Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Salvaging Quality

It’s been a busy week for those of us who keep watch over the industrial world’s deepening tailspin, as politicians in the United States and Europe play a game of chicken using sovereign debt in the role traditionally filled by fast cars. The issue in the United States is simple enough: the most that either side is able to offer, given its political commitments, is less than the least either side can afford to accept, and the occasional turns toward demagoguery on both sides haven’t exactly helped. It’s still possible that some last minute compromise may be hammered out, but the odds against that are starting to lengthen, and if that doesn’t happen, the financial end of the federal government will start seizing up in about three weeks. It should be an interesting spectacle.

Europe is a more complex situation. Greece, the current poster child for sovereign debt dysfunction, did what poor countries so often do, borrowed in foreign markets far beyond its ability to repay, and now can’t meet its bills. Unfortunately the normal way to resolve such problems – defaulting on the debt – would bankrupt quite a few large banks in other EU nations, and these latter have put pressure on their national governments to stave off a Greek default. The problem here is that Greece is going to have to default sooner or later; the question is purely a matter of when The Greek government is in hock far beyond its ability to repay, and the austerity measures pushed on it by the cluelessly doctrinaire economists at the IMF have worsened the matter considerably by putting the Greek economy into a tailspin. So it’s simply a matter of waiting for the inevitable to happen, and the credit markets to go into spasm accordingly.

Mind you, the horrified utterances currently being splashed around the global media, claiming that default is unthinkable and unprecedented, are nonsense of the most blatant sort. Nations default on their debts all the time. Russia did it in 1998, Argentina did it in 2002, and both nations survived; most European nations, for that matter, have defaulted on their debts more than once over the course of their history, and bankrupted plenty of banks in the process – that’s where we get the word bankrupt, you know. Defaults have always been one of the inescapable risks of lending to governments. EU governments could get realistic about this, let Greece do what countries with too much debt normally do, and spend their time more usefully writing letters of condolence to the bank executives who will be out of a job shortly thereafter.

Come to think of it, it’s just possible that this is what EU governments are actually doing. The current flurry of handwaving and emergency meetings may be no more than a source of plausible deniability – we’re sorry, we did all we could, it was the fault of (fill in the blank to conform to local prejudices) that Greece crashed and took half Europe’s banks with it, blah blah blah. For that matter, it’s not completely beyond the bounds of possibility that politicians on this side of the Atlantic are playing a similar game. The US is up to its eyeballs in unpayable debts, loaded down with entitlements and international commitments that it can’t afford but that no elected official dares to touch, and lurching toward a default as inevitable as Greece’s but on an almost unimaginably vaster scale. Nearly the only way to get out of the resulting trap with some chance of national survival would be to trigger a run on Treasury bills, now, that will force a default on the national debt in the near future, when both sides can conveniently blame it on the intransigence of the other party and the perfidiousness of foreign lenders. It does seem unlikely that this level of public-spiritedness is at work in Congress and the White House, but I’d like to believe that it’s possible.

These latest consternations, in turn, provide all the more relevance to the theme I’ve been discussing in the last couple of posts here, the possibility of shifting over here and now to the salvage economy that’s already beginning to emerge outside the narrowing circle of scarcity industrialism. This week I’d like to bring up another dimension of that shift, and talk about one of the unspoken and unspeakable realities of life in a declining industrial society: the pervasive phenomenon of stealth inflation.

By this I don’t mean inflation in the sense in which economists use the word, the decrease in the value of money driven by the expansion of the money supply relative to the supply of goods and services. That kind of inflation deserves much better press than it gets; though it’s denounced by all right-thinking people these days, it’s one of the safety valves by which a capitalist economy’s tendency to produce excess paper wealth gets brought back into step with the actual wealth in circulation, the nonfiscal goods and nonfinancial services that meet actual human needs. It thus serves exactly the same role, in a much more subtle and flexible way, as the negative-interest currencies being proposed by would-be financial reformers these days.

Stealth inflation is a good deal less laudable. It’s the process by which the price of goods and services remains the same, while the value of what’s provided for that price diminishes. It’s sometimes done by decreasing quantities – most Americans over forty, for example, will remember the days when cans of soup and candy bars were a good deal larger than they are now – but far more often done by cutting quality. Sometimes this is a minor, even a subtle, factor; in other cases, it’s neither, and can quite easily become lethal in its effects.

A good example of the first kind came my way a while back when a friend, knowing I like to cook with cast iron pans, found an elderly example in a secondhand store for some absurdly small price and gave it to me. Because my wife has celiac disease – a severe enough case that relatively small traces of gluten can have unwelcome effects – I had to strip off the natural coating that cast iron cookwear gets when it’s well treated, and reseason the pan again, just as though it had been bought new. Even with this rough treatment, though, the old pan proved to be a much better piece of cookwear than any of the more recently manufactured cast iron pans I’d been using for a decade or so previously. Its inner surface has a much smoother finish, its metal conducts heat more evenly; this evening’s fried zucchini (fresh from the garden) was cooked in it, because no other pan I have does as good a job.

This isn’t simply a matter of chance or a personal quirk. Ask any cast iron aficionado and dollars will get you doughnuts – perhaps these days I should say “credit swaps will get you crullers” or something like that – you’ll hear a similar story; the cast iron cookware you can buy in your local hardware store simply isn’t as good as the same products made a quarter century ago, and the difference is no small thing. I’ve heard the same thing in the very different context of craftspeople who work with old tools; the quality of the metal, they say, as well as the workmanship tends to be dramatically better in tools that are at least a quarter century old.

In some cases the differences are enough to kill. One of the nasty little secrets behind the rising toll from food poisoning in the United States and elsewhere is that a great deal of it could easily have been prevented by common sense sanitary procedures that used to be standard, but have been cut for the sake of lower per unit costs and higher quarterly profits. What makes this all the more embarrassing is that this is America’s second encounter with what happens to the safety and quality of processed food in a capitalist system under economic stress; Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle probably ought to be required reading for the pundits, and there are many of them just now, who fatuously insist that government regulation is always and everywhere a bad idea

The same purblind mania for gutting sensible regulation that freed the banking industry from the Glass-Steagall Act and its equivalents in other industrial nations, and at a stroke brought back the devastating bubble-and-bust economics that dominated the industrial world before the Glass-Steagall Act was originally passed, has had equivalent effects in many other sectors of economic life. An acceleration in stealth inflation through declining quality is among the results. Still, there’s a deeper force pressing in the same direction, and it comes from the relentless mathematics of fossil fuel depletion and its impact on an economy founded on the expectation of constant growth.

There has been a great deal of talk recently on the leftward side of the economic spectrum about the need to “decouple” economic growth from increases in the supply of energy. Still, as Zen masters are wont to say, talk does not cook the rice; insisting that economic growth can continue while energy supplies are stuck in a bumpy plateau does not make it so. The production of real, nonfiscal goods and services requires inputs of energy, as well as raw materials (which must be extracted by using energy) and labor (which in America, at least, usually uses a fair amount of energy, too). The only goods and services that can grow unchecked as energy supplies flatline are financial goods and services – that is, “goods” that consist of the essentially arbitrary tokens our society uses to allocate real wealth, on the one hand, and “services” that consist of shuffling and exchanging these tokens in more or less intricate ways, on the other.

As the cheap abundant energy that provided the basis for three centuries of industrial civilization stops being cheap and abundant, then, one of the consequences is a widening disconnection between the production of nonfiscal goods and services and the production of money in all its various forms. Left to itself, the natural result would be a rising spiral of inflation in which the value of money declined steadily, to stay more or less in step with the amount of real goods and services available to buy. This natural result, though, is utterly unacceptable to the political classes – the people who take an active role in the political process – anywhere in the industrial world.

This has imposed any number of distortions on the global economy, but one of them is a constant push to keep the nominal rate of inflation as low as possible, thus sparing politicians the hard task of explaining to their constituents a reality that neither the politicians nor the constituents have yet begun to understand. That push drives the widespread juggling of economic statistics across the industrial world, but I’ve come to believe that it also provides an important motive force behind stealth inflation. Large corporations have plenty of interfaces with governments, and governments have plenty of levers by which to influence corporate behavior for political ends; if the politicians in Washington DC, let’s say, decided that it would be really helpful if businesses increased their profit margins relative to their costs by some means other than raising prices, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that this preference would be heard in corporate boardrooms, and play at least some role in shaping their decisions.

What this means for the individual green wizard, in turn, is that there’s every reason to think that a good many of the goods and services sold to consumers are going to continue to decrease in quality in the years ahead. That in turn implies at least two things. The first is that the strategy of salvaging energy discussed in last week’s post has an additional advantage, because what’s being salvaged in a good many cases is not simply an equivalent of what’s on the market today, but a better product, one that tolerably often will work better and last longer than a new product of the same type. As we approach an age in which many goods may stop being available at all for extended periods, this is not an opportunity to ignore.

The second implication is that those who learn the skills needed to take older products that are no longer working, or no longer working well, and recondition them so that they can return to usefulness, may find themselves with a job skill of no small importance in the emerging salvage economy. It’s not too hard, for example, to find old handsaws for sale very cheaply at flea markets and estate sales. Fairly often, after being handed down through a couple of generations, these have rusted blades, teeth that are dull and bent out of their proper set, cracked and damaged handles, and the like. The steel of the blade, however, is very often of much higher quality than the equivalent new product in a hardware store today, and it doesn’t actually take that much in the way of skills and tools to remove the rust, polish the blade, reset and file the teeth, make a new handle out of hardwood and attach it to the old blade, and so on. The result is a saw that can be handed down for several more generations, and do a great deal of useful work in the meantime; it’s also a product that can be sold or bartered to craftspeople at a premium price.

In at least a few cases, it’s also possible to go one step further and figure out how to manufacture products on a small scale to old specifications. I don’t have anything like the metallurgical knowledge to figure our what makes the difference between my old cast iron pan and my newer pans, but the information’s surely out there, and could be tracked down by someone with the necessary background. Whether or not there would be enough of a market to make this a paying proposition anytime soon is another matter; there are odd little niche markets that might at least pay the bills.

Myself, having more facility with words than with metals, I’m contemplating tracking down a basic letterpress and exploring the honorable profession of Benjamin Franklin. The printing press with movable type was invented in the Middle Ages, after all, and very likely can remain a viable technology no matter how far down the slope of decline we end up sliding. Under current conditions, it can help pay its own bills via handprinted wedding invitations and the like; as conditions change and the complex supply chains that keep computer printers and copiers functioning become more problematic, a printing press powered by human muscle and capable of running on supplies no more complex than paper and homebrewed ink may turn into a serious asset.

Your mileage will unquestionably vary, and a second income refurbishing old items or using some outdated but sustainable technology will be the right choice for some people and the wrong choice for others. I mention it here partly because a good many readers of these posts have asked about potential businesses and income sources in a deindustrializing world, and partly because a fair number of people out there in the peak oil blogosphere don’t yet seem to have thought through the fact that they’ll need to earn a living in one way or another during the long slow unraveling of the industrial economy,

That unraveling may have its sudden jolts, to be sure. If the politicians in Washington DC and an assortment of European capitals fumble the current situation spectacularly enough, this autumn could see an economic crisis on the grand scale, with markets seizing up, banks shutting down, and governments facing abrupt replacement by legal means or otherwise. Still, we’ll come out the other side of it, no doubt poorer but still faced with the ordinary challenges of the human condition; if learning how to recondition old tools allows someone to barter for necessities during the years ahead, that’s a positive step, and such positive steps on the individual scale are the raw materials from which the deindustrial future will gradually emerge.

On a related note, those of my readers who have been following The Archdruid Report for a while now will have seen me more than once pointing out that, challenging as the decline and fall of industrial civilization will doubtless be, it’s not the end of the world. With the help of an enthusiastic publisher, I’ve had the chance to make that point a little more clearly. This September, San Francisco’s Cleis Press will be bringing out my next book, Apocalypse Not, a wry survey of the apocalypse meme – the notion that sometime very soon, history as we know it will suddenly be replaced by a new osmos that just happens to bear a close resemblance to our favorite daydreams – and its role in inspiring the last three thousand years or so of End Times that weren’t. The Rapture, the Singularity, the prophecies of Nostradamus, and of course the upcoming 2012 brouhaha, among other things, all come in for discussion Though the subject’s a serious one, the book is a good deal shorter than my three peak oil books, and a lighter read as well. On the off chance that you’re interested, dear reader, it’s now available for preorder.


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GHung said...

"..I’m contemplating tracking down a basic letterpress and exploring the honorable profession of Benjamin Franklin."

Ha! "Poor Archdruids Almanac". I can't wait for my first issue!

A zucchini grown is a zucchini earned...

... and my favorite: Some are greenwizardized, some are otherwise.

Riban said...


My dear friends Rob and Georgia of possess a wealth of knowledge, talent, and skill in the art and science of letterpress. I'm sure they'd be delighted to assist you in any way they could in facilitating your interest were you to contact them.

Rob may be able to get you linked up with those in your area who might be a good equipment source.

GHung said...

BTW, JMG, congrats on publishing again (and don't discount 2012; I have a fear of self-fulfilling prophecies ;-/ Positive feedback and all that..)
I'll ask my little library to pre-order it. They owe me...

Ventriloquist said...


"The US is up to its eyeballs in unpayable debts, loaded down with entitlements and international commitments that it can’t afford but that no elected official dares to touch, and lurching toward a default as inevitable as Greece’s but on an almost unimaginably vaster scale."

That is a pretty good summation of where this country is at right now -- facing a crossroads that our current leadership vacuum is completely unable to envision, much less address.

There's a feeling creeping up my spine that we are surely sinking into a pit of quicksand that will choke the air out of most of the population's lungs. The descent will be longer for some, temporal for others, and short, nasty, and brutal for most of the rest.

Preparation is 90% of survival. Everybody should be making one small increment each and every day to the preparedness of themselves and their loved ones.

Just do it. Every single day.


Kieran O'Neill said...

Some thoughts on this. When giving workshops to people on buying a (low-end) used bike, we've been recommending they go for road bikes from the 60s-80s era over anything entry level you can buy new today, or indeed anything comparably priced that you can get used but made more recently. The decline in component quality is marked, with some of the parts on brand new department store bikes now lasting only a few months under serious use.

On the other hand, at the very high end of bicycle componentry, there have been measurable advances. I don't know if the newer, fancier tech would cost more in relative money than the cutting edge of the 80s, but in any event it isn't really representative of what the average consumer has access to. It's an interesting comparison nonetheless.

On a completely different note, for kitchen knives, the Japanese have retained much of their tradition of quality in workmanship and materials. I own several, and I expect them to last me a lifetime. They also beat pretty much anything made in the West. This somewhat clunky website is a pretty good source, representing a number of smaller family operations, some of whom can boast having been in the business for 15 generations or more...

(That would be an example I can think of where buying new would still be worthwhile.)

dennis said...

My first job, late 60's, was working summers at grandpas auction. He had some regular customers that made their living buying fixing then reselling stuff. We called them "jippos". They were a valued skilled profession. They made a good living. Those days are long gone. I'm a woodworker and I hate getting refinishing jobs. I always tell folks it is much cheaper to just buy a new piece of junk then pay to have me fix it. I hate getting the jobs, but I love doing the work. I really enjoy those bits of history. I learn something about woodworking every time I work on one of these old treasures. The reality is these old pieces will last three times as long as a modern piece. Thanks again, Dennis


Dear Archdruid, The big picture keeps getting a little BIGGER every week with your posts.
To me it seems like the grip that a sudden and total apocalypse (followed by one's favorite version of utopia or eternal hell) has on our collective imagination, is almost like a hardwired primal urge to just end it all and get it over with.
When the fateful day in December 2012 comes and goes, it will be interesting to observe the disappointment in casual conversations with friends...
It's been increasingly clear that the grudgingly slow everyday rhythm of the entropy in civilization will prolong the descent (or ascent!) to a post fossil fuel future..

The crystal ball that shows the future is often supposed to be MURKY.. and sometimes shatters permanently...
We need to know the right questions to ask. and your posts are a great help in that area.
eager to read Apocalypse Not. how can I pre-order from India ?

flute said...

You write about the inflation you see coming as the bloated financial sector becomes too large for the shrinking real economy. However, I see deflation rather than inflation as our current money system is built on money being lent into existence. When loans are defaulted upon the money supply decreases, i.e. deflation. This is also the view of e.g. Nicole Foss at Automatic Earth. I think your readers should realize that deflation is probably the big threat to the financial system at the moment.
Apart from that, I also see the "stealth inflation" that you describe.
The idea of repairing and refurbishing as a job with a future is very good. I've been saying that myself for a long time.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey JMG,

Congrats on another book - you are prolific!

I'm glad to see that you tackled the debt issue - it's the elephant in the room, the hangman’s noose and the welfare cheque all at the same time.

People don't understand that the middle class largess that they are currently receiving comes from borrowed money. It's like pollution in that you enjoy today at the expense of tomorrow. You never hear it mentioned that people in all of their demands are selling their own kids down the river (so to speak) for a few financial benefits. Still it is now impossible to stop or unravel the mess that the industrial world is in on this front. It may warm the hearts of US readers that even with US$14.3 trillion (!) in unpayable federal debt, compared to Europe, the US is still seen as a safe haven by the money markets.

It's little wonder that the Chinese government in its wisdom is converting its US$3 trillion foreign exchange reserves into - agricultural land and raw materials. I'd swap US$ and Euro for that too!

On another topic, years ago I bought an old second hand Kelly Axe (strangely bearing Australian place names on it) which was manufactured in the US. This axe is far superior to the newer axes that I use which blunt and chip quickly.

Also the number of faults that I am coming across in my building seems far greater than a decade ago when it was quite rare for anything to be sold in faulty condition.

Excellent points in your post. I'm glad someone is talking about the real world that we live in rather than the fantasy land that people would like to live in.



Ichabod said...

Very interesting post. I totally agree and confirm that tools of all sorts have eroded in quality over recent decades. I think this is also partly influenced by a marketing strategy called "planned obsolescence" in which the "consumer" has to keep purchasing the same tool every few years (or maybe it's every few weeks?).

I would add that in addition to flea markets, estate sales and auctions - particularly at old family farms - is a great place to pick up all sorts of well made tools. In the case of estate sales, get there EARLY; There are now a few other people in this area who are catching on.

Many of the tools at these estate sales are from the pre electric motor day. As an example, I've found extremely high quality planes for woodwork for five dollars. Apparently no one knows what to do with these things and so they're viewed as worthless. I've seen comparable quality, high-end German made planes selling for $150 or more. (Yes, there still is a high-end, high-quality tool market, but it's not at Lowes - and be ready to pay a lot). So, huge bargains are out there if you're ready to scrounge.

Also, let me add that high quality older tools are not such a bad place to put some of that increasingly questionable paper money - if you happen to have some extra.

NorthCreekNews said...

As an organic CSA farmer, I am well aware of this shift. I have maintained my quality and price and seem like a better and better deal as store-bought vegetable prices go up and quality goes down.

Love your comments about playing chicken with economies instead of fast cars!

peacegarden said...


I love the idea of hand-cranked presses...don't forget the woodcut illustrations...mmmm...carving!

Why, hand written letters may even come back into "fashion" as long as postal delivery isn't destroyed first.

Ah, the joy of a beautifully penned missive and the delectable waiting for a reply...can u imagine it?

People may get into conversation, eye contact, singing around the hearth.

Our mission is to practice now…being models…revealing rather than convincing. The great part is having so much fun doing so…makes it contagious!



Irrational Athiest said...

I've been trying to gather old tools for years now. There are many people out there picking up old tools, but mostly it's not for making them useful again, mostly its for decoration. Last time I was at one of those suburban mall parking lot restaurants, (I Forget if it was a Chili's or a Bennegans, it all sucks the same.) the walls were covered in old tools. When shopping for tools, this is the kind of competition you are faced with. I'm poor and can't can't keep up with the people who are still solvent wanting to add that kitsch to their den or garage.

Jason said...

Come to think of it, it’s just possible that this is what EU governments are actually doing.

You're right IMO -- and about the iron too.

I'm contemplating the letterpress too.

Can't wait for the apocalypse book!

Meanwhile, here in the UK everyone is preparing for fuel prices to go up, and I thought this might interest you -- according to the UK department of energy, 22% or 5.5 million UK homes were affected by fuel poverty here in Britain -- in 2009. . Other headlines include a 75% increase in electricity prices from 2004 to 2009, while gas prices increased by over 122%.

The solution apparently is 'more competition'!

John Bray said...

@ Cherokee Organics ...

I think the Chinese are trying to offload their US Dollars (and Euros to a extent) whilst someone is still prepared to accept these tokens in payment for real things.

Sort of making sure they have a chair when the music stops :0)

Jason Heppenstall said...

Thanks for another economic eye opener. Politicians over here in Europe have been talking of 'growing their way out of debt' - as if that is a realistic proposition. It seems to me that our physical resource and energy limits will effectively put a stop to that idea - but of course nobody mentions that.

So it's interesting to note that inflation - as experienced in the 'real' sector of goods and services, actually becomes 'deflation' in terms of what it does to bubbles in the delusionary tertiary sector.

'Homebrewed ink' - love it.

@JMG - perhaps you could use your press to print your own currency - the Droller?

Siani said...

Talk to Lyle; he has a printing press already. This is an idea I have heard a lot of people speak of; popular one too.

Me, I am a smith..and apparently a burgeoning cordwainer and repairer of old singer treadle machines to boot; the man who repaired mine clued me in to some thing and gave me a bunch of manuals so I could maintain and repair my own.

I have already been teaching my children, one of whom is in college studying mechanical engineering, the use, reuse, and maintenance of things.

A bit of new skill never hurts anyone.

Excellent post.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Are you familiar with Matthew Crawford's excellent Shop Class as Soulcraft? You can get a taste from this excerpt published in The New Atlantis:

A decline in tool use would seem to betoken a shift in our mode of inhabiting the world: more passive and more dependent. And indeed, there are fewer occasions for the kind of spiritedness that is called forth when we take things in hand for ourselves, whether to fix them or to make them. What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing a pre-made replacement part.

So perhaps the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world. Neither as workers nor as consumers are we much called upon to exercise such competence, most of us anyway, and merely to recommend its cultivation is to risk the scorn of those who take themselves to be the most hard-headed: the hard-headed economist will point out the opportunity costs of making what can be bought, and the hard-headed educator will say that it is irresponsible to educate the young for the trades, which are somehow identified as the jobs of the past. But we might pause to consider just how hard-headed these presumptions are, and whether they don’t, on the contrary, issue from a peculiar sort of idealism, one that insistently steers young people toward the most ghostly kinds of work.

Here is a good page on cast iron Cookware:

Mark Hines said...

Your post today made me think of a recent post in the energybulletin regarding the peaking of world Tin supplies. Seems it is used in most electronics and in tin cans for food. This is a classic example of limits to growth in resources that are finite. It also presents an opportunity to learn to salvage electronic products that are discarded and pull the solder and other components containing tin to resell. The salvage economy is growing as resources go into terminal depletion. Below is the link to the article in the energy bulletin.

tubaplayer said...

Ah, JMG that rang a couple of bells with me. Firstly the cast iron cook pots. I managed to bring one here with me but I have several more waiting to be shipped here once I can afford it or someone is visiting overland. I absolutely hear what you say about seasoning cast iron. Some kind soul put the one I am using now in a dish washer once. It took me weeks to get right again.

I also appreciate what you say about old tools. I just bought a well known make of saw - well known in the UK - here in Hungary. It is not good. It is of the type that you use until it is no good and bin it. A hard point saw. It was all that I could afford at the time.

There are still gems to be had new, however:
Note the pedigree of the company and its location. Sheffield in the UK was for decades renowned for its production of steel and high quality products - akin to Disston saws from the US.

Thank you JMG for the usual "must read" essay and for your considered insights into the forthcoming collapse. I have to remind myself every day that that is why I am here.

William Hunter Duncan said...


It's a bit off-topic, but as to the assertion that sensible government regulation is necessary to maintain a healthy food supply, which is not wrong necessarily, I encourage you to read Joel Salatin's "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal." His Polyface Farm is a model of what a farm should be, with deep implications for the future of food in America; and the book is a strong study of the way in which government is in fact much the reason for the current prevalence of food borne illnesses in America. Blessings.

