Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Mariner's Rule

One of the things my readers ask me most often, in response to this blog’s exploration of the ongoing decline and impending fall of modern industrial civilization, is what I suggest people ought to do about it all. It’s a valid question, and it deserves a serious answer.

Now of course not everyone who asks the question is interested in the answers I have to offer. A great many people, for example, are only interested in answers that will allow them to keep on enjoying the absurd extravagance that passed, not too long ago, for an ordinary lifestyle among the industrial world’s privileged classes, and is becoming just a little bit less ordinary with every year that slips by.  To such people I have nothing to say. Those lifestyles were only possible because the world’s industrial nations burnt through half a billion years of stored sunlight in a few short centuries, and gave most of the benefits of that orgy of consumption to a relatively small fraction of their population; now that easily accessible reserves of fossil fuels are running short, the party’s over. 

Yes, I’m quite aware that that’s a controversial statement. I field heated denunciations on a regular basis insisting that it just ain’t so, that solar energy or fission or perpetual motion or something will allow the industrial world’s privileged classes to have their planet and eat it too. Printer’s ink being unfashionable these days, a great many electrons have been inconvenienced on the internet to proclaim that this or that technology must surely allow the comfortable to remain comfortable, no matter what the laws of physics, geology, or economics have to say.  Now of course the only alternative energy sources that have been able to stay in business even in a time of sky-high oil prices are those that can count on gargantuan government subsidies to pay their operating expenses; equally, the alternatives receive an even more gigantic “energy subsidy” from fossil fuels, which make them look much more economical than they otherwise would.  Such reflections carry no weight with those whose sense of entitlement makes living with less unthinkable.

I’m glad to say that there are  fair number of people who’ve gotten past that unproductive attitude, who have grasped the severity of the crisis of our time and are ready to accept unwelcome change in order to secure a livable future for our descendants. They want to know how we can pull modern civilization out of its current power dive and perpetuate it into the centuries ahead. I have no answers for them, either, because that’s not an option at this stage of the game; we’re long past the point at which decline and fall can be avoided, or even ameliorated on any large scale.

A decade ago, a team headed by Robert Hirsch and funded by the Department of Energy released a study outlining what would have to be done in order to transition away from fossil fuels before they transitioned away from us. What they found, to sketch out too briefly the findings of a long and carefully worded study, is that in order to avoid massive disruption, the transition would have to begin twenty years before conventional petroleum production reached its peak and began to decline. There’s a certain irony in the fact that 2005, the year this study was published, was also the year when conventional petroleum production peaked; the transition would thus have had to begin in 1985—right about the time, that is, that the Reagan administration in the US and its clones overseas were scrapping the promising steps toward just such a transition.

A transition that got under way in 2005, in other words, would have been too late, and given the political climate, it probably would have been too little as well. Even so, it would have been a much better outcome than the one we got, in which most of us have spent the last ten years insisting that we don’t have to worry about depleting oilfields because fracking was going to save us all. At this point, thirty years after the point at which we would have had to get started, it’s all very well to talk about some sort of grand transition to sustainability, but the time when such a thing would have been possible came and went decades ago. We could have chosen that path, but we didn’t, and insisting thirty years after the fact that we’ve changed our minds and want a different future than the one we chose isn’t likely to make any kind of difference that matters.

So what options does that leave? In the minds of a great many people, at least in the United States, the choice that apparently comes first to mind involves buying farmland in some isolated rural area and setting up a homestead in the traditional style. Many of the people who talk enthusiastically about this option, to be sure, have never grown anything more demanding than a potted petunia, know nothing about the complex and demanding arts of farming and livestock raising, and aren’t in anything like the sort of robust physical condition needed to handle the unremitting hard work of raising food without benefit of fossil fuels; thus it’s a safe guess that in most of these cases, heading out to the country is simply a comforting daydream that serves to distract attention from the increasingly bleak prospects so many people are facing in the age of unraveling upon us.

There’s a long history behind such daydreams. Since colonial times, the lure of the frontier has played a huge role in the American imagination, providing any number of colorful inkblots onto which fantasies of a better life could be projected. Those of my readers who are old enough to remember the aftermath of the Sixties counterculture, when a great many young people followed that dream to an assortment of hastily created rural communes, will also recall the head-on collision between middle-class fantasies of entitlement and the hard realities of rural subsistence farming that generally resulted. Some of the communes survived, though many more did not; that I know of, none of the surviving ones made it without a long and difficult period of readjustment in which romantic notions of easy living in the lap of nature got chucked in favor of a more realistic awareness of just how little in the way of goods and services a bunch of untrained ex-suburbanites can actually produce by their own labor.

In theory, that process of reassessment is still open. In practice, just at the moment, I’m far from sure it’s an option for anyone who’s not already traveled far along that road. The decline and fall of modern industrial civilization, it bears repeating, is not poised somewhere off in the indefinite future, waiting patiently for us to get ready for it before it puts in an appearance; it’s already happening at the usual pace, and the points I’ve raised in posts here over the last few weeks suggest that the downward slope is probably going to get a lot steeper in the near future. As the collapse of the fracking bubble ripples out through the financial sphere, most of us are going to be scrambling to adapt, and the chances of getting everything lined up in time to move to rural property, get the necessary equipment and supplies to start farming, and get past the worst of the learning curve before crunch time arrives are not good.

If you’re already on a rural farm, in other words, by all means pursue the strategy that put you there. If your plans to get the necessary property, equipment, and skills are well advanced at this point, you may still be able to make it, but you’d probably better get a move on. On the other hand, dear reader, if your rural retreat is still off there in the realm of daydreams and good intentions, it’s almost certainly too late to do much about it, and where you are right now is probably where you’ll be when the onrushing waves of crisis come surging up and break over your head.

That being the case, are there any options left other than hiding under the bed and hoping that the end will be relatively painless? As it happens, there are.

The point that has to be understood to make sense of those options is that in the real world, as distinct from Hollywood-style disaster fantasies, the end of a civilization follows the famous rule attributed to William Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  Put another way, the impacts of decline and fall aren’t uniform; they vary in intensity over space and time, and they impact particular systems of a falling civilization at different times and in different ways.  If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and depend on the wrong systems to support you, your chances aren’t good, but the places, times, and systems that take the brunt of the collapse aren’t random. To some extent, those can be anticipated, and some of them can also be avoided.

Here’s an obvious example. Right now, if your livelihood depends on the fracking industry, the tar sands industry, or any of the subsidiary industries that feed into those, your chances of getting through 2015 with your income intact are pretty minimal.  People in those industries who got to witness earlier booms and busts know this, and a good many of them are paying off their debts, settling any unfinished business they might have, and making sure they can cover a tank of gas or a plane ticket to get back home when the bottom falls out. People in those industries who don’t have that experience to guide them, and are convinced that nothing bad can actually happen to them, are not doing these things, and are likely to end up in a world of hurt when their turn comes.

They’re not the only ones who would benefit right now from taking such steps. A very large part of the US banking and finance industry has been flying high on bloated profits from an assortment of fracking-related scams, ranging from junk bonds through derivatives to exotic financial fauna such as volumetric production payments. Now that the goose that laid the golden eggs is bobbing feet upwards in a pond of used fracking fluid, the good times are coming to a sudden stop, and that means sharply reduced income for those junior bankers, brokers, and salespeople who can keep their jobs, and even more sharply reduced prospects for those who don’t.

They’ve got plenty of company on the chopping block.  The entire retail sector in the US is already in trouble, with big-box stores struggling for survival and shopping malls being abandoned, and the sharp economic downturn we can expect as the fracking bust unfolds will likely turn that decline into freefall, varying in intensity by region and a galaxy of other factors. Those who brace themselves for a hard landing now are a good deal more likely to make it than those who don’t, and those who have the chance to jump to something more stable now would be well advised to make the leap.

That’s one example; here’s another. I’ve written here in some detail about how anthropogenic climate change will wallop North America in the centuries ahead of us. One thing that’s been learned from the last few years of climate vagaries is that North America, at least, is shifting in exactly the way paleoclimatic data would suggest—more or less the same way it did during warm periods over the last ten or twenty million years. The short form is that the Southwest and mountain West are getting baked to a crackly crunch under savage droughts; the eastern Great Plains, Midwest, and most of the South are being hit by a wildly unstable climate, with bone-dry dry years alternating with exceptionally soggy wet ones; while the Appalachians and points eastward have been getting unsteady temperatures but reliable rainfall. Line up your choice of subsistence strategies next to those climate shifts, and if you still have the time and resources to relocate, you have some idea where to go.

All this presumes, of course, that what we’re facing has much more in common with the crises faced by other civilizations on their way to history’s compost heap than it does with the apocalyptic fantasies so often retailed these days as visions of the immediate future. I expect to field a flurry of claims that it just ain’t so, that everything I’ve just said is wasted breath because some vast and terrible whatsit will shortly descend on the whole world and squash us like bugs. I can utter that prediction with perfect confidence, because I’ve been fielding such claims over and over again since long before this blog got started. All the dates by which the world was surely going to end have rolled past without incident, and the inevitable cataclysms have pulled one no-show after another, but the shrill insistence that something of the sort really will happen this time around has shown no sign of letting up. Nor will it, since the unacceptable alternative consists of taking responsibility for doing something about the future.

Now of course I’ve already pointed out that there’s not much that can be done about the future on the largest scale. As the fracking bubble implodes, the global economy shudders, the climate destabilizes, and a dozen other measures of imminent crisis head toward the red zone on the gauge, it’s far too late in the day for much more than crisis management on a local and individual level. Even so, crisis management is a considerably more useful response than sitting on the sofa daydreaming about the grandiose project that’s certain to save us or the grandiose cataclysm that’s certain to annihilate us—though these latter options are admittedly much more comfortable in the short term.

What’s more, there’s no shortage of examples in relatively recent history to guide the sort of crisis management I have in mind. The tsunami of discontinuities that’s rolling toward us out of the deep waters of the future may be larger than the waves that hit the Western world with the coming of the First World War in 1914, the Great Depression in 1929, or the Second World War in 1939, but from the perspective of the individual, the difference isn’t as vast as it might seem. In fact, I’d encourage my readers to visit their local public libraries and pick up books about the lived experience of those earlier traumas. I’d also encourage those with elderly relatives who still remember the Second World War to sit down with them over a couple of cups of whatever beverage seems appropriate, and ask about what it was like on a day-by-day basis to watch their ordinary peacetime world unravel into chaos.

I’ve had the advantage of taking part in such conversations, and I’ve also done a great deal of reading about historical crises that have passed below the horizon of living memory. There are plenty of lessons to be gained from such sources, and one of the most important also used to be standard aboard sailing ships in the days before steam power. Sailors in those days had to go scrambling up the rigging at all hours and in all weathers to set, reef, or furl sails; it was not an easy job—imagine yourself up in the rigging of a tall ship in the middle of a howling storm at night, clinging to tarred ropes and slick wood and trying to get a mass of wet, heavy, wind-whipped canvas to behave, while below you the ship rolls from side to side and swings you out over a raging ocean and back again. If you slip and you’re lucky, you land on deck with a pretty good chance of breaking bones or worse; if you slip and you’re not lucky, you plunge straight down into churning black water and are never seen again.

The rule that sailors learned and followed in those days was simple: “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship.” Every chore that had to be done up there in the rigging could be done by a gang of sailors who each lent one hand to the effort, so the other could cling for dear life to the nearest rope or ratline. Those tasks that couldn’t be done that way, such as hauling on ropes, took place down on the deck—the rigging was designed with that in mind. There were emergencies where that rule didn’t apply, and even with the rule in place there were sailors who fell from the rigging to their deaths, but as a general principle it worked tolerably well.

I’d like to propose that the same rule might be worth pursuing in the crisis of our age. In the years to come, a great many of us will face the same kind of scramble for survival that so many others faced in the catastrophes of the early 20th century. Some of us won’t make it, and some will have to face the ghastly choice between sheer survival and everything else they value in life. Not everyone, though, will land in one or the other of those categories, and many those who manage to stay out of them will have the chance to direct time and energy toward the broader picture.

Exactly what projects might fall into that latter category will differ from one person to another, for reasons that are irreducibly personal. I’m sure there are plenty of things that would motivate you to action in desperate times, dear reader, that would leave me cold, and of course the reverse is also true—and in times of crisis, of the kind we’re discussing, it’s personal factors of that sort that make the difference, not abstract considerations of the sort we might debate here. I’ll be discussing a few of the options in upcoming posts, but I’d also encourage readers of this blog to reflect on the question themselves: in the wreck of industrial civilization, what are you willing to make an effort to accomplish, to defend, or to preserve?

In thinking about that, I’d encourage my readers to consider the traumatic years of the early 20th century as a model for what’s approaching us. Those who were alive when the first great wave of dissolution hit in 1914 weren’t facing forty years of continuous cataclysm; as noted here repeatedly, collapse is a fractal process, and unfolds in real time as a sequence of crises of various kinds separated by intervals of relative calm in which some level of recovery is possible. It’s pretty clear that the first round of trouble here in the United States, at least, will be a major economic crisis; at some point not too far down the road, the yawning gap between our senile political class and the impoverished and disaffected masses promises the collapse of politics as usual and a descent into domestic insurgency or one of the other standard patterns by which former democracies destroy themselves; as already noted, there are plenty of other things bearing down on us—but after an interval, things will stabilize again.

Then it’ll be time to sort through the wreckage, see what’s been saved and what can be recovered, and go on from there. First, though, we have a troubled time to get through.


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Paul said...

I wrote about this some months ago,


My post was anticpated by the archdruid report a year or so back, in a post that referenced "The Last Unicorn."

I'm right in that bind.

But what caught my attention about this post, and why I referenced my own post was not because of what I had to say, but because of the response it generated.

My post was read by a long time peak oil activist, and his response summed up a problem with the ideal of self sufficiency as a solution to the coming crisis neatly. He even mentions the Hirsch Report.

These are things that are on their way anyway with peak oil (though for other nations before us) but I think it's interesting that the intuitive "power down and live off the land" solution would likely accelerate the chaos it hoped to alleviate. And as profane and politically incorrect as many find him, the comedian Bill Burr made a very incisive point about people who drop out and start growing their own food... "come the apocalypse, those guys will have basically gathered a bunch of supplies for the scariest psycho on the block"

So when you've built your agrarian lifeboat, what do you do when the empty shelves in the supermarkets force the starving hordes to seek survival elsewhere?

Tom Bannister said...

For me its just a question of seeing how fast the fallout from the US reverberates round the rest of the world. Here in New Zealand for example, I'd expect a great depression of some kind to be the worst thing for us to worry about. (hopefully though, It'll be at least few years down the track before the ramifications really start to hit home, in which case I'll have several years preparation behind me). If anyone's got any reliable figures/ assessments of the Australian Banking system (or economy in general) that might be helpful (our banking system is mostly Australian owned). All I know is we were certainly adversely affected by the great depression of the 30s the wars, the oil crisis of the 70s and the recession of more recent times. And our economy is heavily based on the export of raw materials (commodity prices are coming down! yargh!).

Still though, I've found your pieces about the 'end of employment' quite handy. I reckon I'll try wwoofing this year...

Greg Belvedere said...

I have to admit, I have an easier time thinking of things I can preserve than I do figuring out ways I can cobble together a living as things fall apart (I guess that is the librarian in me). So I think the mariner's rule articulates my situation. With a little luck I can keep holding on so I can do the work that needs doing.

I'm definitely collapsing in advance, to the horror of some of my bourgeois family. I'm really concentrating on the overall home economy. While I'm getting better at growing food, it will be at least a year or two before we stop renting and buy a home where I can really go at it full tilt. Perhaps I'm better set up than I thought and I just want to diversify my collapse portfolio, but I do feel like the clock is ticking lately.

Great post as always.

Neo Tuxedo said...

the transition would thus have had to begin in 1985—right about the time, that is, that the Reagan administration in the US and its clones overseas were scrapping the promising steps toward just such a transition.

I think I heard about that report at the time it came out, but had since managed to forget it for my own peace of mind. The 2005 publication date sounds familiar, certainly. (As a comic-book fan of long standing and a considerable amount of sitting, I find it ironic, for reasons fans of 1980s comics will appreciate, that the crisis came upon us in 1985 and we missed it.)

I read somewhere -- I think it was on the infamous Brad Hicks' blog, but I couldn't swear to it -- that you can run a perfectly satisfactory civilization on alternative fuels; you just can't run a military-industrial complex that's worth a flying Fannett-Metal frack, let alone one capable of doing the resource grabs needed to let the American population live the lifestyle to which postwar economic-political hegemony had accustomed them. So, while it didn't have to be this way -- I will go to my grave agreeing with G.K. Chesterton that the past is alive with alternatives -- it was probably going to be this way, barring the simultaneous enlightenment of the entire human race or some similar miracle.

(I may have already said all that, or even just most of it, on another post and you missed it or else didn't consider it worth replying to; if so, sorry for repeating myself.)

Pinku-Sensei said...

"[D]aydreaming about the grandiose project that’s certain to save us"

That reminds me; I have an preliminary entry for your "Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015," power from poop. We can heat cities and provide them with electricity using the methane from sewage supplemented by the waste heat from all the hot water that goes down the drain with every load of dishes and clothes along with every shower and bath. Of course this is insufficient to the task, as well as actually being practical on a small scale, but my students found it just disgusting enough that it passes the outlandish test. Of course, if you think it's not grandiose enough, that will save me writing the actual press release.

As for the rest of your essay, I dedicate a song to you and it, ""Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen. The war is over, the fight was fixed, and the good guys lost. Here's to rolling the loaded dice Fate has given us.

Violet Cabra said...

In the spirit of “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship.” I would like to make a practical suggestion; look to the trees. Look at the oak, the pine, the willow and the elder if you choose. Each has at least one medicinal property that could easily save your life. Three of them have at least some value as food. Each can be utilized in the dead of winter for at least some of their uses. I won't say what the uses are. If you're interested there are ample on-line and book resources. And these four trees are just barely “scratching the surface” of the miraculous “ship” we call the living Earth. Best of luck to everyone in the storms ahead.

Kyoto Motors said...

If you listened to the " state of the union" address, and the sycophantic media coverage about Obama's legacy and swagger, you might have laughed or cried. We're told America's economy is rolling again! Go figure...

On another note, I'm looking forward to posting an entry to the squirrel thing by tomorrow. Good idea; I had fun with that... Not sure if my idea is totally obvious or not. Even so, I look forward to reading other entries over in the green wizards forum...

Shane Wilson said...

As an aside, one thing I've noticed here in the US is the deafening roar of collective schizophrenia/ insanity that was observed in Europe prior to the World Wars (also in Imperial Japan during WWII) My guess is that that will have to be acted out in all its horror, on a level comparable to or greater than the early 20th century, before any collectively constructive action can take place.

Jim said...

I like the sailing ship analogy. But I kept thinking while reading it that there is an important aspect of the story missing: Down on deck there were marines, armed to the teeth, to make sure the sailors went up the rigging. In that howling storm virtually everyone would stay below unless chase up the rigging by a bayonet.

I'm afraid the future, like the past, will have a lot of marines chasing sailors up the rigging to do the dirty work that has to be done.

Clay Dennis said...

It's amazing to me that back in the late 70's and early 80's most of the important and well informed thinking on energy was that we had enough oil for about 30 years, and after that we would have problems. It is now been 30 years and people are suprised that we are having oil Troubles. I half remember a quote by one of the editors of Rain magazine ( another green wizard publication in the 70's) that went something like this.

" Those who spend capital (oil) as if it were income live short flashy lives."

Avery said...

Your outlook for the next few decades is inspiring me to read -- not just narratives of the early 20th century, although those would certainly be useful, but also narratives of the end of the Roman Empire. We are no longer in an age when the question is over capitalism or communism, just as the 1st century Romans were no longer debating the merits of republicanism or empire. But there were many who lent "one hand for the ship" of ideological sanity -- the imperial-era pagans and Christians -- as well as those who did not see collapse coming, like Aurelius Prudentius Clemens. It might also be good take another look about the social currents running underneath overexpansion and collapse, found in Fustel de Coulanges' The Ancient City. Any of these options might help people see what battles are worth fighting.

Regarding your specific warning about gas and oil, I hope it is not too late for any readers! Two-thirds of all job growth since 2007 has been linked to the fracking bubble -- a bubble that has begun to burst since January 1, to the tune of at least 17,000 job cuts already.

BoysMom said...

We are in the Mountain West, and so far we have alternatively baked, frozen, been wading, and been looking everywhere for a drop of water. Last summer we got an entire year's worth of precipitation in a single month.

If you're growing things, may I suggest if you have not been keeping records of temperatures and precipitation that you start immediately? We have a manual recording thermometer, a rain gauge and a free calendar from the hardware store. That's all it takes. And while all the pretty garden catalogs show us as zone five, truly, we're borderline zone three and four.

Andy Brown said...

For me the best way to judge how well prepared you are is to imagine that your monetary income just stops. And there are no jobs around because all of your neighbors are in the same boat. So you can't just go out and earn more money.

So where does that leave you? How many of your needs can you meet? Do you have anything that impoverished neighbors would be willing to barter for from their own diminished resources? Are there people around who know how to do things you don't? Do you know how to do things that other people don't?

Few people will just sit down and starve at that point. But what would you do?

TJ said...

I've been thinking about this fall of industrialized civilization for awhile now. And, like you mentioned, I'm one of those people heading for a rural homestead where I can live out these last few years of petroleum-fueled orgies, while also setting up a food supply, shelter, water collection, etc for what is to come.

As you mentioned, this will be a physically grueling lifestyle. It will be a change in diet, in exercise, in leisure, and in just about every other category as well. But I often wonder whether it will really be harder.

After all, while we live in a world of convenience, we also live in a world of unhappiness, boredom, depression, and stress. Yes we have the world of knowledge in our pockets, but we have no ease of mind. So while I sit here on my computer, heated by a gas furnace, and stressing over the future downfall - I am also wondering if I was sitting in a small shelter with a book rather than a computer, cutting firewood for heat instead of commenting on blogs while heated by natural gas, and spending my leisure time thinking about what needs to be accomplished tomorrow to ensure my food supply stays continuous... And it makes me think that maybe this future will be a blessing to those ready for it. An end to the mental and spiritual emptiness of modern life, in exchange for a more physically taxing lifestyle.

Am I too optimistic?

Andy Brown said...

But to respond to your challenge about the mariner's rule. If I ever free one up, I think I would at the very least lend my second hand to helping re-build a culture. Ritual, narrative, myth, metaphor, story . . . we have a spiritual and cultural toolkit that humans assembled in the Paleolithic, and I'm not sure how much remains intact in consumer-topia. As we break our culture some of our heritage may come back spontaneously, but when worlds break so do many people. Communities are going to have to make sense of the Fall of Progress - and while root vegetables, acorns and beekeeping will have to take top priority - I hope to spare a hand for that. That and mead.

Marinhomelander said...

We just spent a weekend in Stockton, California. Ground Zero of the foreclosure mess. 9.6% foreclosure rate at its peak. You can't read the big green and white streetsigns during the day, they are so faded.At night? Forget it. Pavement's terrible. Plenty of For Lease signs, some right next to the "real estate school" signs. Nevertheless, some places like the organic restaurant have three hour waits. Nearby McDonalds have two or three people feeding in them. Bleak and depressing, ten lane wide streets devoid of traffic. Wait until this summer when the temperature will be in the 90s every day.
A new kind of being is prevalent there. Grown men of indeterminate ethnic origin riding stingray bikes and hanging out in mobile packs in the cheap gas stations. And we were in the good part of town!

One advantage, they have plenty of water there, as the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers come together near there. Deep soil and plenty of sun. It won't be pretty.

Dave Zoom said...

My grandfather farmed at the end of the nineteenth century , he sold beef direct to the butcher ,grain direct to the flour mill, vegetables direct to the grocer , only when the speculators appeared with cheap ersatz fiat " money " did his profits fall and farming decline , with luck the speculators will become field hands ,agro business become farming again ,and feed lots become well fertilized gardens .

Cherokee Organics said...


Printers ink isn't that unfashionable in some places! ;-)! I just picked up a copy of Twilight's last gleaming and am looking forward to enjoying it. Respect for writing it too - fiction is a hard beast.

I was looking over the squirrel entries last night and they're good. Jason's has been my favourite so far because the little pratt that the story revolved around - physically repulsed me and that makes good art! Is smarmy perhaps the correct word? Maybe? My story took a different tact by simply making fun of people that talk rubbish and expect it to be taken seriously.

