Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cities in the Deindustrial Future

Some of the contemporary debates about the future of industrial society remind me forcefully of the opening scenes of John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. The whole cast is present and accounted for. The main character, Christian, is an ordinary guy who does some incautious reading and discovers that the city where he lives is slated for total destruction. The more he reads, the more worried he gets, but he has no idea what to do about it all. He has plenty of equivalents today, of course, and so do his family and friends, who consider the whole thing overblown and are convinced that Christian has basically gone nuts.

As Christian paces back and forth in the fields, crying out “What shall I do?” and making his family’s assessment look plausible, he meets a character named Evangelist – with Bunyan, you don’t need a program to tell you who’s who – who points out the direction Christian needs to run to escape the destruction to come. With that, he’s off, and the result is a thumping good read even if you don’t happen to share the religious beliefs that motivated Bunyan’s story. That’s where A Pilgrim’s Progress parts company with today’s less spiritually driven debates, though, because a contemporary pilgrim who hopes to flee the City of Destruction can count on a tolerably large mob of Evangelist wannabees pointing in every direction you care to name.

Since well before I launched The Archdruid Report I’ve fielded my share of emails from people in Christian’s position, convinced they ought to take action to face the arrival of the deindustrial age but wholly at a loss about what exactly they ought to do about it. Most of them seem to be convinced that the wicket gate through which they need to pass is located some fairly large geographical distance from wherever they’re currently living. That’s a common assumption, of course, and it’s not new to peak oil. One of the more amusing moments during the run-up to the Y2K noncrisis happened when two people preparing to relocate got into a conversation on an online forum; one of them lived in rural Alabama and had just decided to flee for safety to the Puget Sound area of Washington state, while the other lived in the Puget Sound area and had just decided to flee for safety to rural Alabama.

Go further back and you’ll find the same thing in every secular millennialist movement the United States has seen since the dawn of the 20th century. Whether the apocalypse du jour is nuclear war, pandemic disease, racial conflict, Communist takeover, fascist police state takeover, the imminent arrival of Antichrist, or what have you, the accepted way to deal with it is to flee to some isolated location in the mountains and wait for the rubble to stop bouncing. I’ve tried to challenge the kneejerk application of this same way of thinking to the consequences of peak oil in a number of previous posts, but there’s another side to the picture – the widespread notion that cities in the aftermath of peak oil will be deathtraps by definition.

That’s a belief just as deeply rooted in Western cultural history as its counterpart, the dream of fleeing to the wilderness for sanctuary on the eve of destruction. Those with a penchant for the history of ideas can trace it back to the Book of Genesis, where Lot flees from Sodom into the wilderness of Zoar just before the fire and brimstone hits, and to other passages in the Old Testament that reflect the lasting distrust of urban life the ancient Hebrews absorbed in their nomad years. Bunyan’s vision of the City of Destruction has archaic roots, and it played early and often into an enduring social schism in America’s collective life between the genteel urban society of the east coast, with its gaze fixed on Europe as the source of culture and manners, and the impoverished rural society of the hinterlands further west where a culture independent of white America’s European roots found its seedbed. Generations of circuit riders and revivalists riffed off the contrast between urban vices and rural virtues, simultaneously flattering their listeners, undercutting competition from older denominations with east coast roots, and feeding on popular bigotries against Catholics and Jews at a time when most American members of both these faiths lived in large east coast cities.

With the coming of the twentieth century, the same way of thinking helped drive the conviction that the best way to deal with the problems of urban America was to load up the moving van and leave the city behind, in exchange for the sanctuary of some comfortably middle-class suburb out of sight and reach of the poor. Thus it’s not surprising that the same tune gets replayed in a different key in today’s American secular apocalyptic, which draws its audience mostly from the white middle class. Too often the lifeboat communities imagined by today’s peak oil writers are simply suburban bedroom communities on steroids, postapocalyptic Levittowns that, like their 1950s equivalents, are meant to allow their residents to maintain a privileged way of life while the rest of society goes to hell in a handbasket at a comfortable distance.

Step outside the potent complex of cultural factors that make a flight to rural isolation seem like the obvious response to peak oil, and things take on a very different shape. Now it’s true, of course, that some cities are much too big and much too badly sited to survive the end of the age of cheap abundant energy. Los Angeles is probably the poster child for these abandoned ruins of the not too distant future, though most of the large cities of the Southwest could give it a run for its money – it’s easy to imagine tourists of the future wandering among the fallen skyscrapers of Phoenix or Santa Fe the way today’s tourists visit Teotihuacan or Chaco Canyon. Equally, it’s hard to imagine that Manhattan or inner city Chicago will become anything in the future but vast salvage yards for metals and other resources. Yet it’s crucial to note that the vast majority of America’s cities do not fall into these categories.

Imagine, by contrast, a city of between 20,000 and 200,000 people in a mostly agricultural region; there are hundreds of such cities scattered across the North American map, so this shouldn’t be hard. In the sort of overnight collapse imagined by too many writers on peak oil these days, that could still be a very difficult place to be – but as I’ve pointed out more than once in this blog, an overnight collapse is very nearly the least likely way the downslope of Hubbert’s peak might play out. In the far more plausible scenario of uneven decline and slow depopulation spread out over many decades, such a city would have immense advantages over a rural lifeboat community. Located within easy reach of surrounding farmland, stocked with raw materials in the form of surplus buildings, cars, and the like, and a large enough work force to allow division of labor and the production of specialty goods, the city could easily import food and other necessities by supplying trade goods to the nearby countryside, the way cities in preindustrial times have always done.

These same factors make the maintenance of public order much less challenging – the sort of rural brigandage that springs up in the last years of civilizations could make life very difficult for a rural lifeboat community, but a city with a large organized militia centered on its police force and pre-decline National Guard units would be a much tougher nut to crack. Finally, most small to midsized cities have the cultural and social resources – libraries and colleges, community groups of many kinds, and a lively tradition of local politics, among other things – to maintain some approximation of civilized life even in hard times. In a deindustrializing world, all these things are potent sources of strength. While there will undoubtedly be failures from a variety of causes, all these things make cities among the most viable options for personal and cultural survival as the deindustrial age opens around us.

