Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dark Age America: Climate

Over the next year or so, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I plan on tracing out as much as possible of what can be known or reasonably guessed about the next five hundred years or so of North American history—the period of the decline and fall of the civilization that now occupies that continent, the dark age in which that familiar trajectory ends, and the first stirrings of the successor societies that will rise out of its ruins. That’s a challenging project, arguably more so than anything else I’ve attempted here, and it also involves some presuppositions that may be unfamiliar even to my regular readers.

To begin with, I’m approaching history—the history of the past as well as of the future—from a strictly ecological standpoint.  I’d like to propose, in fact, that history might best be understood as the ecology of human communities, traced along the dimension of time.  Like every other ecological process, in other words, it’s shaped partly by the pressures of the senvironment and partly by the way its own subsystems interact with one another, and with the subsystems of the other ecologies around it. That’s not a common view; most historical writing these days puts human beings  at the center of the picture, with the natural world as a supposedly static background, while a minority view goes to the other extreme and fixates on natural catastrophes as the sole cause of this or that major historical change.

Neither of these approaches seem particularly useful to me. As our civilization has been trying its level best not to learn for the last couple of centuries, and thus will be learning the hard way in the years immediately ahead, the natural world is not a static background. It’s an active and constantly changing presence that responds in complex ways to human actions. Human societies, in turn, are equally active and equally changeable, and respond in complex ways to nature’s actions. The strange loops generated by a dance of action and interaction along these lines are difficult to track by the usual tools of linear thinking, but they’re the bread and butter of systems theory, and also of all those branches of ecology that treat the ecosystem rather than the individual organism as the basic unit.

The easiest way to show how this perspective works is to watch it in action, and it so happens that one of the most important factors that will shape the history of North America over the next five centuries is particularly amenable to a systems analysis. The factor I have in mind is climate.

Now of course that’s also a political hot potato just at the moment, due to the unwillingness of a great many people across the industrial world to deal with the hard fact that they can’t continue to enjoy their current lifestyles if they want a climatically and ecologically stable planet to live on. It doesn’t matter how often the planet sets new heat records, nor that the fabled Northwest Passage around the top end of Canada—which has been choked with ice since the beginning of recorded history—is open water every summer nowadays, and an increasingly important route for commercial shipping from Europe to the eastern shores of Asia; every time the planet’s increasingly chaotic weather spits out unseasonably cold days in a few places, you can count on hearing well-paid flacks and passionate amateurs alike insisting at the top of their lungs that this proves that anthropogenic climate change is nonsense.

To the extent that this reaction isn’t just propaganda, it shows a blindness to systems phenomena I’ve discussed here before: a learned inability to recognize that change in complex systems does not follow the sort of nice straight lines our current habits of thought prefer. A simple experiment can help show how complex systems respond in the real world, and in the process make it easier to make sense of the sort of climate phenomena we can count on seeing in the decades ahead.

The next time you fill a bathtub, once you’ve turned off the tap, wait until the water is still. Slip your hand into the water, slowly and gently, so that you make as little disturbance in the water as possible. Then move your hand through the water about as fast as a snail moves, and watch and feel how the water adapts to the movement, flowing gently around your hand. .

Once you’ve gotten a clear sense of that, gradually increase the speed with which your hand is moving. After you pass a certain threshold of speed, the movements of the water will take the form of visible waves—a bow wave in front of your hand, a wake behind it in which water rises and falls rhythmically, and wave patterns extending out to the edges of the tub. The faster you move your hand, the larger the waves become, and the more visible the interference patterns as they collide with one another.

Keep on increasing the speed of your hand. You’ll pass a second threshold, and the rhythm of the waves will disintegrate into turbulence: the water will churn, splash, and spray around your hand, and chaotic surges of water will lurch up and down the sides of the tub. If you keep it up, you can get a fair fraction of the bathwater on your bathroom floor, but this isn’t required for the experiment! Once you’ve got a good sense of the difference between the turbulence above the second threshold and the oscillations below it, take your hand out of the water, and watch what happens: the turbulence subsides into wave patterns, the waves shrink, and finally—after some minutes—you have still water again.

This same sequence of responses can be traced in every complex system, governing its response to every kind of disturbance in its surroundings. So long as the change stays below a certain threshold of intensity and rapidity—a threshold that differs for every system and every kind of change—the system will respond smoothly, with the least adjustment that will maintain its own internal balance. Once that threshold is surpassed, oscillations of various kinds spread through the system, growing steadily more extreme as the disturbance becomes stronger, until it passes the second threshold and the system’s oscillations collapse into turbulence and chaos. When chaotic behavior begins to emerge in an oscillating system, in other words, that’s a sign that real trouble may be sitting on the doorstep.

If global temperature were increasing in a nice even line, in other words, we wouldn’t have as much to worry about, because it would be clear from that fact that the resilience of the planet’s climate system was well able to handle the changes that were in process. Once things begin to oscillate, veering outside usual conditions in both directions, that’s a sign that the limits to resilience are coming into sight, with the possibility of chaotic variability in the planetary climate as a whole waiting not far beyond that. We can fine-tune the warning signals a good deal by remembering that every system is made up of subsystems, and those of sub-subsystems, and as a general rule of thumb, the smaller the system, the more readily it moves from local adjustment to oscillation to turbulence in response to rising levels of disturbance.

Local climate is sensitive enough, in fact, that ordinary seasonal changes can yield minor turbulence, which is why the weather is so hard to predict; regional climates are more stable, and normally cycle through an assortment of wavelike oscillations; the cycle of the seasons is one, but there are also multiyear and multidecade cycles of climate that can be tracked on a regional basis. It’s when those regional patterns start showing chaotic behavior—when, let’s say, the usually sizzling Texas summer is suddenly broken by a record cold snap in the middle of July, in a summer that’s shaping up globally to be among the hottest ever measured—that you know the whole system is coming under strain.

I’m not generally a fan of Thomas Friedman, but he scored a direct hit when he warned that what we have to worry about from anthropogenic climate change is not global warming but "global weirding:" in the terms I’ve used in this post, the emergence of chaotic shifts out of a global climate that’s been hit with too much disturbance too fast. A linear change in global temperatures would be harsh, but it would be possible to some extent to shift crop belts smoothly north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern. If the crop belts disintegrate—if you don’t know whether the next season is going to be warm or cold, wet or dry, short or long—famines become hard to avoid, and cascading impacts on an already strained global economy add to the fun and games.  At this point, for the reasons just shown, that’s the most likely shape of the century or two ahead of us.

In theory, some of that could be avoided if the world’s nations were to stop treating the skies as an aerial sewer in which to dump greenhouse gases. In practice—well, I’ve met far too many climate change activists who still insist that they have to have SUVs to take their kids to soccer practice, and I recall the embarrassed silence that spread a while back when an important British climate scientist pointed out that maybe jetting all over the place to climate conferences was communicating the wrong message at a time when climate scientists and everyone else needed to decrease their carbon footprint. Until the people who claim to be concerned about climate change start showing a willingness to burn much less carbon, it’s unlikely that anyone else will do so, and so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that fossil fuels will continue to be extracted and burnt as long as geological and economic realities permit.

The one bleak consolation here is that those realities are a good deal less flexible than worst-case scenarios generally assume. There are two factors in particular to track here, and both unfold from net energy—the difference between the energy content of fossil fuels as they reach the end consumer and the energy input needed to get them all the way there. The first factor is simply that if a deposit of fossil carbon takes more energy to extract, process, and transport to the end user than the end user can get by burning it, the fossil carbon will stay in the ground. The poster child here is kerogen shale, which has been the bane of four decades of enthusiastic energy projects in the American West and elsewhere. There’s an immense amount of energy locked up in the Green River shale and its equivalents, but every attempt to break into that cookie jar has come to grief on the hard fact that, all things considered, it takes more energy to extract kerogen from shale than you get from burning the kerogen.

The second factor is subtler and considerably more damaging. As fossil fuel deposits with abundant net energy are exhausted, and have to be replaced by deposits with lower net energy, a larger and larger fraction of the total energy supply available to an industrial society has to be diverted from all other economic uses to the process of keeping the energy flowing.  Thus it’s not enough to point to high total energy production and insist that all’s well; the logic of net energy has to be applied here as well, and the total energy input to energy production, processing, and distribution subtracted from total energy production, to get a realistic sense of how much energy is available to power the rest of the economy—and the rest of the economy, remember, is what produces the wealth that makes it possible for individuals, communities, and nations to afford fossil fuels in the first place.

 Long before the last physically extractable deposit of fossil fuel is exhausted, in other words, fossil fuel extraction will have to stop because it’s become an energy sink rather than an energy source. Well before that point is reached, furthermore, the ability of global and national economies to meet the energy costs of fossil fuel extraction will slam face first into hard limits. Demand destruction, which is what economists call the process by which people who can’t afford to buy a product stop using it, is as important here as raw physical depletion; as economies reel under the twin burdens of depleting reserves and rising energy costs for energy production, carbon footprints will shrink willy-nilly as rapid downward mobility becomes the order of the day for most people.

Combine these factors with the economic impacts of "global weirding" itself and you’ve got a good first approximation of the forces that are already massing to terminate the fossil fuel economy with extreme prejudice in the decades ahead. How those are likely to play out the future we’re facing will be discussed at length in several future posts. For the time being, I’ll just note that I expect global fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to peak within a decade or so to either side of 2030, and then tip over into a ragged and accelerating decline, punctuated by economic and natural disasters, that will reach the zero point of the scale well before 2100.

What that means for the future climate of North America is difficult to predict in detail but not so hard to trace in outline. From now until the end of the 21st century, perhaps longer, we can expect climate chaos, accelerating in its geographical spread and collective impact until a couple of decades after CO2 emissions peak, due to the lag time between when greenhouse gases hit the atmosphere and when their effects finally peak. As the rate of emissions slows thereafter, the turbulence will gradually abate, and some time after that—exactly when is anybody’s guess, but 2300 or so is as good a guess as any—the global climate will have settled down into a "new normal" that won’t be normal by our standards at all. Barring further curveballs from humanity or nature, that "new normal" will remain until enough excess CO2 has been absorbed by natural cycles to matter—a process that will take several millennia at least, and therefore falls outside the range of the five centuries or so I want to consider here.

An educated guess at the shape of the "new normal" is possible, because for the last few million years or so, the paleoclimatology of North America has shown a fairly reliable pattern. The colder North America has been, by and large, the heavier the rainfall in the western half of the continent. During the last Ice Age, for example, rainfall in what’s now the desert Southwest was so heavy that it produced a chain of huge pluvial (that is, rain-fed) lakes and supported relatively abundant grassland and forest ecosystems across much of what’s now sagebrush and cactus country.  Some measure of the difference can be caught from the fact that 18,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age was at its height, Death Valley was a sparkling lake surrounded by pine forests. By contrast, the warmer North America becomes, the dryer the western half of the continent gets, and the drying effect spreads east a very long ways.

After the end of the last Ice Age, for example, the world entered what nowadays gets called the Holocene Climatic Optimum; that term’s a misnomer, at least for this continent, because conditions over a good bit of North America then were optimum only for sand fleas and Gila monsters. There’s been a running debate for several decades about whether the Hypsithermal, to use the so-called Optimum’s other name, was warmer than today all over the planet or just in some regions.  Current opinion tends to favor the latter, but the difference doesn’t actually have that much impact on the issue we’re considering:  the evidence from a broad range of sources shows that North America was significantly warmer in the Hypsithermal than it is today, and so that period makes a fairly good first approximation of the conditions this continent is likely to face in a warmer world.

To make sense of the long-term change to North American climates, it’s important to remember that rainfall is far more important than temperature as a determining factor for local ecosystems. If a given region gets more than about 40 inches of rain a year, no matter what the temperature, it’ll normally support some kind of forest; if it gets between 40 and 10 inches a year, you’ve got grassland or, in polar regions, mosses and lichens; if you get less than 10 inches a year, you’ve got desert, whether it’s as hot as the Sahara or as bitterly cold as the Takla Makan. In the Hypsithermal, as the west dried out,  tallgrass prairie extended straight across the Midwest to western Pennsylvania, and much of the Great Plains were desert, complete with sand dunes.

In a world with ample fossil fuel supplies, it’s been possible to ignore such concerns, to the extent of pumping billions of gallons of water a year from aquifers or distant catchment basins to grow crops in deserts and the driest of grasslands, but as fossil fuel supplies sunset out, the shape of human settlement will once again be a function of annual rainfall, as it was everywhere on the planet before 1900 or so. If the Hypsithermal’s a valid model, as seems most likely, most of North America from the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges east across the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains will be desert, as inhospitable as any on Earth, and human settlement will be accordingly sparse: scattered towns in those few places where geology allows a permanent water supply, separated by vast desolate regions inhabited by few hardy nomads or by no one at all.

East of the Great Desert, grassland will extend for a thousand miles or more, east to the  Allegheny foothills, north to a thinner and dryer boreal forest belt shifted several hundred miles closer to the Arctic Ocean, and south to the tropical jungles of the Gulf coast. Further south, in what’s now Mexico, the tropical rain belt will move northwards with shifts in the global atmospheric circulation, and the Gulf coast east of the Sierra Madre Oriental will shift to tropical ecosystems all the way north to, and beyond, the current international border. Between the greatly expanded tropical zone in the south and east and the hyperarid deserts of the north, Mexico will be a land of sharp ecological contrasts

Factor in sea level rise, on the one hand, and the long-term impacts of soil depletion and of toxic and radioactive wastes on the other—issues complicated enough in their causes, trajectory, and results that they’re going to require separate posts—and you’ve got a fairly limited set of regions in which agriculture will be possible in a post-fossil fuel environment: basically, the eastern seaboard from the new coast west to the Alleghenies and the Great Lakes, and river valleys in the eastern half of the Mississippi basin. The midwestern grasslands will support pastoral grazing, and the jungle belts around the new Gulf coast and across southern Mexico will be suitable for tropical crops once the soil has a chance to recover, but the overall human carrying capacity of the continent will be significantly smaller than it was before the industrial age began.

Climate isn’t the only force pushing in that direction, either. We’ll get to the others in the weeks ahead as we continue exploring the deindustrial landscapes of dark age America.


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Janet D said...

It makes me very sad that "we" have taken an ecosystem of an entire planet - one that was incredibly well adapted to supporting an amazing diversity and abundance of life forms - and completely hosed it up.

That is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of determination and willful ignorance.

On a side note, I believe the Pac NW west of the Cascades is supposed to have relatively stable moisture throughout climate change. Assuming one can survive the next subduction zone quake.

Courtney Jane said...

Wow- I really admire your ambition in trying to provide predictions for the next 500 years. While there are a vast array of possible futures, I am going to be super bold and put forth a guess myself:

"The future will be neither sudden collapse nor infinite progress."

Now, I know that 99.9% of Americans are so ignorant that they fall into one of these two categories and that your blog specializes in calling them out on that ignorance, so I thought I'd just save you the trouble of writing out the details of all 500 years. it's really quite simple"

"The future will be neither sudden collapse nor infinite progress."

onething said...


I did not mean to imply that the gods were all made up. I don't necessarily think that. It's an open question.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"Until the people who claim to be concerned about climate change start showing a willingness to burn much less carbon, it’s unlikely that anyone else will do so..."

Earlier this month, I attended Netroots Nation, the national progressive conference, here in Detroit. Environmental activists were out in force. One session consisted of a showing of films about climate and other environmental causes, the trailers of which I have embedded at the link.

There was also a meeting of the Environmental Caucus, which was entirely focused on combatting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I was in the room with activists from Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and other big environmental organizations. We brainstormed ways to convince people to reduce their carbon footprints, most of which involved persuasion or lobbying. My suggestion was to ally with any advocates of mass transit, which would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and energy use of all the riders. None of the people there thought of advocating for improving inter-city passenger rail. Too bad, as it would have been more energy-efficient than flying from Washington D.C. or NYC and a good example to boot.

Near the end of the session, one of attendees and organizers reminded everyone that the goal was to get people in the U.S. to consume less, then pointed out that we were going to consume less in the future whether we liked it or not. Everyone else sat still as they silently contemplated the elephant in the room, which had just been pointed out to them.

Jeffrey said...

In ecology overshoot happens when a species exceeds its carrying capacity often as a result of a population surge. The die-off that follows the population bloom often reduces the population and carrying capacity to levels below levels that were present before the overshoot happened due to degradation of the environment.

Whether it be 7 billion cows or 7 billion humans, our climate, much like overgrazed grasslands, will most likely permit a lower carrying capacity of humans once the whole suite of consequences of overshoot bear down on us. Climate is perhaps the biggest macro systemic problem but collapsing marine fisheries, soil erosion, fresh water depletion, loss of biodiversity, are other symptoms of overshoot.

Climate is a complex system alone, what about the convergence of all these other symptoms of overshoot.

John Michael Greer said...

Janet, I'd heard the same thing about Pacific Northwest climate. The coastal climate of northern California isn't that far from what you have -- warmer and a little dryer, but still well within the temperate evergreen forest range -- so you've got a lot of room for the climate belts to shift. Of course, there's that quake...

Courtney, funny. Of course there's a lot more to be said than that, and a lot of very specific points to make; stay tuned and you'll see 'em.

Pinku-Sensei, it's a pity nobody said, "I know what we can do! Let's all help people burn less carbon by showing them how it's done, by using much less carbon directly and indirectly in our own lives!" Based on my experience, you'd have seen a world-class example of foot-scuffing and looking uncomfortable, until somebody said, "Er, well, then. Does anyone have any other suggestions?"

Thomas Daulton said...

Good evening JMG,

A tangential topic -- regarding the modern-day -- do you happen to have any advice on dealing and interacting with those dead-enders who still insist that climate change is a liberal media conspiracy hoax designed to make paleoclimate researchers into billionaires? The elderly relatives we all have, who heard something on talk radio about the Medieval Warm Period, and just won't rest until you hear out their case and bow down before their awesome but newly acquired geoclimatic knowledge? If you have any meditation mantras or ritual magic that will allow me to smile at the visual of their lips flapping while deadening my cochlear nerves, I'd be quite grateful.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG,

Excellent (and disturbing) post! Searching for more information on the Hypsithermal regarding South America I found conditions very familiar to someone who is watching climate changes around these parts: climatic belts shifted southward 5 to 10 degrees of latitude. To Brazil, that means:

- Regions in and around the Amazon drying. I've seen stunning photos of boats stranded in dried mud and a study showing how more frequent dry spells kill more and more trees and don't allow the canopy to recover fast enough, turning the forest slowly into a savanna.

- The NE of Brazil turns from semi-arid to desert. We just had a roughly 3 year dry spell in this region and it was a whooper. It gave me a very good idea of how bad it can get, and we have a long way to go. After going through one of these, and I live in one of the parts that were least affected, you just learn the hard way to really, really value water.

- The southern regions getting more humid, with slighly greater rainfall. That seems like a good thing until you look at all the floodings that cover small cities almost completly, and they have been more frequent for a while now.

A useful abstract here:


Grebulocities said...

I'm a huge fan of the theme of this series of blog posts - showing that you can sketch out a general outline of the future centuries in advance while the details remain unpredictable. It's a very simple approach - apply what we know from the past (history, prehistory, paleoclimate, etc) and realize that we're still on the same planet, with the same laws of physics, and that we're still the same people as our preindustrial ancestors, so broadly speaking both human and natural systems are likely to respond in ways similar to their past responses. Now if only I could somehow find a time machine or a longevity potion and see if you're right...

I just made a crude spreadsheet in Excel to see what type of CO2 concentration we might peak at under the assumption that the rate of change of the CO2 concentration peaks around 2030, falling to 0 by 2100. Under my model, the CO2 concentration rises by 0.55% this year (roughly equal to its average growth rate over the last decade) and the growth rate increases by 0.01% per year from now until 2029 (at 0.7%/year), then falls by 0.01%/year until it bottoms out at 0 by 2099.

The peak concentration under these assumptions is "only" 562 ppm, obviously reached in 2099, conveniently about double the preindustrial level where temperatures were 0.8 C cooler than present. If the mean of most model estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity is correct, we see about 3 C/doubling. So under these really crude assumptions, we've got a world 2.2 C warmer than present. Of course the error bars are huge, and they're larger on the warmer side. But if this is roughly where we end up, we're in the mid-Pliocene warm period at about 3.3 Ma, or perhaps a little worse. This is inconvenient because sea levels were 25 m higher than present, with no West Antarctic ice sheet and little or no Greenland ice sheet, but the East Antarctic ice sheet still existed and contained most of its current mass.

So we fall back down to Earth again after a very messy transition, and it's an Earth warmer than it's been for at least 3 million years and with very different coastlines and biomes. Overall I think I agree with you - there's reason to be optimistic that human civilization will survive the next 500 years, albeit in a dark age not unlike the one in Star's Reach. We might even get to keep the land between 25-80 m above current sea level!

The more I think about it, the more it becomes difficult to imagine that we're anything but a bizarrely energy-rich (and proportionately disruptive) civilization in a long line of cultures that have risen and fallen before us and will do so long after us. It's baffling to me that I would have had trouble even imagining this only a few years ago, but now it seems like the only reasonable type of assumption.

Chris Knight said...

If I want to grow food in the coastal area of Northern California, how much longer do I have until it turns to desert? Should I move to the east coast now or will I get rich because I will have one of the few functioning farms left in California?

latheChuck said...

As I have noted here on prior postings, concern for "Energy Return on Energy Invested" is not just some eco-fringe jargon. In fact, the August 2014 issue of IEEE Proceedings (published by the professional society Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) contains an article of four pages plus a half-page of footnotes titled: "Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI): A Quintessential but Possibly Inadequate Metric for Sustainability in a Solar-Powered World?" (William Pickard, Dept of Electrical and Systems Engr., Washington U.)

Fun fact: Americans consumed about 100x the 2100 kcal/day of required nutritional energy. You might say that we each enjoy the labor of 100 mechanical slaves.

Various authors that EROI > 3 is needed for "an organized society", and the photovoltaic systems offer EROI of between 2.4 and 5.9. But that's energy at the source, which must be reduced to account for transmission, distribution, and storage losses. The margins are narrow. Note that the calculation is independent of the actual population. It assumes fossil fuel depletion and a no-growth economy, and then asks whether or or not there is a way to meet the EROI needed.

(The rest of the issue is about the trustworthiness of computer system security, and need not concern us here.)

Varun Bhaskar said...

There will be many dry places in the world I think. I've seen only one technology that may help mitigate that problem, I've linked it below.

In the city of Bangalore the weather used to be pleasant throughout the year. It is hilly country, and had many lakes and forests that caused the right temperature level to allow perennially precipitation. Then some fool when and built a city of 10 million people there. The lakes were drained and filled out to make high end housing. Now the weather there is as bad as everywhere in India. There used to be 50,000 lakes in Bangalore, now there are 15,000.

