Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Fashion for Austerity

The tempest in a media teapot over the apocalyptic predictions of California radio evangelist Harold Camping, it seems to me, provides a useful glimpse into the state of the collective imagination here in America. Camping, for those of my readers who somehow managed to miss the flurry of news stories, announced some months ago that the Rapture – the sudden miraculous teleportation of every devout Christian from earth to Heaven, which plays a central role in one account of the end times that’s popular just now in American Protestant circles – was going to happen at 6 pm last Saturday.

Now it so happens that I spent a large part of the last year or so researching and writing a history of apocalyptic prophecies, so the trajectory traced by Camping and his followers through the modern zeitgeist came as no surprise. What seems worth noting, though, is the amount of attention given to this latest prediction. At any given time, it’s a safe bet that somebody is proclaiming the end of the world within the next year or so, but it’s very rare that such prophecies make the news. Admittedly, your run of the mill doomsday prophet doesn’t splash his prophecy on billboards across the United States, and Camping did that; one even found its way to the quiet Appalachian town where I live, though it attracted little more than laughter. Cumberland’s well stocked with churches, and they seem to be well attended, but the antics of radio evangelists are apparently not much to local taste.

Still, I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of this sort of thing. When times are good, the guy with the sandwich board reading THE END IS NIGH is easy to ignore. When times are bad, on the other hand, there’s a real temptation to buy into even dubious claims that some outside force is going to rescue you. When things are bad and getting worse, furthermore, and any inquiry into why they’re bad and getting worse points straight to choices that you’ve made and are not yet willing to unmake, the hope that someone or something other than yourself will save you from the consequences of your own actions can be one of the few comfortable ways to deal with the resulting cognitive dissonance.

Since most of the people in the industrial world right now are in that situation, it’s probably safe to assume that a bumper crop of doomsday prophecies will feature prominently in the near future. The flurry of mutually contradictory claims surrounding the supposed end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 is likely to play a large role here. It’s probably a waste of breath at this point to mention that the Mayan calendar doesn’t actually end in 2012, that Classic Mayan inscriptions contain precisely one offhand reference to that date, that the reference supports precisely none of the gaudy claims currently being circulated about it, and that plenty of other Mayan inscriptions include dates that fall decades, centuries, and millennia past 2012.

For that matter, I doubt many people care that the entire 2012 business was invented out of whole cloth by New Age mystics Terence McKenna and Jose Arguelles back in the 1980s, when the field of Mayan archeology was still cluttered with a great deal of nonsense the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphics in the following decade tipped into the dumpster. For whatever reason, the collective conversation of our time has seized on 2012 as a convenient inkblot onto which fantasies of mass enlightenment and/or mass extermination can be projected at will. My guess is that as we get closer to December 21, 2012, the prophetic three-ring circus centering on that date will likely make Harold Camping green with envy.

Meanwhile, less futile responses to the crisis of industrial civilization are moving slowly inward from the fringes toward the cultural mainstream. Members of the peak oil community who track stories in the mainstream media have noted with some bemusement in recent months that the financial press has suddenly given up its habit of blithely dismissing peak oil as a nonissue. Even the Wall Street Journal, which not that long ago was a bastion of cornucopian insouciance, had a piece in yesterday’s issue talking nervously about the end of easily extracted oil reserves. Where the Wall Street Journal goes, the rest of the media generally follows; I think it’s fair to say that peak oil’s arrival as a cause célèbre in the cultural mainstream is very nearly in sight.

One of the best arguments for this last suggestion, ironically, is the recent explosion of comments in the peak oil blogosphere insisting that this can’t possibly happen. There’s an odd but understandable shift that happens in movements that start out on the outermost fringes of a culture, as the contemporary peak oil movement did. When they’re still comfortably settled in exile from the mainstream, such movements routinely churn out grand and sweeping proposals for worldwide change; it’s entirely acceptable to propose relocating the entire American population into lifeboat ecovillages, let’s say, or sinking half the world’s gross domestic product into a crash program to build solar power satellites, because nobody really expects to have to deal with the gritty details of putting their plans into effect.

Those movements that find themselves drawn inward from the fringes, though, routinely go through a sudden loss of nerve once it becomes clear that something might actually be done about whatever issue the movement is attempting to address. It’s not hard to understand why this should be so. Imagine for a moment, dear reader, that your phone rings, and the voice on the other end of the line belongs to your Congressperson. The government, he or she tells you, has belatedly realized that peak oil is the crisis you’ve always said it was; both parties are in a state of panic; a joint Congressional committee has just been formed, at the president’s urging, to figure out how to deal with it. Your Congressperson wants you to come to Washington and tell the committee what immediate, practical response the nation should make to the crisis. Could you face such a call without breaking into a cold sweat?

Now of course the chance that most of us will ever field such a phone call is pretty remote. If I were Richard Heinberg or Tom Whipple, mind you, I’d make sure I had a list of talking points ready, but as far as I know, no archdruid has ever been asked to speak to a Congressional committee, and I don’t expect to be the first. Still, the point remains the same even when it takes less dramatic form. As peak oil goes mainstream, those of us who have been studying and speaking about it for years are going to have to present meaningful, realistic plans for action. That’s a daunting prospect, and it goes a long way to explain the recent flurry of posts and comments in the peak oil blogosphere insisting that industrial society can’t possibly change its course, because extravagant consumption of energy and other resources is hardwired into our genes or our nervous systems, or enforced by the nature of human hierarchy, or what have you.

It requires only a fairly brief glance at history to show that this is quite simply nonsense. Plenty of human societies, from Old Kingdom Egypt straight through to Tokugawa-era Japan, have deliberately set aside growth-oriented policies for the sake of survival. Ancient Egypt bought itself three thousand years of cultural continuity; Japan maintained its independence in the face of the rapacious European empires of the time; neither of these societies was exactly free of political and economic elites with an interest in their own enrichment, you’ll notice, but they and other societies with the same burden have found the transition to a steady state worth pursuing. America threw aside its promising initial steps in that direction at the end of the 1970s; thirty years later, most of the easy options have already been foreclosed on, and the combined impact of the end of the age of cheap energy and the implosion of America’s overseas empire is going to make the next few years a very difficult time no matter what decisions get made. Still, there’s a great deal that can still be done even this late in the game.

Ironically, one of the changes that has most often been dismissed as completely out of reach – the suggestion that Americans can and should use a great deal less energy and resources – is one that shows the strongest signs of catching on. One of the more useful pieces of evidence for this shift is the defensive tone of blogs like this one that have taken to denouncing the idea. Nobody wastes time being publicly outraged by notions that their audiences would never think of accepting, you know. It was when the mainstream media began dismissing peak oil in heated language that I realized, and mentioned here, tht peak oil might just manage to go mainstream; the huffy tone of blogs rejecting out of hand the idea that people might actually decide to choose a radically simpler lifestyle, unburdened by most of the technological so-called conveniences that clutter up so many lives just now, is a good indicator that a movement toward drastically lower consumption is stirring in the deep places of our collective imagination.

When it comes right down to it, after all, today’s high-consumption, hyper-connected lifestyle is a fad, right up there with hula hoops and swallowing live goldfish. Thirty years ago, the thought that people would voluntarily put themselves at the beck and call of anybody who wanted to contact them, at all hours of the day and night, would have inspired a mix of horror and hilarity. Thirty years from now, those who now can’t imagine being offline for twenty-four hours at a stretch will look back on their current habits with much the same embarrassed amusement that you get from today’s fifty-something Republicans when they remember their long-haired, pot-smoking youth. It’s precisely in the waning phase of a fad that’s passed its pull date that its participants tend to get shrill and defensive toward those who have begun to drift away – or, perhaps, who never got involved at all.

All this implies, of course, that the strategy I’ve called L.E.S.S. -- Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation – could very well become fashionable in exactly the same way. If it catches on at all, it will inevitably pick up faddish dimensions; there will be those who devote their lives to various forms of conspicuous non-consumption, those who treat some particular austerity as a litmus test while neglecting broader principles, and so on. Those dubious habits existed in the Seventies appropriate-tech movement, to be sure, and for that matter the same sort of thing can be found in every social movement. Furthermore, to the extent that L.E.S.S. becomes a fad, it will have a limited shelf life – fads always do – and there will come a point when it stops being fashionable and some other trend takes its place. That, too, has happened with every other social movement you care to name.

I’m not at all sure that a fashion for austerity would be entirely a bad thing, though. Right now, unless my sense of the flow of events is completely off kilter, we’re moving into the second and probably much more serious phase of the crisis kicked off in 2008 by the implosion of the real estate bubble, which has been metastasizing ever since under the band-aid applied to it by the industrial nations’ print-and-pretend policies. In Europe, extremist parties are making hay off the political mainstream’s insistence that the only possible option is to load trillions of Euros of bad debt onto the backs of taxpayers and ordinary working people; in America, an even more vacuous political consensus is avoiding every significant issue we face; rising powers elsewhere are claiming a growing share of the world’s energy and resource base, largely at America’s expense; festering social strains and rising economic pressures here and abroad are moving toward the breaking point.

Exactly how the resulting mess will play out is a complicated question. Still, it seems like a pretty safe bet that a fashion for austerity, however faddish its surface forms might turn out to be, might be a very good thing to adopt and even to encourage. Even if it only lasts for a decade or two, that may be enough to help a lot of people weather the immediate impact of the crisis. Whatever fashions emerge in its wake, though, it’s safe to say that today’s fad for frantic consumption won’t be among them, for the simple reason that the resources that make that fad possible are running short. Whatever fads and fashions spring up in the aftermath of the approaching crisis will have to make do with a much smaller resource base.

A fashion for austerity may be temporary, in other words, but the austerity will endure. Responding to that latter will demand significant changes to each of our lives. It’s crucial here not to make the mistake (or, more precisely, one of the mistakes) that doomed the climate change movement – that is, the habit of treating the inevitable changes ahead of us as something that can be fobbed off on the rest of humanity through unequal treaties, or conjured into being by collective action that somehow never gets around to affecting one’s own lifestyle. We are all, every one of us, going to have to get by with less energy and less of the products of energy; we are all going to have to do things for ourselves that we’ve come to assume, often unthinkingly, that machines powered by cheap abundant energy will always do for us; we are all going to have to accept a great deal more in the way of discomfort and inconvenience than we do today.

Changes on the collective level, whether driven by fashion or enacted by the Congressional committee I imagined earlier in this post, aren’t going to prevent any of that. If they happen – and I think they can, although that possibility by no means guarantees that they will – their function will be to make it easier to adjust, to provide more options, more useful information, more incentives, more encouragement. It will still be up to each of us, as individuals, to make the hard changes that will have to be made – and to do so, if at all possible, before there’s no other choice, when there’s still the time and the opportunity to work through the learning curves of unfamiliar skills and be prepared to manage the crisis with some measure of grace. As Harold Camping’s followers learned the hard way this weekend, no outside force is going to rapture us away from the consequences of three centuries of mistaken faith in exponential growth, or the act of collective blindness thirty years ago that threw away our best chance at getting through this mess in good order. The world we’ve got is the world we’re going to have to live with, and it’s going to take a lot of work to make it livable.


Wandering Sage said...

I truly love the LESS concept.
I've been saying for years it is time to get the body healthy, free of the chemicals and toxins of our modern world, and fit enough so it can do what we will ask of it. It is also time to get the mind clear and calm so that we can make smart decisions and react to changing events.

thank you for all the work you are doing.


Zen Yoga

Sixbears said...

Indeed, the fringe Christians found out their get out jail card didn't work. Maybe they'll wake up to reality and put their shoulder to the wheel like the rest of us.

Most probably won't. It about as likely as me getting that call from Congress.

Although, I did once have a very long discussion with a Congressman about Peak Oil, alternative energy, conservation and the folly of overseas adventures. He was defeated in the last election. Oh well.

Just think, main stream media just noticed Peak Oil, something that happened years ago.

I'm hoping the mass peer to peer communication remains in tack, at least for a while, during the energy down turn. That way ground up solutions to the basics of living could be easily spread. The solutions won't come from the top.

Rialian said...

===Not surprising to see such reactions. I run an event for folks that work within an "elven" paradigm. I had some folks flare out because I tend to talk about things like permaculture, rather than the magic(BIG K)they thought was more central to their otherkin identity.

===Apparently elven sorts would not be into permaculture. Who knew? (laughter) It was a big surprise to a number of us, honestly.

===These sorts seem to absolutely HAVE to have a battle about even suggesting that maybe living more simply might be a reasonable path.

Rialian said...

(and as a side-note...yes, we have met, (we chatted at Spoutwood one year, and I do post here under my regular name normally. I just tend to keep my otherkin writing separate from my regular name, although I really do little to hide the connection.)

sofistek said...

I know that saying "this time it's different" is a no-no, because history always shows what will happen in the future, but isn't it different this time? Is there any precedent for a civilisation that is, essentially, an interdependent web of individual autonomous societies? If one nation happens to "get it", wouldn't its government chicken out because the rest of that global civilization won't hesitate to take advantage in pursuit of growth, regardless of the long term futility of such an action?

kulturcritic said...

JMG - It is more than a curiosity how our media can create its own circus for public consumption, it i a fact of our politics that demands the public remained narcotized. We shall see how this this plays out, but I would doubt the WSJ's reference is anything more than a passing nod to the issues we face, perhaps as another attempt to reframe the problem for the wealthy.

Thank you again for your ongoing articulations.

sandy krolick, kulturCritic

Julie Smith said...

Ah, yes, I grew up in a church that was focused on the end of the world. I was speaking with some good friends of the older generation who belong to this church and I suggested that perhaps the term 'end times' could be looked at in the sense of not necessarily the end of the world, but the end of an age.

You have written very clearly about the decline of the Industrial Age and it is certainly an end time for life as we know it, not necessarily for all times, and it will not end suddenly, but changes will occur over time. I think that it is inevitable, as you point out, that this type of apocryphal thinking will only increase over the next several years and I concur that 2012 will bring a lot of focus to the subject.

What I have discovered in my numerous conversations with many of my conservative, religious friends is the need to re-frame the idea that we are not responsible for the mess we are in and God is going to whisk us away to the novel idea that perhaps God is not going to reach down and remove us from our messed up playpen, but that we will have to deal with the consequences of excesses. It seems our view of Source is as permissive as the modern day parent.

The point that I wish to add is that we live in a world where re-framing the discussion for a positive outcome is a much-needed skill. We tend to polarize our conversations on subjects of politics and religion and the solutions that could merge through diverse mindsets gets lost in arguments that divide instead of create new ideas. It seems that if we can focus on our shared future and the future of our children and grandchildren, we might make some headway. But we have to be able to work within our own sphere of influence where we understand the mindset and particular prejudices of folks. I believe it goes back to the idea of working within your own community, as you have pointed out so well. Being a bridge builder is an important post-industrial skill and one that folks who have awakened to the fact of industrial decline and to the need to do something might well adopt. A bridge builder has a foot on both ends of the subject and can speak to either side. A role that you have taken up with some bravery. Bravo! Who knows--a Druid in Congress would be a welcome change :)

Robo said...

Yes, it's all for the good and might soften the cultural shock of transition to a low-energy future. Exhausted by non-stop tweeting & texting, many of us are probably ready for a little 'time-out'. More than a few of us might voluntarily step away from our frantic and consumptive lifestyles for rest and recuperation, with the assumption that we can always rejoin the contest at some later date. Some of us will be surprised to find that the game is eventually called on account of darkness and never resumes. Some of us will not be surprised.

jj said...

Role modelling the sort of lifestyle you can have with a little (or a lot) of austerity is very valuable, too. An earlier poster commented on focusing on your sphere of influence, and it is true that you will make the biggest impact with people who know and respect you. I feel I have had some influence on several friends, and at least gotten them thinking about why they go out and buy all this stuff...just by commenting on how happy I am without X, Y, or Z (television, cell phone, whatever). Or how gratifying it is to do things for myself, by hand, be it grinding coffee or digging post holes.

Granted, this is not the sort of austerity I think you are envisioning, but my point is that people are more likely to try something out, or challenge their thinking, if they have credible role models to look to. People who are already headed that direction need to speak up, stand up, and let themselves be seen...

Susan said...

When I did not get raptured up to Heaven last Saturday night, I thought, "Well, that's not surprising..." I never figured I'd be invited to join that club in the first place.

Do you have any thoughts about the vows of poverty of the various monastic orders? Christian and Buddhist monks and nuns have been doing as you suggested for centuries, but it takes a pretty strong religious belief to voluntarily give up the materialism that seems to be a basic part of the nature of human nature. I mean, if greed and envy and all the other sins were not so prominently a part of human behavior, it would not have been necessary for God to say, "Thou shall not..."

A small percentage of the population may voluntarily do with less in order to simplify their lives. A larger percentage will be forced to make do with less by economic reality. I suspect that most people will not go quietly, even if economic reality is biting them on the butt, so while some of us may be prepared for a more bucolic life style, most of us will be tempted to take up arms in order to protect what we've got (or to take what someone else has).

Recently, I got to thinking about why so many animal species (including Homer Sap) are territorial. The lower animals do not consciously think about things like resource depletion, but instinctively they want more for themselves because "more" usually means "enough" in an ecosystem where there is never "enough."

We humans CAN think about things like resource depletion, but we still have the same basic behaviors and instincts as the lower animals from whom we evolved, so there will always be competition for a sufficiently large piece of a shrinking pie. I have serious doubts that we will be able to make the necessary transition peacefully, even if lots of us take vows of poverty.

Don Mason said...