Historically speaking, this pattern – the largely independent city-state surrounded by its own agricultural hinterland – is one of the most common foundations for urban society, and civilizations that manage a broader level of geographical integration routinely fall back to the city-state pattern in times of disintegration. Some variant of it is very likely in the North America of the deindustrial future. Some areas of the continent lack the agricultural and resource base to support such a pattern; others will likely be in the path of armed invasions or mass migration, in which case all bets are off; the fate of Roman Britain shows what can happen when an urban society is overwhelmed by armed and hostile migrants (though Roman Gaul, which passed through a similar experience, came through it with a surprising number of its cities intact, and most of those are still viable urban centers today). Elsewhere, though – especially east of the Mississippi and west of the Cascade crest, where rainfall and soil quality combine to make sustainable organic agriculture a good bet for the foreseeable future – urban centers are likely to play a significant role through the approaching deindustrial Dark Ages and on into the successor cultures to come.

One factor that could derail this vision is the failure of urban centers to make useful preparations in the early stages of crisis. Fortunately, steps in the right direction are already being taken. More than a dozen US municipalities are already at work on their own peak oil contingency plans, and more are considering it. The “transition town” movement in the UK is working in the same direction with at least as much success. The seismic shift that has placed municipal and local governments out in front on several other issues, and left national governments behind them in the dust, seems to be under way in the peak oil field as well. When city governments draw up meaningful plans to reduce their fossil fuel usage by 50%, as Portland, Oregon did in its recently released peak oil plan, or look seriously at reestablishing local rail service, as several US cities are now doing, it’s hard to justify the claim that urban populations will check their common sense and their instinct for self-preservation at the door of peak oil and turn into the mindless ravening mobs of the classic survivalist fantasy.

For those looking for the wicket gate away from the City of Destruction, then, I have some possibly unexpected advice: the community you’re looking for may be a city not so far away, and it may even be the one in which you’re living right now. Different urban centers have different things to offer; you’ll get one set of resources and amenities in a regional center of 100,000 people and quite a different set in a liberal college town of 20,000. The sooner you choose your community, and the more effort you put into contributing to it, the better off you’ll be as the first wave of crises arrives. This option may not have the romantic aura or the symbolic kick of the isolated Utopian community so often discussed today, but it’s likely to prove a good deal more viable in the real world of the 21st century and beyond.

36 comments:

theozarker said...

Thank you. I'm a 66 year old, divorced, retired woman who lives in the type of small city you describe. I think many of us older people, who are peak oil aware, know we probably wouldn't survive out in the woods or even on a farm anymore. So I'm certainly going to stick it out where I am and just hope I am prepared enough when the time comes to help out my neighbors and their kids and any family members who may need it.

This is my first post here, but I read your blog weekly for its calm and intelligent look at the possible peak oil world.

My parents went through the great depression. They survived by "use it up, wear it out, make do", as did most of their neighbors in rural Oklahoma. I know we, as a nation, have lost many of those skills, but I think if people help each other as much as they can to relearn them, maybe they will have a little hope. The dangerous people are those who have no hope in an emergency like the one we face. Just an old lady's thoughts anyway.

Keep up the good work you're doing.

Linda

jesus_of_suburbia said...

When city governments draw up meaningful plans to reduce their fossil fuel...it’s hard to justify the claim that urban populations will check their common sense and their instinct for self-preservation at the door of peak oil and turn into the mindless ravening mobs of the classic survivalist fantasy.

Won't these cities then see an influx of migrants? How will they cope with the new population pressure?

Re: the survivalist fantasy

What about those who actually think it's going to take running off somewhere isolated just to survive this coming mess? I really don't think it's fair to paint the survivalists or super hard, super fast crash doomers with the same brush. There are quite a few rather prominent peak oil commentators, such Jay Hanson and Matt Savinar (basically rewords whatever Hanson has to say), who fall into this category. I believe they've done their share of research, and their conclusion isn't based on any of their fantasies.

Would you care to comment on that? Not them personally, of course, but that particular "type".

PS
I enjoy your blog. You are an excellent writer.

John Michael Greer said...

Linda, I'm only 45 and far from retired yet, but I suspect I'd do a lot better in the small city where I live than in a cave in the woods somewhere, too. The skills that got your parents and my grandparents through the last great depression will work just fine in the next one -- and you know, I suspect we'll relearn them fairly quickly once we have to.

Suburbia, remember that as things get tighter and energy becomes scarce, mobility will be one of the first things to go. I expect fewer migrants and more people saying "you know, we could do that here." Of course, as I mentioned, there will be some mass migration, but as depopulation sets in newcomers will be more likely to find a welcome than pose a problem.

As for the hard-crash theorists you've mentioned, their work is pervaded with what I've called the "Y2K fallacy" -- the belief that governments and ordinary people alike will sit there like deer in the headlights and do nothing in the face of imminent disaster -- and a constant habit of treating extreme worst case scenarios as the only believable option. That's why I tend not to pay a lot of attention to their claims.

Look back through the long history of modern secular apocalyptic and you'll find claims identical to theirs endlessly recycled. Peak oil is just another excuse for the same beliefs. That's why I argue for an approach based on history -- how do civilizations actually fall? -- and on the realities of the present predicament of industrial society, rather than a rehash of the same old mythological themes dressed up in a new set of clothes.

FARfetched said...

As always, plenty of good stuff to chew on here.

I think big cities will also largely (ha) remain big cities — many of them became big before the Age of Oil, after all. NYC, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Tampa, Seattle, and LA have always been major seaports. Chicago and St. Louis grew up as inland transportation hubs — we'll be depending more heavily on both rail and river travel, and those cities will also rediscover their roots. The suburban rings are likely to empty out, perhaps reverting to farms. (There are details like topsoil removal to consider, and organic gardeners/farmers are going to be in great demand.)

Cities also have the amenities that make civilized life civilized — museums (from which old ideas may be revived), universities, research centers, and so forth. Urban police forces are no neophytes when it comes to violent opponents, and some of those opponents may find gainful work and respect from the community in a local militia (us white folks dismiss them as gang-bangers, but some of them actually keep order in their 'hoods already). The raw materials and workforces will be available, perhaps an order of magnitude more than small-city resources.

Ending with the beginning: Bunyan’s Christian flees the city — but a modern Christian proverb is "be in the world, but not of it." We're supposed to be looking forward to a better world, but at the same time we have the charge to make the world around us a little better as well. (It's too bad most of my brethren ignore that part.)

jewishfarmer said...

Nice post. I agree with you - and have for a long time been arguing that we have to prepare where we are.

Personally, I think all the rhetoric about the disaster the suburbs are is wrong too - the average suburban lot is about the size of an average small farm in many nations. No, there's no shopping there, but that's what garages are for - to be turned into little home businesses. Shopping can be achieved, either by local adaptations or circulating markets.

