Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dark Age America: A Bitter Legacy

Civilizations normally leave a damaged environment behind them when they fall, and ours shows every sign of following that wearily familiar pattern. The nature and severity of the ecological damage a civilization leaves behind, though, depend on two factors, one obvious, the other less so. The obvious factor derives from the nature of the technologies the civilization deployed in its heyday; the less obvious one depends on how many times those same technologies had been through the same cycle of rise and fall before the civilization under discussion got to them.

There’s an important lesson in this latter factor. Human technologies almost always start off their trajectory through time as environmental disasters looking for a spot marked X, which they inevitably find, and then have the rough edges knocked off them by centuries or millennia of bitter experience. When our species first developed the technologies that enabled hunting bands to take down big game animals, the result was mass slaughter and the extinction of entire species of megafauna, followed by famine and misery; rinse and repeat, and you get the exquisite ecological balance that most hunter-gatherer societies maintained in historic times. In much the same way, early field agriculture yielded bumper crops of topsoil loss and subsistence failure to go along with its less reliable yields of edible grain, and the hard lessons from that experience have driven the rise of more sustainable agricultural systems—a process completed in our time with the emergence of organic agricultural methods that build soil rather than depleting it.

Any brand new mode of human subsistence is thus normally cruising for a bruising, and will get it in due time at the hands of the biosphere. That’s not precisely good news for modern industrial civilization, because ours is a brand new mode of human subsistence; it’s the first human society ever to depend almost entirely on extrasomatic energy—energy, that is, that doesn’t come from human or animal muscles fueled by food crops. In my book The Ecotechnic Future, I’ve suggested that industrial civilization is simply the first and most wasteful of a new mode of human society, the technic society. Eventually, I proposed, technic societies will achieve the same precise accommodation to ecological reality that hunter-gatherer societies worked out long ago, and agricultural societies have spent the last eight thousand years or so pursuing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help us much just now.

Modern industrial civilization, in point of fact, has been stunningly clueless in its relationship with the planetary cycles that keep us all alive. Like those early bands of roving hunters who slaughtered every mammoth they could find and then looked around blankly for something to eat, we’ve drawn down the finite stocks of fossil fuels on this planet without the least concern about what the future would bring—well, other than the occasional pious utterance of thoughtstopping mantras of the “Oh, I’m sure they’ll think of something” variety. That’s not the only thing we’ve drawn down recklessly, of course, and the impact of our idiotically short-term thinking on our long-term prospects will be among the most important forces shaping the next five centuries of North America’s future.

Let’s start with one of the most obvious: topsoil, the biologically active layer of soil that can support food crops. On average, as a result of today’s standard agricultural methods, North America’s arable land loses almost three tons of topsoil from each cultivated acre every single year. Most of the topsoil that made North America the breadbasket of the 20th century world is already gone, and at the current rate of loss, all of it will be gone by 2075. That would be bad enough if we could rely on artificial fertilizer to make up for the losses, but by 2075 that won’t be an option: the entire range of chemical fertilizers are made from nonrenewable resources—natural gas is the main feedstock for nitrate fertilizers, rock phosphate for phosphate fertilizers, and so on—and all of these are depleting fast.

Topsoil loss driven by bad agricultural practices is actually quite a common factor in the collapse of civilizations. Sea-floor cores in the waters around Greece, for example, show a spike in sediment deposition from rapidly eroding topsoil right around the end of the Mycenean civilization, and another from the latter years of the Roman Empire. If archeologists thousands of years from now try the same test, they’ll find yet another eroded topsoil layer at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the legacy of an agricultural system that put quarterly profits ahead of the relatively modest changes that might have preserved the soil for future generations.

The methods of organic agriculture mentioned earlier could help very significantly with this problem, since those include techniques for preserving existing topsoil, and rebuilding depleted soil at a rate considerably faster than nature’s pace. To make any kind of difference, though, those methods would have to be deployed on a very broad scale, and then passed down through the difficult years ahead. Lacking that, even where desertification driven by climate change doesn’t make farming impossible, a very large part of today’s North American farm belt will likely be unable to support crops for centuries or millennia to come. Eventually, the same slow processes that replenished the soil on land scraped bare by the ice age glaciers will do the same thing to land stripped of topsoil by industrial farming, but “eventually” will not come quickly enough to spare our descendants many hungry days.

The same tune in a different key is currently being played across the world’s oceans, and as a result my readers can look forward, in the not too distant future, to tasting the last piece of seafood they will ever eat. Conservatively managed, the world’s fish stocks could have produced large yields indefinitely, but they were not conservatively managed; where regulation was attempted, political and economic pressure consistently drove catch limits above sustainable levels, and of course cheating was pervasive and the penalties for being caught were merely another cost of doing business. Fishery after fishery has accordingly collapsed, and the increasingly frantic struggle to feed seven billion hungry mouths is unlikely to leave any of those that remain intact for long.

Worse, all of this is happening in oceans that are being hammered by other aspects of our collective ecological stupidity. Global climate change, by boosting the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, is acidifying the oceans and causing sweeping shifts in oceanic food chains. Those shifts involve winners as well as losers; where calcium-shelled diatoms and corals are suffering population declines, seaweeds and algae, which are not so sensitive to changes in the acid-alkaline balance, are thriving on the increased CO2 in the water—but the fish that feed on seaweeds and algae are not the same as those that feed on diatoms and corals, and the resulting changes are whipsawing ocean ecologies.

Close to shore, toxic effluents from human industry and agriculture are also adding to the trouble. The deep oceans, all things considered, offer sparse pickings for most saltwater creatures; the vast majority of ocean life thrives within a few hundred miles of land, where rivers, upwelling zones, and the like provide nutrients in relative abundance. We’re already seeing serious problems with toxic substances concentrating up through oceanic food chains; unless communities close to the water’s edge respond to rising sea levels with consummate care, hauling every source of toxic chemicals out of reach of the waters, that problem is only going to grow worse. Different species react differently to this or that toxin; some kind of aquatic ecosystem will emerge and thrive even in the most toxic estuaries of deindustrial North America, but it’s unlikely that those ecosystems will produce anything fit for human beings to eat, and making the attempt may not be particularly good for one’s health.

Over the long run, that, too, will right itself. Bioaccumulated toxins will end up entombed in the muck on the ocean’s floor, providing yet another interesting data point for the archeologists of the far future; food chains and ecosystems will reorganize, quite possibly in very different forms from the ones they have now. Changes in water temperature, and potentially in the patterns of ocean currents, will bring unfamiliar species into contact with one another, and living things that survive the deindustrial years in isolated refugia will expand into their former range. These are normal stages in the adaptation of ecosystems to large-scale shocks. Still, those processes of renewal take time, and the deindustrial dark ages ahead of us will be long gone before the seas are restored to biological abundance.

Barren lands and empty seas aren’t the only bitter legacies we’re leaving our descendants, of course. One of the others has received quite a bit of attention on the apocalyptic end of the peak oil blogosphere for several years now—since March 11, 2011, to be precise, when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster got under way. Nuclear power exerts a curious magnetism on the modern mind, drawing it toward extremes in one direction or the other; the wildly unrealistic claims about its limitless potential to power the future that have been made by its supporters are neatly balanced by the wildly unrealistic claims about its limitless potential as a source of human extinction on the other. Negotiating a path between those extremes is not always an easy matter.

In both cases, though, it’s easy enough to clear away at least some of the confusion by turning to documented facts. It so happens, for instance, that no nation on Earth has ever been able to launch or maintain a nuclear power program without huge and continuing subsidies. Nuclear power never pays for itself; absent a steady stream of government handouts, it doesn’t make enough economic sense to attract enough private investment to cover its costs, much less meet the huge and so far unmet expenses of nuclear waste storage; and in the great majority of cases, the motive behind the program, and the subsidies, is pretty clearly the desire of the local government to arm itself with nuclear weapons at any cost. Thus the tired fantasy of cheap, abundant nuclear power needs to be buried alongside the Eisenhower-era propagandists who dreamed it up in the first place.

It also happens, of course, that there have been quite a few catastrophic nuclear accidents since the dawn of the atomic age just over seventy years ago, especially but not only in the former Soviet Union. Thus it’s no secret what the consequences are when a reactor melts down, or when mismanaged nuclear waste storage facilities catch fire and spew radioactive smoke across the countryside. What results is an unusually dangerous industrial accident, on a par with the sudden collapse of a hydroelectric dam or a chemical plant explosion that sends toxic gases drifting into a populated area; it differs from these mostly in that the contamination left behind by certain nuclear accidents remains dangerous for many years after it comes drifting down from the sky.

There are currently 69 operational nuclear power plants scattered unevenly across the face of North America, with 127 reactors among them; there are also 48 research reactors, most of them much smaller and less vulnerable to meltdown than the power plant reactors. Most North American nuclear power plants store spent fuel rods in pools of cooling water onsite, since the spent rods continue to give off heat and radiation and there’s no long term storage for high-level nuclear waste. Neither a reactor nor a fuel rod storage pool can be left untended for long without serious trouble, and a great many things—including natural disasters and human stupidity—can push them over into meltdown, in the case of reactors, or conflagration, in the case of spent fuel rods. In either case, or both, you’ll get a plume of toxic, highly radioactive smoke drifting in the wind, and a great many people immediately downwind will die quickly or slowly, depending on the details and the dose.

It’s entirely reasonable to predict that this is going to happen to some of those 175 reactors. In a world racked by climate change, resource depletion, economic disintegration, political and social chaos, mass movements of populations, and the other normal features of the decline and fall of a civilization and the coming of a dark age, the short straw is going to be drawn sooner or later, and serious nuclear disasters are going to happen. That doesn’t justify the claim that every one of those reactors is going to melt down catastrophically, every one of the spent-fuel storage facilities is going to catch fire, and so on—though of course that claim does make for more colorful rhetoric.

In the real world, for reasons I’ll be discussing further in this series of posts, we don’t face the kind of sudden collapse that could make all the lights go out at once. Some nations, regions, and local areas within regions will slide faster than others, or be deliberately sacrificed so that resources of one kind or another can be used somewhere else. As long as governments retain any kind of power at all, keeping nuclear facilities from adding to the ongoing list of disasters will be high on their agendas; shutting down reactors that are no longer safe to operate is one step they can certainly do, and so is hauling spent fuel rods out of the pools and putting them somewhere less immediately vulnerable.

It’s probably a safe bet that the further we go along the arc of decline and fall, the further these decommissioning exercises will stray from the optimum. I can all too easily imagine fuel rods being hauled out of their pools by condemned criminals or political prisoners, loaded on flatbed rail cars, taken to some desolate corner of the expanding western deserts, and tipped one at a time into trenches dug in the desert soil, then covered over with a few meters of dirt and left to the elements. Sooner or later the radionuclides will leak out, and that desolate place will become even more desolate, a place of rumors and legends where those who go don’t come back.

Meanwhile, the reactors and spent-fuel pools that don’t get shut down even in so cavalier a fashion will become the focal points of dead zones of a slightly different kind. The facilities themselves will be off limits for some thousands of years, and the invisible footprints left behind by the plumes of smoke and dust will be dangerous for centuries. The vagaries of deposition and erosion are impossible to predict; in areas downwind from Chernobyl or some of the less famous Soviet nuclear accidents, one piece of overgrown former farmland may be relatively safe while another a quarter hour’s walk away may still set a Geiger counter clicking at way-beyond-safe rates. Here I imagine cow skulls on poles, or some such traditional marker, warning the unwary that they stand on the edge of accursed ground.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all the accursed ground in deindustrial North America will be the result of nuclear accidents. There are already areas on the continent so heavily contaminated with toxic pollutants of less glow-in-the-dark varieties that anyone who attempts to grow food or drink the water there can count on a short life and a wretched death. As the industrial system spirals toward its end, and those environmental protections that haven’t been gutted already get flung aside in the frantic quest to keep the system going just a little bit longer, spills and other industrial accidents are very likely to become a good deal more common than they are already.

There are methods of soil and ecosystem bioremediation that can be done with very simple technologies—for example, plants that concentrate toxic metals in their tissues so it can be hauled away to a less dangerous site, and fungi that break down organic toxins—but if they’re to do any good at all, these will have to be preserved and deployed in the teeth of massive social changes and equally massive hardships. Lacking that, and it’s a considerable gamble at this point, the North America of the future will be spotted with areas where birth defects are a common cause of infant mortality and it will be rare to see anyone over the age of forty or so without the telltale signs of cancer.

There’s a bitter irony in the fact that cancer, a relatively rare disease a century and a half ago—most childhood cancers in particular were so rare that individual cases were written up in medical journals —has become the signature disease of industrial society, expanding its occurrence and death toll in lockstep with our mindless dumping of chemical toxins and radioactive waste into the environment. What, after all, is cancer? A disease of uncontrolled growth.

I sometimes wonder if our descendants in the deindustrial world will appreciate that irony. One way or another, I have no doubt that they’ll have their own opinions about the bitter legacy we’re leaving them. Late at night, when sleep is far away, I sometimes remember Ernest Thompson Seton’s heartrending 1927 prose poem “A Lament,” in which he recalled the beauty of the wild West he had known and the desolation of barbed wire and bleached bones he had seen it become. He projected the same curve of devastation forward until it rebounded on its perpetrators—yes, that would be us—and imagined the voyagers of some other nation landing centuries from now at the ruins of Manhattan, and slowly piecing together the story of a vanished people:

Their chiefs and wiser ones shall know
That here was a wastrel race, cruel and sordid,
Weighed and found wanting,
Once mighty but forgotten now.
And on our last remembrance stone,
These wiser ones will write of us:
They desolated their heritage,
They wrote their own doom.

I suspect, though, that our descendants will put things in language a good deal sharper than this. As they think back on the people of the 20th and early 21st centuries who gave them the barren soil and ravaged fisheries, the chaotic weather and rising oceans, the poisoned land and water, the birth defects and cancers that embitter their lives, how will they remember us? I think I know. I think we will be the orcs and Nazgûl of their legends, the collective Satan of their mythology, the ancient race who ravaged the earth and everything on it so they could enjoy lives of wretched excess at the future’s expense. They will remember us as evil incarnate—and from their perspective, it’s by no means easy to dispute that judgment.


1 – 200 of 205   Newer›   Newest»
Paul said...

As far as things being washed into the oceans, and then on into the food chain are concerned, Alan Weisman wrote a chapter about it in his book, "The World Without Us"

The chapter is called "Plastics are Forever" and Weisman put it into the public domain.

You can read it here:

Violet Cabra said...

Who was it that said that "Today's Gods are tomorrows Devils"?

Progress, uncontrolled, the quest to be alone with infinite space, is in a very real sense the God of our civilization. Cancer, the shadow of uncontrolled growth, could aptly be called our collective Devil.

Future generations will remember our Devil much more strongly than our God methinks, although both are two sides of the same coin. Probably 1000+ years till an ascendant Culture takes a keen interest in our world-view.

As a side-note: when I lived in New Orleans by the railyard in the part of town people took stolen cars to burn I was frequently surprised by the animals I saw in my garden. Countless little frogs, which I've read are the most sensitive animals to toxins. Also kestrels and once snowy owl in a warehouse which was both magnificent and mindblowing. I lived in NOLA after Hurricane Katrina and the BP spill that, according to my friends, left the entire city reeking of benzene for weeks. Birds of prey are apex predators and most bioaccumulate all sorts of nasties in Cancer Alley, but still they and frogs seemed to thrive.

This isn't to say that "everything was alright in Cancer Alley" - who knows how long those animals lived into adulthood? Nonetheless it was profoundly heartening.

Eric S. said...

"we will be the orcs and Nazgûl of their legends, the collective Satan of their mythology, the ancient race who ravaged the earth and everything on it so they could enjoy lives of wretched excess at the future’s expense. They will remember us as evil incarnate—and from their perspective, it’s by no means easy to dispute that judgment."

Have you ever considered the irony, that given the propensity of desert environments for preserving ruins for millenia, and the projections you explored in the Climate essay, one of the cities that's in the best shape to preserve our legacy for the ages is Las Vegas, where we sequestered our nuclear waste, along with our culture's shadows, sins, and vices. I want to read the journal of the 39th century archaeological expedition who finds out that the myths and legends that are going to rise up around that place are true.

rapier said...

I am assuming the use of nuclear weapons at some point. In which case the fate of nuclear power fuel and sties becomes relatively trivial.

I've got a couple ofscenarios/wild guesses. The probability that the first use will be in India/Pakistan. Followed sporadically by others for once the genie is again out of the bottle it will stay out.

I wouldn't want to live in Tehran that's for sure. We, Israel and the Saudis and the ever growing legions of their more radical Salafi Islam cousins all want to wipe either Shiites or Persians off the face of the earth.

MAD will probably persist among the great powers, for awhile. Then those around at the time better hope the weapons become inoperable due to maintainece issues.

I hope I am wrong, not that other possible futures are especially rosy.

Eric S. said...

That does make for some very difficult reflections on the broader trajectory of meaning we were discussing a few weeks ago... For me, a huge source of that meaning comes from honoring the ancestors and keeping their legacy alive because there's some element of them that's with us and in us. That comes, I suppose with a hope that our descendents might do the same for us one day... What happens to the ancestors when they're vilified? That's probably more a spiritual question than a practical one, but it's a question that I'm going to be working through for a while.

Nemo said...

Your last paragraph reminded me of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. I don't know how many people are still reading that book, but thinking about the general theme makes it seem extremely relevant today. Some people become monsters simply by not changing with times of change and the only alternative way appears to be a different type of monster.

(Today's was a fantastic post, as usual. I have become somewhat obsessed with this blog and your books over the past year and figure I might as well start commenting and making my presence known!)

Grey said...

And will they remember that there were those who strove mightily, but failed, to prevent the worst damages, and those who attempted to preserve the best and heal the damage where they could?
What will they think of those people, should they think of them at all?

Travis Marshall said...

With each passing year I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy the privileges afforded middle class westerners. Much of this I attribute to your persuasive writing, for which I thank you. I hope I can take more significant steps toward forsaking these trappings and in doing so convince others to do the same while they still have a choice. That was a sharp pen and well used, thank you.

Cherokee Organics said...


Evil is the correct adjective. Thank you for that understanding.

Yes top soil loss is profound in industrial agricultural systems and people can ignore it - for now - just.

A funny example from here recently is when someone mentioned to me that growing companion plants under the fruit trees would provide opportunities for slugs and snails in which to breed. The look they gave me was like, "man, you are asking for trouble".

After that I explained that those critters were food for the birds whose manure would provide fertiliser for the soil in and around the fruit trees and surrounding forest. The companion plants also have very deep root systems so they can mine minerals and water from deep within the soil and have such fast growth cycles that the deaths of their leaves provides sufficient organic matter for the soil bacteria and fungi - which in turn feeds the fruit trees as well. Phew that was a mouthful!

The greater the diversity of life within an agricultural system, the more resilient that system is to shocks and generally the more productive it becomes.

After all of that explanation he just shook his head and gave me a don't say I didn't tell you look.

There is a complete failure of systems thinking in industrial agriculture that makes me shake my head in disbelief!

It is worth mentioning that there is no quick fix too with the implementation of organic agriculture. It all depends on how fertile your original soil is in the first place and how biologically active the soils and ecosystem is in your area. Even the soil life has to come from somewhere nearby, so if every one of your neighbours has killed it off, your only option is to either wait or import it.

There is no getting around it, if you poison your immediate area, then there is no quick fix. It will take many years to remediate it and restore even a basic level of fertility. There are no else where's to go to or for industrial agriculture to conquer. I strongly suspect that yields will decrease over the next few years especially if you chuck global weirding into the mix too.

I spoke with someone who’d been in France recently and they told me the supermarkets stocked food derived from Kenya of all places! Yikes!

This comment is to everyone here: If anyone is uncertain, ask yourself, where did your dinner come from?

On a more pleasant note: I woke up last night to a series of blood curdling screams in the forest and orchard. Oh yeah, you can't sleep through that one!

After a bit of research this morning, I believe it was the sound that the small marsupial sugar glider makes here. I might have mentioned a few years back that the sugar glider sneaks into the chicken enclosure during winter to feast on the grains and other uneaten food. They have a very high metabolism so require a lot of feeding, but usually eat the sugary sap from the eucalyptus trees. Not this little smart glider.



Check out the weekly blog for all of the interesting stuff going on at the farm here: A song of water and fire

Pinku-Sensei said...

"If archeologists thousands of years from now try the same test, they’ll find yet another eroded topsoil layer at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the legacy of an agricultural system that put quarterly profits ahead of the relatively modest changes that might have preserved the soil for future generations."

They'll also find the fossils of lots of dead fish, shrimp, and oysters, the victims of the anoxia of the dead zones that runoff of synthetic fertilizer, sewage, and manure caused. So will the organic matter produced by the algal blooms that led to the anoxic events in the first place. Add in pesticides and tarballs, and it will be a really noxious marker bed the scientists of the future will encounter. Oh, and plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.

"Fishery after fishery has accordingly collapsed, and the increasingly frantic struggle to feed seven billion hungry mouths is unlikely to leave any of those that remain intact for long."

I showed one of my classes the graph of how much seafood the world has consumed over the past 50 years today and pointed out to my students that the amount that is caught from wild stocks in the world's oceans, lakes, and rivers has hardly budged over the past 30 years. All the increase has come from aquaculture. That's a technology that is nowhere near as refined as agriculture on land in most places, as I point out to my students, so its ability to feed the world is iffy. Speaking of aquaculture, the latest attempt here in Detroit involves raising shrimp in vacant houses. It's working under current conditions, but I have my doubts about how sustainable it is given how much heat it will require and how long ocean water can be simulated this far away from the sea.

"Those shifts involve winners as well as losers"

One of the winners you didn't mention are jellyfish. They seem to be thriving in a warm, CO2-rich world. Those and insects might be the protein sources of the future.

I see you've addressed the favorite topic among your readers who say "this time it's different; it's worse"--nuclear energy. I'll leave that topic for them.

Zachary Braverman said...

Are you suggesting that a drastic reduction in QOL for our descendents is a price too high to pay for our iPhones? You are insufficiently dedicated to the cause, Mr. Greer!

Shane Wilson said...

I'd think deep sea dumping of spent fuel rods more likely in a stop gap decommissioning than anything land based...

Lance M. Foster said...

Yes, that is how it will be. We are the Makers of Mordor.

John Michael Greer said...

Paul, already read the book, but thanks.

Violet, it's anyone's guess what will mess up an ecosystem and what won't. Places near Chernobyl that are buzzing with radiation are green and full of living things, while suburban landscapes in Virginia have nothing living in them but artificially fertilized plants and artificially fed humans. I expect things to be equally patchy, and equally strange, as we proceed.

Eric, yes, I expect Las Vegas, Phoenix, and a few similar cities to be the Pompeiis of some future age. I hope the people of that time learn some useful lessons from the experience.

Rapier, nuclear weapons are a temporary inconvenience, if a messy one. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are both thriving cities today. If there's a nuclear war, a lot of people will die and the climate chaos will be amplified by a lot of atmospheric dust and soot, but a few decades later it'll all be over. In terms of the five-century perspective I'm discussing here, it's a minor point.

Eric, it's a question worth pondering.

Nemo, I certainly read it! An interesting comparison, and to my mind, not at all misplaced.

Grey, it depends on whether those people actually make any kind of a difference that people centuries from now will notice. So far, it's not looking like that's going to happen, not least because a lot of the people who think they're striving mightily are still living lifestyles that contribute to the devastation of the planet. If that changes, it'll be time to talk about what the future will think of them.

