Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Salvaging Energy

The peak oil blogosphere this year seems to have decided that the Fourth of July needed a Grinch of its own to compete with Christmas, and a fair number of blogs duly went up denouncing the day and its entertainments. I can’t say that these added much to the peak oil dialogue or, really, to much of anything. It’s hardly a secret, for instance, that intellectuals on the two coasts like to belittle working class people who live in between, nor that it’s still quite fashionable on both ends of the political spectrum to characterize our system of government in terms that would get those who do so dragged away by a death squad if their rhetoric had any relationship to reality.

Me, I enjoyed the Fourth; I usually do. My wife and I spent a quiet day gardening, dined on chicken fried tofu – hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it – and walked down to the city park that runs along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, where we met friends, munched watermelon, and watched the annual fireworks display. The Fourth of July is one of the high points of any small town American summer, and I’m also sufficiently old-fashioned to celebrate the ideals that sent this country along its historical trajectory all those years ago. Since the United States is a country inhabited and governed by people rather than abstract ideological mannequins, those ideals got put into practice no more consistently than any other country’s, but they’ve lost none of their relevance, and I’d be a good deal less worried about the future of my country if I saw more people paying attention to them and fewer people waving them aside as obstacles to the pursuit of some allegedly glorious future.

The theme of this week’s post isn’t primarily about the future, glorious or otherwise. Strictly speaking, it’s a response to circumstances that will almost certainly go away within the lifetimes of people now living, and only exist today in those few nations that can afford the overblown consumer economy that budded, bloomed, and went to seed in the second half of the twentieth century. That response, curiously enough, has more than a little to do with the theme of independence central to the holiday just past, but the easiest way to make sense of it is to start with the nearly complete state of dependence expressed by another fashionable topic under discussion in the peak oil scene.

That topic is the return of electric cars to American roads. A dozen large and small automakers are in the process of bringing out battery-powered cars of various kinds, ranging from generic compacts like the Ford Focus and Nissan Leaf to more exotic items like the Aptera and the GEM. Most of them are pricey, and all of them have their share of drawbacks, mostly in terms of range and reliability, but a significant fraction of people on the green end of things are hailing their appearance as a great step forward. As things stand, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, since almost all the electricity these vehicles use will be generated by burning coal and natural gas, and the easy insistence that the grid can easily be switched over to solar and wind power has already been critiqued at some length in this blog. Still, there are a couple of other points that would be well worth making here.

First of all, of course, the best way to reduce your ecological footprint isn’t to replace a petroleum-powered car with an electric car, it’s to replace it with a bicycle, a public transit ticket, or a good pair of walking shoes. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that option, and I know I can expect to be belabored by commenters who are bursting with reasons why they can’t possibly do without a car, or even leave the car parked in the driveway most of the time. Granted, the built geography of much of rural and suburban North America makes it a little challenging to do without a car, but something close to a hundred million people in the United States live in places where a car is a luxury most or all of the time, and a significant fraction of the others choose to live in places where that’s not the case. Still, let’s set aside for the moment the fact that the one energy-related bumper sticker that might actually make a difference these days would belong on the back of a bicycle, and would say MY OTHER CAR IS A PAIR OF SHOES. For those Americans who actually do find themselves in need of a car, how about the new electric vehicles? Will they really decrease your carbon footprint and your fossil fuel use, as so much current verbiage claims?

The answer is unfortunately no. First of all, as already mentioned, the vast majority of electricity in America and elsewhere comes from coal and natural gas, and so choosing an electric car simply means that the carbon dioxide you generate comes out of a smokestack at a power plant rather than the tailpipe of your car. The internal combustion engine is an inefficient way of turning fuel into motion – around 3/4 of the energy in a gallon of gas becomes low-grade heat dumped into the atmosphere via the radiator, leaving only a quarter to keep you rolling down the road – but the processes of turning fossil fuel into heat and heat into electricity, storing the electricity in a battery and extracting it again, and then turning the electricity into motion is less efficient still, so you’re getting less of the original fossil fuel energy turned into distance traveled than you would in an ordinary car. This means that you’d be burning more fossil fuel to power your car even if the power plant was burning petroleum, and since it isn’t – and coal and natural gas contain much less energy per unit of volume than petroleum distillates do – you’re burning quite a bit more fossil fuel, and dumping quite a bit more carbon in the atmosphere, than a petroleum-powered car would do.

This isn’t something you’ll see discussed very often in e-car websites and sales flyers. It’s even less likely that you’ll find any mention there of the second factor that needs to be discussed, which is the energy cost of manufacture. An automobile, petroleum-powered or electric, is a very complicated piece of hardware, and every part of it comes into being through a process of manufacture that starts at an assortment of mines, oil wells, and the like, and proceeds through refineries, factories, warehouses, and assembly plants, linked together by long supply chains via train, truck or ship. All this costs energy. Working out the exact energy cost per car would be a huge project, since it would involve tracking the energy used to produce and distribute every last screw, drop of solvent, etc., but it’s probably safe to say that a large fraction of the total energy used in a car’s lifespan is used up before the car reaches the dealer. Electric cars are as subject to this rule as petroleum-powered ones.

The energy cost of manufacture has generally been downplayed in discussions of energy issues, where it hasn’t been banished altogether to whichever corner of the outer darkness it is that provides a home for unwanted facts. (I’ve long suspected that this is not too far from “Away,” the place where pollution goes in the parallel universe that cornucopians apparently inhabit.) Promoters of the more grandiose end of alternative-energy projects – the solar power satellites and Nevada-sized algae farms that crop up so regularly when people are trying to ignore the reality of ecological limits – are particularly prone to brush aside the energy cost of manufacture with high-grade handwaving, but the same sort of evasion pervades nearly all thinking about energy these days. I’ve mentioned before that three centuries of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy have imposed lasting distortions on the modern mind; this is an example.

Still, factor in the energy cost of manufacture, and there actually is an answer to the question we’ve just been considering. If you really feel you have to have a car, what kind involves the smallest carbon footprint and the least overall energy use? A used one.

I suppose it’s just possible that one or two of the readers of this blog will remember a strange and politically edgy comic strip from the Sixties named Odd Bodkins. The rest of you will just have to forgive a bit of relevant reminiscence here. Somewhere between an encounter with the dreaded Were-Chicken of Petaluma and a journey to Mars with Five Dollar Bill, I think it was, the Norton-riding main character, Hugh, and his sidekick Fred the Bird had a run-in with General Injuns – the resemblance to the name of a certain large American automotive corporation was not accidental. I forget what it was that inspired Fred the Bird to shout “Buy a used car!” but the General’s response – “BLASPHEMY!!!” – was memorably rendered, and will probably be duplicated in a good many of the responses to this week’s blog. Most people in the industrial world nowadays are so used to thinking of the best option as new and shiny by definition, that the homely option of picking up a cheap used car as a way of saving energy is likely to offend them at a cellular level.

Still, the energy cost of manufacture needs to be taken into account. If you buy a used car – let’s say, for the sake of argument, a ten-year-old compact with decent gas mileage – instead of a new electric car, you’ve just salvaged the energy cost of manufacture that went into the used car, most of which would otherwise have been wasted, and saved all the energy that would have been spent to produce, ship, and assemble every part of the new car. Since it’s a ten-year-old compact rather than a brand new e-car, furthermore, you’re not going to be tempted to drive it all over the place to show everyone how ecologically conscious you are; in fact, you may just be embarrassed enough to leave it in your driveway when you don’t actually need it, thus saving another good-sized chunk of energy. Finally, of course, the price difference between a brand new Nissan Leaf and a ten-year-old compact will buy you a solar water heating system, installation included, with enough left over to completely weatherize an average American home. It’s a win-win situation for everything but your ego.

The same principle can be applied much more broadly. Very few people, for example, actually need a new computer. I’ve never owned one; I need a computer to make my living – publishers these days require book manuscripts to be submitted electronically – but I get my computers used, free or at a tiny fraction of their original price, and run them until they drop. One consequence is that I’ve salvaged the energy used in manufacturing the old computer, rather than burdening the planet with the energy cost of manufacturing a new one; another is that I’m keeping a small but measurable amount of toxic e-waste out of the waste stream; still another, of course, is that I save quite a bit of money that can then be directed to other purposes, such as insulation and garden tools.

Most Americans buy most of the things they used new, and dump a great many perfectly useful items into the trash; the more conscientious package them up and donate them to thrift stores, which is at least a step in the right direction. As a society, we have been able to afford this fixation and its attendant costs – new houses, new cars, new computers, new everything – because we’ve been surfing a tidal wave of cheap abundant fossil fuel energy. As we get further into the territory on the far side of peak oil, and as peak coal and peak natural gas come within sight, that state of affairs is rapidly coming to an end. One option, as I suggested in last week’s post, is to plunge into the emerging reality of scarcity industrialism, which centers on an increasingly savage competition for access to a shrinking pool of new and shiny things produced by what’s left of the world’s fossil fuel stocks.

A saner alternative, though, is to move directly into the stage that will follow scarcity industrialism – the stage of salvage economics. That’s what I’ve been discussing here, under a less threatening label. Right now, while the tidal wave of cheap energy has not yet receded very far, the beachscape of industrial society is still littered with the kind of high-quality salvage our descendants will dream of finding, and the only thing that has to be overcome in order to access most of it is the bit of currently fashionable arrogance that relegates used goods to the poor.

Now of course that’s not a small thing. One of the reasons that Thoreau’s concept of voluntary poverty got rebranded “voluntary simplicity,” and repackaged as a set of fashionable lifestyle choices that imitate authentic simplicity at a premium price, is the stark panic felt by so many middle class Americans at the thought of being mistaken for someone who’s actually poor. Those of my readers who decide that the advantages of voluntary poverty are worth pursuing are going to have to confront that panic, if they haven’t done so already. Like all supposedly classless societies, America makes up for its lack of formal caste barriers by raising caste prejudice to a fine art; the cheap shots at small town America mentioned toward the beginning of this blog are an expression of that, of course, and so is the peer pressure that keeps most Americans from doing the sensible thing, and buying cheap and sturdy used products in place of increasingly overpriced and slipshod new ones.

We are all going to be poor in the decades and centuries to come. Yes, I’m including today’s rich in that; the stark folly that leads today’s privileged classes to think they can prosper while gutting the society that alone guarantees them their wealth and status is nothing new, and will bring about the usual consequences in due time. Voluntarily embracing poverty in advance may seem like a strange tactic to take, at a time when a great many people will be clinging to every scrap of claim to the fading wealth of the industrial age, but it has certain important advantages. First, it offers a chance to get competent at getting by on less before sheer necessity forces the issue; second, it sidesteps the rising spiral of struggle that’s waiting for all those who commit themselves to holding on to an industrial-age standard of living; third, as I’ve already pointed out, buying cheap used items frees up money that can then be applied to something more useful.

It’s probably going to be necessary here to insert a response to what used to be the standard objection to the piece of advice I’ve just offered. No, buying used goods instead of new ones isn’t going to put any significant number of Americans out of work. Very little is actually manufactured in America these days, and most of what is, is produced and sold by conglomerates that pump money out of American communities and into the black hole of the financial economy. Nearly all used-goods stores, by contrast, are locally owned and circulate their earnings back into the community, where they generate jobs by way of the multiplier effect. The calculations would be fiendishly difficult, and you won’t find a mainstream economist willing to touch the project with a ten-foot pole, but I suspect that when the differences just listed are taken into account, buying used goods actually yields a larger number of jobs than buying new ones – and while thrift store clerks don’t make as much as corporate office fauna, to be sure, I have to admit to a suspicion that the former contribute a good deal more to the world as a whole than the latter.

For the time being, at least, the office fauna and their corporate sponsors are likely to continue to thrive after a fashion, lumbering through the jungles of deindustrializing America like so many dinosaurs, and the thrift store clerks and their customers will play the part of smart little mammals scurrying around in the underbrush. Still, like the mammals, those who opt out of scarcity industrialism to embrace the first stirrings of the salvage economies of the future will have certain advantages not available to their brontosaurian neighbors. One of them, as already suggested, will be a certain amount of spare room in the household budget, which can then be turned to other projects, or used to free up a family member to work in the household economy, or both.

Another will be the chance to learn skills that could well become income sources in the not too distant future; as I’ve suggested more than once here, salvage trades – that is, anything that involves taking the leftovers of industrial civilization and turning them into something that people need or want – will likely be among the major growth industries of the next century or two, and the ground floor is open for business right now. Still, the advantage that comes to mind just at the moment is the one suggested by the holiday fireworks I mentioned toward the beginning of this post. Not uncommonly in history, people face a choice between being comfortable and dependent, on the one hand, and poor and free on the other. It’s been a particularly important theme in American history, driving phenomena as different as the settling of the Appalachians and the counterculture of the Sixties, and I’ve come to think that it’s going to become a live issue again in the decades ahead of us.

In time to come, those who cling to the narrowing circle of scarcity industrialism will likely discover that most of the freedoms that remain to them are going to have to be handed over as part of the cost of admission; those who choose otherwise – and there will be a range of other options, though you won’t learn that from the mainstream media – will have to give up a great many expectations and privileges that are standard issue in the industrial world just now in order to preserve some degree of autonomy and individual choice. That’s the way the future looks to me, at least; if I’m right, the simple act of salvaging energy by buying used goods instead of new ones – a step that Ben Franklin would have appreciated, interestingly enough – might just turn out to be a useful step in the direction of the ideals that some of us, at least, were celebrating a few nights ago. We’ll talk more about this in the weeks ahead.


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William Hunter Duncan said...

Though I've been without a vehicle since 2008, should I decide I need one, I'm considering a 1975 G-10 diesel van. The one I have in mind is in solid shape, and the diesel engine at least, I can keep running indefinitely, whether on diesel or vegetable oil, with the body intact or not - provided I can find the parts. Maybe pick up as many as I can even though I don't need them, to get me through another few decades after I can't find parts.

Or not. I'm quite happy without a vehicle, and considerably more healthy, riding my bike most everywhere I go.

Cathy McGuire said...

It makes a lot of sense to me to buy used items, wherever I can verify that they are still useable. I hesitate a lot at electronic gear and cars, precisely because there is no ability to return them if they start to fall apart immediately. (Though I have a friend who swears that the deal she got from a rental car firm –including a warrantee – was an incredible deal. Wish they rented trucks; I’d get a used one.) It’s already really frustrating to deal with the complexities of machines I can’t fix (I used to do my own hardware upgrades/fixes on the 80’s computers); I get nightmares thinking about a huge purchase like a car that goes bad in a year. But your theory is very sensible – I just need to find a really reliable consulting mechanic before my ’98 truck dies. I shop for 95% of my clothes and household needs at thrift stores and garage sales, if I can’t find it free – and yes, it does save a lot of money!! I can’t pay full price for clothes anymore!

BTW, you can still see Odd Bodkins comics:

Unknown said...

I just got back from visiting friends in Michigan, some of whom already make a habit of living in the salvage economy (via garage sales and surplus stores) and have done so for years. This time, we visited a "shopping mall" for the Amish a few counties away, and while my frugal friend was hunting for roving in the sewing store, I found a very interesting book on the book rack.

It seems that back in the '30's, an enterprising soul realized that there were a huge number of sacks-- for flour, sugar, etc-- that were being used once and then thrown away. He came up with the idea of making these sacks out of fabric that would be suitable for sewing into clothes, and printing the labels on them in washable ink. He then patented the process.

The idea took off like gangbusters-- to the point where commodity manufacturers competed with each other to come out with new and appealing flour sack color patterns to draw their customers. Flour sack sartoriality prospered right up until the '50's, when the consumerist culture took over.

I was really struck by this story, at how frugal and resourceful our American ancestors used to be. The last 60 years truly has been a cultural aberration.

Your essay about the used car really struck home for me. My parents were of the "buy it new then drive it till it drops" school and so am I. If I buy it new, I can break it in correctly; then if I take proper care of it, I can drive it for a very long time. My parents' cars generally lasted 20 years in snowy salty Michigan. Of course, my Dad grew up in the (first) Depression, so I guess that is where that philosophy came from!

John Michael Greer said...

William, if you can work out a barter arrangement with friends who don't have cars -- most people need things hauled or a lift to someplace buses and bikes won't go now and again -- it might be worthwhile; still, bikes with trailers are probably more in tune with the future.

Cathy, you've raised a good point. One of the upper limits on technology in the salvage age will be just how complex a device you or the people you know can repair. So many modern machines can't be repaired at all; it's probably best for those to be parted out for scrap.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, that's a great story -- I wish flour were still sold in cloth sacks!

Kieran O'Neill said...

Great post.

Biking/transit/walking are definitely the way to go, and I think forward-thinking urban planners are well aware of this.

Vancouver is a little ahead of the curve here -- apparently car use has actually dropped in the past decade or two, and their goal now is a 50/50 trip share between cars and more sustainable means (currently it's about 60/40 or so). This includes redesigning communities to be more compact.

Unfortunately, though, the result has also been housing that nobody but the upper middle class can afford...

As for car use, another option (for those only needing a car occasionally, for moving large items or for occasional leisure trips) are the various car-shares now available (e.g. Zipcar).

@Cathy Actually one benefit I can think of with getting an older car is that it is less complicated to repair. Modern cars tend to use on-board digital microcontrollers in their engines and need a computer (plus proprietary software and added expertise) to repair many faults.

GHung said...

While I didn't totally agree with JHK's, and some others' take on Independence Day this year, I have, at times, expressed my agreement that the majority are willing to reap the benefits of these hard won ideals without realizing the responsibilities embodied in them. Far too much is taken for granted these days... Far too many faux patriots waving flags. There is something to be gained from venting one's frustration at the collective's shallow grasp of what has been discarded. Sacrifices sacrificed to convenience, comfort and gain.

Fireworks.... Tonight was the first big (what folks around here call) 'lightin' bug love night': Tens of thousands of fireflies rising up from the grass and brambles, some combination of moisture, temperature,, something, prompting a hatch. Nature's answer to humanity's vulgar pyrotechnical assualt.

IMO, we've got nuthin' on Mam Gaia.

Tonight, I know what I'm celebrating..lightnin' bugs!

nate said...

To summarize the energy losses for the end use of an electric car that is charged at home, would go like this.

Chemical energy of the coal is turned into heat energy from combustion which is converted to kinetic energy of the steam which is converted to mechanical energy of the turbine which is converted to electrical energy of the generator which is transformed into high voltage with some losses and goes down high voltage lines with some small further losses which is then transformed into lower voltage near your house and is then tranformed into chemical energy in the battery, which is transformed into electrical energy in the car which is converted to mechanical energy in the electric motor which drives the wheels.

Go back and count the number of processes that lose energy. I agree with the archdruid it would be better to bike or a tricycle.

John Michael Greer said...

Kieran, Canada's real estate bubble is an interesting phenomenon, and Van has other reasons for high housing costs -- I think similar measures could be used elsewhere without the same spike in rents and home prices.

Ghung, here in Cumberland the fireflies show up toward the end of May and they're still at it now. Our backyard garden, for some reason, is a favorite hangout of theirs -- no complaints there, as the larvae eat baby slugs. As for patriotism, one of these days I'll post something discussing the difference between love of country and the bizarre collective megalomania that's replaced it in too many corners of the US. It's the usual flight to the extremes -- either the US is Utopia or it's evil incarnate, take your pick.

Rita said...

From the 80s there are two books on buying and driving used cars, car maintenance and basic ideas on getting around at least cost. The author is Joe Troise, who according to new bio I just read once worked for Kelly's Blue Book. The books are _Drive it Til it Drops_ and _Cherries and Lemons_, which is a guide to picking used cars. Some of the advice might be out of date, what with the increase in computerized systems in cars, but the philosophy and the basic information is very in tune with this blog.

I believe some brands of flour do still come in cloth bags. Or check stores with Hispanic customers for bags of masa mix.
On a different topic, does anyone have recommendations on blacksmithing schools? My grandson has been working with a local smith who does historical recreations, but if he is interested I would like to point him to sources for more extensive training.

Susan said...

I don't worry about whether people think I'm poor nearly as much as I worry about actually being poor. We have one car, a ten-year-old Buick, that we bought used after our previous used car finally died. I work a mile away from our house, and my husband does almost all the driving, mostly for shopping, ferrying kids around, etc.

People used to make things to last as long as possible. Poor people may have had to make do with cheaper products that did not last as long as the high-quality products, but it's been only in the last several decades that we have experienced the concept of planned obsolescence. Now there's an idea whose time has come and gone (I hope).

Increases in productivity (made possible by fossil-fuel-powered machines) has resulted in a couple centuries of economic growth that made all of us wealthier than we would have been. That has been a good thing, but the downside of the replacement of muscle power by machine power has been the need for all of us to become consumers. Thus we have advertising and marketing and credit cards and all the other aspects of the consumerist rat race.

If we stop consuming the endless cornucopia of products that our highly mechanized system produces, the whole economy slides into recession, and the factories that produce all the stuff shut down, and lots of people whose jobs depend on producing all that stuff start losing their jobs, and...

That seems to be where our economy is right now. How wonderful.

Lots of science fiction stories have explored what happens when the robots produce everything we need, and humans become superfluous, but I don't think we have to worry about that particular future coming to pass. When the world finally runs out of fossil fuels, it will be the machines that become superfluous.

Bill Pulliam said...

Don't forget while you are out buying used.. to BUY A USED HOUSE, too! And if you want to snag your rural homestead while you still can, remember to BUY A USED FARM. Way way too many greenies are buying undeveloped land, putting in new roads, building a new house, and getting new phone and power lines strung to them. The fact that they have in one fell swoop negated all the energy they might save in a lifetime of driving Prii and Leaves seems to be totally lost on them...

My computer, which was an (almost new) hand-me-down and still works fine, is rapidly being pressured by planned obsolescence. The hardware (last generation pre-Intel Mac) and the O/S (10.4 is the highest it will run) are losing support left and right by both the manufacturer and the software developers. Apparently I am supposed to throw my perfectly good computer in the toxic waste heap and spend a big hunk of cash on a new one.. which will pretty much do exactly what this one does but with more shiny bells and chirping whistles.

JMG -- I thought I had seen data purporting to show that the narrowly-calculated operating carbon footprint of an electric car was smaller than that of a gasoline car (due to economies of scale in electric generation and better torque-to-heat ratios of electric motors). Was this incorrect? Still does nothing to change the fact that you are just running your car on coal instead of petroleum.

Cherokee Organics said...


As to waste, one of the scariest forms of waste is green waste. It's like gold to me and I keep bringing it in here and the top soil is starting to look pretty good. I still can't understand that people don't recognise it for what it is. Our nutrient cycle is truly broken.

Anyone promoting electric vehicles should be forced to live with battery technology of some sort. It will change their minds.

Some fun facts for people here:

People think batteries recharge in a similar way to refilling a fuel tank. Not so. A battery will accept upto 85% of it's total capacity in a reasonably quick fashion, however the last 15% will be slow. I don't add more than 10% of the total battery capacity in any hour. However, the final 15% capacity can take days of surplus solar production to recharge. Overcharging a battery can damage it permanently.

Most electric vehicles are designed to be too heavy because they ape a petrol powered vehicle and as such have a limited range of around 160km to 200km. Still I reckon that's a long way, but you need to remember the earlier point about recharging - that last 15% can be a problem and there is no recharging during power outages either. An electric vehicle should look like a motor assisted push bike or a go kart at the very most to keep the weight down.

Most electricity has a fossil fuel subsidy - even hydro and wind. If there's no oil, or restricted oil then those renewable electricity sources will stop too.

The amount of electricity used by an electric vehicle during one complete cycle of it's battery cannot be supplied by a small scale solar power system. It needs to be a pretty big system to cope with recharging an electric vehicle. My system at home would overload after about 1/2 hour if I connected up one of the vehicle chargers.

People over the past few weeks have commented on nickel iron batteries and it might be worth pointing out that whilst they have an extremely long life and they are very robust, they only return 40% of the energy that you put into them. As a comparison lead acid batteries return about 80%. Still nickel iron batteries would be easier to make at home and these are the compromises that we all have to learn to live with.

For anyone interested in some entertaining and informative reading on electric vehicles and their dirty little secret have a look at:



Jonathan Blake said...

As my Mormon forbears (among many others) used to say, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Or the more comprehensive version that doesn't scan as well: "Fix it up, use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

SophieGale said...

I spent the holiday finishing Johnny Appleseed: The Man, The Myth, The American Story, by Howard Means. Talk about voluntary poverty!

