Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Downside of Dependence

I’m not sure if last week’s Archdruid Report post hit a nerve, or if thoughts similar to the ones I discussed there have been busy all by themselves stirring up nightmares in the deep places of our collective imagination, but it’s been fascinating to note how many blog posts over the past few days have taken issue with the core point my post raised. That point, for those who readers who are just joining us, is that using less – less energy, less resources, less stuff of every kind – is the hallmark of any serious response to the predicament facing industrial civilization

Typical of the responses, if that’s what they were, was a blog post by Forbes blogger Roger Kay. It’s a clever post, to be sure, and Kay’s an engaging writer. He imagines beer yeast in a vat of wort – for those of you who aren’t yet initiated into the mysteries of brewing, that’s what you call the stuff that turns into beer before it turns into beer – faced with the inevitable problem that beer yeast face in a vat of wort: once the alcohol produced by their own life processes reaches a certain level, it poisons the yeast and they die.

Kay goes on to imagine a yeast cell with a conscience, who decides not to consume the sugars in the wort, and points out that the only thing that results from the moral yeast’s decision is that the other, less scrupulous yeast cells eat all the sugar, and all the yeasts die anyway. His conclusion is that we might as well wallow in our fossil-fueled lifestyles while we can, since everyone else is going to do that anyway, and the only hope he offers is that technology might save us before the consequences hit.

George Monbiot, who’s carved out a niche for himself as the staff pseudoenvironmentalist of The Guardian, had a blog post of his own on much the same theme. His argument is simply that most people in today’s industrial societies are not going to accept anything short of continued economic growth, and so a strategy based on using less is simply a waste of time.

Like many people these days who worry about global warming, he dismisses the issues surrounding peak oil out of hand – the problem we face, he insists, is not that we have too little fossil fuel, but too much – and as evidence for this, he points to the recent announcement from the IEA that world production of petroleum peaked in 2006. Since industrial civilization hasn’t collapsed yet, he tells us, peak oil clearly isn’t a problem. I suppose if you ignore drastic and worsening economic troubles in the world’s industrial nations, food riots and power shortages spreading across the Third World, and all the other symptoms of the rising spiral of peak-driven crisis now under way, you might be able to make that claim. Still, there’s a deeper illogic here.

It’s an illogic that seems highly plausible to many people. That’s because the fallacy that forms the core of the argument made by Kay, Monbiot, and so many others is a common feature of today’s conventional wisdom. An alternative metaphor – one at least as familiar to the peak oil blogosphere as Roger Kay’s yeas – might help to clarify the nature of the failed logic they’re retailing.

Imagine, then, that you’re on the proverbial ocean liner at sea, and it’s just hit the proverbial iceberg. Water is rising belowdecks and the deck is beginning to tilt, but nobody has drowned yet. Aware of the danger, you strap on a life preserver and head for the lifeboats. As you leave your stateroom, though, the guy in the stateroom next to yours gives you an incredulous look. "Are you nuts?" he says. "If you leave the ship now, somebody else will just take your cabin, and get all the meals and drinks you’ve paid for!"

Your fellow passenger in the metaphor, like Kay and Monbiot in the real world, has failed to notice a crucial fact about what’s happening: when a situation is unsustainable in the near term, the benefits that might be gained by clinging to it very often come with a prodigious cost, and the costs that have to be paid to abandon it very often come with considerable benefits. It’s far more pleasant to walk down to the cruise ship’s bar, order a couple of dry martinis, and sit there listening to the Muzak, to be sure, than it is to scramble into a lifeboat and huddle there on one of the thwarts as the waves toss you around, the spray soaks you, and the wind chills you to the bone. Two hours later, however, the passenger who went to the bar is a pallid corpse being gently nibbled by fishes, and the passenger who climbed into the lifeboat and put up with the seasickness and the spray is being hauled safely aboard the first freighter that happened to be close enough to answer the distress call.

The metaphor can usefully be taken a little further, because it points up a useful way of looking at the equivalent situation in the real world. As a passenger on board the ship, your relation to the ship is a relation of dependence. You depend on the integrity of the hull to keep you from drowning, on the fuel and engines to get you to your destination, on the food supply and the galley to keep you fed, and so on. That dependence has very real advantages, but it has a potentially drastic downside: if the systems you rely on should fail, and you don’t have an alternative, your dependence on them can kill you.

It’s this downside of dependence that Kay and Monbiot miss completely. Imagine, to approach the same argument from a different angle, that Kay’s yeast metaphor left out two crucial points. The first is that the yeast cells have choices other than either eating the sugar or not eating the sugar. They can, let’s say, evolve the capacity to live on starch rather than sugar. Starch isn’t as rich an energy source as sugar, and it’s harder and costlier in energy terms to digest, but (let’s say, for the sake of the metaphor) yeast who eat starch don’t produce alcohol and so don’t poison themselves. A yeast that evolves the ability to digest starch thus has to accept a far less lavish lifestyle involving a lot more work, but it’s an option that doesn’t result in guaranteed death.

The second point Kay’s metaphor left out is that the wort in the beer vat doesn’t actually contain that much sugar. The brewer, let’s say, didn’t do an adequate job of malting the barley, and so most of what’s in the wort is starch rather than sugar. As a result, the thing the yeast need to worry about isn’t poisoning themselves by the products of their own digestion; it’s starving to death when the sugar runs out. Given these two conditions, a yeast cell that shrugs and goes back to eating sugar, trusting that the Great Brewer in the Sky will dump more sugar into the wort before it starves, isn’t making a rational choice; it’s allowing the immediate benefits of a temporary abundance to blind it to the fact that the downside of depending on that abundance includes an early and miserable death.

That, pace George Monbiot, is more or less the situation we’re in right now. We have a small and very rapidly depleting supply of highly concentrated, easy-to use "sugar" – that is, petroleum, natural gas, and the better grades of coal – and a much larger supply of diffuse, difficult-to-use "starch" – that is, renewable energy sources such as sunlight and wind, along with diffuse nonrenewable sources such as low-grade coal, uranium ore, and the like. Industrial society has evolved to use sugar, and even its forays into the starch supply are dependent on using up a great deal of sugar to make starch into a sugar substitute – consider the vast amount of natural gas that’s burnt to process tar sands into ersatz petroleum, or the natural gas (used to produce electricity) and diesel fuel that goes into manufacturing, installing, and maintaining today’s gargantuan wind turbines.

The coming of "peak sugar" has two implications for our modern industrial yeast. First, it means that the increasing comsumption of sugar has reached the limits of supply; there’s still sugar left, but as we near the end of the bumpy plateau that ordinary stochastic noise imposes on the smooth theoretical arc of the Hubbert curve, we’re getting closer and closer to the point at which yeast start to die of hunger because there’s not enough sugar to go around. Second, it means that trying to deal with that predicament by pursuing existing strategies – that is, by burning sugar to convert various kinds of starch into an edible form – is going to make the situation worse rather than better, because it’s going to decrease the supply of available sugar just as yeast cells begin to die for lack of it.

All this imposes a hard choice on the yeast cells that make up modern industrial civilization, collectively and as individuals. We know already what the collective decision has been – keep gobbling sugar and hope for the best – and though it might be possible to make a different choice collectively even this late in the game, the costs would be appalling and the political will to make such a decision clearly isn’t there. What remains are decisions on the part of individual yeast cells to go along with the collective choice or not. Those who reject the collective choice face the hard work of evolving to feed on starch that hasn’t been converted into a sugar substitute, knowing that in doing so, they’re exchanging a lavish but temporary lifestyle for a more difficult but more enduring one.

That latter choice is the one this blog has been advocating for most of a year now: using the proven appropriate-tech toolkit of the Seventies era to dramatically reduce individual, family, and community dependence on concentrated energy supplies, and make use of diffuse energy sources – primarily sunlight – that can be collected and used right where you are. Most people in today’s industrial societies have shown no interest in considering that option; they’ve made the other choice, and seem to be sticking to it even as the downside of their dependence on a collapsing human ecology is beginning to become visible. Some may change their minds, but there’s another factor that has to be taken into account, the factor of time.

One of the many comments I fielded on last week’s post pointed straight to that factor, though I don’t think the person who wrote the comment realized that. According to his comment, he’s an unemployed union carpenter with thirty years of now-useless experience, who’s about to reach the end of his 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and become one of the growing mass of America’s economic nonpersons. His children are struggling with the same scenario. Wrapping insulation around his pipes, he pointed out, won’t fix the predicament he’s in.

He’s quite right, if "fixing the predicament" means enabling him to return to what has been, until now, a normal American middle class existence. Millions of Americans right now are finding themselves shut out of that existence, and few if any of them will ever find a way back into it. Over the years to come, more and more Americans will undergo the same profoundly unwelcome shift, until what used to be the normal middle class existence becomes a thing of the past for everybody. That’s the inevitable shape of our future, because of the awkward fact I mentioned last week – there is no way to make a middle class American lifestyle sustainable – and its corollary, which is that if something can’t be made sustainable, it won’t be sustained.

That doesn’t mean that we’re all going to move into cozy lifeboat ecovillages, or any of the other green-painted Levittowns that fill so much space in so many middle class fantasies today. It means, rather, that in the decades ahead of us, something like half the American population will most likely end up in shantytowns on the model of Latin America’s favelas, without electricity, running water or sewers, caught up in a scramble for survival that many of them will inevitably lose. It means that most of the others will likely face a reduction in their standards of living to levels not too different from the one that the poorest Americans experience today, while the rich of that time, if they’re smart, ruthless, and lucky, may be able to scrape together some of the luxuries a middle class American family can count on today, and may even be able to hold onto them for a while.

Does the picture I’ve just painted seem unbelievable? It’s simply the equivalent of saying that the United States will become a Third World nation in the not too distant future. It’s also the equivalent of saying that the United States will undergo the usual pattern of severe economic contraction that’s a normal part of the decline and fall of an empire, or of a civilization. Neither of those are improbable statements just now; it’s simply that most people shy away from thinking about the implications.

What all this implies, in turn, is that those people who make the shift to a low-energy lifestyle in advance, before the sheer pressure of circumstances forces them to do so, will have options closed to those who cling to the unsustainable until it’s dragged out of their grip. Those who downshift hard, fast, and soon, cutting their dependence on fossil fuels and the goods and services that fossil fuels make available, will have a much less difficult time paying off debts, finding the money to learn new skills, and navigating the challenging economic conditions of life in a near-bankrupt society. Had the unemployed carpenter whose comment I mentioned above wrapped insulation around his pipes ten years ago, he’d have spent less money on energy for the last decade, and could have used that extra money to get ready for the hard times to come; had he wrapped his pipes, insulated his walls, slashed his energy bills, recognized the dependence of his income on a totally unsustainable housing bubble and gotten into a different if less lucrative line of work – and there were people who did these things at the time, and are doing them now – he’d likely be fine today.

These are the kinds of steps that leave people in possession of a home, a garden, a career doing something people need or want badly enough to pay for even in a depression, and other desiderata of hard economic times. These are also the kinds of steps that make it easier for people to offer help to their families, friends, and neighbors, to teach vital skills to those who are willing to learn them, and preserve precious cultural legacies through the crises of the present to they can be handed on to the future. That’s the payoff for living with less; it’s a lot easier to avoid getting trapped by the downside of dependence on a society moving steadily deeper into systems failure.

These considerations aren’t the sort of thing you can expect to read in the pages of Forbes and The Guardian, to be sure. You’ll have a hard time, for that matter, finding them anywhere in our collective conversation about the future of industrial society. Even among those who haven’t tried to squirm away from the unwelcome realities of our present predicament, there seems to be a tendency to avoid talking about exactly what the landscape of the American future looks like. It’s understandable; science fiction scenarios and apocalyptic fireworks are so much more exciting than the future of mass impoverishment, infrastructure breakdown, sociopolitical disintegration, and ragged population decline that the misguided choices of the last few decades have handed us.

It’s true, in other words, that huddling in a lifeboat, tossed by waves and soaked by spray, is no fun. It’s a lot less fun than sitting in a cruise ship bar chugging martinis, even if the reason why you’re chugging the martinis is that you’re trying to pretend not to notice that the deck is slowly tilting under your feet and the waves are a lot closer to the porthole than they used to be. There’s every reason to think that a great many people will choose this latter option or, more precisely, that they have chosen it, and are continuing to reaffirm that choice – sometimes, like Kay and Monbiot, at the top of their lungs. Still, those aren’t the people for whom these posts are written, and I’m encouraged by the number of people who are making a different choice.


Those of my readers who are interested in the green wizardry project discussed in these posts may also be interested to learn that a sustainable community in Oregon is hosting what, as far as I know, is the first-ever event focusing on the Green Wizards theme. It’s over the Fourth of July weekend this year; you can read all the details here.


Sixbears said...

Living a simple sustainable life doesn't look too attractive until your life falls apart and you are living in your car -a car that can't be fueled.

At that point, a snug cabin, garden, composting toilet, and tiny woodstove looks great.

The logical thing would have to move to that cabin when you still could. However, we like to play the lottery. Some will hang onto that middle class lifestyle a long time. Not most, perhaps, but enough so that the guy living in his car could point and say: That could have been me in the nice middle class life.

As for me, I've got a thick sweatshirt on, waiting for the woodstove to take the chill out of the house and warm the tea water.

Tracy G said...

By odd coincidence, one of my little projects over the past couple of weeks has been to actively eliminate added sugar from my diet. I wanted to see how my body (more specifically, my brain chemistry) might react in a situation where sugar becomes scarce.

So far, so good. :-)

William Hunter Duncan said...

Couldn't agree with you more, JMG.

I actually just spent $6.00 of my last $15 on a quart of organic milk, a dozen cage-free eggs, and and an apple. I've been preparing the soil in my Minneapolis yard, turning the soil bio-intensively, planting starts and seed.

I've had little to eat the past week and a half, as if this were the hungry time of two-hundred years ago; the winter cache exhausted, the garden not yet producing. It's not easy, working this hard, taking in so little.

Though I had two asparagus spears yesterday, and two today. I'm looking joyward to the flush. And soon, fresh abundance all day every day.

Singing all day today; my yard, my love affair with the Earth.

Irrational Athiest said...

My wife and I were spinning, weaving and dying fiber. We can take wool right from the sheep and make a shirt out of it... not that we have done each one of those steps for a single project yet. I've joined a CSA that I'm spending time helping out on big planting days. I'm trying to build a bit of a skill set that will provide for me some sort of lifeboat in the future. I'm poor though. I live in an apartment in the city and don't see any financial opportunity in the future to move to the sticks where we can have a little land of our own for growing... so what... I'll be able to trade hand made clothes when there are heaps of t shirts just laying around everywhere and no food? I'm learning a skill that is not going to be really useful for decades. I really want to learn it because it's important long term, but I don't see it helping out anytime soon. Does this make me a Green Wizard? Why does it feel so hopeless?

Paula said...

We're doing what we can. We're meeting with a roofing fellow tomorrow afternoon about a metal roof to replace our asphalt shingle roof, which still has a lot of life in it, but my husband and I both are concerned about the fate of the US dollar, and I would like to start collecting rain water ASAP, and you can't use water off an asphalt roof for watering vegetables or drinking. (The Douton countertop water filter arrived today.) The roofing company we're talking to tomorrow also has a roofing product that has solar panels built in- the panels are the roof. We suspect that it's wildly expensive, and that we will probably not be able to swing it, since we will be paying cash for this job. Anyway, the metal roof is supposed to be an energy star rated product, and we want to replace our insulation in the attic at the same time. The house was built in '76, so we think between the two, new roof, new insulation, we should save quite a bit of heat in the winter, and be much more comfortable in the summer.

Then after that, we save for new siding and new wall insulation. I'm still working on using less electricity, but at least I know how much we're using every day. You can't know how much you're saving until you know how much you're using.

And the lifeboat? I'm the kind of person who would take her martini with her to the boat. Maybe at least down it before climbing over the railing.

John Michael Greer said...

Sixbears, that's one of the reasons I'm trying to remind folks that making the jump now is a good idea.

Tracy, good for you. A step at a time...

William, we're just getting the first rush of garden produce here in the Appalachians. Definitely a time of celebration.

Irrational, you're bucking the emotional inertia of the culture in which you were raised and the collective imagination of the vast majority of the people around you. Adjust for the distorting effect of those influences, and you'll find that things are far from hopeless -- though you might want to put some thought into adding in some skills you can use here and now; spinning's great, but you also want things that help make the transition in your present situation. More on this in posts to come!

Jeff Z said...

As a home winemaker, I've often reflected on the similarities of our situation as a human species and the situation faced by a yeast cell in a vast of must (the name for the juice that is to become wine). It's interesting to see the same predicament taken on by Monbiot, then deconstructed (the yeast given hope!) by yourself.

In the real vat, there are few survivors, but there are a few. I don't pasteurize or sulfur my wine, so I find a bottle here or there that blows a cork-- a result of a small number of yeast cells slowly continuing to ferment even after all of the yeast cells should have died off. The process of making wine involves millions, possibly billions of yeast cells and likely hundreds of generations. There is the possibility of natural selection to select out individual yeast cells better adapted to the given conditions- that is- more resistant to the lethal effect of alcohol, or able to digest something such as starch- as unlikely as that may be.

There are even some hobby winemakers who use the dregs from their previous batch of wine to start their new batch, I think some of the logic being that the surviving cells may be adapted to producing a stronger wine.

I wonder if there are some yeast cells who see the inevitable coming and choose to adapt before it is too late, and before doing so is fashionable.

Thanks for a good analogy. I also imagine that knowing how to brew or make wine will be a useful skill when life becomes much more difficult. Cheers!

I will post wine-making photos sometime soon at:

Nathan said...


I would like to know if you have heard anything about Open Source Ecology, and if so what your thoughts are on this project? The project is to create low-cost, relatively easy and modular open-sourced designs for various technologies and machines useful in some capacity for farmers and others working to community shift away from oil dependence. To my eyes, it seems like the project is Alt. Tech, but perhaps you see it differently?

Kathleen said...

I've had a song running through my head that I think is relevant--Let's See How Far We've Come by Matchbox Twenty:

I'm wakin' up at the start
Of the end of the world
But it's feeling just like
Every other morning before
Now I wonder what my life is gonna Mean if it's gone.
Well I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well, I guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come
Let's see how far we've come
Well, I believe it all is coming to an end
Oh well, I guess we're gonna pretend...

Probably not the meaning they were going for, but I found it interesting.

As for the lifeboats/starch evolution, I've been trying to figure out what that's going to mean for me (just getting out college with a not-likely-to-be-useful degree). Wish me luck...

Kevin said...

One reason I take seriously what I read here is that the advice you give tastes like medicine, rather than like the sugary pharmaceutical stupefactants that are so popular nowadays.

I would really like to attend the event in Oregon, but can't afford the travel. I hope similar events will happen in my area before the deck lists too much further toward the chilly, choppy swell.

Justin said...

I posted a critical comment last time accusing you of neglecting the effects of corporate advertising on what people perceive of as their choices.

In retrospect, I was making a bad assumption. What you are essentially advocating is a wholesale rejection of the current industrialized model of economic development.

That is fine, and I think where you are different than a lot of people advocating using less, the reduce, reuse, recycle paradigm, is that you are not fooling yourself about the logical end point of widespread adoption of these principles; which would be economic depression.

Your point is that we need to have that 'depression,' which is a term that has a negative meaning in the context of industrial capitalism only, because what we think of now as normal is unsustainable and we pursue its short term comforts at the risk of long term extinction. Most of the time, when I point that out depression would follow a widespread adoption of sustainable practices and outlooks owing to plummeting demand across the board, green people look at me like I am crazy or refuse to answer.

So I should modify my nit to pick, which is this. There are some very powerful forces, i.e. corporations, in the interim that will fight back with everything they have to prevent that from happening should it begin to come to pass. That they are ultimately destined to lose does not mean they will not go down swinging. I am guessing you know this too, but there is really no way to prepare for that or reason to when there are still people who have not weather stripped their homes. Its a pretty big cart to put in front of that horse.