In the late '60's and into the '70's, austerity became a fashionable trend - particularly on college campuses.

It was briefly considered cool to lower your consumption - downscaling was what the sharpest, most knowledgable people were doing.

I was attending U of I in Champaign-Urbana back then, singing and playing bass guitar in a rock band to earn money; and since my band was playing five nights a week but made very little money (and our 300 lb. manager was eating up what little money we did make), I was eating only one meal of brown rice and beans a day, and sleeping on the floor of a walk-in closet in a big old Victorian house, and using a 46-star (!) American flag I found in the attic for a curtain.

Astonishingly - for the one-and-only time in my life - I was actually considered "cool".

But austerity was quickly overwhelmed by the dominant consumer culture; and then it was considered uncool to do anything but consume, consume, consume.

Today, however, austerity could easily return as a fashionable trend: after all, that's what the most knowledgable people have been doing for years - only now, they can prove that they were right all along.

For example, tens of millions of families who bought into "The Consumer Culture" have either lost their homes, or are upside-down on their mortgages, or - as housing values continue to fall - are about to go upside-down.

What was the best housing move that a family could have made five years ago?

To sell their over-sized, over-priced, over-mortgaged McMansion in that auto-dependent suburb, and then to downscale massively: to either rent - or even better - to buy an old, modest, beat-up house in a old, modest, beat-up, walkable neighborhood that was even cheaper to live in than renting.

Brutal economic reality is now beginning to turn the fringe-y movement of voluntary simplicity into a mass movement of involuntary poverty.

If downscaling could be made fashionable again - "Austerity: it's what all the coolest people are doing" - then it might help to cushion the psychological blow that many are now feeling, and many more are about to feel; and the social approval confered by trendiness might make it easier for people to move more aggressively in a "Less is More" direction.

So to move the trend along, let's not be afraid to say it: if you are now moving downscale, then you are hereby officially labeled "cool".

And if you are moving upscale, then you are hereby officially labeled "uncool".

Until the next trend comes along, of course.

But austerity should serve us well until then.

Janne said...

There is a kind of fad going on, I guess. Here in Finland, me and my wife were interviewed for an article, and to our surprise the article said that we are part of a "fashionable downshifting movement" :D

A.K. McKay said...


I was trying to find the WSJ article you mentioned and happened across four articles respectfully discussing peak oil in the WSJ. They were published in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Another article in 2011 leads me to believe that if the first four articles didn't do it in terms of garnering mainstream media coverage, sadly, one more probably won't change things.


x said...

Many of us in Ireland have become intimate with austerity. But there is a slight problem. When austerity becomes govt policy, it's affects aren't evenly distributed. Quelle suprise!

I've suggested to those in my tribe of the left-leaning variety that maybe we should take the concept and turn it on its head. It can be a positive, getting those most affected to take responsibility for learning new skills, becoming more cooperative amongst ourselves, and just generally experimenting with new ways to approach our socio-economic situation. Don't define yourself by what you can consume but what you can forge from the seemingly meagre resources at hand. Don't look towards popular society to define yourself or your activities.

The response was almost preordained. It was like offering a plate of suasages to people at a vegan party. I suppose the blog you highlighted sums up the prevailing attitude. Most people want to go to the big party where all the cool people and their toys are on display. They may give a derisory nod to simplicity, maybe even pretend they are pursuing greater austerity, but they still need to define themselves against the criteria of the big players and their activities. Most of us never leave the play ground.

frae: make do and mend

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey JMG,

The problem with providing for a definitive time and date, is that they forget how many different time zones there are in the world. I trust they took these into account in their predictions? They're not the brightest sparks in the world committing to specifics - we even heard about those nutters over here.

After reading today's post I'm getting a mental image of you before a congressional committee addressing responses to peak oil. You'd probably scare them, by telling them what they need to hear and not what they want to hear!

I was also thinking about last weeks post and comments (apologies if this is a bit off topic).

Whenever people mention photovoltaic systems there always seems to be someone who mentions the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) argument. It goes something like this: The energy produced by a photovoltaic panel will never exceed the energy used to produce, distribute and install that panel.

The argument annoys me because, people make that comment with a level of authority that is not backed up by any evidence. No one really knows how much energy is used to produce a solar panel and the argument fails to take into account the installation location of that panel.

What really annoys me though, is that the smugness in those comments displays a complete disconnect from reality.

The reason I state that there is a disconnect is because Oil is at the core of all of our energy systems renewable or otherwise. Oil is not produced, it is extracted. A real risk to energy production systems is that all mining and most transport systems require Oil. A good example is coal used to produce electricity. Sure the process of burning coal eventually produces electricity, but it's Oil that is used in the extraction and transport of that coal and no other energy source.

People simply forget this and I find their disconnect astounding.

Current renewable energy systems are not a perfect solution, because there simply is none. All systems are subject to atrophy and as such all will break down and require replacing eventually.

People forget that there is no perfect solution which is why using less is the correct approach to buffer yourself against any future shocks.

We also need to increase the resilience of our energy systems and to do this we require a diversity of energy production and distribution methods. The real unspoken risk is having a centralised generation and distribution network as eventually unless maintained, it will fall over. To maintain this requires Oil and the easy days are fast becoming over.

Please people, think about the above before bring up such rubbish arguments again.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi people,

This is another shameless plug for my continuing article series on all things solar power. This article is talking about Inverters - (which convert stored energy from batteries to mains electricity). It's pretty interesting really and written for non technical people.

Please drop in and have a look and feel free to post a comment.

The series is hopefully of interest to Green Wizards as I'm slowly progressing towards how to wire up an emergency solar power supply.



Cherokee Organics said...


On a different note, I noticed also in the press here that it was reported that the US federal government hit it's debt ceiling this week (US$14.295 trillion from memory - apologies if I got the exact number wrong). It also reported that 60% of the federal government budget funding is from debt (as distinct from taxes). Apparently the debt ceiling has been revised 74 times already.

To be brutally honest, it's not possible to repay such a loan.

I've been closely watching the austerity measures being imposed by the European banker countries on the PIGS countries and it's not good. The European banker countries are running out of both funds and willpower.

I'm wondering at what point the US's bankers will commence the demands for austerity measures? It can't be far away.

Perhaps this will provide greater social energy for LESS measures than anything else?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Sofistek,

Are you still looking for an out? Size has nothing to do with the limits to growth and resources. You must accept this. All things follow the product life cycle including globalisation.



tOM said...

Energy is only one of the problems. Plastics are made from oil. There are a variety of commodities that constrain growth. Energy, at least, can be economically (and greenly) produced, with some lead time, by a variety of nuclear options. There are also solar solutions, for hot water, heating and other mostly immobile applicatons.

The main problem is that transportation energy must be portable, and gas/diesel fill that bill admirably with a pipable product with high energy density and quick refill.

Trains could return to steam with advanced coal handling (or small nuclear?), but cars & motorbikes are another matter.

For local travel, bikes not only burn no (or little) fossil fuel, they also make us healthier. Even in Oulu, FI, a few km short of the Arctic Circle, 25% of trips are made by bike in winter.

It would make a big dent in energy usage and greenhouse gases if we made all our 1-10km trips by bike, with trailer if necessary.

Yourmindfire said...

For what it's worth, and if anyone's interested, my 2009 human ecology dissertation Mend & Make Do to Save Buying New; Decoding Messages of Austerity in a Consumer Culture can be read here:

It considers how WW2 propaganda messages regarding austerity have been repurposed recently in the mainstream (UK newsprint) media with relation to contemporary crises. It concludes, you no doubt will be unsurprised to learn, that promoting the fad of austerity is largely used to introduce new items for consumption - simple living books, fashionable (and expensive) recycled furniture, new tools etc. etc. So you probably don't need to read it, worth scanning through for the images though.

None of this is meant to disrespect the value of anything that might decrease consumption and build self reliance - activities which I heartily recommend and endeavour to practice.

Fleecenik Farm said...

So my silly side went to a vision of simple ole' me sitting at a table in front of a row of congress persons and cameras. I was discussing the merits of lacto-fermentation as a means of low energy food preservation.

Oh well...

Bob said...

JMG: Another useful, big-picture post. The psychologist in me can't help but see the correlations with current notions about Addiction (and I am not the first to draw this connection). We are not just addicted to fossil fuels, or cheap energy, but also to our illusions: what you have called the myths of apocalypse and progress. The addict embraces denial in all its forms because the hard work of recovery is terrifying, and the skills required to succeed seem impossible to acquire. So, the addict convinces himself that the problem is not nearly as bad as it is, or that others are just as bad off in some other way, and just in denial, or that some unseen force (for which whose existence there is no evidence whatsoever) will swoop in and transform (or destroy) everything in the near future anyway, so recovery is futile, or that the universe is sending certain signs and clues that the addictive behavior is good or necessary or inevitable, and so forth. Nearly all addicts need to hit "Rock Bottom" before they admit that they have a problem and need help; interestingly, loss of a job tends to be a better motivator than loss of family, probably because it taps into our survival instincts in a way that divorce (or similar experiences) cannot. So, Western Industrial Civilization appears currently to be in the mode of an addict who has been embezzling from his employer, and is scrambling all day long to mess with the accounting books, taking increasingly dangerous financial risks, and working overtime to cover up past indiscretions and current crimes, to keep its "job" (something akin to controlling global affairs in order to maintain unsustainable lifestyles for its elite) for one more day. If the purpose of this blog is to conduct some sort of "intervention" BEFORE Rock Bottom happens (after the last intervention 35 years ago failed to stick), then I (assuming that our societal momentum is actually far MORE stubborn than a single addict's) struggle to be optimistic that the worst can be prevented. Trying, of course, is still the only option available.

Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

I thought i t worth sharing this quote from Sitting Bull from Parabola magazine~
“When the Lakota leader Sitting Bull was asked by a white reporter why his people loved and respected him, Sitting Bull replied by asking if it was not true that among white people a man is respected because he has many horses, many houses? When the reporter replied that was indeed true, Sitting Bull then said that his people respected him because he kept nothing for himself.” –Joseph Bruchac

One of the Remnant said...

It seems to me that America, in particular, is a society more deeply committed to and dependent upon denial and delusion than any other nation in history. And I've read a LOT of history. As such, I think the chances of an austerity fad catching on to any significant degree in time to make a difference are extremely slim.

I can see this happening in Europe, but not America. But then, much of Europe's more immediate challenge has more to do with demographics, nationalism, social programs, and finances, and I'm none too sure they have what it takes to confront that. Implosion seems likely.

In both cases, it seems plausible that economic fraud and mismanagement - in particular, in the credit and monetary systems (compliments of governments and the banking cartels and other corporate factions which exert primary control over them) - will serve as the trigger for a broader collapse in other areas which will then drive the whole process forward willy nilly.

In fact, I think this highlights one of the things that indeed makes it 'different this time' - multinational corporations, acting effectively as their own nation-states in many ways, have never existed before, certainly not at this level of power. I do not think there is any historical equivalent, with the possible exception of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.

All things considered, it seems more likely to me that using LESS will rapidly become an unchosen reality per force (as it already is for an increasing number of Americans), rather than via choice as a fad du jour.

- Oz

Fred Mullison said...

I really enjoy reading your blog. I usually pick it up at the Energy Bulletin. I have one of your books, too. You mentioned in this recent post your research into the history of Apocalyptic prediction. Is there a new book on this in the works. I'd like to read it!

Yupped said...

My great grandfather was a baptist preacher who believed in the coming of the end times and, in the peak years of the British Empire, went out to China to try to save souls. He was beheaded by the Boxers in 1900. Funny old world.

I've read only a couple of 2012 New Agey tomes, and they seemed to suggest not mass enlightenment so much, but more of a coming opportunity for humans to change direction voluntarily. Perhaps a time for some sort of New Age, as opposed to New Year, Resolution. If pitched this way, it could help some people think seriously about change.

I agree that any idea that we will be saved from our own folly by some supernatural force is not helpful at all. We built this mess, and we'll have to unbuild it. But I wouldn't be surprised if 2012 ends up as some sort of tipping point year, or a point of acceleration, in which the contours of our real problem come into stronger focus in the popular media. Either way, it will be fascinating to see what the late fall of 2012 looks like as an event, once we're a few years past that date.

idiotgrrl said...

Discovered this morning --

A reclaimed plastic one gallon milk or water bottle (the flimsy kind of water bottle sold for $1 in the supermarket) makes a perfect pouring pitcher if you cut away the top but leave the handle on it - because ---

It forms itself into the perfect pouring shape under the weight of the water in it.

I found this out because, living in a city under severe drought advisory, I try to reclaim by bath water to use in the toilet. I keep it in the 2-gallon jugs that cat litter comes in, being the most I can lift with ease. They are hard to fill without a pitcher, and my pitcher is used for beverages. However ---

This works so well I'd even spend $1 on such a jug to get one.

One of the Remnant said...

There is certainly no sign yet of a fad in austerity in the halls of Congress. Here are the recent votes on proposals to modestly shave federal deficits. Note that under all/any of these proposals, the debt would continue to grow unsustainably so these are not exactly what one could call 'radical' plans:

Senators voted 57-40 to reject House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's plan to rein in Medicare with vouchers.

Senators voted 97-0 to reject president Obama's plan, which would cut $1 trillion from budget deficits but remains silent on Medicare and other entitlement programs.

Senators voted 55-42 to reject a plan offered by Senator Pat Toomey that included many of Ryan’s ideas while omitting the Medicare proposal.

Senators rejected 90-7 a proposal by Senator Rand Paul to eliminates scores of programs and balance the budget in five years.

- Oz

Cathy McGuire said...

Another great post! Good point about the “phone call from Congress” – it’s much harder to make realistic plans than to expound about how “people need to change”… I’d love to get a chance to formulate some national steps to take, but having no expertise and few initials after my name, it’s not likely. ;-) But one thing that those past cultures you cite didn’t have to fight is a powerful advertising force bent on getting people to buy! Yes, that force was “turned to the good” during WWI and II, to get folks to conserve and plant food – but what kind of disaster will it take to get them all on board now?? Aside from nationalizing all ad agencies, I can’t imagine what could be used to fight the insidious 24/7 brainwash that goes on in the US. I’m encouraged when I see websites of young people who are into recycling and reusing as fashion, and are learning the old handicrafts and are enthused about them – that’s super! But L.E.S.S. will not become a fad unless companies can make a profit on it.

One way to approach the idea of using less is to frame it as getting a new abundance – because trading all the consumer junk, hi-tech toys that spy on you and keep you onleash, and piles of ad-laden media that plug into your adrenal gland will get you an abundance of time, a slower, more serene pace, and the natural world and all its wonders. But again, the corporate world is a huge obstacle – in order to live life more simply, you must slow down – and if you work in the modern world, you can’t! Stepping off the consumer bandwagon is a lot like trying to step from fast treadmills to slower ones to slower ones… having a foot on each tread is the dangerous moment! Which is why, I think, many people just “jump” – go simple as fast as they can. It’s tough but it causes fewer mistakes, I think.

And my final comment is that Cornucopian Insouciance would be a good name for a band. ;-)

Nick said...

In the fashion of austerity, our young perspective homeowners, or defaulters should have a gander at the $300 house selection here

Its a $25,000 competition for the best $300 house intended for the slums of the world, but coming to an abandoned american industrial site near you! There are plenty of great entries, and for that prize money I even took a swing at it (for those who look at that link its clear my lack of architectural knowledge an 3D drafting will obviously not serve me well in the competition)

In any case on a positive note, I'm fairly optimistic that for under a $1000 a person really can have a very livable solar powered hut. For the young renting class this may be a superior option.

Kirk said...

Admittedly, I'm a student of soil and microbes, not world history. If any government official that seemed like a decent person called me, I'd probably tell them to run for the hills, given the reactions of people in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Spain.
Is there some basic human need to sack those in power when things aren't going well? How many French Revolutions do we get to watch? Most importantly, when do we realize Pogo was right, and the enemy as well as the best leader is us?
Thanks, JMG, for your inspiration as we muddle through.

GHung said...

"Plenty of human societies, from Old Kingdom Egypt straight through to Tokugawa-era Japan, have deliberately set aside growth-oriented policies for the sake of survival."

To use this comparison to offer hope is a stretch, IMO. Both were examples of homogeneous societies, with far less mass, inertia and velocity. They also were the 'beneficiaries' of totalitarian rule for the most part. Literacy and truth were reserved for the ruling and priestly classes; far fewer stories competed for the minds of the mob, and the stories had time to play out; evolved organically so to speak.

We are in a period of hyper-noise: the spawn of our equally hyper-complex systems. A new set of truths will emerge, but our species has a long way to go, must suffer a long, strange trip, and the new stories need time to evolve, our minds time to clear. Two generations in the desert will not be enough,,not this time.

Keep a fire for the human race
Let your prayers go drifting into space
You never know what will be coming down
Perhaps a better world is drawing near
And just as easily it could all disappear
Along with whatever meaning you might have found
Don't let the uncertainty turn you around
(the world keeps turning around and around)
Go on and make a joyful sound

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you'll never know

- Jackson Browne

Time to throw some seeds:

We were discussing food storage methods some time back (seems like a long time ago), specifically talking about vacuum packing in jars. I found a vacuum packer at a flea market which included a gizmo for pulling a vacuum on canning jars. I've tried it on other jars I've saved, since I need my canning jars for, well, canning. This thing works on many jars I've saved: 46 oz. pickle jars, mayonaise jars, etc. I did a test on several types of jars, including canning jars (reusing last year's lids!) and all are holding a vacuum nicely after a couple of months. I plan to buy rice, beans, etc. in bulk and vacuum pack them in used jars. Adding O2 absorbers should add years to the storage life of dry goods, and I plan to use this system to pack dried herbs and fruits in the future.