Personally, unless you have a compelling reason to leave, or, say, live in Pheonix, I'd suggest staying put, or at least picking another place near you. I think the visceral "I have to get a farm" notion is a problem of perception - a "farm" is often your backyard.

Sharon in upstate NY

michael gorsuch said...

Excellent post. I am one that believes that certain elements of the big cities can survive this. I'm 27, moved to Brooklyn last October (via Oklahoma), and have settled into a small neighborhood that has a strong (proud may be the better word) sense of community.

I have a tiny plot of land behind my apartment available to me via the landlord, and will begin learning to garden it at the beginning of next year. I will also begin exploring various methods of food storage that don't rely on my fridge.

My wife has an interest in natural remedies for common ailments, so we'll be growing some herbs in the garden beds. I also brew beer and mead on the weekends - maybe I'll be able to sell it someday ;-)

I am going to document the methods I use, and make them available one way or another. Perhaps over the Internet? Perhaps at the public library? The ultimate goal is to get further involved in the community itself, possibly via a local lodge or something, so my wife and I can start building stronger bonds with the people around here.

Being a computer scientist, and this is all just another form of hacking to me. I'm loving it.

Anyway, you're doing great work here, and it's inspired me to read two of your books. Please keep writing.

barry stoll said...

jmg -

a question: where did you get the population numbers 20,000 - 200,000? there's quite a big gap between 200k and the multi-million population cities you mentioned (ny, la, chicago) and dozens of u.s. cities fall in this gap. what happens in metro areas of 700,000 or 1.4 million, if they’re otherwise well situated, surrounded by farm land, etc?

i live in the suburbs of a large city (several million) in the middle of the u.s. and i KNOW this isn't where i want my family to be when visible decline begins. we're not looking for a rural shack in alabama either – in the next year we hope to relocate to city of about a million that's just a few hours away from us. it’s a college town and things seem a bit less cut-throat there. it’s not utopia, but it’s not likely to become dystopia either.

i appreciate the balance and the eye towards history that informs your outlook. on the other hand, it took screamers like kunstler and savinar to wake me up. once awake, only THEN could i focus my thoughts and separate what’s real from what was just a dream.

thanks for another excellent post.

peace,
barry stoll

LizM said...

I generally agree with your assessment, but would point out that the large east coast cities, which were built with an eye to resource availability and water transport, may not become mere salvaging grounds, but return to what they originally were, which is clustered villages.

Consider the names of the neighborhoods in my own city of 1.8 million (give or take), Philadelphia: Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Powelton Village, Fishtown, Queen Village, Northern Liberties, Old City. These were once small towns, or more properly villages, strung like beads on a necklace around the original 5000 acre grid laid out by Penn and Holme, which we now call Center City. North, West, Northeast, and South Philadelphia were later aquisitions (or absorptions) of established communities as well as agricultural and undeveloped land between.

Anyone looking for a comprehensive history of the evolution of the City can find it in an excellent book called the Buried Past, by Cotter, Roberts, and Parrington, which traces the development of Philadelphia from prehistory through the early 20th century.

While I absolutely agree that allees of unsustainable architecture, strip malls, and anything car dependent are likely to fall (or be carried) away, it seems plausible and feasible for the old villages to reemerge, since they remain, even now, independent entities with their own depots, shopping areas, historical societies, neighborhood watches, and so on.

Mark said...

Thanks for your post, which presents exactly the arguments I have been making to my partner on this topic. (I emailed a link to your article to him.) I am in the process of planning a relocation from Boston to a smaller and more sustainable city. My partner and I are pagans and will look for a copy of your book on Druidry. A link led me to discover your blog, and I appreciate everything you have written here!

Peace,

Mark

John Michael Greer said...

Many thanks for the feedback, all! I should probably say right up front that I didn't mean to suggest that cities of 20,000-200,000 are the only options there are; my guess is that they'll weather the transition somewhat more easily than larger cities, but that's only a guess. Much will depend in any case on the speed and details of the decline. A much larger city that occupies a crucial location along whatever the major transport networks of late 21st century North America turn out to be -- whether it's a railway hub, if something gets done about our decrepit railways in time, or a hub of the inland waterway network like Buffalo, NY -- could well end up thriving.

Farfetched, all good points. In particular, a less clueless society would long since have found ways to put the energy and elan of the urban gangs to good use.

Sharon, I suspect some suburbs will make the transition to small farms, especially where water supplies permit, and some will be abandoned completely. But you're certainly right that organic farming will likely be one of the major growth industries of this century!

Michael, excellent! All this is very good to hear.

Barry, if you think your city of a million is a good option, go for it. Local factors will be much more powerful in shaping the future of communities than the sort of abstractions I have to use in a general blog post of this sort.

Lizm, this is most interesting -- I'm a lifelong left coast resident so don't have a lot of exposure to the older part of the country. The challenge on the east coast, it seems to me, will be producing enough food locally, since population densities are so much higher (as I recall, half the US population lives within 100 miles of the Atlantic). If a way can be worked out to deal with that -- and it's by no means impossible -- the sort of scenario you've suggested seems entirely plausible.

LizM said...

Hi JMG,

Sorry, I should have mentioned (though it seems immodest) that we're sitting on 81,000 acres of bottomland, 5% of the city's area is water, and fully a third is parkland (originally set aside to protect the watershed) which has seen us through two world wars and a depression. Our average annual rainfall exceeds Seattle's, the soil is fertile, and much of the city was originally small farm and horticultural land.

This area was the bread basket of the colonies, which is why wheat sheafs appear on so many old Pennsylvania mantles. That was forgotten when the midwest went over to industrial grain production. In addition, we had at one time (sob) 340 miles of light rail, plus heavy rail out to the state's interior, inland canals and protected access to the sea. Our flourishing central market was the rail terminus. The infrastructure is rusting away, but it's there. Baltimore, New York, Boston, all boast similar amenities and advantages.

What we lack, it seems to me, is memory and clarity. The founders knew what they were doing. They had no choice but to be practical about life's necessities. Almost no one appreciates this place for the paradise it is; they see what it has become, which is absolutely degraded.

I've learned a lot about my home town because for a while I seriously considered decamping to Scotland, or France, or someplace that actually values its history. But finally I realized that's just so much disposable thinking, and I reached the same conclusion you offer: best to work with what you have, because really, there's no place like home.

. said...

