Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Into an Unknown Country

Was it just my imagination, or was the New Year’s celebration just past even more halfhearted than those of the last few years? My wife and I welcomed 2013 with a toast, and breakfasted the next morning on the traditional good-luck foods—rice and beans, corn bread, greens and bacon—that I learned to enjoy back when I was studying old-fashioned Southern folk magic. Outside our little house, though, the midnight air seemed remarkably quiet; the whoops, horns, and firecrackers of New Years past were notable mostly by their absence, and the next day’s hush seemed less a matter of hangovers than a not unreasonable dread of what 2013 might have in store for us all.

No doubt some of that was a function of the media panic about the so-called Fiscal Cliff. The New Yorker scored a palpable hit by headlining a piece on the subject "Washington Celebrates Solving Totally Unnecessary Crisis They Created," but there’s more to it than that. What, after all, was this "fiscal cliff"? A measure that would have repealed some of the tax breaks and hikes in Federal spending put in place since 2000, and thus reduced the annual Federal deficit by a modest amount.  All that yelling, in other words, was provoked by the possibility that the US government might have to take a few steps in the direction of living within its means.  If the frantic struggle to avert that outcome is any measure of the kind of statesmanship we can expect from the White House and Congress in the year to come, it’s no wonder that hiding under the mattress has so much evident appeal just now.

There’s more involved in the evident lack of enthusiasm for the new year, though, than the latest clown acts playing in the three-ring circus that is today’s Washington DC.  A great many of the comforting rationalizations that have played so large a role in justifying a continued reliance on the unsustainable are wearing very thin.  Consider the claims, retailed by the media at ever-increasing volume these days, that recent upturns in the rate of domestic petroleum production in the US offer a conclusive disproof to the idea of peak oil, and herald the arrival of a new age of cheap abundant fuel.  Courtesy of Jim Kunstler’s latest blog post, I’d like to offer a chart of US petroleum production, from 1920 to now, that puts those claims in perspective.  
See the tiny little uptick in production over there on the far right?  That’s the allegedly immense rise in petroleum production that drives all the rhetoric.  If that blip doesn’t look like a worldchanging event to you, dear reader, you’re getting the message. It isn’t a worldchanging event; it’s the predictable and, by the way, repeatedly predicted result of the rise in oil prices from around $30 a barrel to between three and four times that, following the 2008 spike and crash.  Triple or quadruple the price of any other commodity, and sources of that commodity that weren’t economically feasible to produce at the lower price will suddenly become paying propositions, too.  (Yes, that’s spelled "Bakken shale" in the present tense.) If the price of oil were to triple or quadruple again over the next few years, we’ll probably see another increase on the same very modest scale, too.  That increase still won’t be a worldchanging event, though the economic impact of another round of price increases on that scale might be.

More generally, we’ve got a real shortage of worldchanging events just now.  There are good reasons for that, just as there are equally—well, equally strong, if not equally good—reasons why so many people are pinning all their hopes on a worldchanging event of one kind or another.  Therapists like to point out that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten, and of late it’s become a truism (though it’s also a truth) that doing the same thing and expecting to get different results is a good working definition of insanity.  The attempt to find some way around that harsh but inescapable logic is the force that drove the prophetic hysteria about 2012, and drives end-of-the-world delusions more generally:  if the prospect of changing the way you live terrifies you, but the thought of facing the consequences of the way you live terrifies you just as much, daydreaming that some outside force will come along and change everything for you can be a convenient way to avoid having to think about the future you’re making for yourself.

With that in mind, and with an eye toward the year ahead of us, I’d like to attend to three New Year customs that haven’t gotten as much attention here on The Archdruid Report as they probably should.  First, I’d like to go over my predictions for the year just finished, and see how well they did; second, I’d like to offer up some predictions for the year to come; and third, I’d like to make some suggestions for what my readers might consider doing about it all.

My 2012 predictions appeared in the first January post here last year.  Here they are:

"I’d like to suggest that when we take a backwards look in the early days of 2013, we will most likely see that that’s what happened in 2012, too: a slow worsening across a wide range of trends, punctuated by localized crises and regional disasters. I’d like to predict, in fact, that when we take that backward look, the US dollar and the Euro will both still exist and be accepted as legal tender, though the Eurozone may have shed a couple of countries who probably shouldn’t have joined it in the first place; that stock markets around the world will have had another volatile year, but will still be trading.  Here in the US, whoever is unlucky enough to win the 2012 presidential election will be in the middle of an ordinary transition to a new term of office; the new Congress will be gearing up for another two years of partisan gridlock; gas stations will still have gas for sale and grocery stores will be stocked with groceries; and most Americans will be making the annual transition between coping with their New Year’s hangovers and failing to live up to their New Year’s resolutions, just as though it was any other year.

"Official US statistics will no doubt insist that the unemployment rate has gone down...but the number of people out of work in the United States will likely set another all-time record; the number of people in severe economic trouble will have gone up another good-sized notch, and public health clinics will probably be seeing the first wave of malnutrition-caused illness in children.  If you happen to have spent the year in one of the areas unfortunate enough to get hit by the hard edge of the increasingly unstable weather, you may have had to spend a week or two in an emergency shelter while the flood waters receded or the wreckage got hauled away, and you might even notice that less and less gets rebuilt every year.

"Unless that happens, though, or unless you happen to pay close attention to the things that don’t usually make the evening news, you may well look back in the first days of 2013 and think that business as usual is still ongoing. You’d be right, too, so long as you recognize that there’s been a stealthy change in what business as usual now means.  Until the peak of world conventional petroleum production arrived in 2005, by and large, business as usual meant the continuation of economic growth. Since then, by and large, it has meant the continuation of economic decline."

No countries left the Eurozone in 2012, and if malnutrition-caused illness in children has had a notable uptick in America, I haven’t yet heard of it.  Other than that, I think it’s fair to say that I called it.  I’d like to put on my sorcerer’s cap, furthermore, and gaze a little deeper into the mists of futurity; I thus predict that just as 2012 looked like a remake of 2011 a little further down the curve of decline, 2013 will look a good deal like 2012, but with further worsening along the same broad array of trends and yet another round of local crises and regional disasters. The number of billion-dollar weather disasters will tick up further, as will the number of Americans who have no job—though, to be sure, the official unemployment rate and other economic statistics will be gimmicked then as now.  The US dollar, the Euro, and the world’s stock markets will still be in business at year’s end, and there will still be gas for sale in gas stations, groceries for sale in grocery stores, and more people interested in the Super Bowl than in global warming or peak oil, as 2013 gives way to 2014.

As the year unfolds, I’d encourage my readers to watch the fracking bubble. Yes, it’s a speculative bubble of the classic sort, one that has soaked up a vast amount of investment money over the last few years, and the glorious future of American energy independence being touted by the media has the same function, and the same relationship to reality, as the glorious future of endlessly rising house prices that got waved around with equal abandon in 2006 and 2007. I don’t expect the bubble to pop this year—my best guess at this point is that that’ll happen in 2014—but it’s already losing air as the ferocious decline rates experienced by fracked oil and gas wells gnaw the bottom out of the fantasy.  Expect the new year to bring more strident claims of the imminent arrival of a shiny new future of energy abundance, coupled with a steady drumbeat of bad financial news suggesting, in essence, that the major players in that end of the oil and gas industry are well and truly fracked.

I’d also encourage my readers to watch the climate.  The tendency to focus on predicted apocalypses to come while ignoring the reality of ongoing collapse in the present is as evident here as in every other corner of contemporary culture; whether or not the planet gets fried to a crackly crunch by some more or less distant future date, it’s irrefutable that the cost of weather-related disasters across the world has been climbing year over year for decades, and this is placing an increasingly harsh burden on local and regional economies here in the US and elsewhere.  It’s indicative that many coastal towns in Louisiana and Mississippi that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina have never been rebuilt, and it’s probably a safe bet that a similar fate waits for a fair number of the towns and poorer neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.  As global warming pumps more heat into the heat engine we call Earth’s climate, the inevitable result is more extreme weather—drier droughts, fiercer storms, more serious floods, and so on down a litany that’s become uncomfortably familiar in recent years. 

Most of the infrastructure of industrial society was built during the period of abnormally good weather we call the twentieth century.  A fair amount of it, as New York subway riders have had reason to learn, is poorly designed to handle extreme weather, and if those extremes become normal, the economics of maintaining such complex systems as the New York subways in the teeth of repeated flooding start to look very dubious indeed.  I don’t expect to see significant movements out of vulnerable coastal areas quite yet, but if 2011’s Hurricane Irene and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy turn out to have a bouncing baby sibling who decides to pay a visit to the Big Apple in 2013, 2014 might see the first businesses relocating further inland, perhaps to the old mill towns of the southern Hudson valley and the eastern end of Pennsylvania, perhaps further still.

That’s speculative. What isn’t speculative is that all the trends that have been driving the industrial world down the arc of the Long Descent are still in play, and so are all the parallel trends that are pushing America’s global empire along its own trajectory toward history’s dustbin  Those things haven’t changed; even if anything could be done about them, which is far from certain, nothing is being done about them; indeed, outside of a handful of us on the fringes of contemporary culture, nobody is even talking about the possibility that something might need to be done about them.  That being the case, it’s a safe bet that the trends I’ve sketched out will continue unhindered, and give us another year of the ordinary phenomena of slowly accelerating decline and fall.

That, in turn, leads to the question of what my readers might do about it all.

My advice hasn’t changed.  It’s a source of some amusement to me, though, that no matter how clearly I try to communicate that advice, a fair number of people will hear what they want to hear, or perhaps what they expect to hear, rather than what I’m saying.  Over the course of this last week, for example, several people commenting on this post on one of the many other forums where it appears insisted with some heat that I claimed that activism was worthless, while one of the commenters here on The Archdruid Report took me to task for what he thought was a rejection of community in favor of an unworkable go-it-alone approach.

Not so.  What I’m saying is that any meaningful response to the crisis of our time has to begin on the individual level, with changes in our own lives.  To say that it should begin there doesn’t mean that it should end there; what it does mean is that without the foundation of personal change, neither activism nor community building nor anything else is going to do much.  We’ve already seen what happens when climate activists go around insisting that other people ought to decrease their carbon footprint, while refusing to do so themselves, and the results have not exactly been good.  Equally, if none of the members of a community are willing to make the changes necessary to decrease their own dependence on a failing industrial system, just what good is the community as a whole supposed to do?

A great many people like to insist that changing your own life isn’t enough, and then act as though that means that changing your own life isn’t necessary.  Again, not so.  If industrial society as a whole has to stop dumping excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, dear reader, that means among many other things that you, personally, have to stop contributing your share of that excess.  Equally, if industrial society as a whole is running short of fossil fuels, that means among many other things that you, personally, are going to have to get used to living without them.  That being the case, why not start with the part of the problem about which you can actually do something—your own consumption of fossil fuels and your own production of carbon dioxide—and then go from there?

Political activism, community building, and a great many other proposed responses to the crisis of our time are entirely valid and workable approaches if those who pursue them start by making the changes in their own lives they expect other people to make in turn.  Lacking that foundation, they go nowhere. It’s not even worth arguing any more about what happens when people try to get other people to do the things they won’t do themselves; we’ve had decades of that, it hasn’t helped, and it’s high time that the obvious lessons get drawn from that fact.  Once again, if you always do what you’ve always done...

That being said, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions for those of my readers who are interested in being part of the solution:

1. Caulk, weatherstrip, and insulate the place where you live.  Most Americans can cut between 5% and 25% of their total annual energy use by weatherizing their homes. None of the work is rocket science; your local hardware store can sell you everything you need for a very modest amount of money, and there are plenty of sources in print and online that can teach you everything you need to know.  The sooner you get to work, the sooner you start saving money, and the sooner a good chunk of your share of excess carbon dioxide stops messing with the atmosphere.

2. Make at least one commute or run at least one errand a week on foot, by bicycle, or by public transit.  A great many Americans don’t actually need cars at all.  A good many of those who do, due to a half century of idiotic land use planning, need them a great deal less often than they think.  The best way to learn this is to experience what it’s like to travel by some other means.  It’s long past time to ditch the "yuppie logic" that suggests that it’s a good idea to drive a mile to the health club to get on a treadmill and get the exercise you didn’t get by walking to the health club.  It’s also long past time to ditch the equally false logic that insists that getting there faster is the only thing that matters.

3. If you take a vacation, take the train.  Traveling by train uses a small fraction of the fuel per mile that a plane needs, and the trip is part of the vacation rather than an ordeal to endure between one place and the next. Give it a try.  If you live in the US, you might also consider supporting the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which lobbies for expanded passenger rail service and offers a discount on fares for members.

4. Buy it used. This applies to everything from cars, should you actually need one, to the cheapest of trinkets.  By buying a used product rather than a new one, you save the energy cost of manufacturing the new product, and you also keep things out of the waste stream.  Used computers are particularly worth your while; if you live in a tolerably large urban area in the US, you can often get more computers than you need by letting your circle of friends know that you’ll take used but working devices off their hands for free.  You won’t be able to play the latest computer games on them, sure, but if you’re obsessed with playing the latest computer games, you don’t need a computer; you need a life. Speaking of getting a life...

5. Turn off the boob tube.  Better still, if you can talk the people you live with into it, get rid of the thing altogether.  Commercial television exists to fill your brain with emotionally manipulative imagery that lures you into buying products you wouldn’t otherwise need or want.  Public television?  Replace "products" with "opinions" and you’re not too far off. (Huge rapacious corporations spend millions of dollars to fund public TV programs; I hope none of my readers are naive enough to think that these corporations do this out of some vague sense of moral obligation.)  You don’t need any of that stuff cluttering up your brain.  While you’re at it...

6.  Take up an art, craft, or hobby.  Once you turn off the TV, you’re going to have the one luxury that nobody in a modern consumer society is ever supposed to have:  actual, unstructured free time.  It’s worth luxuriating in that for a bit, but pretty soon you’ll find that you want to do something with that time, and one of the best options is to learn how to do something interesting with your hands.  Three quarters of a century ago, most people had at least one activity that gave them something creative to do in their off hours, and a good many of those activities also produced useful and valuable things.  Unless you’re at least seventy years old or come from a very unusual family, you have no idea how many arts, crafts and hobbies Americans used to pursue, or how little money it takes to get started with most of them.  By the way, if you think you’re too old to take up playing the guitar or doing some other seemingly complicated skill, you’re not.

7. Do without something this year.  This is the scary one for most people in today’s consumer society.  To be able to have something, and choose not to have it, challenges some of the deepest of modern taboos.  Give it a try.  The point isn’t to strike an assumed pose of ecological virtue, by the way, so don’t tell anybody what you’re doing without, or even that you’re doing without something.  Nor is this about "being good" in some socially approved manner, so don’t choose something that you’re supposed to want to do without. Just quietly neglect to make something part of your life, and pay attention to your own emotional reactions.  If you’re like most people in today’s America, you’ll be in for a wild ride, but the destination is worth reaching.

So there you are.  As we head deeper into the unknown country of 2013, have a happy and sustainable new year!

************************
A couple of notes might be worth placing here for fans of my writing.  First of all, my latest peak oil book, Not The Future We Ordered:  The Psychology of Peak Oil and the Myth of Eternal Progress, is available for preorder.  Karnac Press, the publisher, is a specialty press publishing mostly in the field of psychology; the book is primarily intended for psychologists, therapists, and members of the healing professions, who will need to know what they’re dealing with as the psychological impacts of peak oil take their toll, but it may also be of interest to peak oil readers generally. Much of what’s covered in Not The Future We Ordered hasn’t appeared here or in any of my other books, so it may be worth a look.

I’m also pleased to announce that I’ve been offered a position as contributing editor and monthly columnist with PeakProsperity.com (formerly ChrisMartenson.com). My first column there will be appearing later this month. My working plan at this point is to head deeper into the territory I explored in my book The Wealth of Nature, with an eye toward the practical and personal implications of the end of the age of abundance.  This is a paid gig, and so the meat of my monthly columns will be in the subscribers-only area, but I plan on doing my level best to make sure it’s worth the price of admission. Again, might be worth a look.

212 comments:

1 – 200 of 212   Newer›   Newest»
Thijs Goverde said...

Reading your remarks on the weather suddenly made me realise that I've recently started worrying more about the climate and less about peak oil. Pretty much like I did until, say three years ago.
I'd say worrying about peak oil is a much more pleasureable experience than pondering AGW.

OH, I know, I know, pondering and worrying are hardly productive uses of my time. I'll call it a hobby, then, and get back to getting my hous insulated.

... hey! I think I just figured out which hobby/bad habit I could Do Without in 2013!
Might give me extra time to do someting constructive, neh?

Thijs Goverde said...

And by the way, congrats on your paid gig!

Jetfire said...

I've got a start on some of these: the advent of the internet has meant I rarely watch television nowadays. Lucky thing, too, because staying off the TV is what started me through the vines that eventually led here.

I do write fiction, so I suppose that counts as a hobby, but I need something else, something away from the computer screen. I've considered learning how to make biochar, for the benefit of both the local soil and the planet at large.

But there is something I've been meaning to ask you, Mr. Greer, something that dovetails nicely with this post. You've listed some suggestions for us ordinary folk to achieve in the new year. What if you were talking to a community of scientists and engineers?

You continuously assert your skepticism that some technological fix will avert the collapse of industrial society, and that skepticism seems warranted. But what are the people who are currently working toward such fixes, or what they think are such fixes, supposed to do going forward? What sort of resolutions should the brilliant minds at CERN or ARPA-E or Bell Labs be making for the coming year, the coming decades?

I should clarify that I am not such a mind myself. I do know a few of them, though, and maybe one thing I can do is start nudging them toward a new paradigm of thinking, one that doesn't include unlimited energy and unlimited growth. Whether I can or not, I've long been keen to hear your thoughts on the subject.

P.S. I dearly hope the fracking bubble bursts before it ruins too much of rural America.

John Michael Greer said...

Thijs, thank you! Now as long as you don't take up the hobby of worrying about whether you've done a sufficiently good job of stopping worrying about things... ;-)

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Please indulge me as there is unfinished business from last week...

Hi SLClaire,

Quote: “The oldest houses have multiple fireplaces but also tend to have high ceilings and lots of windows”

This is interesting as the oldest houses here (dating from around the boom times of the 1880’s to 1890’s) are the same except they lack lots of windows. The main reason for this was because glazing was expensive and the houses were generally small. Settlement only took place in 1834 with the gold rush kicking off in 1850, so there wasn’t the manufacturing base to produce windows.

As a general observation, windows are a big hole in a wall and even double (or triple) glazed don’t insulate a house as well as a wall will. I have shutters over the windows so that in hot weather (and bushfires!) the windows have some protection from the elements. They might be worth considering in your situation?

Quote: “They tended to keep many windows and shaded south-facing windows to allow for adequate air circulation in the summer.”

Yeah, this is a good idea. Verandas keep direct sunlight off the walls as well as the windows reducing the overall heat load and heat transfer into the house. Most houses these days seem to be built with eaves, but they are so small as to be pointless. They are good in theory, but poor in practice.

Quote: “replacing the electric cookstove with a wood cookstove that would also heat part of the house”

Great idea! This is what I do here. The wood stove also heats the hot tap water (and which can be circulated around via radiators) plus you can also cook in the oven and stove top. Mind you, you do need a source of timber too and having a wood lot helps! Still, timber is easy to salvage and you’d be amazed how much is in a house. It is a great idea trying to get multiple uses out of a single system. The hot water is provided by solar (it is scorching today!) panels during summer. The only days it is a let-down are warm cloudy days.

Quote: “to see if/how the chimney can be renovated for a cookstove”

If you have an existing brick chimney and fireplace and want to install a wood burning cookstove, what they do here is just install an ordinary metal flue up the chimney and seal the top of the bricks in the chimney with steel, tile and/or cement capping (which the flue goes through). Simple and doesn’t require huge changes to your house. It does depend on the bends in the brick chimney though, but it is very possible.

Old houses are the best adapted to low energy use despite what people will say. Most modern houses have a life span less than 35 years which is an absolute disaster. Glad to hear your thoughts and I appreciate your comments too.

Spare a thought for us too – it’s hot and dry here!:

Wave of extreme heat creeping across Australia

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

Quote: “I personally benefit big time from industrialism.”

A very honest response. I also doubt the durability of it all too.

Quote: “People there also have much more practical and manual skills than most people in the West; they can survive and have survived with structures of government in utter chaos.”

I don’t have enough information to be able to conclude that what you are saying is correct or false, or even somewhere in between. My observation is that unless these skills that you refer to are practiced then it is all talk and talk does not put food on the table. This has been on my mind recently because I have been working at improving my plant identification skills and it occurred to me that unless you utilise those plants (eating, as well as culinary and/or medicinal herbs) that you forget what they are useful for, what they look like and you also don’t get a feel for their growth cycles. It reminds me of trying to learn a language or music. By the way your English is getting better each week.

Quote: “So traditions of old and some new, durable technological innovations conserved from present shall rule the future.”

Yeah, I agree with this. I’m happy to wield a chainsaw whilst the energy is available, but I also know how to use an axe and a manual log splitter!

Quote: “I ask you: if there is going to be some kind of new consciousness in the future, why advocates of this new thinking fail totally to make any impact outside their own, tiny group of peers?”

Perhaps this is lost in translation as I don’t advocate that point of view. My point of view is to take into the future the most resilient things that we now know rather than advocating some sort of new consciousness (I’m not really sure what this means anyway!). The resilient things will obviously include social structures.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil Harris and Bill,

I’m really enjoying your thoughts on agriculture. To put it bluntly there is a fossil fuel subsidy in both organic and industrial agriculture. I can’t deny this as I’ve brought in over 300 cubic metres (that’s 10,600 cubic feet) of woody mulch as a soil additive over the past seven years (all distributed by hand). When I run a push mower over the acreage once a year it uses fuel. When I bring food or stock food or even new plants they turns up using oil. Even the off grid solar system which powers everything has a fossil fuel subsidy. This doesn’t even consider infrastructure such as fencing, water tanks, pumps…

I have to spend years building up the topsoil (now at 200mm) and I doubt whether this sort of activity is financially viable without an off farm income. It is also really difficult to undertake this work and also pursue full time work off farm. I’m starting to really wonder how commercial organic farms can be financially viable if they pursue a bio-diverse environment and diverse outputs (I’m excluding mono-culture organic farms from this viewpoint – which are something else altogether).

However, the yields from Industrial agriculture are generally always going to be higher than for organic systems because the Industrial system is more efficient because it is only concerned with the current crop and effectively strip mines the soils and usually grows mono cultures.

Where the yields from organic systems really beat Industrial agriculture is in bio-diverse labour intensive systems. They’re just not cost effective in today’s economy because of the labour component. This is why small holdings are the traditional form of agriculture. For this reason, I don’t doubt the findings referred to in last weeks comments.

I reckon this is all a side issue though because my experience has taught me that it is not easy to convert degraded land (and I include land farmed using Industrial agriculture in this definition) into a productive small holding and for this reason I fear a decline in that fossil fuel subsidy.

The outside thermometer is registering 40.9 outside and 24 inside (no a/c either) so I'm hiding from the sun!

Regards

Chris

Draft said...

Wonderful list of things to do this year. I remember some of them from your previous posts but this is a good reminder that there is no time like the present.

I am sorry to hear about your position with Chris Martenson's site, not that you don't deserve getting paid for your hard work. Rather, it's that I feel he is a shameless self-promoter who actually knows very little about what he speaks, unlike you. I am sure we could collectively raise more for you in donations than he can offer so that you can make your writings available for all. I don't think I can bring myself to pay him for access. Please do let us know if you have a specific tip jar target.

I know it is unkind to say these things about Chris Martenson, but I think I am not the only one who has noticed this. For example, I was playing his interview with you for a friend the other day and afterwards my friend couldn't stop commenting on how much time "that interviewer" (Chris) spent talking about himself, his website, his obvious ideas, and with a mic volume far louder than yours. We had to strain to hear your thoughts in between his loud, long-winded self-advertisements.

Jonathan Byron said...

Good column to start off the New Year.

On NPR: I suggest that large corporations fund public television for the same reason that they fund the local opera house, food pantry, or shelter for battered women. They do want to benefit from having their name associated with supporting these activities. Their motive is not completely disinterested, but neither is it generally nefarious. Should one avoid Wagner's music performed live because the NY Met took money from a dodgy Wall Street firm?

K!EF said...

I do agree with the rather quiet new years eve celebrations, even the christmas shopping madness here in Canada seemed to have lost some traction this year. Anyway, all the best for you and your wife, and congratulations to the paid gig.

We have been doing many of the things you are suggesting for a number of years - no TV, learn & invest in skills & tools, reduce and give up... - but to make a serious step forward in building resiliency into our urban life, a change of location seems almost inevitable. It is so ironical, that we can't really afford to move into a small agricultural community and buy land here in western Canada, since Canada is still living the high life, but we could do so in my home country of eastern Germany much easier. (BC is 2,5 time as large as Germany: BC has just over 4 mio. people - Germany 85 mio.)
On the up-site, it prevents us from getting stuck in one place for now and allows for more flexibility, something not to underestimate when it comes to choosing a location in the decades to come. In the meantime, I'll continue to improve my skills and expertise in permaculture, regenerative agriculture and working with non powertools and let them be my assets in the future.

mkroberts said...

I'd love to get rid of the TV but my wife insists that she doesn't get influenced by the commercials (which is probably true) and that she enjoys the programmes she watches (probably true). I'm afraid she's not convinced by the notion that she is supporting a wasteful, unsustainable, unjust culture by watching any programme. I'm not sure how to convince her.

Congrats on the PeakProsperity gig. Unfortunately, I won't be reading the paid for articles. I find that there are just too many sites worth going to that vie for donations. To be forced to pay a price (and a not insignificant price) to read a few articles each month just doesn't seem in the spirit of what we're trying to achieve. Not that people should get some kind of compensation for the time they put in (whether that is personal satisfaction or material reward) but the price just seems too high, in this case. But good luck with it; I'm sure you'll have many other readers.

Mike

MAI said...

In Australia we're heading towards 2GW of PV's on around 15% of homes, electricity use is dropping off a cliff (we're down to 2004 levels) as it appears that when people install PV's they get more conscious of energy use and reduce their energy consumption and I'm working on a number of 100% renewable installations at up to community level.

While we're probably in for a future of more expensive energy there is at least the potential for enough from renewables to run a western civilisation. But as this site has stated a number of times it all starts with energy efficiency.

Leo said...

The problem with world changing events, is that the whole world has to changed, and the world is big.

If the current plans for Uni pan out, i'll be living in the city and i'll just walk or take a tram everywhere, or take the train back home. Also shop at the Vic Market when i can.

Glad i live in the south of Australia, all the hurricanes happen far north in Queensland and NT. Just got the heatwaves to deal with.

Letting the fiscal cliff through would have probably been the best choice, gridlock always dissappears at the wrong time.

Lizzy said...

Good day, and Happy New Year to you.
This was another really good post -- thank you.
This year I'm going to be 2 steps closer to the start of my new future -- following your advice from earlier posts. Debt is going to be totally paid off and I am going to buy the small farm in NZ I've had my eye on. Things are looking very good!

cracked pot said...