Now I am half way thru City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing by Lorraine Johnson. The book should give wild inspiration to everybody who says, "But I can't grow food because I live in the city...I live in an apartment..." Johnson gives a fascinating history of urban farming from the allotment acts in Britain mid-19th.century thru the beginnings of community gardens in the 1990's in Canada and the US, and explores a wide range of urban food projects going on now.

She also addresses a lot of political and psychological resistance to home gardens: after WWII only poor people had gardens. If you had a garden in the back yard, all the neighbors knew you couldn't buy enough food. Also a garden marked your family as ethnic. First generation immigrants planted gardens and ate weird food from Portugal and Italy and Lebanon and Vietnam... Totally un-American! Totally uncool!

And everybody knows that soil in the city is toxic and public orchards attract vermin, and it's all very well putting a garden on an abandoned lot, but that property should be developed into something productive.

It's a great read!

re: new car vs used car... According to Jane Holtz Kay, author of Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took over America and How we can Take It Back, in the mid-1990's German researchers examined the environmental impact of a middle-class German car thru 3 stages--manufacturing, road use, and disposal. Nearly all of the waste from a one ton vehicle and half of its lifetime emission of air pollution occurred before the car left the plant, and there was more air pollution from PCBs, hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide in the dumping. I doubt every much that the new hybrids will be cleaner.

Haven't had a car in 25 years. Closest thing to a new computer was a clone the tech guys in the office built for me with off-the-shelf components some 20 years ago. Had a nice dinner this evening with poached salmon liberated from a dumpster (not personally!) and a little vodka cocktail infused with peppermint from my garden...

garylowens said...

Your comment: "but the processes of turning fossil fuel into heat and heat into electricity, storing the electricity in a battery and extracting it again, and then turning the electricity into motion is less efficient still [than internal combustion engines]" is false in most instances. This depends on the current electricity mix where one lives.
A nice picture (though from 2009) at:

A typical fossil fueled vehicle is only 20% efficient or less at converting the energy in its fuel tank to motion, while a reasonable electric vehicle will be in the high 80% efficient. Even accounting for inefficiencies in electric generation and transmission (though still respectable at 33% worldwide average), the EVs are near the same to much better that gasoline/diesel. (.33 x .88 is 29% efficient).

I don't want to have your message of conservation and being thoughtful about living life overshadowed by an easily demonstrable falsity.

cracked pot said...

Though I don't endorse coal-power plants in any way, most coal-plants still have some means of filtering emissions and storing the most dangerous chemicals compactly, rather than just spreading them all over the place like a car exhaust pipe.

Also, all the peak-oil bloggers out there fail to take into account the likelihood of more countries switching to nuclear energy. Despite Greenpeace's efforts to scare everyone into thinking that nuclear is a terrible beast, the new breeder reactors are actually the safest option for clean energy available. I think peak oil may send the global economy into recession for a couple of decades, but eventually more breeder reactors will be built, which will allow every person to own an electric car. Not that I think that's a good thing - but peak-oil won't necessarily save us from a centralized, industrialized, corporate gridlocked world. People need to realize that biking, frugality, localization, etc, have spiritual value, and are not just an economic necessity.

Red Neck Girl said...

Since I am going to have a stable I drive an old 88 FUV, (or I would if that slow drain on the battery hadn't kept it sitting in the lot). It's a heavy half ton, four wheel drive set up for hauling and towing. While the stable continues to work I'll need to haul horses, hay, etc.

I recall seeing a motorcycle junk yard around here and I'm thinking of hitting it to buy several junked motor bikes. I could use the front wheels, forks and hand brakes for a cart for one of the horses. What's left over will go into the bone yard where the old truck and maybe the horse trailers will go to be raided for usable parts and metal later. There's a lot of good sheet metal in horse trailers.

I just bought a brand new computer, I'll need it for the stable. I figure it will be the last new computer I'll ever own so I got a good one, not the greatest but good.

Right now I'm drooling over the Bountiful Gardens catalog and I've spotted more than half a dozen books that I feel I need for reference. All of them are concerned with gardening, soils, food preservation, several herbal books and of course plants, seeds, vines, shrubs and trees I would so love to have to make living on the stable a near luxury.

In regard to calico flour sacks, I know in a few stores here in S. Oregon I've seen flour in printed cloth sacks, although I don't think I've seen any the past year or two. The problem with flour sacks is you'll end up with a wild mixture in prints for a shirt or a skirt it's that hard to find the same color or pattern to match! That might change if things get more dicey.


Matthew Heins said...

“Working out the exact energy cost per car would be a huge project, since it would involve tracking the energy used to produce and distribute every last screw, drop of solvent, etc.,...”

Y'know, the more I think about it, the more I get the sense that we're going to need to actually tackle such projects soon if we are to weather the Descent as best as possible. Theoretically, it is doable, I mean, the information is out there, not just for autos but for pretty much anything “manufactured”.

The need is clear too: It would be very nice if those countries sitting on the oil today would avoid merely echoing the U.S.'s trajectory in development/decline. They may well respond to hard numbers in ways they haven't to reasoned arguments.

If anyone is sitting on an office building's worth of computing hardware and a crew of dedicated geeks to crunch the numbers, they should get on it right away. ;)

As for new and used:

Wouldn't it be wonderful if people could just accept when a technic has reached functional perfection and stop “developing” it? How much time, money, and effort have been spent by designers, builders, sellers, and buyers, of autos over the last 30 years just to not quite measure up to a '70s Datsun in every single category other than gizmos and flash? Going further, what could be said about the fact that when we conceive of a possible auto for a low-energy future, it quickly begins to resemble none other than a Ford Model T? New designs are as much of a waste as new machines.

Lastly on voluntary poverty:

I think everyone who hasn't done so in the past should spend a week on a planned "poverty diet" ASAP. Some folks might go $ poor, others might try paucity of variety, either way should work. But if you've never felt that sickness that comes from days on end of junk food or the frustration of leek soup for dinner three nights running you need to now, on purpose, before you do later, on accident.

It'll work miracles for both your garden and your pantry. ;)


Janne said...

I agree with you on the big picture, but regarding energy efficiency of EV's I do not. See for example this MIT study

Jason Heppenstall said...

Practically everything I own is salvaged from somewhere or other - although I admit I bought my computer new. It's easy here in Denmark because people throw out so much perfectly good stuff. Some of my best finds have been a coffee machine and a microwave - but brand new and still in their boxes. Frankly, I wish I had somewhere to store all of this abandoned treasure as I'm pretty sure I could fill a small warehouse every year with perfectly good TVs, prams, stereos, bicycles etc.

A few months back I had the distressing experience of watching workmen feed around 200 perfectly good bikes into a crusher. There was nothing wrong with most of them - just flat tyres, worn brakes etc, but people abandon them all over the city and simply buy a new one. I managed to save a few of them - it's a simple job to angle grind off the locks and fix them up and it brings me a bit of pocket money every month by re-selling them.

I don't see anyone else doing this, but no doubt that will change when our over-priviledged way of life grinds to a halt.

I worked out yesterday that riding my bike instead of owning a car costs over fifty times less. These were my conclusions

thriftwizard said...

Long-time "silent" reader here, thanking you for making me think outside the box at least once a wekk! I'm just starting out at making a living in the salvage economy. I find, repair, refurbish & sell old & secondhand items of craft equipment - sewing machines, spinning wheels, looms etc - and also teach people how to use them. The subtext is getting people to think about the things we've been throwing "away" in a different light, something like using those beautiful old flour-sacks for patchwork quilts, rather than driving to an expensive store to buy brand-new fabric to cut into tiny pieces. And it's taking off, slowly but surely; two ar three years ago it was just a pin-money-earning hobby but now I'm as busy as I want to be, and could make a lot more money if I didn't have a home, garden & family to care for too.

It's probably easier over here (UK) than it would be in the States, in that we've never completely lost the habit of re-using stuff; I've never owned a brand-new car in my life but all my vehicles have been as reliable as any car could be. So there's not the same resistence to buying "used" goods and it's not seen as a sign of failure, just a slight eccentricity. What particularly encourages me is that I sell a lot & give tutorials to young people, often students, not just to older people who remember how much better-made, reliable & controllable older tools were. And there are many teenagers who really want to learn to knit or crochet or spin or sew, not just the design, marketing & packaging of items as they are taught in "Textiles" at school.

So. over here at least, the Salvage Economy is beginning to get under way, and the signs are encouraging.

Thijs Goverde said...

Great post.
I actually got my computer for free - a friend saw what I was working with, and decided that he'd give me his old laptop. He doesn't like throwing things away, no one was going to give him a cent for it (it was that outdated), and it was waaaaaay better than what I had. Apparently.
Two years later, he gave me his desktop. Another huge improvement, apparently.
My son doesn't like it - he can't play the latest games on it. Too bad. His classmates' dads all have the shiny new stuff, and they have automobiles (we don't, although we sometimes borrow one for the holidays).

On the other hand, other kids' dads don't take them LARP-ing. They seem to spend less time with them. Some kids' parents don't even know what games their children are playing, which means that 9yo boys are playing GTA and Halo. Sad, really.

Here in the Netherlands, we're already feeling the first effects of scarcity industrialism. Train schedules are disrupted because nearly every day the electrical wires (most trains here run on electricity - mostly 'green' too!) get stolen and sold, indirectly, away to China.

One minor nit to pick: it seems unfair to compare the energy content per *volume* of gas and oil. Gas is, well... a gas. which means that there is less mass in a litre of gas than in a litre of oil. I haven't studied this closely, but so it seems to me.
You know more about this than I do. Does gas have an energy/mass ratio comparable to oil? If so, running a car on methane would be no more harmful than running one on petroleum derivatives. Less harmful even, if you take sulphur and nitrogen contents into account.

Around here (the Netherlands have little oil, but relatively large gas deposits) we have buses running on natural gas. They sure smell a lot less awful, which is something, I guess.

tOM said...

Currently (so to speak), electric cars run on lightly taxed electricity rather than more heavily taxed gas or diesel. When a subtantial portion of cars are electric, how will our highways be financed? (City roads are paid by property taxes, so all the cyclists and walkers are subsidising the motorists.)

Cycling, of course, is easy on the roads, and on pocketbooks too. See ""The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour.' - Quoted form "Energy and Equity", Ivan Illich, 1978

I don't own a car, just a bike or two, and I find them faster than most bus routes and even driving since you avoid stops and transfers or searching for a parking space. And, of course, it's healthier for you and others and fixing it yourself is easy and cheap. Get a used trailer for it and you can haul a hundred pounds or more of whatever you need. Many people have moved houses by bike (within a city) - search online.

As for reusing old computers, crutches, etc., there are many fullcircle or freecycle yahoo groups for finding or listing stuff for free. See and, and of course there's Craigslist or KiJiJi for listing wants or surplus. Use them while the internet lives! Or post on the local store bulletin board.

As for voluntary poverty or simplicity, get a copy of the collected Tightwad Gazette for both tips and philosopy.

One great advantage of doing your own gardening and cooking is that you can do it your way, choosing to be organic or whole-grain or ..., without all the added corn syrup, dyes, preservatives and mystery chemicals.

@unknown Mary Cook grew up in the depression in the Ottawa valley, wearing underwear made of flour sacks - read her experiences at

Mean Mr Mustard said...

I recently had a most successful morning operating down here in the salvage society. It was large unwanted item collection day in our village, and everybody (who doesn't have to attend offices and such) roots around, amongst the scrap metal merchants prowling the streets in their pickups, but there’s still plenty to find. I told my wife I was going Wombling*.

What was striking was the large number of portable TVs which had been dumped. I imagine the reason was the recent ending of analog broadcast signal here. Anyway, I don’t need no TVs. I got some plastic cladding, ideal for the garage door frame, timber for the garden for stepped planters, boards for a flat bed trolley I want, (already got some cast-off casters and an extending handle from a damaged trolley bag), two 2 foot square plant pots, a large slatted pine shelf stack unit which will be getting the green wood treatment for a potted plant rack, a small plastic garden table, a ply box for supporting two growbags on end (apparently the roots go deeper that way), half a dozen empty, never used hanging baskets, a large ceramic cooking pot and lid, some chicken wire, and best of all, two good quality office chairs for my hobby room, and spare casters from a third. Still looking for some hi fi speaker stands, a bird table, and a vanity unit washbasin in white, though. I daresay £300+ if I'd gone to the sadly bankrupt Focus DIY store and apparently solvent Staples office supply big box store for all the stuff I did find.

£300 for an hour's gentle labour? I almost felt like a Merchant Banker.

Regarding the new car vs clunker argument... I’ll admit to buying a new car last year – a performance diesel based on a VW Golf. Part of the argument for buying it was what I know is the currently low cost of the embodied energy in manufacture, and the 20% improvement in fuel efficiency it offered, (80 mpg if driven gently!) and not least, the current negative return on savings. And that it would last longer, probably to the point where fuel becomes no longer available / affordable. Therefore, the case for buying it essentially rests on whether that point is reached is in 5 or 15 years time. The downside is the complexity of the engine electronics, which makes me dependent on the Main Stealer to maintain it, and yes, I did remember your writings on complexity/ fragility from a while back. But so far, the decision looks good, as the forecourt price has increased 25% in six months, due to increased sales taxes, and manufacturer discounts being ended. A neat trick to have a new car actually appreciate in value...

I’m now looking for a furry toy Womble* mascot (unavoidably made in China) to put on the dashboard.

*For the benefit of your mostly US readership - Wombles are true pioneers of the Salvage Society. Best described in the Americanese as ‘cute furry critters’, they live in burrows, where they help the environment by collecting and recycling discarded items in useful and ingenious ways.

Yupped said...

Thanks again, and I'm looking forward to this next string of posts. I've been giving a good bit of thought to the topic of voluntary poverty. Currently, my green wizardry efforts are being pursued within a reasonably affluent town in the North East. We've done a lot - heat, big garden, food preservation, chickens, some solar - but we haven’t yet really offended our neighbors’ sensibilities. At least I don’t think we have. They just think we’re a little nutty but still holding hands with the prosperity/growth/recovery consensus.

I sense a new phase ahead of us, though, where we cross some sort of dividing line and declare independence, and a clearly declared preference for poverty and economic de-growth will tend to do that. I’m actually wondering whether it would just be easier to sell up and go do this in a community that is already further down the prosperity ladder, by reason of not having climbed very high in the first place. But that will bring its’ own challenges.

There was an old British sitcom from the 1970's called "The Good Life" where a couple opt out of suburban mores while still living in an upscale London suburb. You can see episodes on You Tube and it still makes me smile. Voluntary poverty was certainly embraced, but since this was a sitcom the endings were all happy. I’m concerned about the tensions in our community as one set of folks start to head to the economic exits, while the rest are running faster and faster to stay in place. I’m probably worrying too much, and it won’t stop me from continuing to downshift, but it will be interesting to see how that tension plays out.

SALDirtDigger said...

As someone old enough to remember flour sack cloth and the subsequent skirts and pants, I can tell you it was not so gentle as cloth today. Pretty rough occasionally, and the patterns weren't always what a 7 year old wanted, but it did keep you warm and covered. As someone who grew up during the transition to store bought and who had a mother who made my clothes until I was grown, I had to get creative on explaining where my clothes came from. I told folks I had my own seamstress!

I live 12 miles from the nearest small town. I keep my 10 year old vehicle in excellent shape and drive it about once every ten days to two weeks. We make the rounds on errands and then park it. We use less than a tank of gasoline a month and that includes the yard work. We grow the majority of our vegetables and buy local meat, eggs and milk which we buy in bulk or pick up when doing errands. We make our clothes and quilts, preserve our harvests and entertain with books and watching nature. We have TVs and computers and a few electric kitchen gadgets but they are not large parts of our lives except for the freezer. We live not much different than my grandparents did 100 years ago just a few miles from here. Life is good.

Karim said...


Glad that I have a reconditioned car!
What's interesting with voluntary simplicity or poverty is that it is NOT equal to deprivation, at least in my mind! And it starts by people asking themselves whether they really need that new thing they wish to buy. Perhaps after all to go without is just as good or that a used one can do. Thankfully in far away Mauritius we still do have the habit of passing round used items to friends and family. For instance, My nephew's baby cot saw my baby kids, a few other family and friends' babies. It is now patiently waiting for a next round of active service. The added benefit of passing round stuff for others to use is that it helps to consolidate community and that is always a god thing!

Cherokee Organics said...


I've read in the past that the government here factors in a yield of about $3- return for every single dollar spent on any given infrastructure project. I can't unfortunately remember where I've read this otherwise I'd give you that reference. You could probably reasonably extend this concept to the second hand marketplace. The local economy is worth investing in because you'll at least get to know who you're living around. I always try and support farm gate sales here as the produce is awesome.

There is one place near me that sells tomatoes grown in poly tunnels between December and early June (remember I'm in the Southern hemisphere). There's another place (and it's my guilty pleasure) that sells locally grown strawberries between November and May. The taste is better than any other strawberries that I get anywhere. Unfortunately it means that I can't buy strawberries anywhere else now - there are about 50+ odd plants growing here now in a special strawberry bed. Mmmm strawberries (blackberries work better here though).

Thanks very much for the effort you put into "The Wealth of Nature" I really enjoyed it. As I said before it confirmed my world view, however I really enjoyed the final chapter as it appealed to my professional sense as well. Australian's are having difficulties coming to grips with proposed carbon taxes to charge for damage to the primary economy. There's a lot of outrage here, although I feel that it is a logical thing to do.

Unfortunately your earlier mention of the workings of the economists left me with the mental image of Deep Thought and its' advice to Magic Thighs and Broom fundle about how to become top rating pundits. Very sage!

When I was a lot younger, I used to talk with my mates over AM CB (27Mhz) radio's at night. The communication method for this forum kind of reminds me of those days. Incidentally the SSB (single side band) versions used to be able to bounce their signals off the ionosphere and you could end up speaking to people from massive distances away - you don't see the AM CB radio's used much anymore these days as most people use UHF. This is off topic but kind of interesting anyway. I must look up ham radio's one day - I was a massive geek when younger and used to build my own amplifiers and radio's from kits chasing the hi fi dream (remember AM Stereo!) - not good for my own hearing though.



Siani said...

We've been using used vehicles for a long, long while now. For one thing, I can actually work on them when they need it and that is no small thing. :)

Mostly though, I walk when I need to go somewhere and the need to go somewhere does not often manifest although Jen has to go to work; 30 miles to get there and no public transit that accommodates her times.

I already live in well used clothing and use well used items. Oddly, I got used to this sort of thing while I was still in the Marines all those years ago. :)

Walking helps with primitive trekking and hunting too, no bad thing.

Robo said...

I read somewhere that in the long run it was to always cheaper to keep on repairing an older car than it was to buy a new one, as long as the body and undercarriage held out.

Of course, there wouldn't be any cheap used cars (or anything else) if everyone else wasn't so keen on buying new ones. In the salvage economy to come, used stuff will be expensive, then unaffordable, and eventually unobtainable.

In the short term though, it's the way to go, especially since the old stuff is often made much nicer and simpler than the new stuff.

Plus, some older cars like my 2002 VW actually have windows that you move up and down with a little hand-crank. Very cool.

B-man said...

very nice piece (just discovered your blog a few weeks back). a general comment: I like the measured tone of your essays. A good rant is always fun. But, there is more to chew over with a carefully reasoned and well written work.
Brian Miller

DIYer said...

Continuing a thread from yesterday, about dehumidifiers. I hate to dismiss anyone's low tech idea, but feel compelled to comment on the suggested chemical dehumidifier. Using road salt?

There are any number of chemicals on the lab shelf that will take up humidity if expossed to air. They turn into a wet sloppy mess. Many of them are salts of one kind or another.

The problem with using this method to dehumidify a house, is that you are going to really need a lot of whatever salt you are using and you'll need to dispose of the brine -- you see, it gets back to thermodynamics. You can't decrease the entropy of your humid house without increasing the entropy of something else, in this case the salt.

Around the lab, if we have something small and precious that can be kept in a small confined space, and must be kept dry, we might use Calcium Sulfate (gypsum or plaster of paris).

It has some advantages -- gypsum is not readily soluble in water, and the hydrate does not become a liquid mess. You can bake the moisture out of the hydrate and re-use your CaSO4 many times.

But as I was saying, you'll need to invest some energy if you want to dehumidify a whole house.

peacegarden said...

Wow! What a day brightener! I almost rolled out of my chair over "MY OTHER CAR IS A PAIR OF SHOES"!

My husband and I spent the 4th working/playing in the garden, bottling the raspberry wheat beer we'd brewed 2 weeks ago, taking everything (and I do mean everything!) out of our deep chest freezer and rearranging the food (mostly meat) chronologically, then sorting eight or nine banker boxes of books. I found myself able to effortlessly decide which books to send to the library for fund raising and to the DAV thrift store (they have a very good used book and music section (LP's from the 50"s-whenever they became "old hat")

Friday evening, we were able to watch the big fireworks display from our sofa...the local stadium puts on a pretty good show.

Saturday, john (an engineer by trade) put up a well over-engineered clothesline system...yay! I think I will send the dryer out to the DAV…they will pick it up. Then we will have a space for storage next to the washer.

We came up with a way to not "need" a pick-up...a towable trailer. My 98 Hyundai Elantra can easily tow anything we might need, didn't check on John's 1990 Toyota Tercel! John commutes about ten miles round trip 4 days a week (10hour day), and I only use my car once a week for stacked errands. We live in the “Hill City”, so I am working on my physical health to have enough stamina to bike with a trailer within a year or two.

This weekend, I am taking a two-day Herbalism course. All is well.

Bill Pulliam said...

Patriotism... I have deep disagreements with much of what goes on in U.S. society and government. Still, whenever I travel to foreign lands, when I return it is clear that this is Home. I'm an American (a United Statian to be more accurate), there are things I expect in terms of personal liberty, political, religious, cultural, and social freedoms, and many other things that are rare or nonexistent even in other developed countries. There are many many problems with the way our government and justice systems run; but show me anywhere on earth that this is not true. We have an oppressed underclass that does not have access to the privileges and rights I take for granted; again show me any other nation of 100's of millions of ethnically and culturally diverse people where this is not true.

I fly the flag on national holidays; it is not the banner of one particular political faction, it is the banner of our entire system of government and our constitutional principles.

beneaththesurface said...

When I was a teenager I remember telling myself I would try to never own a car or at least get by without one as long as possible. So far, at age 31, I’ve been true to my intentions. At least in my case, it’s been actually way easier not having a car than if I had one.

The occasional time I’m elsewhere where a TV is on and I see car commercials, I’ve noticed cars are advertised as being synonymous with freedom. I find the opposite to be true—not having a car has made me feel free in so many ways. There’s financial freedoom: don’t have to worry about paying for the car, insurance, repairs, gas, parking tickets, speeding tickets, parking and garage fare. Then of course there’s all the many environmental reasons. And I don’t have to worry about gettting in an accident or accidentally hitting a pedestrian or biker.

And not having a car reduces anxiety in my case. During my late teenage years and the few times I’ve driven as a adult, I found that driving made me anxious. While driving on two-lane backroads were manageable, I found that driving on complicated multi-line highway entanglements made me nervous, maybe more so than other people. I’m not naturally accustomed to the fast-paced way of making quick decisions and multi-tasking that you need to do when driving. I used to feel it was a sign of my own weakness that I never felt comfortable driving the way other people did, but now I’ve learned to feel less ashamed about my anxiety around driving. It’s a legitimate and natural psychological reaction to what is an unnatural situation.

Of course it helps that I live in a very walkable neighborhood in a city with good public transportation. It’s a four minute walk to a small members-only basement food co-op where I get the majority of my food, a seven minute walk to the Farmers Market, a ten minute walk to the public library, a five minute walk to forests where I can hike and almost forget I live in the city, and many bus lines and a couple metro stations are just a few minutes walk from my house. The current paid work I do takes me to different households; oftentimes I can walk to work, or sometimes public transportation is a more feasible means of getting there.

I attended the ASPO conference last year, and while a few there were exclaiming that they took the train instead of flying, I can actually say I walked to the conference some of the days (about a four-mile walk from my house)! Walking is condusive to good thinking, and walking to and/or home from the ASPO conference helped me reflect on everything discussed. (I see that the conference will be in my city again this year, so I should be able to easily attend again!)

I’m actually not a city person at heart, and there’s a part of me that wants to move to a smaller town in a more rural area in the future. But I have to admit, the walkability and the ease of car-free living where I currently live is one of the main things keeping me here for the time being. If I do move, walkability will be high on my priority list when choosing where to live.

Craig said...