The vacuum packer is a popular brand which retails for around $150, but the simple device for jars is available online through your nearby big box store (the one touted as the world's fourth largest economy or somesuch). About ten bucks! Hand powered vacuum pumps are available or could be easily constructed. Look for this system at yard sales, etc, as folks buy them, then discover the plastic bags are too expensive. I tried mine using a cheap 200 watt inverter: worked fine.

I packed over 2 pounds (about a kilo) of rice in a standard (46 oz) pickle jar. A two quart canning jar (rare these days) holds about 3.5 pounds.

William Hunter Duncan said...

I won my battle with the city, over their attempt to condemn my house for not having natural gas hooked up. They are now telling me I can't turn my driveway into an orchard.

The yard will be fully planted today and tomorrow. With a little infrastructure, I'm sure I could grow most of the food I need on this 60-120' city lot. The rest I could gather. I'm using less water, less electricity - and finding in that shift, grace.

Still, I find myself drawn to the concept of divine intervention. Without it, it's hard to imagine anything but a few more hundred or thousands of years of tyranny.

Robert said...

You do well to warn against the apocalyptic thinking that surrounds us as opposed to political action to end injustice and oppression. I’m not saying that problems aren’t pressing – the present policy of our political leaders to rip the heart out of our economic infrastructure, or the wars threatening and happening, can hardly be seen in terms of diffidence. The fact that the Himalayas are not actually going to be melted down within 30 years, s I think was once claimed, or that scientists are more self-interested in getting big grants for themselves than they are in scientific accuracy, doesn’t take away the fact that climate change is happening – it’s been a constant with us, and sometimes in the history of the universe it can have a significant and occasionally dramatic effect on our way of living. The tsunami of a couple of yrs ago was a personal apocalypse for a lot of people.

But it’s the end of days scenario which leaves me very suspicious. It’s always been there. The Book of Revelation became the big justification for all sorts of weird activity. In the German Peasants war of 1525 (written about by Marx's associate Engels) the leader of the Zwickau miners, Thomas Muntzer, was inspired by Revelation, wth its tales of the end of days and the appearance of a Saviour on clouds to overthrow the ten horned beast of the princes. He told the miners that none would be killed by the bullets of the armies of the ruling princes because God had told him they would be immune. The miners marched very confidently to battle; the slaughter was apparently gut-wrenching (for most people, not for the German princes). We can give an anachronistic sardonic laugh at this foolishness, but it must have made sense to them – they walked into battle singing hymns. The sheer daftness of reactions by young people when faced with the power of the State in our own times has led to lethal consequences, and the blurring of a cool head by rhetoric and sloganising is quite alarming.

So, I am chary of end of days approaches. It’s usually more complex. The wolf will come, I’m sure – when I die, all this will end; the sun will eventually die and humanity will end; humanity may well hurry on the job, as may I under certain circumstances. But I am distrustful of scientists and other religious leaders when they talk of the imminent end of days. Things are worrying enough without having the sort of panic mobilisation which ends in a big bloodbath and/or disillusionment; worse you might win and get an Uncle Joe at the helm, caring about small children and little dogs, and no hesitation in murdering for the greater good..

John Michael Greer said...

Sage, no argument there. LESS is in no way original, of course -- just a formulation of good advice from the last umpty thousand years of people with a clue.

Sixbears, I'd like to take the last sentence of your comment, have it made into the business end of a branding iron, and apply it to the backside of everyone who thinks that everything will be fine if the government just passes some laws!

Rialian, I'm glad to hear that you're making the effort!

Sofistek, there are plenty of examples of what Tainter calls "peer polity systems" where there's no political unity. Again, though, I'm not suggesting that any current government is going to change course -- just that they may do some things to make matters easier for those of us who do make that choice as individuals.

Sandy, my take is different. The narcotizing of the public is self-inflicted -- people are eager for the buzz in question. Of course the pushers profit mightily, as pushers always do, but I suggest that they're at least as much responding to a demand as creating one.

Julie, nicely put. You're quite correct, of course, that all of this can be framed in ways that can make sense within many different worldviews, including that of today's conservative Christians -- and it will be interesting to see, as cultural tides shift, whether the current stirrings in the direction of green evangelical Christianity catch on, as indeed they might.

Robo, that's my hope!

JJ, actually, that is the austerity I'm envisioning, or at least an important part of it, and you're quite right -- personal example will do more than any amount of verbiage.

Susan, one of the many values of vows of poverty is precisely that they provide a way out of struggles over scarce resources. That's why monasticism is the standard way for religions to deal with dark ages; a monastery following a strict vow of poverty isn't a worthwhile target for pillagers, so generally gets left alone. (It's the monasteries that lose sight of this that end up attracting Vikings.) We'll see that in the approaching Dark Ages, though it'll probably be a while.

Don, exactly! I've seen the first stirrings of that already; we'll see how long it takes to catch on. You may be cool for a second time in your life, you know.

Janne, congratulations. You too are now officially cool.

AK, well, we'll see.

X, that doesn't surprise me at all. How many of the people there were teenagers? That's where new fads get started; back in the days before "geek" became a compliment, the computer craze got its start among teenagers, and spread from there, much to the bafflement of the adults who thought they knew what mattered.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Susan

"it takes a pretty strong religious belief to voluntarily give up the materialism that seems to be a basic part of the nature of human nature."

If you look at the hundreds of cultures about which we have anthropological data, you will find abundant evidence that it is not human nature, but *cultural* nature which determines materialism. Were it genetically ingrained, you would not find all the examples of gift economies (and cultural phenomena such as the potlatch ceremony).

In fact, based on a study of human history, one might be tempted to posit that materialist cultures are more the anomaly than the rule. This would be an interesting debate, and that fact alone indicates that we're probably not talking about human nature, but about culture.

In fact, a direct analogy would be competition vs cooperation. For some decades evolutionary biologists assumed that competition was the primary 'shaping' force in evolution - a view which has been questioned and even upended by recent research which points to cooperation as fulfilling that primary role, with competition as the adjunct.

Our culture has exalted competition (a leftover of social Darwinism?), but I think if we think about it, nearly all of us quickly realize that cooperation plays a much larger role in our lives than competition.

So I think we do not have to redefine the human animal and its nature, but only the culture, in order to effectuate change. A tall order, to be sure, but at least possible compared to the alternative.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ tOM

"Energy, at least, can be economically (and greenly) produced, with some lead time, by a variety of nuclear options."

From my quotes file:

JMG has said:

A similar difficulty afflicts the delusion that we can put something completely outside the biosphere and make it stay there. Proponents of nuclear power who don’t simply dodge the issue of radioactive waste altogether treat this as a minor issue. It’s not a minor issue; it’s the most critical of half a dozen disastrous flaws in the shopworn 1950s-era fantasy of limitless nuclear power still being retailed by a minority among us. A nuclear fission reactor, any nuclear fission reactor, produces wastes so lethal they have to be isolated from the rest of existence for a quarter of a million years – that’s fifty times as long as all of recorded history, in case you were wondering. In theory, containing high-level nuclear waste is possible; in theory, it’s equally possible to drill for oil in deep waters without blowing your drilling platform and eleven men to kingdom come and flooding the Gulf of Mexico with tens of millions of gallons of crude oil.

In another piece, in regard to nuclear, JMG said:

Switching from one complex, centralized, environmentally destructive energy system based on nonrenewable and rapidly depleting resources, to another energy system that can be described in exactly the same terms, is not a useful step – especially when it would be perfectly possible to dispense with both by simply using less energy.

And way back when, EF Schumacher said:

No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilization could sustain itself on such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economical affairs of man as if people did not matter at all.

The bottom line: the assertion that nuclear energy - any nuclear energy, including thorium/molten salt - can somehow be considered 'green' is simply, flat out inaccurate.

Furthermore, in an age of energy price volatility and attendant economic contraction, featuring debt-based fiat money and looming fiscal and currency crises, proposing a huge build-out for an energy-source replacement program which would span decades and require massive amounts of REAL capital (human, financial, etc) nowhere currently in evidence borders on fantasy. As David Horowicz has put it: the very ground under our feet (our systems of industrial production and the complex infrastructure they depend upon) is crumbling - so the notion that we could choose to erect an entirely new energy system atop this crumbling edifice while this is happening is to fundamentally misunderstand our current position.

- Oz

blue sun said...

"Most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high

But if you know what life is worth
You will look for yours on Earth"

-Bob Marley

I guess we'll see how far down to Earth people will be willing to look...

sgage said...

@ Susan,

"it takes a pretty strong religious belief to voluntarily give up the materialism that seems to be a basic part of the nature of human nature."

I have no particular strong religious belief, but I gave up the materialist/consumerist thing in the 70's. It just seemed easier. It was Thoreau who set me on that track... 'simplify, simplify, simplify'.

I don't know that it's a basic part of human nature to be a rapacious consumer. It might be a vulnerability. But I think it might largely culturally taught.

Jason said...

JMG: Now it so happens that I spent a large part of the last year or so researching and writing a history of apocalyptic prophecies

Ah! Tell me you have a publisher. I need that research for a lot of conversations I have...

Shiva said...

I've been moving towards a more simple life for some time. Now that I have land I am going for it in full force. Oddly enough I am finding it tons of fun and very satisfying. Phasing out of a career in software engineering I am finding it immensely satisfying to use my engineering mind with solving problems in the "real" world. And for each problem I solve I know that is a real upgrade in my life that I will be enjoying for years. Of course every hour that I work for myself is one less hour I am working for money and unfortunately I still need that...looking for something useful and "crash-proof" to make and sell...My current thought is to make solar ovens. I want to make one for myself so I guess I will see how that goes. If anyone has other ideas for small crashproof businesses please share! I am also blogging about our homesteading adventures at "ecotopian living" (you can google it). Not as well written or provocative as the archdruid, but hopefully some will find it inspiring! I think it's great for us all to be sharing our experiences and knowledge whilst the interwebs are still with us.

Richard Larson said...

Maryland Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett has been lecturing Congress for 5 years about these very same issues. The only time he left the state to speak was to come to my hometown - at my and an acquaintance's behest - and essentially deliver the same information he has been warning congress about. I spent 11 hours with him and we had some very interesting conversations about the situation the USA will find itself in.

So, maybe it will take a long beard robbed druid, leaning on a long white staff, to have a more profound effect on congress than a congressman did!

If you are interested, the seminar can be viewed here:

Bill said...

We must remember that, no matter how little we consume, in the very long run there will only be the incoming heat of the sun and the earth's reaction to it. Everything else is playing with your food. LESS is the only law of nature.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Chris aka Cherokee Organics

I'm enjoying your 'Solar Powered Life' series - appreciate the pointer. :)

Reading this reminded me of a point I often make when discussing solar PV; that being: if the grid goes down, so do grid-tied systems. Most people (including pro-solar environmentalists) I talk to have the idea that if the grid goes down, those with solar PV installs (in America, at least 95%+ of these are grid-tied and not off-grid capable) will be able to generate their own power, and it comes as quite a shock to them to learn otherwise.

The point is that solar PV, as currently deployed, cannot be considered 'decentralized' due to 100% dependency on the connection to the grid. Further, it seems likely that in the event of grid failure (total or partial), production of suitable batteries could fail as well, and conversions to off grid of existing grid-tied systems would then be negligible.

The point was made in the comment section of last week's post that solar PV makes sense because the manufacturing is happening in an era of cheap fossil energy, while those panels would be generating electricity for years into an era of expensive and/or unavailable fossil energy - but that may only be true for systems which are actually capable of storing what they generate.

Seems to me it might be useful to resurrect Ni-Fe battery fabrication techniques as a workshop project, in order to make use of all those 'junk' PV panels whose owners didn't have the foresight to plan for off-grid when they could have.

- Oz

wavy davy said...

Not only was it lovely meeting you last March I agree with 95% of your positions. For example: "Even the Wall Street Journal, which not that long ago was a bastion of cornucopian insouciance, had a piece in yesterday’s issue talking nervously about the end of easily extracted oil reserves." is excellent work and awesome writing. The fact remains however when you're wrong, you're really wrong.

"...or sinking half the world’s gross domestic product into a crash program to build solar power satellites, because nobody really expects to have to deal with the gritty details of putting their plans into effect." (my emphasis) is a grotesque exaggeration and apparently deliberately misleading. Seriously, you don't want to get lumped with Senator Jon Kyl's '90%' Planned Parenthood nonsense. For real number examples here the current NASA budget is less one half of one percent of the US Federal Budget. Informal surveys show the average guy in the street thinks its 20%! Please don't add to that cornucopia of misinformation. You are not the average guy in the street. Even at its height for Apollo spending NASA topped out at 4.5% in 1967.

As for the 'nitty gritty' of actually building it check here for some recent work: "Economics of Using Lunar Resources versus launch from Earth (2010)". We don't need insouciance from you too. India and Japan are taking very serious looks into this technology and we better follow suit IMHO. Japan for obvious reasons of recent history, India because sometimes conservation is just not enough. Conservation, using less is great, but it just puts off the Day of Reckoning. India is dependent on Himalayan Glacial melt for fresh water. And when the glaciers are gone? The Monsoons are very irregular. Fresh water distilled from seawater is very energy intensive. They see SPS as the cleanest source in the mid to long term. Convertion to alternative Base Line Power for our cities as well is a must. We must also Diversify our sources so no one can set up a monopolist strangle hold on Energy like the current Fossil Fuel Corporations. Finally we must Integrate this diversified array of sources into the best mix for each local regional ecology and human community. I estimate even a crash SBSP (Spaced Based Solar Power) system to peak out at about 8 to 10% of global GDP. A co-ordinated thoughtful plan would be considerably less, perhaps 5 to 7% at peak investment.

Rev. David Buth.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

Excellent article, as always. I had the opportunity this week to be a speaker at our Lodge's Windows Club. I used that opportunity to remind the ladies that they have skills and experience that the younger generation is in dire need of, even if they do not know it yet.

Growing, cooking from scratch, canning, sewing, knitting, spinning, even darning socks instead of throwing them out because of a small hole, all are skills that people struggling today need to know. I reminded them that they used to be part of the household economy until people decided to outsource those jobs to companies that produce TV dinners and disposable imports.

I admonished them to share those skills with children and grandchildren, and also to be willing to share those with the wives of a younger generation of Lodge members.

I believe it's a model that can be replicated in many places, not just fraternal lodges. We should learn form those who suffered though the austerity of the first few decades of last century if we want to get through the first few decades in this century.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Well, part of the human condition seems to be the desire to "be right." And, being "right" about something, we want to be recognized for it. To be lauded and get the gold star for the day. :-)

When Richard Russo's "Empire Falls" came out, I told everyone I knew what a wonderful book it was and that it should be read. Not many of my friends read it. Then it won the Pulitzer Prize. See! I shouted. I was right! Not that anyone much cared :-)

When I worked in libraries, occasionally I'd come up with an idea that got nowhere. Not being a "licensed" librarian :-). Usually, within a year, the same idea would be brought forward by someone with those letters behind their name and be adopted. No one was much interested that I had thought of it first.

It's all one upsmanship and a craving for recognition. Vanity, if I may use an old term. These days, I at least realize what I am about and can shrug and laugh at myself.

So "we" were right. That and a buck and a quarter will currently buy me a cup of coffee at the cafe next door. Instead of an "I told you so" stance, a bit of compassion, a helping hand and to use another old term, charity, seem more to be the order of the day.

Seaweed Shark said...

"We are all, every one of us, going to have to get by with less energy and less of the products of energy;..."

I don't disagree with the premise that there will be less cheap energy, but I wonder about the "we all" part of this statement. It seems to predict some kind of equal-opportunity decline. But of course much of the world, including many people in the USA, already live with less energy and less products. What I saw in Texas is that many are still living the same easy-energy life of fifteen years ago, mildly irritated by what it costs now to top off the tank of the Hummer and how much the yard service is charging to keep the grass tidy, while on the back side of life an increasing number of people, the more marginal, less rapacious or simply unlucky, are being cut off, turned into invisible unpersons and dropped out of a shrinking system. No equal opportunity decline -- more like gated communities and slums. What do "we" and "us" mean in this context?

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, I'll be addressing the PV issue in an upcoming post. The short form is that it makes every kind of sense for individuals to use PV panels for their own needs, and no sense at all to claim that a modern industrial society can run on PV. As for the US debt, America is bankrupt; the proceedings just haven't started yet.

tOm, it would be helpful if you'd address the topic of the post sometime, rather than simply repeating the same dubious claims.

Yourmindfire, thank you! I'll download a copy. Of course simplicity is normally used these days as a sales pitch; the question is how long that'll be the case in an age of economic contraction.

Fleecenik, okay, you're on for the Senate Agriculture Committee!

Bob, that's a useful metaphor. I don't expect anything major to happen on a collective level before a good solid "rock bottom" experience comes our way, but on an individual, family, and community level, there's a lot more possibility -- and in the meantime, as the addict tries to bargain his way out of the real work of recovery, some of the steps he's likely to take may help on the individual level.

Archivist, thank you for the quote! Many human societies, in fact, make generosity rather than greed the key to social status. It's particularly common, interestingly enough, in the dark ages that follow the collapse of civilizations -- the highest praise given to any of the epic heroes of the European dark ages, for example, is that they were generous.

Remnant, we'll see. Right at the moment, the American people is deep in denial, but that hasn't always been the case, and it may not always be.