Living in an arid climate, I decided to try to limit showering to once a month for a year (doing sponge-baths instead and baking soda instead of soap). The first month has gone by and I still have friends!
I don't think it will solve any of our problems, but it makes me feel good to know that I can get by on far less water than I'm used to.

Tigris Parvus said...

Malnutrition was a growing problem in the US in 2010 and i've seen a few "food-banks struggling" articles, but the statistics for 2012 won't be in for a while. So I wouldn't write off that prediction just yet.

It's an amusing timeliness that i've just been looking into how to learn those things you think you will never be able to do now (in this case drawing and piano). We will have to see how that works out.

I would also add "getting fit" to your list once the "one eyed god in the corner" has been switched off. It will help you with nearly every other item on the list.

Cake the Small said...

OK!

For number 1, we'll be shifting into a new place soon and hopefully it will be a place we own and our weatherising will be first on my list of things to do.

At 2, I have already given up the car driving thing and I ask my husband for a lift as little as possibile - not an easy thing as we live in a city designed for cars and not walkers. I am the only one walking around most days and I get quite a few long stares as the car people pass me and my purple shopping trolly.

Alas, I have immigrated to Australia and number 3 reminds me how I miss the Amtrak. The heavy rail train here is far from where I live and ridiculously expensive. I have accepted that because my transportation options are limited, I will not be travelling very much anymore. Because I'm expecting my first child, I don't plan to be travelling much for the next few years anyway.

Four is one of my favourites! Harder in Australia than in the States, I must go to great lengths to buy it used as the thrift and second-hand stores are the size of closets compared to their American counterparts. This is one of the great things about the internet - buying and selling used items. I do need to reign in the attitude I display though, as I'm rather self-righteous when I announce that I do it because I hate waste, and not to save money.

I am also over-the-top about 5, as I tend to adopt a crazed and bitter tone when sharing that I hate television and stopped owning one nigh 20 years ago. I fantasize that some fool brings one over to my house and I smash it into pieces with a hammer. As an expectant mother I worry that my kid will hate me for not owning a TV or letting them have electrically powered toys.

I am working my way into 6, with my first sewing machine (best baby shower gift possible) and a confused but possibly composting compost pile. Commitment and patience are everything here!

And seven already has plans for this year, and I'm always looking for more somethings I can do without. One thing I can use more of is other people in my community that also want to do without - very uncommon where I must live but I must search them out!

Happy New Year John Michael and congrats on the new book being published.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I'm always interested in the reports that the farmers and makers here post. I'm a middle class town dweller, and not very handy, but your list of New Year's resolutions makes me think that this might be an appropriate time to describe a few habits I have adopted over the past decades to reduce consumption.

1. I stopped eating beef, pork and lamb routinely. I eat farmed meat on special occasions three or four times a year. I eat poultry and fish often, but try for one or two vegetarian or vegan meals a day.

2. I make multiple-meal stews or salads from scratch (well, I don't pluck my own chickens) about twice a week, and reuse leftovers.

3. I moved to a place where I can do grocery shopping and most daily errands on foot and habitually carry a tote with me so I don't need to ask for bags. Side benefit of walking while carrying 25 lbs of groceries is that the bone density of my spine has improved.

4. My car is a 22 year old compact that gets pretty good mileage. I'm thinking of buying a new one, which will probably be my last. I keep computers until the OS won't run any of the current software; I'm on my third.

5. My condo had a wood burning fireplace that had been converted to gas. I converted it back.

6. When our building needed a new roof, I persuaded the owners' association to put a foam roof over the existing bitumen and shingles. This greatly improved its insulating qualities and lowered my heating bills a bunch.

7. I had insulating blinds installed under the skylights so the upstairs is tolerable with a window fan on 100 degree F days. In summer, open windows at night, close shades in the morning; in winter, reverse.

8. In the mild climate we enjoy, I use the heat three months out of the year, mostly in the evenings, after donning four layers of clothing and usually only in the room I'm in at the time. Like my parents who lived through the Depression did when I was a kid.

9. There is little gardening space here, but I do have a lemon bush, a dwarf apple tree, tomato plants in season and herbs in pots.

10. We have pretty good curbside recycling. I generate less than one 13 gallon bag of landfill trash every two weeks, would be much less if I could recycle more kinds of plastic packaging without making a trip to a recycling center.

On the wasteful side, I buy more produce and dairy products than I can eat, drive when I could take the bus, eat out a lot, watch TV on a big flat screen and buy new clothes instead of used. I'm no paragon, but these incremental changes in the direction of a Western European lifestyle have not been very hard, and most of them save money.

divelly said...

Kunstler?
Fun to read,but he just rephrases his diatribes every week.
And his predictions are worthy of Dick Morris or Bill Kristol.
Also,I have offered a couple ofwhat I thought were useful suggestions about his blog-softening the name to maybe attrtact a wider audience,e.g.
His reply was,"GO F%#@ YOURSELF!'
Enough of him.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Hi JMG,

Weatherize - For me, installing an 90% efficient gas boiler might produce better savings, or at least pay for itself and reduce the risk of mechanical failure of the 60% (in)efficient one. Granted, more insulation is good too.

Car-free errands - I prefer to plan my sorties to get several things done on a single 65 mpg trip.

Let the train take the strain – Sadly, not here in the UK - while the network is fairly extensive, the fares are sky high here. It’s actually cheaper to buy an old jalopy, tax, fuel and insure it, and take a family up to Scotland just for that one journey.

Buy it used - Well, I got myself a fine US-made electric guitar last year for a bargain price from a music store that was closing down after 30 years, 'unable to weather the finacial storm', as the owner described it. Though I guess the secondhand market in their own luxury product is one of the things that is keeping production down to a trickle over at the guitar factory in Maryland.

No TV - Amen to that. Gave up on it several years ago. Mrs Mustard likes her formulaic US crime series though. I suspect my trawling through the internet for news and blogs and free guitar lessons is little different as a timewaster though…

Arts and crafts - Yup. Creative people are the happiest ones. To which I’d add – do get on down to the local club, sewing circle etc, or failing that, perhaps its online equivalent. Diverse social networks are what we all really could use more of.

Go without - Well, I decided not to fly to the US this year, though that’s more over in the fripperies and wants rather than needs category...

I seem to recall you previously also suggested Learn Something New? I’ll always try to do that.

Happy New Year, Sir and Archdrood!

sunfyrlion said...

Here in Manila, the New Years Celebration began at sundown, and the fireworks at about 11 PM. I stood on the roof deck of our condo tower and watched for over 45 minutes over the Midnight change of years.

Without exaggerating a bit, I can tell you that most of 3 hours (11PM until 2 AM) were solid fireworks of ALL kinds. I could see about 1/3 of the city and at any eye blink, at least 100 air bursts were lighting the sky. thousands of lessor rockets and firecrackers were a constant noise.

At midnight, the quantity at least tripled and if they did not fire off several million air bursts (beautiful) across the city, over those 3 hours, they didn't fire one. You could smell the gunpowder smoke and by 1 am it made a haze in the air that was still there in the morning.

Filipinos celebrate hard and thoroughly!

Joe Dupere said...

JMG, with respect to your suggestion to get rid of television, I have some thoughts to relate. We stopped watching TV in stages. First we got rid of cable TV. When all we had to watch were the three major networks and public television, it was easier to stop watching since most of what was on was pure junk. We got rid of our television back when the switch to digital broadcasting was made because we didn’t want to spend the money on a new TV set, and we could no longer get public television. The change in our lifestyles was immediate. I had been used to reading a significant amount, but when we got cable, my reading dropped off almost completely. Soon I was back to reading four or five books a week. Thanks to this blog and another forum I read, I’ve been exposed to a lot of new ideas, some of which have been uncomfortable, but useful for me. Much of it has been practical and directed towards the kinds of skills building you often suggest.
One of the upsides is that by not watching TV, I am not being bombarded with commercials. It finally hit me what this meant when my kids recently asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I could not think of a thing that I “wanted”, and I realized it was because I had taken myself out of that aspect of commercial culture and my head was not full of stuff I was programmed to think I needed.
During a period of time when I was underemployed, my wife and I built a cordwood masonry house with the help of family and friends, but mostly with our own four hands. Much of the impetus for doing this was from the reading I had time to do when I stopped watching TV. And certainly the hours gained by not watching TV were directly related to the hours available for a project like that.
Another benefit of having more free time, was that I started taking walks, and became more aware of the natural world, especially the cycles of the seasons and the sun and the moon. I started doing more reading about those subjects and in a roundabout way, that reading led me to this blog and the AODA.
I have gained so much more from the time I’ve invested in NOT watching TV, than I ever gained by watching it.

ando said...

JMG,

As usual, thanks for the good info and insights.

I started working at sharpening my own tools and knives for the first time. The boob tube sat idle.

Looks like I am going to have to look into subscribing to Martenson. Congratulations!



Liquid Paradigm said...

Congratulations on the new, paying gig.

Looking to do what I can as an apartment-dweller, but until the slum lords develop a conscience (or maybe even just a basic awareness of tenants' existence), that's limited. I do find it interesting before coming here to read this, one of the first thoughts of the day was finding more ways to improve the energy efficiency of my beloved, but admittedly older and not terribly well insulated place.

I turned off the television months and months ago. One word of advice to people who may not be aware: even turned off, if it's still plugged in, the television is in "standby mode" and sucking up a huge amount of power (assuming the television is relatively new; I don't know off-hand if the older models did that). Since killing the juice to it, I save easily $20 a month on my electric bill. Hopefully, the interested buyer I've been talking to will be able to haul it all away this month.

With my gaming habits increasingly on the wane (I'd best let that continue to happen naturally; whenever I have a Luddite fit, there's an inevitable backlash which makes things even worse), it's true I have more and more time on my hands to fill up with reading. And I just ordered a beginner's Celtic/bard harp, because we will even more than ever need myth and song to help us along our descent. Or at least I shall, if for no other reason than to console myself at the impending loss of the ability to enjoy the recorded performances of so many wonderful musicians. I'm in my early 40s, so I don't know if that will disappear in my lifetime or not on a general basis, but it could certainly happen specific to me, depending on where climate, energy and circumstances lead.

Sixbears said...

Well thought out, reasonable and likely. No doubt it will be unpopular too.

While I generally agree, there's still the small chance of tipping points where major events suddenly change the whole game. While not likely, it does happen.

Of course, living low on the food chain helps even there. Few people have any slack in their life. Time is tight. Money is tight. Freeing up both by living a more simple life increases resiliency.

Living on a limited income, I'm always looking for ways to do more with less. It has reached the point where I'd happily do without some material thing than give up my time to work for someone else.

hawlkeye said...

Great suggestions; simple but not easy for most Americans. For the majority whose lives are currently impoverished of any plant life, I also invite them to grow one thing they eat, every day, even if it's just a pot of parsley on the window sill. Many times that's all it takes to start a daisy-chain reaction...Pretty soon they're bringing squash and apples to the neighbors and hosting a cider-pressing party. They never saw it coming.

For the past few years, I've also challenged myself to learn at least one new hand skill a year; this time it's welding, before that, fiddling and grafting and...the list that remains is much longer. Functionality, like most things I guess, grows incrementally.

But the most difficult of your suggestions by far is "don't tell anyone". Unless they ask, of course, and holding my tongue unless they do is going to take some tending-to. I'm sure many times I'll have to remind myself to "save it for the blog" in order to re-discover the virtue of speaking through actions alone and leaving my sash of merit badges in the closet...

Oh, and join your local Grange. Now I'll shut up!

kleymo said...

The checklist in this post is a nice way to take stock of what one has done, and of what one wishes to do over the next year. Running down the checklist for me, living in a completely urban environment with little room for a garden.
1. I caulked the north facing windows last Autumn, got the condo association to take out individual gas meters, and browbeat them into investing in a new control system for the boiler.
2. In good weather (if I were healthier, weather would not matter so much) I commute to work on my bike. I will be on a new exercise regime to strengthen my back and lose weight in order to do this again this year.
3. I will be taking the train and public transport tons this summer. I am taking a working vacation, teaching ESL in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is fun riding a bike there, as well as safe, since everyone is in a car these days. They sit in traffic and watch the bike riders go by. My kids get to improve their Russian in the bargain.
4. This is definitely a good one. I redid my front windows instead of spending $10,000 I don’t have on crappy vinyl windows last year. $30 for paint and the most expensive, color matching caulk.
5. My mother still watches TV, and so we watched some this past Christmas time together. It was quite scary watching the commercials. I don’t encourage my children to watch TV. They watch stuff on Netflix, or some such on the internet. Hard to get by without a computer these days even if you are 11 years old, by the way.
6. My kids study musical instruments. My son wants to be some sort of engineer. I encourage him to do well on classical guitar, since engineers won’t make much money begging in the street, but a street musician should not have too much trouble getting by. My daughter takes cello and piano. I read stupid blog posts and listen to vinyl. My wife lived thru the Soviet collapse, and thus can do anything.
7. Doing without is not a problem when there are expenses to worry about connected with kids. Not necessarily doing without, but my mother showed me how to make bread – once a week two loaves of dark, and then two loaves of white. The storage area gets turned into a root cellar this fall, with canning to be done. My building is from 1919, so the gas lines for canning are still in place in the basement. I have never canned before.

Ian said...

Ah, shale:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/picture/2013/jan/03/north-dakota-glows-night-big-picture

I've noticed an uptick in thefts--most people I know can report incidents affecting someone they know. That seems a quiet indicator of its own of the hard times. I haven't checked stats, though, so it could be my experience is an outlier.

I've been busing for a while now and the route I'm on has a lot of stable passengers--it's not a bad way to get to know your neighbors a little!

ando said...

JMG,

Castaneda was a good fiction writer, but "Don Juan" did say something apropos to this discussion. He said,"Impeccability is the proper use of energy."

John D. Wheeler said...

With all due respect, I think you are wrong about fracking: it is not a speculative bubble. It is a boom-bust cycle. Speculative bubbles happen in the tertiary economy, fracking is in the primary economy. People are making money by actually extracting resources out of the ground. A typical Eagle Ford shale oil well in Texas pays for itself in six months and runs out in three years. So don't be looking for fracking to "pop". Look for loss of profitability as costs go up and yields and possibly prices go down, as is typical in boom-bust cycles.

A side note, housing was a speculative tertiary economy bubble because even though some people were making money in the secondary economy building houses, a lot of the money was made by people buying and selling -- or even just cash-out refinancing -- existing homes without actually doing anything to them.

Thomas Grossmann said...

People like you - rational, responsible, and with an educated opinion - ought to take all the decisions in an ideal world that is not running straight into a wall.
You couldn't be more right about the appeal of hiding under the mattress.

Reading you is a pleasure, by the way!

Mel, Foxtail Farm said...

I have nearly completed a two-year program of building preservation and restoration at a tech school, which means that we actually do everything that we learn about.

I would like to offer some advice and a warning to those who intend to work on weatherizing their houses: if you have old wooden windows, if at all possible repair them rather than replacing. Most window repairs are within the ability of a motivated homeowner, and are relatively inexpensive. In addition, here are some things to consider about modern replacement windows:

1. They are made of industrial materials like vinyl and aluminum. These materials degrade over time and are not repairable. Any pieces that break must be replaced, and window companies change styles often enough that you are unlikely to find a match. In some cases, a minor break can mean replacing the entire sash.

2. Much of the energy savings comes from sealing up the window opening when the new windows are installed. You can do that yourself with some caulk and some free time.

3. Multi-paned glass has an inert gas sealed between the panes to prevent condensation. Eventually, the seal always fails and then the only way to fix it is to replace the glass with a new unit.

4. Even the highest-quality replacement windows will only last about 50 years, where old solid wood windows can last hundreds of years, as long as the maintenance isn't neglected.

Even if some of your windows are very bad, the money you save from fixing the better ones yourself can go towards professional restoration of the worst.

The National Park Service has numerous publications about building restoration that are very high quality. Here is the one about windows.

Loch Wade said...

An excellent post, and a great way to start the New Year, thank you!

I'd like to suggest that the Long Decline itself puts pressure on those industrial systems that are still functioning. Sorry, that is a clumsy sentence. Imagine an old, worn out automobile. The shocks are dead, the brake pads thin, the engine had barely enough compression to cause an ignition...

Every worn out part puts more pressure, more wear on the still marginally functioning parts. Crankcase blow-by pollutes the oil with carbon, reducing its ability to lubricate. Worn-out shocks and bad brakes put more pressure on the ball joints and kingpins... and so on. Eventually, something else breaks, and soon, the malfunctions affect the mechanical integrity of the machine- it suddenly goes from running badly to not running at all.

When this happens in our mechanically constructed economy, it will seem to be a sudden, unforseen catastrophe, a "black swan". But if we are able to trace the cascade of causes and effects back to their source, we will discover that it was all part of a logical stream of inter-related events.

Can we see the area most vulnerable to sudden malfunction?

My call is Israel. The nation sits at the end of a long supply chain. It is supported by a financial and energy umbilical cord that stretches from Washington to Tel Aviv. If current stresses shut that umbilical cord down, Israel will be forced to act, with predictable violence. However, that violence may be all the greater if the Israelis perceive they have only one chance to regain control.

This is the sort of sudden breakdown event that can precipitate out of the interlocking stresses of the Long Decline. Don't rule out a sudden EOTW yet!

Happy New Year, and keep up the good work!

Ian said...

Oh, also, have you seen this book?

http://www.vanderbiltuniversitypress.com/index.php/books/481/sowing-change

It's an anthropological approach to the agricultural revolution Havana underwent during the special period. I've not finished it, but the ethnographic approach is poignant in treating how people live through the changes of petroleum shortages. Her focus on urban farmers captures the pleasure and pride of their work without papering over the hardships.

She talks a bit, too, about the regulatory challenges facing the government as agriculture became an urban project. While we'll have to face it on our own legal terms, it doesn't seem like it will be entirely different for us.

Loch Wade said...

As for personal efforts... I'd like to suggest the sort of personal effort that is directed not so much at external solutions as at internal ones...

But as I consider what I just wrote, I realize your wisdom. Weatherstripping the door and turning off the TV are actions that will precipitate a spiritual revival- they are actions that show a shift in paradigm. Anyone who engages in them will be ready to receive new information from unfamiliar sources!

Larry said...

Great blog as usual, thanks so much for continuing your good works.

For those of your readers who aren’t subscribers to the Wall Street Journal I’d like to share something from the opinion page in today’s paper having to do with law school. According to the piece, there are approximately 44,000 law school graduates each year, yet annually there are only 21,800 jobs for new law graduates. Also, the averaging starting salary for lawyers is presently $78,653, down from $85,518 in 2002. And, the typical law graduate “holds debt in excess of $150,000. All this (if it can be believed) and (as I’ve heard through the grapevine) a lot of lawyers don’t even like practicing law!

So perhaps aiming oneself down a non-traditional path, as suggested by Mr. Greer, isn’t such a bad proposition!

Allie said...

Happy New Year, JMG! I am looking forward to another year of your thought provoking blog posts.

I personally have some big changes coming up this year. My fiance and I are moving into a small cabin on my parent's small farm. We are going to be getting the farm up running again, mostly producing food for us to begin with but hopefully more down the road.

The cabin is in good shape but needs a new roof and I'm sure some weatherizing would be helpful. The farm is only about 1.5 miles from the center of the small town, so biking trips into town are very feasible.

So the next couple of years for me will be full of exciting learning experiences as I learn to do with less and produce more of what I need for myself.

Cheers!

M said...

I add my congratulations to your new column on peakprosperity.com. Coincidentally, I came across the PP site about an hour before I checked in to read your weekly post here. (Got there via a link in a comment on the NYT to Yes magazine to PP.) It looks interesting, though I admit much of the Year in Review piece by David Collum was a bit over my head. It's an interesting name, too--"prosperity" gives it this positive spin, and so does "peak" in some ways--at the peak of her abilities--but of course when combined, it becomes another way of reminding us to "collapse now." Which of course, once you realize the benefits, turns back into a positive...

I like PP's focus on resilience in the community, and the encouraging message that 3% resilience is an order of magnitude better than zero. I plan to continue my efforts in individual and community resilience as we head into a new year in my neck of the woods, which happens to be a small mill town in the southern Hudson Valley, where I await the refugees you predict from flood waters elsewhere. Best wishes in 2013 to all outliers engaged in the process of voluntary collapse!

Ron McCafferty said...

Thank you for the 2013 predictions. It is good to see a common sense approach to over complicated problems. I have been living, with my family, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Amherst, VA. Every year we get more Eco-friendly/self sufficient. TV disappeared from our house years ago (three children in the National Honor Society was a consequence.) We are preparing to start a chicken farm out here to help feed people when the system finally does collapse. No sense in waiting until it does to actually do something about it. Thanks, for your no BS view. My family enjoys your posts.

Jocelyn Charbonneau said...

Hello JMG,

Loooong time reader, first post (actually, first post ever in any blog). Thanks for your writing, it continues to surprise and educate after many years.
As for new year resolutions, I used to pick a keyword or keyphrase that would be used to evaluate decisions or influence behaviour within that year. That way, I could not fail! For example, many years ago, it was: "No excuses". That year, I succeeded in amazing projects.
Nowadays, I tend to list a few themes and objectives, vague enough to not elicit the usual quick failure but useful nevertheless. This year, I picked one straight out of your usual recommendations (I am surprised you did not include this in your list): I will pursue a self study program (and I mean active study, not just idle reading) in a few subjects of interest, first the theory of numbers.
As for your other recommendations, they are all in various stages of implementation and I plan to continue.
On television, I unplugged mine 5 years ago and never looked back (the kids complained for about 5 days, then never talked about it again). But the internet has replaced it for idle entertainment and this year I plan to tackle this (no more random web surfing), which would open up time for study (at least that's the plan...).
The thing to do without: Great idea! I had already picked one that is socially quite unpopular and should prove revealing.
Jocelyn

Richard Larson said...

"If the prospect of changing the way you live terrifies you, but the thought of facing the consequences of the way you live terrifies you just as much, daydreaming that some outside force will come along and change everything for you can be a convenient way to avoid having to think about the future you’re making for yourself".

This is for the chosen few who even know there is a problem.

1. Check. 2. Ok, will try it. 3. No starting point nearby. But maybe I can work in a partial trip (would be interesting!). 4. Double check! 5. One time long ago we went 7 months without a tv. Then I am not sure what happened? Since reading this column I have cut down watching it by 90%. Not ready to give it up yet, but maybe someday soon. 6. Does hunting and fishing count? 7. Interesting angle.

I posted on Martenson's forum for a time, but stopped because the focus was on paying a fee to join up. There are just too many good subscriptions one can buy in to. Congratulations on the job, I know you will be worth every penny for those out there searching for answers.

Ben said...

I have a prediction for 2013: my family's cats will continue to be overfed and probably under-exercised. I know people have had pets for thousands of years (though in the past they tended to have to work for a room and board). Any thoughts on the changing role of pets and companion animals post peak?
When I lived in Russia, plenty of people had pets, or fed strays. I bring this up because Russia is relatively 'poor' compared to the US, but Russians find a way to keep their pets fed. As the Petsmart model of pet care goes the way of every other hyper-complex system, how will we keep our pets fed? Table scraps? That's how it used to be done, right? I'd much prefer putting up with the collapse of the empire with a companion cat or dog.

Maria said...

Another great post, JMG! I especially appreciated the section at the end with suggestions for going forward into 2013.

I'm doing some of the things on the list already, and they don't subtract from my life; they add to it. No TV? I was aware of the exact day the wild geese came back to the nearby fields and ponds, because I heard them. (I still watch classic movies on DVD, but it tends to be a couple of hours and then I do something else. I'm a little obsessed with depression-era movies. I wonder why that is?) Used clothing? I get cashmere for the price of cheap cotton at a box store. Sewing (my new hobby)? It uses my problem-solving skills and my creativity and I spend more time with my mom because we sew together. Who knew that a life of less could be so much more rewarding?






GHung said...

I've heard it said that the best hobby to have is one that provides a living,, even a lifestyle. Appropriate technology, reducing one's carbon footprint, seeking that sweet spot where voluntary poverty meets an enhanced life experience; all of these things add up to a perfect hobby, IMO.

I expect more folks will have hobbies which actually produce things that have a purpose and long-term value as opposed to hobbies which involve pure consumption. Perhaps this should be the "hobby smell test".

Anyway, JMG, congrats on the new gig and new book. Looking forward to both.

SLClaire said...

You aren't the only one who noticed a more halfhearted local noisemaking event at the start of 2013. My husband and I commented to each other that the noise ended uncommonly early and was less intense than in past years. We had four neighbors over earlier that evening to eat homegrown blackeyed peas and cornbread from homegrown corn, and a pleasant time was had by all. Not to mention we had leftovers of the peas and cornbread through today.

Around here the big weather event of 2012 was heat and drought. While the NWS is predicting an easing of the drought in our area over the next three months, there are good reasons to think drought will be a frequent visitor in the years to come. Thus I'm looking at ways to ease the impact of drought on my vegetable gardens as one area to focus on in 2013. With the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers both running low and drought continuing in each of their watersheds above St. Louis, I don't think 2013 will be as carefree for water use as 2012 was. It would not surprise me if we get hit with water use restrictions if drought returns this summer. That would be a very unusual event if not unprecedented for St. Louis. Last year, despite being under extreme drought for several weeks, we had no water restrictions imposed - but the rivers were still running well from four previous years of above-normal rainfall.

g-minor said...

Jetfire wrote: "P.S. I dearly hope the fracking bubble bursts before it ruins too much of rural America."

I'll second that. The last four years of my now advanced age have been spent fighting fracking and now the additional atrocity of the Constitution Pipeline. It's exhausting, unproductive, disheartening and essential (dammit).

g

Steve Morgan said...

For me I'm changing number 5 to "Reduce screen time." We own a TV that's used once a week to watch old thrift store VHS movies and isn't hooked up to any "service" whatsoever, but I spend more time than I'd like online. To me, it seems like the internet habit is just as unhealthy as the TV habit.

Congrats on the PP writing gig. I might consider subscribing.

I'll have to take a little time to figure out what to do without this year. I've given up several things in the recent past, and I still view several of them with a sense of loss. I know that's a matter of perspective, but the horse of social primate-ness is a tough one to tame. What art, craft, or hobby to take up, though, is a delicious question.

GawainGregor said...

JMG, Another informative and positive post, and one to watch as the year unfolds. I am writing from the great southwest where I traveled to care for my elderly father. I am happy, (sort of) to report that when I tried to book a train for the trip it was sold out. That seems encouraging. You may add to your list of reasons for inaction by our society, the attitude of our growing elderly component that 1) they don't have enough time to make an impact and 2) they won't have to deal with consequences. This attitude applies to the "fiscal cliff" issue as well. These are educated, wealthy folk btw. It may be some time before another component of society has the resources these people have, if ever. As always keep up the good work.

GawainGregor

JohnGoes said...

Congratulations on your new writing gig at peak prosperity. I've been a non-paying member since I stumbled on the crash course a few years ago. (About the same time I found this blog.) On the "bear" scale of crash scenarios I'd call him the "mama bear", Kunstler the "papa bear", and you the "baby bear" of bearish crash predictions of the future. All-in-all, I'd rather encounter the long slow descent of your scenario over the rest. At my age it gives me the opportunity to quasi-gracefully exit with conditions I can deal with in my coping bag of tricks.