The funny thing is, and I don't think most people realize this, is that majority of those 50,000 lakes were artificial. The tribes that lived there started digging them over 500 years ago (maybe longer) to help improve agriculture and provide fish. It was a specular feat of geo-engineering. I remember talking to a fellow from the micro-water shedding movement and he suggested that if India could capture and hold just 15% of the monsoon rains, and build up forests around these watersheds we might just stave off disaster.

The Three Crowns

Apologies in advance for poor grammar, I was piecing this thing together between working on my website.

Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

Well I suppose I live in one of the most sustainable agricultural areas in the United States for the next several centuries. The Shenandoah Valley actually used to be the breadbasket of the confederacy. However, I have no delusions about it maintaining anywhere close to the carrying capacity it does now. Having rid myself of an automobile, I gave myself a stark lesson the other day. One of the joints on my toes became inflamed and I found it painful to walk. Of course this was fine for me because I could either bike or use my wife's car If I absolutely needed too. The stark contrast is that not too long from now such an injury will compromise my very survival, and ability to work. If you take out the vast populace of invalids who are obese and diabetic a large chunk of the population is gone right there. In the classical Maya period skeletons were found with extreme iron deficiency anemia as the diet went from diverse to exclusively poor nutrient grains. The malnutrition related to diet diversity is a big factor you haven't touched on much, although it wouldn't change any of your analysis. It seems good diet and exercise is the health insurance of the future.

In other news, the Retrofit steampunk era is emerging.

I have a feeling Monibot's solar powered piston technology could make a comeback in the coming decade for those who see it's value.

Aslo your 2030 estimate for co2 emissions peaking is probably not far off.

The global co2 Growth rate began to slow down from 2.7% annually down to 1.1 % in 2012. We must be very near peak net energy considering net energy is wholly derived from combustion of hydrocarbons.

Also I love the Wells of Galabes! I enjoy a format where you don't need to preface everything with a progress worshiping contemporary audience. Looking forward to your upcoming post as always.

Best Wishes,

nuku said...

@Courtney Jane: you’re scarcasm is getting a bit tiring. The main point of the Archdruid’s blog is not calling out the ignorance of most Americans; in their appalling ignorance and self-delusion they wouldn’t understand what he’s saying anyway so it would be pointless. So lighten up already and say something interesting on topic.

As to the the future, after the next 100 years, unless you believe in re-incarnation, none of the readers of this blog, including you, won’t be personally experiencing it, so the the business of guessing (not predicting) the future is a creative imagining.

The interesting question you might have asked is: why bother to imagine the far future if we’re all not going to be around?

Ozark Chinquapin said...

There may be an exception to the general drying trend in the west, I read a while back (can't remember where) that the Southwest monsoon was more intense during the holocene hypisthermal. That may keep some of the favored mountain ranges in the southwest from becoming desert if it happens that way again this time. Other human impacts may work against that, however, land degradation in northern Mexico leads to less transpiration and therefore possibly less moisture in the monsoon.

Sea level rise flooding the Central Valley of California may eventually have a major impact too, the shallow sea will heat up in the summer and may add considerably to the monsoon.

Closer to where I am, what little I could find shows that there may have been a sharp gradient in dryness in Missouri/Arkansas. Some places in eastern Arkansas were shown to be wetter than was supposed, while there is evidence of desert vegetation in parts of NW Arkansas. However, I wonder how widespread the desert vegetation really was. The ozarks already has glades where there is very thin soil, usually on south or southwest facing slopes, a somewhat drier and hotter climate could turn those into deserts but still leave areas with more soil capable of growing forests. There are isolated populations of Beech and Umbrella Magnolia in northwest Arkansas as well, there must have been enough moist woods at least in patches to support them through the dry period.

John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, I wish I had an easy answer. The logic of self-deception I discussed in an earlier post has belligerent dishonesty as one of its standard features -- and in most cases all you can do is roll your eyes and walk away.

Atilio, thanks for the info! That sounds about right.

Grebulocities, that seems like a reasonable guess. As for sea level, well, yes -- we'll be talking about that next week.

Chris, please reread the post. What you'll have to deal with for the rest of your lifetime isn't the arrival of desert, but climate chaos -- too hot this year, too cold next year, drought except when you get torrential rains, and so on. That won't settle down, if my estimates are right, until sometime after 2100.

LatheChuck, glad to hear it. If the article mentions that the estimates for the EROEI of PV were at the source, and points out the problems with that assumption, that's an important step toward clarity.

Varun, and a few centuries from now, the catastrophes of the 21st century may just have taught people again that that sort of eco-engineering project is worth their time and energy.

Crews, we'll be talking about public health and malnutrition at some length in upcoming posts in this series -- you're right that it's important, though again, it doesn't change the overall analysis. Thanks for the links!

Ozark, of course! Overall climate is always subject to variation via local microclimate. If most of the southwest is blazing desert, though, the pockets of relatively well-watered ground are going to be a magnet for refugees and raiders -- yes, we'll talk about that as we proceed.

John Michael Greer said...

Oh, and I've just deleted this thread's first attempted comment by a climate change denialist. I meant what I said in the intro to this series: there are plenty of places people can go to deny anthropogenic climate change, insist that the earth is flat, or what have you, and this isn't one of them. I'm familiar with the denialist arguments; I find them specious; I'm not interested in filling these comment pages with an endless round of spluttering diatribes based on cherrypicked data and outright falsehoods. 'Nuf said.

Rich Brereton said...

Love the post, JMG. Where can those interested find some of your sources for paleoclimatology? Speaking for myself, I am too bogged down in reading academic journals in my own field to search out paleoclimate papers, but a good book or two, now that would be just the ticket...

Cherokee Organics said...


Congratulations on tackling this massive issue.

I hear you and have a sense of urgency about climate extremes which is why I spent yesterday installing a second hand stainless steel storm and fire shutter over my new front door.

Strangely enough, your description of the climate in your novel Star's Reach is occasionally matching reality here – right now. This translates to mild wet winters and hot dry summers.

The process here is that apparently the surface and subsurface temperatures of the Indian Ocean to the NW of the continent have risen. This in turn has increased evaporation and the prevailing winds - which incidentally also have increased energy - are flowing over the continent from the NW and dumping significant amounts of rainfall especially in the SE. However, this has meant that the north of the continent outside of the tropical zones along the northern coastline, are in drought. Also the summer cyclones appear to be getting stronger in the very far north of the continent.

I reckon the insurance industry is an industry to watch as they are at the coal face of climate change and business. Expect a few government bailouts of insurance companies in the future. Actually, I've read that in some flood prone areas, the government legislated that flood insurance must be offered. However the premiums I believe can rise as high as AU$35,000 per year. That's what I politely call a go away and don't ask us a second time quote (Monty Pyhton reference, apologies everyone)!

The weather here today is feral with strong winds and the bureau of meteorology reckons that there will be snow down to 500m above sea level tomorrow at Mt Macedon:

Wild winds ripping through Victoria ahead of snowy change

You'll get no argument from me. The first wave of the storm is about half an hour away and I've just closed all of the stainless steel shutters over the toughened glass double glazed windows.



PS: If anyone is curious about the farm here you can check out my weekly blog with lots of cool photos. Plus it also includes a short video on how to collect and store rainfall from a roof so that it is available for later use using no energy. Yeah, it’s good.

It has been my observation that a whole lot of people rely on wells to tap into ground water in the US. This takes a huge amount of energy to draw the water up from the depths, especially as the well gets deeper as ground water tables fall due to over extraction - you are only ever as good as your neighbours and your neighbours, neighbour etc!

The system here requires no energy other than gravity and it is widely used in Australia.

Fernglade Farm blog - A little bit more sunlight

Please feel free to ask questions!

jcummings said...

Great post. Also - your response to my question in your last post gave me a great deal to think on - thanks!

I find that the things which ignite change from within are usually events. Its rare (for me anyway) to experience a fundamental perception shift by interacting with raw information. Your blog and commentary push hard in that direction. Thank you.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, it is going to hit here, hard:

Emergency teams on alert as high winds sweep across Victoria



Mark Rice said...

I have read a few popular books in the past few years that do get into the interactions of ecology and human actions. One was Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed . by Jared Diamond.

Another was 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. The way the native Americans managed the forest illustrated a rather sophisticated management of the ecology.

Also many thanks for deleting the climate change deniers posts. Life is too short to spend it arguing about nonsense.

k-dog said...

Change is on the way, no doubt about it.

But all we can do is try to figure out how to adapt. Learn to adapt to the approaching miseries individually and with like minded people who share our awareness. And to survive these like minded people must also have a temperament with which to act on their awareness. Being able to see the future and knowing what to do about it are not the same thing.

Nothing is going to generate any new social movement that will lead to lifestyle changes that will mitigate any of the coming climactic catastrophes. America slips towards totalitarianism and as it does it's people become more ignorant of world events and more accepting of authoritarian dictate, not less so. Distraction and selfish pursuit, not enlightenment is the fashion of the day.

To most Americans social collapse is not on their radar. To them it is something only crazy people talk about. Having anything but a positive outlook on the future is considered un-American and the sure sign of a looser. It is an ignorant and a pervasive point of view, held across the land. It is a futile waste of energy to try and change the ignorant. Being ignorant is working out too well for them.

The only thing that makes sense is to build community with like minds and do what you can with their help to prepare for our future. History teaches that civilizations do not wake up and make changes that mitigate collapse. Civilizations collapse and they do so in ignorance of the reasons why they fall, right to the end.

I made a recent blog post around the theme of food security. It is obvious to me no general efforts will being made to fix our food distribution network before most Americans are priced into starvation. When it becomes a problem politicians will pay attention to it, but not before then.

If I'm right the most important thing we can do is build community amongst ourselves and develop skills that will be useful when society breaks down. Evangelising to the uniformed is a waste of time that will only frustrate. As I said already. Ignorance is working out too well for them.

Glenn said...

Cascadia Subduction Zone Quake.

Oh, we'll mostly survive the initial quake, stud frame wooden structures do very well in in quite severe quakes. But the infrastructure destruction, especially of transportation infrastructure in the form of bridges and overpasses will be crippling. Since most communities are not self-sufficient, and have only a few days worth of supplies (3 days stock on Grocery Store shelves), the after disaster die-off is liable to be large. Add in the fact that it will be a regional disaster, and it really mounts up. It won't be a matter of getting help from the next city or county; it will have to come from another state or region. The scale of it will beggar such localized disasters as Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy. I suspect that in the end, many of the survivors will leave the area not to return.

It will be a lot of hard work for those who remain.

And yes, me and my family count ourselves among those who will remain. Wallace Stegner called us "nesters".


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Glenn said...

Pacific Northwest Climate.

According to Prof. Cliff Mass at UW, the next 50 years should see little change in the climate west of the Cascades. Perhaps slightly damper springs and summers. The Eastern Pacific will stabilize the weather and keep us cool. But the following 50? He doesn't go into detail, but we will see steady warming, thought perhaps less weirding than east of the mountains.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

John Michael Greer said...

Rich, I've been reading papers for this series; I'd be delighted if anyone could recommend a good introductory book on paleoclimates, but I don't happen to know of one.

Cherokee, stay safe! That sounds like wild weather.

Jcummings, you're most welcome.

Mark, read 'em both, and they're worth reading. You're welcome!

K-dog, if building community is your answer, go to it. Still, there are many different paths through this particular jungle.

Glenn, based on everything I've read, if the Cascadia region gets a full-on subduction quake in the next few decades, the death toll will be right off the scale, because nobody, anywhere, has the resources necessary to get in and do what'll have to be done to save the millions of people who will be affected. That's one of the reasons I moved out of the region. As for climate, well, my friends in the Seattle area tell me that they're getting the sort of summer weather more often seen in Yakima, so a certain amount of weirding may be in the cards.

Dmitry Orlov said...

"...if a deposit of fossil carbon takes more energy to extract, process, and transport to the end user than the end user can get by burning it, the fossil carbon will stay in the ground."

That's not quite right. Should say "than the amount of energy that can be obtained by burning it". It's total energy returned on total energy invested. Amount available to end user isn't the right criterion for evaluating whether the extractive process is sustainable.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

JM, one of the things that I really love about TAD is the way you insist, with entirely appropriate ruthlessness, that the allowed comments remain always above of minimum threshold of both civility AND intellectual adequacy. Your comment about deleting the first of the climate-shift denialists on this post reminded me how fervently grateful I am for that, and I thought I'd mention it.

I work through a good deal of cyberspace material in my continuing search for insight into - well, things. The few sources which are up to the outstanding level of this blog are very thin on the ground; and the tedious business, undertaken by the blog owners, of cleansing out all the self-indulgent silly stuff from people who won't face up to the harsher aspects of reality is a truly priceless service to grown-up searchers for understanding. One of the negative points in reading - for example - Jim Kunstler's blog is that he doesn't bother to clear out the fools and the wilful delusionists from the commenters. So, many thanks that you do!

And multiple diolch yn fawr hefyd i ti, da Prif-DDerwydd, for your pretty well unmatched breadth AND depth of insight into what's happening, and for the great clarity of your expositions thereof. Paradoxically, despite - or perhaps precisely because of - its uncompromising realism, your writing is a great comfort in a time of existential disaster; yes, really! I could be mired in ultimate depression about the oncoming devastations of the shift, or about the - alleged - prospect of NTE, if it weren't for your sober clarity; that, and Tom Campbell's expounded insights into the fundamental nature of things, as published in his Big TOE... Invaluable work from both of you!

Hwyl! -RhG

Jason Heppenstall said...

"Until the people who claim to be concerned about climate change start showing a willingness to burn much less carbon, it’s unlikely that anyone else will do so..."

I was recently working on a translation for a businessman who is a self-styled environmentalist and CEO of a large firm. He had recently journeyed to the North Pole in a 30,000 horsepower Russian atomic icebreaker to take pictures and 'alert the world to the dangers of climate change'. He makes the point that the vessel he is travelling on uses 8.8 grams of uranium a day on the voyage, rather than 'a hundred tonnes of coal' and invites people to make their own conclusions about which is better.

Of course, another option would be not to sail to the North Pole in the first place but, as he explains "Who can honestly say they have never dreamed of standing on the spot where all roads lead south and the whole world is literally at your feet?"

Umm ... maybe its a CEO thing.

galacticsurfer said...

Roman empire was based on 'Roman optimum' plus the fact that they had the perfect geographical position to dominate the area and 4he i eritance of the greek civilization based itself on the vones of older civilizations and that the romans exploited the fact that the remaining parts of Europe which were teechnologically less advanced.Sothey took their geographical and cultural middle position and perfect climate and exploited it to the full.

USA has done same withe British and European empires and Asia and Africa and Latin America as less civilzed as conquest basis and the Holocene as climate optimum plus the blooming of fossil fuels and scientific industrialism plus best minds of the world for immigrants.

I also noticed that uranus square pluto 7 times 2012-2014 just like 1932-1934. Hitler took power 30 jan 1933. Similar madness in ukraine but actually starting with occupy movement , arab spring, syria, lybia, qnd building up to new cold war before cycle peters out 2016. I see big parallels to 80 year generational theory cycle here withwwiii arou d time of saturn jupiter opposition in 2020 or so. So perhaps as Gayle says in her blog it could all be short circuited by economics and politics to fight for last drop of oil and power on earth. Maybe then Po and climate change you describe will be under BAU but it won't be exactly right.

Albatross said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

As I was reading around the cyber yesterday I stumbled upon an article from 28 July 2014 in Truthout, "You Can't Taper a Ponzi Scheme: Time to Reboot", by Ellen Brown (president of the Public Banking Institute). I post this as I think you might be interested in having a look, unless you've already been tipped off, of course, as you were mentioned, with link and all to your recent post, "American Delusionalism, or Why History Matters."


All the best,

Juri Aidas, Sweden

Zachariah said...

Not very germane to this week's stirling post, but I thought you'd appreciate a heads-up on forthcoming blockbuster film Interstellar.

Spoilers involved, so anyone planning on seeing it should stop reading now.

It's set a few decades in the future, where much of the climate weirding discussed here, is in full flow. Oddly, fossil fuels are shown as still being abundant while food is in short supply. The human race, or at least their American proxy representatives, are in decline thanks to worsening crop yields.

Our hero finds a NASA probe and follows its homing signal to an island of scientists. Using information from the probe, they embark on a mission through a wormhole to a new system. After many adventures, they use alien technology to Make Everything Better(tm).

In one way, it's great to see a realistic depiction of reduced circumstances in the future. But it's depressing that the only way of coping with it is to bring in a literal Deus ex machina. The trailer even quotes the hero saying "We'll find a way. We always have."

Keep up the good work! What do you think of Norway as a climate retreat?

Russ said...

John - my wife and I are those old geezers who 'heard' the hoax stories from the right, but this didn't agree with our ecological history. In order to help save the earth (we're tree huggers from Oregon who have been transplanted to NJ) we have installed hot water and roof top PV solar systems. But we can't convince our progeny who continue to buy stuff and live as if the 'life of luxury' really does exist. It would be somewhat satisfactory to be able to tell them "we told you so". Tuss Day

Les said...


May I add my thanks for deleting anthropogenic climate change denial comments? That crud really drags down some of the better places of discourse on the ‘net…

On today’s topic, it’s the discontinuity in a complex system’s response to stress that really bites. With climate, we moved north out of Australia’s most populous city (Sydney), partly because the climate modelling you’ve invoked here also suggested that warm temperate valley we’ve moved to should, in time, become sub-tropical - with all the nice reliable increase in rainfall that entails.

Over the last couple of years, the weather patterns that are giving Cherokee Chris his nice wet winter have certainly migrated south* - far enough that our winter rains have almost disappeared entirely.

On the other hand, the tropical monsoon type patterns haven’t yet deigned to move south to fill the gap.

We sit here and watch the cold fronts and their rain slide away to the south, while the tropical patterns stay firmly ensconced to the north. The grass is dry and crunchy and the dams near empty, most of the cattle gone and we’re hunkering down on the assumption it will probably not rain meaningfully until maybe February. Still, we’re planting orchards and working on other enterprises that don’t rely solely on the wet stuff falling from the sky.

On the other hand, two years of one altered weather pattern do not a new climate make. But it’s as scary as hell when the one piece of planning that everything else relies upon is appearing to go awry.


*In discussing weather patterns, American readers should think “north” when I say “south” and vice versa, it’ll make much more sense to you that way. It’s all part of you hanging upside down on the wrong half of the planet…

nr-cole said...

I would also be interested in some introductory work on paleoclimatology, and particularly anything on Ontario, Quebec, and Eastern Canada. My brief searches have turned up

For the intricate relationship between human civilizations and ecosystems, I just finished reading William Cronon's history of Chicago and the American West, Nature's Metropolis. I sucked it down surprisingly quickly for such a big book, mostly because of the in-depth treatment of how the city grew by tapping into the praries and forests, as well as modern communications, energy, and especially railway technologies. If anyone has any doubts about how much growth and prosperity is built upon cheap fossil energy, they'll be put to rest with this one. There are also several excellent chapters on the facetious divisions crafted in people's minds between "rural" and "urban" during that time.

Many people have been far too thoroughly conditioned to believe that A) nature is something separate, manageable, and far away, and B) humanity in the 21st century is uniquely brilliant and miraculously gifted, which is the source of all our present and future prosperity, rather than anything we got from "nature." Between a chaotic, destructive global climate and the end of the fossil fuel age, we're going to be roughly disabused of those notions.

I do still have lots of questions about how our crash with reality will turn out, given our talent for delusion.

Tony f. whelKs said...

A densely packed essay this week, which will take another reading or two to extract all the goodness. How come I'm not surprised that you're already fielding denialist screeds?

As I've watched the latest figures roll in, the hottest May on record, probably June and July too, some extreme weirdnesses in places, a phrase keeps scrolling across my internal ticker tape, ready for the next denialist to cross my path: "How's that 'hiatus'-y, 'halt'-y thing doin' for ya now?" I have visions of the massed cherrypickers of the fossil-fuel lobby and 'free market' 'think' tanks working overtime trying to find some new out-of-context data point to illustrate how things are doing just fine.

Over the past few decades I've taken my place on the battle lines in most of the theatres where the environmental skirmishes have been occurring. Yes, I've been a government advisor (ok, in a very small jurisdiction ;-) ), I've done the liaising with industry to try and make them friends instead of enemies, I've done the bucaneering direct actions in inflatable boats, I've grown and sold certified organic produce and fitted renewables for a living. Every one of them has involved compromise somewhere along the line, whether it has been jetting around the world or putting on a suit and having a shave! The reactions I've faced have included watercannons, machineguns, detention, and indignant letters to the editor. In short, people do not want to change in the only way that will work - which is to embrace LESS. The really committed might accept electric cars, but balk at fewer cars. They look for 'alternative' energy, but resist using less energy. They want 'green growth', but won't consider de-growth. At times I've burned out and declared defeat. Sometimes, I've seen positive results, but by about 2003-4 I concluded that climate change was unstoppable.

People say that personal restraint is pointless because other people won't reduce their consumption too. But even if it's a drop in the ocean, well, the ocean is just a critical mass of drops. Just as climate change is a critical mass of people using too much fossil-fuelled energy in their individual lives. So, my green activism these days is mostly enacted in my lifestyle - in my garden, my energy use, my travel and consumption. I haven't been on a plane for over 10 years now, and though I still have a car (it's a useful tool, after all), my mileage is about 500 m/year. I walk much more than that. As a long-time proponent of organic growing and permaculture, I often hear the question 'But can it feed the world?' That's the wrong question, it's not my responsibility to feed the world, but I do get a long way towards feeding myself, which is something 99% of the advocates of GMO/industrial/chemical agriculture cannot do.

So, absolutely, those who want to see less carbon used must use less themselves, and the same applies across all forms of consumption. Leading by example has to be a big part of the effort. I do believe Gandhi had a pithy saying about that principle.

Tony f. whelKs said...

K-dog said: "To most Americans social collapse is not on their radar. To them it is something only crazy people talk about."

That's probably the same here in the UK, but to add another observation - whilst people do not talk about 'social collapse' explicitly, they just give it another name. Whether it's 'immigrants', 'unconstitutional', 'seperatists', 'the squeezed middle', 'cost of living crisis' or '1%ers', the language may not be that of social collapse, but I think people are aware of it (if only subconsciously) and trying to frame it in a way which jibes with their existing world-view/political agenda. A limited acceptance is a degree of denial - by accepting the 'lesser' evil of people find it easier to gloss over the wider implications of the big picture.

That's my big fear, politically: when people do notice something is wrong, how they react and what they propose is so filtered through an inappropriate narrative that they could well go off the deep end - which brings us back to the roots of fascism etc, if I may be permitted to Godwin myself ;-)

Andy Brown said...