Apologies, I'm digressing...

The thing that really annoys me about my conversations with people about solar is that they fixate on the payback period or worry about what the local feed in tariff is. Why couldn't they install the stuff because it is simply the right thing to do? Oh, that's right because it is uneconomic - not that nature ever factors that into such considerations. All those pesky externalities... It's 33'C (91.4'F) outside today - maybe I'm a bit cranky... Or maybe not! ;-)!

Hear, hear! Very nicely put indeed. The funny thing about farming too, is that most people that consider themselves as farmers - on broad acres - have massive fossil fuel inputs as well as reliance on machinery that are mind bogglingly complex, chemical and mineral inputs, mate it just goes on and on. And the really big thing that no one wants to even talk about is that one day: you may just have to rely on rainfall alone. Imagine that!

Exactly, it is the learning curve - which takes literally years to a decade - which is not possible to accelerate or wheedle your way around.

Diverse collections of plants is also a good strategy that is worth mentioning because in the highly variable and unstable climate here, having a raft of different plants means that despite the conditions, something is generally producing. This however, requires a person to jettison dogmatic beliefs about what grows where and that is not an easy task for some. There are some people who for ideological reasons have a mild freak out when I mention some of the hardier (some people refer to these as weedy) species here and in some cases they are unable to get past that sticking point.

Yes, the 1920's post WWI were for much of the Western world a time of recovery and stability.

An excellent post.

PS: Part of the reason that I started the blog about the farm here is that I felt there was a need to dispell (sic) much of the romanticism about living in a place like this. If the infrastructure is not set up well, in a crisis time that would be a very hard outcome to achieve - the place then becomes essentially a lot of hard repetitive work because a person has to then make up for system deficiencies in the infrastructure.

There is no fat of the land now.

There is however a new blog post talking about steel and concrete stairs, tropical monsoons, seed saving and tomato updates! All good fun and lots of cool photos: The go away price


magicalthyme said...

I've been reading here regularly, though without much time to post of late. I did want to update that, after many delays and false starts, my old-style morgan mare arrived last week. Her story is one of the ongoing collapse. The horse shipper I'd moved here with in 2003 went out of business in 2011. Another shipper who was still in it just a year ago -- and has made his living at it for 25 years -- no longer answers his phone. I'm not sure if he's out of business or dead. A facebook search unearthed a trainer who was trailering a horse from Ohio to Nova Scotia, who bailed on us after 3 false dates. Finally, in desperation, the seller made the 14 hour round trip herself, charging me only gas and tolls. I expect horse transport to get tougher in the future. The low gas prices won't bring the bankrupt back into business...

Maizie herself is a victim of the 2008 collapse. Many breeders rely on outside trainers and in recent decades often sold their babies as babies. 2008 left them unable to afford to send out to trainers, a dearth of buyers for untrained horses, and semi-pros who once took in a couple horses on the side could no longer afford insurance. And so there a a lot of horses that have been standing around, unbroke and unsellable, since 2008. She is one of them.

In other news, I have been burdened (and frightened) by student loans that I took out based on a string of lies, and trapped in the income-based repayment program as a result. And then I got a flyer a couple weeks ago. The holder of my small pension is offering us a one-time cashout. The estimated amount may be enough to pay off the student loans once and for all, so I'm investigating that and figuring out how I can do it. If it works, I will again be debt-free. Talk about just-in-time for battening down the hatches!

Anyway, I'm looking well forward to the current direction of your posts, JMG. While I've enjoyed the education of the more philosophy-oriented posts, your more urgent tone of late is spurring me to want to take action NOW!


wiseman said...

"One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship".

That's an excellent rule. One that is applicable to everyone.

In the context of PO adaptation I think people like "Mr Money Mustache" are doing an excellent job even though his blog is not at all associated with that thought.

Might I also add that for real adaptation to work one needs to have discipline and make real changes in their life, simply being aware of PO is useless and only adds to distress.

russell1200 said...

As someone noted last week, if part of your project involves a small off grid type pv solar system, you better get moving.

The tax write offs end for any system not in place by the end of the year, and it is unlikely they will be extended.

Mind you the tax incentives aren't a huge deal for the people putting up their own little system. But they are the life blood of the various lease-your-roof type plans, and the big solar farms. Since most of the supply of product gets its economy of scale from this type of work, supply for the small projects is going to go haywire.

And yes, since I have worked in the area of installing solar pv, I can assure you that there are many folks who seem to working under the assumption that it will be all worked out in the end. They have too much in the way of sunk-coasts (personal and otherwise) to think otherwise. However, I have met someone who was a big deal in Belgium before they pulled the plug on solar subsidies there. He isn't a big deal now: last I knew, he was sounding kind of broke.

jcummings said...

Hi jmg - lovely post as always. It hits quite close to home as a newish farmer. But being young, strong restorative ag zealots with access to free land, if not us than who? You're right about the learning curve , though - brutal.

Anyhow I humbly submit my entry to last weeks challenge - it was fun!


AngelusCruentus said...

You're a splash of cold water in the face, which irritates and invigorates in due process.

Bike Trog said...

I have a last chance to buy shopping list: a JMG book, dynamo radio, and a CD with an end-of-the-world song on it, since I used up the cassette 20 years ago.

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

I was working on plans to relocate to Northern Arkansas instead of Idaho, not too far out from Fayetteville. I sort of had in mind just supplemental farming not subsistence farming, and have been trying to learn bookbinding and herbalism (background in philosophy and medicine) as something to keep my mind occupied. I have to say that the "start little" approach works: get some chickens, put in a blueberry bed, read a little, don't get frenzied, but do get serious. The ideology has to go - either by letting go and being good humored about it, or else transcending it with meditative practice. I think that goes for just about everyone. The people that will get the farthest ahead in the time to come, I have the intuition, will be those who are first to help their neighbors, be they warlords, local sheriffs, ex suburbanites or just the local folk. MIght be a good time to dust off those Beatitudes and delve into some Bonaventura. If not now, when?

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

As an aside, from what I can tell, not all metro areas, towns, or even villages are "created equal". Yet another democratic teak idol that will get cracked.

Dave Stoessel said...

Fostering a community of civility seems important to me. Self sufficiency may be a good Castaway or Outlaw Josie Wales movie but the realities of our atomized existence requires some diligent practice at some "old" models of participatory democracy. How to actually make and stick with group decisions is a huge difficulty without practice. But until the decline reality can be comfortably discussed with truly interested and accepting neighbors each individual community will need a sharp slap or rap across the knuckles to garner enough attention to start the necessary organizing. In my well off neighborhood today, it is a fools errand....(I am scurrying after-raggedly) said...

Today in school, we read aloud the famed "I have a dream" speech of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from August 1963. Too many themes in it — police brutality, ghettos and slums, segregation and limited economic opportunity — seem to echo in our own times. An internal proletariat, which has made its appearance quite a lot in this blog of late. Of course, the American Prophet reminded us, "1963 is a beginning, not an ending."

If the US had wanted to do something before the height of its own domestic oil production, ten years before would have been enough... and 1963 would have been the year for it, since 1974 was the year that our own domestic oil production peaked. How prescient, then, the American Prophet, who said that America's promissory note had come back marked "insufficient funds."

Insufficient funds, indeed.

Charles DeYoe said...

Excellent post as always! (Side note: I've occasionally posted comments before as Nemo but now have my real name attached to my account. Anyone who doesn't recognize me or my previous username is forgiven.)

I've spent most of the past year working on developing traditional skills like farming, baking bread, and preserving food. I have to admit my garden was a pretty spectacular failure, but has been a great learning experience and that counts for something! I'll admit I sometimes lose sleep knowing that if I don't get my act together it could mean hunger in the future. But I'm trying to do what I can do and I trust continued practice will bring better results.

Are you familiar with the book Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy? I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks an old-fashioned rural lifestyle is sunshine & happiness. The book collects photographs and newspaper articles from a rural area in Wisconsin around the 1890s and each page is dripping with suffering, madness, delusions, disease, and similar horrors. I found it to be both fascinating and overwhelming.

Sixbears said...

I'm going to save a lot of time and pretty much agree with you. Yeah, I could quibble about a few points, but considering the big picture the quibbles don't much matter.

I've got that house in the country with a good well, access to flowing surface water, and solar electric power. There are some maturing nut trees planted and a small garden. However, there's a big difference between gardening and farming. My great grandparents moved to the US to avoid slowly starving and working themselves to death on a farm. Factory work looked good in comparison. Farming interests me not at all.

For years the house was a refuge. Family and even friends have moved in with us when experiencing hard times. A good hard look at my current situation shows that right now in a crunch situation we are more likely to move in with one of the kids than the other way around. I'm glad they are doing well.

So we had a house that may or may not be worth much to us in the future. My wife and I live on disability income, mine from a state plan and her's is federal. We rolled all our remaining debt into the house, leaving our other stuff free and clear. If our incomes keep coming in, the house payments are easy. If they go away, so will the house -but nothing else.

I've very tempted to live on a sailboat, having tried it and like it. Most boats are too expensive and tech heavy to be good options in the long run. There are good used modest sized boats that can be easily maintained and sailed by one or two people. We do have some skills that could be taken from port to port.

. . . or we could spend the rest of our days in our house in the mountains. The thing is, we accept at a gut level that things can change suddenly and for the worse. Good to have some backup plans.

RepubAnon said...

One thing that seems likely: we'll see a strong Republican victory in the 2016 elections. When an economy tanks, people look for scapegoats - and nobody does scapegoats better than Republicans.

Once firmly in office, we can expect a return to McCarthyism - reinforced by the 2nd Amendment fanatics serving as militias. That will last until things really fall apart.

Cathy McGuire said...

For what it's worth, I will second your comment that few of us are up to the heavy physical work of a homestead. I would be scrambling to feed myself on my 1/2 acre if basics went away (OTOH, if basics went way, along with my medicine,I'd be toast anyway) - but in the short run, I can afford the basics because I produce some good extras (including meat). But I want to tell anyone who hasn't tried it - manual chores take much more energy and time than machines (I know - duh...) and your priorities have to shift. I know that many people have commented here over the years that it's hard to have a foot in each world, and I suspect may get trickier soon. But whenever I grouse about how hard it is, I remind myself that "easy" belongs to the old expectations, which I left behind when I took up this life. This is hard, but this is still only practice. I'm hoping it'll help me tolerate future reversals or declines without the kind of shock many of my friends and family will experience if the bottom drops out.

On a cheerier note, I've posted the 15 entries on the Green Wizard sites (blog and forum) - even if you aren't a member or plan to vote, please check it out and let me know if I've left anyone out (JMG- do you have 15 also?). Once David gets over the flu, we'll figure out how to make the voting work.

Myosotis said...

I've heard a lot of family stories about the depression. But the one that stuck was my grandfather, after he'd been stationed in Okinawa in the 1950's saying that really they weren't poor in the Depression, it just seemed bad. Said there he saw kids fishing for minnows with teeny tiny wire hooks, looking half-starved.

Derv said...

Interesting as always, JMG. I'm hoping that, in this next stretch of posts, at some point you give us a "top ten" (or so) list of occupations/skills you think we ought to pursue for the short to medium term. I've wondered about that for a while now. I'm interested to know what to do with my free hand, to be sure, but I'd also like to know how to hold on to the ship!

I know personal tastes and abilities comes into it, as well as local conditions, and so on, but I think a few general trends could be noted.

For instance, I suspect that in the long run, blacksmiths of some form will come back into favor, but in the short term they probably won't be in high demand. The same goes for large-scale construction; we have a whole mess of buildings that will cover our needs for decades, with maintenance. One day, we'll have to get back to that, but not in my lifetime.

This is something that concerns me a fair deal, and I've brought it up a few times before on here. I can see and understand what kind of jobs we have in business as usual, and a century or two from now. But what about now, during the transition? You say we can't go get a farm, and I agree. That was never an option for me anyway, given that I'm disabled. So what should I learn to do instead that will put food on my table? I'm not asking you to decide my future for me. Just give me a list of jobs or skills that I can specialize in which you think might earn me a paycheck (or food, etc.) in ten years, twenty years, and so on. I hoped we would have more time than this. I pretty much screwed up in my planning. We've taken many steps to prepare, but not enough.

Seriously. I'm absolutely willing to commit to some skill and do my part. But I need some direction. And I'm sure a fair few others do as well. A short list of options would at least make my choices a bit clearer.

I appreciate any help you can give.

Rita Narayanan said...

Gardening & farmland

with all due respect a lot of gardening & pumpkin growing one notice's in affluent akin to industrialists sitting in the office while the working class deals with the coal.

the solar panels and quaintly posh earthiness does not have anything to do with the peasant farmer in Europe. The clean chicken coops all painted and low energy lighted is a nice experience but is it real????

Jo said...

Every new skill, from breadmaking to growing food to living on a tiny income requires an enormous learning curve and a certain amount of panic and resistance, and then huge amounts of practice to master, until it all becomes automatic and starts to feel normal. I figure that by voluntarily panicking about learning new skills right now, I can avoid panicking later when it becomes a necessity, and I need all those skills at once. Also, this course of action is introducing me to many accomplished and knowledgeable people who will be in great demand in a down turn. It is like networking for survival:)
And, oh my goodness, learning all this new stuff? More fun than I have ever had. If the decline and fall of civilization never happens, I will still have had the time of my life, and get to be a wise old granny who knows everything about gardening and herbs and preserving and a dozen other things I haven't thought of yet, and will have some great friends. Who could ask for more than that?

Repent said...

I used to like to go downtown in the 80's to the malls to play at video arcades, get a pizza, see a movie and so forth. Somewhere around the time that I bought my first car that changed; I no longer went anywhere that didn't have parking. Your point about dead malls is not lost on me:

Sometimes I miss the past, but there is no way to get it back. I think Billy Joel wrote a lyric in one of his songs that 'The good old days weren't always good, and the future is not as bad as it seems.' He has a point.

I'd also had the hobby farm for my retirement years fantasy. It remained a fantasy until one day I actually looked at what farm land costs. A small area of farm land, far from towns and services is about $300,000. The closer farms are to small towns, the higher the prices go from there. That 300 K figure woke me up to the reality that I'll never have a hobby farm to retire on. Also the thought of living out somewhere, after 1/2 a lifetime of urban living, where I would be in the middle of nowhere, with no services, no 9/11 ambulances available at a moments notice, no movie theaters or anything else to do other than work with your spare time, its not a pretty picture. Especially if you don't know anyone living out there. Will the locals even accept you? You may have a different religion, sexual orientation, or belief system than the people who grew up in the area. Exceptional risk irregardless.

I've resigned myself to helping get my kids to get launched and then I'm personally gone with the collapse. Acceptance of the end can be challenging, but I won't be among the survivors after a collapse.

I was briefly homeless in the early 90's and I had a taste of what it means to hit rock bottom. I sincerely don't believe most people have a remote clue as the the hardships we are heading into. With even the most pessimistic mainstream media only being concerned with wealth preservation by buying gold, et al. When there is no place to live, not enough to eat, and no way to accumulate and protect your possessions, these changes could spell mass suicide for those unprepared. I have no inkling to get back to rock bottom, but even if I end up back there, it a 'been there, done that' scenario. The wealthy and the middle classes have further to fall.

John Michael Greer said...

Hmm! This one seems to have hit an even more sensitive nerve than last week's. Time being at a bit of a premium for me just now -- I've got page proofs to finish on two book projects -- I'll only be able to respond to direct questions and a few other posts; those who simply wanted to comment, reflect, or agree, consider yourself individually thanked.

Paul, good. That's one of many reasons why the agrarian lifeboat notion is a non-starter.

Pinku-sensei, it's grandiose enough, and it's also got the benefit of grossness, which is a plus. Write that press release -- or better still, the sycophantic media article.

Clay, I well remember Rain -- I still have my copies of Rainbook and Stepping Stones, the two Rain anthologies. Yes, they were spot on, and the many who denounced them were just as wrong as we thought at the time...

TJ, I'd encourage you to try living that way right now -- to collapse now, and avoid the rush. That way you'll know for sure.

Cherokee, I appreciate the effort being made by you and others who actually live off grid and grow food -- a welcome corrective to the fantasies of the comfortable.

Magicalthyme, congrats on getting your horse! That's an important step toward the future, and one that I hope others are taking.

Jcummings, many thanks -- you're in the contest!

Charles, now there's a blast from the past! Yes, I read it thirty years or so ago, and yes, it's a wakeup call.

Cathy, I've got fifteen that have been posted here, and one more that's been sent to me backchannel by someone who can't post -- will have that up in a moment for your delectation.

Derv, let me think about that and consider a post. Before that happens, have you considered brewing beer?

John Michael Greer said...

And in squirrel news, longtime activist Mark Robinowitz has asked me to post the following entry to the Great Squirrel Challenge:

onething said...

Indeed, making something palatable from acorns is on my list.

It may be so that homesteading has its own risks, but it also seems to me that the more people try to meet their own needs, the better. especially when you consider that big ag is probably cruising for a bruising.

The problem around here is that it is the boomer age people who are homesteading, and the kids are off in the world. I know two people milking cows, and they are in their 70s. It would be good if my kids came home - we could use their strength. But the parents are working away at it, and the kids know where to go if it comes to that.

I'm reading a book called Hippie Homesteaders. It's about the early 70s swarm of back to the land hippies and the small percentage who stuck it out and stayed, often by becoming good at crafts. Although I came much later, I know a lot of the people in the book. I am struck by the sentiments these people express about why they came here (they are being interviewed about 10 years ago)- how very similar they are to things we are expressing here. It's eery. Like there was this blooming awareness and then it just sort of...died.

One of the reasons I'm opening up another garden plot is to grow a few grains, and that is as much to feed animals as myself. We are learning to raise chickens, and we want a breed that will reproduce itself. But, I'd hate to not be able to feed them.

I wonder about the roaming hordes. I don't necessarily doubt it, but how come we read about so many famines and we don't hear about everyone murdering everyone?

Ruben said...

@ Jim,

Most sailing vessels were merchant ships. and thus did not have marines handy to poke the sailors up the rigging.

They did have, however, a Captain and Mate armed with a knotted and tarred rope end, and probably a pistol.

But, if the storm was that bad the choice was to leave the sails up and ensure the death of all souls, or climb the rigging and maybe live. Seems apropos...

@ derv. Thank you for getting the nuances of blacksmithing and construction. Pet peeves of mine...

I would say, flat-out, bar none—shoe repair.

onething said...


I answered you last week about the daily KWH. It's about 17 average for the year.

It's true I balk at the cost of solar, but not just about payback. It's really expensive! I'm just not sure it's the way to go. What I'd really like is a small solar thingie that would just power an electric light quality light bulb.

When we had that Derecho and 12 days without electricity, (but we used a generator to keep our and our neighbor's fridges going) a light bulb at night was quite amazing.

I worry more about solar as an attraction, too, one that is harder to hide than stores of food. Rather than just stealing, it might make our place worth running us completely out of.

A lot of folks around here grew up without electricity. I hate the thought but it can be done.

You're right, too, about how the hippie farmers here are dependent upon their tractors and tillers. That's why I'm using my no till method (but it got started with a tractor as a one-time input). A couple of them tell me that without tilling they could no way keep the weeds under control. But, they dig up the soil that way and reduce it's life. I want to, from the get-go, garden as I will garden when I have to.

You have to remember that here the grass and weeds can grow a foot in a week.

My donkey said...

John, I wonder when an entry under your name will be reinstated at Wikipedia, the previous one being deleted in December 2013 because several people decided you were not notable.
Here's the link:
This seems very strange because there are Wikipedia pages for just about every other author in this and related fields (e.g. Albert Bates, Morris Berman, Richard Heinberg, David Holmgren, Rob Hopkins, James Kunstler, Chris Martenson, Dmitry Orlov, etc.)
Meanwhile, Wikipedia has articles on such apparently notable personages as Lawnchair Larry:
I don't get it.

steve pearson said...

JMG, You mentioned talking to people who had experienced the depression, WWII, etc.I grew up doing that, as well as talking to some WWI veterans, my father foremost. The reactions varied. Most WWI vets didn't want to talk about it at all. All my father would say was that after the 1st day at Gallipoli(British army) he had no friends left.For anyone who didn't pick up my comment to Kutamon or already know the song, I would recommend listening to "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda". Also, for anyone in London, going to the upgraded centennial WWI exhibit at the imperial war museum. Most of the WWII Wehrmacht veterans I talked to had the same reaction, as did people who had been in Japanese POW camps. I never knew anyone who had been in German death camps, so can't comment first hand. British, American, Canadian, French, Finnish,Polish, Japanese, NZ, Australian, Italian, Mexican, Philippine,Korean( my apologies to anyone I have overlooked) vets I have spoken to, as well as depression vets, tend to relate either funny stories or stories of the camaraderie. I think we the survivors tend to edit for positive as a survival mechanism.I was also a year in Vietnam, so can add that to the list.Perhaps dwelling on the horrific would be just too painful.
Things that do come through the selective memories though are the value of community/friends, adaptability and humor, as well as the role of the unexpected.
Regards, Steve

steve pearson said...

@ Jim, I find your comment about the sailors going up the rigging at bayonet point demeaning and, I think, uninformed. I can't say it never happened. There were certainly no marines on merchant ships.Mostly the sailors went up because it was what they did, they had a pride in their work, they were loyal to their mates and they knew that if the sails weren't properly set in a storm, they would all die.If you have references to the contrary, please quote them.

cognitiveberserker said...

Well I've been livin on a farm for eight years, organic beef, and chicken. Plenty of creeks and the river if you want fish, but I'd avoid it due to every known agrichem known to man resides in the river. Even at ppb they all interact. First ever 2 headed fingerling's was created by 4 petrochemicals at ppb strength co-interacting together... ugh so disgusting.

Water pumping is the most important energy for a ranch, be it solar or wind. Relying on bore water and rain fall is harder then the suburbanite thinks. Then when your crops get munged by pests you'll wanna cry. Cleaning water for use is even more of a worry really, particularly if you want to get the ppm down, hard to do that without oil. Where there's a will there is a way.

Oh the good thing about some rural places, all the pre industrial infrastructure, plus the industrial storage super structures are still in place. In future food will be power.

Plus you have all the technology of gasified power or wood gas. So some machinery will always be present. Particularity if you have a kiln and Smithery for tourist operations to be utilised for old school farming in the future.

So I'm not worried really. I live in an area with multiple resources.

Even if it falls apart to the point of local militia's. I always dreamed of being a barbarian. Battle axes are cool.

Yupped said...

Here's my 2cents. Given the magnitude of what we're facing, and how it is already playing out in so many ways and speeds, whatever happens to any of us is going to be highly unpredictable and impossible to really plan for. A flexible response is going to be much more important than a solidly built defense, whether that be a farm or a new career or whatever.

So don't put too much stock in any one set of material preparations. Instead, focus on building strong relationships with family and in your immediate community. Let go of as much stuff and really simplify your life as soon as you can. Learn to be happy with less - it gets much easier once you start, and keeps getting easier. Get your finances as tidy as you can. Build some practical skills (of the butcher, baker, candlestick maker variety). And most importantly get your attitude right - get comfortable with letting go, and be kind to yourself. It's not like there's a successful playbook for what we're facing, and most of us are likely to fall down hard in the early running. In fact, letting go of the farmstead may be the first thing some of us have to do when crisis hits, depending on our particular circumstances.

Forming a belief in reincarnation might be helpful as well :-)

Bill Pulliam said...

When we left college town Colorado for rural Tennessee nearly 13 years ago, I had just barely heard the words "peak oil" put together in that strange combination for the first time. I had never heard of a "transition town." We weren't preparing for the collapse of civilization. Indeed, I was motivated more by the presumption that suburban civilization's cancerous sprawl across North America would continue unabated for the rest of my lifetime, and I just wanted to get farther out from the leading edge of it. Connection to a place, roots in the land, all that mumbo jumbo. Plus the possibility to take more control over our food chain, water supply, etc., and the opportunity to bring a neglected and endangered historic house back to life. Preparing for collapse? Not on the radar, other than as the occasional joke.

