh for what you do, this space you have nurtured is important.

  11. bruce wilder

    During the 300+ years of “progress” since the final end of feudalism in the English 17th century, politics has been driven by a dynamic in which it was often possible to resolve a stalemate in a way that allowed grabbing some source of new surplus value and distributing it to cement a loose coalition in to coordinated political action. New land, new colonies, the huge and seeming steady gains from fossil fuels and technical process — these were the rewards that could be had, and were used to pacify seemingly intractable political conflicts. “Growth” became the expected deus ex machina of all political conflicts over the distribution of income. Grabbing political power could be legitimated in a sense by delivering the goods, even to those excluded from participating in government. Some of those projects — notably the imperialism of the late 19th century — did not end well for the aristocratic classes that instigated them or many who supported the nationalisms drafted into their wake.

    It seems to me that “growth” is no longer a possibility globally. Because the political pattern is centuries old, people are likely to try to organize around “growth” coalitions and projects for a long time to come. And, ignore the poisonous consequences — the fracking boom in the U.S., which is both a financial and ecological catastrophe being a exhibit 1.

    The slide down Seneca’s Cliff (look it up) is going to be very long — may be not as long as the rise of Western civilization since ~1400. If it took 600 years to get from John of Gaunt to Dick Cheney, maybe it takes 300 years to crash that alleged civilization to the point where a dark age is a real possibility. Going up and coming down are not symmetrical paths. A crisis going up has a different feel, different exit possibilities from a crisis on the way down.

    During the Fall of the Roman Empire, Justinian, the last Emperor for whom Latin was his native language, managed to push the Rump Empire into motion — the great hierarchical machinery grinding down on proto-serfs and soil of declining fertility, generated an increased surplus, a surplus that sent armies to reconquer Italy and built Hagia Sophia and wrote the Code of Justinian. It ended very badly: the most deadly plague in European history — now thought worse than the Black Death of the 14th century that would bookend the Middle Ages — depopulated vast areas and initiated a dark age. The Plague of Justinian and the Black Death were very similar biologically: bubonic plague spreading thru populations weakened by famine and oppression. The latter had generally positive very long-term political and economic effects, because of context. Reduced population increased agricultural productivity and surplus, giving impetus to trade and urbanism and learning. The Plague of Justinian, kicked civilization down the stairs it was already descending.

    When a political economy is climbing the slope, a failure to organize properly is frustrating, but it is just a delay, a faltering, and any losses from delay may be recouped. If it is London circa 1850 just realizing that sewage and sanitation and water supply require public provision on a huge scale, delay is typhoid and cholera. And, getting their political act together to build needed systems is relief from same. “Growth” pays dividends, one might say. There is the possibility of self-reinforcing cycles of virtue where demonstrations of competence build confidence in the state and the political system to adapt and reform rationally.

    Incremental responses may not pay off in the same way on the way down slope. Delay might be catastrophic or involve massive waste of resources. Fracking is making climate change inevitable and poisoning the ground water. How much resource will be devoted to prevent Florida from drowning?

    I do not know what is “progressive” when progress is just historical artifact of unrealized consequences, consequences that are being realized and cannot be stopped, only ameliorated in ways that are themselves costly and impoverishing. As migration looms larger, I cannot help but think in the land of neoliberal complacency, Trump’s wall looks like a lesser stupidity.

    At some point Elon Musk will have to be recognized as a dangerous idiot, embodying authoritarian impulses and stupid forms of techno-utopian illusion. When?

    If Americans were to come to their senses, the vast underspending on infrastructure of the last two generations might prove a weird blessing, if a Green New Deal could be conceived of realistically as restructuring an advanced economy to run on a fraction of the energy now consumed and not just trying to reproduce 1965 suburbia like a sitcom rerun, but digital HD with electric cars and solar panels. But, the trick would be to jump ahead of the path of decline, away from the bleeding edge where uncontrollable catastrophe and slow depletion and congestion consumes all attention and ability to respond.

  12. Stirling Newberry

    Never offer money to a Pres-i-dent.

    He does awful things in the worst way possible, and he takes good ideas and implements them horribly. Just ask the Kurds on that one. But then that why the markets were down – in good times.

  13. Charlie

    My only contention here is my thoughts tend toward 2019 being the year of a hard economic collapse, at least in stocks. If we look at past recessions, regression to the mean for the Dow centered in the 6000-8000 range, which in this “boom” with its non-functioning market use of corporate buybacks. This one looks to be the year when the fed funds rate goes back over 5% (don’t ask me why, but 5% seems to be the place where interest payments become too much to bear for the big players), with those corporate buybacks becoming non-performing loans when the sell orders come in. Thus, we’re possibly looking at least a 50% correction to the 9000- 10k range to regress toward the mean.

    Hopefully I’m wrong, but it appears the wrong things will be done at the wrong times again (greed does tend to create this decision making process. Thus, a rough ride down this year.