To riff on you bathtub parable. Sometimes by the time you notice the water splashing on your bathroom floor, just removing your hand doesn't solve the problem. Other systems have been set into motion. When it comes to climate, it's the bathtub, but now you've woken up the dozing family of otters, a couple of large carp, and two of the clawfoot legs on your tub have gone missing for some reason. You're going to need more towels.

donalfagan said...

'Demand destruction' is descriptive and internally logical, but in old Econbrowser threads, some of the economists groused that the term was invented by peakists rather than derived from textbook economics. Wikipedia still attributes it to the Peak Oil community, but I wonder if economists are starting to use it by necessity.

Kutamun said...

Tiz Mazing ....we are resilient critters , humans , we must be monty pythons Black Knight of mammals i reckon ...just in the last five years in Oz i have seen major floods in multiple states , two or three major bushfire events with severe loss of life, crippling drought which has continued for the last two years in northern nsw and queensland, resulting in a large chunk of the livestock population being slaughtered ( ongoing) , intense cyclones tracking further and further south , heat waves taking out 500 people in one go .....hardened Special Forces veterans saying they cant believe the acts of bravery by ordinary members of the public in this country alone .... Like the small boy in flooded river who refused to go in the sling until his scared even smaller brother was rescued , only to be swept away himself minutes later .. , man wading through electrified water ( downed power pole to rescue his mate ) ...countless others

It is the increased frequency and intensity of these events that is striking , and it is beginning to feel as though the next disaster is only ever just around the corner .......
It is a war footing to be sure , set against an entrenched and highly vocal culture of denial ...

On a more global scale , tsunamis , droughts , wildfires, typhoons , cyclones , twisters , earthquakes , species extinction , forest destruction , you name it ....whewww

The neo cons swept away our modest emissions trading scheme , outraging the latte left and green power - centrists , though in the light of what i have learned from the good Archdruid and others about resource depletion and impending economic meltdown , this may be no bad thing.
The reality is that those of us left scratching around here after globalism is ended will want to burn coal ...with only 24 million of us , no big deal , problem starts when we supply much bigger countries with abundant affordable coal and it comes back with interest ... If we were sensible we'd refuse to give it to them , but the industry is so strong here they can change the PM and Gubbermint at will ... Bless Them

M said...

I'm enjoying this look into the future of North America. In human terms, 500 years is a long time. Native Americans thought out as far as 7 generations, which, for purposes of determining actions today seems reasonable. Our U.S. society can barely look past an election cycle, unless it is to create "goals" or "mandates" for reducing abuse to the earth by putting them out several decades into the future and then proceeding to continue with business as usual.

I recently finished the Basin and Range section of Annals of the Former World by John McPhee for the slightly broader perspective offered by trying to grasp the enormity of geological time.

Just as a human lifetime is less than an eyeblink, civilizations are barely registered blips in geological time, and only at the most recent edges of the earth's 4.5 billion years of existence. If you stood with arms outstretched to represent the age of the earth, human affairs would be confined to the tip of your fingernail.

Another example in the book: if the age of the earth were compressed into a year, mankind would show up at about 3 minutes to midnight on December 31st. The Roman Empire would last 5 seconds.

For some reason it gives me succor to know that, while we are no doubt miracles of creation, despite what our individual and collective egos tell us, we are not the center of things. What a mystery!

Luckymortal said...

Awesome! So, on one hand, I do agree with folks questioning the practicality of this line of inquiry, but on the other, I see the value is helping us imagine that middle ground between destruction and the Technorapture... while being realistic about the dire circumstances those middlers may find themselves in. But more importantly, my imagination loves it!

So, a few minor points for your consideration. The continents in the Southern hemi are shaped like consummate "V"s, while in the Northern, you get dwarven country of stone, difficult to work with a plow and a team of oxen: It's tough to significantly shift our Ag to cooler climes in the short term.

Next, why would climate change subside with the end of fossil fuel use? Look how many trees we have around us! They burn too, and generally throw off more carbon than fossil fuel tech. I see no reason, now that we're in this Easter Island Bind, why we won't burn, burn, burn anything that we can find. On top of mere carbon output, we'll be destroying one of our best means of natural carbon sequestration, adding further ripples to the climate bathtub.

The soil-destroying, salinization, desertification and other consequences of a massive deforestation will also have a major impact on the carrying capacity of the continent and planet...

Bob Wise said...

John, your projected future climate for North America is quite interesting, but I think you've misconstrued its consequences for agriculture. The tallgrass prairie biome of our formerly "normal" climate extended over most of Iowa and into Illinois, forming the core of the corn belt. The same rainfall regime that supports the tall grasses supports corn and soybeans. Likewise the short grass prairies, at least their more humid parts, are suited for small grains.

kleymo said...

"The Long Thaw" by David Archer was very useful to me in better understanding these issues.

Brian Fagan has written a number of books on specific periods for the general reader.

Unknown said...

Will the Pacific Northwest be a Climate Refuge Under Global Warming?

Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Courtney Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim R said...

I expect fossil hydrocarbon extraction to continue for quite a long time, however.

There are other uses for hydrocarbons as waterproofing, lubricants, and so forth.

It is just a little sad that we have already used so much of it as fuel.

exiledbear said...

one of attendees and organizers reminded everyone that the goal was to get people in the U.S. to consume less, then pointed out that we were going to consume less in the future whether we liked it or not.

Cynically, they don't want to consume less themselves, they want the rest of *you* to consume less, so that they can live in comfort at your expense. That's probably why a lot of the public doesn't really like to hear their messages. Gotta believe in what you're saying for others to take you seriously.

I think ultimately, indoor growing of things other than pot is probably going to get popular and things that don't take much energy to get you from point A to B will get popular too. Mopeds and bicycles and scooters. It'll look a lot like the "developing" world.

The corn-based "agricultural industrial complex" is over. Or soon will be. The EBT brigade will not likely make it. I wonder how that will play out when the old AIC finally collapses?

Janet D said...

@Varun. I am in the middle of reading "Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Anderson. The book is based on solid research showing what/how the native California indians "managed" the land. Over the course of millenia, they ensured thriving ecosystems chock full of easy edibles, solely by focusing on helping Nature do what she does best anyway. It makes for interesting reading. We could have learned so much, but, unfortunately for us, chose a different path.

@Glenn. Glad to see another Cliff Mass reader here.

exiledbear said...

I would also point out that space weather also has quite an impact on earth climate too, and that the Sun has been acting rather strange lately (look up Suspici0us Observers on youtube for more details). That and I keep hearing that the magnetic poles on earth may be getting ready to flip too. And I keep hearing rumors about secret weather control technology that all the major nations have. Something about how that could be related to the drought in CA right now. But it's just rumor, and there's no way I can prove it right or wrong.

In any case, whatever the cause, I'm convinced that the relative stability of the weather back in the 20th c is probably not going to repeat for the 21st. And you either find a way to work with the new normal (find a way to stay relevant to the present and the future), or disappear into the past.

Choices, choices, choices...

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thanks, JMG, for your excellent postings.

Might I today make a small request? You will in an upcoming post be analyzing sea-level rise. It would be good if you could at that point address not just North America, but also, at least to some modest extent, Europe.

I am particularly concerned over two aspects of the European situation: (a) How many metres of sea-level rise might it take to render the further defence of London impractical? (One recalls here that the Thames Barrier is modest, and that there have been proposals for a new, higher, Barrier.) (b) What might happen to Estonia?

In pondering these questions, especially the second one, I find the interactive map at useful. Other readers, with their own particular concerns (whether or not in relation to Europe), and you yourself as you prepare your upcoming posting, might likewise find that map useful.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

(Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com, www dot metascienta dot com)

(near Toronto, but concerned
in the first instance
with British and Estonian scenarios)

(trying to address the impending cultural decline by cultivating some ham-radio skills as VA3KMZ, and by building up a library of hard-copy ham-radio materials)

Bill Blondeau said...

From the glass-isn't-even-half-full-but-at-least-it-still-holds-water department:

The sparse documentation I'm slowly piecing together for the Circumpolar (my name for the world of the future in which The Borax Road Affair, slated for publication in After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth is set) is not really too deeply in conflict with your more informed opinion, about North America at any rate.

That's quite a relief. It would have been awkward to turn out to be hopelessly off-base at this stage of the game.

Cathy McGuire said...

Thanks for the very clear description of the various interactions! I saw an example in the news the other day - Los Angeles had a pretty significant flood, in the midst of their terrible drought, when a water main that hadn't been replaced since 1920's finally fell apart! Water cascading along streets, down steps - it was a good example of how interlocking systems (infrastructure, climate) can knock together to create conditions worse than anticipated (ie: the West counts on being able to "deal with" the drought - but what if infrastructure is not up to it?)

In OR, we're seeing extremes in weather that seem to be "weirding", and I can attest that it's making it very hard to garden! At the very least, I'm constricted to being home to monitor animals and plants (and bees, to some extent) so that they survive... I noticed several professional greenhouses emptied, as the 90 plus temps make even fanned enclosures too hot! At some point, as you say, it will become too expensive to "deal with" the extremes and folks will be collapsing down to simpler lives (as without A/C, much of a brutal afternoon is spent keeping cool and "waiting it out")...

You do a wonderful job of "connecting the dots" (though I hate that phrase!)

. josé . said...

Thanks for another great post.
"...I expect global fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to peak within a decade or so to either side of 2030..." Hey, a date! Well, a period of two or more decades, but still...
That date - and the tolerance zone - are what I've been working toward for most of my life. (Since my World Dynamics/Limits to Growth experience in the '70's.) I actually gave it a 15-year tolerance in my mind, which means we're already entering the relevant period. The question is how moves that accelerate collapse (like wars of arrogance in the Middle East) will balance those that postpone it and make it more painful in the long run (like endless QE).
As for climate chaos itself, I'm doing the best I can, though I know it's not much. I'm about two years into the implementation of a permaculture/agroforestry system in a couple of sites in the Atlantic Rainforest of southern Brazil. (Our equivalent of the Appalachians.) I know you're not very positive toward permaculture, but what draws me toward it (and agroforestry in particular) is that it relies on systems that are more resilient to years of drought, odd summers with cooler over cast days, winters that are either too cold, too wet, not cold enough, etc. In each of these cases, a mixed forest ecosystem is more likely to give you some yield than field crops.
That said, I'm also using a prediction similar to that of Atilio Baroni Filho (thanks for the link) and the "bracketing" approach stolen from photography. For the larger and longer-lived trees (large legume trees, nuts, some fruits) I'm planting some that fit in the current climate, some that fit 15° farther north or 1000m downslope and wet, and some which fit these conditions but dryer (cerrado).
And crossing my fingers, hoping the really massive droughts or devastating storms don't hit before the trees can establish themselves.

Dennis D said...

By googling Hypsithermal+ my region I found some excellent on line resources on past history, and some educated guesses on the future climate.
Based on these maps, the region I am in will still be livable, but dryer.The forests will move north, but I will still be in their southern boundary.The permaculture advice to build swales and ponds to capture rainfall when it happens will be the key to making a livable farm.

Brian Cady said...

JMG, I've never read a better, more graspable, yet accurate, explanation of systems going through steady, pulsing and chaotic states than your hand-in-the-bathtub one here. Very impressive article.

MawKernewek said...

I would be sceptical of reaching a stable new normal as far as climate is concerned by 2300, because I would expect that it would take more than 200 years after the notional highest anthropogenic CO2 level achieved around 2100, for the higher temperatures to melt all the ice that is going to melt.

It is probably the case, that the albedo feedback effect from loss of summer sea ice, means that complete deglaciation of Greenland is inevitable, however the timescale may be as long as 1000 years, and whatever losses we can expect in Antarctica may be slower in timescale.

Other feedbacks such as changes to forests may also take many centuries before they settle to a new stable state.

Edward Sanderson said...

JMG, have you thought about/discussed what will happen if nobody gets around to properly decommissioning all the nuclear power plants before we run out of the resources necessary to accomplish the task? That might be a good post for this series.

Unknown said...

Someone mentioned over grazing and cows for climate change. Assuredly as cows can be hard on land, they can be a potent force for reversing the encroachment of desert. The book on the topic is Allan Savory's "Holistic Management." The book appears to be about dry-land ranch management, and it is, but it also looks at human decision making and how it could be much better. Among other things, he makes a case for looking at the consequences of decisions out several hundred years into the future to decide if they were good decisions or not.

Eric S. said...

Do you plan on doing a post along these lines specifically directed at biodiversity during the de-industrial dark ages? In addition to the establishment of a new cycle of human civilization and a new normal for the global climate, the next 500 years is very likely to see the final tipping point of the mass extinction that's already in the process of happening and new ecosystems lining themselves up for the next few million years of adaptive radiation.

The extinction of most corals due to ocean acidification and a scramble among oysters, barnacles, encrusting bryozoans and a few others to fill the empty niche feels almost like a given at the moment and that will mean a collapse of some of the world's most familiar ocean ecosystems on a scale that hasn't been seen since the loss of the sponge reefs of the Mesozoic. On land, the loss of a few already fragile keystone pollinators and the inability of a few of our most familiar trees to migrate or adapt fast enough will all redefine what sorts of plants, animals, and building people will be growing an eating in the future. Is it worth trying to predict what sorts of plants and animals might be well poised to make it through the extinction event we're experiencing to fill the open niches in the swamps, forests, and fields of the dark ages?

CoCargoRider said...

I like that you mention the climate activists who talk the talk, but by and large do not walk the walk. Here in CO, it is hip to drive a Prius with I believe in climate change stickers. Until people starting showing individuals can do it, we are lost.

Roger said...

JMG, I'm not a scientist, but to me, the Big Kahuna of climate change has always been glacial advance and recession. I wonder if our dumping carbon in the atmosphere blew this pattern of glaciation/glacial recession off course.

According to the bits that I've read on this topic, the last two million years have been characterized by long stretches of severe cold/glaciation (ie several million cubic miles of glacial ice), interspersed with stretches of warm with each warm period lasting maybe ten thousand years.

Again ,according to what I've read, this repetition of glacial advance/glacial recession happened in synch with wobbles in the Earth's position in space with respect to the sun, which, in turn, affected the amount of solar energy the Earth received. "Nutation" I think this pattern is called.

If this is so (I'm probably grotesquely oversimplifying) and if patterns of glaciation and glacial recession can be forecast by means of these predictable astronomic changes, then we ought to be able to say with a certain degree of accuracy when we would expect the next glacial onset. Can we rely on astronomic and geologic history?

Now, keep in mind that mostly what I know is what I read in the papers. So maybe these burblings sound hopelessly naive and childish.

I'm reading that we're in the latest inter-glacial period. It's been a good ten thousand years of warm climate. So are we reaching the end of it? What do the astronomers say?

Maybe this dumping of carbon in the air via our agricultural/industrial way of life acts to offset what we would otherwise get, that is, over a period of coming decades/centuries, an increasingly cold Earth, glacial advance, destruction of our agricultural breadbaskets, mass starvation, mass migration. Very bad stuff IOW.

So, I'm wondering,did our treatment of the atmosphere as an aerial sewer inadvertently act to ameliorate the next, otherwise inevitable, glacial advance? Or did it act to stop the next glacial period in its tracks? I'm curious, has there been any public discussion of this by the scientific community? Because, if there has been, I totally missed it.

Which, in your opinion, is the worse scenario 1) global cooling and glacial advance or 2) world climate warmed and de-stabilized by human activity but glacial advance averted? Or are these two alternative scenarios foolishly simplistic?

Autumn Star-Arrow said...


Your suggested bathtub experiment says that spilling water on the bathroom floor is not necessary to understand the lesson, but I would offer another perspective. Humanity is likely in the process of spilling at least some of the water even now, which will result in our future climate equilibrium not returning to the same 'water level'.

The jury still seems to be out on exactly how much water we're going to be flooding the house with. I think the general Peak Oil view that we're not going to spill as much as mainstream projections suggest is right. I've been excited to read your take on it and if I'm reading this right, it seems that your position is that we'll be doing more damage than some of the other Peak Oil writers believe. Notably Gail Tverberg seems to think the timeframe to peak fossil-fuel production is even shorter.

It sounds like the next few posts will make the difference in perspectives clearer and I'm looking forward to them.

Kirby Benson said...

Hello. This is my first post here. I have been reading the Archdruid Report for several years now and started my explorations in this area with Richard Heinberg before I found the Archdruid Report. I love the name of 'Archdruid' and of course it would be nice to have one in the back yard (statuary, that is). Most of my friends already think I am sort of 'strange' so when I tell them about the Archdruid they think I have 4 ears instead of the usual 3! One person I know in Australia actually took the time to read the Report. Most of my friends turn me off when I begin the discussion concerning peak everything - rise and fall and so forth. And since I don't practice what I preach very well as JMG says I should they probably think I am full of it.

I find magic to be very handy when I want a parking space closer to the door of the grocery store. There is no free lunch and so it is important to know something has to be balanced out on the micro to the macro scale as this conversation seems to imply. Including the parking space.

I must admit I have little to offer this particular discussion except to say I am 76 years old, was raised in the Pacific Northwest in a camping and fishing family and have seen the effects of clear cutting and over use of the forests, lakes and streams by over population.

My wife and I have done little to make any significant changes in our comfortable middle class lifestyle. I expect if we had children or grandchildren it would be different. Also, if I were in my 30s, 40s or 50s I would be seriously thinking about moving from our drought stricken region in Southern New Mexico and go looking for a community of like minded people. The gods have been very generous with us since we have had the benefit of seemingly limitless energyfor the past 76 years. Those of you coming behind have my blessing and I applaud your courage to confront a very uncertain future.

Kirby Benson
Las Cruces

Patrick Cappa said...

I look forward to hearing your ongoing discussion on this topic. Your novel Star's Reach really piqued my interest and imagination in wondering what the far future holds for the lands I call home. Here in Colorado we've definitely had a weird summer, it's been cool and wet, after a few monster summers that were hot and dry and full of forest fires. Knowing the science of climate change hasn't really translated to knowing the "feel" of what it'll be like to live in this strange new climate, but your stories have gone where the data does not: the human dimension of what this all means to us.

As for entry level paleoclimate books, I don't know of one, but the NOAA NCDC website has a decent intro write up:

From there, I urge everyone in North America to pick up E.C. Pielou's "The End of the Ice Age". I can tell JMG is pulling extensively from this book, and it really gives you an idea of the story of North America's thawing out over the last 20000 years.

And for further reading, I urge you all to read "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. It's a great region by region accounting of the more practical implications of climate change, at least over the next century or so.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I'm so looking forward to reading this series of posts.

We've got full-on weirding here in northeastern Illinois: over the last several years we've had a couple of record warm winters, drought, a record cold winter and now an unusually cool summer. Our overall rainfall is increasing, and likely to continue to do, but in more extreme events than in the past. This is not incompatible with the spread of prairies.

What would be interesting to see is the future plant species mix that will make up those prairies and savannas, what with all the new species that have come from elsewhere. Also interesting would be what wildlife would adapt and what would migrate in. I can imagine many animals such as bison, deer, black bears, beaver, etc. doing ok, especially as human populations decline. The bison might bust out of Yellowstone and journey east.

In the near term, ecologically-sound water management is becoming ensconced in local ordinances. Even with more rain, lake levels are likely to decline. There are already discussions in certain quarters about the impact of the likely climate refugees from places like the southwest and how to continue protecting the Great Lakes from efforts to remove the water to drought-stricken regions elsewhere.

Myosotis said...

How do you balance welcoming refugees with needing to be able to succeed yourself?

The PacNW is likely to be relatively livable and will therefore be a great place to move. People are already moving here in droves. Since well before I was born, there's been a meme of discouraging people from moving here, not wanting to be California 2 and so on.

But in Portland at least, it's incredibly common for me to meet people who moved here just to be here without any real plan on how to make a living or a life. Must be pretty bad elsewhere. How do you keep from feeling overrun?

Chris Balow said...

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding this bathtub metaphor. In the bathtub, the system becomes chaotic when the catalyst (the moving hand) is introduced, and only returns to stability after that catalyst is removed. With anthropogenic global warming, the catalyst (higher atmosphere CO2 concentrations) remains in the system until well after that system attains a new stability. Shouldn't global climate remain chaotic as long as the catalyst is present?

SLClaire said...

Where I live (a few miles from the MO-MS River confluence) is considered a transitional zone between forests to our east and prairies to our west. The NWS bases its climate normals on a 30 year period. Comparing the latest base, 1980-2010, to the previous base of 1970-2000 we are experiencing somewhat more rainfall and somewhat warmer conditions for the year as a whole. How long that will be the case I don't know. Within my lifetime - I'm 57 now - climate weirding in the hotter and drier direction seems most likely but with the potential of late spring freezes and early fall freezes perhaps having more of an impact on my gardening. However, the impact of refugees from elsewhere may make more of a difference to me personally than climate weirding does. It wouldn't surprise me to have migrants from the Great Plains and the Southwest wind up here as it'll be about the closest place where natural-rainfall agriculture will remain viable for most to all of my remaining years. I'll be reading your post on climate refugees with a great deal of interest.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Re William Cronon's work, I heartily second your recommendation of Nature's Metropolis. I first read it when it came out years ago and it completely changed the way I understood my hometown of Chicago and how its growth altered the entire surrounding region's ecology.

His other books are well worth reading, too. Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, which he edited, offers some interesting takes on different cultures' ideas about nature. Also germane to this blog's project, I believe.

JR said...

JMG asked about an introductory book on paleoclimates. Though not exactly introductory, Peter Ward's "Under a Green Sky" (2007) is a good account of some relevant research from the 80s to 2006.Having had a correlated chart of evolutionary epochs nearby was helpful to me while reading.
Separately, speaking of dark ages, Jane Jacob's "Dark Ages Ahead" (2004) is impressive, I think. She's underappreciated, especially as a down-to-earth economist with a historical perspective. This book strongly suggests that the "ahead" is upon us already.
"Overshoot" (1980) by William Catton has a strong ecological and recent historical perspective. Again, the "ahead" here is definately past tense.

exiledbear said...

I like that you mention the climate activists who talk the talk, but by and large do not walk the walk. Here in CO, it is hip to drive a Prius with I believe in climate change stickers. Until people starting showing individuals can do it, we are lost.

If you have a garage, you can wrench on a project car and convert it to electric. Or convert a bicycle you picked up on craigslist to a moped. A moped conversion will typically get over 100mpg. Or just get a scooter off craigslist. Or kit out an ordinary bicycle for commuting. You might want to look (don't buy it, they want too much $$$) at the Electra Amsterdam bicycle for what a practical bicycle you use for transport looks like and then get something off craigslist and modify it until it resembles something like it.

Don't bother with the bicycle helmets or the other gear, do like the Dutch and just ride in your ordinary clothes. They've been riding bicycles from time on end and if they don't think it's necessary, neither do I.

CoCargoRider said...

Thanks EB, but I have been multi-modal commuting for years now with half bus and half bike. If I need to drive, I ride my 70mpg MC. We are not car-free by any means, but try and be as car-lite as possible.

John Michael Greer said...