Travis, thank you. It's comments like yours that give me hope that I'm getting the point across.

Cherokee, no argument there. I've had good luck repairing barren soil and building topsoil in small, intensively worked gardens, but I wasn't having to contend with persistent poisons. Glad to hear about the sugar glider!

Pinku-sensei, yes, we should be pretty easy to trace in the rock formations of the far future. As for jellyfish, I'll have to research what eats them -- that might be a clue to the shape of a future oceanic food chain.

Zachary, I hope so!

Shane, that's also an option; it'll depend on who has access to what kind of transport, among other things.

Lance, certainly I expect our descendants to see things that way.

John Michael Greer said...

Peter (offlist), no, I didn't get the phrase "dark age America" from Morris Berman; the phrase isn't original to him, for that matter. Either there are a lot of Berman fans out there who don't check their facts before posting things, or you have a lot of sock puppets. Either way, I'm sure you must have something better to do with your time.

Kyoto Motors said...

[is this a double postng?]

That may go down as the darkest entry at the ADR yet.
I was just explaining to some colleagues today just how abundant the cod fishery once was in the North Atlantic off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. When first "discovered" by Europeans, by all accounts the fish were huge, and the resource was, er, inexhaustable...
You could have mentioned also the accumulation of plastic in the oceans. The now famous continent sized "plastic island" in the North West Pacfic is another such legacy.
Just got back from a camping trip in the woods. Amazingly, there are still some places in the world that, while perhaps not untouched, are still pretty close to pristine and definitely refreshing. The city is a shocker. Glad to be back at the ADR though!

Kyoto Motors said...

I believe the late Jane Jacobs' last book was entitled "Dark Age Ahead". It's a good little read even if she overlooked the energy question entirely. She does point out rather convincingly that our civilisation is not immune to the same sorts of causes of collapse that we can observe from history.
I find it almost poetic (prophetic?) that this was her last literary expression before her passing.

Steve Carrow said...

loss of topsoil- Like the saying goes, when you are in a hole, first stop digging. I agree that reversal of this industrial ag pattern at a national or global level is unlikely, but there are becoming more and more farm scale prototypes of permaculture perennial food crop systems that build topsoil. Replication of these template farms on local and regional bases is my hope that we will leave at least some positive legacy for the future. By itself, it won't bring back critical nutrients like phosphorus, but it does begin our transition to low input, nature emulating food production. Personally, I have retired early from the energy industry, and plan to focus my remaining years on planting woody crop plant communities that mimic the oak savanna native to southwest Wisconsin, where my wife and I have been fortunate enough to secure 40 acres of former overused farmland. Those interested in learning more about this approach can google Mark Shepard to see what he has done with 100+ acres in this same biome.

Kutamun said...

In Ozland we are no strangers to Nuclear Thaumaturgy , the Maralinga nuclear tests , carried out in the 1950s and 60s in outback S.A by the dastardly Pommie government resulted in the Mclelland royal commision finding the area still thoroughly contaminated in 1985 , finding also that the local indigenous Tjarunga were exposed to fall out , as were many of the servicemen and women on site , who were " invited" to walk / crawl through various radioactive zones , as well as view the blasts through safety glasses from a few miles away ....
As our sycophantic prime minister of the day remarked to a cringeing queen elizabeth around that time "i did but see her passing by ...though i love her 'till i die "!
But thats not all folks ! In 1958 good ole uncle sam decided it would be a good idea to detonate a series of warheads into the upper atmosphere over the southern ocean " operation argus " , just to see what would happen !! Brilliant , goodness knows how far the fallout from those three explosions travelled , and its hardly surprising that a lot of people now have cancer , i agree ...
Always a hot button issue in australia , possessing as we do a large slab of the worlds uranium reserves , we have endlessley debated and wrung our hands , sung songs , made movies ..
In 2014 there will be a federal court case to decide wether we create a nuclear waste dump on Mukaty Station near Tennant Creek , and the show goes on....
Ironically we dont use nuclear power ourselves , although it seems we are more suited to it than most places with our huge , geologically stable coastlines and endless tracts of desert. ....
I often think of fission as Thanatos , the tearing apart limb from limb of some unlucky atom , evoking and trapping a powerful demon into the reactor ...heaven knows what effect this has on the collective unconscious of nearby residents ...perhaps we would all start wearing berets and eating croissants , with funny little mustaches and bright red lipstick ...
Fusion on other hand , is the so far failed attempt to capture and harness the energy of a reluctant angel , whose inherent narcissism may have made it vaguely mathematically possible for him to be trapped at all, much to the disdain of his colleagues and onlookers in the higher celestial orders " come on Fusion ! Dont let the homey hominids use you like this ! "

Enrique said...

The Archdruid’s comment about Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminded me of a web post I saw a while back, comparing Hiroshima and Detroit 65 years after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Today, Hiroshima is a thriving city with a population of over 1 million, while Detroit, which was once the industrial capital of North America, now resembles a bombed out war ruin. As the comments at the end of the article correctly point out, much of the ruination of Detroit (and many other American cities) has been due to the short-sighted and treasonous neo-liberal economic policies that became orthodoxy in America and many other countries after Reagan and Thatcher came to power.

DeAnander said...

"spills and other industrial accidents are very likely to become a good deal more common than they are already...."

Yup. Mt Polley tailing pond disaster, Aug 2014

Already the verdict is starting to gel: Harper's "business friendly" and "budget reduction" policies include reductions of staff at regulatory agencies, deregulation of privileged sectors (like factory ag and mining and fracking), relaxed inspection schedules and so on. These policies over time foster a culture of "cover it up and paper it over" and encourage the kind of cowboy risk-o-philiac culture that is traditional in mining and drilling.

The CEO of Imperial [ahem] Metals made one of the most bizarre suggestions (to my ear) ever made by the culprit in the dock for a major poisoning crime. He said that since the company did not at present have the resources to cover the rather large cost of cleaning up the mess they've made, he thought the government should fast-track the permits for their next several proposed mines so that they could make lots of money faster and thus pay for the cleanup... yup, he said that. If you give me a hamburger today, I'll give you two tomorrow, eh.

Anyway, you can look all over the energy (and factory ag) sector and see the same atmosphere of desperately and increasingly risky praxis chasing diminishing returns; I agree with JMG that the trend is structural and inevitable as resources deplete, and can only be averted by *conscious* acceptance and enforcement of limits -- the l-word that our triumphalist technic idiocracy can't spell or hear.

Funny thing is, we're not supposed to perceive the desperation (even though to me it stands out like the proverbial indoor elephant). We're supposed to believe the happy-happy triumphalist story, even as the costs and risks of "producing" energy [gawdsteeth, I am chronically vexed by the sheer wilful ignorance of physics embodied in that phrase] rise closer and closer to EROEI 1:1 and Game Over. Truth be told, I think we're already worse than 1:1, if we would just stop dishonestly externalising all the biotic costs and net biotic energy loss (damage to food chain, loss of photosynthetic and soil activity, etc) -- but even as measured by autistic economists, the risks and costs (to the society at large) seem to be getting perilously close to the anticipated returns.

BTW, another sign of the times: Environment Canada's "Preparedness" pages online list "Chemical Releases" as one of the standard emergencies which one should anticipate and be prepared for -- right up there with tornadoes, avalanches, floods, earthquakes, etc. As if a "release" were just another "act of God", something that just inevitably happens now and then, which you should bear in mind and plan for.

It's OK that this age of the world is ending. Really, it is.

Glenn said...


FWIW, World Peak Fish (highest catch ever) was 1992. Courtesy of my days on a Fisheries Enforcement Training Team, and attending the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council meetings 1997 - 2000.

Locally, we're seeing a wasting disease and die-off of Sea Jellies (Jelly fish) in the greater Puget Sound area. No clues as to cause yet.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

onething said...

I read about Monsanto and Roundup, and then I go to the local farm store and guess what they're selling?

My organic hippie neighbor says his republican brother uses pesticide in his lawn! To control dandelions!!

I've been gardening, canning, and hunting wild foods. I found some places to pick blackberries, a few places along the road, and went out two or three times. The last time, after I picked berries for 75 minutes, a man came up on a 4-wheeler and said he just thought I ought to know that he had just sprayed that patch along the fence there with herbicide an hour ago. I was dumbstruck. I poured the berries out on the ground in front of him and said "Why?" To kill them, he said. "But..why?"
Well, it was because he can't get to the fence. Blackberries are very thorny.

This place has turned into a green temperate jungle but this spot has slowly withered and is an eyesore now. I think they'll come back next spring and that he completely wasted his time and the environment. I bet the thorns are still a problem on those hanging brown plants.

He was very nice and said I was welcome to go up into his acreage and pick any berries, but just not along any fences, as he herbicided them all.

We all live out in the country here and I suppose most of the people like it. I don't think it ever crossed his mind to wonder how many creatures, directly or indirectly, will be poisoned by what he did. I'm sure he loves the birds, but then again doesn't he realize the birds eat berries? And why, why, why did it occur to him to spray these bushes at the exact time they were fully ripe? He could have done it two weeks later or two weeks earlier and at least no living breathers would be eating the berries.

And what if I had not happened to meet him?

LewisLucanBooks said...

Addressing the top soil depletion section of your post....

A bit lost amongst reports of Global Weather Weirding, this week (floods in Detroit and Seattle. Every express way on Long Island, under water) was the dust storm in eastern Washington State. Quit a few highway accidents due to low visibility. Sounds like a lot of Washington top soil was blown into Idaho. Lew

Tim said...

I want to echo Travis' comment. I've been reading your blog for several years now, always looking forward to the week's post. It's really sinking in how destructive "normal" Western middle class life is, and I find with each passing year I want less and less to do with it. I seek the courage within me to turn away from the path traveled by most everyone in my life, and at times I find it. Your writing helps to fuel that transition. Many thanks!

jbucks said...

Hello JMG, I’ve been reading your posts regularly for years, trying to come to terms with how to personally react and adapt to the coming future. 4 years back I co-founded a small community garden here in Berlin, Germany, where we started to learn the basics of organic farming. For me it was a way to try to rebalance my skills, which are otherwise heavily dependent on computers. The garden is happily still going.

But a question on another topic - what role, if any, do you see the arts and music playing in context of the theme of your blog? I cringe a bit even asking, because of the many important practical things to learn and do, but because I spend a lot of my time on playing/making music because it’s something important to me. I wonder what role the arts/music played in other declining civilisations… we’re also at the moment over-saturated in terms of art/music, there is so much of it that maybe we don’t value it anymore. You’ve written before about Oswald Spengler’s phases of civilisations, maybe I should look to see if he has written about this topic. What worries me is that art/music is one of my ‘sacred cows’ that may need to be given up…

Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

Some reflections:

With depletion of fossil fuels the world becomes effectively much larger without having all our petroleum slaves to ferry us around like gods on metal chariots. I like to imagine a sheer canyon wall with the top of the canyon being current energy per capita and the bottom being the normal energy per capita. somehow it really brings home the concept looking up at the sheer cliffs with no way back up.

One energy combination I have been looking into though to perhaps provide for some bare necessities in the decades ahead is the combination of Solar Thermal and Steam. Parabolic mirrors boil water in vacuum tubes and run steam engines for electricity and store the excess as pressurized water in a large propane storage tank. It is simple, uses proven technology and relies on no exotic materials. I don't think enough of these will be built to make a large difference but they will be wonderful for those that had the forethought to get one. These might be useful to build in the coming salvage economy. Can solar thermal steampowered railcars work for the cities left with some form of sanity?

As the world expands I imagine it will be just as big, vibrant and vivid as the world we have now. The only reason it seems so desolate in our minds is because we don't have many narratives to use for them. The history and accounts of The Greek Empire, Medieval Europe or Incan Peru, are just as vibrant and vivid as today. despite these areas containing a fraction of the population. It seems to me in a world where 5% of the current population lives in marginal "luck zones" separated by toxic, radioactive plains, desertified landscapes and inhospitable scrub and forestland, plenty of room exist for stories just as harrowing and inspiriting as the ones we have today. I guess most people miss out on that excitement because they are busy wallowing in self pity or some stage of grief. Most of us spend our days hedging risk against everything avoiding any possible pain or accident. However, a world where the margin of survival is much less would feel a bit more authentic to it. I like the idea of riding a motorcycle but I don't like the statistics that go along with it. It might not be so bad if I had no choice :)


I R Orchard said...

I followed an interesting TV prog a year or 3 ago "Life after People" that gave inklings of what humanity faces. Their premise was that we had utterly disappeared, but a slow disintegration would have a similar effect. London submerging as drainage infrastucture collapsed, A band of southern US from Texas to the Carolinas buried under kudzu* until a random lightning strike at the wrong time of year and "the south will burn again". The Hoover dam chugging on for years unsupervised until quagga mussels choke the cooling ducts.
All in all, a profoundly depressing episode JM. Could humanity survive the perfect storm of climate chaos, resource depletion, infrastructure collapse and now random outbursts of radioactivity.....?

[apparently it's turned up in Canada already, so if droughts don't provoke wildfires, kudzu will. Rats!!]

Odin's Raven said...

Here's some videos about soil creation and organic gardening by American Christian Paul Gautschi. It may not feed seven billion, but should manage at least five thousand!


jean-vivien said...

Dear Mr Archdruid, I do not know what is most depressing : your very well-written post or this Reuters article
The economy should prosper on the simple fact that it is able to maintain its current functioning. Instead that fact is announced as bad news... USA's descendants may regard you as wasteful, but European economists from the future will regard us as either unimaginative (which would equal to dumb in the context of a saner culture) or ungrateful.
Are economists going to wait for economic growth like certain dictator was waiting inside a certain bunker, waiting for armies that will never come ?

Nigwil said...

Yes, it would be nice to think that something of substance will rise from these bitter ashes. But in 1964 Sir Fred Hoyle put our condition rather bluntly:-

'It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.'

In this statement Hoyle is perhaps mixing the concept of 'intelligence' with that of 'high-level technology'. We are indeed hoping that enough of us will make it through the transition to use the human's high intelligence in a civilisation on a planet that is in balance in all regards, albeit in a way that may be viewed today as 'primitive'.

Its been suggested/calculated(?) that we present-day humans are derived from as few as several hundred samples of the species who made it through a previous extinction/transition event. The way things are going we will be fortunate indeed to have even that much of our DNA make it through to the next round.

Les said...

JMG typed: “The methods of organic agriculture mentioned earlier could help very significantly with this problem… …To make any kind of difference, though, those methods would have to be deployed on a very broad scale, and then passed down”

Not going to happen, if my neighbours are any indication. I regularly get asked “How come you have so much feed [for cattle]?” I then describe why (our grazing management, aimed at increasing topsoil and water retention) and am invariably told “Oh, I can’t do that because {insert spurious excuse here}.”

A further pointer to why it’s not going to happen:
On the 1st of August last, the state gummint decreed that permits would be required for lighting fires, fully three months earlier than normal, due to the drought and hot winter. Result? Thousands of hectares of burnt out farms/forests/national parks all across the state when all the morons lit up on the 31st of July, having decided to beat the bans and burn some annoying grass/trees/rubbish or whatever, then invariably losing control of their fires.

The “reason” for burning varies, but basically comes down to the idea that the Aborigines used to burn, so you have to burn, ‘cos they knew what they were doing. I guess as the descendants of “those early bands of roving hunters who slaughtered every giant wombat they could find and then looked around blankly for something to eat,” they had reached some kind of accommodation with the landscape, but supporting one million hunter gatherers on a continent is a whole different proposition to twenty four million sedentary bogans.

Fun times ahead. Hoping for some rain soon too…


Les said...

@Cherokee Chris:
“There is a complete failure of systems thinking in industrial agriculture that makes me shake my head in disbelief!”

Our farming watchwords are “increase biodiversity.” The more we have, the more we get. We’re particularly happy to see the increase in top level predators around the place, mostly birds like wedge tailed eagles, kites, little eagles and various others – it really does show that the ecosystem in getting heathier by the day.

Also, just finished planting 107 heritage fruit trees, just in time for some predicted rain on the weekend. All cold weather varieties, which we have been told multiple times can’t be grown here. Funny how just about all the old farmhouses have a big old apple, pear or stone fruit tree out the back that crop reliably every year. We even got 100kg of perry pears from one place last March. Worst cider I’ve ever made, but we’ll have a go again next year and see if we can improve the method. Next we’ll go and find a good selection of tropical and sub-tropicals and see what else will go here.

“if you poison your immediate area, then there is no quick fix. It will take many years to remediate it and restore even a basic level of fertility”

Back in May or so, I bought a bunch of pasture seed, on the off chance that it might rain and we could get some diversity of winter pasture happening. The red and white clover seeds were bright blue and yellow, “coated” the salesman told me, with the inoculants that would allow the root nodules to form and fix nitrogen in the soil.

Research on another topic entirely led me to find out that this coating is primarily there to allow better survival of the sprouts in the early stages of growth. This is achieved through the application of Gaucho, a neonicotinoid insecticide and unspecified fungicides.

Brilliant! I’ve now poisoned my own paddocks with an insecticide that’ll particularly give the bees a hard time for at least five years (half-life of 19 months in soil) and put back the program of soil rehabilitation for at least as long. I’m so *happy* with industrial agriculture.


Jeffrey said...

After reading your essay and then the heartful thanks from Travis and your reply back to him I started to reflect on how darkness defines light and how evil sometimes defines goodness.

From all the evil and ignorance of industrial civilization there will emerge an enlightened wisdom and deeper sense of kinship with our planet from those among us who reject this evil.

This evil however is the very matrix and foundation that gives all of us life since we are after all currently "sustained" by industrial civilization. There would never have been 7 billion of us without it. How do you thus become a warrior of good against this evil?

This leaves me deeply perplexed on how we play the game of musical chairs, being agents of good, as the consequences of overshoot, that you have outlined so well in this essay, undermine the infrastructure that sustains us all.

An agent of good for me is not defined when dabbling with one foot in alternative energy or permaculture while the other foot is still embedded deeply in industrial civilization. That is only a form of coping or rationalization and is in itself perhaps a worse evil as it is deeply delusional.

These are still early days I guess. The real unhinging from industrial civilization that will create meaningful alternatives to this evil are still a ways down the road. In the meantime we continue to dabble.

But some of us want more and now!

patriciaormsby said...

JMG, the first thing that came to mind that eats jellyfish is sea turtles. The problem is they keep mistaking plastic bags and balloons for jelly fish, and these block up their intestines. If they can squeak through the next fifty years somehow, they'll have it made.

peacegarden said...

You said it well, sir. We can only do our best to live more lightly and preserve what we think will be useful for the next generation or two. Beyond that, it will be our descendants who will choose what is useful to pass along.
Dark age ahead; what can I do today? Look, really look at the beauty that surrounds me. Plant some kale, collards and lettuce. Tell my people how much I love them and keep putting one foot in front of the other.



Don Plummer said...

John, you write that cancer was relatively rare 1 1/2 centuries ago. I wonder if the same can be said for other pathologies that afflict people today. I'm thinking about two classes of disease in particular: cognitive disorders like autism, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis, in which the body's immune systems attack healthy tissues in one way or another. I have long thought that some kind of environmental poisons were at least partly responsible for these diseases too; I wonder if they too were relatively rare before the industrial buildup.

John Michael Greer said...

Kyoto, no, I just got one copy. I wonder whether all that plastic will sink before it becomes a valuable resource, or not. As for the Jacobs book, I wasn't really impressed by it, but yes, the timing was interesting.

Steve, excellent. It's precisely the little organic farms and ranches that get roots in the ground now that, as far as I can see, have the best chance of getting these techniques through to the future.

Kutamun, the metaphysical implications of nuclear power are another matter entirely, and one that I may eventually have to address over in the other blog.

Enrique, "what goes around comes around" somehow comes to mind.

DeAnander, no argument there. I would like to preserve some of the best achievements of this age, but there are a lot of aspects of our present industrial civilization that deserve a quick burial and a water color epitaph.

Glenn, I thought it had been around then. It might be interesting sometime to work out a list of what's peaked already.

Onething, I know. We have bees of something like a dozen different species all over our backyard garden every year, because they can get nectar and pollen there that aren't poisoned. The other houses on the street? Not so much. I really do need to write something on the strategy of ecological refugia one of these days.

Lewis, thanks for the heads up -- I didn't hear about that. Dust Bowl 2, here we come...

Tim, thank you. That's very encouraging to hear.

Jbucks, delighted to hear about the garden -- that's a lamp for an otherwise dark future. As for music and the arts, though, that's a complex question and depends among other things on how dependent your music and artistic work is on the industrial technostructure. That's going to want a post of its own to discuss.

Crews, I've discussed solar steam engines here several times -- here's a recent example -- and I think they're well worth exploring at this stage. As for the broader point you make, I'd go further than that; the world is going to get a great deal larger and richer as our high-speed transport and the other forces driving cultural homogenization break down. It's purely the myth of progress that convinces people that life without the latest round of tawdry technological trash must be boring.

Orchard, human beings are a durable generalist species, thus about as easy to exterminate as cockroaches or rats. In the real world, furthermore, all storms are imperfect. Thus I'm not particularly worried about human extinction.

Cathy McGuire said...

Another wonderful post – I wish I could make every friend and family member read it!

Topsoil: I have only anecdotal evidence, but driving around this week and watching dense acres of orange-brown clouds of topsoil as the tractors pulverize the fields, and then seeing what (few) weeds will even grow on “fallow” fields, I’m convinced the fertile Willamette Valley is now anything but! And it’s a tragedy… and I also know how hard it is to build back soil – not nearly the straightforward “add humus” that they tell us about… I’m doing the mulching routine now, but am getting giant herds of slugs - through August, so far! Even with our record-breaking heat and dry spell, those slugs are nesting in mulch and feasting on my veggies… and I hesitate to kill them all, because they must have an ecological niche…wish it were in Russia, though. Slug migration, anyone?

Toxins: I think we’re already seeing the effects of this, and people are just in denial. So many more “odd illnesses”, and I even think our decreased ability to think critically, and to resist impulse, is part of the effect of toxins on our brains. It’s like the Romans and lead… when we finally admit it, it will be too late…

I can all too easily imagine fuel rods being hauled out of their pools by condemned criminals or political prisoners, loaded on flatbed rail cars, taken to some desolate corner of the expanding western deserts, and tipped one at a time into trenches dug in the desert soil, then covered over with a few meters of dirt and left to the elements.
Ahh! You have just described a short story I wrote in 1984 about Hanford in WA, that unfortunately no one would publish – that scenario is probably already happening somewhere, unbeknownst to us…(incidently, Harlan Ellison admitted it was a “decent” story – high praise from him… still didn’t get published…)

Here I imagine cow skulls on poles,
Human skulls would be much more effective! LOL.

And the news coming out of Fukushima continues to get worse, though it’s not getting any attention anymore – they are admitting Reactor 3 primary container was melted through and outer reactor vessel “almost”… when at first they refused to even admit meltdown! And they are now going to release “decontaminated water” (yeah, right) into the ocean, because there is no more storage on site for it! And why has no one made a chart of “total costs” for nuclear reactors, including the cleanup costs – why is it that somehow those “costs” are not attached to the reactors themselves?? Because (as you say) it shows how impossibly expensive nuclear is, and they don’t want to know that.

Certainly the near-term descendants will be calling us every name in the book (they already are), but in the longrun, they won’t know us at all – we’ll be more like the Hittites, vanished because our records are transient, and the world we bequeathed them will be their “normal” and they won’t even know it could have been better. And that’s tragic, too.