Part of my exit strategy is an early "retirement" to my hobby of woodworking as a supplimental income to whatever my savings will provide. That way I'm doing something I enjoy and making sure to stretch those dollars. Lately, I have been stocking up on and learning the use of hand woodworking tools because if there is a papa or mama bear scenario within my working lifetime (maybe 20 more years), I figure there may be periods of electrical shortages where mastering the art of woodworking by hand may be "handy".

In the meantime, I've got plans to re-insulate my attic before spring. If we get another of those brutal Texas summers of two years ago, I'd be happy to see my electric bill a touch lower as a result of the work.

Justin Wade said...

JMG,
FWIW, I read your thermostat piece as a biting satire of political culture. For this installment, your predictions are as insightful as usual.

I had a startling thought recently for all the people living at the margins with chronic unemployment, underwater, running the 'red queen' race of middle class America in the face of a relentless and grinding collapse, whose insurance may have or is about to run out this year. Many of these people are using prescription, psychotropic drugs to keep their edges dull.

The natural gas bubble hits close to home. My mom (upstate NY) told me that many of her co-workers are swapping out wood stoves for natural gas.

To appreciate the advice in this piece, you have to cultivate a relentless and ruthless attitude about how you spend resources; 2K calories and a handful of minutes in a day, make 'em count. In my experience, the understanding of how things work in middle class culture is implicitly delegating and belief driven. As you have experienced in reaction, people are virtually incapable of understanding the message of lifestyle change as a meaningful agent of change absent an act of Congress.

Also: personal request - anyway to change the proof required that I am not a robot? My eyes are such that I can't read the numbers in the second part.

someofparts said...

I don't know if it matters or not, but most of the things on your list are things that me, and others who are just poor, do anyway. Taking buses, buying things used, doing without all sorts of things, including television. I can't remember a time when I didn't do those things. Felt sorry for myself over it too, but then also realized that some of the things I felt sorry about were actually good for me - like taking the bus, or leaving the television off. Who knew! I don't think I'm the only one doing these things by a long shot, at least in my corner of the mouse farm.

Michelle said...

I shut off our TV after 9/11. I do keep the box, although my children know not to ask to turn it on unless either it's raining (and I still usually say no) or someone's sick on the sofa. Then, depending on age, it's Clifford the Big Red Dog, Blue's Clues, Nova or a Nature program. My hobbies... I write (which I have a goal to make into a paying gig, too), I farm (likewise), I garden, I knit, I volunteer at my children's schools. I'm a Girl Scout leader. I'm active in my church. I sing in the local choral society. I heat with wood, and the house stays between 50-60*. I'm getting solar panels this spring, and I water my livestock about 80% with rainwater. Goals here... more time on bicycle, less in car. More garden beds. Better food preservation. More hugs with my children. Less time on my backside. More doing, less contemplating my navel. More community involvement (Local Grow Food program, after-school knitting classes, gleaning, etc.) Like that.

wvjohn said...

Thank your for getting the new year off to a good start. I like the idea of silently giving something up. In regards to climate change, I started reading all the major blogs at Weatherundergound after Katrina and there is a wealth of good information there on the subject and would highly recommend them. WU was purchased by the Weather Channel last year, but the bloggers seem unaffected.

Joel Caris said...

Justin,

The comments section is run by Blogger and, thus, JMG can't change it. But there is a fix. I credit Bill Pulliam for mentioning this once or twice before, but you can put in any number for the picture part of the comment security. The black and white, computer-generated portion you have to match right, but the blurry photos are actually just an attempt by Google to get free labor in figuring out photographed addresses. They don't know the number any more than you do--they're counting on you doing the work for them. So just enter any string of numbers and it'll go right through, so long as you've entered the other, non-photograph part correctly (which also can sometimes be hard to read, sadly.)

For instance, my confirmation for this is "dioalag 704." But I'm just going to type in "dioalag 1296" and it'll go through just fine so long as I have the "dioalag" part right.

Juhana said...

@Cherokee Organics (and any other interested): Thanks for your evaluation about my English. I am using it more now, engaging myself in conversations here in JMG blog. Still, I have to remember my relative weakness in producing thoughts with your language.

Often when speaking with environmental activists from Western countries I notice they have surprisingly similar attitude towards poverty as brahmin class Indians have. Either they belong, or at least pretend to belong enlightened top of society, or indulge into ascetic poverty. Poverty of šudra class, which means as pleasant form of poverty as can be achieved by inadequate means is what they shun. It seems that many western environmentalists fantasize about jumping out the system and cutting all connections to dying industrial behemoth inside which we live. Of course this is not possible for most people, which kind of adds value to it. East europeans just have more practical skills to survive with less stuff than West europeans; they are not any kind magical survival specialists. But during contracting phase of our world, being able to cut expenses from here and there, and do more by your own hands is indeed unsung heroism of every day life. Not as media-sexy as ascetic extremism, but still :). This is what I meant with skills of East. Difference between DIY manual skills of average lower-middle class daddy in Ukraine and lets say, in UK is huge.
With "new consciousness" I meant that there seem to be many environmentalists who believe that morality and opinions born purely out of modern, industrial context can be maintained in overwhelmingly agricultural world of future. They want to maintain mental attitudes of purely industrial origin, without maintaining modern society backing them. I personally don't believe it is possible. It is like eating the cake and preserving it at the same time. Modern liberal movements campaigning for feminism, minorities etc. are all born directly from industrial affluence and wealth.

I have seen white, brown and yellow people living in the event horizon of purely primary sector of economy, with no personal connections at all to fancy world of desk jobs and air-conditioned houses. And as technician with tasks to accomplish, I have actually TALKED and WORKED with them, not just admired their sweet Otherness as occasional Western tourists with fashionably pluralistic worldviews were doing. The eternal worldview of these people working in ancient trades (doing work by their hands, with some modern equipment as props) was surprisingly similar: patriarchal family, strong ties between blood relatives, sticking to local moral codes centuries old... Tolerance towards deviancy is very low, and sooner or later met with violent response. Best way to make friends, to become honored guest welcomed by local strong men, is to have as conformist and conservative outlook as possible.

In the old, family-run way of the world, an autocrat was a large-scale landlord to whom everyone had (theoretically) personal relationship of mutual obligations. These obligations were reflected inside families as predefined roles for each member of family. No room for individualism there. This kind of thinking is very strong in those parts of world where medieval phase of history is close to present; and as oil goes scarce, we ALL are heading to same direction. I personally believe that for example Europe of the future is very familiar place for, let's say, Prussian landlords and peasants of 18th century.

Environmentalists are absolutely right about issues of peak oil and climate change; what they fail to see is that liberal moral code most of them prefer is by its nature bound to fate of industrial society. They actually believe their moral code is going to win. Equation is simple. Industrial society = liberalism. Agricultural or nomad society = deep conservatism. This inability in clever people to see obvious connections in their own worldview makes me doubtful towards them: if they are so blind in one thing, what else do they miss..?

phil harris said...


I will start my New Year with an apology and a promise. My apology is to JMG and Bill Pulliam (and anybody else who happened to read my comments) for an elementary math error when I commented further on a comment by Bill right at the end of last week's comments. I did manage finally to post some sort of explanation at the end of that series for anybody interested.

My promise is to JMG to actually look at the 'math' of writer / gardener 'Duhon' who achieved wonders of calories yield on his 1000 sq ft plot. Bill and my guess was that Duhon’s yields looked a lot higher than most of us could reasonably expect. I think, despite or even because of my own error, that numbers are actually important in describing real limits to even the most admirable ambitions. Permaculture needs them! I will do my best; better at least than my first shot!

To endorse one of JMG's key recommendations this week: vegetable gardening perhaps with some soft fruit is a brilliant idea for obtaining most vitamin and mineral needs. Check out kale and spinach for example and think about the other carotenes quercetin etc and useful flavonoids and flavones. Apart from B12 one gets a terrific amount of nutrition and it is ‘heart-healthy’ and ‘anti-cancer’. In our part of UK we are able to grow most of our essential micro-nutrition in our garden year-round and to store our soft fruit for the winter. Big bags of oats and pulses and regular bread flour give us most of our calories and protein. We are lucky that we also have an ancient orchard. We could get by.

Best for coming year and for new books and new blogs.
Phil

Joel Caris said...

Hi JMG,

Excellent advice for the New Year. I won't be insulating as I just moved in with an old hippy couple, one of whom is an architect focused on sustainable features. Thus, the manufactured home they moved into years ago has been highly insulated and weather-stripped, has plenty of sky lights for natural light, a wood stove for most of their winter heat (there's also an electric furnace, but the goal is to keep that off as much as possible) and the couple live a fairly simple lifestyle focused on a combination of basic comfort and conservation. I like the vibe here--I'm hoping to learn a lot from these two.

I also love the train and refuse to fly anymore, on those relatively rare occasions I do long-distance travel. (Seriously, people, the train is so much better than flying, even for long trips. I recommend it heartily.) One thing I'm going to focus on this year is--for my semi-regular trips into Portland here from the north Oregon coast--taking the bus. Somewhat amazingly, there are two fairly local bus options into Portland, but I almost always end up driving despite that. This is mostly due to poor planning and the sense of being on a tight timeline, which isn't always incorrect. But it's all still very much within my control. In fact, my schedule is more flexible than most people's. So this year I'm going to reduce the car trips and increase the bus trips into Portland.

On another note, your mention of Peak Prosperity (congrats on the gig!) lead me over to that site and this fascinating post about the fiscal cliff in general and the federal government's broken financial house specifically. The graphs fascinated me, especially ones showing the exponential growth of spending and the for-a-time exponential growth of federal receipts that's turned into more of a bumpy plateau since 2005. I assume that most of this exponential growth likely is the result of the sort of imaginary wealth you've talked about numerous times here and in The Wealth of Nature, which left me wondering about what would happen to federal receipts if we see a large-scale collapse of much of that imaginary wealth and how that would effect the real spending of the federal government.

I've spent the last hour searching the internet for statistics on unearned vs. earned income in America, and how much tax revenue comes from each type of income, as well as long term trends of these statistics, but I just haven't been able to find this information. Does anyone here happen to know of any good resources for this type of information? Is it even out there or is it not documented by the government?

While looking around, I reevaluated the fact of lowered taxation of unearned tax income and began to wonder if that is as much due to the need to perpetuate the idea of a growing economy as anything else. If extremely high income is taxed at 98% (as it was in the UK in 1979) it would seem that there wouldn't be so much a desire to create endless financial instruments to create imaginary wealth. But if your real, physical economy stalls due to higher energy and resource costs and you need to boost GDP quick, significantly lowering the tax rates on imaginary wealth might be a great way to stimulate the creation of all kinds of complex financial instruments that provide massive boosts in documented income, even if they provide no actual increase in real-world wealth (i.e. energy and physical resources.) In other words, you could inflate a bubble real quick. Of course, it would be a disaster when it popped, but with luck other people would have to deal with that problem.

Anyway, if anyone knows of a good resource for earned and unearned income statistics (particularly in regard to federal tax receipts, but even a general breakdown of percentage of national income) I would love to be directed toward it. I'm just having no luck finding it myself. Thanks!

Juhana said...

@JMG: This new book of yours, "Not the future we ordered", sounds very interesting. Going to get it when published. I am actually trying to talk about same thing here, about cognitive dissonance I notice between expectations of enlightened, academic environmentalists of West and reality of back-breaking, intensely hard physical labour needed to sustain your family and clan with tools and engines powered by muscle labour. People in agricultural, semi-industrial countries work so hard, and they get so little. No time for mind games of universities there. I just probably have no capability or knowledge base to write down clearly my thoughts: after all, I am basically just common working man who has infiltrated upwards to desk job. It is nice that you write things from blue-collar point of view from time to time, even if you being American kind of makes it more distant for me. Good luck for you with your new blog site!

dowsergirl said...

I live in a house that was constructed out of materials bartered from construction sites and used windows and doors from people who were "upgrading". It's totally charming and I love it. I also heat with wood, garden, compost, and make nearly everything I need. I spin, weave, knit, make baskets, quilt, can and dry my food. I do not have a television. I'm too busy having fun. I love the train, but unfortunately in my thinking it's now ripped out and become all bike paths. What can I give up? Desserts???? JMG, does a paying gig mean you are oging to leave us? sniff...

Brother Kornhoer said...

Mr. Greer,

Like several others here, I've determined that one of my next steps is reducing my (and my kids') online surfing time. To that end, I'm switching from an unlimited internet connection to a pay-as-you go connection. I'm budgeting a certain cost/data amount for each month, and sticking to it. Should save me a few bucks over the course of the year, but the real payoff should be in time, increased attention span, and a smaller unread book pile.

By the way, this week I happened to walk into our local Goodwill (used) computer store, and was amazed at what nice machines were on sale. Lots of nice, clean laptops that would be a great for a Linux install, do everything you need to do, and at a bargain price.

Hmmm...what should I do without? Looking over my budget, I'm not buying anything for myself over the next year except things I probably should buy (like a used bicycle and a USB software-defined radio dongle). Perhaps I'll cut back on my meat consumption.

If you'll suffer me to reach back a couple of weeks to past topics (education and the proper definition of words), I had a funny thing happen while talking to my daughter. She asked me, "What is socialism?" I explained that it was government ownership of (usually) some industries, typically with a strongly working-class socialist party in control of the government. She told me that her english teacher told the class that socialism "Would be like me giving everyone a C." So, I had to explain that, no, socialism is not the lazy teacher's grading rule. Furthermore, I suggested that the teacher probably thought a socialist society could not be a meritocracy, although there's nothing inherent in socialism that prevents it from being one, and, that the teacher probably thought that capitalism is a meritocracy, which (I told her) anyone in business knows it's not - there's lots of luck involved, and the wicked often prosper. I would have much rather the english teacher said "I think socialism is bad," and then properly defined and explained what it is, than have her vocalize the dumbed-down cold prickly she did.

John Michael Greer said...

Jetfire, that's a fascinating question. I don't have any reason to think I'll ever be asked to speak to a group of scientists or engineers, but I'll give some thought to it anyway.

Draft, hmm. That certainly hasn't been my experience with Chris. Of course he needs to make a living, as do I -- I'm sure there are people who think I'm a shameless self-promoter because I pitch my books here and elsewhere. As far as the tip jar, that's partly a matter of paying the bills, partly one of saving for a solar greenhouse and a few other green upgrades I have in mind; the economy (and therefore book sales) being what it is, more of the tips have had to go to living expenses than I'd wish, but I have high hopes for this coming year.

Jonathan, big corporations support the opera because they hope that this will predispose wealthy opera goers to invest in their stocks and bonds. They don't exercise influence on what operas get performed; even so, if you were watching as many operas as most people watch TV shows, I'd encourage you to get out of the opera house and get a life!

K!EF, thank you!

Mkroberts, it's rarely helpful to try to convince somebody else to give up TV if they don't want to. Find more interesting ways to spend your own time, and see what happens when your wife notices that you're having a lot more fun than she is.

MAI, the weak link there is manufacture of PV cells and other components, which (counting all inputs) is an extremely energy-intensive process. Still, if it buys time for the transition, it's probably a good thing.

Leo, sounds like a plan.

Lizzy, congratulations!

Cracked, good. That's exactly the sort of adaptation that's going to be needed.

Tigris, true enough.

Cake, excellent. Congrats on the baby, btw!

Unknown Deborah, those are good tips and I hope other readers are taking notes.

John Michael Greer said...

Divelly, the spit-slinging diatribe is Jim's natural idiom and art form. No, he's not going to react favorably to being told to tone it down! He is what he is; I don't expect him to be anything else, and enjoy the prose.

Mustard, and a happy new year to you as well. Enjoy that guitar!

Sunfyrlion, people in Manila may have a lot more to celebrate than we do here in the US...

Joe, thanks for the suggestions and the personal story! Everyone I know who's ditched TV and stuck with it thinks it was among the best choices they ever made, so you're far from alone.

Ando, very good. That's an eminently practical skill.

Paradigm, thank you. Enjoy that harp! In the post-recorded music age, learning to play your own music and enjoy it is likely to become an important skill.

Bears, no doubt! I got some first-rate spluttering denunciations in response to last week's post, and expect more from this week's.

Hawlkeye, not telling anyone is crucial to the experiment, precisely because it's hard. The four powers of the mage are to know, to dare, to will, and to be silent; one of my teachers used to amend that latter to "to shut the %$&# up!"

Kleymo, good. No need for your 11 year old to get by without a computer; just get a used one.

Ian, I don't think it's an outlier. I've heard similar things elsewhere.

Ando, Castaneda was an excellent writer of fiction, thus definitely worth quoting! Remember Sallust's comment about myths being things that never happened, but always are...

John Michael Greer said...

John, I'd argue that it's more than a boom-bust cycle. There's that, just as there was in the real estate market, but there's also a speculative bubble in shale leases and the stock and other paper of firms involved directly and indirectly in shale drilling.

Thomas, thank you. As for decisions, though, I'd be happier if more people took their own decisions...

Mel, those are very good points. Thanks for the link!

Loch Wade, that's one metaphor, but I'm far from sure it's the best one. I certainly wouldn't encourage you to hold your breath waiting for all those interlocking crises to hit. They get predicted every year, too. As for a spiritual revival, well, as you know, I try to wear my archdruid's hat very lightly in this forum, so I'll simply nod silently.

Ian, no, I hadn't! Thanks for the tip.

Larry, I'd strongly urge any young person today not to go to college. They will never recover financially from the burden of the expense plus interest -- no, not even if they get a law degree!

Allie, excellent! Have a great time at it.

M, you're in an excellent place. Once the imperial tribute economy breaks down and the US has to start producing its own goods and services again, the old mill towns of the eastern states are likely to come back in a big way.

Ron, excellent! That's beautiful country. If your chickens are chemical-free and raised on organic feed, by the way, you should have no trouble finding buyers.

Jocelyn, good! Of course there are other useful things to do; I simply picked seven things that most Americans could do, and benefit from. A self-study program is another; I'll be talking about that down the road a ways, when I start a sequence of posts about education in the postpeak world.

Richard, hunting and fishing definitely count. Those are skilled crafts.

John Michael Greer said...

Ben, heck of a good question. I don't happen to know what's standard fare for pets in the world's poorer countries; that might be a good place to start learning.

Maria, the amazing thing is that you can tell people, and even show people, that a life without most modern gewgaws and timewasters is happier, more comfortable, and more fun than a life with them, and they'll nod and smile and agree, and then go right back to sitting on the couch watching the tube with drool coming out of their mouths. I sometimes wonder if that's what lies behind the otherwise inexplicable popularity of zombies these days...

Ghung, that's certainly one choice. The first step, though, is to get people thinking about doing something, rather than sitting on the couch with the aforementioned drool pooling in their laps.

SLClaire, in your place I'd be studying the dryland gardening techniques they use in New Mexico, so you can keep the vegies coming in with minimal water input.

G-minor, hang in there. When the bubble pops, whatever you've saved will be safe for a good long while to come.

Steve, that works! I spend as little time on the internet as I can -- too many other interesting things to do.

GawainGregor, thank you! Yes, I've seen the same thing -- elderly people whose sole reaction to the ugly future their own actions are helping to make is "I don't care, I'll be dead by then." It's raw selfishness in the purest and ugliest form.

JohnGoes, do you have an attic fan in place? That's a good way to keep the summer from being too brutal. As for "baby bear," hmm -- I don't think my bear is any smaller than theirs, just slower. Maybe, instead of a bear, it's the Three-Toed Sloth of Doom!

Justin, I hope they keep the wood stoves handy. Once the gas boom is over, they'll need 'em. Sorry to say I have no control over the anti-robot program.

Someofparts, good. Yes, there are also good economic reasons to do all these things.

John Michael Greer said...

Michelle, good. That's the way the fabric of the deindustrial future will be woven -- one thread at a time.

Wvjohn, I've been following WU since Katrina; I'm less than pleased by some of the changes since the Weather Channel too it over, but the blogs are still pretty good.

Phil, I'll look forward to your analysis! It's entirely possible that Duhon's system involves bringing in nutrients from a wider catchment basin, e.g., autumn leaves -- I certainly gather those from a much wider area than my garden! -- but you're right, of course, that the numbers matter.

Joel, sounds like you could learn a great deal indeed from them. One skill worth considering is how to weatherize buildings -- that's going to be in high demand when the gas bubble pops.

Juhana, thank you! My father's generation was the one that infiltrated upwards from the working class -- he was a schoolteacher, but his father was a firefighter and later a mill foreman. A lot of families like mine are now sinking back down into the working class, except that there are no working class jobs waiting for them. It'll be quite a mess.

Dowsergirl, not a chance. This is still home base; it's just that I pay my bills with my writing, and the gig at PeakProsperity.com is one more way to do that.

Brother K., nobody (well, except for the few socialists we've got left these days) wants to define socialism accurately. If they did, a lot of people would probably decide that, whatever its problems, it sounded better than the status quo. This is one of the reasons why I expect a revival of Marxism in America within the next decade or so.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, a special thanks to everyone who chipped into the tip jar -- it's been much appreciated.

Brother Kornhoer said...

One more quick note - a change I've made over the past year which I've quite enjoyed was ditching the social networking site, and buying some nice-looking stationery, cool stamps, and a fountain pen, and writing multi-page letters to my friends. I think it takes less time than I used to spend online, and, the long form helps with my concentration. Plus it's revived my penmanship into something readable.

backyardfeast said...

JMG, I always enjoy your thought-provoking posts, and even teach from The Long Descent in my English composition classes. :) I don't usually comment, but I thought I'd share a story from tonight's local newsradio show broadcast.

We're in BC, in the heart of the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline debate. There are environmental hearings going on at the moment, that are now taking place in our city. The opposition throughout the province is fierce, despite the federal government's best efforts to sell the "benefits" (even broadcasting ads before ciniplex movies, I hear!).

There were two interesting points from tonight's show worth sharing, I thought. The first was the host's admission that the opposition on the ground is so strong that they had been, over the months they've been covering the story, hard pressed to find anyone in favour of the project with which to "balance" their coverage.

The second, was that after speaking with each activist for a few minutes, the host returned again to the default question in all of these broadcasts: "Are YOU willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary so that we don't need this pipeline?"

It's a completely spurious question, because the whole point of the pipeline is to *export* oil; none of it will be used by anyone in BC. But it speaks to the way that the media searches for "balance" (and or controversy) when there really isn't any. And the nature of the question--are YOU putting your money where your mouth is?--reminds us that the answer had better be "YES, and here are the ways I have already begun to reduce my dependence."

MAI said...

From the AD:

"MAI, the weak link there is manufacture of PV cells and other components, which (counting all inputs) is an extremely energy-intensive process."

The relevant point is the energy return from PV's over their lifetime. Modern PV's made in large-scale efficient manufacturing plants and installed in good insolation regimes are showing EROEI's of 10-25X.

And the price has dropped through the floor. I was at a seminar from a German manufacturer a few months ago who reported that they are doing turnkey rooftop installations for about $2/W and utility installations for $4/W. (Rooftop is cheaper for a number of reasons: no land, cheaper mounts, little maintenance.) I've just had some quotes for large installations in Oz for $3/W.

Germany was meeting 50% of its electricity needs from PV's (mainly rooftop) on a Saturday in early May 2012. Some parts of Alice Springs in Australia are now 30% powered by PV's on some days. Our house is effectively close to Net Zero Energy with PV's, solar hot water, biomass heater and a load of energy efficiency work.

Can PV's provide substantial amounts of energy? Yes. Is it as convenient as fossil fuels? Depends enormously on factors such as the site, local energy demand profile etc

odamaki said...

Each week, immediately after I finish reading that week's post on the Archdruid Report, I become impatient to read next week's insightful and motivating instalment. One question that I hope you will address in the future is that of nuclear reactor decommissioning and nuclear waste disposal, especially in the global context--since fallout from exploding reactors can affect populations thousands of miles of way, across many national borders. What can we reasonably expect governments to accomplish in burying what you have eloquently described as "wastes so lethal that they have to be isolated from the environment for geologic time scales"? Only large industrial economies can muster the resources necessary to dispose of the waste that they have already generated. Do you have any thoughts about the best way to approach the problem of decommissioning the reactors and constructing permanent depositories, as global industrial society fragments and declines?

nomadicista said...

Living in New Zealand, we pay about twice as much for gas, as in the States. Yet, that seems to do nothing to dissuade people from using their cars in much the same way as in the States.

For me, it's not so much about how much it costs, to run a car, (though the costs are very high, when put in context) it is more about two things; comfort, in relation to the weather, and time it takes to get to the destination.

That said, if you change the perspective of getting to your destination in terms of speed, then there are other attributes which make walking or cycling preferable to driving. The biggest for me, is that the time spent walking, or cycling to and from work, allows for a change in mental state, between home life and the place of work, which doesn't occur when driving.

From there other benefits manifest themselves. First your standard of fitness improves, without having to don all that expensive walking kit, or lycra cycling gear. And, secondly the gas bill reduces substantially, because of reduced milage, which in turn leads to reduced maintenance costs, which if you take an honest look at the total running costs of a motor vehicle can often mean the time you lost travelling to work can be re-cupped, by not needing to work as much in the first place.

Ric said...

Joel Caris: I've spent the last hour searching the internet for statistics on unearned vs. earned income in America, and how much tax revenue comes from each type of income, as well as long term trends of these statistics, but I just haven't been able to find this information. Does anyone here happen to know of any good resources for this type of information? Is it even out there or is it not documented by the government?

The IRS has statistics, more statistics, and probably even statistics about their statistics.

Some of what you are looking for can be found in the 2010 Estimated Data Line Counts (pdf). Scroll down to page 13 for number of forms with data and total dollar amounts by line item for all forms and schedules.

All IRS statistics are accessible through the Tax Statistics home page.

Bruce The Druid said...

New years celebrations were quite muted here in my corner of SoCal. Everyone just seemed tired and looking forward to time alone with their family.

I would have to echo your prediction about a revival of Marxism. I have a cousin who is, in fact, a socialist, who was forced into early retirement due to advanced glaucoma. Its been a feeling I have had the last couple of years, due to the worsening of the economy. While the Occupy Wall Street may have fizzled out, it did, in some quarters, start a conversation about the failures of our system. For some reason the events of the French Revolution keep playing in my mind.

The graph at the beginning of the essay was just fascinating! Did anyone notice just how far production has dropped since 1970, and after the spike of 1980? Is it quite clear just exactly how we have been financing our economy for the last 20 years? I do believe the ground work for the crisis now was laid way back then.

Oh and there was a great graph in, I do believe in Popular Science a ways back on fracking, and it showed in stark terms just how little fracking was contributing to overall national production and consumption. It was quite small.

I would like to bring a very important skill, actually two, that has served humans quite well for millennia. Scavenging (also known as "gathering") in urban and rural settings is an acquired skill that take practice. Also when it comes to hunting and fishing, using simple traps (dead falls, snares, etc.) are a much more reliable means of procuring game. The Piute lived quite well by using these skills in what most white men would call a god-forsaken desert.

godozo said...