Anyway, that is my mea culpa/clarification.

Ruben said...

"...a career doing something people need or want badly enough to pay for even in a depression..."

This is a question I have asked here and on other forums--and have received no good answers. It is definitely not blacksmithing, for crying out loud, and +1 to Irrational Atheist for seeing that it is also not homespun clothing.

Honestly, I think the immediate return to basketweaving is just a part of the apocalyptic dualism you often write about.

I feel you have, with the salvage society, articulated the most likely future, but I need to live, and support myself, through the collapse society first.

I think some of the dynamics mentioned on The Automatic Earth are very likely--for example, that governments will try to consolidate power and revenue in order to support themselves. So black market jobs like selling home-made beer or moonshine will also be dangerous.

So I am really looking forward to your exploration of this in posts to come....

Mercutio said...

Readers of this blog would benefit from and enjoy Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939, an account of how the bohemian artists of the early 20th century, learned how to live without the comforts and supports of their middle-class Victorian upbringings.

While lacking all the modern conveniences, middle class Victorians enjoyed their own labor saving devices. These were called "servants." Bohemians had to make do without them: to prepare their food from scratch ( unlike prepared foods from a modern supermarket ) to do their own laundry ( without washing machine or dryer ) and otherwise to manage many difficulties.

Despite their struggles - and sometimes actual failures - they had one advantage. Their artistic impulse nevertheless gave their lives meaning.

Perhaps in a time of general belt-tightening the starving artist has something to teach all of us.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Peak sugar. What a sweet concept!

JMG, your vision of America's future is 100% opposite to the kind of middle class liberal fantasy that is hallucinated up so often. Just last night I was sent a link to an article detailing one such fantasy that described the US in 2100 as some kind of eco-village utopia powered by solar panels, its leisured (and extremely liberal) inhabitants seemingly having transcended work and able to spend all their time focusing on their personal growth in a world without borders. The article can be seen at:

But seriously, I hope we can still talk about nihilism a bit as something Bill mentioned last week has been going around in my brain ever since. When he mentioned 'peak complexity' it got me thinking that he might be onto something (thanks Bill!). I'm sure the Romans had very a very sophisticated society at their zenith, but I'm equally sure that it wasn't a patch on the turbo-charged microprocessor fuelled hyper complex world that we live in today. For the average person who doesn't have the time to think deeply about how to decipher all of this, it must appear as white noise. I'm sure you mentioned before that high technology, to a 'primitive' society, is effectively magic. Does it follow that a high degree of societal complexity simply cannot be grasped by people who have had their mental toolkits confiscated at birth and have spent the time since being manipulated by marketing campaigns (that's most of us!)?

So, faced with the prospect that you'll never understand how things work, and that so far civilization as you know it hasn't collapsed (i.e. the X Factor is still running, the talking heads on Fox News seem to know how to fix things) it's far easier to sit back and assume that some higher power is in charge of things, leaving the mental door wide open for conspiracy theories to walk in.

Aside from this, another factor that I think could be at work is the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, where kidnap victims end up empathising with their captors. If people are captive to the prevailing economic and philosophical system which forces them to work endlessly in pursuit of the short lived satisfaction derived from a consumption driven lifestyle, who's to say that the emotional reaction you see when this system they depend on is challenged isn't caused by some such syndrome? Could it be that this is the reason the nihilism you mentioned (and which I was initially puzzled about) seems to be so much more prevalent in the US than elsewhere?

BTW loved the fish nibbling analogy – something I shall keep in my mind when I am dealing with the next person who insists that we're sailing towards the stars.

Breanna said...

I am 26 years old. I remember growing up, learning about environmentalism in school. The articles were all written by adults, bemoaning the world they were leaving to "our children." It didn't really strike me until my brief engagement with the "real world" after college that my husband and I and all our friends are those children.

We hear you - everyone I know in my age group recognizes the truths that you discuss. But we are trapped. We have learned the hard way that you have to engage with the system in order to get the money to break free of it. Practically everything you can do to become more self-reliant requires SPACE. A bit of earth under your own control.

You can't wrap pipes in your apartment complex, nor keep a few chickens or a goat or grow much at all in the way of food. You have no control over the appliances or the baseline energy draw of your living space.

I have been focusing on cooking from scratch, in order to get good at it. Last year I had a balcony vegetable garden, and will have one again this year. But it is forbidden to hang clothes to dry on the balcony, or put a solar oven there, or anything (well-kept plans and attractive patio furniture only, says the lease). I am reading everything I can get my hands on about sustainable living, and saving every pathetic penny that doesn't go towards [frugal to the bone] living expenses so we can buy a scrap of land someday.

But won't someday be too late? Peak oil is past, it will get worse and quickly, and all the clear-eyed foresight in the world won't help someone born too late to buy in and secure a position before collapse. What shall my friends and I do?

phil harris said...

Just a word about Monbiot (I am a long time reader of the Guardian, here in UK).
George has argued for a long time in favor of 'using less'. I seem to have read his book 'Heat' about the same time as Sharon Astyk, and like her drew the conclusion that there was enough fossil fuel to doom us, and the less the world used the better. We the fortunate needed to cut our use by 90%. Climate change was it seemed the looming catastrophe for future generations and for 'nicer' aspects of our modern life. (My attention to climate science as it evolved over the last 25 years put me in mind to agree with Monbiot.) George though was always wobbly on future shortages of fossil fuel and other resources key to our 'comfortable' industrial life - and many of us in UK complained to him and about him. I think though that personally he tries hard to use a lot less of the 'goodies'and tries to walk his talk and depend much less on the fueled infrastructure that surrounds us (he uses I understand, the bike, the train, no car etc).
PS 21 years ago I found out abruptly that I had dodgy cardio arteries, and rapidly realized that eating frugally and not using the car, getting on the bike, prioritizing and having fun with a young family, and making sure we got our veg and fruit - in our case we had a large garden - was essential for survival in the here and now. Still is. But still way to go. Fix the house - help the kids, etc..

George Monbiot said...

What on earth is the point of misstating a position in order to knock it down? The following is pure misrepresentation:

"His argument is simply that most people in today’s industrial societies are not going to accept anything short of continued economic growth, and so a strategy based on using less is simply a waste of time."

As a result, what follows does nothing to address the issues I raise. Perhaps that's the point: it allows you to avoid the real dilemmas I'm discussing and trying to resolve. So does flinging out insults, like "pseudoenvironmentalist".

But avoidance is exactly the problem: we cannot resolve our difficulties unless we address them.

George Monbiot

MaineCelt said...

The big challenge with which we're trying to grapple is the need to share a lifeboat. We have a fair bit of land--mostly woods--and we're trying to apply permaculture principles as best we can, but my partner and I realize there's too much work for two people. There's a reason old farmhouses in our part of New England were so large--people needed a handful of kids or hired hands to produce food and fuel from this challenging landscape.

Our small, well-insulated house has lower ceilings and a more efficient woodstove than the farmhouses of old, and we're working on window quilts and such. But we are people of extremely limited means with a hefty mortgage that forces us into off-farm work. We tried taking in a few eager young folk to help row the lifeboat, but they balked at the actual physical labor involved and couldn't stow their egos under the bench long enough to pull together on the oars. We offered one couple the chance to build onto our house, but they were adamant that "we totally need our own space." (Multiple dwellings aren't allowed on one lot by our town's planning ordinances.)

Any ideas on how to navigate this? We've just signed up as a host farm for "WWOOF" (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in the hope that we might find some better companions for the shared work, but we'd welcome additional ideas.

Lei said...

As for spinning and weaving - me too would like to know what actually are the skills that will be really and badly needed in the coming decades. Given the process of decline will be long, chaotic, uneven, it is seems to me almost impossible to tell and to choose some of them and learn them so that you can make living.

And I wonder for how long teachers of Chinese or interpreters will be in demand...

Evan said...

All I read here is good advice. But I also think that the reality for many folks is that there won't be a lifevest or a lifeboat to get onto, and even if they do get aboard one, there's no telling if a large swell out on the sea might just swallow them up before any freighter arrives to save them (and will there be a freighter, or will they just have to hope they run aground somewhere and make the best of it). I keep thinking that perhaps a good deal of the tools for "living into collapse," might just be some solid spiritual practice or sense of roots.

Depression and despair are going to be realities for a lot of folks -- indeed, they already are -- and the toxic pharmaceuticals that play games with neurochemistry to make people feel good enough to get out of bed in the morning are going to become too expensive for most. How are people who have been insulated from material poverty and deprivation going to react as collapse continues?

What I'm circling around here is that suffering will probably abound in the industrial world in ways that folks here simply are not used to coping with. Suffering can cause the human animal to engage in numerous unhealthy practices -- violence, anger, "nihilism" as you call it -- and without the tools to cope with suffering this can propagate itself rapidly, particularly in a culture like in the US where the denial of fundamental reality -- our mortality being the thing closest to home -- is the very thing the culture is trying to escape... through some expectation of a future-heaven.

In this case, perhaps the tools for many who are still in the suburbs or the city isn't to try to find ways to "make it through" collapse or save themselves from a sinking ship, but merely to face their own mortality and find the soul-power to help others go through similar coping processes. The dying industrial world might need some bodhisattvas who can cook with a solar oven and provide support to others in the form of upfront hard hitting truths about their sense of entitlement and how an attachment to false expectations may get of the way of simply living well in the moment.

I think without this element of soul or roots or whatever you want to call it, we could see some pretty nasty reactions to what now unfolds. I think it's in all of our interests to consider the deeper issue that collapse brings to the fore.

Robin Datta said...

Appeals to rationality that do not connect to the much deeper-seated emotional drives (which are based on morals – right & wrong, ethics – good & bad, and aesthetics – beautiful & ugly) will prove ineffective in changing behavior. The prospect of hardship implicit in a drastic change in lifestyle now, conflicts with those emotional forces, and mobilizes myriads of manifestations of denial of the approaching tribulations until the pain of their bite connects to the emotions. Yet there are a few – painfully few – individuals with sufficientl connection between rationality and emotion in whom the right emotions (in this context, apprehension / fear / concern, etc.) are sufficiently aroused to impel them to appropriate action. Those actions will be backed by their own sets of rationalizations which conceal the underlying emotions.

The great challenge – if it is at all possible – is to connect to the emotions of the herd.

GeoWend said...

The mindset of "might as well use it all, no one else is going to stop doing it" is definitely related to the "invest in firearms, so you can take what others have".

Personally, I am getting stuff into my soil while it is still easily and cheaply available, and experimenting while I can afford to.

Draft said...

For a while I've wondered about something similar to what Justin said, and maybe it's an instance where Derrick Jensen has a point - that our actions to become independent of the industrial system will directly cause that system to come down. Once we know this, aren't we basically "taking down the system", and shouldn't we ask if there is anything more that should be done? Jensen then goes too far, into the lands of romanticized neoprimitivism, but still the question should be asked.

Almost daily I think about the same issues Breanna wrote about - as a married young person, living with my wife in a mediocre apartment with no space to grow anything, do anything, stuck in a city that is in a major metropolitan area that will probably lose its collective sense as things fall apart, etc. We feel totally stuck, despite all the things we are doing to try to become independent. But just like Irrational said, some of those skills we're learning aren't going to help us until we're 70 years old and the industrial system is kaput - we need to figure out things to help survive the transition.

Jessica said...

Mr. Greer, I have my own thoughts about why global warming isn't going to be the issue everyone thinks it is (I'm an ecologist and permaculturist, not a denier), but I'm curious as to your thoughts. You hint at your take early in this week's piece, but I want more details! Can you direct me to another post of yours that talks about this issue? I've only been reading your stuff for the last 4 months or so. Thanks, Tripp

Maria said...

I, too, am interested in reading more about what you think will be viable employment choices in the years ahead. I'm in a period of transition and would like to be "part of the solution", or, at least not "part of the problem."

John in NH said...

I sympathize with the several who find themselves unable to just move to a place where they can set up self-sufficient living. In the depression, it was said, people went to live with relatives in the country. We realized ca. 2004 that almost nobody has relatives living in the country so we decided to be those people, and being retirees loaded to the gills with good fortune we could simply sell and move, and now we're learning skills. We have built a house (losing 15 and 25 pounds respectively) to last very many decades, and trying to build soil, and we'll plant trees - all for the future we won't live to see, but it's what all us well-to-do retirees should be doing.

In a small town an educated retiree gets onto committees and other town work, and I occasionally wonder about hordes from Phoenix maybe coming up here with all their guns once they run out of water. But the idea of being receptive to "early adopters" of a new lifestyle also appeals. I don't know exactly how to do it. (Maybe call ourselves Rural University and have an admissions director?) I don't even know how to identify the people already in this town who are full of purpose and energy but need some assistance (e.g. cash, a garden plot, other leverage) to get started. A local timber-framer is interested in the design of low-cost energy efficient housing. Maybe there are bits and pieces of potential solutions emerging, let's hope...

Karen said...

To all those who despair about not having their own patch of land or the skills/knowledge to grow food, I highly recommend a recent book call The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe.

her website:

The author adresses lack of land, (you rent or barter services for a nearby patch) how to garden during seasonal and permanent climate change, how to manage you garden while experiencing difficult times. She discusses a few basic sustaining crops and how to set about learning to grow them. She discusses the tools you need. She covers how to preserve and prepare your harvest. I have just started this book but what I have read thus far is very Green Wizard, and quite a comforting book for these times. My husband and I have some land, but no residence on it yet. We are preparing it for the future by planting fruit and nut trees, berries and wild foragable greens and medicinal plants. After reading this book, I almost have the confindence that we could keep ourselves fed by our own skills.

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Lovely cool day in NoFla, perfect for bicycle riding and carpentry. Will do some of both today. Happy Cinco de Mayo! Good revolutions to ALL yall, and remember " comes the new boss, just like the old boss, but won't be fooled again..."

We're getting the "bike barn," a pole barn where my bike shop is located, screened in as the Imaginary Road House (IRH). IRH wasn't fully screened for Beltane but we had a super time anyway. Looking forward to many more bug-free celebrations and "conservation" conversations here. Connecting the rational with emotional, aesthetic, & cultural, eh.

Paula, suggest your roofer "roof over" your existing asphalt roof if local building code allows. That old but still good roof is an additional level of waterproofing and can be covered with metal roofing no problem plus keeps old asphalt roofing out of landfill. Also suggest you ADD to your existing insulation rather than replace it. Use an insulation product that does not have facing (paper layer) or other treatment that traps moisture in old insulation. Besides, adding to your existing insulation makes use of the old stuff, which still provides SOME insulation, I bet. Good luck! (I built houses for 25 years and earned my living as an energy auditor for the local utility for 4 years, too.)

Good post, John Michael. Indeed, conservation & using LESS is essential.

Best regards,

Bob said...

Seems to me that the recent announcement of the EIA budget cuts is the federal government's equivalent of heading to the ship's bar for those martinis (or closing one's eyes, plugging one's ears with one's fingers, and singing loudly). The less information out there, the more average people will be in the dark about what is happening (and coming).

Ward said...


One issue I have with your argument is that you have presented it as an either/or argument. To use your yeast analogy, wouldn't it make sense for the yeast to use the sugar while it is available and at the same time develop the ability to use starch for when the sugar becomes unavailable. While cheap energy is still available doesn't it make sense to use that energy to produce things such as solar panels that can produce energy far into the future. I agree with you that we are on a downward slope towards a less industrial society, but individuals can make the choice to use the resources that are currently available to make life more comfortable while riding down that slope.

As a personal example, I work in the IT industry and while I realize that computers likely won't be as common in the future, they are around now and this industry gives me the income to allow me to get debt free and to build a home that is highly energy efficient. It also gives me the resources to learn other skills that will be useful in a less industrial society. I believe that we should make hay while the sun shines, but to also prepare for a less abundant future. I try to live with the philosophy of hope for the best and plan for the worst.

For most people in the Western world and North America in particular, they will not consider giving up their current lifestyle until there is an emotionally significant event the makes the situation obvious. This would be an event like the oil crisis of the 1970's. We can only hope that such an event comes sooner rather than later, but in the mean time all that can be done is to convince people of the needed changes one person at a time.

Something that you might want to consider while you are saving up for your own land is to find a senior out in the suburbs that has land but not the energy to maintain it. You could trade the use of their land for a portion of the vegetables that you grow. A win-win situation for both parties.

Iaato said...

You had me at metaphor. I would only add that it still might be the alcohol that kills us, and the preps need to include mediations and adaptations to dodge the effects of the expanding sink pollution as well as the waning energy sources. It may well be the alcohol that eventually kills us, and we can't discount the problem, which is more insidious and less obvious than the source issue.

David Delaney said...

As an admirer of both JMG and GM I am bemused by this post.

JMG, you have misread GM's article. I can only think you lack the context of his previous work.

Bill Pulliam said...

George Monbiot -- Having just reread your blog post, I can't say JMGs characterization of it was as off-base as you claim; it might have even been a bit rosier than the picture you painted. As for addressing the issues you raised, that has been the major topic of this blog for many years, from many different directions (psychological, mythological, technological, sociological, historical, etc.). I think it is fair for him to assume that his readers are already generally familiar with his past writings and not try to reiterate 5 years of essays in a paragraph or two.

Chris Balow said...

I suppose we could ask: what percentage of those on the sinking ship could actually fit on those life boats? Your writings on this blog suggest that it is a relatively small number. I doubt that those ladies and gents at the bar recognize that their actions are saving lifeboat space for others--but, in effect, that's the result, isn't it?

Wolfgang Brinck said...

I am a kayak builder and teach others how to make traditional arctic kayaks. Not a great way to try to make a living in a collapsing economy and not necessarily a useful skill for keeping alive unless someone changes the laws on killing seals. Nevertheless, the effort is not completely useless in a de-industrialized world. I have collected a good set of hand woodworking tools - the kind that don't involve an electric motor. But more importantly, making things by hand also teaches you how to repair things and keep them going. And quite frequently, I scavenge materials to make my kayaks. Again, the kayaks are not so much the point as the ability to apply the scavenging technology to whatever task arises. I can understand the despair of posters who feel that their limited skill set will not allow them to survive on one skill alone. But our hope for survival should not be as individuals but rather as community where we contribute what we have in hope of someone else knowing how to make beer or candles or shoes or yarn or sweaters or whatever that we can't make ourselves.

John Michael Greer said...

Paula, it's always a step at a time. It sounds like you're doing well.

Jeff, brewing, winemaking, and distilling are high on the list of lucrative deindustrial professions; no matter how hard things get, people will still want a good beer or a glass of wine or whiskey.

Nathan, I haven't studied it in detail; my first impression was positive, but a lot depends on the details. I'll try to make time to follow up on it.

Kathleen, luck!

Kevin, thank you! Remember that you can learn a lot wherever you are; while the internet's still up and running, it's a useful resource, and there's also the time-honored blend of books and experiment.

Justin, good, but you're still confusing cause and effect. The depression is already here, and it's not here because people aren't consuming -- it's here because we're running out of things to consume. I think you'll find that the corporations, etc. will have many other things to worry about than a minority that's cutting their consumption in a time of shortages and severe economic dislocation driven by other factors.

Ruben, I've discussed it already in this post and a couple of others, but it's a complex issue. The important thing to keep in mind is that we're not going to switch to a subsistence economy overnight, and most of the best options are those that involve repurposing existing items and waste for other uses. More on this soon.

Mercutio, many thanks! That's definitely a book I'll want to pick up.

Jason, yes, I've seen plenty of greenwashed suburbs pretending to be the future! As for the nihilism issue, it's certainly up for further discussion, and I think you may have some very solid points.

Breanna, you've posed an excellent question, and it deserves a serious answer. Expect a detailed post on the subject in the near future.

Phil, I've encountered Monbiot solely through the occasional post of his on the blogosphere. I don't claim to judge the man in general, but I think some of his publicly stated views are disastrously misguided.

