Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Endgame

I’ve mentioned more than once in these essays the foreshortening effect that textbook history can have on our understanding of the historical events going on around us. The stark chronologies most of us get fed in school can make it hard to remember that even the most drastic social changes happen over time, amid the fabric of everyday life and a flurry of events that can seem more important at the time.

This becomes especially problematic in times like the present, when apocalyptic prophecy is a central trope in the popular culture that frames a people’s hopes and fears for the future. When the collective imagination becomes obsessed with the dream of a sudden cataclysm that sweeps away the old world overnight and ushers in the new, even relatively rapid social changes can pass by unnoticed. The twilight years of Rome offer a good object lesson; so many people were convinced that the Second Coming might occur at any moment that the collapse of classical civilization went almost unnoticed; only a tiny handful of writers from those years show any recognition that something out of the ordinary was happening at all.

Reflections of this sort have been much on my mind lately, and there’s a reason for that. Scattered among the statistical noise that makes up most of today’s news are data points that suggest to me that business as usual is quietly coming to an end around us, launching us into a new world for which very few of us have made any preparations at all.

Here’s one example. Friends of mine in a couple of midwestern states have mentioned that the steady trickle of refugees from the Chicago slums into their communities has taken a sharp turn up. There’s a long history of dysfunction behind this. Back in 1999, Chicago began tearing down its vast empire of huge high-rise projects, promising to replace them with less ghastly and more widely distributed housing for the poor. Most of the replacements, of course, never got built. When the waiting list for Section 8 rent subsidies, the only other option available, got long enough to become a public relations problem, the bureaucrats in charge simply closed the list to new applicants; rumors (hotly denied by the Chicago city government) claim that poor families in Chicago were openly advised to move to other states. Whether for that reason or simple economic survival, a fair number of them did.

Fast forward to the middle of 2009. Around then, facing budget deficits second only to California, the state of Illinois quietly stopped paying its social service providers. In theory, the money is still allocated; in practice, it’s been more than six months since Illinois preschools, senior centers, food banks, and the like have received a check from the state for the services they provide, and many of them are on the verge of going broke. Subsidized rent has apparently taken an equivalent hit. Believers in free-market economics have been insisting for years that the end of rent subsidies would let the free market reduce rents to a level that people could afford, but I don’t recommend holding your breath; this is the same free market, remember, that gave the United States some of the world’s worst slums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The actual effects have been instructive. Squeezed between sharply contracting benefits and a sharply contracting job market, many of Chicago’s poor are hitting the road, heading in any direction that offers more options. Forget the survivalist fantasy of violent hordes pouring out of the inner cities to ravage everything in their path; today’s slum residents are instead becoming the Okies of the Great Recession. In the process, part of business as usual in the United States is coming to an end.

Illinois is far from the only state that backed itself into a corner by assuming that rising tax revenues from a bubble economy could be extrapolated indefinitely into the future. 41 US states currently face budget deficits. California has received most of the media attention so far, a good deal of it focused on the political gridlock that has kept the state frozen in crisis for years. Behind the partisan posturing in Sacramento, though, lies a deeper and harsher reality. The state of California is essentially bankrupt; nearly all the mistakes made by the once-wealthy states of the Rust Belt as they slid down the curve of their own decline have been faithfully copied by California as it approaches its destiny as the Rust Belt of the 21st century. I wonder how many local governments in neighboring states have drawn up plans for dealing with the tide of economic refugees once California can no longer pay for its welfare system, and the poor of Los Angeles and other California cities join those of Chicago on the road?

I could go on, but I think the point has been made. State governments are the canaries in our national coal mine; their tax receipts are one of the very few measures of economic activity that aren’t being systematically fiddled by the federal government. The figures coming out of state revenue offices strike a jarring contrast with the handwaving about “green shoots” and an imminent return to prosperity heard from Washington DC and the media. Across the country, every few months, states that have already cut spending drastically to cope with record declines in tax income find that they have to go back and do it all over again, because their revenue – and by inference, the incomes, purchases, business activity, and other economic phenomena that feed into taxes – has dropped even further. Now it’s true that state budgets get hit whenever the economy goes into recession, and keep on hurting even when the recession is supposed to be over, but compared to past examples, the losses clobbering state funding these days are off the scale, and a great many programs that have been fixtures of American public life for as long as most of us have been living are facing the chopping block.

A different reality pertains within the Washington DC beltway. Where states that fail to balance their budgets get their bond ratings cut and, in some cases, are having trouble finding buyers for their debt at less than usurious interest rates, the federal government seems to be able to defy the normal behavior of bond markets with impunity. Despite soaring deficits, not to mention a growing disinclination on the part of foreign governments to keep on financing the same, every new issuance of US treasury bills somehow finds buyers in such abundance that interest rates stay remarkably low. A few weeks ago, Tom Whipple of ASPO became the latest in a tolerably large number of perceptive observers who have pointed out that this makes sense only if the US government is surreptitiously buying its own debt.

The process works something like this. The Federal Reserve, which is not actually a government agency but a consortium of large banks working under a Federal charter, has the statutory right to mint money in the US. These days, that can be done by a few keystrokes on a computer, and another few keystrokes can transfer that money to any bank in the nation. Some of those banks use the money to buy up US treasury bills, probably by way of subsidiaries chartered in the Cayman Islands and the like, and these same off-book subsidiaries then stash the T-bills and keep them off the books. The money thus laundered finally arrives at the US treasury, where it gets spent.

It may be a bit more complex than that. Those huge sums of money voted by Congress to bail out the financial system may well have been diverted into this process – that would certainly explain why the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have stonewalled every attempt to trace exactly where all that money went. Friendly foreign governments may also have a hand in the process. One way or another, though, those of my readers who remember the financial engineering that got Enron its fifteen minutes of fame may find all this uncomfortably familiar – and it is. The world’s largest economy has become, in effect, the United States of Enron.

Plenty of countries in the past have tried to cover expenses that overshot income by spinning the presses at the local mint. The result is generally hyperinflation, of the sort made famous in the 1920s by Germany and more recently by Zimbabwe. That I know of, though, nobody has tried the experiment with a national economy in a steep deflationary depression, of the sort that has been taking shape in America and elsewhere since the real estate bubble crashed and burned in 2008. In theory, at least in the short term, it might just work; the inflationary pressures caused by printing money wholesale could conceivably cancel out the deflationary pressures of a collapsing bubble and a contracting economy – at least for a while.

The difficulty, of course, is that pumping the money supply fixes the symptoms of economic failure without treating the causes, and in every case I know of, governments that resort to it end up caught on a treadmill that requires ever larger infusions of paper money just to maintain the status quo. Sooner or later, as the amount of currency in circulation outstrips the goods and services available to buy, inflation spins out of control, the currency loses most or all of its value, and the economy grinds to a halt until a new currency can be issued on some sounder basis. In 1920s Germany, they managed this last feat by taking out a mortgage on the entire country, and issued “Rentenmarks” backed by that mortgage. In the wake of the late housing bubble, that seems an unlikely option here, though no doubt some gimmick will be found.

It’s crucial to realize, though, that this move comes at the end of a long historical trajectory. From the early days of the industrial revolution into the early 1970s, the United States possessed the immense economic advantage of sizable reserves of whatever the cutting-edge energy source happened to be. During what Lewis Mumford called the eotechnic era, when waterwheels were the prime mover for industry and canals were the core transportation technology, the United States prospered because it had an abundance of mill sites and internal waterways. During Mumford’s paleotechnic era, when coal and railways replaced water and canal boats, the United States once again found itself blessed with huge coal reserves, and the arrival of the neotechnic era, when petroleum and highways became the new foundation of power, the United States found that nature had supplied it with so much oil that in 1950, it produced more petroleum than all other countries combined.

That trajectory came to an abrupt end in the 1970s, when nuclear power – expected by nearly everyone to be the next step in the sequence – turned out to be hopelessly uneconomical, and renewables proved unable to take up the slack. The neotechnic age, in effect, turned out to have no successor. Since then, for most of the last thirty years, the United States has been trying to stave off the inevitable – the sharp downward readjustment of our national standard of living and international importance following the peak and decline of our petroleum production and the depletion of most of the other natural resources that once undergirded American economic and political power. We’ve tried accelerating drawdown of natural resources; we’ve tried abandoning our national infrastructure, our industries, and our agricultural hinterlands; we’ve tried building ever more baroque systems of financial gimmickry to prop up our decaying economy with wealth from overseas; over the last decade and a half, we’ve resorted to systematically inflating speculative bubbles – and now, with our backs to the wall, we’re printing money as though there’s no tomorrow.

Now it’s possible that the current US administration will be able to pull one more rabbit out of its hat, and find a new gimmick to keep things going for a while longer. I have to confess that this does not look likely to me. Monetizing the national debt, as economists call the attempt to pay a nation’s bills by means of a hyperactive printing press, is a desperation move; it’s hard to imagine any reason that it would have been chosen if there were any other option in sight.

What this means, if I’m right, is that we may have just moved into the endgame of America’s losing battle with the consequences of its own history. For many years now, people in the peak oil scene – and the wider community of those concerned about the future, to be sure – have had, or thought they had, the luxury of ample time to make plans and take action. Every so often books would be written and speeches made claiming that something had to be done right away, while there was still time, but most people took that as the rhetorical flourish it usually was, and went on with their lives in the confident expectation that the crisis was still a long ways off.

We may no longer have that option. If I read the signs correctly, America has finally reached the point where its economy is so deep into overshoot that catabolic collapse is beginning in earnest. If so, a great many of the things most of us in this country have treated as permanent fixtures are likely to go away over the years immediately before us, as the United States transforms itself into a Third World country. The changes involved won’t be sudden, and it seems unlikely that most of them will get much play in the domestic mass media; a decade from now, let’s say, when half the American workforce has no steady work, decaying suburbs have mutated into squalid shantytowns, and domestic insurgencies flare across the south and the mountain West, those who still have access to cable television will no doubt be able to watch talking heads explain how we’re all better off than we were in 2000.

Those of my readers who haven’t already been beggared by the unraveling of what’s left of the economy, and have some hope of keeping a roof over their heads for the foreseeable future, might be well advised to stock their pantries, clear their debts, and get to know their neighbors, if they haven’t taken these sensible steps already. Those of my readers who haven’t taken the time already to learn a practical skill or two, well enough that others might be willing to pay or barter for the results, had better get a move on. Those of my readers who want to see some part of the heritage of the present saved for the future, finally, may want to do something practical about that, and soon. I may be wrong – and to be frank, I hope that I’m wrong – but it looks increasingly to me as though we’re in for a very rough time in the very near future.

129 comments:

Glenn said...

Well, I'm glad not to have a mortgage. I'd be a lot happier if I'd finished building the house, had 50K worth of PV panels and an electric truck...

Oh well, put in another row of potatoes.

And yep, things have been real slow around here for _anyone_ in the trades.

Glenn

Loveandlight said...

People are going to need candles once the lights go out. Would candle-making be a good thing to learn, do you think? (I'm aiming for something urban apartment-dwellers can easily teach themselves entirely on their own.)

I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes shortly after my 42nd birthday last year (it really is becoming the signature disease of Generation X), and I've been wondering what it will be like being a diabetic living through catabolic collapse. I expect my life will be shorter than I once thought it might be, because 1) there will likely be situations where I don't have much choice about what I will eat, 2) the medical-industrial complex will founder along with everything else (I expect that to be a very mixed sort of blessing), 3) insulin shots might not be an option for me by the time I need them, 4) I am already experiencing pretty advanced hypertenstion (my nonmedicated blood pressure tends to be 150/100). I'm not trying to be all "poor me", though it may sound that way. It's just that there's pretty much an army of diabetics out there right now thanks to high fructose corn syrup and unhealthy lifestyles, and how those of us so afflicted will cope will no doubt be an interesting chapter in the story of collapse.

Conchscooter said...

I find it rather fearsome that your measured column has finally taken on the rather apocalyptic tone usually reserved for Mr Kunstler and the more rabid survivalists. You fill me with dread, even in Key West, a sunny town with a reasonably solid budget (as long as some few tourists keep coming!). Woe is us all.

LS said...

What can I say, but "whoa". You have just given us one one of those moments when you metaphorically "pat your pockets" to be sure that you have your contingency plans in place.

My partner and I were talking earlier today about the way politicians, bloggers, and friends all respond to "doom and gloom" (i.e. anyone highlighting a problem without providing a solution that lets them continue with business as usual). The common theme is: "if I can't have business as usual, then don't upset me with this talk".

Which brings me to my point: we feel that we (unlike our friends and family) have now reached a level of 100% psychological preparedness for whatever comes (which has taken us about five years).

Right now, here in Australia we aren't seeing the kinds of things that you mention (welfare programs being cut, people being displaced), but we are getting hammered by the environment with our ongoing drought. Come what may, major changes (social, economic, environmental, or a combination of factors) won't take us by surprise, and we won't be dying of broken hearts for loss of our iPhones etc.

It is thanks to a steady stream of information from people like you, JMG, that we have been able to build a picture of the various risks that our society is facing and take appropriate action to mitigate those risks. It seems unlikely in the extreme that business will continue as usual for the rest of our lives, but should that happen, then we will be living a simple, comfortable, and fullfilling life anyway.

RDatta said...

When the ArchDruid switches on the Red Alert, it is quite disconcerting, since he is seen - at least by this reader - as perhaps the most level headed prognosticator in the Peak Resources community.

But he has picked out from the background din signals that cannot be ignored. Perhaps the powers that be are suffering from information overload.

Jeff Gill said...

But I haven't even had a chance to pre-order my iPad! JMG, I have been reading your blog for about two years. Is it my imagination, or is this about the gloomiest outlook you have had on the very near future? If it is, I'm inclined to take you seriously, simply because you tend to not write with this much
urgency.

Yourmindfire said...

Only tangentially related to this post I am afraid. Probably not useful to publish here. I wanted however, knowing your interest, to draw your attention to a new BBC radio programme on Ibn Khaldun:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qckbw

(Not entirely sure this is available outside the UK)

Llewellyn said...

Another great post JMG!
I think you could also put the Uk in the same boat.

Jason said...

Great post!


Forget the survivalist fantasy of violent hordes pouring out of the inner cities to ravage everything in their path; today’s slum residents are instead becoming the Okies of the Great Recession.


That's exactly what I was seeing coming.

Here in the uk we're officially 'out of recession' -- I don't know where to get the kinds of figures you're relying on for you analysis, but I'd bet our state is not as unlike yours as we might wish.

disillusioned said...

The Unthinkable(...?) Option

There is a way to buy a few decades; an old human tradition - go grab someone else's resources.

Right now, America is a superpower. What if this capability is used aggressively to annex other lands? Resources would flow from those lands; by implication the peoples in those lands must be economically suppressed in order for the wealth extraction to be useful.

Across the Americas (North and South from the 1400's) historically this would be business as usual with entire nations subjugated and impoverished, their populations reduced and assets seized; all to the betterment of the conquering individual and their nation.

