Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Facing Peak Oil in Motown

The weekend before the election, as I mentioned in last week’s post here, I went to Michigan to attend a peak oil conference: the Fifth Annual Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions, to give it its full moniker. In more ways than one, it provided me with a wide-angle snapshot of one end of the peak oil movement; since the peak oil story is as much about human responses to geological realities as it is about the realities themselves, the trip – and it was a trip, in several senses of the word – may be worth recounting here.

Archdruids are a bit thin on the ground these days, and so the five years since my election to that office have made air travel a larger part of my life than I’d prefer. (My carbon offset consists of not owning a car.) The drill is almost second nature at this point: pack light and fast, reach the tiny local airport well before sunrise, down a cup of tea and try to ignore the blaring television in the lobby while people going elsewhere file out onto the tarmac and head for turboprops and small jets. For entertainment, I had a volume of Gregory Bateson to read and a volume of thirteenth-century Latin sorcery to translate – in case you were wondering, yes, there are indeed species of geek other than the computer variety, and I plead guilty.

I spent the flight staring out the window at half a continent’s worth of scenery while trying to fit my head around Bateson’s take on systems theory or the tangled syntax of some scrap of atrocious medieval Latin, and spent the ride from the airport to the hotel in suburban Auburn Hills taking in glimpses of Detroit: long-abandoned factory buildings in ruins, gritty slums with colorfully named churches and every third house boarded up, posh suburban neighborhoods with ostentatious yards, huge office buildings breaking the skyline, and then the huge mass of Chrysler’s headquarters complex looming up beside the freeway like a pharaoh’s tomb. I half-expected to see an inscription out of Shelley’s Ozymandias there:

My name is Iacocca, CEO of CEOs;
Look on my works, ye bankers, and despair!

Then we arrived in Auburn Hills. It was the sort of suburb built for cars rather than people, where strip malls crouch back from six-lane boulevards as though hoping that their vast parking lots will shield them from the traffic, city hall looks like one more corporate office building, and reader boards on the same restaurants you’d find a thousand miles away struggle to project a pallid imitation of bonhomie into empty space. The sidewalks – where there were sidewalks – had been there long enough that grass poked up here and there through cracks in the edges, but I never saw anyone using them but me. Drivers on their way into parking lots gave me goggle-eyed looks, as though they’d thought pedestrians were as mythical as hippogriffs. It was a strange place for a peak oil conference; given the equally surreal luxury-hotel setting of this year’s ASPO-USA conference, I started to wonder if some hidden cosmic law requires the biggest possible contrast between the subjects of these conferences and their physical setting.

Still, Oakland University, where the conference actually took place, was pleasant enough, with buildings in late 20th century academic brickwork separated by wide grassy lawns that will make good vegetable gardens in another decade or two. By Friday lunchtime, attendees had started to gather, conversations sprang up, and a curious sort of temporary community took shape, centered on the challenges and possibilities of a world that doesn’t exist yet: the world on the far side of peak oil.

If I recall correctly, it was Randy Udall who pointed out some time ago that the peak oil community divides along a fault line between “suits” and “sandals” – that is, the people who come to peak oil from a background in business, government, and the academy, on the one hand, and the people who come to it from a background in activism and alternative culture, on the other. The annual ASPO conferences are for the suits, while the Peak Oil and Community Solutions conference caters to the sandals; at the latter, community organizers, permaculture designers, and ecovillage residents greatly outnumbered university professors, petroleum engineers, and investment advisers.

One of the things I took away from the conference, oddly enough, is that the divide is a source of strength rather than a sign of weakness. None of the presentations at either conference would have been well suited to the other, which meant that between them, the conferences offered a much broader image of the state of the world’s energy predicament and the options for dealing with it. In the space between the number crunching of the geologists and the visions and strategies of the activists, something useful takes shape. I think the peak oil movement needs both, for much the same reasons that vertebrates have two eyes instead of just one.

By nearly any calculation, though, archdruids fall well into sandal territory, and so it will probably not surprise any of my readers that I found the weekend in Michigan more congenial than that earlier weekend in Sacramento. High points included Dmitry Orlov’s progress report, delivered with his trademark dry wit, on the stages of collapse; a slide show by Shane Snell on ecovillages he’d visited while touring North America in a biodiesel-powered camper; lively conversations with a couple of solar energy techs at the Green Living expo; and three trips to local green hotspots – a charter school’s environmental classroom, a sustainable restaurant in a nearby town, and the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center, one of those classic Seventies earth-bermed passive solar structures with big round PV cells above the flat-plate collectors and a wind turbine turning lazily overhead.