Dmitry, I'm far from sure I agree with that, since extraction has to make economic sense, not just energetic sense. The cost of the whole system has to be included, all the way to the end user.

Rhisiart, diolch yn fawr a chi!

Jason, yes, it's a CEO thing. It probably never occurs to him to wonder whether it's a good idea to have everything you ever wanted.

Surfer, okay, what happened the time before 1933-4? And the time before that? Trying to draw sweeping conclusions from one example is as significant a source of errors in mundane astrology as it is in anything else.

Albatross, yes, I saw that! Many thanks.

Zachariah, I expect to see that sort of declaration of blind faith in progress at increasing volume from here on in. As for Norway, I haven't researched it -- I have enough work to do trying to keep track of the future of one continent!

Russ, I wish I had an easy answer for that sort of thing. I suspect a lot of true believers will continue shouting at the top of their lungs that progress is invincible up to the moment the ground drops away beneath their feet.

Les, no argument there. Trying to choose the right place for climate change in an age of chaos is not unlike trying to time the popping of a speculative bubble -- except that you don't really have the option of pulling your money out of the market and sitting tight until the bubble pops.

NR-Cole, thanks for the recommendation!

Tony, exactly. Outside of a few oddballs, nobody -- but nobody -- wants to admit that the joyride is over and we all have to get out and walk. That's as true of the greenest of green liberals as it is of their Limbaughesque rivals.

LewisLucanBooks said...

One thing that seems weird here, in the Pacific Northwest (halfway between Seattle and Portland / up about 600 feet) is the overnight lows.

Sure, we've been having upper 80s and lower 90s days ... but there's no been a night over 60 so far. And, there's been a good stiff breeze to make the days tolerable and rather pleasant.

So, those overnight lows make it very comfortable for sleeping. But, it sure isn't doing much for my tomatoes which are just busy "being green." They won't redden up unless we get higher nighttime temperatures.

I realize that the "weather" in my little corner of the world doesn't have much to do with the overall climate. But the lack of higher nighttime temperatures makes me uneasy.

avalterra said...

I will spring board off of "Luckymortal". First of all I think it likely we will keep drilling and using oil even after the return goes negative. Two reasons - first the battery. The EROEI on a battery is like 11:1 (I may have that backwards but it takes 11 times more energy to make a battery then it give off). But we still use them because the energy is in a handy form. The same is true of oil. It's liquid compact nature is very handy for transporting and running machinery. I think we will burn just about anything we can to keep producing the oil we need to run our machines for as long as we can. In addition, there is a little thing called "government subsidy". It might be that the government papers over the negative EROEI by making everyone pay a bit to cover the shortfall. They might argue that there is a huge amount of oil to be found in the "new" Arctic region and that this subsidy is just temporary until we can get that fuel. And, as Lucky said, we are likely to burn anything we can to keep the energy going - trees, coal, garbage, peat moss, etc. Heck we might even try to "mine" methane clathrates. In the end, of course, it will wind down but we could extend the damage by a good piece.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, granted. I was trying to come up with the simplest possible model for the way systems respond to change.

Donalfagan, good question -- I first encountered it in a peak oil context, but you'd think economists would have a label for what happens when the interaction of supply and demand forces down demand due to limits of supply.

Kutamun, the conflict between the increasingly obvious impacts of crisis and the increasingly strident voices of denial is going to define most of the politics of the next decade or so. It'll be interesting, in something like the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse, to see how that works out.

M, good. One of these days I'm going to write a biography of the planet Earth, which will use that all-time-is-a-year image, but extend it out into the future to the best current estimate of the end of Earth's biosphere. I think it'll drive home the point even more forcefully if all of human history is a few moments of an afternoon in early September...

Mortal, we'll be talking about topsoil loss and the like in the near future. Even if you burnt all the wood on the planet, though, that would only account for a small portion of the excess CO2 we're adding from fossil fuels, so that's less of a worry. Also, one way or another, once human population crashes -- and of course it will -- green plants will start filling in the gaps we've made, and so any last-minute carbon spike will be partly balanced by absorption into the biosphere. More on this as we proceed.

Bob, fair enough; I'll look into that.

Kleymo, thanks for the suggestions!

Unknown, if so, you might want to go somewhere else, since everyone else will be stampeding toward that refuge.

Jim, if all that's left is a trickle that's hugely expensive to extract, very likely it won't be extracted. There are substitutes for petroleum for most uses, including lubricants and plastic feedstocks.

Bear, almost everything that belongs to the current US economy is pretty much past its pull date at this point. Third world conditions are about the best we can hope for. More on this as we proceed...

As for the sun, it's a variable star -- didn't you know that? And the flipping of the magnetic pole won't affect climate much, though it will likely mess over our electronics once the Earth's magnetic field isn't keeping solar storms at bay.

Toomas, no, I'm focusing on North America because that's as much as I have time to research adequately. I'd encourage you or someone else to do the necessary work and do some blog posts, or what have you, on deindustrial Europe.

Bill, glad to hear you're working on more stories in that setting -- it's a good one. I look forward to reviewing your first novel along those lines.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, excellent! You get this afternoon's gold star, for thinking about the systems implications of all this. It's exactly the convergence of multiple trends -- destabilizing climate, rising sea levels, disintegrating infrastructure, political and economic failure, etc., etc. -- that makes the process of decline and fall unstoppable. More, much more, on this as we proceed.

Jose, my doubts about permaculture are almost entirely a matter of the way that permaculture is being marketed in the US -- if you're actually doing the work, rather than sitting at a keyboard telling everybody they've got nothing to worry about because we'll all be fed from food forests any day now, I have no objections.

Dennis, exactly. Plan for drought, and maximize your local area's ability to cope with extremes of all kinds, and you're in about as good a position as can be found just now.

Brian, thank you.

MawKernewek, of course the climate will keep on changing, but the slow pace of continued melting will allow things to stabilize to some extend -- as though you slowed down your hand so that it was no longer sloshing water onto the floor.

Edward, er, if you read the post, you'll have noticed that I specifically mentioned that I was going to include a post on toxic and radioactive wastes, and that includes leftover nuclear reactors. I'm pleased to say that both the cheerleaders for the nuclear industry and the "by-2030-we're-all-going-to-DIIIEE!" brigade will be equally offended by that post; stay tuned.

Unknown, we'll deal with that when it's time to talk about the nomadic pastoralists of the deindustrial prairies.

Eric, yes, and we'll get to that too. It's an important issue, and one that human beings can influence rather significantly in the decades and centuries ahead.

Rider, we're lost. Now that that's settled, we have to figure out which way to go from here.

Roger, don't confuse short-term climatic events (such as greenhouse gas spikes) with long-term events (such as ice ages). Yes, we'll get a new ice age eventually, probably within a few millennia -- that is, about the time the excess CO2 we're putting into the atmosphere finally gets cycled out. The most likely result, in fact, is that we've set up our descendants to be whipsawed by future climate change, as the earth moves rapidly from too hot to too cold, and the excess carbon that might have cushioned the transition was burnt in our time.

Autumn, oh, no question, the bathroom floor is already swimming. The question is simply how much more mess we're going to make.

Kirby, welcome to the list!

nr-cole said...


I found Dark Age Ahead mostly disappointing, and Life and Death of Great American Cities is one of my favourites. Jacobs mostly talked about what I saw as symptoms of a dysfunctional society, but presented them as causes. The subject matter could still be useful, but her hard examples were so disparate and tenuously related that the whole thing just felt unfocused. I still enjoyed reading it as a collection of critiques on transportation, education, and family structure, and governance, but thought it failed at contributing to the discussion of "dark ages."

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...

"if the Cascadia region gets a full-on subduction quake in the next few decades, the death toll will be right off the scale, because nobody, anywhere, has the resources necessary to get in and do what'll have to be done to save the millions of people who will be affected. That's one of the reasons I moved out of the region."

Hmm, JMG, Did you read beyond my first sentence?

You might notice that I specifically mentioned the disastrous effect of the combination of transportation infrastructure loss and the regional scope of the quake. Past subduction quakes on this fault have run it's entire length, affecting the whole area from Vancouver Island to California North of the Gorda Ridge. As I said, the potential size of the area and population affected beggars any disaster in the history of the United States.

If the quake happens during the energy plateau we're on (say before 2035) the area may be rebuilt and resettled. If it occurs after that, I suspect most of the region will be abandoned for decades. If it's over a hundred years from now, population will already have declined and likely become more self-sufficient, and will be affected to the same extent that the aboriginal peoples were here 300 years ago; which is to say, some people will die, and the rest will mourn, rebuild, and get on with life.

"my friends in the Seattle area tell me that they're getting the sort of summer weather more often seen in Yakima, so a certain amount of weirding may be in the cards."

Perhaps. Here on the Olympic Peninsula we have had more than the usual number of heavy showers and lightning storms this spring, and a slightly hotter and dryer summer. Still, this is an exaggeration of our normal patterns rather than a change in them. Spring is when we normally have the atmospheric instability that causes showers and lightning, and summer is normally our warmest and driest weather. Which you know from your experience living in Seattle. As it is, our 50 gallon rainwater tank for drinking and cooking water is still full thanks to a mid month rain. And the garden is the most productive since we started. A combination of our soil building efforts and the lucky combination of rain, sun and warmth this year. The chest freezer is full of produce, and we're starting to fill the old upright.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Enrique said...

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has an excellent website on the history of climate change since the beginning of the last interglacial (the Eemian), including sections for all of the continents with detailed timelines, descriptions and maps. Natural history and the earth sciences have been a source of fascination for me since I was a little boy.

Varun, Janet and others: I am currently reading “The Biggest Estate on Earth” by Bill Gammage, which discusses how the Australian aborigines actively managed the landscape and how things started to fall apart as the tribes were decimated. John Michell pointed out in “The New View Over Atlantis” that the aborigines had a system of sacred geometry, landscaping and eco-engineering that was very similar to that of the Chinese and the Neolithic peoples of Western Europe and actively managed the lands with an eye towards preserving the harmony and fertility of the land and that once the indigenous tribes began to die off and could no longer maintain their traditional system of land management, the fertility of the land began to die as well.

Thomas Mann discusses how many of the Native American cultures also managed the lands that they lived in. One thing that early European explorers in both Oz and the New World noted was how park-like and beautiful the landscapes were. This was true in many areas, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Eastern Woodlands, the Midwest and the Amazon Basin. Later European settlers in North America found vast, overgrown forests in the Eastern part of the continent and the same thing happened in large areas of South America. This was because once most of the native tribes had been wiped out by disease, there was no one left to manage the land and the trees and brush grew back with a vengeance. There is even some evidence that the Little Ice Age was caused at least in part by the dieoff of the natives during the century or so after first contact and the sudden and rapid growth of vegetation that resulted, particularly the return of the great forests, which drew massive amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and nearly triggered a premature return to the next glaciation.

It is truly amazing and sad how much the Faustian civilization of the West has destroyed and disrupted in its blind ignorance, arrogance and short sightedness. But one must not forget the great things and discoveries that were achieved as well. The world would be a much poorer place today, and not merely in a materialistic sense, without the great scientific discoveries and inventions of the last several centuries, the invention of intellectual tools like the Scientific Method and great works of art and music like the operas of Mozart and Wagner. I hope that at least some of the worthier legacies of the Western world can be preserved during the coming Dark Age or recovered afterwards. Still, as Goethe pointed out, when you sell your soul to the Devil in return for power, knowledge and wealth, there is always a very high price to pay when the Devil comes to collect his due...

Enrique said...

JMG said: “There are substitutes for petroleum for most uses, including lubricants and plastic feedstocks.”

There has been some very interesting research done in the last few decades on plastics based on alcohol and other biological feedstocks, and not just by the big biotech firms. I remember reading in National Geographic about some research that was going on in Nicaragua during the Sandinista era. There were Nicaraguan and Cuban scientists who were working on alcohol based bio-plastics back in the 1980’s, with the alcohol being made from sugar cane, maize and other suitable crops. In this case, the research was motivated by a desire for economic independence and reduced vulnerability to pressure from foreign enemies, but I wonder if something similar could be developed as the Gasoline Age fades away, perhaps even on a DIY/backyard chemistry basis. One advantage of bio-plastics is that they are generally biodegradable as well. I think most of us know that petroleum based plastic trash has been a major source of ecological damage, with the garbage filled gyre (the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”) in the middle of the North Pacific being the best known example.

steve pearson said...

One good indicator of the oil depletion situation is that the major private oil companies have all cut capex (exploration & development) budgets by about 20% to buy back stock shares & pay dividends to keep their share prices up. This will obviously affect future supplies, as production has barely managed to stay in plateau since 2005 with current high levels of spending. If they thought there was much more to find, they would still be looking.
There is a very interesting presentation about this by a man named Steven Kopits.
Willpost this in bits as I am on a very unreliable rural internet connection.

steve pearson said...

I am now living in a small valley in northern CA, where my daughter works for an heirloom, organic seed company. Fortunately the valley has excellent, quite accessible groundwater and a small population as almost the entire state, this area included, is in "exceptional" drought.
We have had day after day of 100+ degree f temperatures with a high of 108 (43c). Long term residents say they might normally get a week of this weather in a summer. Even the coast is in drought.
This part of the state is still in better shape than S CA & the central valley. If there is not good rain this winter, I'm not sure what some parts of the state can do. Combined with the worse economic conditions it can produce quite a downward spiral: a little preview of things to come I suppose.
Regards, Steve

Courtney Jane said...

JMG, you responded to everyone except me. I'll ask again- do you or don't you think that the collapse will ultimately make people better? If there's money left to fight over, won't people be more moral and happier and won't everyone live in harmony together? And isn't starting the trend by living with no money now the best way to do this?

exiledbear said...

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding this bathtub metaphor.

Don't worry about the math on that page, just look at the animations. Keep in mind this is a very simple system, and if you put enough energy in, it still oscillates but its exact behavior is very very hard to predict.

The system we call "earth" is somewhat more complex, but the principle is the same, if you overdrive the planet's environment, it will still oscillate but in a way that's very very hard to predict.

The point JMG is making that without easily predictable growing seasons and growing regions, life here gets a lot more difficult.

I'm not sure that the "earth" is a machine though. You were chastising me for thinking of the world as a machine a while back? Perhaps we should ask the um, "earth", what its status is? To stretch a - machine - metaphor a little more, when you're diagnosing a modern car, usually the first thing you do is talk to the car's computer, the part that manages it, to see what it thinks is going wrong.

Perhaps talking to the earth to ask it what is wrong is a better way of solving things?

Auriel Ragmon said...

Dear JMG:
Just today I picked up our local Seattle street paper, and there was a review of this book: american Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival, by Giles Slade (New Society Publishers 2013. All about what you said. I'll try to find a copy to read.
Jim of Olym
I'm not Auriel, that is my wife's account.

exiledbear said...

Bear, almost everything that belongs to the current US economy is pretty much past its pull date at this point. Third world conditions are about the best we can hope for

I often thought, when I was bicycling in the Netherlands back and forth, here and there, that it was one thing for me to suck it up and soldier on, but that most of my countrymen would tolerate that sort of lifestyle for about one week and then there would be blood in the streets when they realized that they couldn't drive anywhere, park anywhere, that they were thrown back to the tyranny of the train timetable and the 8mph speed of the bicycle.

That they would have to give up their big suburban house and live in a tiny apartment that they would never own and have to live with neighbors that might be noisy.

I think they would maybe rather kill each other in battles than find a way to live in that kind of world.

Maybe I'm wrong though. Please tell me I'm wrong.

Cathy McGuire said...

Ooh - my first gold star! :-) (I'm embarrassed to say I really drooled over them in 1st and 2nd grade... and maybe still a little bit...)

It seems that anyone who's trying to do green wizardry can easily see the multiple trends/ interactions issue on a microscale, at least. Whenever it's very hot here, my ability to care for the yard and animals decreases and something gets ignored - and that will impact the future, as some plant doesn't produce as much, etc. And if I have an emergency (or a stupid neighbor issuing civil suits, as I do now) my money and attention suddenly swerves, and the plans to systematically deal with other things gets derailed. So the economic, ecological, energy systems all interact constantly - and of course I didn't even mention the "external inputs" like sudden heat waves, thunderstorms or medical issues. It's always a complex juggling - yet it's true that those who are in denial about climate and the slow collapse are also usually denying their own "ecology" - trying to throw money at problems rather than looking at causes and interactions.

And since my own Peak Energy has hit and I'm in decline, I notice that whereas in my 20's I used to do things "after work" simply to work off all the energy I had, now I'm dredging up the hard to get stuff, and there's dang little left over to "waste" on "fun" (my fun these days most often is reading or sitting watching Nature). So- microcosm and macrocosm; it's just a question of scale.

John Michael Greer said...

Patrick, glad to hear it -- and yes, Pielou's book is one of the sources I've used, and I should have suggested it when the issue came up.

Adrian, the mixing of species going on right now is definitely going to produce some odd ecosystems in the future, especially with climate change factored in. I wish I could see the results!

Myosotis, that's one of the problems with being an obvious refuge. Mass migrations are a common feature of the decline and fall of civilizations, and they generally involve plenty of violence and chaos.

Chris, okay, put your hand in the bathtub and don't move it at all. Your hand is CO2. Until your hand starts moving -- that is, until the CO2 concentration starts changing -- it doesn't begin to have more than a very slight effect on the system. The faster the hand moves -- that is, the faster CO2 concentration in the atmosphere changes -- the more disruption you get. If the hand then stops moving, the disruption dies down. Does that make a bit more sense?

SLClaire, that's going to be an interesting place to be, one way or another.

JR, thanks for the recommendations.

Lewis, that's very odd by Northwest standards. Is the humidity unusually low?

Avalterra, the reason you can afford 1/11 EROEI on a battery is that abundant energy from other sources is available to you. Government subsidies work for the same reason. If the energy isn't there, you're out of luck, for the same reason it doesn't help you to decide to eat three square meals a day if you're stranded on a desert island with no food at all.

Glenn, yes, and I was agreeing with you.

Enrique, it's easy to hope that this or that or the other thing can be preserved. Are you, personally, willing to do something to make that happen? If not, who's going to do it?

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, oil companies slashing their capital expenditures is a bright red light and a klaxon warning of major trouble ahead. With the price of oil near record highs, why would they do that, unless there really isn't that much else that can be extracted?

Courtney, did I miss a comment of yours? My apologies. As for your question, though, where on earth do you get the idea that going through the decline and fall of a civilization would somehow make people better? It certainly hasn't had that effect in any previous example. If people don't have money to fight over, they'll find something else; war was invented several thousand years before money, remember.

Jim, I usually respond to people using the handle that heads their comment, so other people can find it. I haven't read the book yet -- will put it on the list.

Bear, some will fight. Some will drink or drug themselves to death. Some, to use Bill's useful phrase, will decide to have the contents of a shotgun shell for dinner. Some will find other ways out...and some few will deal with the new reality. Those last are the ones who matter.

Cathy, exactly -- one of the many good reasons for going out and getting your hands dirty is that it's easy to wallow in various fantasies about the future when you don't have to grapple with the realities of subsistence up close and personal.

Glenn said...

"John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, yes, and I was agreeing with you."

Ah, sorry. We have talked past (or properly, typed past) each other before, and I misinterpreted your reply as meaning I hadn't appreciated the potential magnitude of the casualties from such a quake. Obviously I think we will survive; but we're under no illusion that it will be easy.

As for climate; so far it's been a small change of scale, but not of kind. At some point that change in scale will change the kind. Dr. Mass thinks at least 50 years. But I've noticed these changes keep coming sooner and larger than the most pessimistic predictions.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

wiseman said...

When I visited US, I found that people there are much more courteous than my countrymen (India). There are some problems but name a place where there are none.

People can and will live happily with bikes and trains, those who have grown up with a Dodge RAM will complain for some time and then adjust, I think there is too much pessimism in the PO community, esp those from US.

Take it from a person living in third world that it ain't that bad, humans can get used to almost anything and still manage to live happily. Cheers to that.

Dwig said...

Here's an interesting read, about cross-century drought and its effects on civilization: Drought and the Collapse of the Maya Civilisation. The main focus is the four main periods of abandonment of Mayan Cities:
a.) The pre-Classic abandonment’s of 150–200 AD.
b.) The Hiatus of 530– 590 AD.
c.) The main period of collapse ~ the Classic period: 8th/9th Centuries
d.) The Post Classic abandonments, centred on 1450 AD.
The article explores research that concluded that drought was the cause in each case.

Also worth it is a followup on the same site: Droughts, Floods, the Medieval Warm Period and the Rise and Fall of Civilisations in Central and South America, which covers a wider area, and more climatology.

Nicholas Carter said...

I have been trying to read Spengler's Decline of the West and am having some difficulty with the woo mindset the book is written in (particularly in discussing Space-As-Symbolic-Of-Death and Nature and Destiny). Is there a writing you are aware of that will help me bridge the culture gap, particular sections to skip over, power through, or just jump straight to.
Or is this a book I'm just not ready to read if I can't handle woo?

Dwig said...

Adding to Steve's comment about oil companies cutting capital expenditures: I've also read that the oil "majors" (the non-state run companies) are saying that they need petroleum prices in the neighborhood of $120/barrel to be profitable. Given the experience of 2008, it's unlikely that the global economy could support a price much above the current $100 - $110 without lapsing into recession. Rock, meet hard place.

John Roth said...


The term you’re looking for is Milankovich cycles. The timing for the glacial/inter-glacial periods in the current Ice Age is highly suggestive, but there is still a lot of dispute about why the periodicity switched at one point. In any case, predictable long-term changes in solar insolation are incorporated in climate models.

According to the cycles, we should be entering another glacial period. This was the basis of the flurry of papers a few decades ago predicting “global cooling” or some such. Exactly why we aren’t (ignoring all the CO2 being dumped in the atmosphere) isn’t well understood. The best idea I’ve heard is that the invention of agriculture changed the situation enough to put off the next glacial.

The best current estimate for the magnetic pole switch is about a thousand years out. All we really know is that, from a historical perspective, we’re way overdue for a shift. Beyond that, most of the research concentrates on modeling the Earth’s core, and the best current answer is we don’t really know what’s going on. Theories abound. If the thousand year estimate is accurate, it’s simply not going to matter.

nuku said...

@Tony f. whelKs said...That's my big fear, politically...which brings us back to the roots of fascism etc.

I recommend watching the movie
"V For Vendetta"

Cherokee Organics said...


The winds were feral yesterday and there was a big dump of snow today:

Snow 1st August at Fernglade Farm

Lot's of fun (well, the snow was anyway). I spent a bit of time yesterday pulling tree limbs off the road.



galacticsurfer said...

I liked the bathtub idea. Gradualism in open systems to a new level but when it breaks out of stability is chaotic andd destructive. I experience that wwith too much energy from yoga and tai chi.slow and steady growth year fo year getting nervous system used to it. I imagine profesional athletes have similar experiences. At any rate nice to know how exactly climate map will look and from this follows human setlement and culture. This is very fact based.great work.

ben said...