It's easy to generalize anyone who's concerned enough to vacate their area in an effort to avoid any problems as survivalists. survivalist has become a 4 letter word, especially since the y2k scare. I am a combat vet of the 1st gulf war, and a father of 2 sons. I can tell you that I hold nothing but the best hopes for our future (post-petro), but also harbor NO illusions about how the majority of the american public will probably react to the irrevocable slide into a lower energy way of life. I absolutely believe that the common person here in the US believes our way of life is non-negotiable.... and with that I also believe that there will be civil disorder and broad interruptions in the very fabric of our society, if you can even call it that these days. Sense of entitlement, non-assimilation by large swathes of its population, and a govt. far, far from its humble beginnings and out of touch with the very people who keep it running; these things are diametrically opposed to things that would enable any country to usher in a radically new way of life, in a relatively short timeframe, with a minimum of hardships. I have seen the true face of man, from the lofty heights of human sacrifice, down to the depths of hate and vengeance. If you think man's basic nature is good, it's really the path of least resistance. Many of us choose the right thing in our everyday lives, but the majority will do what's easiest, even under the least stressful conditions. I say to you that our culture isn't wired to be able to change on the order of magnitude that will be necessary in the days/years/decades to come. Like-minded people will stick together and try to ease into this new less energy era, that only makes sense. But don't fool yourself into thinking that it will be a smooth transition; inexperience or naiveté notwithstanding. You can expect the cities and urban centers of america to be dangerous places to be. With these points made and comparisons/opinions given, I don't think there's anything wrong with being ready to relocate, to forestall any conflict during tumultuous times. As a father, I make sure I am ready for anything that might threaten me and mine. If being prepared for the worst makes me a survivalist, so be it. With that said, I would call myself a realist who hopes all my preparations were a waste of time and resources. Nothing would make me happier than to be camping with my grandkids 30 years from now, telling them how the stuff we were using was meant to help us survive in bad times. Here's the thing: don't look only at 1 side of things, you'll miss the whole picture.

xmac

The Naked Mechanic said...

Thanks again for the inspiration that these essays provide.

I'm thought of as a "doomer" by some but consider myself to be anything but, some brief background follows to tie that statement in with your writings.

My paternal grandparents lived on a houseboat /barge with their nine children in Friesland (Netherlands) and survived the depression by bartering their services and labour along the network of canals there.
Tales of a neighbouring barge family counting out the peas on their children's dinner plate have stuck with me.

My maternal grandparents raised two children through the great depression and the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. They lived in the city of Eindhoven and harboured a Rabbi through the occupation (along with his wife and daughter who came later). No one went seriously hungry (despite complaints about non kosher food)as they leased and tended a small vegetable patch behind their apartment while less fortunate (less prepared) people were chasing rats through the rubble, horses and dogs having long since disappeared.

With adequate skills and preparations we can survive almost anywhere, and in the words of Bill Mollison the place to start is at your back door.

PS The Rabbi and my grandmother were arrested by the Nazis shortly before the war ended, we never heard of him again. My grandfather was arrested by the American liberators as a possible collaborator and eventually released. I have inherited their deep distrust of all authority.

Rob

Monte said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and really enjoy the depth of your posts. I only wish you had time to post more often but that's my problem not yours!

I'm an Australian from a place called Adelaide in South Australia and have written my own post about the potential of Adelaide to handle it's current population into the future. http://gettingdowntoearth.blogspot.com/2007/07/glimpsing-future.html

As a result of my analysis and my interest in having more land to play with permaculture ideas our family will be moving onto a smallholding in Tasmania. I'm not doing so to isolate us from a sudden shock but for the longer term realities of where I am and where I'm going. I'm of the opinion that it's time for people who understand what's coming to do such analysis and get going if need be.

Cheers

Monte

yooper said...

Hello John, I really like what you're conveying this week. Hope people are reading it very closely, as I am. I want to second Linda's thoughts about your post's intelligent and calm approach to the peak oil world. Indeed.

Putting this into context, as relating to your story, that takes place sometime in the second half of this century, I really like your figures. Cities of 20,000 to 200,000, in a mostly argricultural regions.

When I think of "cities", I think of people, lots of them. Not just structure. Oh, and by the way John, your thoughts of "tourists" wandering among the fallen skyscapers of Phoenix or Santa Fe, is absurd.

However, since you brought it up, I'm wondering, what became of the people in these two great cities? I cannot tell your readers where "they" went, that's you're job. However, I can imagine these skyscrappers fell from fire...No? As, I'm pouring over historical pictures, I'm quite shocked to see ones depicting hugh fires, wiping out large part of towns. One particular photo, shown where a house was spared, a hugh "fire wall" was constucted, "isolating" it from the burnt ruins on the other side of it. I immeadately thought of you.... Naturally, the "Cities in the Deindustrial Future", will not have the resources, to combat this, in the form we do today.

Back to the people, John, where do you suppose the equivalent of those people living in New York, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, Houston, went? Perhaps, I'm mistaken, but did you not allude to the population being halfed by the second half of the century?

John, I'm 48 years old, my grandfather lived to be 99. He talked of the "Depression Days" as almost if the world ended, and for a great many it did END, in one form or another. He did endure and even prospered many, many years later. "Growth" actually took place during this period. Can that be said as we wind down on the other side? No, you and I can agree, this will be a period of permanent decline. Sure we may see times of what looks to be "recovery" only to slip even further down the slope.

Surely, the "Cities in the Deindustrail Future" will decline. Perhaps, Detroit, is a good exampled of what is to become of New York and L.A., it was the "birth place" of our industrial society and out of it came the lifestyle some of us enjoy today. Stands to reason, it'd be the first to decline.....

Thanks, yooper

Kiashu said...

A very interesting post, I thought. As to our nameless survivalist friend's post and his assertions of mass civil disorder and so on, I think you need look no further than your own country's city of New Orleans. What collapsed there was not society, but government. Society, people, co-operated quite well. Government was inactive or actually got in the way, reventing rescuers from entering the city, shooting at refugees and so on.

In various disasters around the world, the steady pattern is that people and community hold up fairly well. Government sometimes holds up, but not always.

Anyone who reads accounts of Eastern Europe as the Red Army passed through liberating it from the Germans will know that humans can keep going in the most chaotic and horrible situations. Somehow people survive, and most don't murder and rape each-other - though they'll certainly rip each-other off in the new markets that spring up from nowhere post-collapse.