Tracy G said...

Kieran wrote: "…the Japanese have retained much of their tradition of quality in workmanship and materials."

Yup, I found that to be true two years ago, when I bought a tetsubin. It was made in a factory where the vast majority of the work is done by hand.

I searched for six months before finding what I really wanted. I needed to replace a pot which had worn out—I could see pinholes of sunlight through the bottom when I held it up to a window. So I started in thrift stores, where I found little, and all of it was in poor repair. Next I looked online for vintage options, almost buying a '60s-era Finnish teapot, except I wasn't sure it'd hold up on a grate over our fire pit, if I ever needed to heat water during a power outage. Then I started searching in department stores for new models. That was a truly depressing experience.

I went back to the computer and stumbled upon "antique" (used) Japanese cast iron tea kettles. I immediately fell in love with the functionality and the aesthetic, but I also nearly fainted when I saw the prices.

And so, I ended up buying a much more affordable new tetsubin. It's very nice and should hopefully outlive me.

I feel incredibly spoiled that I've lived in an era where I can still acquire such things from halfway around the world, especially when our household income is not even considered wealthy by American standards. Every time I use that kettle, I take at least a brief moment to ponder how much had to go well just to get it onto my stovetop. And I realize how fortunate I am.

The prospect of poverty is less terrifying to me when I have a few durable tools like that already at hand. The ability to boil water ranks pretty high as something that's important to overall quality of life, I'd say.

Planner said...

I'm beginning to believe that energy descent will express itself financially. That is to say, by the time scarcity industrialism is in full effect, the average person will never have heard of 'peak oil'. Further, I suspect that the 'stealth inflation' you speak of is the surest symptom of energy descent. Few recognize energy's pivotal role in supporting the complexity which makes the mass consumer economy tick. As energy descent has deepened over the decades, fewer energy resources are more thinly applied to a great quantity of applications: suburban sprawl, cheaply made products, etc.

How thin can falling energy supplies be spread over our existing capital stock? That is THE question of the moment. However, sadly the average American believes the current predicament is the fault of 'the other' political party, whichever that happens to be.

All the cool kids are waking up to the fact that tangible assets and skills are the only sound investment and that dollar-denominated 'assets' - the gravy of the primary economy - are actually liabilities.

John said...

The stealth inflation you write about is especially prevalent in the area of consumer electronics. Virtually nothing made today is either built to last or repairable - digital cameras, cell phones, computers, hifi gear - nothing. You buy it, it breaks after a couple of years, then its off to the landfill (very little gets recycled).

My source for most of the electronics I need is the local dump. In rural areas around here people bring their own trash to the local dump (urban and suburban people look at me in horror at the thought of doing this). At these dumps is an area variously termed the 'swap room' 'recycle room', or 'dumpmart'. People bring things here that they don't want but are still useable, and other people take them away and use them. Sometimes the things need fixing and sometimes they don't.

Of the many finds I have made here was a stereo tube amp I picked up a few years ago. It was made in 1959 and after being cleaned up a bit, worked perfectly. It sounds better than most amps you can buy today and, when I took a look inside, I could see that it had never been serviced or repaired - it still had the original tubes even! I was amazed.

My son has also taken up the salvage cause, recovering a 50 year old organ from the local church that was slated for the landfill. He's already repurposed one of the speakers and amps from the organ into a guitar amplifier, the better to deafen me and his mum. We will either find a home for the rest of the organ or part it out.

Salvage is fun!

bz said...

When my grandparents died, I was the only one in the family who wanted their household items. I got a wonderful cast iron frying pan, and I have assumed ever since that the difference in quality of this pan vs. my other cast iron pan was my fault because I didn't season mine well enough. I also snagged an electric deep fryer made in the 1950's, which works perfectly, and replaced my 2-year-old fryer that suddenly quit and the company wouldn't sell me any parts for it.

Bob said...

I recently had several copies of a house-key made at an independent hardware store. The person helping me explained that, while he had several machines to choose from to accomplish the task, the oldest one in the shop, probably around 60 or 70 years old, worked the best, by which he meant the keys would actually be able to lock and unlock the door as well as the original (as opposed to superficially resembling my original, but being utterly useless). Moreover, the newer machines were also configured to make losing a finger far more likely. We discussed how repairing, adjusting, or replacing a machine like this must have been a major chore when it was built (and still would be), so it was probably built to extremely sturdy and exacting standards: standards which are completely unfamiliar to nearly all of us in today's "gotta get a thinner TV" culture. It seems that, if one looks hard enough (which is not that hard), one would find old tools and appliances in many aspects of our lives that will be necessary during the descent, and that one could learn to make or repair without too much effort. If I can't fix an old blender, maybe I can make or fix rakes, or tables, or windows, or chicken coops, or human-powered lawn-mowers, etc.

Andy Brown said...

Salvagers as society's composting worms. I like that idea. We break down the hard to access resources just like the critters in the compost heap - with similarly happy results.
Months ago you wrote about organizing a homestead along thermodynamic lines and circles . Salvage is one way of understanding our countries and regions that way. A boxcar shipped off to China for recycling is heart-breaking because that embodied energy and mineral resource is being lifted out of your local ecology. (For what? a brief infusion of cash?) A boxcar that gets refurbished is one that keeps that energy and those minerals inside the system. So to use your terms we need to "compost" that rather than send it to Away.

John Michael Greer said...

Ghung, how about "A civilization and its nonrenewable resources are soon parted"?

Riban, thank you! It's going to be a bit, since there's a significant cash outlay involved -- even the sort of hobbyist-scale clamshell press I have in mind, used and in need of TLC, is going to run me a chunk of change -- but I'll certainly keep them in mind.

Ghung (again), as for 2012 and self-fulfillng prophecies, you might want to look up the Great Disappointment sometime.

Ventriloquist, I'd say one step of preparation for crisis, and one step toward preserving things that are going to be useful after the rubble stops bouncing.

Kieran, that's a valid point, of course -- just as you can still get an equivalent of the higher quality beer that was being brewed fifty years ago, only now it's premium stuff from microbreweries instead of what every tavern offered.

Dennis, in another decade or two jippos -- which I suspect is slang for Gypsies; I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Rom went in for that sort of thing, back in the day -- are going to make a decent living again. Now's the time to learn how!

pURITY, I've emailed the publisher -- should be able to get back to you about preordering from India shortly.

Flute, the financial economy is certainly headed for deflation, but excess paper wealth is also spilling over into the real economy of goods and services. The result is what I've called hyperstagflation -- a messy hybrid in which the financial economy undergoes drastic contraction, but a flight from paper wealth to real goods and services sends prices spiking.

Chris, I stay busy! The debt situation is shaping up to be the major near-term crisis for most of the industrial world, and depending on how hamhandedly it's handled, it could shred what's left of the global economy in short order. It'll be interesting to watch.

Ichabod, thanks for the tips! I've also seen some very fine woodworking tools that next to nobody knows how to use any more, for sale very cheap. Old textbooks give all the details on using them -- something else worth picking up.

NorthCreek, that's why I shop at the local farmers market, for what I don't simply grow in my own backyard! A lot of what's in the big chain groceries these days isn't even fit for composting.

Beth Hansen-Buth said...

We found a lovely cast iron skillet in some camping supplies that had been passed down in the family. We now use it quite often at home as well as over the open campfire. I had thought that the general public had not noticed the changes due to scarcity yet, that we still had a few decades to go before they paid attention. But with our state government shutdown here in Minnesota, people are starting to notice.
The Great mass market is fading away

John Michael Greer said...

Gail, exactly! I'll leave the woodcuts and copperplate engravings to someone who's talented in that direction, but the thought of being able to print small runs of chapbooks and the like is highly appealing.

Irrational, or you can wait until they aren't solvent any more. A lot of "decor" is going to be available very cheaply in the years to come.

Jason, that's fascinating -- and completely unsurprising. Since the end of the North Sea Bubble, if I may so describe it, Britain's been propping up unsustainable habits by borrowing -- just like everybody else -- and there's a fine sort of gallows humor in the insistence that the "more competition" mantra that's produced such disastrous results elsewhere will have different results in the UK.

Jason, funny! Still, I'm thinking more along the lines of the Poor Druid's Almanac, or perhaps the print edition of The Archdruid Report.

Siani, I'll do that!

Escape, thanks for the recommendations!

Mark, I saw that -- and it makes some very good points. There are substitutes for tin in solder, but none without challenges of their own.

Tuba, that's a good point.

William, I'll read it, but the claim that the government's responsible for food borne illness has to be balanced against the ghastly conditions that were standard before regulation went into effect. It's like the folks who insist that the Fed is responsible for bubbles and busts; we had those before the Fed existed, and they were worse then.

Tracy, your point -- that poverty is less of a challenge when you've got a few good tools -- is crucial, and worth repeating. Thank you!

Planner, the flight from paper wealth to actual goods, if I'm right, will be the main driver of hyperstagflation in the decade or so to come. Since it's already catching on, anyone who wants to ride that wave needs to move fast.

John, most of the old tube-based electronics are sturdy and very effective -- transistors are cheaper to make and use, but in analog uses they're no better and often not as good as a properly chosen tube. As for organs, we inherited one when we moved to Cumberland -- it was under a blanket in the basement -- but I didn't part it out; I play it instead.

John Michael Greer said...

Bz, it's no fault of yours -- the cast iron made in your grandparents' day was simply much better stuff, and so was most of the electrical equipment, of course.

Bob, exactly. Don't assume you can't fix an old blender, though -- older electric devices are also by and large much, much simpler, and very often it just takes some cleaning, lubricating, and a bit of work with a soldering iron to make them as good as new.

Andy, exactly! That's a point I'll be making down the road a bit, in the post that sums up the various dimensions of salvage.

John Michael Greer said...

Beth, I think people are starting to get it. Not the majority, and most of those who have scented what's happening still haven't grasped the scale of it, but the collective imagination of our time is starting to shift.

Angus Wallace said...

Hi John and all,

I have a bit of a general comment/question.

I recently saw a doco on Cuba's response to their experience of peak oil after the collapse of the USSR and the US embargo. It was apparently quite a tough time for them, and I think it said the average person lost 20 kg, but the lifestyle they have now looks pretty decent.

I realise they still have access to some petrochemicals, but I think it is pretty limited.

Would any one like to share their thoughts on how we can expect our (US, UK, Australia, EU) post-peak future to compare to this?


Robo said...

JMG, somehow you are able to publish a book every year or so, write and manage a weekly blog and respond to every comment, travel to distant speaking engagements, grant regular media interviews, work on your new home, tend your garden, live your daily family life, keep up with current affairs, conduct scholarly research, administer and participate in Druidic affairs, and author a new installment of a serial science-fiction novel every month.

One day you might discuss the skills and disciplines necessary to lead such an orderly and productive life. We will all certainly need to develop such skills in the future when there won't be nearly so many buttons we can push that seem to make things happen.

Meanwhile, now that numbers in the 'billions' are everyday stuff, we are now being presented with the idea that 'trillions' of dollars are comprehensible and manageable things too. I suppose this can be so, but only if those trillions are imaginary numbers. We have entered into a financial and technological dreamtime, and the efforts of the corporations, governments and banks to delay the awakening can only slightly adjust the exact hour and minute that the alarm clock must ring in the new day.

In the real world of that new morning, you will need to be able to print your work. As Riban notes above, it's time to get started on the equipment and skillset if you really want to do it yourself.

My sister is a graphic artist, papermaker and printer. Her manually-operated letterpress weighs about three-quarters of a ton and was built about 1900. It's taken her many years to learn how to work it and collect the boxes of typeface.

Tom Russell said...


his may be a bit off topic but something's been bugging me about the whole slow decline thing. As a thought experiment, let's imagine a family wind turbine costs about the same as a family car. It doesn't actually have to be a wind turbine: it might be a fraction of a wind turbine instead, or a solar panel, or a combination of different things. The point is that a family-car-size outlay might purchase energy self-sufficiency. Is this possible? It is hard to say, but a family car is a big hunk of highly processed resources and technology.

Now, let's imagine that a war-effort economy develops in reaction to a crazy high oil price. In the Second World War around 30% of the British economy was shifted from consumption to war production, with associated rationing and austerity, over some five years. That would be in modern terms a diversion of some $130,000 per household. That is 5 family-car-equivalent units per household.

Could an oil price crisis trigger such a scenario? I think in a slow decline scenario the answer is "yes". The return on investment in 'new' energy would get so large and the incentive would be tremendous. The obstructive mythology of progress which you draw out so well: this is going to be debunked, by this stage. Great swathes of other activity could give way: fine dining; going on holiday; university education; taking showers; care for the elderly; etc etc. It is not nice but it may be feasible.

If it's so "easy", why didn't our great-great-great-etc-grandparents take a similar approach? We can start with: no knowledge of electricity; or the technique of mass production; blueprints for advanced energy technologies; or for that matter a huge installed base of manufacturing capital equipment! The technology really matters.

So that's it, that's bugging me - why can't such a war effort set us straight?

Nathaniel said...

My favorite example of the superiority of older tools/machines is my mother's toaster. It was made in Canada in 1953, has seen nearly daily use for almost 60 years, has never has to be serviced or repaired, and toasts more evenly and reliably than any other toaster I've used.

In the last 10 years, I've burned up three toasters (through totally normal use - no strange items inserted or excessive toasting durations) and have repeatedly tried to cajole my mother into giving me her toaster. She likes to quote Charlton Heston - "You can pry it from my cold dead hands."

Kieran O'Neill said...

On the topic of bicycles again: The non-profit bike shop attached to the bike coop I'm involved with refurbishes donated (or more often abandoned) bicycles to sell back to customers. They're usually fairly low-end, but only in the sense that they're the least you can get by with and still have a bike that will a decade or so if treated well. They get priced between around $200 and $400.

But a problem which the mechanics running the shop constantly face is with people coming to buy a bicycle (because they can't afford another mode of transportation), who've been conditioned by department stores to think that they can get a bike for $100 or less. You can buy a new bike for that, but such a bike is really not good for much else than throwing in the recycling (never mind the human and energy costs of its manufacture in China).

It's incredibly frustrating trying to convince somebody that a decent bicycle is worth at least a few hundred dollars, or that spending a hundred dollars or so a year on maintenance is normal. Even though that's a tiny fraction of the cost of a car's maintenance, insurance and fuel costs, or even for that matter the cost of a bus pass, it still seems to be too much.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG, Congratulations on the new book! And a hearty "yes!" to old time printing presses.

As an example of sensible new careers (I hope): My brother, who lost his "regular" job, is now opening a small brew shop, where he will be selling brewing supplies, teaching classes, and providing meeting space for homebrew clubs. This has taken months of planning, but he should be open for business this fall. Legally he can't sell his own excellent brew, but that may not be true forever.

Would stealth inflation also include having to pay more for the same better quality, longer lasting goods? I've noticed that some kitchenware manufacturers now have two or more "lines:" the original high-quality one that used to be affordable and is now out of reach, and the cheapened versions--same brand, just not as good, for what the originals used to cost.

Also, I think salvage could include handing down and inter/intra family barter. My house is full of (old) good quality furniture because my family doesn't like to throw things away and we trade around. I use a darning egg that came from my husband's grandmother and dishes from a great aunt on my dad's side.

idiotgrrl said...


My take, from Antique Specialty Mall, just prowling - of things I saw my mother use and that she taught me to use -

1) "Old Fork - $8". A cooking fork - the kind I call a "threek" that is to my modern one what the skilliet I also scored is to a Walmart throwaway. It looks to last forever, too, unlike the one I have.

2) Vintage Griswold cast iron skillet, size 5 (next step up from the little one-egg one I got on Freecycle) - $30. The iron is as smooth as a baby's bottom. No, the roughness of modern cast iron is NOT a certificate of authenticity, any more than the crudeness of some hand-made pottery is. The website from which I copied and downloaded pretty nearly a chapbook on the subject said Griswold and Wagner are the best, and that back in the day they machined them smooth. But don't try it at home with the modern ones, you'll wear them too thin. AND I test-hefted the Size 5. Either I'm getting stronger, or it's lighter than the ones at Tru-Value Hardware. Anyway, yum, YUM, *YUM*!

3) Black lid, $1. Enameled, looks and feels sturdy and strong. Fits the new skillet. $1 lousy $1.

4) Hand can opener, the kind you jab the point into the can and jerk it around the inside edge. Lots of points - which is to say, all purpose cutting & hole punching. $3.

5) Small tin measuring cup, $2. Now, why, you ask, would I want that. Now, let me see. The glass one from Walmart has the numbers - the very things that make it a measuring cup - just painted on the sides? And they're coming off? And being glass, you can't take it camping if you should so desire? But largely because the numbers on the tin one are stamped in and permanent. And you can see them at all times.

6) Lastly "Wagner Ware Kettle, $30." Which is to say, a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven - which I also have no trouble picking up. Having read the bottom of the kettle, which merely says "Made in USA" so maybe "Wagner in a pig's eye." And the bottom feels rough, though how much of that is how it was made and how much just needs to be cleaned or burned off is anyone's guess. However ---

It's a cast iron Dutch oven of just the right size. It's pre-seasoned. (as is the new skillet) And unlike any other I've had or tried, I can lift it easily.

So --- did I make out like a bandit in the quality kitchenware department? Or did I not?

And without this blog post, I never would have thought to do this, let alone what to look for.

Merci mille fois!

Matthew Heins said...

To Jason Heppenstall,

There is room for "growth" within the general trend of peaking or contracting energy and resources. Depending on where one is, and the particular debt, resources, trade inbalances, employment, etc. of that place, it might certainly be possible to "grow their way out of debt".

The trick is that such "growth" cannot -and never really could be- the "unlimited growth" of too many capitalist's fever-dreams-as-theory.

Rather, the "growth" must be -from the beginning otherwise the tools will not be right for the job- merely Phase 1 of a multi-Phase plan culminating in something like a "steady-state economy" when the non-renewable resources are burned and gone.

If a country initiated such a plan, they would be able to temporarily ramp up usage of resources beyond where the markets or maximum sustainability (per resource) would dictate. This "excess" resource use would provide the "growth" that would pay-off the debt and set-up the low-energy, low-capital, low-maintenance systems that would allow a decent life during the inevitable energy and resource decline-to-stablization.

Two additional essential caveats here are:

1. The "plan" cannot and will never be cast in stone or planned down to the finest detail. It would be much more like "restoration" of a climax forest biome. The scientists can know much about the process, but not all. Nature must be allowed flexibility to work right.

2. The "steady-state" final Phase is the equivalent of that climax forest in that it will be undergoing constant local and regional break-down and renewal. Also, dramatic enough events -like major climate changes- can wipe the whole system out. Adaptation would still be necessary for survival.

Now, I don't expect even the relatively decent governments of the moment to do this, and it will take an increasingly unlikely effort on the part of people in such countries to elect governments that would.

But it IS possible, just very unlikely. ;)


Matt and Jess said...

Well, my husband is heading for boatbuilding/repair school for sure this year and he's got a long list of tools he'll need to purchase. We'll be looking for the older versions online. While he was doing his basic woodworking schooling this past year he heard about the amazing quality of the "old Stanley block planes" and how all of the really good new planes being produced are modeled after the old tools. I also prefer the much older furniture to newer. My old 60's Lane coffee table--which I had to sadly part with--was still stronger than any other table I've seen, 50-something years later.

I can almost never get my husband to read the Report, but maybe this week, with its toolsy subject, I can dragoon him into it.

I just hope the world doesn't collapse before we can get completely settled. How frustrating for us young'uns.

Edde said...

Good afternoon, John Michael,

Full Thunder moon tonight (tomorrow, Friday early AM EST, actually). Or Buck moon or Haying moon. Full Thunder works for us, its thundering now.

We have a dump rule, "never bring home more than you take..." Keeps down the clutter and the reduces searching for those "round to-its."

Kieran mentions '60s & '70s bikes. Suggest you look at individual bikes - some are good, some not so much.

Search out cromo steel bikes (steel is real;-). I avoid alu (except for made in USA Canondales) and carbon fiber like the plague. Titanium is legacy grade if its a decent design...

If your road bike of choice is a recumbent, most might work. RANS and (made in USA) Easy Racer are two pretty much sure bets. Old Visions, particularly under seat steering bikes are cool. Burly built durable good riding tandems, and recumbents, too.

There are still great new ideas surfacing in bike world. Examine new stuff carefully, but don't turn stuff down because its new. On the other hand, 10 - 11 speeds are just marketing.

Go for durable, functional, not glitz (which every bike & component line is chock full of).

Get the BEST bike you can afford & best wheels...

Best regards,

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ John Heppenstall - From last week. Weather.
Take a look at Click on "Weather" on the tool bar. It has a world wide rundown of extreme weather events.

On another blog, someone mentioned some extreme weather that they had experienced that didn't even make the news. When she inquired as to why, she was told that "as long as nobody dies, it isn't news."

Re: Cast Iron. Great links on the care and feeding of cast iron. I also retrieved a wonderful cast iron frying pan from my Dad's hunting kit. My grandmother brought it from Russia, strapped to her bedding in 1913. I treasure it.

GHung said...

JMG: "Ghung (again), as for 2012 and self-fulfillng prophecies, you might want to look up the Great Disappointment sometime."

Understand that I, for one, won't be disappointed if 2012 turns out to be yet another year of slow collapse, as we aspiring Wizards need all of the time we can get. I have a tendency to ignore my strong intuitions (I refrain from calling them visions), which I'm sure are born of simply paying attention and having a good sense of things. They serve me better when relegated to motivations rather than obsessions. That said, I have strong feelings about the first part of 2012. Think Spring of 1930, when the pain of depression really began to sink in. This assumes we make it that far.

I was going through some notes I found from early in our journey towards self-sufficiency, @1998, and found a rough list of goals I had set for completing some major projects. The two prominant dates were Summer 2001 and Summer 2008. I, of course, couldn't predict 9-11-2001 or the crisis beginning in 2008, I just had a sense of urgency regarding goals and these dates. While I take predictions with a grain of salt, and put little stock into prophecies or second comings, my little voice has been screaming pretty loudly as of late. My intuition tells me that we'll all be damn lucky to make it through 12 more months without the next big slide down, one that will be impossible to ignore for most. A black swan perhaps, or a convergence of things we are already seeing; some dark synchronicty. The tinder is getting dryer by the day....One can hope, pray for rain, though I've noticed the same quiet sense of urgency and purpose in many of those I've learned to pay attention to, including the Archdruid.

About that sense of purpose: I have just completed a long planned upgrade of our solar potable water system. A new SunPump (actually purchased new in '07!), a controller, repaired like new (swapped for some heavy 2/0 copper battery cable lugs), added a second PV panel (salvaged and repaired, diode) to my old Zomeworks passive tracker (from a scrap pile). All rewired properly, lubed, balanced and adjusted. Buzzing like a bumble bee, pumping about 2 GPM to the tank on (in) the ridge. Best hopes for many more years of service from this system, and one less goal to worry about.

GHung said...

@Tom Russell:

"So that's it, that's bugging me - why can't such a war effort set us straight?"

Perhaps we (collectively) have lost something. For some reason, Waters/Gilmour comes to mind:

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

John Michael Greer said...

Gus, the Cubans had an advantage that most Western countries don't: an authoritarian government. Yes, in their case, it was an advantage, because Castro and his inner circle of advisors were able to hammer out a coherent response, and those who disagreed their free to discuss the matter at length with their fellow political prisoners. Half the problem faced by the Western world just now is that nobody, anywhere, has enough clout to make the squabbling factions of the political class sit down, shut up, and buckle down to do what must be done. Mind you, I'd rather live in a democracy any day, but part of the price tag is poor response to certain kinds of crisis.

Robo, it's actually very simple. There are two rules I know that free up vast amounts of time for productive work. The first is not to own a TV; the second is to treat boredom as a luxury you can't afford. As for printing, what I have in mind -- given the other calls on my time! -- is something a good deal smaller and simpler than your sister's press; I'm considering a tabletop press of the sort that used to be made for hobbyists, perhaps a C&P Pilot or equivalent, perhaps a Kelsey or clone thereof. That would give me decent printing capacity to bridge the gap until I can make arrangements with somebody with a serious professional-style press.