George, my summary of your argument is unsympathetic, granted, but I don't think it's a misrepresentation; my readers are perfectly free to click through to your post and make up their own minds, of course. As for "pseudoenvironmentalist," though, that's not an insult, it's a description. Anyone who supports nuclear power is ipso facto not an environmentalist, whatever else they may or may not say; the attitude that it's okay to produce wastes that will endanger the biosphere for a quarter of a million years, so that we can have plenty of electricity to waste today, is the utter logical antithesis of environmentalism.

phil harris said...

I am glad George Monbiot chipped in on his own behalf. (Sorry George if I got you wrong as well in my comment above.)
I have read the calculations of Rutledge and Aleklett and wonder whether the amount of fossil fuel that in reality is going to be used (actually likely to be available) is going to be enough to take us much over 450 ppm CO2? Does that matter? That in itself of course is well in to very dangerous climate change territory; "fiddling with the dials" to put it mildly.

Can we agree that not only should we use very much less in the way of resources, especially fossil fuel, but it is highly likely that in short order, per force, we will not be able to maintain our profligacy? A lot of people worldwide already appear already to have been priced out of the market for the little they have been using.

Few of the folk here will argue that BAU will continue its world roll out or that we will 'grow' economically as we have done?

medved said...

Hello JMG,
from the history it looks like this blog has just passed its 5th anniversary, so congratulations.
Interesting, how much the last mini-series is foreshadowed by the very second post: Deer in the headlights.
As for the third world living standard - living in central Europe - I think "no man is an island". Scaling down and looking for opportunities to shift from global to local economy is urgent must now... But cannot do it alone.

John Michael Greer said...

MaineCelt, the problems you're having aren't unique to you. A great many people think they're ready to climb aboard the lifeboats, but balk at what's actually required to do so. WWOOFing is certainly one option; you might also post a discussion of the issues at the Green Wizards forum and see if you get any takers.

Lei, given that China's almost certainly going to be the global hegemon for the next century or so, people who can read and translate Chinese in other countries are likely to do fairly well.

Evan, the spiritual dimension of what we're facing is one that I've tried to handle with a very light touch in these posts, since the people who read this blog come from backgrounds ranging from hardcore scientific atheism through evangelical Christianity out into the strange territory infested by Druids and the like. Still, you're quite correct; one of the reasons that so many people have taken to treating spirituality as a kind of fashion accessory, rather than the more than life-or-death issue it actually is, is precisely that we've had so many comforts and so little actual suffering for so long. As that changes and life gets harder, shorter, and more uncertain, spirituality is going to be an issue that can't be ignored.

Robin, I think the herd is already in full stampede mode, heading straight toward a cliff. I'm interested in speaking to the cattle on the edges who aren't too certain about this stampede thing, and are looking for other options.

Geowend, excellent. The stuff that builds your soil is stuff that most people don't want anyway.

Draft, well, as I said to Justin, your decision to climb aboard the lifeboat isn't what's sinking the ship. I'll be addressing your concerns along with Breanna's in an upcoming post; in the meantime, though, the key to keep in mind is that you need to plan for the transition, not for the endpoint. More on this soon.

Jessica, I haven't posted at any length on the subject, as it's become the kind of issue about which very few people seem to be able to think clearly these days. My basic take, though, is that anthropogenic climate change is a real issue, and could cause some whopping disasters over the next century, but it's limited by the fact that the amount of fossil fuels available to industrial civilization, at a net energy that will allow its extraction, is much smaller than the worst case scenarios on climate change assume.

The IPCC estimates, for example, assume that the world can keep on increasing its consumption of all fossil fuels straight through until 2100; with peak oil five years behind us and peak coal and natural gas only a few decades ahead, that's not going to happen.
Mind you, we may still see the Greenland ice sheet break up and flood a lot of coastal cities, and we may also see tornado outbreaks like last week's become standard weather features. Thus I'm arguing a middle ground; climate change is a problem, and a serious one, but fossil fuel depletion is at least as severe an issue and we're already in the middle of it.

Bill Pulliam said...

About the slowly tilting deck...

I am beginning to think that here in the rural south we might have just passed "peak pavement." A year ago we had what was rated as a 500-1000 year flood, which did a real number on the rural road network. Our 6-mile long county road had about 4 bridges washed out, and about a mile of pavement just simply washed away, piled in heaps like carpet scraps. It has been a year, and FEMA and its money have come and gone, and the roads are supposedly "fixed." Except they aren't. They were returned to passable and serviceable. They were not returned to their pre-flood conditions.

I think it is fair to expect that this is a small window on what the coming decades hold -- infrastructure is maintained, sort of... a little bit more is allowed to slip between the cracks with each incident. Eventually the potholes will become so numerous, and fixing then so uneconomical, that the county will decide they are better off just sending out a crew one final time to remove what remains of the pavement. Then the visits from the county road grader will gradually become less frequent.. so we will wind up maintaining the stretches in front of our own houses ourselves... that will inevitably fall short in some places, and about the time we can't afford to operate our motor vehicles anymore the roads will no longer be passable to them anyway.

I have also noticed that the crews that are supposed to clear and maintain the power line rights-of-way every four years are about two years late on this cycle.. and still no sign of them. You wanna watch the power grid become unstable, then leave it to each individual landowner to take full responsibility for keeping trees from growing into and over the power lines traversing their property!

John Michael Greer said...

Maria, you'll get that post!

John, excellent! You're well ahead of the curve, and it's heartening that you're ready to help others. I hope some of the troubled twenty-somethings who are posting here and elsewhere are reading your comment.

Karen, that book's high up on my list of "get this and read it." If it lives up to the reviews, it's going to be required reading for green wizards.

Edde, and a happt Cinco to you as well!

Bob, no kidding. I think they've realized just how ghastly the view out the porthole has become, so they're pulling the shades and ordering another martini.

Ward, my experience has been that people start out thinking that they can split the difference, but end up just as dependent on the existing system as their neighbors. Mind you, you can certainly keep your IT job if you think it's going to last, but for heaven's sake, use that income to pay off your mortgage, insulate and weatherize your house, and get used to living with less so you know how to do it by the time the necessity arrives.

Iaato, the crucial point as I see it is that thinking that it's got to be the alcohol leads to counterproductive notions of the sort that Kay and Monbiot have been advocating. I find the old Limits to Growth model more useful: rising costs from resource depletion and pollution form the two jaws of the vise that squeeze the life out of industrial society.

David, as I mentioned to Phil earlier, my exposure to Monbiot's work has been occasional pieces in the blogosphere, notably his advocacy of nuclear energy. What I've seen has not impressed me, but I'm always willing to be wrong.

Bill, thanks for the vote of confidence. I thought Monbiot's message seemed pretty straightforward.

Chris, it's a harsh way to look at things, but yes, that's pretty much what it amounts to.

Wolfgang, those are excellent points. The ability to leverage one set of skills into a range of related possibilities is something that deserves particular attention as things tighten up around us.

Phil, we can certainly agree on that! In fact, that's basically my point; drastic decreases in the consumption of energy and resources are going to happen, for a galaxy of reasons including but not limited to energy and resource depletion, and the sooner each of us gets moving down that curve of descent, the better off each of us and our families and communities will be.

Medved, true enough. I suspect you'll be a lot better off in central Europe than we will in the US, but it's going to be a rough road for everyone, and cooperation and the renewal of community is a crucial factor across the board.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, you've just described the standard arc of infrastructure decline in a society that's entered catabolic collapse. There are counties elsewhere in the US that are replacing asphalt with gravel roads because they can't afford the asphalt any more. Turn away from the media and it's starting to be hard to miss the spreading cracks in the facade...

pasttense said...

"The United States will become a third world country in the not too distant future"
This I agree on. However I think that readers here would be much better off looking to see how people actually live fulfilling, happy lives in the third world at the present time and adopting those practices rather than the fantasy of the nineteenth century self-sufficient homestead on a few acres.

Lei said...

Medvede - that is what I keep wondering about, and I touched upon the issue in a closer detail in the discussion under the previous text.

Unfortunately, the last twenty years of the wild post-communist capitalism, predominating neoliberal ideology and intensive life-style "americanization" have considerably reduced the original potential. Let us hope at least that the present government will not manage to destroy the public infrastructure (e.g. the enormously dense and relatively effective railroad system) in the name of "reforms"...

gordon said...


To me, it sounds as though you have already made a good start by staying out of debt, learning to cook and learning gardening. You are ahead of many of your peers. Any skills related to peoples basic needs (food, clothing and shelter) will always be in demand. I'm betting that real estate developer, insurance salesman and economist will not be on JMG's upcoming list of desirable professions.

Ward said...


I built my house mortgage free, mostly by doing a lot of the work myself. I have also aquired a few skills that should be helpful in a de-industrial world, such as blacksmithing, horseshoeing, and horse training. Now that the house is done, we are starting on buildging up the soil and putting in gardens. I hope to be mostly self sufficient within about 5 years.

As a side note, I just finished your Druid handbook and found it quite intriguing.

Astrid said...


Every baby step counts! Cooking from scratch is an important skill. Maybe this year you can expand your reach and work on food preservation skills. Grow some tomatoes on your balcony (or buy from the farmers market) and try canning some salsa. Or try dehydrating some fruit. It might not seem like much, but it's important to practice before having to do it in earnest. You'll also be forced to go out and buy the canning supplies etc. now, instead of putting it off for "later".

My project this year will be experimenting with building a rocket stove and using it in conjuction with a haybox cooker.

x said...

When I first entered university an aquaintance came up to me asking for help in using library facilities. He was looking for reference material on urban planning and simply didn't know how to find the books. I gave him some background info on the dewey decimal system and lead him to the books he needed. A week or so later, I asked him how his paper was coming along. He lamented that none of the books I showed him had the answer to the specific question he was set by the teacher. I suggested that was why the specific question was asked and he needed to synthesize his own answer from several viewpoints within the source books. He looked at me as if I had two heads. I can only suppose he thought all answers to all questions are written down somewhere and I wasn't telling him, or maybe the effort wasn't rewarding enough.

Imo, the green wizard project is alot like that described above, but to a more personal degree. Many of us have taken up the journey on various levels according to our resources, including intellectual/mental, with the idea in mind that a goal/answer is obtainable - that of responding to crisis or becoming self sufficient, etc. Yet tomorrow will be much like today. Until it isn't. Next year will be the same as last. Until it isn't. Change is a certainty. A journey without a specific destination or without a verifiable timetable can be an uncomfortable journey.

But there are perks. My garden results are already looking dreadful this year. I'm trying to weave companion planting into the garden and my timing is all wrong. Yet I've already 1/3 of my winter fuel gathered, and a few other garden experiments are doing nicely. Thinking about these personal events, I realised my discipline was improving to no end, and I start from a very low ebb in this deptarment. Also, I'm beginning to accept failure with some grace, and am developing fallback plans to plant and harvest that which I do best if the need arises. (I have some basic dried food stock, but not hoards.)

The first few years I chose do the easy things in my journey - pick the low lying fruit so to speak. In ramping up to more difficult tasks and projects, I'm meeting some of my limitations but finding out about overcoming others. If tomorrow turns out not to be like today, I may be able to cope just that wee bit better. I'll certainly be finding out some answers to my own particular journey. anon-anon

Houner said...

We are now in the third year of our adaption project. This Spring we are seeing the first apples and plumbs. The first trees planted were from a local nursery this year we put in heirloom apples. Now the test begins as we see which of the 37 species will make it. From those we will graft new trees.

As a really old guy I am happy we could make this project happen for the next generation. Your comments and the Green Wizard project have been of great value providing encouragement and giving us hope for our children.

Robert said...

I think the point about George Monbiot is that he's still trying to save the ship whereas JMG has concluded it's going down and only a few can be saved.

As for nuclear power the question is what replaces it - more carbon emissions? Nuclear waste may be the lesser evil if you take global warming seriously.

Moo Moo said...

Great post. I agree completely. Of course we're in the same lifeboat, and I also follow Kunslter.

As a side note. I know many folks who don't have a clue. They also have never heard of Peak Oil. If I bring it up, or talk about where this country or for that matter world is headed, they think I'm nuts.

So, I now keep quiet, their loss.

Finally, I'm so sick and tried of people who don't understand the root cause of our problems. Example: Oh, why is gas so expensive? They have been brainwashed by MSM, Oil companies, etc. The root being Peak Oil.

Steven said...

Did you see Bill Gate's criticism of "cute technology" at Bill probably won't be attending the G-Wiz gathering.

My current career is programming computers and writing and editing documentation. My friends tell me I would make an excellent teacher.

My challenge is to find some way to offer teaching services/bartering at the community level.

forestdoor said...

I agree with everything you have said here. My pressing question, however, is this: How can one prepare for any of this when one is currently poor enough to probably never own land, a house, etc.? It seems that most stories of people downsizing, returning to the land, etc., feature people who already had some degree of wealth. I can't raise chickens or bees or my own produce, or use solar energy, or a number of other things, when I'm renting an apartment in the city month to month. Any ideas, suggestions, links, etc. would be very much appreciated.

(I also wonder if you have so far addressed what will happen to the few who have set up sustainable lifestyles, once the rest of the country is in need. I'm thinking there needs to be some discussion of self defense in here too...)

John Michael Greer said...

Pasttense, that's a crucial point, and one that I'll be addressing.

Lei, hang onto your railroads like grim death. We're going to bitterly regret the demolishing of ours over here.

Gordon, if we had economists who weren't smoking their shorts, they'd be useful to have around!

Ward, excellent. Do you have room in your schedule to teach self-sufficiency skills to others? That could help matters along a great deal.

Astrid, good points. Let us know how the rocket stove works!

X, the best advice I ever got as a novice writer was that every writer has about a million words of bad prose in him or her, and the only way to get past that to the good stuff is to write them out. That is to say, the word "learn" is actually spelled "fail."

Houner, that's really good to hear. We've just planted dwarf apple, quince, elderberry, and grape vines here; fruit's a few years off, but they're leafing out like gangbusters.

Robert, oh, for heaven's sake. What's going to "replace" nuclear power? USING LESS ENERGY. It's really not that difficult a concept to grasp, you know.

Moo Moo, I don't think it's brainwashing. I think a lot of people know, at least dimly, that we're in a world of hurt, and are trying to pretend otherwise. That's why they get so edgy when you bring it up.

Steven, I tend to ignore Bill Gates as often as I possibly can. Of course he's down on "cute technology;" he can't make a profit off it. As for your future teaching career, learn how to teach reading and reasoning to teens and adults; we've got a couple of generations now whose education has consisted almost entirely of parroting answers to multiple choice tests, and those who realize they've been sold down the river by the education industry, and decide to do something about it, will be looking for someone who can teach them to locate and extract the knowledge they need, think through it effectively, and share it with others. (Yes, that's the medieval trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; there's a reason that became the basis for all education as Rome went down.)

Forestdoor, as pasttense mentioned earlier, it's not wise to get stuck in the dream of a few acres in the country, etc. Most of what I've been talking about here for the last year presupposes an urban or suburban existence and a very limited budget. I'll be discussing this in much more detail in posts to come. As for self-defense, that's why you want to base your plans on skills, not stockpiles; I've discussed this repeatedly here, but it's probably time for another post on that subject, too.

wagelaborer said...

Interesting that a carpenter can't find work.

I have a craftsman (taken from E.F. Schumacher's Buddhist Economics) who comes and fixes things in my house for me.

He has a degree in Liberal Arts, but was unable to find work in that field.

He talked me into a metal roof, which I love. I picked a shiny one, to radiate sun right back away from Earth. It is cooler in the summer. I don't use air conditioning unless it goes over 90 degrees in my house, and usually not then. It has been cooler since I got my roof.

As for other useful skills, I'm thinking the wine guy will have a much in demand product. Dimitri Orlov traveled across the former USSR in the midst of the capitalist looting that followed its collapse, and I believe that vodka was a valuable trading item for him.

I have an abandoned sheep. In the summer I have to sheer her. I offered her wool to a guy who actually goes to fairs, and teaches pioneer skills. His wife shows people how to weave with wool.

However, they get their wool without the burrs, mud and sticks that come with an actual sheep. So they turned me down.

Just saying.

DaShui said...

One question for you Archdruid Greer- Do the yeast follow nice bell curve decline or a sharp die off?
A problem with switching to a low energy lifestyle (for a man) is that no woman will have anything to do with you,as women have evolved to seek out high status mates which means in modern society conspicuous consumption. So those men far sighted and disciplined enough to take the jump will not only be lonely but will also have their genes eliminated from the gene pool.
Bringing back bridenapping could be a solution though.

Tony said...

It certainly is clear that the United States is beginning in earnest the process of downshifting away from the wealthy, privileged status it has had for so long, and that our population is going to have to deal with a LOT of hardship. Such is the case for all empires and civilizations. However, I wonder if it is not premature to state that global industrial civilization *as a whole* is already past peak?

Individual pieces of the system like the United States that held special positions are getting knocked down, but it might be at least possible that the larger system as a whole could remain similar in scope for quite some time. While the days of perpetual exponential (or even at all dependable) global growth are almost certainly over for good, it is not *inconceivable* that things like fossil fuel and raw material production might manage to lurch onwards at roughly (say +/- 20% ?) current levels for quite some time, rather than decline in a mirror image of the gains so far. No one society would necessarily reach the extravagance that the 'haves' have now (especially considering that less and less of the gains would go to the population rather than maintaining production), but the system as a whole might be able to maintain its level of impact for longer.

In the long run of course it must end due to the simple facts of geology, but it is very difficult to call 'peaks' anywhere but in significant hindsight, and I am wary of jumping to these conclusions too early. It also seems that such a widespread, lower-level grind could be a worse thing in the long run for our species and the biosphere. Constant conflicts between new power blocks as they vied for the non-increasing pie they have to split. More time when nuclear power might be viable, more time spent letting industrialized agriculture strip soil and desertify land, more generations of attrition of skills and ideas before things have to fundamentally change again, more time letting the products of industry destroy ecosystems, etc. As a possibility that could be quite serious and is NOT at zero probability, it deserves some thought...

Matt and Jess said...

This is exactly the feeling of urgency I've had for a while--a feeling that we really need to start getting on with our plans, relocating, finding a place to settle. It's hard to communicate this urgent feeling with others, because it feels a little bizarre. "Umm, yeah, well, I think that water issues are going to be a problem here in the future, so we need to get out now ..." It makes total sense to me though, and I don't pay too much attention to what others think. We're in Colorado, and a study *just* came out (saw it on HuffPost) detailing the intense water problems that'll be facing the western US in the decades ahead. We're just trying to be smart and take action with what we know. Also, the train systems here are awful, and you can't live off scenery.

I'll also say that, and I haven't read all the comments so I don't know if this has been brought up yet, but something I've noticed lately are the many books on the value of simplicity that have come out lately, and they relate to a variety of topics. The most recent that I've read is called "Simplicity Parenting," and it discusses how much more children respond as people to a simple, very pared-down environment. Children thrive in nature with sticks for toys, and I think that that's not really just something for childhood. I think that there's just something about humanity that really responds to simplicity--we didn't evolve in a plastic environment--so again, I suppose what I would say to the two authors you discuss in your post this week, is not only is it smarter to shift to a lower-energy lifestyle sooner than later, but making your life simpler, and living more, well, organically, really just seems to resonate much more with our human nature. Not that it's all some kind of perfect fantasy ecotopia, but downsizing, when it's done by choice and not hard necessity, really does seem to have a lot of benefits.

Richard Larson said...

I try to have feelings for the those like the union carpenter. The problem with him, and many more like him, is unrealistic expectations caused by a normalcy bias.

Sure, a gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 97 hours of human labor, great stuff to use if your goal is as easy a life as possible. Americans have become so reliant on the stuff, so fixated on the illusions, they refuse to imagine any other future other than one with cheap and available fuel sources.

