Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush

I’m not sure how many people outside the writer’s trade realize how much of writing is a cooperative process. That’s as true of those of us who write late at night in the privacy of a silent room as it is of the more gregarious sort of writer, the kind you can expect to find in a crowded café, surrounded by voices and music and the clatter of street noises coming in the door: every writer is simply one voice in an ongoing conversation that includes many other voices, some living, some dead and some not yet born.

As I write this week’s post, for example, it’s difficult not to notice some of the other voices in this particular conversation. The bookshelf an easy reach to my left has a row of brightly colored trade paperbacks by some of my fellow peak oil authors—William Catton, Richard Heinberg, Jim Kunstler, Sharon Astyk, Dmitry Orlov, Carolyn Baker and more. Close by, the rolling brown landscape of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, all ten volumes, confronts the twin black monoliths of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, while Giambattista Vico’s New Science offers an ironic Italian commentary from one side.  Other shelves elsewhere in the room contribute other voices: biology and ecology textbooks from my college days; appropriate tech manuals from the Seventies brimfull of unfulfilled hopes; old texts on the magical philosophy that forms the usually unmentioned foundation from which all my thinking unfolds; and a great deal more. Poets, as often as not, these days: Robinson Jeffers, William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot. Without the contributions of all these other voices, the conversation and thus my contributions to it would not be what it is.

Still, there are times when the conversational nature of what I’m doing becomes more obvious and more direct than usual, and one of those happened the weekend before last, at the Age of Limits conference I discussed in last week’s post. One of my presentations to that conference was a talk entitled "How Civilizations Fall;" longtime readers of this blog will know from the title that what I was talking about that afternoon was the theory of catabolic collapse, which outlines the way that human societies on the way down cannibalize their own infrastructure, maintaining themselves for the present by denying themselves a future.  I finished talking about catabolic collapse and started fielding questions, of which there were plenty, and somewhere in the conversation that followed one of the other participants made a comment. I don’t even remember the exact words, but it was something like, "So what you’re saying is that what we need to do, individually, is to go through collapse right away."

"Exactly," I said. "Collapse now, and avoid the rush."

Outside of that conversation, I doubt I would have thought of the phrase at all. By the end of the conference, though, it was on the lips of a good many of the attendees, and for good reason: I can’t think of a better way to sum up the work ahead of us right now, as industrial society lurches down the far side of its trajectory through time.  Longtime readers of this blog know most of the reasoning behind that suggestion, but it may be worth walking through it again step by step.

First, industrial society was only possible because our species briefly had access to an immense supply of cheap, highly concentrated fuel with a very high net energy—that is, the amount of energy needed to extract the fuel was only a very small fraction of the energy the fuel itself provided.  Starting in the 18th century, fossil fuels—first coal, then coal and petroleum, then coal, petroleum and natural gas—gave us that energy source. All three of these fossil fuels represent millions of years of stored sunlight, captured by the everyday miracle of photosynthesis and concentrated within the earth by geological processes that took place long before our species evolved.  They are nonrenewable over any time scale that matters to human beings, and we are using them up at astonishing rates.

Second, while it’s easy to suggest that we can simply replace fossil fuels with some other energy source and keep industrial civilization running along its present course, putting that comfortable notion into practice has turned out to be effectively impossible.  No other energy source available to our species combines the high net energy, high concentration, and great abundance that a replacement for fossil fuel would need. Those energy sources that are abundant (for example, solar energy) are diffuse and yield little net energy, while those that are highly concentrated (for example, fissionable uranium) are not abundant, and also have serious problems with net energy.  Abundant fossil fuels currently provide an "energy subsidy" to alternative energy sources that make them look more efficient than they are—there would be far fewer wind turbines, for example, if they had to be manufactured, installed, and maintained using wind energy.  Furthermore, our entire energy infrastructure is geared to use fossil fuels and would have to be replaced, at a cost of countless trillions of dollars, in order to replace fossil fuels with something else.

Third, these problems leave only one viable alternative, which is to decrease our energy use, per capita and absolutely, to get our energy needs down to levels that could be maintained over the long term on renewable sources.  The first steps in this process were begun in the 1970s, with good results, and might have made it possible to descend from the extravagant heights of industrialism in a gradual way,  keeping a great many of the benefits of the industrial age intact as a gift for the future. Politics closed off that option in the decade that followed, however, and the world’s industrial nations went hurtling down a different path, burning through the earth’s remaining fossil fuel reserves at an accelerating pace and trusting that economic abstractions such as the free market would suspend the laws of physics and geology for their benefit. At this point, more than three decades after that misguided choice, industrial civilization is so far into overshoot that a controlled descent is no longer an option; the only path remaining is the familiar historical process of decline and fall.

Fourth, while it’s fashionable these days to imagine that this process will take the form of a sudden cataclysm that will obliterate today’s world overnight, all the testimony of history and a great many lines of evidence from other sources suggests that this is the least likely outcome of our predicament. Across a wide range of geographical scales and technological levels, civilizations take an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of decline and fall, and there is no valid reason to assume that ours will be any exception.  The curve of decline, to be sure, is anything but smooth; it has a fractal structure, taking the form of a succession of crises on many different scales, affecting different regions, social classes, and communities in different ways, interspersed with periods of stabilization and even partial recovery that are equally variable in scale, duration, and relevance to different places and groups.  This ragged arc of decline is already under way; it can be expected to accelerate in the months, years, and decades to come; and it defines the deindustrial age ahead of us.

Fifth, individuals, families, and communities faced with this predicament still have choices left. The most important of those choices parallels the one faced, or more precisely not faced, at the end of the 1970s: to make the descent in a controlled way, beginning now, or to cling to their current lifestyles until the system that currently supports those lifestyles falls away from beneath their feet. The skills, resources, and lifeways needed to get by in a disintegrating industrial society are radically different from those that made for a successful and comfortable life in the prosperous world of the recent past, and a great many of the requirements of an age of decline come with prolonged learning curves and a high price for failure. Starting right away to practice the skills, assemble the resources, and follow the lifeways that will be the key to survival in a deindustrializing world offers the best hope of getting through the difficult years ahead with some degree of dignity and grace.

Collapse now, in other words, and avoid the rush.

There’s a fair amount of subtlety to the strategy defined by those words.  As our society stumbles down the ragged curve of its decline, more and more people are going to lose the ability to maintain what counts as a normal lifestyle—or, rather, what counted as a normal lifestyle in the recent past, and is no longer quite so normal today as it once was. Each new round of crisis will push more people further down the slope; minor and localized crises will affect a relatively smaller number of people, while major crises affecting whole nations will affect a much larger number.  As each crisis hits, though, there will be a rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way out, and as each crisis recedes, there will be another rush of people toward whatever seems to offer a way back to what used to be normal. The vast majority of people who join either rush will fail. Remember the tens of thousands of people who applied for a handful of burger-flipping jobs during the recent housing crash, because that was the only job opening they could find?  That’s the sort of thing I mean.

The way to avoid the rush is simple enough:  figure out how you will be able to live after the next wave of crisis hits, and to the extent that you can, start living that way now. If you’re worried about the long-term prospects for your job—and you probably should be, no matter what you do for a living—now is the time to figure out how you will get by if the job goes away and you have to make do on much less money. For most people, that means getting out of debt, making sure the place you live costs you much less than you can afford, and picking up some practical skills that will allow you to meet some of your own needs and have opportunities for barter and informal employment.  It can mean quite a bit more, depending on your situation, needs, and existing skills.  It should certainly involve spending less money—and that money, once it isn’t needed to pay off any debts you have, can go to weatherizing your home and making other sensible preparations that will make life easier for you later on.

For the vast majority of people, it probably needs to be said, collapsing now does not mean buying a survival homestead somewhere off in the country.  That’s a popular daydream, and in some well-off circles it’s long been a popular way to go have a midlife crisis, but even if you have the funds—and most of us don’t—if you don’t already have the dizzyingly complex skill set needed to run a viable farm, or aren’t willing to drop everything else to apprentice with an organic farmer right now, it’s not a realistic option.  In all likelihood you’ll be experiencing the next round of crises where you are right now, so the logical place to have your own personal collapse now, ahead of the rush, is right there, in the place where you live, with the people you know and the resources you have to hand.

Now of course the strategy of collapsing ahead of the rush is not going to be a popular thing to suggest. When I’ve brought it up, as of course I’ve done more than once, I’ve inevitably fielded a flurry of protests, by turns angry and anguished, insisting that it’s not reasonable to expect anybody to do that, and how can I be so heartless as to suggest it? Fair enough; let’s take a look at the alternatives.

One alternative strategy that gets brought up now and then has at least the advantage of utter honesty. It has two parts. The first part, while the benefits of industrial society are still available, is to enjoy them; the second, when those benefits go away, is to die. Often, though not always, the people who bring up this option have serious health conditions that will probably be fatal in a deindustrial world. I have no quarrel with those who choose this path; it’s an honest response to a very challenging predicament—though I admit I wonder how many people who say they’ve chosen it will be comfortable with their choice once part one gives way to part two.

The problem with most other proposed strategies for dealing with our predicament is that whatever they claim to do in theory, in practice, they amount to these same two steps.  Consider the very widely held notion that advocating for some alternative energy technology is a workable response to the twilight of fossil fuels.  I have no quarrel, again, with people who are actually doing something concrete to get some alternative energy technology into use—for example, the people whose enthusiasm for the Bussard fusion reactor leads them to build a prototype in their basement, or to help fund one of the half dozen or so experimenters who have already done this—but that’s rarely what this approach entails; rather, it seems to consist mostly of posting long screeds on the internet insisting that thorium reactors, or algal biodiesel, or what have you, will solve all our energy problems.

As Zen masters like to say, talk does not cook the rice, and blog posts do not build reactors; with every day that passes, despite any amount of online debate, more oil, coal, and natural gas are extracted from the planet’s dwindling endowment, and the next round of crises comes closer. In the same way, those who put their hopes on grand political transformations, or conveniently undefinable leaps of consciousness, or the timely arrival of Jesus or the space brothers or somebody else who will spare us the necessity of inhabiting a future that is the exact result of our own collective actions, are not doing anything that hasn’t been tried over and over again in the decades just past, without doing anything to slow the headlong rush into overshoot or the opening stages of decline and fall.

Check out the glossy magazines and well-funded websites dedicated to portraying "positive futures" and you can find the same sort of thinking taken to its logical extreme: soothing pablum about this or that person doing this or that wonderful thing, and this or that deep thinker coming up with this or that wonderful idea, all of it reminiscent of nothing so much as the cheerful tunes the Titanic’s band played to keep the passengers calm as water poured into the hull.  There’s quite a lot of money to be made these days insisting that we can have a shiny new future despite all evidence to the contrary, and pulling factoids out of context to defend that increasingly dubious claim; as industrial society moves down the curve of decline, I suspect, this will become even more popular, since it will make it easier for those who haven’t yet had their own personal collapse to pretend that it can’t happen to them.

The same principle applies to the people who donate to environmental causes and put solar panels on their roofs in the same spirit that led medieval Christians to buy high-priced indulgences from the Church to cancel out their sins. T.S. Eliot countered that sort of attitude unanswerably when he described salvation as "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything". What we’re discussing belongs to a much less exalted plane, but the same rule applies: if you’re trying to exempt yourself from the end of the industrial age, nothing you can do can ever be enough. Let go, let yourself fall forward into the deindustrial future, and matters are different.

It’s difficult to think of anything more frightening, or more necessary.  "In order to arrive at what you do not know"—that’s Eliot again—"you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess, you must go by the way of dispossession." Which is to say:  collapse now, and avoid the rush.

****************
End of the World of the Week #25

Those of my readers who don’t happen to remember where they were on May 5, 2000 should probably be glad of that fact. According to Richard Noone’s 1997 bestseller 5/5/2000: Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, a planetary alignment on that day would destabilize the world’s ice caps and send them rushing toward the equator, flattening everything in their path. Before it was swamped in the rising tide of panic around the Y2K computer bug, Noone’s prophecy attracted a fair amount of attention in the American alternative scene, and believers discussed plans to loft themselves into the upper atmosphere via high-altitude balloons to wait out the cataclysm, and then return to repopulate the ravaged Earth.

It would have taken only a few minutes with a pocket calculator and a high school physics textbook to figure out that even the most dramatic planetary alignment doesn’t have enough gravitational pull on the Earth’s ice caps to budge them any distance worth noticing, but none of the believers seem to have taken the time to check that possibility.  In the event, the polar ice caps stayed put that day, as they normally do.

—for more failed end time prophecies, see my book Apocalypse Not

149 comments:

Glenn said...

As someone who has lived in "shruburbia" for the last 8 years, the warning against moving to the country is a good one. We are _not_ entirely self-sufficient, which means we must go to town; the distances vary from 2 miles to a small store with limited stock and high prices run by charming people, to 4 miles to a chain grocery and gas, 5 to the library and 6 to the school and the feed store. Which leads to the predicament that Wendell Berry summed up as "It is very difficult to live in the country in the U.S. and impossible to be a good neighbor in the country without an automobile" (or p/u truck).

I have considered what we do here that we couldn't do in town, where we would not need a car. The biggest would be firewood, we are self sufficient in that. Everything else we do would fit on a large city or average suburban lot.

So we are not in the country because it is a huge improvement, but because we like it. We do have room for change, having 8 acres (about 3 hectares). I can and do bicycle; but unless I logged and milled on site (we don't have trees big enough to mill), I still have to truck in materials (we have a tiny cabin, unfinished, and are a long way from a complete farm infrastructure). We could, if we had to, clear a couple of acres for pasture and keep a large cow which could double for milk and part time ox work; that is definitely for a post collapse future though.

So, we see our path as becoming more self sufficient, and weaning ourselves from the grid and the economy one step at a time. In a piece of good fortune, a swarm of honey bees took over a hive whose colony had died out last winter. Small blessings, keep 'em coming.

Glenn

Marrowstone Island

sgl said...

If you like history then I recommend this book. I think it does a good job of examining how collapse occurs.
http://archive.org/details/CarrollQuigley-TheEvolutionOfCivilizations-AnIntroductionTo

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

"If you’re worried about the long-term prospects for your job..."

As a scholar who translates Chinese and Japanese Buddhist texts for a living (not much, but enough) when I consider the future I think monkhood would be best. I'm young, healthy and have no family. Unless I learn organic farming or a productive trade, being a renunciate might be the optimal path given my current skills, though that probably means staying in Asia indefinitely.

Incidentally, do you know if when Rome was collapsing there was a surge in interest in monasticism? I know in Asia during famines some would complain about all the new monks suddenly.

. josé . said...

Mr. Greer, if it's really going to take a century or more for industrial society to wind down, an I'm certainly convinced by your argument to that effect, it would seem that most of us (and especially those of us like myself - I am almost 60), will not live to see it fully collapse. I expect to live the balance of my life in a society dominated by scarcity industrialism, and it will be much younger people who will have to work their way through even an age dominated by a salvage economy.
If that's the case, it seems perfectly reasonable for us to pay our indulgences, putting in enough solar panels, for example, to power a small refrigerator and chest freezer, and to support the younger generations who will have to provide the actual leadership and creativity for the next cycle.
I once thought I could change the world, and in my twenties I worked for years as a solar energy analyst. But then morning came to America, and I had to find a different way to pay the mortgage. At this point, I could never muster the energy and creativity I had at that time, but I work with many folks who are 25 to 35 years younger than I am, and I'm always impressed by what they can do.
If I sound defensive, it's because I'm rushing toward the very path you warn us against, building a villa in a remote Roman province (metaphorically speaking), but I'm really not prepared to ride the downslope in a high-rise apartment in the center of the city.

William Hunter Duncan said...

I can grow more food than I need, I can gather food to diversify, and hunt and fish. I grow enough vines to ferment enough wine to get drunk when I feel like it. Why do I have to pay a mortgage? Who's extravagant lifestyle am I working to support? I never had to send the poor a thousand dollars a month. But it looks like I'm going to lose the garden and the house, because I signed that devil's bargain, and I'd rather float down the proverbial river than continue to sell my soul.

www.offthegridmpls.blogspot.com

John D. Wheeler said...

"The way to avoid the rush is simple enough: figure out how you will be able to live after the next wave of crisis hits, and to the extent that you can, start living that way now.... It should certainly involve spending less money—and that money, once it isn’t needed to pay off any debts you have, can go to weatherizing your home and making other sensible preparations that will make life easier for you later on."

I totally agree with the first part of that statement, but I do personally disagree with the way you state that second part, like making preparations is an afterthought. I prefer to start with the preparations that have the quickest payback in terms of reducing expenses and go from there. Things that are cheap now may be very expensive later. That's part of the reason I have over a cubic yard of vermiculite sitting on a pallet in my side yard, waiting to go into garden beds as fast as I can make them.

Now, as to my long-term job prospects, when the government stops collecting income taxes, I think we will be well past the point where money has any meaning.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, thanks for the reality check!

Sgl, read it a long time ago. I find Toynbee and Spengler more useful.

Jeffrey, yes, the fall of Rome was the great seedtime of Western monastic tradition, so you're in good company.

Jose, the reason I tend to warn people off heading to the country is that so many people assume that I must be talking about doing that -- it's so deeply stuck in our collective imagination that that's what any movement toward a more sustainable lifestyle has to be! As for living in a world of scarcity industrialism, er, what else did you think I was talking about? That's why I advised thinking through the consequences of the next round of crises -- not a complete descent, please note! -- and acting on that. If you're planning on using solar panels to provide useful services when the grid goes away for good, you're not selling indulgences but making sensible use of available resources.

William, sorry to hear that. Still, for a lot of Americans who are far underwater on mortgages they can't pay, getting out of debt begins with walking away from a house they can no longer afford.

John Michael Greer said...

John, making preparations isn't an afterthought, but eliminating debt in many cases needs to come first. As for your job, I'd encourage you to look into what happened to many government employees in the former Soviet Union as that society entered collapse. Money can retain quite a bit of meaning even while a specific government freezes up into rigor mortis and stops sending out paychecks!

Castus said...

Sir,

I've spent the last 4 years in the Canadian Army. I'm serving as an infantry soldier at the moment, but had planned to transfer to military intelligence for a more grande view of things.

I was curious of your thoughts on a number of different topics, of course pertaining to my chosen profession.

Do you think there is a serious future in the military, whether in a smaller, more adaptable force such as in Canada or a larger, more advanced and funded one such as the USA?

Do you think militiaries will be able to properly adapt their current extraordinarily fossil fuel dependant order of battle to something that will scale down in the future?

What about the security situation in Canada, the US and Mexico in a future of increasing energy scarcity?

Honestly, I know that my job is almost ludicrously dependant on high energy inputs right now, but it's a job that I'd like to think has a lot of flexibility, and I also would like to think we'll have a place doing our jobs, legitimately.

What do you think?

Regards,
Castus

John Michael Greer said...

Castus, those are extremely complex questions, which are going to get some discussion on this blog in the not too distant future. The very, very short form is that the survival of any given military depends on the survival of the government it serves, but the profession of arms has been around for a very long time and I see no reason to think that it will go away. More specifically, I'd suggest that an intelligence officer with a thorough grasp of peak oil and other resource depletion issues will be an asset few militaries will want to do without, once peak oil becomes impossible to ignore any longer.

greatblue said...

Collapse early and often!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Don't be too hard on solar power. It is good if you can live with the limitations and use very little power over winter eg. right here, right now as I pen this comment by a single 15w light globe on a laptop. You are correct to point out that most people can't. Solar power is no answer for the majority and for people with less winter sun than me it is a waste of time – it doesn’t freeze here at all over winter and plants although some whilst being deciduous still grow.

Sometimes your magic is strong as I'm unsure where your thoughts stop and mine start. I've been working towards my current circumstances since 1992, but your thoughts have certainly influenced my thinking and actions. I picked up some more herbs today too which was very exciting.