This last was particularly welcome, because I came of age in the years when this latter sort of structure counted as cutting-edge tech, and I still have the same sort of nostalgic regard for it other people have for their high school football team or the music that was playing on the radio during their first date. If our society had made the right collective choices at the end of the Seventies, buildings and programs like Upland Hills might be as common as, well, shuttered car plants in Michigan are today; even after the mistakes of the last thirty years, the survivors of the species still have quite a bit to teach.

I don’t propose to claim that all the presentations at the conference were useful or all the speakers inspiring; there were inevitably some slow moments and some ground familiar to everyone present rehashed for the dozenth time, and a few glaring false notes – in particular, a presentation on the Transition Town movement that was as glib and pushy as a pyramid scheme sales pitch, and succeeded mostly in replacing my generally positive take on that movement with hard questions I haven’t yet been able to resolve to my own satisfaction. Still, questions are at least as worth taking home as answers, and often more so.

The night after the conference closed, as I packed for the flight home, I certainly had plenty of questions to take with me. Some of them – the next moves in oil production, the outcome of the upcoming election, the future course of the financial crisis on Wall Street and Main Street – had been buzzing through the conference all weekend. I’m not sure that others got asked at all, but they were implicit in everything we had been doing. From beginnings in a handful of internet sites and email lists a decade ago, the peak oil movement has grown and diversified dramatically, and has begun to find an audience beyond the small circles of worried professionals, green activists, and eccentrics who formed its backbone for so many of its formative years.

At this point nearly all the near-term predictions central to the movement in its early years have proved themselves, while the conventional wisdom that dismissed those predictions out of hand is much the worse for wear. As peak oil proponents claimed, petroleum production worldwide hit a plateau in the first few years of the century, and has never been able to break above it; oil prices have spiked well up into three digits; and the raw impact of energy costs has been implicated by more than one scholar as a trigger for the financial unraveling still going on around the world. The words “peak oil” are starting to find their way more and more often into the mainstream media and the wider public dialogue about our future.

The possibility of opening a window of opportunity for significant change, the theme of my main talk at the conference, can’t be rejected out of hand any more. The question that I couldn’t shake that night is whether any part of the peak oil movement – suits, sandals, or any combination thereof – is ready to deal with the possibilities and problems that will have to be faced if that happens. That question, too, I have not yet been able to answer to my own satisfaction. I hope other peak oil proponents are thinking about it too, because we may all have to confront its implications in the fairly near future.


yooper said...

Hello John, your last paragraph really hit home for me...Is it quite possible that the peak oil movement (any part thereof) can deal with the possibilities and problems of a world of permanet decline? I view this as much of a predicament as the predicament itself... Hope, I'm wrong...

I can just imagine what you might have been thinking while on the freeway passing by the old Cadillac factory on one side and the abandoned neighborhood on the other....

I wish, I could have been your guide.. You'd never made it to the conference. I'm not saying that you would have came out with more, but what I could promise is a scene (or vision, if you will) that you'd likely never forget... To actually emerge yourself into these old neighborhoods, brings on a whole new meaning to the term "decline".

These boarded up industries and the neighborhoods that surrounded them, didn't just collapse overnight. For more than 30 years, one by one they have went to the wayside. I'm wondering, where was the "peak oil movement" during these times?

I've been amassing a lot of material, and a good portion of this will focus on Detriot, along with photographs, so people can see for themselves... If people are having a difficult time visualizing what decline may look like, well, like they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words..."

Thanks, yooper

Peter said...

courageous of you to venture into that dis-eased part of the heartland-thanks for going for us! Can you clarify your last paragraph? Perhaps it's just the late hour, but I didn't get a clear understanding of just what possibilities and problems you were referring to, and in response to what-the opening of the window on significant change? Thanks,


Nelson said...

Ditto on Transition Towns.
That was the last talk that I bothered to attend at Portland Peak Oil. As the speaker fantasized about "local currencies" I looked around and beheld a roomful of rich old white people - even in the mirror. It's sad how clueless we all are, dreaming of ways we can shop, work, and heat our homes when much of the world will be battling starvation.
Self-reliance will soon be essential, but the whole notion of a comfy lifeboat begs the question of parcelling out insufficient resources among too damn many people.
I guess that's what the Army's for.

hardhead said...