Then, to compound the problem, most want to spend extra money on cruises, beer, or on whatever, anything but planning for a lower cost lifestyle. But this is a mistake. If one does have disposable income, now it the time to learn how to use less, before it is forced on you. I'm doing it, and am surprised as to how much fun it is to figure out ways to use less.

Oh, and by the way, I can't figure out how using less fuel is bad for the American economy. Doesn't much of that money spent on fuel leave our country? Isn't most of those making money from the sale of these fuel sources now investing in other countries, like China?

No doubt spending and investing less on other countries will result in spending more within our borders. Did you know most solar heaters are manufactured in the US?

After the 99 weeks runs out guess it doesn't matter what the cost of gasoline, huh? Hope he spent some of that unemployment money for a spade and some seeds..

ZZ said...

We can learn from the Cubans:

Houner said...

Good to hear your planting of Quince and Apple. We have one Quince in the mix which is said to be good for cider production. Please remember to place permanent supports [stakes] on both the dwarf and semi-dwarf as they have shallow root systems. If you have a deer problem, which we do, the stakes seem to keep them away.

We also went heavy on a nut crop which is yielding in the second year and promises to give a heavy yield with a high oil content. Good for all sorts of food and barter.

Steve said...

Thanks for this series, JMG. I've found it a useful reminder to make hay while the sun's shining, and it's a good narrative for the collective experience I grew up in.

Some tips for the 20-something folks cramped in a small city apartment: for three years I grew a garden on a willing neighbor's yard for a share of the harvest. I also scoured the suburban neighborhoods and found apples, plums, grapes, and some pears to harvest and preserve that would have otherwise gone to the squirrels. It's been a lot of work, but a lot of fun. Now that I'm paying the bank rent on a suburban house with a decent yard, I'm grateful for the experience and chance to make mistakes on someone else's land.

Anyhow, I just got a truckload of horse manure as a birthday present, and with luck it will bring a good harvest this autumn.

Thardiust said...

This post actually reminds me of when a few house flies laid eggs in some compost I was making then bred to the point where they died from overexpansion. The remains definitely fertilized my composting food scraps well but, since humans aren’t insects, hopefully we can avoid similar mistakes.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Ha! deconstructing/reconstructing metaphors--always fun!

Arguing by metaphor is tricky indeed, since metaphors accrue complex,variable meanings rather than enjoying a one-to-one symbolic correspondence.

I guess this is off topic, but addresses some mentioned concerns:

As an irredeemably urban person, I'd like to point out that if you choose your urban neighborhood carefully, you can start powering down yet still have access to a little land and neighbors who can help with the community-helping-each-other part.

Inner-ring, or "streetcar" suburbs, which were "left behind" during the great real estate bubble, were often built before total car dependence at a time when it was assumed that people needed backyards for gardening/work areas, not for display. There are houses for rent in such places, as well as for sale.

I know I've fantasized about acreage near a small town--and it still may happen, but meanwhile, we're paying off the house as fast as possible while we still have jobs. And networking, finding like minded persons--which might be harder in the country. Plus, what about family? The folks and the kids are nearby--I wouldn't want to move far from them at this point.

I just got my bare-root strawberries today, which will go in under the chokeberries and running serviceberries. My neighbor is growing hops, which she plans to trade with my brother for some of his home brew.

Like several commenters, I too would like to see more posts about future job skills. And more about urban adaptation.

Matt and Jess said...

So now I have read all the comments and I notice a lot of people asking what it's possible for them to do, as they're poor, in an apartment, etc. etc. This is exactly the problem we've faced too. We don't have wealthy family members to depend on, we're not already on a good career path, and we have the pressures that come with being a young family. So we've spent a lot of time thinking about this.

What's been useful for us is to be willing to change and try to think outside the box. For us, this has included selling a home in order to enable my partner to return to school--that was our very first step. Now we are in an apartment, but our lease is up soon and we're going to be spending the summer with family to try to save up some money. We tried finding a WWOOF position but no one was willing to take us on with kids. My partner has spent the last year learning woodworking, and he's got about a year left to study on the GI Bill and is considering learning boatbuilding or alternative energy. We do want a little bit of land--mostly because we enjoy the quiet--but I know that this is going to require some creative thinking and may not happen at all. Ecovillages and intentional communities tend to be really expensive, as do "artsy" areas, so we'll probably end up somewhere less than ideal where prices are really affordable. While I can't speak to the price of JMG's house, I do think that he's said that he's moved to an area that's not doing super-well economically right now and I think that was wise because you really could look at it as being ahead of the game (I would think it would be more affordable). Our worst-case scenario is probably that we'd end up living with family. I think it's really a positive step to be considering these options and small steps now, rather than say, 5 years from now, when everybody's rushing to do the same thing. Breanna, I'm also 26, but I have kids which seems to limit a lot of my options, but if you really want to get out of your apartment, you could consider alternative living situations where you might start out WWOOFing or even living with family to save more money if that's an option. I don't know if you have religious leanings, I don't, but I find a lot of inspiration from certain religious groups that practice voluntary poverty/simplicity in alternative ways, such as the Simple Way, certain Mennonite groups, and Quakers.

Karen said...


Thank you for the tip concerning this link:

We have just taken over a narrow strip of land from the landlord (with his permission) that was not being used and have now set about to plant some leeks, corn and pumpkins.

Kieran O'Neill said...

I didn't have a particularly strong response to this (beyond the simple thought that "grab what you can before it runs out" is a pretty poor solution to the tragedy of the commons), but having just read a few articles about car use, especially among young people, I think I do have one.

Basically, it seems like we have hit, in some places (UK), and are in the process of hitting even in the USA, what is being called "peak car". The UK has already seen car usage peaking some time in the last 10-15 years, and falling since then.

And the argument seems to be that this is traceable to young people, fewer of whom are getting driver's licenses. e.g. see figure 1.11b in this document. This holds true in the US too -- only about 30% of 16-year-olds are getting licenses now vs about 45% 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, not much of this is ascribed to altruism -- reasons suggested are more along the lines of increased inconvenience in getting a license, increased cost of owning a car, etc. But one argument is that computers are weaning young people off of cars. I'm not sure which has the higher lifetime ecological footprint between an iPhone and a car, but I suspect it might be a shift in the right direction. To continue your metaphor, perhaps the smartphones are a move towards shorter sugar polymers than starch, but at the very least is a move away from the sugar.

I also wonder if Kay's argument doesn't apply somewhat more to baby boomers than it does to the newer generation? That chart of UK citizens with drivers licenses by age showed opposite trends at opposite ends of the age scale.

Anyway, discovering "peak car" has been my little ray of hope for the week.

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

Very interesting post; very interesting comments. Since it's late, I'm going to have to contribute only a stream of consciousness, I'm afraid. Thus:

* Today I watched an absolutely terrifying report from an Australian current affairs program regarding peak oil: Catalyst. Everyone reading this will want to watch it. One key point for me is that the chief economist of the IEA expects the price of oil to rise 30% in the next three years. The journalist has a conversation with another oil researcher, in which the following snippet appears:

Dr Jonica Newby (the reporter)
How soon before I can't really afford to fly from Australia?

Chris Skrebowski
Well get your flying in fairly quickly, shall we say.

In those two sentences I see my job disappearing very very soon.

* That leads me on to the question of what is a good choice of career for readers of this blog to select as they prepare for the crash. I've already noted my choice; since the boomer generation will continue to get ill, and petroleum-based pharmaceuticals will essentially vanish from most people's lives, and antibiotics become useless anyway, health is going to become a major concern. I am going to build on my past exposure to Chinese medicine, martial arts, and meditation to try to create a niche here. This will take most of my spare income while I still have a job. It may be more profitable to train as a plumber or electrician, but I would not find these as satisfying.

* The <a href="!/pages/%D0%A1%D0%98%D0%A1%D0%A2%D0%95%D0%9C%D0%90-%D0%A1%D0%98%D0%91%D0%98%D0%A0%D0%A1%D0%9A%D0%98%D0%99-%D0%9A%D0%90%D0%97%D0%90%D0%9A-SYSTEM%D0%90-SIBERIAN-COSSACK/175185753921@>Siberian Cossacks</a> are an interesting case study. I've had no personal contact with them, but they seem to be reviving traditional community spirit by combining folk dance, group singing, and martial arts. Their values are not my own, but they do seem to be very successful at building a resilient community.

* It may be coincidence, but it seemed to me that Geaorge Monbiot had his conversion to nuclear power at the same time that there was a lot of media coverage of thorium-based nuclear power. While the use of uranium-based nuclear power (fast running out, leaving waste that will be dangerous for millenia) is clearly insane, the limited amount that I have read about thorium leaves me wanting to know more. I have no idea how mature the technology is, but I have not yet read about a downside to it in the theory.

Bruce The Druid said...

Greetings! After reading your blog for last couple of years I have finally managed to sign and post a comment!
The real issue with these kinds of metaphors is that they present a false dichotomy i.e. A false choice between two alternatives. I am not an expert in this field, but I am not so sure the yeast die. Yeast reproduce by division, and microbes are well known for their ability to create cysts or other kinds of "space suits" to survive in hostile environments, going into stasis. A quick Google search on bacterial life cycles didn't mention dying as part of the cycle. There could be other factors limiting yeast production in the brewing process. Indeed, before commercial "starters" were available, wasn't all fermented products (bread, yoghurt, beer/wine) "started" from the last batch? So in actuality the yeast have already evolved a solution. They grow rapidly when the conditions are right, enter into stasis when conditions are not right. The truth is the people who trot out these sort of analogies don't want to even contemplate life without cheap energy. They simply don't want to put the effort into adapting to changing circumstances.
Case in point: my wife and I have ditched our cars and bought scooters. I was not prepared for the physical and mental adjustment needed to go from 4 wheels to 2. But 90 miles to the gallon is a powerful pursuader. Plus they are a real blast to ride!

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

Noting Bill Pulliam's point: I have a 45-minute drive to work, and I have to be constantly watching out for potholes. On the motorway they are at least roughly patched, but on some of the minor roads they can be pretty bad. Some seem to have been marked for repair but, even if they are mended, the next winter will see them back, and worse. This does not look like it will have a happy ending, given the combination of falling local revenues and the rising cost of oil. If I had the money, I would seriously be considering investing in a pony and trap for local transport (replacing taxis/short car trips) and deliveries. Unfortunately, I have neither the funds nor the knowledge of horses. I'm sure that someone will fill this niche, though.

I'm pretty sure that the endgame Bill suggests, of householders having the duty to maintain roads, power cables etc that adjoin their property has pretty solid historical precedent, though the exact details escape me at the moment - the Byzantines perhaps? Maybe the Mediaeval period..?

Bill Pulliam said...

Monbiot's essay and his rather apocalyptic scenario just brings up again a major misconception that seems to be shared by just about everyone, even those who ought to know better. He paints the standard scenario of us continuing to consume and consume, at ever-increasing rates, until we have consumed the earth right out from under our feet and we finally plummet into the inky blackness below. There just seems to be this belief that nothing can stop the growth juggernaut, nothing can make people chose to use less.

Bollocks. There is a very easy way to make people consume less; Make it too expensive. Energy consumption will fall; this is not a choice it is a fact. And it is clear that the way this will happen is that energy will become less affordable. Whether this happens by energy getting more expensive or by people getting poorer or both, people can't use energy they can't buy (except for the modest amounts they can grow or collect themselves). The cry goes up at this point that you are "rationing by price," and that this is unfair. Well, news flash: we ALREADY ration the necessities of life by price. Your access to food, housing, and energy is already a function of how rich you are. Why on earth would we expect this to change?

In Monbiot's scenario, each of these more exotic and far-flung energy sources is also more expensive. We're not gonna just plow right through them until we've used them all; eventually the expense will put the brakes on civilization. EVERYONE seems to have forgotten that one of the triggers for the 2007-2008 economics debacle was the spike in oil prices and the economic slowdown that caused. This is one of the main things that set the house of cards to wobbling and lead to its all coming down.

We will use less. It doesn't matter whether we do this willingly or not; we will do it. We will not consume the Earth out from under our feet; only hubris, short-sightedness, and tunnel vision would allow us to think we could possibly be capable of that.

John Michael Greer said...

Wagelaborer, a lot of carpenters and other construction trades are out of work right now in the US, at least; with the collapse of the housing bubble, there are far more people trained to do most kinds of carpentry than there are jobs in that field.

DaShui, I don't know -- I'd have to look up the details of yeast biology.

Tony, it may not be inconceivable but it's very unlikely. Most solid estimates of future fossil fuel production project declines ranging from 1% a year on up, and accelerating as depletion proceeds, starting in the current decade. To keep petroleum production level in the face of current depletion rates of existing fields, for example, we'd have to come up with a new Saudi Arabia worth of oil fields every couple of years; we're not doing that now, and there's no reason to think we're going to do it any time soon. That means crunch time is fairly close.

Matt and Jess, you aren't the only ones feeling the urgency. We really don't have a lot of time. As for simplicity, yes, it's a good thing -- as long as it doesn't get turned into a sales pitch for "simple" products, as so often happens!

Richard, exactly. The trap of hoping that things will work out while flushing your chance of a decent future down the non-composting toilet is an easy one to get into. Doesn't make it any less self-defeating, of course.

ZZ, sure; just remember that Cuba's a dictatorship, and it's a lot easier to get certain things done when you can basically order them to be done, and nobody has the right to disagree.

Houner, we're urban -- a small city, granted, but still well within city limits -- and deer haven't been a problem. (Groundhogs, on the other hand, are an issue.) The stakes are still a good idea, of course.

Steve, those are excellent tips. Thank you!

Thardiust, human beings may not be insects but we make a lot of the same mistakes.

Adrian, agreed -- unfashionable urban and semi-urban zones have a lot going for them; that's where we are, comfortably settled in a small Rust Belt city where costs are low, real estate's cheap, and people are friendly.

Bill Pulliam said...

DaShui -- I think you will find that real women (as opposed to idealized male fantasies of women) have all sorts of different interests, likes, and dislikes. Plenty of the dirt-poor-by-choice are women, as a quick perusal of the commentors here should reveal. Some women actually prefer their men scruffy and disheveled from a life of what was once called "honest work;" some women even prefer to be that way themselves!

Don't invoke pseudo-Darwinism to justify arbitrary social prejudices and stereotypes.

info said...

JMG, like others I'm bemused by your criticism of Monbiot. His argument is quite simply we as a species will use all available resources in our efforts to keep our standard of living intact, and as decline sets in that means having enough to eat. In the process we will destroy the environment and thus crash our populations even more steeply, along with much of the biosphere.

Your argument is well made, but is taking the perspective of how individuals can prepare for inevitable decline rather than looking at strategies to mitigate the effects of the decline on the environment.

What Monbiot does not honestly address is population, as the multiplier which will do all the damage on the way down.

Do I detect some emotion from your side, by the way, in calling Monbiot a 'psuedo-environmentalist'? Defining an environmentalist as someone who deprecates nuclear power is bizarre, in my view. Those who understand the physics (I flatter myself that I do) would soundly dispute your assertion that it represents a major global danger. Compared to the carnage resulting from the onset of economic decline, radioactive poisoning on almost any imaginable scale will be *utterly* insignificant.

I would happily accept more nuclear power if it could help make the decline smoother and less destructive to the planet. Sadly I think we've missed the opportunity to develop the efficient Thorium based fast reactors which would really make a difference (they generate almost no waste and consume today's toxic waste).

Bruce The Druid said...


I had a similiar experience with toad laying eggs in our vernal pools. As they dried up I would collect the poor pathetic pollywogs squirming in the mud and transfer them to the ponds still around. Eventually I ran out of ponds and returned one day to find all the dried out tadpols. What I eventually realized is that frogs and toads in our desert climate don't bred once and then lay eggs, but are laying eggs continually over the wet season. The tadpoles themselves don't develop at the same rate, some mature faster than others. This is the basis of natural selection. I think the same thing happened to your compost pile. Its easy in these situations to draw the wrong conclusion.

John Michael Greer said...

Matt and Jess, many thanks for the tips!

Karen, good for you! Little bits of unused space like that are a great way to get going on a garden.

Kieran, that's excellent news. I've done without a car my entire adult life; it's never been more than an occasional hindrance, and the money I've saved went a long way to make it possible for me to pursue a writing career during the early and not very lucrative phase of that career path. With any luck, some of the young people who are doing without cars will make the same discovery: you're a lot freer without a car than with one.

Carp, we're very close to peak air travel, if not past it. As for thorium reactors, er, have you noticed that every generation of nuclear power gets sold with the same enthusiastic claims that it'll be safe, cheap, environmentally benign, and so on? Then it gets built, and it turns out to be nothing of the kind. I think it's time to stop buying the hype.

Bruce, that's been my sense, too -- there's a huge amount of pseudo-green rhetoric that focuses on insisting that there's some way for us to have our planet and eat it too. Good for you, by the way -- a scooter's a much more sensible technology than a car. Mind you, I prefer shoes, but to each his or her own.

Carp, in the Middle Ages you could get into heaven for repairing bridges and roads -- they were generally so bad that the Church offered indulgences for just about any sin you could think of for people who fixed them. Hermits used to build their huts near some bridge or other, and make repairing and tending the bridge part of their devotions; the locals would make sure the hermits stayed fed, out of sheer gratitude, and also because giving alms to a hermit would get you time off purgatory. I don't know how long it'll be before bridge-tending hermit becomes a viable job, but it's probably somewhere in our future.

jean-vivien said...

Hey there,

the metaphor you use has interesting limits. On the titanic, there were not enough lifeboats for everyone!
So upper-class people were maybe a little favoured. In this case you could argue that only people with access to certain info, which may require a certain level of education, will have access to the relevant info/viewpoint.
However the advantage of your vision is that it is modest - that s why it stands more chances of leading to practical change than say neoprimitivism, which is equally well-built intellectually. No need for large amounts of time, or expensive instruction, or access to unsoiled ecologies...:) In a way, the whole Green Wizard project is to try to come up with some kind of Third World 2.0 - how to make the most of what would now be regarded as 3rd World living, and would be considered now as an irrealistic project "bad bad bad!!"
This is the genius of your vision - choose the easiest solution, in terms of energy and resource necessities. But not in human terms!

Another point to consider about the Titanic: we are not living on an isolated boat. The possibility of a crowd panic (on the Titanic, or say, in Western Europe's 1930s...) could take you away and prevent or forbid you from even choosing to get to the lifeboats.
Besides when the proverbial liner is down on the seabed, there is not much long term consequence except for a terrible loss. However not quite the same could be said of a civilization using or affecting pretty much all of the planet's ecology !

Finally, having conventions dedicated to Green Wizardry is not a criteria of success. Neoprimitivism also has those, and so does the Climate Change activism... In the latter, even the governments are invited!
However, the increasing number of people taking a quiet interest in the informations related to your topics of predilection is very encouraging.

Here in Western Europe we definitely lack the ability of USA people who are more individualistic and also more prone to adopt new ideas, and even if the energy shortages are not as threatening as in the US, the collective panics that we are trying to forget are much more of a threat!

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, thank you for a dose of common sense!!!

Info, the reason I use nuclear power as a touchstone for real versus pseudo-environmentalism, as I explained in my response to Monbiot, is the attitude embodied in choosing to use nuclear power is the antithesis of environmentalism. The whole point of environmentalism is giving up the habit of stealing from the future -- grabbing at benefits now and pushing the costs off onto our descendants. Nuclear power's the ultimate example of stealing from the future, since it produces wastes that will be around to poison living things a quarter of a million years from now. Once a soi-disant environmentalist starts preaching about how nuclear power is the best option we've got, when the best option we've got is, ahem, USING LESS ENERGY, they've come out in favor of stealing from the future in its most egregious form.

As for thorium reactors, sure, they're safe, clean, and environmentally benign. Right. And nuclear reactors will give us electricity too cheap to meter, and fusion power is just twenty years in the future. Honestly, why do people keep on swallowing such blatant hype?

Bruce, the metaphor's a good one; I think the lesson therein may best be summed up as "we'd better get hopping!"

Luciddreams said...