Thanks for your resolution suggestion. Here's my reactions to your resolutions:

1: Done that, learning to get used to 65 degrees in the winter.

2: Actually, am thinking of instituting a walk a day of 30 minutes or more, a la Michael Moore. Once it gets warmer, will also think of doing more bike trips to and from work without electricity (even though that e-bike tax credit is tempting....)

3: May ride the train next vacation. May also combine with RENTING a car for part of the trip, as there's no halfway convenient train route between Fargo ND and Denver CO.

4: Much of what I've wanted has been hard to buy used, but then much of what I have I bought quite a few years ago is still holding up.

5: How's about less computer time. I cut my connection to the boob tube back in High School (it was music or TV, and since we didn't get cable in the early eighties the Stereo won), so I might as well go against its present replacement: the computer.

6: First off, there's some reading I need to do, that will fill in some time. After that...may again take up the piano. Was self-taught, no great shakes but was able to do stuff (by staying within what I knew I could do plus a couple of tricks to get away with stuff).

7: Will need to ponder that.

Alexander said...

Do you have any suggestions for things to do without?

Cam from Oz said...

Hello John,
with regards to your New Years Resolution suggestions.

1. I am in the sub tropics and keeping warm is rarely an issue. My rental property does have air conditioning - I have turned it off at the fusebox and don't use it. I am fortunate however that this house is insulated and has a big central passage which always has a breeze flowing to keep things cool. So many houses in Australia are designed such that they can't be kept comfortable without air conditioing.

2. I try to ride to work every day. I estimate that I saved around 8000km on my car by riding last year (I would prefer to move and be able to walk to work - unfortunately being separated, being near my kids is a higher priority than this, particularly seeing that I can ride to work from where I live). I intend to do the same this year and walk to the shops more often on the weekends than I do (actually just got back from a walk to the shops with the kids).

3. Took my vacation by bicycle this year (finished with a 200km ride in one day, more to see if I could do it than anything, but not recommended according to my body over the last few days). Between a train and a bike, even with kids, you can see a lot of places. I quite often ride/train to the beach and return with my kids. Sure it takes longer but the journey is just as important as the destination I find.

4. This is something I intend to work on this year. Quite often this is due to my own poor planning, particularly with things such as presents. I want to reduce my purchase of seedlings from the hardware store and get better at propogating my own as well this year.

5. Done, I don't watch TV anymore, although I occassionally let the kids watch it. Its gotten to the point where I don't even think about TV anymore, I certainly don't miss it.

6. I started toastmasters mid last year and hopefully by the end of this year will have completed the Competent Communication package. Funny you mention the guitar, that is what has filled a lot of my time which was previously spent watching the TV. A couple of practical skills which I want to develop this year is seed propogation as previously mentioned and food preservation. I am also considering building a solar dehydrator (to go alongside my solar oven).

7. Still working on this. I think maybe I will give up buying new presents and instead get second hand presents (particularly for kids birthday parties). To go along with this I am going to replace wrapping paper with reusable cloth and string as was described in one of the stories in 'After Oil.' And bugger it, no more easy ways out, I am going to propogate all my own seeds, the only exception being if I need to purchase the seed as a starter and if thats the case, I will purchase heirloom varieties.

And my own resolution for this year is to work with my neighbours to collect their kitchen scraps and green waste for my composting. My compost has been awesome this year, its just that their is never enough.

Cam

YJV said...

@ Juhana: I find it very interesting that you mention brahmins, as I am from that particular religio-ethnic group myself. You're actually quite right, and this is specifically the reason why the brahmin class gradually lost the right to spiritual leadership over the last five hundred years. The original brahmins and their pre-industrial way of life was much more similar to what JMG is - a druid. Very few brahmins practice what they preach anymore, although it is important for me to tell you that the original Indian, particularly brahmin way of life was very rigorous, full of discipline and real ascetism as well as social service - this included everything from cutting wood, begging for food and providing religious and advisory services for (in those times) free.

JMG:
I can't help but think that people in less-developed or under-developed countries are actually luckier than us in the developed countries in the long run. Whenever I go back to my grandfather's village in India I realise the value of a simple, low-energy consuming life as there is no internet and a barely-functioning TV. From washing with buckets (which uses much less water than a shower) to walking to the (very famous pilgrimage) temple everyday, I think the people still living in those self-sufficient communities in the villages of the third world will adapt easily to the deindustrialised future, as they won't have a large amount to fall in terms of living standards and will have retained those basic survival skills that us urban folks have never been taught in the first place.

Dwig said...

First, glad to hear you'll be adding your voice to the Peak Prosperity site. I've been following it for some time now, and look forward to your contributions. As a suggestion: I'd like to see occasional (OK, frequent) dialogues among the contributing editors. In particular, I'd like to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between you and Charles Hugh Smith, with maybe Gregor McDonald thrown in.

"What I’m saying is that any meaningful response to the crisis of our time has to begin on the individual level, with changes in our own lives. To say that it should begin there doesn’t mean that it should end there; what it does mean is that without the foundation of personal change, neither activism nor community building nor anything else is going to do much."

This arouses my curiosity: from things you've said, I gather that you're pretty far along in the process of individual adaptation. Are you far enough along to have begun to work on community building in Cumberland? If so, could you give an overview of it?

Chris said...

In my experience with socialist governments (in Australia at least) they're never a good idea long term. They only tend to get voted in as a last act of desperation, when enough voters feel a heavy hand is required.

When they stay in too long however, they start to act like the Sheriff of Nottingham. Favouritism starts to show with who gets the most funds allocated and those parts of society the socialists are inherently against, get muscled out by lack of financial investment (ie: subsidies).

In Australia we have a socialist government at our Federal level. Some would argue they're not, but they're more socialist than any other party. What they've effectively managed to do is tax everyone more to keep their socialist govt in business (handing out funds) but they continue to keep the masses ignorant as to what needs to be done.

They still try to implement green change by getting people to buy green technology. They still try to increase green jobs. by where they choose to allocate subsidies, exemptions and grants. People are still being fed at the trough like cattle.

While this sounds great for that mythical economy built on infinite green energy, it's really just the status quo with a different logo. This is why socialist governments never stay in power long term.

Voters may believe they are required in a desperate situation, but once they realise they never leave that desperation with a socialist government, and nothing ever really changes - they start wanting to hear a different message.

John Michael Greer said...

Brother K., an excellent step! Postal services are a preindustrial technology, after all.

Backyard, I wonder what would happen if somebody were to respond, "Sure, since the only way it would change my lifestyle is to see a bunch of Ottawa politicians pocket a little less Chinese money."

MAI, no, the relevant point is the ability of the entire manufacturing process, including the sourcing of raw materials, solvents, etc., to continue in the absence of huge energy subsidies from fossil fuels. It's very easy to produce PV cells if you've got those subsidies; I have yet to see a convincing case that it's possible on any scale without them. BTW, 10-25x EROEIs for PV usually involve ignoring everything except the energy used to make that particular chip in the factory, and leave out everything from plant maintenance through the mining of the dopant minerals to the energy cost of transport to the installation site.

Odamaki, unless something changes in a hurry, those wastes are going to be abandoned, resulting in good-sized dead zones scattered all over the currently industrial world. It will take immense political pressure, and very large amounts of money at all levels, to have any hope of doing anything else.

Nomadicista, exactly! I don't drive -- I've never had a license or owned a car -- and that's what made it possible for me to pursue a writing career. If I'd had to pay for a car, I never could have afforded the long apprenticeship with little income.

Bruce, those are both good skills.

Godozo, good.

Alexander, nope. You get to come up with something yourself.

Cam, glad to hear the bike trip went well -- though I'm not surprised that your body is complaining at this point. As for compost, no, there's never enough. After three years of intensive composting and digging in every available scrap of autumn leaf into my very modest backyard garden, the level of organic matter in the soil is just getting up to a decent level.

YJV, I think you're quite right. There'll be some sharp disruptions, and a lot of population contraction in the big cities, but village life in the nonindustrial world will continue with few changes. The higher you climb, the harder you fall!

Dwig, my predilections being what they are, I'm concentrating on helping to build the local Masonic scene. It's a grand old community institution that's done a lot of good (and is still doing quite a bit locally), and can use the help.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Congrats on both the paid gig and the new book. Consistent, quality work which you produce, trumps luck every time! Well done.

I've noticed over here that corporatisation of public services is a creeping normalcy type event. If you go past a school you will see banners showing “Cash for School Sports” programs sponsored by major retail outlets. The scheme involves getting school parents to spend at these major retail stores, collecting the receipts and then the retailer donates a percentage of that money spent by the parents to said school for the ostensible purpose of purchasing sports equipment.

Now I may be wrong, but the cynic in me reckons that this appears to be just another avenue for advertising. Plus given that money is spent on sports equipment this gives the kids positive associations with the retailers!!! Plus, if I was really cynical, and again I may be wrong, given that these major retailers get 70% of every retail dollar spent, they probably also increase their own sales in the sports equipment retail lines / stores. I'd like to be wrong and believe that this is all done for purely altruistic purposes...

I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with those retailers either as there are anecdotal reports that they have been cliffing their suppliers over the past few years. This involves telling their suppliers to drop their prices or else they’ll take them out of their retail stores. The cliffing refers to the metaphor of getting the supplier to look over the cliff and see how far the fall is for them. Apparently according to the retailers, it is good for consumers, but certainly not for producers… Again, I may be wrong.

As a purely random thought, do you reckon the growth of the Middle classes might be the ultimate compromise for the ruling classes as a result of the French revolution. Or is it just an outgrowth of the Industrial revolution - like a sink for produced goods and services? Or is it something else all together?

PS: If you're writing at peak prosperity site I'll subscribe and check it out. Please let us know when your first post is? I’m happy to pay for quality. Thanks.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Forgot to mention that it got to 40.7 Celsius (105.2 Fahrenheit) at about 7pm in Melbourne at about now. What is worse is that it is mildly windy too. I hope the weather doesn't kill off too many of the fruit trees...

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ben – Pets have to earn their keep. The dogs here keep the farm free of foxes and rabbits which are only less than 2 kilometres away. They also are prolific hunters of mice and rats with which they supplement their diet.

The other animals here are not quite so pet like. The bees certainly are a bit reactionary and have stung me as thanks for providing them with another brood box and 8 frames with which to double the size of their colony. No thanks there at all.

The chooks being heritage varieties are just plain grumpy. They do provide eggs and fertiliser though so I’m grateful for their inputs, but they certainly don’t appreciate the odd pat and cuddle and will peck if handled! They look at you and you know they are thinking, fall asleep and I’ll go for the eyes first and then the lips…

Hi Maria – You may be interested to note that op shops or Thrift Shops (beware modern music!) as they’re called in the US are entering popular culture. It is a sign of the times, well at least I think so anyway. It is surprising to find that cashmere products in op shops are actually cheaper than synthetics and they are one of the best natural materials around. Silk and wool products are also worth keeping an eye out for too. I have to confess that I have a much loved sheepskin jacket bought second-hand which I picked up and I hope it lasts me another couple of decades. I also keep an eye out for woollen blankets too as they are very useful here in a bushfire.

Hi Juhana - If you work within the available solar budget, it is very unlikely that quote: "reality of back-breaking, intensely hard physical labour needed to sustain your family and clan with tools and engines powered by muscle labour. People in agricultural, semi-industrial countries work so hard, and they get so little."

Mate this is simply not the case and is a common misconception. It is more likely a case of make hay whilst the sun shines. This means that there are times when it is busy and times when it is quiet. Too many people equate the unrelenting nature of Industrial work to that of farm work. Hunter gather societies do even less work again, but are generally much lower in numbers. I doubt very much that during winter in your location that much hard work was actually being done. It would have been pointless – unless it was to avoid starvation – and also a waste of calories.

PS: I trust that you haven’t forgotten the Cherokee riddle challenge?

Regards

Chris

MAI said...

All I can say is that as t he old saw has it while you're entitled to your own opinions you're not entitled to your own facts. Lifecycle analysis of PV manufacture including inputs and distribution has been done extensively over the last 20 years. The long pole in the tent is the energy consumed in manufacturing. If other energy inputs were as important as you say we might have expected to see the price of PV's increase substantially over the last ten years commensurate with increases in energy costs. But the price of PV's has dropped by around an order of magnitude over this period.

This is an uncomfortable area for Peak Oilers as much of the credibility for their gloomier prognostications rests on the claimed inability of renewables to supply substantial quantities of cost-effective energy at a reasonable EROEI. As renewables increasingly show these capabilities the interesting discussions move away from doom and gloom to how best to achieve a renewable powered society.

But I don't expect you to drop easily this core belief in what is essentially a faith for many Peak Oilers so perhaps best to move on.

Congratulations on your continued emphasis on energy efficiency at an individual level. This is a very important contribution to a 100% renewable economy. The less energy that has to be made the better.

Juhana said...

@YJV: Well, when I get command to work with people from area of some cultural sphere, I always try to find out as much as possible about conditions there. I also meet people from many social classes while I work with foreigners, that chances things a lot.

This varna or वर्ण system was quite hard to grasp. Four colours of society, and thousands of castes inside each one... It took me a while to grasp that inside at least some šudra castes all male members were working inside same trade... Kind of European medieval trade guilds, but still not.

Mysticism and deepness of traditions of old-school brahmins are beyond any doubt, and the Great Baharata, Maha-Bharata was amazing to read! Of course many things there, like demand of racial purity of varnas, don't sit well with worldview of contemporary Westerners, but who cares..? Interesting country, and good comment from you!

Ruben said...

A comment about the difficulty of finding what you need on the used market made me think others might be interested....

I follow my favourite blogs via RSS. I used Safari's built in RSS reader for many years, and have now switched to Google Reader. So whenever a new post on a blog I follow is posted, I am alerted within ten or fifteen minutes.

It turns out you can get RSS feeds for Craigslist searches, or searches on the UsedWherever network, et c.

So, I just set my searches--All American Pressure Canner, or Steam Juicer, or Mill-Rite, or Crab Trap, or Canning Jars. I have a separate folder I call Shop RSS, and I get an alert within minutes of the post going up. Since I am not always at my computer, and I don't get text alerts to my phone or anything modern like that, I am not always the first man there. But often I am, even if it has taken months or years to get what I want. And in those months or years I have not had to remember what it is I am supposed to be looking for on Craigslist, nor have I had to spend any time searching for it.

Alvin Leong said...

JMG, regarding the fascination with vampires and zombies, I think there's an interesting quote from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles:

You wonder why the children of America are so obsessed with death? You wonder why rock groups that look like corpses and zombie comic-book heroes are so goddamn popular here? It's just the same way your Victorians loved their tombs and seances and murders. The American Empire is dead and does not know it. Like your empire before it, it's only aware of it in its sleep.

laughingbirdfarm said...

JMG,
I read your blog every week but I haven't commented in ages. I just dropped in to let you know that your prediction about childhood hunger increasing in 2012 was spot-on.

The only official statistics I can cite are the food stamp statistics, which hit a record (again) in June of 46.7 million people, nearly half of which are children.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that hunger among children is increasing dramatically in my community. I live in a fairly affluent southern city that has not yet been hard hit. I worked for the local school system until recently. Two years ago, we started the first backpack program. That's a program where charity programs provide brown bags full of food for school children to take home on the weekend. The idea is to give supplemental nutrition to children who don't eat "well" on the weekend. In reality, most of these kids eat very little at all. It started in one poorer school in 2011.

Last year, it expanded to five schools and it is expanding again this year.

Breakfast is another issue. By the end of 2011, we started to see an uptick in the number of kids coming to school without breakfast. It happened day after day. In 2012, it became an epidemic. The superintendent started ordering the poorer schools to give free breakfasts to all students without regards to parental income. When that proved to be insufficient (a lot of students arrive too late to eat in the cafeteria), he started serving breakfast in classrooms. That program was expanded to all schools in the district this year due to "overwhelming need."

Teachers are buying lunches for students in increasing numbers. Nurses keep snacks on hand to try and ease aching bellies. Monday is a bad day in many schools; the backpack programs provide the equivalent of one decent meal and some snacks. Come Monday, many of those kids are extremely hungry.

I could go on, but I think you can get the picture. If things are this bad in my area, what are they like in places that have already experienced fallout from the economic decline?

The carp who jumped Hukou Falls said...

On the topic of weather, etc, I've just noticed an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph, the UK's right-wing broadsheet. Relevant quotes: "Perhaps the most troubling statistic showed that extreme rainfall, classed as the sort of heavy downpour that occurs once every 100 days on average, is now occurring about once every 70 days, making floods a more frequent phenomenon. The Met Office said the long-term trend towards wetter weather is likely to continue as global air temperatures rise" and "Ola Holmstrom, head of water at the engineering consultancy WSP, warned that infrastructure would have to be “completely rebuilt” in the most flood-prone areas to cope with future rainfall norms".

Now... I have trouble envisaging that all of that infrastructure really will be rebuilt; more likely it'll deteriorate. People will hang on because they can't sell their homes, and can't get insurance, until eventually they can't hang on any longer. Collapse, as you say, is a process, and here we see it.

On the other hand: at least climate change is now being discussed without any dispute, even in the right-wing papers.

The article is here.

hawlkeye said...

Ben,

Far too many Americans have no relationship of any kind with the animal kingdom, save the perverse abstract relationship with their pets, who are treated as "family members".

Of course, I love my pets as much as anyone, but I strive to feed them from home as much as possible, and give them a useful role in the home/farm life. The pet food industry makes billions from an industrial farming scheme that is due to fail along with the other booms and busts and bubbles.

As Americans become increasingly displaced from their homes, through foreclosure or extreme weather events, pets will be abandoned in droves. Dogs will revert to pack behaviors, pick an alpha, and go on a romp doing what wild dogs do.

This scenario is, to my mind, a sound argument for the possession of a side-arm, and the skill to use it well. All the current gun-control hysteria fixates on human versus human binaries.

There's no way I will allow any romping, rampaging anything or anyone to mess with the children in my world. My counter-intuitive response to any Bobo-istic "melt all the guns" nonsense is to join the local gun club and put in some practice time at the range.

And I wasn't raised with guns at all, so I guess this counts as a new skill to hone this season...

Alex Boland said...

A comment and a question.

A fair amount of it, as New York subway riders have had reason to learn, is poorly designed to handle extreme weather, and if those extremes become normal, the economics of maintaining such complex systems as the New York subways in the teeth of repeated flooding start to look very dubious indeed.

As a New Yorker, I will say that the subway system was repaired much much faster than people believed it could be. I was able to get around Brooklyn a couple of days after the coast was clear and it didn't take that much longer to get into Manhattan.


Then my question about unemployment: what is your metric? Are you talking about an increase in U6 (underemployment) or a decrease in the rate of workforce participation? Or something else I haven't thought about?

Mark Angelini said...

Spot on. Was nice to go back in time with this to review the past year.

Speaking of picking up hobbies, I recently got into spoon carving, adding yet another post-oil skill-set to my tool belt. Hoping to expand into bowl turning this year. And continually expanding my food production, food storage, fermentation, cyder, mead, wine, and beer making...

dagnygromer said...

>>Not so. What I’m saying is that any meaningful response to the crisis of our time has to begin on the individual level, with changes in our own lives.<<
the quiet activism of personal choice, a phrase I just saw on http://benhewitt.net/2013/01/04/catalog-of-the-possible/

Ruben said...

@MAI

MAI, no, the relevant point is the ability of the entire manufacturing process, including the sourcing of raw materials, solvents, etc., to continue in the absence of huge energy subsidies from fossil fuels. It's very easy to produce PV cells if you've got those subsidies; I have yet to see a convincing case that it's possible on any scale without them.

BTW, 10-25x EROEIs for PV usually involve ignoring everything except the energy used to make that particular chip in the factory, and leave out everything from plant maintenance through the mining of the dopant minerals to the energy cost of transport to the installation site.


If you have links to quality Life Cycle Analysis, as you say, please post them. I would be very interested to see that, and I am sure others would be as well. Most good science suffers considerable criticism, so please post that as well. We wouldn't want the cornucopians to ignore the empty half of the glass now would we? "Look! The bottom half of that glass is completely full!"

Anyhow, JMG noted the really drop dead point--much more important than the LCA of solar panels. That is the ability of PV manufacturing to continue without a giant fossil fuel subsidy. If the materials can't be extracted and refined with current solar income, then it is not renewable energy.

Currently, solar electricity is fossil fuel.

Now, if there are any good studies on how PV can be built with renewable energy, please do post that as well.

Jason Louv said...

This is an excellent essay, thank you!

Hal said...

I mainly just wanted to say, "Thank you," JMG for another year of valuable and useful insights and information. I'm also glad to hear about the gig at Martenson's site. I'm not congratulating you, though, because I believe it is they who deserve the congrats for landing someone who will greatly improve their product.

I believe the Crash Course is one of the most brilliant pieces of work on the internet, and is usually the first place I refer non text-oriented people when I want to give them a broad overview of our future (yourself being where I send those willing to do some reading.) That being said, there is little I find of value on his web site these days.

The problem is that, though Dr. Martenson himself seems to be a very well-reasoned and ethical person, his site, particularly the paid-content part, is geared toward those concerned about profiting or at least protecting investment wealth. That's not particularly bad, but it is something I'm just not interested in. And while it is admirable that he and many of his followers have taken an interest in actually making big changes in their lives, much of that seems to me to be geared to me toward acquiring gadgets and prepping for exceedingly unlikely events such as total immediate collapse. High-tech camp-scale water filters, hand-crank solar radios, guns, gold, and wilderness survival skills might be a nice things to have, but I think they're mostly a distraction.

Also, not Dr. Martenson, but a lot of his regulars are such hidebound economic libertarians that much of the content has a sense of having been filtered through the lens of received wisdom that I find just a little too smug. Too many WF's and CP's on the site in general.

Finally, I'm not going to go through my list for everyone, but it looks like I might be giving up the annual road trip after this year. If the truck makes it back to MS, it will probably be retired to on-farm duty and farmer's market trips once a week on 5 cylinders for the rest of its life. Luckily, there is a good train connection, which I have always wanted to use, but some circumstance always got in the way. Refusing the expensive repair will force my hand.

Hal said...

Response to Ben: Dogs have co-evolved with humans for about 100,000 years, according to the most recent genetic research. Don't have numbers on cats; it is surely shorter, but still a lot longer than the lifetime of the pet food industry.

A general rule for dog food goes something like 1/3 protein, 1/3 complex carbs, and 1/3 greens. I actually expand the greens portion to "as big as I can get it." Cook sparingly. The hay box works excellently for dog food. I've recently heard about dog breeders who feed their dogs raw vegetables. My dog wouldn't go for that, but maybe he's spoiled.

For cats, you need more protein, less carbs and disguise the greens. Learn to fish or get cows.

No onions, grapes or chocolate.

Pretty simple, really. If I can do it, anyone can.

valekeeperx said...

JMG,
Excellent post as always. Looking forward to your forthcoming book on the psychological aspects of peak oil. Along those lines, in past posts and comments, you’ve referred to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief as part of the personal process for dealing with our long descent. I’m a little familiar with her view and after doing a very little bit of reading on that process and a lot of reading of your posts and some of your books starting last spring, I think there may actually be six stages. Before anything, there is the dumbfounding shock of realization.

Regarding peak oil, imperial decline, obscene materialism, deep down inside, IMHO people unconsciously know the truth of the situation and being awakened from our society’s fossil-fuel induced trance of consensual fantasy and realizing this truth is a shocking experience. I’m speaking from my own experience over the last few years generally dealing with my own personal journey and the last few months specifically reading your posts. The shock has gradually worn off and only in the last month or two have I calmed down from the near panic (please feel free to picture any number of comic images). Now, I can begin taking stock and engaging the downmoding adjustment process baby-step by baby-step including your recommendations and those of others here in the comment section.

For starters, we turned the thermostat down several degrees (5 or 6 F). In addition, weatherizing components were included in the construction of our house, so, we’re good there (though will need to check on the caulking). Onward……

Peace and thanks to you and all in the ADR community.

Betsys_Backyard said...

Congrats on the work at Chris Martenson's site! I was on the fence about subscribing to it, but now,,, I feel myself teetering, ! You will be a good addition to peak prosperity me thinks!

To Ben- I side with Cherokee- HOUSE pets ( more specifically, cats and dogs) I think, will be an indulgence fewer persons can justify down the road. I expect More cats/dogs will have to earn their keep, move outdoors or both.
The issues having these "exotic carnivorous" house pets, that come to my mind are feeding, feces management, fleas tics diseases control, indoor "accidents" control, breeding control and ecological damage if they are left outdoors unchecked...
My vote for best long decent,
low impact, indoor pets are:
Cavia porcellus..
- guinea pigs have the longest indoor, co-habitation history of any domesticate.
It may well account for their most agreeable dispositions- (bad habits landed them quickly into the stew pot)they rarely bite, don't climb, dig or chew excessively.,they like petting, can live almost entirely on veg/fruit/garden/lawn scraps and actually seem to like people talking, singing and drumming! For the last couple thousand years, guinea pigs have been living in native Peruvian clay floor homes..making them
Exceptionally well suited to small scale, indoor life.. the manure can go straight on the garden bed and, does not carry human damaging parasites, and i am told, they are delicious!!
Part of a apartment scale- "micro-animal husbandry" system that just may allow them to thrive in the future.

Juhana said...

@Cherokee Organics: Farming is not my area of expertise. If we have something more than we need in this world, it must be persons with opinions about things they don't know anything about. So I must say: maybe you are right. People I have seen seemed to work quite lot, especially during plowing & planting and harvesting. Picture was distorted because many worked in basic industries like mining and steel mills during off-season (?) from farming, to earn cash. But it was no paradise on Earth anyway, that I can assure you.

You had valid point there: agricultural lifestyle has seasonal, more natural rhythm than industrial one. Coming from heavy industry myself, forgetting this is always a risk. Have you any simple, basic book to recommend about organic farming? I have followed keenly this conversation about it here, but I just haven't enough basic information to form any valid opinion.

Like all other 6 billion human beings here on Earth, I have tendency to form universal truths from purely personal experiences limited by my perceptions, opinions and social context. So I am only happy, if I can learn something new from Australian (?) organic farmer about this complex world of ours :).

And during winter here in Finland we indeed have not much to do agriculturally. So we hunt, skii and listen happy christmas songs like this one ;).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RricAzhF_dg

Chris said...

To MAI

"The long pole in the tent is the energy consumed in manufacturing. If other energy inputs were as important as you say we might have expected to see the price of PV's increase substantially over the last ten years commensurate with increases in energy costs. But the price of PV's has dropped by around an order of magnitude over this period."

The price of PV's has dropped simply because of consumer demand, assisted in part by many government subsidies. In Australia the demand for PV's is through the roof and expected to continue to increase. Most are purchased with govt subsidies.

Also, a great deal of PV's (not all) are manufactured in China, who are one of the most heavily industrials growing economies. Unlike many Western countries they own a lot of wealth and don't have to borrow it through speculative banks. They also have a low wage component for their workers.

There are many reasons why PV's haven't increased in price, despite fossil fuels becoming more expensive.

Betsys_Backyard said...