Tom, an energy shortage is still an energy shortage. Your wartime effort could probably make the transition easier, but it's not going to make the Long Descent go away, because we're still stuck trying to run a society indefinitely on a small fraction of its current resource base. Family wind turbines won't support a modern standard of living; neither will anything else, once the Earth's store of fossil sunlight has been depleted to the point of economic uselessness; and nearly all our current infrastructure will have to be scrapped, because it's designed around specific fuels and highly concentrated energy sources, which is exactly what we won't have in the future. Mind you, I think a crash program for national transition would be a very good thing, if it could be done; I have very serious doubts about the chances of making it happen; but it's a palliative, not a solution.

Nathaniel, have you tried hunting up another of the same model on the used market?

Kieran, I suspect the problem is that people think of bicycles as toys, not as all-weather transport. They'll figure it out.

Adrian, your brother will probably be a rich man, by the standards of the time, by the time the current round of crisis finishes unwinding. That sounds like a great strategy.

Grrl, you're welcome! Glad to hear you got a Griswold -- according to what I've heard, the best of the best. Treat it well and it'll still be a splendid pan a century from now.

Jess, if he doesn't want to read it, not a problem -- you can summarize the high points over the breakfast table, and since he's already hunting up used tools, he's got the important point, anyway.

John Michael Greer said...

Edde, thanks for the tips!

Ghung, that's another matter. We may be as little as a few weeks from the opening round of a really impressive financial crunch, one that might result -- as its equivalent did in 1932 -- in the freezing up of the global banking system and of quite a few national economies, including ours. Yes, it could easily take six or eight months to get there. For what it's worth, I've also had intuitions about the coming year for a while now: not the end of the world, but things could go suddenly, massively bad for a lot of people in a hurry. Still, I've been wrong as well as right on such things, so we'll see.

One way or another, we're moving closer with each passing day to some very serious discontinuities, for the simple reason that what's not sustainable, ultimately, won't be sustained. Thus the theme of the last year and a bit on this blog; you'll doubtless have noticed that nearly everything I've discussed is a functional response to certain kinds of crisis, notably those we're most likely to hit headfirst in the years -- and possibly months -- to come.

Badger's Garden said...

Don't know if anybody's mentioned it here, but am pretty sure the Chinese had invented moveable type and presses a long time before anybody in Europe.

John Zacharakis said...

Reading anything written by JMG at least in recent years, is like looking at emeralds. What a brilliant writer you are, man!

I look forward to the new book, I'll pick it up promptly. Actually, wouldn't it be great if you eventually wrote a complementary volume on the myth of progress and make it a set on the "twin pillars" of the modern mental fantasy?

Thanks again for your diligence.

Yupped said...

Thanks much for another thoughtful post. I'm really looking forward to your next book. I have a strange feeling about 2012, not so much from a Mayan prophesy perspective, about which I know very little. But more just a sense that the stresses and strains in the system are getting too obvious to extend and pretend for much longer. Perhaps the election cycle will provide an opportunity for a "we aren't wearing any clothes" moment. Here's hoping, at least. Staring reality in the face and not flinching would be good for all of us.

On the topic of salvage, a racoon got a few of my chickens earlier in the week. I really miss them, especially the Speckled Sussex which had just started to lay. We've found a few replacements locally so all will be well. I gave them a respectful burial, but then a neighbor wondered why I didn’t eat them or use them to fertilize the garden instead, which would have been a remarkable act of salvage in a way. I guess I have a long way to go till until I’m really hardened for self-sustainability! John Seymour would have put them in the pot, I’m pretty sure.

Finally, I must admit that I'm still working on the "must stop needing to buy stuff" end of the spectrum. I grew up strongly in the "make do and mend" tradition, a fall-out from rationing and WWII in the UK; but somewhere along the last few decades my brain got rewired to go out and shop. Last year I switched to carting my own garbage off to the dump, which does tend to focus the mind on how much crap my family and I consume. I've almost kicked the shopping habit, but man it got hold of me for a while without me realizing it.

dltrammel said...

"Siani said...

Me, I am a smith..and apparently a burgeoning cordwainer and repairer of old singer treadle machines to boot; the man who repaired mine clued me in to some thing and gave me a bunch of manuals so I could maintain and repair my own.

A list of those manuals, and any website you might know on maintaining and repairing those machines would be a great find for those of us looking to buy one soon.

If you are registered on the Green site, could I bother you to post the list for us?

Also any tips on what to look for when we buy one (broken cogs, belts, movements etc.)


John Michael Greer said...

Garden, true enough -- long before movable type, furthermore, printers in China, Japan, Tibet, and nearby countries were carving wooden printing blocks and mass-producing books that way.

John, thank you! That would be a much more difficult book to sell to a publisher, but I'll keep it in mind.

Yupped, one way or another it's going to be an interesting year. I think half the reason so many people are longing for an apocalypse is so they don't have to face the future their own actions have made for them.

Ventriloquist said...


For what it's worth, I've also had intuitions about the coming year for a while now: not the end of the world, but things could go suddenly, massively bad for a lot of people in a hurry. . . .

It's time to fish or cut bait. That's what we're telling ourselves everyday now. We've been clinging to the comfortable existence for far too long now, but it's time to make a move. Looking at homestead properties several hours removed from our current home, we're honing in on cleared acreage, soil types, annual rainfall, annual sunlight hours, water rights, solid-built older homes, root cellars, distance to cohesive small towns, etc., and, most importantly, affordability in terms of an all-cash purchase.

These places actually do exist, most surprisingly enough. It's just a terrific hunt to sleuth out the best candidate, and we're up to the task. Over the next 3 or 4 months we hope to nail the most feasible place down. And then bust our hump for however long it takes to make that homestead viable. It's not going to be the least bit easy, and the work will come from the sweat of our brows, but it will be absolutely worth it in the long run.


gordon said...

While we are talking about preserving practical tools and skills, let's not forget something that predates recorded history: The Arts. A future without musicians, singers, dancers, writers, sculptors, painters, etc. would be insufferably tedious, dull and hardly worth living. I have no artistic talent at all, but I certainly admire and appreciate those who do.

John Michael Greer said...

Ventriloquist, if the homestead route is the one you feel is best for you and your family, then go for it. It's not the only option, as I'm sure you know; one of the main themes of these posts has been that there are other ways to do the thing, especially in small cities and rural towns, where the possibilities of cooperation are generally greater; still, the homestead route's certainly one option, and one way or another, you're quite right that the time for daydreaming and sitting on one's thumbs is long past.

Gordon, I'll be talking about that in a bit. Yes, it's a crucial issue -- and you know, I bet if you went looking, you'd find some branch of the arts where you could be more than a spectator. The delusion that an active role in the arts is restricted to a minority who have this eerie something labeled "talent" is arguably one of the least useful notions of our time.

Scot R said...

JMG - While I do agree with the observation of the superior quality of older products, I wonder how much of it can be ascribed to the ascendancy of the marketing and finance functions within companies at the expense of the engineering and manufacturing functions. It is something about which my fellow engineers and I grumble regularly.

Also, I can't help but suspect there is an element of survivorship bias at work here. That is to say, the old pan / knife / saw / what have you that is superior to the new one is one which is still around. It is still able to provide good service and was well made to begin with. The other stuff made at the same time that wasn't good quality is now in the landfill (or dump as known back then).

Slightly off topic: an excellent example of survivorship bias at work is in old houses. Here in New England, it is about passe to comment on the wonderful quality of the old colonials and capes. Well, those are the ones that are still around. They were the ones that were well built, often by the wealthy. They other 90% (?) of the houses from the same era? Long gone.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ yupped & GHung - A few years back, I dreamed I looked out at the Main Street of our little town, right in front of my store (Centralia, WA.) No people, no movement. Empty windows covered in dust. Weeds growing in the gutters. The other day, I happened to turn down one of our side streets off Main. They're brick. Grass is growing up between the brick in the parking zones.

Unlike 3 years ago, when people fought for parking, now, even in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, there's plenty of parking. Glad I'm moving out of here between now and February.

@ altrammel - Sewing machine parts. Start at I know they at least carry the belts. Maybe more. Check your yellow pages. Here in town, we have a vacuum cleaner / sewing machine repair and service store. Been here forever. I think it's a fairly common combo business.

gordon said...


I do have a talent for making things out of wood; from utensils to boats and log houses. I just never thought of it as an art. Perhaps if I put a little more effort into making each project unique I will get even more enjoyment out of it. Thank you for making me rethink this.

beneaththesurface said...

“While we are talking about preserving practical tools and skills, let's not forget something that predates recorded history: The Arts. A future without musicians, singers, dancers, writers, sculptors, painters, etc. would be insufferably tedious, dull and hardly worth living. I have no artistic talent at all, but I certainly admire and appreciate those who do.”

I have been thinking the same thing recently too. While skills directly related to actual physical survival are definitely important, I consider skills in the arts to be a practical skill too. Humans need art. Think of what life would be like, even if you had lots of food supply and other necessities, but no music, no storytelling, no dancing, no poetry, no arts of any type at all.

However, I think a lot of goes on in the art world today will not survive under future limitations. I am someone who has always loved doing various types of art, but I am uninspired by the direction of a lot of artistic trends, which is maybe why I didn’t have inspiration to get a degree in art, and have always just kept it as a hobby. I know someone who just got his graphic design degree, and so much of the skills he has learned are high-tech design skills…using fancy computer programs. In a low-energy future, are those the design skills that are going to be useful?

I also play music and am friends with some semi-professional musicians. So much of the music world has been captivated by high-tech musical instruments/aids and various electronic toys. An acoustic instrument that is repairable and made out of available resources will probably fare better in a post-peak world than a music composition program on a computer.

So as you all think of learning various new practical skills, don’t dismiss the value of you learning/improving certain musical or artistic skills!

Susan said...

I work in the financial services industry, and I can tell you without reservation that it is all a big crock of $#!+... If you can get your local financial planner to have a few drinks he might just tell you what a big game it all is.

Starting about two years ago (just after the financial meltdown of 2008), several hedge fund managers that my company deals with started telling us that we should advise our clients to start thinking seriously about getting out of municipal bonds and into buying arable land, preferrably a safe distance away from the nearest big city.

At first I thought they were just being paranoid, but when they walked us through the numbers it became obvious that they understood early on that our whole economic system is going to collapse (not might collapse, or could collapse, but WILL collapse).

How that collapse will happen is the subject of great debate. Depression and deflation is what lots of people, including Mr. Bernanke, seem to fear the most, but it could go the other way just as easily.

The least politically painful way out of our current mess is to simply print money. Sure, it destroys savings, leads to hyperinflation, and ultimately results in massive social upheavals, but it doesn't require anyone to pay more taxes or accept cuts in their entitlements before the next election, or the next one after that. Thus the politicians get to keep their jobs for a few more years, or at least until the mob comes and stands them up against that proverbial wall...

Then the new government, which still owns most of our mortgages (through Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac), as well as millions of acres of federal land, can issue new money backed up by land (instead of gold or other commodities). This is what Germany did in the 1920s after their terrible wheelbarrow inflation. Look up something called the rentenmark.

Slightly off subject, I recently finished reading The Long Descent, and I am now about half-way through The Ecotechnic Future. Wow, I think you pretty well nailed it.

Don Mason said...

Re: Quality in hand tools

As I’ve built and rehabbed our houses over the years, I’ve definitely noticed a deterioration in the quality of hand tools, both powered and non-powered.

The highest-priced tools are still excellent, but have gotten very, very pricey.

The mid-priced tools don’t last very long. Spare parts are hard to get, and are often too expensive to justify buying. After shipping and handling, it’s almost as much as a brand new tool.

The low-priced tools are so poorly made that they often won’t even perform the job that they were advertised as doing. They sometimes break the very first time that you use them.

If I anticipate using the tool only a few times, I buy mid-priced.

But for daily use, I don’t have much choice other than to shell out the cash for the top quality tool.

The low-priced tools are a complete waste of money. The only exception is if you know that the job you’re planning to do will probably destroy the tool anyway.

Why destroy a good tool that you love? Destroy an evil tool that you hate.

Don Mason said...

Re: Salvaging quality in building sites

If you’ve ever thought about building a new house, you’ve probably had the experience of driving around looking at parcel after parcel only to realize that all of the highest quality building sites were already occupied by somebody else’s house.

How inconsiderate of them.

The first people in an area get the first choice of quality building sites.

This principal seems to work at various scales. You see it within a subdivision: the last lots to be sold and built on are the most inaccessible, or the most flood-prone, or have some other qualitative defect.

You see it in a town: the newest built up areas are the areas furthest away from the qualities that put the town on the map in the first place: a river, a lake, a railroad, or particularly where a railroad crosses a river that empties into a lake.

And you see it in regions of the country: the high-quality water transportation routes helped the Northern states develop first, then the Southeast, then the Pacific Coast and the Great Plains, and finally the poorly accessible Rockies and the Southwest.

As things unwind, we’ll probably see the movie playing in reverse. The first areas to depopulate will probably be the ones built up most recently.

The newest subdivisions in a town will probably be depopulated first because they are the furthest from the cheap water/rail transportation that the town started with, and will increasingly rely on in the future.

The first regions to be depopulated will probably be the ones settled most recently.

Without cheap energy, the Southwest will mostly return to desert, and the Rockies will mostly return to mountain man country. The Great Plains will probably lose most of its ability to support high-intensity row-crop agriculture, and return to low-intensity ranching. The Pacific Northwest will again be hampered by its isolation from the eastern markets; but in addition, will now be threatened on its west by Asia’s breakdown.

The Rust Belt will again benefit from its fertile soil, dependable rainfall, and high-quality water transportation routes.

The Southeast will also benefit from its soil and rainfall, altough it will be limited because it lacks the high-quality inland water transportation routes of the Northern states.

So if you want to salvage quality in building sites, don’t build a new house, because you’ll almost certainly have to build it on a low-quality building site.

The old-timers knew how to pick the highest-quality building sites, and they built a house on every one of them.

Instead, get an old house that can be salvaged in an old neighborhood that can be salvaged in an old town that can be salvaged in an old region that can be salvaged.

Cathy McGuire said...

Great post. I’ve noticed the decline in quality for years, and I’m trying to find old hand tools and older versions of appliances that others don’t want because they are “out of date”. I just scored a free sickle and scythe from a neighbor who said, “You probably don’t want any of these old tools…” – wrong! :-)

And I couldn’t resist an old “Flip/flop” toaster from an estate sale – the kind where you pull down a side, put bread in, and then when it seems done, open the side and flip the bread! Basic heat coils and old cloth cord… I want to check it and repair and use it rather than the mostly-plastic one I have now.

I also managed to find two books from the 60’s on repair “How to Repair Small Appliances” by Jack Darr (Vol 1&2). It explains motors very well – that way if I find some of the older, better machines, I could possibly repair them.

And non-sequitorially, but this rather amazing 10-min stop-action animation is about consciousness and the flow of energy:

Don Mason said...

Re: Economic Collapse

The raid on silver in early May was breathtaking in its audacity.

The big players didn’t even attempt to disguise what they were doing. They decided that they wanted to take the small players’ money, so they simply changed the rules (by repeatedly increasing the margins) in the middle of the game.

No one could stop them because they own the system. So that suggests to me that they are clever and powerful enough to figure out a way to keep the game running a while longer so that they can loot the remaining value from the system.

Helicopter Ben has made it clear that he is going to keep pumping liquidity into the system until… QE Infinity. Eventually, it will cause a currency crisis. But that is still a while off. The average person on this planet still believes that our Federal Reserve notes are worth a lot of money. And the average person is correct: our Federal Reserve notes are literally worth their weight in Federal Reserve notes.

If the United States dollar were replaced as the world reserve currency, we would be hurtin’ for certain.

But what is going to replace the U.S.Dollar?

Every other fiat currency is based on the same unsustainable concept as our dollar, because all of these countries followed the same unsustainable development pattern: infinite growth on a finite planet.

What are the replacement candidates?

The Euro? After the PIIGS are slaughtered, what is the Euro worth?

The Japanese Yen? With a 200% debt to GDP ratio? And a nuclear meltdown that is still vomiting radioactivity?

The Chinese Yuan? The Yuan’s not even fully convertible; they’ve developed the worst housing bubble on the planet; and there could be another revolution if their economy tanks.

A basket of currencies? Helicopter Ben's paper plus whoever's left in Europe that is still trying to pass Euro's plus radioactive Japanese Yen plus Chinese Yuan issued by a new People's Liberation Army.

Ultimately, all of these currencies are as junky as ours because they’re all based on an unsustainable global economy.

But I have a lot of confidence in the people who are currently running the system: They are totally amoral; they are shameless; they are arrogant; they are greedy; they are desperate; and as long as there is anything left to loot, they will keep the game going as long as they can so that they can grab as much as they can.

But when they run out of people to defraud and there’s nothing of value left to steal – then the real trouble starts.

John Michael Greer said...

Scot, that's a hypothesis worth raising, but I don't think it stands up to examination. The cast iron pan I mentioned in my post was a run of the mill consumer item from a midrange brand, for example; the house I live in -- far sturdier than most modern construction -- was a Sears & Roebuck kit house, like about a third of the houses in this end of town, thus far from the top of the line; and I could go on. For that matter, I've observed a sharp decline in quality in many, many products over the course of my own adult life, so I think there's something much more pervasive than survivorship bias at work.

Gordon, I grew up in Seattle with the art of the Northwest Coast First Nations everywhere, so woodcarving ranks well up there as an art in my mind, certainly. It's also an art that has a very high chance of being preserved, and can help other arts pull through -- have you tried your hand at musical instruments, for example?

Surface, I'll be discussing this in rather a bit of detail down the road a bit. I play mountain dulcimer, among other things, precisely because it's one of the most sturdy, easy-to-build, and low tech instruments you can find, and still makes lovely music. On the other hand, I'm a Wagner fan, and it hurts to know that there is zero chance that people in the future are going to experience anything like a good modern production of Der Ring des Nibelungen; once the living traditions of operatic performance, singing, and production die, as they will, all that can happen thereafter -- even if a complete score survives -- is a very rough approximation, filtered through the esthetic sensibilities of a different culture and time. More on this later.

Susan, that's fascinating to hear. I'd more or less assumed that hyperinflation followed by a new currency -- possibly modeled on the rentenmark -- would be a likely way out. The question in my mind is whether the economic crisis creates enough of a political backlash to overturn the entire system: a possibility that can't, I think, be easily dismissed. Glad you liked the books!

Don, you've just outlined in fine detail why my wife and I now live in a comfortable old house in a century-old neighborhood in a town that used to be a key transport center on the oldest major route linking the Ohio valley with the eastern seaboard. it's not that hard to do the math, once you start thinking in those terms!

Cathy, I've got both of the Darr books also! There's a lot of very good books out there from the middle decades of the last century on how to build and repair an amazing range of things. More on this, too, in an upcoming post.

John Michael Greer said...

Don, to my mind it's a good deal more complex than simple looting. You're right that the people in the upper end of government and business will do everything they can to keep things from falling apart; some of them, at least, have the brains to know that their wealth and authority comes from the system, and when it goes, any fifteen-year-old with a stolen gun has more power than they do. The core problem, I think, is that they don't grasp the real roots of the crisis and thus have no clear idea how to respond to it. They are where they are because they've utterly internalized the values of the existing order of things, and so the thought that our civilization is dying of too much progress has never entered their darkest dream. More on this soon.

Jason Heppenstall said...

@Kieran - I'm with you on the cheap bike thing. I actually bought a very cheap bike from a supermarket when I arrived in Denmark. Since then it has broken repeadedly and I have replaced virtually every component on it with a better one - meaning I paid out a lot more in the long run than I would have if I'd have bought a decent one in the first place.

As I wrote in last week's thread, Denmark is overflowing with abandoned bikes (I found five yesterday just on a single walk). They are regarded as junk by the council and regularly rounded up, crushed and sent to China as metal blocks (gotta fill those empty shipping containers with something).

Regarding loss of quality, I can think of one other area that is suffering from this: news media. Gone are the days when knowledgeable correspondents were posted around the world to provide in depth analysis and understanding of issues - now the whole thing depends on 'stringers' competing with other freelancers, usually on a cost basis. Add in the pre-formulated celebrity mush churned out by most news agencies and the copy you end up with is something that my ex-employer, a newspaper owner, called 'The boring expensive stuff that goes around the adverts'.

@LewisLucanBooks - thanks for the link!

Thomas Daulton said...

I have been warning my friends about "stealth inflation" for literally years. I first heard the term from an economic website I frequent, which really has a good human perspective on economic events. Check out:

* Five Signs of Inflation
* Inflation is a Process, not an Event

Those articles are just a tad dated by now; their predictions from 2-3 years ago look like old hat today!

Also, your discussion of how older products have better quality reminded me of that scene in the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper". Woody Allen has been cryogenically frozen for 500 years, he's wandering around the future landscape, and he finds a 1973 VW Bug in a deserted cave. He turns the key and it starts right up...

Jason Heppenstall said...

@Yupped - I just got John Seymour's Complete Book of Self Sufficiency in the post yesterday (a classic - still the best). I love his no-nonsense approach, my favourite being a diagram of potential garden hazards including 'city kids' who can go wild and trample on your vegetables.

Amusingly it was parcelled with another book I had ordered called Grow Your Own Drugs (a guide to home-grown medicinal plants) - meaning that Customs had seized it, had a good look at it and repackaged it (badly). You have to laugh.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Tom Russell,

A really big difference between the 1940's and the present situation is that a war footing was a possible response at that time. The reason I suggest that it was possible then and not possible now is because as a society we have largely neglected our heavy manufacturing industries in favour of off shore production where labour is cheap.

Think about it, if resources are already scarce, how would a government even be able to undertake such a massive building program?

Also think about the skills and labour required to operate those industries. They're gone. Australia was virtually self sufficient in manufacturing up until the early 1970's. Not so anymore and the will power to retool is just not there.

Even if you acknowledge a scarcity of resources, how about trying to get your head around how 2% of the population produce food for the other 98%. This is not a sustainable situation in any way, shape or form without oil - historically 90% of the population was involved in food production. To do a massive war footing response would require resources to be taken away from agricultural purposes. Hungry people are very unhappy campers and very poor workers.

Hi Angus - By the way Cuban's lost on average 9kg and not 20kg during the special period. It might also be worth mentioning that the very old and the very young didn't fare so well.

Hi John Bray - I liked the analogy!

Hi Ghung - Ahh Pink Floyd. Time is a good song too:

And then one day you find
Ten years has got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

I remember when Dark Side of the Moon came out. Awesome album.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Susan,

I liked your post.

An economic depression is not necessarily a bad thing - not that you were actually saying this. It might actually buy some readjustment time which is probably no bad thing. It may also end up rebuilding communities and getting people back into agriculture. There is no nobility in poverty, but the outcomes do not necessarily mean a revolution and/or great change. People fear poverty, but what are we doing with our resources now, all I see is a lot of oversized vehicles and homes. Growing a garden, having some chooks is not necessarily such a bad outcome if it can be achieved across the board. It's the end game anyway.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

I can't believe you got a free scythe. Must confess to being a bit jealous about that score! Please post on how it goes, as I'm particularly interested in getting a scythe. It's a bit grim reaper though!!!!



peacegarden said...


Glad you re-thought the no talent mantra. Everything we do can be art…it’s how you define “art” that has been distorted. Arranging “weeds” in a mason jar, preparing a meal and setting it on the table with that same bouquet, singing around the hearth…feeds the soul. To my way of thinking, opportunities to be artful are only limited by our imagination or lack thereof. It’s something that can be nurtured and developed…a true survival skill.



peacegarden said...


Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft is a fantastic book!



peacegarden said...

Cathy McGuire

Thank you for that link…amazing! I’m sending it to my son who is a stop-motion animation fan.

Also, thank you for moderating the Greenwizards forums, along with ditrammel…it is great to have that resource.



Twilight said...

We're fortunate to have some old iron cookware from my Great Grandmother, plus some other pieces we collected at antique stores over the years. We stopped using Teflon or aluminum years ago. There's a wonderful skillet that's perfect for scrapple.