I agree with Evan. I think a large majority of green wizards, and especially potential green wizards, are going to find themselves with no land and at the mercy of apartment set ups. I think the most important and meaningful preparation to a future like we are going to have shortly is going to be a spiritual one.

Even now, the majority of us are probably isolated from people who are aware of the energy constraints we are facing, and more importantly the ramifications of those constraints. The status quo is insane and they call that insanity sane. Where does that leave us? Nobody wants to listen and that's why they are drinking that martini at ship's bar while the ship sinks.

It could easily be argued that a strong spiritual practice would be on the top of the list of "skills" to possess now and in the harsh future we are headed into. I think certainty in this matter is important. I've been following you're blog for about two years now. Your certainty is greatly appreciated.

I understand your reason for staying away from this topic on this blog. I would love to hear your views on the topic of spirituality. I was wondering if you could recommend one of your books on Druidry. Maybe one that addresses the philosophical aspects of Druidry. Not so much ritual, but the reasons behind your practice is what I'm looking for in a book that you have written.

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, "Third World 2.0" is not a bad way to refer to the project -- thank you for that! If I use it, as I may, I'll be sure to give you credit. As for the possibility of collective panics, there's plenty of risk of that over here, too -- one of the unstated dimensions of what I'm trying to suggest here involves moving away from the collective consciousness a bit, and becoming a bit less visible and more than a bit less vulnerable.

Lucid, that'd probably be The Druidry Handbook; it's low on ritual, focusing more on the philosophy, symbolism, and meditative sides of the Druid path. You're probably right that I need to talk about a deindustrial spirituality one of these days, though I'm not looking forward to the misunderstandings that will have to be waded through.

jean-vivien said...

I got the ideea I guess from a website whose name I have forgotten and which was a project to use information age technology to develop appropriate tech especially in the 3rd World, since as the website said, the future of globalization is the globalization of poverty.

Feel free to reuse the formula at wish, it evokes the interesting fusion evoked in the paragraph above, and which we are also incarnating right now :)

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Lucid Apartment setups by no means exclude you from practising Green Wizardry!

Tom said...

Maybe you need to switch the topic from nihilism to denial.

I wish it wasn't just river in Egypt. We could use the water here in Santa Fe, NM this time of year. I'm catching all the rain I can, but...

wild gypsy said...

A couple of points...

1) Do you have archived posts you would recommend for a general understanding of The Long Descent and Ecotechnic Future?

I apologize if you have answered this before, but I don't know exactly where to start to best understand?

2) The yeast analogy reminds me of one I made once comparing humans on this planet to white blood cells attacking the host; in retrospect, I've developed a disliking for those types of metaphors. But ultimately, who knows?

3) RE: The Limits to Growth

The 2010 UN World Population Prospects was just released and (although I haven't dug through it yet,) I'm looking at the NYTimes report that says global population "may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100."

Given this is a mere 90 years off and that the planet has never before sustained such population numbers, there is absolutely no reason to believe it can do so at the current levels of resource exploitation. On this ground alone, the need to power down (and conserve) is obvious....

4) You inspired me last week to plant some lettuce and herbal teas in some containers on the porch. They sprouted through the dirt yesterday.

:-) Thanks

Iaato said...

If the yeasty beasty learns how to metabolize starch instead of sugar, but gets nailed by the sugar-eaters' alcohol wastes anyway, then its evolutionary adaptation is in vain because of its lack of control over its knuckle-dragger ancestors. We can make choices that improve our fitness in a changing environment, but overshoot creates situations such as multiple sources of pollution that may disallow control. It is the things that I cannot control that I fear the most.

Monbiot is an idiot, and climate change is a manipulated agenda. But pollution from multiple sources is real and lethal, and may be our undoing. It is certainly the one I can least control, especially when it comes to such problems as radiation, which is invisible and undetectable without special equipment.

beneaththesurface said...

Thanks for a such a well-said post! I certainly agree.

Ever since I heard you speak at the 2010 ASPO conference, I've been a regular reader. I try to limit my time online everyday (to save energy and to make sure I'm not just living my life in front of a screen). But I've bookmarked about websites/blogs which are the ones I regularly check in the limited time I am online...and yours is one of them.

I also want to thank you for all the time you spend each week responding to each individual comment someone makes! Not many other blog writers do that.

I'm sure it takes some time do that every week, and judging from the increase lately of readers/commenters, it's probably taking more time.

But I hope you can continue to do so. Though if you become too popular and get thousands of comments each time, that might make it more difficult. : )

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

Man, for the past month you have been hitting the nail right on the head.

So, we are in trouble. How long has it been that exponential growth on a finite planet has been a dumb idea ?

The yeast eating starch vs sugar sound like a sourdough starter. Bread is not as much fun as beer, but generally leads to more productive outcomes.


sruggieri said...

Mr. Greer-- I've been enjoying your writing for a couple of years now and just wanted to express how impressed I am by the overall quality of the comments and the high level of civility in the discourse that you've managed to inspire here.

Once upon a time I was just your standard-issue eccentric who enjoyed learning new things like darning his own socks, fermenting, square foot gardening, seed-saving, food preservation and composting. Now I can say I'm a "Green Wizard!" Thank you for that!

After reading the comments today, I was reminded of this scene from the 1981 film "My Dinner With André"

ANDRE: What does it do to us, Wally, living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don't in any way affect us? I mean, were animals after all. I mean... what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we're living in a fantasy world of our own making.

WALLY: Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre. I mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is cold! It's a difficult environment. I mean, our life is tough enough as it is. I'm not looking for ways to get rid of a few things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary, I'm looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I'm trying to protect myself because, really, there's these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look!

ANDRE: But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

ANDRE: "I wouldn't put on an electric blanket for any reason. First, I'd be worried if I get electrocuted. No, I don't trust technology. But I mean, the main thing, Wally, is that I think that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way."

And another from the same film:

ANDRE: "OK. Yes, we are bored. We're all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you Wally that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? and it's not just a question of individual survival Wally, but that somebody who's bored is asleep, and somebody who's asleep will not say no?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
As for what jobs might be needed in the future – RICKSHAWS! (drivers and builders!)

To the anxious young readers commenting here - if you don't have the resources to begin a garden, my best advice would be to begin cultivating practical 'people skills' - diplomacy and self-control might help you and your family as much as a nice veggie garden. And you just might land a leadership position in your community.

Life is full of irony and absurdity - - don't lose your sense of humor!!! Especially if you have young children!

David Delaney said...

Sorry JMG, your post is plain wrong-headed and your refusal to admit it is unreasonable.

GM does not advocate BAU, the continuation of the growth ethos, or anything like it. Not in this article or anywhere else. He is trying to find a remedy for it but knows he has not succeeded. He says that without some as yet undiscovered way to get people to do exactly what you wish them to do, use less of everything -- which he understands is necessary just as well as you do -- they will burn all the remaining fossil fuels and destroy the biosphere. Until we can convince people to do as you and he wish, he says, we must not stop using nuclear, or the BAU we don't know how to get people to give up will accelerate the burning of FFS to replace it.

You can attack his argument validly (whether wisely is a separate matter) by 1) arguing that we are going to burn all the world's FFs no matter what we do, with or without nuclear, and therefore nuclear isn't worth its risks, or 2) by arguing we know how to get people to burn less than all remaining FFs without using nuclear in the meantime, or 3) probably some other way.

But to attack his argument by treating it as an advocacy of BAU or the growth ethos is an elementary error of reading comprehension, and unjust.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I have long been an admirer of George Monbiot - he has long been a a champion prizefighter in the UK in the green corner, and has certainly led me along the path to get to where I am now. That's why I felt betrayed in a way when he suddenly started shouting in favour of nuclear power. I don't think I'm the only one feeling like that.

@Breanna - I read an excellent book about the conundrum you're facing - no land, no money, what to do? It's called Farm City by Novella Carpenter. Very inspirational - check it out!

Regarding the cruise liner analogy - is it just an ironic coincidence that the Fed is putting all its faith in something called QE2?

Jason Heppenstall said...

I see many people are worried about what they are going to do in the deindustrial future. Living here in Denmark as a foreigner has meant that it is practically impossible for me to get a job. I've been 'unemployed' for a year now and have to endure endless compulsory job training sessions.

Nevertheless, I have been busier than ever. In the last year I have set up a small company making natural soap. I get many of the raw ingredients just by foraging (nettles, seaweed, pine etc) and use local oils (rapeseed rather than olive). Nearly everyone uses soap, right? And those who don't, buy it for their grannies for Christmas :)

Aside from this I've set up a network website for people in similar situations and am using much of what I have learned right here on the Archdruid Report to urge people to take control of their own situations instead of moping around claiming how unfair life is.

I've also written a book, read a lot of books and had the time to cook proper food for my family - all despite having no dinero.

It's a steep learning curve for us, but nobody said anything was going to be easy. Inventiveness is the key.

Lei said...

It is all nice. But I think it is also quite legitimate and reasonable to try to enjoy some of the nice aspects of this civilization, realizing they will sooner or later disappear. Especially for us whose outlook without modern medicine is very uncertain. I mean, going to concerts, playing with a band, buying and reading books on topic you have been enthusiastically interested in for years but which are not useful from the "survivalist" point of view. I suppose I would later regret very much I spent all the time and each penny on preparing for a collapse without exploiting these last opportunities, possibly just to die in ten years. Materially, I do manage with very little, and I am making preparations. But there are things crucial to my spiritual life that I won't simply through away in anticipation of their demise.

As for perspective skills - I am thinking of bicycle fixing, as it is seem very probale people will need bicycles, just in the way Chinese were used to use them until recently. The question is, how long will be bicycles viable - you have to get tires from somewhere, etc. On the other other hand, it seems that bicycles were viable in some part of the Third World even without much oil.

And as for "spiritual preparation" - well, you know, culture (especially for an intellectual) and associated spiritual life are not things that you simply pragmatically throw away or change if they seem "outdated". They form you, or at least me, as a distinct individual, they "make" you, and they "make" your world. However unprofitable for me, I will certainly not throw away the things I have believed for my whole not that long life. This is a kind of vain idealism, but without it is not me, and I might die as well physically. Actually, it seems to me that this single issue belongs to the most important yet most difficult to figure out ones, vis-a-vis peak oil.

phil harris said...

I have been thinking overnight about nuclear power (and about George Monbiot). The argument turns on coal.

However much coal will be actually mined, blowing off the tops of mountains etc. it might or might not be the trigger for catastrophic climate change, for example taking us over the threshold and triggering methane pulses from soil and sea bed reserves, but coal causes a very large number of deaths each year and leaves a legacy of, for example, dispersed mercury that will accumulate in food chains (exterminating large marine animals, for example?).

We do carry natural radioactive potassium in our bodies, so it is not a clever idea to add to the dose we must get inevitably. Nuclear power will produce incredibly long-lived elements like plutonium, which are toxic, but most of the hazard to humans has come from relatively short lived radioactive Iodine (half life 8 days). A recent US National Institute of Health report of ongoing Chernobyl studies, talks about ongoing deaths from thyroid cancer in people who were children and young persons at the time, and who got their dose in the week or so after Chernobyl. Several hundred deaths are reported from Ukraine and Belarus over the years, and there will be more.

I have been opposed to nuclear power for many years for the obvious reasons, and the less obvious reason that it could be a waste of money and resources compared with what we really need to do, like getting our health, safety and well being while using a lot less of modern conveniences (JMG's lists!).

Having said that, there is a powerful argument for not burning coal - and it might be possible to temporarily 'trade' nuclear power for some of the remaining coal. At least George Monbiot thinks so. The 'trade' also might just cushion the future for a while for a lot of people, and provide some additional margin of safety for the climate. Nuclear power of course is not sufficient to maintain business as usual (BAU) and my guess, for what it is worth, is that not much NP will get built world wide - too big and expensive to build and fuel and maintain.

George Monbiot remains an environmentalist in my view, and his attention for example to the devastation of the peat-soil forests of Indonesia and Malaysia by the mad dash for palm oil (think transport and even UK power stations firing palm oil) might be a lot more important than any discussion of nuclear power.

Lei said...

The comparison with the Third World may be fitting, as well as the suggestions to look 200 or 300 years back and see how it worked then to have an idea. Then, - though it is clear that the history does not recur and the process will be asymmetric to a considerable extent - I do not fully understand the points regarding e.g. cultural conservation, as if we really had to return to the Stone Age. Let us take public schools - they were quite common in the 16th c. in Bohemia, long before oil. I know, on a completely different scale than today, but still, you had the system of education plus the central university (since 1346), and flourishing humanistic literature. The same is true of the Third World countries. Likewise, it is not clear whether there will really be a sociopolitical disintegration, maybe it depends on region - most of the European states, for example, have been here in a form since before 1000 AD and survived many crises. I do not know.

OT: I have read somewhere here the Daodejing is always welcome here, and also why it has so many different translations. As a sinologist, I would say it is mainly because a) there have been so many translators of poor philological training in Classical Chinese, b) this single book has been for centuries THE object of projections of orientalistic fantasies for Western audience. Of course, the book has some special features, but it is only a small part of the story.

One of the Remnant said...

@ info

"Those who understand the physics (I flatter myself that I do) would soundly dispute your assertion that it represents a major global danger."

This statement highlights one of the major shortcomings of most if not all pro-nuke arguments, in my view. The notion that you understand the physics and therefore the dangers IS the danger, IMO.

How is a physicist designing an MSR plant, for example, going to account for a civilization whose technological capabilities are in dramatic decline?

For that matter, how would a physicist account for a revolution, or a war, 10 years - or 20, or 50 - down the road?

Yes, MSRs can be designed which are "meltdown-proof" but not which are proof against the radical sociopolitical or economic changes which seem highly likely in the world's immediate future.

The physics may well be the trivial piece of the problem.

IMO, this is what haunts so many technology-based proposals from people who do not wish to face reality. We cannot afford a new nuclear infrastructure any more than we can afford to implement a hydrogen economy at this late date. We lack the capital, we lack the energy, we lack the political will, we lack the overall wherewithal.

Perhaps 30 or more years ago, such ideas had some currency and could have been realistically explored. I most assuredly wish that we had chosen MSR tech when it counted, but, well, we needed our nuclear weapons, didn't we? Too late now, as we'll probably be facing numerous meltdowns as our ability to maintain (or decommission) existing reactors falters in the decades to come.

Today, we've traveled much too far down the road of denial and delusion leading into debt and decline. The nation has been rendered utterly insolvent by the banking cartels and the federal government, and so from that standpoint alone, we are in no position to begin an energy/capital intensive, decades long research/design/build effort for a new energy infrastructure.

We are way beyond broke, folks. This enters into the argument in far more immediate ways that the physics of a thing.

- Oz

idiotgrrl said...

After what one of the commenters said about sugar, I realized I need to wean myself off coffee and am promptly doing so. In slow stages rather than cold turkey, but doing so.

And I have passed on the news of the Green Wizards conference to the S.M. Stirling fan list, many of whom are very interested in low-tech lifestyles, arts, and crafts.

hawlkeye said...

Glad to hear about the GW gathering; I hope to be there…

Although the use of the sinking ship metaphor here is apt, I’ve grown weary of the Titanic/lifeboat construction as a sea-worthy vessel for the transition. After all, there’s nothing more helpless than huddlers in a lifeboat, who can do nothing but await dehydration, dementia and death.

Much more useful to adapt versions of the Hawaiian canoe, which is rigged with food and fiber nursery stock, rather than pray to the mother ship for rescue that will not arrive. I blogged about this here.

I also talk about how we ran a mini-CSA and fed 7 households from a 2/3-acre backyard market garden. One practical result of growing your own is ending up with more than you need, thus surplus for barter and exchange for other things. Becoming your own producer of anything results in quite a few wonderful, unexpected benefits, balms for the soul of any storm-tossed consumer returning to citizenship.

Time and again in my Eat Your Yard classes, I see so much anxiety about learning the principle soil and plant skills that used to be common knowledge. So I filmed our CSA gardens and made a 9-chapter instructional DVD: Backyard Sustainable Gardening, which can also be downloaded directly from anywhere in the world. Here’s a taste of the trailer from Youtube, too.

This summer we’ll be hosting 3-Day Resiliency Weekends (clever title and schedule forthcoming); two days of “outer” skill-work in the garden, as well as “inner” work a la Carolyn Baker’s Navigating Collapse brilliance. Then end with a day rafting on the river for desert.

I want to share what I’ve learned in a most affordable way, as well as inspire folks that this is a deep and rewarding way to live, no hair-shirts required, though not without profound challenges that (almost) everyone here anticipates so well…

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

" of the unstated dimensions of what I'm trying to suggest here involves moving away from the collective consciousness a bit, and becoming a bit less visible and more than a bit less vulnerable."

It is interesting you should say that, since it, combined with the idea of teaching green wizardry to others, reinforces your comparison made elsewhere with other forms of knowledge kept safe and passed down.

It reminds me of lay brother/sisterhoods who at various times in the past (and in stories) spread knowledge and helped people without calling attention to themselves. No self aggrandizement, boasting or ostentation. So the "wizardry" floats into the collective consciousness, but not necessarily the wizards.

Tom said...

JMG Nice post. I have been enjoying your writing. One thing that is truly sick with the current system is that the big money on Wall Street, which controls most of the capital, makes more money investing in bubbles than in things sustainable. That is one of the reasons we have bubbles. The sad part is that since they make more money investing in bubbles, including collapsing bubbles, than long term sustainable projects we get bubbles instead of investment in sustainable things.

Tom A

Draft said...

I've been re-reading your excellent book The Ecotechnic Future, and from the arguments you seem to make there and here, one of the inherent properties of an Ecotechnic age is that people are less dependent upon the system than we are dependent upon the current one. Is that accurate? Also, I don't know if this was an oversight or an intensional omission, but I noticed you didn't cite Mumford and his many works on various types of technic societies.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Tom A

Wall St doesn't control capital so much as liquidity and leverage, which is very, very different.

The reason for the bubbles we've seen recently isn't Wall St, per se, either - it's the fractional reserve system (i.e. debt-based money supply) and the Fed manipulations of interest rates and money supply. Of course, the Fed is simply a banking cartel, so in that sense, it is Wall St, but not in the sense most people think about it.

This online book is required reading for anyone wishing to understand how the Fed is the root of the problem - while 'Wall St' is merely a predictable and designed-in symptom.

Bruce The Druid said...

This is an important point. Civilization was around before coal and oil, and it will continue. The best anaology is that of an addict. An addict cannot conceive of life without their magic substance, so they imagine the worst if they are deprived. So as we continue this long descent, othere will be lots of adjustment, some chaos, and definitely hardship as economies make the shift. Those that at least are aware, and have been making attempts to learn skills may fare better.

I am reminded of when I worked at Kings Canyon National Park, a visitor had come into my store while it was light and was talking about this was the first time he had ever been camping, he had lived in the city his whole life. Three hours later, after sunset, he came back in, with terror in his eyes. He bought two flashlights and a slew of batteries. "There is no electricy out there, man. Its absolutely pitch black!" I smiled, because I had been hiking around in this very same dark, with just the starlight to guide me. We even had a half moon that night. To hike with the light of the moon was like having stadium lights on. He was focused on what he lacked, rather than on his innate ability to adapt.

escapefromwisconsin said...

A brief word on the economics - It's true the US is decaying into a third world nation, but its not because of lack of resources of either energy or money. If that were the case, every level of society would be showing less money and lower living standards. Rather, the rich have gotten correspondingly richer almost exactly in proportion to the poor getting poorer. Its been a political/economic transfer, nothing to do with peak energy. The American middle class has been gutted since the late seventies even as our energy supplies increased. I agree that over time we'll see all levels take a hit, but that's not what we're seeing now, at least not yet. Of course, the practical results for the average person are exectly the same, so its a bit of an academic distinction.