Could that be done now? What would be needed is the cultural will to motivate the people to build up a colossal armed service (say 5% of the base population in size). Today... no. But in times of strife this has happened in other lands e.g. French revolution.

True strife would have to stalk the US for at least a decade for the people to actively countenance annexing other lands. Just getting fed may be enough motivation to join the Army in 2030.

Temptingly, there remain useful resources to the north and south...

Babaji said...

We have a small esoteric school based on an authentic Vedic lineage. We saw this coming almost ten years back. Since then we have gathered our people into an online community, established an āśram in South India, and are about to buy some farmland and set up our a local food supply. We are telling all our members to get out of paper assets, out of dollars and out of the US if possible. We are heavily invested in gold and soon, farmland. We feel relatively secure but have concerns about the chaos that an economic crash in the US will engender, even in remote rural South India. Spiritual life is the only really reliable shelter in this changing world.

Pat said...

Your blog has been providing me with interesting reading and caused me to research further on various topics.

I have been considering the meaning of the word "apocalypse" as it is currently used.
Why do we use only the catastrophic meaning when the original and original sources clearly indicate that it more of an unfoldment or revelation.
Your blog posts could be a revelation in that sense of the word.
Rather than the end of the world, we are undergoing change that is being gradually revealed. The consequences of our decisions are being unfolded.

This makes more sense to me that a cataclysm type of meaning.

–noun
1. (initial capital letter) revelation (def. 4).
2. any of a class of Jewish or Christian writings that appeared from about 200 b.c. to a.d. 350 and were assumed to make revelations of the ultimate divine purpose.
3. a prophetic revelation, esp. concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil.
4. any revelation or prophecy.
5. any universal or widespread destruction or disaster: the apocalypse of nuclear war.
Origin:
1125–75; ME < LL apocalypsis < Gk apokálypsis revelation, equiv. to apokalýp(tein) to uncover, reveal (apo- apo- + kalýptein to cover, conceal) + -sis -sis

versus

cat⋅a⋅clysm  /ˈkætəˌklɪzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [kat-uh-kliz-uhm] Show IPA
–noun 1. any violent upheaval, esp. one of a social or political nature.
2. Physical Geography. a sudden and violent physical action producing changes in the earth's surface.
3. an extensive flood; deluge.
Origin:
1625–35; < LL cataclysmos (Vulgate) < Gk kataklysmós flood (akin to kataklýzein to flood), equiv. to kata- cata- + klysmós a washing

Don said...

John, I apologize about the rambling nature of what follows, but after reading this sobering column, I am unable to orginize my thinking beyond stream-of-consciousness.

You're beginning to sound more like Mr. Kunstler! :-) However, I can't see anything that you've written here, or anything you've left unsaid, that would make me question your conclusion. Our society is in big trouble, that's for sure, and hardly anyone is hearing the signals among all the noise. You certainly have heard the signals that so many others have missed. (I was unaware of the welfare-class migration out of Chicago, for example). Most everyone else is caught up in the noise. Some signals I've noticed: the trials and tribulations of the auto industry, including Toyota's current QC problems; the proliferation of abandoned commercial properties across our landscape; the incredible political gridlock in Washington, characterized by fearfulness among elected leaders, including the president; increasingly viewing gambling as a "solution" to government budget and revenue problems; and the growing chorus of strident demagoguery, exemplified by the 'tea party' movement.

Regarding state budget dilemmas, our state (Ohio) has been bleeding red for years. The only reason our current biennial budget can be marked "balanced" is bailout money from Washington. They're projecting a $4-5 billion shortfall for the next biennial, beginning in 2011, with no apparent prospect for collecting that amount of money. Meanwhile, the legislature has placed a proposal on the next statewide ballot to sell $700 million in state-issued bonds for creating "high-tech jobs". And the Republican candidate for governor is campaigning partly on eliminating the state income tax but with no proposal, so far as I know, for making up the lost revenue.

My wife works for the state historical society. They also manage the state archives, so they are partly state funded. But the state has been slowly starving the organization over the past eight or nine years. They've had six or seven rounds of layoffs in that time, and they're currently about two more budget cuts away from closing the doors for good.

Regarding apocalypticism, one of my students recently wrote an essay about a visit he made to a friend's church--a prominently located church clearly visible from the interstate. He said the pastor ranted about the coming end of the world and warned his flock that the government would soon begin implanting microchips on our bodies, to be used for identification. They would also become our credit and debit cards. They would excuse it by saying it would help prevent identity theft.

I told the student about David Icke and the evil space lizards.

Publius said...

The crime and desperation is increasing notably in our 'hood, a wealthier, stable area of a midsize Midwestern town. People unable to pay their mortgages, and taking on borders who themselves can barely pay any rent. I am speaking about people I know.
Break-ins are skyrocketing, and even armed robbery on the street, right on a major university campus.

But still... very very few people I talk to believe that things will not improve. No amount of data, evidence, theory or discussion changes their optimism or denial.

Belhamel said...

Thanks, John. Just piping up to say I like the new look, it's more readable.
Regards

nun said...

Color me confused. I do not understand how we will we have the following scenario in a decade, and also have to be worried about trade for barter: "half the American workforce has no steady work, decaying suburbs have mutated into squalid shantytowns, and domestic insurgencies flare across the south and the mountain West, those who still have access to cable television will no doubt be able to watch talking heads ...." Shall my trade be in the cable television industry?

Unlike you, though, I hope you're right about the ongoing collapse reaching its end soon. And so does anybody who cares about non-industrial humans and non-human species. By my guess, that's about a dozen of us.

Steve said...

Thanks for a sobering post, JMG. Like some other posters, I've been reading Kunstler's frequent predictions of impending collapse with skepticism. Over the past year I've grown much more fond of your blog, and I appreciate the long-view historical context of your posts.

This morning's read was unexpected, but I am grateful for the warning. My suspicions have grown lately as well, since my city of wealthy eco-suburban types has changed. Millionaire real-estate types and aging trust-funders have been reduced to eking out a living selling pot to each other while they pray for some new financial bubble. Glenn's observation about the trades holds true here as well, as construction crews drag out work with 6-hour days, knowing there aren't enough jobs lined up to keep them busy.

Please keep up the good work, and thanks for your writing. It means a lot to me.

skintnick said...

I've been following since late 2008 and this seems the gloomiest post to date; Never before do I remember you using words like "very rough time in the very near future".

I'm involved in work towards a resilient community as a very active "Transitioner" here in East Anglia (so trying to do my bit to improve propects of my family & neighbourhood as you indicate is wise.) But my question to you regards the recommendation to "clear your debts" - oh, but it were possible! What is the dark implication of not doing so?

David said...

Great series of articles. Well researched, well written, with a wonder tone.

I do believe we are now past the Hubbert Peak for America's global influence and standard of living. Our peak household earnings occurred just as Generation X was being born. Funny how America's Hubbert Peak in petroleum production occurred about the same time.

I have a few open ended questions. How much debt has been added in the last 40 years? How much debt will we add in the next four years? Who is going to pay for all this spending? When do we bring the Army home? When do we address the enormity of end-of-life Medicare costs? When do we deal with the coming obesity/diabetes time bomb? What happens when housing prices drop back to 3x earnings? What happens when those earnings drop by 30% in a decade of global wage arbitrage? What happens when the borrowing stops and we must live within our means? Do we have any plan?

I am still an optimist. Our standard of living will correct to something more sustainable. We will earn less, spend less, consume less, travel less, and eat less. We will live in smaller homes, produce goods and services locally, and finally start to grow more of our own food. We will rebuild our local communities and local organizations. Trust will replace contracts. Money will replace debt. Communities will replace city/state/federal programs.
There will be pain along they way. Who wants to give up the American lifestyle? Once our nation adjusts, we will rediscover the community spirit that made us Americans.

dltrammel said...

Just when I was having happy feelings from reading your previous blog posts, you go and scare the bea-jesuses out of me, JMG...lol.

I'm lucky, the temp job I've been at went permanent with a 50% pay increase, from $8 to $12. Looks like I'll be putting most of that raise right into savings and prep.


Loveandlight, check this thread on diabetes and surviving in a de-industrial situation.

http://zombiehunters.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=43&t=33651

You might not take the forum too seriously because of the zombie motif but the info there is always first rate.

And I have been thinking about learning how to pour candles as well. Seems like it would be a helpful skill to learn if you could get a dependable supply of wax.

MetaPico said...

When we see the profound, stable, structured JMG sounding Red Alert we (a large community that is widening is consciousness about the evolution of our collective lives) experience, once again, the return of those feelings so many times experienced during this path of transition.
One definition of crisis can be an unstable and dangerous social situation, especially one involving an impending abrupt change (From wikipedia).
Fear is common before an unfolding crisis. But nothing can stop change (a change that we can´t control) a so we must become, flexible, plastic, so that the changes may occur and may settle in while a rigid poise may lead to a breakdown. The problem is that such is easily spoken than done.

sunhomedesign said...

Richard Heinberg's latest Museletter and now JMG! My two favorite voices of post peak quiet and reasoned discourse have both raised the red flag of collapse, and even though I had reached a quasi-state of acceptance and constantly scan and find similar fissures in structure of our society, I found myself surprisingly alarmed by your post.

I have read The Long Descent and The Ecotechnic Future and still wonder if events may unfold more rapidly than your work suggests. In the spirit of polite discourse I offer the following thoughts on collapse and wonder if historical accounts of collapse do not account for the level of complexity and reliance on phantom carrying capacity associated with our current global industrialized world.

THE PRIMARY LAW COLLAPSE
The severity of collapse will be equal and opposite to the level of complexity and environmental degradation that preceded it.

COROLLARIES TO THE PRIMARY LAW OF COLLAPSE
The level of reliance on non-renewable resources or phantom carrying capacity further increases the severity of collapse in proportion to the level of reliance on those resources.

The velocity of collapse is a function of the number of single points of failure and potential Liebig minima embedded into the levels of complexity achieved prior to collapse.

Catastrophic collapse is possible only when the number of cascading points of failure reach a critical mass far exceeding a society's ability to cope on even a temporary basis.

Ariel55 said...

Dear John, I have been reading for it seems years, this interesting "Archdruid Report". I recently purchased 3 of your published works, and am particularly thrilled with your "Sacred Geometry Oracle". It's just the skill I need to prepare for what is and is to come. Thank you for sharing your talents with us and the world.

Dan W. said...

All the more reason to drop our conditioned mind and connect with reality...in the here and now.

Pain and suffering are nothing new in this world, but the latter need not be amplified by projecting a future we can't be assured we'll ever live.

I use your writing to help guide my decisions in the present; which include prudent living for the times and the planet and my family.

But as for planning for the future or prognosticating what I "know" will happen? Think I'll just leave that to someone else who wants to suffer with the never-ending litany of "what-ifs".

joelsanda said...

While I agree with the allusions to the end days in Rome, insofar as I understand how the Roman Empire fell apart or wore itself out, I often wonder if more contemporary examples are better suited to provide metaphors for what's being talked about here.

Cuba is often held up as an example of one possible response to the loss of critical energy and monetary supplies, but there have to be other great examples in the 20th century.

Germany after World War I? Japan after World War II? Eastern Europe after the fall of the Wall? These may not make much sense, but then then again there may be sufficient (sadly) similarities.

It seems to me if we can't find similar 20th century endgames the argument we are in an endgame can be disputed by arguing there is something about 20th century institutions that is more durable than prior civilizations' institutions.

I don't believe that, but without examples that aren't 2,000 years ago is the argument for peak oil's end game or collapse easily challenged by saying times are different?

Mark said...

Well this is possibly the most sobering article you've put out to date and certainly setting in a bit of urgency.

My focus since I learned of peak oil has been food; growing it, storing it, foraging for it, and now hunting it. I feel grateful for the foresight I had -- permaculture's got a bright future, that's my feeling.

My brother and I were just discussing this predicament last night and as another comment mentions, that the apocalypse, as in a "lifting of the veil", is upon us. The frightening thing to Americans about all of thi, is inconvenience. Third world living standards are inconvenient and labor intensive, and we all know how much we've taken our machines for granted...

Thanks again JMG, I've found your voice in your writings to have a mysterious, uplifting presence -- from this blog to The Long Descent and The Druidry Handbook, I can't explain it, but it has changed me. I'm looking forward to getting into the Ecotechnic Future, as I have a feeling it will offer profound insights to our future.

subgenius said...

@ Loveandlight

Diabetes is genetically encoded in the native American genome, but was not an issue until the latter half of the 20th century.

Two strands of the first nation way of life prior to this time mitigated the detrimental effects to the degree that there was no term for the associated symptoms in the various first nation languages:

1) Their diet included no highly processed foods until the middle of the last century.

2) They walked and ran a LOT.

The removal of refined carbohydrates and a radical exercise regime can be used to mitigate the effects - though you need to walk/run 10-15 miles a day.

I hope this is of interest/help.

J deB said...

Hmmm,
Yes the Archdruid sounds very Dmitri Kunstler this week. Although a careful reading reveals that most people wont even notice the changes. Sort of like the frog in the slow boil thing.

I've noticed that societies failure is more often than not (in America) seen as the failure of the individual-at least by the "salaried optimists" who still draw very large paychecks. Everything said here is true, but very few people will be able to see it in these terms. Dreams die hard.

plain.ape said...

A-yuh, Chicagoland has got itself some serious problems. People booted out of the old projects have, for the past decade, moved out to places like Aurora & Joliet, small "rust belt" cities just beyond the edge of the outermost ring of commuter suburbs. What with the lack of a local economy to speak of and all these new, poor, jobless residents, and there has been a crime problem in those areas beyond what the local police forces could deal with even during the best of economic times, let alone now. Plus there's the fact that most of the newcomers are black, and many of the older inhabitants are unapologetically racist. It's not a fun picture.

Karim said...

JMD said "it looks increasingly to me as though we’re in for a very rough time in the very near future."

Greetings all,

How near is the very near future? Is it a matter of months, or one or two years? Or more?

Seaweed Shark said...

Eloquent and a pleasure to read, as always. You may find it interesting to check out Fernand Braudel, "The Mediterranean" Vol I pages 322-323 (and related comments up to around page 350), in which he wonders at the apparent pattern that in medieval city-states industry only became dominant after trade began to fail, and banking--finance and the like--only became dominant after industry began to fail. Cities were born as traders and withered away as financiers -- an earlier corollary to Will Durant's lovely remark that "a nation is born stoic and dies epicurean."

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, those potatoes are among the best investments you can make. Oh, and keep an eye open for PV panels for sale, cheap, from the houses of eco-yuppies who can't make their mortgages; there may be some surprising bargains as things wind down.

Loveandlight, good. You might also look into simple oil lamps, which are easy to make and use. As for diabetes, you've touched on one of the bitter dimensions of all this -- a lot of people with health problems that were manageable in a high-energy society will die of them in the deindustrial future, just as they would have died of them before the 20th century.