So more than a decade later, the house still has a lot more to do on it, the grid electricity flows into it, my wife still works full-time at a salaried job with a long commute, and most of our calories still come from the store. But we are connected and rooted. And we have been learning more and more. I can raise chickens in my sleep now. I've proven to myself that I can manage a coppice wood for fuel with hand tools -- and having proven that, I now mostly use power tools, since the power is still cheap. I've grown field corn by hand, no ox, no plow, no engines. But we still buy our cornmeal. We've discovered all sorts of edibles that just fall from the trees, spring from the ground, and swim in the pond, so much so that even if the grocery shelves emptied tomorrow, forever, we think we'd probably not starve before we got the first harvest in. And just this week I have finally been learning how to get sugar from the maples. Somehow it is comforting to know than even in a world without fossil fuels, there can still be some occasional luscious indulgences for the sweet tooth.

I'm not saying "bring it on!" No, not by a long shot. It won't be fun. It'll be toil and sweat and dirt. No hurry here. But, at least it looks more survivable.

jbucks said...

I would say that part of the skills to learn especially are how to cooperate with groups of people - one of the things I imagine would be important is not only to take inventory of your own skills but also the skills of others around you, and to start to build a network of people in your area who are aware of the 'long descent' and are trying to collapse in advance. This is especially important for people living in cities, like myself.

Any thoughts from anyone about renting? My partner and I rent a flat, which I feel is one of our biggest weaknesses. At least we live in Germany, in a (relatively) poorer city where people in general are used to using less, and where people are more used to cooperation. But if our income goes, then making rent payments is going to be a problem once our savings run out.

steve pearson said...

I felt that I hadn't quite finished my thought train, if one ever can, but Yupped did a very good job of finishing it for me.
I think "we", if I may generalize,tend to think in terms of finding a bunch more we and forming a community, a la 60s & 70s.For better or for worse, we are going to have to form community with"them". There are a lot more of them & they tend to have more skills, more guns, more pitbulls, etc., etc.Perhaps, when the skata hits the fan, we shouldn't count on being under cover, but hope for a friend to wipe us off.
Back in the day when I lived on a "community" a bit north of Brisbane, people would talk about how great it would be when said skata hit said fan & they had to really get together and focus, which I guess meant growing two lettuces instead of one. I would always say that when that happened, I would go to Brisbane & join a gang. Of course, by then, it would be much too late to do that, but I didn't have to tell them that. Oh the stink eye I got; it warmed my heart to see it.
cheers, Steve

William H Duncan said...

I am loosely affiliated with one community that maintains housing for the autistic, and another that is ordered by "the Christ of our Time." Both seem to think the party will never end (though that "Christ" seems near his end), but I expect both communities to make it through this next crisis.

That, and I have a house in a city, with a greenhouse built and plans to take it off the gird, with 30 fruit trees, and 3000 sq ft of gardens, with the knowledge to build and grow. That, and wild foods and medicinals, and brewing.

I knew this was coming. All my life. Many people have thought my decisions to be worth less. I could be better prepared, but I have good friends, family and much love. I'm feeling good about where I am.

Though that recent State of the Union has me feeling like I'm howling at the moon.

Stein L said...

I live on an old farm, in farming country up in the mountains. From where I'm standing while writing this, I can see dozens of farms on the opposite side of the valley. Most of these are run with tractors, combines and other heavy machinery.
My closest neighbors have chosen another lifestyle. They came here 21 years ago, bought a farm similar to mine, and got to work running it in a sustainable, fossil fuels free way.
They're self-sufficient, with one horse and eight cows/calves. But it's hard work - so hard that the other farmers in the valley laugh, and say "Isn't it time to join the 21st Century?"
The couple running that farm don't mind. They're happy and content, and bone tired. They also look at least ten years younger than their actual age, which is what happens when you combine today's knowledge of proper nutrition with good, physical activity.

The road leading to the mountain pastures goes by my place. Often, in mid-winter, I can see that my neighbor has gone up to his crofts in the mountains, where he has stored firewood and hay during the summer and fall. His horse pulls an old but sturdy sled up to eleven kilometers into the mountain, often in deep snow, and sometimes in temperatures down to -16C degrees. My neighbor fills up the sled, and returns to his farm. A trek he carries out at least once a week in winter, trudging alongside his horse.

They sow, plant, cultivate and gather; they make cheeses and butter, sausages and other things that they sell to customers far and near.
And they really are self-sufficient, if and when needed, and possess skills lost to most here, after the diesel fueled motorized agriculture became ubiquitous.

They were way ahead of the curve, but are now being joined by others. There is greater interest in these skills and serious efforts are being made to record them, and to pass them on.

As to what it takes to carry out the physical work my neighbors take for granted ...
About 4000 calories per person, per day, unless you're doing really strenuous work, such as chopping down trees for lumber or other uses - then you need about 7000 calories per day.
My neighbors are lean and stringy, but they eat all day. Most of it food they've gathered, made and preserved, to last them all year.

It's possible, but it's also a lifestyle where you've consciously chosen "not to join the 21st Century," because you don't find it sustainable, in the long run.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Things do seem to be picking up speed. Here in Europe we are now going to be getting a trillion Euros of QE - supposedly to combat deflation. This was already priced into the markets so won't make an iota of difference, it just seems to be an empty gesture. Central bankers will no doubt soon have their Wizard of Oz moment when Dorothy lifts the curtain on them.

Here's a data point. In the UK our hospitals are in crisis due to, amongst other things, 'bed blockers'. These are patients who have recovered from whatever it is that brought them in there but are unable to return home again because the social services are unable to look after them due to budget cuts. So, for example, in Birmingham there is a 'state of the art' new hospital where robots dispense pharmaceuticals, but the wards are filled with relatively healthy people who have no other place to go.

To add to that, a new term has been coined ... 'granny dumping'. Apparently the elderly are being dumped in hospital by their children as a means of getting 'free care'. The lesson is: build a nice new hospital and it will soon be turned into a kind of hotel for the semi-sick. It's a social nightmare.

All the main political parties seem to agree that the only cure for this crisis is 'more technology', although the mind boggles to think what that might entail.

@ Paul "So when you've built your agrarian lifeboat, what do you do when the empty shelves in the supermarkets force the starving hordes to seek survival elsewhere?

This is one of the benefits of designing and living in a food forest. The starving hordes had better be patient as it can take months for things like mushrooms to appear, birch wine to be fermented and young lime leaves to be ready for a salad. They'll have to figure out how to catch the rabbits and squirrels, where to trap trout in the stream and which berries are edible and which will kill you. Of course, I know all of these things, which is why I'd be much more useful alive than dead, from their point of view. I'll keep a few tins of beans handy for those who can't wait.

Will it work? I've no idea — I have never tried living through a civilisational collapse before. But it's probably a better bet than doing nothing. And more enjoyable.

Compound F said...

yet another great post. in a fcinite world, your wisdom seems infinite.

I must correct you on the meaning of "bifurcation," mon frere. It's a technical idea from chaos theory. While I respect your views on history immensely, please don't be overly dismissive of the times when things really are different.

Don't get me wrong (Pretenders!), I love yer werk.

You are indeed a source of inspiration, but not the only one.

Cool, babe. keep up the freakishly good work.

Gabriela Augusto said...

My grandmother, born in the 1st January 1900 in one of the poorest mountain regions of western Europe, lived and raised her seven children in a small village (population 300 best of the times. Before I was 10 years old I used to stay with her for a whole month with her during the summer: no electricity or tap water, dry sanitation ( dry pinus and gum rockrose leaves, made it cleaner than water and heavy chemicals I use now), very little meat, milk only for the children. She was nearly 80 years old in my first memories, and still worked from sunrise to sunset. She gave birth to nine children, lost two when babies, and another when he was 20 with some rheumatic infection. All children attended school 4 years and got their diplomas. The girl’s stature exceeded 1,55m and the boys 1,70m. She lived until 1996, and died peacefully. Once I asked her what has been more difficult, while raising children with no fixed income, combustion engines, complex synthetized molecules, doctors or low cost imported products. "The shoes were very, very expensive, and each summer we had to find the money to pay for the shoes." Shoemaking may be a good skill to acquire in regions with cold winters...

Spanish fly said...

Here In Europe we have a cliffhanger this sunday. Greece could be the canary in the mine for the Brusells bureacrats. If Greeks leave EU they could be more friends of...Putin's Russia.
There are other anti-EU parties in other countries, so...
On the topic of this week:
My patch of farm land is not very big, but I have some chicken and fruit trees. My job will last a couple of years more, if I don't misbehave in my office desk (no berserking/freaking with the pornapocaliptic please). After my contract finishes, er...I don't want to think it.

boisdevie said...

We can't always easily change jobs or location but if we're planning for the future one thing most people can do is improve their fitness since chances are we're going to need to use our own muscles to do stuff. And I look around at all the unfit, obese people and think - they're going to have a very tough time. If they survive.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

No worries, I saw your reply - the lure of the competition was greater and it took up all of my free time...

Well 17kWh/day is much less than the average household down under. At least you now know...

As a reality check: If you have solar power system connected to the grid, and another Derecho rolls in and the power gets cut again - the solar will look good on the roof but it won't be useable. That is so that linesmen in your area don't get killed by your solar.

However, a small 12V solar power system is a no brainer. I run a small system here for my shed which comprises a 12V 200W solar panel, a 200Ah sealed AGM battery (it stores 2.4kW of energy) and a small charge controller. With that you can run, 12V lights, 12V pumps, 12V car refrigerator etc... All of that 12V stuff is so efficient nowadays it is staggering how little energy it requires. Even the new 12V refrigerators are hideously efficient.

And, the solar panel produces energy even on the cloudiest of days - it may not be much but it is sure better than nothing at all.

There is a video up of my bushfire sprinklers in action and two of them are powered by the small 12V solar system. There are so many things you can do with a small 12V system it amazes me - with a small inverter it can even power mains stuff.



gjemd said...

I think your Sailing Ship example is quite fitting. A sailing ship is essentially a Fascist Microcosum. Command and control.
It would seem the first casualty of the
Big decline will be finishing off what is currently left of a democratic process. As bad as that will be it seems a simple choice of Food vs Free Speech. Even Totalitarian
Regiemes do not hold up against mass hunger.
Ask Louis about it inthe 18th century.

The last real collapse was the 30's. Ironically most Americans were still Subsistence farming and reality changed little. Other than a premium on dry goods and hardware life went on. This time is different. All AMericans are dependent on some greater system fo subsistence. I don't know what part of the 17 trillion dollar ecomony it commands but I would guess 50% or 8 Trillion dollars is exchanged simply for daily exsistence. That in it's self would dampen the blow. If you then add the 80 milion people on fixed income you have additional conterforces. assuming the Government continues the simple accounting of transfer payments. They don't have to print money to do that. Simply keep the books to appear balanced. ie Japan. All in all I don't have much optimism for the future. i would suggest living in an area with mild climate in town of 100,000 high density of retirees surrounded by productive farm land.

Tony f. whelKs said...

'One hand for yourself...' is indeed a wise old saw, handed to me by an avuncular bosun whilst I was a rookie at sea. Luckily the days of sail were far behind and I only had to go aloft on rare occasions to service the satellite dish atop the mast. I don't have much of a head for heights and was duly grateful for a modern climbing harness. I can only admire the sheer guts of the rigging monkeys who had to go up in all sorts. At least I have a cast-iron stomach and was in the one-third of the crew that could keep their breakfasts in a force 12 ;-)

But there is a point to this reminiscing: there was a second wise old saw, handed out by an avuncular skipper (during the said force 12): 'No matter how bad things look, the ship is still the safest place to be around here'. Immersion suits and lifeboats are all well and good, but don't over-estimate your chances - which I think a lot of people seeking those metaphorical lifeboats are prone to do.

In other news, BP are laying off North Sea oil workers, yet on land the UK government is getting set to over-ride local planning authorities to force through approvals for fracking, as though they're quite unaware of the subtle popping sound coming from that sector across the Pond. If oil stays below $50 (which BP boss Bob Dudley expects may last 5 years or more), the economics of fracking will become increasingly quixotic. The political classes here are missing the point in a big way, clamouring to look tougher than each other on the energy suppliers by demanding gas and electricity price cuts, whilst ingnoring the obvious facts of the deflation which is driving the process. Politicians are clambouring over each other to give loudest vent to the entitlement tantrums which increasingly mark the 'popular will'. They're competing to make the most grandiose promises about maintaining extravagent privileges by punishing various scapegoats. Some ugly things are coming to the surface all around Europe.

I'll conclude with one final piece of mariners' advice: we were told to keep some important personal memento with our survival gear - be it a family photo, lucky charm, pocket Bible, or whatever else holds meaning. All else being equal, that simple element can make all the difference to your chances of survival. If the ship (civilisation) goes down, it is those who can hold on to their values, identity and humanity who are likeliest to pull through.

Fair seas and following winds to one and all.

nuku said...

Dear Archdruid: thanks you for this post which I will share with the small circle of local resourceful clear thinking people I know who are not trapped in the “business as usual” mindset. These days, I don’t waste my limited time and energy throwing pearls before swine; I prefer preaching to the converted.

The marine metaphor resonates with me because I’ve spent 47 of my 70 years as a yacht sailor; 17 cruising full time around the Pacific on my 40 foot steel ketch. By pure chance, I’m currently re-reading Richard Henry Dana’s classic “Two Years Before The Mast” and just finished the chapter describing an epic 6 day storm off Point Conception (California’s Cape Horn).

More than once I’ve been in the kind of storms you and he describe, literally practicing the mariner’s rule, in full survival mode with no hope of outside assistence. “Beam me up Scotty“ was not an option (but was at times a lively fantasy). In the end, it was my own and my shipmates‘ skills, wits, luck, and a good solid boat that brought us through.

In my younger days as a UC Berkeley undergrad during the Cuban missle crisis, I was very tempted by the “Lone Ranger” fantasy. I had a boat at the local marina picked out to steal and use as a getaway/hideaway; even had a stash bag of gear and food packed and ready should the shit really hit the fan...

These days, older and maybe a bit wiser, living by choice in small town/rural New Zealand, in my own house with large garden, etc, I’m counting on the local community of like-minded folks to help each other during the storms to come and to enjoy whatever calm sailing there is in between.

Over the years I’ve acquired many practical skills which I freely share with friends and neighbors those who see their usefulness and genuinely want to learn. I lend my tools only to those who value things like a premium quality handsaw I bought 45 years ago and still use and know how to sharpen. Yes, Chinese made throw-away tools bought at the Big Box still have their uses, for now, but not in the longer term.

nuku said...

@Jim: mate, not all ships had marines, in fact only naval ships had them. Sans marines, what gets you up the ratlines and out on the yardarms in a raging storm is the instinct for survival, and for some of us, the desire to help our shipmates. Take it from one who has been there.
Yes, of course you’re also right that force will be used, but that often breeds thoughts of mutiny...

carol.b said...

I feel much the same as Derv, that I am looking for some sense of direction. I know there are skills I like developing (weaving, sewing, dyeing) but in my small circle a lot of people prefer to stick with re-using cloth/textiles and perhaps I'm kidding myself that these are useful. I'd love to see some kind of a forum for discussion of useful skills and knowledge. A year or so ago you posted a list of critical skills to develop - metal-working, printing, and intensive gardening were on the list I believe. If anyone out there has the time, skill and inclination to get such a discussion group started, please let me know!

Timcognito said...

My brother, my wife and I in 2012, along with my 2-year old made a conscious decision that an older rural property with land would be infinitely better than a flat in South East England. We are all keen gardeners and have found that the biggest problem is the amount of jobs that need doing. We have all managed to transition to a more active, "hands-on" daily existence and even had the added benefit last year of a dear friend for 7-weeks helping out. It's a harder way of living, but magnitudes more fulfilling than a western industrial economic way! My daughter is growing up in an environment whereby this hard work, seasonality, cooperation and slow food is "normal". Best of luck to everyone. We will always accommodate volunteers and keep you fed and share any and all knowledge we have. Best Regards Tim. (

redmachus said...


Your post this week strikes me as the G-rated version of Alec Baldwin's speech in Glengarry Glen Ross: "If you want to work here, close". No bad thing, in my opinion. It's a work, and perhaps it will motivate some people to do what they know that should be doing, myself included. The problem, I fear, is that you are most likely preaching to the choir, and anyone who isn't listening, for whatever reason, is unlikely to start until it's too late.

Still, like you say, there are all sorts of ways for people to start doing something, wherever they might find themselves at the moment along the spectrum of collapse. I'm sure you'll have more suggestions as time goes on, and the great thing about this community is that, as more people become aware of it, the more we can learn from each other, and help each other work on our proverbial farms.

Steve from Lakewood said...

Part of the reason oil has been so rapidly used in the US is that it has long been heavily subsidized--this is done subtly, but that is exactly what the function of the "oil depletion allowance" is in the IRS code. Yet folks get snarly when they talk about subsidizing alternative energy!

I currently am looking at alternatives, but am somewhat tied down with aging parents who need physical and emotional support for a few more years. Since my lottery tickets keep letting me down, that sort of limits my options of getting a home in the country in addition to my home in the city near the folks, etc. I have read most of the survivalist and preppie literature, and noted the cult followings of most of the authors with amusement. If, for whatever reason, there is a fairly rapid collapse scenario, I suspect only sociopaths will survive. After people have missed 20 meals straight in a row, they will cease to obey their socializing training and anything will go. If you look at a map, where in the US can you go that is more than a gas tank from a major metropolitan area? Nowhere! So you are forced to rely on community and sufficient stored resources for survival--the one hand for yourself and one for the ship metaphor worked out on land. And that will get you through a slow speed collapse scenario as well.

As an aside, I laugh at the folks who plan to do the Jeremiah Johnson thing and take to the hills. I live in Colorado, and knowing that the Plains Indians ate 2-1/2 to 4 pounds of meat a day, depending on activity levels, the entire game population of Colorado would last a month! There are real advantages to ranching and farming to sustain yourself! I predict cannibalism would ensue any rapid collapse among those who take to the hills......

Anyway, JMG, the one hand for yourself one for the ship metaphor has a pretty wide range of applicability.

thecrowandsheep said...

I was browsing my blog ( and discovered an
Entry for the Great Squirrel Case challenge!

While squirrel power is possibly the way to go, dogs seem to me a far more efficient (and obedient) source of energy:

As part of an expanded series on fabulous new technologies, Infinity and beyond + 1 magazine (where infinite is not nearly enough) sat down with Wolfgang Bach to discuss his invention that will completely revolutionize the way power is generated: Rover Rotors, a device that uses dogs to drive electric generators.

Chester said...

Just got this in my journo inbox:

"Dear Mr. Chester,

First Russia was interested in mining energy from the moon. Now China is actively taking steps toward developing the ability to mine helium-3 from the lunar surface. And while NASA and start-ups like Planetary Resources (a venture of James Cameron and Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt) have started research on lunar mining, author Chris Orcutt wants to know why we don't include helium-3 as part of the alternative energy conversation.

"Just 44 tons of helium-3 could power the entire United States for a year, but most people have never even heard of this stuff. The more research I have done, the more I believe there is a consensus in the scientific community that helium-3 is a viable energy alternative," says Orcutt.

“Why are we risking our environment with fracking when we have a huge supply of a viable alternative available to us? And even more puzzling is how could there be a viable alternative that most people do not even know exists? These are questions for society to ponder. My hope is that my new book will help start that conversation," Orcutt adds.

During a thought-provoking and engaging interview, Orcutt can discuss

* Why he believes lunar helium-3 is a viable alternative to fossil fuels
* How, in layperson’s terms, helium-3 fusion differs from our current energy sources
* Why government and corporate interests may be blocking the development of this energy source
* Why we need to talk more about viable alternative energy sources
* What could happen if China develops helium-3 technology first.

Please let me know if you would like to review Orcutt's new book, A Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Interviews with Orcutt are also available. Thanks in advance!


*PR Flak"

I thought you guys were joking about people taking lunar mining seriously.

ay kay said...


Thank you for your ongoing, brilliant work.

I feel fairly disheartened by your words: "If you’re already on a rural farm, in other words, by all means pursue the strategy that put you there. If your plans to get the necessary property, equipment, and skills are well advanced at this point, you may still be able to make it, but you’d probably better get a move on. On the other hand, dear reader, if your rural retreat is still off there in the realm of daydreams and good intentions, it’s almost certainly too late to do much about it, and where you are right now is probably where you’ll be when the onrushing waves of crisis come surging up and break over your head."

That sounds about right to me. I'm 29 years old, and have been doing intensive organic vegetable farming and permaculture work for several years now. My dream has been to start a permaculture operation growing perennial medicinal and edible plants.

Unfortunately, I was bamboozled like many people of my generation into taking out a significant chunk of student loan debt many years ago to pay for an education that hasn't served my longterm interests.

I have learned a lot from my work on various farms and permaculture operations, but have obviously made very little money doing so. My skillset has grown significantly, but my debt has grown right along with it.

At this point it feels an impossibility that I should ever obtain land, even a modest parcel, let alone finance the beginning of an operation like the one I've envisioned all these years.

I've moved from rental home to rental home, trying to make ends meet while pursuing this self-directed education, but now feel completely stuck. And if what you are saying is true, then it is highly unlikely I will ever be unstuck.

Meanwhile, many of my peers in the young organic farming movement are in a similar situation: lots of skill and knowledge, lots of passion and commitment, but lots of debt and zero access to land or other resources as well. Our elders in the farming community tell us to work off our debts and build our credit with the intention of taking out loans for land someday. But we all know that with things the way they are that this is a futile road leading nowhere. That may have been an option for their generation, but it isn't an option for ours. Sometimes we joke among ourselves that we are likely to end up an entire generation of serfs. Now that the tremors of our time are growing in severity, the laughter is wearing thin.

I know there are far too many specific factors at play to make this a truly answerable question for you, but I can't help but ask you, admittedly with a degree of despair and desperation: is there anything to be done by people in our circumstances? We live at the mercy of landlords. Weatherstripping and installing solar water heaters don't feel like meaningful actions when we can be tossed out at any moment. And working on the land of other farmers feels just as unstable. Meanwhile, we know that there will be a higher demand for local produce in the times ahead. But how to meet that demand if we can't start new operations of our own?

Any and all insights or advice from you or other readers would be greatly appreciated.

With much respect, a landless farmer in Texas

jonathan said...

jmg- i must admit to being much less sanguine about the future than you are. i understand the analogy to the early 20th century, but consider how our society has changed since then. in the early 20th century somewhere between 30%-50%(depending on the specific year) of u.s. residents lived on farms and were often self reliant or could be with modest life changes. many people were still farming with animals rather than fossil fuel power. many people were not on an electrical grid and would not have missed electricity if the grid failed. many had wood stoves and knew how to use them to heat and cook. many people preserved their own food. the u.s. population was, overall much less vulnerable to disruption than we are today. if "just-in-time" deliveries to food stores are interrupted, refrigerators and pantries will be empty within days.
the skills that allowed folks to survive hard times are rarely found today. the self-reliance skill sets that permitted people to cope without much assistance beyond their families and nearby neighbors are absent now.
a major economic crisis in the u.s. will be much more damaging than the depression was in the 1930's. and the consequences of a world war would be unthinkable.

GHung said...

Paul, up top, said: "So when you've built your agrarian lifeboat, what do you do when the empty shelves in the supermarkets force the starving hordes to seek survival elsewhere?"... to which JMG responded: "Paul, good. That's one of many reasons why the agrarian lifeboat notion is a non-starter."

Pardon me if this seems a little absolutist. There are rare communities where people are already cooperating in growing things, trading things, assisting each other, watching each other's backs, etc.. I'm not talking about the "intentional communities", communes or somesuch (although they may be out there), but places that have typically been 'underserved' by the modern growth era, where informal economics have been practised for decades if not centuries, alongside whatever benefits the formal economy offers.

The ideas of making sure everyone gets fed; that many needs can be met without the complex, top-down, intermediary-populated systems; where a sense of entitlement is generally frowned upon, but where it simply isn't acceptable to de-humanise your neighbor whatever your differences; these aren't new ideas. In my area, the many small churches, along with family/inter-family ties provide a very real parallel structure underlying officialdom; a sort of redundancy many so-called communities have dispensed with.

Regarding “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship”,, many families or partnerships in my area have this sort of arrangement; one person working in the formal economy while the other partner runs the homestead; bypassing the costs, liabilities, complexities, and intermediation of being fully immersed in our failing economy; having it both ways, in a sense. I think this is a sensible arrangement these days if it can be worked out. In my family's case, this situation was forced upon us (the 2008 crash did us a favour, it seems), and it's been working; no sense in changing that at this point.