Living in a rural area is not for everyone. I have to be on top of everything here as errors can be a real drama and I learn from my mistakes.

One error I made recently was picking up a clutch of chickens at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo (I thoroughly recommended this Expo for people Down Under). Most of the chickens I purchased there have been a great addition.

However, one of the chickens turned out to be a rooster. This was a real conundrum for me because being mostly vegetarian, I don't like killing other animals. So, the rooster got a reprieve and I watched to see how he went with the girls.

To add insult to injury though, he was a silky rooster and as such was a bit smaller than most of the girls who could easily fend off his amorous advances which left a very small pool of ladies for him to mate with.

The problem is roosters can mate up to 50 times per day and he was slowly killing some of my smaller silky chickens. So, a decision was made to put an end to it.

So this morning, I got up with his crowing well before dawn, grabbed him from the hen house and separated his head from his body with a ghurka knife. A very unpleasant hands on task to be sure, but the question came down to: Do you keep a rooster which will certainly kill several smaller silky chickens which produce eggs during Autumn when no other chicken does?; or Do you let him kill the egg producing silky chickens?

Such is life on a farm. Also, it has been my past experience that this would be a short term pain for a long term gain. Without this experience you could easily make bigger mistakes and that experience is very hard won. This is a good analogy for this weeks essay too as it is very hard to work out when to get off the carousel as most people don’t and will hang on until it is too late.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Glenn,

My understanding is that over in the US honey bees are a bit of an endangered species. I shouldn’t provide any advice, but, if I were you, I'd transplant the colony to a fresh unpainted hive - it is very cheap to buy a new pine box for the hive. Old unused hives should be burnt and destroyed.

The timber in the old hive may be harbouring all sorts of mites, bacteria and funguses.

Over your way the bees need every bit of help they can get and a fresh, clean start and a diverse flower filled garden is a real bonus for them.

Hi DeAnander,

I read your comment late last week and thought that you don't really have too much to worry about from those commenters that you mentioned. My gut feel is that they are all bark and no bite and will stand in line with everyone else (especially if they too have families). My only advice is, don't engage crazy on the Internet. Simple, yet effective.

Peace.

Chris

PRiZM said...

Just a thought for Jose and others who are older and not likely to be effected by the coming age of scarcity.. a good reason to collapse now is if you have any children, or grandchildren, or friends, who could benefit from your experiences. Sharing of knowledge and wisdom is extremely important! We have already lost a lot which will require the energy (which includes time) expanded to relearn what we already knew.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I hear you. I'm also wondering about and contemplating how to hand over experience and practical lessons.

Err William,

Have you thought about a 401k hardship withdrawal?

Regards

Chris

Thijs Goverde said...

I'm collapsing as fast as I can.
Which is not very fast, as there are a lady and two youngsters I want to drag down with me and they have little interest in being dragged.
Fortunately, the heavy mortgage we have is with the mother of said lady, who has no interest whatsoever in turning us out if we fail to pay her anything. So the house is secure.
It's close to all the shops we need, which is fortunate because we don't have a car. And it has a garden, which I'm learning to cultivate.

Not having a car, eating vegatarian and organic, buying 'green' energy, covering the roof in PV and Solar Heating panels, having our holidays relatively near to our abode - those are the things my family will do for me.
Any further collapsing (the gardening, for instance, and experimenting with solar cookers and the like) I have to do in my spare time.

Holy hobby, Batman! Did I just admit to choosing 'collapsing' as my leisure actitvity?
How decadent is that?

... I honestly can't figure it out.

xhmko said...

This is why I come here: succinctness. Not to mention all the conversations, history lessons, present lessons and your insect like antennae that seem to have a feel for the future.

I just put myself down to work on a mushroom growing project in a community farm project in the centre of Perth, over here. It's going to take coffee grounds from cafes within the CBD and sell them back Oyster mushrooms. The coffee will be picked up, and mushrooms delivered by bike.

Coffee in this country has a huge net energy cost, (it can be grown in Perth but no-one I know is doing it commercially), so making it do a bit more work while at the same time providing urban produce is great. We may even supply one or two of the Asian grocery stores if we can and thereby preventing a similar item being shipped over here from China or Korea. It'll be an awesome little project to join in on, and despite the fact that if the poo hits the propellor, and coffee is no longer so easy to come by, a great precedent will be set(though its really more like reverting to the antecedent.

And one suggestion for skills to pick up - an artform of some kind, as in a creative art...music, drawing, sculpting, building...anything thats done purely for fun or aesthetic reasons. It can be very practical in that lateral thinking and cross pollination of ideas come from such things, but even just because if there's one thing you need after a hard months work, it's the abilty to unwind.

Jason said...

Did you never see that Jewish cartoon: "Repent now -- and avoid the Yom Kippur rush!"

ahimsa said...

Regarding “undefinable leaps of consciousness”, are you, in a sense, defining such a leap of consciousness?

Your quoting of T.S. Elliot’s mystical verse, "In order to arrive at what you do not know you must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess, you must go by the way of dispossession." Which is to say: collapse now, and avoid the rush."

Your comment, “ It’s difficult to think of anything more frightening, or more necessary, speaks to the mystical, “Die before you die”. Might be paraphrased as, let go of attachments and fears, experience psychological death and and get on with really living.

Your raising levels of awareness through your insightful blog & books. Warning against resting on laurels of received wisdom. Encouraging self study. Initiating readers into the rites of alchemical processes. Accepting nature’s limits, making changes to your lifestyle and aligning oneself in harmony with this nature. Promoting the emobodiement of greater awareness by translating newfound knowledge into personal action. Practicing what you prescribe.

This all seems very much an emobdied spiritual practice designed to cultivate a shift of consciousness albeit with less mumbo jumbo speak and more respect for certain realities.

“Die now and avoid the rush” – a catchy hook to sell the consciousness-shifting collapsnik lifestyle!

Tony Weddle said...

John,

Excellent article. I particularly liked your Fifth step.

Regarding not setting up a survival homestead, I quite agree that setting up a viable farm is a daunting prospect but surely moving a little further out to be able to afford a larger plot in which to develop some skills or grow what you think you need to be self-sufficient in at least one or two essentials of life, presumably is not such a bad idea - if one can afford to do so.

The notion of increasing numbers of people facing their own forced collapse is an apt one and one that perhaps is sometimes lost on people who may think that a centuries long collapse can not possible affect them.

Regarding solar (as it was mentioned in your article and by at least one commenter), I've toyed with this myself and I always baulk at putting some in because I don't know what will happen if I can't replace or recondition the batteries when they degrade in 10 years (or whatever) or if one panel needs replacing in 20 years (or if an electrical appliance needs a repair I can't do, can't afford to do or can't find someone to do). It would be better to figure out how to live without electricity, it seems to me, and maybe, having done so, use electricity for luxuries (such as this comment) that you know you can live without.

Something else struck me from early on in the article:

"keeping a great many of the benefits of the industrial age intact as a gift for the future"

This leads to an obvious question, similar to one my son asked me a few years ago, which was "Have there been any real benefits to civilisation?" It's easy to think of some, like the printing press or some industrial process for making, glass for example. But when trying to think if any of the potential benefits had no downsides or only downsides that were dwarfed by the benefits, it was hard, and I'm not sure if I can really think of anything that hasn't been warped for ill or that doesn't somehow degrade our only known habitat. Anything that is a sustainable benefit, except certain pieces of knowledge.

So what do you think are the many benefits of the industrial age that could have been left intact far into the future?

ahimsa said...

@ Jeffrey Kotyk

I suspect community livng with some sort of social cohesion through religious or spiritual means will experience a resurgence. Actually in relation to the same "Age of Limits" conference, Dimitri Orlov mentioned this topic recently:

..the natural response for many people is to want to turn their back on society, but without being alone. What institutions do we have that could help them accomplish this? Are there any that predate this now failed society, as well as the countless other societies that have failed before? Yes, there are. Religious institutions have turned their back on more societies than we can count, and have survived. Moreover, they have repeatedly provided a survival mechanism where all else had failed.
http://cluborlov.blogspot.de/2012/05/sustainable-living-as-religious.html

Guardian said...

I wanted to add my tuppence worth. I have an 'incurable' auto-immune condition which requires daily doses of steroids and immune-suppresants. It has also left me with nerve damage to my hands which make any sort of fine control very difficult.
However even though I have the option (and fortuitously the funds) of saying 'let's party while Rome burns' I have found that 'collapsing now' even in a small way is a much more satisfying option. All spiritual paths have recommended a 'retreat' from the world and watching no TV and going to bed early leaves more time for important things in life (reading, gardening etc). I can't recommend enough meditating at least once a day (if only for 20 minutes, and the discipline has variations to suit all beliefs.) Among other things it focuses you on the now and away from fretting about an unknowable future.

Castus said...

Sir,

Thanks very much for your response. I'm eager to see what your thoughts are on those topics in your blog post, then, and as always keep up the accessible and informative writing. Vis a vis other folks who write on peak oil, yours aren't filled with constant doom and whinging, or false hopes.

Regards,
Castus

Leo said...

the main change i've made is changing the plans i had. i was all ways going to study engineering (plan on a double science and engineering), this just gives me a different purpose. i find the low/middle tech interesting and i've had a couple ideas (say tie a thermoelectric generator into a solar cooling (direct use of the sun's energy was an interesting book) with a solar heater) i'd like to try building them. the good thing is that most of the Uni's i've looked at are putting sustainability into their engineering courses and work on this in some capacity (one of ANU major focuses is solar power)

outside of that i'll do my best.

Harriett Diller said...

JMG,

I am experiencing the truth of what you wrote about the long learning curve in developing skills needed to deal with collapse. We have a tiny yard on a very busy corner in Chambersburg, PA. This spring we turned the entire yard into a garden. I'm not sure we'll get much food at all this year, mostly due to poor soil, shortage of light, and my limited but growing gardening skills. I am also taking a gardening course with the county extension service, and all participants get a share in the harvest from that garden. I appreciated what you wrote somewhere about the comic hero. I like to think that I am something of a comic hero as I do weird things like roll my trash can compost barrel up and down the sidewalk in order to speed up the process. I field a lot of questions about what's going on.

Harriett

M said...

JMG wrote: "for a lot of Americans who are far underwater on mortgages they can't pay, getting out of debt begins with walking away from a house they can no longer afford."

I live with my wife and 2 and a half year old son in a house that she bought at the height of the boom. We went through the arduous process of renegotiating the mortgage to a much more affordable rate (essentially half), but it means 40 years and if we ever sell, we'll owe the $70,000 that was "excused" off the interest payments. She and I met in town a few years ago, and I recently sold my house, which I bought when the market was lower and then fixed up. I would have preferred keeping that house as the overall debt was lower, but I did use some of the profit to pay off all credit card debt. I now plan to put in solar hot water and fix up our stand alone two car garage for potential rental to offset costs in the future, when even the reduced amount we now pay may be a big strain on our budget.

I guess technically our mortgage is still under water, but even though I'll never own the house outright (I'm 52) I figure this is a workable situation, especially since I have good roots in the community and have been involved in the local agriculture the last few years.

I'm still unsure about where to concentrate my job/livelihood energies, though. I'd like to take some of the remaining money and invest it in some training or starting a small business. I have some welding background, I was thinking of learning brazing to build and repair bicycles, bike trailers, bike racks. But the real call for this currently niche market may come further down the decline to actually make a living at it right now. Do you have ideas for specific jobs or services that would be helpful now to earn a living, particularly for people like myself who are approaching traditional retirement age? Ideas that I'm contemplating are sharpening services (but won't most learn to do this themselves as people can afford less and less), or small appliance repair, ie sewing machines, small motors, etc., as people throw out less and less. Another thought was a small local paper that focused on the home economy.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi JMG

Regarding collapsing ahead of the rush, well, I can vouch for that approach. Being a long-serving and hence cynical government worker, I saw the writing on the wall in my organisation well ahead of time (2003) and planned accordingly. I worked hard at clearing all debt - especially the mortgage. Planning my 'collapse' - exit on optimum terms - took five years and a lot of luck. Gaining Peak Oil awareness in the middle of that period just confirmed my views.

When the compulsory relocations came, I was in a position to accept a redundancy settlement instead, while others, previously or even still cheery optimists, were stuck at the wage slave stage, unable to leave, and obliged to do their employer’s bidding, often at a very severe personal cost. Exit on an acceptable basis has since become a fast receding horizon for those remaining employees, as their employment, redundancy and pension terms are being rapidly diluted, ultimately to something approaching Dickensian levels if the Government gets their way.

Meanwhile, the organisation itself lurches from one crisis to the next – very much in a stair-step fashion, but already a shadow of its former self.

Employment is but one dependence - as Stoneleigh rightly advises, gain control over the essentials of your existence – at the very least, that means a modest stockpile of meds, food and other day to day stuff. Doing just that will put you in a better position than most in a short term crisis - more likely than zombie apocalypse, and it doesn’t cost that much in terms of cash or space to do.

It's simple really. Ask yourself what's likely in your community in ten years, and plan for that, in detail and big picture - rather than hoping for the best. If anything, I wasn't pessimistic enough.

Finally, John Wheeler might like to note that the UK HM Customs and Excise dept have been shedding tax collecting staff by the thousands. Private Sector Good, Public Sector Bad, apparently.



Mustard

RPC said...

"...the survival of any given military depends on the survival of the government it serves." Well, here I must dissent; too many examples of militaries that took over or simply turned on their governments spring to mind. Since the militaries of the OECD nations seem to be considering and acting on the implications of resource limitations much more than their governments, a situation where a military takes over to ensure stability or simple survival of its nation is far from out of the question.

Andy Brown said...

I'm in my mid-40's, and I think our generation is an historical oddity in that we have been expected to do one thing and earn our living by that. ("Hobbies" became an exercise in consumption rather than production). Look around the world or at history or even at the full spectrum of this society of ours and you see that the norm has always been to cobble together a material existence from all sorts of activities. Certainly my grandparents (farmers on one side; general storekeeper on the other) did a little bit of a lot of things to get by. I suppose that's my guiding principle.

guamanian said...

@Castus – A quick bundle of thoughts on your dilemma, which as JMG notes will be a focus later in the series.

It seem to me that the key issue with military life is the lack of personal choice over one's fate. This is true at all times, but even sharper in descent. All armies, in all eras, are regularly deployed against their own populations. In descent, this will become the dominant role of the military. Few join the service in order to occupy their own country, but many will end up doing so. In intelligence work this is especially troubling... all paths lead to the STASI, and none emerge from that dungeon with their soul intact.

As a Canadian, there are a lot of additional twists the future might bring: heroic death in futile defence of the tar sands, wasted death as colonial auxillaries in an equally futile US war, moral death in service to a Quisling regime of some sort. What all these have in common is not the 'death' part, but the lack of choice over your own fate.

In discussing these scenarios with serving soldiers in the past, I have heard "If that happens I can always desert and go underground". Possibly. But in that case why not take a riff on JMGs advice: "Leave now, and beat the rush".

JMG, I expect this post will be diturbing to some, as there is powerful thaumaturgy in play around the sanctity of military service. Still I think every serving soldier in every army needs to have this inner dialogue, make their choices while they have them, and cast their die with clarity and intention.

Whatever Castus's choices, I wish him, and all those whose lives he will touch, the best.

Chris Balow said...

JMG, in speaking of paying down debt, I wonder if you might comment on the student loan debt situation in the U.S. Unlike a mortgage or an auto loan, it cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and it has no tangible, sell-able object attached to it. With total student loan debt in the U.S. exceeding $1 trillion, it seems obvious that the vast majority of that $1 trillion will not be repaid. So, for those of us with large amounts of student loan debt, who are also looking for a way to “collapse now,” does that translate as “default now?” Should those of us who see mass defaults on the way just get ahead of the curve?

Yupped said...

Really good summation of the last few years of posts, and an effective call to action for those who need one. I’m probably crumbling gently, rather than completely collapsing, although if I look back on changes we’ve made in the last few years it’s pretty amazing. But we still haven’t grasped the nettle of complete collapse. We’re running well ahead of the decline, and doing things that reality isn’t yet mandating, but we haven’t catapulted our lifestyle 20 years into a resource depleted future. We’re sort of surfing the wave down, perhaps.

I’ve found it useful to have a couple of timeframes in mind: the big picture of resource depletion over the next few decades; and the details of how it will all play out year by year. The arc of the bigger picture is easier to see than the details, and it is helping me to plan for the longer-term while staying sane. Since I’m 50, the bigger picture is about how to advise and guide my teenage kids, what skills to invest in now, how re-think about “money” and “wealth” and how to position for our advanced years – where to live and what to do, given that a condo in Florida, funded by government and interest on savings, is not a super good target for 2030!

The details are much more tricky, of course. We’ve decided to stay put in our little Connecticut town, and do the urban homestead thing for now I love it. It has all of its own rewards. But it’s a little weird to be tinkering with my root cellar and researching herbal medicine, while the talk of the town is how many millions of bond dollars to spend on a new High School. And then there are the inevitable series of neck-whipping news events that trumpet how everything is fixed forever: the shale gas thing or Europeans lending themselves a fortune or whatever. So I guess you have to keep your eye on the big picture, take action, and don’t worry about the details. On that note I found this quote from Ray Bradbury, who died this week: “I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior...Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”

Odin's Raven said...

"We" are part of what is going away. It's not just a material decline, the moral and intellectual loss is more rapid and more fundamental to the decay of civilization.

The transition from "the business of America is Business" to "Fraud IS the American business model" took place at the peak of prosperity and resource availability.

The subversion and inversion of values and institutions kills societies and civilizations far faster than does resource depletion. What constitutes the American/Western "we" is likely to be dissolved whilst there are still quite a lot of material resources available.

'Cultivating one's garden' will help individuals for a decade or so, but the "we" which is in the process of transition will not emerge from it. For this civilization it's Ragnarok; it's all going down, and if anything positive emerges it will be a different "we".

Edde said...

Good morning John Michael,

Hope you got a chance to put an eye on the transit of Venus. It was cloudy here so all we got was photographic.

We've been collapsing since the '70s.

We have no debt, have a paid for house and small acreage,a bicycle biz for livelihood where I do much recycling;-) The spouse is a museum curator for an 1890s farm and other historic buildings & collections.

We attempt to bring others to a realization of and functional response to collapse. I plan to use the bulk of this excellent summation for another plea for sanity in our "intentional" community.

I'd like to throw some $$ into the hat - where can I send a check?

THANKS!

Best regards, edde

Holly said...

First, I want to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. While I may not always agree with you, I greatly enjoy the serious, well-considered, and very well-written presentation of your point of view.

Secondly, twelve years ago I left academe and bought some land. I still have to work (part-time) to pay the mortgage. I don't have the capital or the skills to go "off-grid" but I have tried to plan for a less than rosy future. I have a well. I know how to build a rocket stove. I can raise chickens. I have a small garden and I have tried to foster as much "edible landscaping" as possible. In fact, the last is the one thing I would encourage everyone with any land, no matter how small, to do. Plant fruit and nut trees and vines. Encourage self-seeding vegetables and grains to become established. Learn to recognize and use foragable plants.

It may turn out that the most valuable thing I learned in grad school was how to live on a never-ending rotation of beans and grains!

Lauren said...

Your post this morning hit a few sensitive areas - I have run off to the country, I have the (not so few) solar panels and, being 8 miles from the closest town, I may drive more than when I lived in the city.

We bought our 120 acres 12 years ago, ignorant of peak oil and the pitfalls of industrialization. Somewhere on the learning curve of cattle production, the unsustainability of life as I knew if, became painfully obvious.

In the last five years we have done much to become self-sustainable, but it is hard work. When I visit a nearby Amish community and see what they are able to accomplish in this harsh climate with very limited useof fossil fuels, it's almost like seeing the future.