Fortunately for humans scavenging is instinctual and all that need be to break down the psychological barriers of the bourgeois is necessity or common sense.
Since my earliest childhood I have been salvaging to the horror of my mother. Yet even she has succumb to the instinct and now cannot resis. In fact her 1980's obsessive shopaholic tendencies where curbed then wiped out by used clothing shopping. Once the high price factor is removed clothing eventually looses its price value status and becomes cloths once again. If that initial hump of the "used" can be breached then the new program will eventually over come the illusion of the "Brand New" which is one the greatest fallacies of consumerism.

Larry said...

I enjoyed your blog and all the comments. I have three pages left of your latest book, The Economics of Nature,and finding it very concise and informative; I particularly like your distinctions between the primary, secondary and tertiary economies.

I too had a good fourth, riding my bicycle about fifty miles in the morning on the Chicago area's network of bike paths and "ridable" roads. For much of the ride I listed to David McCullough's history. 1776, on an audio downloand. George Washington was quite the fellow.

One of the things I missed, though, was fireworks; the longrunning big show in Chicago was cancelled after the 2009 season due to a number of reasons, but ultimately budget difficulties. This looks like only the beginning of the big "despending" as large deficits are being bandied about at every level of local and State government; I'd give the odds at less than 50% that the Chicago public schools will open this fall.

One of the points in your blog and book is saving money so as to have money to spend on more important items. One area I would encourage readers to explore as a use for surplus funds is "the process which they may require so as to become more physically fit" so to more cheerfully approach a future of long walks on dusty roads. The process may involve sports doctors, various types of trainers/alternative health providers, exercise videos et cetera. If you don't need a little help in this area you are fortunate indeed!

Thanks again for your writing.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Because rarely do I let pass the opportunity, I've probably noted here before that more than sufficient ICE's already exist to convert the remaining extractable fossil carbon liquid fuel resources to climate altering exhaust. The expertise and ecological footprint required to repair, re-purpose, or salvage some use from existing engines is orders of magnitude less than that required to produce new ones. I suspect that even if the entire fleet of US passenger vehicles could be replaced with 100mpg equivalent models, the up front material and energy cost of doing so would be greater than realized savings. There simply seems to be no need to manufacture any more cars at all, ever. Imagine the useful and productive purpose all that excess industrial capacity could be put. Thermal solar for everyone, and railway revitalization, for just a couple of examples.

Because older vehicles are much simpler, they are much easier to keep running than newer models. The salvage model also works quite well in this respect, the old parts being generally less expensive. The old vehicle up on blocks (out of the rusting wet), or better yet in a shed, as a source of parts for the still running twin is a tried and true economy. So, don't trade your failing hooptie for scrap $, acquire a more functional same make and model jalopy.

At the end of the fossil fuel run, the trickle of available vegetable oil and wood gas can be used in simple durable engines such as the Lister.

Great point Bill regarding housing. Like cars, older houses tend to be more simple. The repairs generally are too, even though there may be more of them. Many rural properties, especially old farms, will already have their own small junkyard. A twofer!

Once the byways become much less saturated with giant careening FUVs the healthfulness of bicycling may begin to out way the risk that some inattentive portable electronic device obsessed driver will make an inadvertent grill ornament of me. Until then, even walking facing traffic is a wary exercise.

Planner said...

Here's one way to look at it: "The only thing worse than voluntary poverty is involuntary poverty." So you might as well go with the flow.

The way I see it, making due with LESS comes down to sacrificing the two C's: comfort and convenience. Over time you can learn to be comfortable with LESS. However, for the vast majority of Americans forsaking comforts and conveniences will run counter to the dominant cultural norms. For example, biking to work in the rain is less comfortable and convenient than driving to work in the rain. Oppessive humidity is less comfortable than air conditioning. Making dinner from scratch is less convenient than ordering take-out.

We know that a third C - cost - will force many to involuntary relinquish comfort and convenience. But does it really have to come down to disparate individuals and families making the culturally difficult choice to live in voluntary poverty? As you say, "[to confront the] stark panic felt by so many middle class Americans at the thought of being mistaken for someone who’s actually poor."

I really believe it would be a heck of a lot easier on people to downshift if it were more culturally-acceptable. The question becomes how do we make it less culturally threatening for people to embrace voluntary poverty? Is it possible?

Twilight said...

Well, my car was bought brand new – 12 years ago. I think it was the least expensive car available at that time. At that point in my life I had 2 young children and was overloaded restoring an old farmhouse, and my crap old vehicle was demanding too much of my time. It still runs very well, but then it was carefully chosen for fuel economy, basic simplicity and ease of repair (which it has thankfully not needed much of).

Repairing things is maybe the one true skill I have, sometimes it seems my whole world is filled with things that need to be fixed. We could never afford to pay someone to do the repairs we need, our budget simply could not support it. Likewise we could not afford to replace everything that fails either. While it is often frustrating when something fails (I'm often found ranting “can't I ever just use something, must I always fix it first?), I know that repairing equipment is a valuable skill, and one that used to be commonplace. It takes time to learn how things are made and how they come apart, so once you've figured that out the object becomes relatively more valuable to you.

Based on that experience, I'm fairly careful in the kinds of equipment I will accept, whether it be by purchase or salvage, because eventually that thing will place demands on my time. Therefore I look for things that are assembled in such a way that I can take it apart, made with materials that are durable, and do not contain unneeded complexity, etc. Often times that means older products are preferred. Many of the “advances” in newer products have nothing to do with improving functionality, and are instead about reducing the cost of parts and manufacture. The product itself is often inferior.

I've got quite a collection of old computers I've acquired, mostly because I couldn't see them go to the dump or shipped to Asia so children could take them apart. They all work fine, although mostly I do not need them. My laptop was built from about 6 machines that were being disposed of by my employer, plus some extra bits bought on eBay, running Linux. I've got so many spare parts that I should be able to keep it running for a long time.

Lastly, remember that entropy cannot be defeated – whenever you fix something, entropy requires that something else somewhere in the world must fail. The law of unintended consequences usually requires that it be something else you own.

Jack Christopher said...

Also there's carsharing and ridesharing:

It's not just commercial car borrowing but people sharing ownership.

DickLawrence said...

JMG, thank you for that article! You have articulated, better than I possibly could, why I acquired a 1987 Dodge Dakota (with the long-unavailable full-size bed) 7 years ago, and drive it perhaps 1500 miles per year (odometer / speedometer's busted so it's a fair estimate - the other 4000 miles are bicycle miles). And why I shop for jeans, khakis, shirts, and sweatshirts at the Salvation Army (showed my daughters how to shop there when they were young). And why my laptops have always been bought on EBay after leaving my high-tech job.

Dick Lawrence

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Good morning to JMG and all:

Re this whole post:

Last night I had a "vision" of the future. At dusk I biked over to the local park where people often practice tai chi at the center of a group of widely spaced maples and oaks. This evening it was empty, but years of people practicing tai chi have given the place a special feeling--like there's extra chi there. The fireflies were flickering.

While doing a qigong exercise I happened to look at the street; there was a man on a recumbent bike riding along, and behind the bike was a long trailer (at least as long as a car) on which was an unidentifiable tarp-covered load. The whole thing looked inevitable, from his energy-saving posture to the tail-lights on the back, as he glimmered along, half visible in the deepening twilight.

Re embedded energy:
I once read that you must drive a new prius at least 40,000 miles before you get to where you're actually saving energy with the hybrid gas system. So I'd imagine something similar for electric cars.

Re buying used:
Twenty-five years ago we bought an inexpensive 100-year-old "used" house in a "used" "streetcar suburb" near the el to Chicago. No regrets.

Some of my gardening tools were previously owned either by my husband's mother or grandma.

I do buy new things--like the mason jars I got the other week: they'll last a really, really long time and it beats weeks of fruitless searching at garage sales. And I wear my own vintage clothes I bought new years ago and haven't worn out yet. If you do buy new, buy for usefulness, sturdiness and longevity.

As a child, my mom wore floursack dresses, and glad whe was to have them, too.

Maria said...

Chicken fried tofu sounds delicious, actually. I generally leave deep frying to the professionals, though. I shudder to think of the fossil fuels it would take to get the fire department here to put out the fire I would inevitably create. :)

Interesting post. You are giving me a lot of food for thought as I figure out my best employment options going forward. Still thinking...

divelly said...

We have had cars and not had cars.
When we lived in DelMarVa,with NO public transport,it was a necessity.Now in NYC,we got rid of the thing after about a year.Our insurance went from $50/mo. to $125-only difference was the zip code.I budgeted $100/mo. for parking tickets.We got our side mirror knocked off while parked and were ticketed for "Damaged safety equipment"!
Then there is alternate side of the street parking.Good riddance!One can walk to anything one needs in any city built prior to the invention of the automobile-IMHO the worst thing ever to happen to Mother Earth.

DPW said...

While I agree with the "buy used" bit, I have to point out that the usability of used goods is rapidly decreasing. Most of the stuff you find in goodwill (which now seems to be run like a for-profit corporation) these days is worn-out, cheap junk that isn't worth the $9.99 price tag. Of course there are diamonds in the rough, but my thrift-store experiences have become less and less fruitful over the years.

As with anything, it pays to be savvy. I have no problem finding most if not all of my new retail goods at 50-75% off. I still work in the "you must look like Dilbert" office world, so dressing relatively well is a priority for me to keep my job. I've been able to shop sales though and stay fashionable on the cheap, often for only a few more dollars than buying worn-out clothes at the thrift-store. Latest score was a brand new pair of khakis for $13.13 w/ tax that should last for 3+ years of wear. I don't feel good about contributing to the corporations, but I figure if I'm paying $13 for a $70 pair of pants, I'm not giving them that much support. I don't expect this to be available "forever", but as abundance-industrialism meets deflation, there will be some great deals to be had in the near-term.

Anyway, just a little hat-tip towards looking for the cheapest way to do what works for you...often that is paying a few more bucks to get something of higher quality to begin with, when it's on a deep discount, and then using it up, wearing it out, etc.

The other maxim of course is to just make do with less and only buy things that have a very long service life...cast-iron pots and pans, more simple devices, repairable electronics, etc.

And take good care of what you buy. Respect it. Keep it clean.

I love the direction this is going in and look forward to the conversation on here.

Odin's Raven said...

Here's some people who aren't economising, buying second-hand or stinting themselves in their efforts to save the planet.

Sometimes the sermon is 'do as I say, but not as I do.'

Petro said...

The gem of this post is the talking point regarding jobs in a salvage economy. I've encountered that argument a lot recently, and I could do little more than stammer about the offshoring - an argument I dislike since I'm not about exceptionalism.

Thanks for some points that a (reasonably open-minded) acolyte of Mises could grasp.

Wandering Watcher said...

Just last night my fiance and I were looking at siberian huskies, and amidst the warnings about how much exercise they need was a fascinating solution; a lay-back style bike with a harness on either side for husky-propulsion! When I think of animal-powered transport, I usually think horses, so this hadn't really occurred to me.

It got me wondering, though; does anyone have much experience with keeping large dogs on a subsistence homestead? A horse can graze, and a human subsistence diet winds up being mostly plants, but dogs are better suited to eating meat, so how does one keep your dogs healthy and well-fed with what you can grow and raise on a few acres?

Kieran O'Neill said...

@Bill Linux is a pretty good option for running on older hardware, and has been ported to a wide range of hardware platforms, including older Macs. It will likely involve a bit of a learning curve, but could keep you running on the same hardware for years to come.

For people generally, there are often local groups of philanthropic computer geeks who take older used computers, install Linux on them, and sell/donate them to the public. In Vancouver, these guys come to mind.

John Michael Greer said...

Nate, excellent. It's exactly the habit of thinking through everything in energy terms that shows just how absurd so many of our current habits are.

Rita, thank you for the recommendations! I don't know of any blacksmithying schools to recommend off hand; I hope some of the readers will have suggestions.

Susan, get used to being poor -- we're all headed that way. The thing to remember is that it's possible to do so with some degree of comfort and dignity.

Bill, agreed about used houses! As for the efficiency of e-cars, well, there are all kinds of numbers doing the rounds, and the ones circulated by e-car aficionados do fairly often insist that e-cars are more efficient. I have my doubts.

Cherokee, I'll be talking about green waste shortly. There's a reason I compost everything that doesn't run away too fast, and rake the alley every fall to get all those leaves for winter mulching!

Jonathan, an excellent mantra!

Sophie, many thanks for the recommendations! Did the book on John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed mention that he was a Swedenborgian missionary, thus part of the long history of alternative religion in this country? A fascinating guy.

Gary, er, you need to lay off the greenwashing. You've rounded down the efficiency of internal combustion engines -- most sources I've seen put the average around 25% -- and rounded up the efficiency of electrical batteries, motors, etc. Even if you were right, you've got maybe a 4% gain in efficency to balance against the fact that the coal and natural gas burnt in power plants have far less energy density per unit volume than petroleum -- to get the same amount of electricity, for example, you have to burn three times as much coal as bunker oil -- and so you're producing more CO2 to drive your e-car that you'd produce with a conventional car.

Cracked, repeating the claim that breeder reactors are a good idea doesn't make it true, you know. Have you noticed that nobody's been able to keep one of those working for long, and the sweeping promises made concerning them over the last half dozen decades have consistently failed to come true?

Girl, well, you choose what you need to go with your projects. In your place I'd be learning how to drive a horsedrawn wagon!

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Houses and their fixability.. houses built before WWII tend to be very straightforward and made from parts that were intended to be fixed and replaced if needed. In the second half of the 20th Century it got rapidly weirder. Our house is from 1886, at which time the wood-frame house was still a relatively new invention. Our construction is so straightforward it is child's play. I could just about take the whole thing apart and put it back together from the ground up with little more than a prybar, a hammer, and some ladders. I have joked (and let's hope it remains a joke!!) that if a tornado tore the house apart, I could just sort through the rubble field for the usable pieces and nail them back together into a smaller version of the same house!

DPW said...

As serendipity would have it, a good friend of mine wrote a blog post on the word "junk shop" that is spot-on for today...she picks a new word out of the dictionary each day or so and writes a little essay about it mostly drawing off her life experiences:

cvncvbn said...

I have read this blog eagerly since discovering it a few months ago - thanks so much JMG for these weekly gems!

As someone working through the nascent stages of green wizardry aspirations, I have a question for the readers here:

Several comments have suggested that EVs may yet be more efficient than gas powered ones, especially given a mix of more versus less carbon-emitting sources of electricity in any given state.

Several years ago I purchased the book "How to Convert to an Electric Car" on Ebay, hoping one day to convince my husband (trained in physics) to help me convert our '95 Honda Civic. Since then our Honda died and we replaced it last year with a '95 Volvo station wagon.

Though I work entirely from home and my husband commutes only two days per week by (mostly) public transit, we're still car-dependent for our weekly rounds of errands. Being a one-car family, so far my husband won't take the risk of tinkering with our sole working vehicle until it's at the point of failure anyway - at which time, theoretically, we'd buy another very used car and make the Volvo an experiment. If it worked out well, we could resell the newer purchase.

In an optimistic scenario of EV benefit, does this salvage effort make sense? How about in a pessimistic scenario?

Thanks again JMG and everyone for such a valuable and thought-provoking dialogue.

Kieran O'Neill said...

After a night's sleep, and some reflection, it occurred to me that life cycle analysis of modern products, while horrifically complicated, is actually a pretty good problem for computers and the Internet to tackle.

And it turns out there is a fair amount of interest in that today, with both free and commercial software for this purpose being available, as well as an initiative to get companies to openly share the relevant information needed to perform a comprehensive analysis. There is also an academic journal of life cycle analysis.

I think this could help over the next few decades. My suspicion is that there are, or will be, at least some products whose energy efficiency (and overall ecological impact) is so much better than older technology that it does offset their production, transportation and disposal costs. But it will be essential to have reliable data on every aspect of the life cycle to be able to identify such a product (or better still, to design it). What would be really amazing would be if products came with some form of compulsory life cycle impact value labeling, like the current energy efficiency labels.

Meanwhile, buying (or salvaging) used as much as possible is a pretty good rule to follow (and will continue to be, even if some products turn out to be better to buy new).

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, well, I don't see anyone else putting up a hand, so consider yourself volunteered for the project!

Janne, I'm waiting for a good objecting analysis from somebody who doesn't have a dog in the fight -- and MIT doesn't qualify. sounded good on paper, too; unfortunately we're nowhere near Peak Hype yet.

Jason, I scent a business opportunity -- someone who was willing to approach the city government, take over the job of picking up and hauling away abandoned bikes, refurbish the ones in good condition and part out the rest, partly for spares and partly for innovative human-powered devices.

Wizard, excellent! You get today's gold star for anticipating the archdruid -- the profession you've started is one I've been planning to propose to all those people who want to know what they can do to make a living in the salvage economy.

Thijs, that's an interesting point, and I'd welcome info from someone who knows the numbers -- say, the energy density of liquefied natural gas as compared to petroleum distillates.

tOm, thanks for the tips!

Mustard, nicely salvaged. So long as you run your car until it drops, the logic I've suggested is at least partly in place. As for Wombles, somehow I managed not to encounter them until now -- a pity. They seem like pleasant neighbors!

Yupped, that's one of the reasons why my spouse and I moved to a relatively poor Rust Belt town. Still, there are many different options.

SAL, that's good to hear.

Karim, a lot of other countries still remember what most Americans have forgotten, that goods shared among families and friends collect memories and weave community. Thanks for the reminder!

Cherokee, you should certainly look up ham radio. The communication net of the future -- and probably the internet equivalent of the not too distant future -- is sitting there waiting for green wizards to get to work on it.

Siani, well, there you go. I know that part of what I say every week is preaching to the choir!

Robo, that's why I commented that the buy-it-used formula is for the short term. The salvage economy is ultimately self-limiting, but it's a bridge to the ecotechnic economy, and will clean up a lot of messes in the process.

Kevin said...

The scavenge - er, salvage economy is already on, as someone remarked here a while back. A few days past I noticed a satellite dish left on the sidewalk in front of a big house. Having neither storage for it nor tools to work it, I passed it by. But a day or two later I spotted it in the back of a pickup, along with a lot of similar stuff. Not an old rusty pickup either, but a nice shiny 4-by-4. When I tapped on the dish, it turned out to be metal, not fiberglass.

I've never owned a new car, though I've had a few used ones. The little one I share with my family also is used, and seldom travels far. We have no need for an ego vehicle. What I'm hoping to get is a boat for habitation as proposed by Dmitry Orlov.

I'm still working on a parabolic solar cooker of my own design, intended to fit in a window. Today I hope to finish the final components of a mold for multiple copies.

One curious thing about the sixties counterculture is that while it embraced voluntary poverty and rejected acquisitive materialism, at the same time there was an emphasis on the enjoyment of beauty, including that of material things, as expressed in the crafts movement to which it gave impetus.

GHung said...

@Rita, Re: Blacksmithing-

John C. Cambell Folkschool

I understand that the blacksmithing program usually has a waiting list and isn't inexpensive. They also may be able to recommend other programs, though this is considered one of the best. Beautiful campus environment in NC mountains.

Turley Forge in Sante Fe is supposed to be good as well, though looks a bit more rustic.

Googling blacksmithing schools brings up several possibilities.

peacegarden said...

Adrian Ayers Fisher...I love your vision...I wonder what was under that tarp?



Jason Heppenstall said...

Thanks for the suggestion of a business salvaging the many thousands of abandoned bikes here in Copenhagen JMG. As a matter of fact I probably won't be living here too much longer but if any budding Green Wizards fancied a sure thing business idea here I'd be happy to point them in the right direction as I have one or two contact in the city's environment department.

Regarding salvaging old cars it strikes me that now is the perfect time to go for it seeing as you can take advantage of the internet to learn how to bring back to life a dead car. Even complete novices (like myself) can use some of the tutorials on YouTube to, say, replace alternators, fan belts and the like. Like other posters have noted, older cars tend to be better because they are more easily fixable. I used to own a VW Kombi, and was able to do some fairly serious work on it - thanks to some clear tutorials.

If you really need a car go for something pretty ubiquitous because spares will be easy to come by.

I'm currently considering the idea of investing in used car alternators. Given that they are relatively cheap at the moment, and that they are quite compact and easy to store, I'd be willing to bet that they are one of the few things that will keep value over time. Not sure what anyone else thinks of this idea ...

This also goes for old houses, as Bill says. Here in Europe it's a little different in that old houses tend to be more valuable than new ones, but you can still find run down semi-ruins going for a song. I personally couldn't imagine living in a new house ... to me houses are like good wines and get better with time - the older the better (once you brush away the cobwebs). Saying that, many of the modern houses I see being built won't get better with time - so it might just be a case of making the best of what you've got.

Kevin said...

One thing I wonder is just how recyclable are plastics? Would melting them down be necessary (toxic, energy consuming), or can they be processed for reuse by some cleaner means? If so, there might be enough economic motivation for folks with boats to collect scrap for reuse from the Pacific garbage patch and other oceanic rubbish spots, which would serve the double purpose or recycling and cleaning up the oceans. But I'm not sure how the economics would shake down. Any thoughts on this?

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Yupped mentioned ‘The Good Life’. Ah... another 70s flashback, along with my own childhood memories of The Wombles. Evidence that at least here in the pre-Corporate UK of 40 years ago, there were some Green shoots... Even now, ‘The Good Life’ is often referred to in general discussions of self-sufficiency. An idealistic husband, practical (and attractive) wife, friendly and put-upon corporate wage-slave neighbour, and his hideously social climbing, rather horrified, and condescending wife... Such a potent mix for a sitcom - we Brits used to do them so well back then!

On which, I’d thoroughly recommend Porridge, (prison life) Open All Hours, (corner shop, now largely extinct) The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, (corporate life toady turns bad) Yes Minister, / Prime Minister, (political and bureaucratic chicanery) and Dad’s Army (a class comedy set in the Home Guard reserve forces of WW2), and Are You Being Served, (Department Store life). Though the best sitcom ever, never to be surpassed, was the woefully mismanaged Fawlty Towers hotel. I fully expect the classic scripts of that will be performed by storytellers to the Ruinmen around the camp fires of Stars Reach.

And to think we even gave the world a classic salvage society sitcom - Steptoe and Son. They were what we called Rag and Bone men, both in poverty, the clinging, reliant old man with disgusting habits, opposing an aspirational son, to nicely set up the comedy tension. Though I’d imagine that by the late 60s / early 70s when that was written, rag and bone were no longer the valuable items they once were...

Hey... you guys owe us some back! The only worthwhile US sitcoms I can recall were set in a field hospital, bar and radio station... M*A*S*H, Cheers and Frasier...

Matthew Heins said...


Ha! I go twitchy calculating the numbers for the monthly bills -I think I'll leave the energy-use comparison between the 7 different solvents available from one of several dozen possible contract solvent factories for a sub-division of a overseas parter of GM to someone else, thanks. ;)

Luckily Kieran's post assuages my guilt a little since it seems like some serious folks are already taking the next step with lifecycle analysis and design. Definitely going to research this more though. Example of one of my favorite things about the Collective Unconscious: a random thought of mine turns out to be a scholarly field with a journal!

Gives me real hope that the sort of computer-power that an academic institution or large firm or government agency has at hand is/will be turned on to this sort of thing.

Kieran's links made me think of the new Triscuit(tm) boxes that come with a little square of seed-cardboard with instructions on how to plant and care for the seeds to grow your own herbs.

Seen in the Safeway(tm) that same day: Better Homes and Gardens(tm), that "c" is meant to be a cent symbol) featuring "160-plus Money-Saving Meals" that went so far as to advise pantry and kitchen equipment plans that could have been out of a Sharon Astyk book.

Sign of a bit of cultural shift?


Jon said...

I feel that humans are still mostly hierarchically ordered primates who live and die by peer status. What I love about the Voluntary Simplicity movement, is that it allows a person to move up one status ladder (being part of a simplicity movement and helping save the earth), while moving down another (becoming poor), and thus paralyzing fear is averted. Which is good, because it is trying to be much richer that puts all our lives in jeopardy, and being even greatly poorer might actually mean an increase in life expectancy (if it removes junk food and adds some exercise).
I think that finding tricks and techniques to work with our mend-and-make-do evolutionary patchwork brains might be just as valuable as the tricks and techniques of energy harvesting and salvage. I encourage gathering them up and putting them to the bag of green wizard tricks.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Reading all of these comments about repairing things suddenly brought me back to when I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was 16.

That was the book that set me on the course towards thinking about things more profoundly. An awareness of embodied energy and indeed thinking in terms of energy flows and material wastage is really what every kid should be learning at school these days.

In that sense, the art of salvage is truly a Zen thing.