However, one of the pans that gets the most use is a new, cheap Lodge 10" pan I picked up for $10 somewhere. The first thing I did was put a 3" sanding disk on the drill press and grind the inside smooth like the old pans were. The iron was poor and has a few small pits, but they've not caused any problems. It's just right for a couple of over-easy eggs fresh from the chickens.

I've decided to start going to the local flea market on Sunday mornings again to pick through the boxes of stuff nobody recognizes or cares about.

Glenn said...

"Salvaging quality in building sites"


Your comments reflect a rather Eastern-Centric bias. Here in the Pacific Northwest not all of us consider being separated from the Eastern side of the continent by the Rocky Mountains and connected to Asia by a 6,000 mile wide ocean liabilites.

1. During and after "collapse" in whatever form, what use is a "Eastern market" to us? Our garden is far more useful already. Seattle is a far more accessible and adequate market.

2. By the time the reality of the crisis (starvation) hits say, Japan; who will have the resources to provide enough food for anyone to survive the crossing under sail or by drift? It's a big ocean. And as xenophobic as most Asian cultures are, the first to go will be foriegners and mixed race children, not likely to by well supplied. By the time the "pure" of Nihon, or any other country get hungry they won't have much in the way of supplies for the trip.

I think on this side we'll be salvaging the ships for parts and burying the dead.

In the mean time, we have all the resources here that several flourishing aboriginal cultures had _and_ the sailing technology to link coastal cultures from Anchorage, Alaska to Cabo San Lucas, Baja Mexico sustainably.

Not that it won't get grim here in the interim, but no grimmer than the NE financially; and much nicer from a climate change standpoint. According to Atmospheric Scientists, global climate change will be both minimized and delayed in the NW due to the stabilizing effect of that same very large Pacific Ocean immediately to windward.

But, like apocolypse, those of us on this thread all have seemingly good rationales for our choices, including those who choose to do nothing.

We have bought (no mortgage) the land, tilled the soil, and learn new skills every year. We aren't where we want to be in preparation by a long shot, but much more than we were when we settled here 7 years ago.

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Lance Michael Foster said...

As an artist myself, I am teaching students how to draw with whatever they have at hand. Old school, not digital. Right now they are learning perspective, not only linear, but atmospheric, and older forms. And of course I am helping with others in my tribe to keep my First Nation tribal arts and language going as well.

The arts side of this conversation is good to talk about, because people need art, storytelling, music, etc., not only AFTER people have their basic survival needs met, but DURING as well. Music helps physical labor, storytelling helps make sense out of life (and think what need there will be for that!), art helps people see the beauty in every moment and otherwise dull-appearing surroundings (as well as providing luxury goods for trade, or making images in a post-digital, post-photograph world). And of course magic has a place in all of this too :-)

I keep adding to my repertoire of stories, focusing mainly on my tribal legends, as well as Grimm, Aesop, and American folktales (Bunyan, Uncle Remus, Sleepy Hollow, etc. most of us were told in our childhood), as well as nursery rhymes and folksongs (not at a pro performing level, more like what anyone could do in the old days to pass the time or as part of any gathering). I hope to maybe sometime get ahold of a fiddle and begin to scratch on it as an accompaniment, as I have been working on harmonica for the past month or so.

You gotta have added value for your supper as you get to be an old codger useless for breaking one's back in the fields. And of course some working knowledge of folk magic, like water dowsing, love charms, and hoodoo can't hurt, can it? :-) People are going to be seeking a lot of meaning and entertainment in the not-too-distant, hard-labor and electronics-poor future.

hapibeli said...

Our friend here on one of B C's Gulf Islands has purchased 2 old printing presses he got @ bargain prices. As he is typographer and inventer of fonts, he is happy as can be. He also made written languages for most NW native bands. He and his life partner will be the kind of people who try to save and rejuvenate the written word, on quality paper, for those who come after us.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@ Gordon, Beneath, Peacegarden, JMG re the arts:

Yes, I agree with Gordon and Beneath that the arts are as necessary as air or food. One thing we must get over is the idea that (as JMG has pointed out) the arts are to be practiced by a small, professional, tertiary-economy-backed, class only.

In 16th century England nearly everyone could and did sing, for pleasure and while working, and a large majority could sing parts in a madrigal. If you couldn't you were considered some kind of dolt. All kinds of people wrote (or if illiterate, composed) poetry. As part of everyday work, women embellished useful cloth items with fabulous embroidery. The list goes on. Much of this (though certainly not all) was simply part of the culture and not done for pay.

My personal test for which arts might survive would be: can you do it without electricity or modern manufacturing methods? Thus, synthesizer music, over-amped versions of rock songs and such things as movies and conceptual art involving beams of colored electric light would go.

However, to respectfully disagree with JMG, forms such as opera and chamber music might very well stick around and even be renewed in some way: The tradition rests in the pre-fossil fuel era (Medieval church music among other things) and there is a large class of cultural conservers already at work keeping it going (like my son the tenor).

What you can do with the human voice, unaided by electronics, is something few people today truly appreciate. And the training doesn't need any kind of technology at all.

You won't have Wagner on steroids, with massive fossil-fuel powered sets (as recently done in New York)--but remember, Beyreuth festival is in a small theater. Mozart operas were meant to be performed in small settings with few instruments: the productions we see today are bloated beyond what Mozart would probably have imagined (or maybe not). Having attended Mozart operas performed by young non-professionals in small theaters with basic orchestras and minimal sets, I can say that the experience is delightful.

Also, I believe, with Peacegarden, that there can be art involved in everything you do. It's not a question of "fine" art, only. That is a class-ridden concept that derives from the Romantic idea of the “artist as hero” and therefore special at the expense of the rest of us “average” folks. You can garden efficiently, but also artfully, and make your garden delightful as well as productive. Shaker furniture comes to mind, as well as those really good hand tools and smooth-machined cast-iron skillets we all appreciate (I have one too), as well.

The arts help make hard material circumstances bearable and even full of grace.

susancoyotesfan said...

I'm planning to go against much of what you write. Why? Because I want to be a nurse practitioner. I will be getting myself into serious debt, but I will also be done in 2 years, 9 months. So I sincerely hope the big shut down doesn't happen for 2 years, 10 months.

I chose this occupation specifically because I know it will be useful in my community no matter what the economic circumstances are. I don't care that I'll be in debt forever, because if the system collapses they still can't take my skills away from me, and I will have legal and social credibility as an NP. Plus, I can do herbalism in conjunction with it.

I find out within the next two weeks if I'm accepted into the first school I applied to; if I don't get accepted it's on to the next one. This is something I am going to do.

I plan to do this because I think 'granny doctoring' isn't going to be socially or legally acceptable in my area for a long time to come, and I don't want to incur legal difficulties doing something that is supposed to benefit the people I live in the same community with.

Don Mason said...

Glenn said:
“Your comments reflect a rather Eastern-Centric bias.”

I agree. 150 years ago, Horace Greeley said, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.”

I say, “Go East, young people, and avoid the worst of the political collapse. And when you get to the Mississippi River, turn left and avoid the worst of the climate collapse.”

I see the West as one big, long, irregular, low-intensity war due to starving populations pushing north from Mexico and pushing east across the Pacific.

In order of desirability (most to least), I’d rate the regions:
1) Rust Belt
2) Southeast
3) Great Plains
4) Northwest
5) Rockies
6) Southwest
7) Las Vegas (truly in a class by itself: an object lesson in what NOT to do)

The Northwest has a lot of great physical advantages (climate, soil, hydro power) but the physical security issue would have me worried – and we’re living in a rough neighborhood in Rockford, so we’ve grown accustomed to hearing gunfire. It wouldn’t be a warm summer night without it.

But it sounds like you’re doing a great job of getting prepared. Ultimately, you do what you can with what you’ve got to work with: you plan for the worst and hope for the best.

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I've been calling 'stealth inflation' 'energy inflation' for years now. I've come up with a really simple explanation that people with who have never heard of ERoI easily understand, farming. It separates the monetary and energetic components without getting too deep into theory or jargon of economics or the oil patch.

Energy return on energy invested, and the consequences for our industrialized world, can be conceptualized by looking at how many people a farmer can feed.

If a farmer can feed only himself then everyone is a farmer. If he can feed himself and another than half of society can be specialists* of one stripe or another. If he can produce enough food to feed ten people than 90% of the population are specialist. The number of specialists per capita is proportional to the surplus that farmers can produce.

*specialist: I don't mean to imply that farming is not a specialty, or skilled profession, or anything of the sort. What I mean is that farming produces a necessity and specialists produce niceties. (For the sake of this discussion the economy refers to goods and services from non-farmers. Food produced by farmers is a prerequisite, like air or gravity, that must exist before any economy is possible)

So, as a farmers yields increase the number of specialists producing goods and services per farmer increases. If on the other hand yields fall the goods and services provided per person decrease. The same logic holds for fossil fuels. If oil can be liberated from the ground at a low cost then only a small percent of the economic output needs to be employed in digging it up and the rest of the people and machines are available for other pursuits.

As the good resources are used up the economy starts to pursue the poorer quality resources that are smaller, more remote, and in worse environments. More time and energy are needed to produce from these resources. That cost comes out of the time and energy that was previously devoted to the economy, the goods and services we enjoy.

This is the energy inflation that we are facing. It means that the wealth society can produce per capita is going down. Adding prices, wages, and the money supply is unnecessary to understand energy inflation. What congress or the fed does about the debt and the number of zeros on our paper notes does have effects in the world of prices, but those effects happen on top of the energy inflation and they are powerless counter it.

team10tim said...


Energy inflation requires that economic output decrease as energy supplies degrade, but I don't think that is the same as your stealth inflation. We could have reduced working hours and produced a smaller quantity of high quality products.

I think that the frugal and industrious Americans that came of age in the depression and fought WWII had better sense than that. The depression era saying 'use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without' was supplanted by endless waves of advertising, advanced consumption oriented propaganda, for instant coffee and tv dinners. The best advertising circumvents ones reason and appeals to baser desires.

We created an industry that exists to override our higher principles by manipulating lower brain functions. It appears to have pervaded our entire society to such an extent that news media is meaningless sensationalized tripe, politicians are incapable of meaningful discussion, and our industry sells us cheap plastic garbage.

Important aspects of civilization, like social capital, that don't fit the mold of quick and easy have fallen by the wayside. I think that older gear is higher quality because Americans have forgot the important of quality. Quality is incongruous with the principles of advertising that have taken over.

dragonfly said...

I'd like to echo those couple of comments from last week regarding "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". As the author himself states, there is neither much about Zen nor motorcycle maintenance in the book. Rather, to me at least, it touches on exactly the disconnect between Quality (substance ?) and Style (image ?) that seems to have grown like a wild slime mold over the past 30 odd years. Apologies to good slime molds everywhere.

@Cathy: what a score on the scythe ! I've taken up using one to clear invasive grasses around our property, and thoroughly enjoy it. While I'm sure purists would cringe at my self-taught technique, I find it to be a very grounding practice, and great exercise as well. Plus I can listen to music while I mow - try that with a gas powered machine !

Finally, another plug for Linux in keeping older computers running and useful. There are some distributions of Linux that are quite easy to install and use, and come with a plethora of free and very useful software, including office applications that are quite compatible with the M$oft versions.

Joy said...


Re: Stealth Inflation

My husband and I own a 100 year old house in Alberta, Canada. We have previously owned newly built houses and have found that the quality of our 100 year old house is so much better than the new homes we have owned. We're firmly convinced that our house will far outlast the houses built with today's cheap standards.

I really appreciate your blog and have learned so much! Thanks a bunch!


LewisLucanBooks said...

Re: Performing Arts - Put me in mind of Brin's book "The Postman." And, the movie. The hero made a bit of a living traveling from settlement to settlement putting on a "show" of dibs and dabs of half remembered Shakespeare. Accompanied at crucial plot points by his donkey.

Later on, there's a wonderful community dance.

I think the book has always been a favorite of mine, as it is mostly set in the Pacific Northwest. Familiar places. I think we'll do ok out here. Still a rough ride, but not as bad as other places.

DPW said...

RE: Salvaging "areas" - old towns, old parts of town

While I agree whole-heartedly with the idea in general, there is definitely a bit of a timing aspect there. Many small towns (especially in the PacNW) that have good water/river access have become tourist havens and retirement zones and are thus priced well above their true worth once the tertiary market comes back to earth...all else ignored, that would have to happen in another 10-20 years...the generation behind those currently in their late-60s to mid-70s don't have anywhere near the paper wealth to come in and buy up all the retirement houses, waterfront places, etc. as the former group gets put out to pasture (ie nursing homes). The financial crash will probably hasten that, but if not, I'd still expect prices to fall considerably in the tourist/retirement areas.

Unfortunately, the economies and everything else in the smaller towns are set up to survive on the retired/tourist funds, so there's much work to do to make the towns livable again for families and working (not just tourist service) class individuals. The infrastructure that's there is largely now replicas of big-box culture elsewhere, with some beautiful exceptions of course. Schools, parks, and rec centers are of course failing too and less people are able to raise kids in the areas due to no jobs/affordable housing. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the various small towns...

Of course, some areas never made much of the boom and may be positioned well for the descent.

I'm thinking Astoria, OR, Port Angeles, WA, maybe Mt. Vernon, WA, or some other coastal OR towns like Newport and futher south. I could see those returning to their blue-collar roots if corporate fishing/logging interests die under debt issues and things become smaller and more local.

In any event, it seems those who are willing/able to move in when times change will have plenty of work to do at all levels: city government, teaching, etc. All these towns that are set up for providing essentially entertainment to the old and visiting will need something else if they don't want to be ghost-towns 20 years from now.

I put a lot of my "gee, this could be a good outcome of the whole mess" type hope for the future in the re-purposing of those types of places. Not sure what my role will be in any of it, but its fun to dream that someday maybe I'll get to live in one of those small towns I love to visit and that I'll get to raise my kids in an area like where my wife and I grew up.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Dear GHung, Sgage and Tracy G,

From last week's pokeweed discussion, I did mention and credit your interesting and informative comments in my pokeweed post. I hope you don't mind, and thanks in advance.

SophieGale said...

I love "The Poor Druid's Almanac." I just started reading Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf, and there is a gem of a quote on almost every page. For instance, in "Positions to be examined concerning National Wealth" (1769) Benjamin Franklin listed 3 ways a nation might acquire wealth: "The first is by War...This is Robbery. The second by Commerce which is generally Cheating. The third by Agriculture the only honest Way."

I find it comforting to know that our Founding Fathers and Mothers were dealing with many of the same issues that we are facing now: cash crops and raw materials flowing to England, manufactured goods coming back... Soil depleted, forests stripped during the Revolution to forge iron... When Franklin was in England protesting the Stamp Act, he saw what was coming and make "food security" a priority, shipping all kinds of seeds and saplings back to the colonies.

As I mentioned once before, I have been musing on our 250th anniversary coming up in just fifteen years. It's gratifying to discover that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, et al. were Green Wizards.

On a completely different subject, dog food: it occurs to me that down the road there will continue to be a supply of knackered horses. And you will be able to be able to make potted meat and store it for Rover. --And, honestly, dogs have no concept of "disgusting." When our neighbor gelded horses, the dogs ate fresh "oysters"--with antiseptic seasoning.

@Gordon. Don't worry if you don't have "talent." Artists need patrons. And if you can host a salon or a garden party to showcase someone else's talent, if you can provide a garret, a workspace, a meal, pen, paper, guitar strings, etc., you will be reckoned an angel!

SophieGale said...

Ah, and as Columbo would say, just one more thing... A scavenger friend of mine collects just the kinds of things we are discussing. His advice: ask! When he stops at a garage sale and sees tables covered with towels and Tupperware and kids stuff, he asks the woman, "Uh, have you got any 'guy's stuff'?" And chances are, she'll pop into the garage and come out with a dusty crate full of "this old stuff???"


SophieGale said...

I lied! One more thought: people keep saying, "I can't afford to...get a bigger pick-up truck, purchase a tiller, buy the best quality tools, etc." What if we could find one or two other people to share the cost, share the tool, share the work?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Glenn,

Tilling the soil is a good short term strategy, but a poor long term strategy for agriculture. Digging soil tends to destroy soil structure and expose all of the soil flora and fauna to the sun. You can also lose quite a bit of nitrogen to the atmosphere through the process of the bodies of the microbes breaking down - which is also the reason why it is a good short term strategy - plants use these dead resources. Long term though you reduce organic matter - it gets a little bit worse every year.

I recommend that you have a think about top dressing soils with mulch and compost instead and really reduce digging. I've noticed that people think that if they're not digging at some point it can't be proper agriculture. You don't see nature digging soils and for long term results you have to follow what nature does as best you can.



John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, good to hear that I'm not the only one to catch on to the process!

Twilight, now why didn't I think of that? Thank you; if I have to make do with new cast iron in the future, I'll definitely sic some fine sandpaper onto it first.

Lance, true enough. Performing arts and magical work are among the more common second jobs in a lot of very materially poor societies.

Hapibeli, excellent! That's really good to hear.

Adrian, I think it's quite possible that chamber music will make it, so long as at least a few luthiers are able to stay in business, and Mozart would be great. The problem with Wagner, though, is that his major works aren't something that can be performed by amateurs at all -- unlike Mozart, who was relatively forgiving of his singers and musicians, Wagner worked at the upper end of what 19th century vocal and instrumental music was capable of achieving. The first orchestra that attempted the score of Tristan und Isolde ended up giving up in despair, calling the thing unplayable, and the major parts in Der Ring will shred the voice of anyone who tries them without a lifetime of hard training and almost superhuman stamina. Once we lose the economic basis that makes it possible to support fulltime opera singers and the huge support system that trains, coaches, and works with them, as I see it, Bayreuth will go the way of Eleusis.

Susancoyote, I don't know if you were reading this blog when I last talked about dissensus. The last thing I want is for everybody to do the same thing; if training as a nurse practitioner is what's right for you, then by all means go for it.

Tim, that's a useful analysis. I suspect there's more to stealth inflation than that, but it's certainly a major factor.

John Michael Greer said...

Joy, that's good to hear! Our house is 86 years old, and our experience is the same -- new construction, or even recent construction, isn't half so sturdy or well designed.

Lewis, I think there are quite a few corners of the continent that will do okay, and some parts of the Pacific Northwest are among them. Others will be in deep trouble. It's a complex question with no one right answer.

DPW, the real estate price differential was one of the things that sent my wife and I to the Rust Belt; the house we bought would have cost three to five times more in most of the Pacific Northwest, and we could have gone cheaper still by choosing a town without rail access.

Sophie, if Druidry had saints, I'd long ago have proposed Ben Franklin for canonization. Hard to think of anybody else who had so many bright ideas and so few dull ones. Thanks for the garage sale tip -- I'll have to try that out.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, I had to delete a couple of posts in the "Pacific Northwest vs. Rust Belt" thread due to tempers getting out of hand. I'd like to ask everyone to remember that courtesy is a basic survival skill, and this is a great place to practice it -- also that there is no one right answer to the question "Where is the right place to live"!

Bill Pulliam said...

In terms of different regions as places to live in a world of energy scarcity...

Sure regional patterns and processes will affect the trajectories of change. BUT, you will not be living in "The Pacific Northwest" (or wherever). You will be living in your own home, on your own property or not, among your immediate neighbors and local community. These could well make much more of a difference than large-scale regional phenomena, at least within broad limits. If you are short of food, the generosity and good will of your neighbors will make a bigger difference to you than the regional trading patterns.

beneaththesurface said...

JMG, I look forward to reading a more in-depth post discussing the future of the arts in a post-peak society!

While there is much in the contemporary art world that I won’t shed a tear for if it disappears (such as most TV shows, many Hollywood films…), there are works of art that I do really like that I see unlikely to survive in the post-peak future. This saddens me.

In the same way that many people in our society haven’t truly come to terms with their own mortality and the mortality of much of the society they’re used to, it feels as though people in our society assume works of art (and similarly also, achievements in scientific fields) to be immortal. Computer technology and the Internet help make it feel as though works of art will be preserved for all time. It is easy to mistakenly believe that one will be able to always find and watch films, scan through zillions of musical pieces online, and that zillions of recordings and digital images will always exist.

I would be interested to know if there are any artists whose works of art specifically address and explore the mortality of a lot of contemporary art as our society faces collapse. So many people currently rely on various forms of high-tech entertainment and art (that often reinforce popular and comfortable narratives) and I suspect there will be psychological dislocation in some of the populace if these sources of meaning are amputated from daily life.

In the past few years I have gotten into participating in Sacred Harp shape-note singing. I think this is an example of an art that can easily survive into a post-peak society.

Red Neck Girl said...

Everyone has their favorite place to be. I think this valley you left JMG, will be a fairly quiet backwater. Mostly cattle raised here and maybe some olive oil production. There is a variety of olive tree that's adaptable to the climate here. I'd love to see some colored cotton seeds planted here if not in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley. (The Inca's were master plant breeders and they grew cotton in the primary colors.) The problem with colored cotton is that it carries a virus that attacks olive trees and that's why it's not grown in California now!

I can envision something like the old Californio culture of California returning up and down the Sacramento Valley. (Zorro, where are you?) But I can't imagine any other country wanting to go to the trouble of conquering the area for more elbow room.

If a lot of the animals from the game parks get turned loose it would make for an interesting ecology. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the exotic big cats got loose and made their way into the mountains and forests. I do know grizzly bears are a small and very quiet population hanging on in the more remote areas here and there's always a trickle of wanderers from far away places.

All those old haciendas were built as forts and if I can build my house the way I want it will be basically the same.

Otherwise the place should be safe, snug and comfortable.


Cherokee Organics said...


I went to the cinema recently and saw the film Bridesmaids which was pretty funny. At one point there was a scene where they were all sitting in a bus which was passing row upon row of corn crops. Yeah, yeah, it's a bit geeky to notice such things but there you go. The point is, I hadn't seen that sort of agriculture before - we don't really have the soils for growing such large quantities of corn here.

There is a point to this - please hang in there.

I grow corn here and it's a heavy feeding crop. Really hungry - like no other crop that I grow.

It started me thinking, because I constantly see references in peoples comments saying this place has fertile soil, that place doesn't etc.

Well it kind of occurred to me that if they were producing the volume of corn that I saw in that brief glimpse year after year using industrial methods then that soil would be biologically as good as dead.

People may confuse the issue because they see current agricultural output and think that it's from really fertile soils, when in fact what was once fertile, is now, well kind of trashed and would take many years to begin to restore some of the original fertility.

The same types of issues arise if you try to grow large quantities of vegetables in a forested area - it's not easy. Fruit trees yes, vegetables no - unless you set aside specific areas for them and treat the soil very differently.

As a suggestion, it might be worthwhile having a post on the dependancies on industrial agriculture and its risks. Also in a similar vein, the Cuba solution keeps popping it's head up regularly and commenters keep mentioning how they transitioned across to organic agriculture without understanding the serious difficulties they had to face (I keep hearing, they did it, so it must be 100% too easy!).

Just some food for thought - no pun intended!



Mean Mr Mustard said...

Cherokee Organics recommended that you have a think about top dressing soils with mulch and compost instead.

Do be very careful with any manure sources. Here's a new horror story -

Laney said...

@ Yupped

We bury chickens we don't want to eat under our fruit or nut trees. (We cover with a large stone to avoid having to dig crazy deep to thwart the dog.) Cats and dogs rest in our pecan grove. The animals are honored with a shady resting place and the trees benefit from a little extra fertilizer. We've never noted any affect on the trees from root damage, and we've been doing this for ten years or so.

Laney said...

Any ideas for a more sustainable instrument for my daughter, who plays the clarinet? And a source for good quality ones?

Cloud said...

@ Angus Wallace

A major factor contributing to the sucess of Cuba's transition to post chemical supported agriculture (success meaning people having something to eat) was land reform in the cities. Rules were passed to allow citizens access to vacant lots for food gardens. There was something about the owners of the lots being given a few months to actually start building, or the gardeners could move in. Can't see this happening in the US, where ownership is taken as a god-given right.

GHung said...