My concern with big cities is not the chaos of collapse, but simply that absent large energy inputs, the systems of transporting people, food, water, sewerage and so on won't be kept up. A village won't be able to supply all its needs, lacking the diversity of resources and skills. A small to medium-sized city which you can walk across with a handcart in a couple of hours will do better. That's a city of the 20-200k range as he said.

shadowfoot said...

Thank you for another excellent post. Indeed, I have a few regrets about moving from Holyoke, MA (city), as they've been steadily making more improvements in the city (more parks, fewer condemned buildings, decent medical, security, etc.). But of course in our case L and I are moving to his home town, which happens to be a small town and his folks have a farm. So I think we're simply moving from one pretty stable place to another pretty stable place (with a unusual mix of folks).

Oh, and thank you for explaining exactly what you meant by "Y2K Fallacy" -- I wasn't quite sure of what you meant the last time you referred to it. Indeed, many people worked for quite some time, ensuring that software, hardware, etc. would transition as smoothly as possible (and there were some glitches on Jan. 1 -- L helped with one).

Danby said...

shadow foot,
The "Y2K fallacy" that John refers to is the scenario put forth by a great many that society would crumble, we would lose our electric grid, riots and starvation would destroy america, etc. due to the Y2K problem. I work in the computer industry, and spent (way too much) time patching systems, reading configuration files and running automated tests in 1999.

My personal Y2K preparedness kit was a Jack in the Box new years antenna ball and a 6-pack of beer.

People have a seriously exaggerated idea of how dependent we are on systems and the technology we've developed to manage them. People are pretty smart and very adaptable. If the situation gets bad enough, they'll figure out a way to get around it, or even profit from it.

John,
One of the reasons people think they're safer in the country side is historical. When pandemics sweep through a population, it's always worse in the cities. When an attacking army lays siege to an enemy, they lay siege to a city, not a village. When famine strikes, people in the country side are a little more likely to have food available. Of course, there's some reporting bias in that view, but it's still a valid point.

The important thing to remember about the coming collapse is that it will primarily be an economic collapse. Systems will still work, but they will become more expensive and harder to maintain. Since a large part of our worldwide economy is based on moving goods from where they're cheap to where they're wanted, when the price goes up, some will be forced out of that business. Others will be able to take advantage of that opening.

That's why I'm not too worried about the food supply in Eastern cities. As food gets more expensive, and inner city land get less so, it becomes more and more feasible to take the empty burned-out lots in say, South Bronx, and start producing food on them. The poor condition of the soil will slow that, but not prevent it. As fertilizer (anther petrolem product) prices go up, equivalent resources, such as nightsoil begin to have a monetary value. If there's one thing there's no shortage of in urban areas, it's fertilizer.

In the 19th century, some of the horse-drawn cab and streetcar companies made a significant part of their income selling horse manure to farmers over the river in New Jersey. In 100 years, we could easily see that pattern repeated.

One of the lessons life has beaten me over the head with has been this: "When you're reacting out of fear, you've already lost." If you move out to the country because you're afraid to live in the city, you won't make it. If you move to the city because you're afraid to be out on your own, you probably won't make it either. Worst-case scenarios (almost) never happen, and basing your life around them is plain stupid.

Zach said...

Re: Detroit ...

Detroit has already depopulated, and the trend is continuing. In my lifetime (and I'm only 40), its population has roughly halved. And continues to drop.

On the other hand, according to Gleaners Community Food Bank, they estimate that the amount of vacant space in Detroit, if gardened, could easily provide 10% of the city's food needs. This is with traditional techniques, not taking into account biointensive approaches -- and they're forward-thinking enough to have brought in John Jeavons this year to teach.

Jeavons said he thought Detroit actually had a leg up on most other cities he's seen based on the level of local food organization he was finding compared to other places ...

'Food' for thought.


peace,

LizM said...

Kiashu,

This may be a semantic problem. We're calling 20-200k a small city. What I am describing as a village is a physical arrangement, regardless of population size; a community of houses with a full complement of necesary services and amenities (food shops, doctor, library, dry goods, hardware) separated by the next such community by agricultural, horticultural, or wooded land, or by water.

If you're saying that a city once reduced to a cluster of such villages won't survive the end of oil, then it is difficult to explain the history of Europe, which is almost entirely about villages that formed and got along nicely before oil or coal were ever imaged. If you're saying that cities per se can't survive without cheap energy, then it's difficult to explain Paris, London, Rome, Cairo, all of which predate the modern era by at least a millenium.

In fact, Philadelphia was built to run on a solar and riparian budget, and did so (stylishly in many cases) until after 1800, when coal came into wide use. It remains a city of rowhomes (like Boston and Brooklyn and Baltimore) with small yards or local community garden plots, exactly the sort of arrangement that Naked Mechanic describes. Even during my early childhood (late 50s) in the midst of an energy surplus, most of the food that my mother purchased still came to us from within a two hundred mile radius, via train, small truck, and occasionally via horse-drawn cart. For reference, the average population density of Philadelphia in 1950 was 11,700 per square mile. And let me just add that our reputation as big eaters is very well deserved.

It's an open question of course, but I think we'll manage.

yooper said...

Ok, this article is gathering quite the buzz in the peak oil world. Hopefully, I can garner some support of John's, view of "Catabolic Collaspe". This can be found on the side bar,"How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collaspe".

John's futuristic view can be found through, "The Long Road Down", Decline and the Deindustrial Future. In this article John sums it up in three short paragraphs in, "The Course of Decline", in a scenario/timeframe.

I'd like to go on record, that I'm supporting this,"Catabolic Colllaspe Theory" as the most likely way events will unfold in the future. My vision of a sudden apocalyptic collaspe,could happen, but not nearly as likely.......

Thanks, yooper.

Dwig said...

What a fascinating set of stories of how people see their localities! I'm motivated to share my own thoughts and images.

John says Los Angeles is probably the poster child for these abandoned ruins of the not too distant future. Well, that's where I've lived most of my life, and still live. Naturally, I've thought about better places to head to, but I also have strong feelings about "blooming where you're planted".

Certainly L.A. will have considerable challenges on the industrial downslope, but it has a variety of characteristics and resources that might mitigate them. For one thing, it's almost more a collection of smaller cities than a single city; it's been described as "60 suburbs in search of a city". This could be a plus, since it's natural for groups of local activists to form and work in the local context. Also, there's lots of places to grow food, both in nearby farming areas and within the city itself (for example, there's always a waiting list for space in the community gardens in the power line rights-of-way).