I fully agree that if you haven't already been heating with wood for a while; if you haven't already been growing at least some of your food; if you haven't been practising food preservation; if you haven't been living with the water sources you plan to be living with permanently; if you haven't established cooperative relationships with others living a similar lifestyle; if you haven't been testing these things by living them, it's probably too late to begin. I fear this is most of you. Hopefully this community can suggest some strategies for those of you fully committed to things as they are. Remember that most folks who find themselves immersed in such changes manage to muddle through. In my way of thinking, muddling through successfully beats a long commute and spending a chunk of your life sitting in a cubicle somewhere. Ultimately, it's all in your mindset.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I agree with Andy Brown about story, myth, culture, and I would add the arts in general--music, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, poetry, fiction. Not modern-art-as-investment stuff, TV or commercial action movies but human-scaled art as carrier of cultural identity, moral lessons, instructions for living as a human being, expression of how it is to live as a human being in a world of dangers, relations with other species and gods.

Oddly, I was just thinking about the arts as what I would want to help preserve last night (before reading JMG's post) during and after a dance performance I attended. This is besides all the practical and ecological stuff I'm working on. To me, arts and ecology are linked since they have to do with our place in the world and our relations with Earth.

Chris Balow said...


I wanted to dig a little deeper into the issue of climate instability in eastern North America. Particularly, I am interested in the point you made in this week's post about rainfall bring unstable in the South and Midwest, and more reliable in the Appalachians and points eastward.

Are there any links or resources you can provide me that show documentation of the aforementioned rainfall patterns?


dalecarnegie said...

I can't help but feel one of the greatest currently-underutilized resources in the nation is young people. Huge swaths of the young population area currently out of work, and too many spend most of their time on the phone or computer. For many young people, if they have any money at all, a one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach might be the best: assist their local community with collapse and transition while/in addition to learning the essentials of food production. If farms are going to decrease in size from 1500 acres to <100 acres, what we now think of as "intensive gardening" will be one of the most important skillsets in future agriculture.

I am attempting this path, apprenticing under an organic farmer during the summer and building connections around town the rest of the year. Organic agriculture ought not to be romanticized, as it can be quite horrific. Have your hands ever been orange-colored from squishing a row of potato bugs? For that matter, do you know the tiny prick of a potato bug on your fingers as its head bursts from its body? Imagine doing that every other day for the next 40 years of your life. It makes my feeble suburbanite stomach turn, but it is real life for real people.

There are still some good things about farming. I got to watch the farmer's son ride a small goat - a kid riding a kid! That made all the work that day worthwhile, and it made me push harder for that "rural retreat" even though time is short and biceps are weak.

Suburban people who are collapsing where-you-are: learn about the essentials of medicine and food while you can. Gill

Thank you for the blog post as usual.

Clay Dennis said...


I wanted to put in my nomination for ultimate green wizard skill, that it is much too late to acquire as per your post. While looking through my back issues of RAIN, yes I have Stepping Stones, Rainbook plus all the back issues. I came across my collection of old Small Farmers Journals. This was ( and might still be) a publication dedicated to preserving and relearning the skills of raising, training, equiping and useing draft horses for farming or woodland work.
Talk about a technologocal suite of skills that would take a lifetime to learn. But if you had them and the situation to support some draft animals you would be sitting pretty for whats ahead.

Also, one way you could cut down on your time alloted to reading and responding to comments would be to limit each person to one comment in a 24 hour period like Morris Berman does on his Blog.

Shane Wilson said...

Speaking of farms and farming, do you foresee a collapse in agribusiness/factory farms with the collapse of the global economy? I'm wondering how long before we see organic/biodynamic squatters on abandoned agribusiness land...

The Raven Collective said...

It just so happens that my husband and I are purchasing a 2 acre spot this month to give us more options. But-! 1- We're having a 20-something couple renting a tiny house parking space who will be helping us (they've already transitioned down to living in a small space.) 2- We've been renting on rural property for the last 4 years and been gardening, and we've kept chickens for 2 years. 3- 2 adults work outside the home, and 2 (including myself) are focused on working full-time on our land (and it IS hard work, and spoiled babies don't last long at it, I fully agree!)

We'll be moved in by the end of March where we'll be paying less than rent for our current small 2-bedroom apartment in a 50 year old building. Even less than that splitting costs with the younger couple. We're otherwise totally out of debt and have built up savings so we had already decided it was now or never to go for it.

Looks like we're just barely in time!

Cathy McGuire said...

@TJ: you make a good point; I wouldn’t call it too optimistic, but just warn against the inner voice that tries to smooth over “how hard”. I wasn’t insinuating my friends/family don’t have a hard life – but it’s hard in the wrong ways; ways that won’t help them with what’s coming. My hard life will be a good practice, I think. But you have to change your attitude sharply, if you start resenting the daily grind (which seems to be a human habit; we all love novelty) then you cut corners and procrastinate and things don’t go well. To bring different attitude – one that is fully engaged in buttering bread and brewing tea, for example – is one way to smooth the bumps of practicing a new life.

JMG, to respond to your question – my other hand will be out teaching skills; I have a wide range of manual skills that I know, plus books of details that I’d be willing to share, hopefully in return for a little garden spading or help lifting bee hive boxes, etc. I’ve always been a jack of all trades, but that has the advantage of being able to creatively blend some of those skills when something odd goes wrong on the “homesteadette”. I also should be able to share veggie seeds of many kinds.

One thing to note is that usually you can’t pick your neighbors, so – especially in rural areas where getting to “like minds” is a drive – it’s good to learn to tolerate and work with them. I’d mentioned back a few posts that one crazy neighbor had slapped a lawsuit on me in order to take back an easement across her land; I held my ground legally but didn’t attack verbally – and last week she just out of the blue dropped the lawsuit before we had to go to court! She still won’t open the easement, but the county will take care of that fairly soon (long story). Now the 1-acre property on my other side is going into foreclosure and I have a pipe dream about grabbing it cheap and finding some young couple/group who are into organic gardening to work it for a low lease – there’s been 3 sets of druggie couples in that place since I got here, and I’m ready for a change! And also, since another neighbor wants to buy it and cut down the magnificent evergreens that I look out on every day! It’s probably not do-able, but I said that about my last property acquisition and that is going well… so who knows!

@Andy: I just started some mead this weekend! And it’s “muddling through mead” – two of my three beehives died (I’m amazed and proud that my self-built topbar hive still has a live colony of bees that wandered in, while the bought’n ones died) and I found about 10# of honey in frames. Not wanting to feed back to bees (just in case – dunno why they died) I harvested the sticky mess (I don’t have machines or gadgets) and in order to clean the tubs, poured hot water in to melt the honey, and also boiled up the bits of sticky comb in water. That, of course, suggested mead, so then I moved to filtering/bottling and adding yeast, and I have two gallons bubbling in the kitchen. Completely “scrap mead” except for some wine yeast, so this again is practice for when the far-away supplies dry up or are too spendy. I’ll let you know how it turns out. :-)

@MagicalThyme: Good luck with the horse and the loans! Sounds like a wonderful adventure!

@Rita: The clean chicken coops all painted and low energy lighted is a nice experience but is it real????
I agree. I often feel bad because my place already looks “post collapse” in that appearances take back seat to function – and I’m waiting for when the pressure pushes other so-called “earthies” to get real… OTOH, some people are just more energetic and have lots of extra time/money to invest in pretty… it may continue to be so.

PS – My copy of After Oil 2 came in, and the stories I’ve read so far are excellent! Congrats to all the authors in this edition!
And I've got the 3 new entries to post on GW.

Eric S. said...

It seems, in a lot of ways, that the mindsets and strategies you’re encouraging have a lot in common with the paths to spiritual mastery offered in a variety of cultures around the world. I’d never thought about it this way, but the focus on learning, not letting yourself be ruled by passion and material attachment, and placing your value on the truths and experiences that can be found within yourself, and even that sense of being slightly apart from the rest of society are all adaptive strategies that have evolved alongside humans. Every culture has some group of sages or philosophers or monks or magicians or some combination of the above that stands slightly outside of the rest of society. Sometimes they’re feared and hated, sometimes they’re revered and honored, but they’re never completely accepted or seen as normal. Adopting the strategies you’re outlining here is something that pursued to its end looks very similar. And those people, as marginal as their lives may be, also hold the heart and soul of a civilization. If they lose everything, they’re not broken or bitter or incapable of action because the only things they had of consequence were in their minds and bodies. Attitude is an important part of survival… and someone who can lose everything and still smile, and most importantly still find ways to live a worthwhile productive life is also someone who is going to weather a crisis a lot better and carry more of value through.

Matthew Sweet said...

This will not fall under the category of cheerful agreement. Rather I feel a bit burned by this post. I hope you will try and address my points.

For starters I fall into the middle class agrarian dreamer category, which I freely admit. I'm not sure how other people have found this blog, but I came to it by continuing to explore ideas related to climate change, leading to peak oil, PCI, and finally here (if memory serves). So within the last four or five years. I imagine some large proportion of the thousands of readers you have are also in the middle class daydreamer camp.

If as you suggest it is too late to try and adapt to the future you see before us, then of what use is this blog and the various publications you have produced other than to provide comfort to your version of the righteous remnant who, long before reading your material, started the transition for themselves? I commented on your Dark Age America posts that it felt to me like a series meant to inspire your readers to take relish in the oncoming doom of the sinners of the world and take heart that "we told you so", like a bad horror movie allows its viewers to take joy in the violent deaths of the sexy cool kids. Is that what this is all about at the end of the day?

If there is no hope for me and those like me who haven't started in 2005 or 1985 for that matter, why publish a book like Green Wizardry which purports to be a handy guide to various tactics for living with LESS? Has a fool (me) been parted with his money? A couple of weeks ago I vented about being fed up with talking about the whys and hows of peak oil, climate change etc and wanting to get on with doing productive things, and you chided me by saying that projects such as this blog are still useful in communicating to those who have an open mind. Now two weeks later, it's too late. I have great difficulty with that.

Carl said...

Dear JMG,
Your comment about the west coast of North America baking in the sun is right on target. In Northern California we had a wet November and December (20 in. of rain in Napa), but now we haven't had any rain in January and it looks to go down as the driest Jan. on record (last year will be second place). There is hardly any snow in the Sierras and what was there is melting rapidly. The winter snow pack is a third of the state's water resource in the summer.
This weekend it is suppose to get in the mid 70's F - another record. I'm having to water my fruit trees and winter veggies.

Unfortunately, I'm no closer to moving the family east of the Mississipi and into reliable rain fall territoy.
Thanks for another kick in the back side, Carl

Elizabeth Skewis said...

Hello Yupped: Thank you for your comment about letting the farmstead go, if needed. I have been thinking about the same thing. What if you have to bug out of your bug out? It's a damned uncomfortable thought. I have recently been practicing being comfortable with uncertainty, it's so tricky but, I think, one the ultimate adaptability tools. If or when things fall apart, can any of of know where we will ultimately land. In permaculture they say that the map is not the territory. Since buying our little farm, I have been learning this in spades. Things rarely pan out how you think they will and sometimes we end up with crazy abundances in strange places-like apples on the trees from July through December, really. Can we count on that next year? Who knows? And, if and when things go to hell, would it make more sense to pack my dogs and my husband and my chickens off to my againg parents' home to care for them and try to eke out a living there?

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

JMG and all,

Here in Brazil we are watching a train wreck in slow motion, something that resonates with the theme of your latest posts. São Paulo, our biggest city, one of the biggest in the world with more than 10 million people, is slowly drying up all of it's stored water and will be without it in the near future (probably until the end of the year, but it's hard to predict. They are literally scrapping the bottom of the storage system for water, and that bad and poluted water in the bottom of reservoirs is what currently feeds the city).

A combination of factors lead to it, but the central issue is that the same political party governed (and still does) the state for the last 20 years. The policies responsible for water management followed neoliberal doctrine, which means privatization. That eventually lead to lack of investment and maintenance to pay off stock holders, and today 30% to 40% of the water is lost en route in the pipe network. There was a warning by specialists in 2003 that by 2010 the demand would not be met, but there was no effective response to it. No investments to increase storage, no efforts to curb consumption, no rationing took place, no campaings for rational use of water, no provisions, nothing. In 2014 the governor was reelected with 57% of the votes.

The weather did make the situation worse with a severe drought last year. There is not enough studies to link this particular case to climate change directly, but the hottest year on world record surely had something to do with it. In any case, we have one century of reliable climate data that could be used to statistically predict cyclic droughts, and nothing was done.

Add to the mix a media with a political project, protecting this same party from deserved criticism and open debate, and you have the current situation, in which massive layoffs, relocation of industries and exodus from the city is predicted and some of it already, and slowly, happening.

Bad political decisions will bite us back sooner rather than later.

I'm not sure if these news are current outside of Brazil, but don't be surprised when it comes.



David said...


I appreciate the premium on your time, so I understand the limited ability to respond. If you or any of the other readers have insights to share, they would be very much welcome.

As I contemplate the decline, collapse and my participation in the unfolding drama, I find myself pulled in two directions, not necessarily incompatible, but not necessarily aligned either. On the one hand, I am continuing to simplify and reduce my technological footprint, but I do live in a (small) town and not in the countryside. I have my community garden plot, my homebrew, and I am working on developing more skills along those lines.

On the other hand, I work at a municipal utility, and not just a regular city-owned utility, but one with a rather unique legacy. For the first fifty years of its existence, the city of Manitowoc had its own electric grid, completely separate from the national transmission network and has retained its generation capability. That legacy included some hefty manufacturing (e.g. submarine construction during WWII), no small feat. While we are now part of the larger network, we still have substantial energy producing resources and could, in part at least, power the city even if the rest of the country went dark. This is not a "solution" to decline, but it does provide a buffer.

In the 12 to 15 years remaining in my projected career here, I have the potential of moving into a role with some leadership authority. Do I invest this time and energy into the system, working to increase our robustness and independence (against the grain of the finances and economics, generally), in order to serve the public good and provide that public with a stronger resource than it might otherwise have?

I'd appreciate anyone's thoughts. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Having tried the farming thing, even with fairly liberal application of diesel fuel, you still have to be in good shape to be a farmer and you might not appreciate how much and how diverse knowledge you need to do well in it. It is a business that will punish the inexperienced with the opportunity to make multi-thousand dollar (sometimes multi-10k) mistakes per day. Make enough of those mistakes and you rapidly go out of business. Let me tell you it is unpleasant to have strangers and neighbors go thru all your stuff when the auctioneer comes.

Scotlyn said...

I have spent this week reading "One Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka, an account of one Japanese farmer's "learning curve" as he learns to let go of this "essential" or that (human knows best) and out how to work with (live in) nature's ways instead. As a bonus, although the work doesn't all go away, much of the "doing" of farming does. Growing and harvesting food also becomes a way of relating (I/thou) to the land & its various denizens, with yourself as one among them.

Quote: "People are only concerned with whether this kind of farming is an advance into the future or a revival of times past. Few are able to grasp correctly that natural farming arises from the unmoving and unchanging center of agricultural development... Nature does not change, although the way of viewing nature changes from age to age. No matter the age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture."

A testament, if any is needed, that the heart of nature beats all around us, and "tuning in" appropriately can be done from whatever time & place we are actually in now.

The full book is available as a free pdf file. Recommend.

Scotlyn said...

I could add that, while the place my husband and I find ourselves in is an actual farm, thankfully free of debt, and although we are farming it many years, there is still a learning curve. We unlearn most of the "new" petrochemical farming habits & revive some older ones, while also trying to "tune in" to how the land "wants" to be farmed...

Martin said...

I'm an older guy. I was born in the midst of the "Great" Depression was nurtured, taught and raised during the rest of that and through WWII by parents (and older siblings) who, by modern standards, didn't have much in the way of material stuff. What they did possess (and I hope I later gained) was so-called common sense and a bravura of sorts that saw us all through those trying times.

I suspect that if those of you who are looking for a way through what's coming cultivate at least those traits, most of the rest you think you require will pretty much fall into place, with some effort, of course.

Will you have trials and tribulations? Most certainly - that's part of life, but I predict you'll have an easier transition than those who do not cultivate those traits.

Jim Irwin said...

pleased to read in this post your mention of warmer epochs in the geologic past, this fact is rarely mentioned by climate change enthusiasts, what puzzles me is that nobody seems to perceive that these warmer epochs correlate with greater biologic diversity and prosperity, simply put, the earth's climate is never static and for plants and animals warmer is better.... in the context of the pending energy crunch, we should hope it gets warmer...

Jason Heppenstall said...

@Chris. Thanks for the vote of confidence regarding my entry. For some reason it has been picked up by Google News and is getting plenty of hits. I'm waiting for the first offers of funding to role in. As for 'The Devil's Cojones' that was just a figment of my over-active imagination.

When I read your entry about GM zucchini I immediately thought of Gulliver's Travels and the whole 'extracting sunlight from cucumbers' effort by the mad scientist in Laputa, the society with short attention spans. And that was written in 1726, so it just proves that those squirrels have been marching for a while.

Just Because said...

The idea that we should be ready for some chaos now- not later- rings very true. Getting something done at some vague time in the future is not a plan to look out for one's well being.

You seem to have wandered a bit more into a specific time frame than usual (2015), which I take from any writer with a big grain of salt. We're in an era of kicking the can down the road. Sometimes people are better at that than we expect.

Russ said...

John: I've been mulling over your last two blogs and rethinking some of the points in past blogs and the readings in my library. I don't disagree with the overall theme of your message, because I think you have been on taqrget with both my readings and experience. A point I would like to make is that there seems to be a greater awareness of our predicament than what existed with the Romans, Greeks, Mayans, etc., when these societies reached the stage we are at now. For example: .William Catton: Bottleneck 1980, Joseph Tainter: The collapse of Complex Societies 1988, Jared Diamond: Collapse - How societies choose to fail or succeed 2003, Richard Heinberg: The Party's Over 2004 (re: your instant comment in today's blog), William Simmons: Twilight in the Desert 2005 (predicting peak oil in 2005), Ted Trainor: Renewable Energy cannot sustain a renewable society 2007, Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth 2011. All of these authors and bloggers and many others, including your recent books, have predicted or commented on our current situation. What bothers me is that we are supposed to be homo sapiens not homo stupidus. If we are waiting for an almighty being to save us from our own stupidity we out of luck. I can't recall any historical "awful" event
that might have been altered or changed for the better by any divine (insert applicable religious deity) intervention. In fact, it would seem that we humans learn everything the hard way.

A secondary point would be that our interperson communication skills have improved markedly. We currently have the ability to publish written, internet and video materials that the .other collapsed civilizations did not have. If we ever get the courage to change our habits these skills should be able to bring people together for a common purpose. Whether or not these skills will last until the time they are needed is another matter.

My experience consists of a home that faces south with 16kw of solar voltaic and 80 sq. ft. of hot water solar panels. We have a geothermal heating/cooling system and insulation galore. The home is all-electric but in the winter there isn't enough solar power to run the house in the manner of the so-called modern society. We have a backyard full of trees we planted 35 years ago that we use to help heat the home in the winter. We (wife and I) know that these preparations will not last beyond out lifetimes. If we were younger we would have started a garden, but at this point we both have brown thumbs. Regards, Russ

Rukus Deve said...

Well, here's a howdy from another of the already-on-the-farm set. In my case I just inherited (or, more accurately if less charitably, was the slowest among my tribe of cousins to say “Not it!” and make tracks for town).

I don't see how anyone can buy land and pay it off by farming it. In fact, one of the abiding puzzles of my life has been how my grandparents managed not only to do that, but also to put all their kids through college. I've gradually come to conclude that they were the exception; the rule being that most landholders through history must have been squatters and/or speculators or the descendants thereof. (John Opie makes a good argument for this in the case of the U.S. Frontier, both pre- and post-Homestead Act, in his book The Law of the Land.)

Our fretting about collapsing in place in the country tends to center around lack of numbers. We're scratching our heads a good deal lately over how we might contrive to share some of our abundant but none-too-fertile land birthright with others who are looking for soil to work. One idea is an open-term lease on 5-10 acres, paid in labor (say 10 hours a week) rather than cash or kind. The rest of the time you'd be establishing your dwelling and building up your garden soil, and holding down the job in town you'd likely need (at least for the first while). We'd be helping with tools, food, seeds/stock, and transportation. Anyone in (or willing to be in) the southern Plains whose ears perk up at the thought of hammering out details of such arrangement with us, please feel free to sing out to that effect.

donalfagan said...

I checked out Dilbert, and thought this strip fit in with the squirrel thing:

Adams' blog is another story:

Scotlyn said...

@Ay Kay - may I open your eyes to the possibilities of applying your skills where it might be most appreciated & needed... in an urban setting? Cities often have surprising amounts of vacant and abandoned land that could be guerilla permacultured. There are also residents' associations with land but no skills. There are (or could be, with some political pressure) urban allotment systems. In other words, it is more than possible to find a way to use your skills without buying the land yourself... Fact is, folk in cities need to eat, and are often stupidly looking at acres of useful land they don't know how to use. You do. They need you.

Adrienne Adams said...

Lots to ponder, as usual. Some random ideas...

--Young people developing skills in farming and gardening: your work will be needed. You won't need to buy your own place, there will be thousands of farms that need strong hands to work the land once the tractors and combines are idled.

--Middle-aged middle-class professionals hoping to start that rural homestead: you are probably in for a rough shock, as your ability to build a homestead from scratch and feed yourselves simultaneously might be a nearly impossible task. You'll struggle with trying to maintain a certain level of comfort that you think is necessary, and you'll expend too much energy doing so. Better to downsize in place: learn to cook food from scratch, repair and sew your own clothes, live in a smaller space, get used to less heat and light, etc. By adapting to a lower energy lifestyle now you will be more adaptable to whatever living situation you find yourselves in once your current lifestyle becomes unsustainable.

--Anyone with chronic health problems probably won't be able to live in an isolated rural community. "Shelter in place" is going to be the order of the day, see above.

--For everyone: the "one hand for yourself" is going to need to reach out to many other hands. In other words, I think the best strategy has to include building alliances and community with other folks... Young folks, find older folks and vice versa. If you're estranged from your parents/siblings/children maybe it's time to figure out how to reconcile. If you don't have a family then find one to adopt. Too many post-apocalyptic and prepper fantasies focus on the lone individual or nuclear family, and that just doesn't work when crisis hits. You need help and protection, and that means learning how to get along with people whose politics/religion/worldview may be very different from yours. (The reality of moving to a rural community means learning to play nicely with rednecks.)

One scenario really gives me cold sweats: the very real possibility that millions of people, including myself, could find ourselves refugees-- and all that planning and prepping and homesteading will come to naught. I pray that doesn't happen to myself or my loved ones, but it's a possibility I keep in the back of my mind. In more paranoid moments I think about packing a small backpack just for that eventuality.

But then, at some point, I have to remind myself that no one knows the future and that I need to live as if my life will continue to be rich and rewarding, and that I will be able to adapt and even thrive in whatever circumstances present in the coming years. So I hope everyone else here can do the same, and we can all get a good night's sleep. Blessings!

Cathy McGuire said...

@Matthew Sweet: If as you suggest it is too late to try and adapt to the future you see before us, then of what use is this blog and the various publications you have produced…
I’m not sure what JMG will say, but my reading of his work does not in any way limit people to agrarian solutions – in fact, he’s adamant that people can find ways to adapt in almost every area! And that’s the point, really – stop daydreaming and start taking steps, right now, today, to learn skills that will be helpful if things get 1) too expensive, 2) unavailable and you can’t just buy something off the shelf. Learn a skill and find out where you can trade it. There is a lively community happening in Portland, OR, for example, and that is a fairly large city. And I’ve seen marvelous articles online about mini-gardens in high-rise windows, using recycled jugs and piping – a totally cool hydroponic veggie garden! So it’s not an either/or – I read this as saying it’s too late for the elaborate decade-long plans, because there’s gonna be some real bumps soon… but it’s not “too late completely”, which seems to be how you’re reading it. Look around your city; look around for groups already starting community gardens – it’s amazing where they are stashing those! Don’t throw in the towel – take whatever step you can take today! JMO.

Also, I found a wonderful poem that expresses to me what we’ve been talking about:

We Look with Uncertainty

SLClaire said...

My maternal and paternal grandparents were raising their families during the 1930s in Michigan. My mom recently reminisced about how her family survived through the worst of the Depression, when her father lost his job and was out of work for some time. Her mother did laundry for a local dentist, for his dental business and his household as well, to keep a little money coming in. Meanwhile, her father raised much of the family's food in the backyards of their lot and the one next door, a typical city lot that for some reason had never had a house built on it. Her mother canned and fermented some of the food. They and their five children managed to survive in this way until her father got another job. I didn't ask my aunts and uncle about how it was when they were alive but I'll ask my mom what she remembers their saying to her about it the next time I see her (she may not have been born yet when this was happening).