Learning how to harness and drive a donkey (someone mentioned an ox), moving firewood using only animal energy, gardening, managing family-sized dairying with the cheese-making and goat health issues - it is a steep learning curve.

We've had the financial resources to get past mistakes. There are issues of non-generosity in the family, so one way around thatnismto buy the large solar array, buy the hybrid cars, etc just to encourage a market that may one day become more mainstream & affordable. (Yes, I see now that all industrialization will be sorely tested, no matter how useful the products appear on the surface). I now prefer to deal mostly with hand-craft people, for my water cisterns (while using our truck yo transport them!).

Your blog serves as a reality check. I'm finishing Ethno-Technic future today or tomorrow and found your book The Long Descent quite enlightening.

So, after all is said & done, I am on-board with staying in place; we're just in a place where the realities of self-sufficiency are very apparent.

Maria said...

JMG, I found this essay very encouraging. That, and a recent encounter with a couple of acquaintances at a wake who asked me about my job situation. I mentioned not having a "Job" but picking up informal work cleaning houses and sous-cheffing for a friend who is a caterer, as well as making a little money selling handmade jewelry. Remember the cool kids in high school? That's the look the two women exchanged: "No fancy house, no SUV, no Alex & Ani bracelets [they are very fashionable around here just now], she is cleaning houses and chopping vegetables, her hair is crazy long and my God, she doesn't even get professional manicures!" It was startling at the time to see how pathetic they think I am. Good thing I didn't tell them that the few new pieces of clothing I need this summer are being made with my own two hands. :)

It's been so easy to panic and think I need to move someplace and overhaul my life all at once. But reading your essay -- especially the part about staying with the folks you know -- reminded me that I am aready part of a network of people who don't throw anything away if it can be made use of by someone else (that's how I got a vintage all-metal sewing machine for free). I'm realizing that I may only be taking baby steps, but I'm on my way. I'm already living a life that a lot people around me would think of as a nightmare, even though I have a cushy lifestyle compared to most of the world's population. And despite what the women at the wake might believe, I've never been happier.

Lei said...

I always wonder much many people in a small European country will need and be willing to pay for teaching Chinese, or even for intepreting and translating, however strong China may be (which is at issue after all)...

GHung said...

Deciding whether or not to collapse in place requires an honest assessment of one's current 'in place'. So many things to consider:

Transportation may be the most solvable; walking, biking, shared transportation if available...

Reliance upon centralized services is less solvable. All of your collapse preps will be moot if your neighbors' sewers are backing up into your home. Potable water? Waste/garbage disposal? If been to urban areas worldwide where basic services have failed or aren't available. NOT for me, thanks! More population density means more competition for the basics, more wear on infrastructure.

Small things can be problematic: Wall-to-wall carpeting without a vacuum cleaner? Too few screened windows in summer? Too many stairs when one lives on the 5th floor and gets injured or old? Ever try to carry several gallons of water up five flights, or up the hill from the water truck?

How will your neighbors, most who certainly haven't practiced a voluntary collapse, be reacting? Police services?

Having been in the voluntary pre-collapse mode for many years now, I can say that it's the things one hasn't considered that sneak up and bite you. Assessment prior to commitment is essential. "Collapse now" isn't so simple. Just because one has collapsed ahead of the curve doesn't mean those around you have. It also may mean unknowingly continuing to rely on basic services that will likely be failing over time. If one is already providing these services (all of them) for one's self, one is more free to deal with the inevitable challenges to come, and to help others to provide net positive benefit to the community.

JMG: I share a sense of urgency (Orlov's post this week seems also to notch up the urgency factor), and it may well be a case of "storm's coming; too late to evacuate", but if one currently 'lives below sea level' one should certainly abandon any hope of collapsing successfully in place. It's a hard choice, I know.,

I also have some doubt that the decline is likely to be catabolic and slow. Again, this collapse is global, affecting an unprecedented population with unprecedented reliance upon declining resources and complex systems. This time is different in many ways, including shear scale. Humanity has entered uncharted waters.

Appologies for adding a little yin to your yang ;-)

Allie said...

Hello JMG, thanks for the very interesting and enjoyable read this morning.

I wanted to add my thoughts to the following part of your post:

"Fourth, while it’s fashionable these days to imagine that this process will take the form of a sudden cataclysm that will obliterate today’s world overnight, all the testimony of history and a great many lines of evidence from other sources suggests that this is the least likely outcome of our predicament. Across a wide range of geographical scales and technological levels, civilizations take an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of decline and fall, and there is no valid reason to assume that ours will be any exception."

First of all, I do tire of this doomer apocalypse fantasy stuff. It is a daydream and a distraction.

Anyways, I believe that there is a valid reason to assume that our civilization's decline and fall will be a bit quicker than that of previous civilizations. That reason is the same reason that enabled our civilization to reach its zenith in the first place, fossil fuels.

As you correctly point out, past civilizations took an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of collapse regardless of geographical scale or technological know how. However, none of these past civilizations had any where near the amount of energy to work with as our civilization had.

Previous civilizations using their technical know how to maximize the animal and human energy (wind and water for later ones) available to them took centuries to a millennium or more to reach their geographic, economic and political maximums. And as you point out, one to three centuries to decline and fall.

Thanks to the energy content of fossil fuels, our civilization has reached its maximums in only a couple of centuries. As a result, I think that our civilization's decline and fall will happen on a shorter time frame. I would put that time frame at two decades to a century. Of course, I'm not saying that there's no way that we can't drag it out (kicking and screaming) for 300 years of slow, agonizing decline. I just think, based on the x factor of fossil fuels that our civilization used for break neck expansion, that will lead to a similarly break neck contraction.

That's my two cents, anyways...

Thanks for getting my brain working in new ways. I just finished your book, The Wealth of Nature and found your insights and observations to be very valuable.

Lastly, thanks for mentioning the Bussard fusion reactor. I had never heard of it before. It was a fun (but dense) Wikipedia read.

Cheers,

AJM

Richard Larson said...

Very informative blog, lots in a tight little package. JMG, you are gifted to communicate through writing.

I'm one of those guys having a mid-life survival retreat issue. Ha! But I am learning organic gardening and know other ways the earth can provide.

But the debate needs to change when we write about the coming changes as now we are living an unnatural human life. Life of diseases and petty stressors, all promoted by the sedentary lifestyle these fuels have supported.

The changes is not a downer, they are an upper. Our very being is matched to the natural environment and living close is thrilling and rewarding. Just the slight touches I have experienced leads me to believe being disconnected from the system is a life more worth living than one of sitting there on your duff, having some corporation massage your brain to buy their next gimmick. These desires are a creation of the abnormal. You are brainwashed to buy things you don't need, creating huge costs you can't afford without sucking in deeper and working for those same corporations. The system is a creation and once sucked in, most believe they have no other choice.

I think that William Duncan Hunter has it pegged!

Robo said...

No doubt many here are well along in their own attempts to avoid the rush. In my own case, as I've worked to set up an agricultural system, I'm constantly reminded that true self-sufficiency is almost impossible in any technological context, no matter how primitive.

Beyond hunter-gatherer cultures, there always needs to be a reliable economic infrastructure of suppliers and fabricators to keep a society functional at any particular level. For want of a nail, a lot of things are lost. Somebody has to forge the nail and smelt the iron and mine the ore or recycle the scrap.

Here in the Western world, it's encouraging that so many people are relearning 'archaic' lower tech skill sets. They will be essential to our collective future. Now we must rediscover the smaller scale social organizations that will effectively organize those skills.

Conversations like these are part of that rediscovery process. As moderns living within an imaginary media dreamscape we have come to expect everything important to happen within a span of a few days, months or years. As you point out, great behavioral and cultural changes are more often measured in decades or centuries. The ripples spread slowly from a dropped pebble.

Despite the missed opportunities of the brief false dawn of awareness in the 1970's, we're finally getting a start on adapting to our predicament. Hopefully we still have enough time to clamber down the first big steps in your staircase without too many fatalities, even without the benefit of those lost 40 years.

Jason said...

JMG, I see there's been a trial run of your putative Japan--->West Coast US refugee route:

BBC News: Tsunami dock washed up in Oregon

Paul Chefurka said...

Several factors influence my approach to what’s now upon us.

First, and most obvious, there will be no exemptions issued for the decline. We are all in this together. The cultural and biophysical interdependencies are far too great to permit any one person, country or region to stand on its own, unscathed, as its neighbours fail.

Second, there is no way to prevent the now-visible denouement – not one I’ve been able to discover at any rate. As you note, the various suggestions are all variations of impotent talk. If a “solution” to the Predicament were possible (a ludicrous idea in itself) it would require a global level of central direction, since the problems making up the Predicament are all global in scope. Last time I looked there were 7 billion of us on this planet, each of us with a different idea of What Should Be Done. In comparison with the task of organizing that mob for collective, directed action, the difficulty of herding cats pales into triviality.

The third factor flows out of the second. The future is inherently unknowable, because it depends on the dynamic interplay of the various actions of all 7 billion people, both as individuals and at various levels of collectivity.

So it looks to me as though the only real option available to any of us is to simply do whatever we think is best. We have no way of knowing whether it will be the “right thing” or not.

Because of this your two-part “alternative strategy” (enjoy life, then die) is in fact the one that we will all follow, like it or not. There is no real “choice” available, because that process essentially describes what we’ve been doing for the last umpty-thousand/million years. The idea that we have ever had a choice, beyond choosing how to “enjoy” our situation, is a conceit.

The choice I’ve made is to become as aware as possible of what’s going on around me, and to respond to those events as wisely as I can manage. In the process I try to encourage others to transcend their own emotional/egoic reactivity, to think deeply, and to become as wise as they too can manage as a result. The more of us who can make wise decisions (regardless of what those decisions actually are) the better the unknowable future may be, at least in some tiny measure. At the same time, applying wisdom instead of immature knee-jerking to one’s life makes it more satisfying and productive, and reduces the amount of inner stress we feel while doing our best and waiting for the inevitable visit from the Reaper.

JWN+ said...

For some reason, I keep hearing the lyrics from this old James Taylor song, "Secret of Life" (http://youtu.be/ou2GlIx2iTc):

"Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride..."

Maybe it won't be so bad after all. Or as James puts it: Welcome to the human race.

Thank you for all you do, Archdruid Greer.

Ceworthe said...

I keep getting e-mails from Sierra Club urging me to lease solar panels for my roof thru Sungevity with a $750. off coupon (which probably tells you just how large the cost of it all might be. Perhaps a surge to keep one's electricity flowing already?
I'm not adverse to a few solar panels, mind you, but leasing seems like a money pit to me.
Collapse now and avoid the rush is an excellent idea, if only for the fact that you get to collapse in a way of your own choosing more or less,(given limits to the variety of ways it can be done successfully)rather than in a crazed stampede to the exit

Tyler August said...

JMG,
First of all--thank you. That is a wonderful slogan that really cuts to the heart of the matter. I'll have to meditate on how to apply it to my own life--return to my parents paid-off suburban home, I suppose, but I'm not willing to do that, just yet. No job = no rent money = no apartment. I think that might be part of the appeal of a fast crash to many young people: renters can become squatters the minute the system fails.

I am one of the little dutch boys trying to stick a technological finger into the energy dike, but... I'm beginning to think that it is too late for silver bullets, at this stage of the game. Say one of the alt-fusion companies, Bussard's heirs or otherwise, stands up tomorrow and says "Okay, we've got it. Our reactor works and we're ready to commercialize." Or Elon Musk stands up and says "Alright, I'm building a robot asteroid base that'll start cranking out power satellites next week."
... does that solve our problems?
No.
We have to build the reactors or rectenna farms. A lot of them. A whole lot of them. That takes energy, resources, capital and vision. All of which are in short supply at this stage of the long descent.
...does that solve our problems?
No.
Even with an ample supply of electrons, we still have to build an infrastructure to use it. Build infrastructure? We cannot maintain what we have.
A silver bullet is of limited use when the werewolf is already at your throat.
I suspect that we are doomed to suffer the next round of economic and social collapse no matter what technological wizardry we can come up with. That said, thorium or fusion or space resources developed now could be of immense aide in the rebuilding phase that follows.

Thomas Daulton said...

Wonder if you'll be getting your usual 200 comments on this thread -- I think it'll be either much less, or much more.

Emphasizing the long-haul nature of the collapse tends to be a momentum-breaker. I'm not trying to single out JMG's blog in particular, especially considering JMG has always been up-front about the slow pace of change and taking the long historical view. Still, on this blog and moreso in other sources I've read over the past 5+ years, there have always been tidbits that proclaim "The end is coming faster than anyone thinks!" And the human mind latches on to drama such as that. So I think a lot of people who understand and agree with you (including, to some degree, me) get nonplussed when we start talking about the current techno civilization persisting in some zombie form for a century into the future. A lot of us ADHD Americans tend to lose patience!

I have always seen logic in the argument that we're not going to go to bed all Mary Poppins one Wednesday night and wake up in The Road Warrior on Thursday morning. These changes take time. My 2-cents worth... (at the risk of offending foreign readers, I mean no disrespect!)... I've thought for awhile now that the United States will experience at least a couple decades of what I refer to as "Australia", when resources are in short supply, but we still have the tech, we still live in cities and can still find jobs, but we're dealing with natural disasters and a harsh environment, and the dollar just doesn't buy what we think it should buy...
...then we would go through "a couple of decades of Mexico", when things are really falling apart, there are major shortages and societal failures and some degree of tribalism, but people can still point to something called the "United States" and be patriotic about it if they choose... (and I write this as somebody who recently spent 3 years living in Mexico; trust me, Mexico is not a bad place to live!)
...those two epochs would have to play out completely before we hit "decades of Calcutta".
Given the dizzying speed of technology, the Fall could proceed faster than I predict. But I think that it will happen slowly enough that a lot of people whom today we think of as unproductive economic slaves, will have time to get off their butts, adapt and get with the program. There may not be any massive die-off or exodus from cities, certainly not a quick one. You & I might well die peacefully of natural causes and old age before we really see anything we could call "collapse".

The Great Changeover ends up being very much a mental game instead of an economic or physical one at this point. It just doesn't make any sense to give up certain of our advantages -- a high paying job, for example -- insofar as, and no farther than, we can _use_ them to prepare (instead of the advantages/jobs/comforts "using" us instead). In the end, we have to realize that we are fish that swim in the water of a culture, and few of us can simply jump out and expect to survive. Even as we observe the pond drying up (while others deny it), still the best many of us can do is live a bit more in the shallows, get used to warmer water and the occasional gulp of air. We won't be evolving legs overnight.

As a completely different analogy, it disturbs me a little that my Peak Oil preparations tend to remind me of that old Zen parable where a student sees a Zen master hauling a load of firewood. The student asks, "Master what is it like to be Enlightented?" The master puts down his heavy burden and sighs with relief. "But what does one do after attaining enlightenment?" the student asks. The master cheerfully takes up his burden again and continues walking.
It's often a mental game and the big victory is to understand _WHY_ you're doing what you're doing, instead of just doing it because that's what everyone expects of you.

GHung said...

BTW: RIP Ray Bradbury.

"The minute you get a religion you stop thinking. Believe in one thing too much and you have no room for new ideas. ” ...The October Country

Reverse Developer said...

One alternative to monastic lifestyle, or one version of that lifestyle that may become viable and attractive on the downslope is the "poor farm". Negative connotations, deserved in many repects, probably obscure the positive characteristics.

Infamously, poor houses were catchall nets for problematic memebers of society: the old, infirm, mentally ill and criminal elemets. Mass execution would not solve the problem, nor would ignoring or shunning them.

County government in the US was born, created to deal with those who did not fit into the emergent industrial economic model.

Our eyes now hurt open, we again see that this economic model is little different than an employment lottery in which the odds of prosperity (not to be confused with productive employment) are quite low.

But imagine were we to organize around the principle that all those with something to contribute to their own sustenance and, by dint of donation of their free will to the collective effort to prosper, society at large. Would this not resemble the apprentice farmer model of a lot of organic and CSA operations?

Were it not for the most limiting mental and physical disabilities, unmitigated criminal and compulsive tendencies, the "poor farm" business structure would even be admirable, even competitive with local production much the way Amish cloisters fuction.

And even with some reasonable proportion of dependent and independent memberships could have been could have been islands of relative paradise in the mad sea of unregulated capitalism from which these institutions arose of necessisty.

Revival of the poor farm model under more responsible and thoughtful principles seems like a natural to me.

Cathal said...

Great post, and enlightening/frightening as ever. Especially to be introduced to "catabolic collapse". Thinking about this, I wonder does one's preferred form of collapse say something about one's worldview and values? A person who's prepared to some extent might feel enthusiastic about sudden collapse, if s/he weren't taking the larger view. At least with a long decline, we all have a chance to see the writing on the wall. But, by the end of it, our infrastructure is all gone; at least with a sudden collapse, we'd still have the chance of re-building or re-purposing critical infrastructures.

Speaking of which, it's not spoken of enough that, as you point out, many people will never survive the fall of industrialism as things currently stand, due to dependence on life-saving medicines. I touched on this on my own blog, with a post on DIY insulin/thyroxine biosynthesis.

While it won't "replace oil", the potential for synthetic biology to cushion the peak oil crash is considerable, provided it's in the hands of the people who need it. If or when my family someday need insulin, and I have a strain of thistle that produces it, perhaps we can survive on that. When I'm lamenting the loss of coffee imports, perhaps I can get by on genetically-modified caffeinated dandelion root. :)

It's earned a bad reputation over the last few decades for commercial exploitation, but I think the next real wave of genetic technology will be "peer to peer", a sort of genetic barter economy. And, I think it's going to make life a lot more bearable when "grow your own" becomes the agricultural norm once again.

ofthehands.com said...

This is a fantastic post--just a great summary of why we face a collapse and what some of the effective ways of responding are. I'm going to have to link to this for my voluntary poverty series, because you summarized the situation much more concisely than I have in the introduction to those posts. Thank you for this.

I've been farming since 2009 in some capacity or another. The last three seasons have been internships on organic veggie farms and now I'm working as a farm hand for two farms that produce pasture-raised meat, learning the animal side of things. I had the good fortune of being able to make the choice to walk away from my life to start interning at farms and learning how to grow and raise food. No family dependent on me, no major obligations, still young and fit--and it's proved to be the best choice I've made in my life.

Now I'm gardening in between my farm hand jobs, paying off my credit card debt, and working on scaling back. I worry about my student debt a bit--I'm in the income-based repayment option and plan to be there for the foreseeable future--but hopefully that won't come back to haunt me. If it does, I'll just have to deal with it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important attitude is to facing the long descent. I see so many people raging against their perceived political enemies. All the troubles that we have seem inevitably to be the evil doing of some bad actor or another, and defeating that person and their ideology is the way to fix things. I've been there, and not that long ago. But I've given up that attitude and one of the best things I think I've managed to do in the last year or so is come to the conclusion that it's about my own personal work, not the machinations of others.

I've talked to so many people who have so much emotion and worry and anger and fear wrapped up in the election or reelection of that person or the other. And I see these reactions, remember when I felt the same way, and think about how incredibly disempowering that always was for me. The idea that the quality of your life is dependent on the whim of some odd millions of voters is a horrible thought. Now, I think the quality of my life is dependent on the work I do and community I integrate into, first and foremost, with a good bit of luck and happenstance playing most the rest of the role. I can better control that. I can choose to do or not do the work that needs to be done, and then recognize that beyond that I just have to roll with what happens.

I have to say, that lifts a huge burden. Accepting the idea of collapse is very liberating in that you no longer have to strive so hard to try to hold onto what is destined to go away. You just watch as it slips from view and then reconfigure how you live your life, rather than raging against whatever enemy you've decided has taken the good life from you.

Even as a farm hand, I realize that a collapsing economy could take away that source of work, or the way I get paid for that work. But then I'll just make the adjustments, and hopefully I'll figure something out. I'm always happy with barter and work-trade. All I really want is good food, good company, good beer, and a place to sleep. I think I'm in a decent position to maintain much of that.