Fred, yes, there is, and it'll be out in September. I'll be posting details here as soon as I have them.

...a thunderstorm's blowing in right now, so I'll be responding to the rest of the comments when it's past. No complaints -- the rain is just what my garden needs!

Matt and Jess said...

Sounds like now's the time to buy up those 25k homes in the little Appalachian towns that've been mentioned on this blog recently--before they get fashionable and go up in price:) As long as I have my coffee, a library, and decent neighbors I'm good. I suppose it's telling that I actually am considering it. After having zero luck in the job market while living with family in the city and no financial aid to get back to school, I'm ready to do what's necessary and radically simplify. I don't think of it as giving up, more like getting an early edge in. But then the thing is, how do you afford property taxes? This whole simplicity thing can be pretty complicated.

My donkey said...

Regarding austerity, here is an easy and practical exercise that can get the average homeowner moving in that direction:

Look through your basement, spare room(s), garage, and backyard storage shed(s) and notice all the stuff that
1. is a duplicate or virtual duplicate of something you already had, OR
2. you have never used, OR
3. you have used only once or twice, OR
4. you have not used in at least three years

Obviously, any items in categories 1 and 2 you didn't need to buy, and items in category 3 you could have borrowed from a neighbour for occasional use. Items in category 4 you could sell or give away to someone in need.

In a typical North American suburb, the above-mentioned areas of most residences are overflowing with tools, gadgets and containers of miscellaneous stuff. Practically every household has several power tools plus two or three duplicates of at least 50 hand tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches. Over half of these items get used on rare occasions, and the remainder never get used; many are still in their original shrink-wrapped packaging. In some subdivisions, every household has a table saw; how insane is that?

The average suburban homeowner in North America could get rid of half the stuff they own and not miss it. The very act of ridding yourself of these unneeded items will (hopefully) make you less inclined to buy unnecessary stuff in the future.

Lynford1933 said...

John; your ideas on this blog and in your books are spot on IMHO.

When another Carrington Event (CME 1859) Black Swan occurs, in three or four weeks there won't be many people left to worry about. See 'National Geographic Electronic Armageddon'. The super-dependence on the grid is their nemesis. I don’t have a date for the next severe CME but the EMP will happen with only a few days warning.

We won’t know the solar maximum except in the rear view mirror so the winter celebration in 2012 is as good a WAG as any. A massive CME may not occur for several more solar cycles but the important knowledge is “it will happen again“ so like the Green Wizard program, why not be somewhat prepared?

Here in the high desert north of Reno we, like others within a mile or so, have a well however we also have a solar/hand pump on the well. Water is the key to life here. It will not be easy but we can pressurize our house and maintain the outdoor garden and the high tunnel garden. We can also support some neighbors. So far so good.

The solar powered golf cart is in use and powers tools and welder. With careful use, it should last several more years. Solar ovens, rocket stove, hot water heater, LED lights, etc. will all provide some comfort. My wife and I are old but our place will provide some sort of leg up into a future of reduced consumption for our children and grandchildren. Of course right now the former are trying to make ends meet to keep up their consumption and the latter know that texting is more important than a garden. They all think I am an evil genius which is fine by me. They are learning by osmosis.

GHung said...

Rain! Yes, we need it too. While we've had a surplus through April, replenishing the springs and steams, it's been several weeks since we've had useful agricultural rain (my simple irrigation systems have been paying off). Anyway, the same system coming into Cumberland is "training" through the Nantahalas as I type. Much welcomed, though there was a short period of small hail. If we were totally dependant on what we grow (which may end up being the case), I would have been in more of a panic. I did utter a few expletives.

Uh Oh! Much larger hail falling now .....2-3 cm. #@%t. Not so welcome. The PV! The young plants... realizing now how vulnerable we're going to be, going forward.

One of the Remnant said...

@ wavy davy

Seems to me that an advanced-technology-based "solution" to peak oil sort of entirely misses the point (Einstein's dictum about the same level of consciousness comes to mind), and also is incongruent with the present economic and energetic realities.

I personally think that an entirely new space based technology platform lies well into the realm of fantasy, given the actual realities on the ground that we face. But then, I think an entirely new non-space based platform as a "solution" to peak oil lies in the same realm.

A major problem with such suggestions, IMO, is the unspoken premise: that we need a "solution" which will enable BAU to continue. But that's how we got into this mess in the first place.

Another unexamined premise evident is that one can "solve" a complex predicament by focusing on a single component of it. Complex systems simply do not yield to those sorts of simplistic, analytical "solutions" - see these for details:’s-not-simple

Peak oil is one piece of a very big, very complex puzzle - we have peak fresh water, peak metals, peak top soil, etc. How would a bunch of satellites address these issues, let alone the other related issues like overpopulation and carrying capacity overshoot?? My guess would be that, if anything, they would be exacerbated. The Law of Unintended Consequences would have a field day.

Even if this idea were to be seriously entertained, it presupposes the availability of financial and energetic capital (in a time of economic and energetic contraction, note) AND the stability of existing industrial systems (which depend on those declining forms of capital merely to avoid entropic decay), not to mention political will that seems nowhere in evidence. You would need ALL of these, yet I see NONE of them available now or in the foreseeable future.

I mean, I'm all for slashing military expenditures around the globe to free up lotsa capital, but I don't fool myself that this is likely to happen. If anything, expect such expenditures to rise as the reality of peak oil takes tighter hold.

So in a sense, the technology would likely be the easy part. The socio-economic and political context in which the technology would need to be developed and deployed is what makes it an impossibility.

- Oz

Harry J. Lerwill said...

My donkey,

I don't usually respond to other comments, but we recently decided to voluntarily downsize by a third (before the economy does it for us.)

We've been yard selling all those items we can't remember why we ever bought in the first place.

The best part of the process has been getting to meet our neighbors, who often come over and chat. We've met more of them in three months than we did in five years at our previous place.

As we sell off stuff we don't need, I imagine that the yard sale constitutes my entire income stream. Seeing the world through those not-very-rosy glasses can be quite scary and gives one a very different perspective on the katabolic economy which hands over our future. I understand why the denial is so strong.

John Michael Greer said...

...the storm blew past after dropping most of an inch of rain on my garden, which was welcome. The birds are yelling their fool heads off again, though our wild bees -- we've got something like a dozen species who visit our herbs, ranging from tiny sweat bees to carpenter bees the size of the last joint of your thumb -- are still staying under cover. Fortunately, I harvested snow peas and lettuce for tonight's dinner before the rain started! Now, back to comments...

Yupped, well, maybe. My hope is that the mass disappointment when the apocalyptic fantasies don't pan out encourages people to realize that they have to change their own lives.

Grrl, thanks for the tip! That sounds like a keeper.

Remnant, the US congress will be very nearly the last body on earth to get on the bandwagon. All in good time...

Cathy, the first step is for those of us who get it to take matters into our own hands and turn off the media in our own lives. Here again, personal example is the best place to start!

Nick, excellent. An up-to-date equivalent of the old Depression era tarpaper shack is going to be worth knowing how to build; a lot of us will likely be living in something like that before the next round of crisis is over.

Kirk, scapegoating the political system is an old habit, made more popular by the fact that the rascals in charge normally did have some part in whatever mess causes the uprising.

Ghung, I'm not offering "hope," if by that you mean the idea that modern industrial society can pull itself out of its death spiral. It's simply evidence, as I pointed out, that claiming that today's fashionable extravagance is hardwired into human beings is a copout.

William, that's excellent news!

Robert, well put. As I mentioned in an earlier response, I've got a book out in September on exactly this point.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Matt & Jess: But then the thing is, how do you afford property taxes? This whole simplicity thing can be pretty complicated.
I bought a small place outright (less than $100K), and with no monthly payment (and own water/sewer, and drive to dump=no utilities except electric & phone), it’s amazing how little you have to make at a part time job to afford those $500-700 property taxes! ($41-$58/mo) Definitely do the research, and I’ll bet you can even do most of it online before you drive down there… that’s what I did. It’s a nice feeling to know the ups and downs of the job market don’t matter so much.

sofistek said...


Sorry but I'm completely at a loss to understand your comment. I'm not looking for an "out", whatever that means, I'm just trying to find the right narratives.


chris said...

Connect with young people, and connect with the young person you used to be. There are a lot of kids out there that face a world way scarier than we ever did. How do you think they feel about the future? What do you think they think about the older generation? Remember all the anti-globalization protests in the mid 2000's? They were predominantly young people. While the older folks were trying to come up with sound arguments as to why globalization was a not-so-good idea, young kids were out there getting tear-gassed. The recent protests in Spain about "austerity measures" (theft of public wealth by a sociopathetic elite) - predominantly young people. All the while older people say "well, if you had listened to me in the 70's.." - completely pointless argument. Time to go out and get tear-gassed folks. Democracy is the best way we collectively know forward, it needs a vigilant and engaged public, and its currently starving on the street corner.

John Michael Greer said...

Blue Sun, there are times when the gospel according to Bob Marley makes a good deal more sense than most of the competition.

Jason, at this point in my career I don't write a book unless I already have a publisher lined up for it. I'm actually doing the proofs for Apocalypse Not right now; you'll have fodder for those conversations in plenty in September.

Shiva, I'll be suggesting some ideas in an upcoming post, but I'm far from an expert on the subject. I'll be interested to see the discussions.

Richard, one of the advantages I have here in Cumberland is that I can vote for Roscoe Bartlett -- and do.

Bill, well put.

Rev. David, er, you might want to take a moment, catch your breath, and read what I actually said, rather than jumping to conclusions and, if I may be frank, flying off the handle. I was speaking, as you'll see when you reread the post, of the sort of handwaving that used to go on in the peak oil blogosphere five and ten years ago -- and yes, there have been proposals for a space-based response to peak oil that would cost around the order of magnitude I indicated.

Mind you, everything I've read suggests that the estimates you've linked to are hopelessly unrealistic; there are critical issues of net energy and available resources here on earth (which have to be in place before any such project can happen) that are not being addressed, and as usual with vaporware technologies of this kind, nobody's talking about the risks, the downsides, and the statistically unavoidable disasters.

It's also not exactly irrelevant that the US is flat-out bankrupt and doesn't even have the funds to repair its current stock of bridges, so the sort of multitrillion-dollar project necessary to get even a modest level of electricity to earth from space is out of our reach; nor are the decision makers listening to the rest of your list of things "we have to" do. Thus I think it's considerably more useful to change our own lives, so that we can get by with the very modest energy resources available to us in the absence of fossil fuels, and work on preserving the best of the legacy of the last three centuries through the mess that's immediately ahead of us.

Harry, er, "Windows Club"? I think a spare letter got in there. That aside, how did they take it?

Lewis, oh, granted, but those of us who've been called idiots for years for suggesting that common sense applies to energy deserve at least a momentary smile.

Shark, "we" and "us" mean the people who are reading this blog, of course.

Matt and Jess, our property taxes are well under $1000 a year, so it's not a real challenge. Mind you, it's important to have some kind of income you can bring with you, or provide for yourself, because there are basically no jobs to be had -- the one really sharp limiting factor for most people.

GHung said...

Hail crisis over. No bad damage, just a few new bean plants and there're plenty of seeds. I need to stagger my plantings better anyway.

The PVs are ok as well (large hail is the PV adopter's worst enemy). I built my mounts out of old C-band satellite trackers and they track back to the east when it gets really cloudy, and at night. Since the weather generally comes in from the west or southwest here, the panels have usually turned their backs to the storm. It's nice when things work out like that.

About 3/4" of useful rain today so the forest will be really green in the morning. While I feel that good irrigation is essential to consistent success of a garden, a good soaking rain makes everything happy.

I wish the bluebirds would stop crapping in my rain gauge. Maybe one of those plastic owls....;-)

Kevin said...

While searching for something else on my town's Wikipedia entry, I learned this morning that radio evangelist Harold Camping lives in the same small city as me. How mortifying!

He and his followers are said to be "bewildered" by the angelic host's no-show - especially the fellow who shelled out $140,000 on billboards. For those wishing to prepare for the real deal, Camping has rescheduled the Apocalypse for 21 October, giving me plenty of time to work on my next solar cooker.

John Michael Greer said...

Donkey, that's a useful exercise. The one thing I'd add to it is the suggestion that before you get rid of things, make a list of what out of them you could salvage and repurpose, for something you'd actually use. More on this soon.

Lynford, whether or not we get a big CME anytime soon, being able to get by without grid power is going to be an important skill. As for being an evil genius, that's a job with plenty of growth potential in the years ahead!

Ghung, we managed to miss out on hail -- just some torrential rain, which my garden gulped down without a problem. (One of the many advantages of working lots of organic matter into the soil is that it improves drainage and water retention.) I hope your PV panels and plants came through okay!

Chris, whether or not getting tear-gassed is useful is a question I don't propose to get into here, but of course you're right that it's time, and past time, to engage with other people -- of all ages -- rather than just sitting on the sidelines and offering helpful advice.

Harry J. Lerwill said...

As you guesses, a typo on my part. Although getting the octogenarians to convert to Linux is quite a challenge.

Apparently my talk brought back a lot of memories; a lot of the ladies have not exercised those skills in quite a few years.

They see the same signs we do, only in their case, they are informed by experience as well as that rare commodity: common sense.

In the fall, while the gentlemen are in Lodge, the widows club will be taking over the kitchen and showing the younger ones how to can, taking over the TV lounge and teaching knitting.

I issued them a challenge they were delighted with: This fall, when Thanksgiving comes around, try and put together a meal for the loved ones that is sourced completely locally. If the food does not come out of your family's garden, buy from a local farmers market. When you give thanks for the bounty of the Earth has provided, make sure it the earth you stand on, not from a few thousand miles away.

Rialian said...

We most certainly got the hail over here up on Sleepy Creek was not the largest I have seen, but this is the second storm this season to bring it. Thank you for mentioning it...I happend to be reading when you did, and it let me do a quick check and get things situated before it came.

I think it is a bit easier to "simplify" and down-shift in areas that you have to do extra steps to get some services. We did decide to get trash service, but we only barely need it compared to when we were living outside Washington DC. We simply accumulated more trash, more quickly, while living in the city. (It probably helps that we have an easier time composting here.) Once patterns are set up, they are hard to break...both a good and a bad thing.

Right now transport is our biggest expense, and we will be dealing with that for a while.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Remnant,

Thanks I appreciate your comments. I've really tried hard to explain what is a complex technology for non technical people.

You're spot on about the grid tied inverters being difficult to use should the grid go down. I covered that in the most recent post on inverters. As you rightly point out this is a scenario that most people forget.

However, if you had a small off grid pure sine wave inverter + a car battery, you could trick the grid tied inverter into supplying mains electricity into a house not connected to the grid with very little effort. You'd only have power during the day though + a little bit at night from the car battery. Still with a little bit of knowledge and ingenuity you can achieve all sorts of outcomes from otherwise scrap materials.

I am not recommending that people try this as it may be potentially dangerous.



escapefromwisconsin said...

Interesting I read this and also an excellent post on Boing Boing that also made some excellent points along a similar line:

Energy isn't just what it is. Energy is what we have decided we want it to be. Sometimes, that fact leads us to make good decisions. Sometimes, it leads us into horrible mistakes. More often, we get a little of both at the same time. But we can't plan out the future of energy without taking a good, hard look how our beliefs and cultural ideas have created its past. We have to come to terms with the fact that our decisions about energy aren't guided by pure economics or pure science, and never have been. If we ignore that, then we're doomed to keep making sloppy choices, or become frozen in a standoff of ideologies disguised as fact—and neither is something we can afford to do right now.

Read This: Powering the Dream

Someone asked about a crash-proof small busniness. How about SPIN-Farming:

To tide us over until the book is out, here's a quick rundown of failed doomsday prophecies with a good historical scope:
Whoops! Failed Armegeddon Prophecies and Predictions

Riban said...


"One 'simplify' would have been sufficient."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

John Michael Greer said...

Ghung, glad to hear it. The trick of having the trackers swing to the east is worth remembering.

Kevin, and when his next prophecy falls flat you can start another!

Harry, that's very promising.

Rialian, glad to be of service. Yes, transportation can be a real challenge; Sara and I had to do a lot of research before settling on a place to relocate that had the train service, walkable streets, and public transit we needed.

Escape, many thanks for the links!

GHung said...

Note to Chris: Fooling a grid tied inverter can also fool its transfer switches, energising the grid, dangerous indeed for anyone trying to restore power (though most inverters will error off before this happens. Anyone desperate enough to try this, please open your main breaker prior.

'Grid-interactive inverters solve this issue. Sometimes refered to as hybrid inverters, they function as a grid tied and off grid inverter, maintaining a battery while feeding the grid. Best of both worlds.

Fox said...

I think you completely missed the point of the post.

I am all for simple living. But I'm for a simpler life that balances what I need with what I want. I don't believe "balance" is completely rejecting modernity in favor of some contrived view of the past.

But hey, any publicity is good publicity, so thanks for the link.


Matt and Jess said...

Cathy and JMG, thanks for the heads up about monthly property tax rates. Cathy, you were very fortunate to have been able to buy a home outright! One of my goals has always been to avoid the "death pledge" as well. I feel like though there is a lot of interest in "simplicity" and "thrifting" and "homesteading/homemaking" right now, few people are doing some of the more radical steps--such as perhaps moving to a place where you can buy something very cheap--so I feel like this is very weird territory. It's also hard to experiment with two kids in tow. And the "bring your own job" thing also isn't very promising for us -- though my husband would just love to have his own kayak building business ...