#4 BUY IT USED! (my oldest employed, and favorite task on your list )
JMG Wrote-"By buying a used product rather than a new one, you save the energy cost of manufacturing the new product, and you also keep things out of the waste stream."
So True..
And don't forget saving $$$$ to apply towards other necessities., with a little effort, I can buy quality used products at pennies on the dollar of buying new. In fact, a good deal of vintage or products made at least 15 years ago are superior quality to their current brand thanks to "stealth inflation".
In the US, thrift shops, yard sales, craigslist and fleas offer bargains for the hunter. But be warned!! task #4 just may become task #6- by making scouting for good used items -a hobby.
It can go even further and become a profitable "Cottage Industry" like it has for me. I have spent my last 17 years- buying and selling good-used items. It satisfies some very core hunter/gathering/providing instinct, plus allows me to learn a good deal of cultural history..
I guess about 90% of the stuff I own is second hand and has a history.. except my undergarments.. "i don't want no history in them" ;)

Nicholas Carter said...

On the subject of "investing" hobbies, I was hoping some commenters could chip in some facts that have slipped my mind:
1. There is a book JMG has mentioned on organic gardening titled *How to grow more vegetables than you would even believe* or something similar, what is the accurate title and the name of the author?
2. At one point there was a post on passive solar heating that mentioned a form of flooring masonry that had a thermal equilibrium~40F, which material is this?
3. Are there any good print resources for reconstructing printing presses? Preferably without the "moldy jelly" style of ink stamping!

Also, looking toward appropriate tech in media: What possibilities do Table-Top Role Playing Games hold as a de-industrial medium?

Justin Wade said...

JMG,
So we are at the mercy of robots, eh? Figures.

You can change the verification settings in the same place you set your comment policy and added this above the verification widget.
"Please prove you're not a robot"

Another commenter solved the issue, the number string is irrelevant. You may still consider the idea for others with accessibility issues.

Joel Caris said...

Ric,

Thank you for the link! That's a mess of information. I'll have to decide if I'm motivated enough by my intrigue to comb through it all.

MAI and JMG,

On the EROI of PVs front, it appears that Charles A.S. Hall and Pedro Prieto have a new book about to be released that takes an in depth look at Spain's centralized PV installations and tries to determine the EROI, taking into account all the fossil fuel subsidies and real-world electricity production.

From the description: "This book presents the first complete energy analysis of a large-scale, real-world deployment of photovoltaic (PV) collection systems representing 3.5 GW of installed, grid-connected solar plants in Spain. The analysis includes all of the factors that limit and adjust the real electricity output through one full-year cycle, and all of the fossil fuel inputs required to achieve these results. The authors’ comprehensive analysis of energy inputs, which assigns energy cost estimates to all financial expenditures, yields EROI values that are less than half of those claimed by other investigators and by the solar industry."

There's also a preview article about the findings here. It sounds like the authors are skeptical of the ability to run a modern, developed nation on PV power.

I'm very interested in reading the book. I might have to order a copy.

DW said...

JMG - curious if you have read or are reading Nassim Taleb's "Anti-fragile"?

In short, when talking predictions and figuring out probabilities, Mr. Taleb coaches us to not pay so much attention to X (the probability of some event), but to f(X) - that is, the impact said event has on us, our family, society, etc. if it happens, and how we respond as X gets more frequent, stronger, bigger, etc.

Translated to Archdruidom :: predicting when the next climate-mega-storm comes is not so important as understanding how said event would/n't recast your daily life, your ability to stay fed, housed, etc.

It seems all too many peak-oilers get stuck on X and then (even worse maybe) on f(X) for individuals other than themselves; and therefore spend a whole bunch of time jaw-flapping over events and effects of events they have no direct understanding of or real business commenting on...

Anyway, you may enjoy the book. What I wrote here is a poor summation of just one or two minor points in it.

shiningwhiffle said...

Off-topic for this post, but I found a great example of the sort of phatic-only communication you mentioned a couple of weeks back:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/01/03/mark_lynas_environmentalist_who_opposed_gmos_admits_he_was_wrong.html

The issue is never actually discussed, one side presents its case through mere assertions, negative comparisons are made to stimulate cold-pricklies, and about the only bit of actual reasoning given — that we need GMO crops to sustain a larger, wealthier population — is presented without even a nod to the elephant in the room: the fact that larger, wealthier population will never get a chance to exist.

Finally it ends with:

"Now the question is, will his former anti-GMO fellows heed his urge to review the science—or will they call him a turncoat shill for Monsanto?"

...as if those are mutually exclusive options.

Another red flag for me is the quote, "I discovered science" — in my experience words like those mean something like, "I was a poor thinker before, and now I'm a poor thinker with different opinions."

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Chris,

I would politely ask that you reconsider your opinions about what actually defines a socialist government. The reason I mention this is that there really is very little difference between any of the three main political parties in Australia.

Also in support of this opinion are the very real tax concessions (ie. giveaways provided by the previous Howard government) in relation to superannuation for those of the baby boomer generation. These concessions are / were so good and only available to a certain demographic in the population that they can only be described as welfare. They were certainly not available to someone of my age, although I finance them through taxes paid, and they won’t be in the future given the current downwards direction of federal tax receipts as I believe they will be repealed.

Hi MAI,

It is my opinion - and I live with off grid solar - that our host is spot on in his observations about solar PV. The reason for this is that I have to exist within an energy budget of about 3.5kWh/day (and I have 3.4kW of PV generation capacity for your info).

People tend to fixate on the energy generated by PV solar (or even wind for that matter) under the best conditions. If you have to live with these systems and expect continuity of supply (as most people in Industrial countries tend to), then you have to adjust your expectations to the very worst conditions.

Once you have adjusted your expectations, it becomes second nature to use less energy. This is one of the reasons why experience beats rhetoric. PV and wind can be very good, but it does not provide the consistency in generation capacity that coal, gas or nuclear does.

The other thing that is worth addressing, is that no one knows how long the service life of these components is, so your argument is moot. A lot of the really complex components in my system are locally manufactured and repairable, but a lot of the cheap equipment flooding the market now is of dubious efficiency and life span. I speak with a lot of people in the renewable energy scene and there are very mixed real world experiences with this gear. It is a case of apples and oranges, so generalisations need not apply!

I’m not trolling either of you two, but there are certainly more to these issues than meets the eye.

Regards

Chris

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, thanks for the comments. We haven't had a socialist government in the US yet -- the people who insist that Obama is a socialist are talking nonsense -- so I don't have the personal experience.

Cherokee, my take is that the middle classes are a necessity of industrialism -- you need a lot of white collar workers to keep the factories humming -- and also a necessity of empire. As the industrial system winds down and the US empire goes away, a lot of today's middle classes are going to find themselves out of luck.

MAI, what is it with green cornucopians? If anyone raises a point that doesn't fit your canned arguments, you simply return to the canned arguments as though the challenging point was never raised. Let me repeat myself: the problem with a PV future has nothing to do with current estimates of EROEI for individual chips, and everything to do with the ability of the whole system necessary to support the continued manufacture of the chips. Would you like to address that, or are you going to ignore it again?

Ruben, that sounds like a useful gimmick.

Alvin, fascinating.

Laughing, okay, that's a data point worth noting. Or, rather, that's a warning siren that needs to be heard!

Carp, many thanks for the link and the heads up.

Alex, the number to watch is the number of Americans who are no longer participating in the work force. That's where the invisible unemployed are being lumped.

Mark, excellent.

Dagny, thanks for the heads up; that's a good phrase.

Jason, thank you.

Hal, the PeakProsperity site has several different readerships -- they've done some very careful audience analyses, which I've had the chance to study. The libertarian "I've got mine, Jack, and want to keep it" types are far less than a majority, though they're louder than most. Still, it's true that people who frequent that site are concerned with how economic issues will affect them; one reason I'm looking forward to doing a series of essays there is that it'll allow me to explore in much more detail some of the implications of the ideas I covered here in the posts that became raw material for The Wealth of Nature.

John Michael Greer said...

Valekeeperx, that's an interesting perspective! Definitely check the caulking; that's something that should be revisited yearly.

Betsy, thank you! I'll do my level best to keep it interesting. As for buying used rather than new, all very true -- I get very few new items these days, and am much better off financially and in other ways as a result.

Nicholas, the book you want is How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. As for printing presses, I haven't found a good resource yet -- mind you, getting a press is still in the future for me, and I haven't had time to do the research.

Justin, I can't change that without leaving the page open to spam robots. I have enough work already moderating comments from real people! Still, glad to hear that the number suggestion works.

Joel, fascinating. I'll have to check it out.

DW, I haven't -- will certainly put it on the list of books to get to.

Whiffle, I'm convinced that we're going to see a lot of pseudoenvironmentalists dive back into techno-cornucopian cheerleading in the years ahead. George Monbiot's pimping for nuclear power is the wave of the future. All the more reason for those of us who put our ideals ahead of our comfortable lifestyles to show that there's an alternative, by living it.

MAI said...

The IEEE spectrum article mentioned by another post (at http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/argument-over-the-value-of-solar-focuses-on-spain) has a link to a LCA study giving a range of PV EROI's.

First up, there's nothing cornucopian about generating electricity from PV's with current technology. But PV's can provide substantial amounts of electricity that can be used in conjunction with other renewables and in the existing grid. Hence Germany generating 50% of its electricity from mainly rooftop PV installations on a sunny day in May last year.

LCA is something of a movable feast. It appears that the Hall study mentioned in an earlier post is of utility scale PV installations and also uses financial costs as a proxy for energy use.

The primary driver for utility scale PV installations is, not surprisingly, the utilities. It makes much more sense to put the PV's on rooftops as I mentioned in the earlier post. This avoids all the costs for roads, freestanding PV mounts, transmission infrastructure, land etc etc. And the energy use thereof. And by siting the energy production close to where the energy is consumed transmission losses are also minimised. But this also represents a massive transfer of wealth from the utilities to the rooftop PV owners which might not be unrelated to the continuing enthusiasm for utility scale installations :)

LCA is a complicated area where it is often difficult to get solid data. Hence the enthusiasm for using financial cost data as a proxy for energy use. But this is more than a bit fraught. Does the 10x fall in price for PV's over the last ten years represent a 10fold reduction in energy used in their manufacture? Obviously not. It represents learning curve improvements and manufacturing scale.

So the Hall study will be of old, expensive technology deployed inefficiently. Woo-hoo.

A lot more interesting and relevant would be a similar EROI study of German rooftop PV installations.

As for the notion that the existing fossil fuel use for manufacturing PV's represents a good argument against PV's I don't understand why this is relevant. If the EROI is 10x to 25x then this represents a massive reduction in fossil fuel use to between 4-10% of current fossil fuel use with concommitant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. A laudable outcome!

MAI said...

From JMG:

"MAI, what is it with green cornucopians? If anyone raises a point that doesn't fit your canned arguments, you simply return to the canned arguments as though the challenging point was never raised. Let me repeat myself: the problem with a PV future has nothing to do with current estimates of EROEI for individual chips, and everything to do with the ability of the whole system necessary to support the continued manufacture of the chips. Would you like to address that, or are you going to ignore it again?"

I think now we're getting somewhere. Other than noting that I think this is the first time I've been referred to as a "green cornucopian" I'll let the other ad hominem text go through to the wicket-keeper. I doubt anything productive would come from discussion thereof.

The trad Peak Oil view of PV's was centred around the EROI. Now that this has been dealt with it appears that the PO objections are as JMG puts it "the ability of the whole system necessary to support the continued manufacture of the chips"

This is inherently impossible to address as it moves from matters of science and engineering to belief systems. I guess Peak Oilers hold as a matter of faith that we're in for some kind of energy resource depletion related societal collapse which will make it impossible to maintain complex manufacturing chains. One obvious comment is that by substituting substantial amounts of fossil fuel use with renewables, existing fossil fuel supplies would last a lot longer compared to a Business As Usual scenario.

But realistically where belief systems are involved discussion gets complicated. I guess time will tell.

An interesting thread.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Chris,

Oh no!

Quote: "The price of PV's has dropped simply because of consumer demand, assisted in part by many government subsidies. In Australia the demand for PV's is through the roof and expected to continue to increase. Most are purchased with govt subsidies."

Consumer demand is part of the equation, but the Chinese manufacturers are currently exporting PV panels at very low cost because they can externalise a lot of their own manufacturing costs (ie. Pollution, very cheap labour, and dodgy standards like buildings etc.), but it is also as much, if not more, to do with finishing off their German and US competitors.

In business, a lot of bigger businesses purchase their competitors and then promptly put them out of business. However, it is by far a much cheaper option to simply undercut their opposition until they go out of business through lack of clientele. This also dissuades new competitors from entering the market. The Chinese have a much lower cost base / living costs and also expect a much lower return on their capital and as such are able to compete using this method. It is very effective because as consumers we all see lower retail prices as an indication that we were previously being ripped off by local producers! Not so, it is just the context.

Also, the government rebates that you refer to are vanishing, if not gone. There has been much noise in both the public and the media in Australia about the price rises in electricity. The price rises are actually a result of a rise in the price of oil which is used at every single stage of the coal fired electricity generation process. It is also due to a few decades of under investment in the electricity distribution network which have kept retail prices down (and expectations of those prices). This is a good example of how we are catabolising our infrastructure to enjoy cheap living costs until it no longer becomes possible.

I’ve read that about 70% to 75% of Australian households have air-conditioning units installed and these mechanical devices use a lot of energy. I have also read that every time a new a/c unit is installed in a house that it costs about $6,000 in additional capital infrastructure in the distribution network. This cost is spread amongst the community and this is the primary cause of the actual increase in electricity costs (solar is a soft target which has been eliminated and yet the electricity prices still rise).

I’m aware that some households with grid tied PV systems are paid $0.07 for every kWh exported, whilst they then have to pay $0.35kWh for the power they import at night.

Interestingly enough, it is rapidly becoming economically feasible at these prices to have a small off grid system to power a house at night whilst exporting any surplus to the grid during the day + recharging the batteries.

Here, excess capacity is wasted during summer as the batteries can only store so much energy, but it is not cost effective for me to connect up to the grid (many tens of thousands of dollars).

Please don't be put off by my comments as you have raised some very important and also much under discussed issues.

Regards

Chris

barath said...

Just thought I'd pass along this recent analysis of Duhon's One Circle 1000 square foot diet. It seems that it might be possible for an expert gardener to nearly pull it off (with 100% nutrient recycling), though it's definitely a spare diet.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

I'm at 37.5 degrees latitude south and you are at 62+ degrees latitude north so I cannot give any advice in relation to gardening in your location. For example, I can grow fresh greens outside all year, but this is very unlikely in your circumstances so there is no point in me talking about such things.

However, if I were you, I'd observe your natural environment. Really get to know it well. Spend some time in a relatively natural part of your country over a couple of seasons / years and get to see how the sun, weather, water, soil plants, fungi, birds and animals all interact. Start to be able to identify them and work out what uses they have. Collect, hunt and eat them if it is safe to do so.

Also, get to know some small holders who produce some of their own produce.

Learn preserving methods which will be critical in your area.

Learn you local history, like the details of peoples lives etc. This information is really telling.

Best of all, ask people questions. Did you know that because of your comment, I now know that I can make wood bread from the couple of native myrtle beeches that I have planted here and that this was historically done here too?

Hi Betsy,

Good to hear from another second hand connoissuer of all things second hand! Thanks for the kind words.

PS: I'm a mostly vegetarian but whilst travelling in Peru ate guinea pig and it was very nice meat, but a bit bony.

Regards

Chris

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

My two cents on the photovoltaic discussion:

1¢ Some time back, JMG referred to PV cells as "fossil fuel extenders". I think that is a fair description of any energy-generating equipment made in a factory. Even if the factory is powered by sustainable sources, some of the raw materials are going to be extracted, processed and transported using fossil fuels; ditto for the distribution process.

We can no more do without fossil fuels than a free person living in the Roman Empire could entirely avoid using products made by slave labor.

The question I would like to ask is whether the PV cells being manufactured and sold today require less, more or about the same amount of fossil fuel per watt over their expected service life than the ones manufactured ten years ago.

2¢ I'd be surprised if the paper about the Spanish electrical grid tells us anything new. With the exception of big hydroelectric dams and thermal springs, no sustainable energy source currently in use is concentrated enough to offset transmission losses. Wind power, cogeneration, passive solar, active solar, methane digesters are most useful close to where the energy is generated.

2½¢ JMG often mocks the idea that some future technological breakthrough is going to solve or even mitigate our energy problems. I believe he's right on the "solve" part. I still have hopes that someone will solve (in time) the technical challenges involved in tapping the kinetic energy of waves and tides. As long as the Moon orbits the Earth, that power is available, if we can figure out how to use it.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Current thinking is that cats domesticated themselves after human beings started growing grain about ten thousand years ago. The granaries attracted mice and the mice attracted cats. Some biologists say that dogs are much better than cats at reading human facial expressions, because dogs have had longer to get to know us.

wall0159 said...

Regarding the PV discussion, it's probably worth saying that, even with poor eroei, PV is better than fossil electricity sources -- even though it's unsustainable. Nothing beats energy efficiency, of course! :-)

Even though PV is not sustainable, I bet metals aren't either (over a long enough time scale) -- it's still a useful transition tech.

An idea I had recently was for a ceramic sterling engine, but it's already been done!

Paul Britten said...

Hi JMG,

I have been reading your blog over the last six months after I read your book The Spitirt and The Sword. From this you will gather that I have a keen interest in European Martial Systems. Due to the well written prose of this book I was drawn to read your blog. I have found it incredibly heartening to see that there are a good number of free thinking Americans who do not subscribe to the modern American Dream peddled around the globe. I completely agree with you that the only thing we have control over is our own choices and it is down to individuals to make the changes required to create the potential for future generations of the human race to have practical knowledge and skills that work in our environment.

I live in Scotland in the United Kingdom and in my life time I have seen drastic changes within our society and how it has very quickly become a consumer society with a de-skilled populace that is no longer encouraged to think or themselves. Modern technologies and media are being used to fracture communities, utilising emotional responses as you posted earlier, along old partisan and tribal schisms.

Our politicians are clever enough to realise and use the common knowledge that humans generally fear what they do not know and that we quickly hate what we fear. Hate is easily channeled and directed by any politician with half a brain. I agree with you that individual action is the best example to follow. So if you do not wish to be the play piece of a politician with half a brain make the changes to your lifestyle that reduces your reliance on the current system by becoming more self sustaining each year. Also find someone to pass the knowledge and skills on to. There is nothing difficult in this concept, just the incredibly difficult matter of making the decision to step out and be one of the 'crazy ones'. Just remember the 'crazy ones' of the present become the visionaries of the future.

I would be grateful if I could ask some questions regarding your study of the sword art in your book I previously mentioned? I appreciate that this blog is probably not the place to do this and I would be grateful if you would be willing to let me know where I an ask you these questions without taking your blogs off topic.

Kind regards

Paul Britten

John Michael Greer said...

MAI, I've never been a follower of the "trad Peak Oil view," whatever exactly that is, and I'm also well aware that EROEI estimates routinely vary by an order of magnitude, depending on whether the people making them are for or against the technology involved. (Perhaps you've seen the claims circulated by the nuclear industry that conventional fission plants have an EROEI around 40x.) My point, again, is that the energy and resource cost of maintaining the whole system necessary to produce PV cells is unlikely to be supported in the absence of fossil fuels. Now of course it makes clever rhetoric to dismiss whole-system costs as matters of faith, but those costs do exist, you know; among other things, it's exactly those whole-systems costs that make nuclear power unaffordable in the absence of gargantuan government subsidies.

If you want to suggest that it's a good idea to bring as much PV as possible on line while the system costs can still be covered, mind you, I won't argue; as I've commented repeatedly here -- here's an example -- there's much to be said for PV as a transitional technology to bridge the space between our current extravagant habits of energy use and the much more limited energy supply we'll have at the bottom of the curve. The systems-cost issue is a challenge to the theory that we can prop up an industrial society on the present model using diffuse renewable energies such as sunlight and wind, not an argument against using those technologies while we still have the industrial system necessary to produce and maintain them.

Barath, many thanks. Duhon admits that it's a spare diet -- the point of the exercise was to determine a minimum for survival, not an optimum. Still, if we have some sense of the minimum, we can work up from there.

Unknown Deborah, even knowing the energy cost of individual chips misses the whole system cost issue, which is to my mind the most important point.

Wall0159, of course PV's a good transition tech -- well, if you ignore the pervasive problems with pollution that all silicon chip technologies have. (Chip manufacture involves, directly or indirectly, some extremely toxic substances.) Is PV better than burning fossil fuels? Depends on the total amount of CO2 produced in the manufacture of the system, including all raw materials, as compared to the amount that would be produced by burning fossil fuels to get the same amount of energy. I don't happen to have that figure to hand -- and I'd want to see it calculated by somebody who didn't have a dog in either side of that fight.

Paul, drop me a comment marked "do not post" with your email address, and I'll get back to you as soon as time permits.

Juhana said...

@Cherokee Organics and JMG: Hello Chris, and thank you for those tips you gave. I must now clarify little bit what I was asking; this English language is probably causing little communication blurriness.

Starting level: Here in Finland it is VERY common for people to gather different berries and mushrooms during their respective maturation seasons; I personally gathered some 50 kilograms past year from the forests, and this is quite average amount, no heroism involved. People also fish, ice fish, and hunt a lot as a hobby; there are MORE guns in Finland per capita than in USA, because there are so many hunting weapons ( three million weapons, five million people).
I got personally over 150 kilograms of game animal or fish meat during last year. We also have organic garden at our cabin; we grow carrots, potatoes and cabbages there. We also have an compost. ALL of these things are totally ordinary here in Finland; people were doing this stuff long before academics went from being red to being green. Finns ARE by their nature forest people; roots to nature are very strong. I also have wandered, as a hobby, at unmarked routes over 120 kilometer long trips through primeval forests of Finland many times with my friends; fishing and living in tents and in self-made lean-to during trips. We have never had any GPS system with us; instead we use map and compass. This all is ALSO very common in Finland, we are by no way extraordinary because doing this. this all is very common, especially if you are from countryside and so called "manly"-type guy. Women do it also, but to lesser extent (except gardening). So I know actually very much about surviving in borealis forest region, but what I don't know is...

...how it is possible to grow so much food without pesticides and fertilizers, as told here in comment section. That totally amazes me. Somebody is either living in somekind of fantasy world and basically lying, or has VERY valuable information about organic FARMING, not gardening. Gardening is how you get little surplus to your table; farming is how you are able to support your family with stuff you grow through the whole year. There are still many family-run farms here in Finland; we are more Eastern country than we want to believe, and because of that, thank God, "underdeveloped" in agribussiness. But as far as I know, they all get subsidized by petrol society. And the forthcoming famines are the thing I fear most about this peak oil. So reading tips about organic farming are really appreciated.

Ruben said...

Wow, we need a name for the sort of conversation that is developing around PV here (other than useless) for it certainly seems to typify the difficulty in having productive conversations around many of the Long Descent topics--I have had similar conversation around jobs, around agriculture, around infrastructure as well as energy.

There are obviously problems around just answering the damn question. MAI slithered his way around the question three times, before pronouncing it a matter of "faith". A lot of people seem to have difficulty asking "Are we talking about the same thing?" and then when it is figured out what the same thing is, saying, "I don't know. My best guess is..."

My best thought is that these are more problems of narrative than of definition--but maybe it is the same thing.

I think there are several different stories about our future co-existing, especially here where JMG encourages dissensus. But they don't co-exist in reality, where you can't both have fossil fuels and run out of them, for example. And so people have conversations using words common to all the world views, but which have very different implications within each world view.

These implications are important because they can lead to very different choices and policies.

One I have experienced with JMG is around population. And I am NOT quoting--all misrepresentation are my own.

JMG (I believe) takes the long view. He thinks .5 to one billion people will end up living on the planet, in Ecotechnic societies--at various levels depending how early and well they grappled with the Long Descent. Since he has spent a lot time arguing against the Zombie Apocalypse, he is not terribly patient with people who shout, "Collapse!"

I agree with JMG totally. And yet I think the grocery stores being empty is going to feel like collapse to people. I think even one billion fewer people on the planet is going to feel like collapse, let alone 6+ fewer billions (even without epidemics or other scenarios, that is going to be a lot of empty storefronts and houses, which will feel crappy). When you read SHTF School about the experience in a Balkan city under siege, it is clear that people are still horribly wounded decades later. I am sure JMG agrees with that, but that is not what I hear when I read his comments on the topic.

So, having a little shorthand might reduce shirtiness in the comments section. "I think population will reduce to one billion within 1-200 years. That will be highly psychologically, financially, culturally and technologically disruptive. It is really going to suck. But hopefully, the pleasure of re-connecting to place and community will be of some solace to people."

You see this whenever some Dr. Strangelove says humanity must go to space to survive. Sure, the species might survive if only we had a unicorn dust-powered spaceship, but every other person on the planet would die. And all those billions are not going to be free of suffering because Humanity is Going to the Stars. I am more concerned with the suffering here, so I would rather we spend those resources here than on interstellar fantasies.

Ruben said...

Back to my problem.... There are certainly a lot of different views around energy. I am trained in design and manufacturing, so I have first-hand experience in factories, and viscerally understand that every process sits at the tip of a pyramid of other processes--all of which have their own manufacturing and supply chains. I see our world becoming more and more brittle. And I have followed the work of Charles Hall, Robert Ayres and Bill Rees for many years, so I have seen how many resources are constrained, not just oil. So, I think nuclear is a small option because people hate it, and there isn't much existing fuel. Solar and wind rely on massive manufacturing and highly refined and depleting minerals. et c., et c. I don't think our society is going to conserve energy in order to spend it on an Apollo Program of renewables.

All of this to say, I think we will be using a lot less energy in the medium future, and will be spending a lot more time working with our hands, being cold, and sitting in the dark. This view needs a name.

A different narrative is what I call Techno Cornucopian. That is that innovation and the free market will deliver renewable/carbon neutral (solar/wind/nuclear, carbon capture) in volumes such that our society will continue its glorious progress.

Another view that needs a name is that we have hundreds of years of coal and oil and gas that could make driving free if only the eco-terrorists would stop protecting owls.

I am sure we could brainstorm lots more narratives. My point is that we are using the same words, but talking past each other. I don't care what the EROEI of a technology WOULD be, if only we had the missing resource to manufacture it. We don't have the missing resource.

I have this conversation a lot around urban agriculture. I am of the position we should farm and orchard every inch of urban real estate, as well as building root cellars and canning kitchens.

That is a very different view--leading to very different actions and very different policy proposals--than the person who think glass skyscraper vertical farms will feed the cities.

So, believe me MAI, lots of people who read this blog have looked at EROEI, they just have different assumptions than you. If you want to discuss different aspects of that, you need to articulate your assumptions--you make a lot of the same noises as Techno Cornucopians, so you could be dismissed just like them. I, for one, don't dismiss them out of hand. I have spent years working in this area, and would love to have a shiny future. I just think there are large holes in the likelihood of the TC world view.

I think this unveiling of assumptions will be useful in our future. "I am planting this kind of fruit tree, because I expect my area to be warmer in the future."

JMG has already given us a name for a dissensus-filled, but generally cohesive school of thought--Green Wizard.

Juhana said...