Also, it has an abundance of alternative energy sources: plenty of sun, nearby areas with lots of wind, and wave/tide energy from the ocean. The city government, and the local power company, are putting a priority on starting to tap them.

The big problem, of course, is water. Interestingly, the L.A. basin does have natural aquifers, and if managed properly, they could probably support a population in the few hundred thousands. If we could learn to do desalination of sea water sustainably, that would increase the carrying capacity. Any way you slice it, though, a serious depopulation will be necessary. Since most people in L.A. are from somewhere else (or at least their parents were), that might be at least partly solved by emigration (or flight, as John's post describes).

(There's a lot more that could and should be said about this; the above is just a sketch.)

All told, I'd say that L.A. has at least some chance to become something better than abandoned ruins. At least, I think it's worth a serious try. We certainly have enough folks in various parts of the environmental movement, who could be mobilized if the right compelling vision (narrative?) is available.

On another topic, I've run across a contribution to the "catabolic collapse archives": an article in National Geographic called The Rise and Fall of the Maya. The last part of it sounds a lot like John's theory in action. Here's a teaser:

Instead of reestablishing order, wars would create greater disorder; instead of one ruler emerging triumphant from a decisive battle, each conflict simply created more pretenders. Victories, instead of inspiring new monuments and temples, were transient and, increasingly, unremarked. Defeats spurred desperate citizens to rip apart their ceremonial buildings, using the stones and fill to build redoubts in hopes of staving off future invaders. Cities no longer rebuilt and rebounded. They simply ceased to exist.

Smaller states tried to assert themselves in the spreading chaos, but none could. Instead, the warring states sought temporary advantage in a land of dwindling resources. The commoners probably hid, fled, or died.

FARfetched said...

Danby,

It's very true that cities can provide the fertilizer needed to produce the food they eat. But it seems that only one city actually takes advantage of their raw material.

Kiashu said...

Lizm said, "If you're saying that a city once reduced to a cluster of such villages won't survive the end of oil [...] If you're saying that cities per se can't survive without cheap energy [...]"

I'm saying neither of those things. Cities, villages - all will survive. That's not in question. People are very good at surviving. Even a determined effort by a murderous regime over several years in Europe only wiped out half the people. Any sort of chaotic scenario you can imagine will never be worse than that.

I'm talking about living a lifestyle somewhat like today's - with new clothes every week, tv and radio, intensive medical care for the elderly and disabled, and so on.

I don't imagine the world turning into something like medieval Europe, but neither do I imagine us keeping up our current lifestyles indefinitely. Something more in the middle, like modern Cuba, that's much more likely.

Food for everyone, new clothes every month or so, not everyone has a tv but everyone has a radio, power and sewerage and water are reliable but not everyone has unlimited amounts of them.

I see a reduction of range in our lives. The range of our daily lives today is about 100km, our weekly purchases up to 1,000km, and our seasonal or annual stuff, up to 10,000km. Absent fossil fuels, this will change to daily 10km, weekly 100km, and annually 1,000km. So no more cheap stuff made in China, no bananas from the Caribbean in mid-winter, and a lot more people involved in food production and making the things we use in our daily lives - clothing, furniture and so on.

That's the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic scenario is that life continues as it is for a wealthy minority in gated communities, and turns into miserable Third World shanty-town conditions for everyone else.

Life's about more than "survival".

The North Coast said...

Chicago and New York will survive and adapt, in strange ways it's hard to visualize, but they will persist because these places are regional centers of culture, learning, and are located on major bodies of water, and are very centralized.

They may have to contract substantially. I speak for Chicago because it's the place I know and love, and I believe that most of the population of the outer burbs will "head for the hills" and flood small towns outstate, which they began to do twenty years ago in any case. Those who remain will head back for the city and inner burbs. Inner burbs with a "town" configuration, centered around the commuter railroads, and built to appropriate density, will survive.

The current challenge of the megacities is containing and reversing sprawl by zoning multiuse highdensity around transit and retail hubs, and the equally important project is making sure that the city has the energy sources, namely nuclear, to keep the lights on and the waterworks, sewage treatment, and other essential services functional. Transit will have to be greatly improved and expanded, particularly Chicago.

Los Angeles will have to contract and densify, and I auger that it will lose a huge portion of it's population, half or more, as water becomes increasingly problematic. How this 4,800 sq mile (4,061 sq miles in Los Angeles county alone) conglomeration of sprawling suburbs arranged around hugely suburban Los Angeles will be managed, I cannot visualize. However, I have faith in the creativity and ultimate adaptability of Californians. This place will surprise us all.

Robin said...

That is a description of cities in the pre-industiral past, and would seem to ba a most natural regression in the future. And excellent descripti0n, Thank you!

yooper said...

Zach, you're quite right about Detroit's population halfing, I'm sure I read that somewhere recently. As the inner city has depopulated the suburbian area outside has just exploded. The Detriot Metropolitian area is what 4 million?

I wish John could visit there for a week and walk around amongst the "ruins". Not only vast areas of vacant industrial complexes, but whole neighborhoods abandoned, near them. Definitely not a place one would take they're family on vaction!

I suppose one could get on goggle earth and check this out....

This great city offers a lesson, through it's historical past. People wonder when this region, will catch up with the rest of the country economically? I've argued for years, that Detroit, still leads the country, in a decline that surely the entire country is to follow. This area, was the heart, of the industrial society.

Thanks, yooper

John Michael Greer said...

This essay does seem to have hit a bit of a nerve! I'm glad to hear, though, that so many people have gotten past the kneejerk "cities are deathtraps" fallacy so widespread in the peak oil scene these days.

I'll limit my comments here to just a couple of points. First, I'm less certain than some of you that very large cities such as New York and L.A. will make it. In a city that large, the challenges of maintaining a viable urban human ecology become immense in a period of serious decline, and political and social factors also play a part. I'm sure the inhabitants of Tikal in the classic Mayan period would have thought the notion of their city as an abandoned ruin was preposterous.

Still, I'm prepared to be wrong, and if the decline is slow enough and urban policies sensible enough, it's always possible. Equally, some may be abandoned for a while, as some of the cities of Roman Britain were, and then reinhabited later.

As for whether the approaching mess marks a permanent decline, well, that depends on what you're measuring and what time scale you have in mind. In terms of energy per capita, almost certainly, but in many other terms (including some that mean much more to most human beings) I expect the much-repeated sequence of decline, followed by dark age, followed by the rise of new civilizations to repeat once again. That last stage is many lifetimes in the future, of course -- which is no less reason to save what can be saved now, to pass on to that future time. More on this in a future post.

yooper said...