But if not, then so be it. I'll just have to deal with that when it comes, make adjustments, and do my best. It's more or less how every other species lives on this planet, why shouldn't it be the same for me?

Joel

Rita said...

@Chris-re student loans
Individual situations will vary depending largely on the amount of loans and the immediate and long-term employment prospects. IMO default should be the last option. There are forbearance arrangements available immediately after graduation and for certain periods of unemployment. Then there are low income arrangements, some of which involve loan cancellation after a given period or under certain conditions. All of these options will protect your income from garnishment and your credit from damage. There is a NOLO Press book on managing student debt and the government web sites provide detailed information. The mistake I see some people make is just ignoring the loans--they will not go away and, as some have learned in the recent depression, unpaid debts may damage employment prospects as well.

Joe Johnson said...

"Collapse now and avoid the rush" is a brilliant little phrase, and for some reason brings to my mind Timothy Leary's famous encapsulation of a certain Sixties mindset: "Tune in, turn on, drop out."

Not that you and Leary have much of anything in common (other than being far apart from the grain of mainstream America), but I hear you telling us to tune in to the reality of what's happening on our planet and to drop out from the illusion of perma-growth, to collapse now instead of later. The "turn on" bit may not have a corollary in your phrase, and for good reason: no time to get lost in the escape-from-reality drug haze these days.

Where Leary's phrase advocated a certain abandonment of responsibility for the outside world, you're saying the opposite, so, really, I hope you'll indulge my mind's connection where one isn't warranted in any sense but this: What the two sayings have most in common is their pithy, clever, humorous summation of a complex situation and a new (to most people) way of seeing the world.

JohanA said...

A nice summary of your thinking!

Carolyn Baker wrote about a year and a half ago about learning to live with paradox as a difficult but important lesson in the Age of Limits. "Get out of debt" together with "collapse now" forms a nice paradox. I have no mortgage, only student loans (which in Sweden are entirely handled by the government), and I've been paying them down as fast as possible, but I'll have them for years more. My non-collapse proof line of work (in IT) lets me pay down those debts but prevents any personal collapsing. Living with(in) paradox, indeed.

I do what I can, though, gardening, biking, experimenting with food preservation and so on.

However, I find I don't like that "collapse" word. It suggests something like a large structure falling down, leaving only rubble. I don't think that's a good metaphor for what's happening. The best metaphor I've seen is still your (JMG's) succession model, which also has the benefit of allowing for all the other challenges we're facing. It's not just a matter of running out of easy fuel.

(see the worried discussion in Nature)

Bruce The Druid said...

Upon reading the last lines, I had the familiar "been here before" feeling. But instead of schmaltzy organ music, it was the wind rustling the Oak branches, ravens croaking furiously, faint booms and flashes filling the sky. And through it all, fairy chimes tinkling.

"Yes, come to the old Oak tree and drop your burdens and your worries, come to the Oak tree and find yourself refreshed as a young Spring sapling!"

While Christian altar calls are collequially refered to as "come to Jesus" moments, A druid altar call seems to have a different flavor altogether. Less about sin, and more about hope.

Of the various skill sets that have been mentioned that might be useful, a good sense of humor is vital. Survival experts say humor in a stressful situation is extremely important, decreasing stress levels and allowing for more clear thinking.

Oh way, by the way, if the nation goes the way of Detroit, it won't be matter of whether or not we should move out to the country, as cities shrink, the country will come to us. If we are already forming friendships with our neighbors and working on our various skill sets (including the mental ones), setting up a farming village will be so much simpler (think of all the building materials to be had from abandoned buildings!).

Southern Limits said...

It seems like where I am and where I want to be in terms of living a low energy lifestyle are extremely far apart at this time. I have been in an international relationship for just over two years between New Zealand and Canada, which from an energy conservation perspective is a ridiculous proposition but sometimes the head must bow to the heart even if it doesn't make a lot of moral or economic sense.

We are both in our late 20s, feverishly trying to pay off education debt and get in a position where we can begin building a more sustainable life. Trying to build up a catalogue of tools, practical skills etc while we have jobs that let us afford to do this. All the while battling immigration requirements and interest rates.

I hope to go back to university next year, but trying to do it without making our debt situation worse. I think we can make it work but it is all up in the air right now.

Thanks for the writing, it's great to have a guide as to where efforts should be best spent and what pitfalls to avoid in terms of deciding where to live and what to do.

Regards,

Andrew

http://www.southernlimitsnz.com/

Mary said...

JMichael, thank you again for much food for thought. GHung and Allie, I agree. Prior civilizations took many hundreds of years to reach their peaks, before the one to few hundred to collapse. While I don't expect an overnight collapse, I think even within 10 years life will be very different for us all. Collapse now; beat the rush indeed.

We are at resource limits everything, and climate change is going to really strain the system. I've read that the very large, fresh water aquifer under the middle of the country is extremely depleted (80-90%?). I know we've killed off much of the edible fish in the Atlantic (90%). We change to eating new species, but we will also deplete them quickly. Desalinization and warm water is impacting them significantly already, as well, as noted in a recent article written by a local marine research organization.

Desertification is underway; not only will peak oil impact food production, lack of water where we need it will. A dust bowl for the new millenium here in the US; already in Africa. Much of Asia depends on the Himalayas for their water source, yet they are going to run down.

Back to the US, I recently got a mailer on the latest big energy "investment" opportunity. Not sure how I got on the list, but this one I took home instead of dumping in the trash. Inside was one useful bit of information -- states with new drilling licenses (most for fracking). Only the Pacific Northwest, New England and a few states in the middle will be spared.

Meantime, I'm working on collapsing in place even while seeking to move to a place less hostile and with more like-minded people, as well as more land and a smaller, more manageable house.

Maria, I hear you. My sister recently actually threatened me, yelling that if I "continue to believe as you do, you will lose everything and never have a nice life!" As if living in an oversize,underwater home with a huge mortgage, taxes almost as high as my annual income, with frontage to a now toxic, unswimmable lake....is such a nice life! I'll take growing my own veggies and swimming with my dogs in our nearby lake any day of the week!

Mary

B-man said...

Where we live in rural Tennessee we are constantly amazed at the number of residents who make no provision for themselves. This is a minority. But considering the dwindling job prospects for the rural citizen it boggles the mind that someone with an acre or more of land does not garden, raise a pig or otherwise support their part-time paychecks.

Thanks for the sustained narrative of these "interesting times".
Brian

Josh Floyd said...

Hi John,

I really appreciate you emphasising this again—I think it was when I first heard you pointing in this direction a number of years back that the nature and purpose of your work here really started to come into focus for me.

I can certainly vouch for the efficacy of this way of approaching our situation—in fact, it’s been central to the postgrad sustainability teaching that I’ve been involved with over most of the last decade (and with my colleague Frank Fisher, for 25 years prior to that) in Melbourne, Australia. As just one very simple example, last year a student from Iran in our Principles of Sustainability unit (running as an elective in a Master of Civil Engineering course) was about to ingratiate himself with his host culture by taking our lead and buying a car. A couple of weeks into the semester, he’d freed himself of the burden that he knew this would place on him (working longer to pay for the car, its operation and upkeep, hence having less time for his studies…etc), and decided to “just” keep riding his bicycle for transport. Why the sudden change of heart? Because according to him we’d helped make legitimate a path that he could see made more sense anyway (the idea that “all those locals doing otherwise must know something I don’t” was pretty powerful).

I’m finding increasingly though that even amongst very thoughtful friends and colleagues, couching this specifically in the language of collapse often becomes a block to shared understanding—the term “collapse” seems to be bound up with the notion of “sudden cataclysm” (even amongst those aware of Tainter’s work, few seem to have appreciated his efforts at precise definition of what he means by this—and that it’s quite different to common understandings). I make frequent use of the language of collapse myself, but I’m beginning to wonder if another avenue might be available within William Gibson’s famous observation that “the future is already here—it just isn’t very evenly distributed.” I.e. if we look beyond our immediately familiar surrounds, we can see what “collapse” looks like—it might share quite a bit in common with present ways of living in societies around the world that haven’t yet risen to the levels of complexity characteristic of rich world societies. It’s also noteworthy that many of us in the rich world have already experienced life like this—living or travelling in countries less affluent than our own. I spent a little time looking at aspects of this from a “50,000 foot view” a couple of weeks back here: http://beyondthisbriefanomaly.org/2012/05/17/the-distribution-of-energy-wealth/.

Incidentally, the writing I’m doing there might in a sense be regarded as a companion to some of your work here, for anyone interested in diving a little deeper into the energetics (and into the epistemology behind the energetics). For example, a few weeks back I had a look at where Stuart Staniford went astray in his critique of your discussion on thermodynamics a couple of years ago (details here http://beyondthisbriefanomaly.org/2012/04/19/accounting-for-a-most-dynamic-universe-part-2/#Note-1).

With best wishes,
Josh Floyd

Mr. Menagerie said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

Enjoyed your article.

But when you talk about "peak oil" and the diminishing of fossil fuels leading to the decline of the industrial world as we know it (over time, what time line are you using?

Yes, all logic points to the undeniable fact that such fuel IS finite, but depending on the length of time and the amounts of these types of fuel currently known and being utilized (drilled, pumped, mined, refined and so forth) greatly varies the degree of urgency, depending on one's view or belief on the timeline being greater or smaller/shorter.

I'm not an expert, and I'm certainly not trying to be disrespectful of your opinion/insight or view. But I can go and find a vast amount of documentation or video and commentary that says there is "no" urgency needed to fear a peak oil decline in any stretch of the near future.

And I can also find the opposite perspective as well ;)

Many feel and state with seemingly accurate and factual studies and data that suggest/indicate that we have a great supply of oil, oil shale, coal and natural gas; not only in North America but untapped regions around the globe. Which would or will supply our need for hundreds if not a thousand plus years.

So I'm wondering what your basis of your view on peak fossil fuel is made determined upon. Is there a particular scientist or writer that has lead you to this opinion and conclusion?

Many seen to think that the supposed shortage is nothing but political and corporate maneuvering to encourage price manipulation.

So the downward spiral of post-industrial civilization might be stretch out by as little as 100 yrs or as great as 1000, which really changes the needs and preparation and mindset and expectation one would have over such an event.

I would be very interested in any sources you could share that lead you to believe one way over the other.

Thank you very much!

Best Regards

earthpeace girl said...

A terrific post. My friend and Transition cohort, John Bell, had the luck and pleasure of joining you for breakfast at the conference. He started the Transition initiative I have pretty much dedicated most of my unemployed time to.
What you describe above is exactly what I've been seeing, what I've also read in the history books (I was supposed to be a social studies teacher, if only the economy had cooperated when I received my pricey Masters), and exactly how I feel but didn't have the poetry to put it into words like you did.

Ever since I did the math, and I stink at math, twenty years ago, I knew this fossil fuel based system was unsustainable. Psychologically I began what you describe as "collapsing". No one can collapse until they're emotionally and psychologically ready to face the truth. Like an alcoholic, true healing can't begin until one admits their alcoholism and begins to visualize a world without alcohol.
Although I disagree with the fossil fuel addiction paradigm, I see it more as an out of control, over active hoarding instinct. We often let our instincts get the best of us. Like eating sweets...

I think the biggest problem is facing the future with open eyes and open mind, and not worrying what the neighbors think about you when you go out to mow the lawn with a scythe, and reel mower, or when you spend most of your waking hours nursing new perennials (more resilient that annuals), watering them each lovingly... For hours...
And replacing parts of your lawn with wheat varieties, you know, to see which grow best in in my region...
I don't worry about what most neighbors say, since many of them are asking ME how grow food, and sharing their gardening successes and failures with me. These are exciting times and more and more people will discover there is much enjoyment in going back to the old ways of farming, raising food, living, being together...
Sharing the bounty of the earth and making new, wonderful friends doing it.
Collapse now and join the fun! :)


Pauline

John Michael Greer said...

Greatblue, a very American slogan!

Cherokee, I'm not down on solar power at all; I'm down on the people who use solar panels on the roof as a fashion statement or an excuse for not doing anything more relevant.

Prizm, an excellent point.

Thijs, decadent or not, it works for me. It certainly beats the stuffing out of most socially approved leisure activities!

Xhmko, that's a great project. While you're doing it, learn how to grow other edible mushrooms that don't require coffee grounds; that way you can shift gears to another product as the coffee runs short.

Jason, nope; I did see, back in the 1980s, "Mutate now and avoid the post-bomb rush!" as a wry antinuclear slogan.

Ahimsa, the leap of consciousness you're referencing can only be made by one person at a time, and takes a lot of hard work. The sort of thing I was discussing is the fantasy that December 21, 2012 (or some other excuse) will see a sudden leap of consciousness which will solve all the world's problems for us, without requiring us to do anything. I certainly agree that there's much to be gained by buckling down to the hard work of spiritual practice, but if my experience is anything to go by, certainly, the great majority of Americans would sooner dine daily on live tarantulas than spend fifteen minutes a day in meditation or contemplative prayer.

Tony, of course it's a good idea to relocate into a place where you've got more garden space, if you can do that without undue financial burden or a long commute. It's the daydream of going back to the land I want to challenge, not the practical step -- which I did myself, of course -- of choosing a place to live where I can grow part of my food. As for the advantages I'd like to see passed down to the future, try scientific ecology, intensive organic agriculture, democratic political systems, basic sanitation, the best products of the last couple of millennia of literature and music...well, I could go on for a very long time.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Here in the Rust Belt, we've been prefecting the art of collapse before anyone in the U.S. I guess we beat the rush.

I had an epiphany While walking through a "transitional" neighborhood here in the city, full of garage sales, clotheslines full of clothes, ethnic supermarkets, repair shops, children playing in yards and backyard gardens. So many people are seeking "higher ground" - moving to suburbs where they think they will be safe. Others talk about building lifeboat communities. I say, stay where you are and learn how to swim!

Forty Two said...

As always a brilliant post. Great summary of the issue at hand. However, I wish to differ on the following point 'Across a wide range of geographical scales and technological levels, civilizations take an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of decline and fall, and there is no valid reason to assume that ours will be any exception.'

To begin with, we can say that 'Past performance is not necessarily a predictor for future performance'. More concretely, the past examples of decline and fall are for civilizations that have taken comparable time to rise and prosper. For instance, one could argue that Rome took several centuries to decline and fall because it took several centuries to rise and prosper. On the contratry, the petroleum society we have built is hardly 150 years old. More precisely, one could say that it has been peak only after the second world war ie about 70 odd years and hence the decline should be compared to the same timescale ie it would decline within 70 odd years.

Further more, there is a Seneca law that states that the time to fall (or ruin) is far lesser than the time to rise or prosper. To give a crude (pun intended) example, it is far easier to climb down a mountain than climb up or far easier for a reputation to be ruined than it is to be built, far easier for stock market to fall than to rise. Probably the second law of thermodynamics at work.

Summarizing, the collapse would at the very least be less than or equal to the time of rise and most likely far faster than the time spent on rise. Therefore the timeline of collapse (back to the conditions of say 19th century) would be decades not centuries.

John D. Wheeler said...

I want to clear one thing up, I am not a government employee, I sit on the other side of the aisle, so to speak. However, I realize that very few people are going to want to pay me to prepare their tax returns if the government isn't enforcing them. Who knows, maybe a local barter exchange may need me to keep their books by then.

Another thing I wanted to address, I'd like to point out another alternative to the "party and die vs. collapse now" choice. Even if your own personal survival is questionable after collapse, you can still work to preserve something you love. In my case I am working to cultivate rare varieties and species in my garden. This also goes to xhmko's idea of learning an art form, if it is something you love. Also consider trying to build beauty into the practical things you make, like the Amish do with their quilts.

(Extra credit: how many other Archdruid reports did I just refer to?)

John Michael Greer said...

Guardian, thank you for bringing your perspective into the discussion! Since my health is pretty good, I feel uncomfortable arguing with the chronically ill, or pointing out that there's still much they can do; good to hear from someone who's in that situation, and sees the possibilities.

Castus, thank you!

Leo, do it! Thermoelectric power should be a lot easier to build and maintain at a modest technical level, and I can think of some fairly straightforward ways to do it on a home scale; I'd like to see that getting more attention.

Harriett, if you've got the same kind of poor soil we had -- and of course you're only about 80 miles away -- you'll be fine; add lots of compost and use deep-dug beds, and you'll be astonished how well it'll produce.

M, every person's situation is different, and if you're in a situation where staying in the house is a good plan, by all means do so. As for job skills, that's so totally a function of your personal capacities and the needs of the place where you live that I'm in no position to offer advice.

Mustard, nicely handled -- and yes, "hoping for the best" is usually the worst possible thing you can do. Envision a realistic future, and then round downwards, hard, and you're much more likely to come through in one piece.

RPC, it's a difference of definition. If there's a military coup here in the US, for example, the vast majority of government will remain in place; it's just the personnel at the top, and the method of selecting them, that change.

Andy, an excellent point.

Guamanian, I think you're incorrect in assuming that militaries will be primarily deployed against their own country's civilians in the years to come. More on this later; the short version is that the world is almost certainly between one and two decades away from a period of major wars, and I'd be astonished if Canada managed to stay out. It may not be on the side you expect, either.

Chris, if you signed on to student debt, you basically can't default without losing the ability to own anything else for the rest of your life, unless the laws change or the US implodes first. When I said "pay off your debts," student debt belongs in that category. Pay 'em down as fast as you can.

Yupped, most of us are crumbling rather than collapsing, to be fair -- I only know a few people who live the way they'll be living once the US empire is over and petroleum is a luxury product. The point is to get moving in the right direction now.

Glenn said...

@Jason,

Re: Drift from Japan. You may note it took a year for the first debris from Japan to arrive in the NW. For this to be a viable way for refugees from food shortages to arrive here alive, they would need a year's worth of food and water for each person. Anyone who can manage that, can probably survive where they are.

The other little matter is staying warm and dry. The natural drift route, and logical sailing and steaming routes run pretty close to the Aleutians, an area of notoriously harsh climate and bad weather.

That being said, most cargo ships could manage the trip in a few weeks with fuel for half speed steaming. But in that stage of decline will even that much fuel be available, or will the mother country wish to use it to run tractors or generate electricity?

In all likelihood emigrants will drift to their deaths. Many ships from Asia have washed ashore on the NW coast. I've never heard of any that arrived with a live crew.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, and what's new about that? Every age of the world defines a collective personality, which then must be outgrown and discarded as the next one dawns.

Edde, thank you! If you go to the AODA website and click on the Contact page, you'll find a mailing address; mail sent to me c/o that address will get to me fairly promptly.

Holly, beans and grains are underrated; I learned how to cook and enjoy them without benefit of grad school, and they're still a major part of my diet. More generally, that's the kind of approach that's needed!

Lauren, for those who have (or have had) the resources to head for the country and make a go of it, it's an excellent choice. The reason I hammer on it is simply that so many people insist that it's the only choice there is.

Maria, congrats on the sewing machine! I used to get that sort of treatment all the time -- it's less common now that my books are getting some attention, since writers are supposed to be eccentric, but I used to be on the receiving end of the same kind of contemptuous pity; if I'd only get a corporate job, a haircut, a suit, a McMansion, a fashionably brainless wife, etc., etc., I could make something of myself! I found it exquisitely amusing, since their idea of a successful life could not have interested me less if it had been designed for that purpose, and I was having a good time living my way.

Lei, good question. There's a good chance it'll be a worthwhile career, but make sure you have at least one other option!