Thankyou for your words.

Here is a short video made in the 70's about CAT (the centre for altenative technology) in Wales.

We've just had a very warm spike in temperature around here, there was ice lying around for the previous 3 weeks in the shade, it was 17 degrees c out there today!! (Wanaka, NZ) - too early for a spring storm.


Grebulocities said...

May I make a guess about your predictions that will offend both nuclear industry shills and NTE believers? It'll have something to do with the fact that although we do have over 400 nuclear plants around the world, and that it's quite unlikely that many of them will be shut down "properly" or that their waste will be stored in some way that won't leak out within the next several centuries (to say nothing about geological timescales).

But, despite the very high radiation load, life continues. Taking the region around Chernobyl for reference, despite enormous ecological devastation and unknown number (or even order of magnitude, probably 10^4 or 10^5, but nobody knows for sure) of human fatalities, the local ecosystem is doing better than any other nearby region of Ukraine+Belarus+western Russia, to say nothing of "affluent" Western locations. Fukushima will probably settle into the same situation as well; ionizing radiation is bad for life, but if a release of radioactive materials scares off humans that aren't willing to take much higher mortality rates to live there, the local ecosystem is likely to do better than it would with constant pressure from those modern resource-rich humans.

I also have one small nit to pick with your projections of future biomes - the amount of precipitation needed to generate forests, vs grassland, vs desert, is quite dependent on local temperatures. This is only because evaporation rates are very temperature-dependent - 10 in of melted snow is worth far more at 60 N than 10 in of rain at the equator because of higher evaporation. Most taiga forests get less than 25 in (near the tundra line, it's usually less than 10 in) of rain but still manage to support impressive amounts of biomass per unit area.

This is of course less important within the contiguous United States since most of the landmass is in latitudes where your precipitation limits are a good rule of thumb for what future biomes we can expect to be present (roughly 30 to 50 N).

flute said...

Your figures for rainfall needed for woodland are not quite right.
Far less annual rainfall than the 40 inches (1000 mm) you state will support woodland.
To see that, look at maps of annual rainfall and natural vegetation. For North America annual average precipitation:
And natural vegetation:
500 mm (20 inches) look quite enough, though with a warmer climate that limit might be higher. But at least 600-700 mm (25 inches or a bit more) should suffice.
The same applies to Europe:
In Spain (southwest) it looks like 550 mm is needed, whereas here in Sweden (north) 500 mm is enough to support forest.
Somewhere at a bit less annual precipitation we get savanna-like vegetation, with scattered drought tolerant trees. The limit for savanna is however far above the 100 mm needed for grassland.

As for "global weirding", yes, we see it here in Stockholm (Sweden) too. Some years ago we had a winter without snow, then some a winter with record amount of snow cover days. This summer we've had a rather long period with temperatures above 30 degrees (Celsius of course) and Stockholm has actually been slightly hotter than Rome during this period.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yakima would make the farm here look like a full on hard-core rainforest. The photos of the surrounding hills around Yakima showing denuded vegetation are a dead giveaway for the low annual rainfall. The temperature extremes there could be modified with better and more established vegetation. Just sayin...

Also, the actions that were taken by governments to avoid the second Great Depression in 2008 were quite good. Unfortunately, they just don't know what to do next. I read an interesting lecture recently from the Reserve Bank governor here and can link to it if you’d like. It was clear to me that they'd adopted correct responses based on historical accounts of the 1929 stock market crash, but understanding the bigger picture seemed to be a very big ask for central bankers. They probably have no wish to go too far back when referring to historical accounts because obviously: “this time it’s different” (sarcasm alert).

Hi Les,

I feel for your situation. You may also remember that Sydney is also in the grip of an unprecedented hot and dry spell and the dams there are draining. Two years ago, it didn't rain here in any significant way for 5 months - during summer too.

I too feel your pain and don't really know what the answer is. Australia is simply the canary in the coal mine and we receive the worst of all weather conditions. All I do know is to re-mineralise your soils and plants and get more water into the ground when it falls from the sky again - as it will at some stage in the future. That will most likely happen about the exact same time that it stops raining here. What did Ned Kelly say as he was sentenced to death: "such is life".



Cherokee Organics said...


I forgot to mention that last night I went out to a comedy show in the city (by train, of course). But I arrived home quite late only to find that after the storm, the only lights up in the mountain range were coming from my place. There was a power outage due to the storm and this house was like a beacon. I trust that you'll consider such matters in your future history?

PS: It is now -0.1 degrees Celsius (31.8F) outside which is as cold here as I've seen it here. The coffee shrub is toast - in the dead sense rather than the warm sense.



Cherokee Organics said...


Thought that it might be worth mentioning just how hardy and prolific some plant seed stocks actually are. No doubt about it, if people disappeared tomorrow, plants would take up every available niche and expand beyond anything people can currently imagine. It is only fossil fuels keeping the plants at bay now.

You lot should all think about that the next time you take a ride on a ride on mower! Some of the seed stocks here, will last tens to hundreds of years in the ground waiting for the right conditions to appear for them to germinate. Bush orchids are a great example. Eucalyptus trees will hybridise to a particular location within only three generations.

Ere, what's this talk of oddballs? I trust that you count yourself amongst them! hehe!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy. The locals throw shade cloth over a green house in order to moderate the internal temperatures. Also the doors, roof and even side windows are all openable. Personally, I don't use them, but trust rather to growing in the mostly shade as well as selective breeding.

Cheers. Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi avalterra. I think that it is unfair even to mention EROEI with batteries. The reason for this is that batteries do not generate energy, they are built to store it and have no other function.

The other thing that springs to mind is that very few batteries are comparable, so any EROEI figure must be pure rubbish or only refer to a single type of battery. You couldn't for example compare the large industrial batteries here to a AA alkaline cell for example. Your comment from that perspective make little to no sense.



P.M.Lawrence said...

"... most historical writing these days puts human beings at the center of the picture, with the natural world as a supposedly static background ... Neither of these approaches seem particularly useful to me."

Actually, properly used and understood, it is very useful, and even leads to insights into chaotic behaviour like those you brought out.

It may be easier to bring out with a couple of real life examples, electric motors and hydraulic pumping systems. Each has two very different processes working together, the electrical and mechanical sides of the motor and the liquid and its pump in a hydraulic system. It is straightforward to analyse the motor by pretending that it is rotating at a constant speed - even though we know perfectly well that it really isn't - and then solving the electrical equations for voltage and current and so on under that faulty assumption, using the mechanical side as a fixed constant. That gives us the electrical behaviour as a function of the mechanical behaviour. Then we plug that function into the equations for the mechanical side to provide the torque etc., this time treating the "constant" input to the function as a varying parameter, and we solve for that. This works because the electrical side responds and settles down so much faster than the mechanical side that near enough is good enough even though it isn't actually true.

On the other hand, that simplifying assumption fails with many hydraulic systems, because that difference of responsiveness doesn't hold - which is why you can get hammering in plumbing at odd times and under odd loads - loads that take it away from zones in which hammering was engineered out, which is the analogue of the issues you are looking into. Dealing with that literally is rocket science, because precisely that problem comes up with liquid fuelled rockets.

How is that useful, when it sounds as though I've just told you it only works in some kinds of systems and not others, and the problem at hand isn't the former sort? Because knowing why and how it works, when it does work, tells us what to look out for and when to try other things instead. That is just precisely why the better sort of economist makes simplified models with unrealistic assumptions; it's not quite to try to get forecasts, it's to use the times that it works to show what doesn't matter and can safely be abstracted out - and the times that it doesn't work to highlight what is and isn't crucial, to see what else should be studied. Similarly, the failure modes of oversimplification - bifurcations increasing towards chaos and so forth - are what tells us what to look out for in ecologies and such like. (There's a lot more that could be said as well, but that should be enough.)

By the way, I think you've missed a lot of the point people were trying to bring out about how EROI works out and is likely to work out. If they don't clarify it first themselves, I'll try doing it later myself.

Don Plummer said...

I could say a lot about climate weirding in my area (central Ohio). I used to keep detailed weather records going back 40-45 years, though I haven't kept up with it for many years.

The first change I noticed was a lengthening of the growing season, beginning, I would say, in the 1980s. Killing frosts used to be normal by the middle of October, but that date has slipped by two-three weeks. I remember one year in the 1980s we didn't have a frost until nearly Thanksgiving. Last killing frosts in the spring have shifted from mid- to late April to, sometimes, as early as mid-March.

During the first decade of the 21st century, I was beginning to think Ohio's climate was morphing into a Mediterranean-type situation. Summers during that period were hot and very dry, and the dryness extended into the autumn months. (After Katrina ravaged the New Orleans area in 2005, the storm tracked inland and provided us with a very welcome and much needed inch or so of rainfall.) We would receive most of our precipitation in winter and spring. One year--2008, I believe--we had a very dry autumn, and we experienced daytime temperatures in the 90s (F) in early October. I had never seen weather that hot that late in the season before. Rainfall, when it came, was usually of the torrential variety, with a lot of runoff.

Since about 2010, though, we have begun experiencing the oscillations John speaks of here. From the mildest winter I can remember in 2011-12 to one of the severest this past winter; from hot, dry summers to the current mild, wet one (my tomatoes aren't ripening either, LewisLucanBooks), we've experienced strange fluctuations in our weather patterns.

donalfagan said...

This post reminds me of the opening chapters of a Michener novel. I'm wondering if we'll be seeing a post-peak Levi Zendt down the road.

BTW, I read ScienceBlogs, and a week or so ago, a contributor named HE Taylor passed away, who authored a spec fiction/overshoot novella called The Bottleneck Years. So I started reading it. The chapters are often short (I'm up to 18) and it is a much more techno future than most in the post-collapse genre, but not all that optimistic so far.

Pierluigi Dipietro said...

maybe you should ask to a paleoclimate expert.

The problem today is that co2 levels are above the values estimated at 4 million years before present. Maybe, the current levels will scale up to levels referred to 30 million years before present.

Let's hope that permafrost metane and the methane hidrate on the seafloor at high latitude will not melt.

Another remark concerning the future climate. You are assuming that current climate "attractor" will be still the same after the disturbation. In not really sure. There are a lot of attractors in complex systems. One possible event could be a new system attractor, in which the hearth climate could accomodate maybe for the next 50.000 - 1.000.000 years. Nobody can really tell which climate could result.

YJV said...

Further weirding report to add to Cherokee and others from Australia. Here in Canberra we had the warmest day in July for years (max 17 degrees C) yesterday, followed by what should be probably the coldest day of the year (max 8 degrees C) and a possible (near) snow forecast. Coupled with that back home (NZ) has been getting drier and drier over the last few years (it was usually at the rainfall level of your Pacific Northwest). Scientists have many way of dealing with chaotic systems, and in this case even one as complicated as the climate can be roughly analysed by smoothing out the noise and noticing the general trends.

I recently read NIWA (the NZ governmental climate agency's) report that El Nino is set to strike NZ/Australia this summer again. Your post today makes me wonder on how these climate cycles are interacting with the disturbances we are creating in the ecosystem. I don't even have a fraction of the brilliant climate knowledge of the other commenters here, but one can expect the interaction between the Pacific Northwest and Australasian climate systems to change once our inputs (the climates in both areas) changes.

Also, your emphasis on systems analysis is much appreciated by an engineering student such as I, especially one who studies at an institution that (tries) to structure the degree around such thinking. I've become so tired of explaining to people that the vast systems involved in the life-cycle of a solar PV or any other technology drive down the energy returns from it. Nowadays I don't mention my anti-progress-ism too loudly because universities are the loudest echo-chambers for the church of progress.

If there are any bloggers in the southern hemisphere (particularly the Asia-Pacific) who have attempted to replicate JMG's analysis for their respective regions, I would be very interested in reading their thoughts.


Bill Blondeau said...

Chris Balow, here's a suggested interpretation (or "lens" as Donnella Meadows might have said), one that generally works for me. When you're trying to wrap your head around systems behavior, just think: It's all about energy flow.

Energy moves through systems. (If it doesn't, they would be just static structures, not systems at all.) When it moves through systems, the general behavior is governed by a) how hard energy is trying to pour through; and b) the structure of the system through which the energy has to find its way.

JMG: Chris, okay, put your hand in the bathtub and don't move it at all. Your hand is CO2. Until your hand starts moving -- that is, until the CO2 concentration starts changing -- it doesn't begin to have more than a very slight effect on the system. The faster the hand moves -- that is, the faster CO2 concentration in the atmosphere changes -- the more disruption you get. If the hand then stops moving, the disruption dies down. Does that make a bit more sense?

Under the lens of energy flow, it seems (to me at least) to make all the sense in the world. In this explanation, the energy being pushed into the system is biomechanical energy from your muscles. Your hand, as JMG correctly notes, is analogous to CO2 being introduced into the planet's meteorological, ecological, and oceanic systems: it's the means for increased energy to be bucketing around in the system, first as smooth oscillations, then as more nonlinear craziness as the pent-up energy makes things shake.

The mental trick here is that, in Systems Theory, change in energy input always changes the structure of the system. It might not involve mechanical restructuring, at least not right away - patterns of heat distribution are another kind of structure, one that also influences system behavior. But as soon as a different energy flow starts entering the system, it has potential to change the game.


Bill Blondeau said...


The movement of energy through a system is not a simple input-output behavior. A lot of the energy, on its long strange trip, gets "stranded": it enters parts of the system that it cannot quickly exit. Physicists call this energy that isn't entirely free to flow "potential energy". The distribution of potential energy in the system, just as much as the system's physical structure, determines the location and capacity of pathways for energy flow. Think of the level of "potential" as being how hard the energy is trying to escape its present location.

Every energy storage device is an example of a structure that strands energy until you want it.

Energy "leaves" the system, once and for all, when its potential is so low that nothing in the system can induce it to flow back into play. This general kind of energy loss is called "sinking": once it's gone down the drain you can't get it back. So, bear in mind that energy wants to sink (or, to use JMG's much more elegant formulation, energy seeks its "bliss", and the bliss is to shed potential.)

So now we have a basic way to reason about the bathtub analogy.

Your hand in the water directly pushes mechanical energy in. CO2 in the atmosphere makes it harder for energy to drain away. Both of these will cause roughly the same kinds of swings and wiggles and crashes in observed system behavior, as excess energy is rattling the bars of its cage.

After a while, as the excess energy in the system drains out, the shaking and shivering and swinging will die down. This is the system's new equilibrium.

...If you're still reading this, you will probably have noticed that Systems behavior is what one might call a "massive mindfrack": as you start to look at all of the interdependent parts, and their receding-horizons complexity of interaction, cognitive despair is a real possibility. Systems Theory is not a ride for the faint-hearted; but it looks like we're going to have to use whatever brains and heart we have, if we're goign to make sense of the world we will be living in.

Oh goodness. This has gone rather long... My apologies. It might need to become a blog post.

onething said...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I always have gotten an uneasy feeling when reading about the value of vegetable (and potato!) gardening in this and other blogs, simply because it is a great help but not sufficient to feed oneself. I am now reading and greatly enjoying Gene Logsdon's new version of an old book he wrote in the 70's called Small Scale Grain Raising.
Readable, full of info and encouragement, I think it's an idea whose time has come! This is largely how Asia has fed itself on rice for centuries - small family plots. It seems there is some sort of mental block among us moderns that says growing grains is for big outfits and it is not necessarily so.

One challenge for me is to figure out how to do it without things like a rototiller. Which I am already doing in my vegetable garden, with moderate success. That is, it's a bit early to tell, but I am pursuing a no till method. I don't see a reason to become addicted to a rototiller when that's not how it's going to be and not how it once was, but Logsdon, although very much an author for the back to land movement and organic movement, nonetheless mentions using tillers and combines. Some of his audience are small scale farmers with considerable acreage. I'm interested in growing grains on a scale of perhaps a tenth or twentieth of an acre.
Barley, I believe is underrated in modern times. Throw in a couple of handfuls of barley into soup and you've got a complete meal.
Millet is used in dry areas, and is one grain that is alkaline rather than acidic in digestion.
Millet and buckwheat make complete protein.

Courtney Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thrig said...

The slow turtle (blocking highs) and wounded snake (a writhing jet stream) might make for appropriate images, though research is still ongoing in this area; see e.g. Jennifer Francis or the new paper "Amplified mid-latitude planetary waves favour particular regional weather extremes" that points to more frequent blocking patterns on the West coasts of Northern hemisphere continents, and less so elsewhere.

As for the ascetic, walking, there are very good reasons why most will not given any sort of alternative; the concrete and asphalt that cover the land formerly known as living are brutal to walk on (ponder why foam pads are being strapped to your soles), and the air quality can be grim, depending on exactly where you need to walk. Not that the walking is easy, assuming there is a sidewalk, and not some barrier or frogger across some absurd number of lanes—ask why are there no "car roll" buttons for the drivers to tap to perhaps get a green in a cycle or two? On my commute a "sidewalk closed" sign on a grassy slope—there never was a sidewalk, though the walkers had carved out a dirt path, despite the DOT studiously refusing to maintain the paint on a nearby crosswalk—recently morphed into chain-link fence and since yesterday even more fence appeared around that section of NE Campus Parkway, the one where they intend to chop even more trees down. Busy little beavers. I might also mention the strange case of Raquel Nelson, a mother once charged with homicide for not walking her children the long way around to the only legal crossing that was nowhere near the bus stop and her apartment, and not mention the slightly blind perhaps drunk hit-and-run driver that struck her child dead. Still, there are positive signs, with the work of Charles Marohn and others towards reversing the many blunders of the past age of the car.

Eddie Tennison said...

Living, as some of us do, in areas that are likely to be fairly devastated by climate change, my focus is on whether our current knowledge, used to the best of our abilities, can help ameliorate some of the problems, at least for a while.

For instance, here, in central Texas, my estimation is that we could continue to grow adequate food with perhaps half the current amount of rainfall. It would require that everyone learn how to harvest and stockpile rainwater, however.

We know a lot about passive cooling, learned from guys like Michael Reynolds. So we can deal with more extreme temperatures if our houses are built for it. Even without grid power.

Indoor agriculture, especially using whole systems approaches like aquaponics, inside structures like Monolithic domes, holds promise.

Many of these strategies are quite admittedly energy intensive on the front end, so we should be building the structures now, as opposed to trying to do it later when the energy premium is even higher.

Odin's Raven said...

If this is right, and the crazies in Washington get their nuclear war, most of the USA may become a desert sooner than the climatologists expect, and the fallout won't enhance the agricultural potential of the eastern coastlands.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Has the humidity been low? I poked around on the Web, and we're running well below the yearly average.

Can't think of a day this year where it's felt "sticky" or "muggy." It's been pretty breezy the last month.

Right now, it's raining! That's a surprise. Guess I won't have to water the vegies, today.

Marinhomelander said...

JMG, thank you for being the Pole Star of ecological reality.

Here in Marin County California the developers, money lenders and vociferous non-profits who get a cut of the action, are using California state mandates to promote the construction of lots of "transit oriented development", that is new high density apartment buildings built near any kind of transit or freeway corridor, along with a parking place for each unit of course. This is supposed to help fight global warming.

Pouring thousands of cubic yards of concrete, cutting down forests and building "equity housing" "doing our fair share" and other sociological nostrums are used as excuses for perpetuating the same old development and natural resource extraction paradigm, but this time with federal tax credits handed to the developers, no property or school taxes owed and exemption from all zoning and environmental impact reports. Money changes hands and existing communities get the paradigm shaft.

Problem for them is that the local citizens are rebelling and have gotten organized. They will not allow the County to become crowded with chipboard hive apartment buildings occupied by, in many cases, people from outside who have no connection to the community, no history of raising children or of having worked or paid taxes here.

There is a pressing need for low and moderate income units. The obvious solution is enabling homeowners to create second units, mother in law units, or junior units in existing homes which would enable economic survival for the homeowner, live in caretakers for an aging population, low rent for the new occupant and the maximum use of already built housing instead of erecting massive tax payer subsidized apartments. See the best website for the history of this:

Chris Balow said...

Thanks, Bill Blondeau and JMG, for elaborating further. Thinking about energy flows and systems certainly requires a bit of brain power, no doubt!

I still find myself struggling with this metaphor, however. Specifically, how can we talk about a moving hand in water and a still hand in water being the same thing? One of these is inputting far more energy into the water than the other. If the hand (CO2) stops moving, but remains in the tub, why is it no longer injecting energy (trapping solar energy) into the system?

Is this because the system itself undergoes changes that now account for this extra energy, and now rely on it for stability? So, perhaps, I should imagine a hand that keeps moving, but water in a tub that changes form--such that it now remains still in spite of a moving hand?

Sorry for all the questions--just trying to get my head around this concept.

avalterra said...

"Avalterra, the reason you can afford 1/11 EROEI on a battery is that abundant energy from other sources is available to you."

Exactly, and what I am saying is we will burn a less efficient fuel source (coal, natural gas, wood) in order to sustain oil after the return has gone negative. We will burn natural gas to heat up the shale in order to produce a few barrels of oil then put that oil on coal powered trains in order to transport it. It will be a short term and futile effort but I bet we give it a try.

geoeconomics said...

I like this solution regarding water. Reminds me of "Star Wars" atmospheric condensers. C3PO?

Luckymortal said...

Courtney Jane, JMG, Not that anyone asked me, but Utopias don't usually turn out so well and near utopias are nearly as bad.

In all seriousness though, I used to heavily romanticize communal action/living as an alternative to our society's over-developed love of "individual" solutions. Then I got involved with some communal/cooperative endeavors and found myself romanticizing "rugged individualism." For one, all sense of efficiency and expediency are lost to the lowest common denominator. And the sort of bold experimentation and creativity individuals are capable of is right out!

On top of that, while they afford you some non-conformity to the status quo, these "near-utopian" situations tend to be internally "clique"-ish in the extreme, with very heavy pressure to conform to the group. You can see this in anthropological studies of similar tribal societies living off the commons... they can be exceedingly cruel to folks unable or unwilling to conform or bow to the rule of the group.

These days, I'm honestly afraid that as a reaction to the bad idea of extremist "Individualism" we'll get the equal and opposite bad idea of an extreme and oppressive "communitiarianism" or "Cooperativism" as I hear it being called. OR more likely, our country will continue to divide like oil and water into "individualist" and "communist" societies, with no sensible middle.

Anyway, for most beings, the experience of the basic fabric of life is "just like this." Look around right now, boring ole computer, air, hearing, itching, discomfort... that's about the same experience most people have no matter what kind of external situation they're in. We have a tendency to think that's a bad situation (it isn't!) no matter where we're at, so... the grass is always greener somewhere else.

Somewhere else has its trade-offs... that's all I'm saying.

steve pearson said...