Peter - yeah, I'm not clear on that last paragraph, either. I think John means that Peak Oil is finally getting some credibility in the wider culture, which should give us a chance to present our analysis to many more people; but we will have to come up with real, do-able proposals for solutions to keep that credibility and to help mitigate the inevitable consequences of PO.

yooper - My best friend was born and raised in Detroit, and returns occasionally to visit family. And he reports much the same as you've described ... That decline isn't due to PO, though; you can lay that on the management at GM, Ford, and Chrysler. They could have discarded their old, tired business plan long ago, thereby ensuring at least some viability in the world auto market, not to mention helping to mitigate PO when there was still time. Ford could still pull through, but GM and Chrysler have been dead for years and won't be coming back, no matter what kind of bailout loans they get. Yes, it'll create lots of unemployment; but it's coming anyway - why continue to throw (our) good money after bad? A big part of being responsible is accepting the consequences of decisions you've made, and it's far past time we all started doing that.

The longer we wait to do what we already know has to be done, the worse will be the unavoidable outcomes.

Todd Siegel said...

JMG, thanks for your thoughts. What are your hard questions about Transition Towns? I am almost done with your book. Parts of it are nearly recipe for Transition Towns.

In response to Nelson, I'd like to say a few words in defense of Transition Towns. It's certainly not about "dreaming of ways we can shop...when much of the world will be battling starvation." It about planning for energy descent and trying to cushion the fall in a post peak world ravaged by global warming and economy collapse. It attempts to do this by building community and attempting to make these communities more resilient so we don't starve. If done right we might actual thrive. What's "clueless" about that?

Lloyd Morcom said...

Hi John

Your comment about Transition Towns grabbed me. I held the first Peak Oil info night in our little town a couple of weeks ago and people have talked to me about the Transition Town Handbook since then. I've been trying to get through it, but it reminds me, and perhaps I'm being a little unkind, of some of the more ephemeral and idealistic hippy alternative society notions with which many of us have been familiar in our distant pasts.

It seems the tendency to start a club of some kind is well nigh irresistible for many people. I'm trying to keep it from going that way in our small community by limiting myself to presenting the information about PO in as purely a secular way as possible to as diverse an audience as I can reach. Then as I see it, we must all seek our own salvation taking that information into account.

I'm very mindful of your comment in The Long Descent that what we are facing is much more a spiritual crisis in many ways rather than a technical problem: in fact the technical problems seem comparatively minor. But I can't claim the kinds of of insights, or the messianic egotism, that leadership of some kind of movement for spiritual change requires. And I'm wary of hot-eyed enthusiasts of any stripe anyway.

This is the great unknown then, as I see it. How are we to live (in the spiritual sense)? I see no resolution of this in my lifetime. All I can hope for is to reduce immediate suffering in our little world, if that's possible, and keep it sane.



Sabretache said...

I have just finished reading Dmitri Orlov's 'Reinventing Collapse' (highly recommended) and your final paragraph reminded me of his observations about what happened to the seers/early adopters (ie the pre-collapse activists and campaigners) through the post Soviet collapse. To paraphrase: they dropped from view and with hindsight were largely irrelevant to what transpired. Hurtful to our respective egos perhaps, but that's more or less how I see things shaping up over our own 'collapse-in progress'. Personally I find Peak Oil and other non-establishment research, commentary and activism provide useful insights into what the future may hold (and I certainly include this blog in that category), the better to prepare myself, my family and those close to me. However, I suspect that Orlov is right; in the wider scheme of things we are largely irrelevant to what will inexorably unfold. People will react to events and will take a pretty dim view of anyone falling into the 'I told you so' category - which is not to say that the better prepared who manage to avoid such categorisation will not be without beneficial influence.

Mark said...

That's a great way yo describe Auburn Hills... In fact, much of Michigan is made for cars, not humans. Few cities welcome foot traffic these days.

Yooper is correct, Michigan's been in a steady decline for 30 - 40 years. Since the riots in Detroit, the infrastructure has exhaled to smaller concentrations, leaving the city as the wasteland and suburbia for the rich.

But surprisingly enough, Detroit has a grass-roots movement of urban farming and backyard gardening. They're local food system is perhaps the strongest in Oakland County, and growing.