Coincidentally, last night I was watching the first bit of Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards” (on YouTube) – a cartoon from the 70’s – all about how nasty machine culture destroyed mankind except for some mutant remnants and only the green elves could save decent civilization… good vs. evil, in a rather twisted context, but showing again how the 70’s was a time of warning of our upcoming crisis.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven, it can do better than that. It's just a matter of getting enough people trained in the method so that some of them get through the next round of crises.

Jean-Vivien, that final metaphor gets you today's gold star. I'll be quoting it, with attribution, in an upcoming post -- because of course that's exactly what's going on, with all the overtones of madness and self-defeating delusion the image implies.

Nigwil, Hoyle was quite simply wrong. It only takes a hundred million years or so to replenish petroleum and natural gas stocks -- coal was a one-shot deal, as far as we know, but the other fossil fuels can be produced any time the world goes through an oceanic anoxic event -- and the same span of time will lay down ample new ore supplies in newly risen mountain ranges. If current estimates are correct and the planet has maybe another billion years before it can no longer support life, there's ample room for other species to make the same idiotic mistakes we have, and maybe for one or two to do something smarter!

And of course you're right that his equation of intelligence with our specific suite of technologies is typically arrogant and purblind.

Les, they're not bankrupt yet. I mean that quite literally. Here in the US, one of the most important forces driving the adoption of organic methods is the rate at which farmers go broke on conventional methods -- very high these days. If you're staring bankruptcy in the face, and the guy down the road who uses organic methods isn't having to pay for chemicals and is doing a lot better than you are, all of a sudden organic methods can get a remarkably strong appeal; I've met quite a few farmers and ranchers who made the transition that way.

Jeffrey, if you want more and now, take it. Choose something to learn, and learn it; choose something to get rid of, and get rid of it; choose something to save, and save it. If that's not enough, repeat the process. Daydreaming on the sofa counts for nothing, and there's no shortage of things to be done.

Patricia, with any luck, Darwinian selection in favor of learning the difference between jellyfish and plastic bags will have a beneficial effect on sea turtles. I'd like to see them make it.

Peacegarden, and that's certainly one constructive response.

Don, I don't happen to know the answer to that, although I do know that all the syndromes you've named are becoming more common at a very rapid pace, as are violent food allergies. The chemical loading of the environment may well be involved in all those cases.

John Michael Greer said...

Cathy, you might consider submitting that story to a future Space Bats contest -- it sounds like something I'd like to see in one of the anthologies. As for the slugs, I know nobody in the Pacific Northwest who has been able to use mulch in the growing season without attracting hordes of slugs. What worked for me was composting as much organic matter as possible, and digging it into the beds.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, this post seems to be heading for a record in terms of the number of irrelevant comments I've had to delete -- personal hobby horses, unrelated topics, you name it. I'm well aware that the subject of this week's essay is acutely uncomfortable to many people, but please don't try to drag the conversation over to something else; your comment will be deleted, and it'll just put me in a bad mood. 'Nuf said.

Unknown said...

Hang on, where's "the other blog"?

Slow Moe said...


Jellyfish are eaten by Tuna, Sharks, Swordfish, some species of Salmon, and sea turtles.

If anything benefits, im betting on Tuna benefiting. But im not a marine biologist.

Eric S. said...

How do you think the aftermath of industrial civilization is going to stack up on a geologic timescale? It feels like we’re looking at something at least on par with the Triassic or Jurassic extinction events, not quite enough to bring down every life form bigger than a squirrel, but enough to redefine some ecosystems in irreversible ways and kick evolution off in some interesting new directions.

I’ve started wondering about the future of human sustenance in that sort of a world, since that’ll play a major role in the decisions we today make trying to preserve agricultural technologies for tomorrow. I feel like if our cultural taboos can shift enough, insect farming could very easily fill the nutritional vacuum left by the collapse of ocean fisheries, and I’ve decided to pick up adapting the well established methods for growing crickets and roaches that reptile hobbyists have laid the ground for into a technology for home scale food production as my “learn something” Green Wizardry skill. That’s turning out to involve a lot more construction and supply gathering than I’d initially expected, and it’s going to take me some time to get stable colonies going, but it’s a project well under way and I think it has potential.

Humans are omnivores, and plants are important too, so I’m also thinking about what crops would be good for a world with depleted and poisoned soil, a climate in a constant state of chaos, and an ecosystem that’s collapsing all around. I may be able to start a garden next growing season and I’m starting to wonder if it might be a good idea to experiment with domesticating things like stinging nettles, amaranth and dandelion alongside more traditional crops like beans, squash, and peppers? That makes intuitive sense to me… trying to incorporate geologic time scales, and an understanding of the sorts of plants and animals that thrive in mass extinctions into my quest for sustainability. And that makes weeds and bugs prime targets. In practice it probably makes me look like a nut.

Rich Brereton said...


And that's only the short list! I can think of a dozen more aspects of the bitter legacy we leave to our descendants off the top of my head. Thanks for addressing the nuclear reactor meltdown/spent fuel rod problem; there is so much misinformation swirling around out there. Two books I read this year illustrate the extreme perspectives you outlined quite nicely: Weisman's The World Without Us (which an earlier commenter referenced) and Brand's Whole Earth Discipline. The former invokes terrifying images of vast swathes of barren wasteland surrounding hypothetical nuclear accident sites, while the latter uses the rich biological reserve that has risen from the Chernobyl evacuation zone to argue that fears of nuclear accidents are essentially paranoid fantasies. Can you recommend sources that don't fall into either camp? New England has a few active and decommissioned plants and I'd like to figure out what some likely accident scenarios would be.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee O: The greater the diversity of life within an agricultural system, the more resilient that system is to shocks and generally the more productive it becomes.
True – and if you grow lots of different things together, often the predators can’t find their favorites! I’m finally getting strawberries because the plants are hidden in weeds. ;-) And thanks for letting me know what eats slugs… these giants are so big, even my chooks won’t touch them, unless I cut them in half (slugs, not chooks)

@onething: My organic hippie neighbor says his republican brother uses pesticide in his lawn! To control dandelions!!
This we know is too common now, but I remember as a child watching a neighbor digging each dandelion from his immaculate yard and putting a brushful of kerosene down the hole to kill the root! Didn’t succeed, of course. If only that obsessive energy could have been used for good, not evil! ;-}

I think they'll come back next spring and that he completely wasted his time and the environment.
Of course they will, and of course he’ll come back and spray again harder, and maybe in his frustration use more than the recommended dose… until nothing grows there at all! Did you ask him why he sprayed during fruiting? Did he have an answer??

Oh, and apropos of last week’s post:
In less than 24 hours, 13.27 inches of rain had fallen at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, in Suffolk County, shattering a daily rainfall record in the state of New York.
But few mentions of climate change in the local papers….

jbucks said...

Dear John, thanks for your reply. For about 15 years on and off I've been making music, but up until a couple of years ago mainly electronic music - synthesiser based music which was based less in melody and more in timbre, like a lot of that type of music.

But in the same way that I got involved in organic vegetable gardening because I felt my skills were too computer-based, a few years I started doing less electronic music and began to learn the piano more thoroughly, as well as Western melody/harmonic compositional principles. Basically, musical skills which don't involve electronics-based amplification and the loudspeaker.

The broader question which interests me is whether the arts in general can play a role in the coming years - if both the topic of artistic works and the practices in which they are made reflect the time period when they are created, then what does the art of declining civilisation look/sound/feel like?

After I wrote my first comment early, I went on to Wikipedia's article on Spengler's The Decline of the West to get at least a brief overview. In Spengler's model of the rise and fall of a culture/civilisation going through the four seasons, 'spring' sees the art of a culture very much tied in to religion, summer sees the artistic traditions develop into a high art, fall involves first the perfection of artistic forms but also later the exhaustion of them, and winter apparently sees the end of symbolic art, and art becoming mere fashion.

Well, that's what Wikipedia has to say about it, obviously I now I need to go and read some Spengler...

The Winter part is what worries me - do all the arts become meaningless, or is there a form of art which is the equivalent of learning organic gardening; a way of preparing for the future.

Varun Bhaskar said...

Hey JMG,

The waste products of our civilization is going to be a horror show for future civilizations. I dread to think what happens if some fool decides to build a nuclear power plant near the great lakes. The single most valuable asset our country still has is that water.

@ Cathy
Have you ever considered harvesting those slugs? I don't know what you could do with them but green wizardry doesn't just involve growing food.

@ Pinku and Cherokee Chris
Would either of you object to my using your blogs on my website? Fully credited of course.

Glenn said...

Sea Jellies

Oops, major species error, shouldn't post when too tired.

That should read "die-off of
_Sea Stars_ (Starfish). Sorry about that folks.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Laylah said...

@jbucks - keep making music! As the song goes, "give us bread, but give us roses." People in a dark age are going to need things that lift their spirits, and music has thousands of years' experience with that.

@JMG the Druidic gift of prophecy is alive and well, it seems. Insightful, vivid, and bleak without falling into can't-see-the-desertification-for-the-sand tunnel vision. Thank you for your posts here -- I'm another one whose life is changing thanks to them. It's hard work, disengaging from the corporate machine, but every step feels a little healthier than the last.

Glenn said...


From my wife, the WSU trained Master Gardener: Don't hurt the big yellow Banana Slugs; they are natives, and only eat plant matter that is already dead. They are building soil. Do kill the brown and black slugs; they are invasive Europeans, and eat live plants (your produce).

This is true on the North American west coast. I don't know what applies elsewhere.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Erik Buitenhuis said...

Dear JMG,

This is my first comment, so first, thank you very much for the blog as a whole; over the last six months or so I've gone back and read the whole blog from the start. That then also stimulated me to read The Ecotechnic future, and I'm now reading through those of your deindustrial reading list that I hadn't read yet, which is definitely a project that has been worthwhile so far.

This weeks post was again very thoughtful in its overall topic and presentation, but in the interest of accuracy maybe I'm allowed some minor quibbles from my own area of expertise, ocean ecosystems:
You say "my readers can look forward, in the not too distant future, to tasting the last piece of seafood they will ever eat". But later in this post you correctly point out that there are refuges in the ocean where threatened species can survive until better times, so I think you've overstated the case here. In all the cases that I'm aware of (I'm not particularly well informed on fisheries) those fisheries that have collapsed have decreased stocks to the point where it's uneconomical to do further fishing, or they have exterminated a local population, and different populations of the same species haven't yet recolonised. There have been other instances on this blog where you haven't followed your own repeated advice against binary thinking.

Then some minor corrections of fact: Diatoms make shells of opal, which is SiO2. It's the coccolithophores that make shells of CaCO3, and how sensitive they are to ocean acidification varies between negative and positive response from one species to the next and in the better studies species even from one strain to the next. Seaweeds, diatoms and coccolithophores are all algae, with seaweeds being macroalgae and the other two (with many others) microalgae. But on the whole, yes, the ocean is “warming up, losing breath, and turning sour” and it's not unreasonable to expect "sweeping shifts in oceanic food chains".

Best wishes,

peacegarden said...

@ Cathy McGuire

You need a few ducks to balance the slug factories you create with your mulch…Anconas would be good…and the eggs are delicious and large, too.


Gail said...

Jbucks - I know I'm not the Archdruid, but I feel compelled to reply to your comment and questions about art.

Humans have a NEED to create beauty, and sound. Listen to any infant - even though they're not speaking yet, they are vocalizing and singing to themselves. Give a toddler anything that makes a mark on something else and they will doodle. Those impulses continue as long as there are no overwhelming forces that discourage all but the most "talented" to create.

Unfortunately, our culture has reached that point - "professional" level talent is required in order to sing/play/draw at all now and show in a public forum. Luckily, there are many who are challenging the mainstream culture and creating/perpetuating the human impulses of creating beauty in many forms that do not require electronica.

My husband and I play guitar; occasionally we play at the local bar/grill. We don't usually get paid much, or sometimes even at all, but it's a lot of fun to find out who is also a musician and give them a spare guitar to play along with us. The owners would like us to get "electrified" for better sound transmission; I prefer sitting on the patio and being purely acoustic. The whole point is that we aren't particularly talented, amazingly skilled, or even original (we do covers of stuff from modern druid music to 50's rockabilly to punk) but people really enjoy listening, singing along, and even playing along. We are busy creating a musical community without anyone but us being the wiser.

Ironically, JMG, I took a break from spinning alpaca on my 120 year old Canadian Production Wheel to read your blog and drink a cup of coffee. A technology that will last juxtaposed with an ephemeral one, a machine that was designed to stand up to the test of time juxtaposed with one that's designed to fail; that's the theme of my life it seems.

Scott Taylor said...

Is it not ironic very large oil fields are called "whales"? Prophecy is self-fulfilling. Of course, whom is responsible for the diminishment of both organic and non-organic whales...

I use the "future archaeologists" as narrative device also, except mine are the often touted alien archaeologists. This is one of their pet theories:

This planet was predominantly inhabited by an inorganic species comprised mainly of steel, plastic, glass, and rubber. The primary food stock was inorganic petrochemicals. This dominant species was supported by an underclass organic bipedal species. This underclass species also had a high consumption of inorganic petrochemicals in its diet. This was, perhaps, a daily ritual to honor its superior inorganic species.

Roger said...

JMG, You were spot-on about management of fish stocks. Another reader mentioned the extinction of the Grand Banks cod fishery. But didn't Canada supposedly have governmental regulation to prevent just that result. Of course it did. And so what? Newfoundland's unemployment problem took priority and they had to keep the fish processing plants humming.

Nobody talks about it now. In the immediate aftermath of the closure of the fishery, people blamed European fishing fleets. Sure, sure, Canadians had nothing to do with it.

I saw references in the comment section about regulatory laxity in Canada. Can't point the finger just at Harper. His attitude is nothing new. For example, the cod fishery debacle was the work of multiple Canadian governments of different political stripes.

This is nothing unique but my home-town has large, contaminated fields previously occupied by industrial processors. Harper wasn't born when those plants started operating. Regardless of who was in power, does anyone seriously think that environmental concerns were going to get in the way of good paying jobs and corporate bottom lines?

Previous Liberal governments made a great deal of self congratulatory noise about signing the Kyoto Protocol. You see, this distinguished the intellectually superior and environmentally sensitive Liberals from those knuckle dragging, climate change denying Conservatives.

But it was ALL noise, ALL posturing. The Liberals did nothing to enact Kyoto. Nobody did. The politics of this place would never allow it.

As one well known commentator said, if Canada's oil sands were located in Quebec instead of Alberta (as an aside, you have to appreciate Quebec's well honed outrage at historic victimization and its highly refined sense of self interest - and, believe me, that's tough for outsiders), the term "Kyoto" would never even have been heard in this country.

No, you see, if the oil sands were in Quebec, the Kyoto file would have been immediately dispatched to a filing cabinet in the care of the most junior civil servant in the deepest basement in the most remote government building. Which is where the file ended up anyway in the end. Because the oil sands are in Alberta it just took a little longer.

In this place and especially when it comes to the environment, hypocrisy is a national pass-time. Hockey? Bah!

And when it come to agility, none of the hockey greats comes close to the balletic virtuosity of our lefties justifying the SUV in the driveway.

Michael McG said...

Jbucks- the winter part worries me most too. Not the potential loss of art but getting through the brutal weather common on the part of the planet I live. I imagine art of one sort or another will be a source of social warmth necessary to endure the bitter cold months together and so may Michael

Eric S. said...

I’ve spent last night and much of today thinking about the descendents, and about our legacy as ancestors. I make offerings and prayers to my ancestors in the hopes of awakening an element of their wisdom and guidance that still lives within me and living a better life by it. Perhaps the same magic can be employed in reverse can be applied in a psychologically and spiritually useful way… the things I do with a mind to the long term have no guarantee of living or being remembered beyond me, but that’s not the only reason I do them. Perhaps I can offer up the privileges I give up, the skills I learn, the legacies I try to preserve as prayers for forgiveness to whatever spark of the future already resides within me. Perhaps that can be one way of tuning in to a greater purpose in those actions, however small it might be. And perhaps actions like that, and the prayers they carry might resonate on some deeper level… perhaps one day, when the world and humanity has healed, someone will look back at us and say “no, they weren’t evil. They were stupid, lazy, and blind. They tried to remake the Heaven of their stories on Earth and awakened Hell instead, as all who attempt such folly do.”

Janet D said...

Re: top soil loss, #1: I recently read the book, "Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations" by David Montgomery (Univ of WA professor). He carefully documents how stupid agriculture has lead to the downfall of many, many civilizations and how we are following the exact same path. It is an extremely well written & interesting book if anyone wants more (disturbing) detail on this topic.

Top soil loss, #2. I live in eastern WA, one of those "bread baskets" for the U.S. Arid land. Top soil used to be at least 6 feet thick, and black. I remember seeing lots of black soil from visits here in my childhood. There is no more black soil. None. It is all a drab brown. Oh, and nearly all of the farmland through out the region lies unplanted and uncovered for the lengthy winter season, where regular wind gusts of up to 40 mph occur throughout the winter.

@Lewis, re: dust storm in eastern WA. Yeah, we had a tornado here yesterday, too. We never have tornados. Plus the hottest/driest summer in who knows how long.

@ Cathy. I hear ducks are supposed to be great at eating slugs. John Jeavons also recommends going out at night in late spring/early summer and "harvesting". He claims that if you do this every night for two weeks or so you will not only get rid of the slugs but also their potential offspring.

Janet D said...

Another reflection. I spent this last week traipsing about NE Oregon and north central Idaho, due east of me, all original homelands of the Nez Perce Indians (who did not really regularly pierce their noses...just the first of many mischaracterizations).

In the 1820s and even the 1830s, the tribe was able to live largely undisturbed in their traditional ways. By the war of 1877, it was all over. In the span of 50 years, their world was turned completely upside down and inside out, full of great loss and tragedy. A tribal member raised in the 1820s had no idea how their world was going to come apart in their lifetime. Parallels to our time, me thinks.

thecrowandsheep said...


Having recently moved to Berlin, we were looking for a community garden. And if there are fellow archdruid readers, the better! If you have space for new members or need a hand with anything, please email me at my name at gmail etc.

That also goes for the rest of the Berlin-based archdruid readers, there must be more of you? Drop me an email if you are interested in a meet-up. Perhaps there is already a Berlin wing of the archdruidreport? :-)

Eric S. said...

RE Cathy and Varun about the slugs: You’d have to boil them in vinegar to cut the slime, but they can make a good substitute for clams and mussels if you need a shellfish fix.

RE Erik about climate ecosystems: I don’t think the Archdruid is implying that ocean ecosystems are going to go completely extinct. Those will bounce back pretty quickly, and I’m sure that in no time, there’ll be barnacle reefs with every bit as much biomass as the coral reefs they replace (though they’ll take at least another 10 million years to have even a fraction of the biodiversity), and equivalent new ecosystems springing up all over the place. I think what Greer’s saying is that it won’t be long before a fish dinner just isn’t worth the risk. It won’t take long for ocean populations to recover, but it’ll take a much longer time for those populations to filter out enough of the junk we’ve poured into the ocean to be safe for humans to eat.

Nastarana said...

Cathy McGuire, I toss slugs out on to a path, patio or other spot where they have no cover. The birds eat them as soon as I leave.

I also garden in a damp climate. Mulch does not work for me, just creates a habitat for slugs, snails and fungal disease. I like a combination of cover crops and compost for soil building. The permie technique of broadcasting seeds creates a mini rainforest in my yard. Yuck.

There are nuclear power plants built all along the Great Lakes, especially in the USA. I know of two in New York on the shore of Lake Ontario, and at least two more on opposite sides of Lake Michigan. The one at Oswego, NY, was built in 1961, is still being used, and has had at least one near failure.

Les, I am convinced that here in the USA, many chemicals are being added to foods, and probably seeds as well, for no other reason than as a kind of rich folks taking in each other's laundry. Joe makes vitamins, and Jane owns a plant which makes dye and John imports MSG, so their buddy Mike, who owns the chip factory buys all their products and everyone gets a few pennies on each bag sold.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, if you're interested in Druidry and the like, have a look here.

Slow, thanks for the details! I'm a fan of sharks and sea turtles, myself, mostly because they've been around for so long already; still, I can certainly spare a wish for the tuna.

Eric, it really depends on how soon the crash hits and how fast the dieoff takes place. If it's soon and relatively fast, a great many species may squeak by, and it'll be a minor extinction. The later and slower, the worse it will likely be. As for crops, by all means -- the wider the range of plants get cultivated now, the wider the range that has a shot at getting through to the future.

Rich, the sources I'm using are an assortment of publicly available documents on nuclear accidents that have already happened, especially but not only those in the former Soviet Union. I don't know of a book that's surveyed that data without spinning it one way or another.

Jbucks, here again, these are issues for a later post. I don't mind you bringing them up, since they're relevant to the theme of this series of posts, but let's return to the subject of this week's essay -- harrowing as it may be!

Varun, er, please go look at a map of nuclear reactors in North America. There's quite a little cluster of them around the Great Lakes.

Laylah, glad to hear it. If what I write here inspires people to change their lives, I'm doing my job.

Eric, I'd encourage you to reread the sentence you quibbled with. It doesn't say anything about the last piece of seafood ever eaten by human beings; it refers to the last piece of seafood my readers -- the particular human beings reading this blog right now -- will ever eat in their lifetimes. When all that's left are relict populations in isolated refugia, those populations aren't going to be providing anybody with seafood for a long time to come. Centuries from now, sure, the fisheries will recover, but that won't feed my readers now, you know. As for the difference between diatoms and coccolithophores, many thanks; which class are foraminifers assigned to these days?

Tinfoil, that's a common theme for a lot of us. I came in from picking Romano beans for tonight's dinner to answer the latest round of comments, for that matter!

Scott, I prefer homegrown archeologists and geologists, though that's largely because the most straightforward solution of Fermi's paradox is to grant that the law of diminishing returns applies to technological progress, and cuts in a good deal this side of interstellar travel.

Roger, I had the Canadian example in mind -- though heaven knows I was thinking of plenty of examples on this side of the border as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, in a way I hope they see us as evil, because that will increase, however slightly, the chance that they'll identify our behavior patterns as evil, and avoid at least some of them.

Janet, black topsoil in a dry region has usually been laid down by many years of native grasses, and yes, it can all vanish in short order. In this country, most of it has. As for the shattering of the First Nations, yes, that's a parallel that's been on my mind as well.

Tom Christoffel said...

The suburban ethnic - everything must look pretty. This is a gentrification impact in the exurbs. A monoculture that also limits resilience.

Ben Iscatus said...

Great post, JMG. I was particularly struck by your cancer metaphor of uncontrolled growth.

Though I can see why future generations might see as evil, I don’t think it’s at all helpful for us to view things from that perspective. Wallowing in self-disgust will only make us hate our own company. Too late for bulimia now. None of us knew any of this 50 years ago, and even now (as you often point out) few of us are in a position to give up many of the benefits of industrial civilisation – like our gas-guzzling vehicles and our cheap supermarket shopping, even when we also sometimes try to act a bit more sustainably.

It’s preferable to simply accept that our behaviour is pretty well determined by evolution. Paul Chefurka suggests, for example in his article
that we simply act according to our nature – as you point out, we’re the same species that wiped out the megafauna, and we don’t look on these forbears as evil; rather we see them as primitive.