Conchshooter, don't count on those tourists for much longer.

LB, good. There have been recent news stories suggesting that Australia is just now hitting the crash phase of its own housing bubble, so you may have abundance for a few more years than we do; use it wisely.

RDatta, thank you.

Jeff, I've been waiting for a couple of years for signs that the US economy was starting to unravel in earnest. I've talked about that in some detail, as a future possibility; now, if I'm right, it's under way. Hang on tight.

Yourmindfire, thank you! Ibn Khaldun's writings on history deserve a lot more attention than they get these days -- it's good to see the Beeb giving him some publicity.

Llewellyn, that's what I'm hearing.

Jason, given that the UK housing bubble was even more extreme than ours, I confess to a certain skepticism over the government's claim that the recession is over. I think a temporary slowing in the rate of decline has been mistaken for a bottom.

Disillusioned, by 2030 the US will no longer be a superpower. It may not be a single country, and we'll be unbelievably lucky if we get that far without serious internal insurgencies. My guess is that we'll be too busy fighting each other to invade anyone else.

Babaji, I hope the locals don't see you as interlopers -- or, worse, lambs ripe for shearing. Still, your last sentence is as true now as in every other age of decline.

Pat, I use words with an eye to their current meaning. Remember that the word "black" comes from a root meaning "white."

Don, JH Kunstler and I have always been talking about the same thing. Sometimes, I think, he gets caught up in exactly the foreshortening of history I mentioned early in this post, and expects things to unravel faster than they will, but his basic vision of the end of an age of abundance and its associated lifestyles is no different from the one I've been talking about here.

You could add any number of things to the list of signs that things are going very, very wrong. The one I nearly wrote about this week has been usefully discussed by Damien Perrotin in his reliably thoughtful blog: the abandonment of the Constellation spaceflight program by the US government. When the space shuttles go out of service a few years from now, for the first time since 1960, the US will have no manned spaceflight program and no plans to reestablish one. That marks the end of an age as forcefully as anything I can imagine.

John Michael Greer said...

Publius, a century from now, when most people in the US are scratching out a living from small farms, the vast majority of them will still insist that nothing has really changed. The important thing now is for those who recognize what's happening to take action.

Belhamel, glad to hear it.

Nun, the ongoing collapse won't reach its end for one to three centuries. This is just the first big downward lurch for one nation in the industrial world. As for barter, how do you think the half of the US workforce that doesn't have steady work will get by?

Steve, thank you. This is what I'm hearing from across the country.

Skintnick, it depends on the kind of debt, and also on what happens to your local currency. If you have any collateral, certainly, expect to lose it.

David, your open-ended questions don't provide a lot of room, in our lifetimes, for the optimistic conclusions you reach. Will some of the good things you predict happen? Quite possibly, but so will mass poverty, hunger, collapsing public health, and a rising spiral of violence and despair. We are talking about the decline and fall of a civilization, you know.

Dltrammel, talk to beekeepers. Another option I'd encourage people to consider is making soap; it's not too hard to make lye from wood ash, and vegetable or animal fats are the rest of what you need.

MetaPico, granted, it's easier said than done. The more people who attempt it, the better the chance that some will succeed.

Sunhome, good. Now factor in the society's capacity for homeostatic response, and also the extent to which scrapping and salvaging existing capital of all kinds can temporarily replace exhausted natural resources. That's the basis for my theory of catabolic collapse, which finally is in print as an appendix to The Long Descent.

Ariel, you're welcome.

Dan, the future is where we're all going to live the rest of our lives. If you don't like what I'm saying about it, you don't have to read the blog, you know.

Joel, there are no contemporary examples of the phenomena I'm discussing; it's been a while since the last decline and fall of a civilization, after all. That's one of the burdens we face just now.

Mark, thank you! Food is certainly a central place to start; if you can't eat, there's not much else you can plan on doing.

Subgenius, you might also look into the extent that the much-ballyhooed "obesity/diabetes time bomb" was manufactured by changing the official definitions of diabetes and obesity. It's an interesting case study in marketing disguised as science.

JdeB, exactly.

Ape, I hear the same thing from all over the rust belt. The next question is what happens when welfare benefits stop being paid out.

Karim, depends on where you are and what your specific economic situation is. For some people, it's right now. Other people in other places may be doing fine a decade from now. That's exactly the point of the post -- it's not an all or nothing thing, but rather a slow slide.

Shark, thank you for the reference! In terms of the theory I've been discussing, those towns moved from the primary to the secondary, and then to the tertiary economy. That's a useful data point for the book in process.

Jack said...

I'm sure you're aware that some people are saying that the federal debt projections actually AREN'T that big by any historical standard, e.g:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/the-dogbert-theory-of-the-debt/

and thus maybe the bond market is actually working.

But I certainly agree with you that the dire position of the states shows that the "recovery" is extremely weak, and I'm sure Mr. Krugman would agree there as well. This is going to be a very long jobless "recovery", and I agree with you that things can't get better until we find some real, bubble-free, and necessarily oil-light economic activity to pursue...

-Jack

Brian Gordon said...

'disillusioned' suggested that the U.S. may stave off collapse a few more years by taking resources from another country. I agree; I cannot imagine any President or Congress simply allowing the U.S. to collapse without trying everything but the right things first.

Imagine yourself a President and Congress prevailing over a disintigrating United States; what would you do? I imagine a way will be found to relieve Canada of her oil, water, hydroelectricity and whatever other resources are in the U.S. 'national interest.' No great military force will be required; no long supply lines are needed.

That said, how much the U.S. can take from Canada that it doesn't already get is debatable. Every pipeline from the tar sands heads south to the U.S. Quebec already exports vast amounts of hydro to the U.S. The only ways to get more are to ramp up production at the tar sands and/or to leave less for Canadians. I doubt the U.S. government will have a problem with this, but it could stir rebellious action from Canadians, and pipelines and hydro lines are notoriously difficult to protect.

MilesL said...

It is understood that JMG writes to a large general audience. Am new to this blog, though have enjoyed many of his books, and so may have missed some particulars. It is understood that from a marketing perspective it is best to write to as general an audience as possible. From a personal ethics standpoint JMG may feel the need to help as many as possible. With this in mind I do not fault him for continuing on in this vein. But what of the converted?

What about those of us who are now convinced? What is the next level? In the comments of this blog I have begun to hear these cries. The end paragraph echoes his book The Long Descent and gives us the beginning of an idea of what to do. My question is where do we go for more advanced information than this bare bones beginning?

The other question I have is far more general. What mentality or thought process should we have during this time? What is it that we should be telling ourselves? This is the biggest change we can make that will immediately help us. In order to survive we will need to step out of the current "social proof" that is force fed us through the media. I am very sure that once we step out of that particular mindset most will be pleasantly surprised by how many others secretly think the same way. What is this "groups" "social proof" of what life should be? What new thought process will take us there?

Jason said...

@Loveandlight -- if you haven't already got to know some chi kung, you might want to. There is I think some evidence that it works for Type 2. If you gather some forms now, it probably won't only be yourself you help long-term.

Dan W. said...

Dan, the future is where we're all going to live the rest of our lives. If you don't like what I'm saying about it, you don't have to read the blog, you know.

JMG- I love your writing and analysis and have for some time now...so I'll keep reading.

I was just trying to temper some of the existential dread, which does not need to be a part of this discussion...but seems to be so deeply engrained in the "doomer" mindset (which I am not attributing to you, but maybe to some of the commenters).

The future is going to be what it's going to be and we'll live it when we get to it.

So we should do what we need to do today to respond responsibly to the predicament we're in and likely to face (treat the earth and eachother with love); but we need not pre-live or dread what's coming.

You might be dead by the time I post this...or I might be dead by the time you reply...and then we'd never get to enjoy the far side of the peak and long descent ;)

That's all I'm sayin. Just that we need to deal with reality as it is and not act from a stance of fear of a future that isn't here yet.

Fleecenik Farm said...

We've been peak oil aware for a few years and have arranged some elements of our life towards this.

However, my husband is a public school teacher. His school district was notified by the state that they will have to cut 1.7 million dollars from their school budget next year. We do not expect good news.

Maine has a 450 million dollar budget shortfall and will be cutting at least 92 million from its education portion of the budget.

So, I will be working at a local farm this summer doing field work and will be fortunate to get the end of day produce from the farmstand.

It is an odd feeling to know that what we have been preparing for is really happening NOW.

Blessings

Nebris said...

This is the most dire I have heard from you to date. But those saying you sound like Jim Kustler - who is an ex summer camp councilor of mine btw - should read his last post. It is literally incomprehensible. I have referred to him as the "Al Goldstein of Catastrophe Porn", but he seems to have lost his mind.

You at least keep your wits about you even though reading this post just scared me half out of mine.

christyrodgers said...

California is not broke in any "real" sense, and thus is not a good bellwether for federalist collapse in this regard. California could do three simple things to end its fiscal crisis:
Repeal Prop 13 (absurdly low property tax ceilings, particularly on commercial property have gutted school budgets and other public spending for 3 decades now, and also helped create the absurdly overvalued home prices that built the bubble)
Get rid of its supermajority rule for budget passage (one of only 3 states which has this rule, allows process to be highjacked by a handful of superpowerful wingnuts)
Tax oil production (only state which doesn't)

Underestimating the resilience of the current system to its self-created crises does no justice to attempts to alter it in a meaningful way.

Laura said...

@Joel: Dmitri Orlov makes the case that the collapse of the Soviet Union is at least somewhat similar. A columnist at Grist makes this point today: http://www.grist.org/article/how-to-talk-to-your-friends-about-climate-change/

I find it interesting that this article and this Archdruid post went up on the same day.

Zin said...

Great post as usual. It's getting harder and harder to talk to those who are 'plugged in'

Prepare the body, calm the mind and face what is to come....

rabbitwrath said...

Even when I'm only watching/reading mainstream media, there's barely a week that goes by when I don't hear some story that reminds me of how the world is changing. (wasn't there a story recently about how we would have to 'take measures to prevent large-scale blackouts? Here. But the one that has really struck me has been ongoing for a while, and that's been defense. Here in the UK they've been cutting budgets across the board, and one area that's being hit is Defense. Defense! It's been inviolate since the second world war, and has spent half a century going about it's business, watching governments come and go. If a first world nuclear power can't even afford to pay for missiles and bullets, the things at the top of the list, things are really swirling in the toilet.

There's a lot of optimism on this board (on all 'crash' boards, really) about how people are going to live their lives 'afterwards'. I don't share it. My view is that as the economy crumbles, and central control starts to go with it, power will concentrate in those institutions with the means to enforce their will; namely, the miltary, and large organised criminal organisations.

The citizens of the USA may, ironically, be in the worst position of all, considering how vast your military is, and how many guns you have floating about. But in any case, I don't think the future is going to be a pleasant one for the average citizen.

Santeri Satama said...

Loveandlight: Helianthus tuberosus is very ood source of nourishment for diabetics, also more than easy to grow - once you plant it the problem is containing it and in gardens with real winter it can be left in the ground and dug up when the frost smelts for tasty spring meals. Very recommendable garden plant in every way.

Disillusioned: US has been there, done that for ages, the other word for neoliberalism and globalization is neocolonialism. It works like this, make a corrupt regime take a huge loan for "development investment" meaning swiss bank accounts for few selected locals and rest of the money for big Western corporation hired to do the "development work". To pay of the interests of the loan in foreign currency - dollars - all future governements are bound to make their country produce and export what rich consumers in rich countriess want instead of what their people need. The details of how this is done are explained in the book "Memoirs of an economic hitman".

Joelsanda: re comparison with Rome and why Cuba could be exception - I recommend reading the classic conservationist book "Topsoil and Civilization" from 1955 that shows that all previous civilizations have collapsed because of unsustainable farming methods and cutting forests causing erosion silting and using up natural resources. The writers were hopefull that we could learn from the past but with industrial mechanized aggriculture and "green revolution" of poisoning soil and using up groundwater to produce vulnerable monoculture crops with massive input of fossile fuels the situation has got infinitely worse.

As for Cuba, thanks to socialist economy being not fundamentally grounded on idea of continuous economic growth plus US embargo forcing Cubans to trust themselves and uncorrupted by IMF and World Bank etc., they had the social cohesion and political wisdom to transform into intensive low tech small scale organic gardening during the Special Period. Gardeners are today among the best payed citisens in Cuba. Russians also have good survivability because even today half of the food produced in Russia comes from small private gardens (datsha) and says mostly largely outside the monetary economy.

robertmp said...

Thanks, again, John. I recommend storing kerosene for heat and light, safe, cheap and delivered in 55 gal. drums. Lentils are great food, cheap ans store forever.

DocFont said...

JMG wrote about industrial collapse with peak oil the trigger. May I give a quick reference to historical cycle of collapse. There are 4 stages. Out of a time of revolution or anarchy, a leader will arise. He rules by strength of arms and brings rule of law to a territory. Stage 1 is rule by strength. As more territory is conquered, it becomes too complicated for one man to manage the details. The leader appoints wise men to be his deputies. Stage 2 is rule by the intelligent. The leader eventually becomes a figurehead. Smart men are running the nation allowing it to become productive. To keep a nation productive it must be stable. Laws, rules and bureaucrats take over. Red tape from city hall is a way of keeping things from falling apart. Stage 3 is bureaucracy. When trade is regulated, the first thing bought and sold are regulators. Political power becomes profitable. Eventually it takes wealth to achieve political power. It takes political power to achieve wealth. Stage 4 is oligarchy, rule by the rich. Wealth becomes concentrated at the top by polititians who write laws to profit themselves. The middle class is forced down into the masses at the economic bottom of society. Until stage 4 a dynamic, intelligent individual can move upwards in society. When those avenues are blocked, the only way to riches and power is to collapse the system. In revolution the motto is often, "He came from the masses", "He is one of us". The system collapses and restarts with a dynamic leader out of a time of revolution or anarchy.

Crane Brinton adds one important point in his book, Anatomy of Revolution. If those in power defend the system, revolution is unsuccessful. Unfortunately those in power today seem to be "globalists" instead of america first. This factor would predict a collapse rather than a reset of the system.

Want a list of warning signs? The US Army declassified the 547 indicators of state collapse index. You have to read between the lines to see what is happening from inside rather than watching it from the outside. Example; warning sign is fresh food disapears from markets. Inside viewpoint either the money is worthless or individuals are storing it instead of selling it. It does give an overview of how a society comes unglued. A personal note, if you use this to write an end of the world as we know it novel, it may trigger a visit by the homeland security folks.