Ghung, of course those are issues, but collapsing in place should normally be the first option to consider; relocation is what you do if there are reasons to think that plan A won't work. Since I relocated, you know, I do understand the reasons why staying where you are might not be a good thing... ;-)

Allie, the expansion of Western civilization began in earnest around 1500, with the first major European voyages of exploration, and peaked around 1900, when nearly the entire surface of the planet was either ruled directly from a European capital, owned by descendants of European colonists, or subject to European control. Industrialism evolved in two waves on top of that -- a coal-powered wave beginning around 1700, and the final petroleum-fueled spike beginning in 1900. So it was a much longer way up than you've suggested -- right around the same time frame as other civilizations -- and since fossil fuels aren't going away suddenly, but dwindling by a factor of a few per cent per year, I'd argue that it's most reasonable to expect roughly the same time frame on the way down, too.

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, ssshh! You'll give away the secret -- collapse now, and it's a fascinating and exciting project, rather than a desperate struggle against long odds.

Robo, well, we'll hope.

Jason, yes, I saw! Still, that route has been taken for a long time -- when I was a boy, glass floats used for fishing nets in the Sea of Japan used to wash up on the beaches of Washington State all the time.

Paul, I think you're missing my point. Of course we're all going to die sooner or later; that's not in question. The issue I'm trying to raise here is akin to the issue you have when a ship hits a reef and starts to sink: do you climb aboard a lifeboat, uncomfortable as it will be, and die at some point in the undefined future, or do you refuse to leave the ship's bar because it's warm and cozy there, and die in thirty minutes when the ship goes down?

JWN, anything that brings a James Taylor song to mind is a good thing in my book!

Ceworthe, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the Sierra Club has sold out even more spectacularly than most of the environmental mainstream. Shred those letters; if you want to go with PV panels, buy them yourself and use them to run an off-grid backup system!

Tyler, that line -- "a silver bullet is of no use when the werewolf is already at your throat" -- deserves to be branded into some tender backsides with a red hot branding iron, or at least given much more publicity than it's gotten so far. I'd like to use it with full attribution in a future post, if I may!

Thomas, if your preparations remind you of a Zen parable, you're probably doing something right.

Reverse, hmm. I'll have to do some reading and research before responding.

Cathal, interesting. If that's the thing you decide you're willing to work overtime to save, good; go ye henceforth and do that thing.

Joel, exactly. We're just one more species on this little blue dot.

John Michael Greer said...

Joe, my slogan would be closer to turn off (the TV), tune out (the yammering nonsense of contemporary popular culture), and drop in (to share some beers and a good conversation); still, the parallel is there.

Johan, I don't normally use the term "collapse," for precisely that reason -- it leads to misunderstandings.

Bruce, a Druid altar call is a lot quieter, too -- it normally sounds like wind in the trees. ;-)

Southern, you do what you have to do. Presumably you and the other person will be settling down in one or the other country in the not too distant future; in the meantime, learn the skills that you'll need, and make whatever other preparations make sense, and you'll have at least as good a chance as many.

Mary, no argument there -- life will be dramatically different in ten years, and possibly rather less than that. It's just that we have a very, very long way to go before the process of decline and fall bottoms out. As for your sister, it would probably be unkind of you to remind her of those words when her "nice life" is in tatters and you're doing just fine -- but odds are that's going to happen, of course.

B-man, there's going to be some very harsh adjustments for those who won't help themselves.

Josh, thank you! I appreciate the discussion of the dispute I had with Stuart -- to this day I still wonder how somebody that good at quantitative analysis could get a fairly simple thermodynamic issue that bollixed up. I don't have the technical or engineering background to go far into the energetics, so I'm pleased to see you and others doing that; it needs to be done.

Menagerie, I regularly read a great many sources, print and online, on energy issues, and do a fair amount of number crunching on my own. The claims made for vast amounts of oil, gas, etc. that can be accessed by fracking and the like simply don't add up, and people I know who work in the oil industry laugh at them. I'd encourage you, if you don't already, to visit The Oil Drum regularly and follow the commentariat there, which includes a fair number of professionals in the petroleum field; it's a valuable counterpoint to the press releases coming out of the business-as-usual crowd. I'd also encourage you to go back and read press releases from the last ten years or so of we-have-endless-oil press releases, which have not worn well -- do you recall when the Caspian Sea oil fields were going to keep oil prices low for decades to come? I do.

John Michael Greer said...

Earthpeace, sshhhh! You'll let the secret -- oh, well, I guess it's already out of the bag, isn't it? Collapsing now is more interesting, more engaging, more sheer fun than living an ordinary American lifestyle. There, I've said it.

Escape, bingo. Why do you think I moved to the Rust Belt?

Forty Two, the "Seneca law" you mention is a hypothesis proposed by another peak oil writer on the basis of, er, historical data. If past performance doesn't predict future performance, where does that leave you?

More generally, the argument for a fast collapse has been made over and over again in recent decades. While that's been going on, the slow collapse has actually been happening. It's not a hypothesis; it's a reality that most Americans are already experiencing, and it's slowly accelerating, as the slow collapse theory predicts. Fifty years from now, when America is an impoverished Third World country and gasoline is a luxury prpduct, I confidently expect that there will still be people insisting that the fast collapse is right around the corner!

John, thanks for the clarification. How's your double entry bookkeeping? Doing that by hand is a skill that a lot of people will need to know, once computers and the power to run them price themselves out of common use; if you put together a modest collection of old bookkeeping textbooks that assume you have to do this stuff by hand, and get good at it in your spare time, you may well be setting yourself up with a lucrative future career as a teacher of tomorrow's clerks.

(Answer to your bonus question: most of what I've written, in one way or another. Good!)

Glenn, Jason's referring to a bit from some of my postpeak fiction. The Japanese refugees used whatever fuel they could scrounge, plus jerry-rigged sails, to push disused cargo ships across the Pacific. The government encouraged them to go, since it cut down the number of mouths that had to be fed. Yes, there were lots of deaths, but since some fifty million refugees took that route, there were enough survivors to have a major impact.

Glenn said...

JMG,

"Glenn, Jason's referring to a bit from some of my postpeak fiction. The Japanese refugees used whatever fuel they could scrounge, plus jerry-rigged sails, to push disused cargo ships across the Pacific. The government encouraged them to go, since it cut down the number of mouths that had to be fed. Yes, there were lots of deaths, but since some fifty million refugees took that route, there were enough survivors to have a major impact."

Yes, I knew what Jason was referring too, I've read and enjoyed the post peak fiction you've posted, both Star's Reach and the short sequence set on the Oregon Coast. But as a sailor, both traditional and under diesel power, and with a great deal of experience with the Pacific, I disagree with your assumptions on this scenario. In part it's the technical aspects, but it's also the cultural ones. My son is fluent in Japanese, and recently spent a year there attending college. To say that the traditional culture does not look kindly on leaving the country is a rather severe understatement. Those who leave (at least in our world's version of reality) will be those regarded as the bottom of society, and no resources will be offered to them. To be more explicit, it will be foreigners, descendants of Japanese who have returned from more than a generation abroad and those of mixed race who will be exiled. Some will survive the crossing, but I think the effect will be much less than those who came here during the 20th century.

Now, if your scenario also involves severe depopulation in the NW first, the surviving Asians might make up a larger proportion than otherwise. Still, I think in that case a revived First Nations might have a greater cultural impact. For better or worse.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

DeAnander said...

I find my own life goes in surges like an incoming (or outgoing!) tide. At times I'm earnestly prepping, and at other times I'm lulled by BAU and enjoying the decadence and luxury while it lasts. I find it hard to live entirely in the post-peak world; the sparkly spectacle of consumerism still distracts me. Mostly, I'm hoping that JMG is right and that the slow collapse (the Grind as Sharon Astyk recently called it) continues slow. I don't want to see the fast version.

What I imagine ahead is the slow, inexorable increase in the price of luxury goods (including goods that most of us no longer realise are luxuries but take for granted), the irreversible curtailment of extravagances (some of which I am really, really gonna miss), the gradual disappearance of formalised "work" and its replacement with (a) subsistence activity, (b) petty crime, (c) informal trading networks, barter, etc.

As JMG says, the slow collapse is already happening. Our recycle centre was vandalised and copper was stolen: that's the petty crime and the salvage economy coinciding :-) Our islanders do a fair amount of business quietly in cash amongst ourselves; that's the informal economy. Heck, we could go on using the durable plastic and metal money provided by the national banking system for years, even if the banking system itself folded up.

As for subsistence, almost everyone has a veggie garden. My freezer is half filled with rabbits from a farming neighbour. Someone's starting a goat milk co-op. I can buy eggs from at least 3 different chicken keepers.

Lots of people here are "not really" employed but cobble together a mosaic of odd jobs. Regular employment is starting to seem a bit old-fashioned, nostalgic.

What worries me about out-of-the-way places like ours is that we rely so much on tourism for an inflow of cash to balance the outflow to chain stores, fossil fuel, and whatnot (drain on our local economy). But tourism, predictably, is contracting -- even as the governments of almost every mid-sized city on our coast are doubling down and investing more heavily in tourist infrastructure!

The other thing that worries me is the last-minute, desperate looting of resources by the thrashing remains of Big Capital. We haven't any oil, but we do have trees and some fish left even after the last century of liquidationism. I fear that Great Powers will come and take what little remains to us while the gettin's good. I don't see any way to stop 'em if they do. (Welcome to the third world; we are all Nigeria now.) OK, I'm depressed enough for tonight...

consciousblogger112233 said...

I really liked this article,JMG.You are a realist,not a fear monger.
My grandpa always traveled on horse and my grandma sewed her own cloths till her death(she was 95 in 2009)and she survived without using any modern medicine).They were as self reliant as possible.They had cows,buffalows,small farm.Life was hard then but they lived till a ripe age and raised 4 successful children.
In fact,petroleum based society came much later to our country and westerners usually laugh at us:see,how backward they are.But we don't care.Most of us can still use horse driven carriage or bullock cart.We don't take cars for granted,knowing out history.
The view of Asians is:never throw old traditions away just because you find them out of fashion.That's why most of our homes still have stone grinders,cloth washing buckets,old type firewood stoves,sewing machines.
The village managed its own affairs and were more self reliant than they are today.Fertilizers,pesticides were unheard of.Sure there were crop failures,floods,droughts...but they managed to survive.
JMG,i saw a parabolic type solar heater in one uzbekistan mountain village and i want to replicate it and make it a common item in our villages.Our firewood supplies have gone down drastically and LPG is scarce.
Currently i am working on a project called NSS where govt want to promote technical inputs from engineers to enhance village life.Our villages don't have water,power supply and no roads either.Farmers need power to run water pumps and cook food.We have so much of solar energy that water can be boiled using magnifying glasses alone.
But i want something workable and costing less.
Can you help me

Stephen said...

JMG if you think that a period of major wars will be arriving shortly. Dose not that contradict Your anti apocalyptic doctrine. As last time I heard the major powers had nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons can be pretty apocalyptic.

Nigwil said...

Regarding electricity supply I started out planning the usual combination of wind turbines and solar panels and all the palaver that goes therewith.

But then we went through the electrical gadgets that we would have in the home and came up with virtually none. Some LED lights would be nice, and a tiny panel and a 12V gel cell will do that for a few years.

All the rest of the modern electrical appliances like computers, radio, TV, washing machines (use too much water) stoves etc will be replaced by more modest traditionally powered devices. Vacuum cleaners imply carpets which house fleas which (we now know) carry plague, so its bare clean floors for us.

For me the interesting question is: What legacy will endure from the efforts of the Mineral Energy Era? What thing, device, method, technique or knowledge will our great great grand children use, and say: "Those old timers may have messed up with the use of all the world's mineral energy, but we are sure glad they sorted this out!"

Mary said...

Chris Balow, as JMG wrote, there is no escape from student loans. There is, however, the income based repayment program, which limits payments to 15% of your gross income. If you have stafford loans and a low income, they will absolutely slash your payments. Once in the program, you re-apply annually using your prior year's income, to re-set the rate. In 25 years, the unpaid portion is forgiven and you owe income taxes on that. Regardless of your income, your payments will never be higher than they were originally set, although you always have the option of paying more if you are able.

It may not be the best option, but is certainly one to consider. I learned about it in the nick of time. Had I known about it back in '09, I would have stayed in my old job and dropped out of school with significantly less debt.

Mary

Jeffrey said...

As you mentioned at the beginning of your post, we are influenced by the collective contributions of other authors and by the dialogue of the tribe. In a similar way I read this post fusing what you wrote with the recent visit of a friend who is a Chinese American and a professor who frequently goes to China. He was explaining to me some of the basic tenants of Confucianism and how for the vast majority of Chinese there lies deep in their marrow as a sacred value two driving forces. Delayed gratification and saving. This results in the singular focus on hard work, saving, value of education for your children. Delaying any gratification for the sake of being better prepared for future calamities.

As I read your post of already living the collapse the words of my chinese friend where echoing through my head.

It seems no coincidence that the culture in ascendancy in the 21st century that is heading toward decline would be one with these Confucian sacred values.

And like almost all readers of this post we are all trying to wean ourselves of what our generation was taught....instant gratification and indulgence.

Our tribe here on this blog discussing this topic are essentially a baby boomer generation coping with the trauma of transitioning from an unsustainable cultural paradigm of self entitlement toward one that requires some elements of the sacred values my chinese friend was explaining to me.

He also mentioned the tragedy that inspite of these sacred values of delayed gratification and saving the Chinese offer nothing in terms of a model that could offer a paradigm shift. They are copying the west in their vision of providing their citizens with the means of increasing their material wealth through capitalism.

I thought these sacred values of Confucianism offer something to this dialogue.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

I'm watching events in Europe and things are definitely getting interesting. Thanks to globalisation and overseas outsourcing, we're all on the Titanic together.

Thanks for the Galbraith tip, as the events are uncannily similar to the historical lead up and early stages of the Great Depression.

Out of interest and I'm not being flippant, but what prompted you since the Age of Limits conference to take such a strong line in the past two essays? Don't get me wrong as your message is very consistent and hasn't changed, it is just that the essays are more upfront? Maybe I'm rambling, and you have your reasons which you don't need to go into, but if you have the time, I'm interested as I feel I've missed something in the big picture.

PS: I never for one moment imagined that you would have a "fashionably brainless wife" in your life! Oh my, what were those people thinking? What a great laugh your line gave me.

Incidentally, the whole "Treat me like a princess" thing sells women far too short. Additionally, such an attitude has no place on a working farm. My partner here has a degree in applied biology which is a great source of observational strength and it is always good to get a second opinion or another perspective.

Hi xhmko,

Congrats with your scheme. Coffee should do well in Perth. The shrub survived hot summers and cold winters, but died due to a small snowfall. In Perth I would mulch it heavily and ensure that it gets a good regular drink - ie. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet.

I've given up on coffee, but have sourced the camellia for green and black tea (which looks a bit sick at the moment due to cold winds) and chicory as the final fall back plan. Chicory looks like it will go feral here.

Regards

Chris

RPC said...

JMG wrote, "most of us are crumbling rather than collapsing" - brilliant! How about a new slogan: "Crumble now so you won't have to collapse later"?

One of my preparations for harder times ahead is to ensure my children know how to make acoustic music. I think we'll have to collapse pretty hard before good entertainers can't at least earn their next meal.

phil harris said...

JMG & all
Can I make a plea for us all continuing to think hard about collective action?

I agree with personal moves to a 'adapt in place' and am inspired by many of the lifestyle choices of this group of commentators. Doing does wonders.

However, is there still time to mitigate some of the dire effects of the industrial world? Modern industry will take a while to wind down in toto.

I happen to think that climate change is going to prove a lot worse than most people think; and disruption on a large scale occur sooner than later. But, I also agree with those who think that most near term climate change is already 'baked into the cake'. So what might be done?

Can we better identify some of the other actions that trash the planet as we go downhill? Are national, regional and global policies that promote 'trashing' inevitable? My personal nightmare is vast escalation of biofuel and biomass, especially in the tropics and in the boreal forests, for use by us ‘advanced’ countries. Clearly though mass extinction of species and tragic loss of biodiversity is happening, and could easily accelerate as wild money-making takes advantage of the industrial and financial upheavals. Some of your and mine remaining life-energy and cash might still usefully go toward stubborn opposition to these lunacies? I put that as a question, because it is possible to regard these 'boondoggles' as inevitable, and choose your collective organizations needs care. But don't give up on injecting some factual antidotes into debates. I see this blog as part of a collective rearguard action – save what we can.
Best
Phil

mallow said...

Reverse,

Sounds like you're talking about what were called workhouses on this side of the pond. The Victorians were big fans. They seem to me to start from the principle that only those who can work have value. They're all mixed up with Calvinist beliefs about your material wealth being a marker of your moral worth. Even if they're not inherently exploitative, they're wide open to abuse given the usually powerless nature of the people who end up there and the vested interest that those who run them often have in keeping overheads down and productivity up. That still holds regardless of how responsible and thoughtful the principles they're originally founded on were.

It becomes easy for those in charge to convince themselves that their inmates poverty is the result of their own laziness, or that they are capable of more work than they are currently doing. It's usually dressed up in fluffy language about the redemptive power of work for people's dignity and self-worth etc. In Ireland during the famine the same ideology led to starving people being forced to build roads to nowhere in exchange for starvation rations of food. It's not so different in nature to prisons who now use their inmates free labour to run profitable businesses, or the unemployed in the UK who are forced to do unpaid work to receive assistance. All that economically dependent slave labour is an asset that somebody will almost invariably exploit. Nowadays it's often privatized, but the Victorian state did it just as effectively.

Religious orders aren't necessarily able to resist the temptation to exploit either. In Ireland, nuns up to the 1980's ran commercially profitable laundries using the forced labour of unmarried women who'd had children and therefore been locked up. All justified as penance for their sins of course.

If it's genuinely voluntary that's a different story. But when it comes to vulnerable people, whether it's old age, disabilities, being imprisoned or just being too poor to support yourself, how can such work be said to be truly voluntary? And given that the kind of people who ended up in these kind of places are often quite alone in the world, or even not welcome in society - like prisoners or unmarried mothers or whoever is currently socially undesirable - who's going to be monitoring these kinds of places for abuse or protecting the inmates from it?

ando said...

JMG,

As part of my own "Gaianomicon" I am culling the suggestions of the archdruid from the blog archives in one word file.ie conserve, compost, garden roganically, and the related pointers. My Gaianomicon is coming along nicely, as I acquire the old (and mostly cheap) books you recommended over the years. It is also a good source for the daily practice dictum you are going to brand on rumps.

One interesting thing was seeing 2 comments to your posts back in'06.

namaste,

ando

ganv said...

That is a very concise and clear presentation. The basic idea of act first to 'avoid the rush' is at the center of a lot of human activity. Many activities depend trying to see the future and act first to establish a favorable position for yourself when that future comes: stock trading, scientific research, business competition and many more fields work this way. The problem of course is that it is very hard to see the future. I think that you are right that the transition ahead will take centuries, but I expect a different future. I expect that given 100 years to develop, energy conservation, renewable energy sources, and scientific knowledge can sustain a lot more industrialization than you expect. Not business as usual, but more industrial than deindustrial.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, given that the Japanese islands can only feed a small fraction of their current population, I doubt the refugee flow will be limited to those groups you've named. Still, we'll see.

DeAnander, if your local economy is dependent on tourism, hard times are fairly close. As for resource looting, it's a possibility, but it takes resources to loot resources; you may get lucky.

Conscious, since I don't know the details of conditions in your villages, I'm not sure what to suggest. Back in the 1970s there were very large collections of appropriate-technology literature meant for Third World nations, published by organizations such as VITA and the Intermediate Technology Working Group; you might see if you can find copies of those online or elsewhere, and see if there's anything useful.

Stephen, not at all. "Major war" does not equal "nuclear war."

Nigwil, it's a fascinating question. My guess is organic gardening technique and basic sanitation!

Jeffrey, they do indeed. Most philosophies and spiritual teachings from before the modern age include, at the most basic level, a good clear recognition of the realities of life in a world of ecological limits.