Speaking of which, there was actually someone on this blog who commented a few weeks back that they had used their GI Bill to go to a year-long boatbuilding school, and my husband is considering that! I was wondering if that person reads this, if they could inform us a little bit about their happiness with that choice and whether or not they are getting income. Thanks!

Eshonti Grey said...

I'm understanding the LESS idea as something that won't have the option of being a trend in the very near future, but necessary. In an era of excess, I think people are starting to get bored with themselves, and are needing something other than air conditioned tank rides to Starbucks followed by meaningless jibber jabber on the latest touch screen walki talkie to turn them on. They need and want new purposes to get involved with, things that make sense.

I have faith that folks will start to see the light, and realize it comes up everyday without yahoo reminding them that the electric company still has their email address. :)

In my community, at least my friends are getting on board about understanding the tackiness of needing to buy things. My wife even made her own custom IPAD (we do need computers :) case out of an old recycled book from the thrift store and it's amazing! Everyone who has seen it feels ashamed of buying the latest greatest new plastic/rubber idea and wants her to start making one for them, others seem to get the "point" of why it's really a GREAT idea. Not that this is the end all solution to the world, but when people see that undertanding LESS can be more than just LESS, I feel we'll be running with a brighter ball of enthusiam for more people to get on board and see it as a "everything in it's right place" type of groove.

Trends are trends, and they do come and go, but when good ideas start to make people's lives feel more relevent by being smarter and creative humans, they get more pleasure from how these ideas start to playout and treasure their own existence more. Then the ideas seem to stick longer and possibly even stay!

Don Mason said...

@ LewisLucanBooks

The central issue in my earlier post about fashionable austerity is that "brutal economic reality is now beginning to turn the fringe-y movement of voluntary simplicity into a mass movement of involuntary poverty."

My opinion is that this transformation is going to have profound social/political implications: namely, that people involuntarily sentenced to life-long poverty could easily go careening down a very dark, violent road. (I live in a low-income neighborhood in deindustrialized Rockford, IL, a city that has the fourth highest per-capita rate of violent assault in America. So I'm quite familiar with this threat - every single day. And night. Particularly at night.)

To minimize the damage, it would be helpful if we could keep people - particularly young people - thinking in a positive, productive manner while all of their dreams are being permanently dashed to pieces around them.

Not easy to do.

So I suggested that we start calling austerity "cool", so that people could keep at least some shred of their self-respect intact - that the fact that they were living an austere lifestyle was actually good for them personally, and helpful to society in general; and that they didn't have to be ashamed of it; and that it was really cool to do it - that they were ahead of the curve.

But if something is going to seem cool to them, then the people saying that it's cool must first be respected as being credible - and one of the things that credibility is based on is being right - not always being right (nobody is), but being substantially right about the most critical issues.

My point is that there are people who have been espousing a body of thought who have earned their credibility the hard way: not by always being right about everything, but by being substantially right about the most critical issues of our time; while a different group of people espousing a very different body of thought are in the process of losing their credibility - not by always being wrong, but by being substantially wrong about these same critical issues.

The Wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan: SUBSTANTIALLY WRONG

The bubbles (dot-com/housing/student loans) blown by the Federal Reserve: SUBSTANTIALLY WRONG

Devouring our fossil fuel patrimony with no adequate planning for when it's gone: SUBSTANTIALLY WRONG

As our system falls apart, people will be searching desperately for direction. The people at the top have failed them, so they are going to be looking elsewhere - and some of the characters they'll be looking towards are bad actors.

But if credible peers standing beside them are saying that it's cool to downscale, then maybe some of their energy can be channeled into purposes that are more beneficial to themselves, their families, and the larger society.

So I think that we both agree that the compassionate, charitable response of "a helping hand" is appropriate.

But my opinion is that part of giving people "a helping hand" is to help them to understand that there is a body of political/economic/environmental thought that is nothing more than muddled, unscientific, self-serving blather; that it is SUBSTANTIALLY WRONG; and that if they keep listening to those con artists, then their already-difficult life is just going to get even worse.

Examining ideas - and if necessary, discrediting useless ones - is a necessary part of establishing what is "cool" (i.e., what is personally and socially useful) as the 21st Century staggers on.

Jason Heppenstall said...

On the solar issue, as far as I can see it makes a lot of sense to use our current abundant and cheap energy to make PV. When I bought an abandoned farm house in Spain there was on the roof a lone Franco-era solar panel that had been producing a steady 40 watts for around 35 years. A family of geckos had made a nice home for themselves in the circuit box on the back but otherwise it was as good as new.

Of course, I added my own panels and bought an inverter and batteries and waved goodbye to the grid. On sunny days, which to be honest was most days, I used the power directly - using the washing machine and power tools then. The panels produced way too much energy for me to be able to store in the batteries anyway.

I considered getting a small wind turbine to keep the batteries topped up on cloudy days and at night time. We didn't have toasters, irons or aircon or any other energy gobblers, but this was hardly a major disadvantage.

When it was cloudy for a few days at a time the washing basket filled up and TV stayed off - but there was always enough for lights, my laptop and the stereo.

The bottom line is that we learned to adapt our energy needs to when energy was available, actually with very little inconvenience.

Ruben said...

@x --Nice. See who can do the most with the least.

@One of the Remnant --It may take a while for the US to catch the Austerity bug, but when it does...Americans do things big.

And since addiction and human nature have come up, I would like to recommend The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society I spoke with the author, and he expanded that this idea of addiction pertains to consumerism as well.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Remnant,

You said multinational corporations as mini nation states and acting in their own interest are a new concept and that this may make a difference.

Thought it might be worth mentioning that from a historical perspective this is not necessarily true. Think the East India Company. In it's day, it was pretty powerful and yet it eventually came to an end.



Cherokee Organics said...


I agree with you 100% regarding PV. It's a really great technology, you just couldn't power the whole of societies needs with it. It's just not possible at all to achieve this with current technology and societies energy useage patterns.

The only people claiming this are those that don't have to live with it out of necessity. Being off the grid I live daily with PV's limitations.

Regards and thanks for all the great work.


Ken D. Berry said...

Trimming your life of junk food, junk thoughts and junk belongings is a truly elegant idea...

One of the Remnant said...

@ escape

From linked article:

"But we can't plan out the future of energy without taking a good, hard look how our beliefs and cultural ideas have created its past."

This is reminiscent of something JMG has said:

"The mismatch between our rationalist assumptions and the myths and symbols that still shape our behavior defines a faultline running through the middle of the modern mind..."

And therein lies the rub. Modern Americans do not grasp the fact that they see the world through the lens of myth, so deeply embedded is this tendency. It's like telling fish they must take a good hard look at the water in which they swim when the very concept of water-as-distinct-from-them is alien. Until people are able to distinguish the myth as something separate, and not just the way things are, they will not just be unwilling, but unable to perform such an analysis. And our current culture - social, economic, political - works actively to reinforce those myths because they benefit the status quo and threats to the status quo cannot be tolerated.

As I think JMG has suggested, at some point, the current set of myths will break down, diverge so spectacularly from reality that they will become untenable, and in the cognitive dissonance that ensues, new ways of seeing the world will be forged (and new status quo's will emerge, perhaps rapidly one after the other for some time), but there's no guarantee that those new ways will be any more in alignment with reality than the old ones were, though one can always hope.

I think it's likely that by the time that happens, we will be well past 'bingo point' and most folks will be blindly responding, tossed about by rapidly shifting political, economic and ecological/climatic conditions.

Those who have prepared in the ways we discuss here - especially in terms of establishing food, water and energy security while integrated into local communities - may be better able to weather such storms, though of course there are no guarantees.

However this turns out, we're in for a wild ride. :)

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Fox, if you're all for simple living, then why the shrill tone directed at people who like things a little more simple than you do? Those who ditch cell phones, for example, aren't necessarily pursuing a "contrived idea of the past" -- they may be making a sensible choice in the present. (I've never owned one, and wouldn't take one as a gift; anyone who wants to get hold of me when I'm not at home taking calls can leave a message on my land line.)

Matt and Jess, that's the big challenge, of course. One of the things that needs to evolve -- and it's not something I can do on my own, not by a long shot -- is a clearer sense of the options that are open to people for making a living without working for an employer. That's what I do -- as a freelance author, I take my living with me -- but I have only limited ideas about ways other people could do the same sort of thing.

Eshonti, this is very good to hear. I understand about needing computers -- I need one to make my living -- but I'll know that things are really heading in the direction of LESS when the coolest computer you can have is five or ten years old, and runs just fine because you've gimmicked it to do the things you need it to do even with old software...

Jason, you've just touched on what's possibly the most crucial issue that needs addressing -- the idea that it's possible to get by just fine without having all the energy you want, whenever (and in whatever form) you want it.

Cherokee, it's entirely possible that a future society could get all its electricity from PV -- or, more likely, from a mix of PV and other small-scale, localized, and intermittent electricity sources. It's just that ours can't, because it demands too much!

Ken, thank you for a truly elegant phrasing!

sgage said...

@ Fox,

"But I'm for a simpler life that balances what I need with what I want."

You also need to balance what you "want" with what is possible.

JP said...

Hello JMG,

Great post. I have really enjoyed the ongoing Green Wizard project and it has inspired me to do a bit of research into the history of energy usage for residential real estate.

Specifically, I want to look at metrics like square footage (or, ideally, volume), R-value, occupant density, and heating energy usage. My guess is that while R-values have increased over time, the increased size of the average single family dwelling coupled with smaller family sizes have increased the amount of energy used to heat the average home (per capita).

I am still working on finding a good, historical data series for the trend.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Chris

"You said multinational corporations as mini nation states and acting in their own interest are a new concept and that this may make a difference.

Thought it might be worth mentioning that from a historical perspective this is not necessarily true. Think the East India Company. In it's day, it was pretty powerful and yet it eventually came to an end."

Actually, I think this example helps to prove my point. The East India Company was arguably the first modern corporation, the progenitor which gave birth to modern corporatocracy. It's what set the stage. Thus far from being a counter-example to my argument, it is in fact the originating example which bolsters it.

For all the furor about corporations and their power today, I think it is instructive to understand that, prior to the East India Company and its ilk, corporations operated in a very different way. They were chartered often to perform some public good - build a hospital or bridge, that sort of thing. Once the project ended, the corporation did too, having fulfilled its charter.

It was Elizabeth 1 - i.e. the State - who recognized in corporations, in the East India Company, the possibilities for larceny...err, corporate profits - which could be funneled into the governmental treasury (royalty was always on the search for new sources of wealth, primarily so it could fight its wars). Once that principle had been firmly established and demonstrated, corporatism began to take root (helped along in particular by the Glorious Revolution in England in 1689, which set the stage for 'mercantilism' as State policy, a policy which the Founding Fathers of America sought to emulate), culminating in the kinds of shenanigans we see in our world today.

This is why I see it as irrational when many 'enlightened' modern folk perceive government as the protector from corporate evils. 'Twas the government which fostered those evils from the start and labored to perpetuate and enhance them thereafter.

Furthermore, modern giant corporations could not exist absent friend-government, which erects barriers to entry which keep smaller and nimbler entities from competing. This has become blatantly obvious in recent years in the agricultural sector. Just ask Joel Salatin.

For all that corporations crow about economies of scale, it is government regulation and legislation which protect them from the diseconomies of scale with which they necessarily go hand in hand. This is the mechanism which enables the 'mega' in mega-corporation.

You want to reduce the power of corporations to do ecological, economic and social harm? Then reduce the power of the State to protect them. It's like starving a tumor of its blood flow. Other approaches have proven ineffective, to say the least, and yet that is the one approach most people will not tolerate (due to the myth of government-as-protector). Catch-22.

- Oz

Todd said...

Simply in the service of truth and accuracy, lest anyone be misled by you throwing 'Terence McKenna' in with 'new age mystics' and 'the Mayan Calendar' in one paragraph. The less knowledgeable might think that Terence McKenna was either a 'new age mystic' or that he may have had something to do with 1980's interpretations of the Mayan Calendar.

He had nothing to do with either. McKenna was a researcher and a seeker of truth wherever it may have been found. His field of study was entheogens and the social and biological implications of the non-ordinary states of consciousness they engender. He was not, as might be implied from your comment, some sort of 1980s new age flake.

Also, McKenna arrived at the 2012 date quite independently of Jose Arguelles or any Mayan connection. McKenna arrived at the 2012 date via a mathematical formula, which he termed the Timewave, derived from the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.

I'm NOT a 2012 fanatic. My days and nights are not consumed with this topic. But I do find it interesting that McKenna did arrive at the 2012 date independently of the Mayan interpreters from sources, quite literally, a half a world away.

Finally, I just want to point out that Terence McKenna is dead. He died young and tragically and he can't defend himself. I would ask you not sully his memory by casting him as some kind of quack.

He wasn't.

idiotgrrl said...

Besides - science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who actually had a very good feel for social trends when his beliefs didn't get in the way, called the current Crisis catalyst at 2012, which is a presidential election year.

I note he called "the Crazy Years" as starting, or peaking, in 1966 - a compromise between 1964 and 1968, it seems to me. For those who were around in the mid-Sixties -- did he, or did he not, call it on the nose?

Oh, and his Crisis of 2012 was cemented in by the election of a a hard-right True Believer televangelist. According to his Future History series, the regime so established was overthrown about 80 years later.

Heinlein wrote all this stuff in the 1940s.

So, yes, anything can happen in 2012 and a political disaster (global warming is nonsense, God gave us unlimited fossil fuels, pushing the button on the Middle East will hasten the Second Coming, etc) is the most likely scenario.

Be very afraid.

John Michael Greer said...

JP, that's an excellent project. Finding the data would be the problem; you might find it easiest to take a specific city or county, where you could get access to building permits, and use that as a sample.

Todd, I'm quite familiar with McKenna's work, having reviewed it for the sake of my forthcoming book on apocalyptic fantasies. His Timewave Zero theory was one of the main ingredients that came together in the 1980s to form the original version of the contemporary 2012 myth, so I don't think it's at all unfair to point out that he and Jose Arguelles, rather than ancient Mayan priests, were the original inventors of the idea that some apocalyptic event will happen in 2012.

Mind you, the Timewave Zero theory has done a very poor job of predicting levels of novelty between 1945 and the present; it's not exactly news that bright ideas that surface during drug trips, which is basically what the theory was, don't normally work well when applied to the unhallucinated world. Nor is it inappropriate to point out that dead thinkers also make mistakes, by the way.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Todd

"McKenna arrived at the 2012 date via a mathematical formula, which he termed the Timewave, derived from the King Wen sequence of the I Ching. ... I would ask you not sully his memory by casting him as some kind of quack."

No offense, but claiming an ability to predict the future based on the I Ching smells suspiciously like quackery to me. The fact that McKenna used math in the process does not magically render it scientific.

To credibly assert that it is not quackery would require a comprehensive analysis confirming the historical accuracy of divination done on this basis, or at least references to such, neither of which appear in your comment.

Until I see something along those lines, I would simply point you to Michael Shermer's classic 'Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time"

- Oz

Todd said...

I'm interested to read what you have to say in your forthcoming book about Terence's apocalyptic predictions.

I didn't just "review" Terence's work. I attended lectures he gave and actually spoke with him on a few occasions. I found him to be careful in venturing any opinion of what exactly would happen on that date and when he ventured anything it was the notion that it might be an important moment in human evolution. I never heard him say anything in particular would *happen* on that day (in terms of outward events), only that the date itself has some importance.

As you doubtlessly know from your 'review', his theory was that waves of history (novelty, in his terminology) were traveling backward in time from this 2012 date. His main concern was with the date, not what would come after it. It was clear, though, that he thought there was going to be an 'after.'His was not an 'end times' prediction so much as a prediction of a moment of human transition. Transition to what? He was not all that specific. I don't think he knew.

In fact, thanks to the magic of the internet, I see that he's on record (at approx 9:45) saying nothing will happen. Sort of a non-prediction, actually...

I didn't make my comment to denigrate you, but to plead for a little moderation in how you treat someone whose no longer able to fight back; someone who, IMO, deserves more respect than you've given him. But you bring your own intellectual honesty into question with your closing comment about the timewave's accuracy.

The timewave covers human history from 3135 BCE forward. That's nearly 5000 years of data to mine. Yet, you focus only on 1945 forward. Really? At the very least, you would appear to be cherry picking your data.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Ruben - Thanks for the link. Very interesting. If you haven't discovered "the rest of the story" you might want to get a copy of Gabor Mate's "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts." He's a physician at the Downtown Eastside Vancouver clinic. From the cover "He widens the lens to address the larger societal problem - speaking also to the risks of the more "high-status" addictions, such as wealth, power and sex."

Having had lifetime experience with more garden variety addictions, up close and personal, I know exactly what you are referring to. The addictive focus may be different, but the feelings are the same.

I am currently divesting myself of a lot of "stuff." I've been feeding 8 to 10 boxes a week (and small pieces of furniture) into the local auction for the past couple of months. In every load there's a few things that it actually, physically hurts to part with. But I do. I went to the auction night before last, the first where my stuff was on the block. Won't do that again. I'll go to auctions, but not where my stuff is involved. It was just too painful.

Most people I know think I'm distressed because the prices realized have been so low, due to the economy. But that's not the reason. The reason is because I'm addicted to my "stuff" and it's painful to let go.

But, I'm determined to live a lighter, unencumbered kind of life so I work through the pain. Thanks for the link and the observations. It's exactly what I needed, today.

Julie Smith said...