People here have asked for some point of hope in this discussion. You will find one if you have a pragmatic view of a collapse. Educate yourself on how bad things could be. If 30% of the population is doomed, like the great plague, you do not have to be 90% prepared. You only have to be in the 70% that survive. If half the people are doomed, you do not have to be 99% prepared in a food stockpiled underground bunker. You only have to be better prepared than the 50% that don't make it. Knowing there may be a problem coming puts you ahead of a large portion of the population. Having a place to go away from danger adds if you get there in time. Skills, adaptability, youth, family, nonpower tools, books, seeds, weapons all increase your chances. For free you can learn about local wild foods or medicinal plants. For free you can participate in the SCA and learn a wide range of pre-tech skills, www.SCA.org

JMG used the masons as an example of a community. I see a more realistic example in inner city gangs. They form for mutual protection in an environment that lacks safety and economic opportunity. The average person today would more likely end up in Hooverville or the current tent city Obamaville (Google it). Don't think heading for the woods is a viable option. You could do it but imagine the thousands of clueless campers leaving thier campfires unattended around you. If nature could support people with a minimum of knowlege and effort, the woods and not the cities would be filled with homeless people already.

DocFont

Thardiust said...

This website I found some time ago doesn't have much to do with the future but does contain many literal and metaphorical shadows from a past which may determine that may determine many people's futures. Even though this website is still a work in progress, it's pretty reliable for an online library.

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/

John Michael Greer said...

Jack, yes, I've seen those claims, and don't find them convincing.

Brian, I'm curious about the way you slid right by my response to Disillusioned. When a country's at war with insurgents within its own borders, it's not usually in any condition to invade anyone else.

Miles, I discuss both those points extensively in my most recent book, The Ecotechnic Future. The short form is that there's no one answer; the best response will depend on local conditions and personal possibilities.

Dan, thanks for the clarification. I disagree; I think some sense of how harsh the future will likely get is crucial, to overturn the blithe assumptions of personal invulnerability that most of us in the industrial world have absorbed all our lives.

Fleecenik, yes, it is an odd feeling!

Nebris, thinking of Kunstler as a camp counselor makes my head spin. Still, I didn't find his latest post particularly incoherent.

Christy, California already has one of the highest tax burdens in the country; insisting that all it has to do is raise taxes even further, at a time when its economy is imploding, hardly seems reasonable. As for "altering the system in a meaningful way," er, the time for that is long past. The system is altering itself, starting along a trajectory of uncontrolled radical simplification that will reduce the number of people it will support to a fairly small fraction of current levels. It's called the decline and fall of a civilization, and it's not pretty.

Laura, thanks for the link!

Zin, spoken like a martial artist. Good.

Rabbit, thanks for the update. I agree with you, as it happens; this is not going to be anything like the bucolic utopia too many of today's middle class progressives like to imagine.

Robert, my spouse and I just had an excellent lentil soup. I'm less sure about kerosene; things less attractive to thieves might be a wiser choice.

Docfont, the cycle of collapse is a useful model, but needs to be combined with the larger arc of resource depletion to be meaningful in the current situation. As for the Masons, well, I'm a Mason rather than a member of a street gang, which influences my choice of examples!

You're quite right, though, that heading out into the woods is an option only for the very few -- and most of the people who fantasize about returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle aren't among them. I don't see Obamavilles as the only other option, though -- there are many opportunities, for those who can think outside either the business-as-usual box or the sudden-apocalypse one.

Thardiust, thanks for the link!

Jan Suzukawa said...

So, a Short Descent?

I'm not convinced we're in an endgame of any kind yet, although I am open to considering it as a possibility. Here in California, the number of commercial for-lease signs is just staggering (particularly in L.A.). It's hard to see that and not think something about it.

I just don't know. But I very much appreciate reading your input on things. At the least, I don't see any contradiction in remaining positive, while also keeping my eyes open and perhaps - preparing mentally and in other ways for possible trouble ahead.

Dan W. said...

@JMG: Right, but once I overturn my blithe assumptions of comfort, I'm free to accept the world as it is. That's all I'm saying. There's no sense in dreading reality and especially no sense in dreading a future reality that may never materialize in just the way you think. Just deal with it as it is.

Don't negate personal responsibility and don't negate preparing for the likely hard times to come...but also don't do what a lot of doomers tend to: live the hard times before they're here.

For some, they are. For many, not yet, but soon. For many others, who knows.

Anyway, I'll leave the dead horse alone. My $0.02 are simply where I've come to after years of per-living the doom and gloom.

Dalriada said...

I might suggest that blacksmithing would be a very useful trade (fun too). They were the factories of 150 years ago before oil and mass production. Every good sized farm or plantation had one. Wood can be substituted for coal (though more work). Comb the antique shops quickly for a decent anvil and post vise, as they will be unavailable soon, at the present rate of societal decay. The are many good starter books available and online organizations full of useful tips and advice.

A cobbler (shoemaker) will also be in high demand. My G-grandfather made is family shoes during the last great depression. Hard to imagine life without them! :{)>

Thanks JMG for helping to show me that it's OK to dance to the beat of a different drum. The Celt in me yet yearns for the natural world as it evidently did in you. Closer to nature and simpler ways will undoubtedly reveal many lost blessings enjoyed by our ancestors.

Yours aye

Brian Gordon said...

JMG - I missed your response; my apologies.

My thoughts are that the US will flail about on the way down, making some futile attempts to hold on. One of those attempts may well be to go after Canadian oil and other resources.

Not only will the US be desperate for oil, the powers-that-be will be looking to distract the populace. Wars are a favourite way to do that.

If the US gets to the point of internal fighting, then likely there won't be any invading of anyone else. Up until that point, however....

Evan said...

I get a very seasonal sense in much of this. About the same time last year I was getting rather concerned about the societal super-structures vulnerability. And here again this year with this post, that sense goes off again. I'm going to call it that winter-energy welling up for spring. Even though there's snow on the ground, already I'm getting a sense that we'll see budding and leafing out here shortly. What a change that will be!

dltrammel said...

(JMG, sorry for the double post. I was logged in under an alt name. Please delete the previous comment and post this one. Thanks.)

JMG writes:
"Dltrammel, talk to beekeepers. Another option I'd encourage people to consider is making soap; it's not too hard to make lye from wood ash, and vegetable or animal fats are the rest of what you need."

Unfortunately a google map search yields very few bee keepers within a drivable radius of me. I like your suggestion of simple oil lamps though, and will research how to make burnable fuel. I picture those humble oil lamps of biblical history.

Funny a few years back we had a ice storm here, which cut power for over a week. I still remember the feeling of reading by candle light next to a burning fire, and thinking my colonial ancestors did the same.


Brian Gordon wrote:
"Imagine yourself a President and Congress prevailing over a disintigrating United States; what would you do?"

I view less the likelihood of military intervention to grab Canadian resources as I do a move for the North American Big Three (Canada, USA & Mexico) to form their own NorthAm Union.

Hispanics are a growing minority with real political clout in the US. Legalizing immigration gives Big Corps a lever to further drive wages down.

Climate change will drive the Bread Basket of America north into Canada, as well as force millions of Mexicans north as drought kills farming in lower Mexico.

When you see a political party nominate a Hispanic as VP for an election, you'll see the political elite realizing the advantage of such a union.


Santeri Satama wrote:

"Helianthus tuberosus is very good source of nourishment for diabetics, also more than easy to grow."

Thanks for the tip. A friend is Type 2 diabetic and we worry if things get bad.

I've recently switched from the yellow artificial sweetener to Stevia, which is a native South American plant used for centuries as a sweetener. I wonder if it would be useful in controlling blood sugar levels?

John Michael Greer said...

Jan, nope -- it's still a long descent. It's just that the descent is beginning, as it usually does, with a lurch downward into unfamiliar territory.

Dan, if that works for you, by all means -- but I'm still going to keep on talking about the shape of the future as I see it, you know.

Dalriada, both of those are excellent possibilities. There are many, many others. Think of the things that people need, or want very badly, and if you can provide it for them, you'll likely get by on that basis.

Brian, the last time the US was as savagely divided by partisan hatreds as it is now, we were on the brink of the Civil War. By the time we get around to invading anything but the Middle East, or possibly Venezuela, my guess is that the fighting will have long since begun here at home.

Evan, that's an interesting thought.

Dltrammel, any vegetable oil can be burnt in an oil lamp. My spouse and I have several that are designed to burn olive oil; they're basically canning jars with a wire rigged to hold a wick in the right position. If you can grow sunflowers and press the seeds, you can fuel them.

For what it's worth, by the way, I don't see a North American Union as a likely prospect. Canada has nothing to gain by it, and Mexico is going to take back the American west within a couple of generations by sheer demographic pressure, so they have everything to gain by being patient and letting us crash and burn. "Poor Mexico," Porfirio Diaz once said: "So far from God, so close to the United States." In another century or so the tables are likely to have turned.

Cherokee Organics said...

Great post. Interestingly whilst your blog focuses on peak oil, resource depletion in general is a growing concern. In recent years I have had changed my life from the corporate bad lands to on the road to self sufficiency in the forests in South Eastern Australia. One thing that your readers may not be aware of is the large dependence of big agriculture on oil and that it takes 10 calories of oil to produce 1 calorie of food. Not very efficient. At the same time, the readers of this blog may not be specifically aware that we are coming to the peak of phosphate production. Agriculture is hugely dependent on this one product. The upshot is that at some time in the near future we're all going to be a lot hungrier than we are today. The only sensible strategy is to learn about food growth and production, seed storage, soil management. Without super phosphates production of the large quantities of food is only possible through the emulation of natural systems and these take years to set up. It simply can't happen overnight. People on this blog refer to Cuba as an example of local food production and this situation only succeeded because Cuba is a dictatorship and as such can be single minded about the implementation of any policy. Agriculture is difficult, risky and subject to the whims of nature. The only reason we have such a large population of humans in the first place is through the exploitation of the natural systems and the ability to trade and move food products huge distances. Without oil this will be impossible and much of the population will starve. If I could recommend one act to everyone out there that is to get into gardening and improve your soil with natural methods because you are going to need it shortly!

Karim said...

Dear JMG

I accept that decline will be uneven across the world but given that you are in the US, I assumed that you referred to your own country, so what time frame do you envision before things become very rough in your own part of the world. And what do you mean by "very rough"?

Sorry if I appear a bit facetious.

Michael said...

I look around and I see the infrastructure of an advanced civilization and a higher education system capable of producing solutions. I see reformation happening in society and the economy but with the present/extended draw down of oil demand and a corporate/government agreement that alternate energy sources are a priority I see a future with a more sustainable balance.

The downside is we are fully embracing corporatism and a much more pronounced hierarchy among the population. I often think of Haiti and the utter ruin they have had rained upon them. Among the hardships is an elite class with a high standard of living and an attitude that accepts the social order they have created. Most days I give a jaundiced view to events and see the machinations of disaster capitalism being brought home to ravage our country.

Desirable cities will be first world and rural areas will find a new level of poverty. Of course all services will be fully privatized and pay to play will have a pay to live flavor.

dandelionlady said...

I appreciate your thought and well balanced thoughts on these subjects so much. It gives me the courage to get off my butt and do what I can, however small the difference might be. As I continue to come to grips with what the future may hold I find that I must continually balance hope with honesty. Too much hope and I slide back into complacency, too much honesty and I slide into despair. It's a balancing act and I understand all too well why people end up doing nothing.

PSW said...

Please read the following links below to understand where we are in fiscal terms and in regards to printing money. You will see that Japan is the next fiscal implosion. The US is following the path of Japan but is still a few years behind (possibly 10 to 12 years but this may be shortened with the economic crisis). I think there is still time to gather yourself and figure out realistic plan to find greater stability and peace.
Heed the warning by JMG and get prepared. There should be no question that the confluence of climate change, peak oil, and permanent economic instability are going to begin to change everything and by getting ready NOW you will be ahead of the game.

Western Democracies, communistic capitalists, and Japanese deflationists are concurrently engaging in what may be the largest,
global financial experiment in history.


http://www.fundmymutualfund.com/2009/10/kyle-bass-hayman-capital-october-letter.html

See also Bill Gross; the largest bond fund manager in the world: comments below...
http://www.pimco.com/LeftNav/Featured+Market+
Commentary/IO/2010/February+2010+Gross+Ring+of+Fire.htm

Brian Gordon said...

JMG - Well, I hope the US would be too occupied and divided internally to invade. John Kenneth Galbraith (by far my favourite economist) long ago pointed out that as the US declined in economic superiority it would increasingly turn to its military superiority, which has certainly been correct so far.

dtrammel - North American Union - a step in that direction is the SPP, the (as usual) Orwellian-named Security and Prosperity Partnership between the three countries. You may best remember it from the protests in Canada a few years ago. The only invitees to the discussions were the Presidents and Prime Minister and their aides - and CEOs from large corporations. It became memorable to many because the Quebec police planted three agents provocateurs who were outed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St1-WTc1kow.

Finally, I recently posted a quasi-tongue-in-cheek look at post-depression/collapse jobs: http://www.briangordon.ca/2010/02/the-most-and-least-depression-and-collapse-proof-jobs/.

Erin said...

Meanwhile, here in one of the poorer neighborhoods in one of the most "violent" cities in the United States, we now have 10+ community gardens within 1 square mile of where I live and are gearing up to put another bunch of fruit trees in public places. Our free and barter based community bike shop is entering its 5th or 6th year of continuous operation and we're actually a little worried about gentrification as we see an in-migration of younger, whiter artists and activists (but not too worried, there's just not enough capital floating around to pour into a phase of condo and starbucks building). The little neighborhood garden shop down the street with the plywood and tarp walls had its most successful year ever. Violence sure, it's an ever present fact of life, but it's not usually random, and statistically, that 30 mile highway commute to work everyday is still probably far more dangerous, but not as exciting as gunshots or robberies. Day by day and year by year around here it's starting to feel more Amish barn raising than Mad Max.

Well, someone had to counter the fear radiating around this post.....

(Also LOLing at Bababji's statement about spiritual life being the only secure refuge in this world right after he talks about being heavily invested in gold....not disparaging the attitude just struck me as smileworthy)

marielar said...

Gordon Brown wrote:
"One of those attempts may well be to go after Canadian oil and other resources."

I dont think any president would be that stupid. That would be one of the bloodiest mistake the US wculd do. The last successful US invasion was Grenada! Declining empires cant even preserve their borders, even less expend them. Thinking that an army could just walk over a country the size and ruggedness of Canada and take control without the population sabotaging all the infrastructures is ludicrous. When the gas pipelines, the oil fields and the electrical grid shut down and plundge a fair chunck of the US in the dark, then what? You dont need missiles, tanks and air carriers to conquer and subsequently control Canada, you need icebreakers: the US has 4 of them, Canada over 20. Bottom line, you dont mess up with your most secure source of energy the same as you dont shoot the surgeon who's operating over you dying body. A more likely scenario is massive waves of emigration North of the border in a fashion similar to the one described by JMG for Australia.