Cherokee, the conference was a useful reminder that a lot of people are further along the curve of waking up than I tend to think. As for spousal issues, my wife is plump, capable, highly literate, and a dab hand at a wide range of fiber crafts and other useful skills -- about as far from what's currently fashionable as you can get, in other words.

RPC, this week's post seems to be a good inspiration for slogans!

Phil, if that's the work that calls you, by all means do it.

Ando, I remember those days! For the first six months or so that this blog was up, it was a big deal to me if I got a comment. ;-)

NTROPEE said...

JMG,

The central insight in this blog post is extremely valuable: Avoid the rush—collapse now.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t to apply this lesson at a level any higher than the small communities people live in. No doubt, we need to prepare ourselves, our families and our communities to face the trials, and seize the opportunities, that will present themselves during the rocky descent ahead. This an enormous mental and physical challenge so I fervently wish this was all we need to do.

But I fear that the predicament we face will require us to take action on a broader and even more onerous level. Why?
Because learning to work with nature and get by with less on a personal and neighborhood level is an absolutely necessary but totally insufficient response to a future of war, tyranny, and ecocide.

What will happen to our personal efforts to cope with collapse if we offer no resistance those who would shred our Constitutional rights, drive our economy off the cliff and ravage the planet—all in the name of preserving the American way of life?

If we forfeit this power struggle to them where will this leave us? Can our personal efforts endure on a planet that has become so toxic and ravished by the relentless drive for profit and power that we humans join the ranks of species driven to the brink of extinction?

Will our children toil as serfs on their private or state farms because we didn’t protect and fight for the land? Will we labor in their debtors’ prisons because we didn’t democratize our economic system? Will tyrants rule over us because we didn’t take power and learn to govern ourselves? Will we suffer an endless series of bloody resource wars because we didn’t dismantle the empire’s military institutions?

Unless we fight back on a larger stage, avoiding the rush by collapsing now will be an inadequate response to a future of war, tyranny, and ecocide.

Michael A. Lewis said...

My wife and I adopted this strategy ten years ago.

We chose to live on the Central Coast of California, where we don't need central heating or air conditioning. We took part time jobs within walking distance of home. We live in a mobile hone, paid off, with minmal rent far below our income level. We grow a sizable portion of our food on our lot. We barter, trade, maintain a Free Table, encourage participation among our neighbors and friends.

It feels more like community than collapse!

Brother Kornhoer said...

Mr. Greer,

One quibble about last week's discussion: I think you missed an element that contributed to the decline of mainstream Protestant denominations in the American South - white flight after these denominations supported the civil rights movement. Once blacks were in the public square with the same legal standing as whites, large numbers of whites then created their own private society, through evangelical churches, private schools, clubs, and eventually even media outlets. Mainstream Protestant churches were not a part of this society, since they were (on paper at least) open and in favor of integration.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Population replacement rate is 2.1 children per couple. Japan's birthrate has been lower than that for a while. Given enough time, Japan's population would shrink to the point where the country is food sufficient again. Probably someone has already done the projections on how many generation this would take.

All the fully developed nations except the U.S. have birthrate below below replacement. The entire population increase of the United States in the past decade has been attributed to immigrants and their offspring.

I read recently that the birthrate of the entire world is currently 2.5, a substantial drop from fifty years ago, and still going down.

Infant and child mortality in parts of Africa is dropping fast; the article I read credited the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito nets (an industrial product, to be sure). When infant mortality goes down, there's a population increase. Usually this is followed by a lowered birthrate as families realize that they don't need to breed so many extra children as old age insurance.

If we weren't already over the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and had another one hundred and fifty years to work on it, we could get our birthrate and death rate into balance at a much lower population size without the assistance of the Four Horsemen.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thanks, JMG and commentators, for your illuminating thoughts over the past few seasons. I would like to single out a few points for which particular gratitude is due:

* Some weeks ago, JMG shed a bleak and strong light on what we out here in Canada still think of, fondly, as the British "Empah". When JMG remarked that Britain reduced the wealthy society that once was India into poverty, I thought with a shock not only of the economic and cultural power that must have been behind the pre-British Taj Majal, but also of a (medieval?)pre-British Indian observatory that operated, incredibly, at a level of technical excellence not seen in Europe until Tycho Brahe.

* JMG pointed out this spring that religion provides a seductive refuge from spirituality. His warning resonated, since I note in myself a tendency to substitute the glittering externals of Catholicism for the harder work of inner redirection.

* One of JMG's commentators last week pointed out last week a Web site that I have found helpful in the task of inner redirection,
http://www.innermosthouse.com/. Here we encounter, indeed are confronted with, an example of authentic off-grid living at least as deep as Thoreau's Walden. I was particularly struck by the innermosthouse.com advice on libraries -that we have to select our books with care, making our library (I paraphrase loosely) an externalization of our soul. And thanks, JMG, for this week writing something about your own library! - Surely many share my thrill at seeing those tall www.innermosthouse.com bookshelves, that wrought-iron candelabrum, that hearth, with all the elegance occupying a scant 144 square feet on Earth's surface?

* Thanks again, JMG, for months ago having underscored the importance of ham radio. I would like to recall this theme for a moment herewith, urging on ham-radio readers of this blog the importance of stockpiling connectors (RCA plugs and jacks, banana plugs and jacks, big 7-pin DIN, miniaturized DIN, spade lugs, PL259for coax, BNC for coax, ... ). Last night, I had to help a sort of survivalist in a radio matter, working with a engineer friend, and we were relieved to find that my not-yet-adequate stocks did include 3.5 mm stereo plugs with accessible solder points (as opposed to 3.5 mm stereo plugs with solder embedded at the factory, entombed in a moulded cylinder of solid plastic). As our decline proceeds, many a worker, notably in ham radio, will be dreading the moment he has to say, "For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost."


Sincerely,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo
VA3KMZ
www dot metascientia dot com

Reverse Developer said...

Mallow
Agreed that the devil manifests in the execution. It could not be a free market 'right to work' type of labor arbitrage that constitutes the farms. But there could be different ability levels and charters-not all deserving the same label. Poor farm might not be applicable in all cases.

The vulnerable could be mainstreamed into the revival to the extent that they were empowered by such integration. But proportionate with their limitations, they would require more work from the general population.

As in any endeavor subject to competition for resources the dual rush to the bottom in wages and rise to the top of profits. Resource stratification is inimical to the emulsion of institutional development, undermining the tribal security impetus that is the basis of primate society.

Whether property is an actual solution to the instability or the scepter maintaining is a coil I won’t pull at present. But I think the idea that “participation is ownership” would have to be the operational attractor in any “poor farm” revival. It is true that formation and operation of such institutions would require stable and enlightened government.

Enforcing tectonic shifts in the property paradigm was the undoing of the 20th century Communist states. But perhaps in the undoing of 20th century industrial capitalism things could be different?

Tony Weddle said...

JMG,

Thanks for the partial list of civilisational benefits. I think most of the ones you listed can be argued over, to different degrees. The science of ecology is a good one, though, and fits into my slot of "useful knowledge" - the challenge is to retain that knowledge, which perhaps could be done by passing down wisdom through the generations. Intensive organic agriculture is really just realising that nature's way is the best way though we do try to tweak it to human advantage with things like biointensive and permaculture. Basic sanitation? I'm not totally sure what you're thinking of here but if it's related to sewerage then I think the way forward is not what we've done in the (recent) past but composting toilets and use of greywater. On democratic political systems, I know your position on this but I'm not sure it has worked too well on a long term civilisational scale - perhaps true democracy can only work at the local level (really local).

Music and literature, I'd agree with but the manner in which they have been published has also been used to "publish" a lot of dross, propaganda and consumerist ideas. However, we told each other stories and entertained each other before civilisation took hold and may have to do so again as pages disintegrate and the last CD player grinds to a halt - a lot will be lost due to the manner in which it was made available. And remember that what you may think of as a masterpiece, another person may think of as not worthy of attention.

latheChuck said...

If we're going to have any small amount of locally-generated electricity in our future, it probably won't be 110VAC. For low-voltage (e.g. solar panel, motor/alternator, wind, etc.) systems, there's a new form of electrical connector which has already been adopted as a standard by the ham-radio community. It's called the "Powerpole", and you can see it at powerwerx.com. Compared to the usual coaxial connectors used on consumer electronics, Powerpoles have no male/female distinction, carry a lot more current, snap-lock into place, and have no exposed metal parts. They are keyed to make sure that you can mate them in the dark without getting + and - reversed, too. I've built a voltage adapter for my ham-radio walkie-talkies, and converted my long-range shortwave transmitter to use them, too, whether at home or in the field. The choice of an electrical connector might seem trivial in the grand scheme of crumbling civilization, but these things promise interoperability between low-voltage power sources and equipment, and that could turn out to be important.

Chris said...

I can see where you're going with the changing where you are. Problem is, and this is an epidemic of incredible proportions (seriously underestimated) most people who never leave the city, never take the mind set to adapt to the future collapse you're talking about - even if they want to.

My husband and I were raised suburban and transplanted to semi-rural (five acres). We had the kinds of delusions you mentioned don't work at fixing the problem, considering we had a lot of learning to do on the run while paying a mortgage. A shoe in both worlds so to speak. We often hit the wall of this isn't working.

Yet the absolute message which struck home to us both abut moving to the country, is how incapable city-folk are. To give you an example, we've been killing our excess chickens for food. It's not something we do all the time, but nonetheless a big transition to make. My husband thought to ask online how to kill a chicken properly, as he wants to do it better. The only 2 responses he got was from an environmentalist, who told him to contact the local animal welfare group, to use the most humane method.

The only other reply said, "why kill a chicken when you can just buy KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) instead?" My husband asked for a practical solution, and got an ideology on killing and straight denialism. This is the kind of city-minded dualism which cannot be undone by the latest tragedy to hit civilisation.

So I would counter your don't move to the country, with, if you don't move to the country you'll be stuck in the kind of mindset which cannot change beyond ideology and denialism. When you move to the wide open spaces, there's nowhere else to run, no-one to save you as help is further away. It changes the way you think, so you feel the real consequences of idealism and denialism. Both don't get you very far in the country.

It's not always about rich folk buying into land (I'm sure they still do that) but rather, it's a real practical application no matter who moves to a rural landscape, that you get hit with the reality - "this isn't working!"

I'm probably in a better position where I am now, than where I was in suburbia. Here I see the *reality* of ideology and denialism failing dismally at providing solutions. In the city, you just buy a bicycle instead of a car, you walk your kids to school instead of driving them - put solar panels on your roof and call it the best you can do. Meanwhile, you're still buying your food (even if it's organic) you've still got electronic gadgets (even if you bought them second-hand) and the cycle of ideological denialism just keeps going.

No-one is any closer to appreciating that *extraction* of any kind of resources, has limits when it comes by your own hands. In the country, it's that much harder to fool yourself that limitation is just a matter of choice. You can walk in cashed to the hilt, and end up very broke! You can also walk in very broke and stay that way. It's the reality of what happens when you align your life to the land. Natural limitations apply.

I so get the change where you are perspective, like change in the city rather than moving to the country - but having been there myself, people just don't possess the perspective to grasp how natural limitations apply. You need to experience it to know it, otherwise it's just more ideology.

I know you're not against people moving to the country, I'm just saying it's downplayed as a lesson in reality people really need to grasp. "Moving to the country," as a concept, is easy to talk about in relation to adapting to de-industrialisation, but in application, you won't get a more reliable example of a future with little means and expensive resources to extract. That's living in the country for you. ;)

dltrammel said...

Jose said:

If that's the case, it seems perfectly reasonable for us to pay our indulgences, putting in enough solar panels, for example, to power a small refrigerator and chest freezer, and to support the younger generations who will have to provide the actual leadership and creativity for the next cycle.

Either great minds think alike, or you read my recent thread on the Green Wizard forum where I disconnected my regular refrigerator and am now using a small dorm frig instead.

"Rethinking the Norm - Refrigeration"

We are in the phase of down size your energy expenditure, either thru conservation or cutting back. Downsizing your refrigerator accomplishes alot. Less energy used, less energy wasted (opening and closing), less to go bad if power goes out. It makes you really consider the food you use and store.

Pairing this up with a larger top door freezer, makes even more sense. Freezers allow you to buy in bulk, top loading saves energy, and when the power goes out, don't open the thing...lol. As long as power comes back in 2-3 days the food will be ok.

So, "Collapse now and beat the rush". Small refrigerators will be priced extra in the Long Descent...

-----

On a happy note, I would like to share with the readers of the ADR, this informal introduction.

"Post Peak Magazine"

When JMG was asking for submission for the anthology, there were a couple of people who discussed doing a magazine of post peak oil fiction.

I for one, am glad their hard work has paid off.

As a moderator on the Green Wizard website, I offered the Staff of the new "Post Peak Magazine" our new "Story Circle" for submission requests, information on the magazine, and an informal editing staff to help the writers polish their stories. We are lucky to have a professional editor in our community and he has offered to make suggestions and give advice on stories submitted to the Circle.

"Green Wizard Story Circle"

If you would like the story you submitted to JMG's anthology, but was not accepted, to be considered for the Post Peak Magazine, please post a thread stating that, and a link to your latest revision.

(If you would like editing suggestions, please note that too...)

This concludes the commercial part of our programming. We now return you to the regular portion of our thread where we all discuss JMG's latest writing...

dltrammel said...

consciousblogger112233 said:

Our villages don't have water, power supply and no roads either.Farmers need power to run water pumps and cook food. We have so much of solar energy that water can be boiled using magnifying glasses alone. But I want something workable and costing less. Can you help me.

Let me recommend you visit the ADR's grand daughter site, the "Green Wizard" Forum.

http://www.greenwizards.org/

Unlike the comment section here, we can offer you the chance to post on specific problems and technology, and offer a wealth of knowledge on how you can modify those to help your people.

Please log in there and post your questions.

dltrammel said...

Reverse Developer said...

Sorry, I didn't understand a thing you said....lol.

John Michael Greer said...

Ganv, I disagree, of course, but events rather than words will determine which of us is right. In the meantime, I plan on continuing to offer people advice based on my own take on the future.

Ntropee, that's nice rousing rhetoric. In the real world, though, what do you actually propose to do? If you plan on nonviolent protest, I trust you realize that any tyrant worth the name can simply have you rounded up, shot in the back of the head, and dumped in a mass grave; there's your protest. If you plan on violent revolution, please remember that this is a public forum and no doubt it's watched by the people whose job it is to watch such things. (A piece of advice from an earlier era: only fools and agents provocateurs go around in public advocating violence.) In either case, since you've already admitted that the central theme of this blog -- making personal changes in response to the end of the industrial age -- is necessary, and most people haven't even gotten that far, let's concentrate on that, and you can pursue the other half of your agenda on some friendly Marxist blog somewhere.

Michael, excellent, and of course you're quite right. Community is one of the things we can collapse into.

Brother K., that seems plausible enough; still, the collapse of the mainstream churches wasn't limited to the South by any means.

Unknown Deborah, true enough. As it is, a lot of our population contraction will likely take place by ordinary demographic processes, just as the expansion did.

Tom, you can expect to hear something here on ham radio every few months; maintaining some way to communicate across continental distances seems, at least to me, like a very important legacy to leave to the future. As for connectors, though, I think we're ultimately headed back to binding posts and Fahnestock clips -- not to mention a future of low-tech QRP rigs using old-fashioned operator skill to chat with other continents on a couple of watts.

Tony, anything can be argued over. You asked my opinion, and I gave it; if you disagree, by all means disagree.

Chuck, thanks for the heads up! It's the little things that matter most in ages of decline.

Chris, I'd point out that "the city" is not a single place with a single attitude, any more than "the country" is. I live in a small city of 24,000 people in a relatively impoverished rural region; am I in the city, the country, or someplace else? (Your husband would have no trouble getting helpful advice here, btw; this is the kind of town where a woodchuck showing up in your garden isn't a problem, it's an opportunity.) You had the chance to move to the country; good. Most other Americans don't have that option, and it's hardly helpful to tell them, "Sorry, you're out of luck," simply because they don't have the specific opportunities you did.

mallow said...

Reverse,

I'm sorry, I don't understand most of your post despite understanding each individual word. You sound like you have good motives for what you're proposing so it'd be a shame to unintentionally limit who you can discuss it with.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the reply. You are very wise indeed. I made a similar choice and it is one that I am very grateful for and happy to have made.

On another note about collapse, I've noticed that language and communication skills have taken a bit of a beating recently. It is only my opinion, but exchanging and employing ideas is kind of central to adapting to any down turn or collapse scenario.

I've been wondering a bit about this issue recently because there has been a paradigm shift in communications here. Voicemail messages are now being treated as missed calls. I have observed this often enough recently to know that it is not personal. I can only put the change in communications down to the penetration of smart phones in the community (50% in Australia).

In addition to this I'm observing a shift from email to SMS (mobile phone) messaging. The quality / clarity of the message has also been reduced due to this method being inappropriate to communicate complex or difficult ideas and also the attention that is given by the receiver when these messages are received.

Getting back to this weeks essay though, sometimes I wonder whether these sorts of factors are influencing peoples abilities to comprehend complex ideas. This is also perhaps, why they look for simple solutions that can be contained in a sound bite?

Sounds a bit 1984, doesn't it? But I keep wondering, does it really have to get down to bread and circuses?

Regards

Chris

Tony Weddle said...

JMG,

You're right, of course. My apologies.

Actually, I'm currently reading Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress. Interesting so far, including what he has to say about civilisation (probably not too far from your view).

Thanks for engaging.

siddrudge said...

JMG said: ". . . the great majority of Americans would sooner dine daily on live tarantulas than spend fifteen minutes a day in meditation or contemplative prayer"

How true. And how sad.

Last week, when you invited us to "wake up and walk away," my first reaction was that many people just can't walk -- literally. They are, unfortunately, too obese and unfit from sedentary lifestyles. They might be better candidates for your "collapse now" option -- but they'd have to be weaned off the teat of television before they would ever even consider an alternative existence.

Perhaps a pre-collapse bootcamp is needed to reintroduce people to their feet and the benefits of walking. I walk-- I walk a lot. The benefits of walking are immediate. Within minutes you can feel the tension easing; the fog of confusion begins to dissipate; clarity is within reach.

When we walk we choose to immerse ourselves in our world, in our communities, and we discover truths and sensory surprises that television and the internet could never deliver.
 
Forget the evening news. Take a walk around the block and you stand a chance to get a good picture of the state of the empire. Open your eyes! Compare your experience with others. Outside your door lies everything the powers that be want to keep from you -- the real "reality show" that might just snap you out of your trance.

I live in a rural community in southern New England. A few weeks ago, during one of my walks, I had an encounter with roadkill that continues to haunt me. Obviously roadkill is a common site around here. Usually it's a bloody mutilation of fur or feathers -- heinous and disturbing.  Usually I'll just wrinkle my nose and try to avoid looking at it.

But here at my feet was a dead mid-sized raccoon, fully intact, face down on the shoulder of the road, with the thick white stripe of the road marking painted right across its furry back. I imagine this unfortunate creature was struck by an automobile during the night and managed to drag itself to the edge of the road to die. What disturbed me was the mindlessness of the person operating the road-striping machine the next day who couldn't take a moment to move the creature a few inches into the grass.

The image of a dead raccoon with the road marking painted across its back could serve as a fitting metaphor for the arrogance of empire. But I'm not interested in metaphor now-- this is reality and reality is where metaphors go to die.

I believe that right up until the moment it was struck, that beautiful creature was true to its raccoon-ness, living fully in the moment with no death to die. The mindless human operating the road striping machine could live to be a hundred years old and learn to meditate like a zen master, but could never know the richness of existence experienced by that raccoon. This is where the animal world leaves us humans in the dust.