Yes, yes! John! What was I thinking? Perhaps, I was thinking of my own lifetime, so selfish of me. I agree with your thought's completely. Suppose one can only assume, this after 30 some years of study, eh?

As you know, I support the Olduvai Theory almost to the tee. Energy per captia is an interesting measurment. Since we're on this topic, I'm going to agree with much of Perry Arnett's take on it. Oh, oh, hate to burst some bubbles of Utopia here..........I'm going to bold enough to suggest to you're readers, that we're living in, an "Utopian society" as we'll ever see.

As John suggests, in his, "How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collaspe", "Our society is trying to maintain or prolong the anabolic cycle through efforts to ACCELERATE intake of resources through military, new technology, or other means." I can't agree more... Who can deny this? It takes knowledge to create ideas, it takes resources to create innovation.

Ok, when people use the word "accelerate" they're also talking about "time", perhaps a faster way. Perhaps, John's actually refering to time/energy?
Naturally, it takes a certain amount of "time" to produce a resource to provide "energy" as a result.

Those of you who are reading this meassage may be sceptical..Bear me out, please! Why do you think in an attempt to "save" our so-called industrial society is trying to be realized in the "Application States"? This is where the coal is, period. Also, this is were power plants that produce electricity, are feed hand to mouth, so to speak.

Without continuous electricity, almost everyone reading this message will die, in short order, like it or not. That, is the thesis to the Olduvia Theory. There, John, I've made you're job much "easier". Now, at this point, dear reader, you have two choices, either "assume" this "lifeline" will be continuously provided for you, or prepare for it...Now this is you're "reality", like it or not, now. This is where most of you live on this parallel, most of you cannot jump to another parellel and survive, period. How's that for a jog, John?

In John's story with Adam, I view this as after the electricity has went down. When has this story shown where there is power? Of course, much of the population has "wind down". Now, it's being suggested that through a hydroelectic plant some electricity is provided. Think you can last very long without this kind of power? "Petro people" or "electrical people"? This is all the same. No? I'm suggesting, you'd better get informed..At least Adam, hopes he can stay there!

In terms of time/energy in relation to "life"is a very, very hard concept to contemplate....let alone accept. It is so hard, that perhaps 99.99% of the public cannot "invision" what this might mean..... Perhaps, to began, to look at a peak into, consider: how long can you're body last without energy,(food)? Water? Does this not require a certain amount of "time" to obtain this before the body dies? Consider this, it takes time and pressure(energy) to produce coal.....Also, thinking on "cyclic terms" of it's purest form, in my imagination, you cannot think of yourself "better" than that chunk of coal. No? Then my dear reader, better check into this....

Am I suggesting this could be just around the corner? Certainly not! All, I'm suggesting here, is that you be prepared, in providing the basic "needs" for your body, whatever comes about....

Thank you all, for hearing me out.

yooper.

shadowfoot said...

Danby, my husband and I (L) worked in the computer industry, and he still does (hence the note about him having helped with one of the glitches - at a power provider's company). But not being a great follower of popular thought back then (and not now either, except to see what other people are thinking), I was unaware that many people thought Y2K was going to be that disasterous/life-threatening. Yes, I saw some of the concerns about whether hospitals would lose power, but they and their programmers and the power providers' programmers were all hard at work at it, and I for one had faith in their efforts, so I thought little of that.

I'm well aware of what work was done to make things go smoothly, the programming and the testing, etc. The worst I heard about _before_ Jan. 1, 2000 was the factory where they ran a test on the fire emergency system, and it wouldn't let people _out_ of the building. Which is of course what tests are for -- to find out and fix these things. A lot of people were on call Jan. 1 and for the next several days. Thankfully Jan. 1 fell on the weekend, a quieter time of the week in many venues.

Geoff said...

Thanks for a great series of essays once again John Michael, I'm really looking forward to the next episode.

The principle I've come around to using when deciding where to be for the future is to be where one feels most comfortable and secure.

If that happens to be in the country, so be it, if the city, well and good. Only when we're comfortable where we are can we approach the challenges of life with a clear head, and the chances of success are therefore greatly improved.

The best course is obviously to get to where you'll be comfortable before economic conditions make it much more difficult to do so.

LizM said...

Kiashu,

I agree that our lifestyles will change radically. I'm looking forward to it! Being a post-modern American is not what it's cracked up to be, unless of course you enjoy being treated as human fois gras.

I thought you were concerned with the absence of large inputs and the maintenance of large systems (sewerage and so on). I do take your point that a smaller city will have a smaller systems and less to maintain. What I'm saying is that all of my city's neighborhoods began as small independent communities, which had and in many cases still have the old, smaller infrastructure in place.

Of course I'm no expert on our sewage systems, but sewage can be oomposted, and if we don't throw it into our drinking water and offer people the opportunity to toss paint and other toxic household chemicals into the mix, it could replace the natural gas based fertilizers in wide use now. You don't need industrial sewage facilities to accomplish that goal, and I hope our massive systems will become smaller, simpler and better.

The transportation question is interesting, because it presupposes that people need to go somewhere all the time. My grandmother almost never left her neighborhood except to have her babies and she took the trolley to the hospital. Everything she needed could be found within a mile, but then her needs were far simpler: food, clothing, shelter. And yes, she was a very happy woman.

Which brings me round to your point. If there is more to life than meeting that trio of survival needs, I think in future we will look to ourselves and each other, rather than to cheap imported goods and foreign travel for a sense of fulfillment.

Back when Pennsylvania was new and we were still having fun with it, people used to take the waters at a variety of mineral springs hereabouts. In other words, that sat in a pool and drank water. Then they looked at the scenery and took walks. That was a vacation. Simple, relaxing, low energy, low mileage.

The only point I'm trying to make is, if you'd care to see what the city of the low energy future might look like, you could do worse as a starting point than to investigate its low energy past.

Danby said...

John,
I'd like to apologize in advance for posting a long message. It's not my habit, as you know. I prefer to let others speak and point out where I think they may need to review their thinking. In this case I think I have a substantial point to add to the discussion. I promise not to hijack the conversation.

I have considerable expertise in systems. I work as a systems architect, which encompasses far more than computer systems, or even business systems. It includes such things as information lifecycle management, trends analysis, disaster preparedness, and mostly understanding technological systems at a "wires and pipes" level.