Nor are we special for recklessly using available resources and energy – many animals do (see for instance

I think it’s better, given the above, to think of ourselves as intentionally evolved by Gaia to release carbon for future evolution. The earth was getting a bit short of it, I understand –too much was fossilised and locked up- before we came along and mined it. Gaia will obviously be thinking in long-term geological time, whereas we naturally think in the short-term and look to our immediate advantage (after all, we only get the chance of a lifetime).

We’re clearly intended to be a bright, short-lived species: meteoric. So shall it be.

jean-vivien said...

Hi everyone,

thanks for the gold star. It means a great deal to me, because this blog has taught me a great deal about how to adjust one's own perceptions, and of course the Bunker's tale has shocked me quite a lot since I have only recently read it. For that and other reasons, I have taken more interest in DIY stuff recently, and the people who matter to me would be very puzzled to know that an Archdruid is among the influences driving my personal change.

Where I live, in an European nation which focuses a lot on abstract reasonning, one should be careful to judge people both on which label they adopt, and on which course of action they adopt. As an example, yesterday I googled "décroissance Paris" (powerdown Paris) and my 1st surprise was to find right away the local "powerdown" group.

My 2nd surprise was... across the span of an entire year, the blog posts were only dedicated to political meetings, or round tables about ideas... Which left me wondering, shouldn't we scale down our ambitions and focus on the really simple stuff ? When to harvest plants, what to do with our poo-pooh... etc. As one of your readers once put it, "when you stare into the Abyss the Beast gets to you". It would be easy to conclude that the powerdown people here have gazed into the Abyss of our predicament and let the Beast of Politics lead them. It is hard for me to envision how the ideas of Power Down could form a significant legacy if we try to transmit them only through the channels of political discourse. Hopefully they are just too busy gardening to post blog entries (no offense meant).
Fortunately they link to this guy's amazing blog, passages of which I would happily translate into English if anyone finds a particular post of interest :

I wish my own culture leant a little bit more towards narratives, like the Anglo-Saxon does. I personnally find wizards' hats, knights, fairies or story examples (including my elders' lives) more inspiring than abstract concepts such as "a sustainable society". But maybe abstract thinking is in itself one of the worthwhile legacies to transmit ? That is quite a puzzle to me.

Max Osman said...

Your article today, as on any day was really thought provoking
although i think you overestimate
the common sense and memory of our future descendants, also i came across this interesting article which humorously seems to still be in the first stage of the Kübler-Ross model

William Knight said...

A dark and thought-provoking post indeed, but I fear you may have left out some of the worst nuclear madness that is likely occur in the waning days of the industrial age. After environmental protections are gutted, but before industry devolves to human labor loading nuclear waste on railcars, I foresee a much more toxic interphase.

As industrial empires contract, they will seek to transform remaining fossil fuel resources into the more concentrated forms of nuclear energy. This will allow them to better control and maintain their core industrial, administrative and military systems even as the larger energy-starved industrial civilization devolves inevitably towards collapse.

The wastelands that will eventually receive human-loaded railcars of nuclear waste will first see the arrival of cheap, unsafe nuclear reactors built using whatever advanced technology remains. While they last, these end-stage nuclear plants will become the most toxic and potent symbols of denial of the dying industrial age.

Frugal Muddler said...

I seriously hope doesn't go the path of becoming a nuclear dumping ground. When it all goes down, it would be nice to think we're a continent with a clear clean shot at muddling along.

Alas, there's money to be made, and our goes that are happy to enable mega coal mines, de-protect Tasmanian forests so they can be logged, endanger the Great Barrier Reef, etc, for profit, probably will be more than happy to glow for cash.

Violet Cabra said...

Many of us who read this blog probably think of ourselves as “ trying to make the world a better place for future generations.” I certainly do! And as such I've pursued lifestyle choices that further that agenda – I've decided to not own a car, television and to work at an organic farm. The question I ask myself is “am I making the future world a better place or am I simply not contributing AS MUCH to the ways the future will be hideous?”

I've been wracked by guilt about pollution and biodiversity degradation for most of my life. As a child of the upper middle class it's always been obvious to me that my consumption and inherited lifestyle are a major part of the problems that haunt me. So, like many, first I rebelled, then I tried the tactic of participating in the system in ways that hurt the biosphere as little as possible while maintaining some comforts.

A major issue is the system of Empire has it's own momentum. My individual choices do little to alter that momentum. This momentum is so big that it affects the entire world. Many people I know who are sensitive and aware are driven up the wall by this. The momentum is, it seems, unstoppable.

So few if any of my choices, so far, have been tangibly beneficial to future people of the future biosphere. My choices have been merely “less bad”.

Of course there is an enormous difference between acknowledging collective actions are beyond any individual's control and throwing up one's hands and resigning from participating meaningfully with the world. That being said I know there is more I can personally do to help make the world a better place if I “get off the couch” more.

If I may be so bold, I would like to ask you to consider doing a post going into detail on creating refuges for species, And also ask you and any readers who are knowledgeable on the subject to recommend a reading list on how-to refuge/habitat creation material.

While living in Tennessee I made Mason Orchard Bee homes which worked well I think. Creating environments that help foster biodiversity seems to be absolutely VITAL work and I would personally like to implement way more of them where I can.

Yupped said...

This was a hard one to read. I've been actively changing my life for years now, I'm not particularly sentimental, I have a somewhat pessimistic outlook, and I generally agree with what you state in the post. But I still find it hard to accept that human decisions overall have been evil. Some decisions have been - those made by people consciously, knowing what they will bring, and made anyway - that is evil to me. But most people are still sleep-walking through their lives, minds and lives controlled by their brain chemistry, and the manipulators of that brain chemistry.

But I guess it really doesn't matter. 1,000 years from now our descendants probably aren't going to be spending too much time sympathizing or understanding why we left all that waste and poison around. They're going to be dealing, mainly. It makes my efforts to save a couple of acres as best I can seem like a drop in the ocean, probably literally. But what else can we do?

Onething and Cathy M - it makes me smile to think that dandelion root tea is such a good detox. Dandelions can help cure us from the effects of all the poisons that we spray on them in the first place :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, I assume you mean the suburban ethic...

Ben, tell me this. Should the slaveowners in the antebellum South have comforted themselves, when they had moral qualms about slavery, by telling themselves that enslaving other people was in their genes, and they couldn't help themselves? Or would that have been a cop-out? The situation's exactly parallel; the one difference is that most of the people who are being condemned to misery to prop up your privileges haven't been born yet.

Jean-Vivien, you're most welcome. I don't claim to know enough about contemporary French culture to have an educated opinion; a century and a quarter ago, in the era of the Decadents, there were plenty of people who understood how to work with narratives, but I suppose the 20th century may have taken that capacity out of common use.

Max, yes, I saw the article and laughed. More on this shortly.

William, I doubt they'll get that far. Nuclear power is a very expensive technology, and as fossil fuels run short, it'll be much more expedient simply to burn them and be done with it.

Muddler, I wish you the best of luck down under.

Violet, that's one of the reasons I think it's crucial not merely to do less of the bad stuff, but to find positive things to do that have a reasonable shot at actively improving conditions in the future. I'll be talking more about this as we proceed.

Dennis D said...

I am enjoying these essays, but want to add a viewpoint from 54 degrees north. The number of people this far north is actually quite small, and without fossil fuel supplies will become a small fraction of that already small number. There are localized disaster areas, but for the most part, after a cycle of growth and forest fires, will just be some interesting patterns in the earth. It is the 100th anniversary of the first world war, and despite the environmental damage done during that time (tons of explosives per square meter!) there is little that wasn’t deliberately preserved from that time. Yes, a trained scholar can point out the effects, but the average person probably doesn’t see it, and a couple of hundred years from now large portions of the planet will go their own ways totally without us. This isn’t to say that there won’t be effects, but will your local disaster site be that big a deal, say compared to Mt St Helens? One of our local lakes went from being badly overfished, with a single train derailment and a lot of bunker oil, to being a premier catch and release fishery, in less than 10 years. I expect that there will be significant changes to the biosphere, but life in general will happily go on in the decades past peak oil. Humans however will drop in number, and loose much of their abilities to bother other residents of the planet.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I have come to pretty much the same conclusions as to the most likely outcome (although not for nuclear waste for technical reasons).

However, I do see islands of national level sanity amidst the sea of insanity - which means it is NOT predetermined by biology, but a "systems choice", and other choices are within the realm of the possible.

I admit it is a herculean chore to change the choices made by the system, but what better chore can we apply ourselves to ? Even partial changes for the better may result in significantly less suffering and degradation a half millennium from now (and in between).

Agent Provocateur said...


I am thinking that people living in a degraded environment, in the future as now, may not know what a healthy ecosystem actually looks like … having never seen one. For that reason they may not curse us so heavily as your essay suggests. This is not to say they would not be justified in doing so. The link to their woes and out actions would certainly be more obvious than say the dried up springs of the ancient Greeks caused by the deforestation wrought by their ancestors. In their case, as well as for the Sumerians and other ancient civilizations, the changes took place over generations and so were somewhat harder to detect.

Where I live on the edge of arable land in south east Ontario, most of the immediately local forests were cut down 200 years ago to make charcoal for a failed iron smelter. There are the odd pockets of forest here and there that gives you a hint of what it must have been like before Europeans arrived. A little oasis of park-like old growth on the wrong side of a lake perhaps. Cross a fence line and suddenly you find yourself in juniper scrub land; a sure sign of depleted soils. How many people actually perceive the severe degradation though when they walk through the woods? Not many I suppose.

Concerning loss of top soil: 3 tons per year per acre does seem terribly high. If I make a rough guess that one ton of top soil occupies about 2 cubic yards, I obtain a top soil loss of roughly 5 inches per century (4.4 actually but lets round up) or 1 inch every 20 years. If we are to lose all North American topsoil by 2075 (with of course regional variation), this suggests we have already lost half the normal full top 6 inch productive layer and so have about 3 inches left on average. This suggests a remarkable degradation of existing arable land that must be affecting yields. Again, who really perceives this degradation now. Who will in the future? Of course they will notice the results; but who will remember how it used to be?

The same goes for the oceans. Fishermen from Europe started traveling across the Atlantic to the Grand Banks at least 500 years ago. Why make the trip unless your local stocks are already degraded? Frontier fisheries masked this continuing degradation. Locally for me, most lakes are fished out unless stocked every year. There are hints of the fecundity that once existed everywhere in the few isolated lakes that are harder to get to. There the abundance is breathtaking. Such places are kept secret. But do I blame those who went before me? Did the Basque fishermen blame their ancestors for overfishing their local waters?

We have lived in a vastly degraded and degrading environment for some time (centuries), yet few of use really noticed it until recently (say the last 40 years). Yes the scale and rate have increased enormously, again in the last 40 years, to allow both to be noticed. How will future generations think of us? I don't think they will give us much thought any more than we curse those who fished out Europe, or those who deforested Spain or England, or those who killed off all the North American Bison, or those who killed off the Mammoths and Mastodons. They will just be too busy trying to deal with the fact of a degraded environment and the limits this imposes on their lives … just like us only worse.

It really is different this time though; there is now no new frontier. As you wrote, this is what human being have been doing for a long time. I'm not saying better decisions could have been made. Nuclear power … I mean really, what a bad idea! But no matter what, I think the grand sweep of the industrial civilization would have been much the same no matter what. As you suggested, there is a trajectory to every type of technology and it will find its mark with certainty. We and future generations might as well blame that first human ancestor who left the trees. Or maybe its these damned opposable thumbs.

Thank you for another great essay.

S P said...

It is true that cancer (and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia) etc. are very much diseases of our time.

But for most of human history, life was nasty, brutish, and short, even if one was healthy.

I think the peak came in a broad stretch from the early 20th century to roughly early 1980s or so. Back then, we had enough industry for sewage, electricity, medicine, etc., enough to make life more comfortable. But people were still more robust on average. We didn't have the endless screens and entertainment keeping people inactive, nor the hospitals keeping the dying going on respirators.

I think we are headed for something similar as the healthcare system goes bankrupt.

Pinku-Sensei said...

"As for jellyfish, I'll have to research what eats them -- that might be a clue to the shape of a future oceanic food chain.

The two animals I know of off the top of my head that eat jellyfish have their own problems--sea turtles and violet snails. Most species of the former are endangered or threatened. Violet snails do not include species of any concern at the moment, but they are at risk because the acidifying oceans could erode their shells. A third animal is the Ocean Sunfish or Mola. They're big animals which makes them targets for fishermen, but they like warm waters, so they might thrive in the world of the next thousand years.

According to the following link, other than the three animals I mentioned, the biggest predators of jellyfish are other jellyfish.

@Varun Bhaskar
"@ Pinku and Cherokee Chris--Would either of you object to my using your blogs on my website? Fully credited of course."

No, as long as you link, or better yet, use the Blogger reblog function. FWIW, Current TV did that with an entry of mine, Will Al Jazeera America hire Keith Olbermann? People read my entry at both sites. However, as flattering as I found the attention and copying, it wasn't all positive. Current posted it under "Comedy." I guess they found the idea funny.

Also, which blog of yours would you use my entries on--The Bones of Our Empire or International Affairs Observer? I assume the former since it's recently active. Or would you be at a different website?

jcummings said...

Thanks for an interesting read. I havent read your books, so forgive me if this is a redundant question. As I understand you, you believe that civilizations will arise in the future that will get an industrial way of life right - ie sustainable. If this is so - and your argument is compelling - we must assume that these future societies will rely almost exclusively on renewable resources. As you note in this post our current society is on track to consume available resources at a frightening pace. Are there any recources critical to building a complex society that our near complete consumption of now might be a limiting factor? Are there critical resources that just aren't renewable?

Eric S. said...

"In a way, I hope they see us as evil." That is a heavy burden to bear. And a hard one for me to sit with. I can hope we stand as an example of bad choices, and that we're judged harshly... But not necessarily demonized. Perhaps seen more as the Numenorians who were seduced by the gifts of Morgoth and brought destruction down on themselves than as Orcs or Nazgul. It's hard coping with living what's probably already going difficult and unduly short life knowing that no matter what is done to make that life a sustainable and virtuous one you're destined to become a demon in a nightmare, nothing more. It's one thing to face death and suffering. It's another to face damnation.
I just hope that someone, somewhere, someday can find forgiveness in their hearts.

Scimmimg other comments:

Re Max: I'm trying to make sense of that review Max posted. It looks like they're saying that because theories of decline have been proposed in the relative recent past (specifically citing the period in the early 20th century when Britain was indeed nearing the end of its imperial decline) they have no applicability in the present. Odd article.

Re Violet on endangered species refuges: I think you'll find the beginnings of what you're looking for back here

onething said...


"Did you ask him why he sprayed during fruiting? Did he have an answer??"

The fact is, I was quite stunned by the whole event. I could hardly think straight. I took it kinda hard...not sure why, but it just seems so depressing and so emblematic of all that's wrong, so disheartening that the little guy is participating mindlessly in the same destruction that corporates engage in, with even less excuse. It was only after mulling it over for some days that I even realized that he sprayed at the very worst time. And I'm pretty sure he put no thought into it at all.
Thanks for the thimbleberry tip. They look quite plush...
We also have many pollinators here, many butterflies, and many, many birds. We leave different patches to the weeds each summer. I'm pleased to say I spotted milkweed. We don't use poison here, nor our neighbors.

Personally, I believe using poison is a sin against the Holy Spirit, the promoter of all life.

Taking what you need is no crime, but taking what you don't need or taking and wasting is a crime, for you have taken what is not yours nor is it your place to manage it. Wasting is a grave spiritual crime because it is a matter of ingratitude and what could tempt the gods to punish and abandon us more than our contempt toward the earth's abundance?

Gwaiharad said...

The discussion on arts and music is also relevant to me, as a musician-in-training. The electrically generated and amplified forms that rule today's popular music will eventually be gone, leaving maybe a melody here, a rhythm there. And, as beautiful as Western classical music is, it's unlikely to survive in the long term, except maybe for Pachelbel's Canon and a few similar pieces. It's simply too complex to reproduce with whatever handful of instruments you have on hand. (I think this was pointed out in an earlier ADR post?)

I wish I could stick around to watch a vibrant new idiom of music rising out of the jam sessions, the self-taught songwriters, of the dark future. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if today's folk songs - Shenandoah, Hey Ho Nobody's Home, Streets of Laredo, Greensleeves - keep right on going, passed along as they've been for centuries.

By the way, I'm not too worried about sea turtles. You mention isolated refugia - they have a big one in the Hawaiian Islands. Sea turtles are part of why the islands are attractive to tourists, and thus are important to the economy. So they're carefully protected. I can't find any indication that their population is currently declining, either; it's actually increased over the last 25 years, since legal protections were put in place. I went there five or eight years ago; at that time, you couldn't hardly go snorkeling without bumping into a sea turtle - sometimes literally.

It's possible that, as tourism drops off with the increasing cost of fossil fuels and thus travel, turtles will lose their protected status, and people will probably start hunting them for food again. However, the same high cost of fuel that drives tourism to extinction will also make it hard to get to the remote islands where they build their nests.

(Sea turtle info here:

Despite the overall positive tone of this overly-long post, I'm not completely sanguine about the future. I know for a fact that the world will be less kind to me in the future than it has been in the past, and that I'll probably never enjoy my parents' standard of living. Most of my peers seem to have a similar outlook - I think a lot of today's college students have pretty much accepted that our civilization is on the downslope. Maybe my sample is biased because I talk mostly to music people. We've known that our civilization was losing its vitality since the 1920's or so, when "classical" and "popular" music became two separate things...

Redneck Girl said...

Was reading about American Indians here and had just previously read this article about American Bison. It's a very healthy protein.

That's when I thought about Adrian and how important the bison is to the plains. I'd rather see buffalo than cattle on the plains. Buffalo don't mow the grass down to the roots, cows do! Think of a two thousand pound behemoth that can jump a six foot fence flat footed and doesn't give a whoopity doo about the fence to begin with! Gave me a flash of a future plains dwelling farmer seeing the coming of the buffalo! Not nomadic herders like in Europe or Asia JMG, but buffalo hunting tribesmen! (Insert cheesy/toothy smile here.) That is what I'd like to see in a recovering world, the return of the buffalo, along with the wild horse.


Cliff said...

I've been living in Phoenix for a while now, and I'd figured out, years before I ever ran across your blog, that it's a wildly unsustainable city.

What puzzles me is the depth of willful ignorance about the matter. Even the progressives I know here act like climate change is an abstract truth that won't impact them here and now.
(And I have to point a finger at myself, for completely failing to move out of Phoenix, despite seeing these trends.)

My question is, do you have any thoughts about the effects of technology on our thinking patterns?

My feeling is that the constant deluge of media we experience keeps us distracted and disconnected, but I don't know if there's anything more to it than my own paranoia.

Ben Iscatus said...

JMG said: “Ben, tell me this. Should the slaveowners in the antebellum South have comforted themselves, when they had moral qualms about slavery, by telling themselves that enslaving other people was in their genes, and they couldn't help themselves? Or would that have been a cop-out? The situation's exactly parallel; the one difference is that most of the people who are being condemned to misery to prop up your privileges haven't been born yet.”

I don’t see slavery as being in our genes any more than democracy is. But consumerism may well be –while times are good, we eat drink and are merry.

When you talk of “your privileges”, it seems that you misunderstood me. I was referring to us as a species, not me as an individual. Most greens I know still use cars, still fly and still use supermarkets. I don’t fly or drive. Personally, I might well be content with a monastic style of living, if it could be untied from the rituals and credos of an outdated religion. But in any case, monks don’t breed, so tend to have minimal effect on general human behaviour ;-)

streamfortyseven said...

Top soil loss… I come from Kansas, the western part of which has been, for many years, the “breadbasket of the world.” It’s a definite gamble about how long that will continue to be true, because most of the grainfields out west are only fertile due to the irrigation water pumped out of the Ogallala Aquifer. This aquifer is already beginning to deplete to the point where farmers have to bring in water from long distances - see series of depressing articles here: The powers-that-be in Kansas, spurred on by the Orwellian-named Kansas Department of Health and Environment, have approved permits for a new giant coal-burning power plant at Holcomb, Kansas (scene of the Clutter murders in In Cold Blood in 1965). The unlined ash pit will be placed on permeable dune sand, which will allow chemicals in the fly ash from the plant such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, along with other nasty stuff, to leach down into the Ogallala Aquifer directly below. This plant is slated to have a lifetime of 20 years, until 2034, at which time the ash pit will hold 17 million tons of fly ash - see and - and then the recharge of the aquifer will be accompanied by the toxic chemicals mentioned above, just so that a failing utility company can sell the power to the Front Range cities of Colorado for the next 20 years. So far as I know, we’ve only had one dust storm this year - three days’ worth, and then we’ve had a fair amount of rain since, so no more of those, so far: That’s all topsoil blowing away, by the way. Desert formation in Western Kansas is increasing, despite desperate efforts to keep Ag Biz As Usual going: Building this pipeline will create jobs, the governor’s office says, but it’ll be a drop in the bucket. Hopefully the Space Brothers will show up in the nick of time, because the Kansas Legislature isn’t going to get any smarter. I’d say more but this is about all I can stand.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Les,

Yeah, you're right about the burns. My understanding is that Aboriginals rarely burnt more than 20ha to 30ha at a time and it was a great source of shame to have a fire escape control. As we are lazy land managers, we don’t allocate the resources to achieve that so happily set fire to thousands of hectares at a time. The great wildfires are unprecedented and a direct result of our poor land management. On the other hand, the Aboriginals most certainly did eat all of the megafauna on arrival on the continent. The bones and fossil records stop for the megafauna at the time of their arrival on the continent. There are some interesting caves at Naracoorte Caves in SA where the animals fell into, died and were preserved, and it is best fossil records on the continent. Well worth the visit.

Yeah, if you're getting the eagles and the other birds then there is plenty to eat at your farm. Good stuff. I always joke (well, maybe) that the wallaby here is compost fed!

Nice work with the trees. I hope you are getting some of that rain this weekend? It is meant to hit here Saturday night. Yeah, perry is not as good as apple cider is it? Perhaps a bit of sugar, citrus or apple might help. Even ginger would go a long way to making the stuff palatable...

That is one painful story. You do what you can though. I bring in composted woody mulch and compost here and it comes from green waste collections in Melbourne. I'd be pretty certain that it contains the full gamut of pesticides and herbicides too given where it originated. It always takes about 2 years before plants really start growing well in it. What do you do? There are no alternatives for broad acre or quantity application. I'd probably try to get some fungal spores out there into those paddocks of yours as all of the fungi here eventually breaks down the woody mulch into a rich black loam. I’ve always assumed that process deals with some of the chemicals too. Out of interest, how thickly did you disperse the seed? You could always cut it back for green manure before it sets flower.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

No, don't cut the chooks in half! hehe! Glad to hear about your good work in your garden. By the way, that is an unfeasibly large amount of rain in a short period of time...

Shame about the dandelions too. The entire plant, root, leaves and flowers are edible. The roots can actually be roasted like a parsnip. I've eaten the leaves in salads and on pizzas during summer when the greens look a bit sad. Not so the dandelions though! They are one tough (I mean hardy) plant.

Hi Varun,

Yes, you can use the contents of the blog as long as it is attributed correctly to the source.



Cherokee Organics said...


Good stuff! I've read that over time the application of composts and woody mulches can also reduce the build up of heavy metals in the soil.