GHung said...

It's time to gloat a bit (imagine that). I just took my first full, long, hot, bona fide 100% solar heated shower, a 30 minute test of our now nearly completed system. Our previous system was solar assisted, feeding pre-heated water to a tankless propane water heater, and had been off-line for over a year: one of my semi-false starts; useful but not efficient. The salvaged 70's era collectors had deteriorated beyond repair.

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, I used parts of the old collectors to construct new ones, ala BuilditSolar, modified. I've been testing the one fully completed collector for for about a week with great results. Two days ago I flushed and refilled the storage system (450 gal. poly tank) with cold, fresh water and replaced the heat exchanger loop with 120' of 3/4" soft copper tubing (puchased new about 6 years ago for this purpose) and tied it into our potable water plumbing this morning. I've turned the tankless water heater off and bypassed it.

In two fairly overcast days the storage tank temperature had risen to 112 degrees (f). I measured the hot water at our shower at 111 degrees, so the heat exchanger works well. After over 20 minutes of shower time (about 2gpm), the tank temp was still at 112 (about a foot below the high water level, where the heat exchanger is).

Since I'm still constructing two more panels and haven't finished insulating everything, output and efficiency will improve quite a bit.

This is a very simple and robust drainback system, non-glycol, single pump, made with mostly salvaged and used stuff. Anyone with a few basic skills can do this. It's a big step for us as it will cut our propane use by perhaps 90% or more. We're getting very close to total energy self-sufficiency, mostly solar.

Keeping my nose to the gridstone ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

B-man, thank you!

Peacegarden, I may just have to invite myself over some day to try the raspberry wheat beer. All in all, it sounds like you and your husband are doing the work -- thank you for that encouragement.

Bill, thank you. I appreciate hearing from someone who can still think outside the extremes.

Beneath, I was one of the people who came to ASPO last year by train; I may try walking it one of these years, since the C&O Canal Trail runs from here to there -- granted, it's a good 180-plus miles, but it would be quite a little adventure. As for small and medium sized towns, if you get one that's been around for a while it can be entirely walkable.

Craig, bingo. In fact, once you get past the psychological barriers, buying things used becomes a good deal more entertaining, since it's less predictable.

Larry, thank you. As it happens, I'll be talking about health and fitness a few weeks from now; as you've probably already guessed, my suggestions are not going to be anything like the standard ones. Stay tuned!

Lloyd, I think you're quite correct on that.

Planner, the interesting thing is that you actually don't have to give up much in the way of comfort or convenience. What you have to give up is the specific forms of comfort and convenience that Americans today are used to. That is to say, it's mostly a matter of fashion, and will change as fashions do. That's why I think it's so important that people get to work now, and provide good examples of how it's possible to live comfortably and well with a lot less energy, stuff and stimulation; as the industrial world winds down, they'll be the models that others will follow.

Twilight, have you considered a second career as a bodger? Along the lines of Thriftwizard's comment earlier, there are a lot of very good used items that could be cleaned up, reconditioned, put in fine working order, and sold or bartered to those who need them.

Jack, true enough!

Dick, you're most welcome! Glad to hear you're one of the wizards!

Adrian, there is extra ch'i there; it's a common side effect of that kind of practice. What kind of qigong do you do?

Maria, I tend toward the fumblefingered, and I haven't burned the place down yet! You might give it a try.

John Michael Greer said...

Divelly, I've never understood why anybody who lives in a big city owns a car. The costs and annoyances are so high, and the need so small!

DPW, I wonder if it's a regional thing; I've had no trouble finding good things at the local Goodwill, or the various other thrift shops and not-quite-antique malls, either here in Cumberland or where I used to live in southern Oregon. Mind you, your other points are excellent, and will be coming up soon.

Raven, it's called the professionalization of dissent, and pervades the current activist scene. Gah.

Petro, glad to hear it. Another thing to point out to your favorite Mises fan is that salvage economics is the free market at its best -- small businesses and individual customers interacting, with none of the corporate welfare that pervades the rest of the economy.

Watcher, that's an interesting idea, but you'll have to take it up with those who understand dogs, which I don't. An animal that naturally feeds fairly high on the food chain might be a bit of a challenge unless you have plenty of animal protein to spare, though.

Bill, our 1925 bungalow is a bit more complex, but not much; nearly all the pipes can be accessed directly from the basement, for example. When we were househunting, my wife and I had a rule: nothing built after the Second World War. It served us well.

DPW, let's hear it for synchronicity.

Cvncvbn, heck of a good question -- I don't have the knowledge to offer an answer, and a great deal would depend on where you live and what local electrical resources are like.

Kieran, that sounds like a real possibility. Any volunteers?

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, that last comment of yours is very important. We don't actually have a materialistic culture -- no honest materialist would have the least patience with the shoddy, uncomfortable garbage with which most Americans are expected to fill our lives. We have a culture that's hung up on abstract symbols of wealth and status. Those who duck out of the pursuit of those abstract symbols very often begin to notice the actual beauty of material objects well crafted. More on this later.

Jason, that seems like a sensible plan. Make sure you get to work on neat things you can do with the alternators, though, because most people won't have a clue.

Kevin, that's an important question that would need a good industrial chemist to answer. Anyone in the audience?

Mustard, well, I'm not the one to ask -- I haven't owned a TV in my adult life -- but I suspect the American sense of humor is not that well suited to sitcoms.

John Michael Greer said...

Matt, maybe so. The US post office has recently started selling first class stamps with energy saving tips, too.

Jon, you could certainly make a case for that.

Jason, I need to reread that one of these days -- it was a fave of mine back in the day.

Ghung, excellent! Many congratulations, and long hot showers to come.

dltrammel said...

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's a picture for everyone here who reads the ADR.

"Green Wizards World Wide Map"

Hi everyone, I'm David and I've commented here occasionally. I am a recently added moderator on the "Green Wizards.Org" website, along side Cathy McGuire, to help promote the concepts JMG teaches here on the ADR.

You'll find me there as "dtrammel", lol I forgot the "L" when I registered and didn't notice it for several weeks. Stuck with it now I guess.

While the name "Green Wizards" may roll a few eyes, and cause a laugh or two, we are a wide slice of people on this planet all trying to get ready for the coming descent, by sharing techniques and information.

If you haven't, I'd like to invite you to sign up with us and make an introduction. Add yourself to the map if you'd like but if the group thing isn't for you, I'd still ask you to add your location to the map. We'd love to know where everyone is.

Also if you have a blog or website, feel free to add it to your listing. Let me know if you have problems with the html code and I'll square it away for you.

(If you have posted an introduction there, you are probably up already. Please check to see I put you in the right place, some of you were pretty vague on your location...)

Making the map, I was surprised how many people are near other people who follow JMG. Nice thought that you have friends who you can share gardening techniques for your area, or just share a "Hi ya'll".

You can even get a peek where a certain Archdruid lives...

We've had one informal Meet-Up in the Northwest recently, and we hope we'll be having more across the country in the next few years. Perhaps you can join us.

Sophie Gale and I are working on a Midwest Meet-up perhaps this Fall for those in the Chicago-St. Louis area. If you are interested, please send me an email via the Green Wizard's site.

At the very least if you add your location, maybe when JMG goes to negotiate that next book contract he can show the Publisher all the people who follow him, and maybe get a few extra dollars in the deal for some useful bit of appropriate tech for the Greer

I have a post on the Green Wizard's Forums explaining how to add yourself to the map here:

"How to Add Myself to the Green Wizard Map"


Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "We don't actually have a materialistic culture -- no honest materialist would have the least patience with the shoddy, uncomfortable garbage with which most Americans are expected to fill our lives. We have a culture that's hung up on abstract symbols of wealth and status. "

Wow, this is so true; I need to assimilate this. I have always said that the true religion of American society is not any form of Christianity, it is Materialism. I say that people seek their answers, identity, comfort, and meaning in their things, which is what people get from religion. But you are absolutely right; it is not the actual things, it is the appearance of the things, the fantasy of the things, the idea of the things. I'm gonna have to find a better term for this and modify my standard declaration...

medved said...

There is little somebody from Europe can say re July 4th, except for Enjoy! (pre-consumer societies had much more feasts than we have now and did they know how to celebrate them). As for the cars, the Life Cycle Analyses of German VW Golf (decent hatchback) about 10 years ago discovered that the manufacturing energy is equivalent to about 2 years of driving (counted as 10 000 miles/year). So driving much less than this you figure out that buying new is not a good investment (even with European gas prizes).

humblebumble said...

as far as i can tell, the main reason most people drive cars is for making themselves look bigger. men do the same things with power tools. give a little, weak man a chainsaw and he thinks he's rambo. give a silly little boy a car and he thinks he's the Fonz

phil harris said...

RE recycling bikes
Watching 200 bikes go in the crusher - ouch.
JMG scents a business opportunity for you.
There seem to be a lot in the UK. Perhaps this would work in your city?
We collected 25 old bikes from peoples' sheds in our rural area, and these nice people managed to come and collect them.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I've taken various tai chi classes and learned some qigong--some iron shirt, 8 pieces of brocade--along the way, but no serious, formal training. Had dropped practice for a few years and am now getting back into it.

@peacegarden aka Gail:
Thanks--it was encouraging--it's always encouraging to see (and hear about) real alternatives being carried forward.

BTW: My brother makes a good raspberry wheat beer. He brought lemon shandy to our cookout. Home brew is the best!

DPW said...

Re: thrift-stores-

I think it is highly-regional and probably even more fine-toothed than that. I imagine Ashland had a pretty booming thrift scene when the economy was doing well and the college kids were casting off plenty of dross each quarter...along with the crunchy-cons and green-abundance believers. It may be a different story there now.

In the years to come, it will be harder and harder to live off the unwanted scraps of the system (as others have identified). Free-ganism is highly viable in a time of perceived abundance...not so much when the cultural memes shift towards pinching the nickel till the buffalo...makes chips.

sgage said...

@ Bill
"I'm gonna have to find a better term for this and modify my standard declaration... "

I have long felt that Materialism was the wrong term for what we know and feel to be a dead end. I think "Consumerism" works better.

It has the idea folded right into it not of utility or enjoyment, but of acquisition, which is what drives the whole marketing/capitalist/whatever-it-is madness.

I am NOT a consumer. I am a citizen...

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I'm not sure there's a convenient word for people who live life as a representation of itself; if you figure one out, I'd welcome hearing it.

Medved, you must have something to celebrate in your corner of Europe, so have a happy whichever day it is!

Bumble, it was a common belief in the high school I attended that the guys who drove big trucks were doing it to make up for a certain underendowment elsewhere. That always made me wonder about the American passion for SUVs.

Phil, glad to hear it.

Adrian, fair enough -- and good to hear that you're picking it up again. You're quite right about homebrew, of course!

DPW, true enough. The interesting thing being that the town where I live now is relatively impoverished, but the thrift stores are great.

KL Cooke said...

"BTW, you can still see Odd Bodkins comics:"

Back in the 60's Odd Bodkins, along with Charles McCabe, where the best things in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Thanks for the link. I've missed Dan O'Neil.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- "I'm not sure there's a convenient word for people who live life as a representation of itself"

On pondering... the word "glamour" comes to mind... both in its present-day cultural meaning and its earlier supernatural meaning.

Kevin said...

Concerning American pseudo-materialism and its philosophical fallacies, I agree completely. I first encountered this insight in an essay written decades ago by Aldous Huxley, at a time when most consumer goods available in the United States were probably a good deal better than they are now.

As to recycling oceanic garbage: my belief is that it will happen only when a good many people have a compelling commjrm364dFnGsvbIuxv/UvX8ZdJyphQPFgtH0/bhjwjLqt1JjC7QawZph4hsdGZiGYQCgDMgDeDe24QJ25hxEjpqumhL9usmrPmrL2w1RgX0jlxom0yhBskfGi

Yupped said...

On a related track to salvaging stuff, I’d like to put in a plug for sharing stuff. I’ve been working on setting up a local community garden (allotment), and it has been fun to see various gardeners go from a “that’s my shovel” mindset to a more communal approach in about 3-4 weeks. It’s just a lot easier to put all the shovels together in a corner and take one when you need it, than it is to cart your tools back and forth to your home. They’d better keep their hands off my good compost, though. ☺

beneaththesurface said...

You make a good point in the beginning of your essay when you discuss how some people in the peak oil blogosphere denounce the Fourth of July holiday, and the uselessness of that to furthering the peak oil dialogue.

In general, I find it often more effective to challenge and motivate people to actually deeply embrace the ideals and values they supposedly identify with instead of denouncing them. That’s true whether it’s conservatism, liberalism, moderatism, radicalism, Christianity, Druidry, free market-ism, American democracy, American freedom, whatever.

One of the reasons why the peak oil (and peak other things too…) issue interests me to a much greater degree than any other issue I’ve cared about is because it hasn’t (at least not entirely) been characterized as a movement of one end of the political spectrum. I see that as potentially more powerful. If I talk about my concern about climate change (which I am concerned about) I’m often automaticallly assumed to be a leftist. This strikes me as odd, because I think being truly conservative should mean one should be concerned about climate change!

I find it inspiring that some people from different parts of the political spectrum are speaking up and taking action about peak oil. I admire Roscoe Bartlett, a very conservative Republican from your district, who I think is being true to his conservative ideals, unlike most politicians who claim to be conservative. I just watched a 60-minute youtube speech he made at a Congressional hearing:

I’m thankful for his commitment and courage (even if I don’t agree with some details of his views, such as his support for more nuclear power).

Some political issues that have become very polarized weigh me down, and even when I do identify with one side more than the other. There is a lack of creativity in all ends of the political sphere in dealing with contentious issues. And I’m not implying that the supposed “middle ground” of certain polarized issues is always the best answer either. Being creative politically means not repeating the same arguments and tactics over and over again thinking that it will effect change, no matter how “right” a stance may be… Sometimes I think it’s important to acknowledge that certain people disagree and are not going to easily change, accept that, and creatively work with that disagreement instead of trying to force political agreement. Maybe this relates to your discussion of dissensus as a powerful tool sometimes too, and that there are limits to what working for consensus can achieve.

I myself have often avoided aligning myself too closely with any single political label or party, even though I acknowledge that political parties and labels can have a useful purpose to a certain extent. The only political label I wear is being a registered independent and I’m suspicious of ideologues of any kind. In some ways I could say my views are liberal, in some ways moderate, in some ways conservative, in some ways radical, and sometimes all simultaneously. It depends more on what people actually mean by those political labels…

escapefromwisconsin said...

When you're constantly told by reactionary political forces that if you disagree with a political course of action- be it going to war without provocation, drilling in protected wilderness or cutting taxes on the rich - that you "hate America", pretty soon you start to believe it. I think that's the situation a lot of thinking people find themselves in, particularly as they are surrounded by more and more zombies spouting the reactionary political rhetoric they heard on TV or talk radio last night. It's very easy to get cynical facing down that every day. It doesn't help either when national-level politicians brand anyone who isn't a rural, gun-owning, white Evangelical Christian as "not a real American."

As you well know, the salvage economy is already what they do in much of the so-called "developing" world. A few months ago there was the story of the old Georgian babushka who was digging for buried cable to sell for scrap and ended up knocking out the internet for the entire country of Armenia. A sobeing thought for those who think the Internet will always be with us even in the age of energy descent. In fact, I recently heard that the single largest portion of the Georgian economy is selling off scrap from Soviet-era detritus.

Fortunately, growing up poor, I never expected anything more for myself than the basics, no matter what my income. It's helped me out in this economy, and kept me from a lot of mistakes, although initially it had little to do with being environmentally conscious and more to do with just not having money. I've never owned a new car - it makes no financial sense to do so. The minute you drive it off the lot, it's literally lost several thousands of dollars in value. I was always told to buy a car between 3-5 years old - old enough that the most steep depreciation has taken place, but still new enough to avoid major mechanical problems. Let the big shots have their new cars, and the 60-hour weeks to pay for them, I say.

I can tell you that there is already one segment of America living this way and it's growing rapidly - Mexican immigrants. I live in an area of town alongside the vast swaths that have become outposts of Mexico, and one of the reasons they can work for such low wages while having massive amounts of children is because of extreme fugality and cooperation. Need a place to live? Somone knows someone who is renting out a place cheap. Need work? Someone you know will get it under the table, paid in cash, no questions asked. Food is bought at the local market - whole food, cooked at home - beans, rice, menudo, etc. They borrow money from friends and relatives until payday. If they need car repairs, someone's friend or neighbor will do it for cheap. Yards are full of used baby clothes, toys, bikes, etc. for sale. Kids wear hand-me-downs. There is a vast informal economy - people cook and take care of children out of their homes. If you put something out on the corner, you can bet it will be gone by the next day to its new home. There is no shame in any of this; it's part of the culture. Most of these immigrants were on the bottom tier of society in their native country, so they feel no need to put on airs like most status-conscious Americans. Due to the discrepancy in birth rates between White and Hispanic Americans, in thirty years' time, most children will have grown up this way, outside of the privileged consumer economy of the suburbs. They will have been primed for the new paradigm, so to speak. As that day approaches, I think we'll see interesting cultural changes. Viva el cambio!

Don Mason said...

@ Wandering Watcher

Re: How to feed dogs enough food (particularly protein) as food starts getting really, really scarce

My wife and I are wondering about the same issue.

I’ve seen old film clips showing a dog team pulling a plow. We’re in an older urban neighborhood (Rockford, IL), and we’re considering getting one or more draft dogs to help increase the amount of food that we can produce, both in our two adjacent yards and other vacant lots in the neighborhood. We’re hoping that the dog(s) can produce enough additional food calories to justify their continued existence, as well as provide transportation and protection. It may involve a long-term breeding program to develop a line that does well on a largely low-on-the-food-chain diet (high protein veggies like beans, etc.).

We researched every breed in the AKC, and came up with a short list that included two breeds we had never heard of (Bernese Mountain Dog and Bouvier des Flandres) and one that we both had when we were kids (German Shepherd Dog). We’ll probably get a Berner; they are a little better fit for our situation: a less active breed than the other two; a little more stoic; protective, but not aggressive. But Bouvier’s and GSD’s are both great breeds, as well; and the Bouvier, like the Berner, is very good at draft work.

Nothing against Siberian Huskies or GSD’s, but you may want to check out the homeowners insurance restrictions concerning dog breeds before you get a breed like the Siberian Husky or German Shepherd Dog.

From: Breed Restrictions in Homeowners' Insurance |
Restricted Breeds

"The list of dog breeds that may prevent an individual from securing homeowner's insurance includes the following breeds: Akita, Alaskan Malamute, chow chow, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, American pit bull terrier, Presa Canario, Rottweiler, Siberian husky, Staffordshire bull terrier and wolfdogs, also known as wolf hybrids. Lists of restricted or 'dangerous' dogs also include animals that are mixed with any of the aforementioned breeds."

Doctor Westchester said...

Yes, there is an industrial chemist in the house.

Kevin - Plastics are really a very large number of very different materials with polymeric (repeating) structures. Some are thermoplastic, meaning they can be melted down; others are thermosetting, meaning heating will eventually decompose them. Most plastics have a witch's brew of additives in them, including often trace amounts of heavy metals that were used in making the polymeric structure of the plastic. Most recycled plastic beyond what is simply shredded is certainly heated to melting and probably often dissolved in a solvent as well.

I would think that our descendents will find uses for these materials requiring a low energy input that we can't even imagine, since we still view the world through the filter of the fantasy of energy abundance.

Don Mason said...

@ Jason Heppenstall

Re: Costs of Maintaining Cars vs. Bikes

Good post at

Over the six years we've lived in Rockford, Il, we've noticed that more and more people are riding bikes or walking. We're seeing fewer cars; and the cars we do see are getting junkier and junkier.

I'd like to think that our neighbors are becoming more ecologically aware, but if I asked the average bike rider why they're riding a bike rather than driving a car, their answer would be "Cuz ah ain't got no money fo no !@#$%! car!"

Since soon almost everyone is going to be living in poverty (voluntary or involuntary), I'm confident that EV sales will ultimately pale in comparison to bikes sales.

Glenn said...

So much to say that's already been said. But perhaps, three topics.

EV vs ICE. Embedded energy probably a wash. Fuel? EV's don't have to waste energy idling. A good rule of thumb is 3 to 4 times less energy needed than ICE. BUT, and it's a big one. Where does the electricity come from? If it's a fossil fuel plant; a stationary plant, unlike a vehicle doesn't pay a weight penalty for very effective scrubbers on the exhaust stack. BUT, except for Natural Gas burning plants, the Coal Fired generators produce way more CO2 per KW than burning any petroleum product. Here in the Pac NW we get the bulk of our power from Hdro. Pretty benign, right? Wrong; hydro pretty much killed all the Columbia Salmon runs. Salmon is no longer poor people's food. When they built the dams they put in fish ladders, pretty fore-sighted eh? Turns out the problem is the smolts need the current to get to the sea in their first year. That being said; we traded cheap salmon for cheap power. Until they silt up I have no problem using the cheap power.
The more fundamental problem with any private vehicle is that it makes no sense for every adult in any country (but I'll take the U.S.A. where I live as a good bad example.) to own a 1 - 2 ton hunk of iron and drive it 10 - 50 miles every day. It's a wast of iron, at the least. But, several decades ago Wendell Berry said it was difficult to live in the country, and impossible to be a good neighbor without owning a motor vehicle in the 20th century U.S. The Amish manage it, but until the rest of us have that level of community and cooperation in a local area, most of us country dwellers will need at least one private motor vehicle per family.

New V.S. used. We do a lot of thrift store shopping, cruising through a variety of prices, quality and organization. Works pretty well. I buy my work clothes new, at a discount on line retailer (Sierra Trading Post). It's worth the cost for the wear I put on the clothes, I'm a carpenter and hard on clothes. I also buy tools new and used. I go for the best quality I can afford, I want them to last.

Voluntary poverty. I wish I could use the "money saved" for that wonderful {Fill in green tech item here, bought _or_ home made}. For many of us, it is a matter of simple survival, staying out of debt and being able to keep the land. "Take the money you saved and get a solar hot water system". Uh, never had the money, just making ends meet.

I think though, we are approaching a family threshold. We don't have quite enough self-sufficiency, and living in two worlds is killing our tiny budget. But a couple more years of garden improvement, a couple more years of infrastructure improvement (we started with raw land 7 years ago), and I think we'll be over the hump. Right now though, it looks a little grim.

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay
Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State

Cathy McGuire said...

In a recent post, someone mentioned "organic salvage". The abandoned house/yard next door has shoulder-high grasses - a fire hazard. So I weed-wacked the 4ft-wide strip closest to my yard, and left it to dry. Today I brought 4 barrows-full over and put it under a tarp... free, sweet-smelling grass-hay to put in my coops! I'm going to do the rest of the yard this week! ;-} The owner never shows up; no one else cares.

Twilight said...

JMG - I have considered it, but like so many things it's not really economically feasible right now.
First, there are still too many cheap products coming in from overseas. Second, since I'm still employed in the old economy, it cannot compete with the income I get there. Lastly, since I am still employed, I don't have enough time to work, fix and use my own stuff, and repair other things too.

But all of those conditions are ripe for almost instantaneous change, and when that happens getting into some form of repair business would be a obvious choice.

Of course, looking further ahead, without grid power or gasoline the vast majority of items I might be able to repair are worthless regardless of if they work or not.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, good. Very good. Especially with the older meanings taken into account, it cuts straight down to the deep levels of the mess we're in, levels I haven't really tried to discuss here so far -- how to get past the widespread misconception that magic is a set of exploded superstitions, and talk about it as what it is, a language that makes sense of the nonrational foundations of human consciousness? One of these days I'm going to have to give it a try, even though it's probably going to lose me half my readership and most of whatever reputation for seriousness I've accidentally accumulated. All in good time, though.

Yupped, that's good to hear -- and of course you're right about sharing.

Beneath, I tend to duck out of political labels as well, as much because none of them even begin to reflect my own politics. What do you call yourself in a country where the liberals don't liberate and the conservatives don't conserve?

Escape, I've seen quite a bit of that as well. I don't know how many Americans have begun to grasp the fact that the American settlement of the inland West has failed in every historic and demographic sense, and the vacant space is being filled in by the nearest society with the population and cultural strength to do so. Ironically, Toynbee had a lot to say about that, though I don't think even he thought to apply it to our southern border.

Glenn, it's the time of transition that's the tough part, and we're in it right now.

Cathy, excellent! That's a first rate source of organic matter, too.

Twilight, keep your eyes open for hand tools. More on this in next week's post.

John Michael Greer said...