To reinforce the point about collapse being uneven, during this same period of time and in the same city my paternal grandparents were running a successful regional chain of short-order eateries that they had begun in the 20s. They made enough money to buy a long strip of acreage on one of Michigan's glacial lakes, on which they built a vacation cabin. I and two siblings spent many summer weekends in the 1960s at that cabin with them and my parents. My paternal grandparents also bought property in Florida on which they built a house and a guest house where my family spent some winter vacations in the 1960s. But on the other hand, my mother's only brother made it through WWII intact, while both of my dad's brothers were killed late in the war. In fact my father was waiting for his orders to ship overseas when his second brother died, cancelling my dad's orders due to a recently-adopted policy that kept surviving sons stateside for the remainder of the war. That policy is why I'm here to write this.

It may have been that the harshness of the times made my parents and grandparents reluctant to talk about it. I know little beyond this of their lives during the Depression. Looks like a visit to the library is in order as well as finding out whatever I can from my mom, the only one who is still living.

Between us my husband and I will adapt as well as we can to the ongoing decline. We have already collapsed voluntarily to a degree and for quite a few years. I see wiggle room for further voluntary collapsing, which at least means we may not fall quite as hard/fast when the involuntary collapses hit. We have varying degrees of skill in activities useful in decline and I am looking at whatever other ones I can still acquire. The Mariner's Rule provides a good way to look at what is coming and how we might respond.

sgage said...

@ Clay Dennis

"I came across my collection of old Small Farmers Journals. This was ( and might still be) a publication dedicated to preserving and relearning the skills of raising, training, equiping and useing draft horses for farming or woodland work. "

Still is a great publication! Over the years, commenters on this site and others often say "the knowledge of how to do stuff with horses has all been lost, and will take generations to relearn". One look at Small Farm Journal reveals that they are full of malarkey.

Application of horse energy to a wide variety of tasks is a very hightly evolved technology, and in no way 'lost' or 'forgotten'.

One more word: Amish. :-)

Diana Haugh said...

We inherited a couple acres on a Pennsylvania mountain five years ago and spent the first year hauling off 150 tires. Spent the next three years learning tender plants couldn't survive the bitter spring cold without being warmed and sheltered by something round and rubbery-say like -a tire. Are now looking for 150 tires cheap
Lesson learned: the people who farmed your land before you probably learned the hard way and figured out what they were doing. Study their methods!!

sgage said...

@ Matthew Sweet

"If as you suggest it is too late to try and adapt to the future you see before us, then of what use is this blog and the various publications you have produced other than to provide comfort to your version of the righteous remnant who... etc. etc."

Whoa there! The ENTIRE FRACKING POINT of this blog is to learn ways to adapt/pre-adapt to whatever it is that might be coming at whatever rate.

The message that you are so snarkily reacting to is simply saying that the time for starting from scratch getting land and acquiring the skills and tools and strength to manage it, well, it was a while back. Depending on your situation/finances/indebtedness/community connectedness, etc. circumstances may vary, of course. But it's only one strategy, and one that's probably not for most people.

At least half of the content around here, essays and comments, is about what to do if you can't do the 'agrarian dream' thing. JMG himself is not farmsteading out in the boonies - he lives in a small rust-belt city in western Maryland.

The whole point of this blog is learning how to adapt to the likely future that awaits us, not claiming there's nothing to be done. Getting a farm and making something of it is an enormous undertaking, and it's getting late in the day to start. But week in and week out people are discussing ways of coping 'in place'.

Have you read many of these essays and comments? It doesn't seem like it - maybe read some back issues (and comments) and you'll see that you have mis-represented JMG's message...

woodhathhope said...

@onething You mentioned that you'd like to find a solar system just to power a lightbulb. I've been using small solar lanterns in power outages for several years. The brand name is d-light, and they're available on amazon: I use the 2 smaller sized ones, and they charge nicely on my kitchen windowsill here in not-so-sunny Michigan.

MawKernewek said...

It is entirely possible to be really not that far from 'civilisation' in actual distance from towns, but somewhat off the radar as far as presenting at attractive target for thieves and robbers. If a collapse were to occur this year for instance, it would really just be luck, but my guess is that criminal gangs etc. would target 'mainstream' economy targets to steal food and fuel etc. from rather than eco-homesteaders.

A superficial reading of some recent posts on here is starting to feel like a 'doomer-lite' narrative. I personally am sceptical that 2015 will really represent a major discontinuity on the scale of 1914 for instance. I think we aren't there (yet) in my view, and we can expect at least another round of kicking the can down the road as far as the economy of Europe and other industrialised nations goes at least.

Wizard of Tas said...

Looking back to learn about the future, I look to the Great Depression. The reason is that it's not uncommon to hear people talk about the resilience of Australians and how we got through the 30s. Rather than fill me with optimism, I am nervous. Why? Because we're NOT as resilient as our ancestors in the 30s. They sewed their own, grew their own, worked their behinds off, in a non-welfare world. Totally different to now.
But here's the thing... Welfare was given to 60000 people then. THEY, the super resilient (compared to now) couldn't get by without welfare. They, who would run rings around us now, needed help.
We're facing a similar future, but we are not similar people.

Andy Brown said...

This is a fascinating essay about, a trend in video games that talks about, “a new wave of videogames offers lessons in powerlessness, scarcity and inevitable failure."

He writes about his experience playing Banished, a game that has been a surprise hit:

“It’s tempting to draw a broader sociological trend from the sudden popularity of scarcity in games. Perhaps it reflects a psychological need, barely conscious, to roleplay shortages and breakdowns that we fear might soon occur in the real world. At times, Banished comes across like a lesson in fragility – that even a simple economy is a sum of interdependent parts, the failure of any one of which could spell catastrophe. More than once, it wasn’t really starvation or hypothermia that killed my village, it was a shortage of good tools: as the blacksmith struggles to keep up with demand for equipment, the workers’ tools wear out, the supply of timber and iron drops, and the blacksmith keeps running out of raw materials; meanwhile, his tools are wearing out too, and without much delay the production of food and firewood collapses and everyone dies.

Or it is demographics that slits your throat: a combination of epidemic and hunger manages to kill a disproportionate number of younger workers, and suddenly your population is unbalanced and failing to replace itself. That’s a slower death – a village of geriatrics wasting away – but no less awful to contemplate.”

Another data point to show that awareness is changing?

latheChuck said...

A couple of ideas for the landless. "Why insulate and weatherstrip someone else's house?" someone asked (maybe not in so many words). Many reasons: 1. it's your house while you're in it, even if not forever, and maybe you'll be there longer than you expect. Cut your operating expenses as soon as possible 2. the house will continue to demand less energy (from the finite planet we all share) after you've moved out. 3. you'll learn how to do the job, and maybe need to do it again. 4. you'll be leaving a gift for whomever comes after you. 5. you'll strengthen the supply chain for the materials (and tools, if you need to buy them) 6. a tenant who improves property may develop a valuable relationship with the landlord.

When I was an underemployed college student on summer break, I busied myself cleaning as much of the multi-unit rental property as I could reach (personal and common areas, landscaping). When the landlord noticed, he was so impressed that he hired me as the "resident manager", his on-site representative in all things, in exchange for RENT-FREE living as long as I wanted to stay. So I graduated flat broke, but not in debt.

Similar arguments could be made for working a garden on rented land. Leave the soil better than you found it.

latheChuck said...

Other thoughts on Living Far From The Land... Take the idea of "home economics" seriously. Do the research, while the information is available, to work out adequate nutrition with minimum inputs. For example, you can culture your own bean sprouts at home. I assume that there's some nutritional benefit to eating sprouted beans rather than simply soaked and cooked, but haven't done THAT research. (More vitamins, perhaps, though fewer calories?) Learn to cook good meals with cheap ingredients, and you may find yourself cooking for more than just yourself (including folks who can pay you for it).

I've read of prisoners on starvation rations, who claimed to have survived due to extensive chewing of their meals. "I chewed until there was nothing to swallow," was something like the way one put it. That would be a good thing to know in a crisis.

If you could do nothing more than stay awake through the night, you might support your community by keeping the night-watch alert.

Drifting farther into a declining "post-mass-media" world, maybe someone would feed you in exchange for news of the wider world, exchanged overnight via low-power shortwave radio. Listen and take notes. In the early 20th century, people could make a living transcribing telegraphy for newspapers.

Personally, I've been buying at estate sales, potentially productive items (e.g., sewing machinery) for pennies on the dollar. Many sellers just seem happy to see that their stuff still has value to someone. (Or maybe it's the resident spirit of the stuff that's pleased to be... oops. Wrong blog. ;-))

Tyler August said...

In Eating Fossil Fuels Dale Allen Pfeiffer gave us two possible futures: North Korea-style collective farming and famine (Party or corporation, who cares? It's still collectivized agriculture.) or Cuban-style back-to-the land, urban ag and smallholding. If it's too late to be Cuban... ye gods.

Maybe it's because I have been the last few years scrimping and saving for a 'bucolic idyll' -- or at least a suburban plot of potatoes! -- that I find the suggestion that there's no time for that now incredibly disturbing. Downright terrifying.

What good could any packet of skills be if there's no food to be had? If ecovillages are non-starters because they are doomed to be swamped by starving hordes--right terrifying.

What good could any packet of skills be if there's no food to be had? If ecovillages are non-starters because they are doomed to be swamped by starving hordes-- if I'm not in the ecovillage, why am I not in the starving horde?
if I'm not in the ecovillage, why am I not in the starving horde?

Andy Brown said...

Oops. I linked to the wrong essay about that trend in video games toward stories of scarcity and decline. Apologies to anyone who was led astray. Now the link should lead to the proper essay.

Kutamun said...

Ive always had a good spare hand for myself , but have never heard it being called "ship " before , ha ha .. Dropkick Murphy has a theme song for this meme " Shipping up to Boston " , its brilliant !

@stevepearson mate , i lived next to an old farmer whose father fought on the Somme , 90 years later this bloke ( the son ) was living in a squalid farmhouse as a perennial bachelor , surrounded by dogs and cats with the shades permanently drawn most of the day , working mostly early morning and late evening , poor bugger . I was amazed at the ability of these demons to jump from generation to generation ... No kids so maybe they will die with him ....i used to feel a bit freaked out sittting there having a cup of tea with him in the dark

Another mate was a 9 squadron huey helicopter gunship pilot , still fairly jumpy but outwardly philosophical . He said the airforce boys mostly stayed in for a couple of years after their return and so managed to pyschologically process some of their experience , whilst the poor grunts were spirited back to their country towns like thieves in the night after being pelted with rotten fruit by the public , totally isolated , poor buggers , very psychologically toxic ..

I admire the Vietnam boys for their bravery in a foolish war thanks , welcome home . Hopefully the story of Long Tan will be depicted in film some day ..Russel Crowe ( the aussie clint eastwood ) to direct .

I live on a farm , 20 or so kms from town , but realise that it would be better to be just a few kms from town with a cottage and garden .. This would be very doable for most people even now .. Houses are cheap in the rural areas of Victoria , both to buy and rent . Often there are vacant houses on the farms screaming for a good tenant . Take heart , fear not ! Dont whinge , get out there .... Tomorrow ! Opportunity awaits ..

Clearing sales for retiring farmers are a great place to pick up quality hand tools , milk cans , safari suits and ducks flying up a wall at 50 percent off ...

First step to knowing horses ...get one and stick him in a small paddock or yard adjoining your house ..hand feed the bugger and make friends with him .. Learn the feeling of being a horse so they recognise you as one of their own . Rub him all over so he doesnt react to your touch .. They are mirrors ..they will reflect back to you everything that you are ...fearful , nervous , angry , crazy , calm , afflicted .. Imagine yourself with four hooves and a tail and long pointy ears wont have much luck with them until you have resolved your own psyche , though ..Horses seem to be the psychologists of industrial society on the urban fringe , a role i think they dont always love , being the canvas for their owners projections , often .

Ozzies , i think australia will roll somewhat differently to the u.s as things unravel ... We dont have three hundred million heavily armed crazies half of whom are holy rollers deeply divided along three main racial lines , no civil war wounds here ... We are a lightly armed pack of heavily entitled nihilists , though . I think this place will become even more heavily regulated and authoritarian , with order and compliance strictly enforced , while the u,s will be messier and more anarchic .. It is easier to round up 20 million unarmed people , who live in an increasingly hostile environment with less mobility no doubt , perhaps it will resemble a convict colony , ha ha , so ironic maaahn .,

I like the image that as the environment continues to deteriorate , peoples like us will be forced to retreat more and more behind our remaining technology until life resembles that of a space station on a hostile planet inimical to human life ; perhaps emerging to mine remaining resources in a neo- feudal system ala Dune . Perhaps this is really the future these fiction writers are forseeing , rather than the unlikely prospect of manned interplanetary colonisation .

Shane Wilson said...

When considering community, don't forget to include often overlooked immigrants. Many of these people come from countries where infrastructure is poor, electricity is sporadic/unreliable, finished goods are expensive, and may be used to political turmoil (e.g. disappearances and other human rights violations), my guess is, while the natives are rioting, they'll be calmly going about their business, if they decide to stay. Learn a second language, if you live in the US, by all means, learn Spanish. Learn something about the culture, geography, and history of your areas predominate immigrant groups (Mexico, for example, is not some monolithic mass, but is divided into more states than the U.S., with as many diverse regions.) Don't be the" ugly American", even in the U.S. People's expectations are so low regarding Americans that a little effort in this direction goes a long way. Many of these people are very skilled and very resilient, they've already lived in circumstances similar to the ones we're facing.
Speaking of immigrants, if you're going to work on a farm, be willing to work as hard as an immigrant for the same pay. As a thought experiment, put yourself in their shoes and live as they do. I'm always reminding myself how privileged I've had it, how my grandparents had it, and to work harder for less. I'm poor and expect to stay that way, the only thing I can offer is my labor, so I want to make myself valuable to others. It's a hard learning curve, but others have gone through it. It helps that I'm way more detached from mainstream culture than most.

Matthew Sweet said...

@ stage,
Seems you didn't read a lot of my post either wherein I mention that I've been reading this blog for five years (every week actually without fail). My "snark" as you put it was derived from what I perceive to be an inconsistency between the message of this post and some (not all) of what JMG has discussed in the past, particularly the Green Wizardry materials which I always interpreted (perhaps mistakenly) as an agrarian based set of strategies. I have re-read this week's post and there are points made that I either overlooked or glossed over originally which soften what I thought was a very harsh message. In any case I probably misrepresented my specific goals as it relates to property and daydreams. My wife and I are looking for a property which will be in or near a small town where she can operate a business from home and where I plan to put Green Wizardry tactics to use.

@ Cathy. Thanks for your thoughts. My community has many of the same projects underway which I have dabbled in. Here is where I need to stop thinking about doing things and devote more time to doing it. I hope my above clarification explains my family's aspirations. We aren't daydreaming on this count as we have the resources to get a mortgage (say what you may about that) but just have to find the right property. I hope no one minds that I have no hesitation to let my frustration, confusion and general uneasiness show on this comment board. I'm not here to impress anyone with how much I know about peak oil or growing a home vegetable garden. I'm hashing this all out in my head and on the keyboard, given the opportunity.

"The mind is willing but the flesh is weak."

Shane Wilson said...

I'm always amazed when Americans react with such horror when it's suggested that the U.S. will become a 3rd world country. The vast majority of the world's people live in 3rd world countries without access to all the stuff Americans have, yet they still get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, have families, and live lives that in many cases are probably more fulfilling and meaningful than ours.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, good. Roaming hordes do happen -- you might check out the barbarian invasions in the twilight years of Rome for examples -- but they're not universals. My main concern, when it comes to lifeboat ecovillages, would be gangs systematically targeting isolated communities, killing the people in them and making off with the valuables there. That's very common in times of decline and fall.

My Donkey, there's an atheist circle high up in the Wikipedia hierarchy that's carrying out a petty crusade against alternative spirituality and occultism, and the article on me is one of the casualties. It's par for the course these days.

Jbucks, renting's no worse than owning under present conditions -- lose your income, you can still lose your home through not being able to make property tax payments, etc. The thing I'd advise first is to find ways to diversify your income as much as possible, so losing a job won't be an insuperable challenge.

Compound F, so far, at least, every time people have insisted to me that it's different this time, and I've argued otherwise, when it came to concrete predictions, I was right. Now of course past experience is no guarantee of future results, but I'd have to see something other than abstract handwaving to convince me that the current set of different-this-time rhetoric deserves more attention than the last couple of dozen examples of the species.

Carol, have you considered trying the Green Wizards forum?

Redmachus, oh, granted. All I can do is try to alert those who are willing to listen.

Sheep, excellent -- RoverRotors are in the contest!

Chester, I wish. No, I was quite serious, and so are the bozos promoting this scam.

Ay Kay, fair enough. That'll want a post of its own, though -- stay tuned!

Jonathan, a lot of people in this country in the 1920s had already lost the sort of basic subsistence skills you've mentioned, and were hit just as hard by the Great Depression as people nowadays will be. As for a major war, "unthinkable" is a useless word; you can be sure that every major power is thinking about it.

Chris, I've simply been watching the last few years of weather.

Clay, SFJ still exists, and a lot of people are farming that way, so it's hardly a lost skill! The point is simply that if you want to learn how to do that, it's very late in the day.

John Michael Greer said...

Shane, that's one of the huge wild cards in the game at this point. The sooner squatting on farmland becomes an option, the sooner the deindustrial societies of the future will start to take shape in earnest.

Eric, good. You're catching on.

Matthew, er, where did I say that it's too late to try and adapt to the future? I said that it's too late to make the move to a rural farm unless you're well on your way to that already -- but that's far from the only adaptation that's possible, you know. My point in this week's post is that if you haven't made major changes yet, you're almost certainly going to have to face the crisis where you are, with the resources and skills you've got. The vast majority of what's in Green Wizardry is still applicable, even if you've spent the five years you've been reading this blog daydreaming instead of getting off the sofa and into motion. It's just that you'll be doing it where you are, with what you have, right now.

One more thing. It astonishes me how many people missed the most important word in my slogan "Collapse now and avoid the rush." The word in question? Now. The future is not going to wait for you to decide that you're ready for it, you know -- and there may not be that much time left to get off the sofa and take action.

Carl, then you may be stuck where you are. In your place I'd make serious preparations for water catchment and storage.

Atilio, it made the BBC, so I heard about it. That's going to be a really ugly mess!

David, of course the choice has to be yours, but in your place -- if I thought there was a chance I might be able to make a difference -- I'd pursue the leadership role, and see what could be done to make the local grid as resilient as possible. When regional grids start becoming unstable, local urban grids still have some chance of survival, given leadership that's aware of the realities of our predicament; thus it's possible that you could make a real difference.

Just Because, by all means take it with a grain of salt. I could be wrong -- but I think there's a real chance we're close to an inflection point.

Russ, and yet all that additional knowledge and communication hasn't had any significant impact on our collective choices. This is one of those places where it's different this time in the ways that don't matter and no different in the ones that do.

Andy, thanks for the link -- that's utterly fascinating!

Matt said...

Dear Mr. Greer,
Thank you for your wonderful posts! They have really gotten us thinking hard about our situation.

This last post really struck a chord with us. Like many others, my husband and I are in the midst of getting our collapse plan together. We believe we're OK job-wise, but we're not as certain about where we've ended up. We live in northern lower Michigan, which is an area mostly fueled by resorters, but it's where my husband grew up, so it's familiar. Unfortunately, though, you pretty accurately described us in this post when you mentioned people who are drawn to the homesteading, self-sufficient life in the country. That's us!

Three years ago we bought 16 acres about twelve miles outside of a small town (that is quite wealthy and geared toward those with money), and another 10 miles further from the larger, more humble town where we do all of our shopping. We've put three-and-a-half years into this place and done some hard work planting trees, getting gardens going, putting in a wood stove, raising chickens, etc., but it has become obvious recently that we're never going to grow much out here--the soils are too sandy (we're not far from Lake Michigan) and, as you mentioned, we just don't have the know-how or strength to do it. Plus, there's the obvious problem of being a long drive away from any amenities on roads that are already covered in filled-in potholes.

We've been hesitant to leave the place since we put so much into it and love the property. And it will set us back quite a bit if we have to sell this house, buy another, and possibly rent in between, not to mention tightening up the new one.

But we're seriously thinking of moving to the larger town and buying something within walking distance of everything. Luckily the real estate market here isn't too bad right now, though that may change sooner than we might like. My husband and I have discussed this many times but always seem to talk in circles. So we wondered if you or anyone else might have any thoughts.

Many thanks and kind regards, Kelly

Scott said...

Dear archdruid, I agree with you in my gut - it does feel like we are on a precipice- but my head wonders whether central bank money printing and market manipulation might not put off the day of reckoning for years and years. I have been so surprised, first back in 2008, when they began resuscitating and then levitating the stock market and then as the years rolled by, how persistent they are in this course, even though it does almost nothing for most people. They seem intent on blowing the stock market bubble until the Dow is at 100,000 (only slightly kidding), and who is to stop them. If the want, the could print 10 trillion tomorrow and bid every dow stock up to infinity.

I might be making an extreme or even a silly case, but really, the fed pretty much is in charge. We really don't live in a democracy anymore - congress and the supreme court are just a minor sideshow. We "elect" (or the money primary "elects") a president, and he sort of appoints a fed board- but really the Wall Street Titans make there preference known, and the fed is the end all and be all. They are everything. This is a very sad state that our body politic has arrived at.

Kyoto Motors said...

I am very happy to announce my entry to the "squirrel" contest with the news article I, er, "found"...

Patricia Mathews said...

JMG: When you said "one hand for the ship and one for the rigging, I was reminded of the airline rule to fasten your own oxygen mask first, so that you could help those in your care. And the sailor's advice mentioned in the comments, to place some small personal memento of importance to you in your survival kit, has gone right into my planbook while I think of which one it should be. Knowing that if it ever came to hauling ourselves out of town with a handcart, or staying behind because you can't keep up, I'm firmly on the latter side now. I fully intend to shelter in place (Albuquerque, New Mexico; more precisely, the University district) because all my connections outside of my widely scattered family are here. Drought or no drought, Reconquista or no Reconquista.

At any rate, I was rereading Strauss & Howe's FOURTH TURNING in this context, since they not only offered general advice to the individual (much like yours: diversify, root, connect with family, practice the classic virtues), but had specific advice for my own 70-and-older cohort. I'm passing on a summary here for anyone else it may apply to:

(1) Be kind. It's much needed in a crisis era, and it's one of our strong points.

(2) Help the young.

(3) Otherwise, back off and let the younger people do what they see fit.

Blessed be,


Moshe Braner said...

Regarding how fast things are moving now, I see some hints where I read mainstream summary news. For some months last year they added an "energy" section, but that disappeared more recently when the price of oil dropped. Now they have a "Davos" section, reporting on the ongoing gathering of the movers and shakers of globalized finance. But what appears there seems rather different than in previous years. And the reports may give us a hint as to what's on the minds of those still in power - although they don't seem to quite connect the dots. Here are some headlines from recent days:

Year of disasters sinks trust in business and governments

Davos elite told British EU exit hinges on [votes of] low-income women

Richest 1 percent will own more than the rest by 2016

agree that inequality is a problem but unlikely to do anything about it

Conflict trumps economy as top risk to world in Davos survey

Global economic outlook is glum despite cheaper oil

Badly located renewable power plants cost Europe $100 billion

Geopolitical storm clouds barely register on partying markets

And finally today:
ECB launches 1 trillion euro last ditch rescue plan to revive euro economy

What do they do after the "last ditch"?

Ángel said...

@Violet Cabra

Would you be able to recommend any good reference book for beginners?

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow - it seems like the news keeps popping out shocks that might trigger something major - the king of Saudi Arabia just died. I don't know what his heir is like, but SA is a major US ally in the Middle East and things could really shift. And Yemen falling apart, and Ukraine heating up...this stuff will ripple outwards.