We may be far from mentally and physically ready for an era of declines, but here in the rural suburbs of metro Detroit, we're planning ahead, even if it's all ready too late. We've got growing numbers of young folks who are taking interest in these issues; we're learning to grow our food, preserve it, and keep ourselves warm throughout the cold months.

bmerson said...

I don't think anybody in the US, peak oilers, deniers, anybody, is really ready for the changes that may be coming. I don't think they can be. The changes that are likely coming are not part of our collective experience. Those of us born and raised in this country have never known a time without available cheap energy. There is no basis for understanding, no common frame of reference. There are, at best, stories of hard times, temporary hard times, that may only offer false hope when changes are of a more permanent nature.

There are, however, other people in the world, and some newer arrivals to our shores, that do have applicable frames of reference. Mr. Orlov has a perspective on collapse that everybody should at least listen too and think about. There are fellow citizens or visitors recently arrived from places where the standard (and practice) of living is much closer to where we may be going than that of our experienced past. These opinions need to be sought out. This knowledge needs to be internalized to the extent that it can be.

In the end, I think, the answer to your question is no, we are not ready for the changes. I doubt that we can be truly ready for something so totally unknown and unfamiliar. But we can be aware. We can increase our awareness and, in doing so, increase our ability to more readily recognize the true meaning of the changes and to react more quickly and, hopefully, more positively.

Can we be ready? No. Can we be much more aware and better prepared than we are? Absolutely.


Tully Reill said...

JMG wrote;
" The question that I couldn’t shake that night is whether any part of the peak oil movement – suits, sandals, or any combination thereof – is ready to deal with the possibilities and problems that will have to be faced if that happens. "

That's the tough question, isn't it?

As one who in 2001 moved directly from a four bedroom somewhat suburban house in a large metropolitan city to a bare forty acre chunk of property fifteen miles past nowhere in Northern Arizona, I know there's many who are going to be in for a major reality check. I certainly won't call my four year experience at that remote property a failure (although we did have to move into a small town) but I will definitely call it a valuable learning experience. The words "comfort" and "necessity" take on completely new meanings to a person.

I recently encountered a couple here in town who, due to the "housing bubble" deflation, is attempting to sell their in-town house and move to a small chunk of remote property south of town. Seeing that they were fairly in the same boat I was eight years ago, I've volunteered to lend them whatever advice I can, and have already been approached about several things. I wish I had had someone to discuss the transition with other than merely websites and books.

Yourmindfire said...

I would welcome you expanding on your concerns and critique of the Transition Town model. Perhaps enough material for an entire post? I appreciate your analysis and I expect many within Transition Iniatives would do.


Lance Michael Foster said...

JMG, I would like to learn more about the ecovillages that exist, and if they are actually working.

One of the real possibilities is to provide safe refuges for homeless teens and young people for them to be able to lead the way. Charlotte Black Elk once said that the Lakota shirtwearer paradigm was that the elders picked the outstanding young men of high moral caliber, judgement and leadership ability to actually lead the tribe in making decisions. While the elders had input and the young men listened to their advice and wisdom, it was the young men who made the decisions, because the young people were the ones who would have to bear the impact for the long haul of any decisions that were made. And those decisions were made with the 7th generation in mind, not the present one.

Your comments about the state of Detroit brought up a thought I had a couple of days ago. A new urban homestead act would be great…how about if they had “urban homesteading”… target “urban blight” areas and the disaster zones where foreclosures have left houses targets for vandals and drug operations…for a filing fee and “proving up (improving)” your homestead over 5 years, it becomes yours. Lots of urban “green zones” and small farms near/within cities could be created that way, to supply cities with needed food.

Finally, the drum I'd like to beat, is that while technical and community solutions are all the rage, per your suit and sandal crowd, the reality is that in such times the social stresses are tremendous. The key to any successful change will be empowering people to do what they need to do, while managing the stresses that will likely turn into insanity and violence. Community bonding and peacemaking, while providing for sensible balanced defense, are all necessary and not talked about enough IMHO.

John Michael Greer said...

Yooper, I look forward to seeing your portrait of industrial decline! One note, though: the peak oil movement didn't even begin to take shape until the very late 1990s, by which time the decline and fall of Detroit was a done deal.

Peter, peak oil is making the transition from theory to everyday reality; that opens a window of opportunity for responding to it in ways that haven't been possible when it was an unpopular theory. More on this later.