Correction to my previous comment:

There are 1,6 million legal weapons in Finland, almost all o f them hunting rifles or shotguns. There are estimates, made by Small Arms Survey, that there are about 1,5 million illegal guns here in Finland. Estimate is probably true, even if numbers are little bit bloated, because of hidden weapons preserved from WW2. Level of gun violence is still very low, all these weapons are mostly used for hunting.

And Chris, happy to hear that this wooden bread-video was useful to you :).

phil harris said...

Anybody in UK who has a copy of Duhon's 'Once Circle'? I would borrow for shipping cost in UK and a small fee. Otherwise an expensive book to obtain!
Thanks
Phil

Mary said...

A bit late to the party, but a few comments to add.

First, on malnutrition, an article in Boston in 2011 highlighted skyrocketing malnutrition seen in children at ERs...http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/07/28/ranks_of_hungry_children_swell_worrying_doctors/

Weatherizing my family room is on the back of my mind for next summer. That is the room that can benefit the most and has the best potential for a wood/pellet stove to boot.

I've been thinking of taking up knitting as a hobby. We have several alpaca breeders nearby. Their wool is incredibly soft, durable and warm. I've also, at long last, started mending some items that have piled up for a couple years. And I've been thinking of taking up guitar again, although that may need to wait. I had started to learn to play a little back in the 90s and have a nice acoustic guitar waiting patiently to get off the back burner.

On buying used items, I feel lucky to live in an area filled with antiques. I found a beautiful tabletop butter churn today in excellent condition, along with a couple old fashioned hand mixers and other items of quality you will never find new. Hoping to find an old hand nut grinder as well.

On pets, I expect some breeds of dogs will fare better than others. I have been researching dog and cat nutrition and home feeding, along with herbal flea and tick repellents for dogs and cats. A herbalist to my south makes herbal de-wormers for horses and possibly other animals. I expect mousers will always find good homes, as well as good alarm dogs, rat terriers, and herding, protection, and hunting dogs.

In the meantime, 136 dogs and cats displaced by Sandy are sitting in New York's humane society, waiting for owners, adoption or, sadly, euthanasia. Unfortunately many of the dogs are pits and mastiffs from the wrong side of the tracks, so will have a hard time finding homes.

Mary

Chris said...

Hi Cherokee (Chris)

"I would politely ask that you reconsider your opinions about what actually defines a socialist government. The reason I mention this is that there really is very little difference between any of the three main political parties in Australia."

I have reconsidered my opinions on our political parties heavily for nigh on 20 years. While it's a common misconception there is little difference between the parties, if you look back through their historical background to present date, you will note one huge fundamental difference.

The more socialist party (Labor) fund everything through increased taxes, levies and tariffs across the board. The more capitalist party (Liberal) fund everything by cutting government spending and reducing taxes.

The point you raise about subsidies is relevant and true. Both parties are guilty of implementing this strategy to encourage economic spending. While Liberals (under Howard's govt) did use tax-payers dollars for the First Home Owners Grant, for example, they did so with a Surplus Budget (ie: no tax-payers had to pay interest on borrowed funds to achieve the goal).

Not so with the more socialist govt, Labor. If you look back in the history of this party, you will find they continually get the economy further and further into debt - so how much interest have tax-payers had to pay back to achieve the same goal?

What makes one party more socialist than another, is how they choose to manipulate where people and organisations are allowed to do business - through increased government controls or through increased market control.

I'm sure this could be all rather foreign to JMG's US readers, in regards to Australian politics, but I'm sure they can relate through their own economy which is largely market controlled AND government approved.

It's why I'm glad we have two very distinct sides in our two major Australian political parties. One is more socialist and the other more capitalist. It means we can change govt's to shake them out of their complacency, if they forget we need a balance.

Thanks for sharing this discussion, as it's always interesting to hear how other Australians feel about our politics.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi MAI,

Grid tied solar PV systems are physically unable to operate without the grid also supplying energy to that household. A lot of people are unaware of this and think that a grid tied PV system works like an uninterruptable power supply. It is a surprise to them when the grid does fail that they also no longer have electricity supply, despite the lost generation potential of the PV system.

I'm aware of some techie type people over here tooling around with this problem, but the results have not been good so far. The main problem is ensuring that there is a constant load which equals or exceeds the PV generation - this is very hard to achieve in the real world.

You also may not be aware that it is very hard for the large generators - especially coal fired - to alter their outputs to adjust for the PV input into the grid. Thus their unhappiness.

Without the electricity grid, and all of the ancillary equipment, the solar PV panels will merely make a very good roof for a chook shed. Very few people think to power extra low voltage DC items directly from a PV source. Even then pumps require a maximiser to ensure a constant voltage supply and those devices are really expensive despite the pumps being cheap.

Alternatively, you could have a house that only has 12v or 24v DC appliances, but few people think of this. The efficiencies with such a system are huge.

Look, your EROEI numbers are pure rubbish because as I said before no one knows how long this stuff will last. The systems are also so complex that they are only as good as the weakest component.

I'm starting to get the impression that you are something of a theorist unprepared to discuss the serious downsides of your beloved technology.

Chris

Chris said...

Hi again Cherokee (Chris)

Regarding, PV's I'm not put off by your comments at all. I find it good to talk about the different sides.

I would agree China is doing a "Woolworths" (Walmart for US readers) on it's smaller competitors. I'm not sure if Germany will ever be out of business however, as they make such quality products. If they drop their standards of quality however, they lose their niche, and may well cave to China's undercutting.

While the Australian govt subsidies are now dropping, we have to remember the events surrounding their quick implementation. The US economy hadn't picked up since the GFC, so China needed new business. If Australians had to pay the real cost of grid connected PV's, there wouldn't have been the "boom" in demand we saw.

When it did happen though, it became a new (quick) cash source for PV manufacturing in China. So while China's strategy may well be to undercut their competitors all along, we helped fund it quicker with Australian PV subsidies.

I disagree with the reasons being promoted as to why we suddenly need to upgrade our national electricity networks though. The reason they could under invest in upgrading the networks to keep electricity prices low, is simply because the design hadn't needed to change. It was a use-on-demand system, exclusively powered by fossil fuels. Now the electricity network is being used as a giant battery for all the millions of PV units being connected to the grid, as well. When you change the design, you need to upgrade the infrastructure in a big way.

So while governments were pushing their subsidies to get PV's on roofs, the private corporations were left to calculate the need to completely upgrade their systems to improve efficiency. They had to do it quickly too, because the govt had funded a quick take-up of demand. When you demand change quickly, the price rises proportionally.

Private corporations aren't going to lose money, just because governments changed their tune about alternative energy. It may well be true there was a lack of investment in the old infrastructure, but it still worked with the old system.

The way the Australian govt handled the PV's take-up, made quick short-term financial benefits for householders who could afford to have PV's installed, and most certainly benefited China. But long-term, Australians will be paying for the massive infrastructure upgrade for many years to come.

This is the problem when a socialist govt takes charge over the market. It doesn't own the market, but it still has the ability to create incentives and legislations which dictates what basic services people should have, and note specifically, "before" the market is ready to supply it.

That forced progress, reflects in the higher prices. A capitalist govt on the other hand will keep prices low, by creating financial incentives for the market to take-up the changes, when they're ready. And the market is always ready to take up the opportunity to make money.

I don't want to give the false impression that a capitalist govt is the "best" kind. I do believe we need cycles in our govt to keep them relevant. Sometimes a socialist govt will be necessary. They aren't my preferred govt, but they do break the stalemate when old capitalist govt's refuse to change.

Chris said...

Hi JMG

I got the impression the US hasn't seen a true socialist government in democracy for quite a while. They tend to show up in war, but generally only for the duration of it. I would call that the exception, not the rule

For the most part, the US is capitalist driven. I can see why you suggest a socialist government may be on the cards in the future. If things get so out of hand, as to suggest Washington will lose control over the States, they may well push a socialist agenda onto the campaign trail, before that happens.

The illusion of control can be powerful in desperate situations.

Michael said...

Jonathan Byron said...
Should one avoid Wagner's music performed live because the NY Met took money from a dodgy Wall Street firm?

Oh, I think it is imperative to avoid Wagner's music at all costs. Go to a Verdi opera - you get loads of great tunes, a story, and it takes less than a fortnight to perform :-)

Tony said...

As for you getting an audience of scientists or engineers, you probably already have a small cryptic one. This site is pretty much the first thing I reach for when I get home from the lab on Thursdays, or sometimes late Wednesday night (the life of a biology graduate student can occasionally mess up the sleep schedule something fierce). And I know a number of my friends in similar fields either get a low level stream of links to your work from me or occasionally look at it themselves.

The life of a graduate student can limit the options for improving one's living environment - I tried to weatherstrip the door to my apartment recently, but the door frame was constructed in some bizarre way such that all that that accomplished was sealing the door shut and I had to climb out a window and kick it open from the outside. I'm not even sure *how* that happened. Insulating curtains in the bedroom worked great, though.

On the plus side that apartment puts me a ten minute bus ride from work and in close proximity to a big scene in the local town and university with a university organic farm/community garden, and workshops on all sorts of food preparation. My roommate is the one taking up brewing so far, though my research work is actually on the regulation of fermenting metabolism in yeast, so it certainly wouldn't be too big a step...

Tony B.

Joel Caris said...

I sense a bit of contention, but I have to admit I find the EROI of PV conversation fascinating. Some further thoughts, if no one minds.

First of all, MAI, that study that you reference from my link provides a range of 19 to 38 on EROI of PV. Quite a lovely EROI! My frustration with the study is that I read through it only to find that the author did a fine job of laying out the assumptions and methodology (so far as I could understand it, which is admittedly limited; I don't commonly read through scientific literature and found myself lost at times amongst the jargon and technical terms) but that when it came time to plug in the actual numbers, that consisted of a chart that referenced three other works that I couldn't gain access to online. So I somewhat understood the methodology, but wasn't able to actually look at how the numbers were derived. In other words, the actual life cycle analysis was still a mystery (though there are references, I just don't have them at hand.)

So what I'm curious about is the question that JMG poses, which is whether or not we even could maintain the manufacturing process of PVs without fossil fuels. Does anyone know of any studies that attempt to look at the question of PV manufacturing without fossil fuels? It would be a very challenging study making a number of untested assumptions, simply because we have no such real world manufacturing process to derive data from.

It seems to me, though, you would have to imagine replacing our current mining processes--a very heavy industry--with renewable-powered machinery. The transportation, as well, and the factories in which the chips are made. Also, what oil is used as actual material within the manufacture of PVs? I don't know, but I assume there likely is some oil-derived materials within PV panels themselves. Assuming that's true then is there a non-fossil fuel material that can be substituted? If so, how does that change the EROI? How does it change the manufacturing process? These seem like basic beginning questions and I'm not sure anyone has extensively looked even at those.

In my mind, as well, there's an even bigger question beyond all this, which is one that Wendell Berry has posed (as I'm sure have others): Even if we could transition to 100% renewable energy, thus allowing us an indefinite continuance of something resembling our current modern lifestyles, how would we use that energy? There's absolutely no indication we would use it well. Currently, we use massive amounts of cheap energy in highly destructive ways--ways that destroy the ecosystems of which we are a part, the other creatures of this world with which we are neighbors and co-habitants, even our own human cultures without which we can't live. We have destroyed much of the meaning of our lives, much of our happiness, and a vast amount of the world's beauty. In my mind, one of the great blessings of a future with far less energy and resources is that it will necessarily restrain the destructive impulses of our culture. Those impulses must be restrained. I find a future in which natural limits don't restrain us more frightening than one in which they do.

Considering that the renewable energies on which so many pin their hopes of continuing something resembling business as usual result from the exact same sort of destructive processes from which we are suffering (mining, abuse of fossil fuels, energy-intensive manufacturing processes, centralization and globalized standardization, land-degradation) suggests to me that they likely aren't a solution.

There is actually a very elegant solution to our problem, and it works to help solve most every pressing problem of our age, rather than solve one specific variable while worsening, exasperating, or leaving untouched the majority of other problems: for all of us to use far, far less energy and resources.

I find that a far more hopeful solution.

Ian O said...

JMG "if malnutrition-caused illness in children has had a notable uptick in America, I haven’t yet heard of it. "

You missed the dreadful epidemic of obesity and its evil twin brother diabetes, a serious problem in the US. Undoubtedly deriving from the agro-industrial complex and its sacred right to make huge profits without any responsibility for the ill-effects caused by the food they manufacture.
We just saw an episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution where he was in L.A. trying to repeat the success he had in UK with improving school meals. In America, the Land of the Free, he wasn't even allowed to peek through the cafeteria windows, let alone discuss with pupils, teachers, cooks et al what they thought on the subject. Teachers were threatened with dismissal if they supported him. What have the powers-that-be got to hide?

Juhana said...

Very good survival video tip for those from cold countries. Been there, done that, it works :).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvBCtPhJLfQ

Grebulocities said...

I'd like to second what Tony said. I'm a biology graduate student too, and I also manipulate fungi. My work involves trying to engineer wood rot fungi to break down biomass more efficently, as a pretreatment method to reduce the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol. I stumbled across your blog a few months ago after coming to the realization that biofuels (while useful in some cases) are much more limited than I’d originally realized and that the transition to a carbon-neutral economy is likely to be much rockier than the techno-cornucopian view that dominates in the sciences would have me believe.

This site has probably done more to break me out of my old ways of thinking than anything else I’ve encountered. The way you combine ecology, evolution, and energy use with a deep understanding of the history of human societies is very compelling. You’ve also been very helpful in developing my understanding of whole systems. Even in biology, where we’re dealing with extraordinarily complex systems all the time, the bigger picture eludes most of us. It’s especially hard when we end up having to focus on some specific detail of a given organism – we zoom in so close that we miss the forest for a single twig on a single tree. But it still gets us a paper, so that’s what we do!

It would be awesome if you think of things to say to scientists and engineers who are working on the problems we’re facing as we come to terms with the consequences of depending on nonrenewable, climate-altering energy sources. I think you’ve started to reach some of us young sciencey types who are going to end up trying to help, as best we can, to mitigate the mess humanity has gotten itself in.

I’m way behind in adapting my lifestyle to minimize my energy use, but I’m going to work on that this year. As a start, I just got some weatherstripping to seal in my apartment’s windows. Let’s hope I don’t end up sealing myself out of the building!

wiseman said...

JMG
There was a recent study titled "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes". (Geophysical Research Letters)

Looks like a warming arctic is playing havoc with existing Jet stream patterns, resulting in weird weather that includes extreme cold weather much farther south. Looks like people may get more than what they bargained for.

Keeping aside the implications of this for now, if I were to tell someone that global warming could even unleash sudden cold snaps. How do you think he/she will take it ? I am inclined to think that the audience will deem that I am trying to blame everything on global warming. How do you start a discussion in such a scenario ?

Yulek said...

Hi JMG!

As for doing without TV, for some (like me) there is a need to do without the Internet.

curtmard said...

Draft:
Ditto. Agree with your comments on Chris Martenson. I refuse to pay for access to his site but would be more than willing to purchase JMJ's work apart from the Martenson operation.

John Michael Greer said...

Juhana, one of the core insights of the last century or so of organic gardening is that the line between farming and gardening is more complex than it looks. The intensive garden approach can produce much more than garnishes -- though it's useful to balance it with extensive farming for grains and dry legumes, which you can't grow in the necessary volumes on a small acreage. You're right, though, that this marks a radical shift in food production -- I've argued several times in these posts that the organic gardening revolution will count as the 20th century's most important positive contribution to the future.

Ruben, I'm not at all sure that having a billion fewer people on the planet will feel like collapse. I live in a town with half its 1970 population, and that doesn't feel like collapse! If, as I expect, a great deal of the decline happens via ordinary demographic processes, the result will feel less like collapse than like a series of ordinary family tragedies...just more of them.

Juhana, thanks for the details!

Mary, thanks for the data point! By all means take up knitting; you might also try spinning with a drop spindle -- alpaca, by all accounts, spins up easily into exquisite yarn.

Chris, er, not quite. The US has never had a socialist government on the national level. That's one of the real anomalies in US politics compared to the rest of the world; the social-democrat end of the political spectrum has never been able to get more than a tiny minority of support here. The furthest left we've had on the national level is around the middle of the road in most other countries.

Michael, hah! By all means enjoy your Verdi; I'm much more of a German opera fan, which probably explains something about my views concerning the future. (Cue the "Twilight of the Gods" leitmotif from the Ring...)

Tony, fascinating. I wonder how on earth you managed to seal yourself in!

Ian, good heavens. Do you believe everything you see on the television? The obesity and diabetes "epidemics" were invented by the medical industry by the simple expedient of changing the definitions of obesity and diabetes to include millions of people who weren't previously included, and then pointing to the sudden jump as evidence for an epidemic. It's a great sales pitch for pharmaceuticals, but that's all it is.

Grebulosities, I'll consider that. To some extent it will need to be a conversation, rather than just me spinning ideas -- I have no way of knowing what possibilities are out there, and while I have a couple of ideas, I'd be as interested to hear from those who are actually doing the work.

Wiseman, the branding of climate change as "global warming" was a bad idea from the beginning, and it's made for some real difficulties in communication. Thomas Friedman's phrase "global weirding" might be worth introducing.

Yulek, in that case, why are you posting something here?

Ray Wharton said...

In relation to your upcoming book, does it have a tactic concerning peoples current chemical addictions to various prescription drugs? Some drugs, for example certain bipolar treatments, require going on or off treatment to be staged over a carefully controlled two year regime. A vast demographic of Americans are on drugs of such a nature, and if the supplies are interrupted during a time of general distress or broadly rising cost I fear how bad the reaction could be.

We who are straight edge about non home grown chemicals could be called upon to be pillars of strength for people who might be having a very bad time. But I think that to be a good resource for people going through these withdraws could be a source of great strength or a overwhelming project, depending on what can be done to be prepared to step into such a role with more salvageable junkies.

Even the digital addictions can be brutal on that note. There are people four years clean from World of Warcraft who still wake up in cold sweats after dreaming of it.

Goldmund said...

John, thank you for all the good advice, and for giving people the opportunity to share their's as well. I don't mean to sound smug, but most of your advice I've already been practicing for years. I have the good fortune of living in a city (Minneapolis) where the public transporation is fairly good (though not as good as 75 years ago, when our street cars, powered by St. Anthony falls, were the envy of the world) and its fairly easy to walk or bike almost anywhere. My local food coop is just an easy walk (3 blocks) from my house, and what I don't grow in my backyard garden I purchase there or at the farmers markets in the summer. And there's a thriving counter culture here of people practicing sustainability (and having fun doing it!), not just talking about it. My biggest challenge is making an income with the least amount of carbon impact. I own two horribly rusting, 22 year old trucks that I use exclusively for work (handyman jobs, snow removal and lawn maintenance, hauling, painting, etc.) and I'm contemplating getting a heavy duty trailer for my bike to eventually replace these trucks. Also, I'm trying to bike year 'round, which is challenging after a heavy snowfall, but the exercise is great! One thing the internet is great for is sharing ideas and resources, a sort of "whole earth catalog" for our times. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with others around the globe until the lights go out. Happy New Year!

LewisLucanBooks said...

Juhana - Thanks for posting. One thing I like about this blog is that we hear from people, from all over the world, without the filter of the Main Stream Media.

I find your posts particularly interesting as my mother's family came here from Finland (to Minnesota) in the 1880s. Oh, the stories! They were mostly Finn, a little Norwegian and one branch was Sami (Laplanders.)

Michelle said...

Re: your response to Ian, about obesity and diabetes - "The obesity and diabetes "epidemics" were invented by the medical industry by the simple expedient of changing the definitions of obesity and diabetes to include millions of people who weren't previously included." I must respectfully disagree with your position here. When I have volunteered at my children's school, sometimes the nurse asks me to help with height and weight measurements. The number of grossly obese children is shocking to me. Because these are not random children, but classmates of my own children, I sometimes get to see how they live and eat. It's appalling. Not an actual food to be found, but loads of simulated food-like substances. No notion that they should be playing outside after school, but instead they park themselves in front of TV or video games. They have no awareness that their habits are unhealthy, either. I do believe that it's a public health problem, and will only become worse as they grow older. It's not an 'epidemic' in the traditional sense of the word, to wit, it's not contagious, but it surely is widespread and damaging.

sgage said...

@ JMG and Michael,

For an interesting discussion of the differences between Verdi and Wagner, you might want to give a listen to this edition of On Point. I am not an opera fan of any kind, but I found it quite interesting:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2012/12/28/verdi-and-wagner

"The two great opera superstars of the 19th Century were almost absurd distillations of their separate cultures. Wagner, the ultimate German, with his work all horned helmets, spears, and steel breastplates. Brünnhilde. Verdi, the lush Italian. All silken hats, embroidered slippers, arias and love. The grand humanist.

Their operas could be the soundtrack of the great North-South euro-crisis divide right now. Scholar Peter Conrad puts them side-by-side."

geovermont said...

JMG, getting back to the list of resolutions that you put out for our consideration, I'd like to suggest adding another: When you do have to buy food, buy really local. In doing this we are promoting small, diversified farms and fostering a more resilient local economy.

Although my wife and I have a large garden and we store and preserve large amounts of our winter (and spring) food needs, we don’t grow all of our own food. However, we have gradually forsaken the regular grocery store in favor of our local food co-op and local farms. When I do go in the grocery store for something (which probably could have been special-ordered from the coop if we had thought ahead), I find myself amazed at how little of this junk I’d even consider buying. Our co-op had its origin 40 years ago when a few dozen people got together and set up a buying cooperative, which, 40 years onward, provides us with an alternative to the chain grocery stores. The founders of our co-op didn’t apply for government grants or conduct studies—they just got together and did it. This member-owned store is buying as much as possible from local farmers and as little as possible from far away. We’re providing a steady market (along with the burgeoning farmers markets and on-farm sales) for at least 20 local producers (I’m not sure of the correct number but it’s got to be at least this high).

The building also houses a community center and is a great place to network and share ideas on growing, using, and preserving food. We've had our financial struggles, but the books are balancing and we're hopefully set to continue for many more years, hopefully even as we enter an unstable and energy-stressed future.

Ian O said...

JMG: I barely watch TV so I wasn't aware that the definitions of obesity & diabetes have been manipulated (although it doesn't surprise me, anything is possible in America). I do believe my own eyes when I sat in a Wendys(?) somewhere out near Modesto and was amazed at the arses overhanging the bar stools and appalled that the three Kiwis couldn't finish a single serving. I also was mystified as to how hamburgers could be distinctly sweet!? But following the Grist site revealed that huge quantities of sugars are added to many American foods because they make more profits that way. You can be malnourished even with plentiful food, especially when it's artificial food.
It's pretty difficult to redefine diabetes. You either have it or you don't . You can't be 10% more pregnant either.

Re the question as to whether or not we even could maintain the manufacturing process of PVs without fossil fuels? We should all memorise Read's "I, Pencil" if we have any illusions of being able to sustain our vast global industrial complex if fossil fuel ceases to be both cheap and available. If something as simple as a wooden pencil is that complicated to make and dependant on cheap energy every step across the world, what hope is there for something as complex as a PV panel, an inverter, a bank of batteries or all the goodies we hope to run with the energy gathered? Most of us will be hard pressed to make a small clay cooking pot by 2113, which brings us back to the thoughts of how primitive 3rd-world communities have been getting by for millennia.

*

Robert said...

As a matter of interest JMG why do you think there has never been socialism in the United States? I'd be interested to hear your take. The role of the US was decisive in defeating socialism in the twentieth century which at one time looked as if it was the way of the future.

RPC said...

Deborah Bender: "The question I would like to ask is whether the PV cells being manufactured and sold today require less, more or about the same amount of fossil fuel per watt over their expected service life than the ones manufactured ten years ago."
This one I can answer! PV efficiencies are roughly triple what they were at the turn of the millenium. A surprising fraction of the improvement has been due to better control of the manufacturing process. This is one of the problems with establishing EROEI here; it's a rapidly moving target!
JMG: You might be surprised at just how many scientists and engineers are in your audience. (Don't forget that peak oil was originally a technical issue!) I think you would also be surprised at how many scientists and engineers are aware of the limits to the applicability of the scientific method.

Ceworthe said...

@Ian O IMHO the reason said burger tasted sweet is because in the US corn syrup is put in everything, especially condiments, and probably in the buns and burgers to "enhance" the taste.
@ Robert, being a Socialist here is equivalent to being a "Godless Communist". It is a very big cold prickly here.
@Juhana-thanks for the video. Funny thing, based on the beginning I assumed it was all in Finnish and turned the sound down. Only at the end did I realize there was Eng. being spoken, and watched it again with the sound up. However, not having sound made me focus very closely on what was being done. Great to see how to do it yourself with the "Swedish torch" Believe it or not some business here is selling their take on Swedish torches-a twice as big in diameter chunk of log with a snowflake design drilled down somehow about 1/3 of the length of the log with some wax and a wick in it to start it. They sell for a hefty price in a local grocery store. Glad to see how my Finnish side of the family really did it.
-For jollies I triedthe audio captcha and it sounded like those recordings they make of ghosts-no help @ all and very creepy

Morrigan said...

I've been on enforced limits for 18 months of unemployment now. I have two sets of used clothes and use little gas. No TV. Cook from scratch. Compost scraps. Keep the heat on 66 and it's not bad. Taped up the box where the water line goes to the icemaker, and where the oven vents to the outside. This is as much to keep the mice out as anything.

To keep my mind occupied, each year I learn six new pieces of music on tenor recorder; read six books; write six letters (not emails); review six courses from my agric studies; write six pieces for a blog (still learning the Web skills needed to put it up!)

I continue to seek a farm where I can earn a living growing food, but I refuse to take any subsidies, so money's been the problem.

Mac said...

Please add another voice to the engineers reading your work. I'm an engineer in the natural gas distribution system. Over the last two years, I've managed to park a car, start bicycle commuting, can to excess, and make my own sauerkraut.

By day, I work to improve the efficiency and resilience of my companies distribution system. But building resilience is assuredly my hobby.

Allan Justus said...

I have read your posts for some time now. I am always impressed by your logic and sense of integrity and honesty. Sadly I recognize that you need to be compensated for your work and so must make a deal with Chris Martenson, just as Gregor McDonald has done. Draft and M K Roberts are spot on in their comments as to your decision, it is reasonable and pragmatic, but unfortunate. I will miss you as I am disinclined to pay for internet data, whether from the New York Times, or Chris Martenson

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- regardless of definitions, the average weight of Americans has most definitely risen. So it is not just a manufactured "epidemic." I grew up in the south; in the 1970s teenagers here were skinny. Now they are fat. This is plainly visible in things like old school photos.

And it is hard for me to believe that we do not have a socialist government when I live in a community where it seems everyone draws a check from the government and gets their health care paid for by the government. Comparing the U.S. to the E.U. isn't the right comparison. The right comparison is between the U.S. now and the U.S. in 1913. We just don't use the "S" word when describing the socialist aspects of our society that people actually like.

Major corporations in the U.S. may ostensibly be "private," but they now operate under a certainty of government protection and bailout if they get themselves in trouble. And this has been true for far longer than just the last 4 years.

Bill Pulliam said...

More on the isms...