Of course I don't believe in the concept of fairness in nature, but when I consider all the life that is erased on just this one road that I walk, and how this is happening on millions of roads across the planet, I can't help but think that there is an accountability somewhere.

I recall the words that one of my teachers (a Catholic priest) wrote in my high school yearbook. He must have been concerned that I was too young to be so cynical. He wrote "To believe in God you must first believe in people."

To this day that remains my greatest spiritual challenge.

But I am certain that one could begin worshipping a God of Absurdity and never be disappointed.

-Sidd

Craig said...

The solution will be simple. People will get accustom to living without grid power. I've been off the smack for almost ten months and the news is you get use to it. Like a long extended camping trip. I have not replaced my consumption with a massive array of solar panels so as to mimic common electrical usage. No big appliances. Just a few battery operated gadgets (radio, rewired solar spot lights, etc...). Just as with any difficult task we set our path and achieve it. It can and will be done. Just one pinch, give up the decadence. Luxury is a bad word. Take care and have faith in tomorrow.

Justin said...

Collapse into now!

One recurring question or grievance on these threads comes from readers who feel frustrated or at a loss at how far away from where they think they should be. Perhaps you can speak to this at some point, JMG, the execution of a larger strategy as tactical actions.

'Walking away from Omelas' is metaphorical, and people get the metaphor, but applying that metaphor to literal specifics in a generally applicable way is where must people get into trouble.

I'm setting up in the Mohawk Valley of upstate NY by getting involved in a family business. This particular place is interesting, people of every stripe are coming out here to set up a compound, from the wealthy to the middle class (such as myself) to the poor.

The emergent phenomena of our collective social intelligence is telling us that at some level, people know that there is not a second to lose in getting their feet on firm ground.

My method is to change one thing at a time and only change as much as can be feasibly done in a single step even if, as usually happens, the change is not carried all the way to its ideal state in one shot. Don't let a better plan get in the way of executing a simpler set of actions that still improves things. The better plan can always be enacted later. Find the next thing and improve that and just keep going. If you don't know where to start, just pick something at random. My next pebble is to find/forge an old steel straight razor for shaving to cut the expense of plastic razors and reduce my waste stream. Move the mountain one pebble at a time.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I've noticed that! Here in the US, at least, I'd put it down to the dismal system of pseudo-education we've got -- the US public schools used to be among the best in the world, but at this point they've devolved into a scheme for warehousing children for twelve years while teaching them how to take federally mandated multiple choice tests, and very little else. Most US high school graduates at this point cannot construct a literate English sentence, follow a logical argument, solve a simple "story problem" in basic math, find their home state on a map, or name one significant work of literature, art, or music from before they were born. That they can't communicate with any richness or clarity is just another detail.

Sidd, that's a harrowing story. Thank you for bringing it into the conversation.

Craig, no doubt! I'd suggest, though, that there are preparations that can be made to live off-grid that will make it a good deal easier once ready access to batteries isn't quite so easy...

Justin, exactly. That's the point behind my "learn one thing, give up one thing, save one thing" slogan -- it's neither necessary nor useful to go whole hog right away. "The journey of a thousand miles," says Lao Tsu, "begins with a single step." Take that step, and the next one is easier.

John Michael Greer said...

Ntropee (offlist), yes, I figured you might get abusive when I asked those questions. That being the case, go away.

Ceworthe said...

@Justin-Lehmans.com has straight razors, etc., or occasionally one can find them at garage sales in the country
JMG, I had to laugh at the woodchuck remark, as we had one get hot in front of the house and my mother said, now don't you cook that! And I live about 20 minutes outside of a city of ~150K in the country about 5 minutes from suburbia.
We have also had a sudden influx of people from NJ and NYC buying old farmland. However, they are building McMansions with discount store style professional security cameras, making us wonder if they expect a cadre of zombie deer to attack

Reverse Developer said...

Mallow et al. Sorry for taking shortcuts. Let me try and be more clear.
Free market labor arbitrage leads to the present conditions of wage slavery, indenture what have you. Thus we would want to avoid a revived poor farm economic model that took advantage of the dispossessed, vulnerable and so forth. But there could be different ability levels and charters for different types of "farm" and different types of "poor".

The vulnerable could be mainstreamed into the re-imagined poor farm to the extent that they were empowered by such integration. In other words we do not want to repeat the mistake of lumping the old and sick in with the criminal and insane expecting functional productive society to emerge. The objective of revived poor farms would be subsistence (amd basic human dignity) for those lacking the land based means to feed themselves. Of course some consideration for balance of the able and less able bodied would be necessary since carrying capacity of any individual farm would be determined in part by the labor burden imposed upon the able to sustain the less able.

The balance of abilities as well as the inherent natural carrying capacities constitutes a sort of productive limit that is an approximation for the social stability of the individual farm or community system.

Your concerns about abuse of the vulnerable need to be addressed. The principle that “participation is ownership” would have to be the operational attractor in any “poor farm” revival. WE do not want to revive the dysfunctional examples that were mere labor camps as on your side of the pond. there were some good examples on the west coast. Many poor farms were more like retirement homes that asked residents to pitch in. Probably better than just sitting around waiting for the reaper as they do now. Given the advanced age of their work force these were not high production factories netting huge profits for elites.

I acknowledge for the critics of government and other cynics that formation and operation of such institutions would require stable and enlightened government.

Like wise I acknowledge that a fundamental paradigm shift such as implied by "participation is the new ownership" cannot be manufactured whole cloth from the tatters of the existing paradigm. As I noted, enforcing tectonic shifts in the property paradigm was the undoing of the 20th century Communist states.

But perhaps in the undoing of 20th century industrial capitalism things could be different? In other words perhaps conscious progress of our species is possible. If we are soon to live shoulder to shoulder, all 10 Billion of us, there had better be some kind of change in the narrative of human quality of life. In the current narrative iadolescent notions of leadership and accomplishment determine membership in the corporate and government country club. The club make technological and social decisions that serve their interests. The bulk of the rest of humanity look on enviously and sacrifice the collective dignity in pursuit of the same prizes. But we retain I hope enough self enlightenment to see the value in participating in endeavors that yield tangible results such as dinner.

Tyler August said...

@JMG
I'd be honoured if you end up using my silver bullet line.

I want to thank you for the title of this weeks' post, again. Ruminating "Collapse now and avoid the rush" helped me realize, too, how the concept of collapse is a personal one. Previously, I'd thought of it as something as applying to societies and civilizations, but that big picture is made of all our little collapses, isn't it? When the mill shuts down, the mill town goes through its own collapse. The laid-off and foreclosed-upon have gone through personal collapses.
It comes to each of us, like death, alone in the night. And like death, we each have to make peace with it as best we can before our time comes in turn.

GuRan said...

Hi Guardian,

I can relate to that, at least the "incurable auto-immune condition which requires daily doses of steroids and immune-suppresants" part. On the "funds to party while Rome burns"... not so much ;-)

I've managed to stay away from the steroids so far though. My own nerve damage is not too bad yet, some sensory disturbances, loss of balance and some weakness in my legs is about it.

If your condition is anything like mine (MS), I can recommend a diet that tries to exclude saturated fat and I can't recommend this book by George Jelinek highly enough. I've not had a significant relapse for probably 6 years now. Is it the drugs, the diet, the regular exercise or just good luck? One can never be sure, but I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, crumbling merrily as I go :-)

Best of luck,
GuRan

ddu said...

I welcome collapse if I can take T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding" along for the ride. After all, the end is where we start from.

"And all shall be well and/All manner of things shall be well..."

Best wishes.

Ceworthe said...

er, the woodchuck got hit, not hot lol

John Michael Greer said...

Ceworthe, thank you; I nearly sprayed the keyboard with hot tea while reading about the zombie deer.

Tyler, thank you also, and you're welcome!

Ddu, Eliot's later poetry is on my list of things worth saving.

Ceworthe, when I was dealing with our woodchucks, our elderly neighbor leaned over the fence and passed on some very tasty-sounding recipes. We ended up not pursuing the option, but if a woodchuck gets hot in this neck of the woods, odds are it's on top of a barbecue grill!

latheChuck said...

The question of how to maintain a "fair" balance of power between labor and management is a good one to think about. When one corporation's "management" owns all of the mineral rights in the county, the miners don't have much choice of employer. When one agribusiness owns all the land, the patents, the machinery, to politicians ... whatever the barrier to competition is, then labor will be in a difficult position. Thus, we consumers should at least choose to consume in ways that promote competition. If the "moral alternative" was also better and cheaper, this wouldn't be something that we need to think about, but when the choice is to pay more, or get less, we need to be thoughtful and look past the pricetag. (What do I mean by "getting less"? Maybe that means getting fruit with blemishes from the local organic grower, instead of picture-perfect fruit from out-of-state.) If you think workers should be paid better, pay more for goods made by better-paid workers. If you want to promote sustainable energy, buy it now (even while you reduce your own demand, and/or arrange to produce some of your own supply).

Dennis D said...

Some thoughts on solar panels and batteries. I notice that some commentators point out the extreme cost of house sized solar arrays, or the drawbacks of common batteries. This is not an "all or nothing" choice here, as a small solar panel, with a 40+ year lifespan, powering some LED lights, with batteries that have been produced with 17th century technology, compared with the oil powered lamps. The solar system is compact, provides a clean light that is easy to read by, without the fire hazard or indoor pollution associated with oil lamps, and the net cost over its life is a fraction of an oil lamp, wick and fuel. The drawback is that the solar panel and led lamp must be purchased now, compared to an oil lamp made from recycled parts at some time in the future. Moving somewhat up the ladder, a larger solar array can be used to store energy in the form of refrigeration, without significant battery capacity. The freezer is used to make ice during the day, and the ice is used to keep food preserved overnight. It can also be used to pump water uphill to storage while the sun shines, so water is available on demand by gravity feed later. Part of dealing with the long descent is acquiring the most valuable parts of modern civilization now, so that the future is not so bleak.

phil harris said...

@GuRan
Interesting advice re: MS.
Quote from your comment: "I've not had a significant relapse for probably 6 years now. Is it the drugs, the diet, the regular exercise or just good luck? One can never be sure, but I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, crumbling merrily as I go :-)”

I felt exactly the same 22 years ago when I followed what sounds like the same recipe after a heart attack. My exercise stress test improved remarkably (and very unusually) after 8 months of my lifestyle change. I would probably have thought it was luck except for what I read in a study in The Lancet just after my second and successful test. Ornish et al reported 16/20 people who had achieved similar results doing pretty exactly what I had done during the previous 8 months. They had angiograms and PET scans to prove it. Incidentally an ankle that had been sore for 15 years after an accident improved and I could run again! The recipe keeps the systemic inflammation down I guess.

Keep up the very good work!
(PS Plenty of grains and legumes and veggies a la our host JMG?)
best
Phil

beneaththesurface said...

The basic message of this week’s post seems aligned with what I’ve been trying to do for over a decade. I have voluntarily lived around the federal poverty level for all of my young adult life, but I hardly feel poor; my life feels comfortable and free. In fact, because my expenses are low and I’ve never been in any sort of debt in my life (never had student loans, never owned a credit card, never had a mortgage), I don’t worry much about money at all. I find it ironic whenever I meet people making ten times the money I make worrying so much about money.

I find that pscyhological and social dimensions of voluntarily “collapsing now before the rush” are sometimes more challenging to deal with than the strictly practical dimensions of making these changes. People in certain circles seem to look down at my choice not to pursue some more prestigious career path (even though I was capable of doing this if I had wanted). These people may see my life so far as a “failure,” without looking deeper at what I’m pursuing in my life. (I can totally relate to your recent experience, Maria.) But I find that dealing with this psychological challenge, and not letting popular opinion influence my life, is important preparation for the future. I work part-time in the formal economy, spend the rest of my time doing self-directed study/reading, writing & other creative work, informal household economy work, and learning new skills, and I feel content with my identity. I think inner security is as important as outer types of security.

So many people’s identity and sense of self-worth are tied to their fossil fuel-dependent lifestyle and the industrial growth system, and titles of who they are on the surface that arise from all that. I think the shattering of that may be as profound as the economic changes over the next several decades. Most people haven’t yet grappled with finding personal meaning in a story of a deindustrializing future.

When I chose not to pursue a preset middle class career path, it was a jump into the unknown, and there’s still much I’m figuring out. Upon some deep reflection, I knew that my calling in life was multiple things, one which was to be a writer. I looked at my choices: I could choose a predictable career, be successful in the eyes of others (at least before we slide too much down Hubbert’s Peak), or I could risk jumping off into the unknown, and dare to attempt to live a life that was an expression of my uniqueness. I figured that at my deathbed, I would have rather have failed at endeavors pursuing a life that was my own, than have succeeded at a life not mine. And besides, total failure is unlikely. Even if at the end of my life, I will have succeeded at only a few small dreams of mine, that’s immensely preferable to having succeeded in big things in a life that wasn’t me.

Reading what you have shared about your personal paths (in particular, Maria and JMG) provides needed solace for the occasional times I need to remind myself I’m on the right path, and not to let other people’s judging questions and comments weigh me down. Thank you for your company (in the blogosphere). It helps me not feel so alone.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi John,

Thanks. I can't remember where I came across the concept, but the gist of it was that the message had to be appropriate to the medium. I reckon that the methods of communicating that we are now employing as a society are dumbing us down.

The discussion here is quite complex but if you were trying to deliver such a message in easily digestible sound bites, well...

Hi everyone,

I'm not sure whether the commenters here are aware, but most leafy green vegetables are chock full of anti-inflammatories. So, if you are suffering from joint or muscle pain, including a lot of these in your diet will have a noticeable improvement. Plus another benefit of these is that over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs are generally acidic which can cause stomach problems (as well as increasing the likelihood of developing fungal problems –exactly like soil), whereas the leafy greens are generally basic which can reduce the severity of these sorts of issues.

Leafy greens are things like: roquet (rocket, aragula); beetroot leaves; mizuna; silver beet (swiss chard); french sorrell; mustard; brocolli leaves - the list just goes on and on...

Regards

Chris

Ron Broberg said...

JMG: The same principle applies to the people who donate to environmental causes and put solar panels on their roofs in the same spirit that led medieval Christians to buy high-priced indulgences from the Church to cancel out their sins. ... if you’re trying to exempt yourself from the end of the industrial age, nothing you can do can ever be enough
.
Two points:
.
1. The end of the industrial age will not come in our lifetimes if decline is a multi-generational event. Preparing for the end, with the expectation of being part of it, seems like overreach at this time.
.
2. Even those who have put solar panels on the rooftops without much other dedication to reducing consumption have made a major change - they have turned themselves, their suburban lot, and their house into a place of production. For many of them, it may be the first thing that they have produced of economic value outside of their place of employment, outside of their job. Their first step away from consumerism and "indebted servitude". Maybe for some, it is the end of their journey. But for many others, it might just be first step.

Kristiina said...

I tried to comment on an earlier post - Night Thoughts on Hagsgate, but it did not get through (too long, cut it in two and maybe it got lost that way). So I ended up making it into a blog entry about what magic means to me: http://perhonen108.blogspot.fi/ So it seems I became a blogger. Don't know how to make time for blogging. But I notice there's something cooking in me about agriculture: is it a part of the problem or a part of the solution? I mean, to avoid the rush is a good idea, but figuring out which way to go is pretty hard. To me, right now, it seems there's some inbuilt dead end in agriculture that I want to think about. But before that, I'll need to go water the patch...
The inner accounting on what kind of life is worth living - what is a rich lfe apart from money - this takes a long time figuring out, and is quite hard. I am still working at this. I know my mother left a reasonably prosperous family farm at first opportunity. That was the time before chemical fertilizers, she still lived at a time when workhorses were used to till the land. But she hated it. Sha has a lifetime grudge about having had to milk cows by hand when she was a teenager. It was not a good life to her. It seems I am trying to reproduce what she ran away from, but am I deluding myself? I have not lived in a small farming village - that is the life many wanted to get away from as soon as possibility arose. Very interesting things you bring up, Archdruid.

John Michael Greer said...

Chuck, that is to say, walking your talk takes precedence over paying less money. That's the reason why I have never spent a penny in a Mall*Wart, among other things.

Dennis, exactly; I discussed that point back in a 2006 post, for example.

Beneath, you're welcome, and thank you in return! There are a fair number of us out there, really, but the media does its best to make nonpersons out of those who refuse to do what they're told and turn themselves into happy little cogs in the machine.

Cherokee, turnip greens, heirloom leaf lettuce, and kale are our favorite garden greens; alongside the anti-inflammatory issue, they're a major source of nutrients, and very easy to grow. In the US, they used to be stigmatized as poor people's food, but that's a useful sign that they're (a) inexpensive and (b) nourishing.

Ron, to paraphrase a comment already made, the end of the industrial age is here; it just isn't widely distributed yet. It will come as small consolation to you to know that some people still have an industrial lifestyle when you're not among them. As for your second point, I think I made it very clear that I'm talking about those people -- and there are quite a few of them -- for whom the solar panel on the roof, the Prius in the driveway, etc., is a fashion statement and an excuse not to do anything else. A first step is irrelevant if it's not actually headed in a direction that matters.

Adrian Skilling said...

Spot on John. I admit it - I'm a move to the country dreamer and of mid-life crisis age too! I've been carefully weighing up pros and cons with travel requirements, etc.. for a while. Unless my family can adjust to more rural isolated life-style it probably isn't sensible since currently we could manage without a car. Its causing me quite a bit of internal conflict to work out whats best for us and to try and not think I can do it all at once.

We grow a good amount of food in garden + allotment and are close to school, shops, friendly community, etc.. which we would likely lose - at least with the current severe lack of village amenities in the UK. Some properties with more land are available closer to town but it now seems mad to me to get an extra £100-200K into debt to afford one. The grass is always greener we say, though its important to be happy with what you've got which is pretty comfortable compared to many people.

I'm glad you've clarified your position on PV panels. My plan, after external insulation on the house is to buy a small sets of panels to connect to batteries for my own use when the grid starts breaking down.

GingerSnap said...

Listen to a report on the radio recently the commentator made a "matter of fact" statement youth unemployment is now a global problem. This seems like another lead indicator of collapse where a whole new generation is unable to participate (in the traditional job sense) in the economy.

This "youth unemployment" issue it seems could lead into a larger problem along the lines of an age demographic clash for resources. Not a great scenario.
A better solution would be for there to be a union of energy of youth with the experience of age to best manage the dwindling resources that remain for the longer term survival

Moo Moo said...

JMG,

I agree with you, the collapse will not happen over night. There will be some major bumps along the way, but it will take a long time to happen.

Many of the online doomers, make their money from doom. Sad! Yes, the sh*t is hitting the fan, but it has always done so.

But, those who understand what is happening, will, might have a chance. But, based on your time frame, anyone 50 + should be fine.

Nonetheless, I'm not counting on anything, as business as usual going forward.

Love your insight.

Chris said...

We're in agreement, empty placations don't go far when dealing with difficult changes. Nothing is more difficult than voluntarily collapsing against an economy, in full swing of denying it's demise.

Maybe how I worded my former comments were harsh, but that's what voluntary collapse requires - a harsh look at reality. It's not where I live now that matters, it's where I came from. Something more is required than just ideology, because it only works for a period of time. Practical application is a far better teacher, but many environments have a hidden petroleum advantage.

We can collapse our personal economies, but people also derive hidden advantages living closer to a city hub. The further people take themselves away from the supply of petroleum and everything it touches, the more practical application will surface. If you live anywhere near a series of manufactured footpaths, underground street plumbing or road guttering, chances are the collapse you undertake will be blind to the hidden petroleum advantage.

We tried voluntarily collapsing in the city, only the economy wasn't collapsing along with us. It's not like Cuba where the whole country was forced into a domestic economy overnight (US trade embargoes).

People can cut spending, but it won't stop Council rates from increasing prices to maintain overheads - especially as petroleum increases in price.