How annoying -- two good comments ended up being snagged by the spam filter, where I didn't find them until now. Dltrammel and Kevin, apologies for the delay.

Dltrammel, thank you! That's a most interesting distribution -- it's good to see so many people spread so widely across the industrial (and some of the nonindustrial) world. Good to hear about the Midwest event, which I might be able to make; there's also been some talk about something of the sort up in New England, which I'll arrange to get posted to the Green Wizards forum if anything comes of it. BTW, I already forwarded the map to my hardworking publicity person at New Society, and got a first-class jawdrop, so thank you!

Kevin, was that a very sly joke or did you get dragged away by the tentacles of Cthulhu in the middle of making that post?

Rialian said...

===Another suggester of Linux..(grins) There are a number of distributions that are designed to be put on older hardware, and I suspect that, as things run down (as it were) that such distros will be the best option. It is amazing what performance you can get, honestly.

===In regards to salvage and transport, I have just rescued an old 1976 Batavus HS50 moped that I hope to get back up to snuff. The hills here are a bit much for me at the moment, but I want a reasonably efficient and cheap way to get into town and back.

===While researching, I noted that there is apparently a serious interest in kits to motorize regular bikes into true mopeds...interesting.

FernWise said...

We're down steam and across the river from you, JMG. We watched the fireworks at Antietam National Park from the West Virginia side of the the Potomac. As a result, we avoided being stuck in the traditional 90+ minute traffic jam leaving the park.

Interesting to read this when my son did a run to a thrift store today (while out applying for jobs himself). We all buy most of our clothes there, but my experience is that about half the clothes I get from them are news, with the tags still on them. Khaki pants for my husband were new, nice shirts and shorts for me were new, etc. My son is going back tomorrow, to buy the gently used pair of shoes he saw.

I'm sitting in a chair we bought used, by a desk we got used, in shorts I bought at a thrift store, drinking water from a garage sale glass. Upstairs I'm set up to continue work to reupholster the dining room chairs we got used some 25 years ago.

We have one car, built in 1999 - bought used, and three adults and a business share it. And even with three humans and a business, most day it stay parked. One of the advantages of a home-based family business is that our carbon footprint includes our work.

OTOH, there are 11 computers in the house, all bought new. Not that most of them are ours. Most belong to one of our customers, who are trying to keep up with the planned obsolescence of them themselves. Their product has to work with the latest model of computer, and the video boards, operating systems, etc keep changing. Every major change means they send us the new computer system so we can keep the software working.

Kevin said...

No prob. Dr. Westchester set me right on the topic of plastics.

Must have been Cthulu, or whatever lurks beneath the gyre.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- re: Glamour, I feel a blog post of my own coming on; if it does take form it'll probably chase away half of my own limited audience (most of whom are there for the birds). About "magic" and your risk of alienating your own audience... the problem is the actual "M" word per se rather than the concepts themselves, it would seem to me. Maybe consider not introducing the "M" word until after you have already begun to lay out the concepts, to make it easier for an unfamiliar reader to see quickly what that word actually means when you use it? Just a thought.

94 comments in the first 24 hours... your readership seems pretty engaged; we might be harder to chase away than you fear!

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Thanks Bill, I had not quite registered JMG's dismissal of materialism as a cultural basis, probably because I too assumed it to be so. But you knocked it though the wicket for me.

As a name for the enchanted by appearance and fantasy I was going to suggest "phoney". I must agree that "glamour" cuts closer to the bone, but ascribes a condition or property. The affected are perhaps "spellbound".

Cathy McGuire said...

@Matt Hens: But if you've never felt that sickness that comes from days on end of junk food or the frustration of leek soup for dinner three nights running you need to now, on purpose, before you do later, on accident.
I agree, for a different reason: now is the time to learn to tinker with the leek soup so that it tastes different every night! Learn to make basic polenta, or leek soup, and then have the spices and extras to make it Spanish, or Thai, or Indian! Having lived low income for a couple years now, I’m realizing that with some planning, it’s possible to make a basic soup or stew very palatable for a week.

@Kevin: One thing I wonder is just how recyclable are plastics?
All I know is that the professional Oregon recyclers, as hard as they try, admit that much of the time, they are trashing the plastic bags that get recycled. The harder plastic can be recycled, but it’s toxic and therefore complex. That may be one of the big problems in the salvage economy.

@JMG: I'm not sure there's a convenient word for people who live life as a representation of itself Blind! LOL!

Brad K. said...

@ GHung,

I have come to think of a patriot in terms of -- did you raise a child/children to serve our nation?

Certainly there is heroism, and there are truly patriotic acts. Patriotic acts win the battles of today, and write tomorrow's history.

But I think it the true value is in continuity, passing on the culture, the values of family and nation, the building of character and a willingness to serve, that sets the patriot apart.

I see the flag wavers, and I honor most of them. Their attention and hearts are in the right place. But parents raising children that go on to serve honorably are keeping the spirit of America alive for the next generation. And I do mean serve in some capacity, not just uniformed, military service.

Brad K. said...

@ Cathy McGuire,

I lose my Hackney pony each summer. We have Johnson Grass, that in well-grown clumps can put seed heads as much as 8 feet high, and the leaves go up to six and seven feet high. Cows love the stuff; my pony likes the ends of the leaves, until they get three feet or so tall.

I have been cutting some with a two-hand scythe a friend gave me. About 10-20 minutes is all I can fit in between work and chores, and I am not used to actually working that hard. Scything might not need to be that much work, if I knew how to use one. Unfortunately, I haven't figured that part out yet. So I let the grass cure a day or two, turn it once or twice until "hay" dry, then pile an armful on the wheelbarrow using a field fork I picked up at a farm sale. (No one else there recognized a use for the thing.)

Then I wrap a piece of twine around the middle of the bundle. Sisal twine, a ball I picked up for $3 at Big Lots. I pull the string tight with a modified square knot, and call it a bale. The wheelbarrow just makes stacking the bundle simpler, getting the twine around, and then tying the bale without having to work on the ground.

I carry the 'bales' with the fork, and stack them in the barn.

The long grasses and haphazard arrangement make the bundle long and not too wieldy, but they hold together, stack fairly well, and I have a few hundred pounds of hay set by, after a bunch of staggered hay days.

In addition, the grass re-grows in the pasture where I cut it. And the pony has been enjoying the regrowth, too.

And, yes, the pony does appreciate the resulting hay. I checked that out, first thing.

I would like to stack more hay, but don't know how to build a stack, and I can't find anyone around here that will/can show me how.

@ Rita,

There is a National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) at Nomma.Org that deals with various artisan kinds of metal working, including blacksmithing and commercial and artist metalworking.

The Artist Blacksmiths of North America at is a lively and vital organization, with several local and state chapters, and many events and people interested in sharing a love of forging metals. is the online face of one of the blacksmith magazines.

(Note: The local Wal-Mart store has a sale on double-bags of charcoal for $7.50, in case he wants to forge with store-bought charcoal).


Laney said...

@ Sgage
"I'm a citizen, not a consumer."

I read somewhere several years ago that the US doesn't have a culture, it has an economy. It just seems to get truer every year.

Tracy G said...

Ha, Bill has inadvertently provided a topic for my discursive meditation today, this quote from John Berger: "Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion."

I sometimes describe myself as "minimalistish," but I've known for a while that it'd be just as accurate to use a word like "materialistic." I own relatively few things, but I do notice and care a great deal about their quality. I like them best when they've gone a bit wabi sabi. So when I absolutely must shop, I look for pre-loved options first, and I end up buying a respectable portion of my stuff secondhand. It's an aesthetic choice as well as an economic one.

James m Dakin said...

I bike 12 miles a work-day, even in winter in single digits, and haul all my water while doing it. Mostly because I'm cheap/frugal. You get used to it. Also, sorry, but Peak Coal is here. If measured in EROEI. Peak Coal BTU arrived years ago so the fabled 300 years of coal won't keep us soft and comfy much longer.

Hal said...

Watcher: I haven't been able to read all of the posts that might have come in from last night, so if someone already answered this, my apologies. Dogs do NOT need a lot of meat, or any for that matter. They're omnivores, and you can actually do damage by feeding too much meat. I personally know of a dingbat who killed a dog that way.

I make about 3/4 of my dog's (~75# lab mix) food from scratch. You will find a lot of recipes, I'm sure, but the most serious dog lover I know does thirds of ground meat, brown rice, and greens. I personally think that's way too much meat.

I think the key is about equal portions of protein food and grain. For the protein food, I generally use whatever scraps are handy, supplemented by deer meat (esp the heart and liver, which I save for that purpose), but dairy, beans, nuts (Bruno likes pecans, which grow wild around here), the soft end bones from chicken, marrow, all work good.

Brown rice is probably ideal for the carb, but I use whatever's handy: leftover noodles, moth-blown grains, weevely flour, bread scraps mixed in after cooking, etc. If you used a lot of legumes for the protein, that also takes care of some of the carb.

Most of the year, there is something going to waste in the garden. I personally don't think you can overdo the veggies. The dog is not going to get fat on them, and they beat a multivitamin any day. So I start with the biggest pot I have, filled to the brim with whatever green material is available that time of year: that includes leftovers, trim from the kitchen, culls from the garden, banana peels, melon rinds, wild weeds like dock, chickweed, clover, etc, carrot tops, and occasionally something bought for the purpose. Onions are a no-no, but garlic is OK if cooked, and is a good herb and mosquito repellant. I also throw in aromatic herbs, in his case, a few that have been recommended for his heartworms, which we are beating, BTW.

If I have any used cooking oil around, I add a few tablespoons for his coat.

When the pot is cooked down a bit, I add the meat and grains. Haven't heard any complaints yet.

Cash Gorman said...

I think the baby get thrown out with the bath water here occasionally. In regards to electric vehicles not everyone lives in the USA, which uses huge amounts of coal to generate electricity.

In an area which uses a great deal of Hydro generated electricity, as where I am, having a electric scooter does make sense. I can travel 25 miles on a charge, which is far more than my commute and the cost of charging it is less than a bus pass.

Electric scooters can be charged on rather small solar set ups, my charger`s output is only 2 amps. PV panels can now be purchased for less than $1.35 a watt now, a typical 100 watt panel for $260.00 puts out close to 6 amps.

LynnHarding said...

Looking for the map but can't find a link to it - even after signing in to the Green Wizards.

The topic of transportation has been an obsession of mine since college. I was a reader of Paul Goodman {decent poverty) and Ivan Illich (tell me how fast you go and I'll tell you who you are.)

The worst mistake I ever made was to trade in my 3-speed Raleigh for a mountain bike. When my wrists and back got sore as I got older I just couldn't ride much. So I looked online - starting around Y2K - to see whether recumbent bikes were made for street use. I bought a used BikeE mountain bike dual shocks. It was just amazing on the flat, but I live in a hill town in Massachusetts. I am 5 miles from the centers of three little towns by the side of a stream and pond. Trouble is, all three towns are seriously uphill.

So, I looked online and found a guy who builds special purpose vehicles. There were no good electric systems back then so we bought a whole Currie electric folding bike - he got the folding bike and I got the electric system mounted on my BikeE. I think there is an old picture of me on that "Share the Road" website. From then on, it was a search for good batteries. Right now, I have a battery system that comes from China and is Lithium Iron Phosphate.

Since then, I have worked with the bike builder to create a really fine nomad trike, also with a batter back-up, relying upon sealed lead acid batteries. We tried to design an electric human-hybrid car and are pretty much stalled at this point.

Here's my summary of the situation for those who would like to have some of the functionality of a car but use human power and energy resources most efficiently:
1) The design must be based upon bicycle/airplane principles because weight is a huge issue. You will never be able to run big heavy vehicles on batteries in anything like a sustainable way. Most people have enough trouble peddling a heavy bike on the flat but going up hills, even with great gearing, is a huge challenge for most of us. Electricity should be used only as an assist and any vehicle should be able to be pedaled, at least on the flat.
2) Safety is a huge issue on anything but a two-wheeled bike. Trikes can flip quite easily and, if they are light enough to be pedaled they are light enough to go airborn over a big bump. I have had some spectacular crashes on my trike and my "human hybrid electric car." I have had an un-fused controller get stuck in the 'on' position so that I had to brake hard enough to burn out the motor while going downhill at 40 mph.
3) Weather protection is a big issue. You have to chose whether to cover yourself or the vehicle. If you are pedaling you are making extra heat and you need to ventilate.

I don't know whether anyone here is interested in pursuing a human-hybrid electric vehicle discussion, but I have been at it for a frustrating 12 years so I do have some interesting experiences to share plus at least two really cool vehicles. Of course, I am still so busy in the FIRE economy that there is never enough time to take the bike rather than the car.

Kirk said...

Thanks, JMG, for another great post. If you're in northern MI before winter, stop by! We can find some old barn siding and finish my mostly salvaged sugar shack, and I'll show you the mostly salvaged hen house and playhouse for the kids. There's maple syrup beer in the fermenter! Now I need to find a horse owner and dust off my rudimentary driving skills!

gregorach said...

"how to get past the widespread misconception that magic is a set of exploded superstitions, and talk about it as what it is, a language that makes sense of the nonrational foundations of human consciousness?"

Ha! Good luck with that... It seems to be one of the rules that people who don't get it can't be taught, and that people who do, don't need to be. Still, I'd love to see what you can come up with.

The question of efficiency of gasoline burning ICEs vs EVs is a very thorny and complex one, and depends a huge amount on the nature of the underlying infrastructure and where you draw the system boundaries... (E.g. are we talking about the latest combined-cycle-gas-turbine neighbourhood combined-heat-and-power or a 40-year-old coal-fired plant? Are we including refining costs in the equation for gasoline? Etc...) However, by far the more important issue, on which you are unarguably 100% right, is the embodied energy of manufacture. As far as I know, nobody in my family has ever bought a new car - partly because we've mostly been too poor / thrifty, and partly because none of us can see any sense in buying a capital asset which loses at least 25% of its value the moment you sign the papers.

I'm not exactly hurting for cash at the moment, but I still can't walk past a skip without having a look in to see if there's anything useful... And I'm certainly not above taking home furniture from the side of the road (although you do need to be careful with soft furnishings, or you can find yourself with unwelcome house-guests). Maybe I'm just weird, or maybe it was all those years of wearing third-generation hand-me-downs (which were home-made to start with) as a kid... Fortunately, whilst we're not nearly as miserly as popular culture would have you believe (especially when it comes to having a good time), thrift is still often regarded as a virtue here in Scotland. ;)

offthegrid said...

John Michael,

One of my greatest insights came working a temp job on a garbage truck as a youth. What the Western world throws out with little thought is a travesty to the rest. I live frugally yet extravagantly on much less than the norm. If I can't buy it at a thrift shop, I probably don't need it. I fully expect the wisdom and thrift of my grandparents will make a comeback, though few will thank you for saying so.


Bill Pulliam said...

Brad K -- the scythe is definitely not hard work if you have good technique. It uses your strong, durable leg muscles and the inertia of your body mass. I use one on brush and Johnson grass, it works great. Some tips:

Go to and look at their videos.

Blade must be SHARP -- have it sharpened by a professional if it needs it, have a whetsone on your belt and touch it up every 10-15 minutes

Cut in the morning while the grass is wet with dew and the air is cool and the birds are singing. The scythe works better on wet grass

Remember you are slicing like a knife, not chopping like an axe. The blade is only slightly angled to its direction of motion. Cuts a smaller bite with each swing, but the total effort is MUCH less.

Scythes are one of the great secrets waiting to be rediscovered.

Bob said...

I want to use my car less, and possibly sell it. Here's my dilemma. I currently live just outside a major city, with a full acre of potentially arable land (at least seasonally), but not even a sidewalk to get me places without a car. Do I trade this in for a smaller (easier to heat and light) and cheaper home in the city, where I will definitely drive less, but have less space to grow food or raise small livestock? City or country, JMG, is there a generic answer?

MilesL said...

John Michael Greer said...
"how to get past the widespread misconception that magic is a set of exploded superstitions, and talk about it as what it is, a language that makes sense of the nonrational foundations of human consciousness?"

Perhaps you can give some references for those of us who are interested. With Magic, like many subjects, the difficult part is wading through information to get to the nuggets that you need or were looking for. If you know where to point us to quickly get a basic understanding of what you are saying here, that would be appreciated.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Bill Pulliam - English is a rich and complex language, but there are ties when it ... lets us down. Given the topic of the post, Junk Society gives junk a bad name. I like the idea of Glamour. And old, old term a lot of people may not be familiar with. Except it's occasionally used in the "True Blood" series on TV. No, I haven't HAD a TV in years, but picked up a season from the library. :-) Glamour to me, means bewitched or distracted. But, even that term doesn't convey the shoddy, tickey-tacky-ness of so much "stuff."

@ Cathy McGuire & dltrammel - Great map!

@ escapefromwisconsin - How well I know! I made a few comments on our local newspaper blog and one response was that a reader would never set foot in my "liberal" bookstore. Now, my "politics" are all over the place, depending on topic. But the unflexible have their litmus tests and only see in black and white. My response was "A good cookbook or a good book on gardening is neither liberal nor conservative." Didn't cut any ice.

My big score this week? Some friends invited me over for dinner, and I got to get an early look at what they were going to garage sale. A Singer treadle sewing machine. Cast iron and oak case. Pristine condition with all the attachments and even the manual. Needs a new belt, but Lehman Amish Store carries them. We have a sewing machine / vacuum machine shop in town that may even carry them. $100.

Hal said...

Oh, and I think the word y'all are looking for is "idealist."

rbtp said...

Just saw the trailer for the "Revenge of the Electric Car" movie here:

The last line of the trailer is
"This [referring to electric cars] is the future and it is attainable."

Oh, why didn't I take the blue pill?!!

Justin said...

I wonder what your thoughts are about one specific point you make about American history with respect to our ideals.

If you look at our history, minus the period of time that corresponded with energy abundance, our state has been fairly brutal. Things like slavery, genocide of Indians, a few wars of colonial expansion (Texas, Cuba, Phillipinnes) We also had massive waves of labor unrest and class strife.

The wealth and abundance of our position as world super power in the post WWII age afforded us not just a higher standard of living, but also made us more forgiving for progressive projects, like social security and so on and colored the last 50-60 years. Elites can afford to have a pampered middle class during abundance. As the energy age ends, I expect much of this will return to historical norms, see the recent bipartisan assault on New Deal entitlements, for instance, or the increasingly business friendly court rulings and hollowing out of regulatory agencies.

In other words, I think one could argue that it is not any particular set of ideals on a piece of paper that has made the United States less cruel or oppressive to its citizens over the past 70 years or so, but the same dynamics that afforded us a false sense of wealth.

Bill Pulliam said...

There does seem to be a backlash brewing among a small segment of the youth of today against the whole falsification-glamorization-virtualization of culture. Last month we went to the Barefoot Farmer's solstice party (a.k.a. "Poppenstock") -- google will find it for you fast enough. The landscape was littered with shirtless scruffy young dudes picking banjos and playing fiddles. It was kind of like a timewarp, except I realized even the hippies of the late 60s might have been a bit startled at all the piercings and tattoos. There truly does seem to be a hunger for real, participatory, feet-in-the-mud (literally) living among at least some 20-somethings, and they are trying to figure out how to manifest it.

GHung said...

@ Brad K. said:

"I see the flag wavers, and I honor most of them. Their attention and hearts are in the right place. But parents raising children that go on to serve honorably are keeping the spirit of America alive for the next generation. And I do mean serve in some capacity, not just uniformed, military service."

Gosh, Brad, I see a majority who have turned their attention to superficial distractions, consumerism, and consumption. Their sense of entitlement seems complete, and their awareness of their obscene lifestyles, from a resource/environmental standpoint, is sorely lacking. While there is an under-funded, under-populated level of volunteerism, the increasing need for such says much.

"Their attention and hearts are in the right place." ?!

If this was true, there would be no 'wars of choice', no jetskis swarming over our nearby lake, no reality tv, few hungry, no insurmountable debt,, no need for Green Wizards.

Continuity?!.... Be assured that our view of what's ahead differs greatly.
I'm not a born cynic, pessimist or doomer, but while raising 3 children, I made it my goal to see that they would never turn away from inconvenient truths, blame others for their lot in life, or shirk their responsibility to challenge all comers who insist that the "American way of life" is in any way sustainable.

But, honor them if you must, or "forgive them, for they know not what they do"....

Your choice.

J.D. Smith said...

The Society of the Simalacrum or Simalacrum Culture might describe a society that lives life as a representation of itself. Umberto Eco has written a bit about the American preference for imitation over reality.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I like the idea of glamour--in the old stories, when you were entranced by the fairies, glamour was what made you think that ditch water was wine and weeds the finest foods and that time wasn't passing. When the glamour wore off, you were ragged, starving and your friends and relatives dead and gone.

Allegorical for sure.

John Michael Greer said...

Rialian, mopeds and the like are vastly more efficient than cars, and it's possible that they may be efficient enough to be workable in a low-energy future.

Fern, good. I get a lot of clothes at the local thrift stores, and most of them have had very little wear, too.

Bill, that's a possibility. I'll consider it.

Cathy, well, but it's more than that. I'll have to work out my thoughts and post them.

Tracy, wabi and sabi! Good.

James, exactly how the rolling plateau of coal works out is still a good question, but in net energy terms, of course, you're right -- especially if you factor in the plummeting net energy of the diesel fuel used to excavate the coal, as a really meaningful analysis would.

Cash, you'll notice that I was talking about electric cars, not electric scooters. Scooters and mopeds are a whole different world of efficiency, and a good sturdy electric scooter might well be a viable option for the long run.

Lynn, fascinating! The Green Wizards forum would be a good place to launch a discussion on homebuilt electrical vehicles.

Kirk, thank you! I don't expect to get out your way this year, but if plans change, I'd be happy to help with siding and try some of that beer.

Gregorach, the old Scots virtue of pinching each penny until it yelps could stand some serious revival. Do I guess correctly from your online handle that you're Clan MacGregor, by the way? If so, we have something in common.

Offthegrid, glad to hear it. The people who will thank me are the ones who understand that I'm pounding on their door at 3 am to tell them their house is burning down.

John Michael Greer said...

Bob, there's no generic answer. The belief in generic answers is one of the things that's backed us collectively into our current corner. If you need a car just now to build your own self-reliance in other ways, that's the way it is.

Miles, I wish. The books and other sources on magic that are available these days are either by people who don't practice it and thus don't have a clue what they're talking about, on the one hand, or primers for beginners that duck the hard philosophical issues in order to get people practicing. The lore we've got is fragmentary and often unclear, being basically the scraps that got missed when the bullyboys of the Scientific Revolution stomped Renaissance occultism into the gutter and kept on stomping. The last 150 years or so have been mostly about salvage operations and attempted reconstructions of basic practice and theory; there are a few people now getting beyond that, and trying to make sense of the philosophical implications of what magic does, but when I write my book on the subject -- which I will do eventually -- it's probably going to sell about twenty copies, total. Maybe in a couple of centuries, if a copy or two survives, it'll find its audience.

Hal, no, because it's not ideal forms or ideals that they're obsessed with -- it's arbitrary symbolic representations of inner states, mass-produced in cheap plastic.

Rbtp, because when you take the blue pill, you get a couple of years of pretty dreams, and then you find yourself starving to death in a burnt-out basement without the least idea what to do.

Justin, now go compare that history to the history of any other nation on the face of the earth. I'd remind you that long before the age of cheap energy, people came here from all over the world of their own free will, eagerly, because however bad it was here, it was much worse back home. Human beings are human beings; they very often don't treat one another well; what a set of ideals or a system of government can do, some of the time, is make things less awful than they would otherwise be -- and to my mind, that's worth celebrating.

Bill, that's very promising indeed! I'm not a great fan of piercings, but whatever does the job.

JD, the phrase "society of the spectacle" keeps coming to my mind, though that's probably just because I read a certain amount of Situationist literature back in the day. "Simulacrum" will do.

Adrian, that's an allegory with real teeth.

sgage said...


"when I write my book on the subject -- which I will do eventually -- it's probably going to sell about twenty copies, total."

Make that 21 - I'm in. I think we share some ideas on the topic, but I know I could learn a lot from your book-to-come...

Donal said...


If not blacksmithing, try a foundry. I've worked with Port Townsend Foundry and know they have a hard time finding career oriented apprentices. I worked with them on making bronze parts for our boat and found the work fascinating. A life time's worth of learning and both a craft and an art.