On a more constructive note: althought this is not an option for many people, there are opportunities for people to partner with existing farmers. The farmers are aging (less than 6% are under 35 year old) and in many case, there is nobody to take over. The lack of economic opportunities have dried out the pool of skilled labour. Many would like to stay on their farms, cant afford to hire employees and look for the 'right" partners. A good first stop is the International Farm Transition Network (http://www.farmtransition.org/) which through "Farm Link" matches willing beginners with farmers.
Also, I strongly suggest for non-farmers to join a CSA. Urban gardens can only do so much, we will still need farms to produce enough of the staples (grains, pulses, meat and dairy) to supply urban centres. Despite all the cries of the vegetarian crowd, in many regions, the most sensible, energy efficent and sustainable way to produce enough quality fats and proteins is animal/intensive grazing agriculture. Grazing animals can metabolize cellulose and use land that cant be cultivated. That's why the Swiss drink milk and eat lots of cheese and not soymilk. Look at what the people were producing locally 100 years ago, that is a good indicator of what you should support your local farmers to grow or to raise.

Stuart said...

Great blog! I found you from a mention in the comments at Climate Progress and I have added you to my bookmarks.

I read The Oil Drum regularly and have read Kunstler and Jared Diamond as well but I was unaware of you before today.

I know nothing of Druids, but as an Anishinaabe I can respect any belief that is close to the natural world. We are coming into a perfect storm of climate, economic, and resource chaos that is really hard to accept even as I see it coming.

At least I am not too worried about all my student loan debt.

RDatta said...

For dltrammel
With regard to the humble oil lamps of biblical history, the humble oil lamps of Vedie history are still in use today; they are used in India (and in Indian communities elnewhere) particularly at the fesiival of Diwali.

Just about anyone can make one with a bit of clay, a fireplace (to fire the clay) and a bit of stritg for a wick. One can use any non-volatile (to avoid an explosion) combustible liquid for fuel.

They can be seen on Google Images for "Indian oil lamp".

PanIdaho said...

[Ooops, sorry for accidentally sending in a test comment, I was having trouble with the signin.]

JMG: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the current situation. It has spurred us to finalize a few more preparations. We've been working to get out of the collapsing system, but of course, there's always something still to be done...our main job now is to simplify our lives as much as possible. I figure the more we can do without, the more easily we will weather the transitions required on each leg of the journey down.

Loveandlight: I was diagnosed with Type II just this past summer (runs in the family, even among those with normal weight.) I am doing everything I can to keep it under control, but I also realize that I've probably just been handed an early death sentence, given what our culture and economy is going through. It certainly makes every day a bit more precious now, though. And it makes it even more imperative to spend time passing along whatever I have of value to offer to the next generation.

tristan said...

JMG,

Off post - would you consider setting up some sort of system so that your readers can voluntarily connect with each other? I'm in Seattle and have been jobless for over a year (man that sucks). My brother lives in Portland and I would like to move down there and start a business with him (he has a degree in wine making and from what I can tell by reading Orlov alcohol is a reasonable alternative currency in bad times).

I would love to connect with any of your readers who might have connections, resources or ideas on making things happen. Although more then a few of the regular posters make me roll my eyes the majority of them seem thoughtful and aware.

The thought occurs to me that in a couple hundred years you and Kunstler (assuming both your writings survive) will be spoken of in the same breathe. The differences will not be seen from that perspective. He may be arguing years and you decades but that distinction will be lost.

Tristan

p.s. Oh I figured out who you are going to say may be the religion that survives and provides shelter in the coming storm. Its the Mormons isn't it!?

codo said...

Why bother to "clear your debts" if the whole thing is going down? Might as well fire up more debt, get what you can while the getting's good ...

Santeri Satama said...

"I've recently switched from the yellow artificial sweetener to Stevia, which is a native South American plant used for centuries as a sweetener. I wonder if it would be useful in controlling blood sugar levels?"

From what I know, many diabetics have switched to Stevia - I trust they know what they are doing. My first contact with Stevia was bagging the seeds in a seed shop - awfull job, the seeds are Tiny! But nice to grow anyhow and veeery sweet. :)

And more than mechanisms we humans are psychofysiological wholes that analytic science can never fully define. Good mental and corporal shape - and close connection with and sense of belonging to nature - helps with all medical troubles and can do wonders. :)

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin,
Santeri

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, this is why I've posted extensively on organic gardening and composting.

Karim, even in the US the speed of decline is going to vary. For a lot of people, it's getting very rough right now; for others, crunch time will arrive over the months and years to come. The crucial point I want to make is that we are already sliding down that slope.

Michael, I've discussed all these points at length in previous posts. Renewables can't produce the net energy needed to power an industrial civilization, and the tide of privatization has already turned; the future you've imagined is already fading out in the rear view mirror.

Dandelion, thank you. No question, it's a tough balancing act.

PSW, thanks for the links. I think it's anybody's guess whether the US, Japan, or the EU is most likely to hit the wall first. but we'll see.

Brian, Galbraith's also my favorite economist, and he was quite correct -- the US did turn to its military power as its economic power declined. That stage is past, though; between the rising partisan hatreds within American society, the decline of the resource base we'd need to fight any sort of major war, and the emergence of asymmetric military technologies that neutralize our strengths, I'd suggest that the US is far less strong even in a military sense than it looks.

Erin, I'm not sure why you see "fear radiating around this post." If I come pounding on your door at two in the morning to let you know that your house is on fire, am I spreading unwarranted fear? That said, it's steps of the sort your community is making that give me hope that at least some people will make the necessary changes to pull through this mess.

Marielar, good. It's become very clear in recent years that the US is still fairly good at conquering countries, but no good at all at holding on to them. As for your other two points, both are excellent suggestions.

Stuart, welcome to the blog! Yes, it's going to be a mess.

Rdatta, true enough. (BTW, I can't forward your offlist comments to anybody else; I don't have their email addresses either.)

PanIdaho, exactly.

Tristan, between my writing, this blog, managing the Druid order I head, and trying to find time to help launch a nonprofit to encourage cultural conservation, I don't have the spare time to put together and manage an additional forum. If somebody else wants to volunteer for the job, contact me offlist via info (at) aoda (dot) org and we'll talk.

Codo, you're still thinking in terms of the fantasy of apocalypse. Your debts are not going away just because the US government is playing fast and loose with its debts.

Santeri, no argument there.

Don said...

Yes, I had read Damien Perrotin's comment about the cancelling of the Constellation project. I was rather in shock when I heard the news.

I also appreciated Damien's thoughtful comments about how highly complex technologies will die. They won't go out with a bang; rather, as their maintenance becomes less viable, they'll simply quietly go away.

Erin said...

JMG: Wasn't nec talking about your original pst, just the raft of "Oh, so is this it then?" responses....Even those of us who continually try not to get sucked into narratives of apocalypse (including myself) find ourselves sucked into the dualistic all-or-nothing thinking sometimes. Just pointing out that down here, in an area (poor inner-city US) that many doomers seem to equate with some certain form of hell "once the collapse comes" things are pretty okay

Pops said...

Thanks for the post, it's very timely for me on several level.

For years I was the "Make a plan and work it" guy at PO.com and hectored people to quit talking and do something to make their situation more tenable.

Last year I quit the message board thing simply because it had finally had become clear to me people simply won't change their beliefs and thus their actions, no matter what amount of evidence or logic is presented. I expended lots of effort and my hat is off to those still trying to cut through the fog.

Having said all that, the point I take away from your post is it is really hard to keep your eye on the ball when there are so many flying around these days. We abandoned CA in '04 for a small farm in MO where we try to live a frugal life raising calves, vegetables and sometimes doing print graphics.

We've always been old fashioned about keeping a pantry, doing for ourselves, etc. We were both raised by former DBOs (ditch bank okies) and so get by OK on not so much. I try to think and plan for how things might be with scarce, expensive energy.

Still I was surprised last night when the propane tank sputtered out. The long cold snap plus the new grandson's family visiting at Christmas really sucked it and the woodshed dry faster than normal.

So a postdated check for almost $400 later (half our total monthly budget btw) we are back to half a tank. The woodshed is still pretty hollow though and I'm thinking about planting some more Osage Orange for future generations to coppice and burn and maybe making a corn burning stove and adding some field corn and beans to our rotation.

So yea, it's hard to keep your eye on the ball with your nose to the grindstone and your ear to the ground!


P.S. I think you can follow my sig to my blog if you care too.


P.P.S. I developed type I diabetes last year myself (age52) and though I'm a low doser I'd be gone in a matter of days without injections.

But you know what? The best I can do is maintain my sugars and keep a couple of years worth of insulin in the fridge and worry about something I can fix.

sv koho said...

nice modulated reasoned comment, James. I do think you could have mentioned that the prime reason for state budget shortfalls is the sheer cost of the fiduciary promises made to those state workers with overly generous and indexed defined benefit pension plans and lifetime health plans usually negotiated by their unionized state employee unions. I personally know an individual, a retired 51 year old SF Fireman with a high school degree drawing 90% of his salary earning $132,000 courtesy of the CA taxpayer. Ticket takers at BART earn in the mid 80's per annum. The average DC federal worker earns $76,800 per year. The number of state,federal and other public sector employees exceeds the number of workers in the manufacturing sector by over 4 million. Manufacturing is now only 12% of GDP. With this many overpaid people making nothing of value burdening the states and counties with vast underfunded mandates, collapse is not far off. And the states instead of cutting salaries and benefits and retirement commensurate with the working stiffs in their states are demanding no cuts, not now, not ever. The situation is not that dissimilar in Greece and the other PIGS countries in Europe. It is not just the US who will be 3rd world. We will have a lot of company. Our debt to GDP is almost 130% if you include the GSE(Agency) debt of Fannie/Freddy. IMO, we are looking at a deflationary, not inflationary collapse, at least near term. When? Who knows. Your advice is sound. Save money, pay off debts, learn a skill, feed yourself and be prepared to work a lot harder and walk a lot further in the future. All that Type 2 Diabetes will eventually just be a memory.

Vic said...

JMG, Orwell,in an essay "The Rediscovery of Europe", described the way he was taught history in school:

"...I used to think of history as a sort of long scroll with thick black lines ruled across it at intervals. Each of these lines marked the end of what was called a "period", and you were given to understand that what came afterward was completely different from what had gone before. It was almost like a clock striking."

I would have to admit that's the way I was taught history too. It was just dumb luck that I finally ran into a teacher who opened my eyes to other modes of thought. This blog has also been essential in helping to understand history. The task I have on hand, along with many others, is trying to impart some of this knowledge to my children. Children who have been taught in public school. And by definition the school knows best in fact they possess knowledge. I could have home schooled but I couldn't make it work economically. Trying to "deschool" them is proving a very challenging task indeed. The skills and knowledge I can teach them would be of great use to them but it is a hard point to get across. Just another challenge along the slide I suppose? Good luck to all.

Houner said...

Well done as usual.

As a citizen of the "great state of Illinois" I wondered how long it would take folks to realize the depth of the mess in Springfield. The state government is clearly under the control of one party, Democratic, and it is illustrative that that both parties are engaged in obstruction and internal fratricide. Politics are also hopelessly divided between the Chicago power base and sparsely populated rural areas.

The financial situation is likewise hopeless as massive deficits and unfunded liabilities result in the state's failure to fund mandated programs. Thus, the difficulties at the state level flow down to the county and municipal levels.

State funding sources have already collapsed at our County level and we are in the process of adjusting our budgetary process to the availability of local funding. Next come the infrastructure cuts which will be felt in the sparsely populated rural areas first. Our county is highly dependent on a unique, and costly, infrastructure thus cuts will effectively isolate us at first intermittently but quickly thereafter near permanent. We have a viable remnant of our cultural roots and abundant local food resources. We also have the resident knowledge of "how it used to work".

It is already understood we will be "on our own" in the near future. I believe we will re-localize very quickly and will adapt to the inevitable in far better shape than most.

Thanks again for a great piece.

Endif said...

Certainly one of many possible futures.

I certainly don't *expect* a collapse/revolution/meteor, but like the Spanish Inquisition, you never do. As such, I've been slowly and quietly accumulating preps and skills.

Books, fuel, and seeds. Solar devices, rain-collectors, and ammo. Bug out bags, radios, and rapid-boardup for windows. Biofuel-ready 4WDs, fire making kits, and cold weather gear.

I'm no doom and gloomer, but better safe than sorry.

And life is fragile. Society is fragile. Increased resilience is always good. *shrug*

And as hobbies go, one could do worse - especially when business has gotten progressively worse over the last 2 years, leaving me with tons of free time. =/

John Michael Greer said...

Don, Damien's posts are always informed by history, which puts him well ahead of the pack. My guess is that this one in particular is right on the money.

Erin, thanks for the clarification. For what it's worth, I think you're quite right about inner cities and the like -- places that don't have far to fall, won't fall far. It's for that reason among others that I moved last year to an old mill town in the Appalachians; people here are used to scraping by on less, community organizations are strong because they have to be, and things are no worse now than they've been for years. There aren't a lot of community gardens, but plenty of backyards bear pretty impressive crops every fall.

Pops, get those coppices going. Other than that, it sounds as though you've done just about as much as you can under the circumstances.

Koho, yes, I could have gotten into the nitty gritty, but I suspect a lot of the people who read this blog read Mish, just as you and I do. As for the deflation/inflation debate, I think they're both right. At the moment we're seeing hard deflation due to the spontaneous combustion of trillions of dollars of imaginary wealth; the reaction of most of the world's nations, though, is to manufacture even more hallucinatory wealth by spinning the presses. In the longer run, that pretty much guarantees hyperinflation. The resulting whipsaw will make life highly interesting for the next few decades.

Vic, thanks for the Orwell reference! I'll look it up. You're right that an American public school education these days is pretty much a guarantee of effective ignorance about most things that matter. The reasons are complex; the fact is inescapable, and one of the big challenges of the middle future will be finding some way to provide people with an education that actually educates.

Houner, thank you! I probably could have chosen any of half the other states in the union as an example, but the exodus from the Chicago slums was the data point that got me started. A good many of the rural counties in Illinois, and in many other states, could end up doing quite well; best of luck to you.

Endif, true enough. If you're going to have a hobby, might as well be one that could save everything you care about not too far down the line!

strang LA said...

I lived in one of those towns near Chicago which former inner city dwellers have been slowly moving over the last 12 years. (I still live a couple of towns over, and pass through that town on the way to work). It is quite a different town, I'll say that, and not for the better, though I don't blame those who have moved there (I'd have done the same). A large number of cheap, overpriced apartments were built during the boom years (all right next to each other on one side of town), presumably for students and young people, but and are now housing hundreds if not a couple of thousand people presumably with Section 8 vouchers. There have never been a whole lot of good jobs in this area even during the "good years," and I can't imagine where all of these additional folks have found work. A whole lot of rooms in "student" boarding houses have more poor people living in them than students now -- it wasn't this way 12 years ago, I'm quite sure. I can't imagine the future being better in this area.

Gail said...

I am happy to have found this blog today, which apparently has a large audience of a thoughtful community.

I am convinced we are in the endgame although my initiation to this notion was when I first noticed (summer 2008) that all the trees around my home in western rural New Jersey were exhibiting symptoms of terminal decline.