A lovely quote--being a musician--I love the title.

My Symphony

To live content with small seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, never a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious...grow up through the common...this is to be my symphony.

---William Henry Channing

So my summary of LESS is that it is not about enjoying life less, it is about doing more with what you have. It is not about giving up something, it is about opening up yourself to a deeper type of abundance. Scarcity is a mindset that can only be overcome by seeing the beauty in creation. Abundance is available to all who have the eyes to see.

John Michael Greer said...

Remnant, I have no problem with somebody coming up with nonrational ways to make sense of history, or anything else; still, if it makes predictions, it's fair to expect them to correspond to what happens. So far, the bursts of novelty predicted by the Timewave Zero theory haven't happened on schedule. We'll see about 2012 -- but one lesson a lot of us learned in the wake of the Sixties is that the ideas that seem so wonderfully meaningful when you're stoned out of your gourd don't generally hold up afterwards.

Todd, the only place McKenna has in my book is his role -- which was unintentional, to be sure -- in launching the current 2012 mythology. I'm aware that he made a variety of other predictions, but so have plenty of other people, and from my perspective, he's not that influential or interesting a figure.

As for my use of 1945 as a benchmark, well, anybody can go back over a few millennia of history that's already happened and cherrypick events to fit a system. The final cycle of McKenna's theory, from 1945 to 2012, contains predictions of novelty bursts that hadn't yet happened when the theory was presented. They didn't happen on schedule, a point that does raise some questions about the validity of the theory, you know.

The value of a theory of this kind is shown by its ability to make accurate predictions of events that haven't happened yet. If you think it shows a lack of intellectual honesty to expect a system of prophecy to produce valid predictions of the future, well, you're entitled to your own opinion.

Julie, many thanks! That's a lovely quote.

Ric said...


"I wish the bluebirds would stop crapping in my rain gauge. Maybe one of those plastic owls....;-)"

A rubber stopper would be a 100% effective defense against bluebird crap...

As to PV, I'm thinking that my next system will be built "backwards" if/when I'm ever again in a position to play with my home power supply:

1) Focus initially on reducing power needs to the minimum.
2) Set up the house to run off a bank of batteries+inverter, charging the batteries from the grid during off-peak hours (think whole-house, on-line UPS).
3) Invest in PV or whatever source makes sense at the particular site.

My reasoning is that electricity will first become expensive, then unreliable then fail completely. Depending on where you live, either or both of the first two may be happening already; our power is unreliable here in central Florida but still relatively cheap. For now. I don't expect the grid to go down completely in my likely-remaining decade or so on this earth; hence the priorities. Even if I'm wrong it sounds like there will be plenty of grid-dependent PV to wire into my system.

[Aside: I find it incredible that anyone would go to the expense of a PV system then wire it up in such a way that it cannot function independent of the grid. Maybe my thinking is warped by my experience with PV in a completely off-grid situation, but this seems... well... wrong.]

One of the Remnant said...

@ Todd

"I see that he's on record (at approx 9:45) saying nothing will happen. Sort of a non-prediction, actually..."

His statements in that clip seem decidedly ambiguous, including partial unintelligibility, so not sure you've given an accurate characterization of his views. It seems to me to fall well short of a flat out assertion that nothing will happen.

On the other hand, looking at what he's written, it seems quite clear that he does in fact predict that *something* will happen, and even very nearly verges into describing himself as an apocalypticist:

"I come very close here to classical millenarian and apocalyptic thought in my view of the rate at which change is accelerating. From the way the gyre is tightening, I predict that the concrescence will occur soon—around 2012 AD. It will be the entry of our species into hyperspace, but it will appear to be the end of physical laws accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination. ...The object at the end of and beyond history is the human species fused into eternal tantric union with the superconducting Overmind/UFO."
—McKenna, Terence: New Maps of Hyperspace

The "end of physical laws" is a pretty substantial prediction, the manifestation of which would be beyond obvious (err, no more gravity?) - there is nothing ephemeral about that, I don't think, nor about achieving eternal tantric union. And then there's this:

"I've been talking about it since 1971, and what’s interesting to me is at the beginning, it was material for hospitalization, now it is a minority viewpoint and everything is on schedule. My career is on schedule, the evolution of cybernetic technology is on schedule, the evolution of a global information network is on schedule. Given this asymptotic curve, I think we’ll arrive under budget, on time, December 22, 2012."
—McKenna, Terence: Approaching Timewave Zero November 1994

To be honest, it looks to me, based on your comments which clearly seek to downplay McKenna's predictions, vs his documented writings about those predictions, as though it is you, not JMG, who is misrepresenting McKenna's views here, your personal discussions with him notwithstanding.

I say we plan to circle back to settle this issue on 12/23/12. :)

- Oz

Red Neck Girl said...

Perhaps the best metaphor for those who survive the coming change to America could be likened to surviving an avalanche. Those who see it coming turn around and start skiing down hill at a diagonal with the hopes that it misses them, some of them get caught up and overwhelmed and some of them kick off their skis and start swimming with the flow.

No doubt luck plays some factor in surviving such a catastrophe but that luck starts with keeping your eyes open and your mind working.

Best wishes to everyone in our avalanche of history.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Sofistek,

I went back and re-read your original comment. It's the bit that says "isn't it different this time" after saying that such thinking is a no no.

To me, and I may be wrong, it is different if you view humans as being separate from nature. However, nature can't be fooled and limits apply to us all whether we choose to believe them or not. I don't think that it's a question of narrative, but of adaption. Narrative implies that there is an element of control and possibility. This is where I differ from your thinking in that sophistry is not an answer when action and adaption is what is required. Only time will tell really.



Todd said...

You wrote, "If you think it shows a lack of intellectual honesty to expect a system of prophecy to produce valid predictions of the future, well, you're entitled to your own opinion. " That's not what I think nor is it what I was saying. I was saying when evaluating a system it's intellectually honest to use all or as much of the available data as possible, not just the little bit which helps you to grind your ax.

That's what I was saying. Nothing like what you portrayed. There goes that intellectual honesty thing again.

G'night, JMG. I've had my say. I've made my point.

Kevin said...

I've quite enjoyed Terence McKenna's speeches, many of which I've heard online in MP3 format. He was a gifted, spellbinding speaker. There don't seem to be too many psychedelic philosophers around, not with those kind of chops - he knew a good deal about Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and alchemy, incidentally - so I value him for that. But I don't believe in his Time Wave Zero theory. Even his brother was skeptical about it, and (I presume) still must be so. I don't think there's much evidence to support the idea that the monkeys (us) are going to the stars, nor that our civilization will be transformed at the eleventh hour by a trandimensional Object at the End of Time, nor by time travel. It seems regrettable that out of all the things he discussed popular culture has seized so strongly upon the 2012 paradigm. Next thing we know Dan Brown will be writing a novel about it. I think it would be better if our society took up McKenna's reverence for nature and his penchant for shamanic ritual. We could use some of that, I suspect.

John Michael Greer said...

Girl, that metaphor sounds about right. My job, as I see it, is trying to pass the word that there's a major risk of avalanches, so people can take steps to stay out of the most vulnerable areas, and learn what to do so they have a better chance of surviving.

Todd, expecting a prophetic system to make valid predictions about the future isn't cherrypicking, or for that matter nitpicking, and insisting that those who disagree with you aren't intellectually honest does no honor to the viewpoint or the person you're defending. 'Nuf said.

Kevin, agreed! I'm not a great fan of McKenna's, but he certainly had ideas worth considering and virtues deserving of respect. My comments about his Timewave Zero theory are comments about a theory, not a person -- and, for all its problems, the Timewave Zero theory is less absurd than some of the stuff that's riffed off the 2012 date in the last decade or so.

Glenn said...

Matt and Jess,

Please contact me at and I'll tell you how Boat School is going and other details.


trippticket said...

"A fashion for austerity may be temporary, in other words, but the austerity will endure."

My wife and I have talked about this recently actually, how all the old low-energy activities are coming back into fashion - gardening, canning, sewing, knitting, smithing, brewing, you name it, if it's old and low-tech it's hot! Then I asked her what she thought it would do to the fun factor of those activities when their participants suddenly realized that it wasn't a game anymore, that they couldn't go back when it got boring.

Makes us awfully glad we moved back home to a long growing season and healthy aquifer, got 1/2 an acre of permaculture food forest going, a horse, a dairy cow, and have incrementally worked our way down to often well under $200/mo total living expenses for our family of four. Farmers market tomorrow morning ought to just about cover it.

Love reading your blog.

nuku said...

The Rapture
doesn’t interest me, how utterly boring, but I do look forward to
The Rupture
when Mother earth swallows all the Big Daddy In The Sky religious crazies, leaving the rest of us to get on with cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the planet.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@Ric "...but this seems ... well ... wrong."

Funny how some things make you tilt your head, hoping a different view will perhaps make everything fall into place.

I got that feeling the first time I got a gander at a pellet stove. My friend was so pleased that he had back-up heat for when the power went out.

Never mind the little electric motor to run the screw to feed the pellets into the fire box... So the power goes out and .... and ....

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Ghung,

You're spot on of course about not doing this when you are connected to the grid. I did actually say "not connected to the grid" and I mean this literally.

I agree with you about the hybrid inverters, as they are a useful technology.

I mentioned the above issue because if you were in the situation where you had no grid, but access to all of the grid tied components, all may not be lost and you may still be able to get some use out of it.

I'm not recommending anyone do this in any other circumstance than a total and permanent loss of the electriciy grid.

The reason I put the idea out there, is that, say you were in scavenger mode, you'd more than likely come across grid tied inverters than any other form of inverter.

Hybrid inverters are good but you rarely see them. The reason for this is that they are an added layer of complexity in an already complex system. As such, they use far more energy (the one's I've seen anyway) than either a grid tied or stand alone inverter.

The higher levels of complexity also equate to a more expensive system and people usually install the solar PV system that they can afford and not the one that they can use.



Cherokee Organics said...


All this talk of cool makes me kind of nervous, so I thought I might channel some Monty Python and the Life of Brian.

Crowd: We're all cool.

Chris: I'm not cool.

Crowd: Shhh. Shhh.

Have a good one!


Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Ric,

It is wrong. They wire it up that way because it is cheap. Batteries are massively heavy and massively expensive. Check out my article series on solar which explains these sorts of questions in simple non techo terms.



John Michael Greer said...

Trippticket, oh, I'm sure a lot of people will panic when it stops being a game, but they'll get over it. One of the curious features of those low-tech skills is that many of them are a good deal more enjoyable in and of themselves than, say, holding down a nine-to-five pushing paper in some corporation.

Nuku, er, some of the people you're calling "religious crazies" are hard at work doing the stuff we've been talking about on this blog, and doing it with a degree of intensity that not that many of the irreligious can match. Some of them may also be your neighbors, with whom, in a relocalized world, you'll have to learn to get along.

Lewis, yes, I get to see that sort of thing fairly often. Mind you, it's not that hard to work around if you think about it in advance; there are various ways to make sure you have enough electricity to power one motor; but the fact that so few people think of it, well, that's the rub.

Chris, you're cool. Get used to it. ;-)

trippticket said...

"One of the curious features of those low-tech skills is that many of them are a good deal more enjoyable in and of themselves than, say, holding down a nine-to-five pushing paper in some corporation."

Ain't it the truth!

One of the Remnant said...

Worth noting that the Camping Rapture prediction was not taken seriously by mainstream Christians, nor even by mainstream evangelicals.

I'd also point out that it's no more 'crazy' to believe in various Christian doctrines than it is to believe that a finite planet can support infinite growth. In fact, believers in the former may be said to be less crazy, since their postulations cannot be easily disproved, while simple common sense and abundant first hand evidence suffices to disprove the latter.

- Oz

Rialian said...

===As an example for Nuku...

===The Christian Agrarian movement has some excellent speakers...I personally do not agree with the basing one's belief on a multiply-translated text as my (sole) soul guide for living, but if I were....I could do a lot worse than these folks.

===(The book is excellent, by the by...not my faith, but the points he makes are quite useful.

The Cosmist said...

John Michael, don't you see the irony of using the Googleplex -- the very apex of technological hyper-complexity -- to spread your message of imminent and inevitable collapse of our hyper-complex technological civilization?

I think McLuhan was pretty insightful when he said "the medium is the message", and to me the message of this medium is something very different from your ideas, no matter how articulately you may express them. You are using the tools of a non-local, high technology, energy-intensive civilization to claim that such things are on their way out. Don't you find that somewhat contradictory?

Matt and Jess said...

trippticket, do you have a blog or something of that sort? I have a family of four and I'm really interested in hearing how you cut your costs to that amount, as we're trying to do the same but are in the early stages.

sgage said...

Terence McKenna was a different breed of cat. To me, he was an entertainer - not to say that he didn't have some thought-provoking ideas, and a kind of old-fashioned erudition. He had an interesting store of historical and scientific knowledge in many areas. And, of course, some really out-there experiences - in Asia, in the Amazon, and eyes-closed in total darkness ;-)

The TimeWave Zero thing was certainly the least interesting thing about his rap, in my opinion. First of all, above and beyond the notion that the course of history was somehow encoded in the I Ching, just how to you quantify "novelty" to graph it all out? The whole project was a non-starter as far as I was concerned, and I just tuned out whenever he talked about it. It would never have occurred to me to take it as seriously predictive.

But sure and he had the gift of blarney, and could make me laugh out loud when he got on a roll. One thing though - I always wanted to meet him, and tell him that 'casuistry' is not the same thing as 'causality', which is how he always used the word. I guess he really just liked the sound of some words.

John Michael Greer said...

Trippticket, a case could be made for ditching much of modern industrial society for purely Epicurean reasons.

Remnant, no argument there. Personally, I think that using a religious teaching to critique, say, the origin of species is a mistake, of exactly the same logical kind as the one made by those who try to use science to critique religion; the mistaken application, though, does not invalidate either religion or science.

Rialian, thanks for the link!

Cosmist, it's 3 am and your house is on fire. I come running up and pound on the door, trying to wake you. You lean out of an upper window and say, "But don't you see the irony in using part of my house to warn me that my house is burning down? Isn't that somewhat contradictory?"

Sgage, I wish I'd had the chance to meet him. One of my teachers was on one of his trips down the Amazon, and used to do a sidesplitting McKenna imitation -- but I never had the chance to see the real thing in action.

Draft said...

Right now, unless my sense of the flow of events is completely off kilter, we’re moving into the second and probably much more serious phase of the crisis kicked off in 2008 by the implosion of the real estate bubble, which has been metastasizing ever since under the band-aid applied to it by the industrial nations’ print-and-pretend policies.

I'm curious whether you mean this in the way you did with the comments you made in blog posts at the end of 2007, and what you see happening now that makes you make similar comments.

j.hunneyball said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, and find it perceptive and thought-provoking.

Regarding the whole 2012 business, I am working on the principle that I can have my cake AND eat it. Whether or not the Mayan's predicted anything for that date doesn't seem so relevant to me, so much as its potential as a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a cultural meme it has gained enough traction to warrant a Hollywood blockbuster. There will be a lot of people wondering what is going to happen that day. As you no doubt are aware, intention is a powerful force. If enough people around the world are focussed on love for one another and the planet, perhaps some critical mass can be achieved that will bring about a transformation of consciousness. So the veils of separation are lifted and it becomes clear that what we do to others, and to the world, we do to ourself. If there could be the same kind of coherence between humans as there is between the cells in our bodies, knowing we are all cells in Gaia's body, perhaps the challenge of adjusting to life without the fossil fuel fix will be easier.

As I understand it, jumps in biological organisation, for example from single to multi-cellular organisms, happened at crisis points. We are certainly in the midst of a crisis, the sixth mass extinction. Perhaps a significant proportion of humanity focusing their positive intention at one time can facilitate such a jump.

Or then again, perhaps not. Perhaps I'm just an old hippy with an addled brain! Either way, I will continue to disentangle my life from its dependence on the fossil-fuelled 'system'. On 21/12/2012 I will also prepare my ritual space and add my light to the collective awakening.

And maybe nothing will happen, in which case I will continue learning to live resiliently within my community. And maybe something will happen and all these separate human experiences will become the human experience. But there's certainly nothing to lose by trying!

Respectfully yours


Don Mason said...

Chris @ Cherokee Organics

Don't worry.

You don't have to be cool permanently.

It's just temporary.

Eventually, the kids will decide that something else is cool, and then everybody who was temporarily cool can go back to being comfortably fringe-y and totally uncool.

But right now, as the various ships of state sink bow first in a sea of red ink, we need some people around who seem to know how to build lifeboats. It helps maintain morale.

And you won't be facing stiff competition. When the kids decide that they need to learn some get-your-hands-dirty, practical skills to keep themselves alive in the 21st Century, then who are they going to think is cooler?


Or Lady Gaga?

See? No competition.

Freyja said...

Yesterday I went shopping in a Fred Meyer superstore.
It was the first time in about a month and a half I had been exposed to mainstream culture.
I've lived on a commune in very rural Oregon for the past year.

I watch no TV, and get on the internet about once a month. I rarely use phones, and don't listen to the radio. Cell phones don't work here.

Going into town is now culture shock for me. I was overwhelmed by all the chemical smells of clothing, body products, lawn chemicals, and furniture. I stood at the checkout line and read magazines in the racks. They all had headlines that included violent language about senseless and shallow subjects. "DIVORCE WAR!"
they screamed at me. "EXPLOSIVE NEW EVIDENCE OF (insert celebrity) CHEATING!"

I was horrified and disgusted by a scene I once accepted as a normal, routine part of my life.