@Matthew Sweet: I hope no one minds that I have no hesitation to let my frustration, confusion and general uneasiness show on this comment board. I'm so glad to hear you're doing things toward your goals - wondering why you didn't add that context the first time... one thing that I try to keep in mind (not always succeeding) is that while this is a great group of commenters, given how many reads there are here, expressing our frustration/confusion, etc. is more like standing up in a large auditorium and shouting it out, rather than confessing to five close friends in a restaurant. So when someone (anyone) throws out frustrated comments and questions, with little context, unfortunately others will try to guess and answers could get testy or off the mark. So perhaps we should imagine we are standing up in a crowd to ask a question of the speaker on stage - preface it with enough context to help the answer. JMO.

John D. Wheeler said...

Here's another entry for your squirrel case contest:

Except, it isn't mine. And, oh yeah, they're also completely serious. So, no, it's not really an entry. But that doesn't mean it isn't laughable in the context of catabolic collapse.

August Johnson said...

I'll have to say that I don't get tired of reading about things that people are doing. That's because they are doing something now rather than just talking about what they might do at some unknown time in the future. I don't see that as trying to show who's the most Green Wizardly. I learn by seeing what others are doing.

That's why I'm writing about setting up my Ham Radio station as I get back on the air after a move. I'm hoping that other Hams will also start writing on the Green Wizards forum about what they're doing. I will offer whatever assistance/info/advice that can help get more Hams or prospective Hams interested and active in a part of Green Wizardry that I believe is going to be quite important and useful in the coming times.

As I said before, and this applies to all the skills of a Green Wizard, it can't be done by everybody looking for a "leader" to tell them what to do. Each and every one of us needs to figure out what we can do and then go do it! Let's get a Green Wizards net going on the air! If you're a Ham and have access to an HF radio, post your info to this thread on the Green Wizards Forum.

What is your Call Sign?

It's amazing what kinds of very useful communications can be done with, to put it mildly, less than idea equipment. Go back and read the old articles in QST magazine from the teens and 1920's. They are amazing. Today, for the cost of a couple meals of fast food, you can build radios that will out-perform the ones that those Hams were using. I have electronic versions of all the QST magazines from the first in 1915 and I'm working on adding paper copies to my library.

LarasDad said...

To all the homesteading dreamers (and doers), please think outside the box - read up on John Jeavons' Biointensive mini-farming method. I hope these quotes from his "How To Grow More Vegetables" book will pique your interest: pg 26-27 "At intermediate yields, in many climates and soils, assuming sufficient water availability, a complete balanced diet may be grown on as few as 25 growing beds. (1 bed=120 sq ft) ... A 40-bed growing area is fairly manageable for 1 person to do part-time, once one's soil and skill are in reasonable shape." ... "In 1911, the Chinese were able to grow all the food for 1 person with biologically intensive techniques on an average of about this amount of farmable land." ... "The people in BioSphere 2 ... raised 80% of their food for 2 years in a closed system. Their experience shows that a complete year's diet for 1 person could be raised on the equivalent of just 3403 square feet!"

HalFiore said...

JMG might have saved me the trouble of posting my semi-annual rant about the rural retreat fantasy. But my reasoning is different enough that I guess I'm going to do it anyway.

I'm not completely convinced on the near-term crisis that our teacher seems more and more sure of. I'm not going to go into why, but it's just been claimed too many times, and I don't see enough evidence that this time is really different.

At 61, I think I'm likely to live to see some very bad times as the descent accelerates, but this year? Not willing to make major decisions based on it.

That being said, buying farmland and trying to scratch out a subsistence existence upon same is a bad idea. Not because it's too late, in my opinion. If anything, because it's too early, but mainly because it's just a really bad idea.

In times of severe economic and social hardship, farmers always suffer worse than anyone. My reasoning is mostly that through crisis, and sometimes because of it, there will always be government of some sort. And that government will do everything in it's power to keep things bearable for the constituencies that it fears. For the most part, those constituencies are in the cities, where they can mass together and make trouble.

Another reason, all of the good farmland is very expensive, and it is being farmed by big industrial operations to grow commodity crops. For better or worse, the stuff most of the population, and a big chunk of the world, eats. Got a million dollars? Then you could afford about 250 acres here in the Mississippi Delta if you could find a parcel that small. Maybe 100 acres in the Midwest.

Sure, you can find smaller parcels of thin, rocky soil on steep slopes. Might even have an acre or two of good bottom land where you could put a kitchen garden. Somewhere in the $100K range.

If you are dead set on a rural lifestyle, I would recommend moving to a small town and getting a job at least peripherally related to agriculture. Anything. If you are young, you will probably see some pretty big dislocations while you can still act on them. There will be opportunities to pick up land at good prices, but you won't know about them unless you are in the "field" so to speak. Get yourself in a good cash position (save every penny that comes your way) and keep your eyes open. In the long run, it is one of the best things you can have.

I have to laugh when I see people thinking big agribiz is going to go away soon. Every ounce of government policy will be aimed at keeping the big operators going. You will be walking long before diesel is unavailable for heavy farm equipment.

I could say more, but right now my other hand is busy trying to help a small poor community get a food co-op going, and to that end I have meetings for the next few days. I'm mulling a sort of offer I could make similar to the one Rukus Deve made up-page. Stay tuned, and I'll try to make a case for the deep South.

steve pearson said...

Ay Kay, I believe there is an organization, web site, whatever that hooks up eager young aspiring farmers with aging farmers needing help.I know of it being done, even leading to an inheritance. Some of the older farmers may be childless,or the the children not interested in working the land. I don't know the contact; your destiny to follow it up.
Rukus Deve just appears to have made such an offer: not the inheritance. Pounce on it.
Also, I can not sing too highly the praises of wwoofing. If you wait for a guaranteed end result, you'll never start. And, as JMG pointed out, owning is no panacea; miss your taxes, and you are fracked.
cheers, Steve

steve pearson said...

Kutamon, Thanks mate.Have you ever read "Vietnam, The Australian War" by Paul Hamm? It is the best account of the Australian involvement & probably of the whole war that I have read. "A Bright Shining Lie" by Neal Sheehan is also very good.
I have a mate down near Bega, whom I visit. There is a VN vet in the area who is seriously fracked. His old colonel lives in the same area and has bailed him out for all these years.You don't see much of that any more,or ever.
I have a mate here in Hawaii who was in the USN for years & during the 1st Gulf war.They are delaying his VA appointment until next year, partly about some of his prior lifestyle choices. What the h...; he served. they owe him for that, not for what he did later.I guess the local army hospital also has a reputation for operating on the wrong limb or even the wrong person.Makes you not want to get sick.
Cheers, Steve

John Michael Greer said...

Tyler, and are isolated ecovillages crammed with lootable goods the only way you can imagine to produce food?

Kelly, that's an intensely personal choice. My wife and I settled in a small city, for a variety of reasons, including the ones you've mentioned; I'm convinced that for a great many people, that's a better option than the rural farmstead model that's so popular these days, and it's got a lot of flexibilities that the farmstead model doesn't have. Still, you and Matt have to decide where your hearts are, and include that in the choice.

Scott, I'm expecting the Fed and the other central banks to do exactly that. The result, as in 2008, is that the big banks and the financial industry will stay afloat, and another big chunk of people in the middle class will drop into permanent poverty -- the working class is already there. My take, though, is that that's going to be enough to push the ongoing economic contraction into higher gear, sending the non-financial economy into a tailspin of contraction, and gutting the capacity of the US to maintain infrastructure above Third World levels. The crucial point is to remember that decline takes its own sweet time -- the crash you expect is already happening, just a lot more slowly than Hollywood makes it look!

Kyoto, funny! You're in the contest.

Patricia, that sounds like excellent advice. If you have particular skills you can share with younger people, get that in process, and you'll have no shortage of help when you need it.

Moshe, fascinating. It may finally be sinking in. As for what happens after the last ditch -- why, that's when the flag tumbles down into the mud and the last defenders are hacked to pieces, of course.

John, thank you -- that's a classic!

Tim Smith said...

We perhaps expect too much of ordinary politicians. Leaders like Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and even to a small extent JFK were able to operate outside the party's bounds because they operated in extraordinary times that demanded outside-the-party politics.

The time is coming for that, but it hasn't quite arrived yet. As to who will be the leader--who knows? Probably not any of the currently-nominated crop. Let us hope that it is not some American would-be Mussolini or Hitler.

Nbxl said...

For 4 year I have been reading this fascinating blog already. Feel that I am at a crossroad at the moment. Born in Western Europe, I studied art history with the aim to work in heritage management, but careerwise this was not a success, as with the gradual downfall of industrial civilisation there is less and less financing for these kind of "luxuries". I had a variety of jobs to get my bills paid, as a tourist guide in Costa Rica and in a call centre in Europe. Currently I am living in Africa as a spouse of a diplomat (however, we are going to split up at the end of the period here), and am able to work in my field of studies at university, though unpaid, as a volunteer. Fascinated about doing research in architects archives, discovering things (feel familiar with monks who during the Dark Ages in Europe preserved much of the knowkledge of previous eras). If I can find finances for a research project or a PhD, I might stay longer. But have a lot of doubts. Pursuing an academic career does not seem a good idea. Sometimes I am thinking about spending time at Ecolonie in France (yes, a very succesful ecological village and a potential agrarian lifeboat, with tourist facilities, see in order to acquire skills in growing my own food.

steve pearson said...

Since it seems my week to blather, I'll throw this in, since I haven't often seen the full emotional impact of it addressed or absorbed.
I was pretty well set up in Australia in 2008;my daughter was in Hawaii.When it looked to me that the whole international currency system might collapse, all I could think of was that I didn't want to live my life, even comfortably without seeing her again.I made what turned out to be some bad financial decisions.So be it.
In reading comments, I feel that people often deal with that issue intellectually,but may not always take on the full existential impact of it.Really feel it , folks. Get out of your heads a bit on this one. This is the theme of a large percentage of the Irish ballads ever written.In the words of the song I have quoted a few times lately " never knew there were worse things than dying"Maybe there aren't, but really take these potential life decisions in on a heart level and be with them for awhile. Its easier to wait a bit and breathe deeply than to rush into something and try to undo it later.
Can you dance joyfully into whatever decision you make? Carlos Casteneda has been pretty thoroughly debunked, but I always liked his image that, at the end, we get to dance our lives for death, and the better we dance it, the longer he will wait.
Just sayin ( thanks Chris), Steve

Violet Cabra said...

Ángel, yes!


I first studied Euell Gibbons' stalking the wild asparagus and it helped me learn tremendously about the food properties of plants around me. I think that Michael Tierra's The way of herbs makes an excellent introduction into the practice of herbalism and David Hoffman's Medical Herbalism is an excellent reference also worthy of mention; it is literal textbook about western herbalism and is a worthy addition to ay shelf.


If you don't mind early a rambling, somewhat unfocused 20th century prose style ALL of this info can be found online at:

this is an excellent, exhaustive herbal from the 1920s, written by Mrs. Grieves and is well worth anyone's time to read and get a sense of plant lore. I find it charming, elucidating and frustrating in equal measure.

Also Susun Weed has ample online resources that touch on various plants, but no references I've been able to find, but she'll go into some depth about plants other herbalist aren't that interested in.

Larz said...

Part 1


Several of your readers are looking for new occupations. Let me share some of what I know about canalling. I know in the past you've mentioned canals.

I'll include years so you know what era I am referring to. I'll name first names so I can keep the story making sense. All of this takes place in New York State and Quebec, unless otherwise noted. One of my 2nd great-grandfathers, Jacob (1810-1890) was a farmer in Clinton County, New York. Four of his six sons [including my great-grandfather Rufus (1850-1940)] and the one daughter (with husband) made canalling on Lake Champlain and Champlain Canal (shortened to Lake Champlain) their livelihoods, between New York City and Montreal, one way or another. My grandfather Isaiah (1890-1970), sixth of seven kids, grew up on a canal boat. By the age of twenty, he knew everything about the canal boat; he was a jack-of-all-trades. When Isaiah returned from World War One, canalling was defunct. He became an electrician, working for a large industrial corporation in upstate New York, and of course, got caught in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Canallers on Lake Champlain transported goods from the northern hinterlands from Montreal to New York City, but there was also a lot of activity coming and going from ports along the Hudson River. The captains had long, thin, shallow boats. I think most rented boats; you had it made if you owned your own boat.

As a family historian, I tried to understand what life was like for canallers. Except for my family, I had never heard of it. One excellent book is "Life on a Canal Boat: The Journals of Theodore D. Bartley, 1861-1889" ed. By Russell P. Bellico, 2004, Purple Mountain Press, Fleishmanns, New York; Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, Vermont.

Tidbits: A man had to know a lot of general mechanical stuff. There was a lot of manual labor involved—lifting goods, repairing the boat, and the like—, but less labor than farming. Whole families lived on the boats. Childrens' education was mainly from November to April, when ice grounded the boats. The captains had to know how to deal with insurance because collisions were frequent. A captain had to know the terrain of the banks of the canal/river/lake he was on—where to get supplies; physical hazards. He had to know weather. He had to know how to sail a sailboat. He had to know how to treat laborers kindly, because much of the hard labor, he hired day laborers to do. I assume the boat had a heat-source—a stove? There had to have been a kitchen on board. I think horses were used on towpaths. As with any business, you had to do bookkeeping, be basically honest, and pay your bills. A man's word was his bond.

If you find a map of the U.S.'s canals, hundreds of canals crisscross the entire U.S.—I never knew. The Erie Canal was merely the most famous. Canals predated railroads by roughly fifty years. As far as I know, New York State has kept many canals operational.

As for temperature, Lake Champlain is far enough north to be, overall, quite cold—at least it used to be when I lived near there in the 1960s. (I wonder if boats have the option of having some sort of cooling.)

I can't remember details but think John Michael wrote that canalling may come back in a downturn, not necessarily as a canaller oneself but as part of canallers' ecosystem on shore. Or combine part-time canal stuff with part-time farming.

Larz said...

Part 2:

Ironically, my mother Harriet, daughter of the above-mentioned country-guy Isaiah, married a city-slicker, merchant-seaman George who became first-mate on Mobil Oil (later Exxon) barges transporting oil from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes, and was studying to be an oil-barge captain at the time of his early death at age 40. The Exxon Valdez [oil barge] "on March 24, 1989, while owned by former Exxon Shipping Company, and captained by Joseph Hazelwood and first-mate James Kunkel bound for Long Beach, California, the vessel ran aground on Bligh Reef resulting in second largest oil spill in United States history." Rather than Joseph Hazelwood on the Exxon Valdez, the captain could have been my father.

So there you have it about canalling, a once-upon-a-time profession. John Michael: what is your opinion on the prospects of canalling?

Northern California, USA

donalfagan said...

A message from Orren Whiddon:

Phil Harris said...

I put my money on King Solomon's Miners. That boy will go far! (I like the office sofa.)

cognitiveberserker said...

@ Cherokee Organics

Something that may interest you, ring the nice lady as she can explain it really well, rather then trying to figure it out by her website, as it doesn't function the best.

I'm looking at the 12V large family freezer and fridge system, more insulation so more efficient, yep I have 4 kids and more coming hopefully, someone gotta look after me in old age :-).

I have a cheat convert to methane gas once the solar kicks the bucket in 15 to 20 years. If I can get away with it by then, you know council regulations...

I live 3 hours North of her, in of course red neck country, the country and people that I love. :-)They grow on you. I'm a friendly berserker, ergo the cognitive. When I was young and stupid I use to vote for The Greens. Oh the horrors of stupid...

@ Kutamun

I like your style. I live about 20km from the local town, an old village is also 2km down the road. Only 60 years ago my neighbours parents were taking him to school by horse and cart, drop off Sunday, pick up Friday evening, so he could work the farm on the weekend. So going old school is not far fetched IMO. We have a bullock whisperer who is practising and teaching the bullock plough system in our community, presents well at the local regions shows. Organics is popular in our Middle and upper demographic too.

One of my Nam war veteran mates has his PTSD flip every time he hears a huey, price he paid for serving in the SASR. Eyes glaze over, goes quiet, crouches down... I've a father-in law that flips from a traumatic incident from his personal past, and has nothing to do with his service, he is scarier. Myself I am not afflicted with such things, I'm a lucky fella.

@ John

Apologies, I should of done this in my first post. Hello and thanks for writing your stuff, reading and allowing me to comment. I like how you endeavour to answer your fans(friends), it really does show your good character.


Now a bit more.

From what I've noticed and this may be a bit of a universal to a certain degree. A loose alliance between lefties and righties (Political enemies) in my neck of the woods. Occurs over environmental reasons, it's the only unifying factor, anything else and it falls apart for good reason. Generally happens when the lefties attempt to squeeze the Sociological cultural aspects down the righties throats.

I don't think the leftie migration will ever over take the red necks either, we have enough kids for the both of us. :-)

Me I'm apolitical I have no party I like to vote for, as it's going to blow up in their faces in time anyway. I still donkey vote so I don't get fined though. I hope I make a counter laugh... with my Mr Sqiggles :-) Remember that show Aussies. :-)

Phil Harris said...

Dear All

I don’t know how much Americans know of William Cobbett (GK Chesterton’s commentary could be useful). As a kid I heard his best known work Rural Rides read aloud on the radio, and anyway was cycling round the same English countryside – not dramatically changed then from when William made his rides on horseback in 1829. He was a colourful opinionated political radical but importantly an expert commentator on the farming of his day. (We now know there had been a revolution in organic farming methods in Britain over the preceding 80 or so years before his time that was able to accelerate the renewing of soil N. )

His essay describing his ride in the Valley of the Avon has lived with me my adult life. First to say that the wider area has been farmed for several thousand years and is covered with monuments and burial mounds of previous civilisations further back beyond the Romans as we are this side of that Empire. As Cobbett recounts meticulously, the Vale itself is dotted with mediaeval churches and manor houses. This is a most favourable farming area. One of the reasons the Romans annexed Britain as a new province was that this part of England had been trading surplus grain into the Empire via Gaul for a good while.

Cobbett ranted against the exploitation in 1829 of those working this beautiful land. This was crunch time for the British rural economy and its relationship with our extending trading empire and with Britain’s growing foundation of industry and urban population. Cobbett calculates that 100 families of labourers grow enough to feed fifteen times that number; “yet those who do the work are half-starved”. Given better food, what he calculates as sufficient for nutrition, the labourers of the Vale would still be feeding five times their own number.

These could be reasonable ‘bench marks’ for favoured areas (check out your Liebig Minima). However, I note that the present money value of primary agricultural production (calories & protein) is only a small part of the retail cost of food - both in energy and money - in the form most of us eat – true for USA as well as Britain. I guess that means that families producing food and even raiment, even ‘organically’ and self-renewably, must, in the here-and-now and in foreseeable decades, live half-in and half-out of the modern economy, as GHung points out in his comment above.


Craig said...


I remember when a young lad, in south west Perth WA. The news "The Beverly Hillbillies" scene came up, a farmer had hit sweet crude. The state government the next day capped it and prevented the farmer from claiming it under what ever act, it was on local news which was odd. Now that was back in the 1980's some time I was a child. I have memories from 18 months even younger, from about 4 I remember most things I see and hear, I know, I'm weird.

Anyway, the same thing happened all over, I know from farmers the reserves in NSW have been tapped for a few years now.

I also have a mate who's in the petroleum industry and just retired, another Vietnam vet,the amount of diesel oil still available is pretty large, enough to bring diesel down to $AUS1.00. I have coal miner mates, If Australia cut our exports we'd have 1000's of years worth alone, some boast 600 to 700 years globally. This is not disclosed for profit margins... Gotta know how the big mines work to play them. Kalgoolie will be the next big one when the mega mine closes, and a larger deposit is suddenly found. Ahh local knowledge you can't beat that with a silver tongue.

Where I live alone within 100km there's 3 gold mines old ones small operations, if they could they'd strip mine this whole area down to the granite water table. It's that rich. Untapped 2km by 20km coking coal seam. largest untapped Zn Sl Pb deposit known in the world.

Thing is we're the most conservative region, so if the frackers come the "close the gate alliance" would be hell water here and it makes me smile. :-)

Oh I also enjoy a Japser field on my property, so I have thunder eggs, Geodes the size of a Bull head, plus lots of hand size and smaller. Literally that's what I find around the dam, and in the paddock when the stones arise. :-) The very rare diamond and sapphires happen in this area too. I live in the cheapest, lowest socio demographic in QLD.

Funny story how it came to be the cheapest land to, all thanks to feral Prickley Pear cactus pest. It's a kicker.

Any way another tangent. My country has always been a swing country, geo politically that is. When the USA breaks so will our loyalty, as the big wigs will place their fiat money in China.

That's my bet anyway.


Bill Pulliam said...

OK, you folks who are posting about the incredible physical toil demanded of self-sufficient agriculture, yer going a bit over the top. 4000-7000 calories a day? That's kinda absurd. That is what elite athletes consume during their intense training phases (and some of them still get fat off of it despite the intense effort). And what makes you think that there is anything unusual about farming, in this regard. In a truly post-petroleum world (which nobody reading this blog will live to see), almost EVERYONE is going to have to work just as hard as the farmers. You are going to have to be doing something useful, or why would anyone share the fruits of their own hard work with you? And with the exception of a small number of people who will be involved in more intellectual activities, that will mean manual labor, and a lot of it. Hauling wood to heat the house is hardly going to be a uniquely agrarian activity -- houses in the cities ain't gonna be heated by fairy dust, ya know.

I suggest taking another read through "Star's Reach," and then tell me how many people are not employed in physically demanding trades. Scholars, politicians, wizards, other clergy, and the like. Not a big segment of the population. True the readers here might be more likely than average to wind up in one of those trades, except we'll all have long since died before the oil wells and coal seams are truly tapped out.

The wilderness/rural/small town/city choice is a matter of your own inclinations, and what sorts of stresses and satisfactions you personally prefer. None of these options is inherently easier than the others, they're all gonna leave you tired and dirty. And vulnerable to crime, depending on the nature of your community. I believe JMG was simply countering the current resurgence in the fad towards romanticizing the homestead life.

Shane Wilson said...

One thing that's been created as a scapegoat by those outside the South is the fear that" the South will rise again" with the collapse. That there will be this big, bigoted outburst of homophobic, racist reaction to the collapse. Take a closer look at the reality, though. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in a lot of the bible belt, without much of a peep from opponents. The issue is a non starter with conservative opponents. Mass opposition has failed to materialize in the South. Social issues in general, even in the South, are at an all time low interest. People in the South still hate and distrust the Federal government, but, who doesn't right now? A Southern bigoted reaction may arise in the future, but, right now, it seems people in the South have other, more important things to worry about. Maybe others in the South have noticed the same. As far as Ferguson and race/the police, most of those incidents have occurred outside the South or in peripheral areas, like St. Louis

Laylah said...

@Cathy McGuire what I've read so far about the situation in SA is that Abdullah's immediate heir (one of his brothers) is 79 and suffering health problems of his own (there are rumors of dementia), and the "deputy crown prince" whom Abdullah appointed late in his reign is not fond of USian interference. Interesting times, indeed.

@anyone pursuing farm skills and/or a farming life, there are some excellent resources online in the form of people already doing the work and talking about what it takes; one of my favorites is Throwback at Trapper Creek, chronicling the author's efforts and routines managing a small herd of beef cattle and growing as much of the family's food as possible. Lots of good posts about the effort that needs to be put into keeping pasture land healthy, effectively recycling animal wastes, storing winter vegetables, saving seeds, and generally working your butt off all the dang time.

Dave Zoom said...

Hot or cold the future is going to be interesting

The other Tom said...