  14. bruce wilder

    From the department of careful what you wish for: is there some path to a better future for the many that does not run thru radically reducing the financial sector? (And does that not imply a decline in the stock market?)

  15. Ian Welsh

    There is no route to a better future that does not include radically reducing the financial sector, no.

    (At least, not that I can see.)

  16. Hugh

    “He does awful things in the worst way possible, and he takes good ideas and implements them horribly.”

    And he lies about everything: big things, small things, obvious things, off the wall things. He will even lie about his lies, changing them from one moment to the next. His greatest sin, however, is that he wastes time we do not have.

  17. The first couple of weeks will be the worst. A month. Given “American’s” general lack of anything associated with survival skills they’ll be killing each other over wax noodles in a week, eating each other in two. It’s not necessarily the strong who will survive, or the well provisioned.

    While I have no personal experience, I have read if done right it tastes just like pork.

  18. Ché Pasa

    Hugh points out:

    And he lies about everything: big things, small things, obvious things, off the wall things. He will even lie about his lies, changing them from one moment to the next. His greatest sin, however, is that he wastes time we do not have.

    (Emphasis mine)

    I’d only add, it’s exhausting. Likely deliberately so. He’s serving some greater interest than himself, wittingly or not, or he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in. The very fact that he lies and so many of us wind up chasing his lies and outrages du jour — when we might be otherwise engaged in productive or survival activities — is telling.

    Decoupling from the Trump Show is a necessity. How to do that and how many can do so is this year’s question.

  19. Jib Halyard

    if the North Korean peace winds up being worked out, and if he avoids war elsewhere, notably with Iran, he will go down as a great peacemaker, whether those who hate him or not like it.

    Sure. And if he discovers a cure for cancer, he will go down as a great scientist…

  20. Dan

    The Southwest won’t run out of water. Epcor will pipe it down there from Canada. They’ve already bought the infrastructure down there.

  21. Willy

    People who lie about everything are usually not very good at anything, except for just lying about it. Maybe if we’re lucky, Trumps modern american christian enablers will maintain their culture of self-deception and continue their downward spiral into oblivion. And then the scientists can have their day… if it’s not too late.

  22. different clue


    It is said that . . . ” The System has a thousand kneecaps. And there are acres of tire irons just lying around. There is a tire iron for every kneecap, and a kneecap for every tire iron.”

    In the same vein, there is a pipeline for every bomb. And a bomb for every pipeline. Does anyone think that Canadians are not well aware of that saying? And does the Southwest not understand that in such a scenario, Great Lakestanis on the American side of the border will understand and support Canada’s position and actions? And might carry out some actions of their own?

  23. different clue

    And come to think of it . . . . any Southwestern water-aggression against Canada will raise fears of Southwestern water-aggression against the Columbia River . . . and then against the Mississippi River after that.

    And that’s a lot of people who will rally to the cause of Canada in the event of any attempted Southwestern water-aggression against Canadian water. Because those people know that it will only start there, not stop there.

  24. different clue

    In other words, Die NAWAPA Die.

  25. ponderer

    Every age, heck every year has their Doomsday prophesies. Still, for the most part we trudge along. Locally, some do face Doom, but for mankind I wouldn’t bet for or against it.

    To get to the point where we are holed up in our survival shelters defending our closest friends and family, hundreds of millions will have died. That process is going to take awhile, well after the world war starts. Mostly it will be the populous and poorer regions, but again I think your time line is compressed (aside from Nuclear Armageddon). I think we have a bias to want to see our imaginary future scenarios play out in a time frame that fits our internal proportional emotional turmoil or stress that we are currently in.

    I see a similar dynamic at play with some Trump critics. You’d have to totally underestimate where we are to think he is going to make it that much worse. Pretty much just have to lose touch with reality altogether. It’s the kind of cognitive dissonance that allows them to vote for Hillary even after her many misdeeds (election rigging, Libya, Syria, etc.) and push Democrats no matter the body count.

    Financially, bad things will probably happen in the next two years. It’s politically advantageous for the Resistance, and coincides with some bubbles ready to pop not to mention horrible fundamentals. I think that is probably our only individual worry survival wise. Or if your bucket is half full, an opportunity to empathize with those less fortunate and build common ground across tribe lines. who knows.

  26. S Brennan

    Some good news; from my FBook post today:

    “Not the biggest fan of Giuliani, [not by a long shot], but, the fact of the matter is…he speaks the truth about Assange in this video. People should listen/read what Giuliani says, particularly my friends who are looking for a Russian under every bed. FYI, if you can’t watch Fox because your “liberal” friends would never let you live it down, I have included a quote of the pertinent material. But you really should have a listen to Giuliani’s delivery to get the full thrust of his point.
    “Let’s take the Pentagon Papers..the Pentagon Papers were stolen property, weren’t they? It was in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nobody went to jail at The New York Times and The Washington Post….revelations during the Bush administration such as Abu Ghraib. All of that is stolen property taken from the government, it’s against the law. But once it gets to a media publication, they can publish it,for the purpose of informing people…You can’t put Assange in a different position.”