Still, in terms of careers, I dont think enough consideration has been given to the money side of the equation. I read in my community newspaper that a popular local farmer just ended his small poultry farm operation because the price of corn doubled, and he realized he could not pass the price increase onto his customers because his eggs were already more expensive than the eggs in the store. Similarly, there is a pioneering aquaponics facility not far from me, but they are undercut by cheap Chinese imports farmed under far less environmentally friendly conditions and flown in from across the world. I read all the time about farmers being foreclosed on and having to learn new careers because they can't make things work economically, and these are experienced farmers. These are things to think about for anyone thinking about trying to go into farming or start some sort of post peak business. How can anyone build sustainable businesses under current economic conditions? Some think its going to crash eventually, but when? I see no end to cheap imports and multinational corporations cutting potential domestic entrepreneurs off at the knees. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have precious little need for a blacksmith.

It seems like a lot of posters here are economically well off - their own land where they can grow their own food, insulate their house, add passive solar, etc, etc. What about the rest of us? We will still need to earn money, no matter how frugal we live. We still need to cover the rent. Even if we own a house (I don't), we still need to pay property taxes and utilites. To forego utilities would require major investments like photovoltaics and solar water heating which are expensive investments. Growing a significant part of your own food requires a great deal of land. I can't feed myself with a small community garden plot. It seems like a paradox - the very people that need and want to build a sustainable lifestyle outside of the money economy do not have the resources to do so, whereas those with ample resources who are reasonably comfortable are able to do so. Those of us with very little have no choice but to play the game - we cannot afford to purchase independance.

Blackbird said...

Great post. I liked the metaphor about the life boat and the Titanic.

I teach elementary school science and we have a school garden. It is encouraging to see the salubrious nature of the garden itself to the children. Even if all we do for a lesson is learn about weeds and pull them, the kids (for the most part) are on task and very happy to do so. While planing for trips to the garden, as a professional, I struggle with putting my teaching into terms of what can get done in a certain amount of time. If I kept the kids indoors and worked solely in my classroom, far more material can get covered. However, true learning about a garden, or ecosystems, or just about anything else, can only take place once their little hands have hit the soil. While on paper I get far less "done" while outdoors in the sun or rain, I get to watch the kids build a relationship with what they eat, I watch them learn that it takes no small effort to grow food (time, pests, disease, etc.) and observe them discover that food is seasonal. If they walk away with no more than that I feel like I have helped further their learning.

My next professional struggle will be to try and have the kids discover how our modern society functions within the earth's ecosystems. I want them to discover that without fossil fuels our society could never have developed to its current size or complexity. Further, I want at least some of them who can take it a bit further to draw to what should be a fairly obvious yet profound conclusion that should fossil fuels become scarce then society will have real difficulties maintaining its complexity and size. My wish is not to scare them - rather just to set in their mind the seed that there are deep troubles in the way our system is currently running and that they are going to need to think about the larger picture of how to deal with the untenable situation our society finds itself in now.

Wish me luck!


John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, thank you!

Kieran, many thanks for the link.

Tom, granted, there's a lot of denial out there as well. As for your water shortage, that's something you're probably going to have to learn to live with; radical water conservation and other desert-dweller habits temporarily abandoned during the Age of Affluence will likely define the only way forward.

Gypsy, your best bet is probably to pick up (at the library, if the budget's tight) the two books I've published with those titles; they're the finished product of which a bunch of the posts here were first drafts. Congrats on your container gardens! That's an excellent step.

Iaato, since you can't control it, it's probably wisest to focus on the things you can control, like your own energy and resource consumption. The old Stoics used to point out that the best way to get through life is to concentrate on the things you can actually do something about!

Beneath, you're welcome! For the time being, at least, it's not an inordinate burden.

Greg, good. Now could you repeat that point about exponential growth on a finite planet where the rest of the world can hear it, and get a clue? ;-)

Sruggieri, thank you! Andre's point about boredom is actually much more important than most people realize. I'll be addressing it in an upcoming post.

David, well, that was a nice thumping denunciation! Still, it won't wash. It's precisely the insistence that people won't use less energy -- an insistence that was disproved by the experience of the late 70s and early 80s, when the world's industrial nations racked up double-digit percentage decreases in energy use in a decade -- that amounts to advocating business as usual. What was the difference between then and now? Partly high energy prices -- which we're getting back -- but also principled advocacy backed by personal example of energy-saving techniques and lifestyle change by environmental groups back then.

Furthermore, the claim that we have to go with nuclear or we'll destroy the biosphere by burning fossil fuels is a whopping fallacy in its own right. Despite Monbiot's claim -- and I note that none of the people who've waded on here to defend him have challenged this part of my critique -- peak oil is here; peak coal and natural gas are not far off; we are all going to use less anyway because the "alternative" energy sources -- including nuclear -- aren't viable without the massive energy subsidies they get from existing, highly concentrated fossil fuels. That's the challenge we need to get ready to face.

Jason, I hadn't thought of that. I wonder if there's any way they can come up with an acronym for the next round of printing money that works out to TITANIC...

John Michael Greer said...

Lei, nobody says you should throw things away. The crucial point is not to be dependent for your survival on anything that's going to collapse out from underneath you in the not too distant future.

Phil, burning palm oil as a biofuel doesn't contaminate the biosphere for a quarter of a million years. As for coal, no, it's not the issue; the issue is the refusal, even on the part of people who claim to be environmentalists, to USE LESS ENERGY, and to advocate forcefully for steps that will make it easy for others to do the same. For heaven's sake, just the cost of replacing America's two dozen or so Fukushima-style nuclear reactors would pay for a $2000 weatherization retrofit for every house, apartment, and condominium in the United States! We have plenty of options beyond the fake forced choice between coal and nuclear power.

Lei, this is why I stress the point that my blog focuses primarily on American conditions. What's true on your side of the pond is not necessarily true over here!

Remnant, thank you for a good solid dose of common sense. It's exactly the unwillingness of the technically educated to deal with the poor fit between their models and real world conditions that has helped make so many dimensions of our present predicament.

Grrl, coffee gives me migraines, so that was an easy one for me! One of my current projects is figuring out domestic sources for green tea -- my preferred vice -- or, if necessary, trying to grow it myself.

Hawlkeye, that's a good point. Maybe we need to talk about old-fashioned lifeboats, the kind with oars, where everyone aboard who could lent a hand rowed the thing to shore.

Adrian, good. Very good. You're getting the core strategy I have in mind here.

Tom, as I discuss in my forthcoming book The Wealth of Nature, the current habit of blowing bubbles is actually a function of energy and resource depletion -- there's so little profit to be gained by producing goods and services at this point within the existing system that money moves into the "tertiary economy" of paper wealth instead, inflating ever more drastic bubbles. Expect more of the same, until the whole thing comes unglued.

Draft, that's correct. As for Mumford, er, check the bibliography; I note that he didn't make it into the index, which was an oversight, but The Myth of the Machine in particular was an important influence on my work.

Remnant, well, if you find Mises useful, by all means; I don't. We had bigger bubbles and worse depressions in the second half of the 19th century, before the Fed was founded, than we've had since then.

Bruce, that's a great story!

Escape, from my point of view. that's an overly simplistic analysis. Most of the money currently lining the pockets of the very rich is hallucinatory wealth -- derivatives and other paper with no real value outside the willingness of the current moneyed classes to pretend that it's worth its face value. That's become so large a part of our economy, in turn, because the real economy of goods and services is in decline.

Blackbird, luck! It's a noble effort -- I hope it works out.

Karen said...

A decent green tea subsitute for me has been Red Raspberry leaf tea. Most natural food stores have it (so one can try it before committing to growing it). You may already have it if you are growing the plant for the berries. It has lots of historic native american medicinal uses. It is high in magnesium and manganese, so it's slightly metallicky tasting, but wonderful after you get used to it. Make sure the leaves are either newly picked or completely dried though...wilty leaves can have a toxic mold. Also there is conflicting info about whether it is appropriate for use during early pregnancy, but considered and excellent tonic during late pregnancy.

Rich_P said...

Bruce, that addiction analogy hits home. When I first learned about peak oil, I was in absolute panic because I simply had no idea of how to approach it, having grown up in suburbia with a legion of energy slaves and a shiny car at age 16. My present goal is to expand my range of life experiences beyond working on computers, playing videogames, and commuting 2 hours to and from work each day, since that sort of lifestyle will be infeasible in due time. That sort of existence, however, sort of blinds you to the other possibilities out there, especially with respect to low-energy lifestyles.

@JMG: A community in Northern California is in chaos right now because the 100-year-old canal that supplies water to their irrigation district ruptured. Some of the farmers and ranchers fear they'll lose their fruit trees, crops, and pasture unless the water supply is restored soon. The downside of dependency indeed.

@pasttense: Your post reminds me of this interview with Manfred Max Neef (of "barefoot economics" fame) on how the U.S. is becoming an "underdeveloped nation."

Does anyone have experience with WWOOF or similar programs? My current gig provides me with six months of employment per year, so I'm trying to figure out how to fill the off time with productive and useful ventures.

Michael Tweiten said...

Thank you for being a clear voice in the internet wilderness regarding nuclear power.

For those who didn’t link to Monbiot’s article he says:
“You think you're discussing technologies, and you quickly discover that you're discussing belief systems.”

Entirely true. Then he goes on to say:

“Decarbonising the economy involves an increase in infrastructure. Infrastructure is ugly, destructive and controlled by remote governments and corporations.”

That is his belief system but not mine. I believe that it is possible to have “infrastructure” that is beautiful, ecologically sound and controlled by human beings and the communities that we participate in. JMG doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the future and I don’t subscribe to one either. However, I also am convinced that such an ecologically sound “infrastructure” is easier to finance locally and better able find its footing admist economic and ecological tragedy once we get past the stages of denial that reinforce our past bad decisions. Insisting on trading one kind of ugliness and destruction for another is not only unacceptable but also completely pointless. I think the remote governments and corporations have already made some decisions about this anyway. According to a recent report by The Union of Concerned Scientists private corporations have not invested in nuclear electricty in decades and in fact the whole industry has cost more in government subsidies than the market value of the electricty it produced. Once the governments can’t afford the subsidies the industry will be abandonned whether we can convince ourselves it is the “new green” or not.


(some similar points regarding the narratives behind a debate about nuclear power between Stoneleigh and Karl Denniger in March 2011)

Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

The biggest energy consumer is the single family dwelling. It will always cost too much to make it work. the more concentrated people are, the less energy is need to engage and go from place to place. 50 percent of the land is designated for cars and transportation.
buildings are used for the most part only 50 percent which results in energy wasted on merely going leaving one empty space to fill another.
concentration allows less material to be needed to get to everyone, less pipes less sewage.
suburbia is what has to go, not more of it.

Frantisek said...

Originally I merely meant to reply to Lei: Charles IV., actually, founded the university 2 years later, in 1348. That's just to be a hair-splitter for a moment... But since I've decided to react I'll also leave several of my seeds to you, JMG.

To begin with, thank you for your suggestive and eye-opening work. A friend of mine who is living in Burgundia in a rural area, doing a lof of gardening, learning bee-keeping and other steps towards re-skilling, is right now translating The Long Descent into the Czech language. I hope she'll spread the word about it among her French circles too. Saying it is definitely worth it would purport as - to use a nicely outdated idiom - carrying coal to Newcastle.

However, I would say - as far as I am familiar with the "peak fossil liquid hydrocarbon net energy" - that you underestimate the potential of "alternative" fossil fuels and exxegarate current impact of peak oil – I am on that with GM, I think ERoI is a holy cow of some „peak-oilers“, much bigger problem seems to be the depedence on the current infrustructure. I still bear in mind the famous Max Weber's quote from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (many of you know form TOD): "This order [i.e. capitalism] is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with the economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt." Fossil fuels are conditiones sine quibus non of industrial era. However, take into account for instance shale gas (very environmentally unfriendly) or one of the Brazilian megaprojects Santos Basin (it is estimated there are 500 billions barrels of this pre-salt, indeed, very difficult to extract oil but the estimated costs of one barrell are somewhere around 50 dollars).

Plus it seems to me that you underestimate several other more actual topics (what I completely miss in your thougts - as far as I know them - is political, jurisdical and managment perspective even though I do realize a pile of reasons for not including them; unfortunately that does not mean these areas won't be crucial, I especially think you do not cover properly our direct dependency on money – well, green wizardy is a great idea, no doubt about it, but there are still many related problems that cannot be solved via that way, e.g. mandatory expenses) and as a result ecotechnic future seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know that it is precisely what it tends to be but shouldn't we use while promoting it more accurate descriptions of status quo instead of those kind of distorted ones? And very likely the hardest dilemma: should we try to maintain status quo in its current state, or not? Maintaining the BAU seems to provide more time and I think that is what we need the most. Take also into account that it is inevitable several crises will come sooner or later despite our tries to stop it. While shipping between Scylla and Charybdis we are facing many Sophie's choices; that is also the case of nuclear power. Is it is very easy to critize and refuse it at all but one should not forget there are many of us still using it.

Frantisek said...

Our expectations on future are utterly crucial. From that perspective I consider the text "Discounted future" written by Nicole Foss as timeless and I higly recommend it to everyone. It is important to realize that we cannot expect that our future will bring as much (many times low-quality material affluence and abudance) as majority of us has been used to until now. We'll sooner or later realize that we no longer live the bright idea of growth that itself is an expression of the idea of progress and that makes a lot sense to everyone, no matter he or she understands the theory behind or not. The idea of progress is originally invention of the age of Enlightement and it is based on the secularized linear philosophy of history. Even though there are works describing the end of idea of progress (Zdzislaw Krasnodebski). I doubt it counts for the reality that is lived by individual lifes. There is still a lot of progress interpretated/expressed as economic growth present in us. Is it possible to change the interpretation/expression? Isn't this expression wrong path taken by secularized form of modernisation? Do we want to preserve the idea of progress? That are the questions. Indeed, we won't have in many times that choice but we'll still live this inner and external paradox. And it will be burden our souls. I think this shift from progress-orientation to descent and resilience thinking is the core of the whole problem.

Your metaphors of yeast-sugar or staying on a board-escaping on a lifeboat are too black&white. Imagine: what if the passenger knowing the ship is going to decides to go to the underdeck voluntarily? Certain kind of seppuku. Peak oil (and related topics - I prefer to use terms such as "peak complexity" or "systemic crisis") is a paramount thanatological issue. Kübler-Ross appears again but not only her since thanatology is definitely religious topic.

Last not least, I am curious what is your opinion about GM's last text:

John Michael Greer said...

Karen, thank you; I'll keep that in mind. Still, the climate here in the Appalachians isn't that far from the climate in some tea-growing regions of China, and there are varieties of tea that grow in Russia, so I have hopes!

Rich, one of the most challenging tasks ahead of us is that of reshaping our lifestyles to fit the ecologies of the places we live. Irrigation canals commonly shut down in the declining phases of civilizations; even when soil salinization hasn't become an issue, maintaining complex infrastructure stops being an option. There are ways to live in an arid or semiarid region without irrigation, but they need to be (re)learned, and fast.

Michael, that's funny. You're quite right; Monbiot immediately proves his own point by making a statement about infrastructure that's based on a belief system, not any sort of technology. If we, ahem, USE LESS ENERGY, that doesn't take any kind of massive infrastructure buildout; what it takes is the much cheaper and lower-impact process of retrofitting our homes and other buildings to conserve energy and to produce some of what's needed on the spot via solar water heating and other proven, sensible steps. That approach isn't in Monbiot's belief system, so he talks about infrastructure -- and quite frankly talks nonsense about it. What part of nuclear infrastructure isn't "ugly, destructive and controlled by remote governments and corporations"?

Archivist, once suburbia completes its historical trajectory and turns into a ring of shantytowns and truck farms surrounding the deindustrializing cities, it'll use very little energy outside of human muscle power -- with some solar and wind, if we work hard at getting low-cost, locally relevant technologies into people's hands as soon as possible. As it exists now? You're quite correct, of course.

Mark said...

A number of things I've read lately suggest that some get it and are willing to let on that they get it. Jeremy Grantham's recent piece at The Oil Drum is a good example. Grantham is not just some street corner prophet, his company manages over $100B in assets.

Be honest with me if the idea below seems crazy....

Just recently Dunkin Donuts, (A big US fast food company known for their coffee and sweet breakfast foods) just announced its Initial Public Stock Offering (IPO). As Fast food places go, they are pretty heavy energy users and depend on people who are mostly oblivious to their high-energy-use lifestyle (drive thru windows, Styrofoam packaging, bright lights, open 16+ hours a day, lots of waste, they probably throw out more coffee in a day than the country of Columbia drinks in a day).

They claim the IPO will allow them grow the business. In my conspiratorial/cynical view, it's a way for the owners to cash out by pawning the company off on energy-ignorant investors because once energy gets really expensive, DD sales will disappear and their stock will become worthless.


Cathy McGuire said...

Great post, again. It sounds to me, though, like you’ve speeded up your process a little since last year’s posts? There seems to be a bit more urgency in your writing, and I understand why. It’s a lot like walking on an iced pond in spring… a feeling like the wrong move could send you into icy waters!

One of my biggest struggles now is how fast to prepare for what. Example: I tend to save materials that might be useful, but today I cleared out a bunch because I realize I need the space, and it probably won’t be useful to have a ton of tin cans this early into collapse. I need to be saving for an intermediate scenario, but that’s so hard to judge. I have a nice collection of hand tools, but use the power drill and sharpener and mower just to save my strength for the hard manual gardening. I don’t want to wear myself out before I have to, as long as power is still available… so the struggle is to have the ability to manage if some major services drop off, while still not killing my (not so young) self in learning all this green wizardry.

@forestdoor: My pressing question, however, is this: How can one prepare for any of this when one is currently poor enough to probably never own land, a house, etc.? It seems that most stories of people downsizing, returning to the land, etc., feature people who already had some degree of wealth. You might want to check around (via Craig’s List or something) for older folk in nearby rural-ish areas who would trade labor for veggies or fruit. I sure would love some strong young person who would be interested in that! The young folk here don’t want to do manual labor, or they expect $25/hr! At some point, you might find yourself making a deal with someone who has land but lacks energy or strength.

@DaShui A problem with switching to a low energy lifestyle (for a man) is that no woman will have anything to do with you, as women have evolved to seek out high status mates which means in modern society conspicuous consumption.
I beg to differ! Heck, I’m doing it all myself on my ¾’s acre, and would love to meet men who also believe in green wizardry and getting ready to manage a low-energy life. And when I go down to the “big city” (Eugene) I find women at the sustainable meetings as well as men… don’t give up. ;-)

And hey, if any of you are in upstate NY, I notice Sharon Astyk is looking for two summer interns to work for learning all sorts of sustainable skills!

John Michael Greer said...

Frantisek, does your friend who's translating The Long Descent have a publisher lined up? If so, please have them get in touch with the publisher of the original edition -- they'd be happy to make the necessary arrangements. As for the rest, well, obviously we disagree about the potential of alternative energy sources; other than that, well, I could spend an entire post responding to the points you've made! I haven't read Monbiot's latest; will get around to it if time permits.

Mark, it's not crazy at all. That's called a "pump and dump" scheme -- boost the price of a stock mostly or entirely held by management, and sell the lot of it before it drops like a rock. Happens all the time in the not very free market where stocks are sold.

Cathy, yes, there's more urgency. Events are moving very quickly now; it's anyone's guess exactly when the next really big wave of crisis is going to hit, but the next couple of years could get very lively. It's still the same old work that has to be done, but those who aren't getting to it may miss their chance.

Jason Heppenstall said...

@JMG "There are ways to live in an arid or semiarid region without irrigation, but they need to be (re)learned, and fast." - I have a friend in Spain researching this in the mountains of Andalucia and they are always looking for volunteers so any posters interested in this can look at:

Regarding the next round of money printing, instead of QE3, how about:


It has a certain ring to it ...

johnt said...