Years back I read a story about a garden in Hobart, Tasmania, that was down wind of an industrial site and the exhaust from that site had dumped a lot of lead over the years which accumulated in the soil. They were having quite good results with the application of composts and woody mulches. The soil was periodically monitored to by a lab. Good stuff, nature can heal, but it takes time and effort and you can never quite tell where the trouble spots will be. That garden site was never an industrial site in the first place.

As an interesting side issue, when I was much younger I was into electronics and I can still remember leaning over a few circuit boards, a feed of solder in my mouth (you really need three hands on those jobs) and soldering components onto that board. Meanwhile the fumes from the soldering iron were not ever far from my face. Sometimes I accidentally bit through the solder too...




donalfagan said...

This post by Greg Laden at Scienceblogs is apropos to your series:

Erik Buitenhuis said...

John, I did read what you said, but the lower down the foodchain you go, the higher the natural mortality rate is, so the less relative impact humans have. So we can collapse fisheries of of piscivorous fish to the point where they don't come back when we stop fishing, but of planktivorous shellfish and fish? I don't think so.

A taxonomist would say that foraminifera are the class. What possibly interests you more is that they're zooplanktic protists, i.e. unicellular heterotrophic organisms, as opposed to the autotrophic protists, the algae (taxonomists keep changing their mind, so protists are no longer a kingdom). The organisms that are probably most sensitive to ocean acidification are the pteropods, they are swimming "snails" (i.e. multicellular animals) of 0.1-1 mm that make shells of aragonite, which is more soluble than calcite, which is what coccolithophores and foraminifers make.

vestlenning said...

JMG wrote:

"In either case, or both, you’ll get a plume of toxic, highly radioactive smoke drifting in the wind, and a great many people immediately downwind will die quickly or slowly, depending on the details and the dose."

This happening to several plants at the same time is one thing that makes it different this time, won't you say?

Greg Belvedere said...

Great post. Hearing people talk about using nuclear power as a clean alternative to fossil fuels really gets my goat. It shows such a sense of entitlement to suggest we leave this toxic legacy to future generations just so we can maintain our current lifestyle a bit longer. I feel people are oblivious to the many problems and I'm not surprised you have set a record for unpublished comments in this post.

Soil degradation and dead oceans are also on my mind lately. I'm currently reading chef Dan Barber's new book The Third Plate which deals with both of these, as well as the shortcomings of the farm to table movement. He seems to have a better understanding of ecology than most chefs. While he is definitely coming at the subject from the perspective of someone who cooks high end cuisine, I think he does a good job of getting at the problems in our food system. He really looks at the idea of cuisine in the context of finding delicious ways to use what grows best in each area instead of chefs and eaters demanding certain foods regardless of conditions. It has me thinking more about post-industrial cuisine.

Cathy McGuire said...

@jbucks: The Winter part is what worries me - do all the arts become meaningless, or is there a form of art which is the equivalent of learning organic gardening; a way of preparing for the future.
Here's my two cents (as an artist and writer, and once amateur musician) - arts have always been used for healing (doesn't have to be formal - just lifting spirits in hard times!) and in making conscious & concrete what is felt and dreamed... I think that kind of art will always be with us. Take the dollar signs off it, and much will fade away.. and good riddance. ;-) Creativity is a dialogue with the spirit within, and the Spirit in the world (however one pictures that)... and will always be needed.

Cathy McGuire said...

@Glenn: From my wife, the WSU trained Master Gardener: Don't hurt the big yellow Banana Slugs; they are natives, and only eat plant matter that is already dead. They are building soil. Do kill the brown and black slugs; they are invasive Europeans, and eat live plants (your produce).
Thanks for the tip! Don't have banana slugs in OR (I've seen them, though) - mine are European... I must look up the European predators and see if any live nearby. ;-)

Ray Wharton said...

The Wastrel Race will be a thousand kinds of demons for the next few seasons of cultures on the Earth. As the world gets larger, and human societies radically diversify by virtue of isolation from each other by barrens and distance, vividly varied takes on the Wastrel Race will coexist.

Feeling, in my imagination, the eyes of the future looking back I am in part ashamed of my birth. Demon spawn. But under that imagined gaze, I think what would a heroic demon do to seek redemption? It is my desire to renounce identification with the Wastrels, and to become adopted by an Earthly people, I want to be a stormcrow of something else.

Do I give up the drought of the Black Blood? And its powers? I have cut back much. I drive a mid 60's era bike, sleep in a abandoned building, and use only this laptop and a flash light powered by electricity. My most important meals are gifted from organic farms where I volunteer. Still there are many petty indulgences I partake in. I hope I can hold the line AND survive winter haha. It is worth noting how little needs to be done to live, some things need sustainable replacements, most things can simply cease.

As the Black Blood dries up there will be more competition for the scraps and the Earth's now scant milk flow which sustain me. Abstaining from the worst of my father Race's vices, even if I mastered this abstinence, I don't feel is sufficient to pay my inherited debt.

The hero's of our era need to be creators as well, and we do so in a land occupied by the Wastrel Empire, it can be done, but it is frustrating. Not letting that frustration turn into venom in my own mouth is the most challenging challenge; I am not a viper and will raise no fang against the Wastrels, but I cannot fail to see the charisma of those who have fangs; especially the disgruntled veterans.

Though I admire barbarians, I am not of their kind. I hope to learn the ways to dazzel and make gentile them, that they learn enough care to inherriot the seeds which I now gather and put to sleep until the world is ready again for the fruits of the Great Conversation.

I don't know if I will ever be hardy enough to live off the Earth's thin milk flow by my own strength. But the generation who today are young children may be so strong, at least where the Earth is ready to cast out the Wastrels. I hope to pay back enough of my debt preparing such regions for those who would live off the natural cycles, that those Barbarians to come will let me warm my bones around their fire pit.

I recently camped with the Regional Rainbow gathering here. They were not hippies, but disgruntled veterans, impoverished rednecks, and homeless 'dirty kids'. Slowly becoming barbaric in every way, by many measures dysfunctional, but I could see their strength and their love for the Earth. They could endure pain, defy danger, and accept death: by these powers the barbarians are beyond anything Wastrels can match.

The Wastrel Race shall not progress nor find salvation, but the barbarians which now inherit the fringes of their land are looking for inspiration, and stories that vindicate their ways over the Wastrels. Earth protect us when

Kyoto Motors said...

@ Ben
RE: "None of us knew any of this 50 years ago"
I'm not so sure. Ancient wisdom has a pretty good track record. For instance,at least some First Peoples forewarned against the mindset/worldview & actions of the European colonials whece sprang the global industrial program. That's one example. The question is, who was listening? Who could hear through the din and excitement of modernity?

Ed-M said...

Wow. This is the darkest post I've ever seen in your blog, JMG. I hope you're not becoming another of Guy McPherson's disciples.

And yes, our descendants will curse us. As Whitley Strieber said 14 years ago in his and Art Bell's The Coming Global Superstorm, "We will be cursed, even as the Demons are cursed."

And if there are any salvation-mentality religions out then, a devout grandfather may say to his grandson, "Get on yer knees an' beg forgiveness, lest ye want to spend eternity in America."

The Dude said...

John, Allow me to link to a bit of levity on the otherwise ominous topic of this post. As a long-time reader of your blog and books, discovered initially after reading JHK's "Long Emergency", I finally emerged, perhaps to the Acceptance stage on Kubler-Ross, from some years of a darkened view. George Carlin had a fine mind and took the long view of homo sapiens as "an evolutionary cul-de-sac" of minimal consequence for the planet as he expresses here:
Thanks for the continued great writing, insights, and over-the-horizon thinking!

Stage6 said...


THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 10
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
William Wordsworth 1806.

John Naylor said...

When I was a child in the early 80's, back when you could still see Woodsy Owl on TV, I had an idea for a book: Humans are wiped out because of nuclear war, leaving insects to evolve into (of course) humanoids much later. The hero of our story discovers why his species are where they are, and we are not, and tries to inform others, who are violently opposed to the idea. Nothing ever came of it, but I guess on some level I was always concerned about our trajectory.

Some of your readers may remember a subplot of an episode of Max Headroom, where intrepid reporter Edison Carter does a news show announcing the discovery that their city was built on a former toxic waste dump. In corny, emotional journalistic language, he describes at length how former generations "locked it up, and threw away the key". In a brilliant satire of our news media, the fictitious news show gets huge ratings, and the staff is ecstatic. The horror beneath their feet is never a concern except to "do a follow-up, to really chase this one" to snag another hit of ratings for the news corporation.

The legacy of our mistakes has been in my thoughts for most of my life. It has been a huge source of despair to watch it all unfold, never being able/willing to unplug myself from that lifestyle, and resorting to a self-punishing kind of hair-shirt environmentalism. As far as how our descendants view us, I already have an inkling of that in the way I despise my parents' generation. In my case, I'm sure a good deal of that is projection. But nowadays, I'm thinking more in terms of how to do some good, thanks to your writings.

C.L. Kelley said...

Onething, I recently had a very similar experience - and a very similar reaction. You're not alone, and your reaction is a very promising sign... Last month, I discovered the most beautiful patch of the most delicious wild strawberries I've ever tasted, in a vacant lot on my street where I sometimes walk my dogs. I found them about a week before full ripeness, eagerly awaited their arrival, and made two fantastic wild-foraged-and-garden-grown dinner salads with them. (Much of the wild-foraged part came from that same vacant lot, for that matter, an unremarkable gravelly bit of land about 20' by 40'. There was purslane, wild raspberries, the strawberries, lamb's quarters, henbit, and several others.) A few days later, the lot's owner, a local museum, had someone bush hog the whole thing. I was devastated, and genuinely beffled that anyone could miss such an abundance of such an array of fairly familiar foods, and more than that - DESTROY it! By burning gasoline! For looks, of all the pigheaded nonsense!

I am taking my strong emotional reaction as an extremely positive sign, that my internal narrative is truly re-aligning away from business as usual (or some greenwashed simulacrum thereof). Emotions spur action, and action is what we need. The more people react emotionally with disgust at the actions and methods of BAU, the more likely alternatives are to be tried, and on a larger than individual scale (town, neighborhood, etc.) Passion is necessary, now more than ever. My emotions spurred me to mention something to a director-member of the museum who comes into my cafe, and I now have pretty well permission to dig up & propagate those wild strawberries in a safer-for-them location (which I had sort of planned to do anyway, but...nice to know it's OK) once they recover from their ordeal.

nuku said...

@Gwaiharad re turtles and wildlife refuges: During my 17 years cruising around the Pacific in my sailboat I visited Tonga several times. There were many large turtles there in the 1990’s, but also a human population which was growing at a very large rate relative to resources due to ignorance and the influence of Christian missionaries (more kids for Jesus). So the mature turtles (and lots of fish) were being killed for food with no thought for the future. At the time, there was a marine scientist living on his yacht in the islands who convinced the Tongan government to set aside a marine reserve for turtles. In spite of an education program about the reason for and value of the reserve, the locals poached the turtles to such an extent that the Government had to station a patrol boat on the reserve to enforce the rules.
So yes, when human populations get out of sync with available resources, the ethic of protecting the environment takes second place to short-term survival.

Violet Cabra said...

Eric S, thank you for the link! I read this about a year ago and had forgotten most of the details. Looks like I'll be building a bat house!!

Matthew Sweet said...

I have to delve into the issue of cancer as the signature disease of industrial society. While I would agree that the increase in use and exposure to a variety of chemicals and toxins is somewhat to blame for the increase in rates of cancer, this is far from the whole story.

Two major public health revolutions changed the entire landscape of what diseases are responsible for the majority of human deaths in industrial society. One was the sanitation movement which involved massive public works and engineering prior to the turn of the 20th century. The other is the development of vaccines which (for the time being) have virtually eradicated some diseases and viral infections. Between immunization and sanitation, the vast majority of causes of premature deaths were removed from consideration.

One of the reasons that cancer is in the forefront of human illness is simply because life expectancy has increased so much. Now, the major causes of premature death are heart disease and cancer. Diabetes is catching up. Heart disease and diabetes are the consequences of "modern" city planning and the engineering of physical activity out of every day life. That is a major legacy of the post-war era and the car culture which itself feeds off of fossil fuels.

Again, while I agree that chemicals and toxins are a component of certain forms of cancer, I think you either overstate the case here, or have not fully explored the issue in order to stay on point.

onething said...


That's kinda funny because I got a beautiful book and am learning to forage for wild food, and since then I am amazed at how many wild foods there are around here. The astonishing thing is that I started reading this book with its colored photos near the end of winter, and then as spring progressed I would spot a weed - a weed I had seen for years and lo and behold it is not a weed any more. And once you know, you see things differently. Before reading about may apples, I had never seen one dangling before. How did I miss it?

John Michael Greer said...

Yupped, that's why I favor the Stoics. Find the right thing to do, do it, and leave the consequences up to the gods: in a time of decline and fall, that's about the best you can do.

Dennis, large parts of Canada will likely get through this in fairly good shape -- though I'd be worried about the Alberta tar sand region. On this side of the border, where there's a lot more heavy industry, toxic waste, and nuclear reactors, it's less rosy.

Alan, if that's the choice that works for you, go ye forthwith and do that thing.

Agent, maybe so. I have my doubts, but neither of us will have the chance to find out, of course.

SP, has it ever occurred to you that the whole business about life being nasty, brutish, and short might be part of the mythology of progress? I encourage you to read autobiographies written back before the beginning of the fossil fuel era, and see how that squares with that Hobbesian fantasy.

Pinku-sensei, that gives me a mental image of the distant descendants of mola, grown to whale-size, swimming through the warm seas of the future, munching on abundant jellyfish!

Jcummings, we'll get to that in a future post.

Eric, yes, it's a challenging thought! Since I will have no biological descendants, and I'm already used to people thinking of me as evil, crazy, or what have you, it's not particularly burdensome to me, but I know that may be more of a difficulty for others.

Gwaiharad, have you read Spengler's The Decline of the West? He talks at some length about what happens when the musical and artistic traditions of a culture finish working through the available range of possibilities, which are by no means infinite, and settle down into repeating a canon of classics.

Wadulisi, I'd prefer wild bison as well, but historically, nomadic herders tend to become the dominant human ecology on any plains region once suitable livestock are available. I wonder if bison and human beings can coevolve the sort of relationship that the Sami have with reindeer...

Cliff, that's a huge question, worth at least a blog post to itself. I think that's probably part of our delusion, though another very large part is the same factor that makes people who live just downstream of big dams convince themselves that the dam can't possibly burst.

nuku said...

@Cliff Re technology changing our thinking patterns, in particular the Internet: I personally believe that is happening. For an in depth look at it, I suggest reading “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr.

John Michael Greer said...

Ben, you're evading the point. Of course you don't see slavery, or the drive to dominate, as hardwired into your genes; that claim doesn't excuse your privileged condition, after all. Whether or not you drive or fly, as a resident of the USA -- and one with internet access! -- you're among the planet's privileged few, as am I. Instead of coming up with justifications for the collective behavior that guarantees your privilege, I'd encourage you to face that reality, make it part of your consciousness, decide what you're going to do in response to it, and do it. You say you could handle a monastic lifestyle; why not do that, instead of just talking about it?

Stream, if I'm right, a century from now the Ogalalla aquifer will be bone dry and Kansas will be as dry and barren as the Gobi Desert. With any luck, the bleached bones of the legislature will be found there by explorers of a distant time...

Cherokee, you're braver than I am. I don't put solder into my mouth, ever, and I only do soldering in a well-ventilated space!

Erik, of course they'll come back -- those that can survive the changed temperature and the pollution, that is. When we stop fishing, though, my readers are going to stop eating seafood -- and I'd question that the planktivorous fish will come back fast enough that the fishermen can just take a few years off and then start harvesting again!

Vestlenning, no, a difference in scale is not a difference in kind.

Greg, if high-end chefs are starting to grapple with this, that's a good sign.

Ray, an impressive fantasia on themes by Michael Moorcock and Josephin Peladan! Thank you.

Ed-M, oh, I'm way past McPherson. What I'm predicting is far more harrowing than the nice quick plunge into oblivion he has in mind.

Dude, many thanks!

Stage6, thank you. That's been one of my favorite poems for a very long time.

John, good. All we can do, it seems to me, is find something we can do to make the future at least a little better than it will otherwise be, and make that happen.

Matthew, not so. The decline in infectious diseases happened in the early and middle 20th century, and was essentially complete by 1950; the rise in cancer rates happened after that, and is still continuing, even as death rates from infectious diseases are beginning to rise again. Even more telling is childhood cancer; the rate at which children die of cancer isn't affected by other causes of death -- if cancer rates had been constant, the same fraction of living children in 1914 would have had leukemia, or what have you, as have it today -- and, as I noted in my post, cancer in children has gone from a very rare thing to an agonizingly common one. The claim you've made is a familiar chestnut, one of many dodges used to hide the hideous toll of modern industry on human health; a look at the underlying facts shows otherwise.

Avery said...

Since it hasn't been asked yet, I have to wonder whether there is any course of action that could redeem us in the eyes of future generations. How could I write a book that the next century won't take pleasure in burning? Similarly, how could I introduce a sustainable technology, etc.?

team10tim said...

Hey hey JMG,

I understand that the Arabs saved a good bit of the classical world when Rome fell. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on modern analogs? Or could recommend some sources for me to investigate.

I'm reading Decline of the West at the moment and enjoying it. I'm not looking forward to Toynbee's sprawling 12 volume work if I can help it. My primary interest is finding a place where the things I spend my life building won't get smashed up too badly in a hundred years.

So, any thoughts on promising backwaters, imperial enemies, out of the way places and whatnot would be greatly appreciated.


xhmko said...

JMG, long time no comment.

I have just been working on the edge of the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River) in Perth, doing some revegetation work and in our smoko breaks I ponder the ecosystem I'm hoping to somehow assist and all the possible outcomes of introduced species, and methods of living that were brought here on arrival by Europeans. I really think that the idea that we need to eradicate these plants, is outdated, and think integration and utilisation make far more sensible options. But spending time close to the land, I feel like for the First Peoples of this land, this is the dark age.

Even though I see ducks and other birdlife and was lucky enough to spot two dolphins moving up stream even in the brackish water of the section of river we were at, the abundance that supported the Noongar people is gone. The river is artificially oxygenated in parts to deal with algae feeding off the fertilisers that flow into the river from gardens and farms alike. The fish stocks have diminished greatly; flocks of birds that once carpeted the skies are reduced to dribs and drabs; plants that once could be killed for food and animals that once fed the locals and then became commonplace in the early markets of the colony are now so rare that to eat them is criminal. that is if they aren't extinct. Even fresh water springs are less frequent due to bores and the evil moves made in past times to fill them with concrete to prevent the gathering of "natives". People come from all over the world to marvel at "Australia's" natural beauty, but in so many ways, paradise is lost.

On top of all this, despite the valiant efforts of the Noongar to retain their knowledge not just as artifacts, but as a living culture embedded in song, dance and time spent living with the land, much of it is lost for ever. So many of their technologies, including their social structures designed to ensure abundance, are now a shadow of what they were and the people live in a world that so often has more pain than pleasure. Short life expectancies, when on European arrival they outlived the newcomers and were in general much healthier and happier. For their civilisation, this is the dark age that followed.

Cherokee Organics said...


I think young and dumb would be closer to the truth. They had lead in petrol in those days and it used to be sold here as "Super".

I'm always a bit nervous about just how much is stored away in my bones.



Bruno Bolzon said...

JMG, some infectious diseases have been irreversibly conquered by mankind. I'm speaking, of course, about diseases such as smallpox, which have very few opportunities to mutate (rate of change of the smallpox Poxvirus is not great), and thus allow that long lasting and effective vaccines may be developed for them.
I believe that, as long a technology such as vaccines may be passed from ours to future generations and beyond, the current generation won't be hated.

Ben Iscatus said...

JMG said: “Ben, you're evading the point. Of course you don't see slavery, or the drive to dominate, as hardwired into your genes; that claim doesn't excuse your privileged condition, after all. Whether or not you drive or fly, as a resident of the USA -- and one with internet access! -- you're among the planet's privileged few, as am I. Instead of coming up with justifications for the collective behavior that guarantees your privilege, I'd encourage you to face that reality, make it part of your consciousness, decide what you're going to do in response to it, and do it. You say you could handle a monastic lifestyle; why not do that, instead of just talking about it?”

Too late – family responsibilities! But in general -doing it instead of talking about it, giving up all energy-guzzling aspects of civilisation - like the internet and its banks of servers…who is doing that? Some people give up some things - but not everything.

I’ve made changes. I’ve just harvested 3 boxes of potatoes and over 100 onions. Tomatoes are on the way. I’ve been giving away bags of cucumbers and courgettes (in the UK). But here’s the rub: almost nobody else in my vicinity is doing this. My behaviour here is eccentric. Nobody else is interested -perhaps they realise that in the unpredictable droughts and rainstorms of the future, such eccentric activity will become even harder (and it is already hard!).

As for slavery, it was an essential means for civilisations of old to grow. We generally think of the Greeks and Romans as being great civilisations. Yet they needed slavery.

People started to come over all moral when fossil fuels (and the traction engine) allowed human slavery to be abolished (Matt Ridley –“The Rational Optimist”).

Whatever my personal opinions (and my personal opinion is that slavery is reprehensible), I can have no effect on the way human culture and civilisations unfold. All civilisations greedily seek out energy wherever they can find it. They feed heavily on available resources and produce masses of entropic heat and waste, in accordance with the laws of physics.

By the way, in Fowler’s 2009 book, "Systemic Management: Sustainable Human Interactions with Ecosystems and the Biosphere", he compares humans to both herbivores and carnivores of similar body size, and concludes that a sustainable human population is only about 7 million. I don’t see us ever stopping at that figure voluntarily (even if we are capable of making decisions of that nature). So, as I said before, I think we’re likely to be a short-lived species.

Rebecca said...

I hope this is an okay forum for a quick fan letter. I just found your blog through Root Simple, listened to several podcasts featuring you and checked Green Wizardry out of the library. Thank you for all your work. Green Wizardry is such a revelation for me - a baby of the 70's, kid of the 80's and worldview-formed-by-the-90s young adult. My parents had stacks of Mother Earth News in the basement, gardened extensively and built an exclusively solar greenhouse off the back of my dad's wood shop. Until the 80s-90s when, for some reason, all of that seemed out of style.

We're all members of a religious group that prides itself in questioning the status quo but there we were…just like everybody else. So thanks, again, for the reminder that I and mine are not immune to cultural persuasion. I plan to keep this in mind as my husband and I work at educating ourselves and our children in living within constraints.

Eric S. said...

"Since I will have no biological descendants, and I'm already used to people thinking of me as evil, crazy, or what have you, it's not particularly burdensome to me."

Well... Perhaps not, but you're still part of a lineage, and there are lots who feel quite differently. I know lots of people who will make sure you have a place right next to Isaac, Nuinn, and others on their ancestor altars someday if they're still alive to do so. I guess what makes it hard to think about that sort of legacy is reflecting on the fact that while our civilization produced much evil, and will leave behind even more... It also gave us Darwin, and Emmerson, and Thoreau, and, and so many other great scientists, philosophers, poets, and novelists (our musicians, painters, photographers and filmmakers will sadly fade, though some of the songs and stories may be passed down orally someday).

We worked to create a world where people looked beyond race or gender and into hearts. And the civil rights movement did yield some real achievements even if it didn't ever make it as far as it should in a perfect world. If you read the words carved on monuments that will one day be buried in mud, they stand testament to some high ideals. Too high, perhaps for the circles of Albred, but still worthy of admiration.