While I cherish my collection of cast iron stuff, I wanted to put in a plug for stainless. I have several pieces of Revere Ware stainless/copper as old as I am, and a couple of heavy, commercial pans that I expect to last generations. They seem indestructable. I also value my heavy stainless mixing bowls, especially for canning and preserving, as stainless pots and bowls won't react to acidic foods and brines (think vinegar/tomatoes) like aluminium and, indeed, cast iron. My favorite bowl is over 20" in diameter, 12" deep, and gets used often for bread making, canning, large salads, etc.. I've had stainless pans get 'burned to a crisp', and with some effort, along with a good stainless scouring pad/powder, come back better than new. Like properly seasoned cast iron, my stainless items seem to get better with use as they get tempered and polished. I rejected cheap non-stick aluminum long ago.

My favorite pan is my old Wagner grilling pan, found rusting in a debris pile from an old burned house. It gets used several times a week.

An interesting link, including how to date your Griswold and Wagner items, some history and markings.

GHung said...

Another ancient skill still being practiced by many is that of the potter, where art and utility truley become one. My wife is (was) an accomplished potter who taught at a county art center for several years. While she hasn't thrown a pot for perhaps a decade, I'm trying to get her to renew her interest, as she needs the creative outlet, if nothing else. I actually built her an outbuilding for a studio about eight years ago. Alas, It has become a storage unit for her kids' 'stuff'. This will change soon. If I can get her a basic setup in place, I'm sure her nose will be back to the wheel in no time.

She is used to working with modern electric kilns and wheels, though she has some practice on old, manual kickwheels. We certainly aren't going to fire pots electrically, being offgrid, but neither did the potters of old. I'm looking at wood-fired kiln designs in hopes of building one soon, and an electric potter's wheel is doable with PV, though I'm also looking for a nice kickwheel, or a good design I can construct.

While digging our irrigation pond near the garden, I encountered a layer of beautiful blue clay around two feet thick, about four feet under the surface. I saved some of it, hoping my wife could test its suitability for potting. It seems that this seam of clay extends under much of our bottom land. It may become quite useful in the decades ahead.

Bill Pulliam said...

Several threads last week and this pertaining in a general way to agriculture and yields and such. For an interesting vision of non-industrial, non-commercial agriculture, I looked at Jeff Poppen's vision and how thermodynamically feasible it seems to be, here:

One point was made last week about how harvesting with manual means (in that case scythes) requires more labor, and hence a larger portion of the crop yield to feed that labor. Well, we need to keep in mind that feeding the people wielding the scythes is the WHOLE POINT of agriculture in the first place. The mowing crews being fed off the fruits of their labor is not a drain on the system, it is the success if the system. We are rather entrenched in a pervasive market-based, commerce-based view of agriculture and its yields. We have to remember that the primary purpose of agriculture is to feed people, not generate wealth.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, that's an excellent point.

Beneath, as a good general rule of thumb, if it thrived before the industrial age, it'll thrive after it. Shape-note singing certainly counts. Good for you for helping to preserve it!

Girl, olives and wine are both grown there, and well worth maintaining into deindustrial times; they've been good cash crops for millennia. I'd encourage you to learn Spanish, if you're not already fluent in it, though, and to cultivate good relations with the local Hispanic communities; you're in the probable path of serious migration from points south.

Cherokee, the standard First Nations trick for corn was to throw a dead fish into the ground, then hill up the soil over it and plant corn, beans and squash in the hill. That way you replenish the soil. Yes, industrial cornfields are practically rock dust after a few decades; it's going to take hard work and time to restore those soils.

Mustard, this is why I don't recommend using any manure but your own -- and generally why I don't recommend supplementing soil with anything but homebrewed compost made from your own garden waste, kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, and bodily wastes. There's just too many toxic chemicals in circulation these days.

Laney, if the clarinet's of any quality, she'll be able to pass it on to a descendant in her will, and it'll still play. The one thing she's going to have to figure out is how to make reeds, which musicians used to do themselves in preindustrial times -- back into the Middle Ages, in fact. Once she gets that worked out, she can plan on playing that clarinet into the far future; it's a lovely instrument and worth saving.

Ghung, good sturdy stainless is another thing worth finding and saving, no question. As for pottery, preserving that is crucial -- I keep on thinking of post-Roman Britain, where pottery had been imported from Gaul for so long that nobody was able to figure out how to make it any more.

Bill, thanks for the link -- and another good point. I'd suggest that it takes fewer calories to support a bunch of men with scythes than it does to support a factory to make tractors, too...

Cathy McGuire said...

@JMG: I had a printing press for about 6 years (an old newspaper proofing press) and all the font and equipment that went with it. I have to admit it’s a slow, fiddling business, especially for full pages of type (rather than announcements or cards, like many folk are using it). I used it mostly for my linocut printing, and couldn’t move it to my latest home (it took expensive piano movers and they had a hard time)… but I really did love it when I had it, and I was so glad that there is still a rather large community of hand-printers in Portland that continue to do it. I hung on to two fonts of type, the setting ruler and a couple other things, just because I couldn’t totally let go.

@Cherokee OrganicsI can't believe you got a free scythe. Must confess to being a bit jealous about that score! Please post on how it goes, as I'm particularly interested in getting a scythe. It's a bit grim reaper though!!!!
Darn – I wish you lived closer. I’ve seen no fewer than 4 scythes for about $35 at local junk stores. But I’d been waffling, and so getting one free was very cool. Even without sharpening or cleaning it, it worked on some tall weeds immediately. I love it! And my neighbor made exactly that Grim Reaper comment when he gave it to me: “At least you’ll have a Halloween costume”. :-)

And here’s another wonderful animation – this time, about math as it’s represented in Nature. Stunning!

Don Mason said...

Re: Salvaging Quality in the Rust Belt

To the people writing the posts about “Pacific Northwest vs. Rust Belt” that JMG had to delete:

C’mon guys. Please write a civilized post so that we can have a civilized argument.

This is a serious issue. Capital was flowing from East to West; that direction may be starting to change. For example, JMG wrote: "...the real estate price differential was one of the things that sent my wife and I to the Rust Belt; the house we bought would have cost three to five times more in most of the Pacific Northwest..."

Once we (eventually) re-establish a political process that is at least semi-functional, we’ll have to make some serious decisions about how to manage the little that remains of our capital.

Personally, I think that the United States of America is grossly overextended militarily. I don’t think that we have the military resources to hang on to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; and I suspect that we won’t have the military resources to fight a protracted, low-intensity war to hang on to the Southwest. Without cheap energy, much of the Rockies will be largely uninhabitable; and its main military function will be to act as a barrier to invasion from the Pacific.

So what are we going to do with the isolated Pacific Northwest?

Do you guys want to go your separate way and become Ectopia?

Do you want to remain part of the Union, and if so, then how are you going to be militarily resupplied from the Eastern states? And please don’t say “By airplane or by Interstate highway”. We're running out of gas.

The sooner a rational intellectual framework is developed to help guide prudent capital investment, the better.

We’ve already squandered enough finite resources on low-quality, unsalvageable Western projects like Las Vegas.

GHung said...

@Laney, I have a Native American cedar flute, made by Richard Maynard, (Laughing Crow) which I love, though I need to spend more time learning to play it. These flutes make a beautiful, almost haunting sound, especially when played by an accomplished traditional player.
Just a suggestion......

sruggieri said...

JMG said: "most Americans over forty, for example, will remember the days when cans of soup and candy bars were a good deal larger than they are now – but far more often done by cutting quality. Sometimes this is a minor, even a subtle, factor; in other cases, it’s neither, and can quite easily become lethal in its effects."

This is interesting, and hits home because my wife, who is a CNA/Med Tech at a nursing home is now extremely cautious and vigilant when distributing over-the-counter medications. She has found changes in the dosage amounts on liquid allergy medications and cough medicine. You REALLY MUST READ the fine-print regarding DOSAGE AMOUNTS to catch the change.

At a recent family barbeque, my niece was complaining abut the problems she had making a cake from a package mix she's used many many times. Come to find out, they cut back considerably on the net weight of the box (not the package size nor the price) So buyer beware, there's some real trickery going on)

LOL, I've even noticed my favorite store-bought indulgence -- Nabisco Graham Crackers, have noticeably shrunk in size! :)

Of course this all strokes my internal "green wizard" which counsels me to find more sustainable indulgences. :)

Loveandlight said...

I know what you mean about declining quality. My own personal anecdote is about tenner shoes. I wear 10.5 wide-width, and the wide sizes over 10 are getting increasingly scarce. In the past, I've always bought 11 regular when that was the case, and that was good enough. But now it just seems like such a chore to get tenner-shoes that don't squeeze-torture my feet. Now that I'm diabetic, that's no small concern. I tend to think that they're making tenner-shoes these days for dumb pretty people who only care about how they look, with the result that the shoes are just way too narrow and tight. I've decided to give up tenner-shoes in favor of all-purpose regular shoes.

trippticket said...

I can guarantee that my 1996 Toyota Camry with 202k miles on the odometer is every bit as tight as my mom's 2010 Camry with 20k on the road. And mine only cost me $3300 cash two years ago...

Thanks for always putting a finer point on my thoughts, and thank you, Flute, for clarifying the driving force behind deflation for me. Most useful!

trippticket said...

JMG, just as an aside, I would assume you know about Toby Hemenway's article that bears the same name as your new book.

"Apocalypse Not"
Published in Permaculture Activist #59, February, 2006

I'm not an IP guru so I have no idea about the legal workings of these things, but, knowing you, I assume you have covered your bases.

Good article, by the way...his and yours;)

Tully Reill said...

Peacegarden and all;

As for mailservice in our upcoming deindustrial era, there are still branches of the Pony Express who do annual runs along some of the old routes, such as the one from Winslow AZ to Phoenix AZ. I'm sure there will be those who will pick up the torch (or letterbag in this case) and not let wind , rain, hail, or dark of night stay them from their appointed rounds. THe current Pony Express Riders are even duly sworn mail carriers already.

EBrown said...

This post directly addresses two issues I've thought about recently.

I too have noticed that the metal quality in old tools is superior to many tools produced today. I have purchased a new shovel (forged, from AM Leonard) in the near past that is of excellent quality, but I paid dearly for it. I guess it ran about four times the cost of a stamped POS one could get at a box store.

My thought about old tools though was that perhaps not all were of surpassing greatness, rather that time has winnowed out the crap. I think it's entirely possible that a significant percentage of tools produced back in the day were of low quality, and they have disappeared, never to be missed. Tools of higher quality metal and craftsmanship would generally have a greater propensity to last... No matter how it comes to be, I agree with the general thrust of the post.

My second thought is about "stealth inflation" relates to food quality. It was amply demonstrated many decades ago (like in the 20s and 30s) that pushing the potassium levels up (to 5% or more of the cation exchange capacity) in food growing soils makes for a higher carbohydrate, lower protein crop. Crops grown on such soils can put on huge tonnages/acre because most of the photosynthetic activity goes to storage. Protein synthesis forces plants to use up a lot of the sugars the make and thus reduces the "yield per acre", even though the nutritional quality of a "lower yielding" plot is far, far better. Since farmers are generally paid for the size of the crop as opposed to the life-supporting quality, guess which way most farm soils are pushed?

hawlkeye said...

About manure, I must add my deposit to the discussion:

All those miles and miles of corn and cow disaster: what were once the most fertile soils are now the most played-out, pasty, powdery substrates made toxic by sponging up all the 'cides we've managed to saturate them with. No microbes, no worms, no humus, just dead and waiting for a dose. To call it rock dust is to insult the true glacial mineral powders so desperately needed by these very grounds upon which our society parasitizes itself.

And with over 90% of the population NOT growing food, not many people are engaged in re-building soil fertility, not many people keep animals for agriculture anymore, stuffed as they are on feed-lot carcasses.

So where are the sources of manure? Usually elsewhere, and must be salvaged like all good tools orphaned and alone. Usually it's some rich lady's pet horse or two, stranded in a beat paddock. The problem now is that those pastures are so played out, the horses are not getting the minerals they need, thus more susceptible to heart-worm, so here come the heart-worm meds, the vermifuges. Which linger and kill the earthworms which you want in the manure.

Finding a pile of horse manure with bio-integrity is quite a score. Folks aften glance in my truck and ask, where did you get the manure? And I'm always vague and never say exactly which stable.

I think we're going to have to import organic matter and manures in order to build up fertility as fast as possible, which doesn't happen all that fast after all. And all the while growing the legumes and composting all available organic matter at hand.

But I just don't think it'll be enough to use ONLY what is immediately at hand... Building alliances with animal owners now is no bad thing, because I'll betcha they pay zero attention to what comes out, only what goes in.

To me, that is the essence of green wizardry; taking a pile of liability and alchemizing it into an asset.

Glenn said...

Cherokee (Chris)

I was using the term "tilling" metaphorically. We do double dig all our beds initially. They are all top dressed with compost and used bedding straw out of our duck houses. Initial digging is required in this soil (old acidic second growth conifer forest) just to loosen it up enough. After two really cold, wet, late springs, and it looks like this will be a cold, wet summer; we are slowly converting to raised beds.


sgage said...


When I first set up housekeeping on my own back in the 70's, my mother gave me her complete set of Revere Ware that she had gotten at her wedding in 1943 - she was replacing it with something new.

I cook with it every day, and it is totally as good as new if not better. Coming up on 70 years of constant daily service for this set of pots and pans...

Glenn said...

Pacific Northwest vs East


I'll preface my remarks by saying I'm a native westerner of many generations. My great-great-grandfather was a shipwright in Long Beach, California; on my father's side are mormon pushcart pioneers, though my branch quit that church.

As such, when I hear remarks like yours I tend to identify them with the "Eastern Establishment" and those who think only Europe and the Eastern seaboard are posessed of culture and civilization.

I spent 20 years in Uncle Sam's Confused Group (USCG, the Coast Guard) I've literally been from Pole to Pole (or at least McMurdo) and from Coast to Coast. I've been stationed in the tropics, but not the center of the North American Continent.

What I discovered in all my wanderings is that while I am quite compatible with the people and cultures of western Europe, I don't fit in on the East Coast at all. The culture is simply too foriegn to me, at least the bit from Washington DC to Boston. On the other hand, I was fairly happy in the Southeast.

There you have it, my cultural prejudices.

Yes, I would be quite happy for the Pac NW to be "Ecotopia", though not precisely as in Callanbach's book, he's a tad too much of the Easterner who came west and misinterpreted the culture he thought he'd found.

I envision a region from Eugene, Oregon to Juneau, Alaska, and up the Snake river to Idaho; linked by waterborne trade, with British Columbia as the center.

As for "Northern Mexico", two things.

One, in the recent National Geographic they point out the illegal immigration from Mexico has dropped quite a lot, mostly due to improved availability of birth control by Mexican women. I suspect that when the current economic systems go down the wealthy in Mexico as well as the US will have a harder time exporting jobs.
Two, I think the reversion of the land in the Gadsen Purchase to Mexico would be no bad thing. War not required, of any intensity. Immigration has shifted the demographics, the political shift may be a formality.

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Terror of
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island,
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Glenn said...

Pacific Northewest vs East (Cont.)

As I said before, I'm pretty sanguine about Asian hordes. Non sailors tend to underestimate the size of the Pacific Ocean. Things really are bigger in the west (crude regional jab). About 6000 miles wide. Now, given the direction of the North Pacific drift or Kuroshio current, _eventually_ things get here from Asia. Under _Sail_ it takes about 5 to 6 weeks. Drifting takes a lot longer. Broken down asian fishing boats have arrived here. The crews have always starved to death. For a substantial number of Asians to get here alive they will need at least a month's worth of food and water, sailboats, or enough fuel for current ships or fishing boats. I think by the time the food crisis in Asia is that advanced that none of these resources will be available. Hence, we will be salvaging the wrecks, burying the dead, taking in the few survivors as farm hands or marrying them. I don't think it will make much of a demographic change, and have no political effect.

I don't think will be importing any weapons from the U.S. We have arms manufacturers here in the West. We may have to start a few factories for ammunition. I do live near a large military ammo depot, which is somewhat worrying. If there is a complete federal political collapse some self styled "humongeous of the wastelands" may decide to take it over. The local city and county may have to provide a militia to protect the ammo, using some of said ammo to do so. In which case there'll be draft of men, and at least food taxation to feed them.

"Cascadia" will be separated from "Alta California" by the buffer state of "Jefferson". These mountaineers of Southern Oregon and Northern California, will like the Kurds of Asia, engage in smuggling, spying and guerilla warfare.

Bill Pulliam, I am in complete agreement regarding neighbors and community. Fortunately, we have good ones in both cases. We live in "schooner central", a small neighborhood of South Marrowstone Boat Hippies. In addition, the entire Island is very close knit and cooperative.

I'm descended from the people who kept moving west; from the plains of central Asia, to Europe, to North America and last, to the Pacific Coast. But here, I stop, and stand with my neighbors.

Glenn Woodbury
Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Joeln said...


I have been reading you for a some time now. Let me introduce myself and pose my biggest question;
I have had serious reservations about the status quo since the 70's and have been supported by it as well as dropped out of it many times since.
By training, I'm an engineer and technician and until last year worked as a handyman. At present I'm a technician at a company that makes motor testing equipment. By habit I fix, build and yes, salvage things. My New England heritage gives me a legitimate excuse to avoid throwing things away, or pick up repairable things from the sidewalk. I could easily jump right into a career in the salvage economy.
We live in co-housing in Colorado and are gardening and sharing in the chicken duties, so you can check off some community and subsistence points.

The question: Because of its dryness, I see Colorado as a poor location to settle for the long descent. Any suggestions for a better location are very welcome.

My initial thoughts are someplace east for the moisture. Someplace with a vibrant small-agriculture community might be good. Someplace where people are in the habit of civility. Call me paranoid, but I think I want to be a couple hundred miles away from the big cities.

Any other criteria that might be useful in this selection process would be very welcome. -Joel

Glenn said...

A couple more minor items.

Re: "Apocolypse Not". Titles are not subject to copyright, not to worry.

Cuba's "special period". They did and do still use an unsustainable amount of fossil fuels, but after the Soviet subsidy was cut off, they only use them in proportion to their population and the world oil supply.

Everyone, including JMG, keeps saying that they could make it work because it was a small country with an authoritation (read dictatorship) government that could quickly change course and enforce compliance. True, as far as it goes. BUT, many of the agricultural changes to organic techniques and growing inside the cities were pioneered by individuals and communities first, and the Federales signed on and enforced afterwards. A rare case of innovation by "the people" actually being recognized as beneficial by the government and carried forward. The government also loosened it's restrictions on private enterprise in order to encourage farmers toward's greater productivity.

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

LewisLucanBooks said...

East vs West - Well, since I'm a native Pacific Northwesterner, I guess I've got a horse in this race. I live in a small rural town, in a small rural county half way between Portland and Seattle. And, if all goes well, will move a bit further out to the east part of our county. Away from I-5 and up from the more frequently flooding valleys.

Since I'm pretty old (62) I don't think I'm going to have to worry much about invasion from Asia or, a Hispanic invasion from the south. Also, I'm almost an orphan. So, no worries about progeny.

Judging from some of the high feelings over the topic, I think regionalism is alive in well in these United States. Well into the descent, we may fracture into the "Nine Nations of North America."

As far as defense goes, we may ask for help in defense, and get the same reply the Brits did, when the Roman Empire began to unravel. "Look to your own defenses." And, we will. I think we're all ready well down that road. There's always been a lively subculture of self defense (ie: gun nuts :-) )

Actually, as far as real estate prices go, it depends on where you are. Olympia, our state capitol is 30 minutes up the freeway. Here you can get 3 times the house and land at a third of the property taxes then in and around the capitol. I think I saw an article recently where the median house price here had fallen to $120,000.

There's a retirement town, south of us where you can get houses with good sized lots for $45,000. It's an old mill town, so the houses are tight little bungalows that were built in the teens and 1920s. And, the prices continue to fall.

We can't predict the future. We can make guesses (which, will probably turn out to be wrong.) It just all depends on how far and how fast the descent goes.

But, this is the choice I've made. And, I can't get along without my rain. All though, this year the weather is making even me a little twitchy. It's overcast today with temperatures in the 60s. We had rain last night. It was cold enough last night that I threw another blanket on the bed.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, that's why I'm looking for a smaller, tabletop model -- doesn't take a piano mover to get it from one place to another. Though it'll depend on what I can find!

Don, you're quite right about military overextension, and also about the breakdown of transport links across the middle of the continent. I think it's quite possible that the Pacific Northwest could make a go of it, and there are many good options from the Missouri east -- it's the space in between I have real doubts about.

Sruggieri, there's got to be a way to make a functional graham cracker substitute at home! Your mission, if you should choose to accept it...

Loveandlight, shoes are a major issue, and going to get much worse as we proceed. Anyone with a flair for handicrafts could do worse than to become a cobbler.

Trippticket, I have indeed. Titles can't be copyrighted. Thanks for the heads up, though!

Ebrown, that's a fascinating point about fertilizers, and might go a good part of the way to explain why homegrown produce seems so much more satisfying, not to mention flavorful. Thank you!

Hawlkeye, a lot depends on scale. If you're doing a backyard garden of the sort I've been discussing, yes, materials on site are enough; I know this because I've done it repeatedly, and the bumper crops of green beans, broad beans, tomatoes, zucchini, kale -- well, I could go on for a while, and that's just what's ripe and being eaten and stored right now from my small backyard garden -- are evidence for the thing. On a farm scale, it's more challenging, though there again all depends on size.

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, there is no right answer to the question you're asking. First, a huge amount depends on the personal equation, and second, none of us knows exactly what the future can hold. Myself, I wouldn't move to Colorado for love nor money -- water issues are only one of several factors that may get very difficult there -- and chose to move to a small town in the Appalachian end of the Rust Belt, where land is cheap, the cost of living is low, rail transport has some chance of survival, and the likelihood of being able to grow food into the indefinite future is pretty high; still, that's my choice, not a universal one.

I'd encourage you to sit down with anyone else who's going to be involved in a move, make a list of what you want in a place to live. Then make another list of things you expect to happen in the future, and mark the latter on a cheap disposable US map -- here's where the next Dust Bowl is forming, here's where the civil war between Anglo and Hispanic populations in the Southwest is likely to start and here's as far as the violence will likely spread, sea level rise will reach to here, there will be too many starving people here and here -- and back it up with research as appropriate. Factor in all the rational factors, and don't neglect the irrational ones, either -- intuition is the way the mind synthesizes impressions too subtle to come to consciousness. At the end of the process, you'll likely have several locations in mind; visit them, make your choice, and act. You'll want to do it quickly, though -- we really are a lot closer to crisis than most people have begun to guess.

Glenn, oh, granted, the Cuban government was smart as well as autocratic, and paid attention to what was working. It's one of the advantages of autocracy that it can do that, if the autocrat's canny enough.

Lewis, ultimately that's what it comes down to -- where do you, personally, choose to make your stand? There's no one right answer for everyone; for a variety of reasons, though I was born and raised and spent most of my life on Puget Sound, and my great-great-grandfather and my only child are both buried on the same small island there, that wasn't the place for me, and the north central Appalachians is. You pays your money and you takes your choice, and the wheel starts to spin.

Bill Pulliam said...

I'm a little bit lost as to the point of the PNW vs. Rust Belt debate (argument...?). Are we trying to settle which is "better?" That would be beyond silly. There will be people living for millennia to come in nearly every region of North America. Pre-fossil fuel (pre-metallurgy!) even the low deserts and the high arctic were successfully inhabited by stone-age agrarians and hunter/gatherers to some extent. Only the absolutely coldest or driest areas are entirely uninhabitable (though you may need to migrate seasonally in some places). As for anticipating wars and climate changes and social upheaval... good luck! Sure one can make educated guesses, and you have to live with and act on those guesses. But the future will bring what it will bring, regardless.

Make your personal choices. Don't try to convince yourself or others that your own personal choices are "right!"

But of course I chose neither of the two regions being debated.

SophieGale said...

Preserving music and the spoken arts: Edison's early phonographs were sturdy and hand-cranked. Users could record on waxed cylinders and play back. Dictaphones using the technology only went out of fashion in the 1950's-1960's, and hobbyists are buying repairing old machines, making blank cylinders and recording new material:

It is possible to pass on recordings of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. --Or Mercury Theater's "War of the Worlds" or even Wagner's Greatest Hits. If this sounds like your bliss, you could become a low tech record mogul...