JMG and Jean-Vivien, the 'Third World' is not waiting for us to re-invent itself. Many many people and groups in the global south are developing ways to improve daily life by re-using man-made stuff that's already out there. To name just one example: the MetaReciclagem [meta-recycling] network in Brazil trains people how to recycle computers and connect them together. This kind of example persuades me that there will still be computing in de-industrial cities, and that "getting low-cost, locally relevant technologies into people's hands" does not just mean hammers and ploughs.

idiotgrrl said...

And you don't need high tech for irrigation. New Mexico did fine with the acequia system for a long time. And they got that from the Spanish, who moved in on formerly Arab-held lands during and after the Reconquista and saw the irrigation systems already in place.

I am a member of UNM's Medieval Students Association and that was the subject of one of our lectures - one an a half, in fact, since the lecturer went off on the irrigation tangent in his first lecture. I got lots of notes.

We're talking water power and animal-driven wheels and things you could do with hand tools here.

Jason said...

The Monbiot conversation was very much talking past each other, at least until JMG's last reply. It's a simple disagreement about facts. Monbiot says in black and white that there is no peak oil problem -- no need to use less energy and the oil deficit is already being made up, here are the numbers. Attack there and there will be, not agreement, but at least mutual comprehension. That is the issue.

One of the Remnant said...

JMG said:

"Remnant, well, if you find Mises useful, by all means; I don't. We had bigger bubbles and worse depressions in the second half of the 19th century, before the Fed was founded, than we've had since then."

Didn't intend to promote the Mises org as a whole - they're dogmatic lunatics in many ways, and about as anti-environment as one could find. But the one publication I pointed to explains how the Fed actually works, which I think is crucial info to people trying to make sense of today's economic situation.

You are right that we had bubbles and so forth prior to the existence of the Fed, but this banking cartel now DOES exist, and plays a/the major role, IMO, so best to be informed about it, and that won't happen by reading mainstream sources.

One of the Remnant said...

@ escapefromwisconsin

"How can anyone build sustainable businesses under current economic conditions? Some think its going to crash eventually, but when? I see no end to cheap imports and multinational corporations cutting potential domestic entrepreneurs off at the knees. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have precious little need for a blacksmith."

I really hear you on this, escape. You are not alone in asking these questions. This situation is very frustrating for me, and others I know, as well.

I think this is where the Titanic analogy breaks down a bit, because circumstances can demand that we keep one leg on the cruise ship and one in the lifeboat - while recognizing the need to work toward eliminating the need for the former. For those of us without adequate assets or independent income, we can't just jump into the lifeboat. The encouraging thing is that there are a lot of folks here (and on the green wizards forums) who have suggestions that can help us to shift in that direction.

For one thing, I think all of us can devote time and energy to developing skills likely to be useful in the future, even if we can't see our way clear to implementing those skills right now via a sustainable business that will be able to withstand the current economic climate/system.

I also continue to think that one of the more important things is to examine the ways in which we relate to what is happening, and what is likely to happen - it's the mindset aspect. That is, what is our emotional experience of and response to this whole predicament? And can that be changed? I'm convinced that in many cases, this is the most important change we can make in our lives to prepare. It's more of a spiritual than a practical preparation. Fortunately, both can be pursued simultaneously.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ Mark

Suggested new slogans for Dunkin' Donuts IPO - take your pick:

Time to dump the donuts
Time to dunk investors


One of the Remnant said...

@ sruggieri

Brilliant - had not watched that movie in years, so I re-watched it this morning. Another segment in the film caught my attention in a way that it didn't when I saw it, probably 10 years ago. They are talking about why/if it's necessary now for people to go to Mt Everest for a dramatic experience of the 'real' in order to be made to 'see' reality when the cigar store next door is just as real:

Andre: The problem is that people can't *see* the cigar store now. I mean, things don't affect people the way they used to. I mean, it may very well be that 10 years from now people will pay 10,000 in cash to be castrated just in order to be affected by something!

Wally: But – why do you think that is? I mean, why is that, I mean, is it just because people are lazy today, or they're bored? I mean, are we just like bored, spoiled children who've just been lying in the bathtub all day just playing with their plastic duck and now they're just thinking: well, what can I do?

Andre: Ok, yes. We are bored. We're all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you Wally that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing created by a world totalitarian government based on money? And that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it's not just a question of individual survival, Wally, but that somebody who's bored is asleep, and that somebody who's asleep will not say no?

One of the Remnant said...

continuation of dialogue from Dinner...

ANDRE: See, I keep meeting these people, I mean, just a few days ago I met this man who I greatly admire. He's a Swedish physicist, Christophe Bjornsen, and he told me that he no longer watches television, he doesn't read newspapers, and he doesn't read magazines. He's completely cut them out of his life, because he really does feel that we're living in some sort of Orwellian nightmare now, and that everything you hear now contributes to turning you into a robot.


IMO, if folks are looking for something to do, the physicist offers a wonderful suggestion.

I cannot help but notice the tone of fear I see in many posts here - people are operating from a place of fear in regard to the present and future, e.g. losing modern medicine. This is what I meant in my earlier comment about the emotional experience of these times and our predicament.

I think that this fear is induced - intentionally IMO - by much of modern 'culture' - especially the political culture. As HL Mencken famously said decades ago:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and thus clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

While I disagree that all are imaginary, I think Mencken gets it exactly right that 'menace' is the basis for politics, and that Americans have been steeped in an environment which is based on their manipulation via fear-mongering. True of both the so-called left and right, IMO.

So it seems to me that the very first effort we need to make as green wizards, or even as human beings, is not to learn how to compost (as vitally important as that is), but to learn to free ourselves from the pall of fear that hangs over us and inhibits effective action. But this has real implications. Mencken also said:

"The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty — and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies."

John Michael Greer said...

Jason, that's excellent! When the next round of money printing gets announced, I'm going to try to make that go viral...

Johnt, I think you misunderstood me. I'm not suggesting that existing Third World countries have anything to learn from us here in the US, except maybe whatever lessons can be garnered from a bad example. The Third World 2.0 I'm talking about is the one that's coming into existence in the US, and shortly thereafter, elsewhere in the currently industrialized world. A thousand years ago, a great deal of what's now the Third World was prosperous, cultured and technologically advanced by the standards of pre- and post-petroleum societies, while Europe was a smoking ruin quarrelled over by barbarians; we're probably a lot less than a thousand years away from a repeat of that, with America thrown in on Europe's side of the bargain for good measure.

Grrl, excellent! This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. I trust you took detailed notes.

Jason, that's not the only issue, but it's certainly a major one.

Remnant, fair enough. I get emails and comments from true believers on that end of the economic spectrum fairly often, and disagree with them on some very important points, thus my tendency to back away when people start citing the Mises Institute.

One of the Remnant said...


"Remnant, fair enough. I get emails and comments from true believers on that end of the economic spectrum fairly often, and disagree with them on some very important points, thus my tendency to back away when people start citing the Mises Institute."

I understand completely. I'm in the paradoxical position of, like you, feeling the need to back away (slowly :) when someone mentions Rothbard or von Mises - while simultaneously feeling a desire to point out what nuggets of value I think exist within such a myth-based body of hyper-intellectualized dogma.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the Buddha's Kalama Sutta, which notes that the sensible person will avoid treating scriptures, gurus, tradition, etc as automatically reliable sources of knowledge, and instead suggests one's own skeptical and free inquiry and one's own discernment of whether application of such knowledge leads to peace, wisdom, harmony within and without oneself (most of the Mises stuff seems to me to lead in the opposite direction).

As a philosophy of life, I think it's got a lot more going for it than most. ;-)

- Oz

LynnHarding said...

Two "predicaments" keep being described. The first is the fact that there are plenty of people who have resources (land and housing) but can't make it work because they can't afford to pay $15-$25 that workers want, while there are young people who would like to get out of cities and into more sustainable lifestyles. The second is that most people have to prepare for the energy poor life ahead while remaining fully engaged in the present economy. (I loved the comment describing this as having one foot in the lifeboat and the other on the deck.)

You would think that there would be a way to pair up the people who cannot find a role in the present economy with those who are wobbling in between the lifeboat and the deck of the sinking ship.

Perhaps that "matchmaking" role would be a good career choice at this point. It is fraught though, with potential problems. There is the fact that most people don't want to perform what they will inevitably perceive to be backbreaking menial jobs on other people's property for "free". As soon as money starts changing hands you run into complicated issues of social security payments, minimum wage, workers comp, health insurance, etc.

As economic conditions get worse a lot of ad hoc arrangements may make sense. Certainly worth discussing on Green Wizards but in what forum?

Draft said...

JMG - thanks for the Mumford pointer; I knew I must have missed it.

Beyond dependence vs. independence, I wonder what impact black swans will have on the future you describe here. In The Ecotechnic Future you cite Taleb and how black swans can be inflection points. The thing is, most black swans tend to be things with which some small group was concerned that the wider population wasn't, so it's not impossible to anticipate what they might be (though the timing, location, and severity are probably unknowable).

It would be very interesting to hear what black swans you think might be possible in the next decade or so, and how they might shape the Third World 2.0 future ahead for us in the United States.

Apple Jack Creek said...

For those who are pursuing fibre arts while recognizing that this is not an immediately rewarding career path in a deindustrial future ... I would like to point out a few other benefits. :)
Fibre work is meditative and restorative for many people. The rhythm of knitting or spinning or weaving is like telling beads on a rosary, it can be like a prayer, if you choose to make it so. The need for grounding spiritual practices has been mentioned here, and fibre work can be part of your spritual practice. As a plus, you are making something while you meditate – a sock meditation! a shawl prayer!
And, although we all recognize that people in general aren't going to be beating down the door for hand knit socks while Walmart is still there and they can get a bag of them for six bucks ... wait, hang on, do you actually knit socks? If you do, you probably know that lots of people already DO clamour for hand knit socks, especially wool ones. :) If you know how to knit socks (shawls, scarves, hats, mitts..) you're able to create welcome gifts for every occasion, and have a stash of stuff you can barter for things you need. Oh, it won’t fill the pantry, but I made mitts for the construction guy who did a bunch of work for us, and I know he appreciated them. In a low energy world, I might be able to pay for something in partial cash, partial food (meat, produce), partial knitted goods.
For fibre craft to really work in a low energy world, though, you need to have access to raw fibre: they are awesome lawnmowers, you can eat the offspring (you can eat alpaca as well as lamb), and one sheep has enough wool for at least 2 sweaters, probably more. Most sheep farmers throw away their wool these days, so if you can find a sheep farm you can get wool to practice on at least. It’ll be dirty and hard to work with, to be sure, but now’s the time to learn. Fibre prep is a piece of the craft a lot of people aren't familiar with - working with mill processed rovings is extraordinarily pleasant, and washing raw wool is stinky and messy ... but if you can wash the fleece (do check out the fermented suint method - low energy), card it (hand carders are cheap, but if you're gonna do a lot of this save up for a drum carder as well, and maybe a set of combs), and spin it (a spindle will work just fine, a wheel is faster) ... then you are set for a lifetime of sock knitting, blanket weaving, sweater making meditation.

trippticket said...

@Lynn Harding:
My family is in just the position you describe. In essence we are sharecroppers on the Massah's land. We are permacultural homesteaders on a 300 acre family farm in south Georgia, USA, and weren't crazy about the arrangement at first. A mere four months down the timeline we have a quarter acre of garden under cultivation, a piano and wood stove moving in, and 40+ fruit trees in the ground.

I think it can only work, however, for people who really understand what is happening. The urgency of the situation has to be a real part of the equation. When you understand that we are not simply beyond peak oil, but that paper money is on its way out, allopathic medicine will soon be in its decline (thank god), and "retirement" means that your kids get to do the bulk of the planting and preserving now, it makes you open to some innovative ideas.

Wealth in the contractionary phase won't be anything like wealth as we know it today.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Breanna,

I don't have much to add to this weeks discussion, so I thought that I might address your question.

What you describe is not a problem, but a predicament.

I don't subscribe to zombie apocalyptic scenarios. However, there is a problem which is not often spoken about, but impacts you directly. At the core of Industrial societies problems is that the use of fossil fuels has allowed our population numbers to grow beyond the carrying capacity of the land.

I live on acreage, and grow a percentage of my own food (which is increasing every season) but I don't for a second pretend that I'm self sufficient.

The other thing that is constantly impressed on me is that it is hard work. Today I spent four hours chopping hardwood stumps with an axe. I would use my last 20 litres of fuel in the chainsaw because it's the best use of that fuel.

The point is though, that because everything here is a bit old school (with new techniques), I realise that any large scale agricultural systems require vast amounts of oil. You and I eat oil and there are no alternatives to this scenario. It will unravel one day in our lifetimes and hungry people make for unpleasant companions.

I often read in the comments week after week, "woe is me, I don't know what profession to take up to survive any downturn." Well, it's pretty simple really.

People die in:
3 minutes without air;
3 days without water; and
3 weeks without food.

Remember that our numbers are in excess of the carrying capacity. You ask, what to do? Well, you don't have to worry about the air. However, you can see that it might be worthwhile researching water collection and storage methods and more importantly food. Growing it, harvesting it and cooking it. More importantly you might also want to learn about how to return the nutrients back into the soil to improve soil fertility - this is not happening in our current system. Go practice on either your balcony or in community gardens. Rip up your parents backyard - whatever, just practice, practice, practice.

When you've got your head around food, then move on to how to make alcohol (beer, wine, or spirits). Nothing will keep you in good stead like the ability to produce alcohol, as it's a tradeable commodity. It will keep you safe from harm (mostly anyway) and provide a reason for others to provide protection.

During the gold rush era here between 1850 to the 1890's people made more money by selling fruit, vegies, meat and booze than those that were out panning (or mining) for gold. Any future will be no different.

Next you'll want to start thinking about shelter. How are basic dwellings built using recycled or locally available materials. Your apartment won't be a very nice place to be if there is little or intermittent power.

You should still have some available time after all that. So learn a martial art and get fit. I don't mean go to a gym, but real endurance fitness like being able to walk 20 kilometres and then be able to do it again the next day. Try a couple of long hikes with a backpack. People aren't fit enough these days for really hard manual work.

Once you've done all that, you can start working up Maslow's heirachy of needs. A very useful individual is unlikely to get into too much trouble.

I hope you find this to be useful.



The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

@Apple Jack Creek

If Blogger had a "Like" button for comments, I would have used it for that comment.

Until things eventually settle down a bit on the other side of the transition, most of us will have to make a living by doing a bit of this, bit of that - "ducking and weaving", as they used to say here, a "Portfolio of revenue streams" if you want to go all MBA about it. Yup, that's yer "Third World 2.0@, favela lifestyle.

Probably none of us will live full-time as healers or weavers or blacksmiths (what is it that so many commenters have against blacksmiths? I very nearly took a course in blacksmithing, and only didn't in the end because I can't afford to set up a forge. There are actually a lot of horses in my part of the world and it would have been a step towards work as a farrier, which is pretty high-value).

Anyway, the point of acquiring the skills is not necessarily to do them full-time, but to be able to do something that most people can't, and thus gives you something to trade or exchange, as you say.

Plus, as you rightly point out, doing something that you enjoy has a spiritual benefit as well :-)

Cherokee Organics said...

Dear George Mobiot,

I would give your support for nuclear power my tick of approval if the following conditions were met:

1. Nuclear reactors could be designed so that they could be easily decommissioned at some stage in the future;

2. Resources were guaranteed to be available to decommission that plant in the future regardless of the circumstances;

3. The plant could be shut down quickly in the event of a catastrophic disaster;

4. In the event of a catastrophic disaster, radioactive isotopes were guaranteed not to leak into the surrounding environment because of the design of the plant;

5. Maintenance and faults in the plant were undertaken in a safe and transparent manner and the risk of these jobs was not outsourced;

6. Mining of the uranium in the first place did not place indigenous people at harm in either the mining process or at environmental risk such as leakage from tailing dams; and

7. The spent fuel rods were at least stored in a long term manner in an area not subject to either flooding, water table leakage or geological faults.

Other than that the risks are not worth it.



Brad K. said...

@ JMG,

I understand that no analogy or metaphor is perfect.

Yet I have been thinking about your sinking ship analogy and dependence, and I have a problem with it.

The choice to don the preserver depends on the system, in this case the ship and crew and the company owning and operating the ship, to provide that preserver, and the life boat, and to arrange the procedure for abandoning the boat. You are dependent on the larger system that expects other ships to recognize and respond to such crises, and then to rescue those in need.

That is, where you cite lessened dependence, instead the average passenger benefits from following the established, recommended procedure, using prepared and provided supplies and facilities.

It is the hoarder, the foolish choice, that refuses to follow *conventional* wisdom.

I think I prefer a scenario where the aware person chooses to eschew the ocean voyage except to emigrate -- and for emigration to accept that dependency as being unavoidable.

When listing post-industrial jobs, I hope you include tinker, peddler - and music teacher and minstrel, and storyteller. Oral traditions for passing news and preserving culture and heritage served the pre-industrial world well. Instrument maker for non-electric instruments, birdhouse makers and people that dig ditches and wells will be needed. Working rock for removal when building as well as using rock to build structures, foundations, and fences should be useful in various regions. Fishers in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters, too. Likely even the shrimp farming of the Forrest Gump book (not the seagoing venture of the movie) will be useful.

Curing and preparing hardwoods for artisan use, making of bricks and mortar, maker of shoes and tanner of leather. Buttons may not come into need any time soon, but the times of the appropriate tech were also characterized by homely embroidery as well.

Most of all, preserve the music, and the joining of voices in song. Please.

@ DaShui,

Consider this -- The person you choose to make a family with, will have immense physical, spiritual, and emotional impact on you, your endeavors and survival, your enjoyment of life, and on your legacy to the future.

In the industrial age, we have come to look to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue for the image of what makes a woman attractive. But consider what a mate should be, to thrive in a post-industrial world. What skills, what character, what expectations you and she must possess and what goals and ambitions you hold dear.

Then, like any endeavor worth your time, consider who you must be to attract, comfort, and cherish that caliber of mate, and what roles you will be playing in family and community to live the life that returns what is needed for your home.

Look among those people that you respect. Become a trusted member of your community. Live a life of character, honor, and integrity, and associate with such people, only.

(Hint: All the talk about beer and wine aside, I would not start the search where alcohol is served.) I would suggest that the current fashion of dating for recreation is a squandering of resources and creates bad relationship and character habits that will haunt a so-called "long term relationship". Look for someone interested in a home, not someone highly skilled at attracting dates.

Brad K. said...

@ Cherokee Organics,

Well said.

About your point #5, "Maintenance and faults in the plant were undertaken in a safe and transparent manner and the risk of these jobs was not outsourced;"

I cannot see that one happening.

Risks exist to nuclear plants today from terrorists and even domestic sources. That doesn't seem likely to change.

In the future, dependable sources of energy and materials, including power plants, may well become targets of opportunity for economic and/or military exploitation -- to seize for use or deny to an opponent/destroy.

Besides that, I would want assurance that building a new power plant were both carbon neutral, and didn't involve any direct or indirect consumption of oil, coal, or other fossil fuel. That would deny food and energy to the general population. Oops. I just said it doesn't make sense to build power plants. I wonder how that happened.

Cathy McGuire said...

On the topic of dependence, and practicing independence, I just want to add "routine". One thing that I think is (and will be) something that sends people over the edge is losing routines or habits that they've come to rely on. So this is the time to become aware of where you have a comfortable routine and to practice not having it. Sounds easy and trivial, but as I practice that, I see the places I might come unglued if suddenly those things were removed or habits blocked. (The morning coffee, the habitual checking of internet news)... in order to be more flexible, I'm trying to practice being without my comforts, just so I know I can deal with it.

hapibeli said...

As sixbears said, it really is all relative. When you're down in the mud, anything better, looks "better"! It looks like my wife and I may be moving from a somewhat simple life to an even simpler, but much more sustainable life. The "middle classes" as presently constituted will think that we are nuts, but in 5 years or so, we may look a little less nuts...:-) :-)

GHung said...