A month or so ago one would read that the CA drought was expected to break with a strong El Nino this winter. Now they are saying not so likely. Am waiting to hear people saying "but they promised" Interesting times. A mass exodus from CA would be quite dramatic.

Yupped said...

Now that I spend most of my time outdoors, mostly gardening and walking, I notice these types of changes in natural systems quite easily. When I was an office cubicle jockey there wasn't much to notice, and so that sense of seeing inter-dependent systems coming and going got pretty dulled.

In these last few years we've been letting our lawn go to wild/overgrown, with just a few paths through the garden to get to the cultivated areas. It's amazing how much change that alone has created. Waves of yellow dock and thistle, a rash of slugs followed by an influx of birds and frogs, rabbits and field mice everywhere, hawks over head (freaking out my chickens), and more birds and bees than I've ever seen before in our garden. I've realized now that these changes come in waves, one causing the other, cause and effect in action. But you need to be able to concentrate on a piece of land for a good amount of time to really see that, and also let a good bit of it go wild. Mostly we're all afflicted by attention spans the size of teenage gnats that we can't see this rather lovely ebbing and flowing. And a very dangerous ebbing and flowing in the case of climate change.

Robert Mathiesen said...

@Odin's Raven

The Vineyard Saker suffers from a very bad case of being a Russian, with a Russian's traditional distaste for all things Ukrainian that distorts his perceptions of current events. Even so, the blog post you cited seems to me (as a Slavist) one of the better things written so far about the situation in Ukraine just now. I recommend it to everyone reading the ADR.

Putin is, in my own judgement, far and away the most intelligent and rational head-of-state Russia has had since the 1700s. He just may be able to keep this impending disaster from happening. If Putin can't, no one can.

As for our own "Deep State" (as the Saker calls it), its leaders seem by no means to be as smart as they think they are -- and that is always a recipe for disaster. Power goes to folks' heads and makes them arrogant and cocky, and that is what has happened on our side of the Atlantic.

Robert Mathiesen said...

No utopias, Courtney Jane, no promises of a brighter future, please! No hopes for paradise!

Utopias are the most toxic environment imaginable for our species, which is essentially a kind of hairless, clothes-wearing, talking chimpanzee. Even a moderately close approach to utopia in the past has *always* brought out the darkest parts of the dark side of human nature.

W. H. Martin said...

Some Paleoclimate references:
Bartlein et al. 2010. Pollen-based continental climate reconstructions at 6 and 21 ka: a global synthesis.
Bartlein et al. Paleoclimate simulations over past 21,000 years.
Martin, Paul. 2005. Twilight of the Mammoths.
Fagan, Brian. 2009. The Complete Ice Age.
Pielou, E. C. 1991. After the Ice.
Delcourt, Hazel. 2002. Forests in Peril.

nuku said...

Courtney Jane:
I spent 17 years cruising in 3 sailboats around the Pacific. Some of that time was at anchor next to remote “traditional” villages which typified the communal life. Yes, it has its advantages, no money, sharing resources, relatively self-sufficient, slow pace: certainly romantic from outside especially to people used living in individualistic competitive Western societies. But, as Luckmortal points out, there are always down-sides to any way of organizing society (because human nature is basically the same and, sorry to say, doesn’t improve en-mass like you seem to hope it will). Its not all peace and love and bountiful harvests; there were all the usual petty human jealousies, lazy vs. energetic people, a hierarchical structure with the usual top/bottom dogs, times when it didn’t rain for months and the whole village was in danger of crop failure. Villagers used to complain to us about the lack of freedom they had due to religious prohibitions and the fear of being ostracized if they didn’t tow the line. There was the usual caste system as well; some pigs were “more equal” than others.
I suggest you actually join an existing commune, live there for more than a year and report back what its actually like. I did that here in N.Z. and found out is wasn’t my cup of tea.It might be yours but you’ll never know if you don’t try it.

Ceworthe said...

Nice podcast of JMG and James Kunstler on where we might be on the downward collapse (no time or date predictions)

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Chris Balow and anyone else beginning to think about systems...

One of the best books I ever read about systems is Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows, edited by Diana Wright.

Besides co-investigating and co-authoring Limits to Growth Meadows had a gift for explaining difficult systems concepts in a way even a non-math person like myself could understand. (I've recommended it before in this space, but consider it an extremely useful, even foundational text.)

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, conversations online labor under harsh constraints, no question.

Dwig, thanks for the references! I'll check 'em out as circumstances permit.

Nicholas, nah, you're just going to have to learn to cope with woo. That's otherwise known as philosophy, by the way; it actually does communicate some very important things, though you have to get to the point of recognizing that there are important things that science can't talk about meaningfully in order to understand what philosophy is saying.

Dwig, bingo -- and as reserves continue to deplete, the price oil companies need to charge to pay their costs will just keep on rising.

Cherokee, glad to hear you came through the storm in good shape!

Surfer, thank you.

Ben, thanks for the video!

Grebulocities, pretty much, yes.

Grebulocities and Flute, I got that figure out of what I thought was a well-researched book on grasslands ecology. If it's incorrect, fair enough -- I'll check some additional sources and see what they have to say.

Cherokee, Yakima's on the dry side of the Cascade range, high desert in the best of times and these aren't the best of times. The farmers in that region have tried planting just about every kind of vegetation you can think of; once you get away from the river, sagebrush is about the only thing that does any good.

I wonder if anybody else saw your farm's lights twinkling in the night, and thought, "Maybe that crazy guy up there isn't quite so crazy..."

P.M., restricted models are useful only if the insights obtained from the models are put back in a context where the excluded factors are taken into account. When the models are used as justification for ignoring the excluded factors, they're a source of induced stupidity. As for EROEI, I'm certainly willing to consider the possibility that I'm misunderstanding something, but I'd suggest that it's also possible that I understand the point being made and disagree with it, you know.

Don, I'm hearing that a lot at this point. When we start going full-on into chaotic turbulence, things will get interesting.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, no doubt! Thanks for the reference; I'll check it out.

Pierluigi, I've talked to quite a few paleoclimate experts, and read quite an array of books and paperrs. As for handwaving about "strange attractors," doesn't that simply amount to "it's different this time"?

YJV, I notice that it's the people who actually work with PV systems who get the fact that you have to include all energy costs in a meaningful analysis, and those who don't who insist -- often at the top of their lungs -- that we don't have to worry about such things.

Bill, please do turn it into a blog post! A lot of people have trouble with this kind of thing.

Onething, you can get adequate calories off potatoes and other starchy tuber crops. That said, there's a lot to be said for small scale grain raising as well.

Courtney Jane, er, do you have any idea how many times that has been tried over the last three hundred years? It doesn't work. If you doubt that, I encourage you to go ahead and either establish such a community or move into an existing one -- there are lots of them around -- and see just how much improvement in human nature you actually see around you. That is to say, no, I don't agree with your assessment at all; you're repeating a very old mistake, the one that assumes that if you just remove X from people's lives, they'll act like angels. It's never worked and it never will, but there's never a shortage of dewy-eyed idealists convinced that this time will be different...

Thrig, well, nobody ever said it was going to be easy, you know.

Eddie, and then you have to be sure that somebody with more guns than you have isn't going to show up and take it away from you. We'll get to issues of that kind in a later post.

Raven, they don't want a nuclear war. They're trying to cover up the strategic death spiral of the US by blustering more and more loudly. It's gotten shrill enough in DC that I wonder just how close to geopolitical and military collapse the US is.

Lewis, glad to hear of the rain! That's got to be welcome.

Homelander, okay, now what does that have to do with the climate of the next five centuries in North America?

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, okay, let's shift metaphors. On a cold winter day, you go up into your attic and put in an extra 12 inches of insulation. Does that cause your upper floor to get warmer and warmer indefinitely? Of course not. The temperature rises to a new equilibrium point, and then levels off. The same thing happens when you put new CO2 insulation into Earth's atmospheric attic, because extra CO2 doesn't add additional energy to the system -- it just slows down the rate at which energy flows back out into space by a certain factor. Remember that there was already CO2 in the atmosphere before the industrial age began -- that was one layer of insulation, if you will -- and the new CO2 just adds another layer. Does that make more sense?

Avalterra, fair enough. It wasn't at all clear to me that you recognized it as a short term and futile process! No doubt it will be tried -- for that matter, natural gas is being burnt in huge quantities right now to extract tar from Canadian tar sands, so that sort of thing is already part of business as usual.

Geoeconomics, now factor in what will happen to the climate if enough of those towers are built to matter, and all that water vapor that might otherwise fall as precipitation is sucked out of the air. It amazes me how many people just can't get it through their heads that there's no such thing as a free lunch...

Mortal, and of course that's also an issue.

Steve, it's coming. That's another reason I got the (ahem) out of the Pacific Northwest.

Yupped, excellent! This is why members of the Druid order I head are required to spend time in nature regularly, just observing and paying attention.

W.H., thanks for the references.

Ceworthe, I avoid exact dates. Glad you enjoyed the podcast anyway!

Courtney Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyoto Motors said...

“…a larger and larger fraction of the total energy supply available to an industrial society has to be diverted from all other economic uses to the process of keeping the energy flowing.”

Eventually, to push this to the extreme – if only to illustrate the point – you end up with an entirely closed petroleum economy, where all activity goes into extracting energy which in turn fuels said activity and we can say therefore, that civilisation continues. The giant hamster wheel of industrial modernity is undeniably self evident at this point, and confirms decades of malaise with respect to the absurdity of the modern and so-called post-modern experience. When we arrive finally at a time and place when we truly can refer to an era of post-modernity, it will be the time to ponder, was it all worth it? And, what was it all about, really?

Thanks for the insights as always. I look forward to the series -- and the book ;-)
I also appreciate the surprise of stumbling upon your other blog. Great stuff!

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

JMG, @grebulocities and @flute:

Re grasslands and forests: Perhaps other things to consider are topography and how rain events are distributed across time. In the Midwest where I live, historically and prehistorically woodlands, savannas and prairies have duked it out once the post-glacial temps got warm enough to cause the pine woodlands to retreat.

Too long between rains in the summer on the vast flat lands we have here, and fires started, suppressing tree growth. Even though total rainfall could be quite high and you might expect more woods. All those dried grasses and forbs from previous years are good fuel even in a prairie that might be quite wet in the spring.

Woodlands tended to be on the east sides of rivers (within a certain range), and in damp bottomlands, prairies on the west for obvious reasons.

Chris Balow said...

JMG, that metaphor definitely makes sense--it's a close approximation to the way we typically think about climate change in terms of added atmospheric CO2. We've added insulation, and now the attic has a different range of temperatures it will experience.

It's the idea of the chaotic transition that I'm stumbling over. Immediately after adding that insulation, the temperature climbs--then levels off. But the temperature will continue to fluctuate as the daylight and the seasons change. Is it that the initial rise in temperature immediately following the addition of insulation is more drastic (faster) than any of the seasonal changes that will follow?

rapier said...

Question for you JMG. Do you have any idea about the age distribution of your readers, blog and otherwise?

I ask because I am 63 and I have a strong sense that young people, say 16 to 26 are almost totally absent from these discussions.

The not to distant future is interesting for those of my age but past the time we will have to deal with it. Occasionally I question if my over abundant interest in alt thinking, alt economics/energy/environment, is perhaps me becoming a cranky old man. I hope my testing the idea indicates I am not. Still what nags in this regard is if young people don't see it.......well you can fill in the rest.

John Michael Greer said...

Courtney, the reason you got so many responses saying the same thing is that the proposal you've made has been made over and over again in every generation. I've talked in this blog about the sort of false binary that insists that there are two and only two options -- this is another of them; business as usual in a corrupt capitalist society vs. moving to a rural commune and living off the land. The corrupt capitalist society wants you to think that those are the only options, because it knows perfectly well that the rural-commune thing won't work, and once it fails, you'll come back to the corrupt capitalist society convinced that you don't have any other options.

The challenge, here as elsewhere, is to break out of the false binary and find other options. They're out there, and if you get past the assumptions of today's pop culture, you can find them.

Kyoto, exactly -- except that long before that point arrives, the infrastructure needed to support the society that supports the petroleum industry will have collapsed. The question, and I don't know anyone who has an answer, is just how high the energy cost of extracting energy has to go before that latter threshold comes within reach.

Adrian, thanks for the info!

Chris, exactly -- it's the speed of change, not the fact of change, that determines whether the transition will be smooth, oscillating, or chaotic.

Rapier, it's a real mix. I have a lot of readers who are in their fifties on up, but I also have a significant number younger than that, down into the teens. It might be interesting to do a survey one of these days.

Derv said...


As someone who was once very skeptical of the idea of climate change, I think I might be able to shed a little light at least into what goes into their thinking.

First, for background, I was just plain uninformed about it. I recognized my ignorance and so refused to state that I knew it wasn't real, but many others did not fall into this camp. I have heard, and do still frequently hear (as a conservative surrounded by conservatives) that the world has its own cycles, that volcanoes put out more CO2 than the US and we're all fine, and on and on. None of this rung true to me; these are all smart people who understand that complex systems exist. I knew they were repeating mantras.

I educated myself on it somewhat and after a great deal of sifting through political bias, concluded that it is happening and we are doing it. That's what the evidence says, period. In terms of how severe it will become, I've always thought that peak oil (an important part of a whole-systems approach to it) would likely prevent the worst fears from being realized. This is not to say it isn't a concern, of course, but that those who cry extinction are overreacting, as well as unduly loud.

But as to why many (not all) of my fellow conservatives often fail to recognize the truth, I think it can be explained by a very simple intellectual error that plagues almost everyone I know. The error is "this idea/theory/event serves a political interest, and therefore is false." It's really just that simple.

This explains why some people deny the Holocaust (it serves the political agenda of making the Jews evoke our sympathies, which doesn't jive with their hatred of Jews), the moon landing (it serves American exceptionalism or scientism, which they reject), terrorists being behind 9/11 (it serves the agenda of the imperialist neo-cons, whom the truthers despise), and climate change. There are a whole host of others as well.

Conservatives - or at least real paleo-conservatives, whose instincts at least remain among many Republicans - are deeply skeptical of big, centralized government action. They fear planned economies, over-regulation, authoritarianism, and extension of government interference into our lives. And if ever there were a narrative that supported all that, it's climate change.

Think of it. It's a problem that can only be fixed by enforced, worldwide coordinated activity - the epitome of centralization. Every action you take in modern life requires energy. Every bit of food you eat, job you work, entertainment you employ, tools you use - you name it, it requires energy, and therefore is a potential contributor to the problem. Which means it must be regulated, controlled, planned and meddled with. From this perspective, it's a totalitarian's dream come true. (Of course, the terrorism narrative is already serving that end quite well, but they dismiss that because they defended Bush for eight years out of blind party loyalty.)

If climate change is real, from this view, then big government may well be the answer. Yet we know that more government is always bad; therefore climate change is false. Give them a way to think climate change requires decentralization and free markets, and after a cooling-off period, they'll be fine with it.

Just my two cents. True paleo-conservatives are a rare breed today, and ones that also recognize climate change are rarer. It might be just me in fact. :) Anyway, I hope that helps at least a few people understand the resistance to it from the right.

I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the series, by the way. Keep up the good work.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Kirby Benson, are these people you know with the usual three ears related to Davy Crockett, by any chance? He was famous for having three ears, a left ear, a right ear, and a wild front ear.

P.M.Lawrence said...

JMG wrote: "As for EROEI, I'm certainly willing to consider the possibility that I'm misunderstanding something, but I'd suggest that it's also possible that I understand the point being made and disagree with it, you know".

The reason I think you may have missed it is that what Dmitry Orlov pointed out about EROEI is different to what you originally wrote, as well as the way that you keep circling the crucial features of EROEI without ever quite bringing them out in the open. For instance, in a couple of replies you wrote:-

- "Avalterra, the reason you can afford 1/11 EROEI on a battery is that abundant energy from other sources is available to you. Government subsidies work for the same reason. If the energy isn't there, you're out of luck, for the same reason it doesn't help you to decide to eat three square meals a day if you're stranded on a desert island with no food at all." and

- "Avalterra, fair enough. It wasn't at all clear to me that you recognized it as a short term and futile process! No doubt it will be tried -- for that matter, natural gas is being burnt in huge quantities right now to extract tar from Canadian tar sands, so that sort of thing is already part of business as usual."

What it looks as though you're missing, that Avalterra actually brought out, is that although it's no long term fix it stays engineeringly practical for longer than just going for hydrocarbon resources directly: "abundant energy from other sources is available to you". That practicality is because of two things: the point Dmitry Orlov made, that what counts isn't how much energy you have to put in in relation to what you finally get but the relation to what you first get; and the fact that peak oil leads to absolute declines quite quickly, but worldwide peak coal is probably over a century away and peak natural gas somewhere in between, so you don't have to use the same kind of energy in as you get out (which means that it can still make sense even if it takes more energy in than you get out, provided you have a special need for the output and the input is cheap and available enough). So what you sound as if you're missing is that these tricks would genuinely buy time, as far as hydrocarbon availability goes and if you only consider engineering constraints. It sounds as though you think the tricks are all much of a muchness. True, ever fewer people would be able to afford the hydrocarbons, and true, the tricks don't actually solve anything as opposed to putting things off, and true, ecological, economic, political and other collapse issues generally would stop the tricks in their tracks, very possibly before the underlying resource constraints did - but the tricks aren't as close to their physical limitations as peak oil proper is.

To give a concrete example, right now Australia (where I am) could get all the ersatz oil it needs by altering its brown coal electric power generation to run off the semi-coke produced by the Karrick process using that same brown coal, getting the ersatz oil produced cross-subsidised by the electric power generation; that doesn't even need the same level of plant as full blown synthetic oil, though the yield is lower and prohibitively costly without enough of an offsetting use for the semi-coke. The limits to that are how long the coal lasts and how long the infrastructure doesn't collapse, so it too is no fix - but that isn't as close a barrier as how long oil proper can be drilled offshore or imported.

Separately, you wrote "Onething, you can get adequate calories off potatoes and other starchy tuber crops". I once looked into options for small households and came up with a short list that also had carrots, with guinea pigs for protein. I can rake the list up if people want to see it.

Anne Patterson said...

Hi JMG, a useful analysis of what to expect in the way of climate change. I have to say my preferred term these days is climate chaos rather than any of the alternatives, as it captures the extreme & chaotic nature of the variations we are seeing. Whereas global weirding won't automatically make people think about the climate, climate change doesn't necessarily sound dangerous and global warming is subject to the problem that oscillations in the colder than average direction immediately leads to the deniers taking it as evidence the planet isn't warming, even though the underlying trend definitely is. You even get idiots such as the ex Minister of the Environment in the UK who thought global warming would be a good thing as we can grow more crops, he never even bothered to meet with scientific advisors who would have told him that the IPCC analysis shows significant detrimental effects on global crop yields as the climate gets hotter.

Here in the UK we've definitely been getting significant oscillations in climate which are becoming increasingly extreme. Over the last few years we have had several periods of intense rainfall, in the case of last winter as part of a series of unusually severe winter storms, which has lead to widespread flooding. Poor land and watercourse management practices contributed to this, exacerbated by Government cuts to the departments such as the Environment Agency which are responsible for flood prevention and by perverse agricultural subsidies which require farmers to remove vegetation other than grass or arable crops from their land.

We have also had periods of unusually dry, unusually cold and unusually warm weather over the last few years, which appears to be at least partially the result of meanders in the jet stream causing blocking patterns. On a practical level this leads to significant differences from year to year which affect the success of plant & animal species. As gardeners & foragers we are getting a lot of variation from year to year in what plants do well and what don't do so well. It's hard to predict what is going to happen next with weather patterns so the best strategy is to grow as wide a variety of stuff as we can. Last year was an excellent year for tree fruit. This year we have huge onions but have had to lift the potatoes a bit early as they were showing signs of blight.

So awareness of and preparedness for oscillations in climate as well as an overall warming trend is going to become increasingly important.

BTW my understanding of the physics of the atmosphere is that overall higher concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane (which needs to be factored in to any model as the effects could be significant at least in the medium term) is that this will cause more heat to be trapped, leading to higher water evaporation and more rainfall and more big storms in some parts of the world, as well as increases in sea-levels due to melting glaciers & ice-sheets. So we will have more extreme weather even when CO2 is no longer increasing and there may well be unexpected effects that are not predicted by current models as our understanding of the complex interactions involved is necessarily incomplete.

Anne Patterson said...

Regarding your remarks about environmentalists not wanting to make any changes in their own lives to adapt to peak oil, climate change & economic decline. In my experience of the social circles I move in here in the UK (druids/pagans & green activists) that most of the people I know are making changes in their own lives, to adapt to peak oil, climate change & economic decline. And many other people who are not involved in these kinds of circles are also making some changes in their lives in response to increases in fuel prices & decreases in real incomes.

In my own life I and my husband have been making gradual changes to our lifestyles over the past decade to reduce our reliance on the fossil-fuel based economy including:

- Slashing our gas & electric bills to way below the average by insulating our loft, getting double-glazing, draft-proofing, getting a wood-burning stove to replace our electric fire, getting solar PV on the roof, getting high efficiency boiler & other household appliances and reducing electricity use through using low-energy bulbs, stand-by busters etc. We also want to get external wall insulation but have struggled with finding someone to install it and with getting planning permission.

- Producing much of our own fuel for heating through using waste wood left at the allotments down our road and by buying a few acres of woodland which we can harvest sustainably for woodfuel.

- Producing a lot of our own fruit & vegetables through growing stuff on our allotment & foraging in the woods. We are not self-sufficient in this and also have to buy in grain products, protein, dairy, fats & sugar-based products but we are gradually extending the range of what we grow and make ourselves and can buy or trade for some things such as eggs from colleagues who keep chickens who get more eggs than they know what to do with.

- We have experienced a reduction in our income partially voluntarily & partially involuntarily, but so far we have managed to reduce our costs in line with the reduction in our incomes. We don't buy much 'stuff' and when we do it is more likely to be from a charity shop or local independent trader as from a big company. We also don't go out much to paid entertainments, these are an occasional special treat, the rest of the time we are perfectly happy spending time at home, in the woods or with friends.

- The area we have done least to address as yet is personal transport. We both drive as we both need to for work purposes - me as a community health worker covering a large urban & rural patch, my husband as an environmental education performer at events such as wood fairs. We have downsized our cars to more fuel efficient and lower emissions cars and use them less for non-essential journeys, partially due to the increasing cost of fuel. At present the benefits of keeping our cars outweigh the costs. I don't know if this will continue to be the case for the rest of our potential active lives (I'm late 40's, husband is mid 50's in age), but we will have to adapt as needed in the future.

I think the most realistic approach is to make gradual lifestyle changes rather than trying to go cold turkey on everything that is dependent on the fossil-fuel economy. There's no point getting too far ahead of the curve of decline. I think adaptation to the long decline will be bottom up rather than top down. But those who refuse to adapt in a realistic & constructive manner will probably make things pretty messy & unpleasant for the rest of us as well as themselves. All we can do is keep our heads down and do our best in our own lives & our own communities.