I think there is an underlying premise in the Mariner's Rule that we need to be in good physical condition. This is probably obvious to most readers of this blog, although most people in the USA do not make the connection between fitness and survival. I hope that in a viable future there will be a place for elderly and for those with a condition that limits their physical ability, maybe teaching the young or doing the more sedentary work. This would be a return to the way of our ancestors before we segregated ourselves by generation and kept the old people out of sight.
For most of us, being out of shape is not an option. Being able to walk a few miles on hilly terrain to run errands, for example, should be easy. Doing moderately physical work for days on end, without wearing down, will be necessary. This will be more demanding than being a "weekend warrior," because most of us will not be going back to our sedentary jobs during the week to recover.
As JMG and others have made clear, one result of the LESS life is that our bodies will be supplying more of the energy. This will be true whether we live in a city or a farm or in the wild.
I hope I am not being too didactic in saying the obvious because I do think most readers of ADR are well aware of this, but fitness is a crucial part of our preparations along with skills and community.
The time to be in shape is now.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

To all the despairing commenters I would say, never mind starting late on your post-collapse strategy, even if you can't get everything worked out in time, you will still be smarter than if you just keep going to the soon to vanish job.
Some personal observations on food security: Most of what we're taught about food is wrong. Learn as much about food as you can. Learn to cook, learn to can, learn to ferment, learn to preserve, learn to store food without refrigeration, learn what's edible that grows locally. We are accustomed to getting our food out of the rear end of an industrial supply chain, making us ignorant of where it came from and what went into it.
Most of the food advice we now get has to do with avoiding excess calories because of an inactive lifestyle. A post-industrial lifestyle will most likely involve a lot more physical exertion, mostly a lot more walking which burns a surprising amount of calories. Fat will again be a desirable food, not something you pour down the drain. With food being scarce and more of it being locally sourced, and little of it having an expiration date stamped on it, we will learn that a lot of food stays edible a lot longer than we thought. Milk left overnight will turn solid but still be edible in a new form called yogurt. Why do Mediterranean diets have so much yogurt in them? Because they have to do something with all the sour milk.
One of the biggest lessons for me personally about food is how much work it is to prepare from scratch. Though I've always cooked and gardened, most recently, my wife and I have had the good fortune of being able to do most of our work from home. This puts us into the position of being able to raise some of our own food and also to take the time to go to the farmers market every week. On Fridays, during peak season, we typically come home with forty pounds of produce, a mix of fruits and vegetables. Some of it we can, some of it we pickle, some of it we cook and eat that week. Making a dinner from scratch can easily take three hours. There's the washing of greens, trimming, then cooking, then cleaning up the kitchen. Preparing food from our garden takes even more time because even if we ignore the time put into raising the food, picking and cleaning takes more time than buying already picked and cleaned food from the farmer's market.
All of this may seem obvious to most people intellectually, but until you do it, it's hard to appreciate it fully. I continually come to the point where I say to myself, where did the afternoon go? Did I really just spend three hours fixing up a pot of beans and a bowl of boiled greens?

dfr2010 said...

I found this post rather amusing. Even if we were still oblivious to the ongoing decline, we would still be out here on our little 2.5 acres at the dead end of a dirt road off another dirt road, and I would still be starting up my chicken breeding project. The only real variable(s) is whether I'd still be planting seeds and transplants in my/our ongoing attempts at gardening here in very sandy rural central FL. My in-laws have begun to think we are a couple of geniuses, instead of a couple of cynical Gen X army veterans who wanted to get away from a society that no longer makes sense after seeing life in the hazard fire pay zone.

Helix said...

I don't have much to contribute that hasn't already been said either in JMGs essay or the comments section. I grew up on a farm (not far from where JMG lives now) and have lived a rural lifestyle for most of my life. I can tell you from personal experience that the survival homestead route is not for everyone. Farming is a tough way to go, even with modern machinery. Assuming that subsistence farmers will have to notch down in equipment at some point, be prepared to work -- hard.

I think the most important things are forming strong relationships with your neighbors, developing skills that will be useful over the long haul, and making some basic preparations (having a wood stove if appropriate, or a home that takes advantage of passive solar heating comes to mind).

Right now we can live a gloriously free-from-our-neighbors lifestyle because plentiful energy is equivalent to having many servants (slaves?). As energy becomes more expensive -- and it will at some point -- we will not be able to afford to "keep so many slaves". We will once again have to fall back on our communities to obtain life's necessities. Having good relations with that community and skills useful to it will go a long way toward a more secure community and a happier, more productive life.

joanhello said...

@ay kay

Some years ago, I realized that real estate was the single biggest item in just about everybody's budget and set about deconstructing the phenomenon "home" to see if maybe real estate could be foregone. I found that, with a few expenses up front and some skull sweat, it could.

The first order of business is a car or other suitable vehicle. Not an RV, and not an obvious rustbucket. You don't want the kind of vehicle that looks like it's got a sleeping vagarant inside, even though you will be sleeping in it.

Next is a sleeping bag rated to a temperature slightly lower than the lowest on record for your area. There are sleeping bags that keep mountaineers alive on Everest. You don't need heat while you're in one of them.

Next, a membership in a health club that is open very early and very late. This is where you keep clean and well groomed. (Not necessary if your employer has a shower you can use.) Weather permitting, one of those solar shower bags you hang from a tree can also be useful.

A mail drop. Private ones (not at the post office) sometimes call their boxes "suites" or "units", which allows you to maintain the illusion of a street address.

Storage for those of your possessions you don't need to have with you daily. Ideally it will offer 24-hour access.

Regarding food, I'm sure you already know whether you are the type who can live on sandwiches made from supermarket ingredients with no need to heat anything or whether you absolutely must have something hot every day. There are a wide range of nomadic-appropriate kitchen tools, from solar cookers to 12-volt blenders that plug into a car's cigarette lighter.

Once you've bought all that, you will need to develop some knowledge of your local area; overnight parking rules that tell you where you can sleep (Don't use the same spot more than a few nights running); locations of free power, wifi and phone connectivity; the public library (An indispensable resource).

Yes, I have lived this way at various times in my life, which allowed me to do more traveling than I would otherwise have been able to afford. It did get old after a while, but for a few months at a time, it was entirely workable, and the money saved was just enormous.

Ed-M said...

Like others, I have a quibble about the reference to marines chasing the sailors up the mast and out on the yard (yardarm). Although I have only seen the sailors.high up, saving the sail in a bad storm, I have never seen, even in Mutiny on the Bounty, any marines compelling them to do so. My guess is, of course on a naval ship, that the marines would be too busy belowdecks, puking and retching.


And that's the GOP strategy, innit? Scapegoat and demonize various parts of the population based on their perceived faults / unpopularity until the goal of right-winged corporate privatized totalitarian one-party rule is achieved, am I not right? At which point, unless the nation has collapsed already, they could just dispense with the constitution and the republic, seeing they'll only be window dressing anyway.

Ellen He said...

I returned to the Long Descent narrative because the Hackstability narrative was too uncertain and desperate, as exemplified by this quote (emphasis boldened):

""Now extend the argument to all of civilization as a single massive technology that can never be thrown away, and you can make sense of the idea of hackstability as an alternative to [total] collapse. Maybe if you keep hacking away furiously enough, and grabbing improvements where possible, you can keep a system alive indefinitely, or at least steer it to a safe soft-landing instead of a crash-landing.""

Nathan said...

My wife and I started a mixed organic farm selling direct to families 8 years ago on land we mortgaged. Previously we had interned and made mistakes on other people's land for 5 years. Our goal is to make a living farming. My wife works full-time on the farm and I work 'off-farm' telecommuting. I am well down the road of agrarian living.

Here's some of what I've learned:

In many rural areas collapse has been happening openly for decades. Our non-cash-crop real-estate market is stagnant and collapsed. Our employment is dropping, our school enrollments are dropping, our municipal funds are dropping and all have been following this trajectory for years and years. I hope it is these conditions that may provide the mental and emotional resiliency of rural people to live through difficult times with their dignity and humanity intact. There is still a passible community spirit in even the smallest of towns with fall fairs, seasonal parades and service clubs events.

I have been building an incredible array of skills over the years. Having grown up in the wonderland of perfect suburbs my toolbox - both metaphorically and physically - was nearly bare. At some point though the need for physical skills (building, animal husbandry, food production, forestry, etc.) were surpassed by the need for emotional and spiritual skills.

Maybe this perspective is a product of how far down the road I've gone but my advice to people is to work on your emotional resilience with at least equal attention that you give to you physical resilience. Who you are at the level of identity, deep, deep down is going to unravel. This will lead you to take actions that are unrecognizable to yourself right now. Just like there is a useful 'collapse early' strategy for our physical beings we need to also apply this to our psychophysical beings as well.

Let me tell you that self-sufficiency is an oxymoron. It is not possible to be self-sufficient without incredible compromise. Self-sufficiency is a fantasy who have never worked hard for years. The pain and difficulty of navigating human relationships is far more palatable and rewarding than 'going it alone.' You will always rely on someone for something, embrace it.

Community is my best hedge against uncertainty and I actively build, foster and participate in my community not only for the pleasure it brings right now but also for the resilience and pleasure I believe it will provide in the future. The bonds of friendship, trust and care may not weather the storms ahead, the inclination to 'save ourselves' is incredibly strong in our culture. But having community gives you options. If we lose our farm to the bank I know it's a possibility that we can share a home and farm with community members to spread the pain out.

Communication skills will continue to be among the most important skills you can have. That means listening, speaking AND not-speaking. Collapse is not simply about transporting yourself and family into a new place you must be willing to be transformed by that place. Start where you are at.

We will all be humbled by the road ahead.

Susan J said...

I recently reread the chapter on cotton in the 1985 book Seeds of Change, Five Plants that Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse. The following description, in light of your ongoing discussion of the future, looks like it may repeat. My shock was that I have never seen the described condition, and desperately hope to never see it. The page number references are to the paperback book.

Page 162 “Compared to New Orleans, most of the inland town of the new Deep South [where cotton was planted after the tidewater soils were depleted] were sordid villages. Apologists would say that men were in too much of a hurry on or near the frontier, wherever it might be, to have time for good manners, but both Yankee Americans and European visitors made scathing comments about the behavior of the inhabitants of the South. Compared to the fiction of some novels, the truth is unrecognizable. The white men were generally unclean, the women of any age worn by circumstance and childbearing. The untidiness, the ragged clothes, the assault upon the senses of unwashed poor whites and slaves alike made any antebellum assembly an experience which would disgust the people of an age accustomed to soap, detergents, running water, and deodorants.

“Even in the 1930s, the region provided an adventure for the Northerner, but before the Civil War malarial mosquitoes were prevalent, yellow fever and typhoid were visiting familiars. Salmonella, worms, and dysentery were common, particularly among the slaves. For all, black and white, enteric disorder was a constant companion. Heat unrelieved by the benefits of electricity was endured in the summer, along with storms and rain. Ice was only available in New Orleans and then usually only until mid-April, unless shipped at vast expense from the icehouses of the North. Pure water was at a premium in every built-up area. Sanitation was sketchy and added to the stink and discomfort in an age which was innocent of any knowledge of germs, painkillers, or infection. Disinfectants were unknown. Manufactured soap was in short supply. Food, cooked by slaves sometimes disaffected and not always skilled, was variable, often disgusting. Deficiency diseases were endemic in a land of plenty. If this was civilization, it was very raw. On the other hand, survivors of this society were toughened by their experience.”

Page 163: “There were habits which failed to commend themselves to the stranger, such as regional addiction to tobacco and corn whiskey, of which the first was the less pleasing. Other people smoked or sniffed the weed—Southerners chewed, they not only chewed, they spat. . . .

LewisLucanBooks said...

Well, onto this weeks book recommendation :-)

Picked up from the library "How to be a Victorian; A dawn-to-dusk guide to Victorian Life" by Ruth Goodman. Ruth Goodman is a British historian. Besides sitting in musty archives, Ms. Goodman also gets out there and lives the life of whatever time period she is studying. If so inclined, check out some of her videos on YouTube. Just put "Ruth Goodman" in the search line.

@ Cathy, et all - On "pretty." :-). Yeah, my rural place looks post collapse. A rental, by the way, for those who don't know. After two of my friends helped me build a hen house, I had great plans for painting it ... maybe with a nice big quilt block graphic on one side. Never got done.

But I sure put a lot of time into bringing back the old climbing red rose on the back deck. Also recovered some "old" roses from underneath the blackberries. According to local stories, they came over the Oregon Trail. The other morning Jack Frost paid a visit. With the pink sunrise (talk about your "rosy fingered Dawn") it was all quit pretty. I have enough "pretty" in my life without going to far out of my way to make it. Lew

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane W -- Living in rural Tennessee, some things I note:

Out gay and lesbian couples don't experience much of anything in the way of harassment.

People under the age of 25 don't even hardly notice black/white racial differences, and many there are many mixed race kids. Musical tastes in that age group know no color lines.

The gay male nudist retreat 15 miles from town has had no problems.

The "N" word mostly comes from the mouths of transplants from places like Michigan and Indiana, who seem not to have noticed that decent white southerners don't actually talk like that, even in hillbilly country.

So my experience agrees with yours. The inflammatory stuff is mostly stirred up by national politicians to "consolidate the conservative base." The base being white men over 55, who are a rapidly declining part of the southern demographic. Men in that age group are dropping like flies around here from stroke, heart attacks, and cancer.

Kutamun said...

Craig , gday there ....
JMG recommended a good book to me the other day , havent got around to reading it yet ..its called "Norstrilia " by a chap called Cordwainer Smith , an ex CIA agent , about likely futures of Ozland under the Chinese ..
Personally , i think if you want an idea how they would view us , as a nation of ex convicts and new arrivals only two hundred years old , take a look at how they have treated Tibet .... Once the gates are open , fifty million or so settlers are moved here ...Mandarin becomes the official language . I am sure there would be plenty of references to The Great Southern Province in Imperial Chinese Naval Logs crom the year 1637 to justify the incursion " we found it first " ..
By the way , have you had any rain yet , been a bad drought up there , these last few years is Campbell No Friends Travelling ??

jonathan said...

re: physical demands of agriculture
my wife and have i had a 23 acre farm in southern wisconsin for 8 years. the physical demands of farming depend entirely on the crops and methods chosen. perennial crops-fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries, asparagus etc. take substantial effort to plant and get started, but the longer they are in place, the less effort they require. utilize the food forest concept, avoid growing row crops, keep building your soil with organic matter and you will find that the effort needed is quite manageable. trying to grow generic row crops like wheat or feed corn will kill ya.
most of the fossil fuel we use is for mowing since we keep only a few animals at this time. if we added a few sheep or cattle, we wouldn't need to do nearly as much mowing by tractor. we could handle what little we'd need with the scythe.
we also can, dehydrate, ferment and root cellar tons of food.
i'm 65, my wife is 51 and if we can do this, i know most of you can.

Raymond Duckling said...

Ok, I am only halfway through the comments, but since people keep asking about food, specially in urban settings... let me share the dumb little strategy I am pursuing. It's called de 5x5 rule:

Grow 5% of what you eat within 5 meters of where you sleep.

The main benefit in my opinion is that you can get moving *now* and get past the worst of the learning curve without falling into despair about not being able to feed yourself (many of us who enjoy privileged Western lives can certainly do with just 95% of the food we could theoretically afford). The second best benefit is that by constraining yourself to a 5 meter sphere (you thought I was going to waste prime solar roof-state??!), you learn to get really creative with what you can or cannot get away with.

I am well aware that if push comes to shove and we face a fast collapse scenario, this will just ensure that my family will starve a little more slowly than everyone else. That risk I can assume.

On the other hand, it will do lots of good if we continue to experience the fractal collapse of food supplies I have been observing for the last 5 years: Lost crops of fruit due to nasty Asian larvae in Colima (fruit keeps coming from Veracruz price doubles), avocado supply gets cut by Templar Knights war band (price spikes for a couple of weeks, then supply is mysteriously restored at +50% markup), poultry gets hit by new flue strain government -> ordering preemptive sacrifice and destruction (old frozen stocks of imported chicken hit the market at triple price, then new generation of local poultry gets raised, but prices fail to go back all the way to the original), etc, etc.

I could keep going about this, but the central idea is that we do not wake up one day and find there's no food anymore. While I am open to think that this could happen, a more immediate risk is being priced out of the high quality foodstuffs and pushed more and more into eating cheap junk. For many years, a standard blue collar breakfast has been dubbed canard a l'orange: a twinky like cake named "gansito" (lit. little goose) and a can of orange soda. It is crap, but is relatively cheap and available in every mom and pop store. It also gives you the calories you need to go through a morning of moderate physical labor.

Or maybe I am just in the bargaining stage of grief, but I suspect it will be much easier for me to go from 5x5 -> 10x10 than from zero -> anything.

Bike Trog said...

I like a lyric from Work Song by the McGarrigles: You worked so hard that you died standing up.

FLwolverine said...

@Jim Irwin -

Since this isn't a climate change blog, I'll give you the short answer and then a link to Skeptical Science to learn more about why you are incorrect. Because you are incorrect.

(1) agriculture and civilization developed over ~10,000 years of fairly temperate and consistent climates. The increased temperatures anticipated now, based on the CO2 already in the atmosphere and the continued use of fossil fuels, are more than agriculture and civilization have had to deal with, and are more likely than not to cause massive disruptions in climate and our world. Pay attention to droughts, floods, and forest fires.

(2) plants and animals have adapted to changing temperatures in the past, but over millennia, not a couple of centuries, which is what's happening now. Read up on the five major extinction events in earth's history to find out what happens when the climate changes too quickly. Wikipedia's a good place to start: but there's lots of information available. Elizabeth Kolbert's book, The Sixth Extinction, should IMO be required reading. BTW the sixth extinction event is happening now.

Here's the place to start on SkepticalScience:

And then if you still think warmer is better, well, just be careful what you ask for: you may get it.

Duncan Kinder said...

It would be an exaggeration, given your viewpoint to characterize West Virginia as "Almost Heaven."

However, given your assumptions and the available alternatives, it probably may be the First Circle of Hell.

Helix said...

@jonathan - What you say is clearly true -- the more you lean toward perennial crops, the easier things become down the road.

The rub comes when you need to make money for things you can't grow. your scythe, mowers, pruners, shovels, window glass, household items, electricity, rifles and ammo, etc.

For items and services that you can't provide for yourself, you need a cash crop, home industry, or tradable skill. Perhaps some of your perennial crops will supply this, but if this type of lifestyle becomes common, there are going to be a heckuva lot of apples and blackberries around.

The solution in former times was to grow food that stored well and could be transported to cities where there was a hefty market for them. Cereal grains, dairy products, and livestock fit the bill quite well, depending on one's proximity to markets.

But this is where the serious work begins. Right now, it's doable because we have our energy slaves. I'm guessing that 40 or 50 years down the line, though -- and perhaps much sooner -- we're going to be living on a much tighter energy budget than we are now. I don't necessarily expect us to have to revert to a 19th century lifestyle -- I do believe that substantial gains in energy efficiency are possible. But homesteading is still going to require a lot more human energy than it does now.

Given the girth of your typical Wal-Mart shopper, that might not be a bad thing.

John Michael Greer said...

Tim, and our current crop of politicians are more ordinary than most.

Nbxl, those are worthwhile concerns -- and of course you're the only one who can decide which option is right for you.

Larz, many thanks for this! Yes, we'll be talking about canals at some length in a bit; it so happens that Cumberland was a big canal town back in the day -- the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal got this far up from Washington DC before it ran out of money, and so canal boats used to go down the C&O from here to DC with cargoes of coal, lumber, steel, and agricultural products, and bring back manufactured goods and imports from the coast. If the railroads hadn't come along, the C&O would have snaked through the mountains to the Youghiogheny River, then followed that down to Pittsburgh, linking the Chesapeake to the Ohio valley. It may do so yet someday.

Berserker, thank you and welcome to the apparently huge Aussie contingent here!

Phil, thanks for the reminder. I'll check Cobbett out.

Craig, once the US starts going down visibly, I expect to see all its putative allies bailing out in short order, and for good reason. For some reason US culture is blind to the really rather obvious point that you earn loyalty from subordinates by showing loyalty to them; we demand a lot and offer very, very little, and make up the difference by holding our "allies" more or less at gunpoint. That's not a strategy with an indefinite shelf life.

Shane, I have no doubt that the South will rise again, in a sense. It's been treated as an internal colony by the rest of the country since 1865, and once that breaks down, after the dust settles, there may be significant improvements -- just as there will be in large parts of the Third World once most of their wealth isn't being extracted for the benefit of the global North. Of course that's not the kind of rise that comfortable Northerners like to think about...

Dave, that's been discussed in the scientific press for a while. Might it happen? Sure -- in which case we're in for an even nastier climatic whiplash when the minimum ends.

Other Tom, just remember that "good physical condition" doesn't necessarily mean "fashionable body shape," or "free from physical disability."

Wolfgang, good heavens -- you must have some very complicated recipes. We cook beans in a slow cooker or fireless cooker, and greens take maybe ten minutes of prep before they go into the steamer. My working rule is that a meal should take no more of my time to make -- leaving out the time it sits and cooks by itself, in which I can do other things -- than it does for me to eat it. I follow that rule religiously, and eat an almost entirely homecooked diet.

Dfr, well, you're not really the target audience of this post! I don't worry that much about those who already get it; it's those who still think of the Long Descent as a subject for daydreams about someday living in a lifeboat ecovillage who get one last hard shake, before I shake my head and walk on by.

Ellen, the sense of desperation is the one thing in the Hackstable scenario that I find appealing. They may just be starting to realize that they can't count on things holding together enough to keep the internet going; once they really grasp that, and start trying to hack the future using the resources they're actually likely to have handy, we'll be talking the same language.

John Michael Greer said...

Nathan, thanks for this! It's excellent advice -- certainly it matches my own experience.

Susan, are you at all familiar with conditions in the Third World today?

Lewis, thanks for that! I'll see if I can find the book.

Raymond, that's positively brilliant. Anything that gets people started is good.

Duncan, depends very much on which corner of the state you're in -- it's more diverse than most. The part that's less than a mile from my front door is pretty mellow, all things considered.

Unknown said...

About 10 years ago I was living in a condo here on the bay in Miami. We were hit by a tropical storm that turned out to be much more severe than expected. Power out everywhere--esp. meaning no a/c in August and nothing to do.
After a day or so, bored I was looking at the window and realized, why I am sitting here like a moron when I could at least go outside and do the maintenance guys' jobs and remove the tree branches from the sidewalks, parking lot, etc. Within an hour--with not a word from me--at least 40 other people showed up, doing the same thing and even diving into the large pool and removing huge branches that required 10+ people to lift out.
The point: people will sit around and do nothing until someone gives them the idea of how to move forward. Later that night, people were pulling stuff out of their refrigerators and taking it down to the condo's barbeques so all could eat before the food went bad. A little forethought in a disaster can make things make easier. Helpfulness to neighbors--even if you don't know them now--is no question the more important quality.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ay Kay,

Hmmm. The guild system has a lot to offer in your particular situation.

However, in today's legal environment that we all exist in it wouldn't fly.

On the other hand, I'm noting that there are anecdotal accounts of interns getting seriously ripped off in the US. One such genius example was a company forcing interns to pay several hundred dollars for every single reference provided by said company on behalf of the interns. Such an act appears to me to be somewhat evil.

When the time is right, I will take on an apprentice or two here in return for a firm set of obligations binding on both parties. Such is the path to journeyman status.

Such future activities does not solve your immediate problems, but know that you are not alone in your concerns and that some at least are considering them also and perhaps that may be the path for you in the future?



Cherokee Organics said...


I haven't asked you, how is winter going over at your part of the planet?

Summer here has been surprisingly humid because of the big January rains. And up north on this continent there have been big rainfalls over the past few days on both the west and east coast. Wow, it is really crazy wet up there!

One recurring meme that turns up here time and time again is that farming is somehow really hard back breaking work. I wonder if you have any thoughts on the history of that meme?

The reason that I ask, is because mostly the plants look after themselves and what I reckon people confuse as hard work, is actually not hard work at all. The thing is, farming tends to bind a person to the land and what people confuse as hard work is actually the difficulty of escaping life on a farm. For example, if you have chickens, you can't necessarily escape for a couple of weeks holiday down the coast as someone has to do all of the things chickens require to be kept in the artificial systems that we humans maintain those animals in. Most of the other systems are the same here, they require a little bit of maintenance from time to time, but it cannot be ignored.

I spend very little time maintaining the systems here as it is the infrastructure that takes most of my time. And people just don't seem to get that point because of the pervasive belief of the meme of hard work.

The other thing is that machines on farms often do a lot of work, but using the machines also increases the risk of injury for a farmer - just because those machines can do that much more stuff.

Dunno, but it has just got me feeling confused.

PS: I hope the book final edits, drafts and reviews are all going smoothly.



ed boyle said...

I find hard physical work comforting. With practice the body goes on automatic. It is like meditation.

Reading spengler I believe he has no idea about deeper indian being.

He speaks of attitude of grecoromans, character of westerners. It sounds to me like he is comparing teenagers to adults. Westerners have a will, a singular drive, grecoromans were passive victims of circumstance whose only identity came in the group.