I wanted to run screaming, but I could still shut off part of my brain, and smile falsely at the checker, and say I was fine, and swipe a card.

This culture is POISONOUS, in every sense of the word. I feel so sorry for those who don't experience clean air, clean water, the peace and quiet of the country, and seeing the Milky Way at night.

'Tis a gift to be simple.
We've forgotten how to be HUMAN with each other.

Setting a trend of LESS is a beautiful and intensely enjoyable experience.

I can't go back.
I don't want to go back.
Get out while you still can.

It's getting dark, so I've got to go put the tomato starts in the greenhouse.

Good luck out there....

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, more or less, with the added detail that we're headed into the next round of something that will occupy most of the rest of our lives. A full rundown of the reasons would take up a post all its own; the rising spiral of financial trouble and institutional dysfunction in Europe, though, is a very important factor. The words "Credit Anstalt" keep going through my head...

Justin, well, approaching it with that attitude is unlikely to cause any harm. Still, I think you're misreading the nature of apocalyptic thought; it's a meme of the same class as the one that drives speculative bubbles, and just as every speculative bubble ends in a crash, every apocalyptic prophecy ends in a disappointment. That's hardwired into the structure of the meme.

Freyja, I live a good deal closer to it than you do, but it still leaves me shaking my head. People will look back on this culture centuries and millennia from now, and they won't be impressed!

SophieGale said...

Finding your own patch of land in the US: see what USDA Rural Development has to offer.

They can assist with loans, rental assistance, grants for business development, weather-proofing... See what programs your home state/target state has available.

Supporting yourself when you get there: could you provide foster care for a veteran?

We are going to need services for developmentally disabled adults as well. Right now there are a lot of older parents who are wondering what will become of their semi-independent children when they are no longer around. In many cases the families have set up financial trusts for the adult children but need mentors/administrators. In other cases these folks may have to depend on group homes or institutions.

Elderwoman said...

Just tweeted this. I think it's one of your best ever - and they are all good.

Jason said...

JMG: a case could be made for ditching much of modern industrial society for purely Epicurean reasons

Oh I think Epicurus would've been right on board with L.E.S.S. This was a man who said he could happily compete with Zeus for happiness if he had a few oat-cakes after all. :)

From the Vatican Sayings:

In most men, what is at peace is numbed, and what is active is raging madly.

The ingratitude of the soul makes an animal greedy for unlimited variation in its life-style.

Nothing is enough for someone to whom enough is little.

The greatest fruit of self-sufficiency is freedom.


One of the Remnant said...

@ Freyja

"This culture is POISONOUS, in every sense of the word. I feel so sorry for those who don't experience clean air, clean water, the peace and quiet of the country, and seeing the Milky Way at night."

Agreed....makes me wonder if, while we are on one hand diligently attempting to preserve that which is worth preserving to carry into this new 'dark' age, we shouldn't, on the other, spare some efforts toward collecting evidence of this toxicity as 'wave-off' examples for future generations - i.e. here lie artifacts of a horrendously unbalanced culture - beware! Perhaps tabloid stories involving Lady Gaga might make for a good start.

Maybe this would be the 'dark' wing of the green wizards project... ;-)

- Oz

PhilJ said...

Hi John, I read what you are saying every week and it has very sound reasoning behind it, but it of course jars harshly with daily
experience, where the world ploughs on regardless of what we think about it. I read the New Scientist magazine religiously,
and in it I see technology acheiving new marvels each week. It seems to me that Raymond Kurzweil may be on to something with his singularity. We appear to have a race between technology and resource depletion/environment degredation. Your articles bet on the latter, but some of the astounding advances in our knowledge and capabilities I read of, lead me to think that the race is still very much on, albeit with the world diverging into the elite haves and the struggling (and dying) have nots.
Andover, UK

Draco TB said...

One of the more useful pieces of evidence for this shift is the defensive tone of blogs like this one that have taken to denouncing the idea.

Oh dear, the person who wrote that blog has fallen into the Myth of the Middle. These people who have so fallen take two positions, label them extremes and then say that the answer to all our woes is in the middle. These are the people who have taking the truism Everything in moderation - even moderation to heart (although they seem to have missed the warning at the end) and will oppose doing anything that they see as radical.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Phil

"I read the New Scientist magazine religiously"

An interesting, and, I would maintain, ironically accurate, turn of phrase.

I used to read NS a lot - but over time, I became aware that many of the articles were little more than easily debunk-able propaganda of the Scientific Establishment, which is an institution with its own interests (and its own ideology) that are often at odds with science as a questioning and non-dogmatice discipline and philosophy. If you bring the open skepticism which lies at the heart of true science to your readings of this resource, I'd suggest that you may begin to see the same.

NS is an unabashed promotor of what Kunstler has called the 'techno-triumphalist' mindset, which requires it to be highly selective in its perspective, and which thus presents a severely distorted worldview. I don't say this just because I held a different opinion, but rather because I analyzed articles from the standpoint of factual and logical accuracy and found them wanting. Lots of unexamined assumptions, factual errors, and fallacies of all sorts.

I consider Scientific American to be much less blatantly biased, though it, too, often serves as an organ of the institution of science. Perhaps its editors are just smarter.

BTW, some of the very best research being done on suppression of dissent in science (among other fields), which highlights the institutional nature of the scientific establishment, is being done by Brian Martin, a social sciences professor in Australia. This site includes many links:

Scroll down to find documentation of suppression of dissent in fields of health, environment, science, etc.

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Sophie, most interesting. Thanks for the links!

Elder, thank you!

Jason, I can't think of a tradition of premodern philosophy that wouldn't be on board with this project.

Phil, your daily experience must be very sheltered. In my daily experience, technological dysfunction and the impact of growing resource shortages are far more evident than the old-fashioned technological triumphalism you're discussing. As for Kurzweil, er, the Singularity is simply the Rapture decked out in sci-fi drag -- hadn't you realized that? It's an apocalyptic myth, not a scientific theory.

Draco, good. And of course the lie slips in because the two extremes can be defined at any point -- for example, if giving your workers a living wage and enslaving them are the two extremes you choose, giving them sweatshop wages is moderate, isn't it?

mageprof said...

@ Freya

"seeing the Milky Way at night"

Your words moved my soul.

I'm coming up fast on 70. When I was a boy in the '40s, I could see the Milky Way every clear night from my back yard (no more than an hour by car from Manhattan). The sky was ablaze with stars, like ten thousand diamonds scattered by a cosmic jeweler across a huge piece of black velvet.

In those years we flew across the country and back every summer in a propeller-driven plane with maybe 80 seats in it. The flight took 12 hours, and we always flew at night. Once we got out of sight of Manhattan or San Francisco, most of the country was dark at night, with just a few lights in a few isolated houses, even when we flew over a city. The highways, no more than two lanes in each direction, were mostly empty at night, with at most one or two pairs of headlights visible anywhere on it.

Now, when you fly coast-to-coast, almost the entire country is lit up all night long, and the highways are wide rivers of flowing light.

On the ground, all but the brightest stars are invisible, as is the Milky Way.

Like you, we live without TV, without cell phones, with minimal exposure to electronic media, hardly ever setting foot in any big-box store.

But even that degree of isolation from our toxic culture is not enough fully to ease my soul. I still mourn the loss of all the stars and the Milky Way from my life every night.

In the '40s, I could safely drink the water from our local springs and streams, cool and tasty. Now it is not safe to drink. This, too, is a loss I mourn.

I am feeling like that old man in the movie Soylent Green, the protagonists's "book," who knew how to read, and also remembered the way nature used to be.

One of the Remnant said...

"Nobody wastes time being publicly outraged by notions that their audiences would never think of accepting, you know. It was when the mainstream media began dismissing peak oil in heated language that I realized, and mentioned here, tht peak oil might just manage to go mainstream; the huffy tone of blogs rejecting out of hand the idea that people might actually decide to choose a radically simpler lifestyle, unburdened by most of the technological so-called conveniences that clutter up so many lives just now, is a good indicator that a movement toward drastically lower consumption is stirring in the deep places of our collective imagination."

Sounds a lot like:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Arthur Schopenhauer

IMO, the real question we are debating here is: will this third phase occur at a sufficient scale to make a significant impact before 1) the whole thing implodes making it a matter of necessity rather than choice, or 2) the government effectively renders such an en masse transformation moot by imposing Statist controls in a futile and harmful attempt to 'manage' the situation?

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

I am *so* relieved. It seems all of our worries are now behind us and we've all been freaking out over nothing:

Thanks, ExxonMobil. You're the best.

rylan said...

For me this brings up thoughts about the nature of money. At one point in my life, I thought that money was basically evil. Best to avoid acquiring too much or the corrupting influences would lead to an evil life...

I slowly came around to the belief that money is just a form of energy that can be used to create either "good" or "bad". That the spending of ones wealth is a projection of ones power and that it is important to project this power with as much responsibility as one can find the maturity to muster.

So for me living in a peaceful sustainable world is the "good" so when I buy things I attempt to project my power to promote this outcome.

Don Mason said...

@ Remnant
Re: efforts toward collecting evidence of this toxicity as 'wave-off' examples for future generations

Business Proposal: "Temple of Doom Green Wizard Theme Parks"

Location: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, and many additional sites anticipated to be available

Plan: Repurpose old nuclear power plants as "Industrial World Nightmare" tourist attractions. Paint gigantic skull and crossbones on the cooling towers with "Abandon all hope ye who enter here!". Customers could get a warm, red glow from sunning themselves beside the melted down core, and could play bumper tag with vintage Ford Pinto's, etc.

Potential Limitation of Profitability: Due to the extremely high mortality rate, few repeat customers are anticipated. But then again, high mortality rates haven't stopped the cigarette companies from making money...

(Actually, I read that the Ukrainians are now conducting tours of Chernobyl. I'm sure that the tour guides are telling the visitors "Don't worry. Everything is under control. It's all perfectly safe...")

idiotgrrl said...

Oh, remnant, that exxon-mobil statement! Now, I own stock in those dinosaurs (inherited) and every proxy time I delight in voting against everything management wants and for all the outside stockholders proposals. Which is not enough.

I just sold less than 10% of it and bought the Calvert Alternative Energy Fund, for what precious little that's worth and am cutting back my consumption as best I can.

As The Donald's latest sang, while examining his endowments, "Little things mean a lot."

Drop-in-the-bucket (or ocean?) Pat

sofistek said...


Whilst I generally agree with your opinion of popular science magazines, I'd probably reverse your view of New Scientist and Scientific American. That might be because I read more of SciAm than NS, but at least NS ran a special edition a few years ago that demolished the concept of economic growth being good. Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to read it now (it was freely accessible when it came out). Prior to that, NS ran an article that showed the true state of the earth's resources, "Earth's Natural Wealth: An Audit". I don't think I've seen those kinds of articles in SciAm, except when they've included some get-out clause.

sekenre said...

@Yourmindfire I'm having a lot of fun reading your dissertation, thank you for sharing!

@Everyone Last weeks comments outage gave me the impetus to write a script to export archived articles from my RSS feed reader. If anyone wants me to rescue one of your comments, please leave me a message on my blog at Unknown Factor said...

Read the blog post. I agree wholly on fossil fuels both being in less supply (unless shale deposits in the US are utilized, oh wait, they will), and they are polluting. (Big news: most of conservative America is willing to live with pollution, its carcinogens and etc). I reject one rhetorical trick in the post: talking about "oil" then switching to "energy". Here in the Northwest (Seattle) our hyper-connected lives run on hydro-electricity. Long live hyper-connectivity, the other choice is the murderous and ignorance intensive lifestyle of simple rural people.

Ruben said...


If you enjoy mining comments archives, you should check out the program Nassim has built for The Automatic Earth comments. I can't remember what the URL is, but he updated that and announced it within the last week....

It can search for commenter, date, original post.....

idiotgrrl said...

For your list of terminology: from Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy "Forty Signs of Rain/Fifty Degrees Below/Sixty Days and Counting", a mildly fashionable buzzword used even my engineers in his global-warming near-future:


As one character points out, that's a buzzword for "simplifying." However, these days the Amish are cool.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Don Mason

I love it! ROFL at the dark humor here: 'Temple of Doom' theme parks, indeed.

@ grrl

I suspect your protest shareholder votes feel pretty good, even if they do not accomplish much externally. :)

@ sofistek

You may be right - that assessment was necessarily pretty subjective. I still have some regard for SciAm due to their 'Boundaries for a Healthy Planet' article last year which pulled no punches in asserting that we're way past those boundaries when it comes to biodiversity loss, nitrogen pollution, etc.

But both rags are, in the end, mouthpieces of the scientific establishment, depend on unexamined assumptions of that institution, and need to be read with a very healthy dose of skepticism, and a willingness to do a lot of research to establish credibility on an article by article basis. And, really, what is the point of putting that much effort into it at this point? I'm not sure it does much good considering the future we face.

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Remnant, to my mind that's not a question worth debating, as none of us can know the answer in advance. The question that seems important to me is this: given that it's at least plausible that LESS and Green Wizardry could make for a better future, do we (a) get to work or (b) sit on our hands?

Rylan, that's certainly one step in the right direction. Still, it's worth remembering that no technology -- including the technology of exchange we call "money" -- is actually value free, and if the values built into a technology are destructive, it can be a worthwhile project to minimize your use of that technology, and find other ways (say, doing and making things yourself) to get what you need.

Lance, when I do a post about the problems with the internet, I can always count on some nethead wading in with a set of cliches that don't address the issues and thoroughly misstate the facts. I was wondering where this week's example was; thank you for not disappointing me. All that shale oil, to begin with? Look into the numbers; you'll find that it's almost entirely a matter of PR releases meant to sell stock (and boost GOP candidates). If you believe those, I'm sure I can find some old shares in to sell you.

I lived in Seattle for many years and well remember the bubble of false security that federally subsidized electricity rates from BPA cast around energy issues there. Perhaps you can tell me how much of the transport system that gets you your food and other necessary supplies is powered by hydroelectricity, or how much of the electronic hardware that backs up your lifestyle is built, shipped, maintained and repaired with hydroelectricity, etc.

Finally -- aside from the ignorant bigotry in your last comment -- do you really think that nobody in all of history created a sophisticated urban civilization before the internet came around? If so, I'd encourage you to send back your college degree and ask for a full refund, as they clearly failed to teach you the things any educated person ought to know. Sheesh.

Grrl, most interesting. I haven't read Robinson in a long time -- I may have to find time for it. The one thing about the Amish, though, that tends to be neglected in current thinking is the powerful role that religion plays in making their lifestyle work. It's an essential ingredient, in fact -- and I wonder how many people who think highly of them would be willing to embrace that part of the social technology that makes the Amish lifestyle work.

One of the Remnant said...

@ lance

I suggest you read up on 'net energy' - this is THE key concept, IMO, to understand if one wishes to think intelligently about peak oil. This is especially true if you wish to understand the implications of those 'shale deposits'...

"Big news: most of conservative America is willing to live with pollution, its carcinogens and etc"

Big news: so is most of liberal America.

"Here in the Northwest (Seattle) our hyper-connected lives run on hydro-electricity. Long live hyper-connectivity, the other choice is the murderous and ignorance intensive lifestyle of simple rural people."

Wow, sorry to say, much ignorance and bias is evident in both of these statements. There is also a logical fallacy: the false dilemma. Are inbreeding and hyper-complexity truly our only two options?

I suggest reading some Wendell Berry to correct your misapprehensions about the 'murderousness' of simple rural people and their lifestyles (which can readily be argued to be vastly more wisdom-intensive, and less ignorance intensive, than urban lifestyles), especially in days of yore, before industrial ag and mountaintop removal mining and such (largely for the benefit of urbanites and suburbanites - a consequence of the 'hyper-connectivity' you celebrate) decimated and distorted rural communities. Mainstream urban and suburban society supports a level of murderousness on the global scale that the most inbred rural feuding clans could only dream of.

You might also consider that hydro is hardly 'green' - ask any decent ecologist about the ecological impact of dams and you will get an earful. Dams destroy rivers and disrupt/destroy habitats, cause biodiversity loss, generate greenhouse gases, result in mercury contamination, etc.

"The green image of hydro power as a benign alternative to fossil fuels is false, says Éric Duchemin, a consultant for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Everyone thinks hydro is very clean, but this is not the case," he says. Hydroelectric dams produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases produce more of these greenhouse gases than power plants running on fossil fuels."

Dams aside, Seattle also gets some of its electricity from the BPA - which runs the Columbia Nuclear plant.

- Oz

Rich_P said...

Finally -- aside from the ignorant bigotry in your last comment -- do you really think that nobody in all of history created a sophisticated urban civilization before the internet came around?

Replace "internet" with "fossil fuels" and your point remains.

One of the (many) reasons that history is bastardized, I think, is because the game might end if people realized that it's entirely possible to live healthy, fulfilling lives without rampant consumption or constant stimulation from televisions, cell phones, magazines, etc. By making even the recent past (~50 years ago) seem like something of a Dark Age, we can continue the Myth of Progress.

My first exposure to the concepts of "voluntary simplicity,” LESS, appropriate technology, etc. was from books and travelogues written by blue water cruisers, such as Lin and Larry Pardee, who sailed around the world in small, simple, wooden yachts they built and serviced themselves. One recurring point made by these authors was that electricity, complex navigation equipment, and even on-board plumbing aren't really required for a successful voyage, and that the boating industry spends a ton of money to convince you otherwise. (The same goes for the "outdoor recreation industry": the outdoors are plenty enjoyable without an RV or gadgets from REI.)