Nelson, Todd, Lloyd, and James, I'm planning a post discussing my concerns about the transition town movement in detail -- stay tuned.

Hardhead, the psychology of previous investment -- the attitude that says you can't let go of a plan, even when holding onto it is dragging you down -- is one of the most potent forces in American politics these days. I expect to see trillions go into the dying auto industry in the next few years.

Sabretache, no argument there. My hope is primarily that I can give individuals some of the tools that will make their ride down the slopes of Hubbert's peak a little easier.

Mark, this is good to hear.

Brian, it'll be interesting to see how people in the peak oil scene deal with the unfolding crises when it touches them directly, via job loss, say. I suspect some will do fairly well and others will not.

Tully, I suspect that a lot of reality checks will be returned for insufficient funds in the years to come!

Danby said...

the psychology of previous investment -- the attitude that says you can't let go of a plan, even when holding onto it is dragging you down -- is one of the most potent forces in American politics these days.

Which is why the Govt and the Fed are continuing to throw money, over $3trillion so far, at the financial industry. Keynesianism has worked well enough in the past, it should work now.

The problem with a Transition Town is the problem with planned economies. You just can't discover, let alone process, all the variables, many of which you don't know the existence of yet. Plan all you want, but in the end reality will surprise you. Good and hard.

How could Detroit have planned for the demise (and oncoming bankruptcy) of all three American automakers? What planning would have been sufficient? What preparation would have been possible? The sad part is that the preparation that would have helped (lower tax rates to help small business, right-to-work laws, etc) would have been, and indeed still are, politically impossible.

That said, better some planning than no planning, but adaptability is the key, not planning.

hardhead said...

> previous investment

You know about monkey traps, right?

In parts of southeast Asia and Africa, indigenous people have an ingenious method of trapping monkeys, either for sale, as pets, or for food. They take a coconut, make a hole in it just large enough to pass a monkey's hand, hollow out the coconut, put some monkey delicacy inside, and tie or chain the whole rig to a tree or a stake in the ground. Soon enough, a monkey will come along, spy the delicacy, and stick its hand in to retrieve the delicacy. With its hand clenched around the prize, the monkey can't get it out of the coconut, but doesn't realize that if it only dropped the goodies, it would be free.

Have humans really progressed very far past monkeys?

DickLawrence said...

It was good meeting you at Community Solutions conference, wish I had seen your nametag at Sacramento and talked with you there.

Re. your comments about Detroit & suburbs - 3 of us carpooled by Prius to Rochester, after dropping off a 4th in Cleveland to work on the Obama get-out-the-vote campaign.

The return by a different route, straight east from the University campus through Canada to NY and MA, was eye-opening. The far-flung suburbs east of Rochester (20 to 30 miles NE of Detroit) are a textbook case of exurban development run amok, scary and depressing. We passed through at least 10-15 miles of all-new development - housing developments half-completed and apparently abandoned, others mostly built out, mini-malls with empty storefronts, lots of For Lease signs with no takers, all clearly carved out of what was recently farmland by the looks of it.

I have no idea where the people might come from to live in those places, but I would guess that their populations might actually be falling soon, given the foreclosures and job losses coming to suburbs anywhere near Detroit. For those remaining in these half-completed synthetic neighborhoods, it may be tough sledding. All the support infrastructure like schools, police, fire stations may not exist yet and it's unlikely these sparsely-populated exurbs will be able to support the level of services they expected when they bought property so far out from existing suburban centers.

I've read about places like this but it was a shock and an education to see it first-hand. Would be interested in hearing from others who live near these regions or saw them on the way out.

Dick Lawrence

Archmage said...

Hardhead, no, humans are 99% monkeys on that aspect. We have one difference that can help us not to fall in the trap, and it's our abillity to change the way we think. It's hard to do it, and most humans don't even know they can, but to correct that problem one has to think outside the box. They have to change the idea that just because things worked once it doesn't means they can work twice, they have to remember that coditions never remain fixed and that everything changes.

Blackbird said...


I have a friend who moved his way up the corporate ladder with a combination of intellect and good common sense. He would hold board meetings with managers on the 'worker's' floor and hold worker's meeting up in the boardroom. His was open to anyone from any level of the company coming into his office to point out difficulties so long as they offered some sort of solution as well. Pointing out difficulties is generally not too difficult, but offering solutions often is.