Since then I have been reading everything I can find about the effects of toxic greenhouse gases on vegetation, climate change, and related doomsday topics like peak oil - and learning how to live with this knowledge in a universe that is parallel to the vast majority of people I interact with every day.

My salvation has been to rather obsessively chronicle the rapid demise of the trees I love, their falling branches, splitting bark, and shattered trunks. I post photos and links to scientific research at www.witsendnj.blogspot.com

Thank you for this blog, I look forward to following future posts and finding your books.

rootstock said...

"Some of those banks use the money to buy up US treasury bills, probably by way of subsidiaries chartered in the Cayman Islands and the like . . ."
I understand the overall point, I think, but apparently it is far simpler than that for those "too big to fail" banks.
With essentially free money given to them via the Fed's near-0% interest policy, they can simply take the "loans" at the discount window, buy T-bills and other safe vehicles, cash them out a few months later, announce a hefty profit, and give themselves massive bonuses. The National Review is not usually on my reading list, but here is a good summary of what is happening: http://article.nationalreview.com/417562/abusing-tarp/stephen-spruiell
Where is the outrage?? The tea-partiers, alas, seem beholden to corporatist interests and just don't get it, by and large, unable or unwilling to really connect the dots.
Meanwhile, the states are broke. So why couldn't the states be defined as "banks" somehow, and be allowed to use the same trick, with the profits from T-bills helping cover their deficits? Heck, why don't we all get some 0% interest loans we can each invest in federal debt? It makes just as much sense, but the people get the profit.
In lieu of such a fantasy, I propose we re-instate the top marginal tax rate of 90% from the 1950s for all bonuses in excess of 10% of base pay in a given year. Voila, at least we'd get some of the money back.
But this will not happen, and the long descent is indeed likely upon us. We could have been so much better.

spottedwolf said...

once again I briefly visit and confirm, through your words, a portion of the many 'visions' I've had since 1969 when I began my quest to understand the idea of self/god/extrapolated to include life/death/culture....etc.

How much of the information we claim to understand and/or own....is actually 'ours' ? None...is the word/image which consistently returns over this time...my time....spent watching the winds of change. We are fools to think in anthropocentric terms for nature has her own design and we are but 'shadows' following a far greater 'program' than any of us can know. Death and the ultimate demise of all things we hold iconically and otherwise is the result no matter how hard we attempt to avoid the issue....no matter how we beseech this planet's favor through our attempts to manipulate human longevity. We ...and our 'plastic fantastic' reality are not now....nor have we ever been....but a 'whisper' in the wind of infinity. We try and try to insulate ourselves through consensual belief and supportive act just as all creatures since the primal ooze spit the first movement forth....and it is to no avail except in its beautiful transience. The 'collective human consciousness' is always the last in line, so to speak....if ever....to find a 'peace' within what the earth offers. We are the smartest creature on earth and that gives us the diametric opposite 'gift' as well.....the stupidest. I'm reminded of a saying attributed to the Buddha again...."enlightenment when it is discovered....uncovers the joke man plays on himself".

pancho said...

Show-Me greetings!
Today, not a single county in Missouri can feed its own people, much less the teeming population centers. The last ones who remember how to actually do this (without foreign oil, offshore serfs, or industrial GMO monocropping) are 80 and 90 years old. The silos are broken,the elevators empty, and fire's on the mountain.

No Plan B? Three days after the trucks stop rolling the Apocalyptic Endgame will cease to be speculation.

The good news is the Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance. (Motto: "Your best defense against hard times is a well-fed neighbor") We are a growing all-volunteer movement dedicated to restoring a sustainable local food supply system.

We aim to return food freedom to the 1.1 million residents of the SW Ozarks bioregion. This will help build jobs and a resilient economy. The WFNFarmers'Coop, expected to launch in 60 days or so, will be an economic engine in some 27 contiguous counties. Several large supermarkets have made the decision to "go local" as quickly as possible.

Likewise, the WFNA County Restoration Handbook, a wiki template for free e-distribution, will come out at about the same time. What we are doing here with some success can be adapted for use anywhere.


Finally, the 1,000 Gardens Project is about to go citywide. This, along with other ideas to treat the Collective Amnesia, are freely shared.

JMG, I look foreward to following more of your lucid ideas on this excellent Archdruid Report.

kind regards,

Galen Chadwick
WFNA regional coordinator
www.wellfedneighbor.com

messianicdruid said...

"He may be arguing years and you decades but that distinction will be lost."

"When you’re one step ahead of the crowd you’re a genius. When you’re two steps ahead, you’re a crackpot." –Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Notehead said...

Real proponents of the "free market" would say that the problem was beginning subsidies in the first place. It is another illusion that government foists on people, that without them they could not live. But the real model would have it that if you removed the tremendous burden that government imposes on the poor that they would have no problems taking care of things themselves.

The ravages that the poor experience is largely due to the great bungling of government. If one looks at the places where government takes a strong hand in the world, (Haiti in particular is crushed by a paper shuffling, stealing and incompetent bureaucracy that puts even ours to shame.) their history is always a very bad one.

How did California go down the tubes? Government living beyond its means. Its that simple. State governments are all becoming insolvent because unlike the federal government, they can't just print money. (That feature of the coming disaster will become crystal clear quite soon.)

Your very high quality discussion on inflation that the federal reserve system (which should be abolished) is correct, the banks and politicians steal copiously through these mechanisms and yet the simple concept of a sound currency evades everyone.

I don't understand why you think nuclear is not economical. It is where everyone will ultimately go as France has already done.

Nice writing, keep up the good work.

Steve

Bill Pulliam said...

Hmmm.. so given our love of backlash I guess it *will* be President Palin in 2013 after all. Well, that'll be great for political humor, at least... and humor is always good.

John Michael Greer said...

Strang, I've heard from a lot of people who have had the same experience.

Gail, welcome to the blog! Have you figured out what's killing the trees yet?

Rootstock, I think it's more complex than that, not least because of the sheer volumes involved. You're right, though, that that's doubtless one of the games being played.

Spotted Wolf, no argument there.

Galen, excellent. These are the kinds of projects that need to happen.

Messianic, thanks for the quote.

Steve, er, you managed to shoot yourself in the foot there. After a long tirade about the evils of government subsidies, you bring up the nuclear program in France as an example of where you think we're all headed. Do you have any idea why France has the nuclear program it does? Massive government subsidies, without which the entire French nuclear system would have long since gone bankrupt. You can't have it both ways.

Bill, that's very nearly the only scenario that I can think of that would put Obama back in office in 2013. Even with his record, he could make mincemeat out of Palin. No, my guess is the GOP will come up with somebody bland and plausible, and Obama will be stomped.

Gail said...

It seems likely that if the Republicans come up with a more plausible candidate than Palin, that will be even better for Obama, because Palin will run as a third-party (Tea Bagger?) candidate and siphon votes from the R candidate.

Notehead said...

Bill, Palin would be the single worst possible choice known on the earth. I don't think that the humor would offset the depression.

John, The economic mechanics of uranium energy are quite positive. At Strathmores site you can see how incredibly profitable the whole process is. Its chief problem comes from the fact that it is similar to geothermal in that it is very expensive up front. The return on the money is fabulous and it can be done without subsidies. It is also a green energy though the green movement is mixed in their acceptance of it. In time this will change as the reality of peak oil will prove it to be the only viable solution to making up the incredible gap.

I agree that the Republicans will likely trot out a bland monster that will continue to ruin things.

DaShui said...

Archdruid Greer,

I think it is ridiculous that you compare us to the Romans. This weekend, I think everyone should relax and enjoy the Superbowl(gladiator?) game.

guamanian said...

Thanks for this clarion post, JMG! Our local peak oil group is planning to discuss it after our next meeting, and explore how this scenario fits with our current plans and activities. Clearly we need to pick up the pace...

An aside on the 'Invade Canada' option for securing energy resources that some posters have mentioned. It seems a bit redundant to me -- our well-entrenched political class already acts as efficient compradors for their US equivalents, so there is little to be gained by rolling the tanks north.

However I could easily see a color revolution in Canada's future if we should elect an inconveniently resource-nationalist government in the next few years. Color revolutions are a cheap and cheerful alternative to invasion whenever an election needs to be tastefully corrected, and I'm sure the Maple Leaf Revolution would be no exception.

Pangolin said...

Well, count me beggared. My back is shot and that doesn't qualify you for anything but a doorway and a place in line at the soup kitchen.

I'll point out that stocking your pantry isn't going to do you a damn bit of good unless you own the building outright. We are already past the point where vacancies in rental property and foreclosures are ever filled but evictions proceed as nothing had changed. The tenant loses his job, the landlord evicts, remodels, cannot find another tenant, he can't pay his mortgage, the bank forecloses and so forth. Vacant buildings do not stop evictions as private property is more valuable than human lives.

California's poor are not going to head east into freezing winters and any heading north will run into Washington's poor coming south looking for at least a dry place to sleep. They are going to continue to huddle and shuffle about until such time as some spark sets them and the state alight. Until people in trouble get the idea that they have to stick together in a solid block and stand in the way of further evictions they are going to get nothing but soup kitchens and billy clubs for comfort.

The very last thing that will happen in this process is TPTB standing up and admitting the US is bankrupt and capitalism is failed. Well, California is bankrupt it doesn't take a genius to see that once that horse has dropped into the canyon the rest of the pack train is going to follow.

Kevin said...

So Prop 13 comes home to roost. I've heard elsewhere that the money taxpayers thought they were saving got sucked into bankers' vaults in the form of additional mortgage and interest. It seems we made some very bad decisions about 30 years ago, ones that are now coming back to haunt us.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Palin, I dunno, I think in the hands of the right handlers and coaches they could make another Reagan out of her. He was widely considered a joke and an idiot in 1976, and won an electoral sweep in 1980. Of course, hardly anything that happens before late 2011 will make any difference to the outcome of the 2012 election. The short-term flailings of desperate attemps to make it all seem OK will be what decides the election. And, as you have written about earlier, our Federal Gov't has already outlived its ability to govern no matter who is elected, so it will scarcely matter at that point. Besides, in recent decades second term administrations have hardly accomplished anything, so whatever Obama has managed to get done by the soring of 2012 will pretty much be his legacy whether he is reelected or not.

Anyone who is fool enough to want to step in as head of the Ship of State at this point in history deserves what befalls them...

Wouldn't it be ironic if the first black president and the first women president proved to be the final two presidents, at least in terms of presiding over an actually united United States?

Karen said...

I just discovered this blog but have been observing the signs of a change for quite some time.

I moved overseas to Europe 10+ years ago. I had had a growing unease that the standard of living in the U.S. was "unsustainable".

I now live in a small community (somewhat rural) where I know my neighbors, we help one another, we know each other by name and so forth.

I thankfully learned and continue to practice my hobbies/skills as a seamstress and knitter.

My spouse has carpentry, mechanical skills and we have a vegetable garden. He is good with canning and we plan to learn this season other methods of preserving foods. we are also using stealth to acquire old mechanical tools of various types and obtaining solar devices

Our "regular professional" jobs pay at the moment but we both are investing in skills that can be bartered for goods and services.

Our motto is "hope for the best, prepare for the worst". If we have to make a last stand, we will make it here in our adopted "community".

marielar said...

JMG post was really unsettling for me because it has a sense of urgency coming from somebody normally so level-headed. For what it is worth, I think it is really warranted.

“Democracies can’t handle austerity measures very well. We’re going to have a severe problem.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Palin or Obama, or anybody else for that matters, it wont make an iota of difference in the big picture. Personally, I feel very sorry for any politicians conscious about the unfolding tragedy. They must feel totally trapped in a madhouse and powerless. As long as the politicians can only get elected by saying what people "want" to hear versus what they "need" to hear, we are marching to the cliff like a bunch of blissfully and willfully ignorant lemmings.

Fixing things is as simple and as difficult as treating a diehard alcoolic: the cure is obvious but the patient dont want to give up his addiction. The dynamics driving the vast majority is like the movie "Leaving Las Vegas" on steroids. People will fight for what they want and what they believe they are entitled to, even if it does not make any sense in the long run and it spell for the planet and their own children a world of miseries:
*SUV
*plastic packaging
*cheap food
*right to have many kids as they want
*over the top end of life care
*1000 miles salad bowl
*disposable diapers
*cell phone coverage in the middle of nowhere
etc...
The problem now that is even if our junkie make it trought rehab, his liver, brain, kidney etc...have sustained permanent damages. Sadly, many of the intractable problems we have today were totally predictable and preventable. For example, garbage. A five years old can figure in two minutes that it does not make any sense to allow any kind of non-biodegradable packaging to make it to a landfill. But it gives the Almighty Convenience to billions of consummers and there was a pile of profits to make. There you have the perfect combo: the addicts and their enablers. And now we sink load of money and resources for the whole garbage disposal affair and have continents of plastic debris choking the oceans. In a democracy propped up by big business, the poor political bastard who would have suggest banning plastic bottles would have been drowned under the voices of the lobbies, crucified on the public place and accused of dictatorship. The only thing which could have work is massive consummers boycott and those never happened because the throwaway lifestyle is so easy and entrenched. The whole madness will stop when Mother Nature will make her Grand Stand. And she's knocking at the door like a debt collector on a mission. The only option that makes any sense for those who see it coming, is to do what pragmatic farmers in Northern countries have done for centuries when they know winter is on its way: you preserve as many of your best seeds as you can, reduce your herd to your most valuable breeding animals, hunker down and pray Spring will come again. Last year was like an early frost. We may have a few days of good weather, but the wise fellow knows its time to dig the potatoes, make sure there is enough wood in the shed. Its unraveling fast:
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14303473

John Michael Greer said...

Gail, that's possible, though the two main parties have gotten very good at deflecting third-party challenges.

Notehead, if the economics of fission power were positive, fission reactors would be all over the place. In point of fact, they've only been built when they had massive government subsidies. That shows pretty clearly that in the real world -- as opposed to on paper -- fission simply isn't economically viable.

DaShui, on with the panem et circenses, and thumbs down for the losers!

Guamanian, excellent. It's good to see that not everybody has been sucked into the hoopla over the color revolutions. The question that intrigues me, knowing that two can play that game, is whether a hostile power or two might someday decide to fund a color revolution here in the US; it's not as though they'd have any trouble finding quislings -- er, excuse me, patriotic citizens worried about the future of their country -- to do the dirty work.

Pangolin, the handicap that will beggar you is that attitude, not your back. Scores of skilled crafts don't require a back in good condition -- everything from electronics to lens grinding to astrology. (Don't laugh at that latter; it was a major growth industry during the last great depression.) You have plenty of options, so long as you don't approach the situation with that presumption of passivity I criticized in last week's post.

Kevin, it's not just Proposition 13; most of the other states in the union, which didn't pass tax limits, are in the same boat. The problem is forty years of demanding a lifestyle we as a nation can no longer support.