Whatever one decides to call the U.S. Government, Socialism and Marxism are 100% children of Industrialism. Their future is nil in a post industrial world. Peak Oil means Peak Socialism, too. No matter how much people might clamor for socialist or marxist solutions to economic woes, the resources simply will not exist to actually implement them.

Don't misread me, this also means Peak Capitalism. The "free market" won't do any better. The "invisible hand" will be pointing right down the same road of contraction and scarcity. All our economic isms are on the way out.

Lei said...

This is a very nice summary. Only the list of suggestions for this year makes me feel a bit at loss as well as similar advices scattered through previous post. This is beacause here in Central Europe (as we like to call it, since there seem to be substantial differences between Poland and what has been left of the Austrian emppire and the "East"), many of these things are completely common, and many more (gardening, mushrum and berry picking, herbs colleticting, various repairing, darning ...) Of course, there are always things to do, but at one point, the next steps would inevitably lead to really leaving the industrial society - which is however not only hardly possible (one has many legal obligations), but also hardly acceptable for a common family. You do not (and are not allowed either) to refuse to send children to school, to voluntarily reject modern medicine and go living in woods (which would be the "collapse in advance"). So, maybe what is left for me is just learning more and more things for future needs, since I am not quite sure how to significantly decrease my use of energy any further, staying in this society and having obligations to my family.

As far as the political debate here in concerned, it always sounds as from another world for me, who is coming from Europe (and the former Soviet bloc), and who is moreover relativelly far left even in the European perspective. It is the same as with the debates about religion and "spirituality" here. Here, USA and EU are very, very different.

One thing I have come across lately disturbs me, but it is again primiraly a matter of USA: how does one grow own food (and keep running any kind of a small farm) - which seems to be central to this peak oil related communities, one the FSMA gets passed? Maybe I do not understand it well, but it seems something very dangerous to me.

Anselmo said...

Ricardo Almenar proposes a set of principles to suit the Age of Scarcity, wich implies the replacement of the pursuit of the maximum production of goods for the personal fulfillment of all individuals in the community, sustainably.
An example: To rebuild local economies.

This implies the modification of our production and social structure and, in consequence, is required the replacement of our cultural values.
I think that the cultural values substitution requires the replacement of some of our basic beliefs. Consequently, as Toynbee claims that the basic beliefs make up the civilization, we´ll be talking of a new civilization. We could talk about Western Civilization 2.0.

MAI said...

He's baaaackkkk!

I had Sunday off as it was my last day of leave and I spent much of today deep in high penetration renewable energy systems research. Just as an aside, I'm not sure if there is a common definition of high penetration renewable energy supply systems (HPRESS to save typing) but for the sake of this discussion let's say it's between 50% and 100%. And then of course you need to decide if you're covering just electricity or thermal energy and liquid fuels as well.

Sooooo here's a few responses. Although it's much more pleasant when these conversations stay civil - I find myself in considerable agreement with what JMG says about the quality of public discourse these days - even the less polite responses can still be useful. And that leads to my first point. As well as academic research in this area I do quite a lot of writin' and speakin' on these topics. It helps me enormously to do this better when I cover the issues with a wide audience with the potential for relatively fast but still delayed responses (so time for consideration). This site can certainly do that at times!

Next re cornucopian. I think this is used by the PO community as a signifier something akin to the "too cheap to meter" claim from the nuclear industry in the 50's. Most of the peer reviewed research in the HPRESS does not share this failing. There's a recognition that to achieve HPRESS is much easier with substantial declines in energy use and a number of other changes from the current modus operandi. As an aside, for what my opinion is worth it's very pleasing to see JMG focus on energy efficiency at the residential level as this can help substantially in this area. Around 40% of the energy used in Europe is consumed in buildings. A number of European nations are introducing Net Zero Energy building requirements.

Chris (Cherokee) raises some interesting points about Chinese PV manufacturing. Are the current prices sustainable long-term? Time will tell. Re pollution from the manufacturing process, many of the
better quality plants are selling into the German market. European markets take upstream supplier standards very seriously.

Re electricity price increases in Australia this is largely due to investment in infrastructure that even the regulator is saying is beyond what is required. The distributors get a guaranteed return of about 10% for investment in transmission and distribution. Not surprisingly, they're very keen to make these investments!

I think JMG and I are in agreement that PV's are useful but where we diverge is whether this is a stepping stone to a future defined by energy per capita at levels that could keep a civilisation going at perhaps pre-industrial revolution levels or something with higher energy per capita and making use of technology well beyond what was available in Britain in the early 1700's. And, dare I say it, even allowing economic and technological growth albeit at much lower energy consumption per unit GDP. But I'm not suggesting that we dust off the plans for the Solar Power Satellites just yet :)

I might be getting close to the comment limit so I'll post this lot.

phil harris said...

JMG
I value even your more speculative analyses and insights and detect at the back of them the wealth of informed historical and modern studies that you continue to assemble. Also, I have shared like you the 1970s insights into more sustainable economics provided by EF Schumacher, and value your recent book the Wealth of Nature which extends those insights. In fact, though I often get pause for thought and fresh perspectives from this blog, my more usual problem is that your judgments are too close to my own, especially close to my own long term recognition of the limits to ongoing global industrial growth. We also share a recognition of industrialization’s climate consequences over the next hundreds of years.

However I take issue: quote The obesity and diabetes "epidemics" were invented by the medical industry by the simple expedient of changing the definitions of obesity and diabetes to include millions of people who weren't previously included, and then pointing to the sudden jump as evidence for an epidemic. It's a great sales pitch for pharmaceuticals, but that's all it is.

This is not true of the UK – before my very eyes. About a dozen years ago a friend visited from the USA who remarked how few overweight people were on our local streets. We were surprised by this because there seemed the normal frequency of middle-aged paunches visible enough. He then gave incredible descriptions of US highway diners where he was ‘the lean one’. He was not lean by our standards. Within 5 years however, the phenomenon he described was apparent on our streets, particularly young men and women who were having difficulty walking.

My younger brother and I became very fat at the age of 10 more than 60 years ago. We were comparative rarities in those days and we very much disliked the experience; podgy breasts in the swimming pool etc. In my case I probably accrued health consequences in later life. I was therefore alarmed to see a rapid rise in the number of children here in the last 10 years with the syndrome. I have read bone-fide UK medical ‘public health’ literature and this is uncontroversial confirmation of my own sightings.

In UK we have socialised (non-insurance) care of ill-health, which is (or was at least until recently) recognised as a true cost to society, not a ‘profit growth centre’. I have studied our medical and public health statistics and am inclined to rate them as credible given the usual science attributions of uncertainty. ‘Obesity’ epidemics with health consequences are obvious in newly urbanised places, alongside the appearance of previously ‘western’ patterns of other chronic diseases. (Qatar seems to have a diabetic explosion not unconnected with modern life inside what appears to be one big shopping-mall and fast-food joint. I also hear strange similar reports from Norway of all places.) I can’t speak for the USA but the statistics and anecdotal report seem as one from here.
Best
Phil

MAI said...

part II.

JMG and a number of other respondents to this thread raise the quite reasonable issue of whether using fossil fuels, various minerals etc for making PV's or for that matter any other technology is sustainable in the long term.

Big topic!

My opinion is that it's worth putting effort into researching and identifying (and hopefully implementing) means to make significant improvements even if with the current technology this would lead to resource depletion in, say, 500 years as against 50 years. So if the only currently cost-effective way to make PV's involved using fossil fuels with, say, a 25x EROI then I think this is worth doing. It drastically drops CO2 emissions and buys time for other technological developments. I know this is not a popular approach with some folks who think it's all a mess and we should just return to hunter-gatherer communities but as JMG has pointed out in previous posts this would involve the untimely death of most of humanity. This is not something that I can countenance.

Maybe there aren't other better, more sustainable long-term possibilities yet to be discovered. But I'd rather at least allow for this possibility.

And I'll confess to being a reprobate techno-optimist; I think we can do things a lot better.

On that note we get to the crux of what I'm currently researching. Because we've had cheap, despatchable energy from fossil fuels for the last 100 years or so with little awareness of the environmental effects we have, as
might have been expected, developed systems that take advantage of cheap, despatchable energy without much concern for the consequent environmental damage. What I think is very relevant (and absolutely fascinating) is to examine what you can do with more limited (but cleaner) renewable despatchable energy and intermittent energy sources. This might not be as convenient or as cheap as what we currently enjoy in Western nations but it is a totally absorbing intellectual challenge (and hopefully a productive and relevant exercise :)

Ruben raises some points about energy resilience. A massively distributed energy generation system is inherently more resilient than a centralised energy generation system. As to whether the free market will deliver the necessary innovation for a HPRESS, the OECD countries showing the highest HPRESS in primary energy are those pesky tree-huggin' socialists in Europe. There's now around 100 communities in Germany that are 100% renewable. I agree with Ruben that a significant problem in this area
is different narratives. When you get down to it, this is how humans generally operate. The challenge is to try to identify the underlying assumptions informing the parties in a discussion and to establish how the discussion can still be held between parties with wildly different narratives. Difficult but very important. Generally when I go quantitative I base this on authoritative sources but as Ruben rightly points out, I also assume that we're clever enough to find much better ways of doing things. My optimism in this context is based on the remarkable advances in technological and scientific understanding we've achieved since the Renaissance. Whether we'll implement such changes is another question.


Next 4096 chr break

MAI said...

Part III

Chris (Cherokee) looks like you had a rush of blood in that post where you started using terms like "pure rubbish". Something I've done on occasions as well:) You're correct in saying that there is some dodgy kit available. But industry thought is that the good quality inverters now coming on teh market will now last perhaps 20 years whereas the previous better quality inverters were only expected to have 10 year lifetimes. As to the lifetime of PV's, time will tell, but current industry expectations are for at least 20 years for good quality panels with perhaps 20% output degradation and up to 50 years with more significant output degradation. The study done in Alice Springs a year or so ago (where PV's are supplying 30% of electricity used in some areas) specifically looked for harmonics introduced by poor quality inverters. The researchers were pleasantly surprised to find little evidence of this problem. And I don't have "beloved technologies". People might have beloved books and children certainly have beloved toys but I don't think that's a sensible term for engineering systems. I look at technologies that can be characterised by cost, performance and other factors and use that to determine optimal outcomes. With respect to the reliance of operational PV systems on despatchable fossil fueled generators we now have an existence proof from Germany in 2012 that on a sunny Saturday in May 50% of the electrical demand of a large industrial nation can be supplied by PV's. You're correct in saying that the turn down ratio capability from Maximum Continous Rating of large Steam Rankine Cycle coal fired power stations isn't well suited to load following supply profiles. There's a great deal of discussion underway in Germany at the moment on this topic. The grid in most nations is a mix of generation types. Some of this capacity is capable of load following to a greater or lesser extent and some isn't. This starts to become more of a problem as the HPRESS index gets higher. But we're arguing about the difficulty of coal-fired generation to exist in a HPRESS world.

Quite!

And at that point I think that's more than enough. Thanks to everyone for the comments and to JMG for posting this material.

I'll just wrapup by saying that I think it's relatively easy on a technical basis to knock off somewhere around 30-40% of the energy used in Western nations cost-effectively. It starts to get a lot harder to go beyond this on a cost-effective basis and in how quickly it can be done.

Of the energy demand left it's relatively simple to supply - again on a technical basis - up to around 50% of the stationary energy from a mix of despatchable and intermittent renewables. But that last 30% or so gets much more challenging. That I think is the real technical problem and what I look forwards to working on.

Having said all that you'll note that I've used the term technical challenge. Perhaps the bigger problem is finding the drivers to make these changes. Some countries like the UK, Germany, Sweden and Austria have ambitious fossil fuel substitution and energy efficiency targets that they're working towards. Will other countries do the same?

Zach said...

John Michael,

Nicely done! An inspiring set of resolutions (at least for me).

I find myself tempted to wish for a backside branding iron with that petroleum production graph for the energy cornucopeans in my life excited about our "energy boom." Drawing the line backwards, we can say "sure, this upswing in production means the USA can be energy independent -- as long as we don't use any more energy per capita than we did in 1950!" (Actually, it's worse that that - I didn't account for population growth in that little SWAG I just did.)

Also, found a potentially useful tidbit re: logic and the ability to think critically. Per this comment, Jacques Barzun was noting the transition from "I think" to "I feel" in the 1950's. I am not familiar with Barzun, but perhaps this might be a good lead for you?


peace,
Zach

Ramaraj said...

@Juhana & @YJV,

I am sure you will be very interested to know that the Brahmins' fall from their historic grace coincided with, and was a direct result of the Industrial Revolution.

I know of no one who has given a better analysis of this than the Kanchi Seer, one of the most notable ascetics in 20th century India . And some of your questions about India and its religions might get a logical explanation here, if not a satisfactory answer!!!


JMG:

My first encounter with the notion that the civilization we are living in might fall came from reading him (when I was about 17). His line of arguments & concepts have much in common with those you use in this blog. And more importantly, he lived what he preached (Unfortunately, very few people bothered to follow. I suppose the pull of the material benefits from a middle class life was at its strongest then).

I wanted to take the plunge into the deindustrial world right away, but the lack of a contemporary role model and the relentless pressure to conform (a staple of colleges everywhere) held me back. Until I found your blog, of course.

I pre-ordered your book right away. I am hoping that I can persuade many others into voluntarily relinquishing their unsustainable lifestyles. I am researching on the methods of rhetoric that were once popular in my country. Hoping to put your book to good use.

Here in India, particularly alarming is the fact that people's expectations from life have passed an inflection point in the past decade and is at an all-time high. I believe that the twisted reverse-colonialist idea that the West's fall would somehow be the beginning of the rise of the East, which gets ballyhooed by media, politicians and believed by everyone is the main cause. When reality hits with full force, I want to know how to handle people who are confronting it for the first time.

Alphonse Houner said...

With the raft of issues facing us there has been strength in community. That is enhanced each shared to the best of their abilities.

Martenson did some good early work but always seemed to long for the life he gave-up. I could not find worth in his later work as it seemed to be self promoting. To that end, though I will not see your work behind the "Wall", I trust you will remain honest in your other work.

Time will tell..

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: PV EROEI (wow there's an alphabet soup). Fact is, regardless of the conflicting claims, some people will try them at various scales, some will not. In the short run and the long run, some implementations will fail, some may not. If certain implementations prove practical and economical they will spread. If they are only practical for a few decades, then their use will fade after that time. Cultural evolution is an amazing thing, and tends to resist attempts to direct it based on science, beliefs, or other deliberate pushes.

Ian O said...

Zach: "Drawing the line backwards, we can say "sure, this upswing in production means the USA can be energy independent -- as long as we don't use any more energy per capita than we did in 1950!"

The worry is that we can avoid making the planet uninhabitable so long as we don't use any more (fossil) energy than we did in 1920! Maybe earlier!! It's a tragedy that few realise the magnitude of the problem we are making for ourselves and our descendants.

Joel Caris said...

Hi Lei,

In regards to the FSMA, there is an exemption for small farms. Small farms are defined as having less than $500,000 in annual sales and engaged mostly in sales directly to consumers (plus certain restaurants and retailers.) The regulations also don't apply to individuals growing for personal consumption.

Those exemptions were hard fought for by small farmers and supporting organizations and local food enthusiasts.

Furthermore, the FDA and USDA are bureaucratic beasts. While they have been used quite effectively by large agricultural outfits to crush local and small producers, there are still plenty of opportunities to fly under the radar at the local level, particularly with the continued defunding of these agencies and the subsequent falling off of whatever small amount of enforcement there was (though this falling off largely benefits the massive producers anyway.)

I would say most people can engage in the sort of farming activity that will be applicable in decline without too much government interference, both via official exemptions and via the age old method of keeping your head low. (See the raw milk movement for an excellent example of utilizing the latter principle.)

One of the benefits of a dysfunctional government is they sometimes become less effective at crushing the people who don't play their game.

Juhana said...

@JMG: One thing I have learned from this life of mine is relatively narrow perspective that we all have to this world of ours. More is always missed than understood. Intensive organic farming seems to be one of those things I have missed up to this point. To really understand how little knowledge you have about something, you first have to have some knowledge about given matter. My grandfather was agricultural worker; I have harnessed Finnish work horse and watched & tried how plowing was done with horse. Not as real work, but as nostalgic try-out. I also has enough rudimentary knowledge about requirements of farming to know how little I have skills in that field of work. This intensive organic farming is new frontier for me, and I have started to find out more about it from local sources with my native language. So thanks about initial spark for you and Chris :). I am not going to be any kind superhero organic gardener during my earthly pilgrimage, but we can try to make our little piece of garden little more productive during next summer.

@LewisLucanBooks and Ceworthe: Many old survival solutions from primeval taiga area are sold as perverted, unpractical modern versions. Older skills and crafts are almost always better than these new, corrupted modern versions. Age is best verification; older the trick is, better it works. They are simpler and you need simpler tools to make them; they are not too complicated. If there is translation, "Vanhat hyvät erätaidot" ("Old, good ?skills") is Bible of pre-industrial survival, trapping, fishing and hunting skills of taiga forest region. It was so popular here in Finland that all copies are sold out. Finland, from where your ancestors have migrated to USA, is westernmost border of eternal, primeval taiga forest area stretching from Bering Strait to Gulf of Finland. Our tribes, your ancestors, have lived in this mother forest from beginning of recorded history; hunting, fishing, gathering and doing slash-and-burn agriculture. So those skills have truly been tested through generations. Be proud about your blood and heritage :).

@Ramaraj: Thank you for the tip, I will read about this person when I have time for it. It is curious how shards of very Indian concept, given to Arjuna by Krishna, about reality being somekind illusion, movie created by our mind and senses, is mixed and reflected in heretical movements and strange mixes of shamanistic orthodoxy at the steppe, northwards from Transoxiana... Answer to what hides behind veil of earthly domain vary widely, but some common, strangely familiar echos can be heard. Echos of distant, shared past of Indo-aryans..? Or cultural diffusion of ideas through Khyber Pass..? Who knows.

Juhana said...

@Ramaraj: As clarification, I mean these different blends of folk religiosity, where northern forms of Manichaenism and Arian (Son is not of same substance with Father) heresy against Nicaea are mixed with much older folk beliefs descending from animist shamanism. Doctrinal shadow of prophet Mani is, I believe, almost totally unknown in New World, but to East from old heartlands of Christianity (middle east) it has cast long and lasting shadow through central Asian landmass. There are some indeed curious traditions north from Indian subcontinent, descending from 2nd century AD to this modern world of ours. Spices thrown in from that Indian subcontinent too.

schwerpunkter said...

I have the train thing, the buy it used, the do without for a year down, and the weatherize things down but I am working on the rest.... As best as I can.

rudyspeaks said...

My question is: What do you know about Russian Deep Oil Wells? If you Google it, you get articles claiming unlimited oil production. Thanks, KW

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Perhaps the middle classes are a feedback loop from Industrialism then? I remember reading that Henry Ford liked paying his workers more than the average so that they would be better able to purchase Fords products? Dunno, but they may be a contraction yardstick?

It is hot and windy here, especially at night which is really weird and outside my memory. I've been working towards acceptance that I've been thrust into extreme drought conditions that may continue for years (like the last drought) and have been implementing all of the coping strategies in the orchard. Water is getting tight and I have to keep some in reserve at all times for possible bushfires. Yikes!

Australia's dome of heat

Hi Juhana,

Thanks. You sound to be ahead of the game. Intensive organic agriculture has a lot to offer, but it would best be pursued from a local perspective rather than reinventing the wheel. I had guidance from a lady who has been at organic gardening for over 30 years now. I'm unsure whether you are aware, but historically ploughing has done much damage to eco-systems throughout your region.

Hi MAI and Chris,

I thought about your comments and then, well, just got on with my life.

The reason for this is because, Chris, if excessive spending and debt was an indication of a socialist government, then the US would be the biggest socialist government of them all ($16.4 trillion)!

MAI, look, I live with solar PV (off the grid). If you can show me a tractor that can run all day and be powered from PV every single day of the year, then I will be impressed. I couldn't even recharge one of those new electric vehicles they're selling over here with my system. Heavy industry wouldn't stand a chance on PV (aluminium smelter anyone? Yeah that's what PV frames are made of). I’m getting feedback from end users that the newer cheaper products – particularly inverters – are rubbish in both efficiency and life span. Of course the manufacturers would say they’re better. It is one area where you truly get what you pay for.

Regards

Chris

Grebulocities said...

Thanks for your response, JMG. I'll try to chime in when I think of relevant scientific information, but it's hard to know exactly what technologies will end up being important in an era of energy decline.

The PV debate here is a good example. It may be possible to synthesize solar cells in the absence of fossil fuels, but it would be difficult - to my knowledge it hasn't been attempted. Nonetheless, I could imagine that a post-fossil fuel society might find it worthwhile to keep solar PV infrastructure intact, using biofuels and bioproducts in place of petroleum and petrochemicals whenever fossil inputs could not be avoided. Of course this would probably eat into the food supply, but the electricity might be worth that sacrifice. I'd need a crystal ball to know for sure what people ultimately choose to do. At the least, PV is a technology that should survive until the very end of the fossil era.

By the way, I just got a slide rule. I've only been fiddling with it for a few minutes, and I'm already impressed. It's amazing what a simple mechanical device can do with some clever applications of logarithms. I'm going to use it for some calculations in the lab and see what responses I get!

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

RE: Getting fatter. The CDC changed the methodology for calculating obesity in 2011 so previous data is incomparable with present data, but they employed the same standards from 1985 to 2010. The following link has a nice animated map of the progression of obesity in the states:
http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
It's toward the bottom of the page.

I call it the great fattening.

On that note I think I have a useful term for explaining collapse without the fast collapse zombie apocalypse connotations. The crappening: where things get steadily crappier.

Thanks,
Tim

wiseman said...

@Ramaraj
I think that's a highly romantic and patronizing assessment of how and why Brahmins fell, it's full of subjective terms like "noble", "selfishness" etc. All the author apparently wants to do is blame the British for everything, that and the failure of Brahmins to stick to the path of Dharma.

If you talk to people on the ground you will actually find that there are a lot of people who are thankful to the British for freeing them from the chains that the caste system put them in. Myself being one of those who wouldn't have been able to do anything in the old caste system outside of the professions that the "holy books" prescribe.

Caste system like plenty of other things was rotten long before the British arrived on our shores. A lot of people were disillusioned with it, it's just that they lacked the right environment to break it and get out of it. The advent of the British did just that.

I don't want to get into a debate here but you must realize that there are other narratives that exist in India outside of the Brahminical "Hindu" narrative.

There are tribals, animists, atheists and lower castes who don't harbor any such romantic notions about the caste system, for them the British did a lot of 'good' too along with a lot of harm.

@Juhana
I hardly comment on this forum, you being an outsider I just wanted to make sure that you don't get the idea that India is only about Hindu religion and the threads associated with it. A lot of people exist outside of it as well. These accounts tend to be obscure because these groups weren't as vocal until now.

The west has a lot of problems and wrecked a lot of havoc in the last two centuries through the policies of colonization in the rest of the world but not all problems are their creation. I somehow get the feeling that some westerners are now overcompensating for what their ancestors did and some folks down here are more than happy to blame the west for all our evils.

YJV said...

@wiseman, ramaraj and Juhana:
There is substantive proof that the Islamic invasions prior to european colonial interference also played an important role in the degeneration of Hinduism from a pluralistic worldview to an orthodox theocracy. Analysis of this is also needed. The effect of the centuries of oppression, genocide, destruction of holy places and ancient knowledge through the early Islamic invasions is greatly underestimated and far exceeds all the destruction done by the Barbarians during the fall of Rome.

It is also important to note that Indian history has completely been re-written by both sides of the pro/anti-Brahmin debate. Ramaraj (contradicting the article) Brahmins occupied governmental positions far prior to the British arrival (throughout urban history in India, in fact - look at Takshashila University)and wiseman, you will find that the so called 'caste oppression' was more prevalent from the 7th centuries onward (for reasons discussed above). Most 'empowered' lower-caste hailing intellectuals forget that the first reform movements were started by Brahmins themselves (such as the Bhakta movement) and prefer to think that the benevolent British had other intentions apart from ripping apart Indian society through internal conflict. Somebody please explain to me how the famines and racial policies of the British actually raised lower castes in the first place?

Original Vedic/post Vedic literature shows a world much different to the oppressional Brahmin establishment view and the romanticised noble society-leading Brahmin view. Taking a good hard look at history, actually using Indian literature to assess the misconceptions (instead of western-concocted fantasy) in history will reveal much more than vilification, which (unfortunately) both sides have resorted to.

Apologies to everyone for distracting the discussion at hand.

Juhana said...

@Cherokee Organics: Good luck for you with these drought conditions; not easy time for farmers down there! I actually have no idea what you mean with ecosystem damage done by plowing; as far as I know, horse plowing is very natural way to do farming. If you can give little bit more information, so I can make my own judgments about this matter.
About these techno-utopian dreams
about solar power I have not even bothered to answer: your tractor metaphor was just hilarious! Alternative energy will never be enough to turn giant cogwheels of our industrial system; many middle class persons are just so totally ignorant about requirements of industry their lifestyle relies on, that they don't see this. But like I said, why bother to jump into argument over this? Reality is what it is, and sooner or later it bites everyone from the rear.

I have noticed that when it comes to spirituality, audience of this blog is totally split. There is audience of mostly left-wing, liberal-minded Europeans denouncing that spirituality has any role in Europe at all. You are so wrong. Anti-spiritual zeitgeist of Europe was born from guilty-tripping over colonialism and world wars, and from transfer of spiritual realm to materialistic world in form of progressive and mainly, but not exclusively, leftist ideologies. Paradise of harmonic existence was projected into future instead of heaven.
This zeitgeist has already started to worn out from bottom up and from fringes inwards in Europe. Traditional religiosity or this yet nameless mix of blending nationalism and paganism/religion together are filling memetic void created by liberalism. I myself have turned my back to empty, broken and delusional belief system of European liberals years ago, after I noticed how local, class-based and tied to our specific historical time it was from beginning. I have nothing against persons embracing this worldview, and I deeply wish there will be some peaceful way out of this mess. I just believe this worldview will crumble like old Roman worldview crumbled; slowly, during couple of centuries we are already living. Decay has began, and if person lives in Europe and doesn't see this soup of nationalistic/religious/ideological feelings and hatreds bubbling under closed lid of EU, then we must live in somekind parallel universes indeed.

wiseman said...

@YJV
I am not vilifying anyone or anything, all I am asking is that people take a objective, non-romantic view of history. It's one of the reasons I like this blog so much because it manages to get outside the well to see how deep the well actually is.
I think some of the things that are amply clear from the study of history (readers of this blog will surely agree) are that

1. You are not special and neither is your culture.

2. All things degenerate with time or to be more accurate, change, including cultures. (That's what entropy is for)

3. History is repetitive and all civilizations eventually die.

4. There is a difference between what the books describe and how things actually work out in real life.

5. Human psychology eventually triumphs all systems used to keep it in check.

Keeping these things in mind I'd say that Hinduism is not alien to these aspects. On the books it sounds terrific to read that priests should not engage in commerce or money related matters but you and I know that even the most powerful gods need money to survive. It also sounds great to hear that the original varna system was meant as a guideline and there was nothing hereditary about it but my experiences (from 21st century indicate otherwise. Caste hatred and violence are deep rooted in Indian society, otherwise young lovers wouldn't be murdered in the name of it)

You and I could debate all day about what caused this deviation from 'theory' but it doesn't change one bit the fact that a lot of people are suffering under this system and that it needs an overhaul, if the rest of the world can do without a varna system I don't see why we should cling on to it the way a monkey clings onto her dead baby.