I also have a friend who is master plumber of retirement age and he says he can't find apprentices--no one wants to be a plumber, even if the money is good and work in demand.
(I know I recently paid $160 for an hour's work to unplug a drain)

Another friend took a job after WWII with the German camera company Leitz, that makes Leicas, my favorite camera. He said the first six weeks of his multi-year apprenticeship was learning to file. Yes, file. The final test to past for filing (or you were let go) was to hand drill a hole in the piece of metal, make it six sided, then take a rod and file it six sided so that no matter which position the rod is in in the hole, no light shows through. All by hand and eye.

These are the things we need to preserve. Good luck to the grandson. My great grandfather was a blacksmith and I still have a claw hammer he made from scratch. A treasure.

mageprof said...

MilesL wrote:

"Perhaps you can give some references for those of us who are interested. With Magic, like many subjects, the difficult part is wading through information to get to the nuggets that you need or were looking for. If you know where to point us to quickly get a basic understanding of what you are saying here, that would be appreciated."

It's tough going, but H. C. Agrippa's _Three Books of Occult Philosophy_ can teach you a great deal about magic if you have the patience to work through it, and sift the wheat from the chaff. It was first published in Latin in the 1530s, and an English translation came out in 1651.

But in 1995 Llewellyn reissued the 1651 translation in a slightly more accessible form, and that edition is still in print.

mageprof said...

JMG wrote:

"when I write my book on the subject -- which I will do eventually -- it's probably going to sell about twenty copies, total."

Make that 22 copies, and a couple of dozen more for some of my former students.

I spent the last 15 years before retirement teaching the history of magic, and the history women-led magical religions in the USA, at my Ivy-league university. For those with ears to hear I added a good deal of information "between the lines" about how magic can be made to work. About two dozen of the undergraduates who passed through my classroom had ears to hear, and got more than history out of the courses.

JMG's own _Inside a Magical Lodge_ is a superb modern book, more accessible than Agrippa. I have also recommended J. Finley Hurley's _Sorcery_ to my best students.

Don Mason said...

@ GHung wrote:

"...the storage system (450 gal. poly tank)... the storage tank temperature had risen to 112 degrees (f)... I'm still constructing two more panels and haven't finished insulating everything, output and efficiency will improve quite a bit..."

Egads, man! How much more efficiency do you need? You'll soon have enough hot water to boil 10,000 lobsters in a swimming pool...

dltrammel said...

Dltrammel, thank you! That's a most interesting distribution -- it's good to see so many people spread so widely across the industrial (and some of the nonindustrial) world. Good to hear about the Midwest event, which I might be able to make; there's also been some talk about something of the sort up in New England, which I'll arrange to get posted to the Green Wizards forum if anything comes of it. BTW, I already forwarded the map to my hardworking publicity person at New Society, and got a first-class jawdrop, so thank you!"

You are quite, that must have been the psychic loud noise that woke me from my sleep last night, the jaw drop. Tell your publisist they are welcome to copy the map for use in promoting your books.

If you think it useful I can go back and do a rough distrubution on sex and age (though many mentioned neither.) It would be a very broad sample given the small size but I know Marketing Departments love numbers of any sort.

Truthfully I wasn't that surprised over the distribution, your message resonates across a broad stretch of the Peak Oil community. I would expect if we could get 9 out of 10 of the lurkers here to post their locations, we would see similar data.

BTW, thank you to the people who have since added their locations. And NatureGirl, Google maps has a weird save function that's probably the problem you had. I lost nearly 2 pages of postings to it (and scared the birds outside my window with my rather toasty rant after I caught it.) I deleted your double posts to the map. Thanks for adding yourself.

Good to hear about the Northeast possible event. You'll see now there's a lot more people who could reasonably attend. Think there are 20 or more people within a few hours drive of you. I'll check with PanIdaho and see if there is a way to email them via the Green Wizard site. Have who ever is doing the leg work contact me via email on the GWiz site.

As for the Midwest meeting, lol, I do believe Saint Louis has the most registered Green Wizards now with either 6 or 7. Must be something in the ground water, since we refined the uranium for the first nuclear bombs here, and just put the waste on a spot near the airport afterward. It was at one time a ballpark where most of us in our 40s and 50s played until they closed it and cleaned it up.

Maybe some mutations are beneficial...grins.


As for Thrift store, I too find alot of them here are filled with low end WalMart hand-me-downs.

I would suggest people cruise the estate sales.

Most of them get picked clean of prime antiques on Friday by the pros, but common stuff like we'd be interested isn't what they look for. And its usually stuff people were using and in good condition.

A big plus, on Sunday most sales are marked down to half price.

Recently I picked up a good spade, garden fork, and small shovel for $5 total, and a very good condition Coleman sleeping bag (light weight) for another $2.

I also came across a Singer pedal powered sewing machine with cabinet, and all the assessories (previous owner looked to be a seamstress) for $100, marked down to $50. I didn't have a way to transport it, nor the budget at the time to buy it, but I'm still kicking myself now a few months afterwards for not purchasing it.

Estate sales have a lot of the older generation stuff, and I find some of my best books there too. Found a copy of "Home Remedies for Pets" from Prevention magazine the other day for 50 cents. I've bought a few herbal books for people but had completely forgot about pet care.

If you are the green wizard down the block who can cure a person's ailing pet companion, I expect community good karma will be there when you need it.

Nice thing about estate sales is they will usually let you try the applicance out, unlike the trift store clerk who just shrugs when you ask them if it works.

John Michael Greer said...

Sgage, I'll keep that in mind. I hope you won't object to learning about Renaissance rhetoric, though.

Mageprof, ditto, and you can also expect scholarship on Giambattista Vico, which oddly enough is where I caught the idea of magic as a rhetoric ad res rather than ad verbum. Not that Vico mentions any of that himself; it's odd how these things unfold, and odder still that I wouldn't have stumbled over the slim little book on Vico that set things in motion if I hadn't been invited to talk at a peak oil conference at a college in Michigan, and ended up with a lot of time to kill at the college library.

Dltrammel, St. Louis is a fairly easy train trip from Cumberland. Keep me posted!

Cathy McGuire said...

@Lynn: The green wizard Google map was referenced in the Cafe topic - here's a link to the posting, which will take you to the map:

SophieGale said...

I am sure there are already posts in the cue with this link, but this blog post from Transition Voice showed up on my Facebook feed today:

"Poverty is finding middle class families these days these days through unemployment, bankruptcy and home foreclosure, whether they like it or not. And mostly, they don’t like it.

"But John Michael Greer, author of this year’s The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered and several previous books on surviving peak oil, suggests that those who haven’t found poverty yet might want to seek it out for their own good."

BTW, "glamour" is the power calls you down the garden path. If you give into it you are "pixie led" or in the more modern vernacular "pixilated."

2.pixilated - very drunk
besotted, blind drunk, blotto, crocked, fuddled, pie-eyed, slopped, sloshed, smashed, soaked, soused, sozzled, squiffy, pissed, plastered, cockeyed, loaded, wet, stiff, tight

drunk, inebriated, intoxicated - stupefied or excited by a chemical substance (especially alcohol); "a noisy crowd of intoxicated sailors"; "helplessly inebriated"

GHung said...

@JMG: not a dog person (yet). Nobody's perfect ;-) While I respect those who've made choices which may preclude (exclude?) responsible dog stewardship, I think more discussion regarding the human-canine relationship would be valuable, because, under suitable circumstances, dogs are extemely valuable. Those who haven't had intimate relationships with dogs tend to discount the fact that they are supremely adapted to life with humans.

Beyond micro-organisms and insects (lice, roaches, etc.) dogs were the first non-human species to need us, and beyond that, live to please us. They chose us.

Hal did a great of job posting what has been the norm for feeding dogs for millenia, they adapted to eating our table/campfire scraps and discarded offall from our slaughtered game and livestock. 'Dogfood' is an artifact of the industrial age, a convenience, like so many things we here are trying to get beyond. She will never go hungry before I do.

The roles that dogs have played in humans' lives are numerous and they have obviously earned their keep. Herding, hunting, controlling vermin, protection (nobody sneaks up on our place), keeping your feet warm on a cold night, and especially companionship, all add to their value. Some breeds do it all.

IMO, Star's Reach would be complete if Trey had a dog ..

@Don M., Berners are great dogs but they eat a lot, and there are limited bloodlines. A friend of mine is an important breeder of BMDs. She does a lot of $ health testing $ before breeding: genetics, pedigree, breed specific diseases,,, if you're interested. I groomed one of her bitches for a couple of years, a sweet, powerful girl.

Bouvies can be a bit touchy...

SophieGale said...


Yes, I did that "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman was a follower of Swedenborg, though this is the first material I've come across that actually made Swedenborg accessible for me. Mostly Howard Means talks about Swedenborg's New Church west of the Alleghenies.

I was on a quest to claim Johnny as Pagan saint--but Swedenborgianism is a little too "alternate" for the Pagans I know. Chapman did a have a network of New Church believers through the old Northwest Territory: Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, etc. Johnny may well be "canonized" by folks in The Long Descent, and Swedenborg's work may catch fire again!

mageprof said...

Now I am really looking forward to your book. I am more a Medievalist than a scholar of the Renaissance, but Vico is always worth knowing.

Justin said...

I wasn't trying to make a comparative analysis to all other countries. I was suggesting that with the advent of American empire and the cheap energy age, the middle class in America received material largesse, and the nation generally could afford to grant more progressive rights and social programs for its citizens, that much of that appears to be rolling back, see Obama's recent attempts to cut Social security and so on. You write a lot about how things are going to look different from a material and lifestyle perspective post oil, but I am asking if you see a similar track for our political rights. (Obviously, I do.)

As for the direction you took the question in, I think you could interpret that in line with what I am saying. Much of those migrations had to do with better economic prospects here. And I am suggesting that our political freedoms largely followed from our economic wealth. As an aside, I've known a lot of immigrants from central and south America who come from what we would consider more corrupt and less progressive political systems, I've never heard them say that is why they came here, its always economic prospects. That rings true for many of the other prior waves of immigrants, at least the ones that were not brought over in chains.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Speaking of walking shoes, here's an ingenious pattern using recycled tires:

DIYer said...

When I saw the title of this week's essay, it reminded me of a fact I recently learned in the wake of Japan's recent nuclear catastrophe.

A nuclear power plant, which generates maybe a gigawatt when it is working properly, will put out fifty megawatts of unwanted heat when it is shut down. This tapers off in a few weeks to maybe one megawatt, which continues for a year or more. It's called 'decay heat'. A megawatt of concentrated heat energy.

Chalk it up to profligacy of scale, but when they are shut down, these power stations require a supply of electricity from somewhere else in order to dispose of the decay heat. If the cooling circuits fail, the heat will eventually burn through all containment in a spectacular system failure.

(for what it's worth I have heard that newer designs include a small turbine just to salvage this energy)

GHung said...

@Don M. asks: "
Egads, man! How much more efficiency do you need?"

Not so much efficiency as more capacity. Since the same hot water tank supplies the radiant floor system in winter, heated mainly by the woodstove, I want as much winter production as I can get, perhaps save a cord or more of wood each season. We have many marginal days, especially late fall and early spring, when the passive solar needs a boost and firing up the woodstove is overkill. During these periods, any solar overproduction gets dumped into our slab floor, starting with the bathrooms, keeping them nice and toasty.

Really cold periods here are usually clear and sunny as well. Combining a few hours of solar production with a few hours of firing the woodstove should save wood, at least that's the plan. I'm just making this up as we go along. So far, so good.

The great thing about hydronic heat, solar DHW and thermal mass is that it is adaptable to many inputs. This is why I think all homes should have one or more systems of thermal storage. It's pretty ancient technology, stone age really, as in heating rocks by the fire or in the sun.

idiotgrrl said...

Dana Blankenhorn, whose blog used to be subtitled "The War on Oil"**, has decided that low-powered laptops and cell phones attached to PV screens are not only doable, but are the wave of the future, especially in the developing nations. He is very pleased with the way such nations are becoming electrified via small-scale PV. The link is here:

scroll down past the entry on proposed dollar coins (a bit tongue-in-cheek?)

** P.S. He is still dedicated to doing away with the oil-based economy. He just sees different solutions. I'm a retired bookkeeper, not an engineer, and so can't comment, but as a stopgap (which is all someone my age is going to need) I'm really looking at small-scale solar chargers myself.

John Michael Greer said...

Sophie, I saw that! Good to see that the word's getting out. As for pixillated, that will certainly do.

Ghung, well, I'd be a cat person -- my favorite pets in childhood were of the feline ilk -- but my wife's allergies preclude furry pets, and my schedule has been disjointed enough these last few years that pets in general haven't been an option.

Sophie (again), there are times that I wish the P-word would just go away. Alternative spirituality is alternative spirituality, and today's American Druids have much more in common with the great John Chapman than they do with iron age Celtic priests, anyway.

Mageprof, Vico's become crucial to my work at this point. Not too many other people at the end of the Renaissance had the perceptiveness to see what was coming, and grasp the essential dishonesty at the core of the new mechanistic worldview.

Justin, it's an interesting question, and could be taken further in several directions. In effect, the US -- and most other industrialized countries -- replaced human slavery (and wage slavery) with "energy slaves," and that required a large number of overseers. Still, it remains true that by and large, American citizens even in the pre-fossil fuel era had rights that most citizens of other nations at that same time did not, and the factors responsible for that difference are worth keeping in mind.

Lance, many thanks!

DIYer, now if they'd simply have the wit to always build in a turbine that would be powered by the residual heat, and provide the power needed to keep the pumps going! It's not that difficult a concept, and only requires a willingness to admit that things can go wrong.

Grrl, sure, as long as we've still got a global economy with worldwide supply chains to build and distribute the PV cells, laptops, etc., etc., etc., that makes perfect sense. Of course all those things require the oil he wants to do away with. That is to say, it's not the wave of the future but one more way of cashing in on the age of abundance before it's quite finished ending. Sigh...

mageprof said...

@ sophiegale

Swedenborg was one of the first in the history of alternate American religions to insist that God was both Father and Mother. He greatly influenced the 19th-century "metaphysical" religions (the New Thought religions plus Christian Science), where God is routinely called "Father-Mother."

Johnny Appleseed himself carried Swedenborg's books with him on his wanderings, which he would tear apart into sections. He would leave one section with an interested family, the next with another, and so on. Then on his next journey along the same route, he would collect each section as he in turn and pass it along to the next family. Eventually every family had read all the sections in their proper order.

This was a very practical way of making one copy of a work serve a half-dozen families or more! I suppose that such a method of distribution might be worth reviving for the coming Dark Ages . . .

About 10 years ago I had a relative of Johnny Appleseed's in one of my classes on magic. She told me how indignant she got when one of her schoolteachers had insisted that Johnny was just a myth, like Paul Bunyan.

Kevin said...

I'd be very interested to read your observations on Vico and his views concerning Enlightenment scientism.

Terence McKenna had a great rap on Descartes and the birth of modern science: specifically, the story of how Descartes, while encamped with the Hapsburg army outside of Ulm, dreamed that an angel revealed to him that rule and number govern nature. This was the same army that crushed the alchemical revolution of Frederick Elector at the battle of White Mountain in, I think, 1620. Of course the Reverends of the Orthodox Materialist Church tend to gloss over this bit of history.

Kathleen said...

JMG-- In one of your comments earlier, you mentioned that you'd considered walking 180 or so miles to get to somewhere you wanted to go. I have to ask...are there people who DO that? Who actually do town-to-town travelling on foot? Because I've always wanted to do that, only I don't know how. If there's information out there on how to do that, I'd love to see it!

Lance Michael Foster said...

I think it was Bill who said: ""The true religion of American society is not any form of Christianity, it is Materialism...people seek their answers, identity, comfort, and meaning in their things, which is what people get from religion. [More than that though] it is not the actual things, it is the appearance of the things, the fantasy of the things, the idea of the things."

Ahhh! That is why our culture has as much revulsion and horror of poverty being poor (or being thought as poor), as Christianity once did of reputed Satanism.

AgedSpirit said...

@ Rita: check out the Artist-Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA) at It's a very solid place to begin your search for info on blacksmith education.

DIYer said...

I had a look at your friend's website, and, while I am not as inclined as JMG to simply dismiss his technology (I think cellphones and netbooks will be around for a little while), the site seems like the ponderings of someone in the bargaining phase.

He has realized that the future will not be like the past, but wants to propose solutions, which for various social, political, and economic reasons will never happen. At least he isn't selling perpetual motion machines.

I think there will be an effort made to keep these industries going, but the cost of manufacturing one cell phone is mind-bogglingly high. They are only cheap if you can make millions of them, and many industries are going to blunder into the catabolic backside of the "learning curve" within the decade now.

... the "forgetting curve"?

Mary said...

JMG, your timing is impeccable. I had been thinking about treadle sewing machines over the winter, and kept my eye out in local antique shops and the local paper. No time for more research, and the idea fell by the wayside.

This post, and thriftwizard's response, brought it back to the surface. I figured everybody around these parts probably would be hanging on to them, but checked out Craig's list. I found more than half a dozen for sale and at pretty good prices. I guess people are selling whatever to try to make ends meet. Heck, I'm thinking of buying as many as I can, while I can. I have plenty of storage space. Next up -- spinning wheel.

On the topic of flour sack dresses, somebody I worked with turns plastic dog and cat kibble bags into large shopping bags. The sample I saw was purina dog chow. She started making them for friends and now has a contract to produce them for some fashion place or other. It can be done...


Red Neck Girl said...


One of the catches in my plans for the stable when my room mate fell ill was that she was going to teach me how to drive a horse or horses in harness.

In her early teens her natural talent for horse handling was spotted by a friend of her father who managed a Hollywood ranch. It was the site for many movies starting with some of the old John Wayne serials ending with TV series'. Along with being tutored in horse training she was also taught to drive a four up in front of the stage coach. It isn't as easy as it looks and requires strength and good physical condition.

She's showing some signs of regaining more mobility which will allow her to use a set of long lines on a horse in harness. I was trying to get her to let me buy her a miniature stallion complete with cart and harness for a ridiculously low price so we could go out on some trails together but she kept telling me no. I felt bad that she doubted her ability to control a miniature horse. It's not that the sweet little boy would have been useless. I could think of several uses I could have put him to besides driving him in harness before things go to heck in a hand basket, standing him at stud or using him for photos with children as they did a hundred years ago. It would have worked out quite well since we have an antique pony saddle that was used in those photos and would add a bit more to my current income.

However with her current indications of returning feeling in her hand and leg I'm sure she'll get the chance to teach me eventually.

@Cherokee Organics,
I'm curious as to how you chose your name for your property. That's part of my ancestry along with a lot of immigrant Irish and another part of almost anything western European. The name I'm signing with is Cherokee, a translation of a translation of my given name.

As far as being raised poor goes, my folks would have been classified as Okies since both sides of my family spent the last 150 years prior to my birth in Texas/Oklahoma/Indian Territory. My Grandmother could have been charged with felony abuse by the way Abe Lincoln was cringing at the end of the month. I think I've inherited a bad case of packratitus as well. I had poke salad, pinto beans, fried potatoes and home made yeast bread with a tall glass of iced tea as a regular part of my diet from the cradle. That's what I call Okie Soul Food. I guess that makes me a red neck in more than one sense.

Wadulisi Tsalagi

John Michael Greer said...

Kevin, it's going to be a while; I have a lot more work to do on the subject, not least because Vico's work presupposes an understanding of rhetoric as a way of knowing -- a concept almost unthinkable in modern terms -- and I have a lot of reading in classical, medieval, and Renaissance rhetoric ahead of me in order to make sense of that. (Or maybe it's just me; my parallel project of making sense of Giordano Bruno's memory training system involved translating the Picatrix, studying the Lullian Art, and getting a good working knowledge of Renaissance astrology, just for starters.) Still, just as the Bruno book (an annotated translation, with commentary, on his main memory manual) is coming along step by step, there'll be a Vico book eventually.

Kathleen, there are indeed! I don't know off hand of information sources on the subject, but the C&O Canal Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage Trail go right through Cumberland MD, where I live, running the whole way from Pittsburgh to DC, and there are people who walk it as well as people who bike it.

Lance, that's a fascinating and quite plausible comparison!

Mary, glad to hear it! By all means get and save as many as you can store -- there will be people begging for them down the road. As for a spinning wheel, good, but you might also look into a spindle -- very portable, easy to make, and easy to teach others how to use.

Grrl, glad to hear she's doing better. Can you point me to a good recipe for poke salad, by the way? The birds here like to seed our garden with pokeroot, which is fine -- the dried root is very medicinal -- but I'd like to know other things to do with it.

Glenn said...


Around 1978 - 1980 while I was going to school in Ashland, OR, we had a student named John. He was a large black man who had taken two vows. One was silence, he communicated with us and the professors by sign (for those who knew it) and notes.

The other was to never use fossil fuels for transportation. He routinely travelled up and down the West Coast by foot, bicycle, or hitching rides on sail boats. It might take him from 1 - 6 weeks to get from Ashland to say, San Francisco.

I read a magazine article about him a few years ago, he no longer keeps those two vows. But he says that period of his life made him a saner and better person.

Get a good pair of walking shoes or boots, a comfortable pack, and learn to appreciate the generosity of strangers. There's a reason that hospitality is a traditional virtue in most cultures.

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay
Marrowstone Island,
Jefferson County
Washington State

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Respectfully John Michael, the canine companion relationship GHung advocates is, I think, more akin to familiar than pet. An understanding or friendship with a non-human being widens perspective at the very least, and can with care and skill develop into a mutually beneficial working partnership.

More generally - while we enjoy excess, diversion of some small fraction to the maintenance of a companion animal is of little concern. But when we no longer do, sustaining the familiar will become more problematic. I have always created dog food from the remains of our meals; for example all that remains of a chicken processed through my kitchen is literally a small handful of clean bones and a few tablespoons of fat. But because even our relatively small dog can't get by on our refuse, some supplementary purchase (mostly kibble) is needed. Posters here have also shared their preparations, including bulk chicken parts and brown rice. In poverty these might be, like dry kibble, more than a little difficult to acquire and store in sufficient quantity.

Animals appreciate certainty, which generally means routine. If you don't have one, the relationship will be strained. Providing care for an animal is a lifetime contract: 'til death do you part, theirs, usually. Before making that promise, consider well the prospects for keeping it.

Don Mason said...

@ GHung

Re: Solar panels

Ah – hah! The hydronic heating under the floor! Now I get it. I couldn’t understand the 450 gallon storage tank. Usually it’s only about 50 gallons. I thought, “I’ve heard of showering with a friend. But he must be planning on showering with a whole village…”

But using it for domestic hot water AND heating the house makes a lot of sense – particularly with the wood stove adding heat for when it needs a boost in temperature. Hence the larger storage capacity and additional panels. Sounds like it should work real well.

Re: Dogs

We’ve been exploring the urban farming dog idea for about four years (not exactly rushing into it.) The food issue is critical. From an ethical standpoint, can we justify feeding a dog (or dogs) when we are reasonably sure that in the future, a significant number of human beings are going to starve because they can’t get food? (Or maybe we’ll starve because we can’t get food.)So we want them to help us produce a net surplus of food.

But one help in feeding dogs is that they will eat things that are completely disgusting to humans. So we can feed dogs the things that we humans wouldn’t touch. The big question is what is the minimum amount of high-on-the-food-chain meat they have to eat to remain strong and healthy. We’ll just have to experiment: reduce the meat ration until they start going bald, or they playfully chew off my leg in protest. Then ratchet back up accordingly.

But there’s a lot of great dog genetics out there that would be a tragedy to lose over the course of this descent. If we can find a way to preserve those genes without starving people in the process, it would be a big help.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Mary, et all - Interesting how the mind works. It was Mary's post, my recent score of a treadle sewing machine and two separate conversations with different people, being in the antique racket about 15 years ago, estate sales and such, that all fell together into the following .... it feels like something important if I can just get it coherent.

When you get an overview, there are things that float around the used market in such abundance, that have had almost no value in the immediate past, that seemed to be fairly abundant in the more distant past. "Every household seemed to have one." And, not just rural households, but urban households, too.

When I was in "The Biz," not a week went by that someone didn't call with a sewing machine. Usually with inflated ideas as too the worth. As I often pointed out (at that time) about all they were good for was a stand for potted ferns. Or, some people would dispose of the innards and use the cabinet and elaborate iron part as the base for a vanity sink that would slip into one of those little pocket half baths under the stairs. There was a period of recent housing where that was pretty common.

Other things you run across a lot. Shoe last (sp?) kits. A cast iron post that would attach to a bench and several sizes of interchangeable shoe forms indifferent sizes. All in cast iron. I think I've seen hundreds, over the years. Not much retail value, but at one point people used to like to scatter them in a decorative manner around the fireplace.