I read a book a year or so ago by R. Heinberg called 'The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse' which, it seemed to me, was written to be read by those in power. He points out the problems of peak oil first, then offers solutions to these problems that might be realistically adopted. The most important thing about his arguments (in so far as I understand them) is that they are realistic and could be adopted by all governments of all countries.

In contrast to this are those who would either only point out the problems of peak oil or offer solutions that will never be adopted. For example, A. Weisman in his book, 'The World Without Us' offers a solution that is unrealistic but foolproof - families must stop having more than one child. By his calculations, that would see the population of the world drop to somewhere (if I remember correctly) in the 1.5 billion range within 100 years. Yes, this would make for a sustainable world. No, this will never happen.

I think those in the peak oil camps (sandals and suits) need to team up together to offer a coherent road map for the way forward. This may be very difficult, but without a plan of some sort aren't we all complicit in watching an accident happen without trying our best to mitigate the results?


RAS said...

JMG, what bothers me is that to captialize on opportunities for change you not only have to have good ideas, you have to have a convincing narrative behind them and the PO community well, doesn't. How do you craft such a narrative? I've trying to figure it out and I end up wanting to beat my head against a wall.

Third Chimp said...

For those who are perplexed about the inability of the Big Three to plan better for the future: you really must take a look at the concepts of Clayton M. Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma). He shows why large companies like these are structurally incapable of changing course, even when an iceberg is spotted dead ahead, and well in advance. They don’t because they can’t, even with the best management, and he helps show why. Over ten years ago, he identified the auto industry as a classic example of his theory of why innovation fails for these behemoths. So to hardhead ”They could have discarded their old, tired business plan long ago” – well, actually they couldn’t. Along the way, Christensen invents the concept of disruptive technologies, to identify one of the mechanisms by which the megalith is doomed. Its well known stuff in business schools now, but the thing I find interesting is to what degree it applies to any large enterprise – such as government. So far, it seems to apply perfectly well –not good if you are looking to existing institutions to do things in a new way. Some kinds of change will have to come from the bottom up. Innovation theory tells why.

CrismonCoconut said...

Heh, this reminds of a little something that Heinburg wrote a while back, about how soon peak oil proponents will be bombarded with phone calls from journalists and policy makers about what to do next.

In the end though, its all important, and like you say its good to have people from all walks of life talking about the issue. I do wonder about Detroit though- I theorize it might well thrive in the future. We'll need somebody to make train engines after all, among other things. I would imagine that those old factories might get some use soon, at least I hope so.

yooper said...

Hello Jonh and dicklawerence!

"The far-flung suburbs east of Rochester (20 to 30 miles NE of Detroit) are a textbook case of exurban development run amok, scary and depressing. We passed through at least 10-15 miles of all-new development - housing developments half-completed and apparently abandoned, others mostly built out, mini-malls with empty storefronts, lots of For Lease signs with no takers, all clearly carved out of what was recently farmland by the looks of it."

Well said Dick, indeed, it was all farmland at one time. However, I wouldn't bet the farm that population will actually decrease in the area and all those new half built homes will not be completed and store fronts with help wanted signs in them once again. (Whoa eh, John?)

You see Dick, I've seen this all before, back in the late 70's when near everyone thought at the time "this is it".. Well, mind you by the mid 80's, there I was expanding more subdivisions in Rochester. Sure decline, appears to be real enough this time, but it do so back then to... What makes me believe that yet another "particle recovery" can't happen here?

As a former heavy equipment operator, I've done more than my fair share of digging along the waterfront of downtown Detroit and surrounding suburbs..I've plowed through old dumps, making new developments and along the way. I've gained keen eye and an extraordinary education on a historical perspective very few can begin to appericate....

Detroit, is the birthplace of the "modern" industrial complex. It's where electrical generation was first put to use powering machines capable of making uniform, interchangable parts. This happened almost 100 years ago. I'll even go on to dare say this is what Richard Duncan was refering to when it's stated, "The Olduvai Theory divides human history into three phases. The first "pre-industrial" phase stretches over most of human history when simple tools and weak machines limited economic growth. The second "industrial" phase encompasses modern industrial civilization where machines temporarily lift all limits to growth. The final "de-industrial" phase follows where industrial economies decline to a period of equilibrium with renewable resources and the natural environment.

Will Detroit lead the "de-industrial" phase, as it did the modern industrial phase? Will it be one of the first to find this equilibrium with renewable resources and the natural eviroment? Only time will tell...