Bill, ironic indeed. It's not impossible, either -- I don't think Palin has a chance, but there are plenty of viable female Republican candidates who could split the Dems down the middle by walking off with most of the women's vote.

Karen, welcome to the blog. It sounds as though you and your husband have made some very sensible choices.

Marielar, no argument there. I think we're going to see some very unwelcome changes over the next decade or so -- not the end of the world, but the end of a great many things that most Americans take for granted.

Kevin said...

JMG: Astrology, forsooth! I'm astounded you say so. Although upon reflection I've heard that (for possibly somewhat similar reasons?) the supposedly frivolous entertainment industry did well in the Depression, presumably because people urgently needed to be distracted from their terrible troubles. I suppose it might so thrive again for as long as the necessary electricity remains available. This could be good for me personally, as could astrology as an occupation.

Perhaps not coincidentally, as I recall various forms of divination are quite popular in Los Angeles. I suspect this has to do with the fact that luck is vitally important to anyone in show business, a notoriously fickle and chance-driven line of work. Thus it is with all the arts.

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, astrology has been a respected trade in most literate societies since Sumerian times. Modern industrial culture is distinctly in the minority in rejecting it, and even so, I know astrologers who make a decent living at it. Given that their advice is generally more accurate than the predictions of your average economist, I'd be hard put to argue that they don't earn their keep.

it's occurred to me more than once that, in the same way that such great astronomers as Ptolemy and Kepler paid their bills by casting horoscopes, today's observatories might want to consider using the same method to make up for the drastic budget cuts they'll be facing in the not too distant future. A horoscope cast by the staff at the Palomar Observatory would command quite a price down in Hollywood!

Notehead said...

I am afraid that I know of no data that shows uranium to not be net positive. It is more efficient than the other green energies such as wind and solar both of which are showing up much less than nuclear with more subsidies and popular support. (One could say that these two, solar especially, are much more expensive than nuclear. Also the rare earth elements that go into solar panels put a very tight ceiling on how far we can go with it.) The issues of nuclear not showing up everywhere are issues such as permitting and actual interference by the government. That will not be a problem in the future when pressures will cut the bureaucracy into tiny pieces. Obama's energy handlers understand the essential role that uranium will play in the future.

Cherokee Organics said...

John,

I've really enjoyed this post and all of the comments and have recently ordered your book "The Long Descent...". However, the post has left me with a nagging thought at the back of my head today as I was owner building my house that end of the world proclamations are a part of our history and culture and there is a certain attractiveness/appeal in this to the human mindset. I'm an atheist and acknowledge that these ideas have their basis in Judaeo - Christian history.

Anyway, as you've quite correctly pointed out the current economic situation in the US is unsustainable. The level of government debt to GDP is 60% (this may be outdated now - Australia runs at about 4% and this makes headlines here). No bank would ever finance a business with this level of debt to income. As someone who doesn't live within the US perhaps I shouldn't comment, however I can't understand how your politicians stand for election on policies including tax breaks and subsidies. In one of your previous blogs you mentioned that the wealthy paid much higher rates of taxes in the not too distant past. To me the current situation seems like a case of self interest over that of the common good. Once self interest becomes the driving force in a culture, that culture is envetiably doomed to fail as the political process gets captured by interest groups, individuals and corporations. There is also great inertia to change as you've quite correctly pointed out before. This is happening here as well, and it is simply not possible to please everybody as resources are finite and demands are infinite (the basic economic problem).

However, I disagree with you on the timescale of economic collapse. I recently read Paul Roberts book "The End of Oil" and understand the nexus between cheap oil supplies and US economic growth in the real econcomy (products and services as you'd put it). Generally the countries that have loaned the US funds will want to be repaid those funds. You only have to look at the reluctance of the first world to write off the debt of the third world. As such I think that those countries (namely Saudi Arabia and China) will continue to loan money to the US for a short while yet. I can't even pretend to understand how printing additional US notes will be perceived by these countries. They may try to move global trade to another currency which would have major ramifications for the US economy (Saddam Hussein tried this with oil by tying it to the Euro and look what happened to Iraq). Rather than ending with a bang it will probably be a wimper and with globalisation being so pervasive it will spread outwards from there. Hopefully there will be time to build a localised economy, you can already see it happening, but it is too slow.

Anyway I approve of your move to a small rural area as i have also done the same thing for much the same reasons. The thing that these communities have that larger communities don't is resilience and structures in place already to support the communities.

Good luck and I hope that we are all wrong.

faoladh said...

Not exactly surprising, but the cover story of the latest issue of The Nation is "Muscling Latin America: The Pentagon's New Monroe Doctrine". This may have some bearing on the issue of whether or not the US will be flexing its military strength in an attempt to grab resources.

das monde said...

Isn't it interesting that the first twilights of industrial growth in the 1970s coincided with the change of social-economic paradigm towards the neo-liberal management and utmost skepticism towards social governing? Thatcher and public choice zealots were literally talking about societies on the verge of collapse - and their apocalyptic prophecies were somehow taken most seriously! The "big government road to serfdom" became such an effective scare, even if with 100 times more useful rhetorics than serious empirical analysis. Now you have it: impotent states, dismantled communities and social institutions, incentivized bureaucrats flunking most effectively, and no social mechanisms to impede disastrous courses. And a really painful collapse is only starting.

States are now here to get broken or become failed. Their budgets were ok the last two decades only because there were still public assets to sell. Now the model of prosperity thorough privatization and lowering taxes is hitting application boundaries hard. Public policy was never so suicidal - free people may rejoice.

When the downslope of material resources becomes visible, mutual human exploitation and financial sorcery are the last indepletable resources. When prosperity is measured by the quantity of money, then a need of credit bubbles is very obvious. Subprime or nor subprime, extended credits literally create money - banks put up new accounts while still having the same obligations to previous depositors. Deep down, abstracted then paperized and dematerialized again, money is made of promises. A boom of credit promises can hide a material decline, and indeed may make the economy very lively for some time. The peak of monetary quantity was actually just before the financial collapse - yet no strong inflation with so much stupid credit, tax cuts and other supply sides. Now it is deleveraging of ongoing debts that is creating those inflation-or-deflation paradoxes. As Krugman argues, Obama’s public stimuli do not really match the deleveraging train. And why so investors still buy his bonds eagerly? What else can they do with their nice millions?! Just as the common folk has a problem of combing for money, some others have the opposite problem how to realize their zillions of credit privileges. Money is just a balance of promises, remember. A couple of examples (Weimar, Zimbabwe) will let the public think that all is understood about money - then it is convenient to put tabus on sensible policies. My own direct observation in Eastern Europe is that rising salaries “run up” inflation far too fast for the supposed demand cycle - much simpler, entrepreneurs apparently just wish to cover rising labour costs and keep profit shares then.

Justin said...

I've been reading this blog for at least the past year, and I suppose the best comment about it I can make is that it directly inspired me to grow several different kinds of vegetables on my balcony this past summer, which is the first time I had tried to do so. It was a modest start, and so this year I'll look for some more space to grow a larger crop.

I would be interested to know whether a list exists which outlines the skills or activities which would be useful to know in years ahead - although many have been discussed by thoughtful posters on this site, and I can make a few educated guesses on my own.

By training, I'm a graphic designer although I work exclusively in web design, a profession which I'm not sure will be very important in years to come. For this reason, I found particularly troubling the post from some months back about the possibility that rising energy costs will change the energy-hungry internet from what it is today (freely accessible to anyone) to something much more restricted at best.

The internet is not perfect, but it would be a shame if some of its features collapsed - for me personally, I would hate to see Wikipedia go, blogs such is this one, basic services like email, in general the sharing of information and the ability for people with specialized interests to contact and share knowledge with each other. I don't these things are important only for their own sake, but to have a communications medium to hopefully minimize some of the uglier aspects of descent.

In this context, forgive me for writing here an idea without regard to the difficulties involved in making it happen, but it might useful to have a kind of computer built around permanence - computers nowadays are designed to be replaced in a few years, but this PermaPuter (haha) would be designed somehow to use less complex parts, to be easily repaired by non-experts, and to use parts recycled from discarded obsolete computers. In general, to be the Singer sewing machine of computing.

The problem in terms of sustaining the internet is the energy involved in server farms, but if the internet of tomorrow would involve by necessity far less bandwidth intensive multimedia and video, then perhaps a server farm based on renewable energies could work…

In general, it would seem that while we still have access to energy, perhaps we should be creating new kinds of very long-lasting tools for use in a future with less energy.

John Michael Greer said...

Notehead, the market says you're wrong. Still, I think this particular dead horse has been beaten to paste at this point.

Cherokee, I think you may have misunderstood the time scale I'm talking about. The endgame we're now entering will take years to play out, possibly even a couple of decades, and it's not the end of everything -- simply the breakdown of the current economic system in the US and the emergence of what might best be called a Third World economy here. From a broader perspective, it's simply one of the speedbumps on the long road down from Hubbert's peak.

Faoladh, the thing that fascinates me is that the US has exerted so little military force in Latin America of late. If this were fifty years ago, new governments would long since have been installed in Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil on the points of US Marine bayonets. Domination of Latin America was the foundation of the US empire; that it's slipped so far is a sign of just how close to breakdown that empire has become.

Das Monde, I think we'll see in the longer run that what you've called financial sorcery -- mind you, I know sorcerers who would take offense at being compared to the folks on Wall Street who are responsible for this stuff -- is depletable after all; at a certain point, people simply stop believing in a money system that's become too obviously worthless.

Justin, the only way a "permaputer" is going to get built is if somebody like you, who wants one badly enough, invests the personal time and energy to make it happen. One of the downsides of the internet is that lots of people come up with bright ideas that nobody ever gets around to doing. If you feel a durable computing technology is a good idea, I'd encourage you to start learning about the hardware and seeing what you can do about making it happen. In the meantime, of course, keep planting those vegetables!

RPC said...

JMG, you wrote to Notehead, "if the economics of fission power were positive, fission reactors would be all over the place." You of all people should know how seldom rationality plays into these sorts of decisions. I tried to start a small energy service company: "I'll upgrade your fluorescent fixtures, you pay me out of your savings, and after a year you'll be paid off and using half the electricity." Guess what? No takers. Wind electricity now has a better payback than seven-mile-deep crude oil, but that doesn't mean it's getting the same kind of investment money. And how many people who participated in "cash for clunkers" actually traded in an Expedition for a Focus? I happen to agree with you on fission, but please don't invoke the rationality of the free market!

Cordially,

Rudy

marielar said...

Few people understand the basics of the various systems (agriculture, energy, transport...)which support their life. This is a dangerous situation as it will allow all kind of techno-snake oil salesmen to sell them fixes that defy plain common sense. Keep in mind that all experts get their paychecks from somewhere. Few will have the courage to bite the hand that feeds them.

Nuclear is one of very worst solutions to energy shortages that will be pushed in the near future. Among the many problems, an unstable climate with increasing occurances of heat wave which make nuclear energy at best, unreliable, at worst, an environmental nightmare. Nuclear reactors need large quantity of cold water for cooling. In Europe, over the past years, many nuclear reactors had reduced output or had to be shut down during heat waves. To avoid shutting down reactors, they allowed release of water at warmer temperature than regulations consider safe for fishes. The Browns Ferry reactor in Tennessee experienced the same problems in 2007. Its also very expensive. The French nuclear program has been economically viable because it's fuelled on decommissioned weapons. And franckly, it is immoral to encourage uranium mining considering the nuclear waste legacy to future generations and the fallout on miners and communities living near the mines, among them radon exposure. With some luck, the push to ban uranium mining will pick momentum as central governments, urban centres and corporations loose the economic power to impose their will on rural satellite regions.

spottedwolf said...

John...
with all the 'friction' concerning imminent demise et.al, I thought to post for you something you are probably aware of...a quote by Mr Einstein.

To wit,
"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

Arabella said...

JMG - please refill your Prozac prescription. ;-)

hapibeli said...

The anti union bias displayed by some posters is a common theme from the Us vs. Them crowd. I was a member of the National association of letter Carriers in the USA before retiring in 2008 and moving to Canada where I was born. I, like 98% of my fellow carriers, clerks, mailhandlers, truck drivers, etc, worked hard and had to fight the postal management for the salaries and benefits we deserved. We were and are no better or worse, than all of the millions in western civilization who now find ourselves up against the devolution of our societies. Nearly every human on the planet tries to gain as much as they can to make our lives supposedly easier, no matter how foolish our actions may be. If you want to prepare yourself for what will likely be a downsizing and rearrangement of the way we live, you'll have an easier time if you don't try to scapegoat others. We will all need as many good graces from our fellow citizens as we can get in the "Long descent". Bless all of us with the wisdom to get along in harmony.

gardenserf said...

There are many writers ("formal" and bloggers alike) who notice the slow change taking place. We write about it every day. The endgame, breakdown, collapse, or whatever is "slow" --for now.

I saw the first constriction in Illinois back in the 90s. For the mentally ill this meant a closure of state hospitals which resulted in homelessness. I know of states which bought bus tickets for their chronic mentally ill/homeless populations back in the 90s.

This time around the Midwest has had two very cold winters in a row. The MI/homeless/poor are really not staying like they did before. They're moving voluntarily any way they can now. They're move south.

dltrammel said...

Ran across this article in the NY Times which had some eye opening numbers showing how much the disconnect between the haves (at the top of the economic ladder) and the have nots.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/opinion/09herbert.html

"There has been talk about income inequality over the past several years, but what is happening now is catastrophic. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston divided American households into 10 groups based on annual household income. Then it analyzed labor conditions in each of the groups during the fourth quarter of 2009.

The highest group, with household incomes of $150,000 or more, had an unemployment rate during that quarter of 3.2 percent. The next highest, with incomes of $100,000 to 149,999, had an unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Contrast those figures with the unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less. The unemployment rate of that group during the fourth quarter of last year was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression. The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent."


The Great Unwashed Mob is simmering, when do we get the Games in the Coliseum to distract them?

John Michael Greer said...

RPC, fission power has received trillions of dollars in direct and indirect government subsidies and has been enthusiastically pursued by a good many countries for political reasons, and it's still an economic basket case. I think that needs to be kept in mind when listening to the latest round of pro-nuclear talk.

Marielar, my guess is that fission power will sunset out promptly once the government subsidies go away and the abundant fossil fuel energy that provides a hidden energy subsidy -- uranium isn't mined, processed, and turned into fuel rods by nuclear power, remember -- runs short.

Wolf, thanks for the quote.

Arabella, if you want news and commentary on tranquilizers, I can recommend any number of network TV stations for you!

Hapibeli, no argument there. Of course some unions have had a role in helping to put us in our current predicament, but compared to the other players in the game, their role has been very small -- and the basic principle of organizing so that the worker can bargain on roughly equal terms with the employer is an excellent one, and worth preserving.

Serf, yes, I saw that also -- and there's going to be a good deal more of it in the years to come.