Phil Harris said...

The opening for traffic of the previously almost mythical NW Passage every summer has to get to the Deniers eventually!

I think your focus on ‘extreme disturbance’ is a good way to get people, and I guess especially Americans, to focus on upcoming enhanced Climate Impacts! Weird extremes are noticeable locally and make the National News as well as upending lives and expectations. Impacts will be the name of the game this next 100 years or so. We can experience the range of human reactions, but with luck, the responses can rally sympathy and on balance engender impulses to help others, and not just focus on ’getting away with it’.

I think it is possible to gain from personal insight by reflecting / meditating on the biosphere and the rolling globe. One can include vision through the eyes of instruments and go down through the layers of the amazing geological records. Not quite as dodgy as taking untested hallucinogens and I guess one can even do it while in the bath tub!

Using my PC I attempted a version of this (not in the tub!) after a challenge from Ugo Bardi. My reading of up-to-date studies (2012) on methane and the carbon cycle past and present and my own “ah…ha” moments led me to believe that the large increase in atmospheric methane in industrial decades was not [emphasis] likely the presage of a Methane Apocalypse anytime soon – though poking the Carbon Cycle with sticks still seems a very bad and dangerous game for pretentious bipeds. The overall situation nevertheless remains very striking. I labelled my contribution a “Personal Quest”.

Just a technical point: CO2, at present the key forcing agent that alters the global energy equilibrium, that is the balance of incoming heat and outgoing loss, is already at huge levels unprecedented in the Holocene – our present interglacial – and the present concentration is going to go higher. We are way off equilibrium already and this is going to get worse. In geological terms this is a very brief pulse, but it happens to be a very big one. I endorse your view though, that carbon emissions will peak well before mid-century. I recently did my own back-of-envelope calculation based on estimates of future ‘economically’ extracted / mined fossil fuel (data from Aleklett for NG and coal, and Laherrere for oil). After ‘peak emissions’, the actual CO2 level in the atmosphere will nevertheless continue to rise until the annual rate of removal by the biosphere / ocean matches the amount still being emitted annually. When the rates match we should see Peak Atmospheric CO2. This peak could happen around the turn of the Century at around double pre-industrial values circa 570ppm. (I calculated this using some ratios I obtained here: Gillett, 2011; )

‘Our’ pulse of CO2 will then decline during following centuries. The brevity of the pulse means that a new global temperature balance (equilibrium) is unlikely to reach the full global 3 deg C rise that would otherwise likely follow from a longer period at doubled CO2, but it will be very substantial and raised temperature will continue over many centuries. Even less welcome is that the extraordinary rapidity of the pulse of Green House Gases might have its own extreme effects. We will need to do more than just brace ourselves and hold on to hats!

Phil H

Nathan A said...

There are lite forms of intentional community that seek a more liveable balance between private and shared, such as the cohousing model. No shared purse as in a commune, private dwellings are still fully equipped, and can be bought and sold on the open market. Some people have embraced these as an answer to the alienation of modern times.
But I think, in the context of energy decline in an urban or suburban setting, these communities can also offer more resilience than solitary living. Knowledge and skills can be shared more directly, and people can be more practised in the social skills needed for maintaining a positive "neighbourhood" level of interdependence. Communities of this kind might also be better placed to adapt to the ways distribution of food and goods might change.

Steve W. said...

Wonderful column as always, JMG!

Well, it looks like climate change and industrial pollution are already making their mark here in Toledo, Ohio. Due to our unusual summer weather and runoff into the rivers, Lake Erie is turning into one great big blue-green algae bloom. We have just been informed not to drink or bathe with the water until further notice. It might be a good time to educate people about what we need to do as a society, but I'm sure if the problem resolves quickly, it will be back to business as usual.

Bruno Bolzon said...

Writing from southern Brazil here (close to Uruguay and Argentina). Our climate has been changing for the past two decades: the winters are slightly warmer, and much wetter, while the summers have been becoming drier and very hot (38-45c, for most of January and February; think Washington DC in July).

Floods in a handful of locations have become commonplace and expected. Regular failures of the grid are also common and do not surprise anybody, since most of our electricity comes from hydro, which is depends on rainfall.

Nobody complains very much, though. It is still very much livable around here (until you get your house carried away by a flood, that is).

Kyoto Motors said...

Re: net energy
Here in Canada, we may well find out before too long where the threshold lies as we morph into a tar-sands petro-state. Five million barrels a day is the goal. The need for natural gas and diesel used to extract those five million barrels reduces the net energy significantly. But then again, we all know about the shale gas energy renaissance ;-P
… Of course some say there just isn’t enough water for the process, so that may pre-empt the effort before net energy becomes an issue.
The propaganda says otherwise of course. The current government has an official “Action Plan” for job creation, which is the name given to a major shift in activity from the traditional eastern-based industries to the Alberta-centred bitumen operations where the jobless are flocking to make a decent salary, only to pay exorbitant rents and other indecent costs of living typical of boom times. Etc. etc…
This plan for the economy seems to be the unspoken consensus, even if there is a fair bit of vocal, active opposition to things like exploding freight trains and risky pipelines through the wilderness, my guess is that enough people (and key people) will pursue the illusion of tar sands development to its sorry conclusion. To be sure, it is a matter of official policy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a the ministry of energy is renamed one day as the Ministry of Prosperity, just so we all know what to think about this fools’ pursuit…

Claudia Oney said...

Hi Eddie
It's nice to see another Central Texan on this list. Malcom Beck, a famous Texan gardener and forward-thinker, has domes with big tanks of tilapia; he uses the water to irrigate. But the energy! I worry that my canned jars of peaches, tomatoes, elderberries, mustang grapes et al will be a thing of the past without the electricity we may not have in our future.

The beauty of Central Texas is that rainfall swings from 17" to 40+" so we are used to weird weather. Many of the early European and American settlers left in disgust after several years of fine farming followed by devastating droughts.

I also must add that I enjoy this blog so much. I love the realism and treasure all my modest luxuries all day every Thursday.

exiledbear said...

I ask because I am 63 and I have a strong sense that young people, say 16 to 26 are almost totally absent from these discussions.

In a lot of ways, they're out actually living it, instead of talking it. Not because they're more moral, but because they have to, they have no other choice.

Well, I'm off to ride another 12 miles on my bicycle today. That's my little effort to meet the future halfway...

Violet Cabra said...

Thank you for the bathtub metaphor! It was very helpful to me for visualizing the basic trajectory of climate change - an increasing tendency towards turbulence.

Reading this post gave me two major thoughts:

1) As hinted at by your first post in the Dark Ages America series the crisis of our age is one of stacked predicaments that feed into each other dynamically. Let's take three rather obvious examples of predicament of entirely mechanistic origin:

1) Climate change leads to glacial melt leading to coastal flooding, desertification and extreme weather.

2) Climate change leads to increase vectors for disease.

3) Energy depletion leads infrastructure that cannot be maintained.

Now comes the fun part! If we combine these predicaments together we get NEW predicaments:

1 & 2 together lead to mass migrations of people carrying disease and epidemics of disease in shanty towns.

1 & 3 together leads to highly accelerated infrastructure destruction leading to likely transportation failures and famine in geographically isolated areas.

2 & 3 together leads to multiple waves of epidemic occurring without effective intervention from the medical system.

I only choose several variables to explore for the sake of space and simplicity but there are more of course; if I had included climate change and crop failure as one, I would have had to include warfare when combined with the dislocations of coastal flooding etc.

When I see how much the various predicaments interact with one another it makes me wonder if we will be able to preserve things like literacy since the amount of social disruption beggars my imagination.

The second thing that your post made me reflect on is with climate change, as well as the other interacting predicaments, is that there hardly seems to be ANY safe choice. There is no one thing anyone can do and expect safety of any sort. The turbulence of the systems involved make predicting any specific outcomes for specific places and people for specific times effectively impossible.

These predicament threaten every aspect of our biological desires and appetites. They threaten our ability to find food, have shelter, raise children to adulthood and even threaten our raw survival.

Mainstream culture seems to me to revolve around safety and convenience. Safety, each passing year, will fail more and more people who will be submerged in an increasingly dangerous world. Finding worldviews and meanings that can make sense of danger and risk are thereby absolutely essential for anyone wishing to survive as danger and risk, rather than safety and convenience, are central to our emerging reality.

Mark Rice said...

Someone brought up strange attractors. This is something that comes up in the study of non-linear dynamic systems. The weather and climate system is a non-linear dynamic system. These system tend to be chaotic but with patterns.

Systems are modelled as having a "state". The state could be the collection of temperatures, humidities, rainfall etc. all over the world. All of these states cause changes to each other so this is never static. Even though the system never repeats itself, there are patterns. These patterns could be called strange attractors. These patterns include the fact that it is usually dryer in LA than in Seattle.

I view climate as the strange attractor for the overall system. Weather is just the present state of the system.

When we change the system by altering the composition of the atmosphere, we alter this giant strange attractor. The problem is we will be sweeping though a continuum of climates so quickly, we will never be in any climate pattern long enough to really see what the pattern is.

An area could go from wet to dry to wet to dry in the coarse of a few decades. It could be ugly.

Nicholas Carter said...

I find your response hilarious. I completed my degrees in philosophy and German Culture this May (would you like fries with that, or merely prefer them?). But one of the first things I found was that Heidegger made intuitive sense to me, Nietzsche was a stretch, and Goethe I could read if as I went through his art or science I skipped his philosophy, because it might as well be in French for what little sense I could make of it.
So, if it's not too much of a diversion, could you recommend anyone to help bridge the gap from Nietzsche to Goethe, so that I might get from Goethe to Spengler?

jcummings said...

I really like your systems analysis. I have a question - does the same disturbance progression apply to systems like the economy? It seems to me that when we have economic disruption, there are still winners among the losers, that its possible to profit from the chaos. With climate chaos, it feels more like everyone will have it harder.

Chris Balow said...

The prospect of greatly expanded aridity in future North America saddens me. The Mixed Mesophytic forests of Appalachia, especially in Eastern Kentucky, are some of the most diverse on the planet. There, one can walk through forests sporting some twenty-five varieties of large trees. Subtropical magnolias and sweet-gums blend with boreal pines and aspens, anchored by a rich array of temperate oaks, maples, ashes, hickories, walnuts, elms, beeches, lindens, birches, and many others.

It's a terrible thought that the creeks and sandstone arches of the Cumberland Plateau might one day be stripped bare of all that magnificence.

Nastarana said...

Dear Courtney Jane, I take it you must be one of the Archdruid's younger readers?

I happen one of those natural born hermit types, the folks whom no one likes and the feeling is mutual. You can understand that persons like me tend to go through long periods of unemployment. I have found that periods of no job are really good times for learning new skills as well as getting better at things you might already know how to do. I have also found that the best foundation for self esteem is some kind of achievement, no matter how basic to start with. For some folks suffering from deep depression, not that I think that you are in such desperate case, getting up at a certain time and fixing their own meals, and cleaning up, is a good beginning.

Maybe you and your friends could start up a knitting circle--needles and yarn are available 2nd hand--garden at someone's house, form a writing circle, and encourage each other to try to get published? I think your posts here are quite well written; perhaps you have some talent in that direction.

BoysMom said...

While we live in the mentioned high desert, we have the water-side location and, more importantly in the near term, the right to the water. (I expect we will see water wars again out here--at the moment disputes tend to be limited to the court system, but whenever people feel the courts are not adequate they will turn violent.) We're also near the top of the inhabited part of our watershed.
Because of our particular location, we think our best bet for long-term irrigation and animal water access is a windmill. We need to pull the water about 100' vertically and 300' horizontally. Does anyone have recommendations as to resources about making such a windmill and pump system? The Made-in-China kit at the hardware store is not, of course, what we're looking for.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Re: Migrations out of California. Back in the late 1980s I worked in one of the big chain bookstores in Olympia, Washington. I remember, at that time, there had been a drought in California. There had been long term water rationing. Not as sever as now, but rationing, non the less.

Two customers stand out in my memory. One was a young lady who said she danced in the shower for as long as she wished. Something she hadn't been able to do in quit awhile.

You heard a lot of .... complaining from the transplants about our weather. One guy was so over the top that I finally lost my patience and told him "Then why don't you move back!" That, of course, took the wind out of his sails.

If you're feeling kindly towards a transplant, someone who has value to our area, to advise then to keep a low profile as to their origins. You tell them NOT to carry an umbrella. If you do, people might think you're from "away." And, always remember the State motto ... "Won't Rust." :-) . Lew

1ab9a86a-8991-11e3-899b-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Derv - in my experience you are 100% correct. In any forum, without exception, the denialists I've encountered have been obsessed with the political consequences if climate change is true, but totally uninterested in evidence, reasoning or logic. Because, as you say, if the evidence *does* support climate change then they simply can't trust that evidence due to what they perceive to be its consequences. So therefore the evidence must have been faked by the UN, Al Gore, commies, aliens or some combination of the above. For come reason "Chicoms" are worse than other "coms" in this context :)

Even when I reassure them that there is no possibility whatsoever of any meaningful action occurring to limit emission and that therefore they are free to look into the issue simply to determine the truth, they refuse to do so. They won't accept my assurances because they firmly believe that decisive "one world government" action has *already* commenced, orchestrated by the UN, Al Gore, Chicoms and Aliens, with a view to depriving them of their SUV.

Shane Wilson said...

You could say that the failure of global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions show the folly of top down, command efforts to change people's behavior.

John Michael Greer said...

Derv, understood. The irony is, of course, that anthropogenic climate change can't be fixed by enforced, worldwide, coordinated activity -- all attempts to do it that way have foundered on the unwillingness of the political class to accept the limitations on their own lifestyles that fixing climate change would require. A conservative analysis of climate change, it seems to me, would point out the futility of such top-down solutions, and focus on the perverse incentives put in place by governments that privilege fossil fuel use and guarantee that those who benefit most from fossil fuel extraction and burning don't have to pay the costs of their actions.

P.M. Lawrence, of course you can bring in other energy sources, but once you do so you're constrained by the net energy of those sources -- and that constraint is far more significant than arguments of Avalterra's sort tend to recognize. One real-world example is the attempt by Germany in 1943-1945 to use coal-to-liquids technology to replace petroleum for the Wehrmacht. Despite the best technology on the planet and an effectively limitless supply of disposable slave labor, that effort failed, because the EROEI of coal plus the conversion process was so low. (South Africa could only manage a variant of the same thing with SASOL by subsidizing its economy with gold and diamonds.)

Yes, it's technically feasible to run your electrical grid off brown coal via the Karrick process, but technical feasibility is not the same thing as economic viability; have you crunched the numbers to see whether such a process would pay for itself at a cost for electricity that the Australian economy can support? That's the question that matters -- in this case, and a great many more.

Anne, I'm pleased to see some environmental activists walking their talk. It's just that there seem to be so few of them.

Phil, that seems about right. I'll be talking about methane next week, for what that's worth.

Steve, the lake's doing its best to absorb some of the extra CO2 -- though I don't imagine that's any consolation just now.

Bruno, thanks for the data!

Kyoto, your post went through fine. I'm not at all surprised to see Canada morphing into a petrostate, complete with "resource curse" -- we'll see how that works out in the longer run, but I doubt it will work out well.

Bear, good for you.

Violet, excellent! Yes, it's the convergence of multiple crises that makes our predicament the mess that it is. I'd offer an emendation to your comment about safe choices: there are none. It's that simple. The population of the planet is going to decline by a very large factor over the next couple of centuries, and that means that for the great majority of people, every choice they have will lead to failure and death. Those who make it, and whose descendants make it, will do so not by avoiding risk but by rolling boxcars when the other guy rolls snake eyes. That's how life in a collapsing civilization works, you know.

Shane Wilson said...

@Chris balow
I'm near lexington, and finding a lot of local activity regarding homesteading. Not sure how to get you my contact information, but I'm on the green wizards site. If it's any consolation, Bill in central Tenn thinks the greater southern Appalachian area is a biodiversity preserve and JMG has chosen to live on the other side of the Appalachians. That is fairly close to here (Ashland is to western WV as Cumberland is to eastern WV)

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, I don't see climate as a strange attractor -- rather, it's the overall system, and certain more or less stable states function as strange attractors that draw a range of variables into those states. The difficulty we're facing now is one of a chaotic shift from one such state to another.

Nicholas, you can handle Heidegger, but a little Naturphilosophie throws you for a loop? That baffles me. I don't happen to know the exegetical literature on Goethe's philosophy -- I find that his work, and Spengler's, make intuitive sense to me -- but you ought to be able to find something.

Jcummings, it does indeed. Watch the rate of economic change and you'll notice the same tendency to oscillation and then turbulence.

Chris, the complex mix of flora in those environments is a product of a previous period of extreme climatic instability, as I'm sure you know. Since it came through (and was partly formed by) the Hypsithermal, it's quite possible that it'll make it through the current warming spike, at least in refugia from which it can spread as things settle back down.

Lewis, when my wife and I moved to Ashland, OR in 2004, all the locals were wary until they found out that we'd moved from Seattle. That was fine; it was the Californians they loathed.

steve pearson said...

@JMG & Lewis, if you will permit this JMG,apropos California refugees,in the 80s it was common to see bumper stickers in Oregon that said "Don't Californicate Oregon".
Once upon a time I was in a crowded steakhouse in Wyoming. The waiter asked if he might seat this single woman at my table since there was no other room. She quickly announced that she was vegetarian & did they have any such options. She was directed to the salad bar where she turned up her nose & announced that salad bars in California had more variety & fresher produce.I could not believe how polite the waiter & other patrons who heard this were.He felt rather sorry for me for having put her there.
So, I guess, the moral of this story is "If you are going to be a CA climate refugee,learn some manners & cultural sensitivity & bring a big pot of mud to cover your license plates.

Bill Blondeau said...

JMG and Chris Balow,

I haven't yet written that blog post extending the earlier discussion about the bathtub analogy, but looking back I did realize that I had written the following introductory articles on Complex Systems that might be useful or at least interesting:

A Motorcycle Tour Through the Museum

Complex Systems: Feedback Is Hard

I would also second Adrian Ayres Fisher's recommendation of Donella Meadows' book Thinking in Systems: A Primer. I called that book out in my initiating post. Thinking in Systems really worth reading and rereading.

Much work to do. I set the Systems Theory sequence of articles aside a while back (primarily because the next one, concerning oscillation, kept growing without bound.) This clearly needs to be fixed.

Bill Pulliam said...

There's several things that have made Appalachia a good refugium in the past. Very important is the north-south trend of the ranges, which keeps biota from being stranded during warming and cooling, permitting northward and southward migrations. Also, as anyone who has hiked off-trail in Appalachia will attest, the mountains are not high compared to the western ranges, but they are steep. You don't have a to cover a lot of horizontal distance to climb 1000m in elevation, which cools you off by about 5-8C, allowing you to quickly adjust to climate swings. Those two attributes still exist, and combined with orographic-effect precipitation from the west, east, and south, they've let the biota survive and diversify through the Pleistocene climate swings. A third one, though, is gone -- Passenger Pigeons. Abundant long-distance migrants that carried large heavy seeds north or south by hundreds of kilometers in a single day. There is nothing like them left, and all the forest trees that co-evolved with them and have very large, heavy seeds are out of luck now. Their surviving closest relatives, Mourning Doves, are substantially smaller, don't feed on the large intact seeds, and are much less migratory. The role of the Passenger Pigeon will probably be loosely approximated by humans in the future, but we are not going to move the same species around in the same ways as the birds did.

Chris -- only 25 tree species? We've got over 40 of them just on our little 39 acres in middle TN, 30 of which grow to overstory canopy height. And we only span 70m in elevation on these acres (and yes, that 70m elevation change happens in about 70m horizontally!)

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks, it has been beyond cold , but sunny here the past couple of days. In some shady parts of the orchard, the ground had ice - all day - and it didn't even melt. The ground was crunchy. It was 0.5C (32.9F) here this morning but other parts of the mountain range and the state got much lower:

Mercury dips below zero during Melbourne's coldest morning in 16 years

I haven't seen a frost for about 5 years here, so it is a bit of a shock. All of the plants with the exception of the coffee bush seem to be doing OK.

Canberra, however was probably much colder again, so I shouldn't complain. How are you going there?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Yupped,

Keep up the good work and of course you are 100% correct!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Courtney,

Never fear, your idea was worth mentioning purely for the reality check. Tell you what, I thought about them years ago too. However, after visiting them and speaking with the people living there and the sorts of issues they encountered, my internal alarm bells were all going off - loudly. I decided then and there that it was a very bad idea.

It isn't really possible to be 100% self-sufficient on a property anyway.

Just for one example: you may grow all of your own food that you consume. You may even have surplus with which to trade. You may even have skills with which to brew your own sacred brews for distribution or be able to provide basic medical care. Yet, you may not be able to produce linen for use in clothing for just a single example. Maybe the area that you live in has a mineral deficiency too?

The simple answer is that you require a village. Yet that entails limitations that most people these days would find to be abhorrent.

How would you feel having someone else dictate who you married? What if an outside authority told you how many or even if you could have children - and enforced it (often brutally)? What if you were never to travel more than 10 miles from your home? What if the entire village knew the history of your life and family - every single detail - and never allowed for any personal growth or any escape from a stupid youthful escapade? What if they judged you based on that history rightly or wrongly? What if they denied you an education - even if you displayed a propensity to learn?

I could keep on going. Few people in Industrial countries concern themselves with the very real freedoms that they currently enjoy. It is a sort of sad state of affairs from my perspective.

I rarely offer advice, but in this particular case I feel that you are without a rudder. My suggestion is this: As you are currently devoid of employment, I suggest to you to learn how to brew alcohol from all manner of things. Yes, I am serious too. Brewing was traditionally a female occupation and it provides you with a source of community power and also protection from harm that you may never have previously understood and may or may not need in the future.

Anyway, that's what my crystal ball told me about you!

Keep your chin up!


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi P.M. Lawrence,

Hmmm, yeah, well, I seem to recall that last winter some of those brown coal mines flooded when the Latrobe River popped its banks. Then during summer a massive bushfire worked its way into the brown coal mines in the same area. It was a truly massive achievement on the part of the CFA that they put the fire out which burned for weeks. In Victoria, the only a bit of export black coal is - from memory, please correct me if I’m wrong - near Bacchus Marsh, which also happens to be a productive market garden and orchard area.

Brown coal is really damp, so that - my understanding - is that it has a much lower EROEI than black coal.

I won't even mention the black coal export terminal being built near the Great Barrier Reef.

All for a few dollars more.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Claudia,

The bottling (canning) system here can be used on a stove top as it is simply a big hot water bath galvanised steel unit. A wood stove would be an option for that unit (summers are really hot here too). The clever people in the Mediterranean used to have outdoor kitchens during summer for this very purpose. I run a small electric (solar powered) stove element and also an electric oven under my veranda in the full shade during summer. No point heating up the house.