Long before I learned about peak oil, the ocean cruisers convinced me to start learning practical skills (everything from engine repair to tying useful knots) because being able to do things yourself, and "rough it" in general, can open a lot of doors, because conveniences and new products cost money, and money costs time. It was always a bit depressing to read about folks who spent years and years saving up for the latest and greatest 50 ft yacht because they absolutely needed a full entertainment center and a head that was like their bathroom at home.

John Michael Greer said...

Rich, it does indeed. There were plenty of literate, civilized, sophisticated societies with rich artistic, philosophical, and scientific traditions before fossil fuels were discovered, and there will be plenty more after fossil fuels are a distant memory. I'd like to help see to it that the ones that come after us have a good selection of the more useful discoveries of the last few centuries to work with, but one way or another I'm sure they'll get by.

sofistek said...


Thanks. I'd forgotten about the planetary boundaries piece and I should add that they also ran a piece about some research into the limits of wind energy - what can we usefully extract without having significant environmental impacts; we definitely need more of that research (not that the SciAm magazine carried it out). However, both, I think, were blog posts, rather than magazine articles. said...

The prose just keeps getting better. You've now developed a rather distinctive long line and syntax, that resembles leisurely but very well organized speech. It's finely balanced to boot, and you're using all manner of versatile sounds to finish out sentences, and paragraphs. In other words: really nice flourishes.

OK, on to the point of the post. See this round-up of growing negative sentiment towards home ownership. This would appear to be very on target to your idea of a an emerging, chosen austerity.


John Michael Greer said...

Gregor, many thanks -- both for the compliment and for the link! Mind you, I'm a natural contrarian; I'd suggest that once nobody in their right mind would buy a house, it's probably time to buy a house. Still, we're not there yet by a few years.

Cherokee Organics said...


Nature continually amazes me. I went to check on the chooks to see how they are going in the cold night (well cold for us anyway) and found - a sugar glider picking through the scraps the chooks didn't want. The glider had worked it's way into the chook enclosure and run which is fine by me. Recycling in it's finest form!

It kind of makes up for the fact that someone has since run over the baby wombat that we were feeding up. It's a bit of mystery because no one around here is owning up to it after I made all of the noise about the previous wombat death. Roll on peak oil.

Many regards


John Michael Greer said...

Chris, I'm very sorry to hear about the baby wombat! Still, a sugar glider must be some consolation. (I had to look them up; I know it's been said before, but you've got some remarkably weird wildlife down there.)

John Michael Greer said...

Ray (offlist), I field emails every month pushing the sort of claims you're making. I looked into them years ago, and they're nonsense -- a jumble of paranoiac fantasies spun out of thin air. You might consider deleting your bookmarks to the websites where you get this stuff, and spending less time on the internet and more time out there in the real world, where the problems we face can't be dealt with by coming up with ever more elaborate fictions about who's to blame.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Rich P

"One of the (many) reasons that history is bastardized, I think, is because the game might end if people realized that it's entirely possible to live healthy, fulfilling lives without rampant consumption or constant stimulation from televisions, cell phones, magazines, etc. By making even the recent past (~50 years ago) seem like something of a Dark Age, we can continue the Myth of Progress."

This is very well said, methinks. I do want to point out that the situation is even more dire: case in point, my Mom and Dad, both 80 now, not in any way addicted to the latest electronic gizmos, the internet, etc. And yet even these relatively simple folk have bought into the myth of progress and view their parents' early lives on farms as a sort of Dark Age.

So it's not just the crackberry/android generation with their techno-wizardry whose view of the past has been corrupted, but generations which really should know better. This is important because it means that even many in our oldest generations, particularly those who have been urbanized/suburbanized, no longer have the wisdom about prior ways of being to offer. Fortunately, there are still some who have kept the knowledge of those ways of being alive.

Personally, I would like to see an 'Elder's Wing' of the Green Wizard project come into being, to give a voice to those among that community who have valuable skills and wisdom to share. Among the many things at which our modern society does so poorly, perhaps none is more tragic than the way we throw away our elders along with what they have to offer us.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ Gregor

"See this round-up of growing negative sentiment towards home ownership. This would appear to be very on target to your idea of a an emerging, chosen austerity."

I don't see this is evidence of chosen austerity - rather, as the article you link to notes, many people are waiting in the hopes of "swooping in on some foreclosed owner who bought a place he could not afford." Biding one's time, waiting for the 'bottom,' hoping to profit from the misery of others, isn't the same as choosing austerity.

Further, I don't think that renting an apartment for $2500/month, like the woman in the article, can fairly be said to represent 'austerity.'

Personally, I just don't think austerity will ever be 'chosen' en masse by 'mainstream' American society - such fundamental shifts in cultural values simply does not happen quickly, and the time before peak oil begins to seriously bite is likely shorter than that. Necessity will compel it, and at some point thereafter (probably at least a generation), if we're lucky, the culture will shift to accept the reality.

Anecdotally, my son is 19, and he and many of his friends live relatively austere lives - it's not primarily a matter of free choice, but rather of the limited choices with which today's society (aka the choices of prior generations)) presents them.

Until the culture as a whole comes to truly *value* austerity, it will remain the province of the choiceless.

I do think that those few of us who accept and even celebrate austerity early can serve as important models in such a shift and help to ease the blow, for what that's worth.

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Adam (offlist), while I appreciate a thoughtful response to the discussion here, an essay that takes five full comment screens (so far) is over the top. Please post it on a blog of your own and put a link to it here, so that those who would like to read it can do so. Many thanks!

idiotgrrl said...

My yard lady told me you can buy a pump that will drain your bathtub out to the garden, even as far as the fruit trees, through a long hose, no replumbing needed (and no contractors whose faces are saying "What foolishness is this?")

And no hauling buckets out to them, though I've proven I can do that, too.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks. Living in a small community involves compromise...

Ooops! A lik to sugar gliders is here (they're pretty sweet!).



Adam Streed said...

Oy, my apologies. I guess I need to get a blog of my own... Thanks for the quick reply. (I'd send this response directly, but don't know how to do so except by comment.)

sgage said...

Many times, on this and other blogs, I see comments to the effect of "oh, the masses will never choose (this or that frugal path)".

People, I really don't think we're talking about "life style choices" (gag me!) here. We're talking about what is doable.

Some folks will see the economic/ecological necessity of certain paths, some grudgingly, some will embrace it. Some will be dragged kicking and screaming. Some will never see it at all, and wonder what is going on with their world. No one gets to "choose" BAU.

The consumerist mindset has gone so far out of control that it seems to me that most people think Reality is actually generated by purchasing decisions.

I see monumental denial. I see it in my own extended family (just back from Memorial Day visits). I'm talking about very well educated, highly "successful" people. Alas, it is my fate to be an ecologist in a family of engineers...

The denial is palpable and astonishing. Any optimism I might have had about our "society" facing the situation head-on is eroding quickly.

One of the Remnant said...

Ran across an article that readers of this blog will, I think, find thought provoking:

If nothing else, this lends some urgency to both the Green Wizardry and LESS endeavors...

- Oz

SophieGale said...

A sobering article from the National Journal today..."Eclipsed: Why the white working class is the most alienated and pessimistic group in American society."

Even more sobering: I've been reading George Lakoff's book Don't Think about an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. The folks in the article may eventually explode and take to the streets, but most likely they will continue to vote against their own interests. Read Lakoff's "What Conservatives Really Want."

John Michael Greer said...

Grrl, you can indeed. You can even get one that's hand cranked.

Chris, thank you! I Googled sugar gliders -- remarkable critters. The thought of an opossum with wings, or almost, is intriguing.

Adam, please do get a blog of your own. You clearly have a lot to say, and I suspect there will be quite a few people who will want to read it. When it's up, put a link in a comment on the current Archdruid Report if you like.

Sgage, that's an excellent point. It's a matter of choice until the choices run out, and then it's a matter of hard necessity. If even a few of us can make that transition before it's necessary, the knowledge base to help others make the same shift could be crucially important.

Remnant and Sophie, many thanks for the links.

John Michael Greer said...

Rev. David (offlist), oh, for the gods' sakes. If you're going to engage in marathon nitpicking, not to mention pulling a comment of mine out of context, redefining it to suit your own purposes, and trying to beat me over the head with it, you can do it somewhere else.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Sophie

No offense, but I consider Lakoff's article to be a textbook example of the sad state of political thinking in this country. It also makes clear why politics has become so toxic as to be beyond repair.

The liberals create straw men out of conservatism, beat the crap out of that straw man, throwing red meat to their base (it gets out the vote).

The conservatives create straw men out of liberalism, beat the crap out of that straw man, throwing red meat to *their* base (it gets out the vote).

Neither side seeks to honestly understand the other (this would *not* get out the vote!), which is portrayed as morally depraved and intellectually vacuous (after all, who needs to understand such cretinous villains? such villainous cretins?). Partisans settle for these crafted caricatures.

And the political leadership on both sides milks this approach for all it's worth - demonization is the name of this game.

As JMG has said:

What Carl Jung called "projecting the shadow" has become a potent political reality in America, but you don’t need a degree in Jungian psychoanalysis to realize that people who spend their lives pointing fingers at other people are trying to paste a villain’s mask on the rest of the world in order to avoid seeing it when they look in the mirror.

IMO, that article is all about the shadow that liberals project into conservatives. It's rife with logical fallacies and mischaracterizations and just flat out silly assertions that don't withstand knowledgable scrutiny.

I can find dozens of examples on both 'sides' of the political aisle (there is really only one side) published in thundering political blogs every day.

Seeking to portray one's opponents as evil leaves one no recourse - because there can be no honest discussion, no real debate - certainly no *compromises*! - with evil. Evil is just - evil. It must be expunged, destroyed, rooted out.

The sad thing is, both 'sides' have things a little bit right but mostly wrong - but since there is no real debate (let alone a dialectic!), only demonization, neither liberals nor conservatives are capable of figuring out where each has gone right - nor where wrong.

- Oz

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

The irony that Cosmist attempts to suggest weakens the LESS thesis is actually all the more delicious for the realization. There is no need yet to forgo the dental health benefit of a plastic toothbrush simply because it is derived from petrol. But there is a need to recognize the transience of our present wealth of options, relatively and significantly fewer than 40 years ago though they may be. The accuracy of the archdruid's prognosis for the fragility of googleplexity is not the less for strident argument by the vested in denial.

The value of elders that Oz posits is not a forgone conclusion. Experience unshared is worth little. But those skilled in the transfer of knowledge have much to offer; effective teachers are a very valuable resource. We of advancing years uncertain of a role in a world being remade would do well to practice.

Isn't much of SF simply the story of what comes after? The event and the before are not nearly so important as the narrative of a future constructed and purposed. The hope of 'yes we can' is perhaps not so distant a cousin to the myth of Rapture.

idiotgrrl said...

"There were plenty of literate, civilized, sophisticated societies with rich artistic, philosophical, and scientific traditions before fossil fuels were discovered, and there will be plenty more after fossil fuels are "

But, John --- those civilizations were powered on slave labor, by and large. I hope this in not in our future; seriously, it's not what you're advocating.

Cathy McGuire said...

Sigh... all this talk about denial and limits was brough home sharply yesterday when I brought over eggs to my elderly neighbors. She's housebound, and a large-screen tv takes up half the double-wide's living room. They always want me to chat, so I stay, despite the thick tobacco smoke. But yesterday, the talk strayed to politics -- they believe that Carter was in a secret deal with "the Arabs" (yes, they said that) to withhold all US oil so we'd buy the Middle East stuff -- and the guy stated he had proof because during the shortage, he could see that one of Chevron's oil storage "vats" (what's the right word?) was "chock full to the top" - proof positive that they were withholding oil! And she chimed in that her mother had seen a tanker off So. Calif that "had been barred from entering" - more proof. Turns out they exclusively watch - you guessed it -- Fox News, Limbaugh and crew! They said the head of Greenpeace was actually Gorbachev, and the head of the Sierra Club had gotten legistlation through to ban SUVs because one of them cut off his view. Oh, and there is NO Peak Oil! They know where there is lots and lots hidden in the US! This was the first time I really spoke at length to one of the brainwashed, and it truly shook me. There was no place to start. It would have been like talking to one of Camping's followers before the Rapture didn't happen. And yet, they are my neighbors who buy my eggs and the guy offered to watch my chickens if I have to go back East this summer... I don't think they are bad people, but so mis-informed (and so proud of it!) that there is no way to even begin to pierce the fog. If there are a lot of these out there, we really are doomed to crash before any change happens.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...


I read this piece in that made me wonder if Michael Lind is living in the same world as we. Are we talking past each other or is it just willful ignorance? Is he really saying that the changes in climate "are not that bad" and "fracking will postpone for decades peak fossil fuels"?

"Mind your own business, citizen, eveything is just peachy."

PhilJ said...

"the Singularity is simply the Rapture decked out in sci-fi drag"

Fantastic phrase! Made me laugh. That's going on Facebook (attributed of course), where only half my engineering, sciencey friends will know what the heck it's on about, but they might check your blog out.

More power to your keyboard John.
in Andover, UK

John Michael Greer said...

Lloyd, nicely put.

Grrl, most human societies practice slavery in one form or another -- including some hunter-gatherer societies, by the way. Some highly civilized societies, on the other hand, have done without it. I'm hoping we can manage the latter, but that's ultimately a choice our descendants will have to make for themselves.

Cathy, there's a lot of that. People will talk themselves into believing absolutely anything if it promises them the world they want. Your comparison with Rapture believers is apposite!

Atilio, I'd call it willful delusion. It's the same phenomenon at work in Cathy's elderly neighbors; it's far easier for people to convince themselves that there's infinite energy out there somewhere than it is to grapple with the extent that all our fantasies about the future have been founded on a lie.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Lloyd

"The hope of 'yes we can' is perhaps not so distant a cousin to the myth of Rapture."

This one's going into my quotes file...very nicely said.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ Grrl

"those civilizations were powered on slave labor, by and large. I hope this in not in our future; seriously, it's not what you're advocating."

Our current civilization is no less slave powered that many in the past. Remember that slavery, historically, often was not what we think of when we recall the chattel slavery practiced in the American South.

For example, slaves in ancient Greece and Rome were, at various times, allowed to own property and even buy themselves out of slavery.

It looked, at least in some cases, a lot like indentured servitude - the slave would have a plot of land, and he would owe his owner a certain percentage, keeping the rest for himself and his family. There were even some laws protecting the slaves from arbitrary or vicious damages by their owners.

In other words, it was something like taxation operates today in America. And if you do not think taxation (including property taxes) is a form of slavery aka enforced servitude, then go back and take another look, after first taking off the cultural blinders. ;-)

The point I'm making is that 'slavery', like Autism, is a spectrum thing. Ask any new college grad who can't get a job in his or her degree field - but is carrying $50k or $100k or more in student loan debt, which even bankruptcy cannot vanquish. Debt slavery may be a far cry from chattel slavery, but it sure ain't the same as freedom. The really sad thing, IMO, is that so many of us volunteer for slavery in this country.

BTW, please do not get the idea that I am saying 'aw, slavery ain't so bad' - what I'm saying is that there are a lot more parallels between the modern American and the ancient slave than one would at first thought realize.

- Oz

sofistek said...

That's my experience too, Cathy. Not word for word, obviously, but similar themes. And I'm in New Zealand.

Although there is evidence of creeping awareness, even in the mainstream media, there's no evidence that the populace, generally, is getting the message of unsustainability. At least, no evidence that I can discern.

I know JMG thinks we can be the teachers of the future but there are so few of us trying to do things differently that we may not have much impact. Sometimes, it seems all so pointless (don't worry, I know it's not).

GHung said...

We've got to get 'em when they're young. I learned many of my skills at Summer/Scout camp (I guess you didn't have to be rich back then). Boy/Girl Scouts and outward bound type stuff teach (at least they used to) basic skills that most kids don't aquire these days. Things like basic rope work, how to sharpen an axe, fire building skills, all seem like foundational stuff that one can build upon, or at least straighten out the learning curve.

I did a search for "off-grid camp" and some other terms. Nothing. I'm sure someone, somewhere is teaching kids to build their own shelter, construct a rocket stove, or rig their own PV system. There needs to be more of this. (Grow food, find good water sources, first aid, animal husbandry and hunting.....) No I-Pods allowed.

Zach said...

there are a lot more parallels between the modern American and the ancient slave than one would at first thought realize...

There is one major difference. The ancient slave was clear about his enslavement. The modern American is proud to think he is the "freest" citizen that has ever lived... and therefore scoffs at the notion that he might be in any way in servitude.


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sgage said...

@ GHung,

"I did a search for "off-grid camp" and some other terms. Nothing. I'm sure someone, somewhere is teaching kids to build their own shelter, construct a rocket stove, or rig their own PV system. There needs to be more of this. (Grow food, find good water sources, first aid, animal husbandry and hunting.....) No I-Pods allowed."

There is such an outfit - Farm and Wilderness Camps in Plymouth, VT.

I learned the basis of my back-country skills, community-building skills, etc. Everything from canoeing, ropework, forestry with hand tools, gardening, basic construction.

This was in the 60's. I was a counselor there in the 70's, and still get the monthly newsletter. It seems to be the same only better.

A.K. McKay said...

@ Ghung and Sgage.

Bushcraft is currently in a resurgence in many countries. In the States see

and in NZ

While I think survival skills have a somewhat limited value in the coming years, there is still a huge amount to be gained from a hobby that engages people in the outdoors and promotes practical thinking.


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