Dltrammel, thanks for the reference. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that causation goes both ways -- if you've lost your job, your chances of suddenly finding yourself in the lowest tenth of the population by income have just gone up dramatically, and with more than 17% un- or underemployed -- this according to jiggered government statistics, so the real figure is probably higher -- that's going to be having a huge impact on the numbers.

That being said, your final comment is apropos. I don't think bread and circuses will do it this time.

Pangolin said...

As long as we are talking energy policy the cheapest energy source in the US is dirt. Ground-source heating and cooling systems save money almost anywhere they are installed. Installed in the Northeast they would save massive amounts of heating oil and installed in the South or Southwest they would allow buildings to level out extremes of heat and cold during the year. They do require electricity to run the pumps but that is a tiny amount compared to the fuel needed for direct heating or for standard air conditioning.

Insulation should be the cheapest but poor installation standards, thin walls, non-existent attic spaces and other construction errors limit functionality. Something we ignore in the US is that much of the housing stock is condemnable or of very poor quality.

Gail said...

DLTrammel, there was a very interesting survey reported yesterday on Marketplace, about the growing wealth gap and people's misperceptions of just how extreme it is. 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population in the US, but most people think they only monopolize 68%! Here's the link: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/02/08/pm-wealth-q/?refid=0&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+APM_Marketplace+(APM%3A+Marketplace)

Jim said...

JMG-

I'm a longtime reader and you've been linked to my Earth Home Garden blog for many moons, yet I haven't previously commented here because I'm pretty much in agreement with your perspective.

But this post initially caught me by surprise, because of the immediacy of the message, until I came to my senses and realized that what we are facing right this moment---you aren't calling Armageddon---but simply a very large and dramatic stepdown along the graduated slope of 'The Long Descent'.

I've been witnessing the slow decline of America for about 50 years now and this major bump down comes as no surprise, in fact I've been expecting it myself for quite some time. We took a pretty big step downwards too, in the early seventies, when America reached peak oil production, and stagflation rearranged the economy and lowered our standard of living. But people adapted to those lower standards and now it's about to happen again, perhaps on a much larger scale.

We are stepping away from the abundance enabled by the petroleum age, and, while it's inevitable and necessary, it's not a pretty sight...

Thanks for another great post.

Draco TB said...

A similar prediction to what I wrote a couple of years ago (page 61, few posts from the top). Mine was a bit more bloody though.

As an addendum to that post I'd say that the US has now fully extended itself in invasions. They may try to keep up the occupations that they have for the oil but sooner or later someone will realise that the US is powerless without their oil and Americas oil importation will take a steep dive. WW3 may be physically impossible at this stage but that doesn't mean that local conflicts won't be just as bad in their own way.

Global economics is still due for a dive as developing countries realise that they can't export themselves out of poverty because the First World Nations don't have anything to export.

My own view ATM is that we've reached the peak of our civilisation. It'll plateau for a bit (decade or so) and from there on out it's downhill all the way (but it won't be a smooth ride). By 2020 we'll know that the brown stuff has the whirly thing and there'll be nothing we can do to go back to the way things were.

I expect even NZ to close it's borders in the early to mid 2020s as we're already running close to max sustainable population sans oil.

Draco TB said...

@ Justin and the PermaPuter

Forget it. People without learning aren't going to be able to fix a computer no matter how basic. You best bet would be to ensure that learned people continue to exist, that they have access to libraries, can do their own research and that local manufacture from local resources is possible.

Librarian of Hillman said...

Librarian of Pittsburgh/Phadraigin come to bat clean-up on this very pivotal post in your recent series!

boy...count me among those who regularly turn to your essays, Mr. Greer, in search of a steadying, less-frantic take on the ongoing Theatre of Falling around us. so when *you* start to sound a bit...urgent-ish...that somewhat starts the blood pumping for me, and obviously for others i see commenting here.

even if whatever has most recently set off your instinctual alarms turns out to be further off than it seems to you just now, i suppose it is still important to add a little fire now and then, to the usual "nobody panic" tone of your writing. so...thanks? i guess? you know, just because you're prepared and are expecting to weather as well as you can any oncoming storms--they are still *storms* after all. useful to be re-MIND-ed of that.

a few random thoughts i have from your post and the many insightful comments:

for those of the "i don't need to out-run the bear, only you" mind-set, i always wonder: what happens when the bear gets hungry again later and you are the only one left for him to hunt? humans, evolutionarily, either work together, or die alone, more often than not.

maybe the most important future skill would be knowing how to re-hab/make good dirt for growing? in the long past, peoples have done so with as little as dead grass and poop and sand and seaweed and dead fish on bare-rock islands...i think there are a lot of possible specializations within the new top profession of Dirt Steward!

or maybe "garbage" consultant? no matter what it is, there are screws and bolts and parts of all kinds that can be re-used!

also on the future skills topic, i'd beg anyone with the skills and land, to learn growing/harvesting medicinal herbs and the methods for producing reliable, consistant teas or tinctures or salves from them! the number of people just on this post who bring up diabetes is truly worrisome! even if you don't want to get into diagnosing or treating conditions, if you can provide a usable source for locally grown herbal medicines, current practitioners will find you when the time comes, and be able to trade handsomely for your product!

invade Canada? by the time any powers in the U.S. are stupid enough to consider attacking *Canada* for resources, we won't be "the U.S." anymore and the whole thing will be ridiculous.

(more...sorry...)

Librarian of Hillman said...

(continued...sorry...)


i whole-heartedly agree with the poster (marielar?) who suggests that if you can't BE a farmer, then at least find some way now to help one out--CSA's, shopping at local Farmers Markets, joining/volunteering/founding an urban vacant lot project, whatever! anything! there are a lot of small family outfits on the edge of going under, all over the US and no doubt the world--help them hang on now, and maybe they'll save your butt down the road?

i would be interested in tristan's idea for you to sponser a forum for people to work together regionally/locally--i'm in south-western PA! i think you & your wife are actually almost in my larger neighborhood now, certainly within reasonable distance by river or horse! as a returned local, i'm rooting for Pittsburgh to be the Capitol of our region's breakaway Republic! ; ) may be a good idea to get some things OFF-net while we can still use the nets for finding one another.

(for tristan specifically out there on the west coast, depending on what you want to do, i know someone with land north of Spokane who may be interested.)

i can't say what i think will happen short- or long-term with our imaginary financial instruments based on imaginary money, since imaginary money is, always, imaginary. it's only a social-construct that allows a few to collect and horde the energy & work of the many, in the first place. we have always been free to wake up any morning and say "um...no, that's not 'real' anymore. sorry." i've been wondering when that might happen since the age of 8 or 9. the film Powaqqatsi sums it up well "a Hopi word meaning 'parasitic way of life' "--basically a sorcerer who lives by stealing the life-force of others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powaqqatsi

i grieve for Gail's trees--you deserve the kindest blessings for your witness to them. i've been worrying for our local trees every late winter for a few years now as they look more and more like victims of some Orc attack--i still have this childish notion that if someone only notices and cares, that will help them come back to bud and leaf every spring, the poor beautiful massive beings, so i walk through sometimes, touching the trunks and saying hello.

last, as usual, your post this week performs wonderfully as an ink-blot upon which to see a nice selection of current feelings/hopes/fears projected. i can empathize with most of them. i offer a very old poem, in keeping with my comment on Lord Soil:


Keep walking, though there is no place to get to.

Don't try to see through the distances.
That's not for human beings.

Move within, but don't move the way fear
makes you move.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.

Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

Let the beauty we love
be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


(Rumi, 13th Century Persia. Coleman Barks trans. 1990ish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumi)

BrightSpark said...

DTB - My concern with New Zealand (after my happy future was jolted by JMG previously) remains the over-population scenario, as others flee here. I also doubt that NZ has the ability to enforce a closed border, as cashed up and well-resourced travellers will get here if they want. Therefore, we probably need to plan for a fair few more people (mainly Pacific Islanders who through no fault of their own will find themselves on uninhabitable islands).

A better strategy might be for us to pour resources into sustainable farming in Australia and Indonesia, thereby helping to create a future there for some and mitigating the worst aspects of a refugee influx.

I remain unhappy about the moral situation of denying people access to a country that has a decent chance of getting through when they did little to create the situation, but by that point its a triage situation.

Brian Gordon said...

I've been doing some Deep Thinking :) about the collapse that has started. (Like JMG, I believe it has begun, and whatever recovery comes will not return us anywhere close to the recent glory days of mindless consumption.)

Everything will not fall apart tomorrow. Our first 'step down' will mean a lot of people simply cannot find work, houses lose value, companies go bankrupt, etc - but even during the Great Depression 75% were still employed. JMG expects each stage of the crisis to last 10-25 years, if I recall correctly, followed by a partial recovery.

Given that, it makes sense to seek out 'income opportunities' - forget about jobs - that suit the new reality. I wrote about this in Depression-resistant Promising Businesses – and Fields to Abandon (http://www.briangordon.ca/2010/02/depression-resistant-promising-businesses-%E2%80%93-and-fields-to-abandon/).

The point is that there will be some degree of normalcy for this new era, barring a sudden collapse brought on by someone bombing the Saudi oil fields or similar. Insulin will likely continue to be available for this first step down and for the partial recovery, so diabetics have some time. There is no need to become a subsistence farmer just yet, as you can bet that declining supplies of oil and money will be directed to factory farms - nothing produces revolution faster than hungry people.

But now is the time to build useful skills, to pay off debt, to get a solar house with garden space, and so on. In addition, a lot of money is going to be made in fields like alternative energy and mass transit, and there will be opportunities for people who can do things like build solar greenhouses that provide heat to a house.

PanIdaho said...

@Tristan and Librarian of Hillman -

The AODA has a public forum for sustainability discussions. I don't know about adding a section for "networking." You'll have to ask JMG about whether that fits in with the scope of the Forum or not.

However, the Cultural Conservers Foundation, currently in the planning and setting up stages, would provide some opportunity for networking with others who are interested in saving useful skills and knowledge and passing that along to others.

Druid Sustainability Forum:
http://forum.cyberdragons.org/aoda/index.php

Cultural Conservers Foundation website (under construction, but there is some info there and links to the official CCF Yahoo Group)
http://www.culturalconservers.org

johnt said...

Dear Mr Greer,

I enjoyed this post. One sentence stood out for me.

"If I read the signs correctly, America has finally reached the point where its economy is so deep into overshoot that catabolic collapse is beginning in earnest."

Key phrase in there is "if I read the signs correctly". That's what I want to write to you about. This may not be the appropriate place, but I'm not sure how to contact you otherwise.

I heard you speak at the Peak Oil Conference in Oakland Hills a few years ago. I bought your book The Long Decline at that conference,and read it with interest. Following your lead, I then went on to purchase and read William Catton's Overshoot. That was a great book. I've read it a couple of times since then.

In The Long Decline, and in your posts here, you tell us that our decline is not going to be a sudden collapse back to the pre-fossil fuel standard of living, but rather a series of falls that are then followed by some uptick of properity. In essence we will go down (standard of living wise), not in one big step, but in a series a steps. Kind of like three steps down, and then two steps up. Decline will be gradual, but inexorable.

I don't know if that is correct. But here's why I am writing today. I've been reading the works of R. N. Elliott, developer of the Elliott Wave Theory, and the works of his most prominent disciple, Robert Prechter and his crew at Elliott Wave International. I think Elliott's work maps onto your work in very interesting ways. Both of you suggest that social change happens in waves or steps.

Elliott's assertion is that economic activity is determined by social mood. When social mood is positive (optimistic), it leads to booms. When social mood turns negative (pessimistic), it leads to busts. In the 1940s, Elliott predicted what we have seen over the past ten years. He predicted a big burst of positive social mood (with accompanying large stock market mania) which would be followed by a very significant downturn in mood and material fortunes. He suggested, and Prechter agrees, that this downtown would be of a more significant degree than what was seen in the last Great Depression. But, he also said that this large decline would then be followed by a new uptick of mood and prosperity.

The signs that Elliott (and Prechter et. al) watch are the wave formations drawn by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the various indicators of social mood that our society provides.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to look into Elliott and Prechter's work. It doesn't perfectly map onto yours, but even the variations are interesting.

Many thanks for all that you are doing here. I quite look forward to reading this blog each week.

Best regards,

John T.

Raymond said...

You are not incorrect in saying we are entering "EndGame"

Look at this from Mike Ruppert.

http://mikeruppert.blogspot.com/2010/02/screw-retirement-im-back.html

"Today I received a call from a great friend and brave investigative journalist who has moved on to other callings. He lives in New York City and he said that he was hearing reports all over town that CEO’s and CFO’s of corporations and non-profits were resigning in an apparently continuing stampede which began last week. (Jenna posted the original link here.) It is clear that the Greek debacle is breaking up the EU (as I predicted back in 2005) and that this has triggered the implosion of the derivatives bubble which I would still estimate at around $700 trillion. (A lot of new derivatives were created in 2009.) The dominoes are starting to fall. The rats are running for their solar-powered shelters"

This is a very _small_ list of resignations and retirements.

http://dprogram.net/2010/02/07/over-50-unexpected-ceo-cfo-resignations-in-the-last-3-weeks/

It has been updated to over 172 resignations and 60+ retirements, virtually all within the last 3 _weeks_!

You can use the search term "CEOs resignations" and graph it from Jan 2009 to Jan 2010. The graph spikes _enormously_ in Jan 2010.

Pennsylvania is experiencing a record number of politicians choosing not run again, over 12.

And now we get a sudden drop-off in reporting on resignations.

Something is up.

dltrammel said...

Seeking Alpha is reporting something strange going on at the latest Fed Treasury auction that seems to me to back what you were talking about.

http://seekingalpha.com/article/190362-something-very-strange-is-happening-with-treasuries?source=email

Matt said...

I can tell from reading your blog and a hundred comments that hands-on labor/skills will be important, and I do not doubt that for a second. I can only think with humor about my choice to abandon a double-degree in music and physics to go for music (music composition).

My question is, how will artists (especially musicians) fair in the event of an 'apocalypse'? An open-ended question!

Castanea_d said...

Matt -
I am a musician too. We have our work cut out for us.

The Librarian of Hillman wrote:
"i'd beg anyone with the skills and land, to learn growing/harvesting medicinal herbs and the methods for producing reliable, consistent teas or tinctures or salves from them!"

Years ago, I was a friend of an elderly pharmacist. He spoke often of his days in pharmacy school back in the 1940's, where a crotchety old professor insisted that the students, in order to pass his course, be able to identify a long list of medicinal herbs in dried form, locate the ones available locally in the wild, and describe how to use them. The rest of the faculty used to make fun of him. He retired, and such things were no longer taught in that school of pharmacy. I doubt that they are taught anywhere these days. My friend used to occasionally go out in the woods and keep his skills fresh, and he would keep some herbs in a dusty corner of the little corner pharmacy that he owned, not that anyone was much interested in them back in those days of Modern Medicine. He died some twenty years ago. I shudder at the knowledge that may have died with him. It should be part of the professional equipment of any pharmacist, but it no longer is.