Also a solar dehydrator is an easy thing to do to. I saw the locals in Peru drying maize on big sheets in the full sun as a very low tech idea.


Bogatyr said...

Earlier today I was teaching one of my students at her home in Pavlovsk, a Tsarist palace town an hour away from St. Petersburg. She's in her early thirties, in the process of a divorce, two young sons, works in the accounts department of a local company. I came away with a 3kg tub of deliciously tart blackcurrant jam that she made yesterday. I balked at taking so much, but she showed me a stack of similar tubs. She has plenty to spare, and she'll be getting more berries soon, along with cucumbers, garlic, rose-hips, and more, all of which she'll be preserving in one way or another. All of this comes from her father's garden, and I doubt he's given her everything. Very many of my students, who mostly live in Piter itself, have dachas and are spending their weekends there, or even living there full-time, during this unusually hot and humid summer.

On the train coming back in to town, I sat opposite two women. One was a fine-looking woman whose age I hesitate to guess - anything from forties to early sixties. The other was younger, maybe early twenties. Both were dressed in smocks, headscarves, and long skirts and, frankly, wouldn't have looked out of place in any photo of Russia for the last hundred years or more. I could honestly have imagined them protesting against the Tsar as easily as I could see them digging tank traps to stop the Panzers. They got off in Kupchino, the southernmost suburb of St. Petersburg, which has a reputation for being a tough area. I suspect it's a more complex place than that, and wouldn't be surprised to hear of gypsies and peasants keeping ponies in their tower-block apartments, as is said to happen in parts of Dublin…

My point? None, really. I suppose it's just evidence that a) Russia is well-prepared for a slow collapse, just as many have already pointed out, and b) it's an image for me to remember as I wonder how a near-future West might look.

On a related topic, @Robert Mathiesen wrote: "Putin is, in my own judgement, far and away the most intelligent and rational head-of-state Russia has had since the 1700s". ABsolutely right. The KGB was a very, very effective organization - and a very proud one, too. It wasn't all, or even mostly, about the gulags and domestic spying; it was a uniformed, military structure. Putin is clever, dedicated to the protection of his homeland, and well aware of what it is to be at the sharp end of that task.

Bogatyr said...

JMG asked Cherokee Chris: 'I wonder if anybody else saw your farm's lights twinkling in the night, and thought, "Maybe that crazy guy up there isn't quite so crazy…"'. I wonder the same. I also wonder whether you suddenly felt like a target, announcing to everyone who was suddenly without power that you still had the good things of life? It made me think of the besieged community in Mad Max 2...

@steve pearson said: "A mass exodus from CA would be quite dramatic". This seems to be the new unmentionable. My talk of Peak Oil gets a somewhat more sympathetic hearing these days than it once did, given recent media stories about energy. Mentioning the possibility of a mass exodus from California due to water scarcity puts me firmly back into 'crazy' territory, though. The feeling seems to be that that sort of thing might happen in Africa (terribly sad but what can you do?) but not in a 'developed' country.

@Myosotis asked"[D]o you balance welcoming refugees with needing to be able to succeed yourself? How do you keep from feeling overrun?" This is very much on my mind. My own home territory within the UK is already being overrun with 'lifestyle migrants' who often openly despise the local culture. As things get worse… well, the "run to Wales" meme goes as far back as John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes and perhaps further, as if there weren't already people living there. The answer seems to lie in strengthening ties and cooperation between 'locals', perhaps with the use of legal methods akin to those of co-housing projects and cooperatives, to keep resources available to relatively poor and powerless residents. Not sure; big, big topic - and a VERY sensitive one.

@Yupped wrote "[W]e've been letting our lawn go to wild/overgrown, with just a few paths through the garden to get to the cultivated areas. It's amazing how much change that alone has created". Before I bailed from the education-industrial complex ("Collapse early and beat the rush"!), I was doing much the same. We had slow-worms, voles, lots of bats, all kinds of butterflies and bees. The fruit trees and bushes that I planted are all still there and establishing themselves during my Russian sojourn...

Robert Mathiesen said...

I'd like to echo what Derv has said from my own experience.

Before retirement I taught undergraduates at one of the most liberal Ivy-League universities. About 1995 I began to hear a noticeable fraction of those undergraduates claim that there are no such things as facts, that each and every so-called "fact" is really just propaganda serving someone's political agenda. Along with this came the view that no one ever changed their mind about anything, or ever could: your birth and upbringing determined your views of everything, and locked you into them without any possibility reason and arguments were futile things; the only thing that mattered was getting power and using it against others.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 1 of 2

JMG, you wrote "... of course you can bring in other energy sources [to produce hydrocarbons], but once you do so you're constrained by the net energy of those sources -- and that constraint is far more significant than arguments of Avalterra's sort tend to recognize".

Of course they're constrained. But they're not as constrained as peak oil by itself, and they would push the technical, engineering crunch back materially. So Avalterra's sort do get the point after all, and you are just talking past each other.

"One real-world example is the attempt by Germany in 1943-1945 to use coal-to-liquids technology to replace petroleum for the Wehrmacht. Despite the best technology on the planet and an effectively limitless supply of disposable slave labor, that effort failed, because the EROEI of coal plus the conversion process was so low."

Well, no. That attempt actually succeeded, in technical terms. It only didn't deliver because of the other collapse issues; we will face different ones than Germany did then, but Germany fell short because of the attrition caused by bombing that affected transport infrastructure and the synthesis plants. It did not fail from EROEI issues, because those do not apply here. EROEI would only have applied if the oil output had been needed to drive the conversion of coal to oil; actually, that was driven by even more coal.

"(South Africa could only manage a variant of the same thing with SASOL by subsidizing its economy with gold and diamonds.)"

Well, no. That coal to oil thing, SASOL, was all about autarky. Gold and diamonds were only relevant for foreign exchange, to get things from abroad - but those were precisely what weren't going into SASOL, because South Africa was after being able to go it alone. What it took to mobilise its own resources were its own internal taxes, armed force and bureaucracy, to access its own coal and labour. The process itself needed plant to apply the technology, but they had the latter and got the former in the same internal way.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Part 2 of 2

JMG, you then wrote "Yes, it's technically feasible to run your electrical grid off brown coal via the Karrick process, but technical feasibility is not the same thing as economic viability; have you crunched the numbers to see whether such a process would pay for itself at a cost for electricity that the Australian economy can support? That's the question that matters -- in this case, and a great many more."

You're not taking into account the very caveats Avalterra and I made, like my "True, ever fewer people would be able to afford the hydrocarbons, and true, the tricks don't actually solve anything as opposed to putting things off, and true, ecological, economic, political and other collapse issues generally would stop the tricks in their tracks, very possibly before the underlying resource constraints did - but the tricks aren't as close to their physical limitations as peak oil proper is". That turns the rest of what we put into an exaggerated form that doesn't hold up.

So, yes, I know perfectly well that "technical feasibility is not the same thing as economic viability"; that was the whole point to my telling you that very thing. I fully acknowledged that other stuff could well bring it all to a halt, I was only trying to show you, what you haven't taken on board, that coal to oil conversion's technical feasibility wouldn't hit its own inherent flaws as soon as peak oil by itself would. That throws the ball back into the court of the wider collapse factors, which I fully acknowledge form the constraint.

And, yes, I have looked into "whether such a process would pay for itself at a cost for electricity that the Australian economy can support". The thing is, it does not materially affect that; brown coal is being burned now in power stations anyway, and the simple Karrick process I mentioned isn't taking much additional energy as it is almost only extracting hydrocarbons with minimal further conversion (unlike full blown, SASOL style stuff). The numbers don't work out if you just apply that process to get ersatz oil and end up with vast amounts of semi-coke you can't use as a copious by-product (but only because the SASOL approach starts making more sense - and even that can use built up stocks of semi-coke, so it needn't be implemented so fast that there is a bottleneck). However, if you keep running the power stations on the semi-coke, all that cost is covered because the ersatz oil is the by-product, right up until you need more ersatz oil than is being produced on the cheap that way. It's like the way free range chickens were cheap extras on farms for as long as they were few enough that they could forage on the waste like dropped grain, but their costs went up as soon as there were so many that you needed to feed them deliberately. But, since Australia has ample supplies of brown coal and nothing better to do with it than burn it near the mines (unlike the higher quality coal Australia exports, which can be transported more practically), the Karrick process would continue to make enough economic sense even after hitting that point where electricity production ceases to cover the bulk of the costs - because it wouldn't cost more money so much as more brown coal input (though the SASOL approach would then make even more sense). How can I be so sure of all this? Because precisely that was done with a variant of that process to get shale oil when autarky was thrust on Australia during the Second World War, with no covering electricity production at all, and what with sunk costs it was kept going into the 1950s.

Courtney Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Avery said...

@Nicholas, JMG: I believe there is a sort of communication problem going on here which is famous in recent philosophy. JMG approaches philosophy from a continental perspective, that is, to put it boorishly, he evenhandedly considers a philosopher's description of the world and sees if it corresponds to his own broad reading and knowledge, then applies skepticism only after the fact. Nicholas probably thinks he is reading continental philosophy if he is tackling Nietzsche and Heidegger, but his use of the word "woo" and distaste for the word "Destiny", even when it is non-theological as in Spengler, clearly indicates that he is stuck in an analytic perspective. Getting scared of teleology is straight out of Kant and doesn't belong in continental philosophy.

This is my unlettered way of putting it and I'd be glad to hear someone with a clearer head correct me.

@All: Kind of terrifying news about Ohio this week. People are queueing for water due to large freshwater algae growths breaching the water treatment plants. Amazing to see how quickly half a million people can be affected by the failure of a simple system. I have to wonder how my community is prepared for this kind of thing.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & all

If anybody would like an introduction to study Climate Science this is from a leading German researcher of demonstrable reliability. (h/tip to another Bill, this time domiciled in Moscow. There is a Russian translation of this lecture. The overall study program looks very interesting.)

Phil H

Lance M. Foster said...

A fascinating timelapse exhibit of some of the land and climate changes over the past 65 million years during the evolution of mammals. I saw here the past where the exact thing happened that JMG said, as far as a desertification of the midwest and the disappearance of forests and extension of grasslands to the Appalachians.

Cathy McGuire said...

This is such a good example of denial - the Oregonian paper "compares" a "tiny house" (less than 300 sq ft.) with one of the "Street of Dreams" (the annual area monster house show - at least 4k sq ft, usually much more)... and emphasized that the bigger (5k sq ft) house was cheaper per square foot! Oooookaay....

(lots of photos of both)
But what is most sad: neither one of them is built with sustainability or self-sufficiency in mind, ie: they both have to buy basically everything they need for daily life! (unless the tiny house builds a "barn" with the same or more square footage on a large lot or farm).

Redneck Girl said...

John Michael Greer said...

Lewis, when my wife and I moved to Ashland, OR in 2004, all the locals were wary until they found out that we'd moved from Seattle. That was fine; it was the Californians they loathed.

The most obnoxious Californians are from the metropolitan areas. I should know I was born and raised in far N. California, the rural part that has many of the recreational areas as well as the most resources, (at that time). The town of my birth was a hub for mill workers, loggers, farmers, cattle ranchers and some seasonal recreation workers. Then the exodus began from the cities and I was promptly priced out of the housing market. That was when an ugly Californian chatting with another flatlander in front of me in a checkout line at the grocery gloated at the 'low price' she paid for her home there having enough money left over to buy a similar property as a rental/investment. She then stage whispered snidely that, "These people are so stupid they don't know what they have!"

I have no doubt that she would have been more contemptuous if she had known that my folks were originally from the Texas/Oklahoma area. S. Californians think Oakies are a lesser species fit for menial labor. Oakies have a sense of humor in regard to such people, I think of myself as a CIO, that's a California IMPROVED Oakie! When I moved back up to Oregon I drove my old 69 Chevy pickup, battered with faded paint and most of the locals didn't pay any attention to the licence plate. Obviously I belonged!


Nicholas Carter said...

The technical term is "inferential distance" you're clearly familiar with it (though maybe not by that name) for the similarly confused:
Just like how the [Spoilers] in Star's Reach intuitively grasp calculus, Heidegger's assumptions are close enough to the common sense of my world that what he says seems, if not always right, always direct. (When I read about language games and family resemblances, my thought was "so that's what that's called". I'd known it for years, seen it every day, and just didn't have a name for it.)

Martin Cohen said...

Where is Hari Seldon when we need him?

Can anything correspond to the Foundations?


Chris Balow said...

Bill, I limited my count to the larger trees. Certainly, including the numerous understory trees (dogwoods, red-buds, hawthorns, horn-beams, paw-paws, sumacs, and many others) would push that number much higher! At any rate, I just hate the thought of diminishing forests. I don't expect to ever be in a position to move further east, and I hate the thought of my descendants (should I be lucky enough to have any) missing out on all the lush greenery presently around me.

wolfvanzandt said...

I appreciate your blog, Mr. Greer. I try to keep up with what's happening to the environment but I'm too spread out, too focused on building my own community, and, frankly, too old and tired; so I'm not not nearly as effective as I would like to be. I have "feelers" but this blog seems to be the best one. Again, thanks.

SLClaire said...

In this CNBC report dated July 31
Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University, is quoted as saying that due to the extreme drought, "We may have to migrate people out of California."

Notice that phrasing. *We* may have to *migrate people out of* California. Who is this *we*? Who gets *migrated* and how? I'd also ask how much more Orwellian things can get, except that I suspect I will find out in due time.

JMG, we talked earlier about St. Louis being, ahem, an interesting place to live in during the decline of the US empire and its political ramifications. Climate chaos adds another level of interesting to that, as we discussed above. Since moving doesn't appear to be an option (I'm married to a lifelong resident whose birth family also lives here), I'll just have to live in risk and danger like everyone else. Maybe all that can be done is to try to load the dice a mite bit in my favor with Green Wizardry, voluntary poverty, and whatever else I learn from your series. Many thanks for it and your continuing efforts to speak with those of us who have ears to hear.

Bogatyr said...

This looks like it may be of interest to Green Wizards: What’s Your Post-Apocalypse Game Plan?

Mark Rice said...

I would like to give a Gold Star to Derv. He helped me understand Climate Change deniers:

The error is "this idea/theory/event serves a political interest, and therefore is false." It's really just that simple..

If the so called conservatives think the so called liberals have an agenda to gratuitously increase government involvement in everyone's lives, then this all makes sense. Climate change does tend to support an agenda of bigger government.

For me this humanized the "conservative" mind set. Now I do not see them as just mindlessly swallowing all propaganda that is shouted on Fox news.

Janet D said...

Every time I read about climate change, I think of the updated USDA climate zones. (For those who don't know, 2-3 years ago, the USDA released all new climate zones for the entire U.S. Basically, EVERY area in the U.S. become warmer by at least one growing zone. The Arbor Day foundation has a great animated clip showing how the zones moved.) I knew then that we were going over the waterfall with climate change, especially because the USDA went to great lengths to clarify that just because the U.S. was getting warmer in every area of the country DID NOT MEAN that global warming was happening. It was really quite interesting reading. Talk about nonsensical explanations. Of course, since 90+% (at least) of all Americans are completely clueless about gardening, no one noticed or cared.

Courtney Jane - I love your honesty. You'll do fine in life...just keep plugging. Re: sustainability. Native Americans were completely sustainable, but their ancestors spent thousands of years carefully managing their large territories to naturally produce abundant quantities of food (they just didn't fence or plow the land, so the Europeans thought it was 'wilderness' and disregarded all of the work that had gone into it). I've read quite a lot about how natives managed the land, and what I can tell you is that it will take at least 200 years (if we start now) of extensive repair work before any of this country will naturally support any size of population (meaning: support a fraction of what was the original Native population, not the current U.S. population). We've destroyed all the natural systems that supported large numbers of game and fish and plowed under and paved over the endless fields of roots, tubers, nut trees, and native grains that once abided everywhere. Point being: you can't get from A (current industrial system) to Z (group sustainability off the land) without having an intermediate game plan, such as JMG discusses. Brewing ain't a bad idea.

valekeeperx said...

JMG, et al,

Seems that maybe the forum needs a little balance and some reminding. Californians particularly seem to be the target of some sniping this week. Lots of broad and specific generalizations and more. I was born in California and have lived here most of my life. So, just want to give my two cents worth.

Regarding statements and points of view held by Californians towards folks from other states, I’ve not really heard many negative statements about people based on where they live. Usually, I’ve heard more along the liberal/conservative, red state/blue state type stuff, or gods help us the racial and ethnic baloney. But, I don’t believe that as a rule southern Californians think Oklahomans are a lesser species fit only for menial labor. This is one of the more bizarre and specific mindsets I’ve read attributed to Californians. Maybe a few people think that way? But, certainly not even a significant or measurable minority.

Sure, we have our share of rude and arrogant knuckleheads, but knuckleheads don’t all originate in California. Don’t we all usually notice rude and arrogant people no matter where they’re from? I’ve met more than my share of rude and arrogant Californians, but I’ve also met plenty of polite and modest Californians, too. And, I’ve met plenty of rude and arrogant people who hail from many other parts of the world. My stepfather-in-law, for example, is one of the more arrogant, ignorant, and infantile people I’ve ever met and he’s from England. But, I certainly do not consider that he is a fair representative of his country. And, we’ve all heard about the archetypal Ugly American. I expect that there are some broad patterns, though, I have found it best not to generalize or consider very small sample sizes as representative. But, I’m a Californian, what do I know?

P.M.Lawrence said...

Cherokee Organics, those outside issues with the brown coal mining and power generation are precisely why I am being very careful to distinguish between the internal technical things and what the outside world is doing to it. As for its EROEI, yes, that is lower than with higher quality coal because of the higher water content (and the higher ash content), but on the one hand it's not insuperable or it couldn't be used at all (though Sir John Monash had to go to Germany to find out how they managed to do it), and on the other hand those are the very things that keep it cheap enough to burn on site to make electricity; without that water and ash content, and also the resulting tendency to break up while being handled, it would have too high an opportunity cost to use that way as it would be able to be exported profitably instead (the same effect that is about to make Australian gas prices go up, as it is about to become practical to export rather than sell locally).

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, if I had a dollar for every story like that I've heard, I could buy pizza for the entire readership of this blog...

Bill, thanks for the links! Please do write those posts -- it's a subject that bears far more attention than it gets these days.

Bill, given a few millennia and a sharp drop in human population, I wonder if something will evolve to fill the passenger pigeon's niche.

Bogatyr, Russians -- and more generally all the people of eastern Europe -- are close enough to the living memory of collapse that they know how to do it. Most Americans don't, which is one reason things may be unusually messy here.

Robert, I'm pretty sure that's what Vico was talking about when he discussed the barbarism of reflection...

P.M. Lawrence, I think it's probably going to take an entire post to explain where I think you're wrong, because there are basic presuppositions at issue. That said, I think we're agreed that various attempts at substitution will be tried, and will fail after a shorter or longer interval; my analysis suggests that a good many of them will fail before they add any net energy or wealth to the whole system, as ITER is doing right now. But we'll get to that in a future discussion.

Avery, yes, I think that's probably a workable description. I admit to an almost complete lack of interest in analytical philosophy -- I'm sure it must do someone some good somehow, but I haven't been able to find any way it furthers my work.

Phil and Lance, thanks for the links!

Cathy, yes, that's a classic. Oog.

Wadulisi, that makes sense. The Californians who made themselves loathed in Ashland were generally from Marin County.

Nicholas, that's fascinating. I found Heidegger almost completely opaque on first reading, where Nietzsche was utterly congenial and Spengler very nearly so. Of course I have a background in certain currents of thought that flowed into and out of classic Naturphilosophie that, shall we say, you're not going to hear discussed much in a contemporary university; certainly I've yet to see anybody grappling with the philosophy of late central European alchemy, say, or the writings of Rudolf Steiner, in a modern philosophy or Germanics department!

John Michael Greer said...

Martin, he's pulled a no-show, so it's up to you.

Wolf, thank you.

SLClaire, it may be interesting, but you're in a city that has huge geographical advantages and immediate access via water to a vast agricultural hinterland. You have at least as good a chance as anybody else.

Bogatyr, thanks for the link.

Janet, yes, I noted that too. It was a stunning example of doublethink.

Valekeeperx, what's going on is a matter of crossed signals and differing social expectations. What Californians think of as perfectly healthy self-assertion looks to everyone else in the country like intolerable rudeness and arrogance. Of course you don't notice it, any more than New Yorkers think of themselves as loud and pushy, or -- well, every one of our regional cultures has its own habits that grate on everyone else's nerves.

The thing to remember is that the United States is not a single country, even though it currently has a single government. In terms of culture and behavior, some parts of the US are as different from each other as England is from Italy, and confusion and irritation in that sort of situation is unavoidable.

Pierluigi Dipietro said...

Dear JMG,
talkinga bout attractors is not intended to say "it's different this tim" It simply cannot be ruled out.

Given the magnitude of the disturbance, it is more than a remote possibility, in my opinion.

I also have to stress that the same timing of changes is an unknown, for the same reasons you listed, and promarily because when chaos ensues, abrupt changes is the rule.

A rule of thumb should be the timeframe and magnitude of past natural variability, that is, rates of change.
Changes in temperature affecting the shape of sea-land (ice covering and climate patterns that are meaningful for a civilization timeframe) tells a story of variations for Co2 of about 150 ppm in about 10k-100k years.

This can be assumed like gradual and undisturbed change, i suppose. It has been found a correlation with the oc2/temperature cycles and the astronomic Milankovitch cycles.

But such cycles are so small in direct effect magnitude, that a multiplier effect inside the earth system has to be taken into account to justify the final results.

Consider now the last 150 years. We have concentrated a 300 ppm increase in a timeframe that is 100 times smaller. It is nota simple disturbance. It can considered like a TIR crashing into your home.

Like a bat hitting hard the ball, not letting it rolling gently on the grass. Unless you are of the opinion that co2 has noting to do with energy trapping on earth.

This is not a matter of opinion. Not a matter of being pessimistic or optimistic. It is simply a matter of matching numbers.

The bes I can say is that all of this could llead ti a change tat can be consiedered "as usual for earth" only in a VERY LARGE timeframe (that is, million of years). If we restrict the timeframe to human meaningful timeframes (your 500 years) maybe not.

It seems to me that your assumption is that climate will re-balance itself in this timeframe.This is an assumption that does not match with the magnitude of the disturbance already inside the system..

What matters here is the rate of change evalued on the selected timeframe.
The rate of change can seem small when evaluated using our common sense, but it leads to errors, sometime huge errors. This is truer considering that the climate change could continue running well beyond your 500 years timeframe, and radically transform the earth face.

Our specie is highly adaptable, but the adaptation required could be by far more demanding than anyone could imagine.

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