A system is just another word for a formal process. Input A goes in slot B has processes C, D & E performed on it and comes out slot F as product G. Input A could be anything from a telephone call record to raw sewage. Product G can be anything from a telephone bill to zucchini. That's how systems people see the world.

The systems we rely on in the modern economy are often very large and very complex. They are very large because certain kinds of efficiency are improved by eliminating redundancy, reducing manpower and increasing the size of the risk pool. The are very complex because they have been fine tuned for decades (or, in the case of medical or financial systems, centuries) to reflect exactly the current environment in which they exist.

These systems, of food growing and distribution, drinking water, banking, factory manufacture, international transport, sewage treatment, telecommunications, law enforcement, education, journalism, rail transport, accounting, and a couple of hundred others collectively make it possible for rational people to live an enjoyable life in a megalopolis of 10 or 20 million people.

Peak oil means that many of these systems will break. There is nothing new in systems breaking down. It happens all the time. right now the systems of banking, journalism, music distribution and software development are all in complete disarray. What happens when systems break is that the systems are changed either by the people who are operating them, or by newcomers introducing new systems. The new system reflects the environment in which it operates. In the meantime lots of people can get hurt (ask the victims of the RIAA witchhunts about that), many go broke (ask your local stockborker about high-risk real-estate backed bonds) and a huge number of stakeholders try to preserve the old systems that their livelihood depends on. They either lose the fight or destroy the system. Either way the system will change.

Other, more critical systems will handle disruptive change the same way. Some partisans of the present system will fight tooth and nail to preserve the old system. Others will see the changes coming and will try to adapt the systems to then new environment. Still others will see the changes coming and develop new systems to exploit the new environment to their own benefit.

Take as an example the system for sewage treatment used in urban areas of the US. The system is well tuned to it's environment. It's centralized (to reduce manpower and management costs). It's efficient (of capital and manpower). It meets it's purpose (keeping raw sewage out of lakes and rivers).

What happens when the inefficiencies of the current system catch up to it, when it costs 50 times as much to operate a pumping station that the system engineers expected? When the cost of electric power exceeds the cost of manpower? When a shortage of fertilizer makes the end product valuable enough that it can no longer simply be dumped?

One of three things can happen. The system can be allowed to break down and fail of it's original purpose, since there's no money left to operate or perform maintenance. The system can become a huge burden on the populace with excessive fees for use. In this instance you could see a black market for nightsoil develop, as well as widespread and uncontrollable dumping. Once again the system would fail of it's purpose. Or you could see a real effort to eliminate the heavy metals and toxins from the waste stream, with constant monitoring and heavy fines. This would allow the sewage sludge to be composted and sold to (local) truck farmers. A proper composting program (something missing from just about every sludge disposal process in the US) and elimination of persistent toxins from the waste stream would preserve the system, keep the lakes and rivers clean, and provide a valuable product for the city.

Some cities will be able to make this kind of transition without too much disruption. Others will not. I'm pretty sure Portland Oregon could do it. I'm pretty sure Seattle, Washington will have to be booted by reality for several decades before it could make that sort of a switch.

All the other systems that make city life not only possible but amenable will have to go through similar adjustments. Fortunately we have decades to make the transition. Some of those systems are out of the control of any particular city. Some cities will do quite well, others will rapidly become 3rd world slums, with festering disease and rampant lawlessness. I feel rather more hopeful for Eastern cities in this regard, as they have structural and institutional links with a past in which there was no petroleum. It's easier to find your way back than to blaze a trail.

And yes, population densities in some places will have to decrease. That will happen as the changes accumulate. In other areas they will have to increase. Consider the case of the middle-class young families that have pretty much universally abandoned the inner cities. When gas prices are up over $20/gallon, that 50-year-old house on a city lot only 2 miles from work suddenly looks like a much better investment than the brand new cardboard palace on a quarter-acre.

In summary, it's pretty clear to me that cities will not only survive peak oil, some will thrive. There will be changes, lots of them. But when has there not been? The quality of life in the cities is very much dependent on how the next 10-20 years of dislocation is handled. If it's approached on the basis of denial and turf protection, things can get pretty grim. If it's approached in an honest and open manner, with a willingness to make changes as they are necessary, life in that particular city could not only be bearable, but much improved from what it is now.

Brother Tom said...

I think that anyone who appreciates your message would enjoy the book:

"Henry's Quest" by Graham Oakley
Published 1986 - Atheneum
ISBN 0689311729

There's a nice review of it at:
I think that anyone who appreciates your message would enjoy the book:

"Henry's Quest" by Graham Oakley
Published 1986 - Atheneum
ISBN 0689311729

There's a nice review of it at:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/4/5/145541/9709

Bill Pulliam said...

The national guard units won't be much help until they are allowed to remain at home instead of being deployed in the ever-expanding quest for control of the remaining petroleum...

Around here we're in the middle of a cluster of small rural counties with populations of about 10,000 each. Larger towns/small cities are about 30-50 miles away in several directions, and the "big cities" (Nashville, Huntsville, Memphis) are 80-150 miles away. I figure we will become part of the rural-small town matrix that will eventually feed ourselves and the nearby cities after economies and agriculture localize again. Though a few people move here with the idea of escaping civilization and build their off-grid cabins up at the ends of the deepest hollers (and spend way too much time driving in and out of town for groceries, hardware, etc.), most of the newcomers are looking for a community to be part of rather than a hermitage or survivalist enclave. The local community welcomes us new folks, incorporates us, and allows itself to change and evolve with us, even if they don't believe in biological evolution. Sure some people grumble about newcomers, but there's also a fundamental recognition that the "old ways" aren't working so well and new things must be tried.

I think more people are moving away from cities into rural areas with these sorts of motivations: moving towards a rural community, rather than fleeing civilization. True we moved from Colorado to get here, but Colorado was merely our previous way-point in the typical middle class American pilgrimage driven by jobs and schools. We actually were moving "back home" in a sense, both having grown up just one State away in Georgia. As I mentioned recently in my own blog in reference to Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" it is more about reconnecting with the way civilization functioned and supported itself for millenia before the petroleum era than about escaping into the wilderness or jumping aboard a lifeboat.

middleworld said...

The problem here is that the "City of Destruction" was never destroyed, as far as I know. Even Bunyan couldn't destroy it, just scare the shit out of everyone.

Destruction takes many forms. Animal, vegetable and mineral. Like the song says: "Let's not have a sniffle. Let's have a bloody good cry. And always remember the longer you live, the sooner you bloody well die."

Or as the Haitians say " Run from the rain, fall in the sea"