And finally, nickel or tin plated meat grinders and sausage stuffers. Still in the boxes with all the attachments. I've seen hundreds.

I guess what I'm trying to say is (and, I think someone touched on it earlier) is that estates are great places to find all kinds of low-tech gizmos once you look past the "antiques" the dealers are scrambling to get at.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Wanted to break this up a bit. I had a dear friend, my "Uncle Larry" who lived in a huge house in the Alamedia District in Portland, Ore. Cathy McGuire will be familiar with the neighborhood. Huge old houses from the 20's and 30's.

He was the last of his line, but over the years, in that house, had lived his grandmother, mother and a maiden aunt. So, the household arts were well represented. It had a enormous basement and attic and every bedroom had enormous closets and built in storage units. I was free to poke about to my hearts content. I don't think I really thought much about it then, but it was a snapshot of life in the first half of the 20th century.

When I was in "The Biz" I hauled out boxes of stuff to sell for him. I skimmed off the "antique" stuff, and, as often happens, the rest just sits in boxes stuffed away in my back room and loft. Now that I'm downsizing and getting ready to move on to a more sustainable life, I'm gong through that stuff and finding all kinds of useful treasures. The kitchen equipment, alone ...

So, do check out those estate sales on the second and third day. Or, you're local country auction when they're doing a whole estate sale. Amazing what useful things you can find.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Red Neck Girl,

Thanks for the thoughts. I've always admired your name as it tells the world you are a straight talking kinda gal.

The area where I live is actually called Cherokee which is kind of wierd given it's in Australia. How it came about was timber getters from Oregon arrived in Australia in the 1850's for the gold rush, failed to get rich and then had to turn back to their normal trade of timber getting.

Well, they did make their fortunes in the end by cutting down the old growth forests up this way during the 1860's. I'm on the train line half way between Melbourne and the gold diggings up north so the timber was pretty high quality hard wood and it was easy to get down to the station via the tram ways which they would have built and operated. Anyway, before they cut the trees down they called it Cherokee because they thought it looked like the forests in the Cherokee territory in Oregon.

Most of the trees have regrown now and despite regular intense wild fires they're around 50m (about 150ft) tall (eventually they'll exceed 90m). My neighbour has a tree that pre dates this time and it's an impressive specimen.

I'm open to suggestions as to the name - there's a bit of magic in a name.



garylowens said...

@JMG - you said:
"the fact that the coal and natural gas burnt in power plants have far less energy density per unit volume than petroleum -- to get the same amount of electricity, for example, you have to burn three times as much coal as bunker oil"

First, this factor of 3 is wrong even for bituminous coal. Referring to the table at:
Bituminous coal is 20 MegaJoules/Liter, crude oil is 37 MJ/L. So by volume, 1.9 more units of (low quality) bituminous coal must be burned to get the same energy as crude oil (approximating bunker oil).

Secondly, this does not tell us the relative amounts of CO2 emitted.
The amount of CO2 produced by burning something depends on the MASS (not volume) AND the CHEMICAL COMPOSITION (i.e. how much carbon is in the fuel). Mass indicates the number of atoms, given a chemical formula. Given the atomic weight of each element, one can then calculate (roughly of course) the number of atoms. see:

So I could calculate based on the carbon content of the average coal, etc., but...

Third, the big fly in this ointment is when we also want to say "per unit of electricity produced", we also have to factor in the EFFICIENCY of the generating t
echnology (and the actual heating value of the fuel given actual impurities, etc.). Rather than calculate theoretically, let's use data based on measurements in the real world.

Like that from Table 4 in this EIA document: CO2 Emissions Report

They give the 1999 US average as 2.095 pounds of CO2 per kiloWatt-hour of electricity generated from coal, and 1.969 lbs CO2/kWh from oil, and 1.321 lbs CO2/kWh from gas.
Note that CO2 emissions from coal and oil (in the real world) for the same amount of electricity are very close! (6% difference).

Why is this so, and not the 90% more for coal?
Several reasons (besides the chemistry mentioned above):
Coal plants tend to be larger and more efficient than oil burning plants, especially newer coal plants. Newer materials and larger boilers produce hotter steam with less waste heat, leading to higher Carnot efficiencies.
Oil fired boiler plants are older and smaller since oil is getting pricier, and bunker oil has a lot of sulfer in it, so nobody has built any oil fired boilers lately. (expensive to run, and gas is much cleaner). Those that still exist are thus likely to be neglected as they're known to be on the way out.
Some of the "petroleum" plants are diesel engines, spending much of their time running at inefficient load points, since they (and the oil fired boilers) are likely to be in small corners of the grid (or isolated grids) and must provide (inefficient) spinning reserves for local grid stability.

I hope this is clear without a full discourse on chemistry.

I thoroughly applaude your efforts to get people to re-examine the materialist/reductionist/physicalist dominate beliefs,
so it's disconcerting seeing assertions like quoted above - they fail first year chemistry and tend to bring dismissal of all things you might say by those with a chemistry/physics background.

Phil Knight said...

Archdruid - I will certainly be a customer for your Bruno and Vico books.

As for treadle sewing machines, here in Britain the bases for them can often be found as the supports for novelty tables in pubs, so a lot of alehouses here are potential clothing works.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Hello to all:

Re poke salad: RN Girl & JMG, You've anticipated my next week's blog post! All parts of the plant are mildly toxic to toxic. You can make poke salad with the leaves of the young plant if you boil them with three waters. Birds do love the berries, especially catbirds. I suggest eating spinach and chard, instead.

Re DesCartes and mechanistic vs. living nature (and Francis Bacon): I've been reading a most interesting book that to some extent parallels and resonates with A Guide for the Perplexed. It is The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God, by biologist Rupert Sheldrake.

Re JMG's other projects: Jeez louise, JMG! So blogging is a fun, relaxing hobby by comparison (although with serious intent, I know). I bow with respect. Like Mageprof, I'd be interested to see the Vico book come to fruition, and meanwhile will look him up since I hadn't heard of him before.

Rhetoric as a way of knowing sounds interesting to me, since I do spend time teaching students ways to think about whatever it is they're trying to write about.

P.S. I keep saying I'll only comment once, but the conversation here is so interesting that I keep reading and then wanting to respond. Oh well. This is a great community.

GHung said...

@Grrl..Ahh! poke salat (at least, 'round here it's called "salat"). I'd be interested as well to see your Okie recipes.

Folks in my area pick the young greens in spring (before there's any purple color), parboil and drain, then fry it up in bacon grease, though butter or olive oil will work (just ain't the same as bacon grease). Frying in a few shallots or ramps adds character. Delish!

Pokeberry wine is reputed to be a powerful anti-inflamatory and oldtimers in the southern mountains have used it for generations to relieve their 'rumatiz' or arthritis.

I have a pet pokeweed that returns to shade our western porch every year. It has to be cut back by late August or it will dye the porch purple. Part of my legion of volunteers ;-)

idiotgrrl said...

I just picked up an easy tip on keeping clothesline-dried clothes soft in a desert climate. It was from the blog of a frugal farmer in southern New Mexico - she's given me a few other useful tips, though most of hers are for rural life.

Add a cup of vinegar to the rinse water when you do your laundry. It will evaporate and your clothing will not smell of it. Duh! I never knew that!

And white vinegar is cheap.

Will try it with the next load of Wearables and will certainly try it with the next load of Filthy Dirty (floor rags etc.)

idiotgrrl said...

John - a drop spindle may be portable, but it calls for skill and coordination and it takes a while to get into it. Also, a spinning wheel makes a lot more thread faster, or why the weaving industry stepped up production once it was invented. (And why 'spinster' became a synonym for the independent working woman. She could actually make a decent living at it, at least in the city.)

P.S. If I could bring one new technology back to Medieval Europe, it would be the crochet hook and the uses thereof.

GHung said...

I got my 'Girls' mixed up in my pokeweed post. Sorry, ladies.

Some info on pokeroot medicinal uses. Powerful stuff..

Tracy G said...

I recently read about pokeweed, which was previously unfamiliar to me, in Kay Young's truly excellent field guide Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains.

She recommends eating only "properly cooked young shoots 8 inches or less in height, with leaves folded up against the stem or relaxed outward." It is possible to consume the specially prepared stems and immature leaves from the branch tips of older plants. After reading all the cautions, however, I'd personally be reluctant to attempt that without an experienced person to show me exactly how it's done. Among other things, pokeweed contains a mitogen which can cause serious changes in the blood if absorbed through skin abrasions. Young also suggests that anyone growing pokeweed as a garden plant should fence it off, to prevent humans, dogs, or cats from inadvertently getting into it. Birds, on the other hand, can indeed eat the ripe berries with no trouble at all.

Young's text agrees with what Adrian Ayres Fisher wrote: pokeweed shoots should be boiled (after washing) for about ten minutes, then drained and the water changed before boiling an additional ten minutes, then drained and rinsed once more. The shoots are then added to a pan of already fried bacon or well done salt pork. The salat is ready after about five additional minutes of stirring and cooking.


After reading a bunch of different definitions of "materialistic" online, I feel I must clarify my comment a ways back. I was thinking in the sense of a small "m," not a big "M." Having never particularly studied philosophy, other than one college class in logic, I had no idea how much is entailed in that term. Geesh. I need to get myself a Philosophy for Dummies book or something! I just meant, of course, that I really appreciate the material things in my life, mostly for the practical value they add to it, but also for certain aesthetic and spiritual associations that come to my mind as I'm working with them. So apparently I'm not Materialistic, after all, even though I'm fond of my stuff and hence quite hesitant to renounce it. Hmmph. I'll meditate on that next and see if I ultimately have anything intelligent to say on the subject.

Hal said...

More re: dogs.

Please, everyone thinking of adding a canine ally, don't go out and buy some inbred animal from a breeder for some theoretical use you think you might have some day that someone told you the breed is good for. Not while there are thousands of perfectly good dogs being put to death every day in shelters.

Same for cats, of course.

Mixed breeds in my experience are smarter, stronger, less finicky, need less pampering and veterinary care, and are less prone to congenital defects like bad hips. Go to any well-organized animal shelter in your area, and sit down with them and explain what you want and what your resources are: material, temporal and emotional. One shelter I visit regularly (also has a thrift store, in keeping with the main topic) has profiles on each dog, listing its personality, emotional needs, abilities, etc. You will see a lot of dogs that have predominate characteristics (size, color, appearance, disposition) of a known breed, so you can have a pretty good idea if your dog will hunt, etc., and how trainable it is. (Actually, all dogs are trainable, some more easily than others. Also, you probably don't want to tell the people in the shelter if you happen to want the dog to be good for hunting. They tend to be vegans.)

Get a 2-3 y.o. dog and bypass all of the puppy mess and headaches.

Get the critter fixed, for Christ's sake. We won't have to worry about peak dog for... ever.

Also, if you can, get to know the dog before you adopt it. This might not always be feasible, though, and you might just have to jump in. I never would have adopted my dog if not for peculiar circumstances. I promised my dying brother I'd make sure the dog was taken care of. Eventually there was no one else who could take him, and I ended up with him. I was never a dog person before, always had cats. Now I can not imagine life without a dog. And amazingly, though I still love them, I have become allergic to cats! Bruno has powerful juju.

sgage said...

Re: poke

When I was a kid, it was kid-culture wisdom that poke berries were "deadly poison". They were good for only one thing - throwing at your friends, when they were good and ripe and soft. Splat! Oh, the battles we had!

We anticipated "paint gun" warfare by decades, much to the chagrin of our moms, who had to deal with the resulting stains on our clothing.

At least a hit from a poke berry didn't raise a big welt, like, just for example, crabapples shot from a slingshot. Yow!

cracked pot said...

Dear John Michael Greer,

I would like to share some thoughts with you after reading through your latest posts and "The Ecotechnic Future", mainly some questions and doubts I have about the future you describe and your description of voluntary poverty, and how to survive the future outside of the U.S.A. However, what I wrote is too long to post as a comment. What is the best way to contact you?

John Michael Greer said...

Lloyd, technically, no, a familiar is a nonphysical being -- a spirit -- that takes an etheric form modeled upon an animal. I don't use the term "pet" in a derogatory way -- and I won't plant so much as a radish seed unless I have good reason to think I can provide for its needs.

Gary, "even for bituminous"? A great deal of the coal burnt in the US, last I heard, was lignite, aka brown coal, which has a much lower energy density than bituminous coal; my understanding is that that's what's behind the 3x figure. As for the rest, many thanks for the correction.

Phil, good to know. Mind you, as long as the alehouses still remember how to brew their own, they won't want for business!

Adrian, nah, the translations and stuff are easy; Aspergers syndrome has its advantages. (I do Latin translation the way a lot of people do crosswords, as relaxation.) Dealing with people, on the blog and elsewhere, is more challenging.

Ghung, I'll have to try pokeberry wine. I don't have much trouble with arthritis yet, but it's all through my family, and my fingers get grumpy after a long stint of typing!

Grrl, thanks for the tip! As for drop spindles, most people I know who've used those and spinning wheels consider the drop spindle easier to learn and use -- it makes a good intro to spinning, at a much smaller up-front cost. Wheels have their advantages too, of course -- and no argument about crochet hooks; even though you can't pass it back to the last set of Middle Ages, you can certainly help pass it on to the next one...

Ghung and Tracy, thanks for the data!

Sgage, with us it was Douglas fir cones. Yowch.

Cracked, an email to info (at) aoda (dot) org will be forwarded to me. It may be a while before I can get to it, though.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Regarding rhetoric as part of education, I picked up a used book the other day that is fantastic:
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, by Sister Miriam Joseph and Marguerite McGlinn. "Logic is the art of thinking; grammar, the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; and rhetoric, the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance." aka "Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known,
Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized, and
Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated." (Wikipedia)
After the Trivium of the first year, students tackled the Quadrivium in their second: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
Also more at:

Don Mason said...

@ Hal said:

“Please, everyone thinking of adding a canine ally, don't go out and buy some inbred animal from a breeder for some theoretical use you think you might have some day that someone told you the breed is good for. Not while there are thousands of perfectly good dogs being put to death every day in shelters.”

Over the years, my wife and I have lived with a number of pure-bred dogs: two German Shepherd Dogs, two Airedale Terriers, an Australian Shepherd, a Rough Collie, a Standard Poodle, a Dachshund, and a Mastiff.

When I was a kid, we took in a mixed-breed stray dog that was wandering around the neighborhood. Six months later, it attacked my father and ran away. Although we had had the dog vaccinated, my father had to have the 14-day series of rabies vaccinations as a precaution, and he almost died from the injections.

My wife and I also lived with our daughter’s pointer-like mixed breed. It whined incessantly, and when left alone for only a minute, would tear the house apart.

Sounds like you’ve had better luck with mixed breeds than we have.

As far as “some theoretical use” … well, the civilization we’re living in is starting to go off the rails, and developing a theory about why it’s happening and what we need to do to survive the train wreck is important. Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years, so we need to develop a theory about their future role: in our case, their possible role in a tough urban neighborhood with vacant lots that have small-scale agricultural potential, combined with two farmers’ markets within dog-carting distance.

This is a difficult niche to fill, but the after a long search, we’ve found a breed (Bernese Mountain Dog, aka BMD or Berner) that might work. So we joined the local BMD club, and have seen several hundred examples of the breed at regional BMD shows and also the 2010 BMD National. We’ve seen many Berners perform in Obedience Trials and Draft Tests. So we know what we’re trying to accomplish – which is why we’re taking a lot of time with it.

After living with dogs on and off for over half a century, my advice on getting a dog would be the opposite of yours:

1) Search for the basic breed temperament and physical characteristics that best match your situation: what the breed has to offer you, and what you have to offer the breed. Be objective about it; fall in love with the breed and the particular dog later.

2) Go to a reputable breeder and buy a puppy. Any dog has to be molded to fit into your household, and it’s always easier to mold a puppy in the direction of its basic breed temperament than to mold it away from its basic breed temperament. By the time a mixed-breed dog is three years old, the training will be much, much harder – and it may never really be a good fit.

3) To survive the coming descent, we are going to have to make tough triage decisions about which person (or what animals) get the scarce resources needed to survive and which person (or what animals) do not. Dog breeds represent the work of countless generations of breeders who have tried to mold their breed into an animal that has a natural ability and propensity to do certain things well. If push comes to shove – and eventually, it will – the scarce food and medical resources should go to preserving the genetics of the highest quality canine breeding stock rather than to preserving the individual lives of spayed or neutered mixed-breed dogs. We need to preserve the rich genetic diversity of dog breeds (and the rich genetic diversity of other domesticated species: horses, cows, sheep, goats, etc.) just as some people are trying to preserve the rich genetic diversity of heirloom vegetables.

To me, putting food into the mouth of a sterile mixed-breed dog is like devoting all of your garden space to sterile Monsanto hybrids: you may get a decent crop this year, but it has no future.

Hayduke said...

My wife and I have lived with minimal auto dependency for ten years now. When we came together, we sold my 64 VW Bus and kept her 72 VW Bug. It now sits in our driveway all week. We take it out on Saturday or Sunday for a trip to Trader Joe's for wine and other staples we can't grow in the garden.

We carefully chose part-time jobs within easy walking and bicycling distance from home. The library, our local public house, farmers market and grocery stores, our favorite eatery are all within easy walking distance of our 800 square foot home a mile from the beach.

We walk 2 1/2 miles to town to the bus station when we travel further away, usually by bus connection to the AMTRAK terminal 35 miles away.

We live in a mobile home park with a clubhouse where we do our laundry, and where park residents maintain a Free Table to share unwanted items. Almost all of our clothes and considerable food come from the Free Table, not to mention the community solidarity that comes from seeing a neighbor wearing a once favorite shirt.

We're in our sixties; no trust babies, we. No investments, no big real estate deals. We just lowered our standard of living and raised our quality of life.

It doesn't take massive restructuring to develop a car-free society, just decisions to make it so. Just like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. Decide to do it and keep on eating!

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

JMG, clearly I'm not as familiar with the subject as I would pretend, though maybe I am a little more so now. Learning is good. I'll also confess to planting far more seeds this year than I could reasonably expect to protect from the rapacious bunnies. Irrational exuberance perhaps; but I learned from that mistake too. Sometimes I think the sum of my errors should have made me a genius. Unfortunately it did not work out that way. Thanks for your forbearance.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Please forgive me for a moment while I indulge in a spot of salvage boasting (the brag of choice for the industrial salvage age?). Yesterday, in just half an hour, I bagged a printer (unopened box), a new set of crockery (unopened box), a sewing machine (barely used, still with manual), a typewriter (retro), a large toolbox full of tools, a cat box and a large toy tiger (for my daughter, still wrapped). The reason I struck lucky was that half the city have had their basements flooded last weekend in the most powerful downpour to hit Copenhagen in recorded history – and folks are just chucking out everything. You won't find any news on the downpour BTW, I suggested a story on it for the newspaper I sometimes write for and they said they only now report extreme weather events if there are substantial deaths.

@Kathleen – regarding walking. One example who springs to mind is the English writer Gerald Brenan, influential member of the Bloomsbury Club – who chose the path of tough poverty in rural Spain to eke out his war pension. He used to routinely walk 100 miles a day, usually between Granada and Almeria, passing over the summit of Mulhacen, Spain's tallest mountain, en route. In his old age he claimed that people were becoming physically soft and devoted his body for scientists to study upon his death. He might have a had a point – the same journey in a car takes about 2.5 hours on fast roads today.

@Don – thanks!

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm still reading all of the comments. Congratulations, it looks like you've achieved critical mass!

Thought you might be interested in this. I was reading the Saturday paper when I noticed two articles ironically on the same page:

1) A big article about the Space Shuttle Atlantis and it's final journey into space and noting that total job losses from the shut down of the shuttle program were close to 10,000 people. Sad.

2) A little article about US state schools in Indiana abandoning joined up handwriting in favour of spending time teaching children to type. Apparently and I quote the article "from an intuitive stand-point, this makes sense...".

In the middle east they may call these two scenarios part of death by a thousand cuts.



peacegarden said...

Brad K

Go here:

And watch in awe...that's how you use a scythe!



Bill Pulliam said...

I really hate to wade into the mix breed - purebred issue here, but...

For the record, we usually have both. Right now we have two purebred (one AKC Champion) Rhodesian Ridgebacks and one fuzzy yellow old boy who was dumped at out doorstep in the middle of the night complete with hookworms, heartworms, ehrlichia (a tick-borne rickettsial disease similar to RMSF), and Pachydermitis (a non-contagious fungal mange casued by general poor health and suppressed immunity). Of course we have no desire for hunting lions on the Veld; but what you get from purebreds is more predictability of size and temperament (good and bad). I knew my Ridgeback pup was going to grow to be over 100 pounds, and could decide in advance if I really wanted a dog that big. Knowing his father, mother, three of four grandparents, and a half-brother personally I also had a pretty good idea what his personality was likely to be like -- big, sweet, and goofy.

As for inbreeding, that is how ALL domesticated breeds of ALL animals ad plants are created. That is how you bring positive and negative traits out where they can be seen and select for and against them without taking the 1,000,000 years that natural selction takes to create a new animal. Without massive intense inbreeding there would be no dogs at all, no cattle, no chickens, no domesticated goats, sheep, or horses. Inbreeding is a taboo in humans because it causes all sorts of trouble when it occurs in populations that have not experienced it much -- all those lurking weird things are brought out. Domesticated animals that have been tightly bred for many generations can withstand (indeed require) a high level of close line breeding and inbreeding. Do you slander your heritage varieties and breeds of vegetables and poultry as "inbred?" Inbreeding combined with intense selection is one of the greatest inventions of the human species, and is what created agriculture (and hence "civilization").

Also, I wish those who slander purebred dogs and promote rescue of mixed breeds as the only legitimate and honorable way to deal with dogs would actually THINK about the end game of this strategy. In that world, the only dogs out there would be the results of backyard random breeding by outlaws and irresponsible folks who do not control their dogs and their reproduction (in other words, the sort of people who dumped that neglected dog on our doorstep). And when you just let dogs chose their own mates for many generations, you get Dingos -- things that resemble yellowish wolves in appearance and behavior. Similar pariah dogs have emerged in many parts of the world. They are very poorly sited to domestic life as pets or workers. Is this the world of dogs you really want to see? All those evil inbreeders are the only reason you see the wonderful variety of dogs we have in the world -- mixed and purebreds.

Brad K. said...

@ Hal,

Seed saving in the garden is growing in interest, and I hope in practice. Buying, trading and bartering, or receiving gifts of quality seed, then growing it in your own garden, in the climate you live in, and then keeping back the best of the seed each year is intended to build a stock of plant that is suited to you, your environment, and especially to the purpose that you desire.

How can livestock, any livestock, be a different matter?

The dog that you depend upon to do the guarding, or ratting, or herding, or companionship that you get the dog for, needs to be dependable.

Picking up strays without regard to bloodlines or early training is a refusal to take responsibility for taking care of yourself.

What worked in Iowa farming country when I grew up, was to watch the neighbors and their dogs. When a litter came 'available', you considered how the owner used the dogs, how they behaved, and whether the place and need they came from suits your needs. Some were purebred, others deliberate mixes (which is one reason that quality pure bred dogs -- not inbred puppy mill big-box type mutts of whatever breed -- are needed, to provide reasonable out-crossing prospects).

A part of me is appalled at the blanket "adopt and neuter stays" policy, as it is a deliberate and non-discriminate thinning of several gene pools.

A horseman commented to me that a breed is not improved by planned matings, but by the culls removed from breeding. The chances of removing dogs with sound genetics from the breeding pool by the "neuter them all" robs this and the next generations of opportunities.

Be that as it may, horsemen also tell me, "know the horse, or know the seller."

I might mention that in the future, the once-ubiquitous rat terrier may be a necessary companion to help maintain control over rodents around stored feed and foodstuffs. Rabbits in the gardens, possums in the chicken house, and raccoons in the feed room, not to mention mice in the yard and buildings, are the rightful prey of the vigilant dog.

Some cats are very effective hunters. If you aren't selecting, and keeping back progeny, for useful skills, how do you propose to maintain that embarrassingly rare skill among cats in America?

In the past it was reputed that you could tell a man's character by his dog and his horse. Being able and adept at training the dog and horse, the respect and discipline in your relationship with your companions and other livestock, is a matter of taking responsibility over circumstances that directly affect your life, especially outside the reach of an abundant society.