I think his comparison of india to the grecoromans, i.e. living in the moment, is wrong. I see Indian philosophy, culture, to take my analogy further, is like an old man. In the west we are active, determined, analytical, controlling. The middle ages was superstitious, magical. In my analogy this might be the young adult, in love. The middle aged, mature culture, action, drive, etc. is the West. India is only externally passive. When the internal and external space and analysis of the West is integrated to the childish body focus of the greeks and the magical internal life of early eastern religious life we get an all
enompassing indian view, where with yoga, one integrates the whole. One sees that character of Westerners causes life events, is however, as much a mask as attitude of greeks. That magical spiritual internal life will be analyzed by psychology, but not done away with, i.e. controlled, but expanded over time through 'scientific' spiritual practice. The body is an expression of spiritualbody, chakras, of whom the dormant person is aware of at rare moments of deep emotionality. The awakened person feels it constantly. To speak of western willpower, analysis, striving as maturity, while body-magic focus on here and now being immature may be true but the next step is the discovery of the reality in the internal space and its relation to space-time, will, karma.

Spengler helps me to clear up all sorts of preconceived notions collected over time and reorder my thoughts as he is learned. However I have a different experience which he does not account for. I cannot thank you enough for reccomending such books.

Of course once we learn survival we must pass on the most important things. I heard speculation that Jesus and wherever he was taught plus his followers were really like yogi initiates or buddhas, that gnosis direction was more his direction. We will never know as the Romans, body oriented, authoritarians, co-opted this mystical poverty religion from the east, defanging it of secret initiation rites which gave it power to individuals. This power, similar to proposed local currencies, cooperatives, decentralization, is what TPTB always fear. The priests preach a sermon of fairy tales without power, hence the protestant breakaway, founding of holyroller healer pentecostals in USA at turn ofcentury revival, renewed interest in eatern religions since 60s. Centralization of power, money,spiritual, etc. leads to empty mimicry. Freedom is individual, hard won, on farm every day or in spiritual practice.

Books, techniques important. First principles come from our self. Rediscovering, reinventig wheel is however stupid. Keep guruing us down the slippery slope.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

Well done with the mead! I'll drink a toast to your future success in the brewing endeavour. As a seasoned hand in such matters (brewing – not drinking, thanks very much ;-) )! I would suggest adding some cinnamon and cloves to the brew just to take the edge off.

And anyway remember it's only the first sip that'll make you pull a face if it isn't as smooth as you expect - and it can vary a little bit. By the third sip though, you'll seriously enjoy the drink and wonder what all the earlier fuss was about.

Good to see that you are sticking it to the man one brew at a time!

PS: Glad to hear about the situation with your neighbour.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Carl,

I'm interested in your problem because 20 inches of rain ove those two months was about 60% of my entire annual rainfall and I've only watered the fruit trees once in the past 12 months and even then they didn't get more than perhaps a small bucket each. You know a couple of weeks back I had 2 days in a row in excess of 104'F.

I get watering the vegetables as they have such shallow root systems - but even then there is stuff that you can do to eliminate that issue. They may not look like you expect them to look like though.

However, there are a great number of things that you can do to eliminate the need to water your fruit trees altogether despite the conditions and they actually work. Have you considered looking around your area - or in similar climactic areas - to see what works and what isn't working?

The summer rainfall is very chancy here and a few years back it just stopped for 5 months. Last summer there were 10 days above 104'F. 3 of those days were in a row and on the final day it got so hot (114'F) the wax in the bee hives melted. I have learned from that summer and simply adapted and that is my suggestion for you.



Marcello said...

"not just narratives of the early 20th century, although those would certainly be useful, but also narratives of the end of the Roman Empire."

It should be noted that it was still an agrarian world, the entire empire at its height from Spain to Mesopotamia had only a marginally larger pop than current France. Daily life in the farm for a peasant was probably not very different, at least not until the barbarians/robbers crashed through the front door of course.
We on the other hand have to reinvent the wheel. Industrialization was a pretty disruptive affair with no shortage of bottlenecks, crises and IIRC entire professional categories being made obsolete almost overnight. And that with expanding wealth providing some sort of cushion. Going through that in reverse gear? Nasty is too light of a word IMHO.

Nor I am sure if there are really any current models. North Korea was probably saved from implosion and even more massive mass death by foreign help and is currently propped up by Chinese supplies. And now that the venezuelan subsidy line is looking increasingly dodgy Cuba is going back to the US. Russia was probably saved from breakdown by oil prices rising just in time.

"What do they do after the "last ditch"?"

Good question. The EU is hanging on by bureaucratic inertia and some of the member states are in dire straits. For example Italy economy, save for a period of zero point something growth around 2010-2011 has been contracting almost non stop since the start of the crisis (and had been underperforming for much longer).Official youth unemployment rate at 43% and still climbing. Emigration has started again but how long places like Germany can act as safety valve? Not very long one suspects. Greece is even worse off. In fact I tend to doubt that the US is in such a bad position in relation to everybody else as many here make it out to be.

OT, there are actually accounts of inexperienced sailors refusing to go on top during battles. Experienced types refusing to do their jobs during storms seem a lot less likely to be an issue however and if a crew screwed up during a storm they would go to the bottom with little chance of it being preserved for posterity.
But I am not a naval historian just a dabbler.

jonathan said...

helix-you are quite correct, one or more cash crops are very helpful. we harvest 400-500 pounds of honey and 50-75 gallons of maple syrup both of which sell very well. i'm experimenting with making mead and looking into expanding into wine grapes and hops/beermaking.
when serious societal disruption occurs, we'll either have a sustainable lifestyle or, lacking that, we can at least party our way into oblivion.

Yupped said...

Very thoughtful and helpful comments, as always, particularly on the topic of getting started. If you are city or town bound, or have just a small lot (owned or rented), there's so much you can do if you come at it from the "urban homesteading" perspective. Lots of cool books and sites to take inspiration from. I personally found that angle more accessible, rather than thinking about becoming a real farmer, which just seemed too big a deal to me. I could probably pass myself off as a small-scale farmer now, but I got started one square foot at a time, slowly digging up my urban plot. Start where you are, as they say.

Steve Carrow said...

Two related points on agriculture and one hand for the ship.
First- In 1977, "The Unsettling of America" was written by Wendell Berry. It described and indicted the full bore shift to industrial agriculture, and the government's role. The book is still very relevant and a good read. But in the mid to long term future, I believe there will be a "Resettling of America" ( less the areas that become desert) While I agree that the powers that be will keep industrial ag going at all cost ( panem et circenses after all) eventually it will transition back to low input methods. The young who want to become farmers as others upthread have mentioned, will have a tough time in the short term. Here are some links that might help in their search.

Let's just hope that many links are made in this way, instead of the potential alternative where they all become corporate serfs.

Second- My hand for the ship is helping transition farmland to permaculture at scale. We have so far planted almost 3000 nut trees on our small farm, which with wider replication, will in time replace annual grains as our staple crops. Chestnuts are primarily carbohydrate, while hazelnuts, walnuts provide oils and proteins. One cannot live by tomatoes and lettuce from the back yard alone.

Mark Shepard at Restoration Agriculture is a leading proponent, with many acres in transition. As also mentioned upthread, this form of agriculture has a lot of effort upfront, but is less effort and manageable with fossil free techniques.

I have also felt something is in the air, time to get off the sofa.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Violet Cabra and others in the northern tier of the US interested in foraging,

Two excellent books are by Samuel Thayer: Nature's Garden and The Forager's Harvest, both guides to identifying, harvesting and preparing edible wild plants. I've used both and they are very helpful. They have good photos, go into quite a bit of useful detail, and include good preparation tips. They include non-native and invasive plants as well, which is handy, since weeding your garden then becomes harvesting for dinner.

Cathy McGuire said...

I'm glad to hear about the others who are starting/working along the line of LESS - it's so encouraging! My rural town has slipped so far down the slope that it was featured on the front page of the New York Times a while back! And yet, we still have too many salons (and saloons!) and not enough local repair or resale place (tho that might be changing). Still, it's a town where people pull together and I'm building community here.

@Lewis Lucan: Ah, Ruth! I love the videos she does on living the historic life! She really throws herself completely into it. :-) And I am also a rose fan - I transplanted one deep red, very fragrant rose 3 times as I've moved - it could be a Lincoln, but it's definitely hardy (a car ran over it and snapped it off - it rose from the dead). And I've got a couple old cabbage rose climbers - hard to keep black spot and rust off, but they keep coming back, too! And they're medicinal. And poppies, and calendula - even the common weeds have incredible beauty if you look at them close enough! So, yeah, I look past the fading paint on clapboard and enjoy the weeds. :-)

FYI, Chapter 6 of my post-decline novel is up at
Lifeline Chapter 6

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Re your quotes from Seeds of Change about the deep South: I believe the information abut 19th century conditions is largely from the funny, shocking and sad Domestic Manners of the Americans, by Fanny Trollope. She travelled to the South in 1827 and lived in the US for a couple of years. On her return to England she wrote the book. The English regarded much of America as a "third world" country at the time. The book was a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is well worth reading for its depiction of life without what most modern Americans consider necessary amenities. It also gives insight into the origins of some of modern Americas's cultural peculiarities. She was a Tory who preferred the English way of doing things, so she was bound to be critical, but the report is striking, vivid, and corroborates with other reports written at the time.

Ed-M said...

RE: my last comment to JMG:

What I intended to.say, but did not, thanks to my perennial inability to handle typing comments on an i-phone, is that all my knowledge of sailors up on masts' yards in a storm, fixing the sails that are being buffeted by the wind, comes strictly from Hollywood movies.

Also, back in the 70s and 80s there were commercials for Windjammer Cruises which advertised working vacation cruises on actual tall ships in the Caribbean. Methinks, without any additional information, that any cruise that expected to encounter bad weather was harbored, re-routed, postponed or cancelled.

Shane Wilson said...

JMG, once the U.S. is dissolved, do you think there will be a harsh reevaluation of Lincoln and the Civil War? Will future historians, post dissolution, see it as a can kicking exercise that didn't solve any intrinsic problems? It does seem to me that Sherman's" scorched earth" tactics have been replicated in every imperial adventure since, with similar reactions from the invaded peoples as the South.

Peter Robinson said...

I have considered deeply the problem of depleting fossil fuel reserves for many months and I think I have the solution. I am having bumper stickers printed that say: "Dear God, please send more fossil fuel. We promise not to piss it all away this time." That should do the trick!

Cherokee Organics said...


I spotted your response to Craig about allies and had a slight ah ha moment because the other day I was reading an article that truly defied logic:

IMF global outlook more pessimistic

The bit that defied logic was the final paragraph which described the US economy as the one bright spot.

It is certainly a dangerous game the US is playing by extending the domestic culture of wealth inequality across a global playing field. My gut feeling is that I expect to see a bit of push back from some corners of the globe. But most certainly it is a strategy that will work in the short term.



onething said...

I second the motion on Samuel Thayer's books. He's quite a character and amusing writer, photos are excellent, glossary in back. It is indeed true that many of the weeds I pulled out of my vegetable garden turned out to be edible.

We've been disappointed here with trying to plant fruit and nut trees. They just don't seem to do well. perhaps because the climate is somewhat wet, although no more so than further north. I don't really get it. you get a good crop of fruit every 3rd year, maybe. Grapes grow, but rather so-so. Nut trees also don't seem to do well, while there are many natives that do very well. A local hazelnut is almost impossible to crack. I like the idea very much of replacing grains with nuts, as I have recently decided to do the gluten-free thing, and I have made some wonderful recipes by using not only alternate flours, but ground nuts in stead of flour. Much more nutritious and tastes great.
Is farming really such back breaking work? Realize 100 years ago half the people were farming. I have a neighbor who works ridiculously hard at it, but he doesn't even need the money, he just loves to garden and vend at the farmers market.
What is really hard is breaking raw ground into a homestead. In the 5 years we've been here, my husband has dug by hand and mixed by hand the cement, and laid by hand the cinder block for a large water cistern, dug out a decorative pond, built a front porch/greenhouse, refurbished (not done) an old cabin to make it livable (including going under the cabin and digging about 20 two-foot holes to pour cement and cinder block foundation-it had been sitting on tree stumps), taken an electric cement mixer down our steep driveway and built two ramps with wire reinforcers so people can get up it, put in water drainage around the house and on the driveway, and built a very large storage shed, using trees for posts that he cut and stripped himself. Just farming seems like it might be easy. He'll be 60 soon. Oh, and we heat with wood.

But, you know, we love it here.

The thing is, the way it is supposed to work, is that you have the next generation coming up to take over the really heavy stuff as you start to slow down.

Bill Pulliam said...

I am thinking that we should abolish the concept of "self sufficiency" from all these sorts of discussions. It is vague at best, misleading nearly always, and occasionally downright delusional or antisocial. Most people are highly selective in what they count as an "external input" when they imagine themselves living "self-sufficiently." Are you a self-sufficient household if you grow all your own food, but using tools you could not fabricate or replace yourself? Like metal buckets and taps for maple sugaring? Or steel scythes for mowing? And even if you could feed yourself living in a log cabin using homemade stone tools, is this what you really want to do? "Collapse now" I don't think means "cut yourself off from all connections to society and economy." "Self-sufficient" is not a useful guideline for living in a contracting civilization.

Of course, for many millennia people did practice agriculture without fossil fuels or even metallurgy. There were a whole lot fewer of us then. And even with just stone tools, we still caused mass extinctions and probably even climate change.

I think you also need to be wary of committing yourself to one view of the future and its potentials and perils. If you prepare for marauding mobs but they never materialize, you might wish you had spent more time working in your water infrastructure and less on your armory. On the other hand, if you plan for peace and marauding mobs show up, you might regret not having invested in some crossbows and a good cache of arrows. Maybe keep a weather eye (and ear) out for the winds of change, and evolve your lifestyle on the fly, as the uncertain future becomes the present.

Susan J said...

@ Adrian Ayres Fisher

Thank you for the recommendation of the book by Mrs. Trollope. I just ordered it from my library.

Carl said...

Thanks for the suggestions for dry farming. I'm going to try giving my established fruit trees very little water this summer. I already don't water my four grape vines, and I got a lot of grapes last year. I like to grow a lot of tomatoes and they're pretty thirsty though I know they can do fine with less water. I didn't water my front grass last summer and it all came back after the December rain (most people in Napa water their grass in Napa).
I picked up another used food grade water barrel today that I can put under a roof drain spout. As long as we get more rain in the next three months, I'll have four of them filled up for 200 gallons. It's a start, though won't get far into our dry season - May to November.
Also, thanks for your advise on a 12v solar system this week. I've wanted to do some solar but don't want to be grid tied. 12v sounds like the way to go.
Related - in 2014 California had its highest avg temp on record.
And some ski resorts in the Sierras are closing for the season because of lack of snow and warm temps - 58 F at Lake Tahoe last week (6,000 ft. In Winter at N. 40d latitude).

Ellen He said...

There's no 'they' in the Hackstability narrative. It was actually created as a thought experiment by a certain Venkat, whose blog Ribbonfarm is devoted to exploring unfamiliar and novel takes on familiar subjects.

Mark Rice said...

I was enjoying my unsustainable lifestyle driving a ways to a nice park to run and enjoy nature. I was listening to a "Car Talk" rerun. A physicist called in who was working on the control of nuclear fusion reactors.

My thought was -- This is typical of physicists. This guy probably has no knowledge of Control Theory but this will not stop him from thrashing around in the aproximate direction of solving the problem. The project is doomed just for this reason.

Then Click and Clack asked him what it is like to work on something that is not going to work in one's lifetime. They were mercyless. They imagined the eulogy -- "Here lies Robert a Physicist who in his life accomplished absolutely nothing."

Then Click and Clack got some perspective and said -- at least what he was doing was better then what is done by the people on Wall Street.

sandy said...

Greetings from the Big Mango (BKK)- Those buying 30 yr T bills are delusional. In 30 yrs, cargo-cult bankers and economists in animal skins will be dancing around a bonfire on the rubble of the Washington monument, celebrating their latest animal sacrifice and chanting to the god of Resources Forever. To paraphrase the ArchDruid, 'There is no brighter future ahead..... Get over it . . . (i posted this on a financial blog last friday and havnt got any death threats yet, must have some truth)

If you take the Limits to Growth chart, put some 5-yr lines on it between 2000-2050, you cant help but notice most of the inflections turning down are at the end of 2014, beginning 2015. I love it when a plan comes together, heh.

Besides the recent game-changers in the news, like the death of the Saudi King, Swiss franc de-peg, Yemen falling to shiite rebels, ECB finally going to QE knowing it dont work, there are a few things the MSM (main stream media) propoganda missed: 1) The new Saudi King is also old and suffers from dementia (progressive Alzheimer's), 2) Besides copper, oil, iron, Lumber is also falling; several Canadian sawmills have closed. 3) Also the copper in Chinese warehouses has been used as many as ten times over to secure loans. 4) And there are about ten times more pieces of paper-gold than actual gold in vaults.

So in conclusion.......i recommend the Nike ad- 'JUST DO IT'.... heh, NOW. If you're reading this blog, you have the inherent skills to cope with the unknown, dont be hesitant to trust yourself and use them. They will get better with practice for when things decline a little more, often suddenly.

Regards, rabblebable.

nuku said...

Re people interested in the farming life: here in New Zealand and Oz (and 58 other countries) there is a program called Willing workers On Organic Farms. You can read about it at
Its a way for people of all ages to experience “farm” life for a limited period of time. I say “farm” because it can often be a small semi-rural property with just a large organic vegie garden. If one is really willing to work, the initial period might turn into a more permanent arrangement. Here, the WWOOFer gets room and board in exchange for 4 hrs work/day.
Its a very good way for folks to get some hands-on experience in a working situation, and hosts are usually keen to pass on skills.

Craig said...

@ Kutamun


Ok I got excited and I've had to delete heaps and lost a post too... oops. Damn that 4046...Understandable oh well I'll keep it shorter from now on.

Thanks for the book recommendation it looks really interesting, I've a couple of post apocalyptic fantasy books, one by a British woman and another by an Australian woman I think. I'll have to dig them out, one a good scifi with a crazy radioactive intelligent mutant evolution, the other maybe a more realistic scifi the story based in Australia, both written in the 70's too. Just so hard to find good post apocalyptic scifi books these days at the second hand book shop.

The election, PUP signs every where, old Joh's son is putting himself up for election as a PUP. So our electorate might go to the PUPs. Plus an RSL mate is running as an independent, with the slogan "Promise nothing, tell the truth." Good one hey. :-)

I think the LNP will win by a slight margin overall. As a drop in fuel prices makes the claim to being better at economics believable in the collective masses mind. $1.20/L for diesel. My mate reckons the Northern oil rigs will last for 2 to 3 decades with diesel coming down to $1.oo/L for a while. We'll know the power elite are desperate when an attempt to access oil in the southern seas off the continent. I get oil spill feelings when I think of that, with the violent seas down there for half the year.

I agree, the Chinese if they had the power over us as they do the Tibetans, we would get the same treatment.

China and Indonesia had a deal back in the Communist yellow peril era as well. Hence East Timor was as much a securing up a neighbours border, which did stop the ethnic cleansing. As much as it was an oil/gas scam too pay for the peace keeping intervention.

Crazy world we live in.

heather said...

@Chris (Cherokee Organics)- is summer supposed to be your wet season? I'm in the same general region as Carl, and we regularly go 5 or 6 months without rain in the summer, with heat comparable to yours. But it's supposed to be the wet season now, and my rain guage hasn't registered a trace all month. That's the scary part. Our regular yearly surface water is just not arriving, for at least the fourth year in a row. The groundwater is getting depleted as individuals, communities, and farmers pump it from below ground to try to make up for the lack of rain and snow. In some areas the ground has actually sunk by up to a foot or more as the underground aquifers, now empty, cave in. I fear greatly that this drought, which seems to be becoming the new normal, is not something that can be adapted to easily. I am currently poring over Gary Nabhan's excellent "Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land" for insight into how other less wasteful cultures manage. Looks like I am going to have to figure out what to do with prickly pear. :)
--Heather in CA

Craig said...

@ Kutamun

As for weather, well just come off a 5 and 1/2 month drought, was so dry, some 46'C days(Animals suffer with that heat), never seen the damns and creeks dry out so quick. Since then had good rain in Dec and Jan and every thing is Green and full or filling up with more rain to come hopefully. Droughts we can handle, but floods not so much, the community took a hit in 2012, we came through unscathed, apart from having a flood baby, mum and bub even got a free helicopter ride home, over the flooding waters.

When we first moved here it was a red desert. Coming off a 7 year drought, some rekon 11 years for the average years at the start and end of the drought. Greened up since then with the floods and all. Certainly rained here more since the sun spots quieted down. IMO.

Craig said...


I don't wish anything to happen to the USA or my country, the future certainly is a worry. My grandfather admits he's glad he's not me and my children's, children. Maybe one day he'll be born as one, so his wish will cop some Murphy's law. :-)

Another thing I'd like to assuage some of the people here, about rural area's and gay people. Well, we have a Lesbian community I'm sure, otherwise there wouldn't be so many. The town over had a gay Dr and his partner in the community for a few years and they were welcomed. There's Lesbians working at the pub and in other industries, my wife knows a few lesbians where she works. meh. Really think they'd be here if it was that bad... Really some times it may just be projection. In the Forces I knew Lesbians that even went bisexual or what ever to find daddies, for children.

The contradiction there are at least 7 working churches or more in our closest town all varying in the level of conservativeness.

People generally keep to themselves, or should I say people find who to associate with and we're all friendly in the public domain.

I can sometimes be a social butterfly in the field, even friends with the feral's, cause I'm half feral myself. :-)

ed boyle said...
for contest but ths is real suggestion from japanese scientists. Tap black holes. 4 page pdf

Ruben said...

@Cherokee Organics

Could you elaborate or link to the techniques you use to get by without watering your fruit trees?

Thank you.

steve pearson said...

Carl, Look at your post, mate. I can't help myself, but is "most people in Napa water their grass in Napa' kind of like what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
cheers, Steve

KL Cooke said...

"Thank you for the recommendation of the book by Mrs. Trollope. I just ordered it from my library."

Also available on-line here:

Kutamun said...

Bit more horse philosophy from D.H Lawrence in "Apocalypse" writing eighty years or so ago, might be interesting for those of you who might be entertaining the idea of getting to know The Neddies
"“Horses, always horses! How the horse dominated the mind of the early races, especially of the Mediterranean! You were a lord if you had a horse. Far back, far back in our dark soul the horse prances. He is a dominant symbol: he gives us lordship: he links us, the first palpable and throbbing link with the ruddy-glowing Almighty of potence: he is the beginning even of our godhead in the flesh. And as a symbol he roams the dark underworld meadows of the soul. He stamps and threshes in the dark fields of your soul and of mine. The sons of God who came down and knew the daughters of men and begot the great Titans, they had ‘the members of horses’, says Enoch.
Within the last fifty years man has lost the horse. Now man is lost. Man is lost to life and power — an underling and a wastrel. While horses thrashed the streets of London, London lived.
The horse, the horse! the symbol of surging potency and power of movement, of action, in man. The horse, that heroes strode. Even Jesus rode an ass, a mount of “humble power. But the horse for true heroes. And different horses for the different powers, for the different heroic flames and impulses.
The rider on the white horse! Who is he then? The man who needs an explanation will never know. Yet explanations are our doom.
Take the old four natures of man: the sanguine, the choleric, the melancholic, the phlegmatic! There you have the four colours of the horses, white, red, black, and pale, or yellowish. But how should sanguine be white? — Ah, because the blood was the life itself, the very life: and the very power of life itself was white, dazzling. In our old days, the blood was the lite, and visioned as power it was like white light. The scarlet and the purple were only the clothing of the blood. Ah, the vivid blood clothed in bright red! itself it was like pure light”

Jo said...

I used to only read The Archdruid Report itslef, but recently I have found the comments just as fascinating. Violet, thanks for sharing those herbal titles, I have them on order at the library.
Yupped, I am all for urban homesteading. I live in a compact, walkable town of around 100,000, surrounded by farmland. I have gardened for years, but am now in the process of making every available inch of space work for me, including the roof, the walls, and all the window sills. One of the great advantages of urban living, apart from being able to walk to the library, is in our cold state of Tasmania we can take advantage of the urban microclimate, and grow warmer climate food against sunny fences and walls. It is too cold for commercial crops of citrus here, but every Tasmanian back yard has a lemon tree. And I am trying to work out how to turn our swimming pool into a fish farm..

Unknown said...

I repectfully submit this real puff peice on the ITER in france.It waxes lyrical on how much(golly,gosh!!!!)it weighs,how big an enginneering task it is and how it's going to end all our energy worries.Shame,I say shame on the Guardian!

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