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ sruggieri & JMG - Ask and ye shall receive :-)

I thought my (old edition) Joy of Cooking would have the recipe for Graham Crackers. I mean, it's got everything else. I think it's the first time it's let me down.

So, I turned to the Net, and here it is.

This is a good lesson for me. Print this stuff off NOW before the Net collapses and slip in in my cookbook for future reference.

Kieran O'Neill said...

"What if we could find one or two other people to share the cost, share the tool, share the work?"

One idea that's been developing is that of a tool library. In fact, the Vancouver Tool Library just had it's official opening this weekend!

If you're serious about the idea, you could probably contact them for ideas on how to get started...

Eshonti Grey said...

In a previous post (from a different thread) I mentioned how my wife and I seem to be in a good place with minimal monthly overhead and all time low stress levels (none to report :) We've already got the fixer-uper house that was purchased 6 years ago, and now it's fixed up and looks lovely! Alot of things seem to be in place for us to see through these changing times at least fairly comfortable. BUT... we still have the dream of selling this house and making good money off of it (economy? hymmm...most of our friends think we can get double what we paid for it, but maybe not at the present moment) and buying some land and building a modest size home smaller than what we have now out of cob or useable discarded lumber. We want our mortgage GONE, and replaced with a home we own ourselves, even if it's twice as small. We have also considered living in a huge barn somewhere, fixing it up, and doing our thing 30 miles outside of our present 110,000 populated little city we reside in at the moment. I'm currently researching solor panels and water collection techniques and filtering. I have alot to learn. There is plenty of fertile land not far, affordable , and we really want to make a move for country living.

I'm 40 years old and REALLY want to be off the grid in a couple years for good. I feel we are half way there having eliminated all our bills but the mortgage, and am starting to see a better life for us in the near future. The problem I'm having though is feeling like right now might not be the best time to jump ship and start this life altering process!? Will we get stuck in the middle? Maybe we can't get the best $$ for our home due to the times. Will things get worse before we can finish building a new home and it becomes very difficult to get supplies?? Is it best to sit tight and be happy we can get by with a small garden, easy foot travel to close friends, and be closer to the city? We live in Southwest Louisiana, and to be honest , as lovely as our downtown historical little neighborhood is, just 2 blocks down the road is another section of town with alot of suspicious foot traffic and plenty of drugs and crime. I can't see it getting better anytime soon, and when times get rougher, I feel we we'll have more to deal with than just car burglaries and down and outs needing beer money. People's homes are getting broken into NOW. We have two dogs and an alarm, but people will do what they have to do to survive!

So, we talk of country living and a simple off grid existence not far from here, it's always been our dream. Just don't know if now is the time to go for it, or just hold the fort down and see how things unfold first. I am optimistic overall, but I'm also a realist, and this potential "move" is really the last one I want to make for a long term lifestyle.

Cathy McGuire said...

Thanks, whoever mentioned Revereware - It gave me a heads up and I snagged a copper-bottomed pot at a garage sale for .25!

@JMG: About the press - here's an interesting site about printing, and this link features an amazing handmade press!!

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Kathy McGuire - I was at an auction recently, and an older set of Revereware hit the block. Still in the box and looked never to have been used. Stainless with copper bottoms. Went for $5.

I suppose I should have grabbed it (for trade, if nothing else) but a lot of my stuff was in that auction and I was a bit stunned and distracted. Not on the ball, at all.

Loren said...

Discovery of how to use energy on an industrial scale was part of making it cheap. It allowed economies of scale that provided the industrial revolution etc.

We were already headed the other way--technology is reducing the infrastructure needed to make things easily, partly through 3D printing and other such technologies, ironically made possible by the industries they are replacing.

The coming crunch will simply accelerate that trend. Information technology is helping with this, movements like Open Source ecology are working to form the basic, simple tools needed for comfortable living, and others are looking at ways to make the things needed for more advanced levels of living. They may be much more expensive than before, but they will be available.

sruggieri said...

@Lewis- many thanks for the awesome graham cracker recipe!!! No more 'store-bought' for me! :-)

Don Mason said...

Glenn said:

“…when I hear remarks like yours I tend to identify them with the "Eastern Establishment" and those who think only Europe and the Eastern seaboard are posessed of culture and civilization.”

150 years ago, the pioneers who settled Northern Illinois did so in part to get away from the “Eastern Establishment”. The pioneers basically hated the rich, Eastern Establishment bankers who ran everything.

I was born and raised here in Northern Illinois, and I hate the rich, Eastern Establishment bankers who run everything, too. Everybody around here hates them.

And the rich, Eastern Establishment bankers hate us. We’re in “flyover country”. We’re irrelevant rubes. We only exist so that they can steal our hard-earned money.

Glenn said:
“There you have it, my cultural prejudices.”

It appears that we may both share a cultural prejudice against rich, Eastern Establishment bankers. (Is it really a prejudice? Or do they fully deserve our disdain?)

About Mexican immigration:

Immigration from Mexico is slowing. But that’s only the peaking of the first wave.

When my wife and I lived in the country, we had some spare rooms with bathrooms, so we rented them out. Over the years, we rented to a number of people, including three Mexican immigrants who were fairly typical: healthy, young-to-middle-aged men who moved here to work hard and send money back to their families in Mexico.

Since jobs are drying up, that type of immigrant is getting scarcer.

But I’m afraid that the next wave of immigration may be very different. Mexico has only been surviving because of the Cantarell oil field, which is way past peak. Mexico is eating oil, just as Asia is eating oil, just as America is eating oil. As the oil ratchets down, the competition for food will ratchet up.

As Mexico slides down into chaos, it won’t be primarily healthy, young-to-middle-aged men coming here to look for work - it will be entire families coming here to forage for food. That’s a much more desperate scenario, because they will have nothing to go back to but starvation.

Glenn said:
“I envision a region from Eugene, Oregon to Juneau, Alaska, and up the Snake river to Idaho; linked by waterborne trade, with British Columbia as the center.”

I think that the Pacific Northwest region has a good chance of working. The climate is favorable; the soils are good; you’ve got hydropower; you’ve got water transportation routes along the coast and up the Snake.

My main concern is political/military.

In the 1860’s, why was the Union so obsessed with building a transcontinental railroad when it was fighting a hugely expensive war to keep the South in the Union?

The Union understood that without a land communications link with the West Coast, the West would inevitably become a separate nation. Frankly, the Union had seen the results of political/military disunity in Europe, and didn’t want a political/military competitor on the North American continent. (Note to GHung and Bill: Sorry, guys, but I think you’re stuck with us obnoxious Yankees for a while longer. Our self-preservation takes priority over your self-determination, you know.)

They wanted to build a nation that would be secure against military attack – and that requires a certain critical mass.

You already anticipate that war-like “Kurds” are going to be on your southern border. What happens when you get a chain reaction like the successive outpourings of barbarians from the Asian steppes two millennia ago that eventually wiped out Rome? Conditions change, and one band of nomads pushes another band out, which pushes another band out.

If immigration from Mexico pushes against the “Kurds’” southern flank, the “Kurds” won’t go west to starve in Asia. They won’t go east to starve in the Rockies. They’ll head north up the fertile Willamette valley. And they’ll be desperate.

Hang on to that "large miltary ammo depot". You may need it.

Don Mason said...

@ Joeln

I second JMG’s recommendation on finding a suitable location.

Start by process of elimination. First, eliminate any areas that will be too wet, too dry, too violent, too crazy, etc.

Get information from a wide variety of sources, as a reality check.

For example, James Wesley, Rawles at (a very heavily-visited site) favors an area which is the exact opposite of what some other people (like JMG and I) would recommend; namely, the Northern High Plains and the Northern Rockies.

James Wesley,Rawles states, “I suggest calling it The American Redoubt. I further recommend Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington for the réduit. Some might call it a conglomeration, but I like to call it an amalgamation, since that evokes silver. And it will be a Biblically-sound and Constitutionally-sound silver local currency that will give it unity. I am a separatist, but on religious lines, not racial ones. I have made it abundantly clear throughout the course of my writings that I am an anti-racist. Christians of all races are welcome to be my neighbors. I also welcome Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews, because we share the same moral framework. In calamitous times, with a few exceptions, it will only be the God fearing that will continue to be law abiding. Choose your locale wisely. I can also forthrightly state that I have more in common with Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews than I do with atheist Libertarians. I'm a white guy, but I have much more in common with black Baptists or Chinese Lutherans than I do with white Buddhists or white New Age crystal channelers.”

My personal opinion is that if “The American Redoubt” ever gained political traction, it could be one big religious war-in-the-making – or at least a tiny religious war between the few emaciated survivors who didn’t starve to death.

But your mileage may vary.

Joeln said...

I have been reading you for a some time now. Let me introduce myself and pose my biggest question;
I have had serious reservations about the status quo since the 70's and have been supported by it as well as dropped out of it many times since.
By training, I'm an engineer and technician and until last year worked as a handyman. At present I'm a technician at a company that makes motor testing equipment. By habit I fix, build and yes, salvage things. My New England heritage gives me a legitimate excuse to avoid throwing things away, or pick up repairable things from the sidewalk. I could easily jump right into a career in the salvage economy.
We live in co-housing in Colorado and are gardening and sharing in the chicken duties, so you can check off some community and subsistence points.

The question: Because of its dryness, I see Colorado as a poor location to settle for the long descent. Any suggestions for a better location are very welcome.

My initial thoughts are someplace east for the moisture. Someplace with a vibrant small-agriculture community might be good. Someplace where people are in the habit of civility. Call me paranoid, but I think I want to be a couple hundred miles away from the big cities.

Any other criteria that might be useful in this selection process would be very welcome. -Joel
7/17/11 1:33 PM

Glenn said...

Bill Pullian,

Don Mason's remarks just got under my skin. As I said, my family's lived on the West Coast for well over a hundred years, 150 years West of the Rockies. I get tired of Easterners criticizing the West and assuming that all Art, Culture, Literature and worthwhile industrial development remain East of the Mississippi.

Just a knee jerk reaction on my part, I can't speak for the others.

My wife said "Tell them it rains all the time and there's no jobs, the last thing we need is an influx of ignorant Cheechakos, Green Wizards or not."

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I'm not at all sure the PNW/Rust Belt thing is useful, but as long as it doesn't cross the line into discourtesy or complete irrelevance I'm loath to pull the plug on it. These are questions a lot of people ask, and it's educational to hear intelligent people coming up with completely different answers.

Sophie, that's good to hear. I'd be more confident if something less vulnerable than wax was being used, but of course that's an option as well.

Lewis, many thanks!

Eshonti, that house probably won't sell for more than a fraction of what you paid for it at any point in your lifetime. Unless you're willing to abandon it, you and your wife are probably stuck where you are. Mind you, it's entirely possible to go offgrid or nearly in an urban house, and there are huge advantages to being in a small city where you can get where you need to go on foot and there are plenty of other people to work with on any number of issues, so you're by no means in a bad position.

Cathy, many thanks! That's quite an elegant device.

Loren, yes, I've heard that before. As usual, it evades the massive dependence of high technology on a global supply chain and very high levels of energy availability. It doesn't speak well for the current geekoisie that so many of its members get caught up in the fantasy that a technology dependent on some of the world's most demanding production standards and an abundant supply of exotic materials and concentrated energy is going to be suited to an age of resource and energy depletion, infrastructure breakdown and shortages of basic necessities such as food and water.

Don, nicely put. I'll be discussing this sort of thing in quite a bit of detail down the road.

Glenn said...

Don Mason,

At this point in our discussion it might be more appropriate to move it to an alt.history forum, or private correspondence. I think we're veering a bit far from the core of this site. I don't have the address of such a forum, but I can be reached at glennwoodbury(At)gmail(dot)com.

Glenn Woodbury

Glenn said...

Don, JMG,

Well, I was wrong, JMG's reply came up right after I hit "post".

So, once more unto the breech.

How much do you know about Western Geography? One of the reasons the natives of what is now California had several very rich, yet peaceful cultures was geographic isolation from their more warlike neighbors that wasn't ended until Spanish horses and ships arrived. The Siskiyou mountains and the Southern Cascades still provide a substantial barrier between the fertile Central Valley of California and the fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Should Alta California move militarily against Jefferson in a move to acquire the Willamette Valley (most of the area in between is not very good farmland in general), I assume Cascadia would be supplying Jefferson with arms and munitions, and perhaps troops. Maybe even a flanking naval attack on the Ports of Alta California.

Leaving potential future smaller nation states out of the deal, a volkwanduring might undergo a similar process.

One might remember that the Spanish and their Mexican heirs settled more of the Southwest than California, and their culture was, with a considerably lower population level, more sustainable in the area from Texas to Nevada. Their motive to move north for prime agricultural land may be less than you think.

I certainly agree that such cities as Las Vegas, Pheonix, Tuscon and the like will see an outmigration or severe die-off. There isn't enough water in the Colorado basin to keep supporting them. The intermountain West is certainly going to have a considerable population reduction. Some will go East, others West. A few will stay, ranchers, hunters and trappers. Far fewer than today.

I agree with Don about history, but not the future. The U.S. will have no choice about whether or not to "retain" the Northwest once transcontinental transportation is expensive and rare. We will "go it alone", but not alone. We will certainly join with what is now British Columbia. Whether or not California will be part of Cascadia (unlikely I think) or becomes Alta California (more likely) remains to be seen.

The end of cheap oil in Mexico might not trigger emmigration if we don't have any cheap oil here either. I don't know enough about the state of Mexican agriculture to say whether or not arable land will be an incentive to move. If so, we might welcome them. We have 300 million people in the U.S. If 100 million Mexicans came here, my family could take in 1. If every family did the same, it could work.

That last would require human nature to be _much_ more rational than history shows it to be, but I've seen less rational proposals on this site...

In reality, I think a good deal of the reversion to a Hispanic Culture in Alta California and the Southwest U.S. has been underway for many years, and will continue. At the point where the U.S. can no longer hold on to the West Coast we may find that Cascadia and Alta California are already in existance and that California is as independant of Mexico City as Cascadia is from Washington DC.

Glenn Woodbury
Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Don Mason said...

@ Bill

Re: Northwest vs. Rust Belt vs. The American Redoubt vs. vs. vs. vs.

I’m looking at the various regions from a viewpoint of guiding capital investment towards rational land uses, rather than trying to determine which region is Heaven on Earth.

One of the reasons we are in such a horrendous position is that we have made horrendous mistakes by guiding capital investment into real estate dead ends.

Las Vegas, to me, is the archetypical example: investing vast amounts of scarce capital in building gambling palaces in an emerging ghost town in The Great American Desert, when that capital could have been invested in something that has a fighting chance of being useful, like resurrecting our conventional railroad lines.

I agree than on a micro level, your neighbors and surrounding community are going to be absolutely crucial to your survival. (For example, many of our neighbors here in Rockford are shooting at each other; but fortunately, for the most part, they are terrible shots.) But great neighbors cannot offset the damage to the neighborhood if the region turns into a Dust Bowl or disappears under the waves of a rising sea level.

Do we want to encourage people to invest in an area that appears likely to be facing severe problems with long-term habitability?

As a society, we make a qualitative judgment about land that is unsuitable for human habitation.

For example, on a micro level, we have flood plain maps that ban constructing a residential building in certain flood plains. As a society, we’ve had too many disatrous problems with residential buildings in flood plains.

We also do that on a macro level, such as when an expanding United States of America made the Louisiana Purchase.

We bought a huge tract of land from the French, and then sent Lewis and Clark off to find out what exactly we had just bought, and which areas would be most suitable for settlement, and which areas would not. Then we guided investment capital (railroads, Army posts to exterminate the current inhabitants, etc.) towards the areas that we believed were best suited for settlement, and withheld investment capital from areas that we believed were least suitable for settlement. And the areas we invested in grew rapidly, and the areas we withheld capital from did not.

Now we’re doing the reverse: an overextended United States of America is trying to figure out which regions are low-quality and unsalvageable, and therefore capital investment will have to be withheld, and these areas will consequently be de-settled; which would permit the limited remaining capital to be directed towards the high-quality regions that we believe are still salvageable.

We're performing regional triage.

So for me, the regional triage list is (from most salvageable to least):

1) Rust Belt
2) Southeast
3) Great Plains
4) Northwest
5) Rockies
6) Southwest

Your mileage may vary. (But hey, Bill, you’re in #2, and real, real close to #1. You're not in the next Dust Bowl, you won't be submerged... On a micro level, you've even got good neighbors who aren't shooting at you. You'll do fine.)

Red Neck Girl said...

Glen said;

"Cascadia" will be separated from "Alta California" by the buffer state of "Jefferson". These mountaineers of Southern Oregon and Northern California, will like the Kurds of Asia, engage in smuggling, spying and guerilla warfare.

HEY! I resemble that remark!

I was born and raised in Northern California at the head of the Sacramento Valley in the mountains on the west side!

I know that kind of country well. When I was a kid going to grade school a private plane was lost over that area just before a winter storm moved in. They didn't find it for over two years, it had crashed into the creek bed two or three miles up stream of my grade school. The spring flood had covered it completely and hunters had actually camped on top of it unaware.

Even with the industrial logging of the last century I predict within another hundred years there will be little sign anything of the sort ever happened. Just like the formerly booming mining towns which my dad took me through hunting deer or squirrels. All that was left was a few stone foundations and cut banks covered with pine needles and silverthorn brush.

There will be a lot of people back in those hills hostile to the uninvited moving in. It took the Forest Service, National Guard and the FBI using helicopters to shut down some major marijuana plantations on the west side of the county back in the 80s. It's very rugged and getting lost is easy!


Draft said...

JMG: You wrote At the end of the process, you'll likely have several locations in mind; visit them, make your choice, and act. You'll want to do it quickly, though -- we really are a lot closer to crisis than most people have begun to guess.

I am curious how long you mean by this statement because I do hope to move soon and wonder how long I have to move. By "a lot closer", do you mean we're on the order of 1 year away from crisis or do you mean on the order of 5 years or 10 years? (I assume you mean the next phase of crisis, ignoring 2008 which may have been the first phase.)

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the info re corn and the First Nations. The powers of observation that would have worked out that particular combination of plants and fish is really quite a remarkable achievement. Observation is very much an under rated tool in these days of modelling.

As to an observation about the US debt crisis which isn't really getting that much press over here. Your federal reserve has recently announced that in the event that the debt ceiling isn't lifted to avoid a default, they will pay debts in the following order: bond holders; medical costs; and social security.

This can be interpreted many ways, however two of the obvious interpretations are:

A default on bonds would undermine the perceived value of US bonds which are seen internationally as some of the safest investments by money markets; and

The US people come a distinct second place to the interests of maintaining the current economic order.

I'm not really interested in living in interesting times, but there you go.

Rhetoric aside, I wonder if either party in the US remembers that they are actually employed to act in the best interests of their electorate?

Thanks to all of those who ackonwledged or responded regarding the issue of land degradation under industrial agricultural methods. It would be quite an effort to restore that land.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi all,

You guys are making me laugh at all this East is better than West stuff. It reminds me of a certain scene in Ali G's In da house movie - yes "Eastside is de best"...

Look, the reality is populations grow to fit the available resource base. It's that simple. If the population exceeds the local resource base and can't import additional food and energy, it promptly collapses. This means that all areas are OK if individuals can survive with the locally available resources. I can't think of a single area that would fit this description. Think about that!



Cherokee Organics said...


Did you ever find your green tea plant? They sell them here - the one's we get are from the Camellia family and would grow well around (but not in) a chook run. Here, as long as they're not in the afternoon sun they do quite well. We're about 7 degrees celsius on average warmer than where you are though. Does make for less harsh winters.



Cherokee Organics said...


Sorry to hear about your child, you have my condolences. Life can be pretty painful and unexpected.



Adrian Skilling said...

Lots of fascinating stuff as always. Being a keen cyclist about 10-20 years I would commonly replace broken ball bearings in bottom brackets. These days Shimano LX bottom brackets are sealed and seem only to last about 1 year on my bikes which get only half the miles they used to. The BB is then useless. I've been told taking them apart isn't really feasible. I must investigate buying the old style version.

Bill Pulliam said...

Glenn --

I've lived on the west coast, new england, mountain west, and great plains, if you just count the places where I have had a mailing address and paid rent or bought a house. But I was born and bred, and have spent about 75% of my life, in the Southeast. I gotta say, in this country you don't really know region bashing unless you are a native of Dixie! We sit through a never ending denigration of our region and our culture. The best response is a thick skin.

It is also worth remembering that unless you are an Indian/Native American/First Nations member (chose your favorite identity label), we were ALL Cheechakos once.

GHung said...

The debate regarding location (mine's better'n your's, etc.) always seems to devolve into folks defending and reinforcing their choices. I lived in the PNW for a time and my son is still there, but, for various reasons, I wasn't quite compatible with things. Firstly, I had a tough time with the much shorter days of winter and overall reduced sunshine. Further, there were social and cultural differences (that I couldn't quite put my finger on) which would have required a lot of time and energy to adapt to. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or leave. A sense of belonging is important to functioning well in an environment...a sense of 'place' takes time. Seattle and NYC are great places to visit for this southern-raised boy.

For many reasons I like to think that the Southern/Mid Appalachians can't be beat, for it is truley (even after centuries of exploitation) a cornucopia of life: Great rainfall, soil, climate, flora/fauna,, and these mountains are naturally subdivided into biologically and culturally diverse regions, which I believe adds resilence to the whole. This area has been described as one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.

That said, many folks aren't compatible enough to dwell here. The same cultural differences and prejudices some have described above apply, and the shear biological density overwhelms some folks. A good friend, who loved the area, had to move back to the desert Southwest due to allergies and insects. Her body was rejecting the environment (or perhaps the environment rejected her). It was ironic, since she came here to study the amazing pharmacy that is our forests.

There can be a large overhead involved with suddenly changing ones location, well beyond the financial. Re-establishing social bonds and enculturation, adapting physically, learning all of the nuances of life that locals take for granted, all take time and energy. Some folks can slide right into a new situation. Some try to adapt the new situation to their needs and prejudices with little regard for what has worked in the past. We see that alot here.
Just some thoughts.....Methinks time is short, so if you are planning a move, do it soon and prepare well.

hawlkeye said...


I understand your point about scale; size certainly does matter when it comes to fertilizing the field. Your post about intensive vs extensive growing a while back clearly outlined the necessary differences in approach between gardening and farming. (I use it often to explain these things).

I don't mean to disparage either your skills or experience, but I suspect you've been rather fortunate in your sample size. For over twenty years in and around the PNW town you used to live, I've been helping fledgling wizards transition their yards from ornamentals to edibles (I even filmed an instructional DVD called Backyard Sustainable Gardening).

In most cases, and certainly all the newer construction, the developers first stripped off all the topsoil, so after peeling back the chemlawn, there's nothing but subsoil and/or gravel. And when there's any decent topsoil at all, it takes quite a bit of organic matter to make it growable, more than a year or two and of course they want a garden now.

So sure, it's possible without importing manure, but isn't the gist of the advice here "get your skills now, get your supplies now, get yourselves ready now", because we're past the point of luxury of a slow decay...?

I consider the lonely horse stall to be a replenishing gold-mine the way many here exult over their scores at auction or yardsale. Whether or not your backyard soil can be improved without it, the mindset of identifying sources of soil fertility and cherishing them all the way through to the dinner table, and yes, hauling them in with fossil fuels while we can, is an indispensible attitude and activity for these times.

As for regional bias, I look forward to the day when geography re-asserts its relevance to travel. No hordes will ever make it over the Siskiyou Mountains...

GHung said...

@ Bill P. I noticed that you are an avid birder. I grew up birding with my mom, went on several bird walks with Roger Tory Peterson, and have a signed first edition (hardback) of his Eastern Field Guide.

The last three years we have hosted several Yellow-breasted Chats, which is a new sighting for me. I've been trying to get a good video with audio to post for the birding community. All spring now, we suffer the male's song 24-7; he truly puts the common mockingbird to shame. Most interesting is his mimicry of some tropical bird calls, a bit out of place, here in WNC.

