How Vulnerable Is Your Personal Supply Chain?

How Vulnerable Is Your Personal Supply Chain? by Charles Hugh Smith for Of Two Minds

How vulnerable is your personal supply chain? For the average American, the answer is: very.

Americans consider abundance and ready availability as birthrights so basic they’re like the air we breathe. The idea that shelves could become bare and stay bare is incomprehensible. yet that is the world we’re entering, for a number of complex reasons.

One is that the world added not just another billion humans (now 7.9 billion), but one billion middle-class consumers, consumers who use about 100 times more energy per person than poor people. These additional billion middle-class consumers doubled the number of high-energy consuming humans in a few decades, and this enormous expansion of demand has consumed all the easy-to-extract resources of the planet. There are no cheap, easy-to-extract resources left; all that’s left is expensive to reach, extract, transport, etc., and since energy is the master resource, as its cost rises, so does the cost of literally everything that depends on energy.

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Consider a poor person in a rural village. Most of their food is grown locally, and their income is so limited they do not have the means to consume much energy or items shipped halfway around the world via the global supply chain. They might have a cheap mobile phone and a few consumer items gifted to them by relatives working in the developed world, but very little of their consumption depends on long global supply chains. If those chains break, the impact on the poor villagers is relatively modest.

Compare this relative self-sufficiency to the extreme dependence on long supply chains of the average American. Very little, if any, of their everyday consumption is sourced locally, i.e., within walking distance. Every item on the shelves requires immense consumption of energy to be manufactured / produced and shipped to the shelf, and every item has a long dependency chain of intermediaries, each of which is dependent on numerous components, specialty materials, machinery and processes.

Every intermediary, and every process and source used by each intermediary, is a potential source of failure of the entire supply chain.

Complexity and supply chains are abstractions. To understand the intrinsic fragility of global supply chains, we must count the number of intermediaries in the chain from the resources extracted from the Earth to the end customer in the store aisle, and then count the intermediaries in each of those links.

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