Cuba is an excellent example of how city and rural weren't too far apart when the trade embargo was put in place. They already had a culture where migration between town and country were common place. Not like how we view them in Western culture today.

Since Cuba was forced in a domestic economy, we've raised several more generations of kids believing town and country are foreign places. Food comes from a packet, or a fast food outlet. These are the realities we're asking people to voluntarily collapse in.

Moving to the country, people get a taste of what stepping out of that culture means. I'm with Glenn on the first comment - we aren't self-sufficient either, we still need to commute to the city to purchase stuff, and maybe it's a good thing. Because as the industrial economy slows, migration is going to be common place for a lot more people.

City folk may have to work for that organic farmer sooner than they realised - to get the skills they need to feed their family, plus derive an income. Because when petroleum starts to exit the economy, it will be food producers and trades that will start to dominate.

You said at the end of your comments, it's hardly fair to say "sorry you're out of luck", but that's exactly what happens when industrial economies decline. Collapsing where one is helps, but what happens when the economy you've invested in, out-prices your collapse measures?

I'm not sure if our views are that far apart - we just consider it from different angles. Maybe luck had me in a place where I tried collapsing, in a city that wouldn't stop escalating prices? Doing my sums, I realised no matter how much we collapsed where we were, we had to relocate to reduce the rate of escalation.

The closer you live to a city hub, (the condensed version of a petroleum based economy) the more State and County will increase their rates, fees and prices, even on such valuable things as public transport.

Maybe you think my view on country and city is somewhat dualistic? That's only because I've been both and realise if you want the third option, you have to go through a process first. That involves looking where you've been, accepting it doesn't apply any more and moving on with what you've got.

This is what you are discussing. But it's not harsh or thumbing noses at people to suggest, practical application does more than ideology. How do people go about getting that, when they live so close to hidden petroleum advantages?

A/Gnostic said...

Hi, I appreciate your work and visit reguarly to get a dose of pragmatism by no less than an Arch Druid!

Re: Collapse Now And Avoid the Rush:

The primary resources aren't the practical skills but the spiritual/psychological resources and skills in dealing with (potentially insane) people.

Speaking from experience : Individually going through collapse is guaranteed to psychologically destroy many , including many who have read everything here.
Those of us who were born and raised in the comforts and busy-ness of "civilization" will be extremely allergic to the severe lack of stimulation that a back-to-the-basics life involves, compared to life in a modern city.
Not recommended doing this by yourselves, folks!

Self -sufficeiny on the land is a fantasy unless you have a large team of people sharing the same dogged determination to become self -sufficient. In an age of extreme individualism, this is highly unlikely to work very well. . .

A/Gnostic said...

[quote] There’s quite a lot of money to be made these days insisting that we can have a shiny new future despite all evidence to the contrary, and pulling factoids out of context to defend that increasingly dubious claim; as industrial society moves down the curve of decline, I suspect, this will become even more popular, since it will make it easier for those who haven’t yet had their own personal collapse to pretend that it can’t happen to them.

The same principle applies to the people who donate to environmental causes and put solar panels on their roofs in the same spirit that led medieval Christians to buy high-priced indulgences from the Church to cancel out their sins. T.S. Eliot countered that sort of attitude unanswerably when he described salvation as "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything".[/quote]

Thanks for making me laugh. I wish you'd write more about this kind of thing. . . The New Age, the Human Potential Movement and similar neo- religions.

Jim Brewster said...

Joe Johnson, I'd like to offer a more sympathetic reading of Timothy Leary's famous phrase which brings it more in line, at least in my mind, with what JMG is saying.

Leary was not advocating mindless escape from reality, but conscious exploration of and engagement with alternate dimensions and modes of reality. He was very influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism, among other spiritual paths.

As I envision it, "tuning in" is becoming aware of the predicament we are in. "Turning on" is finding the methods and skills we will need to cope and muddle through. "Dropping out" is disengaging from the spinning hamster wheel of industrialism.

Dropping out does not mean bailing out on obligations to self and family, though it would have seemed that way to the privileged youth of the 1960's and certainly to their parents. As others have pointed out, it can seem like that for "peaksters" and those around them too.

Leary's colleague at Harvard, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), wrote about how the early psychedelic researchers found it harder and harder to relate their experiences with colleagues who were not "on the bus." Like Louis Armstrong said about jazz: "If you have to ask what it is you'll never know."

Certainly there are parallels. Peak oil/industrial decline being based on hard facts, asking and answering "what it is" would be much more appropriate, though you still have to bridge the mindset gap from growth and progress to decline.

dltrammel said...

Reverse Developer said...
Mallow et al. Sorry for taking shortcuts. Let me try and be more clear.


Something is going to have to be done about farming, especially if you see what the so called immigration "reform" being done by some states like Arizona and North Carolina are doing to the harvesting industry. 80% of workers are undocumented, and the fear they have of being deported is causing them to flee to other states. The job openings are not being filled and food is being left unharvested.

Article Here

Last August, Monica Alonzo examined labor shortages in the farm economy, where an estimated 80 percent of the workforce is undocumented.

She learned that efforts to recruit Americans to pick crops have failed abysmally.

In the late 1990s, Alonzo reported, "California launched a 'welfare to farmwork' program in the Central Valley at a time when regional unemployment was as high as 20 percent.... A massive campaign addressed training, transportation and other obstacles to getting workers in the fields. Though there were more than 100,000 potential workers, only three jobs were filled."

Things weren't any easier in Washington State. There, "a labor shortage for the 2006 cherry harvest prompted an advertising blitz to recruit about 1,700 needed workers, particularly for the much larger apple harvest that was just around the corner. Only 40 people took jobs."

According to Alonzo's research, things were even worse in the East. "The following year, in North Carolina," she wrote, "farm officials set up a statewide hotline to fill crop and livestock jobs. Two calls were received."

Things have only gotten worse with anti-immigrant legislation.

In 2007 more than 90,000 migrants fled Oklahoma, causing a loss of $1.9 billion to the state's economy. Since passage of SB 1070, Arizona has shed 200,000 migrants who fled to friendlier states.

Agriculture is the largest sector in Georgia's economy, yet lawmakers passed stiff anti-immigrant legislation projected to cost the state $391 million in lost crops. The governor suggested that farmers hire ex-cons to work the fields. The ex-cons refused. More than 70 percent of Georgia's restaurants had labor shortages and lost, on average, $21,000 per eating establishment.


----

I could see situations where a small local "home" might make a deal with nearby large scale farmers to come in at the end of the harvest and pick the fruit and vegetables not gotten during the regular harvest.

Older people would certainly benefit from getting out of the warehouses we call "rest homes" now.

In the long run, industrial farming is going away, and too the warehousing of the elderly, but its going to be interesting to watch how that decline works out.

Lauren said...

Here's a real-life self-sufficiency dilemma. Due to scant rainfall, our hay meadow is not worth the while of the man who owns the high-priced equipment to do our baling. The way haying was done in the old days was with horses or by hand. We can cut and rake the hay in windrows using diesel energy. But even raking into hay shocks by hand will be a huge task. We'll see how it turns out.

I keep telling myself that necessity is the mother of invention. I use my 14-hand donkey for some fire wood gathering & cart pulling. Not often enough - but if donkey power was the only way to do something, I think we'd get it done. Same with other things around the place - I've studied how to do it without FFs, and have cut back on their use. When push comes to shove, I'm curious about my particular outcome.

Lloyd Lincoln Clark said...

Most popular commentary today on the WSJ MarketWatch site, contrarian Paul Farrell:
Myth of Perpetual Growth is killing America


Even the cheerleaders know the game is up.

jb said...

Dennis D - your apporach is exactly what I am thinking of doing - but I have no background in it> Do you have a recommendation of how I can learn? thanks
janet

Diane said...

Moo Moo said,
But, those who understand what is happening, will, might have a chance. But, based on your time frame, anyone 50 + should be fine.

There is another aspect of 50+ that you could perhaps think about, some of us have already long since made the choice to walk lightly on the land. I walked away from a city/consumption life 15 years ago, because like JMG, I could see what was down the tunnel aways. Because I am a solitary, I can live as my old mother used to say "on the smell of an oil rag". I have made this choice because I care what happens to future generations, even though I personally will probably not be here to experience the worst of it.
Diane

noxpopuli said...

Thought you might be interested in reading this article. A video gamer playing "Civ II", an accelerated-time worldbuilding simulator, allowed the game to run on for ten years. The in-game accelerated timeline has now run into the distant future, to 3991.

In the article, the gamer reports on his observations -- and his real emotional distress at not being able to change the game's internal narrative inertia.

http://www.reddit.com/r/gaming/comments/uxpil/ive_been_playing_the_same_game_of_civilization_ii/

The game designers incorporated natural resource depletion into the future states.

Matthew Lindquist said...

Hi! Long time reader, first time commentator- Just wanted to respond to noxpopuli:

I'm a veteran Civ Player, read that post as well, and I have to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that as much effort as he put into that game he had to either have deliberately stalemated it or simply not be that skilled in order to reach that outcome. The game doesn't take environmental factors into account through resource depletion so much as pollution, and not in any cumulative fashion at that. Global warming never causes seas to rise, or massive deserts to form and never permanently impacts food production (so long as you have enough engineers), and the pollution can always be cleaned up, never to be seen again. Gold mines first dug in the year 2980 BC still produce at the same output in 1934, and indeed oil, discovered later in the game, never runs out either!

That is (partially thanks to reading this blog) my main problem with the game. In many ways "Civilization" is a study in the myth of progress, with players beginning from a small agricultural village and marching to the tune of technological advancement all the way up to the space age, with none of the dark ages, collapses, or ecological mismanagement that have proven to be hard upper boundaries to social complexity for so many civilizations of the past.

As a side note, the developers *did* program a "Dark Age" feature for one of the later versions of the game, but phased it out in beta because all the players thought it was no fun! An interesting illustration of the story people were telling themselves by playing the game, no?

Anyway, I agree that the post was great! Do you play Civ as well?

Also, many thanks to you, JMG, for this awesome, I-tell-all-my-friends-to-read-it blog! You illuminate an impeccable path :)

Matt

MAI said...

Lifecycle analysis on modern PV's has been done by a number of authoritative groups. The consensus is that modern PV's made at efficient large scale plants, rooftop mounted using simple mounts and connected to the grid show a lifetime EROI of around 8 and improving. The EROI can be quite a bit higher depending on factors such as the arbitrage between the (possibly mostly primary) energy used in manufacture and the efficiency of the local fossil grid (final energy) which can be as low as 25% or even lower. Local insolation is also an EROI driver.

As the old saw has it, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts :)

One consequence of this uncomfortable truth is rooftop PVs could make a substantial contribution to maintaining a recognisably western society. Which would no doubt upset many readers of TOD etc :)

jean-vivien said...

Lloyd Lincoln Clark,

hello, and welcome,
"Most popular commentary today on the WSJ MarketWatch site, contrarian Paul Farrell:
Myth of Perpetual Growth is killing America"

The article does hardly propose any concrete suggestions, still the simple fact of reading this on the Wall Street Journal really made my day !

That article is probably the most impressive that I have read in years, just because it was published in the Wall Street Journal.
Brilliant ! Makes me wonder what they will come up with, next...

latheChuck said...

I read a report once upon a time about a group of ambitious young people who set out to become self-sufficient, in food and beer, from their de-industrialized farm. Fortunately, they "ran the numbers" first, before they had to experience how very hard they'd have to struggle to bring in enough grain to meet their needs. They had to give up on the beer.

And so, whenever I hear the sociable phrase "let's sit down for a beer or two", my post-industrial scarcity alarm starts to chime. As a socially and ecologically acceptable substitute, I propose "let's sit down to shell some sunflower seeds".

Don't get me wrong; I love alcohol -- as a solvent, fuel, slug-toxin, disinfectant, and preservative. But these uses don't suggest that it's a good thing to consume, do they?

Kieran O'Neill said...

@dltrammel:
Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener, has a similar solution: she and her farming partner rent a field from a local farmer, which they work themselves.

Of course, going down that road leads to tenant farmers, who have historically been almost as abused as those stuck in workhouses...

Jim Brewster said...

latheChuck, granted, self-sufficiency in food should take precedence in the case you site. But on a community level, those who have worked out the numbers and decided to pursue fermentation may find they have a valued trade item. For better or worse, beer has a long future!

longjon said...

"The same principle applies to the people who donate to environmental causes and put solar panels on their roofs in the same spirit that led medieval Christians to buy high-priced indulgences from the Church to cancel out their sins."

Hmmm, but isn't "your own personal collapse" into a low-energy future about learning to live within the meagre supply of the only non-fossil-based energy sources we have? I know you Yanks on average have a bigger household energy footprint than we Yerpeans, but a few solar panels, a couple of windmills, and a much more frugal attitude to power-consumption should see most households through. Just don't expect to run those chest-freezers 365 days a year together with daily full-wash cycles. As for transport - ride a bike, the exercise'll do you good.

And this is where the "popular daydream" of a survival homestead really comes into its own. We are one of the few lucky ones to have cashed in our 3-bed des-res in London for 39-acres of stunning countryside and a static caravan. We have wood, we have spring water, and pretty soon we'll have enough solar to be net exporters to the grid, and one day enough batteries to be off-grid. We can build and experiment in our barn, modify vehicles and make bio-diesel. Try that in a 2-bed flat in a major city. I am really enjoying my mid-life "collapse-now" crisis - it's the best thing that ever happened to me! And my friends think so too!

Of course that doesn't help the loved ones we left behind - but solving that problem's what we have planned for stage two. It's already quite clear that organic farming is a pretty labour-intensive affair (and one that quite frankly you are better off learning on the job than by running off to "apprentice with an organic farmer") but also one that we find throwing more labour at reduces the elapsed time exponentially. Here in the UK we have some pretty draconian planning laws to prevent us from just taking up residence on a field with a few like-mindeds. But, over time, by stealth, we will build our little community up bit by bit, person by person. Because community is where it's really at. Community is the only real solution to a world where everything has to be bought-in. The monetisation of our lives is almost as complete as our emptying of the oil-barrels. But friends, colleagues, and people in your immediate community know you'll do your share, and what goes around comes around.

So, if you can't collapse now to your own field or woodland somewhere remote, then start wwoofing or hanging out and making friends in the countryside, because post-collapse city-life won't be much fun, unless you're happy just writing blogs on "positive futures", of course.

noxpopuli said...

Matt, thank you for your informed assessment of the Civ II game design! I am not a regular player; my experience with worldbuiling video games is limited to an ancient iteration of Sim City, which I enjoyed briefly but abandoned after creating an insurmountable traffic problem. Knowing a bit more about how the Civ advancement logic works tells me more about the guy who wrote the article.

I'm fascinated: it sounds like the Civ "Dark Age" feature was a set segment of the internal game timeline. At first read, I thought it might be a possible outcome of regular game play, e.g., a condition in which a civ would find itself after several centuries of war or extravagant consumption.

But no, you're right, that would sound less like fun and more like real life.

casdeiro said...

It seems surprising to me that you say: Across a wide range of geographical scales and technological levels, civilizations take an average of one to three centuries to complete the process of decline and fall, and there is no valid reason to assume that ours will be any exception. when you can look at the famous net-energy curve by David Murphy, for example http://www.cenit-del-petroleo.info/images/eroei2-we-are-here-2010.png , and see that after 2035 (approx.) there will be no more energy from oil to keep this civilization slowly collapsing, as you suggest, until 2100? 2300?

I know you think we'll have a "long" descent. I've read your book ;-) But net energy cliff makes this uncanny, in my opinion.

Don't assume that as past collapses where "long", ours will be too. Ours is an exception in History, as never before we have such an overshot, with such gigantic energy consume, such complex societies and so enormous human population.

bagman said...

Once again JMG you've brought the readers’ attention to a problem that must be understood and squarely confronted by all those who wish to navigate the treacherous decline of industrial civilization in the most clear-sighted manner possible.

I agree, there will be those who will steadfastly refuse to give up the ghost of progress. They will throw their money and their energy into every dangerous, last gasp campaign to preserve the American way of life. Like desperate junkies they will attack anyone who tries to prevent them from trashing the planet for another petroleum fix.

In the spirit of killing the messenger they will attempt to crush and villainize those of us who wish to “collapse now and avoid the rush.” We will be called enemies of America and progress--unchristian, anarchists, eco-terrorists, atheists and pagan Earth worshipers who want to drag the world back into the misery and poverty of the dark ages. Should they maintain and extend their grip on power, no one who refuses to drink their cool aid will be safe from persecution.

However, JMG, over the past several blogs, I’ve noticed your aversion to discussing the political questions some readers have raised about how to resist this dangerous threat to those of us who wish to live in harmony with, and respect for, the laws of nature.

I truly hope you aren’t one of those people you’ve described so accurately who becomes “brittle and defensive” when people raise issues that don’t fit comfortably into your strategy for coping with collapse. As you point out, ignoring and evading the need to confront uncomfortable truths is a sure path to “corruption of the intellect.” Yet, last week, when NTROPEE said your approach to handling collapse was a completely necessary but insufficient response to ecocide, tyranny and war. You told him to take his political concerns to a Marxist blog--then you told him to "go away." Instead of dismissing him I would like your thoughts, which I so respect, about this issue.

Biz Modl said...

john,

i have to admit i find your argument compelling. i would suggest a peek at a couple of references if you havent already encountered them. first, a book titled 'the imperial animal' that suggests the notion of a 'biogram' that drives a species' behavior. second, the work of marvin harris and his model of culture.

as primates, we organize socially in terms of core and periphery. this accounts for the repeated push to empire in history. as humans, we use culture to understand and interact with the world around us.

the harris model of culture suggests the key variables available to design a culture for the deindustrial future: modes of production and reproduction; domestic and political economy; behavior and mental symbolic processes. his concept of the elite matches the primate notion of core and periphery.

it would be interesting to examine a model of deindustrial culture based on those variables.

have fun, biz

Biz Modl said...

john,

as i said in a previous post, i find the argument compelling. i don't, however, think that de-industrial culture should be sold based on the collapse of industrial culture. instead, i would sell it on its own merits (there are many).

the harris universal cultural model can be used to compare and contrast the two cultures. in addition, it can be used to design a variety of deindustrial cultures from the ground up (no pun intended).

here is a reference on the harris model:

http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Harris/Presentation/Harris.pdf

have fun, biz

GHung said...

@bagman, just some thoughts on your comment: One of the benefits of having a 'hobby' of voluntary poverty is that you are flying under the radar, so to speak. Those of us "who wish to live in harmony with, and respect for, the laws of nature" aren't necessarily politically active or threatening.

You say: "In the spirit of killing the messenger they will attempt to crush and villainize those of us who wish to “collapse now and avoid the rush.”

Comes a time when the messenger needs to keep his message to himself, or accept the risks. Your call.

Peter Kalmus said...

What longjon said.

JMG, I understand that you don't want people to assume you're advocating leaving society and buying the farm. You're trying to make a slightly more subtle point. On the other hand, you do seem to be discouraging your readers from taking up organic farming... and here's the kicker... because it's too hard. Isn't that the kind of attitude that got us into this mess in the first place?

Yes, it's hard. All the more reason to start learning those skills now. Start with a garden and orchard. Then get chickens and bees. Start going to crop swaps and talking to neighbors. I've done all of this over the last two years on my 1/10 acre in the city, and surprise, it has been fun! And therefore self-sustaining. And now I'm looking for twenty-odd acres somewhere with a stable water supply and good soil. This will organically grow into a community, over decades. There will be serious meditation to overcome the "me first" habit.

And good grief, put those solar panels and water heaters up good people! Every little bit helps. Both in terms of replacing fossil fuels and raising awareness (which leads to decreased consumption, for one thing). JMG, please don't discourage people from taking these basic, fun, awareness-raising steps in the right direction. One step leads to another.