Please, do keep taking in strays and providing homes as your ability to feed and care for them permits. For me, I feel one overlooked responsibility of taking on livestock, even pets, is that of knowing and acting when the time comes that you no longer have a use for the animal, or that it can no longer serve. That, I think, is more important that whether the animal enters your life as an adoptee, as a considered procurement, or as one that you planned for and raised.

I would neuter an animal not suitable for reproduction.

Adrian Skilling said...

We make somewhat good use of salvaging. Commonly scrap for making coldframes, chicken houses, etc.. and lots of kids toys, books and clothes come this way. However we think we've noticed a rise in the prices of 2nd hand kids toys at the charity shops. So I have a slight worry -

Is there a danger or pricing the true poor out of the 2nd hand market? (the answer may lie in that rationing of anything by price is inherently unfair).

Mount Shasta Inquirer said...

17 million light vehicles get junked every year. Most of them are not cars you would want to rescue or be able to rescue. At this rate, if nobody buys a new car, our nation would be virtually car free in 10 years, but I don't think we would be able to handle that. Most of these vehicles will be replaced with something, and electric cars are about the best thing going. They are light weight, needing less sheet metal and doing less damage to our petroleum based asphalt. With the proper incentives, most of them would be recharged at night when there is unused baseload capacity. This will not add to the amount of coal we burn.

Hal said...

Don Mason: You make some good points for, I think, a minority of people with specific needs as well as the discipline and character to be trusted with animal breeding.

I think for most people looking for a dog for general use such as warning against intruders and keeping the racoons and armadillos out of the melon patch, my advice is sound. Draft dogs? Show me anywhere in the world where they were ever used, other than places where horses or oxen weren't practical. There's probably a reason.

My personal experience with dogs is a lot less extensive than yours, but we always had one in the family (my brother collected strays.) I have observed a lot of dogs over time, including service dogs and dogs used for specific purposes, especially hunting. I have seen a lot of bad hips, front leg joints, heart defects, and other problems in purebred dogs. I've seen people practically go broke with vet bills.

I don't think a couple of anecdotes about mixed breeds tells a very good story. Mixed breeds, after all, represent most of the universe of dogs, so you're going to have all types. I have definitely seen the type of separation anxiety you described in purebred dogs, especially a bouvier and a wheaton terrier I was close to recently.

In my post, I recommended looking for dogs that have percentages of major breeds. My dog is a lab mix, and I wish I had gotten him at a younger age, because he would have made a great hunting dog.

Funny, when you compare mix breeds with Monsanto hybrids, I see it just the opposite. Those hybrids are the result of intense effort in breeding very specific traits. They result in a variety that is useful for very specific conditions, and require an amazing amount of resource inputs.

To me, the extremes reached by commercial seed and animal breeding are every bit as much an example of an obsession with idealized perfection as the search for meaning through wealth represented by plastic junk.

I don't want to overstate the case, now. I appreciate good vegetable breeds, and grow both heirlooms and hybrids on my farm. (Check out Sharon Astyk a couple of months on that. Very few of us are black or white on the issue.) Chickens are another example.

I'm talking about the extremes you usually see with the major dog breeds.

I have to say, though it's a little disturbing to see you make the jump to an argument that sounds a lot to me like social "Darwinism" (no relation to actual Darwinism, of course). When you use the term "person" it makes me wonder who gets to make the "tough triage decisions?"

Yeah, I'll have to admit that ethics has something to do with my position on adopting pound animals. I'd probably be even more of a softie with the dim-witted cousin. As for neutering and humans, I don't think we need to go there.

As far as the future of dog breeds is concerned, if you go to any 3rd world country you'll see that, left on their own, dogs devolve into the basic, usually yellow, canine. Hair not too long, not too short; nose, tail, ears, etc., ditto. Scrappy and resistant to most of what life will throw at them. These dogs might not be ideal for a lot of uses, and there will always be a need to breed good dogs for specific uses. Bred dogs will always develop problems, and need some wild genes. I don't see either as being endangered in the foreseeable future.

[This may be a repeat. Got an "unable to complete" message first time.

Tyler August said...

Don Mason,

I must respectfully disagree with your thesis of 'heirloom breeds'--while it's possible they exist somewhere, most breeders will deliver unto you no such thing.
If I go to a breeder around here looking for a German Shepard dog, what I get back will be useless for sheparding, guarding, or any other sort of work, because the breeders have decided that highly deformed hind legs are a desirable breed characteristic.
Pure-bred St.Bernards I've met certainly look like St.Bernards, but are no longer temperamentally suited to the rescue-dog role; every one I met tended to be quite violent.
There are other examples as well, but my point is this:
unless you can find a good breeder who cares more about the dog than the kennel club's specifications, those heirloom breeds have for the most part been destroyed by a century or more of cosmetic breeding.
So to anyone considering Mason's arguments, I caution you to be very, very careful in selecting a breeder.
Myself, I've always had mutts and they do superbly--as pets, mind you. I've never had a working dog, but my grandfather's farm never saw a purebred. If you get a mutt, you get the bonus of hybrid vigor, and the temperament comes out reasonably predictable, as long as you don't breed at cross-purposes. A collie-Shepard mix, you might expect, still has sheepdog instincts.
All those centuries of breeding were more like that than the highly-inbred strains of today, I suspect. A good dog sires puppies upon a good dog, rinse and repeat. Registered breeds only became a thing when the idle rich and middle classes decided to breed showdogs, which is what most lines in a lot of breeds are these days. So be careful about that, is all I'm saying. If you know what you're doing (as Don presumably does) you can probably a fine dog. If not, go to the pound. As the man says, we're nowhere near peak dog.

P.S. Instead of a draft dog, have you considered a pedal-powered plow?

John Bray said...

@Jason Heppenstall - you just beat me to it!

I started reading the post this afternoon and I've just made it to the end of the comments and was going to mention Gerald Brenan's travels. He lived about 2 miles from where I now live.

We have roads now - but he'd be surprised at how little else has changed around these parts. Most of the land is still being worked the same as when the Moors were in charge - about 500 years ago. Getting "back to basics" won't be as much of a problem here because it will only mean going back a generation for many.

Re: dogs. Admittedly rice may not be available in years to come but beans are very easy to grow and dry.

Re: something to celebrate. Maybe not as big as your 4th of July, but our neighbouring town celebrated transformer-day this weekend (the anniversary of when a noisy electrical transformer was replaced in the town). Little excuse needed here for a fiesta :0)

Cathy McGuire said...

@Lew @ Cathy McGuire & dltrammel - Great map!
T’was all dtrammel’s! And it is a great job!

@dtrammel I would suggest people cruise the estate sales. Most of them get picked clean of prime antiques on Friday by the pros, but common stuff like we'd be interested isn't what they look for. And its usually stuff people were using and in good condition.

I’d second that! I got big coffee cans full of old, strong clothespins for $1/can; linen sheets with hardly any wear, cast iron pans, manual drill, and a portable Coleman sink-setup (for processing my chickens) for $22, there was an old apple cider press for $150 (and he might have taken less- I couldn’t lift it, but really wanted it)… all sorts of things! I try to get to them when I can – trying to balance the gas it takes to drive around with the possible treasures.

@Mary & JMG As for a spinning wheel, good, but you might also look into a spindle -- very portable, easy to make, and easy to teach others how to use.
There’s a discussion of making spindles and spinning over at

Jason Heppenstall said...

@John Bray

Then we must almost have been neighbours - me being a Pampaneira dweller!

Brad K. said...

@ Adrian Skilling,

You ask, "Is there a danger or pricing the true poor out of the 2nd hand market? "

President Obama certainly tried to do that to the American public, with the "Cash for Clunkers" move to devastate the used car market in America. In addition to paying lip service to union auto workers, it skimmed the best of the cars that should have comprised the used cars being traded today -- moving the average used car a notch lower for maintenance needs, for efficiency, for general condition.

That said, I think there are echelons of use, and of used items. A certain number of items that show up at yard sales, flea markets, second hand stores, and even dumps, have been the "discarded" route before. Some of them many times.

One measure of affluence (decadence?) might be the quantity and quality of discards.

Where high class might wear a garment once, almost-high class might wear that same garment until it needs mending. Lower class might mend that garment until the mends are too cumbersome, or the garment is too worn to be mended reliably. Lowest class might wear that garment clouted to another, or several layers, to meet their needs.

The almost-high class might get that garment from a store or acquaintance. The lowest class might find it in a distribution center, a store, a dump, or out of a bundle of clothes intended for rags.

Unless one takes active steps to destroy something, there remains an opportunity for someone with less means and more need.

That doesn't mean that the cycle is humane, or comfortable. I do think, though, that we need to take more ownership of how we discard what we no longer need, to empower the ability to convey our leavings to those with an interest in them.

artinnature said...

Cathy McGuire an/or Panidaho, or anyone else moderating Green Wizards:

I'm one of those who have been unable to complete my login/registration right
from the start due to the early glitch, and have been "locked-out" ever since. Could
one of you please email me and help me get this resolved?
my email: artinnature(at)comcast(dot)net

On the dog discussion: I've been fascinated by the recent differences between the original
breed that had a purpose and the show version. Observe any Golden Retriever, Border Collie or
Australian Shepherd that is doing its intended work in the field, then look at those "same" breeds in the show arena. They are no longer the same in
physical appearance/temperament. Now, most people looking for a companion would be wise to stick with the show version for obvious reasons, but I wonder how many people realize that dog
breeding has developed these two distinct lines of what was originally one breed? Just another symptom of our energy profligacy, formerly useful dog breeds altered to be fashion (glamour?) statements in many cases.

The German Shepherd is indeed the most grotesque example in my opinion. Many years ago I had a white German Shepherd, perfectly "square", incredibly intelligent and athletic, I wonder if these last two traits have been compromised as well?

SophieGale said...

Synchronicity at work: found a link for the American Indian Dog. I pass it along for whatever it's worth:

Long distance hiking: There are a number of books about hiking the Appalachian trail. The most recent "celebrities" are the Barefoot Sisters.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Kathleen - On walking. You (and others) might be interested in Scott Savage's "A Plain Life: Walking My Belief." Scott Savage and his family became conservative Quakers, which is a sect that at first glance look like the Amish. Horse power and all.

Mr. Savage decided to walk across most of the State of Ohio to return his drivers license to the government. But the book is so much more, than just that. How he came to become a conservative Quaker. The chapter on his first horse is VERY funny and worth the price of admission. Imagine a horse that is oblivious to heavy traffic, but spooks and becomes crazed at the sight of a garbage can ...

A couple of caveats ... while walking, Mr. Savage contemplates the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. So, if you can't stomach Christianity in any shape or form, you might want to steer clear. Also, Mr. Savage was involved in a hoop-la over some of his personal politics a few years ago. Sigh.

All I can say is that I have enjoyed just about everything the man has written. He also edited "The Plain Reader" and helped organize The Second Luddite Conference" a few years back.

Bill Pulliam said...

Hal -- your perspective on functional dogs seems very urban and rather ill-informed to me. Around here many people hunt with dogs. They use purebred Labradors for waterfowl, several breeds of Coonhounds for raccoons, and Beagles for rabbits. There are also specialized local breeds (squirrel dogs, black-mouth curs, etc.) for specific hunting functions. People with hooved flocks use purebred Great Pyrenees for livestock guarding. Sheep keepers use purebred Border Collies. Drug sniffing dogs are almost all purebred Labradors; search-and-rescue dogs are usually purebreds of several different breeds (including many German Shepherd Dogs).

About dogs for draft animals, it was common in earlier centuries. Goats were used as well.

To all who say that the excess of strays means that no one should be deliberately breeding dogs, the same logic can be applied to humans. Did YOU look for an adoptive child first before deciding to breed one of your own?

Doctor Westchester said...


I, as someone with a rigorous background in science, would say that the sooner you get around to writing and publishing your book on magic, the better. If the crisis of faith and religion that we both feel is coming happens, you may find that it might not take centuries for your book to find its audience, but could happen even within your life time. Please notice that I said could happen, not would happen.

I can see that there will be an increasing feeling that science failed us going forward. I don't think so, it has done what it suppose to - increasing our understanding of the material world. What has failed is how we made use of what we have learned. We have created expectations for what science can do that an unbiased review of what it tells us shows can't be met. It is somehow sadly predictable that the most concise and insightful description of this conflict that I have found is not in a scientific publication but in writing of a non-technical author on this blog.

My current understanding of magic comes from what you have written in this blog. So I will cheerfully admit that I almost certainly don’t a clue about what I’m talking about. However, since that doesn’t stop anyone in our current society from bloviating…

Since reading your blog post last year on magic, I have been saying that magic is still practiced widely, especially by large corporations and governments; it is just not explicitly recognized as such. Has it occurred to anyone that the term "the magic of advertising” may be more than just a metaphor? The image that comes to mind is one from the original Stars Wars movie, where the empire’s generals are smugly talking about how technically advanced they are and that the Force used by Darth Vader is a primitive, and out of date, thing. Vader, being a little hotheaded, can’t resist showing them that they might be mistaken. The empire is, of course, completed based on using “the dark side of the Force”.

Like you, I very much doubt that there is a tiny cabal of people fully versed in the ways of magic running the show (Darth Bernanke does has nice ring to it though). I just suspect that rediscovered debased forms of magic, stripped of the critical deeper levels of understanding, is dressed up in scientific drag and used to sell toothpaste, cars, foreign policy, political candidates and the American way of life.

James Kunstler has recognized will be a hunger for and development of something beyond the pseudo scientific rationalism of our times in the years ahead, an idea he dramatized in his World Made by Hand novels by including supernatural elements. However, since he probable knows little more, if that, beyond what most people know about magic; what he wrote includes, I suspect, a confounding the planes issue, which is why I find it jarring and out of place.

I can predict that if there was a wider rediscovery of magic it would not lead to some human utopia, as I am sure some would be claiming once that rediscovery starts to happen. My guess any society that made the fullest use of magic also had its share of wars, misery and foolish mistakes. Magic would be just another tool that we can again use in navigating an unpleasant future that we have foolishly underestimated. I just think we need every valuable tool possible for that future, and a fuller knowledge of magic is one that we are lacking.

John Michael Greer said...

Lance, thanks for the reference! I'll have to check that out. One thing, though -- the trivium wasn't just the first year; it was the entire course of study in grammar school, the medieval equivalent of elementary school. Advanced Latin studies, logic, and rhetoric continued in the abbey or cathedral schools, the equivalent of high school, with the quadrivium as the rest of the course. You'd go to a university before you studied anything else!

Hayduke, except for the fact that my wife and I don't have a car of any kind in the driveway and live in a close-in neighborhood rather than a trailer park, sounds like we've got very similar lifestyles. With regard to that elephant, a good tasty hot sauce also helps!

Lloyd, not a problem. Have you considered eating the bunnies?

Jason, congrats! That's fascinating about the weather, though. The worst downpour in recorded history is news; I can only wonder if word has gone out that extreme weather is to be downplayed. It might be worthwhile for somebody to put up a website to collect accounts of extreme weather that aren't making the news!

Cherokee, I'm not sad about the end of the shuttle program; the space age is ending, and while a lot of wild dreams are going into the dumpster as a result, they were never more than a distraction from the hard work we have to do to learn to live on the only planet we'll ever inhabit. As for the other -- sheesh. Blockheads.

Adrian, for some items, it's a risk. This is one of the reasons I encourage people to concentrate on old tools, and other things that can be used to produce goods and services -- that way everyone tends to benefit. More on this soon.

Inquirer, er, if you're charging batteries at night (or any other time), you're going to have to burn more coal to produce the electricity; energy doesn't come from nowhere, you know.

John Michael Greer said...

The discussion about dogs is starting to look just a bit heated. I'd like to ask everyone to keep it civil, so I don't have to throw a bucket of water on the lot of you... ;-)

gordon said...

Well folks, it looks like our energy problem has been solved. Read all about it at the Energy Bulletin in a piece titled "Americans select dilithium crystals to power next generation"

I just don't understand why the main stream media hasn't picked this up!

John Michael Greer said...

Doctor W., very good indeed. You'll be interested to know that your take on magic as a central element of today's consumer economy was proposed by no less a figure than Ioan Couliano in Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, a book you might want to look up; Couliano was one of the very few academics who was also a first-rate occultist, and thus knew what he was talking about.

The kind of magic practiced by today's corner-office sorcerers, though, might better be described as necromancy -- the manipulation of dead images. What I was taught, many years ago now, to call the Magic of Light requires the mage to participate fully in the process of the cosmos; you can't stand back and manipulate from a distance, and you can't fool youself into thinking that what you do won't circle back and bite you in the rump. The necromancers of finance and advertising haven't grasped that. I doubt they'll dodge the traditional consequences, either.

More on this in due time.

As for Bernanke, his name as a Sith Lord has to be Darth Vestment -- think (in)vader, (in)sidious, etc.

Gordon, funny. Thank you!

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

JM - Darth Vestment? Black Helicopter Ben? Is it tinfoil hat time yet? More seriously...

Indeed, lately when folks inquire about my garden I've been responding that the only thing that seems to be growing well are the rabbits. Wild leporid fricassée is all but certain, though I understand a fall harvest is optimal; and I do have competition. V. Vulpes and various colubrids and winged raptors have taken note of the bounty and probably not a few of the number. I'm leaning toward constructing and employing a few simple traps to get my fair share, but (at the risk of setting off more canine distemper) I wonder how proficient a trained beagle might be at catching supper for us both. Sadly, neighbor fox would doubtless move on.

Gail - the scythe link made my day. The cadence of a well handled scythe at work has a musical quality reminiscent of water lapping along the shore of a lake.

Don Mason said...

JMG said:
“The discussion about dogs is starting to look just a bit heated. I'd like to ask everyone to keep it civil, so I don't have to throw a bucket of water on the lot of you... ;-)”

Woof! Woof! I’ll be a good dog! Woof! Woof!

Tyler August said:
“If I go to a breeder around here looking for a German Shepard dog, what I get back will be useless for sheparding, guarding, or any other sort of work, because the breeders have decided that highly deformed hind legs are a desirable breed characteristic.”

I agree that some of the current conformation champion German Shepherd Dogs are, in my humble opinion, hideously deformed freaks. Some breeders are breeding for whatever “look” is currently fashionable, and with GSD’s the “racy, swept-back look” is currently all the rage.

However, there are other more traditional GSD breeders who are breeding for exactly the qualities you mention: guarding, herding, etc.

How do you find a breeder like that? One clue is that conformation (appearance) is not the only title that can be awarded. There are other awards: obedience, herding, draft work (pulling a cart), hunting, retrieving, tracking, earth dog (terriers going underground), etc.

There is currently a counter-current in dog breeding circles that is pushing for a return to the earlier emphasis on function as opposed to appearance. In my opinion, it will eventually prevail.

Tyler August said
"…unless you can find a good breeder who cares more about the dog than the kennel club's specifications, those heirloom breeds have for the most part been destroyed by a century or more of cosmetic breeding… Registered breeds only became a thing when the idle rich and middle classes decided to breed showdogs, which is what most lines in a lot of breeds are these days.”

I agree that in the 20th Century, dog breeding – like so many other things – went off the deep end into (we need a word here, and the word Bill came up with certainly fits) glamour. The obsession with perfecting the dog’s glamorous appearance damaged a number of breeds (the Bedlington Terrier, for example, has developed an extremely high incidence of heart defects).

But many other breeders have “kept the faith” and attempted to keep the temperamental and working characteristics intact, while attempting to breed out health problems.

As the middle class disappears, I suspect that the excesses of show dog breeding will also disappear with it, and the practical aspects will make a comeback.

For example, I prefer the original 1957 AKC Breed Standard for the Bernese Mountain Dog that called for a dog that exhibited “sagacity, fidelity, and utility”. To me, that’s the perfect dog. As the old saying goes, “How can a good dog be a bad color?”

Tyler August said:
“So to anyone considering Mason's arguments, I caution you to be very, very careful in selecting a breeder.”

I agree. Be very, very careful in selecting a breeder. We’re at four years and counting. (We could have gotten a Berner a long time ago if we weren’t considering breeding; but once we started considering breeding, we realized we needed to learn a lot more about the breed and the direction our breeding program would go - if we decide to do it.)

Don Mason said...

Hal said:
“Draft dogs? Show me anywhere in the world where they were ever used, other than places where horses or oxen weren't practical. There's probably a reason.”

The reason is usually economics.

Often a dog is a poor man’s horse. Since soon most people are going to be poor, we need to relearn the tricks of how poor people in the past survived.

Historically, both the urban and rural poor often used dogs for transportation because they were cheaper to feed and house than a horse. In some cities (Brussels of 200 years ago) dogs like the Bouvier des Flandres were used at least as often as horses by shopkeepers to make deliveries because they were cheaper to keep, more maneuverable in the city streets, and they provided protection. Berners were used in Switzerland to haul milk carts into the village, often led by a child.

Don Mason said...

Hal said:
“I have to say, though it's a little disturbing to see you make the jump to an argument that sounds a lot to me like social 'Darwinism' (no relation to actual Darwinism, of course). When you use the term 'person' it makes me wonder who gets to make the 'tough triage decisions?'”

I used that phrase “tough triage decisions” very deliberately.

You have to make tough triage decisions when an emergency overwhelms your scarce resources. Put bluntly, when seven billion people slam headfirst into Peak Oil, Peak Potash, Peak Everything – including Peak Dog - then some people – and some dogs - are going to die. There’s only enough resources to keep a finite number of people (or domestic animals) alive. An enormous amount of death is inevitable.

So what determines who gets the resources to live and who doesn’t? Location? Money? Pure dumb luck? Barak Obama? Sarah Palin? The Queen of England? Wall Street? The People’s Revolutionary Committee? Space lizards from the constellation Draco? A combination of one or more of the above? Who or what does the determining? Who makes the tough triage decisions during this Long Emergency/Long Descent? Who gets the resources to live, and who gets to die?

We’re going to have to have some extremely difficult conversations about triaging collapse, and we need to be explicit about it: we are triaging collapse. Our world is becoming one big salvage operation.

We are all making those tough triage decisions, every day, in whatever we do. Right now, our own everyday actions are determining who is going to get the resources to live, and who will not.

We can’t save every person, and we can’t save every dog – and the resources to save a couple of dogs could instead be used to save a person. So my thinking is: If we’re going to save a dog instead of a person, then that had better be a really, really good dog that we’re saving. And that, of course, is a subjective judgment. But the more useful the dog is – particularly at increasing resources like food or providing transportation or protection – the more reasonable it is.

Hal said:
“As for neutering and humans, I don't think we need to go there.”

Triaging collapse is definitely something that nobody really wants to talk about.

Infinite growth is much more pleasant: infinite resources allowing infinite people the infinite freedom to produce infinite babies to play with infinite dogs. Much more pleasant.

Instead of: Either your dog is going to starve to death, or somebody in South Asia is going have a baby, and that baby is going to starve to death. Who wants to make a decision? Hands? Anyone? No one? Okay, by default, then. You, over in the corner: the skeleton in the black cape with the scythe…

Tyler August said
“P.S. Instead of a draft dog, have you considered a pedal-powered plow?”

We’ve thought about that. There are some really good pedal-powered machines out there. But my wife and I are in our sixties, and our physical stamina isn’t what it used to be. We need some additional muscle power around here.

With an aging population, this will probably become an even more important issue as time goes on. Our fossil fuel slaves are dying, so we’re going to need the muscle power of the working breeds.

Also, a pedal-powered machine doesn’t scare the junkies and crackheads away.

And a machine doesn’t do some of the endearing things that a dog does, like trying to con you out of a treat: “Woof! Woof! I've been a good dog, right? Can I have a carrot now? Woof! Woof!

Hal said...

There must be something about the way I come across on this forum that causes me to get some of the reactions I have. First I catch abuse for my tractor and pickup, now I'm called "urban." Seemed kind of excessive, but I'll follow the moderator's request and let it go.

I'm still skeptical about draft dogs, though. This may mark me as urban and ill informed. I've only been growing on a semi-commercial scale for 4 years, but one thing I've picked up is that in order to do any serious work in soil, you need a fair amount of traction. That doesn't mean a huge amount of horsepower: you can get a lot of work done with something like the antique walk-behind Gravely tractor (1-cylinder, 5-6 HP, but a lot of low end torque.)

The little I've seen of work done with horses seems to work because the horse has a fair amount of weight to throw into it. I think there's probably a reason draft horses are quite a bit bigger than riding horses.

No doubt a very big dog could pull a small cart. The little I've seen is novelty stuff for children, but they could probably haul groceries and other small loads about as well as a bike cart. But I'd rather be riding a bike and pulling a wagon than walking beside a dog cart for that application.

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