I attribute the Chats' presence/return to habitat restoration, as we haven't had cattle on the place for several years, and I'm allowing some previously managed pastures to return to bramble and sapplings. I've noticed that some other species have made a comeback as well: more rabbits, more hawks, toads seem to be bouncing back as well, deer, turkey, foxes, etc.. I'm also seeing fewer coyotes; not sure why. If they go back where they came from, maybe I can bring back our former resident, Bobwhites.

It'll be interesting to watch life rebound as more land returns to a more natural state; an upside to collapse perhaps.

Bill Pulliam said...

Don -- the main thing I would point out is that people have a VERY poor track record at predicting the details of the future, both as individuals and collectively. Whether the State of Jefferson will rise or fall, whether it will even matter to the people to its north and south, where the dust bowls will emerge, etc. etc. are unknowable. Sure, 95% of climate scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is underway and will continue; but there is no similar consensus on how and when it will manifest. Will the Gulf of Mexico be lapping on the Memphis riverfront in 2050 or 2450? Nobody knows, though many believe they do.

The more detailed your future scenario is spun, the less likely it is to come to pass. There are some obvious bad bets, like Phoenix and Las Vegas. But who is to say that climates in the eastern states will NOT shift in rather unfavorable directions? We have had Julys with zero inches of rain in recent years; we have had Mays with 24 inches of rain. There is no telling if either of these is a trend or a fluke, and what the trend might be. And that is just climate. Politics? War? Directions of mass migrations? Not a hope of anticipating all that accurately.

Be adaptable, be wise, be alert, be prepared.

By the way, the dust bowl was more a result of poor agricultural practices than just drought. Those agricultural practices were the result of the industrialization of agriculture. We have had droughts of similar severity since, without a return to dust bowl conditions thanks to better soil conservation practices.

John Michael Greer said...

Draft, I wouldn't count on being able to wait five years. Since access to money is getting very tight already, and will get worse as the financial system unravels, I wouldn't count on being able to wait one year unless you're in very good financial shape.

Chris, thank you. No, I haven't scored a tea plant yet; all in good time.

Adrian, better yet, figure out how to make the old version, and you've got your postindustrial career.

Ghung, bingo. Time is getting short; choose the place that works for you, and get to work.

Hawlkeye, actually, I've been creating gardens in conditions at least as bad as the ones you've described, and in some cases worse. My current garden was a weedy back yard with next to no topsoil over the top of random fill, some of it apparently out of an old coal mine; the one before that was heavy clay, and so on back to my first, which started out as bare dirt so poor in nutrients not even weeds would grow there. I've never imported manure; composted kitchen scraps, garden waaste, and raked-up leaves every fall have always done the trick. Now of course I'm willing to wait a year or two, and I also dig the grass under (if there is any) as an initial boost for humus building, but it's never been a problem for me.

Bill Pulliam said...

Ghung --

I have acres full of chats; they are literally music to my ears! The nighttime singing should be slowing down as we get in into the dog days (and the moon continues waning). A friend of mine describes their song as sounding like the soundtrack to an old Hannah-Barbera cartoon.

Bird populations are shifting in all sorts of directions, and it is difficult to peg causes -- up, down, east, west, north, south, expanding, contracting. I plan on talking about some of the trends of the last 50 years in Tennessee on my blog in coming weeks, when I get time to write it up. Take the chats as an example. At present they love clearcuts and abandoned pastures that are about 5-15 years old. Look at the maps of clearcuts from 10 years ago, and you are looking at the present-day distribution of chats in many areas! But they lived here before clearcuts. And what happens to them after clearcuts? Hard to know.

Also remember that we are lacking several keystone species from these eastern forests now -- American Chestnut, Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, Red and Gray wolves, Elk, American Bison to name a few. All of these had major roles in shaping the landscape. How the ecosystems will develop in the post-industrial era without these, and with the many invaders, is another of these things about the future that is impossible to predict. We may lose the oaks to sudden oak death; the impacts of that would be terrifying so we just have to hope it does not happen!

Matthew Heins said...

To Don Mason,

I'm interested in the exchange between you and Glenn, but am having trouble with your regional list:

1) Rust Belt
2) Southeast
3) Great Plains
4) Northwest
5) Rockies
6) Southwest

My problem:

-Where is New England? The Atlantic Coast? The Pacific Coast? The Gulf Coast and Florida? Is Texas meant to be Southeast or Southwest?

In short, the list of regions doesn't seem near complete to me and seems in some places arbitrary.

In addition to political and cultural boundaries, we should take in to account the natural boundaries.

Here's a page from the Bioregional Congress with Satellite Image, a Watershed Map and several Ecoregion Maps of North America:

Another important factor in regional outlook is the ability of the population to expand -or even stay stable.

There is a interesting "human impact" map of North America available for download here:

(I should find a fisheries map and a currents map and a "climate" map and the same maps for South America as well and post them all in one place at

Regional outlook is an interesting question. But if we are to stay objective and not get bogged down in anecdotal arguments, I think that we need to embrace the complexity of the question a bit more.

As a gauntlet throw-down (to be discussed further on the Green Wizard fora?) I'll say that I believe that every region of the Americas -including the 'Southwest'- can sustain current or near-current human population levels, at current comfort levels, with access to but not dependence upon relatively "high-tech" infrastructure and tools, for the remainder of the lifetimes of everyone on this thread and possibly much further. All while riding the energy decline of the Long Descent with no recourse to cornucopian energy fantasies.

Sure, young people and future generations will have to be a great deal less greedy and selfish and short-sighted and ignorant than their forebearers. But stranger things have happened. ;)

Preparing for the worst shouldn't preclude dreaming of the best, in my humble opinion.


Glenn said...

Bill Pullian,

Agreed on all points. My wife is part Lakota Souix. I'm quoting her. As you know, cheechako is frequently used to disparage any _ignorant_ white person new to the ways of the territory... She allows as I might have learned a _little_ bit by now.


I used to live on the Oregon side, a bit NE of Grant's Pass off in the sticks east of Sunny Valley near a tributary to Grave's Creek. Went to college for a couple of years in JMG's former town. Last I saw SOSC had been upgraded to Southern Oregon University or some such. Yeah, there's some pretty rough characters living back in there.

Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County
Washington State
Former USA

Matt and Jess said...

It's frustrating reading the "where to relocate" discussions that seem to happen here often. Sometimes life and relocation and settling down don't happen quite as easily as we'd like. If you don't have resources built up, for whatever reason, there's just not much chance to settle as well as you might like.

Joel, I just left Colorado. It's beautiful, but drive east past the front range and the land is clearly not meant to produce and support lots of food/people. It's not even well-connected to anywhere by train. It's *connected*, but not in a decent way. I don't know if there are perhaps some locations in the mountains that are more fertile--I know the area near Grand Junction does grow apples and such--but it may end up being much more isolated than you might want, even if it's somewhat survivable for a smallish amount of people. It sucks, because I just love that state.

So anyway if I can ask a personal question--no one else really understands, in my family. My husband wants to do boatbuilding and I strongly feel that we should settle in a cheaper area in the gorgeous mid- to northern Appalachians. His school is unfortunately in the PNW but luckily lasts only one year. I want to indulge his wants and career choices but each Archdruid Report that goes by makes me feel very queasy about making the move out there and spending a year that much farther from where we'd like to be. If the financial situation gets that bad, as you JMG mentioned in a response to someone, I mean, you've got to consider how easy will it be to move again cross-country. I don't want to be stuck in an area of expensive land 3,000 miles from where we want to be. Is this a wise choice, or a poor choice? After all, without a decent skillful education first we can't make a living anywhere right?

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Back to the arts! Lance Michael--I applaud your storytelling.

JMG, I may give you Wagner, though sadly. My opera source says many companies are already figuring out low-budget, stripped-down options: in my experience opera people are single-minded, obsessive and devoted--so one hopes that some small remnant will carry on somehow. Very apt reference to Eleusis. (What I would give to hear ancient Greek music, or travel back in time to see one of the sacred play cycles!)

Also, kind thoughts go to you about your child.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Cherokee Organics re corn:

I'm an Illinois girl, and those corn fields you describe are part of my home landscape. Words cannot describe what industrial corn farming has done to what started as some of the best soil in the world!

If you are interested, in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan gives an excellent overview of all the awfulnesses of said industrial corn farming.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Re east vs west and all points in between:

Internal migration is going to be interesting, when the southwest runs out of water and the ocean rises along the east coast. We all may find we have an influx of new neighbors we never expected to have, no matter where we live. And wherever we live there will be risks of one sort or another.

I can only second what others have said about forming networks and being part of a community. It's a key survival skill--American Indians couldn't understand why European settlers lived all by themselves in the wild. Thoreau also wondered at this in (I think) Walk in the Maine Woods.

I've been very lucky that the Midwest is my home biosystem, I've never had to move, and feel it's a reasonable place to be for the future. I'm looking forward to less industrial farming and more sustainable agriculture.

A friend of mine who runs a tree farm has rented some acres to a person who farms using horses. This friend's son hosts gatherings at which people practice blacksmithing and other manual crafts and oldtime farming pratices.

Matt and Jess said...

I'll also add that we're considering asking our grandma to allow us to use our "education-only" fund that she has for us to put down as a payment on some small acreage as an alternative. Not that it would be an easy task to get her to allow us that, but in the event that we do, where do you even go to start looking for cheap small-acreage type places out east? Any specific websites devoted to this type of cheap land/housing thing? I guess you could call it a "hobby farm" (we'd like a couple acres or so, up to around 7) not that that term does justice to the land, but there you go. Or, of course, affordable small town housing is an option too. Just have no idea where to start on the internets, even after some google searches. All too often I just encounter "simple living homesteady land"-selling sites that have listings for, like, 400k. Ack!

Lance Michael Foster said...

I've lived a lot of different places, short and long term. There's something good about all of them. But for me it comes down to where most of my family is. I've lived in Virginia, Iowa, North Dakota, New Mexico, California, Washington state, Hawaii, Alaska, Kansas. But I keep coming home to Montana.

Economically, I can't make it here. But of course these days, it is hard to make it anywhere. So I keep returning home because 1. My family is here, 2. I understand the seasons and the land here, 3. My body gets sick here less than any other place I've been. I like dry, cold, sunny.

One of the biggest tragic results of our culture has been the splitting up of extended families to suit the economic structure beginning with industrialization. Lots of people don't have families at all and lots don't get along with the ones they have. That's a tragedy as big as the tragedy of the commons.

Matt and Jess said...

Also, our condolences. Just read that comment. We're very sorry to hear about the loss of your child. Just felt we should say something.

trippticket said...

Loved the ideas presented on potassium-boosting crop land as another form of stealth inflation.

Anyone considered modern education under the same lens? We could think of "No Child Left Behind" as our potassium load...

trippticket said...

Pointless or not, I've enjoyed reading some of the thoughts on regional endurance over the last couple of days. March '10 we left the Redoubt (Spokane, WA) for muggy south Georgia. A move like that comes with some sacrifices for people of our persuasion, though. Even the "conservative" eastern half of Washington is extremely liberal and accepting of relocalization initiatives compared to anywhere in Georgia, excepting perhaps Atlanta. Not a great start for the construction of the Redoubt in my opinion. From what I know of eastern Oregon it's about the same. Somewhat Catholic, but otherwise, pretty "undeclared." Not exactly a bastion of Zionist thinking.

South Georgia on the other hand...

But, we do have a lot more rain, a lot longer growing season, rapid forest regeneration, all in an ag research town of 30,000 that seems to be bent on figuring out how to grow crops with fewer inputs. All too happy to help out with that one!

Where the eyes tend to glaze over is when I start talking about the 2% of them involved in food production becoming more like 80% over the next half century. That's how you make an organic system work, an to my mind where we are headed post haste.

GHung said...

@Matt and Jess: "My husband wants to do boatbuilding..".

My first question is why? Is he following his bliss, some romantic dream?

I have a brother-in-law who dreamed of building "fine wooden boats", and he dragged my sister to New England, North Carolina and Florida. AFAIK, he never built a boat or used the skills he may have learned to make a living. He found out a couple of things: There are plenty of boat builders out there; there are too many boats and not enough buyers; and he could have learned carpentry and cabinetry by making things that have a better market.

As a boy, I too dreamed of building a boat and sailing away to a better life. Instead, I joined the Navy and discovered that the Sea is a beautiful, terrible, unforgiving mistress.

So what is the ultimate plan, once he spends a year(?!, good apprenticeship programs take years) supposedly learning to build boats that no one can afford to buy? How much does this boatbuilding program cost? How could this time and money be put to better use?

There is a line of thought that there will be a need for shipwrights and a resurgence of sailing ships, but IMO, not in the next few decades, and only for those who have made the most pragmatic of choices, near term. If it's his goal to learn and preserve a craft that may be useful sometime in the future, I suggest you have a serious backup plan.

This ain't no party. It's a survival situation.

Sorry for the rant....

Bill Pulliam said...


"Where the eyes tend to glaze over is when I start talking about the 2% of them involved in food production becoming more like 80% over the next half century. That's how you make an organic system work, an to my mind where we are headed post haste."

They will figure this out on their own, gradually, as all their other ideas for sustaining the local economy go flat one by one. It'll take a while, and there will be resistance -- in my experience mostly from the top. Around here the "movers and shakers" are still talking about attracting industry and tourism. Meanwhile the hillbillies are starting to think about growing more food. At that point their eyes will no longer glaze over; instead they will be all ears.

Glenn said...

Pac NW vs Rust Belt,

Well, for me, it was just defending my choice of the NW after I felt that Don gave it rather short shrift. Every part of the continent has it's rewards and challenges, and I have no quibble with other people's choices. I'd like mine to be respected too. Up until this post, I haven't really been critical of other areas. But I will offer some criticisms now.

Some areas, like deserts and the intermountain west are going to be very _sparsely_ settled in the future.

My main objection to the rust belt is personal, I just don't fit in there. That being said, 20 years of wandering for Uncle Sam taught me that I can only really be happy where I can smell the Pacific Ocean. So we paid a premium for 8 acres on the NE corner of the Olympic Peninsula; we could have got 40 acres on the Snake River in Idaho for the same money. I have no regrets.

I do have some practical objections to anywhere East of the Rockies. Only Bill Pullian has really brought up the weather implications of climate change. I wouldn't live in Tornado Alley during the next thousand years for love or money. Likewise anywhere in range of an Atlantic Hurricane. And I think agriculture will take a big hit with irregular rainfall and drought patterns East of the Mountains. I also regard current population density in the rust belt too high, the die off may be really ugly and a bit too violent and random. Don keeps mentioning the shots he hears.

About Don and I, and our differing views. It's taken me a bit to catch on, and I hope he will correct me if I'm wrong. Both his "triage" and view of history seem based in the desirability of maintaining the U.S. as large territorially as possible and as a viable entity. Since the area of arable land East of the Rockies is much larger, and more well connected by water and rail than the area to the West, he logically infers that's the way to go; and he therefore maintains an Eastern centric view. Which is fine.

I, on the other hand, don't really care if the U.S. remains a large viable territory, and am quite happy in the Northwest with it's risks and rewards. We (My family and friends) get along well with Hispanics and aren't afraid of Asians.

Railroads have not been mentioned much. Assuming the Southwest becomes part of Mexico, or an independant Northern cousin, the U.S. (Meriga, the Rust Belt) could be connected to Cascadia by rail on the Burlington Northern tracks. The U.S. still pumps about a quarter to a third of the oil it uses. IF (and it's a big if) some rationality intrudes after we lose access to oil imports we could prioritize fuel to farms and rail to keep people fed. And we might employ some of the unemployed to electrify the trains. In the later steam days the Cascades had electrics to help with the haul over the mountains, powered by water running down the mountains. Of course, congress would have to grow a brain and bury the partisan hatchets; or some now unknown Colonel or General may take a hand... How long, or even whether or not the security and integrity of the route can be maintained is another matter. If the goal was a United 3/4's of the states anyway, such a railroad might be a tempting target for the Alta Californians.

More in the next post, shorter I hope.

Glenn Woodbury

GHung said...

@Tripp: "March '10 we left the Redoubt (Spokane, WA) for muggy south Georgia."

Spokane to Tift County,, gosh, you've got to be tough, and motivated; major cultural and environmental shift. My condolences on summer in South Georgia.
I mapped electric rights-of-way in Tift County, @'78, August and September. The hardest part was not dripping all over our giant clipboards... and the locals have been indoctrinated in different ways than many of us. Once they get used to you, you'll find they're pretty solid folks. Just take it slow in the summatime.

If you haven't done it yet, go to the dirt track one weekend. If you survive that, you'll do fine ;-)

Glenn said...

Pac NW vs Rust Belt and the Artist's POV

As a mediaevalist, I've learned to differentiate between primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. sources when doing research. Always consider the source. If I am looking at a 15th century painting of the death of Christ I am unlikely to learn anything about Roman Judea in 1 AD; the artist may or may not have known anything about ancient Roman armour. However, it's a good bet that he had seen Lorenzo de Medici's parade armour more than once, and the picture might be a very useful source for mid 14th century plate armour.

So with those of you following the discussion primarily between Don Mason and I. You may or may not learn anything useful about where to live during the next 50 years. You have learned a bit about Don and I and how we think, reason and rationalize our arguments.

I might observe, that living in an area that is already approximating low intensity conflict, he sees it as inevitable in the Southwest and perhaps elsewhere.

He might observe, that living in an area inhabited by mostly peaceful liberals and hippies, that I discount the possibility of war and violence.

We might both be wrong. Your milage may vary. Others on this thread have given excellent advice, which I cannot improve upon. Pay attention to what Bill Pullian says, he's one of the most senior contributors and always seems to keep a level head. We can't predict the future. We can look at the big things, climate change, oil depletion, the economic trends of the last 50 years. And then do the best we can with what we have. Unless your current situation is _really_ untenable, it may be a bit late to move now.


Craig said...

It's funny how dramatic people get about the economic collapse. As if all those power greedy politicians will permit society to slide back into the stone age. All one needs to do is look back. We actually don't need electricity or oil to manage a civilization. But what junkie wants to hear that there is life after the junk.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Jess - has nationwide listings of rural property.
Here are some farms in West Virginia.

Houyhnhnm said...

hawlkeye said, “[H]orses are not getting the minerals they need, thus more susceptible to heart-worm, so here come the heart-worm meds, the vermifuges. Which linger and kill the earthworms which you want in the manure.”

Perhaps I’m misreading or have missed some recent vet publication, but I’ve heard of no link between mineral depletion and heartworms (dirofilaria immitis). It’s my understanding overgrazed, non-rotated pastures raise the parasite loads in horses, not because of mineral depletion, but because the horses can’t avoid contact with leavings from horses already carrying a heavy parasite load.

Furthermore, heartworm infestation in horses is itself rare, so I’m not sure I understand your use of “heart-worm meds”? Do you mean bloodworm meds? Ivermectin? While ivermectin kills heartworms in dogs, the box in my hand says in horses it kills strongyles (large and small bloodworms), pinworms, ascarids, large mouth stomach worms, bots, lung worms, hairworms, intestinal threadworms, summer sores, and dermatitis—pretty much everything except heartworms, tapeworms, and bad breath. Is calling strongyles “heartworms” rather than “bloodworms” a regional usage?

I’m eager for any news on this subject since I’ve found little reassuring research on natural anthelmintics and the three classes of drugs currently in use are losing effectiveness with no new products in the pipeline. In fact, reports of parasite resistance to the once nearly invincible ivermectin are increasing, mainly because overuse selects for Ivermectin-Ready parasites, an alarming problem since many, many equine vets say internal parasites may trigger fifty percent of horse deaths.

Knowing this and motivated by the special section on deworming in the February 2011 issue of Equus and by several articles on, I now follow the new vet recommendation of routine fecal examinations rather than the periodic paste worming that’s been standard for over a quarter century.

The reason behind the new regimen is simple. Most horses do not need regular worming; typically only a few individuals carry a parasite load worth treating. For example, only one of my five warranted treatment.

Fecal exams, selective use of commercial drugs, and temporary separation of treated animals can keep dubious manure out of the compost. I’m sorting manure now, but I’m also happy to report that my earthworm population thrives in the million and a quarter pounds of unsorted horse manure we composted over the previous thirty-one years.

hawlkeye also said, “Building alliances with animal owners now is no bad thing, because I'll betcha they pay zero attention to what comes out, only what goes in.”

I’m sure you’re right about some animal owners, but, uh, did you have an amount in mind? Like me, most of the livestock owners I know consider their manure piles treasure rather “a pile of liability.”


Houyhnhnm said...

@Joeln -- Co-housing? In Colorado, that means it's likely you live in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, or, most likely of all, BoCo.

We live in BoCo, but on the ag-side with neighbors whose families have farmed here for generations. Plus, we have irrigation water, which certainly helps alleviate the dryness. Too much so, in fact. Right now our spot of Colorado feels more like muggy Kansas or a humid day in Western Washington because of an irrigation water feast--snowpack 240% above normal in our drainage area--and a longer than usual monsoon season.

So, after an eerily dry winter, our pastures are bright green in mid-July. I’d like to hope this is Colorado’s future, but I know this is weather, not climate.

In fact, my description does not apply to parts of Colorado only a few miles away. Colorado--or at least some bits of it--may get lucky. Or not.

In other words, I agree with Bill Pulliam about the difficulties of “predicting the details of the future.” Too many variables. At least that’s the lesson I came away with some twenty years ago when I read “The Butterfly Effect,” the first chapter of James Gleick’s 1987 Chaos: Making a New Science.


Don Mason said...

@ Matthew Heins

Re: NW vs Rust Belt et al.

These areas are meant to be very, very, very approximate, because as Bill and Yogi Bera and others point out, “Makin’ predictions is difficult – particularly as to the future.”

It’s a go/no go system: Which areas do you want to avoid, because they do not appear to have a high probability of being salvageable, as opposed to which area is perfection.

There are always going to be good neighborhoods in horrible regions, but would you rather be in a good neighborhood in a good region that has a reasonably good future, or would you rather be in a good neighborhood in a problematic region that has a very problematic future?

I place Rust Belt (a terrible name, we need another one) first. It’s the area from the East Coast to Minnesota, and from the Potomac and Ohio watersheds north through southern Canada. It’s unique in the Western Hemisphere because of its internal water communications (particularly the Great Lakes), and when you combine that with the fertile soil and reasonably predictable rainfall, it’s no wonder that it was the first area to develop when the Europeans overran the continent like locusts. So my guess is that that’s the center that things will gradually contract back to.

The Southeast is second; it’s the area just to the south of the Rust Belt. It has many of the same positives (good soil, good rainfall) but it lacks the outstanding internal water communications system of the Rust Belt. It’s right next to the Rust Belt, which helps to create a certain critical mass. (However, it is known to be inhabited by people of a hot, rebellious persuasion, and since the Northern States are inhabited by people of a glacial, anti-rebellious persuasion, this critical mass can sometimes go nuclear.)

I placed the Great Plains third. That’s the area from the base of the Rockies eastward to Minnesota and eastern Texas (Texas is partially in the Southeast, partially in the Southwest, partially in the Great Plains, and partially in a world of its own.) Soils are generally good, but water availability is a problem, particularly as you head further west. It’s right next to the top two regions, so it gets points for being contiguous with the two most salvageable areas.(critical mass again).

I placed the Northwest fourth: good soil, good rainfall, but like the Southeast, lacking an extraordinary internal water-born transportation system like the Great Lakes. The Northwest has better rainfall than the Great Plains, but it is very remote from the top two regions, and security issues are a concern.

The Rockies are fifth. Agricultural potential is limited. Transportation is impossible. Rainfall often comes instead as snow, and in some places, it stays all year.

Southwest is dead last. It’s the area that was a part of Mexico until we stole it from the Mexicans, and now the Mexicans are stealing it back. Extremely hot. No water-born transportation. No water, period. Narco-terrorist insanity. Why fight over an area whose future inhabitants will consist largely of Gila monsters, scorpions, and rattlesnakes?

SophieGale said...

The song goes "East is East and West is West/And the one I have chose..."

My father's family has been in Central Illinois for over 150 years, and even though Peoria makes me crazy, I figure I am here for "the duration." Midway between St. Louis and Chicago and situated on the Illinois River, I anticipate that we will become a hub for container cargo when the improved Panama Canal is finished in 2014.