As far as invasions go, yes they happened and yes they did an irreparable damage to our country but didn't Asoka invade Kalinga, didn't Rome invade Carthage and burn that beautiful city to the ground, didn't Alexander raze the beautiful city of Persepolis to the ground didn't Mongols burn down the Grand library of Baghdad. And didn't agricultural societies (like ancient Hindus) destroy the hunter gatherer way of life.

I am not justifying anything, destruction is always tragic and ugly but can you blame everything on those invasions, I think it sounds perfectly reasonable to think that a lot of decay is not a direct consequence of those invasions and is just the result of time, lots of it.

Don't take me wrong, even though I don't consider myself a Hindu anymore, I have deep respect for it, it's ability to continuously innovate and it's largely anarchistic nature have great appeal for me, there are gems of wisdom strewn all around in Hinduism but the caste system isn't one of them. That's why all such attempts at justifying what is clearly a broken system bring so much pain to me. Let's accept that we too are mortals and live accordingly.

Feeling proud of one's heritage is one thing, thinking that we can never be wrong is quite another.

wiseman said...

@YJV
Nowhere have I mentioned that the British were benevolent.(If that was meant for me) Please re-read what I have written.

They came here to colonize the country but left some positive marks as well. Such a black and white view of history is what gets most ideologies into trouble most of the time.

Juhana said...

@YJV, ramaraj and wiseman: As an outsider and person writing to you with foreign language from other side of the world, I can't truly understand all threads, colours and hues found from your cultural tapestry. What I do know is that while staying in your country, I had privilege to enjoy from hospitality and friendliness of many persons from different varnas of your society. As a person naturally interested about this kind of things, I was also impressed by richness and deepness of subcontinent's history.
During fat days of plenty, it is easy to hide frictions between people. Now, when economy has just started contacting and is getting worse neverthless enormous propaganda machinery telling otherwise, this is going to be harder. Old ghosts are reborn, and ancient identities of belonging are brought back from dusty storages. We all need lead of wise, cautious leaders not getting easily excited about any extremities. Hope you can find those persons in India to lead you as a nation. Surely searching those persons here in Europe myself.
This is getting little bit off-topic for this blog, so this is my last comment for this thread. Enjoyed about conversation anyway.

Lei said...

Juhana: Spirituality certainly has a role in Europe, but it has a very different form of that American one, at least as far as the role of various Christian churches and the role of organized religiosity in politics and everyday life are concerned. Importantly, it depends on the given historical part of Europe and social strata, and even more on what you mean by spirituality. One would have to carefully distinguish between "spirituality", "religiosity", "ideology" etc., which you seem to mix up. There are indeed many passions bubbling across the EU nowadays, but I would hardly call it "spirituality".

Another thing is that secularization of Europe in the broadest sense began in the remote past during the Renaissance and Baroque (when the modern world was conceptually born irrespective of the outer shell of Baroque religiosity), dominated the intellectual discourse in the 18th c. and was typical for emancipation movements of the 19th c. (no middle classes - but workers against the old church with its theory of "three peoples" - we know well enough about the alliance of the feudal elites and catholic church in the old Austria - practically up to now in the revisionist circles). Therefore, I would not blame it all collonialism and world wars, it was a very long process. But again, it depends on what one means by "spirituality".

Finally, each belief system is "local, class-based and tied to a specific historical time". Likewise, each belief system is delusional in a sense. In any case, if it is really to be a belief system or a kind of real spirituality, one cannot pick one or more out of the existing things like in a grocery store just because one thinks it is well suited for this or that occasion (a la New Age). One has to really belief his believes, and then it is only seldom a matter of choice. You are grown into them, though you can modify them in confrontation with polemic experience, and you throw them out as a whole usually only as a reaction to some extreme liminal experience. Thus, I for instance do not see any sense in discarding the values of Enlightment just because there are people who (mayby justly, we cannot know) claim that it will outdated in the centuries to come and that it is an ideology of the age of fossil fuels, or who blame Enlightment for all evils of modern times. This would be ridiculous, as well as supposing that our future will be simply a reverse process of the history.

JP said...

"Anti-spiritual zeitgeist of Europe was born from guilty-tripping over colonialism and world wars, and from transfer of spiritual realm to materialistic world in form of progressive and mainly, but not exclusively, leftist ideologies. Paradise of harmonic existence was projected into future instead of heaven.

This zeitgeist has already started to worn out from bottom up and from fringes inwards in Europe. Traditional religiosity or this yet nameless mix of blending nationalism and paganism/religion together are filling memetic void created by liberalism."

In today's metaphysical lesson, we learn that modernism has already ended (maybe as early as 1917?) and we are now in the transitional soup of post-modernism until something actually takes it's place in Europe.

France would probably be a bellweather in this one.

I don't know, though, because I don't know where to look.

Chris said...

Hi Mia, in regards to...

"Re electricity price increases in Australia this is largely due to investment in infrastructure that even the regulator is saying is beyond what is required. The distributors get a guaranteed return of about 10% for investment in transmission and distribution. Not surprisingly, they're very keen to make these investments!"

It's important to note the regulator has govt ties, and do not have skilled enough people to assess the delivery end of electricity supply. They have bureaucrats who seek the independent advice of professionals that will service their message.

Yes, the distributors get a return, but so does the govt and those with solar panels on their roofs: but it's no surprise the govt regulator singled private corporations out for the *cold and pricklies* message.

The corporate end of town however, did not push for the change in infrastructure before they were ready to supply it - the consumers and govt did. They did so without knowing the reality of delivering electricity supply. To amalgamate solar into the electricity grid (so that no-one loses their return) they have to turn the entire national network into a series of exceptionally large battery banks.

Of course the govt regulators are going to blame private corporations for the "excessive" price rises in Australia. It's not exactly a lie. Those providing the service in a capitalist market, have the right to charge what they want.

But the govt is also deluding voters it is someone else's fault. Why bore them with the details of the sudden "excessive" requirement for so many individuals to CHANGE how electricity is supplied to the nation?

Everyone expects cheap alternative energy for the same price as cheap fossil energy. Problem is, neither is cheap and the govt gets to allocate blame to those delivering a service, both the govt and consumers demanded, at the speed they desired it.

I'm with JMG on the fact *cold and prickly* messages do nothing to foster intelligent discourse about the realities which DO effect our lives. The diatribe which comes out of many govt regulators and repeated as if it's fact, only services a political message - not the reality we all have to face up to one day, which is our own personal accountability in all these important matters.

Chris said...

Hi Chris (Cherokee)

Please do get on with your life, these exchanges are really trivial in comparison to what people can do in reality.

I did want to clear one thing up though.

"if excessive spending and debt was an indication of a socialist government, then the US would be the biggest socialist government of them all ($16.4 trillion)!"

I can see from interpreting my previous description, how you can reach this conclusion. But the big difference here is, the US places the majority of control in the hands of the capitalist market.

My point wasn't about debt, but where a more socialist or more capitalist govt places the control mechanisms of the market. We could say the market controls how we live because we're wholly dependent on it.

Subsidies are just one means both parties are guilty of implementing to induce spending in the economy.

A capitalist govt however, will recognise the middle man (ie: the capitalists between govt and consumers, delivering services) and will pay them a large portion of what they're prepared to earn through private enterprise.

A more socialist govt on the other hand, will not pay the middle man by taking more taxes from their earnings to control where the market delivers services, and to whom. Both governments use transactions of money which is meant to represent worth, but both view the market in totally different ways.

Debt accrued in Australia has to be viewed differently than in the US. Mostly because I think we're in the middle phase of our Empire's growth cycle, ie: we still have resources to extract from our neighbouring islands, including our close ties with Asia's growing market. While the US is coming to the end of their growth cycle, so their debt is accruing for totally different reasons.

Or to put it another way, a Country which goes into debt when they still have massive resources available (ie: Australia) has overspent on something. In my observations in political history, it's our more socialist side of govt which overdraws funds to itself, in order to control what business people can engage in. Our more capitalist side of govt however, will allow the funds to go to their respective earners (individuals or corporations) to do with what they believe is right.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Juhana,

Haha! Glad you understood that it was humour. There's more where that came from too.

Sometimes I write outrageous things to commenters that have had some serious magic cast over their minds. I'm observing different techniques to see what effect they have on those commenters. I singled out those two commenters because:

Chris believes that a change in government (i.e. the political fix) will provide a solution to our society’s problems; and

MAI believes that there is a technological fix which will provide a solution to our society’s problems.

Both spells are designed to instil faith in the status quo. You can hear the politicians now saying, "Trust us, put your faith in us and we'll return you to a time of plenty". Very powerful stuff which works up until it is clearly obvious to the population that it won’t.

To give those commenters credit, they are here and engaging in dialogue so it is my opinion that they are way ahead of the curve.

Ploughing. This may take us a few comments so hang in there and ask lots of questions, but make your own mind up by taking this information and observing in your local environment.

The reason farmers plough is to grow grain crops which grow from seed to harvest in a season. They are very fast growing and tend to be large areas of single plants. The reason for the single plants is to make harvesting those grains easier.

Finland has a lot of forest. A forest is a very different environment than the ploughed agricultural areas in that it is slow growing and may contain a huge number of plant species. Forests are also usually on sloping ground because they’ve already been cleared off the flat arable land.

So speed of harvest from seed to maturity of the plants and diversity of plant species in that environment are two differences.

Historically in your area when grain crops were grown (right through into Greenland), forests were felled. The trees were harvested for either fuel or building materials. I'm unsure how you dealt with stumps - but I reckon in your environment they would have either coppiced or rotted. Here, they either coppice, burn (sometimes in an underground fire) or the termites move in and slowly turn it into soil.

Cherokee Organics said...

cont...

So now, assume you have a clear area of recently felled forest. The farmer starts ploughing in lines (rarely on contour) to break up the roots of weedy plant species which reduces competition for nutrients for the grain crops. The seeds for the grain crops then get put into the ploughed areas.

The whole area looks like a big dug up area.

The problem is that if it rains heavily before the crop is well established – and then even after that time - some of the top soil gets washed away by erosion and you’ve lost a bit of the lands fertility. Remember forests are often on slopes.

However, the rains may fail, so the crop doesn’t establish well. The top soil will then dry and any wind will start blowing the soil away to somewhere else and again you’ve lost a bit of the lands fertility. Don’t count on soil blowing into your location as it mostly ends up out to sea.

Tree roots in the forest are fed by vast interconnected networks of fungi (as well as other soil life). If you put a plough through these fungal networks then you break them. At this point they die, and the nutrients and minerals become available to other plants (ie. the grain crops). This is why it is an initially very successful strategy planting grain crops on cleared land, however it is subject to diminishing returns as every season – assuming you haven’t had massive erosion – you are taking nutrients and minerals (ie. grains) away from that area and not replacing them.

Historically, these areas were left to recover for a few years before being ploughed again. The pioneering plants (ie. Weeds a “cold prickly” word for most as it means competition for food!) were allowed to grow and they restore some of the fertility of the soil as they can often mine minerals and nutrients from deep down in the soil and bring them back to the surface or capture nitrogen from the air.

In the industrial agricultural system, that land is ploughed year after year and it becomes less fertile every year which is why I refer to it as degraded land. However, farmers presently can continue doing this because they bring in fertiliser to feed those grain crops. However, the fertiliser can be missing some minerals and nutrients which the plants take from the soil so that Liebig’s law of the minimum starts having an effect and you’ll see this in increased plant diseases and pests (I suspect people also suffer from this problem too as the problem extends from the crops into our food supply).

It would not surprise me to learn that there may possibly be calls in your country to increase the amount of land put to grain under the guise of “food security” within the next year or two. This has been tried in the past in your area and it is always initially successful and then subject to diminishing returns + a trashed environment.

Chris

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@JP--A wether is a castrated ram. A bellwether is a wether with a bell on its neck leading the flock. Metaphorically, a leading indicator. Nothing to do with weather.

@Juhana and JP--from reports I've seen, Juhana's description of an emergent mix of nationalism and paganism in Europe is accurate, perhaps more on the continent than in the British Isles.

In English speaking North America, which has a different political and religious history, the ethos of mainstream paganism is liberal, tolerant, syncretic and not nationalistic. Wicca, the forms of Druidry I've come across and generic neopaganism are oriented to immanent divinity, making the world better by cultivating awareness that spirit pervades matter rather than being separate from it (like some forms of Christianity) or being unreal or entirely subjective (scientistic materialism). For American culture, this viewpoint provides a middle way that was heretofore lacking and is beginning to be welcomed in the wider society.


Ramaraj said...

JMG,

The first resolution you suggested for the readers was to caulk, weatherstrip and insulate their homes. It is a good way to reduce energy use in heating where winters are long and cold. I have suggestions for reducing energy consumption by using fans and air-conditioners for people in tropical regions, with long summers and rainy seasons, and where winter temperatures do not drop much below human body's comfort level.

Many modern buildings are built in box style, with sealed glass windows and doors and low roofs (and false ceilings). Even if glass windows decrease need for artificial lighting, the low ceilings and sealed windows make air-conditioning necessary for air circulation and cooling.

Here are some things I observed from pre-electricity era architecture that can be put to use:

1. All windows should be face north or south, never east or west. Direct sunlight will enter the home from east and west, but from north and south, it is only diffuse sunlight.
2. There should be a raised atrium in the center of the building, with windows on all sides. This provides very good ventilation even when temperatures hover around 40 C.
3. Skylights with tinted or frozen glass, installed on the roof, can provide good illumination without heating the house.

wiseman said...

@Juhaha
Good to know that you found your stay here enjoyable. India is incredibly diverse, maybe more diverse than Europe if I were to hazard a guess not just in terms of language but in terms of religion and culture as well. The political identity called Indian union is a very recent phenomenon and largely a function of colonial conquests. Which is why it pains me when I see attempts to homogenize our collective history into one single thread. Only time will tell if this foreign import (a nation state) gets internalized in our culture.

I am out of this thread as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, no, that's not a subject in which I have any practical expertise.

Goldmund, good. It's always encouraging to hear from those who are walking their talk.

Michelle, in today's America, girls entering first grade have already been on an average of two weight loss diets each; our national rate of anorexia is sky high (and "anorexia" can be defined in plain English as "I watched too many Weight Watchers commercials") -- and you know, when I was in elementary school in the 1960s, there were plenty of fat kids then, too. I think what's going on isn't a national epidemic but a national neurosis, with the usual neurotic patterns of selective memory and attention.

Sgage, thanks for the link -- I'll check it out.

Geovermont, that's one option; there are hundreds of others. My list was meant to be suggestive, not restrictive.

Ian, not so. You redefine diabetes, first, by deciding that levels of blood sugar that used to be on the upper end of normal now get a diabetes diagnosis, and second, by decreeing that a high reading on the A1C test, which is notorious for its huge number of false positives, is enough all by itself to justify a diagnosis of diabetes. Both those things have happened in America in recent years.

Robert, heck of a good question. I'd have to do a lot more research before hazarding a guess.

Morrigan, good. Now find a trade that you can do with your hands, and that meets an enduring human need. That should help with the money issue, too!

Mac, duly noted!

Allan, so noted, and I'll still be posting here weekly -- the thing with PeakProsperity is in addition to this blog, not a replacement for it.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I wonder if it's a regional thing, then. When I was in elementary school in the 1960s in Seattle, there were plenty of fat kids; a decade later there were still plenty of fat teens.

Lei, this is one of the reasons why I keep on pointing out that I can only speak to the American experience. I've never been to Poland, and so can't address the situation over there. I'd like to see more bloggers and other writers exploring the deindustrial future from the point of view of their own societies.

Anselmo, you're right that we're talking about the end of one civilization and the rise of another. I don't know that it's going to be 2.0 anything, though -- and we've got a long road to walk before we get there.

Phil, I can't speak to the British experience. I know that over here, you're as likely to see eight-year-old girls on starvation diets and teenagers who look like concentration camp survivors.

MAI, thank you for addressing some of the issues raised here, and backing off the rhetoric a bit. We're definitely in agreement that massive cuts in energy usage are a necessary first step -- I was around back when "weatherize before you solarize" was practically a mantra -- and that PV technology is worth using, at least as a bridge. The broader challenge remains: can the very complex technostructure needed to produce and deploy PV cells be maintained over the long term in the absence of fossil fuels? You think yes, I think no; the future will determine who was right.

I'd suggest, though, that there's a sound argument for taking my view as a serious possibility. If most of our investment in solar energy and other alternatives assumes that I'm right, or at least that I may be right, and it turns out we can keep the grid going and the factories running anyway, we can all heave a sigh of relief and keep going. If most of the investment assumes that you're right, and you're not, then we're left twisting in the wind, without the very real benefits that could have been gained by investment in local scale and homescale solar energy production.

Zach, I'm quite familiar with Barzun; his From Dawn to Decadence is a brilliant work of history. Thanks for the quote, though -- definitely worth following up.

Ramaraj, I'd encourage you to start by following your own advice and embracing the deindustrial lifestyle you hope to get others to take. Gandhi's advice remains absolutely sound: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Alphonse, I'm one of those annoying people who says the same thing whether there's money in it or not. The PeakProsperity gig was their idea, not mine, and they're quite aware that I plan on building on the far from popular ideas I outlined in The Wealth of Nature. We'll see how it turns out.

Bill, a very good point.

Juhana, glad we could be of help! Agreed -- we all have plenty to learn.

John Michael Greer said...

Schwerpunkter, good. So are we all.

Rudy, you can also find plenty of articles insisting that perpetual motion works, and that the universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The alleged Russian deep oil wells? Baloney, packaged and sold by people who want an excuse to keep on squandering.

Cherokee, that makes sense. As the economy of abundance grew, the amount of wealth that could be diverted to pay for white collar jobs went far beyond the equivalents in past ages, and the middle classes expanded accordingly.

Grebulocities, that's the thing that has me scratching my head -- first, what technologies might be useful in a deindustrial society, and second, what options are out there in the sciences that might make them possible? Congrats on the slide rule -- there are good books available on how to use them. Might be worth scaring up a couple.

Tim, I'll have to compare that to the other sets of statistics I've seen. As for "the crappening," that's good!

Ramaraj, thank you! Since I've never lived in a tropical country, I don't have that sort of information handy.

Isis said...

Hi JMG,

I'm not sure why my old comment (related to obesity) wasn't posted. I disagreed with you, but I'm pretty sure I followed all the posting guidelines(?).

But actually, I had a question for you: what kind of evidence would it take to convince you that Americans are indeed getting larger? This is an empirical question, not a matter of faith, so presumably, certain types of evidence would convince you. What are they?

A couple of links. First, a blog post (speculative, by the author's own admission) that suggests that a rise of obesity is due not to overeating and/or lack of exercise, but to some (as of yet unidentified) environmental toxin. A second link (which I got from the blog post mentioned above) documents how lab animals on carefully controlled diets are getting fatter and fatter. Diet doesn't seem to explain it because the changes in the animals' diets over the decades should, if anything, have caused them to lose weight, rather than gain it. The researchers speculate that viruses may be to blame, or hormone-disruptors, or light pollution, or over-heating in the winter or AC in the summer. At this point, it's speculation.

Juhana said...

@ Cherokee Organics: I have dark taste for humor myself, so I recognize it when used as tool in conversation :). Unfortunately my English is not good enough for word plays, so I have to remain as passive audience in this one. I must consider this plowing stuff quite a while, so I don't say anything about that matter yet. So later.

@Lei: I have no zeal to rant against principles of Enlightment. I have no strong political passions at all. My English is not sufficient for tuning my thoughts to nuanced text. Nuances are mercilessly lost in translation. I try to write, quite bluntly, what I see as reality. After that we either understand each other or not.

18th century Enlightment was ancestor of modern labour movement in Europe. It's habit of trivializing and ignoring older belief systems was inherited directly to labour movement, as was way of dressing up own beliefs into somekind scientific dress. "Scientific worldview", when talking about soft targets as society, are just one belief system among others. Like I have previously told, my roots are among hard core of skilled industrial workers found from my country. I watched for years and years, in trade union meetings, how rants of representatives from two left parties slipped further and further away from actual real-world experiences of common Steel Workers' Union members. New pains (immigration etc.) not fitting into their ideological framework were never adressed, but shunned as heretical opinions. This dislocation between ideology and real-world experience was resolved simply by denying reality. I remember vividly how astonished I felt as youngster, understanding that party members were behaving exactly like creationist Christian believers they were always ridiculing. When there was contradiction between actual reality and their "religion", socialism, reality went out from window. From that moment on I have understood that ideologies and religions are basically same stuff; they answer some spiritual need in human beings, and BOTH are by nature irrational. They are rationalizing, not honestly rational. So it doesn't matter if some belief system is actually true; none of them is. What matters is how it works in its given environment, is it well adjusted. This liberal, "enlightened" belief system of today's Europe is not answering problems of today's world very well. There is failure after failure to give any durable solutions for mounting problems. And when facing many problems, liberal politruks rather shoot the messenger than adress the actual problems. What compensatory system would fare better, I just don't know. But I am not going to pretend that emperor has clothes if His Exellency doesn't have them on. Our current system is not well adapted for reality of contracting energy sources and for economy that reflects this situation. Our economy is totally broken right now. True pricing mechanisms and new capital formation are annihilated in this perverse environment of Central Bank central planning. Losing means to give any realistic prize tag for economic functions worked SO well in old Soviet bloc, eh..? This situation is very dangerous for Western way of society, including all that fancy stuff about liberty and individual rights.

And, by the way, most popular party among working class males under 40 years old here in Finland is now True Finns party; their main agendas being anti-immigration policies, nationalism, respect for national and religious symbols and anti-EU policies. Dislocation between ideology and reality has corrected itself; we will see if new solution fares any better in future than that old one. Maybe not, but that is not the point.

Juhana said...

@Deborah Bender: Sounds interesting! In Europe, especially in political sphere, there are numerous negative and positive caricatures about USA swirling around. Kind of jungle of Potemkin's sceneries. Hard to tell truths from untruths concerning your country here.
Of course in the Europe claims of ancient tribal belonging are largely true; we are, after all, native populations of our respective countries. So things get mixed up quite differently on this side of Atlantic. Paganism gets kind of different flavour.
About Christianity. I ask you not to bundle all forms of it together as belief system where matter and spirit are dealt separately, and every true believer is follower of some TV preacher. In many forms of this faith, spirituality is true light behind everything, diffusing through material world in mystical ways. Untold generations have got through dark times with solace get from Christianity. Many advocates of it lived in voluntary poverty and did great deeds to preserve some humane forms of existence in Europe during last fall of civilization. Understanding this deepness and power in belief of my ancestors was big moment for me. It kind of redefined meaning of historical perspective for me. Meeting those poor people living life near nature, outside moodernism as understood in the West; seeing their strong faith, which had qualities of true virtue ways that are not even understood in affluent countries anymore. It kind of made me humble about all this smartass knowledge I had gathered. There is so much useless pedantry for example in the West (but in other regions also, of course), and so little actual honesty. Affluent parts of world have many things indeed, many toys, but when measured by virtues and true resolution they are truly found lacking.

Betsys_Backyard said...

To Cherokee- glad you point out how essential the nature of parent soil is for growing crops,, particularly on large scales, especially grains but also root crops and many veggies.
IMHO, in a post fossil fuel future..I think the large food producing regions of the world will shrink back to a portion of what existed say before 1900. It will be those regions still left with excellent topsoil (fewer regions now than 200 years ago)Easy access to naturally abundant,clean water, but more importantly, soils created from mineral & pH balanced parent material . Without that, it is very, very difficult to maintain large scale grain crop production without unsustainable levels of input OR--without accepting some chronic mineral deficiencies in our plant,animal and own health.
I believe your suspicions of mineral malnourishment in humans has real merit.
The southern USA piedmont soils were essentially striped of topsoil early in US history. People still lived but there was a disproportionate high level of health issues there than some other regions.. NC for example, in WWII- over half of all men eligible for draft in NC were declared unfit for service!- at least a part of this problem was due to chronic nutritional health issues.. This was important enough to spur the creation of UNC Nursing school ( which launched our state's first nutrition outreach programs)...
Are you familiar with Steve Solomon's
"Gardening when it counts-growin food hard times". this book gets my vote for most informative, realistic book on personal organic food production - in a post-industrial future.
He believes your opinion as well - Makes sense to me.
PS.. new pic! Missed some of your last posts until now -as I always search for "The Wombat".. but change is good too!

Bill Pulliam said...

When all else fails look at some data:

http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/jesse.shapiro/research/obesity.pdf

Average American adult body weight increased by 12 pounds from 1960s to 2000s for males and females

Over a period of less than 20 years (early 1970s to about 1990) in America, the percentage of adult Americans with a BMI > 30 rose from 16% to 30%. Note that this is without changing any definitions or the way that BMI is calculated.

So, no, the increase in american fatness is NOT just a function of changing definitions, there is a real phenomenon at work as well. Claiming it is purely manufactured by the medical-pharma industry feels perilously close to a conspiracy theory.

Alas this is the last day for this post so these facts will hardly be seen or commented upon.

Robert Mathiesen said...

I'd like to echo and support, once again, what Juhana says about the role of traditional or ancestral (Eastern Orthodox) Christianity in Eastern and Northeastern Europe.

Ever since the "triumph" of Communism there, it is traditional (usually Orthodox) Christianity that has occupied much the same counter-cultural space that various forms of Paganism, Heathenry, Druidry, and so forth have come to occupy in the United States, and which gives one a basis on which to stand as one opts out of the dominant culture.

The ancient practices of voluntary poverty, extensive fasting, and effective mystical exercises are still very much alive in those parts of Europe, particularly in rural areas, as is the knowledge of how to grow what one needs for a meager diet (chiefly vegetarian). There have always been, and still are, isolated Orthodox hermits living quietly deep in the far-Northern forests. It's a very different world out there from anything we're used to, or even think possible, in the United States. It's not my world, but it works for those who live there.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Jacques Barzun was an amazing person; I first read one of his books around 1960, when I was in high school. He just died about six weeks ago, aged 105 years!

phil harris said...

JMG
Yes, the often fatal mental health condition anorexia is also one of the plethora of socially connected disorders here in Britain. We also get 'health panics' and 'fashions' but perhaps not on the scale of yours in USA.

I find a need to explore beyond the American or British-centred notions of humanity, although westernised development seems to have globalised some of our failures. Dramatic changes in many countries.

Here is an international ranking order of obesity http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407623/ in a study of dramatic changes in Arabic speaking countries. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobes/2011/686430/tab1/
[The main study is here http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobes/2011/686430/ ]
Ouch.

Diabetes Type II is related to 'central obesity' although smoking and 'family history' are big factors and change the international ranking order compared with obesity.

So it goes.
I am glad you caused me to look for data. These will be in my archive.
best
Phil

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