I just hope that the people of the future can remember the beauty as well as the ugliness. Just like we're able to appreciate the writings of Aurelius, Cicero, and Ptolemy while still criticizing the gladiatorial battles and the cultural genocide of much of Western Europe... Or still find beauty in the writings of St. Augustine, Dante Allighieri, or Thomas Aquinas without forgetting the burning of the temples and libraries or the crusades. I just hope they find a few things from our culture worth salvaging.

But perhaps you're right. Perhaps the legacy of our civilization will be best defined by that image I can't get rid of in my mind. The slot machines, buffets and brothels of Vegas fossizing in the desert sand while the words of Lincoln sink beneath the Potomac estuary to be forever lost.

Ellen said...


This is the bitter, bitter truth every person on earth now and in the future will have to live. This truth has been hot on our heels for decades.

I was born on a naval base during the Korean War and exposed to nuclear fallout from nuclear testing in the Western desert. Learned to "duck and cover" in 1950's Detroit public schools. Like that would save us from Russia warheads. Sprayed with DDT every summer in a vain attempt to kill the Dutch Elm Beetle. Result: elms trees died anyway and all the kids were contaminated. Victim of one of the largest agricultural accidents ever, along with the other 9 million residents of Michigan when the Hooker Chemical Company accidentally mixed a flame retardant, poly-brominated biphenol (cousin of PCB) into animal feed. The subsequent two year cover up by the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan State government and the Hooker Chemical Company allowed the poisoning to continue unabated. Only a few brave and persistent whistle-blowers were finally able to bring this crime to light.

My personal experience of this legacy? Hematologic cancer. I am not alone. 77,000 new cases a year of my same cancer which represents only 12% of the total of hematologic malignancies diagnosed every year in the USA.

The future is now. I do not believe that the human race will survive. The extinction process began with the dawn of the industrial age. I don't think we can evolve spiritually and intellectually fast enough to avert this. Greed, cupidity, stupidity, hatred, fear; these are driving the homo sapien bus over the evolutionary cliff.

Still, I feel anyone enlightened enough to realize what is coming needs to try in every way possible to salvage the best of homo sapien culture. There is so much hard-won knowledge and aesthetic worth saving. So I will try until I die and it seems like thousands, maybe millions of others will too. But I'm not under any illusion that we will succeed.

So weird, the evolving consciousness.

Stacey Armstrong said...

Do you have a cup of wry amusement to spare? When you start to see a particular way people have of moving through the is everywhere.

I was recently in the company of a number of retired folks talking about the deferral of their property taxes. The tax code here allows homeowners over a certain age to defer property taxes until their death or the sale of their primary residence. This rule was initially made to help older folks on lower fixed incomes remain in their homes without starving. This particular crowd is well fed, golfs and takes multiple trips a year. When I asked politely why they were doing it, the best answer they could come up with was a kind of glee at gaming the system..."because we can." It was a curious moment for me where time seemed to lengthen out. I often feel like I am an amateur ant amongst the frolicky grasshoppers. Microcosmic banality of evil! It is not only where is your dinner coming from? but also with whom are you dining? We do seem to be the enemy of long term thinking.

This embracing of deferral is still all around us, but as your last three posts on the coming dark ages suggest consequences cannot be endlessly deferred. In fact to my mind deferral as an accounting "strategy" manifested as a way of life looks magnitudes worse than bankruptcy.

I, too, am less worried about our attempts to control (and destroy) nature. My composting efforts this year have had crazy and amazing unintended consequences. Odd volunteer squashes, multitudes of bronze fennel, ladies mantel, pineapple weed, parsley, plum tomatoes, poppies, self-seeded comfrey and chard. I left a lot of it to grow and it has been such a great decision. I will flip the compost more frequently this year....but I am considering a separate compost bin for all seed stalks and a small patch dedicated to growing some of it out each year.

Thank you for the work that you do.

EnergyLens said...

@ben @kyoto
I always wondered whether the wisdom traditions of the indigenous peoples of north america came from the collapse of a previous civilizational project... Perhaps the mound builders.

My understanding is that mainstream evolutionary science has moved beyond embracing rational self interest to explain how organisms behave and evolve. As individuals are no longer seen as privileged units in the biological hierarchy of nature discoveries are being made that suggest evolutionary adaptations happen at many levels, such as groups, and thus the monastic life may very well be selected as part of a group's fitness.

Ray Wharton said...

I have never read Michael Moorcock, it must have transfers second hand from D&D 3.5. I am glad the mythological manner of the post managed to communicate. Some feelings are too intense to speak of is straight laced prose, a little whimsy makes speakable the unspeakable.

The concept of a Earth too weakened to provide for more than isolate refugia cultures is bleak indeed, especially as so much genetic diversity in general will undergo selecction. Recent set backs on one avenue of personal response makes vivid, a drop of failure can make many things taste bitter. The personal shame of being remembered as of the Wastrels is thus flavored (a social primate through and through oi!). Also, I can see tensions growing which are turning one group of my friends against another. I think that folks would do well to be less eager to make enemies of groups they do not comprehend.

I see that stories can make big differences, considering that the most painful thing at the moment is watching one troop I love demonize another beloved troop of friends. Fanticy stories have an important, to me, virtue in that for me it is about diverse and differently motivated characters drawn into fellowship by shared hardship.

Of course contemplating leads to imitating so there had darn well better be some good stories with some good heros doing heroic things that actually can be compared to what we regular folks can imitate. I recalled the pulp-nonfiction post from a while back, increasingly I think that spreading inspiring stories might out shine other more materialistic efforts.

Last night I grew so nostalgic for my gaming days... maybe the time to get a group together to roll the D20 through the bouncing rubble of a falling empire is upon me. (Double experience points if you did a gardening shift this week! Double loot if you volunteered at the Bike Co-op)

Hey you nerds! I know you are out there on this blog, I need advise. What gaming system might be a good setting for a campaign 'The Fall of Wasterel?'

Ed-M said...


At least McPherson only says we'll /probably/ go extinct by 2030, '40 or '50. His disciples, though! They think it's definite, a sure thing. All based on Sam Caranas and Malcom Light's hypotheses based on unscientific samples of n = 1, despite the fact that nearly all AGW trends are meeting or exceeding the IPCC's worst case scenarios.

@Zack (responding to your comment last post),

Stolen copper pipes, eh? Not surprised. What really got me steamed (but didn't surprise me either) is that I have found out since the State DOT didn't find this out until /after/ the event.

Plus, I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that the criminal elements who did this weren't of one skin color, either.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

Some thoughts on cancer rates.

Colon cancer is well understood and is the example. There are two main pathways to colon cancer. One requires six mutations, the other seven. Get 5 (or 6) and there may, or may not be, "precancerous cells", depending on the missing mutation.

Some people inherit one or (rarely) two of the mutations. For them, "cancer runs in the family".

If the odds of any one mutation are .01, the odds of getting cancer are .01^6 + .01^7 (all mutations assumed to be equally likely in this thought experiment).

Double the odds of cancer mutations to .02 and the rate of cancer increases by 2^6 for one type (64x) and 2^7 (128x) for the other type.

There are many ways that we have been increasing the rate of cancer mutations, but one has been treated as just another source of ionizing radiation, Carbon 14.

Our atmospheric atomic bomb tests spiked C14 in the biosphere

Unlike other radioactive sources, C14 can be part of the structure of DNA. This provides three potential sources of mutation.

C14 in or near DNA radiates a beta particle right in the midst of the DNA molecule. Another is that suddenly one of the links of DNA changes from carbon to nitrogen, breaking and altering bonds. And if a one in a trillion C14 atom is linked next to some C13 atoms (1%), the extra weight may affect replication or other aspects of biochemical activity (just speculative).

I wonder if elevated C14 is embedding more strains of inherited mutations for future generations.

C14 is just one in a trillion carbon atoms in the atmosphere, with a half life of about 5,240 years. but we have more than a trillion carbon atoms in our DNA (I never calculated).

However, I see the spike in C14 in the 1950s and wonder.

Joel Caris said...

Wow, this post is inspiring some fascinating responses.

I admit, I don't worry that much about being viewed as evil by future generations. That's not my preference, of course. But it's not my preference more because of the legacy it means we're leaving, rather than any personal offense. It's a fracking shame, the cruelty we're so thoughtlessly inflicting on future (and current) generations, human and otherwise.

But it doesn't bother me. Future generations will think what they think. It's only my concern insofar as I'm working to live my life well. I'm doing this. And I'm both succeeding and failing, but I do dare think--most of the time, anyway--that I'm succeeding a touch more than failing, at least within the context of our current culture and civilization.

This is all transitory. I think about my death semi-regularly. It's helpful. I think about how I live on a piece of property at the edge of a river valley, a few miles inland along the north Oregon coast. At some point, the next Cascadia subduction quake will hit and this property I live on will be swept by a tsunami. If it happens in my lifetime, there's an excellent chance I'm dead. If I get through the quake and manage to make it through the following tsunamis and afterquakes (I'm right at the edge of the river valley and could literally run up a hill and out of the tsunami zone within a couple minutes, if I have my wits about me and am not injured) well, then I might very well die in the aftermath, of starvation or disease or infection or . . . there are a number of ways.

Last Sunday night, I came within a few feet of being t-boned while driving along Highway 26. The driver didn't see me at all--I must assume--and was pulling right into me. Quick reflexes and a tight swerve was the only thing that kept me from a high-speed collision that may well have killed me. Relatedly, a couple years ago, I hit some black ice on the same highway, spun out of control, and swerved into the oncoming lanes of traffic. No traffic coming the other way. A bit of good luck to follow the bad and I, and my passenger, and our truckload of sheep walked away to tell the tale.

And if I get through all these various, unforeseen threats, I'll just die at some other point in the future, anyway.

I'm confident enough in my sense of being a good person that I believe most who know me will think well of me once I'm gone. Future generations almost certainly won't know of me. If I become part of a shadowy, past generation of evil, so be it. It's not personal. They didn't actually know me. If they did, maybe they wouldn't feel that way.

But also, maybe they would. If they knew my life in detail, maybe they would weigh all the good I did and still find it far lacking against all the evil I threw in with as part of this civilization.

You know what? That would be 100% fair. JMG, I love what you said to Ben: "Instead of coming up with justifications for the collective behavior that guarantees your privilege, I'd encourage you to face that reality, make it part of your consciousness, decide what you're going to do in response to it, and do it." That's exactly what I've spent the last five years doing, and it's what I continue to work on. I have to thank you in part for that--you've been a huge influence on my understanding and walking that path. But the way I see it, I'm far too implicated in the thoughtless, shortsighted, evil actions of our culture to get out of this clean. I believe I've participated in more pain and destruction and blind cruelty than I've given back in life and love, kindness and generosity. I'm working on those scales, but I'm doubtful I'll get them balanced before I go. Not in a viewpoint from outside the confines of this culture, anyway.

(continued . . .)

Joel Caris said...

(. . . continued)

I don't see the point of wringing my hands over it. I can't control it! I won't even know how it shakes out. (Well, I believe in reincarnation well enough to suspect I'll be there in some form or another, but that's something else.) Unless it helps me live better today, worrying about it seems a bit self-indulgent to me. There's too much to do now. I have a large organic garden that needs attention, always. I have so many more things I want to do on this property. I feed people. I feed animals. I feed bees and the local, native pollinators. They're everywhere--I'm astounded and heartened by them. I've barely begun here and already I've managed to create a refuge, a place mostly free of poisons, full of food. I plan to learn more, to better focus my efforts here over the coming years. I've just started.

I build community. I create connections among the local farmers and gardeners. Serve on the board of a nonprofit working the build the local food system. Am a member of the local grange, one of the few that made it through the 80s without shuttering their doors. I sell food, give away food, try to nourish the people and animals in my life. I still do so much wrong, too, and I fail, and I do less than I could and should, and I succumb to too many desires that do me wrong, that do my community wrong, that do the future wrong. But I try to recognize these failures, accept and acknowledge them, and use them as a driving force to continue to improve.

I believe without question that I'm a good person. But I still do bad things. I am complicit and, again, I can't get out of this clean. There's no possible way. And so, to continue to do as much good as I can, I have to accept that. It's only in understanding those failures and my own personal cruelties that I have any hope of doing as much good as possible.

I remember something else you wrote to me in a comment a year or two ago, JMG. You wrote of being able to hold two contradictory truths at the same time in your mind and to make your peace with them. That's not an exact quote, but I think close enough. That's stuck with me. That's some of the best advice, some of the best wisdom, I've ever received. It's incredibly powerful and useful. I'll be working with that truth the rest of my life.

I can be complicit in evil; be guilty of acts of cruelty; and I can be good and kind. I can be all this, oftentimes at once. And, to be honest, I think the only way I can be my best is to understand all of this, to hold these contradictions together in my mind in their always-tenuous balance. I believe the only way I can do the most good is to understand all the ways I can be terrible and to admit that I am, and then to also understand my good and work always to be more that than the other.

So let future generations think me evil. They won't be wrong. But they won't be completely right, either. And yet still, it doesn't matter; they have a right to their opinions. I can do nothing about it but be as good as I can be today, and, after everything my actions will be helping put them through, it would be just one more indulgent offense for me to tell them how to think of me. I'll leave future generations to sort out their own thoughts. I have too much to do today, and if I'm to have any impact on those future decisions, it's only going to come through all that necessary work, anyway.

Sky said...

"Oh my desert, yours is the death I cannot bear."
Requiem for Sonora - Richard Shelton
This is a beautiful poem that almost brings me to tears whenever I read it.
I've spent some memorable days walking in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness area near Tucson. Although I spent my first 18 years in Indiana, I lost my heart to the Sonora almost 25 years ago. I'm sad that I probably won't be burning the gas to get me there ever again.
Thanks for the quote from the Lament which I found in its entirety here.

melo said...

"There’s a bitter irony in the fact that cancer, a relatively rare disease a century and a half ago—most childhood cancers in particular were so rare that individual cases were written up in medical journals —has become the signature disease of industrial society, expanding its occurrence and death toll in lockstep with our mindless dumping of chemical toxins and radioactive waste into the environment. What, after all, is cancer? A disease of uncontrolled growth."

There's an astrological twist to the name Cancer. The sign symbolises the hearth and home, pregnancy, motherhood and lactation, in short all that makes us respectful, humbly nurturing and tender to our environment.

...All caring qualities conspicuously in absentia during our present Petroleum Age.

Disclaimer: Perhaps it's only my quirky sense of connections speaking, but the clue remains hidden in plain sight to my medium-addled perception, or perception-swaddled mediumship, take yer pick.

Fine, serious writing, Archdruid, soberly unaghast yet flecked with your usual dry-as-a-bone wit. The brightest light is found in the heart of darkness.

Proceed, prithee!

Mark Rice said...

I see you are a fan of sharks. I am a fan of the San Jose Sharks.

Sorry. I could not resist.

melo said...

@ jbucks

I ponder many of the same issues regarding art, specifically music, and these are my conclusions:

As the I-gizmos turn inert, there will remain amongst survivors the perennial desire to celebrate that survival through song, play and dance. Look at any documentary on african tribes living distinctly pre-industrial lives and even if they have hardly a few grams of corn to eat and the most rudimentary of shelter, they will all conga-shuffle around the fire chanting.

Your electronica will likely have become inert by then, and as for pianos...

They could survive quite well I hope, being the possessor of one who likes to indulge in creative musings thereupon. My theory is when all that's left are hide drums and bone flutes the piano will have a curio value which will make many undertake significant journeys to hear such a pre-electronic wonder of the musical past. This will naturally depend on your ability to maintain and tune it, or how stable your climactic conditions are with their effects on the instrument's ability to hold being in tune. If one's playing is sufficiently adept that will help persuade the more ruffian amongst your visitors to abstain from chopping it up for heating.

Best bet is a more portable instrument that's easier to tune, fiddles, guitars, mandolins, cellos, flutes, percussion, as they can provide much avenue for musicality. Also the ability to lead others in song may well be a highly regarded social skill.

If you can make people forget their troubles a while and dance, you will probably eat.

Spreading my eggs, I undertook the serious study of the art of massage, since you did mention Art, though perhaps it's not what you had in mind!

Taking advantage of cheap travel I studied in Thailand, India, California, Hawaii, Switzerland and Italy and was able to amass a grab bag of techniques to practice these last 20 years.

In a future age with no cheap and easy to find pharmaceuticals, this art will become prominent again as prohylactic and cure, I have no doubt of that. There is an amazing amount of human pain that can be assuaged through skilled therapeutic touch, indeed it rivals herbalism for its venerable role in healing history. (Another highly useful skill to study, imo).
I now study gardening, small-farming, animals and geopolitics with the same passion I once reserved for music and massage.

In the future scenarios so vividly painted here at the ADR, Music, Massage and compost science are the three legs of the future stool I hope to sit on, secure in my contributions to the tribe's well-being as anyone can fairly expect to be.

If you can enter light trance while playing or singing that is a bonus as with the new realities transcendence will need all the help it can get, without the plethora of distractions modernity offers as techno-escapism, the ability to rise above suffering through whatever means possible will remain high on the human priority list, right after food and shelter is my bet.

The coming wave of change is so immense I have no illusions any of this will be any use, but it sure beats paralysis, combining as it does the best of the Platonic, Stoic and Epicurean.

Oh and last but not least, learning how to cook well could raise your value to the tribe a notch or three... ;)

Castus said...


I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction where to find Seton's poem. Inquiries I've made on the internet by searching the words themselves and the name quoted aren't turning up anything for me.


Shane Wilson said...

Is this the post where we get to ask what becomes of all that plastic we've generated? My guess is that being a hydrocarbon, most of what can be salvaged by our descendants will be burned as fuel. My hope is that rocket stoves will maximize combustion/oxidation and minimize pollution. I guess what's in the ocean's garbage patches disintegrates and sinks to become fuel for the next round of crude oil. I'm guessing that most plastics in their useful forms have a pretty short shelf life before they began depolymerizing or otherwise becoming useless, which is why I'm betting on combustion by descendants as the most likely outcome

goedeck said...

I have noticed retail fertilizers often have no or a very small proportion of phosphate; the N-P-K designation will often have P at 0. I saw a bag that had a statement in the labeling implying the low phosphate was to save waterways from nutrient pollution, but I suspect it is a cost-saver. Peak phosphate?

Redneck Girl said...

@ melo, Its clear you aren't a fan of old time country music, think dobro guitar, mandolin and hammered dulcimer. I used to have a dulcimer but lost it to family spite along with my dad's guitar. I still have my dad's collection of five harmonicas ranging from one an inch and a half long, three, four inches long and one almost seven inches long. Plus my family sang, my poor dad couldn't sing but my mother and I had good voices in the alto range. I've had several people tell me I should sing publicly. I sing to my animals, the horses like it and the goats like anything I do even if its just talking to them. My mother passed family songs from my grand father to me. Our version of The Demon Lover is sung in such a way as it needs to be played in chords, not a tune really.

Hopefully I'll have some property before next year and I'll be singing a lot while I work to set up my own little homestead.


Ben Iscatus said...

Joel Caris, thanks for your heartfelt post. If only there were more people like you.

Have you given up the quadbike and the tractor yet? ;-)

Herr Doktor said...

Second round:

Third point, regarding topsoil loss: at one point, North Africa (not only Egipt, also Cyrenaica, Mauretania, etc.) was the breadbasket and jewel of the crown of the Roman Empire. The Greek classic travelers reported that the entire region was densely forested. Now? Almost all is desert... With history as a guide I have not so much hope on the future of my home region, that nowadays is the "vegetable basket" of Europe.

And now regarding the "short, brutish, etc." Hobbes myth, I would like to point out an interesting article of a Spanish scholar about the "Myth of Progress" (I don't know if Google Translator would do a decent job on this, but is well worth trying):
In the above essay is a link to this article:
that shows that the modal age of death in modern day hunter gatherer societies is close to or even above 70 years. That means, if you are able to get through the critical infancy years and into adulthood, you will probably live as long as the present Western standards. Of course, this life quality of hunter gatherers is way higher than the miserable, brutish 35 years of expected life that the workers of the "advanced" and "illuminated" days of the Industrial Revolution would enjoy. Funny things happen when you get some facts together...
Finally, on the topic of "civilization diseases", this gentleman has another essay that partly focuses on the topic of new paradigms in biology:
that shows a very interesting chart:
There you can see a strong inverse correlation between the prevalence of infective vs autoimmune diseases. Indeed, when the human immune system has no external enemy to fight against, it tends to "go rogue" and attack the host. Who could have thought about this???

And last but not least and actually a bit late: Mr Greer, what do you think about inferring future climate trends from the Eemian interglacial warm optimum? AFAIK, there was also a huge temperature spike around 130.000 years ago with the highest temperatures around 2-3°C higher than today. Any thoughts about this?

Andrew said...

"I can all too easily imagine fuel rods being hauled out of their pools by condemned criminals or political prisoners"

Sadly, there is no need to imagine, Mr Greer: Nuclear slaves discovered at Fukushima and
Yakuza gangsters forcing homeless people to work on the Fukushima nuclear plant

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Been there, done that. It is really hard to find a patch of wild blackberries around these parts that haven't been sprayed. I pick them for fresh eating and jam (YUM!).

The crazy thing is, the plants simply recover and I end up footing the bill for the local government. Meanwhile the dead canes provide ample fuel for a forest fire. Nothing says short term thinking like spraying blackberries.

Hi Janet,

Black, loamy soil is a direct result of the breakdown of serious amounts of organic matter over a long period of time. It is good stuff, I should know as it is what I get after dumping many cubic metres (cubic yards) of organic matter over the clay here for many years. If what you are seeing is brown (not dark brown, but about mid brown) or an orange/brown then you should be very worried indeed. What you perhaps are looking at is clay. You can grow stuff in it, but I recommend experimenting to see what grows in it without the application of NPK. Give it a go, I dare you.

Hi Cathy,

This week has seen many references to your slugs. You are definitely short on Kookaburra's which have an enormous beak and would only be too happy to assist with any slug problem. All of the birds here clean up pests. You should have seen how happy they were the day the locust plague hit here!

In a funny parallel to your slugs except that it is Down Under: the Portuguese millipede entered the country in the 1950's into - I believe - the Port of Adelaide in South Australia. From there, they have worked across the continent to this location almost 60+ years later. No small feat for something that is only 5cm (about 1/5th of an inch). Here, they hide under logs, happily converting that organic matter into a nice black moist soil. However, it has only been in relatively recent times that a native nematode adapted to feast upon the Portuguese millipede thus taking revenge on the little imported critters. Now they are simply a part of the balance in the local ecosystem.

There is a lesson in there for humans, should we care to hear it.

PS: Collect the slugs in a bucket, drown them. Leave for a week until it smells foul. Use it as a plant tonic (watering it down first. Ratio 10:1). They eat plants, therefore they are plant food.



Anselmo said...

Thanks to your permission for to translate your post, I've posted the translation of this post at:

Your post has received praises from Spanish readers, but also a complaint, which I think is founded:

It is incorrect to use the term "America" or "North America" to refering to the USA. This can be interpreted as a disregard for the hundreds of millions of Americans, or north americans who do not live in USA.

nuku said...

@Melo Re music and pianos: I built replica harpsichords for 14 years back in the 70’s-80’s. The technology is much simpler than modern pianos. Pre-industrial revolution tools and processes, materials: wood, bone, leather, bird quills, hide glue, copper, brass, low-carbon steel, shellac. Modern pianos need special complex thin high-strength iron castings to deal with the 10-20 tons of total string tension; on harpsichords its only about 5-7,000 lbs., so the construction is all wood. It can all be done with hand tools and apprentice power. Ditto for all small string instruments like violins, guitars, etc.
Unless there is some religious puritanical anti-fun prohibition against it, I think music and dance will always be part of human culture.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

JMG wrote:

"Alan, if that's the choice that works for you, go ye forthwith and do that thing."