Somebody shot out a window on a city bus this afternoon and scared the passengers, but I am not sure if the shooter was actually aiming at the bus. Still, visitors always comment on how friendly Peoria is, and manners maven Marjabelle Young Stewart always gave us high marks. We rank highly on the Gallup-Healthways' US Well-Being Index (I am not making this up).

Conservative, yes, but Robert J Ingersoll, Philip Jose Farmer, Betty Friedan, Richard Pryor, and Sam Kinison all hailed (or escaped)from here. We've got Caterpillar and Bradley University and the USDA Northern Regional Lab.

And not all of the farmland has been covered by shopping malls--though the developers are working on it.

BTW, here's another quote for The Poor Druid's Almanac: "Ploughing deep, your recipe for killing weeds, is also the recipe for almost every good thing in farming. The plough is to the farmer what the wand is to the sorcerer. It's effect is really like sorcery . . . ." Thomas Jefferson, 1813

Bill Pulliam said...

Houyhnhnm -- thanks for getting the final letter of my surname correct! It amuses me that even though "Pulliam" is by far the most common of all the variants (Pullian, Pulliman, Pullman, Pullium, etc.) it seems to be about the least likely one that I see other people writing down or typing after I have told them my name. And also thanks for your kind words.

Don -- I would not discount the inland waterways of the southeast so universally as you do. I live in the Tennessee Valley, where "river" is almost synonymous with "long narrow chain of lakes connected by locks and dams." And of course this all feeds directly to the Mississippi, Gulf of Mexico, and the World. There are many cities and towns around here whose reason for being was originally shipping on the inland waterways. Barge traffic is my no means extinct on them at the present day. Along the southeast coast, many rivers formerly had boat traffic far inland (to the "fall line"), without the need for locks and dams if they were dredged and snagged. As long as dredges, locks, and dams can still be operated, you will still be able to get a barge within about 60 miles of pretty much anywhere in Tennessee. And once those things go by the wayside, the inland waterways of the Northeast become just as useless as ours here (remember that big waterfall separating the Great Lakes from the Atlantic?). Note that I don't personally like locks, dams, dredging, or snagging, seeing how they destroy the riverine ecosystems. But realistically I don't see them going away until they are no longer feasible.

Re: the dysphonia of the term "Rust Belt," you could just call it the Inland Northeast. That is no more unwieldy that Pacific Northwest.

As for regional instabilities, I'd put my personal money (though not very much of it) on the first armed insurrections breaking out in the west, not in the former Confederacy or Appalachia. I've spent time among the backwoods of Northern California, the Rockies, and much of Dixie. I think the westerners are more likely to actually resort to "second amendment solutions" on a large and quasi-organized scale. My wife used to work for the USGS in Colorado, traveling all through the mountain and intermountain west. There were many places where they would not take a vehicle with government insignia or license plates, because of previous shooting incidents. That just doesn't happen around here.

Kirby said...

Sorry to be a bit off-topic, but I can't recall you addressing this: how much of the fertilizers used in the US come from natural gas feedstocks or other nonrenewable sources? I know that methane can be used to produce nitrogenous fertilizers but that it is not the only possible feedstock.

This is leaving aside issues like peak phosphorus, I know: I'm just asking about the degree of dependence of the fertilizer industry on fossil fuels as feedstock.

Glenn said...



I will graduate from the school Jess's husband is considering, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, 42 Water Street, Port Hadlock WA, in September. I'd suggest you look at their website.

One of the first thing they told us last fall was that when we graduated our apprenticeships would _start_. This is a 12 month program, and is very intense, not comparable to a 9 month college "year". Graduates have enough credits to receive an Associates Degree, which takes two years at a normal college or community college.

As for Matt's motives? Your sister's bad experience (with her husband) does not mean Matt is equally feckless. My plan is to raise a next egg working in the local yards here doing restoration and repair. Here in the NW we service what's left of the wooden fleet fishing here and Alaska. Most of the boats are old, but still worth maintaining, we get work. A lot of steel boats still need interior carpentry done as well.

The questions you asked are all good ones though, and certainly worth asking of any education or training that will take time or money. You might remember that "college" in this country has in much part become diploma mills that offer to put you on the short list for jobs in exchange for giving them lots of money and acquiring huge debt. There has been, perhaps a little bit too much "pragmatic thinking" along the lines of "college degree = money/job." I believe we might look at education as an opportunity to learn, and to learn how to learn, which is a very valuable skill, along with critical thinking.

I have had a bit of off line correspondence with Jess, and they seem to be looking at this very carefully.


Marrowstone Island

Tracy G said...

Glenn wrote: "I wouldn't live in Tornado Alley during the next thousand years for love or money."

As a tornado survivor, I can maybe appreciate that sentiment better than most. I dread the day when the Internet goes down and I lose access to Doppler radar. Back in the day, NOAA weather radio was the main information source, supported by a network of dedicated volunteer storm spotters, who often stayed in communication via amateur radio. They unquestionably saved lives in the event linked above. Those systems are still available and active today. But modern day Doppler does greatly help in coordination with on-the-ground observations, allowing more timely and accurate warnings, and providing me a much better picture of what's coming in. I don't especially want to be without it in the era of Global Weirding. I think about that a lot.

When I consider whether life in my little section of the Great Plains is sustainable, I look back to the Pawnee culture which flourished here for an extended period of several hundred years before European settlement. Most people who aren't familiar with our immediate area tend to assume it was inhabited by nomadic bison hunters. Actually, the Pawnee built earth lodges along the river valleys and grew crops, the chief of which was maize. They became sophisticated astronomers, orienting their buildings toward particular stars. There were also only 10,000 of them, spread out over a large area, as of the early 19th century. That's less than half the current population of my town, which is only a couple of miles across.

I would gently discourage people from moving to Southcentral Nebraska for that reason, despite the fact that I was born and raised here and cheerfully expected to die here. My family's been established in this state since my great-great-grandfather began farming in 1869, yet I'm likely moving away in a few years. My motivations arise more from the heart than the intellect. My husband's parents and elder brother—who's only semi-independent due to an autism spectrum disorder—will likely need our care in Michigan. I love them dearly, and I will not see any of them sent to an institutionalized setting, not while I have anything to say about it. The two decades that Mr. G and I have enjoyed a frugal lifestyle together are about to pay off, I guess, as they've given us a bit of a cushion to make that transition. If we didn't have that, though, I'd still do my best to make it work.

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Meteorological hazards, climate change, etc...

Remember that severe storms are actually fragile and temperamental things. The difference between a tornado and a spring shower is modest changes in the mesoscale atmospheric processes. Even hurricanes are quite delicate beasts. So any kind of climate change will likely change their patterns as well, and because of this temperamental nature and the butterfly effect it is really hard to anticipate how. Tornado Alley could easily move. And, of course, the number one killer of severe weather events is flooding. All regions are subject to that risk, and it is one risk you can almost entirely eliminate by proper planning. I would also not in any way expect pacific coast climate patterns to be less subject to changing that those of any other place around the world.

After the big tornado outbreak in MS, AL, GA, and TN this spring, a friend in Oregon wrote me to say that "extreme weather that you get there makes me glad that I'm only in a volcano/earthquake/floodplain zone." But, here's the thing: Even when you live in Tornado Alley, the odds of any one spot (like your house) being hit by any tornado at all are about 1:100 to 1:500 per year. Only the strongest 5% of tornados cause major damage to well-built structures and result in frequent fatalities (5% of storms/95% of deaths). So your odds of being hit by a strong tornado that can seriously bang up your (properly engineered house) are thus something like 1:2000 to 1:10,000 per year. I think these odds compare quite favorably with the volcanic/seismic+tsunami/mudslide/wildfire risks on most of the Pacific coast.

In other words, you are not going to get away from natural disaster risks by moving to one part of the country or another. Something can get you just about anywhere. And remember that probably your biggest risk is burning your own house down, especially in a post-cheap-electricity world were flames regain more prominence for lighting, cooking, and heating. Our 125 year old house shows signs of having survived at least two fires, one very small, one (in the kitchen) pretty significant. Meanwhile it has never been damaged by tornado, flood, or earthquake.

Cathy McGuire said...

I realized when cruising garage sales that negotiating is a skill that will need to be developed by those (like me) who aren’t good at it. Barter society will favor those who know the value of their product and are willing to haggle. Not sure how to learn that one… anyone have ideas?

The land-value discussion reminds me of an old Kate Wilhelm scifi book, “Juniper Time” – about a massive drought that hits the West coast and sends the refugees into the Midwest… I’m gonna have to re-read that soon… I remember it being very good.

@LewisLucan I suppose I should have grabbed it (for trade, if nothing else) but a lot of my stuff was in that auction and I was a bit stunned and distracted. Ah, we all have those kinds of moments, too. I still kick myself from walking away from an old cider press (even tho it was heavier than I could lift)… There will be a lot more “should I or shouldn’t I grab it” moments if things start getting worse faster, I think…

@Cherokee: Observation is very much an under rated tool in these days of modelling.
Agreed. I’m learning so much simply by paying attention to my yard and garden. My next problem is how to remember it for next year! ;-} Yes, I take notes, but often I run out of time for that in the busiest times… just when I most need to take notes. But I know that if eating from the yard becomes more urgent, I’ll really pay attention. Hope it’s not too late.

Don Mason said...


If people in the Northwest want to have their own nation of Cascadia, it might help to solve the long-term problem of how to deal with a failing Manifest Destiny.

Abandoning the western third of the United States to its fate would be the equivalent of abandoning the western Roman Empire to its fate when the Roman Empire was split in two in 297 CE: the eastern Roman Empire was able to remain viable for almost a thousand years, but the western Roman Empire quickly disintegrated under successive waves of barbarian migration.

JMG wrote in his “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse”, “In terms of the catabolic collapse model, the eastern Empire allowed massive quantities of relatively unproductive, high-maintenance capital to be converted to waste, bringing its M(p) below its remaining C(p) and breaking out of the catabolic cycle.” (Note: M(p) is maintenance production, the level of production necessary to maintain capital stocks at existing levels; and C(p) is new capital produced.)

In my opinion, Las Vegas would be an excellent example of “relatively unproductive, high-maintenance capital” that should probably be preferentially converted to waste, since it appears impossible to salvage.

If Machiavelli were still alive, he might advise: “It makes more sense to simply draw the western boundary of the United States of America at the Continental Divide. Allow the Mexicans, the Asians, the Baja Californians, the Alta Californians, the Jeffersonians, the Cascadians, the American Redoubters, the Crips, the Bloods, the MS-13’s, the Neo-Nazi Aryan skinheads and the others to mutually slaughter each other in the West. You would not have to expend much blood or treasure trying to maintain your own security, since you could easily prevent any survivors from pushing east through the few, narrow mountain passes in the northern Rockies. If they try to push through in the south, then just prevent them from getting water, and the desert sun will do the rest.”

Machiavelli might also stress the positive implications regarding investment capital: “You would no longer have to maintain an expensive, transcontinental, land communication network. It does not serve the American public interest to invest additional capital west of the High Plains; and the only capital invested in the High Plains would be the minimal amounts necessary to convert from row-crop agriculture back to permanent pasture for ranching as water becomes too scarce. As a result, virtually all future capital investment in the United States of America would be efficiently concentrated east of the High Plains in the compact, contiguous area of better rainfall, better soil, and better water-born transportation: from the states of the Eastern Seaboard west to the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and eastern Texas.”

- Continued Below -

Don Mason said...

- Continued from Above -

Machiavelli might also suggest, “There has been a net draining of capital from the East (particularly from the Great Lakes industrial area) to the West for many decades; and therefore, you should try to salvage as much of that capital as possible as soon as possible, before any more of it is squandered on useless Western desert fantasies like Las Vegas, or mountain fantasies like Vale. The West is filled with ghost towns of the past and ghost towns of the future.”

If JMG’s theory of catabolic collapse is correct, then this reversal of Manifest Destiny could potentially convert the relatively unproductive, high-maintenance capital of the failing American West into waste, thereby reducing capital maintenance costs and socio-political complexity, and buying the eastern two-thirds of the states more time to adapt.

Like the eastern Roman Empire centered around Constantinople, the Rust Belt, the Southeast, and the Great Plains would get a more manageable nation in the eastern two-thirds of the continent; and like the western Roman Empire centered around Rome, the Alta Californians, the Jeffersonians, the Cascadians, the American Redoubters, the Crips, the Bloods, the MS-13’s, the Neo-Nazi Aryan skinheads and the others would get… well, they would get each other.

DaShui said...

Hi Arch druid Greer,

I wanna vote for New Orleans as making a comeback. It stands at the cross of the Mississippi river and the Gulf of Mexico, so agricultural trade is a given. Also oil and gas production in the sea and on the land is good there for the foreseeable future.
And the best thing is that it has the most developed food culture in the USA.

Chris Balow said...

for Bill Pillium:

I know that you are a Tennessee resident, and my wife and I are eyeing up East Tennessee as our future landing site (Morristown appears to have similar characteristics to JMG's own Cumberland). I've been through East Tennessee on numerous occasions, and even a cursory view of map will tell you that the area is replete with abundant lakes and rivers--seemingly providing a good transportation base.

However, the TVA's many dam construction projects have altered the Tennessee River system significantly, and I have to assume that the TVA's dams will crumble in the decades to come.

Have you thought about this at all? If so, do you see this causing problems for the region?

Glenn said...

Bill Pulliam,

My sincere apologies. I see that I also wrote "next egg" instead of "nest egg". I don't proof read at my best all the time.


GHung said...

Glenn--re: Matt and Jess; re boatbuilding (I had assumed the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, visited there twice) wasn't a reflection on the viability of their program, or its value. It was all about what will be in demand and applicable to our short/midterm conditions, and having the right reasons for making this choice. Seems like a big step.
I actually had a shot at Pilchuck in the mid '90s, have had a personal tour of Chihuly's Boathouse, and was very drawn to the glass arts as a lifelong trade, something I took to quickly. My wife was president of a regional glass artist guild for several years; an accomplished stained glass artist and potter. It is with some regret and reluctance that we decided to change course toward, as I said, more pragmatic pursuits. My focus on various appropriate technologies, salvage, gardening and homesteading are paying off in very important, hopefully sustainable ways. I chose to defer to my engineering talents, sacrificing much of my artistic side; not an easy choice. She chose to be the fully employed support person. This arrangement is something JMG has mentioned several times. We've been about this for 15 years.

My son, still in Seattle, asked what I would recommend he apply his learning energies toward. He is a talented artist, hoping to eventually get into one of the better art schools. I told him to develop some skills that would put food on the table anywhere, anytime, such as bartending, baking or microbrewing (he would be great at any/all), and focus on his art as time permits. An old highschool buddy of mine put himself through 6 years of chemical engineering school (Ga Tech) by tending bar, and throughout his boom/bust chemical engineering career, he's always done well at his 'second job'. He's a great listener.

Other jobs/skills applicable to our near/midterm future:

Medical- especially emergency medicine, midwifery, dental tech/assistant, herbal and holistic treatments, apothicarial skills/pharma, etc.

Baking (I was the assistant baker at my college for two years; paid much of my tuition). A good baker is usually in demand somewhere. May not pay much...

Butcher, including smoking, sausage making, meat preserving.

Veterinary tech, especially large animal care and husbandry (I recently learned to glue wounds vs sutures. Really works well. Add surgical glue to your kit.)

Mercenary/martial arts

Metal working incl. smithying, casting, welding, machining.

Carpenter (I suppose boat building gets Matt there).

Any additions to the list would be of value. MBAs need not apply.

Maria said...

I'm one of the people who was interested in just this kind of information, so thank you. It dovetails nicely with my interests, actually, so I am still processing ways to move forward.

Re: Apocalypse Not. I grew up with parents who were always waiting for what we kids referred to as the "flaming ball of doom," so I look forward to reading your take on it.

trippticket said...

Cathy said: "Barter society will favor those who know the value of their product and are willing to haggle. Not sure how to learn that one… anyone have ideas?"

Skip it and move straight into a gifting society. I don't know, I have trouble with that one too, so I tend to give more than I take in barter deals, but I also tend to get a lot of gifts!

trippticket said...

GHung said: "Spokane to Tift County,, gosh, you've got to be tough, and motivated; major cultural and environmental shift. My condolences on summer in South Georgia."

Don't know if you saw my recent comment about doing it without AC too! It's just a matter of acclimation, not as bad as I thought. Plus I figure if I can do summer in Tifton, GA, without air conditioning I can do just about anything!

For me this is a homecoming. WA state was awesome, I love that place, I moved there three times actually, and I brought back an equally awesome wife. But my family is mostly in Tift County, I was born here, and we are co-oping some land and a farmhouse from a lovely couple who were friends with my family a generation earlier.

All smiles so far...

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Dashui - for perspective on NOLA's chances see
Atchafalaya from John McPhee's The Control of Nature series in the New Yorker.

Glenn said...

Don Mason,

Of course the nascent republics of the West Coast might choose alliance or Union. Between the Mexican Border and the North Slope of Alaska, the coastal states and British Columbia have 50 million people, are agriculturally self-sufficent and have quite a number of successful basic industries. Aluminum production for one. California alone used to be the 5th largest economy in the world. The feds get more in taxes from the 3 West Coast states than it returns in benefits.

I'm confident that we can survive without the East. Will losing the West accelerate or retard the collapse of the U.S. as a nation?

Your assertation that the Southwest has "no water, period" precludes California being part of the Southwest. The city of Los Angeles does get some water from the Colorado River, which it could, and has, done without. As a whole, the state breaks even on water, piping it from the Northern mountains for agriculture in the Central Valley and the sprawling cities of the South. Were they to move the Mexican border North to the Tehachapi Mountains, the state would have a net water surplus.

Bill Pulliam,

According to Prof. Cliff Mass at the University of Washington, climate change will be greatly mitigated and delayed here in the NW. Being immediately downwind of the Pacific Ocean gives us that benefit. We are currently enjoying a cold damp summer, after our second cold damp spring in a row. It appears that the North Pacific Decadal Occilation is still stronger locally than over all climate change. It's a bit hard on the garden though.


x said...

To Cathy

Haggling is a part artform and part shrewd calculation. The three most important haggling assets one can have (in order of importance) are extreme courtesy in negotiation, product knowledge, and knowledge of markets. I'll give a recent example.

At a car boot sale I spied a large oil globe lamp for sale. I enquired about the price which was £25. I politely stated that this seemed a tad expensive. The vendor retorted that the glass globe by itself costs £10. This is generally true (product knowledge). I stated that he was certainly correct and I wasn't implying the item was too expensive as such, but it was too expensive for my limited budget. I thanked him and walked along to view other stalls.

I returned to the vendor's stall. Now we both knew negotiations were about the begin. (I had also noticed a smaller oil globe lamp previously, but didn't mention it to him or ask for a price.) I said I'd buy the original lamp for £15. He said no. I then asked about the price of the smaller lamp which was £7. I took some time to view the object to make sure it was working. I offered £20 for both lamps. He said no. I said what about £25 for both lamps. He said no. I said what about €27 for both. He said yes. (I received about a 15% discount due to currency conversion from pounds to euros - so I bought two lamps for about £24).

The two lamps, one with a reflecting mirror, originally cost (I'm pretty sure) 2/6' and 1/ (which is about 30 pence and 10 pence). Talk about inflation, but unfortunaley in Ireland anything made before the 1990s is declared an antique (market knowledge). I have practical use for them and plus I scored a free load of wicks when I bought something else at another mart.

[Barter, on the other hand, opens up extensive vistas of trade, but product knowledge is key.]

- Never be too keen.
- Knowledge is power - always shop around and get to know products or replacements values.
- Know your budget.
- Be courteous and be prepared to banter. Both have value.
- If you visit certain marts on a regular basis, get to know the vendors who you want to deal with in the future. The price they give today might be reduced for you in the future.
- Be prepared to walk away from any purchase by thanking the vendor and maybe complimenting her on the goods available (depends on the vendor's disposition), but always thank them for their time.
- Price is relative - value to you is only known to you. You're merely discovering what value the vendor places on the item.
- Don't approach trade as merely a purchaser or price taker. You are a value trader. You are trading goods or money for some utility value item that corresponds to an equal exhange.
- Items at the end of the day are more negotiatable as vendors want to leave with as little stock as possible.
- Think creatively.

from: make do and mend

Cherokee Organics said...

Hey Cathy,

You should have picked up that cider press. I've planted 26 different apple trees (+ numerous pears) over the years here for just that purpose. Mmmm cider, so easy to make. I also used (before it was run over) to feed my wombat whole apples and I'm finding apple seedlings growing in the strangest spots now. The seeds get nicely packaged in fertiliser and also randomly spread.

I'm learning the same thing as you about gardening. It takes many seasons before you know what and when to do things and also what to expect. I don't take notes either, but simply try to remember what works through trial and error.

That's also what I find surprising and amusing about all of the comments here saying they'll go here, or they'll go there. To know a piece of land and what it can do is a precious and rare thing. Regardless of a persons background knowledge they can't just simply turn up and make no errors.



Cherokee Organics said...

Oh yeah, I forgot. The old timers who didn't have a cider press used to get around this by:

Covering the apples into a cloth bag and then belting the life out of them with a hammer or mallot etc. You could then squeeze the bag and extract the juice. 100% too easy! The pulp and skin can be chucked into the compost or given to the chooks.

A cider press is like the pareto principle in that it extracts the last 20% of juice. It is more efficient than the above method, but as much fun? - who knows?

On another note, because my chooks get so much fruit, the eggs have a slightly sweet taste.

Bill Pulliam said...

Glenn re: climate -- well I would not bet the farm on the forecasts of one individual climate scientist, and I doubt many climate scientists would recommend that strategy, either. It is worth noting that even with the Pacific buffer you folks out there do have quite a bit of year-to-year climate variability already! Those short- and mid-term climate oscillations predominate over long-term trends just about everywhere, by the way. Here in TN the North Atlantic Oscillation, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Arctic Oscillation, and Pacific-North American Pattern are all big influences (El Niño is trivial by comparison for us). It is a convergence of negative NAO/AO and positive PNA that have given us this pattern of hot summers and cold winters we seem stuck in for the last couple of years; it seems to have nothing to do with any long-term trend (at least so far...). But of course, altering the patterns and timing of all these oscillations is one of the things we'll likely see from anthropogenic climate change, too! Climate is a REALLY complex system (have I mentioned that before?).

But it's pretty clear you have picked your home and are planning to stick with it (and personally I think it's a perfectly fine one; you have soil, water, seashore, and temperate climate, not sure how much regional or transcontinental trade you even need in the long run). The climate, politics, demographics, seismic faults, and volcanoes will do what they will and you just find ways to go with the flow instead of against it. One of JMG's earlier fictional series (Adam's Story, monthly installments starting in May 2007) was set in the PNW, and his fictional late 21st Century people were finding ways to get by in spite of militia, refugees, and climate changes. In the end we each have to find our own place to plant our asparagus.

Khriss Baelloe --

I think those TVA dams will last a good bit more than just "decades," for the most part -- at least the steel-and-concrete ones with locks on the Tennessee and other major rivers. Not so sure about the earthen ones -- one of those has been raising alarm bells for years because of seepage and the threat that a failure could make the Great Flood of 2010 in Nashville look like a teeny hiccup. But if there is a need for transport I expect the lock-and-dam systems can be maintained for quite a while -- and they have those monster hydroelectric turbines right there, on site, to power the machinery w/o the need for a huge extensive power grid. Even failing that I expect it is child's play to rig a lock system to run purely on mechanical force provided by the river itself without the electric intermediate.

What kept us out of East Tennessee was high cost of land and rampant suburban sprawl. It is far worse than the two other Great Divisions (Middle and West TN) on those fronts. There are pockets; but research your communities carefully. There have been arson incidents in some rural areas of east TN involving newcomers who were perceived as being just too far in the extreme (like gay nudists); whereas in middle TN we have long-standing hippie communes (gay and otherwise), and some braver souls even fly their rainbow flags on country backroads without incident.

That gets back to my earlier point -- it's at least as much about your neighbors as about your region.

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