    Giuliani said, “We may not like what [Assange] communicates, but he was a media facility. He was putting that information out…Every newspaper and station grabbed it, and published it.”

  27. Hugh

    There is a rush transcript of Trump’s remarks at his first Cabinet meeting (January 2, 2019) of the new year here:

    It has some egregious typos (serious = Syria, for example). But it is an extended piece of prose illustrative of Trump, that is completely incoherent in its own terms, and even more so when you try to relate it to the real world. Most of it is utter horseshit, but even when something that might almost make sense appears, it is like a piece of flotsam on a storm-tossed sea. It pops up for an instant, only to be swept away the next by wave after wave of babbling lies and buffoonery.

  28. Ché Pasa

    The beauty of Trump’s patter is that his fans can extract whatever they want to hear from it and disregard everything else while his opponents can find plenty of outrageous garbage to wind them up for another round of spit-takes and burst blood vessels.

    I’m pretty sure this is why he stays in office despite his manifest unsuitability, incompetence, corruption and lies. He keeps so many people deluded or so busy “fighting” him that they have no time for or interest in anything else, and — behold — the Masters of the Universe can continue their looting and bloodletting unmolested and largely unnoticed.

    He’s the ideal president for the purposes of the Pillage and Destroy class.

  29. Anyone who thinks you can pipe water from Canada to the southwest doesn’t know a damned thing about geology, physics or engineering. One of the things that define Cascadia as a bio/geo-region is it is physically impossible for California to steal our water.

    There was talk back in the seventies of draining Hudson Bay into Lake Erie, but that’s a whole ‘nuther geo-region. I don’t recall how the conversation ended, but they never tried it.

  30. S Brennan

    Uhmm, isn’t Hudson Bay salt water Ten Bears?

    In world full of wrong, I am hoping that Giuliani remarks, [see above post], are a trial balloon by the Trump admin…

    And yeah I know, any remark that does not denigrate Trump as “worse than Hitler” must be followed by Hugh & Pasa posts that they hope will bury my post.

  31. Willy

    Trump is certainly dumber than Hitler.

  32. Tom

    The most screwed up stories in 2018. The sooner the Afghan War is wound down and ended, the sooner random people stop getting blown up or kidnapped and tortured to death.

  33. Stirling Newberry

    > Anyone who thinks you can pipe water from Canada to the southwest doesn’t know a damned thing about geology, physics or engineering

    But a great deal about money. That how LA was formed.

  34. different clue

    @Ten Bears,

    On the geo-physiography of it you would appear to be entirely right. But that’s not to say people haven’t tried and won’t try again.

    And they have proposed their “back door plan” which is called NAWAPA before. It proposes to run aROUND the mountains by linking up a bunch of flatland lakes and canals and pipelines and then trying to find the very least mountain-obstructed thread-the-needle passable valleys down the farthest west to reach the Subsidy Belt with all that water.

    Here’s the image results of NAWAPA to show these people think big, if you can call it thinking.;_ylt=A0geKYrxcC5c1qIAKgpXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyanNvNWYzBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ4NTNfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=nawapa&fr=sfp

  35. I generally stay away from Malthusian doom prophecies because humans turn out to be good at pulling the Malthusian irons out of the fire. That is, Malthusianism is right in a very broad sense (there are limits, and Malthusian catastrophes do happen), but not in the sense that lets us model humans as a colony of bacteria in a growth medium. Even seemingly well-modeled and predictive resource-use trajectories have a way of missing their targets at the last minute, except, of course, when they don’t.

  36. I’ve seen it, DC. Indeed, I think it validates my position. It can’t be done.

    With all due respect, Stir, piping water from N California to S California, from the Feather and Owens rivers down through the central valley or around the horn of the Sierra Nevada is not the same as piping water from Canada.

    I suppose I shouldn’t be so … I don’t know. Remember when we got all those monkeys together and gave ’em keyboards? If we can invent the Internet I’m sure if we throw enough money and manpower at it we might find a way to snake it down through some of the wildest mountains in the world and hook it up with the Colorado river, but the odds of that happening in this day and age are about the same as actually snaking water down through some of the wildest mountains in the world and hooking it up with the Colorado.

  37. Stirling Newberry

    >With all due respect, Stir, piping water from N California to S California, from the Feather and Owens rivers down through the central valley or around the horn of the Sierra Nevada is not the same as piping water from Canada.

    Scale is irrelevant when you have enough leverage. The appropriate questions is who are you going to organize to prevent it? That will give you an over/under number.

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