And I have, on a variety of fronts.

I can only assign to Divine Providence how I developed some contacts with powerful people I developed. Other contacts were more willfully developed. So far, I have been able to present my message, but no positive response, yet.

On another front, I will be keynote speaker on an AREMA (railroad engineering society) conference on railroad electricification on Feb 4, 2015 in DC. Another one in a string of efforts there.

The idea of using some of the $2 trillion in unrepatriated funds to fund oil free transportation came from me. But the Rs are suggesting a mis-use of that to fund highways. Enough $ there to make a real difference.

Plus developing detailed plans on how to transition our transportation quickly (as in two decades) away from oil.

Best Hopes,


Brian Weber said...

I know I'm being contrary, but I'm not as sure as everyone else that our time will be reviled in the future. There is historical precedent for both views, I suppose, but in the west our two recent dark ages (eastern Mediterranean, c 1200BC-600BC and the medieval, c 450AD-1050AD) saw complex views of their past, but nevertheless saw a prior golden age. Yes, Christendom saw terrific evil in ancient Rome, but starting with Charlemagne (or earlier, maybe Odoacer!) all attempts were actually to re-create Rome in facsimile. A man named "Caesar" continuously ruled one European domain or another from ~49BC (crossing of the Rubicon) until 1918 (deposition of the Kaiser).

It's obviously speculation, but I think it's possible that the environmental destruction that we clearly see we are responsible for, our progeny might not see so clearly. Possibly they'll see chaotic climate as normal, or more likely they'll think the gods created it as punishment for our pride, to lay us low (and so, children, behave! do what's right! and the wrathful gods may pass you over). People in the future may hate our evil, but may worship our power, as Christian Europe worshiped Roman power while nominally hating the mores than nurtured it. Especially if nature becomes a more destructive force, it is possible they may think our great mistake was not wrecking the environment, but loosing control of it.

As I said this is speculation, but this *kind* of view has clear historical precedent.

Now I think TADR is the most intelligent, clear-minded discussion of our post-industrial future we have, and I have tremendous admiration for Mr. Greer's amazing scholarship and wisdom. But I have some disagreements, and my big one is his views on the new religious sensibility he senses. Frankly I think a feeling that nature is home is easy for people living a time where nature has been made safe, and hard when your children risk being eaten by stalk-and-ambush predators, and there's nothing you can do about the abscessed tooth in your mouth. In the future, they may actually admire our control of the forces they have no control over.

(Yes, I know the common view here is that they'll hate us because we unleashed those forces---my contrary view is that they, like everyone else, will see the world around them simply as a given. In any case will likely have lost the sophistication to understand man-made climate change.)

Phil Espin said...

Will our descendants blame us? I've just finished reading "A Message from Martha" by Mark Avery about the extinction of possibly the most abundant bird that ever lived. The Passenger Pigeon, a former signature species of the eastern north american deciduous forests. The book catalogues much of what is known about the bird and why it disappeared. The last one died in Cincinatti zoo 100 years ago on 1 September. The main reason for its disappearance was the clearance by european invaders of the forests and the oak, beech and chestnut mast it relied on. The author visited the Ohio/Wisconsin?Michingan area last year and was interested to find there is very little local memory of the bird or what it represented.

The point is people get on with living the best way they can and once something passes out of living memory, popular culture frequently forgets the detail. As JMG indicates, our descendents will be living much shorter and harsher lives than we do. More likely to be living in the moment than the past.

Message from Martha also has some interesting ideas about how the US can still pull some of its environmental irons out of the fire, but lets face it our culture has learned nothing about living in harmony with the environment and is unlikely too at this late hour.

peacegarden said...

@ Joel Caris

I was thinking along the same lines today…some way to thank the Archdruid for all the ways of thinking differently and in particular:

“…being able to hold two contradictory truths at the same time in your mind and to make your peace with them. That's not an exact quote, but I think close enough. That's stuck with me. That's some of the best advice, some of the best wisdom, I've ever received. It's incredibly powerful and useful. I'll be working with that truth the rest of my life.”

Amen, exactly! I come here to challenge myself, to find a way to stay on the path, and if I misstep, a way to get right back on that path without all the self-loathing recriminations…just look on mistakes as part of life and go forward.
Between JMG and this commentariat, I am inspired and often taken aback, as I see reflected in this blog a reflection of some things that could use a rethinking, a redoing, a study and further reading. But most of all, honesty.

Thank you JMG for that.


Tony said...

I'm not so sure that the societies of the distant future will necessarily think of us as evil, if they think about us much at all. I mean, the current inhabitants of the desertified segments of the middle east don't exactly go around cursing the names of the string of civilizations that turned their part of the world from forest to desert long ago. Its just another lost, ancient world.

Anthony Romano said...

I've thought about what this coming decline means for deforestation. If shipping costs become high enough then the bottom will fall out on trade of tropical woods.

In a sense, the rainforests has been subsidizing the reforestation of the eastern United States. Those forests (that remain) have recovered quite well from the battering we gave them over the past few centuries. I do worry over whether or not they will survive the future dark age.

From a global perspective, this is probably a good thing. The extinctions caused by a second round of devastation to the Eastern/Western forests of the U.S. will likely pale in comparison to the extinctions we are causing in the tropics.

Who knows, if this collapse happens ahead of schedule then Orangutans might actually make it to the next century.

Myriad said...

When I lived in a place with rights of access to a thousand feet of un-distinctive bay front near an active industrial harbor, I collected plastic and other flotsam from the strand, at first once in a while but gradually building up to several times a week. Do I think that did the world ocean any good? No. Did it do the strand any good? No. I'm sure the next offshore breeze after I left brought a new batch as it always did.

It seemed to do the community good, though. And just maybe, helped the fish fry that teemed in the marsh land there.

I can't restore the Grand Banks but I could help protect those fish fry. When the slick from an oil spill came near, my wife and I got snare boom placed across the marsh inlet. It took 36 straight hours of frantic telephoning, research, visiting government offices and environmental organizations, and attending meetings to get that done. It turned out that none of the officials had known where the inlet was. Being recognized as "the guy who always collects trash there" gave me just enough standing to tell them. (But after that, we bought our own supply of snare boom and kept it in our house for next time.)

That's one of the reasons I'm willing to risk living in that area. The way the experienced gardeners who comment here feel about the life in their nurtured plots of soil, I felt about the life in that homely smelly-at-low-tide bit of salt marsh.

That particular marsh will be gone when the sea rises, if not sooner by some other calamity. That's acceptable. It's the flows of life that pass through it that matter. It's about giving those threads, that fabric, enough safe harbors to endure along the way.

What can we protect, at what cost? Efforts to preserve certain charismatic megafauna in some parts of the world have required no less than open warfare, and their long-term success is very much in doubt. What can be done and what will it take? I look forward to discussion of available positive measures for making things better in the future, in future ADRs,

Myriad said...

In the meantime, closer to where I am now, it was announced this week that the newly built Revel hotel-casino complex on the boardwalk waterfront in Atlantic City is about to close. It couldn't pay for itself as a casino, which basically means it can't pay for itself by any known means. The future of the lavish six-million-square-foot glass edifice, between its short term destiny as a tax write-off and its long-term one as a navigation hazard, is a mystery. What else are 1,400 bedrooms in a 57-story tower above acres of open floors good for? I can almost imagine an extremely large monastic community for whom walking up and down stairs is part of their daily devotions, but that's unrealistic fantasy. Perhaps slightly more realistic is the prospect of diminishing long-distance travel opportunities at some point making Atlantic City again a viable short-distance resort for residents of Philadelphia and New York. But even if those tourists arrive before the ocean does, the economics of that scenario won't support glass skyscrapers.

This reminds me of two things. One, the obvious, is these famous lines from The Tempest, which make me wonder if the namers of the complex were already aware, on some level, of the "baseless fabric" upon which it was built:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples.., shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

The second is, being a lifelong board game hobbyist, any matter involving hotels and boardwalks and Atlantic City is bound to remind me of the modern classic Monopoly. The narratives embedded in that game have been frequently criticized (e.g. by Marxists) but that criticism has barely scratched the surface. Besides Monopoly, there are thousands of other building-up games with similar narratives: Civilization, every Catan variant, every 18XX railroad game, etc.

I can't think of any games where you start with hotels (or cities, castles, etc.) and unbuild your way down to houses and then nothing. (War games like chess are closer to that, but not really comparable.)

If the ruinmen dig up my game closet someday, they'll no doubt find most of those games unsettling at best. So, I've started on an unbuilding board game for my next homebrew, though I suspect most people today will find it unsettling at best.

Dennis D said...

Hi all, I posted my previous as a counter to the "we're all gonna die" tone of some of the other posters. I live in Alberta, and when you look at the area that the tar sands occur, it looks huge, but that is not the area actually affected. The actual developed area would fit in the suburbs of New Jersey, and the actual toxic areas are a fraction of the superfund sites in the states. If power was removed from the giant pumps, those open pit mines would quickly become lakes, and nature would start reclaiming those areas mostly suffering due to the top soil being moved.Yes, there is damage, and the area will not be the same as it was before, but nature will swamp the works of man, and what is left will be like Mayan ruins covered in jungle within a couple of hundred years.

Eric S. said...

And after much meditation and divination the first planning meeting for my grove's next high rite has decided that we're going to be focusing on legacy. It looks like this theme isn't going to be letting me go for a while. Honoring the legacy of the past and fostering the legacy of the future has always been a big part of Druidry as I've practiced it, and it looks like Alban Elfed for me this year is going to involve a lot of deep meditations and magical work redefining just what that means to me. Thinking of legacy in terms that reach outside of human memory.

Avery said...

@goedeck: Phosphates were removed from laundry detergent because of possible harmful environmental effects. I can imagine that fertilizer manufacturers want to avoid future lawsuits for massive environmental damage. Of course, artificial fertilizer already does long term damage, but...

Janet D said...

@stream: I read several of the articles on the High Plains Public Radio site. My eyes were the size of dinner plates by the time I finished. I knew things were bad, but not that bad. I can't believe the western KS voters said no to the water conservation program. If I ever need motivation to continue working on green wizardry skills, I'll just visit this page. Eee gads.

Bruno Bolzon said...

@Herr Doktor, in a hunter-gatherer society, if you get an appendicitis, you will die. No question about that: it will rupture, you will get a sepsis, and you will die. In a modern industrial setting, you go to a hospital, get surgery, and in one week at most you will be back in your regular functions, as if nothing happened. That is why the average lifespan in pre-industral societies was only 35 years: not only because of infant mortality, but also because adult mortality due to diseases we have conquered today.
I will concede, though, one of your points, which is the fact that, *if nothing happens*, people in pre-industrial settings do mange to go well into their seventies, or eighties, or even beyond that. All the problem in your argument resides in that "if nothing happens": modern medicine has not managed to solve death, only certain conditions that, left untreated, certainly will lead to it.

latefall said...

re topic:
I'm still chewing on the evil part. It hurts me pretty bad. Though it is something I knew a long while ago, on some level, even if I used slightly different words.
I remember to ever so slightly answer back to a (sympathetic) superior of mine, when he made a semi-serious offhand "what is your generation coming to..." comment. He was a compromised green who had family but voluntarily scaled down / "did not live up to his potential". It was only a 2-5 second encounter in one of the temples of progress, but I won't forget that rift in the matrix. I think it was quite haunting for both of us. Of course that wasn't the first time - but maybe most memorable because I wasn't shouted down or thinking to myself.

@Ray Wharton: "Ars Magica" 4th edition can be downloaded from MIT. Very capable storytelling framework in my experience, and dovetails very nicely with Spengler et al. I would say (seasons, to say the least). Should be possible to adapt to play while picking berries, carrying water, or going to market after the loud traffic dies down enough...

re spent nuclear fuel/select chemical waste

When I think about dark ages I see highly trained light cavalry making long range raids to economical/logical competitors and dumping that stuff in their water sources. It is after all a fairly potent weapon once your thinking shifts to longer time frames.

I sometimes think it is time to read the terms of surrenders a little more loudly to energy intensive industrial society.

There are sooo many instances of unfixable failure of critical aspects of the system I am thinking it would be a section Varun could put in his newspaper under the tag "the fat lady is singing" or somesuch.
I also like the idea of a "illustrated history of peaks".

On a similar note:
Someone turned off the reactor in Doel, for quite some time it seems.

Shane Wilson said...

@ anselmo
JMG is referring to an all encompassing North America in his posts, he mentioned Mexico and Canada. We've discussed how the U.S. isn't long for this world, and particularly how the southern border is liable to change in the future.
Related to the plastic question, what becomes of our landfills in the far future? My guess is that our descendants discover them and plumb them for salvage, much the way poor people in third world countries scavenge dumps. What do you think will happen to them? What will they find? What will they think of disposable diapers with preserved feces? If anything gives us a bad name, it will be our landfills, our waste on display.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
Just a very technical footnote on cancers – see link.

Of course smoking is a very bad idea and exposure to asbestos fibres was a widespread tragedy, and personally there are some molecules mostly derived from petrochemicals that I would not wish to pass even once through my bladder! But rates for other common cancers have varied enormously world-wide. It seems we all carry enormous numbers of mutations and there is no shortage of occult tumours, but what has varied is the expression of the dangerous forms. (Holly et al comparisons are not confined to Japan, but that country provides pretty good data. And it is not a matter of eating a lot of sea-foods to achieve protection from common cancers!)

Epithelial cancers in the post-genomic era: should we reconsider our lifestyle?
Holly, Zeng & Perks (2013)
"Protection was afforded by the Japanese lifestyle as in the 1950s: [and the] protection was due to lifestyle and not genes … When compared with the USA mortality from breast cancer was 92 % lower, from prostate cancer 86 % lower and from colorectal cancer 78 % lower in men and 81 % lower in women [144]. With such a large potential to reduce the burden of cancer throughout the developed world, it is remarkable that research in this area has received relatively so little emphasis." …

Phil H

Andrew said...

@ Bruno: why is it that treatment of appendicitis always comes up as the hallmark achievement of modern medicine? In fact, there are many treatment options for appendicitis that are well in range of hunter-gatherers. I have personally seen traditional healers treat appendicitis with succes, using strong forms of massage, heat and needles.
Yes, I'm aware that the diagnosis of appendicitis can be difficult, even in a modern hospital, but some of these patients had all the signs, including Mc Burney's, etc., they would have had apendectomy in the West without a doubt.
I do not have quantitive data, so I assume that the mortality connected with these forms of treatment is indeed higher than those in modern hospitals, but with those facilities often having managment that is more interested in making money than in serving the patients, I'm not even sure of that.

steve pearson said...

Hi Chris, et al, On the subject of blackberries: I am now living in a small village in northern California. We are at present having our annual blackberry festival. It is the main event of the year. There is music & dancing & booths & a classic car show, etc.Of course there are blackberry pies & jams & syrups & slushies. Perhaps the best way to keep people from spraying them is to create a festival around them.Its great fun; the whole valley turns out for it.

steve pearson said...

Just thought after posting about the blackberries: maybe this is a good example of epicurean philosophy. We may all die from the drought, but at least we won't die without having had a blackberry festival

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

Since we are talking about the "what to do" quandary, I'd like to share my experience reading the Enchiridion after your recommendation (for those interested, it's available in the Gutemberg Project).

It's amusing to me, looking at people despair or avert their eyes when they peer at the past. How can you not find solace in the fact that people centuries or milennia ago had problems and limitations so similar to our own?

If I may quote Epictetus:

"You have received the philosophic principles with which you ought to be conversant; and you have been conversant with them. For what other master, then, do you wait as an excuse for this delay in self-reformation? You are no longer a boy but a grown man. If, therefore, you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, purpose to purpose, and fix day after day in which you will attend to yourself, you will insensibly continue to accomplish nothing and, living and dying, remain of vulgar mind."

Change is hard. Looking at yourself and realising that most of our insatisfactions are rooted in our own decisions, conscious or not, is hard. We procrastinate, yes. We find reasons not do do something we said we would, yes. Finding this on the writings of a Roman philosopher is a blessing to me, seeing my difficulties as those of so many of us, even those long gone, gives me courage. They felt and did much the same, and many good things were done. Maybe I'll be able to do some of them, and leave something of value to my daughter and beyond.


Cathy McGuire said...

@Joel Caris: Very well said! I hope you wander over to the newly-revamped Green Wizard site ( and volunteer some similar thoughts in a posting... there are lots of categories. ;-) And since I'm just two hours from you, one of these days I'm gonna wangle an invitation to come down and see what-all you're doing. It sounds very cool! Maybe August (who also posts here) and I can carpool over.

Also, couldn't resist - on the topic of music after the downslide - this guy does amazing low-tech music that sounds electronic:

Cathy McGuire said...

@Cherokee: This week has seen many references to your slugs. You are definitely short on Kookaburra's which have an enormous beak and would only be too happy to assist with any slug problem. All of the birds here clean up pests. You should have seen how happy they were the day the locust plague hit here!
I would love to have a Kookaburra or two! I still remember the old Kookaburra "round" song from Girl Scouts! ;-) And thanks for the hint on fertilizer - I use any recycled stuff that I can - and when something has fertilizer potential, it stops being a pest or weed and becomes a "free resource"! :-)
And thanks for your blog - it's very good reading.

Cathy McGuire said...

Drat! I think I gave the wrong link - it's
the YouTube title is:
Pipe Guy - House/Trance/Techno Live
Not my style of music, but what potential!

Don Hynes said...

Gates of Hell

The gates of hell are within sight,
filigreed and artfully crafted
with welcome home in curving letters;
away from the main drive
rolls of barbed wire keep out the riffraff
thinking they have a place here,
trying to sneak across the armed borders
to grab their share of privilege
which cannot be allowed;
no, strangers must be kept
from the homeland,
its hallowed place
and eternal glow
for those who worked hard,
kept the engine turning,
maintained tradition
for all the deserving
who proudly enter trumpeting
their many accomplishments,
leaving behind the wilderness
of earth and sea and primitive desire
to attain the pure white peace of hell
and comfort of its fire.

Dwig said...

This is more relevant to last week's topic than this one, but it might be good input to the task of estimating the future:
Greenland will be far greater contributor to sea rise than expected.

(Note that they're applying the model to Antarctica as well -- stay tuned for further developments...)

Shane Wilson said...

I must admit I do see a paradox on cancer that strongly suggests cumulative effects of industrial pollution. Increasing rates of lung cancer coupled with plummeting rates of smoking. All time highs for melanoma and other skin cancers, even among darker skinned peoples even though fewer people tan and tan as darkly as they did 30 years ago. Lifestyle choices don't account for the differences....

CE said...

I realize I'm posting late, but for those who are wondering what they can do now to help, you could plant milkweed and wildflowers. The monarch butterfly makes an annual round-trip migration. From Mexico, three successive relatively short-lived generations make the trip north, and then in the fall a longer-lived "supergeneration" is born that makes the long journey back down to Mexico for the winter.

I recently read that we are in danger of losing the butterfly migration due to habitat loss, climate chaos, and lack of food. The food piece is a thing we can do something about; the milkweed plant is the only food Monarch larvae - that is, caterpillars - can eat. Adult monarchs sup on the nectar of a variety of wild flowers.

Anyway, I just ordered some milkweed seeds to plant in the backyard, and I'll be planting flowers, too. Anybody else who wants to help is encouraged to take a similar step.

onething said...

Bruno and Her Doktor,

It has always irritated me when people speak of an average lifespan in the old days as 35 years, as if people reached 35 and dropped dead. Remember, if you have two people, and one dies in infancy, and one dies at 70, the average lifespan is 35 years, but in reality both of those lives were not at all like that.

onething said...

Around here we've got the molasses festival and the black walnut festival. What molasses means is growing sweet sorghum, and making a molasses syrup from it. It looks like corn and you run the stalks through a press. The taste is excellent.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I work at a hospital, and I've double checked the "apocalyptic" predictions of the "fringe": a young pharmacist told me it's true there are no new antibiotics coming out since he started working. Kidney disease is rising rampantly, and a lot of people I see are "walking dead" who have enough health problems to kill an army. On the bright side, spotted wintergreen may be a good substitute for Lasix when drugs are no longer available for a hefty price; many of my patients on hospice say it doesn't work anyway, and their bellies just get bigger every week I see them. It might be a good idea for those with health problems to simply start researching alternatives they can test on themselves; then, even if they can't stop the inevitable, they can pass on what might work and steer other, younger, healthier people away from dead ends. But that would require a quite different ethos than the prevailing one urged on us by the TV ads.

Nastarana said...

Don Hynes, I thought I knew all Cavafy's poems, but I had not read that one. It is by C.P. Cavafy, right, or someone profoundly influenced by him?

I don't know if future generations will think of us as demons in human form, but it is surely beyond doubt that in future centuries, capitalism, especially late stage finance capitalism, will be as hated and feared as feudalism is today.

Agent Provocateur said...


This is a reworked version of a comment I submitted last night. If you deleted it for a reason; its your forum, you can do as you like. If it just unintentionally vanished into the land of unpaired socks, perhaps you will allow this through. If it later appears as a duplicate post. Sorry. I think this is the better version. Feel free to delete the first one.

Ben and JMG

I recall making a comment some time ago along the lines of human nature being responsible for each civilization tending to trash its habitat. JMG, your response to me was much the same as your response to Ben. I understand your concern that such thinking can be used as an excuse for inaction. This has not been the case in my life and Ben's subsequent comments suggests it has not been in his (harvesting potatoes and onions etc.). Nonetheless the concern is legitimate.

I think an exact analogy is found in statistics. We can have a great deal of certainty about how large numbers of thing will behave. We can often say that some types of behaviour are deterministic at the level of very large numbers. At the same time we can often not be able to say anything of certainty about how each specific thing in that group will behave. Say the USA lowers its speed limit by 5 mph. We can know just how many thousands of lives will be saved each year. Yet we can say absolutely nothing about how this might affect the life of a particular resident of the USA.

Similarly, we can say with some certainty how the next few decades and centuries will unfold for industrial civilization and for the environment. Our certainty about the grand sweep of how our civilization and environment will decline comes from a variety of types of analysis: morphological, systems, thermodynamic, biological, etc. They all tell much the same story. At the same time we cannot say with very much certainty how this unfolding will affect specific human lives at specific places. The smaller our sample, the less the certainty. The larger the sample, the greater the certainty.

To recognize that the trajectory of civilization as a whole is largely predetermined could be conceived as an excuse to do nothing. Hence your words of caution, JMG, in this regard. I suspect invoking human nature, thermodynamics, or anything else only deepens your suspicion/concern.

If someone (not me, nor you Ben, nor you JMG), were to use this as an excuse for personal inaction, they would be making a category error. More specifically, it would be an error in terms of levels of reality. What applies to large groups does not apply to the individual or small group.

Still, the individual does not have full freedom. The trajectory of our civilization and environment places very real bounds on our freedom to act and respond to our individual situations. Nonetheless, within those bounds, there is some freedom for individuals and small groups. There is very little freedom at the highest level of grouping because of the momentum of actions made generations ago. The effects of these actions must play themselves out.