I can't imagine a better example of catabolic collapse, than Detroit, Michigan...

Thanks, yooper

hardhead said...

blackbird - I'm not familiar with Mr. Weisman or his book, but if he did in fact recommend that we limit our children to one per family, he has in fact proposed a real solution to what is actually very near the root of all our other problems and predicaments. Human population is roughly an order of magnitude greater than this planet can support; we overshot this carrying capacity a long time ago, and until it comes back down to something less than about a billion, we'll never solve many of our problems, and solutions to most of the others will be greatly impeded. Make no mistake: That population will come back down, whether we consciously and explicitly devise some scheme to do it ourselves or not. Hard? Sure. Impossible? No. Remember Dr. Strangelove: "All it takes is the will to do it."

third chimp - Same response re: institutional leaders changing their institution's plans. Read the end of the last paragraph, beginning with "Hard? Sure."

I'd be the last person around to say that humans are adaptable to any situation. In fact, I know that we are hard-wired in very many ways that we don't even suspect - no blank tablets for me. But we are capable of change, even change that goes against the grain of our wiring. We've proven that beyond doubt in the last century or so. I also know that if we want to survive long-term as a species, we're gonna have to change again, because what we're doing now won't get us there.

Don't know how many of you have seen any of the "Lord Of The Ring" trilogy movies from Peter Jackson, but I'm reminded of a remark made in "The Return Of The King" by Gimli, near the end, when the remnants of the White Council were considering what to do concerning Frodo's quest - whether to be satisfied with their victory over Sauron's forces at the Battle of Pelonnor Fields and sit tight or to move boldly against Mordor despite being hopelessly outnumbered. He said (and I'm paraphrasing), "On the one hand, certain defeat; on the other hand, the slimmest chance of victory. What are we waitin' for?"

Archmage said...

hardhead, Gimli actually said:

- Certanty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?

Dwig said...

John Michael: I had a volume of Gregory Bateson... Which volume? I'd like to compare notes sometime, probably offline.

Danby: your take on planning reminds me of several quotes on the subject; here's a few: "In preparing for battle, the plan is nothing, but the planning is everything." (attributed to Patton, Eisenhowever, and probably others) "When you can't plan accurately, plan often." (Watts Humphrey) "It's important to have a plan -- it gives you something to deviate from." (me)
As you say, adaptability is the key, which is why I emphasize continual learning as a way of living and working. Planning can be a significant help in this, if you don't get too wedded to the plan(s).

ras: How do you craft such a narrative? I've trying to figure it out and I end up wanting to beat my head against a wall. I know the feeling. I've come up with an outline for a peak oil intro that I think might work, at least for some people. The intent is to give them a sense of the reality, the urgency, and the possibilities PO opens up as well as the challenges. The narrative starts by defining PO simply as the maximum production (barrels/day) of any oil-producing entity; then emphasize not the theory of PO. but the history, showing that all oil-producing fields, regions, and nations, that have been producing long enough, have already peaked and are now either on a plateau or in decline. Next, illustrate the history of US production as a good example -- from a start in the mid-1900s, to a major exporter to the world, to a net importer, to peak, to oil shocks, to decline, to current status. For those who are open to learning, this should be sufficient to dispel the claims that PO is a fringe theory or a cult. This could be the end of a talk that only aims to establish the credibility of PO.

The rest is fuzzier in my mind so far, but I think I do want to address the view of PO as "the end of cheap oil"; what's cheap vs. expensive oil, why it matters, where we're at. At that point, I'd begin to address prognostications and predictions, and the growing gap between declining fossil fuel production and the limited ability of alternative sources to partially fill the gap.

I'll be grateful for any feedback or suggestions.

eboy said...

Hi John
Since you do a wonderful job of feeding us insights into how to view ourselves. I thought that you would enjoy Margaret Atwoods contribution to this years 'Massey Lectures'. Food for thought.

Here is her description about the theme of her book and lectures:

Payback is not about practical debt management or high finance. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies.

Margaret Atwood writes “These are not lectures about how to get out of debt; rather, they’re about the debtor/creditor twinship in the broadest sense – from human sacrifice to pawnshops to revenge. In this light, what we owe and how we pay is a feature of all human societies, and profoundly shapes our shared values and our cultures.”

You can find the 5 components of her lecture here: "". In part 5 she offers a delicious analogy by using a re-written version of scrooge and his ventures with spirits forward and backwards through time.