"The USA will become a third world Country"

Unlike third world countries, the US is long invested in first world consumption, first world lifestyles, first world expectations. Third worlders know how to adapt. Americans won't react well to "can't", "won't", "'isn't". Their learning curve will be very steep.

Can you say "Fourth World Country"?

Betcha can.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Agreed Bill, though there are those that would and will try to use more of anything or even everything, and some like George Monbiot who will pretend to be unable to see any other way, that particular belief system is essentially self-defeating. His notion that exponential increase in the complexity of dependant consumption by advance on imaginary future means could by delaying the immediate necessity to do so somehow ensure that we just use less, seems on the face of it absolutely outrageous; and the Archdruid rightly took him to task. But considered in the context of decreasing returns from increasing complexity, the expense of implementing Monbiot's nuclear daydream, if not outright prohibitive, would at least reduce the capital available for competing options. And as a result, we would just have to use less. In fact, it is just that sort of misallocation of resources that can accelerate the certainty of using less, though that does not seem to have occurred to Monbiot.

Monbiot is still in search of a solution to a defined problem. He thinks human ingenuity can avoid predicted catastrophic discontinuity from resource depletion and atmospheric pollution. But he is clearly uncertain. Greer on the other hand is certain; certain that the catabolic collapse underway cannot be halted. And his belief system too hinges on human ingenuity; he is hopeful that sufficient numbers of people will adapt appropriately, slowing the rate of the unraveling, and enabling the conservation of knowledge and skills essential not just for species survival but the retention of an historic cultural identity.

While I think it possible that we could sterilize the planet, or short of that simply exterminate much of life on it including perhaps ourselves, I do not believe that is inevitable. We have ensured that the road ahead will be a rough one, and then one with no pavement, and finally there will be no roads - only trails. Some will be ours, because we will have learned, one way or another, to use less.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Brad K

Your point about choosing a partner is one I think is often overlooked, and I agree with you that this is crucial. I especially liked the way you pointed out that a mere ability to attract dates isn't the sort of quality one would wisely seek.

@ GHung

I tend to agree - a new category, beyond "3rd world," will probably be necessary to describe America before too long...

@ Cathy

Excellent point - the practice you suggest is one which could arguably be seen as an aid in awakening!

Joshua said...

Reading through your weekly posts is on my 'must do' list, as I look for ways to insulate myself and loved ones from looming deindustrialization. It would be very helpful though if you posted a set of 'guiding principles' that readers could print out, a sort of mental checklist when evaluating tools or individual circumstances for the philosophy you espouse in your blog.

John Michael Greer said...

Oz, hard to argue with that -- though of course there are those, not all of them Mises fans, who will do so.

Lynn, I'd bring it up at the Cafe, and if there's enough interest, ask the moderators to create a new folder for the subject.

Draft, that's a subject for a post all its own, and once the Green Wizards sequence winds down -- which is still a few months away -- I'll be launching into another sequence of posts in which that'll be highly relevant.

Apple Jack, excellent! One other point, which I'll be making in more detail later, is that there are two things on the agenda here: the first are the things that will get each of us through the mess that's looming ahead of us, and the second are the things our descendants are going to need to know, and we need to be prepared to pass on to them. Whether or not fiber arts are in the first category, they're sure as heck in the second.

Trippticket, may I take that last sentence of yours, have it made into the business end of a branding iron, and apply it freely to the backsides of all the people who think that buying lots of gold, or other assets, is going to get them through the near-to-middle future in comfort? Thanks.

Chris, nicely summarized.

Carp, I have no idea why so many people pick on blacksmithying as a craft supposedly nonviable in the near future. Most of the blacksmiths I've met make a decent living, and if they branch out into any of the specialties that produce non-decorative iron and steel products, they can do very well indeed for themselves. That will be all the more true in the future, when it'll be a lot harder to get metal in useful shapes from overseas.

Chris, you're more lenient than I am. I keep on coming back to the point that any kind of respect for the biosphere that supports all our lives demands that we stop pushing the costs of our lifestyles onto the future. Nuclear power is the ultimate example of pushing costs onto the future, and until somebody comes up with a working reactor that produces no radioactive waste with a half-life longer than the plant itself, and leaks no radionuclides into the biosphere, I consider nuclear power unacceptable on any terms. Really, the word "evil" is not too extreme.

Brad, by all means choose another metaphor if that one doesn't suit your fancy!

Cathy, excellent. Tackling the internal drives (such as clinging to routines) that keep so many people stuck in their current ruts is hard work, but it can have spectacular payoffs.

Hapibeli, best of luck with your plans! Five years from now there may not be much of a middle class to decide that you're nuts, so I suspect you'll be fine.

GHung, oh, I think we'll settle down to Third World status once the crisis passes. Mind you, getting from here to there is going to be a very rough road.

Lloyd, well put. To my mind, at least, there's no question that we're headed down the arc of decline and fall; the sole question is whether enough people catch on in time that we can make the curve less drastic than it has to be, and save some of the things that are worth saving. I think that's possible, but it's still very much an open question.

Joshua, that's a challenging request! Nobody alive today is an expert in navigating the decline and fall of a civilization; furthermore, situations vary so much from place to place and person to person that any such checklist would have to include a lot of if/then statements. (For example, if you live in Las Vegas -- or anywhere else where there isn't going to be a water supply once things wind down -- every other step you can take is predicated on moving somewhere else as fast as possible.) Still, I'll put some thought into it.

Matt and Jess said...

Thanks for bringing up water in your last comment. I'm in Denver for another week or so, and it's so dry here that the green grasses of spring--that aren't parts of yards, but wild places--last for maybe like 2 weeks before turning brown. It's actually more of a pretty golden color...something I'll miss. We have quite a local food movement, but also regular droughts. Our water supply comes from the mountains and that seems to be it, and it's also shared with everyone downstream. It almost never rains. I think a smaller population will be here for a long time, but they'll use extreme water preservation methods. I'm pretty sure this area didn't supported a large population before the industrial age. So I don't think I'm crazy in wanting to leave ASAP. Unfortunately I'm having trouble convincing my family and friends of this.

I think the one question that everyone my age on this blog is encountering is that of the price of land or an affordable house with decent room to grow food and homestead. I wonder just how affordable it can be in other parts of the country. I don't mind the idea of sharecropping, but I would like a little more security since we have children. I'm used to mountains so Appalachia sounds great. Well, if anyone has any suggestions, let me know:)

Also JMG thanks for the plug about blacksmithing. It's something my partner is considering learning as a compliment to his now pretty awesome woodworking skills.

One of the Remnant said...

I'd like to tackle the implications - as I see them, especially in the nuclear area - of this statement squarely:

"Even among those who haven’t tried to squirm away from the unwelcome realities of our present predicament, there seems to be a tendency to avoid talking about exactly what the landscape of the American future looks like."

Amidst declining access not simply to energy itself, but to the physical infrastructure derived from it (including the electrical grid), and the financial infrastructure which makes it all go round, it is very difficult for me to imagine a 'landscape of the America future; which does not include partial and in some cases full meltdowns of most if not all of the existing 100+ nuclear reactors in American power plants.

To decommission such plants requires decades of time, as well enormous amounts of energy AND capital, plus a skilled work force. It's looking more and more like we won't have the latter three when the SHTF. At least, not in a way that could be intelligently organized. I suspect local communities and regions will largely be on their own in coping with this situation, which seems like to persist for decades. In fact, I think it's likely that this will be a major preoccupation of the next century, at least, and I don't see any silver bullets in the wings for effectively addressing the situation. Even encasement in concrete is a short term band aid, as we've seen with Chernobyl.

So it seems to me that one of the chief features of the deindustrial age will be ongoing waves of migration away from centers of radioactive contamination, as well as other centers of toxicity.

Thus, I think one of the criteria folks would be wise to consider is not simply geophysical facts such as rainfall in, say Las Vegas and Phoenix, but also insidious factors such as probable local or regional sources of lethal carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens. Not just nuclear plants, but superfund sites and government/military sites with nukes and other high concentrations of toxic materials. The US government - let us not forget - is the #1 polluter in the world.

What would be quite useful would be a map with all such sources plotted, along with suggested exclusion zones. Here's one for nuclear plants:

Basically, if you are in the midwest or anywhere east. you are at risk under such a scenario.

And there is a searchable map of superfund sites on this page on the right hand side at the bottom:

I'm sure those two don't come close to covering it, but they're a start. I doubt one could obtain sufficiently accurate info overall to do a good job at plotting all the deadly sources, but such a project would, IMO, be at least as important as Skrebowski's megaprojects database.

Jen said...

Regarding the utility of fiber arts -- among other benefits already mentioned, I would add the understanding of fiber structures and alternative clothing ideas. Several neighbors ask me for help in darning socks and sweaters; I don't charge yet but the practice helps perfect a potential revenue stream. I know a lot more about clothing as insulation (nightcap, anyone?). And I'm learning a lot about constructing clothing in ways that don't involve wasting a lot of fabric (loom-shaped clothing, etc.), frugality that works at a lot of levels.

Besides, who thinks that cheap cotton t-shirts will be laying around forever in big box stores? Once there's a hole in the roof or the plumbing breaks down because there's not enough value in repairing it... those fibers will disintegrate rapidly. At least, that's the impression I got from The World Without Us.

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...


In reply to Joshua, you say:

Nobody alive today is an expert in navigating the decline and fall of a civilization;

It's likely that Ferfal's blog has come up in discussion here before, but not while I've been reading (and I was lurking for a long time before I started posting).

Ferfal lives in Buenos Aires, and blogs about what it was like during and after the collapse of the Argentine economy in late 2001. I happened to be there doing a bit of consulting a couple of weeks before things fell apart, and was really impressed by the elegance and affluence of the city. There were already street demos here and there, but not long after I got back home the government went bust and things got bad.

As with the Siberian Cossacks I referred to previously, Ferfal's views and politics are not my own, but who knows, when the parks near my home fill up with shanty towns, muggings and rapes and home invasions become frequent, perhaps my politics will move rightwards as well.

Anyhow, the point is: Argentina in 2001 was a first-world country, and then it went bust. There are quiet a few people there we can learn from, I guess (cf the region formerly known as Yugoslavia, perhaps, perhaps).

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. More Deadwood than Zombieland (you can use that if you like!).

The 1850's gold rush in Victoria is quite instructive as to what can be achieved with a low carbon economy. It's particularly instructive because the colony had only been settled 16 years previously. Most people had to walk from the port to the diggings.

It was however pretty desctructive of the forests and people were more or less expendable. Still it did happen.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi all,

To all who chant that their lifestyle is non negotiable:

I noticed in the newspaper a couple of days ago that in the US vehicle market last month, 8 out of the top 10 vehicles sold were 4 cylinder vehicles.

I take this as a sign that their lifestyle is most certainly negotiable! People are more adaptable than you may think.



gordon said...

Some good news for a change. At the Energy Bulletin, read what Angela Merkel is doing for Germany. And at BlackListed News, read about the town of Sedgwick, Maine (Creeping Tyranny Meets Creeping Sovereignty).

WG said...

Cathy @ 5:39

Great point and also one of the reasons I'm constantly concerned about the most vulnerable people in the community.

Just as you point out why we build routines and habits, so my experience has been that the elderly and mentally impaired need those routines even more. So many of them are 100% dependent on the current system as it is. Even projected budget cuts immediately before many states will impact them in ways they aren't well able to cope with.

How many of them have close family networks and community ties, I wonder? And it's a question that worries me....

John, thanks. I'll activate the amazing library services when I can.

Zach said...


I worry too about my beloved tea, and have been consoling myself with the notion that tea, olive oil, spices, and suchlike have been trade goods long before the fossil fuel era.

But you've inspired me to do a quick search. I recalled that there is a working tea plantation in South Carolina (though I missed my opportunity to visit is, sadly). There's a lot of information about it in Wikipedia, although I see it's been bought up by Bigelow. Wikipedia also links to this:

which quotes an 1863 NYT article about naturalized tea trees being found in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. But if you know of tea varieties being grown in Russia, you probably already knew this.


tOM said...

@Breanna A solar oven is furniture! And where else but on a patio? However, a bicycle would not be, unless a work of art.

Our manufacturing has become very efficient and our society very wasteful. The food supply has been growing faster than the population. Scarcities of resources, and climate change,will change this. But can/will GM foods adapt our food sources fast enough? We have a lot of slack here - just switching from meat to veggies/grains/... would double the west's food supplies. Climate change may make more land available for agriculture in Canada and Siberia than it loses in Australia and the US. Change can be beneficial as well as detrimental.

Malthus predicted our demise 2 centuries ago - but progress has trampled his theories, and it hasn't stopped.

Is the ship sinking? Or is the ocean changing to mud, and new skills are needed on the new land? While I think it is always wise to live frugally and sustainably, this does not have to be a retreat to homespun wool. Rather, I think the environmental costs have to be added into the other costs, via taxes on carbon, on pollution, to gradualise society's transition to a more Conservative lifestyle.

Apartment living can become more sustainable too - in fact, you can magnify effects by convincing your neighbours. A roof garden? Or solar roof? A community garden nearby? Or a vertical farm? Community composting? Recycling? You don't have to be alone, but you do have to be persuasive. Cities allow critical masses to form and have effects. Perhaps organise to take over the local government? Or just to get some land set aside for community gardening to build skill levels.

Building a community, rather than pioneering alone, is much better. You have companionship, broader skills, more protection, and a more consolidated point of view. Communities can be far more effective surviving in difficult times than individuals and usually make wiser decisions than the average of individuals.

@Ward - why fewer computers in the future? Silicon is plentiful, and some scientists are even growing massively parallel computers using DNA. Computing will change, but never disappear. Yes, transportation will change. Diesel/steam boats may become nuclear or coal fired - we still have 400 years of coal at extrapolated consumption rates. So raw materials and skilled labour and machines can still be united.

@druid - nuclear wastes bad? Coal, tar sands, many other industries make things as toxic, forever, not with a half-life, and many orders of magnitude more of it. The small amount of nuclear waste generated, even if it supplied all our energy needs for the next millennium, would still fit in just one of a thousand mines. It's like condemning an automobile because of the rubber tracks it leaves or the air it disturbs. It's minuscule.

We yeast eat the sugar and shut down when it's gone. But to continue living the high life, we need more sugar. As long as we're in the barrel, no more sugar. Perhaps if we shared we could eke it out.

But what we yeast really need are legs or wings to take us to new barrels, new dough. Actually, yeast progeny do fly off in the breeze.

Sustainability and conserving are good and useful principles. But to survive another 200,000 years, I think we must dare to go beyond the barrel, to new planets, star systems, and beyond.

If we stay in the barrel, we only survive if something else we can eat wanders in. Otherwise we are, eventually, doomed.

Cathode Ray said...

Dr Helen Caldicott explaining some of what has happened at Fukushima, the madness of nuclear power

Enough material for a lifetime of nightmares

Luciddreams said...

JMG said, "the sole question s whether enough people catch on in time..."

This speaks to the one thing I've been struggling with the most lately. I have largely given up on trying to convince anyone of PO, AGW, or any other pressing end of the current paradigm issue. I now find myself just in need of communion with those who are aware already. I know nobody in person who is aware. This makes for a very isolated existence. I have been a loner most of my life, but not a loner in a different paradigm. Now I feel the need to relate with people who get it for no other reason than to not feel insane for a short while. The dilemma I have is that I have a family and cannot simply pick up and move to where those people are. It has to be local, and that seems to be not possible.

One other thing I'd like to address is the request by Joshua for you to make a list. A writer for the automatic earth who also posts to his own blog recently posted this

It's about perturbation and I found it very interesting and relevant to what you were saying. In our case, physical preparations should best be done by personal variational strategies and a healthy respect for the transient nature of reality.

I would just like to not have to do all of that spiritual, psychological, emotional, and physical preparations by myself.

Zoul said...

Thank you for mentioning the event in Oregon! I live near it and would have never known.

Astrid said...

For those living in the city that think they're doomed if they can't buy a rural homestead, here is an excellent post by Sharon Astyk called "Reconsidering Cities". She discusses the pros and cons of city AND country living. Worth a read.

Richard Larson said...

One day a catastrophic occurance may have one happy to be owner, or friend of an owner, of a deer camp in the woods. I bet we could find residents along the Mississippi, Gulf, or certain Japanese right now that would love to be 100 miles away...

One small way that I got ahead was to save the chain from my pocket. Every night from the change jar would come the jingle of the impact of coins, ones upon the others. You get use to that sound, and the night is empty without hearing it.

The moment of absolute concentration was the time we cashed in the last jar of pennies to buy some groceries, 1985 I think that was, and believe me, it was then I learned how to work and save for the future, as otherwise we were going hungry!

And don't forget, there young people renting in that apartment, there is more than 5 cents of nickel in a nickel, and more than a pennies worth of copper in a pre-1983 penny. So don't ever cash those in, they are zero cost inflation hedges!

Richard Larson said...

Oh, and here is a link to a young man who is already living the future:

Timothy said...

In response to Frantisek:
For someone like me who is a near non-existent in the capitalist system of America, it is hard to care, much less see the use of trying to interface with that system so long as it chooses to make victims of the poor, improve the largesse of the rich, and take in as many natural resources for the now with little thought to the long-term consequences. So, for me, green wizardry holds a lot of promise because even someone who has been unemployed as long as I have, four years for me, and trying to make something of themselves, is given the impetus to remake themselves.
Heck, let's say the global peak oil problems never hit and things remain as they are far into the future. Let's even say that global warming isn't real (not that I believe this), but let's just say it for a hypothetical theory's sake. I still have a golden opportunity to learn skills, remake myself, and improve my life, my ecosystem and society at large through the little changes that my life makes through example, environmental impact (or especially, hopefully, lack thereof), and physical interaction with the world around me. There's virtually no downside to learning the skills that green wizardry brings to the table, but everything to lose if I don't have them (or my kid(s) don't have them) when they are needed. That's not a Pascal's Wager I'm willing to take. I'm willing to risk all the imaginal money in the world for a chance at living a life with real value.
In response to your assertion that maintaining BAU buys us more time, I deeply disagree. I see that the more that I buy into the status quo and perpetuate it, whether I buy a beater car or a coffee from a 7-11, the less time and attention I am giving to the problem at hand: these things are becoming obsolete. It behooves me to move beyond them, or provide the means to produce them myself. It takes valuable time and attention away from actually gaining skills with which to deal with a potential crisis. Waiting until a crisis hits to gain those skills, means, or products, means that crisis will hit that much harder. No emergency preparedness for regional, state, or federal planning I know of drops its members, untrained, into a crisis is happening if that can be avoided.
In terms of uses of time, energy, and tax money, nuclear is a net loser. It takes so long to even build a plant that the likely benefits will not be felt for some years off, whereas solar panels, wind, and geothermal methods of energy production are felt in the now, have the viable technology to make them long-term effective, and immediately usable in existent infrastructure. Why would I trade a shaky bet for a sure thing, especially when that shaky bet will produce a substance that is toxic, whereas the stable one produces no such toxins? You can keep using it, but I say "no" to any more use of it just as much as I say "no" to more of the status quo.
The problem with American society, at least, is that our economists, planners, and politicians, cannot see the value in subtraction. So long as we feed into the status quo, normal citizens won't either. I can live with a lot less, and I know it. Even on no income, I know this. So I eat less, I drive less, I do a lot of things a lot less. I live better on no income in America than most developing nation people probably do working their butt off in a factory. There's a lot of 'having less' that would have to happen before I really felt that.

headless1 said...

Mr Greer, Wealth of Nature is a good read and an important book.

headless1 said...

Mr Greer, Wealth of Nature is a fine read and an important book.


this wont hurt much said...

I have been peruseing The Arch Druid Report for a couple of years now, and find many of the ideas fascinating. I am wondering if you JMG are using any home made devices to suppliment your electrical needs.I entend to build a wind generator like the one you describe in the ADR, mostly for fun but with a eye tword the future. Thank you for sharing what you know. We will all need to use it sooner than later I am afraid.