Far from being an excuse for inaction, knowing the trajectory of our society and its environment provides incentive to act to mitigate the negative effects, at least for yourself and those you know and love. If you are attentive to the distant roar of rapids, you can move across the current (not against it) to avoid them even if statistically most people won't. Still, declaring that the trajectory is largely determined can be dangerous because confusing levels of reality is an easy mistake to make. Again, your caution, JMG, is well founded.

Though this is a subtle point, and a dangerous one, I think it is one worth exploring.

Joel Caris said...

Hi Ben,

An excellent question! Even if asked partly in pointed jest.

Here at the homestead, I mostly work my garden by hand. However, I did utilize a Kubota tractor with a rototiller attachment to break ground for the garden plot. The tractor is owned by the farming couple I work for and from whom I'm renting my homestead. I borrowed it for an afternoon to till up a big chunk of the clay-ridden pony pasture within which I wanted to put my large garden plot.

I actually don't much care for tractors. I'm not a fan of engines in general. They lack elegance. But I will not deny the convenience of a tractor and a couple gallons of diesel. Up to that point, I had hand dug a couple small beds to get in some of my onion starts and . . . well, it's a long process when you're starting from sod. I'd done it in the past, so I knew what I was getting into. Still, I couldn't help but eye the hundreds of onion starts I had and panic a bit.

So when the tractor came available, I took advantage of it. I broke through the sod. After that, I went back to hand tools: I lined out each bed with bailing twine from next door and some old wooden stakes I found in the barn on the property, dug each bed with my digging fork, and worked in a complete organic fertilizer mix with my three tooth cultivator. I did compromise a bit with the tractor, but I feel okay about it. I'm now swimming in veggies--quite a bit more, I'm certain, than if I hadn't burned a gallon or two of diesel. And now I'm cooking a dinner of broccoli, romanesco, onion, carrot, squash, kale and chard (all out of the garden) along with some smoked salmon (traded for at the market with veggies and homemade yogurt) over quinoa (bought at the store--but I do currently have five foot tall quinoa plants out in the garden that I'm hoping to get grain from!) All in all, I suspect the gallon or two of diesel I burnt has ultimately led to yet more diesel unburnt.

Now, at work I do use a tractor regularly, though not constantly. It's part of the farm set up, and is what it is. When I have the opportunity to opt for hand labor over mechanical, I do. And the couple I work for, fantastic as they are, support that. In fact, it was Lance who pulled down an old scythe of his grandfater's, sharpened it up, and sent me out into the field to mow the fencelines with it instead of a weed whacker. This was after I had mentioned a couple times my draw toward the idea of using a scythe and my love of the passage in Anna Karenina of Lenin using a scythe to cut grain alongside the muzhiks on his farm.

As for the car, that's my greatest current failure. I drive my own car anywhere from 400 to 700 miles a month. (I also drive to markets for my other farm job, but that, too, is what it is.) I've certainly considered giving up my car. With my current situation, living in a rural area, the biggest impediment would be the resultant twice-a-week, 24 mile round trip bike ride along a curvy rural highway largely lacking in shoulders and traversed by logging trucks. It doesn't appeal to me. I could conceivably do it, though.

For the time being, I keep my car and work on cutting back on my driving. But, yes, this is a failure. It's interesting, though--my current car is a major capital investment. If something happens to it, I would have some tough decisions to make. I live relatively poor. I have managed to sock away a bit of money over the last couple years after having paid off all my debt. It's enough to buy a used car if I had to. But I would despise spending it on that when I could be spending it on hand tools, seed, a drip irrigation system, fencing to keep deer out of the garden, a solar oven, a solar batch water heater, or a number of other useful things. So, faced with that decision, what would I do? I honestly don't know. But it's a decision I'll face at some point, and my choice will speak to my true values, won't it?

Joel Caris said...

Hi Chris,

In amongst the endless tasks begging for my attention, I've managed to do some blackberry harvest and can 21 half pints of blackberry jam and 9 half pints of blackberry syrup. I'm hoping and planning to do more.

My new homestead is ringed by blackberry thickets. I don't spray them, obviously. I just pick the berries from them. One of my roommates has stashed about seven gallons in the chest freezer.

Spraying blackberries not only is a sin, it's stupid. As you note, they'll just come back. But also, it's really not that hard to hack them down with a machete.

I've done this multiple times on both of the farms I work for. A sharp machete will cut through blackberry vines with little trouble. And once you clear the outer green vines, you get into what is usually the underlying thicket of previous years' dead and brown vines. Those are even easier to clear away as they tend to snap and shatter to pieces. It honestly doesn't even take all that long if you really go at it.

Now, I have yet to meet a soul who can go at a thicket of blackberries with a machete and come out the other side without a number of scratches, but that's just part of the experience. Those bloody scratches are a nice reminder of a task well-accomplished.

Lastly, I had an experience the other day I think you might enjoy hearing about. I was in the garden with some of the chickens milling about, hunting for snacks in the grass. I broke off a few large romanesco leaves and threw them to the chickens--they love those things. Then I turned my attention back to the garden only to, a moment later, here a distressed squeaking. Turning back to the chickens, I saw one running off with a writhing field mouse clutched firm in beak! It proceeded to peck at it until dead and then spent the next hour or so slowly pecking and eating away at it, running it off to a new secluded area whenever one of the other chickens came too near.

It was the first time I had seen that happen. After the initial surprise, my first thought was your many stories about how your chooks love eating field mice. I felt a bit sorry for the mouse, but I was also quite happy to see the pest control and aggressive foraging. Inspiring.

Agent Provocateur said...

To All,

There have been a number of comments, here and attached to earlier essays, that express moral concern about complicity in the ever worsening ecological devastation our industrial culture is creating and in the decline of our civilization. In the sense that we are all members of that civilization, we are all responsible. And in the sense that some of us draw down way more than others, some are more responsible than others. That said, the broad outlines of our lives, and how our individual lives would affect our environment and civilization were determined long before any of us were born. All you can really be held account for is how you act within the very narrow limits already determined for you.

People make comments suggesting that they “should” do something (more). “Should” suggests you have options. Its indicates an error in perception of reality. “I really should give up smoking but I love it too much.” No, you must give up smoking because you love life and all those who are in yours more. You don't want to hurt them so you don't hurt yourself. You aren't separate from them. They are you. So it is with all other moral acts. You don't do harm because you don't want to harm yourself. Self preservation - particularly the larger self (meaning lives you can actually affect) – is a far more effective basis for action. This sort of self interest is love.

Of course it is not really that easy. All life involves taking life. All creation involves destruction. What do you kill so you can live? What do you destroy so you can create a comfortable life? But you have a right to be here. And you have no choice but to participate in the civilization you are in. So you do what you can; being careful to avoid extremes either way. No matter what you do, you will not save the planet, nor can you do it any great harm. The earth will be here long after humans are gone. So just take care of yourself. Act in your self interest, that is to say the real self that includes everything about you that you really can affect.

Sorry for the sermon. I just hate to see people give themselves a hard time for things way out of their control. So remember kids, Peace, Love, and little blue elves! Laa laa la la la laa.

Joel Caris said...

Hi Cathy,

I would love for you (and August) to come out and visit the homestead! I'm a few miles outside of Nehalem, along Highway 53. Consider it an open invitation. If you get serious about the idea, drop me an email at and we'll work out details.

I don't know that what I'm doing here is that incredible, though. Mostly, you'll find an old farmhouse and barn, a chicken coop and a flock of 19 birds, a giant garden in the side field, some laundry hang drying outside (if it's sunny) or inside by the wood stove (if it's cold and rainy.) A lot of home canned goods, some ferments, kombucha, homemade yogurt. Lots of books. A beautiful view of Onion Peak and the surrounding hills. Forested land across the road. Pasture and beef cattle next door. The North Fork of the Nehalem off in the distance. But it's sure nice, and I don't mind company. There are other small farms scattered around, too. I could take you up the road and show you the off-grid farm and homestead I originally came out here to work on. That's a pretty neat place. And the ocean's not far.

As for the Green Wizards site, yes! I haven't been writing on my blog of late--partly due to the so many things fighting for my attention, partly due to lack of inspiration--and I've had this background intention of moving some of that writing energy to the Green Wizards site. I would love to engage the community there and join in the conversation. I'm going to make that a priority. I don't know if it will happen in the quite immediate future, but fall's just around the corner and I'll have a heck of a lot more time before too long. Right now, the two farm jobs and garden and homestead of my own are keeping me hopping.

But soon, yes. I'm committing right here, right now. You can hold me to it. :)

Redneck Girl said...

@ Brian Weber

"Now I think TADR is the most intelligent, clear-minded discussion of our post-industrial future we have, and I have tremendous admiration for Mr. Greer's amazing scholarship and wisdom. But I have some disagreements, and my big one is his views on the new religious sensibility he senses. Frankly I think a feeling that nature is home is easy for people living a time where nature has been made safe, and hard when your children risk being eaten by stalk-and-ambush predators, and there's nothing you can do about the abscessed tooth in your mouth. In the future, they may actually admire our control of the forces they have no control over.

Brian I don't think I'm 'all that' when I'm out in nature. Reference my poem that JMG graciously allowed me to post a blog entry or two back called 'Ancient Order' Neither does a young friend we used to ride with over on the coast. Its a temperate rainforest there, with underbrush so thick you can get lost within a few yards of paved roads. She knows you never ride alone and you better respect and be wary of the wild animals you can encounter there such as the bear, mountain lions and the occasionally super crabby Wapiti bull, (giant deer, also known in the USA as elk). It might be hard to believe something that big could move through that underbrush but small herds of them do all the time. Its even smart to be wary of coyote packs as my young friend and a companion found out trail riding when they were followed by a pack at dusk on a back road over a mountain. It seems some of the local yahoos, excuse me, hunters, were dumping the offal from their kills in the area. Charley said she was seeing a lot of glowing eyes in the gathering dark and they weren't deterred by a few rocks thrown their way! And then there was the time when Charley and a cousin were cutting cross country to a road on foot when the smell of blood hit her in the nose as she broke through a screen of brush to find a just killed deer in a gore splashed clearing. The scene screamed mountain lion kill and they backed out of there as quickly as they could, swung wider to find the road and beat feet down the middle of the road. Charley said she could feel that cat following, watching them until they made the junction!

A city slicker or a totally naive sort might think nature is warm and cuddly every day. It is, it just depends on who she cuddles that day over who she ignores at the moment. You darn betcha I'm prey! I know it and if I were riding in an area with a lot of predators now I'd be packing my holstered little thirty eight, more to make noise then to be foolish enough to try to kill something with it! And then ONLY as a last resort!


Ben Iscatus said...

Agent Provocateur and Joel,
Very wise thoughts, thank you. I tend to test myself and think about these issues all the time:

It helps me see the scale of the problem. Living inside a wasteful civilisation hugely interferes with our freedom to be honest with ourselves. I perfectly understand why most people don’t even try.

Robert said...

Reading through my dad's Wisden Cricket series when you look at the nineteenth century statistics quite a few of these cricketers died in their thirties and forties and these would have been relatively healthy men. So it's not just infant mortality, ordinary people often didn't live to old age.

When Bismarck invented old age pensions in Germany I think the qualifying age was sixty. In those days not too many people reached that age for it to be a serious burden on the states finances the way pensions are now.

Of course there always were people in the past who lived to a ripe old age. Sophocles lived to his nineties as did Cato.

Nastarana said...

An ancient tool revived, specifically for rogueing out blackberries. I think in medieval times, this was called a billhook. Peasants used to take these to war when called up.

Janet D said...

@BrianWeber, who said, "Frankly I think a feeling that nature is home is easy for people living a time where nature has been made safe, and hard when your children risk being eaten by stalk-and-ambush predators, and there's nothing you can do about the abscessed tooth in your mouth. In the future, they may actually admire our control of the forces they have no control over."

Sorry, gotta disagree. You hold a very Euro-centric view of nature and aren't even aware of it. Natives never regarded living in/with nature as "hard" (and very few modern people currently regard nature as "safe") and natives didn't have problems with their children being eaten. They understood the environment and know how to live within it. They also did not have a lot of tooth problems, due to the lack of grains and sugar in their diets, and they had an amazing variety of natural remedies. Yes, Western medicine has some nifty tricks up it's sleeve, but we lost a whole lot of knowledge about healthy diets and natural remedies when we paved over paradise and threw the naturalists onto worthless reservations.

And whatever "control" we think we have is: a) extremely temporary, and b) based only upon fossil fuels and exploitation of those abundant natural resources that other peoples before us provided through careful management.

avalterra said...

<<it must have transfers second hand from D&D 3.5<<

Ray Wharton - you rule!!!


Hanshishiro said...

Jellyfish are considered a delicacy in China.
Soon enough a lot of people around the world will start eating them along with insects.
For those that consider this idea appaling I leave the words of Frank Herbert, on his book Soul Catcher : "Squeamishness can get you killed".

Bret said...

Is there a "best" resource you'd recommend for someone interested in understanding in more detail (but as a layman) the cultural evolutionary process whereby Ma Gaia knocks the rough edges off of successive generations of humans, such that a, say, 27th generation hunter-gatherer (or a 27th generation technic-human) is/can be expected to live in such exquisite harmony with his, her or its niche? I did read The Ecotechnic Future, some time ago, and will look to locate and revisit my copy and follow the footnotes, so that may be the answer -- but if there's some sort of touchstone text on the overall ecological process you know of, that's not to be found referenced in those footnotes, I'd be grateful to hear that. Many thanks as always.

Eric S. said...

One final thought before cutting off the internet until Thursday to get some things done:

Will there be a place for the monastic cultural conservers you've spoken of at various points in the past ( in the Dark Ages you're writing about here? Is it worth trying to predict what shape those tradition bearers might take, and what things they might wind up holding onto from our civilization(beyond simply working to preserve what we see as the best of our civilization ourselves and hoping some of it sticks)? Or is the concept of cultural conservers something you're beginning to reconsider in the face of some of your new research?

Michelle said...

I worry a lot about growing food - it seems to be my calling to feed people - and I spend a lot of time on my 1-acre homestead managing the soil, the crops, and the livestock. I spent a couple of hours this morning shoveling out the soiled bedding from my goat-and-chicken barn onto my gardens; that, along with rabbit manure, should provide good fertility for next year's crops. Apparently others are concerned about this issue as well: A decent article that still doesn't quite "get" it... "The challenge of ensuring future food security as populations grow and diets change has its roots in soil, but the increasing degradation of the earth's thin skin is threatening to push up food prices and increase deforestation.

While the worries about peaking oil production have been eased by fresh sources released by hydraulic fracturing, concern about the depletion of the vital resource of soil is moving centre stage.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Interesting post that covered pretty much every dismal environmental issue I think about and try to do something about every day, one way or another, whether via personal lifestyle or educating others.

In a response to Onething you wrote: "We have bees of something like a dozen different species all over our backyard garden every year, because they can get nectar and pollen there that aren't poisoned. The other houses on the street? Not so much. I really do need to write something on the strategy of ecological refugia one of these days."

Yes, exactly. In my garden too!

I’ve been working on this topic for a while now. You could say it’s one of my areas of green wizardry. Just yesterday I gave a presentation to a group about native bees in the garden and how to provide good habitat. Urban areas can be much richer in native pollinators than our farmlands.

I'm part of a group working to create pollinator refugia in my town and also volunteer with the forest preserve district to help manage the rich refugia that our preserves currently are.

Anyone can see my efforts at writing about some of these things at
Ecological Gardening, sometimes picked up by

I'd be very interested to read what you would write on the subject.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

Many thanks! There is a new update for the blog yesterday: An eggcellent mystery


Hi Joel,

Your comment will receive a longer reply, but the old chestnut: "make hay whilst the sun shines" applies.



Adrian Skilling said...

"The methods of organic agriculture mentioned earlier could help very significantly with this problem, since those include techniques for preserving existing topsoil, and rebuilding depleted soil at a rate considerably faster than nature’s pace"

I'm sure JMG and many others are aware of this, but a simple switch to the organic form of conventional agriculture are not sufficient to prevent soil loss. Organic Agriculture (OA) can even require more tillage than Conventional Agriculture (CA), but cover crops and use of composts, and more plant cover obviously help. Best soil management techniques might reduce loss to 1 tonne / hectare / year, from many times this.

What is probably most important is reducing tillage and tillage depth and use of heaving equipment, which means small scale organic with mostly hand tools and sensitive management of water flows. This wont be an easy transition for the Western World.

. josé . said...

It's too late to post a comment that's relevant to this week's great article. (I did share it widely, and for the first time received some interesting - and favorable - replies from my friends and contacts.)

But here's an article that suggests support for your predictions wrt Europe:

27% of young French people (18-24) support ISIS. Not support Islam, support ISIS.


Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

It wasn't just the Girl Scouts that were taught the old song: "Kookabura sits on the old gum tree...". Indeed, the Kookaburra does sit on the old gum tree here and I look after them all.

It is a both a true and beautiful bit of music that now has a dark side. The tale is worth telling as it is instructive in the tale of decline, although please forgive all the disclaimers...

An Australian rock band, Men at Work, released a memorable song: Men at work - Down Under back in 1980.

It went on to become a number one hit in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and eventually in 1983 the US as well. It was big stuff.

Back to the Kookaburra song though, I believe that the song originated through the Girl Guides, Victoria as part of a competition in 1932 Kookaburra song. The Girl Guides owned the rights to the song at one stage.

Anyway, over many years the rights to the Kookaburra song were sold off until they eventually were purchased by an entity called Larrikin music. The wikipedia entry states that the song was originally based on a Welsh folk song (translated as: See you there, that black bird sitting?)

Things sometimes have a nasty way of having real world consequences, because in 2009 - again please correct me if I am wrong - a music quiz television show here "Spicks and Specks" happened to mention in a question that the particular flute refrain in the Men at Work song, Down Under (see above) was similar to the Kookaburra song.

The copyright owner then took action against the band through the courts to recover lost revenues. They were successful in that court action.

The sad thing about it all is that the flautist for the band, Greg Ham was found dead in his North Melbourne home on 19th April 2012. He was apparently despondent after the court decision. Wikipedia entry: Down Under song

Perhaps the correct definition is rentier class, but again, I apologise, as this is simply the perception from these events.

At one time, that song was considered seriously for the national anthem.

Whatever else happens, I provide food, water and shelter for the Kookaburras here.

Yours sadly,


Agent Provocateur said...

Ben (and JMG),

I checked out your site. Quite an interesting quiz you've built. I haven't scored myself. I'm not sure I'll make the grade. Sometimes its best not to know!

I couldn't help noticing your psychological analysis of our indulgent host elsewhere on your site. Though it could not be said to be an overwhelmingly positive perspective, it is nonetheless flattering to him that you have devoted so much space to profile him. No publicity is bad publicity you know.

Your critique brings to mind an occasion when two of my relatives (a couple) send me a well crafted blast of wrath by email complete with a very well drawn caricature of myself. I had to admit it was brilliant satire/parody. It was also not a little savage. I couldn't help but feel flattered that I was so much in their thoughts; even if those thoughts were not entirely charitable. We get along fine now … though we don't visit much … possibly a major reason for our positive relationship.

Your efforts also bring to mind a critique of a critique of a certain giggling guru. The second author suggested the first author had to ask himself why it was, if he was still being bitten by fleas, that he was sleeping with the dog he was sleeping with.

I note that JMG has taken the time to respond to your, as well other people's, comments posted here. I think this is very generous of him even if he is acerbic from time to time. All of us are flawed. A good response to a self reflective acknowledgment of this fact is to extend a patient generosity to others. Specifically, you might choose to do so by removing your critique. Any such analysis usually says more about the author than t does about the object of analysis. Of course, you can do as you like. You've done no real harm. Its all good.

Finally, if you can tolerate even more unsolicited advice, it is good to remember that the ability to laugh at oneself is the foundation of a lifelong comedy. Now perhaps all three of us can have a good laugh at ourselves.

exiledbear said...

I've always said the greatest evil is never done by the people who think they're evil - they're done by the people who think they're doing good. And the more someone believes that they're pure as the wind driven snow - the more capacity they have to do really high grade, high test evil.

I suppose that they also have the potential to do the greatest good as well. Such is the danger of polarizing in duality. Gotta something duality, I tell you.

Maybe you can make a nuclear power generator that's sufficiently safe and on the time scales that matter, but I agree with you - doing so makes it highly uneconomical.

If you have to ask me how the future would look, look to the Amish. Did you know that their population is actually growing? They're actually actively splitting off and making new settlements. They do it fairly quietly and keep to themselves, so unless you look it up on Wikipedia, you're not likely to know about it :P

If there's a group of people least likely to starve if most technology goes away, it'll be them. Might want to brush up on their dialect of German :/

exiledbear said...

the one difference is that most of the people who are being condemned to misery to prop up your privileges haven't been born yet.

Oh I dunno. Ask a Millenial about how happy they are with their lot in life.

Varun Bhaskar said...

@Pinku and Cherokee

Your blogs will be linked to View on the Ground

I will let you know when I've connected them.


I actually do have a section for that in my newspaper. It's called "break points"

Anne Patterson said...

The issue of contamination of land and water by toxic chemicals is why I spend a significant amount of my time in fighting to stop fracking and other forms of extreme fossil-fuel extraction in the UK.

We can't stop peak fossil fuels. We can't avoid massive impacts due to increasingly severe climate chaos but we can try to avoid land and water that is not already toxic being made so by extreme fossil-fuel extraction. We are having a significant impact in holding back this industry in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Check out for a piece on the Reclaim the Power event which has just been held in the UK.

I will do all I can to protect our land and water to pass on as a legacy for future generations. I hope they will remember the ancestors who fought to protect the land as well as those who poisoned it.

Thomas Prentice said...

The entire poem "A Lament" by Ernest Thompson Seton is stunning and heart-wrenching and true. It can be read at

The poem also reminds me of the Ozymandias text by Shelley and the companion by Smith from Wilipaedia

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer
of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away."[4]

jbucks said...

My comments weren’t on topic, but they were certainly in response to the jolt I got after reading the original post, as in ‘ok, there’s lot of reskilling and long-term preparation to do, get a move on’.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my comment!

@Laylah - Thanks for the quote, that about sums it up, and is encouraging to read.

@thetinfoilhatsociety - I hear you about ‘professional’ skill, while learning the piano I’m trying not to let these high standards affect me and just simply play for the fun of it. That’s great that you refuse to be amplified and you just play acoustic!

@Michael McG - It’s great that many other commenters also offered responses in a similar vein to yours, shows that there’s truth in it.

@thecrowandsheep - I’ll be in touch, don’t know of any other ADR readers here in Berlin, though…

@melo - I think your theory about music/art going forward makes a lot of sense. As I started to learn non-electronic musical practices, I went to the piano as it was most easily accessible to me, but before I wrote my original comment I did consider that the piano, also being a relatively complex technology, will lose favour to more portable and easier to build instruments. Compost science, by the way, is something I’m also interested in and have dabbled with in my garden (gardening will be one of the legs of my own future stool).

@Nuku - That’s encouraging to read, it must be fantastic to know how to build musical instruments, especially something as complex as a harpsichord. I had a quick look for portable keyboard instruments, something like a clavichord also seems less complex than a modern piano.

@Cathy McGuire - thanks for the link to the Pipe Guy! I also think that healing is an important aspect of the arts, both for the audience and the people making it.

vestlenning said...

JMG wrote:
"Vestlenning, no, a difference in scale is not a difference in kind."

But scale is everything. Being hit hundred times is quite different from being hit one time - it't doesn't matter much that both is about being hit.

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 205   Newer› Newest»